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

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  • 01/25/14--05:06: What we're watching Saturday
  • Syrian opposition and government meet in silence

    Representatives from both the Syrian government and opposition forces met for the first time on Saturday as a part of ongoing peace talks taking place in Geneva.

    Both sides sat at the negotiating table in silence while international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi set out plans which include focusing on humanitarian aid and holding political talks aimed at resolving the conflict.

    Anti-government protests in Egypt turn deadly

    Nine people were killed in Egypt on Saturday during anti-government protests marking three years since the uprising against president Hosni Mubarak.

    For two hours, armed police fired tear gas in an attempt to keep demonstrators out of Tahrir Square.

    In a separate incident, six people were killed when a truck bomb exploded at Cairo's main security headquarters on Friday.

    Ukranian president holds meeting with opposition leaders

    Clashes continued between police and radical protesters in Ukraine overnight on Friday, while another group of activists attempted to take control of an energy ministry building.

    As major rallies are expected throughout Kiev this weekend, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders gathered for three hours of talks on Saturday, according to a statement on the president's website.

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    Police are responding to reports of a shooting at a mall in suburban Baltimore, according to the Associated Press.

    Howard County Police Department (@HCPDNews) confirm shooting at Columbia Mall. Updates: http://t.co/zlWcMGEf57

    — The Baltimore Sun (@baltimoresun) January 25, 2014

    Police have confirmed three fatalities.

    Witnesses said they heard several shots and just ran

    — Carrie Wells (@cwellssun) January 25, 2014

    The Baltimore Sun reports Columbia Mall is currently in lockdown and some customers are being directed toward a movie theater away from the scene of the shooting.

    The Howard County Police Department has tweeted that police are in the mall and the site is believed to be secure. One of the people found dead is suspected to be the shooter.

    One subject dead is suspected shooter. No information about other victims yet.

    — Howard County Police (@HCPDNews) January 25, 2014

    A media briefing will be held at the Columbia Mall at 1:15 p.m.

    A victim is reportedly being treated at the Howard County General Hospital for a gunshot wound to the foot.

    Howard County General Hospital has confirmed they are treating a victim from mall who suffered gunshot wound to foot.

    — Howard County Police (@HCPDNews) January 25, 2014

    The police department is reporting the shooting took place in the upper level of the mall at a skate shop called Zumiez.

    Police say Columbia mall shooting occurred in Zumiez store http://t.co/1zGNDunhsZpic.twitter.com/SWlpJP3Q6W

    — Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 25, 2014

    Police have confirmed the weapon found near the suspect was a shotgun.

    #HoCoPolice investigators say gun found near suspected shooter at #ColumbiaMall was a shotgun.

    — Howard County Police (@HCPDNews) January 25, 2014

    According to tweets from the Howard County Police Department, one victim has been identified and they are working to identify the remaining victims and the shooter.

    Once victim IDs are confirmed, police will make notification to next-of-kin before releasing publicly.

    — Howard County Police (@HCPDNews) January 25, 2014

    The next media briefing is scheduled for 4 p.m.

    We'll have more as the story develops.

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    Three people were killed Saturday in a shooting at a shopping mall in Columbia, Maryland, located just outside of Baltimore.

    Watch the live stream below of the 1:15 p.m. media briefing being held at the mall.

    Another press conference is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday.

    Read more about the deadly shooting here.

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    Since November, the news from Iran has been almost exclusively about the deal to limit the country's nuclear program.

    To learn more about the bigger picture of life in Iran, correspondent William Brangham reported from Iran for two weeks in January.

    Woman at fountain, Iran Imam Mosque in Isfahan, Iran. Credit: William Brangham/NewsHour Weekend

    His photographs capture moments of daily life in Tehran, the country's capital, and the city of Isfahan.

    "Our interactions with Iranians across the board have been overwhelmingly positive. People are genuinely curious about the United States," he said.

    "People want to know what is America like, what does America think of Iran? They want to offer their impressions, so our interactions have been incredibly positive."

    leader mural Credit: William Brangham/NewsHour Weekend

    "There are murals all over Tehran," he added. "You see these faces everywhere you go looking down on you - huge, huge faces. Most of them are either the current or the intellectual leaders of the Islamic revolution, or heroes of the 1980s Iran Iraq War."

    View more of William's photos on our PBS NewsHour's Facebook page.

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    It's 5 p.m. EST -- where are you getting your news? PBS NewsHour Weekend is streaming live on our UStream channel and in the player above.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We wanted to spend some time this evening talking about the global market. Following a huge runup in stock prices during the past year, most major markets reversed course late this week and suffered their biggest decline since 2012. For more about what contributed to that reversal we are joined now from Washington by Sudeep Reddy of the Wall Street Journal. So, help us to unpack what happened in the stock market the past couple of days. What contributed to this?

    SUDEEP REDDY: Well, investors are reacting to a whole set of global forces that are all colliding at once. In the United States, the Federal Reserve is starting to pull back on it's extreme monetary policy that is pushing interest rates up, and that is a very difficult adjustment for a number of emerging economies that have seen a flood of money come into their markets as a result of low interest rates around the world. So, in Turkey, for instance, they are going through a fair amount of political instability, and combined with the move by the Fed., investors are starting to flee and nobody wants to be left there holding an investment that is going to turn bad very quickly. You are seeing similar stories in South Africa, in Brazil, even Argentina, which has been a bit of an economic mess, and investors in the United States are looking at this and wondering whether global growth is going to hold up, whether the entire global economy is going to be propelled by some of the forces that have been propelling it for the past five years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ok. There is also a manufacturing report in China. Why is that so significant?

