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

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    The U.S Constitution requires the president to "give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

    Even in 1862, with the nation engrossed in civil war, President Lincoln delivered his required address, illustrating the nation's crossroads: "The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation."

    But what would such a speech look like in nations where there is no such requirement, if the government was in disarray, or locked in a struggle with its own citizens? We spoke to several regional specialists about what the leaders of Egypt, Syria, China, Iran and North Korea might say, and they told us sometimes what they wouldn't say would be most telling.

    Iran's President Hassan Rouhani

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Dec. 1. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would have a lot to talk about despite his short time in office. Since becoming president in August 2013, Iran has signed a six-month interim nuclear deal with the P5+1 nations -- the United States, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany. That's led to the lifting of some sanctions against the Islamic republic.

    According to Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, Rouhani would tout how other countries are turning to Iran to help solve regional problems, saying something like, "'hardly a week passes where we haven't had high-ranking visitors from overseas who want better relations and trade. Iran is in demand.'"

    He'd note the strengthening of Iran's currency, the rial, and remind his audience about the economic problems his administration inherited: the debt, inflation, and unfunded projects, she continued.

    But Rouhani probably wouldn't bring up his lack of control over the security institutions in Iran, suppression of the media and filtering of the Internet, said Esfandiari. He wouldn't mention the constraints placed on him by a conservative parliament and the Revolutionary Guard, which doesn't want to lose its own grip on power.

    But things could change in six months. If nuclear negotiations continue to go well, she noted, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei might consider granting Rouhani more authority and control.

    On Syria, he might urge all countries to cooperate in preventing terrorists from crossing into Syria and fomenting the bloodshed -- the view of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Rouhani also might say Syria's future must be determined by the Syrian people alone through free and fair elections, said Esfandiari.

    China's President Xi Jinping

    Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the Malaysia-China Economic Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 4. Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

    The theme of Chinese President Xi Jinping's address -- if he gave one -- likely would be efforts to uproot corruption, said Cheng Li, director of research at the Brookings Institution's China Center.

    The case of disgraced former Communist Party official Bo Xilai showed the depth of that corruption and the urgent need to address it. Xi has talked about the fight against both "tigers" and "flies", and he probably would cite the actions taken against Bo as evidence of the government taking it seriously, said Li.

    China also faces regional conflicts including a territorial dispute with Japan over a cluster of islands in the East China Sea. As a rising power, China is deeply concerned about territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Any signs of being soft or accommodating would resonate poorly at home, said Li, so Xi would have to talk tough without crossing any lines that might lead to war.

    In the coming year, Xi would note, the slowdown in China's economic growth, coupled with the eurozone crisis, demonstrates China's need to transition from an export-driven economy to one that fosters consumption. Meanwhile, millions of migrant workers are streaming into cities in search of work, and "Xi's challenge is how to provide jobs and housing and deal with the environmental degradation," said Li.

    Xi might frame those challenges in terms of the "Chinese dream" and the pursuit of prosperity -- a dream he described during his first press conference after taking office in November 2012, Li said. "Twenty years ago, there was no middle class in China. Now it's about a quarter of the population. Expanding the middle class is [Xi's] challenge and opportunity."

    North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a military parade in honor of the 100th birthday of the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012. Photo by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

    Elsewhere in Asia, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un probably would demand an end to joint military exercises by the United States and its allies in the region, as he did during his New Year's address, said Stephan Haggard, professor of Korea-Pacific studies at the University of California-San Diego.

    But he probably wouldn't mention his country's nuclear program and U.S. efforts to denuclearize the peninsula, which Kim has no intention of doing. On the domestic front, Kim probably wouldn't delve into any internal economic reforms either, instead emphasizing the government's focus on foreign direct investment, particularly with China, Haggard said.

    If he brought up last month's execution of his uncle, a high-ranking government official, Kim likely would defend it as necessary to protect the regime against a traitor. "It looks like we're entering a period of a crackdown of ideological deviation and dissent within the party and society that might be seen as a challenge to Kim Jong Un's authority," said Haggard.

    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad

    A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency on June 17 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in Damascus. Photo from AFP/Getty Images

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hasn't been seen much in public since the civil war in his country started nearly three years ago, and he's selective with his media appearances.

    But if he were to address the nation, Assad likely would portray the ongoing conflict as a war against terrorism -- the stance he has voiced and his government took at this month's talks in Geneva, Switzerland. The talks were aimed at finding a political solution to the raging battles against government and opposition forces in Syria that has led to the deaths of an estimated 130,000 people. (View the NewsHour's on-the-ground coverage.)

    Assad also might point to the country's cooperation in getting rid of its chemical weapons stockpiles and pin the blame for any delays on lack of equipment from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute's Program on Arab Politics. Under international pressure, Syria agreed to destroy its deadly poison gases and nerve agents by the middle of this year, despite security and other challenges. The disarmament process has been an international one with countries such as Russia, China, Norway, Denmark and the United States assisting in the transportation and disposal of the materials.

    And if presidential elections are held in Syria this year, Assad might say he would be glad to run again -- if that's what the people want. If there is "public opinion in favor of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election," he told the Agence France-Presse. His second term expires on July 7.

    Egypt's Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi

    Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who was also appointed deputy prime minister, is pictured here on Aug. 1 in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images

    Upcoming elections in another country -- Egypt -- might color Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's state of the union address, were he to give one. Some expect him to run for president after his leadership role in the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

    El-Sissi would cite the approval of Egypt's new constitution earlier this month by 98 percent of voters as a glowing endorsement of his reforms and evidence that Egypt is moving forward with democracy. Interim President Adly Mansour said Sunday that Egypt will hold presidential elections before ones for parliament, though he didn't give a specific schedule.

    He probably wouldn't expound upon the deadly demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square populated by those concerned about a return to autocratic rule. But instead he might say Egyptians want a strong military leadership to maintain order and stability.

    Little is known about el-Sissi, but he remains popular in Egypt. "It appears that el-Sissi's populist power is derived from his ability to instill optimism, joy and pride in the hearts of many Egyptians," said Adel Iskandar, an adjunct instructor at Georgetown University, quoted the Associated Press. "The Muslim Brotherhood, the January 25 (2011) revolutionaries, and anyone who opposes the country's current trajectory must contend with this new fact."

    We'll have full coverage of President Obama's State of the Union address on a special PBS NewsHour broadcast 9-11 p.m. EST on Tuesday.

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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    Taking your Social Security checks early might close the gap in your finances in the short term, but if you can tide yourself over, you'll be better off in the long term if you wait. Photo by Flickr user marsmet474.

    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.

    Barbara -- Novato, Calif.: I am 61 now and will be 62 later this year. I lost my job two years ago and the unemployment benefits have run out. My husband is 60 and still working. We can get by on his salary, but we are thinking I should start collecting Social Security benefits when I turn 62 this fall. What is your advice?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Bad idea. If you wait until 70, your retirement benefit will be 76 percent higher after inflation. And you can potentially get a full spousal benefit (half of your husband's full retirement benefit) starting at full retirement age if your husband files for his retirement benefit at that point. If he does file, he can suspend his benefit at full retirement age and start it up again at age 70 at a 32 percent larger level.

    Kathy Reynolds -- Hilton Head, S.C.: I am 60 years old. I was married to my first husband from 1975 to 2001. He was a high-wage earner and I would get more Social Security benefits from that marriage. In 2010, I married my second husband. I am wondering what my options are for receiving Social Security. I am also wondering what age would optimize my benefits. My current husband is 70 years old. I probably have a life expectancy of at least 85 based on my minimal health issues, genetics and fitness plan. Can you advise me on what my options are and what is my best course of action regarding Social Security?

    MORE FROM LARRY KOTLIKOFF: Avoid the Social Security Nightmare That Doomed This Couple

    Larry Kotlikoff: Because you are remarried, you can't receive spousal benefits based on your first husband's earnings record. And because you remarried before age 60, you can't receive survivor benefits based on your first husband's earnings record when your first husband passes away.

    So, unless you get divorced, your ex-husband is truly out of your Social Security picture unless you are caring for his children and they're under 16 or disabled (provided that they became disabled before age 22). In this case, you could collect divorcée spousal benefits based on your ex's work record or you could collect mother's survivor benefits were he to pass away.

    The way to maximize your lifetime benefits is likely to be to wait until your full retirement age and take just your spousal benefit at that point. Then, at age 70, file for your retirement benefit. Since you won't have filed for your own retirement benefit when you file for your spousal benefit, you'll receive a full spousal benefit. In other words, you'll get half of your husband's full retirement benefit (not half of what he's now collecting -- unless he started collecting at full retirement age).

    Al -- Natchez, Miss.: My son is 19 and a senior in high school. They say he can no longer receive benefits from his deceased dad because he turned 19 in November. He needs that check until May when school is out. They told me that I would be wasting my time with an appeal. Am I?

    Larry Kotlikoff: They are correct. Child survivor benefits aren't available to children over 19 unless they are disabled and became disabled prior to reaching age 22.

    Bonnie -- Oklahoma City, Okla.: I am 60 years old and on disability. My ex is 66 and not yet retired. He says if he dies I can collect his Social Security amount, which is higher than my disability. We were married 25 years. Is he correct?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your ex is correct, but you can also collect spousal benefits based on your ex's earnings record. I recommend you read my column on disability benefits and consider following the proposed strategy of withdrawing your retirement benefit prior to reaching full retirement age, applying just for divorcée spousal benefits at full retirement age, and then starting your retirement benefit at 70, when it will be as high as it can be.

