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

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    In what may end up being a landmark move, Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition to unionize on behalf of football players at Northwestern University. The petition was filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday, according to an ESPN "Outside The Lines" report.

    Northwestern's players are backed by the United Steelworkers union and the National College Players Association, which is an advocacy group founded by Huma, a former UCLA linebacker. The exact number of players who signed union cards for the petition was not released, but the NLRB requires at least 30 percent of group members to participate. At least 26 of the 85 scholarship players would have had to sign.

    "The action we're taking isn't because of any mistreatment by Northwestern," said Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter on espn.com. "We love Northwestern."

    "The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We're interested in trying to help all players -- at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It's about protecting them and future generations to come. ... Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union."- Kain Colter

    If the NLRB grants the unionization request, the players will be represented by the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, a group created by Huma, Colter and former Massachusetts basketball player Luke Bonner.

    CAPA -- which only scholarship Football Bowl Subdivision football and men's basketball players in the NCAA's Division I may currently join -- will not initially call for salaries, according to Huma. The organization is more focused at present on "physical, academic and financial protections" for players.

    The NFL Players Association supports the effort, according to NBC Sports' ProFootballTalk.

    Debates over college athletes' right to unionize will likely take several years to resolve. In addition, according to United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard, any decision in favor of the players would apply only to private universities.

    In 2011 on the PBS NewsHour, Hari Sreenivasan spoke with Taylor Branch, author of "The Shame of College Sports," and Joe Crowley, a former NCAA official, about whether or not college athletes should be paid.

    H/T Zachary Treu

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    Peter Yarrow sings a version of Pete Seeger's "If I had a Hammer" to help remember the legendary folksinger.

    Peter Yarrow, a member of the folksinging trio Peter, Paul and Mary, remembers Pete Seeger as a "beacon of what was possible."

    Pete Seeger playing the banjo around 1966. Photo by Sam Falk/New York Times Co./Getty Images

    Although his words were simple, Yarrow says he was passionately persistent.

    "He refused to answer. He took a stand and never faltered," Yarrow told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown on Tuesday. "The struggle was just what he did and he saw himself in those terms, but it wasn't a sense of arrogance or presumptions. He was the most humble guy you ever met."

    Pete Seeger died on Monday night at the age of 94. His music career, which spanned over 70 years and 100 recorded albums, influenced countless musicians and activists. Peter, Paul and Mary were among them.

    "He was our inspiration. His ethic, his whole perspective was that music was there to bring people's hearts together, really, the basis for doing what we did."

    Watch Tuesday's broadcast of the PBS NewsHour to hear more of Peter Yarrow's memories of Pete Seeger. You can tune in to our Ustream channel at 6 p.m. EST or check your local PBS listings.

    See how other artist remember Pete Seeger. You'll find stories and old performances, including a recording from 1941 by WNYC.


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    PBS NewsHour graphic

    The latest in a series of National Security Agency spying revelations revealed the organization tapped into personal data from mobile game apps such as Angry Birds, the BBC reports.

    U.S. and British agencies target information such as location, websites visited and contacts in these mobile applications.

    The NSA said in a statement they were not interested in the data of the average mobile phone user.

    "Any implication that NSA's foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true," the statement said. The scale of data gathering is unclear. But the leaked Snowden documents suggests that both U.S. and British agencies are increasingly invested in the importance of mobile application data.

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  • 01/28/14--14:00: NewsHour is LIVE
  • It's 6 p.m. EST -- where are you getting your news? PBS NewsHour is streaming live on our UStream channel and in the player above.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama delivers his 2014 State of the Union address tonight, and he will highlight executive actions aimed at jobs and wages. As White House video showed Mr. Obama working on the speech, aides said he's set to order a higher minimum wage for future federal contract workers of $10.10 an hour.

    The plan met with praise from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

    SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID, D-Nev.: I think we will find at the State of the Union tonight, the president has decided that Republicans are obstructing everything and they will continue to do so, so he's going to have to some things on his own. And I agree with him. He needs to use his administrative authority, his executive authority to start doing some things for this country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans dismissed the minimum wage move as window dressing. House Speaker John Boehner says it has a very narrow scope.

    HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: This affects not one current contract. It only affects future contracts with the federal government. And so I think the question is, how many people, Mr. President, will this executive action actually help? I suspect the answer is somewhere close to zero.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We will preview the president's speech with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney right after the news summary.
    Arctic air descended on the Deep South today, bringing bitter cold to millions who aren't used to it. Snow, ice and subzero readings stretched from Texas to Virginia. Snowfall began to slow and snarl major interstates around Atlanta, and shoppers emptied shelves of shovels and other cold winter gear.
    But as they waited for the worst, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory conceded the region is never ready for such weather.

    GOV. PAT MCCRORY, R-N.C.: We have got to be honest that we don't have these storms very often, so the equipment needed or the equipment level of capacity isn't as great as comparison to New York or Connecticut or New Hampshire.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the Midwest endured another day of windchills that reached as far down as 50 below. The huge storm also forced airlines to cancel about 3,000 commercial flights nationwide.

    In Egypt, ousted President Mohammed Morsi went on trial on charges of organizing mass prison breaks during the 2011 revolution. State TV showed Morsi pacing inside of a soundproof glass-encased cage, visibly angry and shouting at the judge. After five hours, the trial adjourned until February 22.

    The fifth day of the Syrian peace talks negotiations broke off, with little to show for the effort. Syria's foreign minister charged that the U.S. has sabotaged the Geneva conference by resuming deliveries of non- lethal supplies to rebels. The State Department said the Syrian government has poisoned the talks by continuing to block aid to the besieged city of Homs.

    Protesters in Ukraine won new concessions today. The country's prime minister resigned, and Parliament repealed anti-protest laws that sparked 10 days of violence. Still, opposition leaders insisted again that President Viktor Yanukovych must also resign. We will get a full report on the developing situation in Ukraine later in the program.

    Thailand is going ahead with parliamentary elections this Sunday, despite fears of violent protests and an opposition boycott. The country's election commission had called for delaying the vote, but the government rejected the idea today.

    PHONGTHEP THEPKANJANA, deputy prime minister, Thailand (through translator): If we postpone the election, will the problems go away? You can see that the problems obstructing the election cannot be solved even if we postpone it. The people who are causing trouble didn't say they would stop if it is postponed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The opposition has occupied parts of Bangkok and demanded that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra resign immediately.

    Wall Street's jitters over emerging markets calmed today, and stocks turned higher after three days of losses. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 90 points to close at 15,928. The Nasdaq rose 14 points to close near 4,098.

    A voice that shaped American folk music for several generations is gone. Legendary musician and activist Pete Seeger died in a New York City hospital last night at 94. Seeger helped spark a national folk music revival and lent his voice to Vietnam protests and other causes, with hits such as "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" -- Jeffrey Brown explores his life and music later in the broadcast.


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    GWEN IFILL: The president will deliver his fifth formal State of the Union address later this evening.

    For an early look at what to expect tonight, we are joined by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

    So, Jay, what is the president actually hoping to accomplish five years in -- six years in, actually, five speeches in?

    PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY, White House: Well, Gwen, tonight presents the president with a special opportunity.

    He gets to go before the nation, speak to millions of Americans, and describe why he's optimistic about where America is and where we're going. For the first time since he's taken office, we really aren't facing the severe headwinds that we were economically in previous years, either from the worst recession since the Great Depression or from the some of the shenanigans and obstructionism that we saw from Congress in 2011 and again last year.

    Right now, there's an opportunity for this country and this economy to grow more and for Washington to take action to deliver expanded opportunity for all Americans, to reward hard work and responsibility. So, that's what the president's focus is going to be tonight, and he really looks forward to the opportunity.

    GWEN IFILL: I know you have seen the polls I have seen. You don't have to acknowledge that if you don't want to, but the truth is, the president's at all-time record low approval ratings. Who do you think is listening tonight?

    JAY CARNEY: Well, Gwen, I'm not sure I agree with that. There's no question that everybody has suffered here in Washington because Americans are fed up with dysfunction here in Washington.

    It was only a few months ago that I stood at this podium and took questions from reporters here about whether the Republican Party was in permanent decline after they foolishly shut down the government and cost the American economy and the American middle class dearly through that action.