    SUDEEP REDDY: That was significant, of course, because China is the second largest economy in the world, and there have been longstanding fears as to what will happen as China tries to rebalance its economy. It is trying to shift from being a big exporter to providing more of its economic growth from home, from its own citizens, and as it does that it is starting to do this big adjustment and there are other problems in China, like a big property bubble, that needs to be deflated. Its leadership knows it needs to deflate. China has been a growth engine for the world, and that starts to pull back, it makes developed economies very nervous, because the United States and Europe are selling into China now and not just buying products from it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, besides the decision by the Fed. to raise interest rates here and the Chinese manufacturing, what has been happening to the Argentinean currency or the Turkish currency to devalue so quickly against the dollar?

    SUDEEP REDDY: Well, you are seeing a reversal amongst investors in Argentina - because they have has so many problems since it's currency crisis in 2001 and 2002, investors are not really giving them the benefit of the doubt at all, and fleeing very quickly. Turkey has its own issues, and people are pulling out of there. The big question now is whether these risks are dealt with as emerging markets as a whole, and investors treat them all alike, or whether they start to distinguish between other economies. Mexico, for instance, is an emerging economy that would have been wrecked by something like this before, but it is in a much better position now, and so we are going to have to watch over the next coming weeks whether investors can handle understanding some of the difference between some of these economies.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is what happened yesterday just a short-term reaction? So, to put that in perspective it is only a two percent drop compared to a 30 percent sort of positive year.

    SUDEEP REDDY: It is a very short-term reaction. We can't get ahead of thinking this is going to be a long slide down. It is certainly possible that this could be the beginning of a currency crisis, but we have gone through movements like this before, and gotten past them fairly easily, but there have been a lot of forces building up and it’s not really clear to investors how something like this settles out. These are a lot of forces that you haven’t actually seen come together like this before, certainly from the Fed., and what you are seeing in China, and a number of these bigger emerging markets. It’s an unusual adjustment for investors and for most markets, so so we need to watch whether this ricochets through other markets, or whether we start to see investors get a little calmer and not overreact to some of these moves.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Sudeep Reddy from the Wall Street Journal, joining us from Washington. Thanks so much.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Since November the news about Iran has been almost exclusivley about the deal to limit that country's nuclear program in exchange for the West easing some economic sanctions.  Our own william brangham has been in Iran for most of the last two weeks.  While he was there we asked him to share his observations about life in that country of nearly 80 million people.  I began by asking him about those economic sanctions, and if they seem "crippling" as the western press often describes them.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: If you hadn’t told me before I came here that Iran was under this quote "crippling sanctions regime," you would really have no idea from walking around on the streets. The streets are packed, there is traffic everywhere, the stores are full, the grocery stores are packed with goods.  So on the surface, you really have no sense that this country is under this regime of sanctions.  That said, at the Tajrish Market in northern Tehran, we met a 54 year-old shop owner. His name is Hamid Aflaghi and he owns a store that sells soap and toiletries and household cleaning products, and he said that the real problem with the Iranian economy is inflation. And in fact, across the country the prices for consumer goods and everyday items have gone through the roof.  At the very same time, the value of the money that the people use here – the rial – has completely plummeted. Aflaghi told me that the prices of the products in his shop -- every single one of them -- have doubled or tripled in the last couple of years.  Just one example: he said that a Dove bar of soap -- a single bar of soap -- a few years ago cost about 1,500 rials. Now, that same bar of soap costs 5,000 rials. Of course, this makes it very difficult for customers to buy as much as they used to, and his business has really suffered. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Of course that inflation is connected to the economic sanctions, but are all Iranians feeling pinched? 

    WIILLIAM BRANGHAM: The upper-middle class, and certainly the wealthy in Iran have been doing very well, and there is evidence of that everywhere. We went into one electronics bazaar in the middle of downtown Tehran, and it was like an electronics bazaar out of New York City. You could not believe the amount of products that were available for sale: Apple products, Samsung, the latest mobile phones. I mean, it was a remarkable site to see. Inside this mall, one store owner that sells mostly Mac products told me that he has this very special Bluetooth headset - the latest thing he said - that is only available at Apple stores in New York City, according to him, and his store in this mall in Tehran.  So, a fairly good sign of affluence going on in certain parts of the Iranian society. We had a fairly interesting experience when we were in this mall: while we were walking around in the hallway, the evening call for prayer from the local mosque was piped through the loudspeakers in the mall, and here we were in this moment, where people were gawking over all the latest iPhones and iPads, and yet you hear this thousand year old tradition, the azaan, the call to prayer, coming through the loudspeakers.  It was just this collision of cultures, where this ancient tradition is butting up against what is really the pinnacle of western consumerism. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Are the sanctions leading to shortages, say for example medicine?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We went to a hospital in downtown Tehran - it is actually a Jewish charity hospital in the middle of the city - and there we met Dr. Ciamak Morsadegh, and he is this fascinating character. He is this big, burly, chain-smoking Jewish doctor -- yes, there are about 30,000 Jews in Iran. He is working in a Jewish hospital, that’s you know, catering mostly to lower and middle class Iranians in Tehran. In his office, he has portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini on one wall and Moses and his brother on the other. So, a very, very interesting guy, and he described to us that yes, because of sanctions, he’s had a very difficult time getting a lot of the medications that he needs for his patients. He said it’s not so much that there are prohibitions on selling the medicines. In fact, the US Treasury Department offers exemptions for those things. He says that it’s because the financial transactions that are prohibited by sanctions means that western pharmaceutical companies, for the most part, will not do business with Iranian firms. And so there is this shortage of very specific drugs that he has a very hard time getting. He said it is really a problem. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Did you meet other people who said they were affected by the sanctions? 