    Carole -- Daytona Beach, Fla.: I am 52, my husband is 60, and we both collect Social Security disability insurance. If we get divorced, can I collect money from his disability?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If you have been married for 10 or more years, you can collect an excess spousal benefit starting at age 62, but it will be reduced because you are taking it before you reach full retirement age. If your husband dies before you get divorced, you can collect survivor benefits, which are available from age 50 onward. If your husband dies after you get divorced, you may still collect survivor benefits, again, assuming you were married for 10 or more years.

    Mike -- Chicago: I understand that Social Security payments are means-tested, so that for every dollar I earn (up to a certain level) outside of Social Security, I lose benefits. However, I also believe (wrongly?) this means-testing give-back (for non-Social Security income above a specified level) ends either at full retirement (for me, 67) or at 70 years of age. Is this true?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Social Security benefits are earnings-tested, not means-tested. And the earnings test stops the second you reach full retirement age. Furthermore, any benefits you lose prior to reaching full retirement age due to the earnings test will be made up to you in terms of higher retirement benefits from full retirement age onward.

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

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    Peter Cole thinks of all poetry as translation.

    "Writing one's own poetry, you're translating a nonverbal experience or a less than articulate experience into something much more articulate," he told Art Beat.

    In addition to writing his own, Cole translates Hebrew and Arabic poetry into English. When Cole finished translating 2,000 years of Jewish mystical poetry for his previous project "The Poetry of Kabbalah" (Yale University Press, 2012), he was ready to start producing his own work again, but it wasn't a simple or easy transition.

    "Every morning you come to your desk. There's lots to do and it can be that way for many years. And then you finish and you feel a certain pressure and you want to write your own poems, or they want to be written, but there's the terror of course, what will you do when you have all that time and all that space?"

    So Cole wrote about a poem that deals with that fear, "Quatrains for a Calling."

    Hear Peter Cole read Quatrains for a Calling.

    Quatrains for a Calling

    Why are you here? Who have you come for and what would you gain? Where is your fear?

    Why are you here?

    You've come so near, or so it would seem; you can see the grain in the paper -- that's clear.

    But why are you here

    when you could be elsewhere, earning a living or actually learning? Why should we care

    why you're here?

    Is that a tear? Yes, there's pressure Behind the eyes-- And there are peers.

    But why are you here?

    At times it sears. The pressure and shame and the echoing pain. What do you hear

    now that you're here?

    The air's so severe. It calls for equipment, which comes at a price. And you've volunteered.

    Why? Are you here?

    What will you wear? What will you do if it turns out you've failed? How will you fair?

    Why are you here

    when it could take years to find out--what? It's all so slippery, and may not cohere.

    And yet, you're here ...

    Is it what you revere? How deep does that go? How do you know? Do you think you're a seer?

    Is that why you're here?

    Do you have a good ear? For praise or for verse? Can you handle a curse? Define persevere.

    Why are you here?

    It could be a career.

    In "Quatrains for a Calling," a poem from his new collection "The Invention of Influence" (New Directions, 2014), Cole begins by having a conversation with himself and the reader.

    "When you read it and someone asks 'Why are you here?,' I'm asking the reader, 'Why are you here? Why are you here reading this poem?'"

    Cole and the reader are on a journey together. "In a sense, we're engaged in the same pursuit, the same quest trying to find out what we're trying to get from poems."

    Cole's poetry is influenced by Jewish mysticism. He draws on Kabbalistic concepts for the titles of the poems and the themes he explores throughout "The Invention of Influence."

    For those who aren't as familiar with the Kabbalah, there's a handy section of notes in the back of the book where he explains relevant mystical histories and notions.

    "I understand that people don't walk around with knowing a lot of these things."

    But, for Cole, some of those notions are central to his philosophy.

    "For the Kabbalists, whether they are writing poetry or whether they are engaged in a theological speculation, the stakes are incredibly high. Worlds are made and unmade based on what you might do or say or sing," Cole explained.

    "That's something I identify with as a poet. I think the stakes are very high for poetry, at least I want the stakes to be very high."

    The Invention of Influence (c) 2014 by Peter Cole. Reprinted with permission by New Directions.

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    On the eve of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, Americans rate the nation's economy as their top policy priority, according to the results from a Pew Research Center survey.

    Eighty percent of Americans believe the economy should be a main area of focus for the president and Congress in 2014. Eighty-five percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents took this stance.

    Budget deficit reduction dropped from 72 percent to 63 percent. It is now the sixth policy priority after being third in 2013. Eighty percent of Republicans said that the deficit should be a priority, compared to 66 percent of independents and only 49 percent of Democrats.

    Elsewhere, interest in improvements to infrastructure like roads, bridges and public transport jumped nine percentage points, from 30 percent to 39 percent.

    Eighty-one percent of Republicans ranked terrorism defense as the top priority, versus 14 percent of Republicans who ranked global warming as the top. Eighty-five percent of Democrats and 81 percent of independents ranked the economy as the top priority, versus 27 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents who placed global trade as the first priority.

    The largest partisan gap was on environmental protection. Fewer than three in 10 Republicans ranked the environment as a top policy priority (28 percent), but more than twice as many Democrats did (65 percent). Independents were basically split on the issue at 48 percent.

    The economy, the job situation and terrorism ranked in the top five for all three groups.

    The Pew Research Center has more details, including updated popularity rankings for President Obama. What do you think the government's top priorities should be for the upcoming year? After the president delivers his address to the nation tomorrow night, tell us what you thought about the speech in a video response. Your take might be broadcast as part of Wednesday night's edition of the PBS NewsHour.

    H/T Zachary Treu

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    MORE: Ukrainian president says he has agreed to scrap harsh anti-protest legislation: http://t.co/JOX0Zpczgc

    — The Associated Press (@AP) January 27, 2014

    Read more:

    Background: Opposition leaders rebuff Ukraine president's olive branch

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    Blackbeard photo by Flickr user Bruceclay

    Among the pirates who have scoured the seven seas, Blackbeard stands as history's most notorious. Said to have captured two ships more than twice the size of his own, Blackbeard's conquests have been told and retold for nearly three centuries, captivating countless imaginations.

    For so long, Blackbeard's epic has been obscured by legend and popular lore. But recent documents discovered deep from within British, French and American archives and others, uncovered from the sands of the U.S. coast, have allowed scholars and historians to piece together much of the intrigue.

    Based on this cache of new findings, Colin Woodard, author of "The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down," the inspiration for NBC's upcoming drama "Crossbones," published an exclusive account of Blackbeard's final days in the February issue of Smithsonian magazine.

    Woodard's account of Blackbeard's last moments is one of loyalty, revenge and gore.

    At the height of his pirating career, lasting no more than five years, according to Woodard, Blackbeard and his men reputedly had the Royal Navy on the run, disrupted the trans-Atlantic trade of nearly three empires and struck fear in the minds of statesmen from the Americas to Europe.

    From their strategic base in Nassau, Bahamas, Blackbeard and his men were able to sail out into the heavily trafficked Florida Straits and carry back captured prizes to their fortified position.

    Blackbeard was seen in his time by many ordinary people as a "Robin Hood" type figure, fighting against the status quo of a corrupt ruling class. Most of his men saw themselves as engaged in a type of social revolt, not simply banditry for profit.

    And despite his pirate persona, Blackbeard had never killed a man.

    That is until his fatal final battle with the Royal Navy, as chronicled in Woodard's account.

    In Blackbeard's final days, he was living in Bath, a frontier colony where Governor Charles Eden of North Carolina was then living. The colony was in dire straits after attacks from local Indians left many dead. But Blackbeard and his men offered the colony protection and man-power, and in exchange, Eden offered them sanctuary. The infamous pirate settled there and even married a local girl.

    Despite Blackbeard's favorable relationship with Eden, many saw him as a threat -- including Virginia Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood. Keeping tabs on his whereabouts for months, Spotswood schemed to Royal Navy Lt. Robert Maynard to attack Blackbeard.

    On Nov. 21, 1718, finally mired in a bloody battle near Ocracoke, the two crews shared deadly blows. Conceding defeat, Blackbeard ordered his ship to be brought alongside Maynard's and walked aboard. Suddenly the two crews charged into hand-to-hand combat. According to records found from Maynard himself, Blackbeard fell "with five shot in him, and 20 dismal cuts."

    The famed pirate's body was dumped in the Pamlico Sound in North Carolina, and his head was strung from the ship's bowspirit. It was later given to Spotswood as a trophy.

    Though questions remain, Woodard's account sets much of the ledger straight.

    The historic record has been updated just in time for Hugh Jackman to play Blackbeard in a Warner Brothers' Peter Pan origin story, set for release in July 2015.

    H/T Sarah Sheffer

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    The National Institutes of Health will study how the body reacts to the flu virus in the hope of improving future vaccines.

    Sniffles and sneezes aren't enough to deter a few brave individuals from participating in one of the latest studies from the National Institutes of Health. In the hopes of making a better flu vaccine, NIH scientists are purposely infecting dozens of volunteers with the influenza virus, The Associated Press reports.