    And then, of course, not long after that, we saw healthcare.gov have a really rocky rollout, and that is something the president took responsibility for, and he's ensured every day since that the Web site be -- gets improved and that we deliver on the promise of affordable, quality health care for the millions of Americans who want it.

    But, right now, we have an opportunity to come together, for the president to take action on his own where Congress won't cooperate and to cooperate with Congress when Congress demonstrates that it's willing to work with him on commonsense solutions to move this country forward, to expand opportunity for Americans everywhere.

    GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about the action the president's willing to take on his own. The White House announced today that he, with the stroke of a pen, will raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers. We heard John Boehner a few minutes ago say, how many people is that going to affect?

    So, how many people is that really going to affect?

    JAY CARNEY: Well, it's going to affect thousands of Americans, and it affects new contracts. So, obviously, the more time passes, the more Americans will be affected.

    The point of this action is that the president will deliver on the promise of expanding opportunity using the authority he has when he can't work with Congress. Congress has refused for the entire year since the president called for a raise in the minimum wage to act on that.

    He will, of course, ask Congress tonight, in addition to his executive action for federal contractors, to raise the minimum wage across the country. It's the right thing to do. We have a situation here where Americans across the country are working full-time. They're being responsible. They're taking care of their families. And yet they're living in poverty, even with a full-time job.

    That's -- in the president's view, that's not what we should be doing. We ought to reward hard work. We ought to reward responsibility. So that's what he's doing with this executive action, and that's what he's going to call on Congress to join him in doing.

    GWEN IFILL: The president and you from that podium have said in the past several days that you plan -- he plans to use the power of the pen and the phone in order to get things done in Washington, or at least the things he would like to see get done.

    Last night, Judy Woodruff talked to senator Roy Blunt about that. He said the president is giving up on Congress. Is he?

    JAY CARNEY: No, absolutely not. This is not an either/or proposition. It's a both/and.

    It's not either legislate or use executive authority. It's both legislate and use executive authority. Where Congress is willing to cooperate, on comprehensive immigration reform, for example, or on further action to invest in our infrastructure, the president is eager to do that.

    But where Congress won't act, where Congress won't help him advance the cause of expanding opportunity, he's going to act on his own. He's going to use the authority to that he has to sign executive orders and presidential memoranda and he's going to use the power of the office to convene businesses and college presidents and people around the country to expand college access and to help advance the cause of advanced manufacturing in this country.

    There's so many things we can do together that don't require legislation. The president's not going to tie one hand behind his back and just try to get things done through Congress.

    GWEN IFILL: You mentioned immigration reform. Speaker Boehner mentioned -- had told people today that he actually thinks he might be able to get some movement on that in coming days. Is this something the president is going to lock arms with Speaker Boehner on or basically let him lead the charge?

    JAY CARNEY: Well, the president believes that 2014 presents the greatest opportunity we have ever had to see comprehensive immigration reform become a reality.

    The Senate took significant action last year. As you know, a bipartisan majority passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that meets the president's principles. He hopes for action in the House. And he is certainly encouraged by some of the signs we have seen out of House Republicans leaders of late. And we will see how they move forward.

    The president certainly believes that we can all work together on this. It will help our economy. It will help the middle class. It will improve our security on the border. And it will expand opportunity and innovation in this country.

    GWEN IFILL: I want to ask you one final brief question, which is about gun control.

    At this same State of the Union speech last year, the president spoke very emotionally about it, but yet very little has happened. Is that something we can expect him to repeat tonight?

    JAY CARNEY: Well, the president pushed vary hard for background check legislation, the legislation that would have expanded the existing background check system.

    It was legislation that had the support of vast majorities of the American people across the country in red states, blue states and purple states. Unfortunately, the Congress didn't heed the will of the American people, and the president didn't hide his disappointment.

    But just because Congress won't act doesn't mean the president won't act where he can. And he has done that; 23 executive action were outlined in the president's commonsense proposal to reduce gun violence. The administration has acted on all 23 of those. And he is always looking for more ways that he can act.

    So he's going to do what he can, mindful of the Second Amendment rights of the American people that he supports, to reduce gun violence in this country. We're reminded far too often that it's a continuing problem.

    GWEN IFILL: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, we will be watching with you later tonight. Thank you.

    JAY CARNEY: Thank you, Gwen.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another look at the upcoming Winter Olympics, which kick off one week from Friday.

    Tonight, we examine efforts to keep American athletes and visitors safe during the Games.

    Workers added final touches to the Olympic Village in Sochi today, but, for many, security at the Black Sea resort has eclipsed facilities as the overriding concern.

    Olympic Village director Dan Merkley of Canada:

    DAN MERKLEY, Olympic Village: I'm very confident that these villages are really among the safest places to be in Russia right now. And I am also extremely confident in the way our security agencies have prepared for the safety of athletes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Even so, on Friday, the U.S. State Department issued this travel advisory, urging caution for those planning on making the trip. Private security firms have also been contracted to safeguard the 230 U.S. athletes and to help evacuate them if need be.

    DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday the U.S. military is standing by if there's an emergency.

    CHUCK HAGEL: Well, the Russians have not requested any specific assistance or technology. We want them to know that, if they need our help, we want to help. I think, as you -- most of you know, we will have two ships in the Black Sea during that time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In addition, Air Force transport planes will be ready in Germany, about two hours away.

    It's all because of threats by extremists in Russia's North Caucasus region. They have vowed to attack the Games, and last week, authorities said a potential suicide bomber may have entered the city. There have already been multiple attacks outside Sochi in recent weeks, including suicide bombings in Volgograd, 600 miles away, that left 34 people dead.

    LYUDMILA RODENKO, Sochi, Russia, resident (through translator): We saw on TV that a terrorist attack happened in Volgograd, so, it is not impossible. But anything may happen. What can I say? Our reliable police will be our hope.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It's a hope that thousands of athletes and spectators will share.

    So, just how safe will the Olympics for American athletes and spectators?

    For that, we turn to Dan Richards, CEO and founder of Global Rescue. It's providing crisis management and response for the U.S. ski and snowboarding team, as well as for corporate clients. And Andrew Weiss was the director of Russian affairs on the National Security Council staff during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He's now a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    And welcome to you both.

    Andrew Weiss, to you first.

    How would you describe the efforts the Russians are making to keep these Games safe?

    ANDREW WEISS, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace: The Russians are sparing no expense to make the Games safe.

    The question is, there's a hard target around Sochi. There seems to be a relatively robust Russian troop presence in the mountains around Sochi. There's cops on the street. The question is, there's plenty of soft targets across Russia, and as we have seen in Volgograd, any attack that happens between now and the Games or during the Games I think is going to be portrayed as being connected somehow with the Olympics.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Soft target meaning something more vulnerable?

    ANDREW WEISS: Anyone who has been on the Moscow subway at rush hour knows that it's a mass of humanity. So, God forbid something bad happens. We have seen that already now recently in Volgograd.

    I think there is going to be a jump to conclusions, saying this is a blow against Putin, this shows that Russia is not safe, this shows that Sochi is not safe. So, that's what -- that's the message that the Putin government is trying to control.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan Richards, what's your sense of how safe it is or will be?

    DAN RICHARDS, Global Rescue: You know, I think that within Sochi and the proverbial ring of steel here, that it's going to be quite safe.

    It's, as Andrew mentions, targets outside of Sochi that might not be as hardened nearly as the Olympic Village itself or within the regions surrounding Sochi that might represent more attractive targets for terrorists.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why are you confident that it's safe within the immediate, as you say, ring of steel?

    DAN RICHARDS: Well, the likelihood that the environment within that ring of steel is selected as a target, obviously, it's an attractive target should a terrorist want to disrupt the Games. That goes without saying.

    But the Russians have expended basically every available resource in order to secure that area, both in terms of manpower, in terms of money, and other resources that would help secure the air, the land, the sea. They're monitoring all the communications.

    There's been an unbelievable amount of effort that's gone into the security. It doesn't mean that the likelihood that something happens is zero. It's not zero. But it's arguably the most protected environment that the Olympic Games has ever seen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Andrew Weiss, we know the U.S. military has some offshore -- what is the U.S. military doing?

    ANDREW WEISS: I think, at this point, what we're seeing are largely attempts by the U.S. government to reassure people that we're watching this closely.

    We are going to be relying primarily, though, on the Russians. This is their show. So, when you talk about warships in the Black Sea, there were warships off the coast of Athens during those Olympic Games. So this is something that has been done. There's precedent for it.