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yes, we did see a few examples. One of those examples we found in the city of Isfahan, it’s the ancient capital of Iran. It is about a five to six hour drive south of Tehran, and there we met a young man, whose name is Morteza Roghani. He has an advanced degree in mechanical engineering, and he used to work in the auto industry. He worked at his family business that made parts for motors. Sanctions very specifically targeted Iran's automobile industry. And so, a lot of jobs have been lost and that industry has really sort of been contracted quite considerably. So, this young man gets out of that business and he joins his father's shoe business. So, he is now a mechanical engineer using his skills to design and manufacture new shoes. He makes these very cool wing-tipped shows and things like that. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So many Americans have heard that the Iranian government censors the internet. In your time there what did you see?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The internet is heavily regulated. The government has pretty strict controls over what sites you can visit and what sites you can't. If you try to access a site that is blocked, like Twitter or Facebook, what pops up is this government website that basically says, "This site is blocked," and it offers you a sort of helpful list of other websites you might prefer to visit instead. Most Iranians, however, can get around this by using what are known as VPSs. They are called Virtual Private Networks, and it basically allows you to create your own small internet out of your own computer, and it allows you to bypass a lot of these restrictions. The logic behind the government’s censorship of the internet is not totally clear and it does not always make sense. Sometimes there are strange inconsistencies in the way they enforce it. For example, NPR is blocked, but PBS is not. NBC News is not blocked, but ABC News is. So, it is sometimes hard to understand exactly what is going on there. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And I've read that social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, are censored as well. 

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The irony about blocking Twitter and Facebook in Iran is that the current administration, Rouhani's Administration, is actually one of the most active users of social networks, among the Iranian governments in the past. Rouhani has a very active Twitter account. Foreign Minister Zarif has a very busy Facebook page, and they are constantly posting messages on there. And there is a funny story about a man named Jack Dorsey, who is one of the founders of Twitter in America. He sent President Rouhani a tweet saying, basically, "Mr. President, glad you are using Twitter, but can the people of Iran actually read your tweets?" President Rouhani, in his style, wrote back, very casually, "Good evening Jack," in a tweet and then basically did not answer the question. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is behind the government's desire to censor social media?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Some believe that the censorship of these social networking sites in particular, stem from the 2009 protests, which took place all over Iran, after President Ahmadinejad’s last heavily contested election. And Twitter, especially, was used to help get the word out about the rallies, marches, and events.  Some have argued that part of the government's desire to censor the internet is so that they can stop that kind of  - what they think of as “dissent” - from getting out there. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You said you met a man there, who was part of these protests...

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We went to meet a man named Saeed Laylaz. He is a very prominent Iranian economist and journalist, and we went to talk to him principally about the impact of sanctions on the Iranian economy. But several years ago Saeed was also involved in those election protests, and he was convicted by Ahmadinejad’s government, and sent to the notorious Evin Prison. Evin Prison is a place that looms quite large in the Iranian imagination. It was a prison built by the Shah. People have been executed and tortured in this place. He spent over a year in that prison, including four months in solitary confinement, where he didn't see a single human being, in a very, very small cell - six foot by five foot kind of cell. At the end of our interview, we went into his library and there on the wall we saw this wooden carving. And Saeed told us that this was a gift - a handmade gift - from a prisoner that he met inside of Evin Prison, and he took it down off the wall and read the inscription to us. It says, "As you pass through this desert of terror, pass it in good health. When you reach the blossoms and rain give them our greeting." As Saeed said, here is a message to everyone from a prisoner inside of one of Iran's notorious prisons. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And finally, William, have you seen or felt any anti-Americanism while you have been there?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: No, none at all. Our interactions with Iranians across the board have been overwhelmingly positive. People are genuinely curious about the United States. I mean, there are just not that many westerners who come through here, especially Americans. So, we are kind of viewed as a rare bird here. People want to know what is America like; what does America think of Iran? They want to offer their impressions…  so our interactions have been incredibly positive.  The few instances that you do see it -- and I think it does exist in Iranian society, we just haven’t come across it -- but the few instances where we have seen touches of it are in there more “official versions” of it.  For example, there are murals all over Tehran. You see these faces everywhere you go, looking down on you - huge, huge faces. Most of them are either the Ayatollahs – the former or the current, or the intellectual leaders of the Islamic revolution, or heroes of the 1980s Iran-Iraq War. These are volunteers or family members that went to fight Iraqis. The only mural that I saw that had showed anti-Americanism was this one.  In it, President Obama is standing back-to-back with one of the most famous villains from Shiite Islam. This is a guy who is believed to have murdered in cold blood the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. And the mural is basically indicating that Obama is like this guy; his hand may be outstretched in a gesture of friendliness, but you can’t trust him.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: William Brangham from Tehran. Thanks so much.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thanks Hari. 

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And now what you had to say about  us -- comments we received after our broadcasts last weekend from viewers like you.

    Most of what we heard focused on our report from India about that country's little-known, but ambitious space program -- a source of pride and controversy in that nation of 1.2 billion people.

    We posted the story online with the headline -- "Is India's space program worth the money?" a number of you wrote back saying the United States might want to ask that of itself.