    If you're bold enough to volunteer, the flu -- plus up to $3,000 in compensation -- can be yours.

    The study aims to see how the body reacts to influenza at each stage of infection. Dr. Matthew Memoli, an infectious disease specialist at the NIH, believes the study will ultimately shed light on how to improve vaccines.

    "Vaccines are working, but we could do better," says Memoli. It makes sense when you consider that the vaccine is least effective in the group that is most susceptible to the virus: those age 65 and older.

    But the knowledge that may be gained through the study comes at a high cost: the flu does kill thousands of Americans each year. Participants must be quarantined in an isolation ward for at least nine days, their health closely monitored. Yet as flu specialist Dr. John Treanor of the University of Rochester Medical Center puts it, the results of the study could be key in future flu prevention.

    "It's all going to add up to a better understanding of what you need to have to be protected against the flu."

    H/T Sarah Corapi

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    GWEN IFILL: A dangerous cold wave that could be one for the record books moved deeper into the heart of the nation today. The frigid air pushed east from the Northern Plains and Midwest, and began snarling travel and schools.

    NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The frigid system is again driving arctic air and snow south from Canada, for the second time in a month. Forecasts today called for windchills of minus 43 in Minneapolis and minus 40 in Chicago, prompting the closing of schools in and around the Windy City and airlines to cancel hundreds of flights.

    Along the waterfront, steam rose across lake Michigan, as the water was much warmer than the air. Elsewhere, extreme wind, gusting up to 60 miles an hour, blew snow into near whiteout conditions for travelers in the Dakotas. And slick roads triggered a massive 33-car pile-up yesterday in Warren, Michigan. Only minor injuries were reported.

    NADEER BOUBAKER, Michigan driver: An SUV come up behind me, hit me. Then another car come and hit him. And next thing you know, it was a really bad, bad accident.

    KWAME HOLMAN: With the deep cold expected to linger for several days, road crews around Indianapolis raced to clear snow as quickly as they can.

    ALAN BACON, Indianapolis Department of Public Works: It's going to be a very hard freeze, and it doesn't matter what product you put on it, salt or whatever. It's not going to move.

    KWAME HOLMAN: But salt was in high demand in many places, including portions of Wisconsin, where they're already running short.

    JOHN MAREK, town chairman, Waukesha, Wisconsin: The town of Waukesha has used its entire allocation of salt for the 2013-2014 season.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Propane also was in short supply, as families and businesses struggle to keep warm. Prices spiked in the Midwest last week, forcing suppliers to ration deliveries.

    Meanwhile, the South and East now are preparing for the cold that's coming in the days just ahead. The National Weather Service has issued winter storm warnings and cold advisories from Southeast Texas and along the Gulf Coast and on up the Eastern Seaboard.

    GWEN IFILL: In Quebec today, police and search teams braved the biting cold to search for victims of a fire at a seniors residence; 32 people are feared dead from last Thursday's blaze, but officials have recovered only 14 bodies so far. The wreckage is now encased in heavy ice and police are still investigating the cause.

    Major Internet companies have worked out a compromise on what they can say publicly about customer information they turn over to the government. The Justice Department announced the surveillance agreement today with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The companies get to disclose, within limits, how often they are ordered to hand over information, but not until six months after the fact.

    The government of Ukraine agreed tonight to scrap new anti-protest laws. The announcement came on the official Web site of President Viktor Yanukovych. He imposed the laws earlier this month, sparking violent clashes between police and demonstrators. The opposition wants closer ties with the European Union, but the government has signed a new pact with Russia instead.

    The Syrian peace talks appear stuck for the moment, after negotiations lasted less than an hour today. The focus was supposed to be on creating a possible transitional government. Instead, the Assad regime offered a paper on fighting terrorism and cutting off funds for rebels.

    After the meeting broke down, the opposition and the regime blamed each other.

    MURHAF JOUEJATI, Adviser to Syrian National Coalition: The focus, as all the international community expected, was for us to discuss the implementation of the Geneva communique. Instead, the regime put forth what they called a joint declaration of principles, which was clearly a deviation from the path.

    BOUTHAINA SHAABAN, adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: We were surprised that this basic paper was rejected by the other side, who either doesn't have the capacity to acknowledge Syria and its territorial integrity, or they don't care about what is happening to the Syrian people.

    GWEN IFILL: Over the weekend, the two delegations did agree to let women and children leave the besieged city of Homs, but they have yet to work out the logistics.

    A new wave of bloodshed has broken out in northeastern Nigeria; 45 people were killed at a church service on Sunday, and at least 52 others died today in a separate attack on a village. The attackers are believed to be from Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect that launched an uprising in 2009.

    Back in this country, jury selection began today in New Orleans in the federal corruption trial of former Mayor Ray Nagin. The two-term Democrat is accused of taking more than $200,000 in cash and other gifts from contractors. In exchange, he allegedly helped them secure millions of dollars in city repair work after Hurricane Katrina. Nagin left office in 2010.

    Republican Congressman Trey Radel is resigning his House seat, after he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession late last year. The freshman from Florida initially insisted he'd stay on, but party leaders urged him to step down. Radel had been in office 10 months when he was caught buying cocaine from an undercover police officer in Washington.

    Wall Street had another down day, but the losses were far less severe than last week. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 41 points to close below 15838. The Nasdaq lost 44 points to close at 4083.

    The French duo Daft Punk basked in congratulations today after winning four Grammy Awards last night in Los Angeles. The electronic music pioneers perform as helmeted, silent robots. Their wins included record of the year for the song "Get Lucky" and album of the year. Producer Pharrell Williams and hip-hop artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis also claimed four trophies apiece.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The deep freeze settling in over much of the country is forcing state and local officials to take precautions once again to protect people from dangerous subzero conditions. That included the state of Minnesota, where schools were closed today. In Saint Paul, the day began with temperatures of 23 degrees below zero.

    Chris Coleman is the mayor of Saint Paul, and he joins us from the Twin Cities.

    Welcome, Mr. Mayor.

    Tell us, how is this severe cold affecting your area?

    MAYOR CHRIS COLEMAN, D-Saint Paul, Minn.: Well, this is quite a stretch of cold weather. This is the seventh day in the last five years that schools have been closed. And five of those days have occurred in January.

    We have had to take precautions with how we treat emergency response calls, sending out firefighters with ambulances in case somebody has to leave their home and go out in the cold. We have extended rec center time so that kids have a place to go where they're warm and safe.

    Just really, you know, we just -- we urge people to be very cautious when the weather gets this cold.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So have people been able to stay safe and out of the cold?

    CHRIS COLEMAN: Well, we certainly have had some incidents. We have had some really unfortunate incidents where people have been less than cautious and found themselves caught outside. It's a lot of kind of tragic situations.

    But I think that people -- you know, we're used to this in Minnesota. It is not -- it hasn't been this cold for a long time but, for those of us that remember longer stretches of cold weather, just be cautious, be safe and put on an extra layer clothing if you are going outside.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, with closing schools, I know that has a big effect on families. What are the wider effects of that? I know there are a lot of children who -- whose parents count on them being in schools. Many kids depend on schools for nutritious meals.


    This is very hard on families. Whether you are a family that, as you say, is kind of dependent upon those school services that are provided or you're a parent that doesn't have extended sick leave time or personal time that has to stay home unpaid, it can really have kind of a double-whammy for families.

    And so we're very cautious. And the decision to close schools that the superintendent ultimately makes, but consults with me on, is one that is not taken lightly, and with full understanding of the implications for families. We're at the point, though, now, where if -- we will close the schools one more day tomorrow. It's supposed to warm up a little bit on Wednesday. But beyond this, we will have to extend the school year, actually, into June, if we, in fact, cancel school anymore this year.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much do you worry? We mentioned school meals at school lunch and so forth. How much do you -- are you concerned about children missing that because of school closings?

    CHRIS COLEMAN: Well, it really is -- it's an unfortunate situation, you know. And it's kind of part of this whole picture. In the old days, when it got this cold, we didn't necessarily close schools. But we see more and more kids that don't have resources, don't have proper clothing, so that if they do get caught out on a street corner, it becomes a much more dangerous situation.

    Parents don't necessarily have cars to transport those children or their cars are suspect and may not start. So you combine that with nutrition, you combine that with, in many instances -- and we know this to be the case -- where parents don't have a choice but to go to work.

    And so children are at home that may be are a little bit younger than should be left at home. There are a lot of concerns that we have when a situation like this occurs, and especially now the fifth time in a month, where the strain on families is really strong.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot to juggle.

    Mayor, Mayor Chris Coleman of Saint Paul, we thank you for talking with us. And good luck with dealing with all of this.

    CHRIS COLEMAN: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

    CHRIS COLEMAN: Thank you very much. 

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, this especially cold winter is having an impact on the prices, and at times delivery sometimes of natural gas and propane. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker directed state agencies today to work with residents who are having trouble getting propane as supplies have dwindled and the price has spiked up.

    Over in the Northeast, as demand rises, the pipeline system for delivering natural gas is the subject of new questions. And this weekend, a rupture of a TransCanada pipeline in Canada has affected customers in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

    Marty Durbin is CEO of America's Natural Gas Alliance, which is an industry trade group. And he joins us now. Thank you for being here.

    MARTY DURBIN, America's Natural Gas Alliance: Happy to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So I think a lot of Americans think we have this glut, this enormous supply right now of natural gas, but we're finding out it's more complicated than that.