    The question is, it all depends on the Russians to be cooperative and provide the environment. So if you have a plane and you're trying to get into Sochi International Airport, you need flight clearance from the Russians.

    So the idea that someone can -- the cavalry can steam in and pluck Americans out of there, that's a bit of a stretch. The real challenge is for the Russians, if something, again, something terrible were to happen, manage the event, can they manage the consequences, can they provide a sort of atmosphere of calm and that they -- that they can sort of organize a response.

    That's something where the Russian in the past haven't been very good, and I think that's where people are worried.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Dan Richards, let me take that to you, because, as I understand it, what your firm is providing is crisis management and an ability, if something were to happen, to help get the athletes and anybody else out of there.

    DAN RICHARDS: That's correct.

    But what Andrew says is also correct. And that is, you know, the airspace around Sochi is 100 percent controlled by the Russians. Nobody's going to fly over it or land at the Sochi Airport without their say-so.

    But Global Rescue has been retained to provide not only potential air transport, but also support on the ground for our clients, USSA among them. So if there are medical emergencies or other types of emergencies that require either consultative support or direct on-the-ground resources or transport at some point to a different level of care, that's what we're positioned to do.

    But we're positioned to do it in conjunction with the support of the Russians.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us -- can you tell us anymore about how that works? I mean, is this different from what you would do at other Olympics in another place where you didn't have this kind of security, massive security threat?

    DAN RICHARDS: That's a great question.

    The reality is, any time that we're using air assets or flying in or out of somewhere, we have got to get permission not only for the place that we're landing, but also any countries that we're flying over. So getting those kinds of permissions, working with the host nation, in this case, obviously, the Russians, it's all par for the course, actually.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Andrew Weiss, do all the teams presumably have their own -- need to have their own security arrangements, ability to get out if something goes wrong?

    ANDREW WEISS: I think, since the Munich Games, the world of security for Olympics has been transformed.

    So you have seen Secret Service, CIA, FBI, all these kinds of entities providing the contingency plans and coming up with a sense of the security environment that would make our Olympic athletes understand what they're going into and understand what the relative risks are. But, as your other guest indicated, this is a place that's going to be intrusively secure.

    So guests are going to be forced to get a background check to get their ticket. When they go to the venue, they are going to be scanned multiple times. So it's not going to be sort of the sort of freewheeling time on the mountain. It's going to be very regimented and very Russian.

    And what the Russians are doing is, they're deploying cops on the street every 50 meters. There's going to be just this very obtrusive physical security presence that's intimidating. The Russians are going to use racial profiling to make people who sort of match the profile of the insurgents that they're worried about in the North Caucasus feel uncomfortable.

    So, again, compared with Moscow, where on any given day of the week, you have two million migrants running around making their livelihoods, Sochi is going to be a very different atmosphere.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Dan Richards, would you agree that description, that it is going to be very different from other Olympics?

    DAN RICHARDS: Absolutely.

    You know, as Andrew said, there's going to be a very visible and overt security presence. And the kinds of things that might have been permissible 10 or 15 or 20 years ago at an Olympics absolutely are not going to be permissible here. You're not going to be walking around carrying bags of items, unidentified substances or bags into events where there are going to be large numbers of spectators.

    There are going to be a large number of security personnel on the street, so I would agree with them completely.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally to both of you, and I will stay with you, Dan Richards, when people ask you, should I go, is it safe, what are you saying?

    DAN RICHARDS: I think that anybody that is attending the Olympics should go in with their eyes wide open.

    And the possibility that something happens is not high. In fact, it's very, very low, but it's also not zero. So, you know, I think that the Olympics is in general going to be a safe environment for spectators and for athletes. But nothing in this world is 100 percent, and that isn't either.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Andrew Weiss, what do you say to people when they ask you whether they should go?

    ANDREW WEISS: I think it's what he said. You have to be aware of the environment.

    But this is -- before every Olympic Games, there's usually a lot of fixation on security. We saw this in London. We saw this in Athens. And the Russians in this case are holding the Games in a neighborhood which is quite unstable and where there's a lot of skepticism about Russia's ability to deliver security. I think, all told, there's going to be a real sense of unease until these Games are over. And we're just going to have to see how things play out.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear you both.

    Andrew Weiss, Dan Richards, thank you.  

    DAN RICHARDS: Thanks for having me.


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    GWEN IFILL: It's been two years since lawmakers began working on, and then fighting over, new farm legislation. The enormous, nearly 1,000-page bill that is now emerging in Congress could affect the cost of your groceries, the price of your child's school lunch, and the profit picture for major American corporations.

    The trillion-dollar compromise to reauthorize the law would eliminate many direct payments to farmers, but expand crop insurance, slice about $17 billion, including $8 billion from the food stamp program -- that's about 1 percent of the program's total cost -- and bring some reforms to the agricultural system itself.

    There's a reason it took so long to strike a deal.

    Here to explain is Alan Bjerga, who covers agriculture issues for Bloomberg News.

    Thank you for joining us.

    ALAN BJERGA, Bloomberg News: Thank you.

    GWEN IFILL: Let's walk through this piece by piece, first, the compromise on farm subsidies, direct payments to farmers.

    ALAN BJERGA: What you saw developing as the farm bill was brought forth was a lot of political pressure to get rid of this program that essentially pays farmers $5 billion a year for being farmers.

    GWEN IFILL: Including not to actually plant crops sometimes.

    ALAN BJERGA: In some cases, you may see land lying fallow and direct payments still being had.

    But this was part of a reform bill passed in 1996 in which you were going to have a transitional payment, a block grant, so to say, to get you off farm subsidies. It never went away, and public pressure just grew and grew to get rid of this program, especially in the last few years, when you have actually seen farmers doing quite well. You have seen farm profits near a record for the past several years.

    It seems like, especially in a fiscally austere time, that this wasn't money that farmers needed, so it went away.

    GWEN IFILL: What they're doing now, however, is keeping some of it?

    ALAN BJERGA: Well, the idea is, is that you want to be able to help farmers when they need the help.

    And so what you're seeing is an expansion of insurance-based programs, programs that will help people when there are either weather problems or, say, market collapses. Now, again, these aren't cheap either. And people who would like to see less government spending in general have been very frustrated with this bill because they feel like, again, these farmers are getting money during times when they don't really need it.

    But the consensus in the Agriculture Committees is that this is a better way to go.

    GWEN IFILL: When you do hear about the farm bill, you often hear about the dispute over food stamp payments, nutritional -- SNAP stands for something. What is it?

    ALAN BJERGA: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as of the last farm bill in 2008.

    GWEN IFILL: OK.

    So, this time, however, they wanted to cut how much? And they cut it down to 1 percent. They wanted to cut 5 percent from it.

    ALAN BJERGA: Well, these numbers have gone back and forth.

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    ALAN BJERGA: And at the most -- the most expensive proposal you had in terms of the amount cut was $40 billion. That was in the Republican version of the farm bill. That was a food stamp-only bill that the House Republicans passed last fall. They actually split the food stamps from farm subsidies.

    And that was actually sewn back together in this bill. There's a longstanding coalition between urban lawmakers who want food stamp funds and rural lawmakers who want subsidies that really coalesced again and got the cuts in food stamps down to $8 billion, which is still $8 billion more than a lot of anti-hunger advocates would like to see, but it's less than what the Republicans had wanted.

    GWEN IFILL: So the urban/rural bedfellows, that -- that partnership is really what got this bill through?

    ALAN BJERGA: This has really been passing farm bills since 1977, when you saw the declining farm population, as well as a desire for more social justice, more social welfare programs when you had a Democratic-controlled Congress.

    When welfare reform happened in 1996, you saw a lot of erosion of the social safety net. Food stamps to a lot of folks is the biggest game left in town. They want to protect that program.

    GWEN IFILL: But there are a lot of people with a lot of dogs in this hunt, including corporations, agribusiness. This wasn't just helping out poor people or helping out kids with school lunches.

    ALAN BJERGA: Well, absolutely.

    And when you take a look at who the big power players are in the farm bill, we learned at Bloomberg that 325 companies have been lobbying this bill in the first nine months of 2013. That's the fifth-most-lobbied bill in Congress.

    GWEN IFILL: How much money are we talking about there?