    Clay Schott went to our website and wrote: 
    "Hari could've certainly pointed out the parallel between the points he's raising, and the very same points raised by critics of the U.S. space program in the 1960's."

    John Panarelli wrote on Facebook:

    "The United States has a huge homeless population as well as millions who live in poverty. Yet we spend thousands of times what India spends on their space program....we are not in a position to criticize India."

    But many readers agreed with Walter Lycvkowski when he wrote on facebook.

    “I don't think that a nation's science programs are an economic issue. It's more a problem of political will. Besides, the payback for spending money on scientific exploration is phenomenal. Most of our modern electronics can be attributed to these programs. 
    We heard something similar from Johnny Le on our site.

    "You can't eliminate poverty with $70 million but you can inspire millions to study, to be more than who they currently are."

    Finally from India, we heard this:

    "I don't understand why Indians--should indulge westerners by giving interviews...and justify how we spend our money."

    Feel free to send us your thoughts either through the comment sections below on pbs.org.newshour or on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/newshour). Or tweet us back @newshour.

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    On Saturday's program, representatives from both the Syrian government and opposition forces met for the first time as a part of ongoing peace talks taking place in Geneva. Later, should American investors be concerned about the world's emerging markets? And, correspondent William Brangham offers a rare look from Tehran at daily life for the Iranian people.

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  • 01/26/14--05:10: What we're watching Sunday
  • Syrian negotiations stall ahead of political talks

    Syria's opposing sides were unable to reach an agreement during talks on Sunday aimed at releasing prisoners and allowing humanitarian aid to reach the city of Homs.

    The international mediator leading the talks, Lakhdar Brahimi, said he will hold preparatory discussions with government and opposition negotiators separately on Sunday to resolve differences between the sides.

    The groups are expected to begin political discussions on Monday.

    Snowden accuses National Security Agency of industrial spying

    Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has reportedly accused the NSA of engaging in industrial espionage. Snowden made the comments during an interview set to air Sunday evening with German public television station ARD.

    ARD released a written statement with this information ahead of the broadcast. The network also reports Snowden said the information gathered was used by the U.S. even if it was unrelated to national security.

    Protests and violence disrupt early voting in Thailand

    A protest leader was shot and killed during clashes at a voting location in Bangkok on Sunday that left 11 others wounded.

    The violence occurred as demonstrators attempted to disrupt early voting for the general election set to take place this week.

    Anti-government demonstrators kept hundreds of thousands of people from voting by flooding polling stations, threatening voters and chaining gates shut.

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    Shoppers leave the Mall of Columbia after a fatal shooting on Jan. 25, 2014, in Columbia, Md. Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images`

    The gunman in Saturday's deadly shooting at the Mall of Columbia has been identified as a 19-year-old who lived in College Park, Md.

    #HoCoPolice identify #ColumbiaMall shooter as Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, of Hollywood Road in College Park.

    — Howard County Police (@HCPDNews) January 26, 2014

    The shooter, Darion Marcus Aguilar, used a 12-gauge shotgun to kill 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo, of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md., before turning the gun on himself.

    Aguilar was carrying extra ammunition and a backpack containing crude homemade explosives, the Associated Press reported, which initially slowed efforts by the police to identify him.

    Both victims were employees at a skateboard shop at the mall called Zumiez.

    Police are still trying to determine if Aguilar knew the victims.

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    A national review by the Associated Press shows lawmakers in more than half of U.S. states are sponsoring or are expected to introduce legislation for minimum-wage increases.

    Fast-food workers protested outside a Burger King restaurant in Los Angeles in August. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The push is primarily coming from Democrats in statehouses, who are trying to achieve minimum-wage hikes on the state level absent federal legislation.

    Jason Zengerle of POLITICO magazine wrote earlier this month that Democrats are likely to make minimum-wage legislation a "centerpiece" of 2014 midterm election efforts.

    According to a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month, American voters overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage, by a wide margin of 71 to 21 percent.

    Neil Sroka, communications director at Democracy for America, told the AP the strategy is "a no-brainer for any Democrat."

    Opponents contend wage increases may mean fewer jobs and higher costs for consumers.

    More PBS NewsHour reporting on the minimum wage:

    Life in the cash economy for "underbanked" Americans (Dec. 15, 2013)

    Calculating a living wage across the United States (Dec. 15, 2013)

    Poverty rates surge in American suburbs (Jan. 11, 2014)

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the situation in the Ukraine we are joined now via Skype from Kiev by David Herszenhorn, he’s covering the story there for the New York Times. So last night on the program we said the President had extended an olive branch to the opposition by offering to make one of them prime minister, but that didn’t work.

    DAVID HERSZENHORN: Well, they rebuffed this deal offered by Viktor Yanukovych who is increasingly on the defensive, there is no question. There are protests now spreading to the south and the eastern parts of Ukraine. These are Viktor Yanukovych’s base of support, the parts of the country that are absolutely most sympathetic to his pro-Russia policies. So what we’ve seen is now an indication that unrest will spread, there’s a danger of violence getting worse as the opposition leadership holds out for an even bigger victory in the days ahead.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And just to back up a couple of steps for people, what’s this all been about? Two months ago there was the possibility of the Ukraine having closer ties with the EU, but then that changed.