    MARTY DURBIN: It actually is true. We do have an enormous supply of natural gas.

    What we're seeing happen now is that this is obviously a severe weather event, as we have been hearing about. And so the prices will move when we have these events. You know, the last two winters were very mild. We saw prices down around $2.50. So while we are having some isolated issues of infrastructure, both policy and some financing issues around pipelines and what have you, bottom line is the supply is there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, if the supply is there, then what is happening? We mentioned three states in the Midwest. What are the infrastructure and the pipeline issues, problems?

    MARTY DURBIN: Well, let me be clear first in the TransCanada pipeline issue.

    There's a concern about anybody that is going to have to be in the cold right now. But it did the -- the TransCanada explosion did end up having an impact in three states. It affected about 100,000 residents where the gas company asked them to curtail their use. Happy to say that those curtailments have all been lifted. And they never lost their gas service.

    So they were able to work around the issue, and because there is enough pipeline network out there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the pricing part of all this? The price -- again, if there is a huge supply, why are prices going up? I was reading today that they have gone up -- I can't find the numbers -- I think four times higher than normal?

    MARTY DURBIN: Well, there were some price spikes in specific instances.

    The fact is that, even in the Northeast, especially with residential and commercial customers, they have guaranteed contracts for natural gas, so they didn't see prices go up. They did use more. It affects more the electric generators, who don't have these guaranteed contracts for natural gas supply.

    So when they can be interrupted, everyone else is using it, they have to buy on the spot market. So it's really just an incremental part of the market out there, where these prices ended up being so high.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Was the industry taken by surprise by this, given the cold weather...

    MARTY DURBIN: Oh, I don't -- no, I don't think the industry was taken by surprise. I mean, this is a -- again, I think, a severe weather event that we're dealing with here.

    I think the industry is showing that there were not specific supply constraints from a natural gas standpoint. I think the other thing we have to realize ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you mean by that?

    MARTY DURBIN: Well, I think in essence, we have got -- the infrastructure is there, but in certain instances...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: To get the gas from the origin to the people who need it's?

    MARTY DURBIN: Correct.

    But, again, there are isolated areas, for example, in New England. There is not as much of a pipeline infrastructure there. Part of this is now that, you know, we have seen such a fast transition to this -- you know, this natural gas abundance, that we're going to have to catch up, both from infrastructure, policy, financing and other opportunities, to make sure that the natural gas is always there when it's needed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. And I want to ask you very quickly, before I let you go, Marty Durbin, about propane. I know that's not your area, but what is the story there with the rising costs and the scarcity?

    MARTY DURBIN: Well, again, I think the stockpiles of propane have been down for two reasons, number one, the colder-than-normal weather.

    And then also back in the fall, there was a very wet harvest. Propane is used in the agriculture -- agriculture industry to dry the harvest. So stockpiles were down. And propane doesn't have as quick an ability to ramp up production. So, when we have these severe weather events, that's why we start to see stockpiles dwindle.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So this is just a temporary -- how long -- people who are -- need propane who can't get it, how long are we talking about waiting? Do we know?

    MARTY DURBIN: Well, the expectation, as the weather starts to moderate, we will see prices moderate, but also the production will be able to start catching up to the demand.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

    Well, we thank you, Marty Durbin with America's Natural Gas Alliance.

    MARTY DURBIN: Happy to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

    MARTY DURBIN: Thank you.

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    GWEN IFILL: As U.S. officials struggle to hammer out a post-2014 security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, there was another snag today. The Afghan government decided to release dozens of prisoners the U.S. deems dangerous.

    JEN PSAKI, State Department: The 37 detainees are dangerous criminals against whom there is strong evidence linking them to terror-related crimes.

    GWEN IFILL: Washington's already tense relations with the Afghan government worsened again with Kabul's decision to release 37 prisoners from the Parwan detention facility.

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki:

    JEN PSAKI: These insurgents who pose threat to the safety and the security of the Afghan people and the state are being released without an investigation and without the use of the criminal justice system and in accordance with Afghan law.

    GWEN IFILL: The prisoner release came on the heels of a story in Saturday's New York Times. It involved a U.S. attack on the remote Afghan village of Wazghar on January 15. Karzai's government-circulated dossier included this photo, purporting to show a funeral held the day after the attacks, but the picture was actually taken in 2009 in another area.

    The incidents come amid an already contentious debate over a security agreement governing any U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan after the end of the year. Last November, an assembly of Afghan elders known as a loya jirga voted in favor of Karzai signing the accord. But, so far, he has refused to do so, and on Saturday he sounded defiant.

    PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan (through translator): Afghanistan will never sign the security agreement under pressure. No pressure, no threat, no psychological operation against our people can force us to sign the security agreement. If the foreigners want to leave, they should leave today.

    GWEN IFILL: Karzai insists he will not sign until Afghans vote on April 5 to elect a new president. The U.S. and NATO have warned against further delay.

    ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO secretary-general: For planning reasons, we need to know soon whether we are invited or not.

    GWEN IFILL: Speaking in Brussels today, the NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said time is running out to plan for a future military force in Afghanistan.

    ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: If we are not invited, if we don't have any legal framework, then we can't stay in Afghanistan after 2014. It is as simple as that.

    GWEN IFILL: At the same time, the prospect of a complete withdrawal has raised fears that hard-fought security gains could evaporate. Some U.S. intelligence officials also warn that losing access to Afghan air bases and airspace will hurt their ability to launch surveillance and attack drones into neighboring Pakistan.

    Is this a new low in the U.S.-Afghan relationship with the U.S.? Or is it just another chapter in a tumultuous alliance?

    I'm joined by Zalmay Khalilzad. He was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. And David Sedney, he was deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia from 2007 to 2009.

    Obvious question, is this, Mr. Ambassador, the break?

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD, Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan: I hope not. I don't think so.

    I think Karzai, anyway, has about two months left in his presidency. The Afghan people, as you mentioned, want a security agreement, as demonstrated in the loya jirga. The candidates who are running for president to replace President Karzai, all of them have said they will sign the agreement. They are willing to express that, I'm told, to the U.S. ambassador, should the U.S. ambassador ask them.

    So the challenge for us is, are we going to wait out President Karzai and sign the agreement with the successor, or do we use Karzai's intransigence and I think very unpopular stance in Afghanistan, to use that as an excuse, if you like, and go to a zero option, so-called zero option and say no more troops after 2014 in Afghanistan?

    GWEN IFILL: Mr. Sedney, let's stipulate that Hamid Karzai is being intransigent or at least stubborn or at least won't do what the U.S. wants right now. Is this a break, a real break?

    DAVID SEDNEY, former Defense Department official: No, I don't think it's a break. What it is, is a series of mistakes, including a lot of mistakes on our side, as we almost seem to have empowered Karzai in the last couple of months when he was more and more a lame-duck.

    GWEN IFILL: How did we do that?

    DAVID SEDNEY: By setting deadlines which were never nervous, which we never meant. First, we said October. Then we said November. Then we said December. And then a couple of weeks ago, we said a couple of weeks. None of those deadlines really had any basis in fact.

    And they have resulted in Karzai strengthening his hand and playing to a domestic audience that may not exist, but which he thinks does, that pushes towards confrontation, rather than -- rather than progress.

    GWEN IFILL: Is he realigning himself, as far as you can tell from this distance, with the Taliban in this?

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD: I think if there is a break, if there is an announcement, which I would think wouldn't be wise on our part, that we had decided to go for zero option...

    GWEN IFILL: What does that mean, the zero option?

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Meaning a withdrawal of all forces next year -- or this year, actually, 2014.

    And then I think the conflict is likely to intensify among Afghans and, in that context, alignments could change. The Afghan history shows repeatedly changing alliances. So I wouldn't rule out in that scenario a possible Karzai-Taliban access.

    He was close to the Taliban at the beginning when the Taliban emerged.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD: They, in fact, he told me, had offered them to be their U.N. ambassador. But then it didn't work out. So I think, at times, he does think that a realignment with the Taliban by him and some of his supporters maybe is not so undesirable.

    GWEN IFILL: If that were the case, Mr. Sedney, how difficult would that be? And I want to get back to your question about deadlines, because the next deadline obviously is April, the election day. And I wonder if that one if going to be met. But, first, how dangerous would it be if he were, indeed, to realign with the Taliban?

    DAVID SEDNEY: Well, it would certainly be very dangerous for U.S. national interests, because the Taliban have never really broken with al-Qaida. And the whole purpose of our going into Afghanistan from the beginning was to prevent al-Qaida from coming back and carrying out other attacks such as they did on 9/11.

    But I think it would also be dangerous for President Karzai, because the vast majority of Afghan people, as the loya jirga, which really represents the Afghan population, they want a future with the United States, with the West, with other countries. And if President Karzai were to try and throw in his lot with the Taliban, then I think he would be in a very dangerous position internally.

    GWEN IFILL: So, the U.S. should just wait him out on this until the April elections and he is no longer there?

    DAVID SEDNEY: That would be my recommendation very much, because I think everything we have done to the contrary, setting all these deadlines, has just made him more intransigent, made it less likely that he would agree.

    GWEN IFILL: Why not just do the zero option, why not just walk away?

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, that is obviously an option.