    ALAN BJERGA: We're talking -- now, this isn't specifically on the farm bill, but these are entities that in the same period spent almost $112 million.

    GWEN IFILL: Wow.

    ALAN BJERGA: This is heavy hitting. This is up there with health care, with defense, with the major lobbies in town, because the farm bill, even though it really only rises to prominence every five years or so, literally affects every person every day. Everyone eats.

    GWEN IFILL: What do these businesses get for all of their efforts in this bill?

    ALAN BJERGA: Well, if you're a -- if you're a crop processor, say you're Archer Daniels Midland or Cargill, what you get is a regular crop supply at possibly a consistent price.

    These programs tend to even out supplies. If you are, say, a grocery store, a Wal-Mart or Kroger, again, the SNAP program, food stamps, subsidizes a lot of food purchases. If you are a crop insurance company, Wells Fargo has a very profitable unit -- this also gives you possibly a little more security in your bottom line.

    GWEN IFILL: This used to be a done deal. Everybody agreed that the farm bill every five years had to be renewed.

    But it became controversial this time. Why?

    ALAN BJERGA: Well, the farm bill has always been more of a regional bill than a partisan bill. You will often see a refighting of the Civil War every five years, where you have corn and soybean guys up on the Northern Plains going up against the cotton and rice guys in Georgia.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    ALAN BJERGA: But, in the end, they will build their coalition and they will bring it together.

    You saw a lot more partisanship this time around. You saw a farm bill being a partisan issue in a way that it never had been before, very much a symptom of the Congress. But, as Congress seems to be getting more things done, the farm bill is symptomatic of that as well.

    GWEN IFILL: Close vote ahead?

    ALAN BJERGA: Could be. There's still a lot of Democrats who don't want to vote for these food stamp cuts. There are still a lot of Republicans who are concerned about the spending.

    But you have leadership behind it this time. There's a desire to get this off the plate. And then the consensus is, we will probably have a bill in the next couple weeks.

    GWEN IFILL: The biggest controversy nobody has ever heard of.

    Alan Bjerga, thanks for helping us out, with Bloomberg News.

    ALAN BJERGA: Thank you.

    GWEN IFILL: Thank you.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Ukraine today, there were more concessions by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

    But, as Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News reports, protesters are looking for yet more.

    JONATHAN MILLER: As the embers of 10 days of violent protest still smoldered in Kiev's ice-bound streets today, the dawn wind brought the distinct scent of political blood.

    The president had made offers he thought the opposition would never turn down, but they did. And, by this morning, out in the cold, his supporters knew Viktor had lost.

    WOMAN (through translator): Our president, he has no choice. He has been put in a position where he can only concede or put Ukraine on the brink of war.

    JONATHAN MILLER: The president's convoy swept from palace to Parliament for an emergency session just after 9:00 a.m. The Rada, as it's called, was to vote on whether to repeal the draconian anti-protest laws which had triggered the violence which has now left five protesters dead.

    Inside the Rada, the president's own party voting with the opposition to reject what protesters branded the dictatorship laws.

    VITALI KLITSCHKO, opposition leader (through translator): The positive thing is that we have managed to cancel the shameful amendments to laws which have been adopted in an unacceptable way. We have never seen such a thing happen before. It's a small step, but a really important one.

    JONATHAN MILLER: A humiliated Prime Minister Mykola Azarov then threw in the towel, appearing on the TV to announce his resignation, before he risked being stripped of his powers in a vote of no confidence.

    Among opposition protesters manning the barricades in a burned and battered Independence Square, it's all gone down rather well.

    MAN (through translator): It's very good that the prime minister has resigned. He should have done it a long time ago. Now we're waiting for the president to do the same thing.

    JONATHAN MILLER: But does all this bring Ukraine back any closer to Europe? Well, not if Russia can help it. So, for now, a welcome de-escalation, and the riot police out in the cold in the square look a little more chilled.  


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: To help us understand what these latest developments mean, I'm joined by Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He's now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

    Welcome back to the program.

    So, so much happened today. The prime minister stepped down. The anti-protest laws have now been repealed. Does this represent a real change of heart on the part of the government?

    STEVEN PIFER, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine: Well, I think what you have seen now is President Yanukovych has realized that he's in a very precarious situation, and so he's starting to make some significant concessions.

    One of the ironies is, had he made these offers, say, three weeks ago, this might have been a way out. But I think because of the events of the last 10 days, particularly the violence, the opposition is going to be demanding more.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does the opposition now have the upper hand, because we also understand there's some division? They're not completely united, the opposition?

    STEVEN PIFER: Well, certainly, I think the opposition has gained in strength over the last week.

    The problem the opposition has is you have got the three opposition party leaders. But it's not clear if they speak fully for the people who are out on the square protesting. And, in fact, after the first set of concessions offered by President Yanukovych on Saturday, when those leaders took those to the square and said, this is what's on offer, they all said no, and they denied it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what do we understand, what do we know about what the protesters want at this point?

    STEVEN PIFER: Well, you have a group out there that's pretty amorphous.

    There's some people out there -- and, remember, the demonstrations began originally because they wanted to see Ukraine proceed down this pro-European path. But I think you have other people out there now, ones who are tired of corruption, they're tired of economic stagnation, they're tired of the authoritarian practice of the government.

    So you have got a large group with some fairly diverse demands, which may make it more difficult for the opposition to come up with a coherent set of positions to put forward to the government.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So do they have the ability to translate what they're doing on the street into changing the government?

    STEVEN PIFER: That's the challenge that they have there.

    And there have been some offers now. I think there still is a sense on the part of the opposition that, for example, accepting the offer that was made on Saturday from Mr. Yatsenyuk, one of the heads of the opposition, to become prime minister, that that could be a trap.

    And one of the things I think they will pushing for to say, well, if he gets that position, does he also have some real authority, so that he can actually influence policy? And that negotiation is continuing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we also see that the opposition -- or at least the protests have spread to other parts of the country where Yanukovych was considered to be politically strong.

    STEVEN PIFER: This has been one of the stunning things.

    For most of the last two months, the actions took place in Kiev. But over the last week, it's spread to Western Ukraine. And in the last three days, it's spread to Eastern Ukraine, which is typically seen as the political home base for Mr. Yanukovych. And I think this is one of the things that has probably brought him to recognize that his situation now is a very risky one.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the role of Russia, of Vladimir Putin? We know it wasn't all that long ago that he extended an economic lifeline.

    STEVEN PIFER: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He was giving a loan to Ukraine, very much needed. But they haven't said a great deal in the last few days. What is known about their position?

    STEVEN PIFER: Well, there are a couple things going on.

    First of all, I think Mr. Putin is on good behavior because he's worried about having a good show for the Olympics. And that may impose some limitations on his actions. I think, 10 days ago, Mr. Putin was actually pretty pleased with events in Ukraine, because -- particularly because of the thuggish behavior by the police, Ukraine was seen as actually moving away from European values. And you were probably seeing some Europeans say, gee, is Ukraine really ready to draw closer to us?

    And also to the extent that you saw chaos and violence in the streets, and that was being broadcast on Russian television, I think subliminal message there in Russia was, we have calm stability here.

    I think now, though, Mr. Putin may be a little bit concerned because events are moving to a point where it's not sure that Mr. Yanukovych can control them. And the Russians may find that they're -- they don't have a lot of leverage and that they are spectators for what's going on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, and the protesters themselves are aware of the Olympics and the pressure...

    STEVEN PIFER: Exactly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: ... that Putin is under to make it look as if everything is calm.

    STEVEN PIFER: No, I think there's an opportunity now for Ukraine to work some things out, perhaps with the Russian attention elsewhere for the next several weeks.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Steven Pifer, where do you see things going from here? What are you looking for?

    STEVEN PIFER: Well, I hope what's happened today -- I think there's room for greater optimism today than, say, three days ago.

    I hope that you now see the beginning of a real political dialogue that can find a way to a peaceful settlement here that's going to involve a measure of power-sharing with the opposition. I think Mr. Yanukovych is going to have to make further concessions. For example, is he prepared to share control over the Ministry of Interior, the guys who control the police, the guys who control the guys with guns?

    That would be an important step. And I think, on the other side, for the opposition, they have got to be careful, and they can't overreach too much. They have to at the end of the day leave a way out for Mr. Yanukovych, because, if he feels cornered, he could order large-scale violence. I think that would probably hasten his departure from office, but it could also do a lot of harm and a lot of violence to people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: These next few days could turn out to be crucial.