    DAVID HERSZENHORN: Sure, it began with a broken promise essentially. President Yanukovych had said for quite a long time that he would sign sweeping political and free trade agreements with the European Union. Toward the end of November he backed away from those deals and that set off the first round of protests. But it’s become a much deeper, more complicated situation. Those protests were inflamed by a violent police crackdown on Nov. 30 on peaceful protesters in Kiev. That set off a whole different round of demonstrations. And then they were further inflamed again on Jan. 16 when Yanukovych supporters in parliament ran through a package of legislation that severely restricts political dissent, free speech, freedom of assembly, imposes all sorts of penalties and restrictions there. Now in recent days what we’ve seen is things have turned violent, evidence of kidnappings and other abuse, either by authorities or by their surrogates, which has raised public anger even more.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what does the opposition ultimately want? What would they be satisfied with?

    DAVID HERSZENHORN: Well there are many people on the street who say that nothing short of Yanukovych’s resignation will do. He has not offered that by any means. There doesn’t seem to be any way to impeach him given that his party controls the parliament at this time. Absent that, folks are looking for sweeping changes in the government, certainly a reversal of these new laws that restrict political dissent. But it will be an interesting question in the days ahead of how much more he’s willing to concede.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And how much maneuvering room does he have given Russia’s opposition?

    DAVID HERSZENHORN: Well, Ukraine’s been facing a severe economic crisis, that was part of what was behind the deals with the EU, and part of his resistance was that the International Monetary Fund was demanding that, in exchange for help, he make what would be some politically difficult austerity moves. Russia, hoping to continue its influence in Ukraine stepped in, as you know, President Putin with $15 billion in aid. So Russia actually now has a lot of money on the line and they’re certainly concerned in the Kremlin about this unrest, about what this means for Russia’s investment in Ukraine’s future. That’s a big part of how this will all play out.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, David Herszenhorn covering the story for the New York Times joining us via Skype from Kiev. Thanks so much.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now some of your thoughts about us -- comments we received from viewers like you after our broadcast last evening.

    Not surprisingly, most of you wrote us about William Brangham's look at Iran from the inside-- a report that included images from inside a hospital, stores selling food and computers and a political dissident's home.

    Arash Azadegan, an Iranian-American, complained that our report was "very shallow" and understated the damage American sanctions have done to the Iranian people.

    He said, "Sanctions have raised the cost of living to the point that people have much less protein in their diet and children's nutrition is a concern."

    But most of you praised the report which offered images of Iranian life rarely seen on American television.

    Sharon Sevara called our piece

    "…informative and well done. A bit different that the picture I had in my mind's eye about commerce in Iran."

    Shelly Finney-Grantham said on Facebook that she would:

    "…love to see more -- in-depth -- stories about regular' people and families in Iran and how things are on a day to day basis for them. I personally see war and extremists a lot and would like to see the other side.

    Reza Ghafouri replied:

    “I'm Persian and it's the truth. What you see in the media isn't the truth about Iran and Iranians. It's all because of politics. Iranians are like other people in the world, friendly people who live in a peaceful way as you do.
    Added Michael Sabo:

    'They've got a lot more in common with us than most of the countries in the middle east. Wonder why that's never reported?”

    On Twitter, we heard from Paul Hancock, who thought:

    "Really fascinating. Shows how little you can know about anywhere before you actually get there."

    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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    BARBARA HARTMAN: These are food scraps. Rather than putting them in the trash, I’d rather put them in my compost area.

    MONA ISKANDER: Barbara Hartman is a registered dietician who lives in rural West Virginia.  She grew up appreciating the value of food.

    BARBARA HARTMAN: I don't like to waste food.  It's been ingrained in me since I was a little child. My grandfather lived through the Depression. And he would always bug us about cleaning our plates.  And then my parents would echo that.

    MONA ISKANDER:  Hartman is part of a growing number of people trying different methods to reduce food waste at home.

    BARBARA HARTMAN: A lot of people will throw the greens on the beets away, but they are actually delicious, so I save them, put them in the pan. There’s less waste that way. 

    I like to freeze things instead of throwing them out. This is a piece of turkey pot pie from the holiday meal that I just stuck into the freezer, otherwise it would have gone into the compost.

    MONA ISKANDER: But Hartman’s not only trying to reduce waste at home… she’s taken her philosophy to work.

    She is the chief of nutrition and food service at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia, where she’s in charge of serving 15 hundred meals a day.

    MONA ISKANDER: What was this food situation like here when you first came to work here?

    BARBARA HARTMAN: When I first became the chief of the service, we were throwing all of the food waste into the trash.  Which was then going to the landfill.

    MONA ISKANDER: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 36 million tons of food waste goes to landfills every year  And the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups, says that’s harmful to the environment.

    MONA ISKANDER: According to the NRDC, food now represents the biggest component of solid municipal waste that makes its way to landfills. Food waste converts to methane, a greenhouse gas that’s at least 25 times more powerful in global warming than carbon dioxide.

    MONA ISKANDER: It’s environmental concerns like this that encouraged Barbara Hartman and her team to take action. Six years ago they started to implement what they call, “a green kitchen” initiative.

    BARBARA HARTMAN: Our goal these days is to be as environmentally responsible as we can be. And to also have great food.

    MONA ISKANDER:  So Hartman turned to technology, investing $22,000 of the VA medical center’s money in a food waste tracking system called LeanPath. It paid for itself in just 6 months.

    MONA ISKANDER: Here’s how it works: every day, Hartman’s staff weighs and records the amount of food that’s wasted when preparing meals… they also measure the waste from untouched leftover meals

    RUSSELL: So I’m actually weighing our waste trim that’s coming from the vegetable prep department.

    MONA ISKANDER: LeanPath generates data on what specific food is being wasted.