    But I think it will have very negative implications. It will limit our ability to deal with the remaining al-Qaida threat in the region. And we operate from Afghanistan against those threats. Two, our presence is also as a hedge against Pakistan going bad, if a nuclear weapon -- perhaps a nuclear weapon falls into the hands of extremists in Pakistan and we have to react. Being in Afghanistan does provided with the platform and capability to move quickly.

    And then there is the issue of what happens to Afghanistan, as David mentioned, that Afghanistan, the Taliban could come back and al-Qaida could come back, and we may have to go back there at some point down the road.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD: So there are risks to embracing the zero option.

    GWEN IFILL: There is another option, which is leave 10,000 troops on the ground. Right now, there has been a negotiation between 12,000 and 15,000 and this is the -- or 8,000 and 15,000 -- this is the latest version of that. And perhaps that's the solution.

    But I want to get back to a point you just raised about Afghanistan being a vital launching pad for us as we continue to keep an eye on disputed regions, especially in Pakistan. Reports now that if we were to pull away, that our drone program would be harmed. How much of a loss would that be if we were forced to close CIA bases which launch drones?

    DAVID SEDNEY: I think it would be a very serious loss. We have not defeated al-Qaida. What we have done is, we have driven them down. We have made them hide. We have made them less effective, but they are still there. And without that pressure, they will come back.

    GWEN IFILL: So what do you do about that? So that takes that option off the table, the walking away option.

    DAVID SEDNEY: I think it should take it away. But my concern is there are people who do not see it as quite clearly that that threat to the United States exists, and we may walk around and then live to regret it.

    GWEN IFILL: Is there a path that still exists, Mr. Ambassador, the diplomat, to working this out with Karzai some time between now and April, or has it become clear, as he's always pulled away from any kind of threat and demand put on him, that he never plans to agree?

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, when David and I were serving in Afghanistan together, we worked well with him. And things are quite different now.

    But I think our posture ought to be we're willing to Karzai if he changes his mind and signs.

    GWEN IFILL: Even if he keeps saying no, even if there's no sign of him changing his mind?

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD: But we can say we are willing to sign with him, but we're willing to also -- we're open to signing with his successor.

    I agree with David that this idea of setting deadlines and not meaning them, as probably Karzai believes that we are not serious, that we will meet his terms, that Afghanistan is very important for us and we will accommodate him.

    GWEN IFILL: Why do we trust his potential successors to be able to do what we need in the region? We have seen in so many other cases around the region we have created, we have set somebody up who is going to come in and fix everything and it doesn't work. So why -- from the people who are now up for this job, why do we think that they can do it?

    DAVID SEDNEY: Well, we won't know until they actually have an election and we just see who is chosen.

    But I think there are actually a number of fairly strong candidates, people who we have worked with very closely in the past. And most importantly, the election gives the Afghan people themselves a chance to choose. And then I think we will have a much better chance of moving forward.

    GWEN IFILL: And that will be in April.

    David Sedney and Zalmay Khalilzad, thank you both.

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Thank you.

    DAVID SEDNEY: Thank you. 

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we look ahead to the State of the Union.

    President Obama will address hundreds of lawmakers and millions of Americans tomorrow night from the U.S. Capitol, laying out his agenda for the coming year. But how will his message be received by congressional Republicans?

    We raise that question with Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. He serves as vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

    Welcome to the program.

    SEN. ROY BLUNT, R-Mo.: Good to be with you, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how would you describe the state of the union right now, Senator Blunt?

    ROY BLUNT: Well, I would say it's just not working the way it ought to work.

    And I hope we can find a way to do a better job. It is an incredibly frustrating experience to be here. It's got to be a lot more frustrating for the people that we work for. And, frankly, nobody is in as good a place to lead the end of that than the president of the United States.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the White House is saying the president tomorrow night is going to broadly focus on trying to do something about the lack of economic mobility in this country, the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Do you agree that that should be a main priority for the country?

    ROY BLUNT: Well, I would say the bigger importance is how you move people who are not where they would like to be up to where they ought to be. It shouldn't be about setting one group against the other or talking about how we can take from this group to give to somebody else.

    It should be how you create that kind of mobility. And the White House also has repeatedly said over the last couple of days, starting with the president, that he has a pen to sign executive orders with and a phone to mobilize support. That's giving up on the Congress, but more importantly, it's giving up on the Constitution.

    The president needs to lead us out of this, rather than to be the person who says, nothing can be done about this, so I'm just going to do what I can do by myself. He's not going to be able to do a lot by himself. And it's not the way we ought to get things done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the White House is saying the reason the president is going to be proposing some executive actions is because they say the Congress wouldn't cooperate with the president last year.

    ROY BLUNT: Well, I think the president is, again, the person who is in the best position to find out what he would like to get done that's possible.

    There are lots of things that I have found ways to work with Democrats on. Senator King and I have a bill to reorganize the regulating process. Senator Stabenow and I have a bill, the Excellence in Mental Health Act. Senator Brown and I have one on manufacturing. Senator Bennet and I and Senator Warren and I both have one on infrastructure.

    There's a lot that Republicans and Democrats are willing to do together. But it may not be exactly the way the president wanted to get it done. He needs to figure out how to lead us out of that. He is in the best position to do that. I would like to see that tomorrow night, but based on what I have heard the last week, it doesn't sound like there's going to be a lot of that, as much as, why can't you guys work together? And since you can't, I'm just going to do whatever I think I can do on my own.

    I just don't think, Judy, that's the right answer for the country or the right direction to try to lead us in.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, do you think there will be more -- a willingness to cooperate more on the part of Republicans this year?

    ROY BLUNT: Well, I think it's not just about Republicans.

    We haven't had the appropriations process work in the Senate like it should one time in the last seven years. I have only been here three of those. But we have got a new chairman, Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat, who I think very much wants to bring these bills to the floor, debate the priorities.

    There is only one reason these bills haven't come to the floor. And that's because the majority didn't let them. The Appropriations Committee voted them out virtually every time. But we have not debated them. We have not voted on them. We have not set priorities.

    I think Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate want to get back to the way things are supposed to be done. And I hope that the majority in the Senate lets them do that and I hope the majority in the House cooperates.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you mentioned a couple things that you're working with senators on the other side of the aisle. What do you think stands a real chance of getting passed this year? What about immigration reform, for example?

    ROY BLUNT: Well, you know, I think if you take immigration reform and you break it up and try to solve it in pieces rather than all in one package, you have got a much better chance to do that.

    And, frankly, I was the main vote counter in the House most of the time I was there. So I still think of that 218 that's half of 435 margin in the House. You have got a better 218 votes to decide how to secure the border, may not be the same people that are the best people to decide what to do with people who came to the country illegally or stayed illegally.

    And those groups may not be the best 218 people to decide what are the real work force needs of the country. I think there's a way to get this done. I think the comprehensive bill that has been tried now for a decade hasn't worked. Let's see what happens if you divide that up and get a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate to solve these problems, one problem at a time.

    We all know they need to be solved. Now, let's find the best way to solve them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what is -- is there -- give us -- is there another example of something where you think Republicans and Democrats can work together this year?

    ROY BLUNT: I think so.

    Senator Stabenow and I have made real progress, I believe, in getting attention to the Excellence in Mental Health Act that would allow community mental health centers and federally qualified centers to add behavioral health. It's one of the things that people can rally around based on the tragedies we have seen, the violent tragedies.

    People with mental health problems are much more likely to be the victim than they are to be the perpetrator, but it does call attention, these tragedies call attention to the one consistent thing, is somebody with a behavioral health problem that for whatever reason hasn't been dealt with. I think that's an area.

    Infrastructure, I hear all the time Americans and Missourians talking about how we have got to do a better job with that. And we're looking at tools in the toolbox. Senator Bennet and I have one that really was started by John Delaney, a Democrat over in the House. It has 50 House sponsors, an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

    Senator Warner and I have an infrastructure effort that we think would be another tool in the toolbox. I think we can get these things done. And the American people are ready to see us solve some problems. And it could start back to that appropriating process with just publicly and with full amendments debating the priorities of how we spend people's money and then figuring out how many tools we put on the table that allow the government to do its job in a better way.

    There are lots of new things out there, from smartphones to 3-D printing to all kinds of American energy, that we're not really putting our arms around the way we could as a country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear you, Senator Roy Blunt, and we thank you for joining us.

    ROY BLUNT: Good to talk to you.

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    GWEN IFILL: We turn now to Russia, where the Olympic Games are just weeks away. We begin with a look at the country's aggressive efforts to secure the Games.

    John Ray of Independent Television News reports.

    JOHN RAY: The Russians are taking no chances with the torch, tight security, a trouble-free parade today, but these Olympics are already steeped in blood.

    Here, just half-a-day's drive from Sochi, they are waging war. Special forces have cornered suspected militants, a husband and his young wife, at home where they are making a last stand.

    Beyond the cordon, a friend pleads with the mother to surrender.

    "I don't want to come out," she replies. "I want to die."

    But she does hand over her son. His name is Ravaha (ph). He's 2 years old and terrified. And, soon, he will be an orphan.

    On the desolate hillside, a world removed from the slopes of Sochi, a cemetery reserved for the dead of Russian's anti-terror operations that have that intensified as the Games have come closer. There is much freshly-turned earth here.