    STEVEN PIFER: It will be interesting to watch.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Steven Pifer, we thank you.

    STEVEN PIFER: Thank you for having me. 


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    GWEN IFILL: Now a remembrance of folk legend Pete Seeger, his distinct voice, his music, and his influence.

    Jeffrey Brown has an appreciation.

    (MUSIC)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Pete Seeger lived the life of performer, folklorist, and activist for more than 60 years, with his trademark five-string banjo nearly always close at hand.

    Over those decades, he wrote and co-wrote a long list of songs that became American standards, and left a lasting mark on several generations. Seeger got his start in the late 1930s, and by 1940, he was performing with Woody Guthrie and others as the Almanac Singers.

    PETE SEEGER, musician: I had a good ear. And I could accompany him on anything. I didn't have to hear it once. The first time I heard it, I could hear a chord change coming. And I couldn't get -- and I didn't play anything fancy. I just gave him a good solid backing. I didn't try and play fancy breaks or anything.

    JEFFREY BROWN: After World War II, Seeger helped form the Weavers, a group that gave rise to a folk music revival across the U.S. Along the way, he joined the Communist Party, then renounced it.

    But, in 1955, he confronted the House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted for 10 years. In those years, he played in coffeehouses and for college crowds and, in later life, said it was the high point of his career.

    PETE SEEGER: I tell people nobody can prove a thing, but, obviously, if I didn't think music could help save the human race, I wouldn't be making music.

    JEFFREY BROWN: As the 1960s dawned, Seeger turned his music and liberal activism to a series of causes, from social justice and Vietnam, to conservation, notably the cleanup of the Hudson River, and civil rights. In doing so, he helped make "We Shall Overcome" an anthem for the movement.

    PETE SEEGER: No one can tell what a song can do. All you can do is quote people who said, well, that song changed my life or something like that. And leaders like Dr. King have testified how important music has been in the movement. John L. Lewis said a sing movement is a winning movement.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Years later, Bruce Springsteen's album "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" helped introduce the folk icon to an entirely new audience.

    The two also performed in 2009 at a Washington concert for President Obama's first inauguration.

    Today, the president issued a statement, saying: "Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But, more importantly, he believed in the power of community -- to stand up for what's right, speak out against what's wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be."

    Seeger was still pursuing that goal late in life. He joined an Occupy Wall Street march in 2011, and walked through the streets of Manhattan with the help of two canes to protest what he saw as corporate greed.

    Last year, in one of his final interviews, he spoke with Mountain Lake PBS in Plattsburgh, New York, at his home and hailed the value of traditional folk music.

    PETE SEEGER: I think we learn the history of our country by knowing some of the old songs, whether they are love songs, or satirical songs, or adventure stories put into verse. I think you learn history. And to learn the history of your own country is an important thing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Pete Seeger died of natural causes Monday night in New York. He was 94 years old.

    And now some thoughts about Pete Seeger and his work from his longtime friend Peter Yarrow of the famed folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Their recording of Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer" was a top 10 hit in 1962. And he was with Pete Seeger in the hospital last night before he died.

    Well, thank you so much for joining us.

    And perhaps I will ask you to put it in personal terms first. How would you describe Pete Seeger's influence on you? 

    PETER YARROW, musician: He was -- as Mary said about Pete Seeger and the Weavers, we were Seeger's raiders.

    He gave our life direction. He was our inspiration. He lived his ethic. And his whole perspective, which was that music was there to bring people's hearts together, was really the basis for Peter, Paul, and Mary's doing what we did, and always using the music when we were called upon to be a part of the March on Washington in '63, the Selma, Montgomery, march, the anti-war movement, and even through today.

    And it never stopped. And Pete was always there as a beacon of what was possible if you made that kind of commitment. He was extraordinary.

    JEFFREY BROWN: How did he -- did he see himself with a mission, if that's the right word?

    PETER YARROW: Well, I think he did.

    I think he believed he had a mission. But I don't think he was -- it was presumptuous on his point. It was just the way things were. Remember, he came out of a period in the blacklist when he and the Weavers were just not allowed to perform anywhere. And it was a very, very difficult time. And it destroyed their career, when they had actually ushered in the beginning of what could have been the folk renaissance in the '50s with "Irene, Goodnight" and "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena," huge hits.

    And so, for him, the struggle was just what he did. And he saw himself, I think, in those terms. But it wasn't a sense of arrogance or presumption about it. He was the most humble guy you ever met.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that folk tradition that, of course, he was so much a part of, it was interesting for me to read that he wasn't born to it, certainly not to the rural tradition, but he learned it, he took to it, he clearly wanted to foster it for many generations.

    PETER YARROW: Well, it was his passion.

    And it wasn't -- whatever it was that brought him into it -- and I know there was a kind of an -- a very erudite background from which he came, and his father, Charles Seeger, was a musicologist. And it was -- he had the strong background, but, to Pete, it meant not just the music. It was living the commitment.

    And, you know, Pete was -- did receive a sentence -- it was never served -- from the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to answer. He took his stand and he never faltered. So, you know, his immersion in it was a love for common human beings.

    And he wrote that way, and he wrote about it. And you can understand his words. They were very simple. You know it was:

    (singing): Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing, Where have all the...

    It's not hard to understand, or:

    (singing): If I had a hammer.

    It was there. It was easy, easy to grasp, never, never apart from the most common, decent kind of communication between people.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Well, that's a wonderful way to end.

    Thank you so much, Peter Yarrow, on the life and work of Pete Seeger. Thanks so much.

    PETER YARROW: Thank you.


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    GWEN IFILL: And we turn our attention again to tonight's State of the Union address with some pre-speech analysis from Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, Mark, what are you expecting tonight?

    MARK SHIELDS: I'm expecting a real uphill struggle on the part of the president. This is the first time the president, who has been personally popular in spite of his programs, is less popular than the ideas he's pushing.

    And his numbers are underwater. He's below 50 percent. And Democrats are nervous and scared and the country is pessimistic. So he's got to -- he's got a tough task tonight.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David, what do you expect and what does he need to do?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, there will be a lot of modesty tonight.

    He gave an interview to David Remnick of "The New Yorker" a couple weeks ago in which he said, being president is a bit like being a runner in a relay race. You inherit the baton. You pass it along.

    And this really was someone who has been chastened maybe, made aware of the limits of the office. And so I don't think we're going to see a lot of radical proposals. But I would like to see a radical definition of the problem.

    And we know he's going to talk about inequality and lower social mobility. And so we would like to see at least the description of that and maybe some gesture towards some bigger solutions, even if, in the interim, he's only proposing a few executive actions.

    GWEN IFILL: In fact, we have a couple excerpts that have been prepared for delivery in tonight's speech.

    And one of the things he says is that inequality has deepened and upward mobility has stalled, and our job is to reverse these tides.

    What do you guys think? Is it possible to reverse these tides when you're in the midterm of a second term?

    MARK SHIELDS: It's tough, but there's no place like the presidency.

    It's the greatest pulpit and bully pulpit in the country to lead. The numbers are just absolutely staggering the president made in a speech in early December. Productivity of the country has increased 90 percent in the past 35 years, and yet the average family's wages are up only 8 percent.

    And there's been a widening, widening gap. And it's not only bad ethics. It's bad economics. The lack of buying power is slowing down the greater economy. So I think you can make an argument in the national interest that this is not simply the right thing to do morally, but it's the right thing to do economically and nationally.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, he's laid out these ambitious goals, David, but, in a way, he's limiting himself in a way by saying, well, I plan to do this with executive actions, if I can't do it any other way.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    The problem with the lack of social mobility is such a gigantic problem that you really need him to blare forth with some gigantic set of solutions. And he obviously doesn't have access to that because of the way Washington is. And he's come to accept that.

    So, raising the minimum wage on some future federal contractors, that is not going to reverse the tide. It might be a positive step, might not be. But he -- what you have to do to reverse the tides is a whole series of reasonably radical reactions which are both left and right together, some wage subsidies, which will please liberals, probably some social policies that will please conservatives. You have got to do a lot of this stuff together in a way that really breaks the orthodox barriers we now have.

    And as we see each side standing up and sitting down, you need something that just breaks the orthodoxies. And it's unlikely he will be able to ...