    BARBARA HARTMAN: This shows the top 10 food items that we’ve wasted by category and I can see that cooked vegetables were up quite a bit in our waste. So... It does help me to determine that OK next week we do need to order less of certain items.

    ANDREW SHAKMAN: Food is money.  So it's really critical that we record data about it and we know what we're wasting.

    MONA ISKANDER: Andrew Shakman is the president and co-founder of LeanPath. A graduate of Stanford University, he has a background in technology.

    ANDREW SHAKMAN: I'm passionate about the food waste problem because I came to it initially as a very rational business thinker, approaching this as-- an economic problem. There's a financial opportunity where it made no sense to be inefficient.

    MONA ISKANDER: Shakman is one of a growing number of social entrepreneurs who are trying to make money and do the right thing to reduce food waste.

    ANDREW SHAKMAN: And I found that I got out of bed every day with a purpose and a mission that was driven by impacting those things.  Yes, we want to build a great business, but what's exciting to us is about making a change.

    MONA ISKANDER: So far he’s sold his system to more than 150 large institutions, like colleges, hospitals and hotels around the country.

    In an effort to attract smaller businesses, like restaurants, LeanPath now charges about $150 to $1,000 a month, depending on the level of service provided.

    ANDREW SHAKMAN: So what LeanPath does is we help people understand what they're putting in the garbage, so that they can then make changes to production, to purchasing and to menus so that in the future, they don't have that waste again.

    MONA ISKANDER: Shakman’s company is making a profit. And its clients are saving money.

    BARBARA HARTMAN: I conservatively estimate that we save $40,000 to $50,000 a year in food waste.

    MONA ISKANDER: In the last few years, other companies have sprung up to tackle the food waste problem while also trying to make a profit.

    Start-ups like Food Cowboy and Crop Mobster connect food suppliers who have excess fresh produce to organizations that feed people in need... cutting waste and charging a small commission on the transaction.

    Another company, Daily Table, wants to make money on the fact that most grocery stores can only sell perfect looking fruits and vegetables.  The company wants to sell bruised and oversized produce at discounted prices.  

    Back in West Virginia, just 15 miles from the VA medical center, a local farmer, Cam Tabb, has also found a way to make money and reduce the amount of food going into landfills.

    On his 1800-acre farm, he grows a variety of crops and raises livestock. But Tabb has also built a thriving composting business.

    The VA medical center pays Tabb to pick up their leftover food scraps every two weeks. He trucks this to his compost heap where it supplements other organic waste that will decompose over time.

    CAM TABB: We’re converting a waste into a usable product that grows another crop. In other words, what you saw put in there was some sort of crop and now, once it’s processed into finished compost then we’ll grow other crops.

    MONA ISKANDER: Tabb uses the nutrient rich compost in place of commercial fertilizer, saving him $50,000 a year.

    CAM TABB: It’s part of the diversification that we’ve done which makes us more profitable.

    MONA ISKANDER: Thanks to this unique partnership and other efforts the VA medical center has made to reduce food waste, Hartman and her team received an award from the White House in 2010.

    BARBARA HARTMAN: Before we started our Waste Watchers program, our green kitchen, all of our food waste was going into the landfill.  And now we've reduced it to where there's about 5 percent to 10 percent.

    MONA ISKANDER: But advocates say there is much work that needs to be done around the country to address what is an enormous problem.

    PETER LEHNER: In the United States, there's food wasted at every step of the chain.

    MONA ISKANDER: Peter Lehner is the executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says the government is starting to pay attention.

    PETER LEHNER: EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture have all started programs to try to address food waste, to try to begin to educate people about that.

    MONA ISKANDER: One area his organization would like the government to focus on is regulating food date labeling.

    Those dates stamped on products you buy often provide information for when food is at its best quality. Not the date that a product has gone bad and is supposed to be tossed out.

    PETER LEHNER: When people are encouraged to use their nose rather than just look at the date, actually taste-- take a taste and see whether it is still good, that can make a big difference.

    MONA ISKANDER: And Lehner says curtailing food waste may be easier than it seems. He says that’s because almost half of the food in this country goes through six major retailers, Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Costco, Target and Supervalu.

    PETER LEHNER: And so it's a half a dozen companies who have a tremendous opportunity if they change some of their policies, including pressure they put about expiration dates, how they display food, what they do with food they're throwing out, putting it into composting or feeding it to animals instead of putting it in a landfill.

    It's a relatively small number of actors who could make a big, big difference. And so NRDC and others are working with them because they can also save money at it.

    MONA ISKANDER:  As for Barbara Hartman, she has plans to expand her initiatives and hopes to tell others in the community about how they can put these types of programs into place.

    BARBARA HARTMAN: When it's all said and done, when I'm in my senior golden years, I'll be able to feel like I did the best I could.  And that my contributions add up.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We thought we would spend some time tonight talking about whether legal marijuana businesses should have access to the nation's banks. It is a topic that Attorney General, Eric Holder, raised a few days ago. For more we are joined tonight by Alex Altman of Time Magazine. So, what did the Department of Justice come out and say?

     ALEX ALTMAN: Well, Attorney General, Eric Holder, has said at some point very soon the department will be issuing guidelines that will hopefully ease some of the questions that banks have in regards to being able to transact with legal marijuana companies, both in Colorado, which on January 1st became the first state in the world to create a legal recreational market for marijuana, as well as the twenty other states - plus the District of Columbia - that permit medical marijuana.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, right now all these businesses all over the country are dealing solely with cash, which means that - what, they store it in a warehouse somewhere?