    This is a war in which no mercy is shown, even to the dead. Here, they are buried with no ceremony, in graves with no names. In this graveyard and others like it, Svetlana Isaova has searched for her son, missing, presumed dead, and innocent, she insists.

    SVETLANA ISAOVA, mother (through translator): This is our system, our bloodthirsty system. When the order comes from the center, people are destroyed.

    JOHN RAY: Dagestan is Russia's wild southwest, breeding ground for Islamist terrorists. Suicide attacks in Volgograd demonstrated their range and deadly intent.

    Now police hunt another suspect, a so-called black widow, Ruzana Ibragimov, out to avenge a husband killed in an anti-terror raid. Dagestan's deputy prime minister must make good on Vladimir Putin's promise of terror-free Games, whatever it takes.

    "It is not true that we set out simply to exterminate terrorists," he told me. "The single purpose must be to ensure the safety of the Olympics."

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    JEFFREY BROWN: The jailing of the women stemmed from what they termed a punk prayer they performed in 2012 at a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. They were charged with hooliganism and two of the five women involved served time in prison camps, where they went on hunger strikes to protest conditions.

    Their story is told in the new book "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot" by Russian-American author and journalist Masha Gessen. Her previous book is "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin."

    Welcome to you.

    MASHA GESSEN, Author, "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion Of Pussy Riot": Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: We referred to Pussy Riot as a punk band or art collective, political activism -- how should we think of them? What are they?

    MASHA GESSEN: They are a protest art collective who created a character called Pussy Riot, which is a punk band.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A character, yes.

    MASHA GESSEN: So they performed as this character. And they staged a series of guerrilla performances in Moscow and a variety of locations to protest various expressions of the Putin regime.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In your book, you go through how they all came at this from different ways. But is there a common thread or something that led to this collective action?

    MASHA GESSEN: They're young. They're very young.

    The two who ended up serving time were both in college. One was 22, one was 23 at the time that they were jailed. They're very, very smart. And, you know, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who is sort of the mastermind behind this, is very unusual.

    I mean, I couldn't find an explanation, which is part of what I tried to do. I didn't find an explanation for how a person like that comes to be in a place like that. But she is absolutely brilliant, as all of them are.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Because she is coming out of a culture that doesn't make a lot of space for such things?

    MASHA GESSEN: She's coming out of a culture that has no space for feminism.

    She is also coming out of a town that has no place for education. She comes from this very small, very, very dark town in every way town in the Arctic Circle. She is very much an autodidact. And yet somehow she is steeped in the Western tradition of protest, which I think has in some ways made things very difficult for Pussy Riot in Russia, but also contributed to making them a worldwide celebrity.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You chronicle their founding as in a former group and then this group. And then they start taking these actions, and then, of course, the catalytic event at the cathedral.

    How did they see that performance? How did you come to see the way they looked at what they were doing?

    MASHA GESSEN: Well, they saw it as a prank.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A prank first and foremost?

    MASHA GESSEN: It was an art prank. I think that they were hoping it was a brilliant prank. I think they were hoping for a lot of attention.

    I think they feared that they were risking something, like maybe 15 days administrative arrest. They never thought they were going to jail.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They had no idea what this might lead to?

    MASHA GESSEN: No, no.

    And, in fact, you know, their arrest was the beginning of the crackdown. People didn't actually go to jail for peaceful protest in Russia at the time for more than 15 days administrative arrest.

    They are the first in a long line of people who have gone to jail since. But, really, it is highly symbolic that they were arrested on the day that Vladimir Putin claimed to be reelected to a third term as president. And it was really the beginning of a new era in Russian politics.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They were stepping into not only politics, but religion, tradition, culture. How does -- how are they seen by the rest of the country or by the majority of the country, if one can ask that?

    MASHA GESSEN: Right. Well, right.

    The refrain of the punk prayer was, mother of God, chase Putin out.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Right. So, you have got both. You have religion and you have Putin. right

    MASHA GESSEN: Well, which was exactly the point. They were protesting the symbiosis of church and state.

    They were protesting the fact that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church was actively campaigning for Putin and against the protesters. So I think that it is very difficult to answer the question how does Russia see them, because Russia is not a whole country. Russia is a country that is extremely polarized and ripped apart by the last 14 years of dictatorship.

    So there is the Russia that watches television that sees them as women who went in and behaved abominably in a church. And then there's the much smaller rush that doesn't watch television and that is somehow involved in the protest culture or in the opposition.

    And I think they are the ones who very much the target audience of this. They -- I think some of them were taken aback by the protests, but it came around to think that it really identified its targets brilliants

    And that I think is what makes it a great work of art. It made people think.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think the women see a continuing role for themselves now? Is there a space for them to fit in the kind of work they want to do?

    MASHA GESSEN: Well, they have been profoundly changed by the two years that they -- nearly two years they have spent in prison.

    Vladimir Putin magnanimously knocked two months off of their sentences, so they were released a little bit early. But they spent two years in abominable conditions that often could only be described as torture. And they have come out as -- they went in college dropouts -- college students, actually, who had staged a prank, and they came out political activists, seasoned political activists.

    They have declared their intention to found a broad-ranging prisoners rights movement. And they have been working on that very, very hard, day and night. They have always done quite a lot to publicize the conditions in prisons in Russia. So that is their place now. They see Pussy Riot, I think, with a little bit of wistful nostalgia.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you finally about yourself. You have written much about -- and this goes to the other -- one of the other issues with Russia now and some recent laws about homosexuality.

    You have written about being a lesbian, and a parent and watching what has happened there, and your own decision to leave the country. Do you see the country -- where do you see things headed?


    Well, first of all, the irony of my situation is that I didn't have to leave the country over writing a highly critical biography of Putin. And I ended up leaving the country over the anti-gay laws, because there was a direct threat to my family. And I feared that my children would be taken away.

    I think the crackdown is extremely damaging for the country and the people. I think that it's good for Putin. He has chosen the most effective way to confront the mass protest movement that he faced two years ago. It will keep him in power longer than any other tactic that he could have appointed -- that he could have chosen.

    But it will do extreme damage to the country. And the longer it goes on, the worst things will be after it's over.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    The new book is "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot"

    Masha Gessen, thanks so much.

    MASHA GESSEN: Thank you. 

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally tonight, we visit the Philippines, a country still reeling from a record typhoon in November.

    Just before it hit, photographer Larry C. Price traveled there to document the dangerous and sometimes deadly way some poor Filipinos are making a living.

    Hari Sreenivasan narrates our report, produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Near a remote village in the Eastern Philippines, at a small camp in the forest, a man bites down on a plastic tube, adjusts his mask and disappears into water as opaque as chocolate milk.

    Descending as deep as 40 feet, he breathes from a small diesel- powered air compressor on the surface, while blindly digging into the sides of a narrow tunnel. For hours at a time, he fills bags with mud and rock that a partner hauls to the surface, where the sediment is broken down and, using mercury, panned for gold.

    According to Thomson Reuters, in 2012, the Philippines was the 18th largest producer of gold worldwide. Large companies are responsible for much of that, but there are also unofficial small-scale mines like these. Many lie in the poor coastal province of Camarines Norte, about 200 miles Southeast of Manila, where some of the country's highest concentrations of the precious mineral can be found.

    But much of it is trapped in ore underwater. So-called compressor mining originated in this region of the Philippines as far back as the mid-1990s. The practice was inspired by fishermen, who used the motors to dive deep underwater to catch reef fish. But with the potential for engine breakdowns and tunnel collapses, it's an extremely dangerous venture, and one not limited to adults.

    Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Larry C. Price traveled to the Philippines for the NewsHour in November. There, he spoke with 15-year old Elias Delima, who began diving when he was just 13. Delima told an interpreter that divers get double the take of the other miners, around $5 a day, and that's incentive enough.

    QUESTION (through translator): Why do you do this? Why do you go into the hole and bring up the dirt?

    BOY (through translator): To get gold, to help my parents, and to have some money for myself.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dindo Leche (ph), now 25, said he began diving when he was 14. While he's no longer afraid, he says he knows the risks remain.

    DINDO LECHE, Philippines (through translator): It's dangerous. Because we are extracting soil, the holes get wider and deeper. The soil loses natural strength. And it doesn't stick together and easily gives way. That is what we are on the lookout for underwater, so you do not get buried.

    QUESTION (through translator): Which is worse, when the compressor stops, or when the tunnel collapses?

    DINDO LECHE (through translator): A tunnel collapse is more dangerous. But, often, those two happen at the same time. That is what is called your time to die.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Compressor mining was officially outlawed in the Philippines in 2012. In January of that year, near the town of Paracale, an accident left at least three compressor miners dead. The site was shut down and quickly abandoned.

    Yet, with vast stretches of poor rural communities spread across some 7,100 islands, desperation is high and regulation is lacking. November's record typhoon caused billions of dollars of damage to the country. But it only stopped operations for one day in Mambulao Bay, where more than 400 work on some 40 floating bamboo encampments near the village of Santa Milagrosa.

    Miners here say they pay local police $11 a month per worker to look the other way. Many of those workers are children and adolescents.

    JULIE HALL, World Health Organization: There are three main risks from this type of practice.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Julie Hall works with the World Health Organization in Manila. She says that in addition to the immediate life-threatening dangers posed by an engine failure or collapse, the conditions also pose longer-term health risks for children. One is the poor quality of air fed to the divers by the compressor engines.