    DAVID BROOKS: ... something like that.

    GWEN IFILL: Sorry.

    I asked Jay Carney about this earlier, which is that, yesterday, Roy Blunt told Judy he's abandoning Congress. And he said, oh, I'm not abandoning Congress. This is what Jay Carney said. Congress has basically abandoned the president.

    Which is it? And is there any way to turn that around?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, the president can't abandon the Congress if he hopes to get an immigration law. And I think that certainly remains a hope, and sort of a growing hope now with action and activity on the Republicans, some resistance from David's former colleague Bill Kristol, who's arguing that it would be in -- not in the Republicans' interest to bring this up in an election year.

    But, if they don't address that issue before 2015, they're not going to address it, and they go into 2016 with their presidential nominee disabled again. So the president has to have an olive branch in that sense, but he doesn't expect -- his level of expectation of the Congress and the Congress' level of expectation of him I think are considerably lower than they were a year ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, other than immigration, David, where are the areas where you see the potential for real working together, cooperation?

    DAVID BROOKS: Other than immigration, I don't see any.

    This has been a problem for the Obama administration, maybe an insoluble one, but I think it was soluble. You had a core of Tea Party people on the Republican side who are clearly not going to cooperate with anything. I still think at some point early in the administration, it would have been possible to build a governing majority sort of center-right and sort of try to isolate the Tea Party people and get the other Republicans into some sort of governing coalition.

    They never quite could do that, and, therefore, we're just stuck with the polarization we have now. And it's really unlikely we're going to see big legislation any time in the next couple years.

    GWEN IFILL: Who does a president speak to on a night like tonight at this point in his presidency? Is he just talking to himself? Is he just talking to his supporters, talking to the American people who might be watching something else on DVR?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, this is the biggest audience he's probably going to have this year.

    And it's before the 2014 elections. And the Democrats are hoping that he can bring some passion, some intensity, some purpose back to the administration. The -- as I pointed out earlier, the issues are very much -- the primary issues are very much in the Democrats' favor.

    But when a president is below 50 percent approval -- and this president is now -- the average loss of House seats in a six-year term is 36. When a president is above 50 percent, the average loss is 14 percent. Now, Democrats don't want to lose 14 seats, but that's a significant difference.

    And so Democrats are hoping that it's a resurgence on his part, that he can be a more popular leader for their party going into the 2014 elections.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It's certainly not the people in the room.

    David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal pointed out today that the lasted address, he had 42 asks of Congress, of which three happened. And so that's not a great batting average. So it's not them. But it is the people out in the country, for the reason Mark -- this is really the last campaign speech he can make for the midterms.

    And it's the administration. This is mostly about setting the agenda within the administration, not so much what he says, but the act of composing the speech.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We look forward to talking to both of you when it all begins, in just a few hours.

    GWEN IFILL: All night long.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All night long.


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    Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., delivered the official GOP response to President Obama's 2014 State of the Union address. Rodgers highlighted lingering issues with the economy, unemployment and objections to the affordable care act.

    Updated | Jan. 28, 10:55 p.m. EST:

    Republican House Conference Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., delivered the official GOP rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union Tuesday evening with an appeal to America's equality of opportunity.

    She invoked her own story of achievement as testament of how far potential can go in America -- "a nation where a girl who worked at the McDonald's drive-through to help pay for college can be with you from the United States capital."

    She quickly diverged from Mr. Obama's calls for legislative and executive action to combat inequality, instead identifying America's homes and hearts, and not Capitol Hill or the Oval Office, as the catalysts for offering a better future for all Americans. The Republican vision, she said, "champions free markets -- and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you."

    Her party's mission, she declared, is to close the opportunity gap: "It's the gap we all face: between where you are and where you want to be." President Obama, she suggested, has been preoccupied with income inequality while allowing the the opportunity gap to widen.

    "Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the President's policies are making people's lives harder."

    But through lower taxes and cheaper energy and health care costs to help Americans take home more of the pay Republicans will be able to say that they closed the gap.

    McMorris Rodgers is the highest ranking Republican woman in Congress, and currently chairs the House Republican conference -- the party's No. 4 leadership post. McMorris Rodgers is now in her fifth term representing a district in eastern Washington state.

    The congresswoman is also the mother of three small children and often speaks out on issues affecting American families.

    Tremendously honored to speak with you and share our Republican vision for America after the #SOTU on Tuesday! http://t.co/fAbKeoWgeD

    — CathyMcMorrisRodgers (@cathymcmorris) January 23, 2014

    House Speaker John Boehner hailed the announcement.

    "Cathy will share our vision for a better America built on a thriving middle class, guided by a fierce belief in life and liberty, and grounded in greater trust between citizens and their government."- Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the House

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also welcomed her selection.

    "Her experience, hard work and commitment to family provide an example that Americans outside the halls of Congress understand. A strong advocate of empowering citizens rather than just the federal government, Cathy is the right choice to deliver this important address."- Sen. Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader

    It's been more than a decade since a female Republican lawmaker has delivered the party's State of the Union response. The last time was back in 2000 when Sen. Susan Collins of Maine spoke with then-Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee following President Bill Clinton's speech.

    You can watch the president's State of the Union and the GOP response on your local PBS station and on the PBS NewsHour's website.

    H/T Alexis Cox

    Support Your Local PBS Station


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    Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

    President Barack Obama stood in front of lawmakers Tuesday night and pledged to work with them when possible to find common ground, but he also made clear he would not hesitate to work around Congress when gridlock and dysfunction get in the way of results.

    "Let's make this a year of action," the president said.

    For Mr. Obama the speech marked his fifth official State of the Union address, and presented an opportunity to rebuild public support in his agenda following a bruising year politically that saw his approval ratings decline to record lows in the aftermath of the botched rollout of the health care law.

    The Morning Line

    The president outlined more than a dozen steps he was prepared to take on his own, such as raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour under new federal contracts, streamlining the permitting process for infrastructure projects and setting higher fuel efficiency standards for trucks.

    "America does not stand still, and neither will I," the president told lawmakers. "So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

    Republicans had been critical of the president's "pen and phone" approach in advance of the address, and the 65-minute speech appeared to do little to change things.

    "Instead of our areas of common ground, the president focused too much on the things that divide us - many we've heard before - and warnings of unilateral action," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement following the remarks. "The president must understand his power is limited by our constitution, and the authority he does have doesn't add up to much for those without opportunity in this economy."

    The Washington Post's Scott Wilson suggests the president's move toward more executive action could hamper future dealings with Congress:

    The approach, outlined in a speech that ran more than a hour, reflects the White House's view that Obama spent too much time last year in conflict with recalcitrant lawmakers, rather than using the unilateral powers in his grasp.

    But the go-it-mostly-alone strategy risks further antagonizing Congress and resting part of his legacy on executive actions that do not have the permanence, or breadth, of major legislation.

    The more executive-style presidency scores high with the public after years of political deadlock in Washington. It also marks a refiguring of Brand Obama, of the politician who promised to govern more modestly and cooperatively with the opposition after the polarizing years of the George W. Bush administration.

    While the president is unlikely to get much cooperation from Republicans in Congress on dealing with climate change or tougher gun control legislation, Tuesday's remarks did signal a potential opening when it comes to immigration reform. The president dedicated one paragraph of his speech to the subject, with the tone more in line with extending an olive branch than a public rebuke for inaction to this point.

    "Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same," the president said.

    House Republicans plan to discuss a path forward on immigration reform during their annual retreat that begins Wednesday. "We're going to outline our standards, principles of immigration reform and have a conversation with our members," Boehner told reporters Tuesday morning.

    For his part the president will kick off his post-speech push with events Wednesday in Maryland to highlight his call to increase the minimum wage and later in Pittsburgh, where he'll promote his new retirement proposals.

    For a point-by-point rundown of the president's address and more coverage, visit the PBS NewsHour blog.

    GOP RESPONSE

    The official Republican response Tuesday night fell to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House GOP Conference. But as has been the case in recent years, other GOP lawmakers stepped forward to provide their own rebuttals to the president. Most focused on the president's message regarding inequality and job creation, rather than his emphasis on using executive action to affect change.

    McMorris Rodgers spoke about her background growing up in Washington state, participating in 4-H and raising her three children, and the GOP's plans to close the gap between people who want opportunity and jobs and can't reach them. "We want you to have a better life," she said. "The President wants that too. But we part ways when it comes to how to make that happen. So tonight I'd like to share a more hopeful, Republican vision. One that empowers you, not the government. It's one that champions free markets - and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you."

    Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also addressed the "inequality crisis" when he delivered the tea party's official response.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., reacted to the speech with his own response, opening with a comparison to the Reagan administration and describing the housing bubble and government involvement that he said has caused economic inequality.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham said, "The world is literally about to blow up," as he reacted to the foreign policy points in Mr. Obama's State of the Union address.

    Boehner taped a little ditty of a response on Vine, saying: "Appreciate what the President said tonight but I'm w/ those who still asking, 'where are the jobs?'"

    LINE ITEMS

    The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a farm bill that includes subsidies for farmers and $800 million-a-year in cuts to food stamps.

    As the Republican House Conference heads to its annual policy retreat, senior leaders are privately conceding that they'll have to pass a clean debt ceiling increase. But that doesn't mean conservatives won't be pushing attachments at the retreat, and that if a policy emerged that a majority of their members could get behind, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wouldn't put it to the floor.

    When a NY1 reporter tried to ask Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., about allegations of campaign finance improprieties after the State of the Union address, the Staten Island representative walked off camera, only to walk back into view, seemingly threatening the reporter, saying things like, "I'll break you in half."

    Former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was featured in a TV ad advocating for tougher gun control laws that aired Tuesday night before and after the president's State of the Union address. Giffords attended last year's speech as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama when Mr. Obama called on members of Congress to give victims a simple vote on gun control legislation. A compromise plan to expand background checks and limit the size of magazine clips failed to move forward in the Senate last April.

    Sen. John McCain told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the Arizona Republican Party's censure of him for being insufficiently conservative was motivation to consider running for a sixth term in 2016.

    The New York Times diagrams New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's inner sanctum and the overlap between his policy and political circles as they executed a highly organized strategy to win the state's "top 100" swing towns last year.

    As part of their reported $1 million ad buy, the Democratic Governors Association is airing a new spot criticizing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's cuts to education funding.

    The NSA has posted a job opening for a "privacy officer," the first position of its kind at the agency. On his blog, former Department of Homeland Security official Paul Rosenzweig named Rebecca "Becky" Richards, of the DHS' privacy office, as the selectee.

    The Washington Post caught up with Jesse Ferguson, who returns to work this week at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with his fight against cancer under control.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott is seeking $1.4 million in budget proposals in what he's calling the "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget." The initiative, proposed Tuesday, doubles as a re-election platform and features $500 million in tax and fee cuts and $542 million for public education.

    Wednesday is virtual "Big Block of Cheese Day" at the White House. Members of the administration will be answering questions from Americans via social media. The tradition dates back to President Andrew Jackson who invited citizens to the White House to interact with officials and placed a 1,400 pound block of cheese in the foyer for guests to eat.

    Wednesday is also frequent Morning Line co-author Katelyn Polantz's last day at the NewsHour. She's moving to the National Law Journal to cover legal business. You can reach her in the future at kpolantz@alm.com or follow her on Twitter at @kpolantz.

    TOP TWEETS

    The State of Our Union in One Photo ... pic.twitter.com/yLtPBI8gz3

    — Richard Florida (@Richard_Florida) January 29, 2014

    If I could bring one guest to #sotu it would be Tami Taylor.

    — The Fix (@TheFix) January 29, 2014

    Over/Under on number of people getting married at SOTU tonight : 7

    — Mike Gehrke (@mikegehrke) January 29, 2014

    i will be live tweeting @nickconfessore's decision not to live tweet the SOTU tonight

    — E McMorris-Santoro (@EvanMcSan) January 29, 2014

    All the Presidents' neckties: a historical look at State of the Union tie colors. #CNNSOTUhttp://t.co/3y1dMzZSxspic.twitter.com/y0askpsmz7

    — CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 29, 2014

    Part of me is always a little nostalgic on SOTU days. Somewhere, Sam and Toby would be scrambling.

    — Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) January 28, 2014

    Bringing Duck Dynasty star to SOTU is hands down the most attention Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA) has ever gotten -- http://t.co/K8xtI3fphP

    — Reid Wilson (@PostReid) January 28, 2014

    @thefix Has there ever been a better #SOTU photo than this? pic.twitter.com/tzq4azcya4

    — Kristopher Purcell (@purcellkris) January 29, 2014

    Sums up my emotions now as well. RT @petersagal: RT @TheFix Best. Ever. RT @keithfarner: RT @ethanklapper: Biden! pic.twitter.com/dhowGDXQsv

    — Jackie Smith © (@Jackie20Smith) January 29, 2014

    Here President Roosevelt's dog Fala listens to his master speaking on radio, 1944: #APpic.twitter.com/SWXVxeBaty

    — Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) January 29, 2014

    After the speech is over, Congressmen often ask POTUS to sign their copy of his speech. Souvenir hunters, just like everyone else.

    — Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) January 29, 2014

    For all those interested, @RepGutierrez and I kept our promise to sit together during #SOTU#Bromancepic.twitter.com/QsxHhGygGk

    — Mario Diaz-Balart (@MarioDB) January 29, 2014

    Reasons Somebody's Son is AWESOME: Chaz Rorick took pictures of himself posed and dressed like every President. pic.twitter.com/8YnClUkV4F

    — ReasonsMySonIsCrying (@ReasonsMySonCry) January 23, 2014

    Simone Pathe and Ruth Tam 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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    The Housed passed the compromised farm bill by a 251-166 vote. Photo by Sarah McCammon, Harvest Public Media

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House has passed an almost $100 billion-a-year, compromise farm bill that would make small cuts to food stamps and continue generous subsidies for the nation's farmers.

    The vote was 251-166. The five-year bill now goes to the Senate, which is expected to send it to the president's desk.

    The measure had solid backing from the House GOP leadership, even though it makes smaller cuts to food stamps than they would have liked. The bill would cut about $800 million a year from the $80 billion-a-year program, or around 1 percent. The House had sought a 5 percent cut.

    The legislation would continue to heavily subsidize major crops while eliminating some subsidies and shifting them toward more politically defensible insurance programs.

    The House is rushing to complete work on a nearly $100 billion-a-year farm bill that would make small cuts to food stamps and continue generous subsidies for the nation's farmers.

    Conservative Republicans in the House helped defeat an earlier version of the bill last summer, and some of those lawmakers hoped to do so again Wednesday, saying the $800 million in annual cuts to food stamps isn't enough. But the final version of the five-year bill has solid backing from the House GOP leadership, even though it makes smaller cuts to food stamps than they would have liked.

    Leaders scheduled a quick vote after the nearly 1,000-page bill was introduced Monday, giving opponents little time to build opposition.

    The House Agriculture Committee chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who has been working on the bill since 2011, urged his colleagues to come together and support the bill as debate began Wednesday morning.

    Earlier, he was cautiously optimistic about passage, after several years of setbacks.

    "Can we create in the House a majority that is a coalition of the middle?" Lucas said Tuesday. "My gut feeling is, my reading of my colleagues, is yes."

    Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., was more certain, saying she was confident the votes were there in the Democratic-led Senate. That chamber was expected to take up the bill shortly after the House.

    Lucas and Stabenow have spent the past two years crafting a bill to appeal to members from all regions of the country, including a boost in money for crop insurance popular in the Midwest; higher rice and peanut subsidies for Southern farmers; and renewal of federal land payments for Western states. The cuts to food stamps -- around 1 percent of the $80 billion-a-year program -- are small enough that some Democrats will support them.

    The final food stamp savings are generated by ending a practice in some states of boosting individual food stamp benefits by giving people a minimal amount of federal heating assistance they don't need. The cuts were brought down to $800 million a year to come closer to the Senate version of the bill, which had $400 million in annual food stamp cuts. A House bill passed in September would have cut $4 billion a year.

    Still, many liberal Democrats were also expected to vote against the bill, saying the food stamp cuts were too great.

    The legislation would eliminate a $4.5 billion-a-year farm subsidy called direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not. The bill would continue to heavily subsidize major crops -- corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton -- while shifting many of those subsidies toward more politically defensible insurance programs. That means farmers would have to incur losses before they received a payout.

    The bill would save around $1.65 billion annually overall, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The amount was less than the $2.3 billion annual savings the agriculture committees originally projected for the bill.