    ALEX ALTMAN: Solely or mostly in cash, which means, you know, you have a lot of legal companies, who are forced to resort to the type of shadowy capers that you might find in a gangster movie. I mean, you know, I have talked to owners in Denver, dispensaries who lease secret, off-site warehouses to store their cash, who carry around tens of thousands of dollars on their person pretty much every single day, who are forced to foot tens of thousands of dollars tax bills in stacks of twenties. So, it is a situation for them that presents challenges that are both difficult in terms of cash management, and dangerous in terms of personal safety.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so why can't they just take it to a bank? What is the bank going to get in trouble for?

    ALEX ALTMAN: Well, because marijuana is still a so-called Schedule 1 drug on par with drugs, such as cocaine or ecstasy, banks that transact with legal marijuana businesses are still at risk of running afoul of federal money laundering statutes, so they could surrender their charter, or even in the event of DOJ guidelines, they could be at risk of prosecution by some sort of zealous law enforcement. It is sort of a yellow light rather than carte blanche to do these sorts of transactions.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. So, what about state banks in a state that legalized it? Lets say, for example, Colorado, couldn't a state bank be completely within the law to take that money?

    ALEX ALTMAN: It is possible. Some of the industry out there has been scheming for a solution to this problem, and they have discussed everything from state chartered banks, as you mentioned, even to the digital currency, Bitcoin. But, you know, they have sort of - they believe that unless this is a situation that is solved at the national level, it is, because banks are risk averse - it will be problematic for banks to transact.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Alex Altman of Time Magazine joining us from Washington. Thanks so much.

    ALEX ALTMAN: Thank you.

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    Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

    President Barack Obama will look to rally support for his agenda focused on economic mobility and income inequality during Tuesday's State of the Union address in the face of a sharply divided Congress and with little public confidence in his ability to make the right decisions about the country's future.

    Coming off perhaps the toughest year of his presidency, due in large part to the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama is expected to seize on issues aimed at restoring economic fairness in an effort to regain his footing and boost prospects for Democrats heading into November's midterm elections.

    The president's aides previewed the speech on the Sunday talk shows, suggesting Mr. Obama would look to find common ground with Republicans, but not shy away from taking unilateral action when necessary.

    The Morning Line

    "The Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president's agenda. The president is not going to sign the Republican Congress' agenda. So we have to find areas where we can work together," White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

    "The president will say to the country he's not going to wait. He has a pen and he has a phone. He's going to use those to move the ball forward to create opportunity," Pfeiffer added.

    White House press secretary Jay Carney reinforced that message on ABC's "This Week." "The president sees this as a year of action to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary," Carney said.

    Republicans, meanwhile, voiced their distaste with the strategy.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., charged that the approach showed a "certain amount of arrogance" on the part of the administration. "He says, well, it's hard to get Congress to do anything. Well, yeah, welcome to the real world. It's hard to convince people to get legislation through. It takes consensus, but that's what he needs to be doing is building consensus and not taking his pen and creating law," Paul said on CNN's "State of the Union."

    "Frequently, times of divided government are quite good times in terms of achieving things for the American people," added Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on "Fox News Sunday." "This president, it seems to me, after the 2010 election when the American public issued a, shall we say, restraining order, the president has sort of hung out on the left and tried to get what he wants through the bureaucracy, as opposed to moving to the political center."

    Tuesday's speech comes as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday found 46 percent of Americans approve of the president's job performance, while 50 percent disapprove.

    The Washington Post's Dan Balz and Peyton Craighill put the numbers into context:

    His previous low at the start of a new year was 48 percent positive, 48 percent negative in 2012. A year ago, his approval rating was 55 percent.

    Just 37 percent say they have either a good amount or a great deal of confidence in the president to make the right decisions for the country's future, while 63 percent say they do not. Those numbers are the mirror image of what they were when he was sworn into office in 2009 and lower than at any other time the question was asked by The Washington Post and ABC News.

    Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere reports that liberals are hoping the president will offer bold solutions to address inequality, but notes doing so could carry some risk:

    In a tone-setting speech in December, Obama embraced an increase in the minimum wage and spoke of his commitment to broad principles. Now he'll have to balance how much further to take that to energize his base against the damage he could do to red-state Democrats -- particularly in Senate races where the party's on defense -- by seeming to swing too far.

    In another signal of potential themes for Tuesday's address, the White House released an initial list of guests who have been invited as guests of First Lady Michelle Obama. They include Jeff Bauman and Carlos Arredondo, two survivors of last April's Boston Marathon bombings; Gary Bird, the fire chief of Moore, Okla., which was devastated by a tornado last May; Joey Hudy, a 16-year-old intern at Intel; Kathy Hollowell-Makle, the District of Columbia's public school teacher of the year; and, Jason Collins, who last year became the first male player in a major professional American team sport to come out openly as gay.


    Politico reported Monday Florida Rep. Trey Radel, facing a cocaine charge and a recent trip to rehab, will resign from Congress.

    The Atlantic's Molly Ball attends the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention and gets an inside look at how the tea party has alienated some of the GOP's most loyal constituents.

    Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., isn't worried about the tea party pushing her to the right in her quest for the Senate. She's even saying good things about "Obamacare," which she calls the Affordable Care Act. Modeling herself off the GOP women who reached across the aisle in 2013, Capito wants to be known as a "deal-maker," not a conservative.