    JULIE HALL: It's likely that that air that's sucked through the tube will be mixed with diesel fumes, with carbon monoxide, with other pollutants, because it's very close to the engine that's driving the compressor.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The second is the effects on the body at those depths underwater.

    JULIE HALL: The body's under a lot of pressure. Little gas bubbles can form in your bloodstream, and those gas bubbles can block off the blood supply to little bits of your brain or little bits of your lung.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And a third is the poor quality of the water they're diving in, susceptible to bacteria and parasites.

    JULIE HALL: For somebody to be spending a lot of time breathing poor-quality air, under pressure, under the water, and exposed to all of these bacteria and other bugs in that dirty water, this clearly poses a significant health risk.

    CARLOS CONDE, Human Rights Watch: When you're a poor family, the more -- the more people you can convince to work and contribute to the family income, obviously, the better.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Carlos Conde works for Human Rights Watch in the Philippines. He says that parents are typically the ones pushing their children into this dangerous work.

    CARLOS CONDE: Oftentimes, they don't consider, for instance, education for the kids. Although getting an education is a paramount concern for Filipino families, but, you know, particularly in the provinces, the really poor ones, it's just, you know, kids are seen as extra hands.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Edlyn Ortiz is 12 years old. Girls like her typically don't dive. But they help with the panning and domestic chores that allow the family to work at the mine. She tells an interpreter that her family depends on her help.

    QUESTION (through translator): Why do you work in gold mining?

    GIRL (through translator): To earn money so we can have something to eat.

    QUESTION (through translator): What do you like better, going to school or working?

    GIRL (through translator): I want to keep going to school, and in the end, that's what will give us a better life.

    LAWRENCE JOHNSON, International Labor Organization: These children are mortgaging their future, not of themselves only, but also their families and their communities.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Lawrence Johnson directs the efforts of the U.N.'s International Labor Organization in the Philippines. He agrees that schooling is key to breaking this cycle of child labor.

    LAWRENCE JOHNSON: We see education as a way to help the next generation become more productive, to have a better quality of life. But it's also right now allowing for an environment where these parents can actually provide for their families, and not just go out and mine just enough today to survive.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In a country with so many desperate challenges, even before the typhoon, Johnson says if people want to help stop this practice, they can start by being more conscientious consumers.

    LAWRENCE JOHNSON: Whether we're talking gold or silver that we mine, it's a bulk commodity. So we ask consumers, are you sure that the ring you're wearing, the earring, the necklaces are free from child labor? That's more difficult, but it's up to consumers to start making that choice again.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For now, the divers will continue to bear the risks, taking their dangerous plunges and grasping for gold. 

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    President Obama works on a draft of his State of the Union address in the Oval Office Monday at the White House. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    Fresh off his 2012 re-election victory and second inaugural, with approval ratings above 50 percent, President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address last year to call for bold action on issues such as tax reform, climate change, gun control legislation and immigration reform.

    Now, a week into the sixth year of his presidency, with polls revealing an intense pessimism about the direction of the country and dwindling faith in its leaders, Mr. Obama is expected to steer clear of far-reaching goals and focus instead on what can be achieved -- through the legislative process, or, if need be, unilateral action.

    The president signaled that change in approach during a Cabinet meeting two weeks ago, saying he did not intend to wait for Congress to act in order to move forward with his agenda of economic mobility and income inequality. "I've got a pen, and I've got a phone," the president said at the time.

    The Morning Line

    It's a message his aides have hammered home in the days leading up to Tuesday's speech. "You can be sure that the president fully intends to use his executive authority to use the unique powers of the office to make progress on economic opportunity," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday.

    The administration gave an early sign of what to expect Tuesday night, feeding reports the president plans to take executive action requiring that some federal contract workers, such as janitors and construction workers, be paid at least $10.10 an hour. The New York Times' Peter Baker has the details:

    The order, which Mr. Obama will highlight in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night, is meant to underscore an increasing willingness by the president to bypass Congress if lawmakers continue to resist his agenda, aides said. After a year in which most of his legislative priorities went nowhere, Mr. Obama is seeking ways to make progress without cooperation on Capitol Hill.

    The minimum wage provides an example of what he has in mind. Mr. Obama called on Congress during last year's State of the Union address to raise the minimum wage for workers across the board, only to watch the idea languish on Capitol Hill, where opponents argued it would hurt business and stifle job creation. With prospects for congressional action still slim, Mr. Obama is using the executive order covering federal contractors to go as far as he can go on his own.

    The president's executive action game plan does carry the risk of inflaming tensions with congressional Republicans already frustrated by the administration's handling of relations with lawmakers.

    Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, blasted the strategy on Monday's NewsHour. "That's giving up on the Congress, but more importantly, it's giving up on the Constitution," Blunt said. "The president needs to lead us out of this, rather than to be the person who says, nothing can be done about this, so I'm just going to do what I can do by myself."

    The president will also have to overcome the challenge of a public that has become increasingly worried about the direction of the country.

    According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.pdf), 63 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.

    NBC's Mark Murray highlights another finding from the survey:

    In more tough numbers for the president, only a combined 40 percent say they are "optimistic and confident" or "satisfied and hopeful" about the president's remaining time in office. By contrast, a combined 59 percent say they are "uncertain and wondering" or "pessimistic and worried."

    If there is a silver lining for the president, it is that Congress is held in even lower regard, with just a 13 percent approval rating. A majority of respondents (51 percent) also said they believed Republicans are too inflexible in their negotiations with the president.

    The poll also found solid support for Mr. Obama's priorities, including access to preschool education, closing corporate tax loopholes and raising the minimum wage, giving him a base on which to build support for his agenda. The president will begin that push Tuesday night, and take his message on the road for a two-day swing through Maryland, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Pennsylvania starting Wednesday.


    House Speaker John Boehner is expected to issue a list of extensive immigration principles Wednesday at a three-day GOP retreat in Maryland. Despite pushback from some conservatives, the House Republican leadership's plan will include a path to legal status for illegal immigrants in the country, the New York Times reports.

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that her biggest regret during the four years she served as the nation's top diplomat was the death of four Americans in the terror attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

    The lawmakers negotiating the long-awaited farm bill have reached a deal. It preserves most food stamp programs and farm subsidies and could come to a vote on Wednesday.

    GOP Senators released new legislation that would repeal the Affordable Care Act to bring health care under state control.

    Politico rounds up more of the president and first lady's guests for the State of the Union. They include the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, an immigrant who is eligible for deferred action from deportation, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear.

    Roll Call's Meredith Shiner profiled Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Il., who is seeking re-election in 2016.

    Florida could be the next state to legalize medical marijuana. On Monday the Florida Supreme Court allowed an initiative legalizing medical marijuana to appear on the ballot in November.

    Clay Pell, grandson of the late Sen. Claiborne Pell, is expected to formally announce his campaign for governor of Rhode Island on Tuesday. The 32-year-old Democrat is married to former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan.

    Former Virginia GOP Sen. John Warner endorsed Democratic Sen. Mark Warner's re-election bid Monday, dealing a blow to Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, who recently launched his campaign.

    Fixing the economy is at the top of Americans' to-do list for Congress, a Pew Research Center survey showed Monday. NewsHour Desk Assistant Zachary Treu rounded up the survey's highlights.

    Mr. Obama is relatively unpopular in states that will be key for Democratic Senate candidates in 2014, such as Montana, Arkansas and Alaska, a Gallup poll found. While the president is most popular in Hawaii, D.C. and Maryland, he is least popular in Wyoming, West Virginia and Utah.

    N.J. Gov. Chris Christie's support from political moderates has suffered a serious blow since recent revelations about his administration's involvement in closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The 44 percent favorability from moderates he enjoyed in October has been cut in half, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

    Reid Wilson of the Washington Post writes how Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has quietly pushed for the state's top female leaders to become Iowa's first woman sent to Congress.

    New York Times Gotham columnist Michael Powell hears from the artist whom New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno accused of contract fraud.

    Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., is bringing Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to the State of the Union, although Pascrell said the invitation has nothing to do with the bridge scandal that has made Sokolich famous. Sokolich actually endorsed Pascrell's opponent, Steve Rothman, in his 2012 primary.

    Politico's John Aloysius Farrell looks at the ill-fated responses to the president's annual address, known as "The State of the Union Curse."

    The Senate Majority PAC has purchased $225,000 in television ads to maintain retiring Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin's seat in Iowa. Congressman Bruce Braley, who is running to replace Harkin, has been the subject of many negative ads run by the teams of six GOP candidates.


    I'm a man of my word, even when it stings. Here you go, @mayorhancock: pic.twitter.com/YwAKSMtHc6

    — Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) January 27, 2014

    Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio face off over pre-K funding: http://t.co/QdYaRud9XMpic.twitter.com/JJK9OWMwFy

    — New York Post (@nypost) January 28, 2014

    First presidential debate: "Secretary Clinton, a flashing red traffic signal at an intersection means what.....slow, yield, or stop?"

    — Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) January 27, 2014

    I'm going to the @whitehouseostp again!! opps forgot my cannon! pic.twitter.com/xZani5Nh4L

    — Joey Hudy (@Joey_Hudy) January 27, 2014

    EXCLUSIVE: first word of SOTU after greetings is "Today" pic.twitter.com/gj6rC4UA0d

    — Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) January 27, 2014

    Ever wonder what it looks like from the podium? Here's the view. http://t.co/MzRjNuLOKr#SayCheese, pic.twitter.com/3sNUMABqs9

    — Jay Carney (EOP) (@PressSec) January 27, 2014

    Truman's 1947 SOTU was 1st televised--only 14000 US sets in use--NBC played Rimsky-Korsakov before speech: #Grantpic.twitter.com/zpsxIfS0Bl

    — Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) January 27, 2014

    Ruth Tam, Bridget Bowman and 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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    By Nick Corcodilos

    Ditch your resume-writing guide and learn how to score an interview without listing your accomplishments on a piece of paper. Photo by Flickr user the_Gut.

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

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

    In last week's edition, "How (Not) to Use a Resume," we discussed why resumes are a weak, passive way to get in the door to meet an employer. We also discussed how to turn a resume into a business plan to make yourself stand apart from your competition -- and to demonstrate how you're going to bring profit to a manager's bottom line.

    The Magic Words Are Not on a Resume

    How does anyone get to that manager? Well, it's a Zen sort of thing. You can't approach the manager until you have something useful to say to him. Heck, you don't even know who he is.

    So, do all the necessary homework. Meet the right people. Talk to people who know the industry, the company, its business, the department and other employees. Follow this trail to talk to people who know the manager. You'll learn a lot. And that's how you'll identify and meet the manager, too -- through people he knows.

    MORE FROM NICK CORCODILOS: Ask The Headhunter: How (not) to Use a Resume

    The big bonus is that, after all these dialogues, you'll know a lot about the manager's business, and you will actually have something to say that he will be eager to hear.

    Where Does a Resume Fit Into That?

    Why waste your time trying to figure it out? Why submit a resume when the research you must do will put you in front of the hiring manager?

    One of my books, "Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3 -- Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition)" includes a section titled "How to start a job search" (pp. 1-2). It opens with a Zen koan, or paradoxical puzzle, and encourages job seekers to face the truth about job hunting.

    Here's an excerpt from the book, which is available in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore:

    Ask the difficult questions

    Zen koans are intended to make us think, not to provide easy answers. When you start your job search, don't skip the obvious questions. But don't let convention keep you from addressing the difficult ones:

    Do you seek new opportunities by simply reacting to the job descriptions that come along in the job ads? Are you building a reputation for being part of that horde of opportunists who will network with anyone because they believe almost any job is worth chasing? Are you wasting time mailing resumes to people you don't know who don't know you? Do you rely on resumes, job boards, applications and other impersonal tools to convince employers to hire you? Are you known professionally to only a small circle of people, mostly in your own company?

    These questions are painful. Many people don't ask them because it's easier to follow the rules of the "employment system." It's more difficult to pursue the right job using methods that require a lot of work. But, what great new job is easy?

    Managers think they want resumes so they can choose job applicants who are worth interviewing. But reading resumes is a frustrating task because the manager must infer what you can do. So, why expect a manager to do all that guess work? (The new rules about larding resumes with "keywords" make it even harder for managers to figure you out!) Why not just lay it out -- make your "resume" a business plan for doing the work this specific manager needs done.

    There's no need to recite your history on a resume when you can demonstrate how you'll tackle the job the manager needs done.

    Readers: Do you rely on a resume to get you in the door? Does it work? What do you think makes a hiring manager invite you for an interview? Share your comments below, and be sure to ask me questions next Tuesday, Feb. 4, during my Ask Me Anything Reddit chat.

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

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

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

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    Pete Seeger, 1969. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Pete Seeger, the legendary folk musician who helped spearhead the American folk revival, died Monday night in New York City at the age of 94 from natural causes. Across more than seven decades, he inspired scores of singer-songwriters, activists and social movements. Just before his death, he was serenaded in his hospital bed by close friends.

    Seeger performs 'This Land Is Your Land' as part of the Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration at The Whitman Theater at Brooklyn College on Sept 22, 2012. Photo by Mike Coppola/WireImage for NARAS

    David Amram, a fellow musician and longtime friend of Seeger, was among the group who sang to him. "I was fortunate enough to be able to say goodbye to him during the last two hours of his life. As [we] played some music for him and his family in his hospital room, we could feel his spirit fill our hearts with that endless energy he shared with the world for 94 years," wrote Amram in an email to friends and family in Seeger's honor.

    "Ever since he chose his path, he has stayed on it and walked the walk he talked and inspired generations to raise our voices in song, to always think of others, to respect ourselves and all who cross our paths and to share whatever blessings we have with others." Listen to a 1941 recording of Pete Seeger performing with Lee Hayes. They both went on to be members of The Weavers, a quartet that was part of the New York City's Greenwich Village folk scene.

    Many of Seeger's songs became trademarks of the various social movements that kindled his passion and fight. "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," one of his best known songs became a regular anthem in the anti-war movement in the 1960s and '70s. "We Shall Overcome," an early gospel song adapted by Seeger from "We Will Overcome," was a rallying cry during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

    Watch Pete Seeger perform "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

    "Pete used his voice -- and his hammer -- to strike blows for worker's rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along," President Obama wrote in a statement released by the White House.

    Pete Seeger's banjo is famously inscribed with the words "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

    Over the course of 100 recorded albums, Seeger influenced an extensive and impressive list of artists. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bryce Springsteen, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock, just to name of few.

    Arlo Guthrie was also inspired by Seeger and played with him many times. Guthrie's father, Woodie Guthrie, was a close friend of Seeger's and the duo performed together on occasion before they were both blacklisted as communists.

    The younger Guthrie honored his friend and mentor in a Facebook post:

    "I usually do a little meditation and prayer every night before I go to sleep - Just part of the routine. Last night, I decided to go visit Pete Seeger for a while, just to spend a little time together, it was around 9 PM. So I was sitting in my home in Florida, having a lovely chat with Pete, who was in a hospital in New York City. That's the great thing about thoughts and prayers- You can go or be anywhere. I simply wanted him to know that I loved him dearly, like a father in some ways, a mentor in others and just as a dear friend a lot of the time."

    Watch clips of Pete Seeger performing, plus interviews with the musician and others at American Masters.

    Peter Yarrow will join chief arts correspondent on Tuesday's PBS NewsHour to help remember Pete Seeger. You can livestream the broadcast on our Ustream channel at 6 p.m. EST or check your local PBS listings.

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    A medical study is questioning the existence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in former football players and other athletes. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

    A study published this month in "Current Sports Medicine Reports" attempts to turn the current narrative about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on its head.

    "Is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy a Real Disease?", written by Christopher Randolph, Ph.D., of the Loyola University Medical Center, argues that little evidence exists to support the claim that a great number of former athletes suffer from dementia or other neurological disorders:

    "Although to date there has not been a single controlled epidemiological study done to quantify this risk for any sport, this has done little to dampen speculation, and 'chronic traumatic encephalopathy' (CTE) has entered the American lexicon within the last few years as an established disease entity, despite the fact that there are still no established clinical or pathological criteria for this disorder."

    The article reviews the history of the study of CTE, which was first described in the 1960s, but only fully entered the public consciousness in the last several years. Randolph writes that "the list of symptoms ... associated with CTE is so broad as to be essentially meaningless," and says that previous studies found little difference in disease rates between athletes and non-athletes.

    Other research results, such as a study that showed higher rates of diseases like Alzheimer's in retired NFL players, may be skewed by the generally lower mortality rates in the subjects, according to Loyola University Medical Center.

    "Until carefully controlled epidemiological and prospective clinical-pathological studies are done in this area, it is premature to suggest that these retired athletes are at risk for any type of neurodegenerative disease," Randolph writes.

    Randolph coauthored a study in 2005 that found cognitive impairment in former football players, but he dismisses the results as "subject to ascertainment bias" and notes that there were no controls.

    Read the full text of the new study.

    For more on CTE, check out Hari Sreenivasan conversation with NPR's Mike Pesca about the NFL's head trauma settlement. A federal judge rejected the settlement two weeks ago, noting that the sum was not enough.You can also watch Jeffrey Brown's discussion with Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University and ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wade about CTE from 2012.

    H/T Zachary Treu

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    If you're the President of the United States, heading into your sixth year of office, facing disapproval over your leadership, how do you get people to pay attention to your State of the Union address? How do you get them to care?

    If you're on President Barack Obama's team, you'll do everything you can to connect people to the president and invite them to join the show.

    In the White House's split-screen live stream of the State of the Union, President Obama will appear alongside image and text graphics that will offer accompanying details to his address. The "enhanced" State of the Union address is meant to provide the public with a different viewing experience of the president's message.

    Video by The White House

    And if you're curious about what type of preparation goes into the making of the president's speech, the White House released a behind-the-scenes look earlier Tuesday.

    Video by The White House

    But let's not let this insight overshadow some other big White House news. Last week, Jay Carney, alongside Josh and Will from the West Wing (known as actors Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina in real life) declared Wednesday, Jan. 29, as Big Block of Cheese Day.

    Evidently, the day will have nothing to do with cheese and everything to do with social media as White House officials answer questions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and anywhere else you have an avatar.

    Will you be watching Tuesday's State of the Union? Join @NewsHour's watch party on Twitter with #NewsHourSOTU. And for a chance to be featured on our Wednesday night broadcast, upload your video reaction once the speech is finished.

    H/T Colleen Shalby

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