    Emily's List is launching a new initiative -- "Impact Project" -- to highlight the impact female legislators have had on policy beyond just abortion issues and position candidates for the mid-terms.

    In the most competitive general elections, Republicans have zero women running their Senate campaigns, which GOP strategists worry could affect the tenor of TV ads.

    The Associated Press notes 30 states are likely to consider increasing the minimum wage.

    Arizona's GOP legislature is challenging the state's independent redistricting commission in federal court. Legislative leaders are hoping to redraw district lines before this summer's primaries.

    The New York Times' Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg profile Sen. Rand Paul and his relationship with libertarianism.

    Charlie Crist seems to have disappeared from campaigning for his gubernatorial bid.

    Texas Rep. Steve Stockman says he wasn't MIA; he was traveling overseas and campaigning.

    Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News writes about the people Mr. Obama visited at their homes during the last campaign, and what they're thinking now about the president.

    The American Legion is concerned a large number of military commissaries may close across the country.

    The New York Times' Room for Debate asks 17 advocates whom they would choose as the president's guest to Tuesday's State of the Union address.

    The price of U.S. Postal Service stamps went up three cents, to 49 cents.

    Want to know which statue represents your state in the Capitol Building? There's an app for that.


    Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed income inequality, Hillary Clinton, and Bob McDonnell in their Friday segment.

    You can submit your reactions to the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night via our website.

    We'll also need help translating the speech and its response from the GOP into languages other than English.

    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.

    Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

    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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    In the Philippines, people desperate to make a living dive into muddy waters in makeshift mines in search of gold.

    Underwater mining

    In the coastal areas of the Philippines, much of the clay containing the gold ore is below the water table. This means most mining activity must take place under water. Larry C. Price reported from the area and took these photographs. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Mambulao Bay

    The shallow Mambulao Bay is located in the Camarines Norte region of the Philippines. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Risky work

    The mining is illegal, the job is hazardous and the returns are paltry. But that doesn't stop the miners, mostly adults and some children, who say there is no other work available. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Compressor mining

    A compressor miner sinks below the muddy water of Mambulao Bay to begin a dive for ore that can last for hours. Their job is to fill bucket after bucket with soil for a fellow miner to haul to the surface. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Murky dive

    A compressor miner sinks below the muddy water to begin another dive. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Miner emerges

    A miner emerges from a shaft. Those who dive dig down as much as 60 feet while breathing through a tube connected to a makeshift compressor. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Long dives

    Jay Delima, 24, grimaces as he emerges from a long stint in an underwater pit called a compressor mine. Miners descend underwater into vertical shafts up to 50 feet deep and shovel gold-bearing clay into cloth bags that are then pulled to the surface. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Nipa palms

    Families mine in nipa groves, a small, sturdy palm common along riverbanks. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Collapsed tunnels

    In Paracale, Philippines, scavengers take wood from a now-closed compressor mining site. In November 2012, at least three people were killed when some of the tunnels collapsed. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Muddy depths

    Compressor mining was banned in the Philippines under a 2012 executive order. Miners say they stay in business by paying police agencies the equivalent of $11 a month for each worker. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Air source

    Small Chinese-made compressors are used to force air through plastic tubing so the miners can breath underwater. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Breathing tube

    The miners breath through a plastic tube that is attached to small compressors capable of pumping air below the surface. Miners can sometimes work up to four hours underwater. Photo: Larry C. Price

    A day's work

    Jonathon Ramorez, 12, uses a wide, wooden pan to separate gold from sediment in the Philippines’ Mambulao Bay. A plastic bag holds a small lump of mercury and gold, the product of the mining crew’s work for the day. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Sorting ore

    Ore is sorted after being pulled by a rope to the surface from a water-filled mine shaft. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Adding mercury

    Processors pour the sluice into large shallow pans and add mercury. As they swirl the slurry, the mercury binds to the gold and sinks to the bottom of the pan. They repeat this process over and over, carefully draining off the sludge, until a film of gold mixed with mercury remains at the bottom of the pan. Photo: Larry C. Price

    Panned gold

    Gold panned directly from ore pulled from a 40-foot compressor mine pit at Tawig in the Philippines. Photo: Larry C. Price


    The compressor miners end their day on a floating bamboo platform at Santa Milagrossa, Philippines. Photo: Larry C. Price

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    SANTA MILAGROSA, Philippines -- Brian Mullaton is 13 years old and makes his living by diving into deep, muddy holes.

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    Daft Punk won best Album of the Year during the 56th Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage/Getty Images

    Daft Punk swept the stage Sunday night at the 56th Grammy Awards. The duo took home many of the coveted awards, including record of the year for "Get Lucky" and album of the year for "Random Access Memories."

    But the Grammys weren't only a show of big name artist and former winners. Lorde, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Kacey Musgraves were the featured rising stars last night in the pop, rap, and country music categories respectively.

    Lorde's "Royals" won best song of the year and best pop solo performance. That's a far cry from a year ago, when the New Zealand musician was playing gigs in small clubs.

    The Seattle duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis left the Staples Center with best new artist, best rap performance, best rap song, both for the song "Thrift Shop," and best rap album for "The Heist." This was no easy feat as they were up again rap giants such as Jay-Z, Drake, and Eminem.

    Sunday night wasn't only about pop, rap and country.

    Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell won best Americana album for "Old Yellow Moon" and the Del McCoury Bank won best bluegrass album for "The Streets of Baltimore."

    Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite won best blues album for "Get up!"

    Chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown spoke with the Harper and Musselwhite in August about blues as a "living, renewable tradition."


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