    An aide to Lucas said the difference was due to how the CBO calculated budget savings from recent automatic across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration.

    By Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press

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    Geneticists have found that Neanderthals passed on genetic traits to modern day humans that may explain immune diseases and other traits. Photo courtesy of Flickr User Matt Celeskey.

    If you are suffering from type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease, lupus, biliary cirrhosis, or you simply can't kick your smoking habit, you may be able to blame your Neanderthal ancestors.

    Harvard Medical School geneticists have been looking at which helpful and harmful genetic material present-day humans inherited from our distant Neanderthal cousins. Their findings were published Wednesday in Nature.

    On average, people with no African ancestry can trace about two percent of their genome back to Neanderthals, a species of early human who lived in Europe and Asia 40,000 to 80,000 years ago.

    "Now that we can estimate the probability that a particular genetic variant arose from Neanderthals, we can begin to understand how that inherited DNA affects us," David Reich, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the paper, said in a press release. "We may also learn more about what Neanderthals themselves were like."

    Reich and his colleagues collaborated with scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. They studied genetic variants in 846 people of non-African heritage, 176 people from sub-Saharan Africa, and compared their genomes to a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal.

    They found that Neanderthal DNA has an influence on keratin production, a protein that makes our hair, skin and nails thick and tough. Neanderthal's likely adapted those traits and by passing them on, helped Homo sapiens survive colder climates. But they also found nine previously identified human genetic variants associated with specific traits from Neanderthals. These variants affect diseases that are related to immune function -- including type 2 diabetes or Crohn's disease -- and behaviors, such as the ability to stop smoking.

    Scientists will need to study other Neanderthal DNA to better understand our human genome ancestry, but they suspect that variation in other human traits have Neanderthal origins as well. They are also studying genome sequences from people in Papua New Guinea to compare to Denisovan DNA, another population of ancient humans that lived in Oceania and in parts of mainland Eurasia.

    "The story of early human evolution is captivating in itself, yet it also has far-reaching implications for understanding the organization of the modern human genome," Irene A. Eckstrand of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences said in a press release. "Every piece of this story that we uncover tells us more about our ancestors' genetic contributions to modern human health and disease."

    For more on our ancient DNA history, you can read NewsHour's December report on the oldest known human DNA.

    H/T Rebecca Jacobson

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    By Barry Schwartz

    The theory that less choice can be more -- what psychologist Barry Schwartz called "The Paradox of Choice" -- is under attack as scientific hogwash. But the very fact that its potential weaknesses are making news, Schwartz argues, proves how much the theory's veracity has resonated with the media, academics and everyday consumers. Photo by Flickr user Andrei Z.

    Paul Solman: In 2003, our NewsHour economics crew traipsed to the western outskirts of Philadelphia to rendezvous with Swarthmore psychology professor Barry Schwartz and hear him make the case, at the something-for-everyone King of Prussia Mall, for the thesis around which he'd just written a book, "The Paradox of Choice." Watch the segment below.

    A decade, a TED talk and a Freakonomics seal of approval later, the choice thesis has become something of a commonplace. Today, then, the news story would not be that the proliferation of consumer choice is paralyzing us, as Schwartz argued, but that he's wrong.

    And indeed, that's been the counterattack lately, which came to my attention the other day when economist Justin Wolfers tweeted this:

    Is more choice a good thing? Apparently the famous jam experiment doesn't replicate: http://t.co/iH7xt2XFAW by @TimHarford

    — Justin Wolfers (@JustinWolfers) January 23, 2014

    (The link is to a Financial Times article that sits behind a pay-to-read firewall.) But, when I asked him, Barry Schwartz was gracious enough to respond to the pro-choice literature that's been coming out recently, and in the process, to summarize it. We're much obliged.

    Barry Schwartz: It seems a simple matter of logic that if people have more options in a choice domain (cereals in the grocery, shirts in the department store, mutual funds in the financial market, health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act), they're better off. People who don't care about added options can ignore them, and people who do care may be able to find the perfect thing. Adding options is what economists call a "Pareto improvement," making some people better off while making nobody worse off.

    Because of the "obvious" truth of the proposition that more choice makes us better off, it was big news when Sheena Iyengar published a series of studies more than a decade ago showing the opposite. Iyengar found that there are circumstances in which adding options reduces the likelihood that people will select any, whether the decision in question is trivial (gourmet jam) or very significant (401k participation).

    This counterintuitive result attracted a great deal of attention, and I wrote a whole book about it, "The Paradox of Choice," which attracted even more. (Indeed Paul Solman did a lovely piece with me about the book for The News Hour.)

    Research on the phenomenon continued, extending its scope, but also identifying its limits (e.g., for people who know a domain well, more choice seems better than less, and if options are organized into categories, the too-much-choice effect is mitigated or eliminated.)

    But then Benjamin Scheibehenne and two colleagues published a thorough analysis of all the existing studies and concluded that the original findings were not very robust. Indeed, averaged across all the studies they could find, the average effect of choice set size was close to zero.

    Several writers have jumped on this result as evidence that the initial findings were just more "junk" social science that doesn't replicate, suggesting economists and the rest of us should rest easy with their assumption that more choice is always better than less. A few months ago, Derek Thompson published an article in The Atlantic titled "More Is More: Why the Paradox of Choice Might Be a Myth." Referring to what has become the classic piece of research on this topic, by Iyengar and Mark Lepper, Thompson wrote this:

    It could be one of the most memorable economic studies of the last half century. Researchers presented an array of tasty jams and enticed shoppers to buy a jar. In one version, there were six varieties shown to shoppers. In another, there were 24 jams. The second, larger array attracted more traffic. But the smaller array led to ten times more purchases. Sometimes, they concluded, too many options repel us. The researchers called it 'the paradox of choice.' You might call it 'feeling overwhelmed by options.' But some economists are calling it something else: 'complete hogwash.'

    Thompson then described the influential paper by Scheibehenne and colleagues and discussed a recent paper by Daniel Mochon that showed that people hate the absence of choice; they have a "single option aversion."

    In November, Tim Hartford published a similar piece in the Financial Times. He did not call the original findings "hogwash." Instead, he said that "offering lots of extra choices seems to make no important difference either way." And he appealed to an argument that I often hear from economists: if the too-much-choice effect were true, we'd see marketers trying to take advantage of it by simplifying their offerings. Yet, a glance around the grocery store suggests choice proliferation seems to be continuing unabated. So it can't be true.

    (This is an argument reminiscent of the old joke about the economist who says the piece of paper lying on the ground that looks exactly like a $10 bill can't be one, because if it were, someone would have already picked it up.) Hartford further suggests that there is just no evidence in the real world that reducing options increases take-up.

    So is the too-much-choice effect "complete hogwash" and pseudoscience?

    Scheibehenne, the main source of doubt about the effect, doesn't think so. As his paper makes clear, though the average effect size is tiny, this average is made up of many studies that show large effects -- in opposite directions. That is, sometimes, more choice is better, sometimes it's worse. And Scheibehenne's effort to figure out when you get which effect left him, and the rest of us, without a clear answer.

    And there is evidence in the real world that reducing options increases sales. After my book was published, I gave lots of talks to various industry groups and heard two striking examples. First, a large retailer of office supplies reduced the number of options offered in its print catalog in many product categories. It did this not because of the research on too much choice, but to save money on production and postage. It assumed that the change would lead to reduced sales, but hoped that production and distribution savings would outpace sales losses. What the company found was that in virtually every category in which options had been reduced, sales increased.

    Second, a very large home builder, with semi-autonomous branches in many different parts of the U.S., reduced the number of options available to home buyers after they had selected a model and went about customizing it. The way the company operated, home buyers would customize their homes, advised by a consultant, in a design center. Home buyers faced 24 backsplashes for kitchen counters, 34 tile floors, 17 ovens, 21 refrigerators, 9 master bath tub packages, 13 master bath counters, 159 carpets, 37 hardwood floors, 41 vinyl sidings, 150 kitchen cabinet styles, 65 countertops, 21 kitchen faucets, 43 bathroom faucets and 26 fireplace options, among other choices.

    On average, consultants spent 20 hours with each home buyer, outfitting the home. The company dramatically reduced options in many of these categories, again as a cost-cutting measure. The results were striking: reduced paralysis (four hours with a consultant rather than 20), more upgrades, less regret and more customer satisfaction. The streamlining also enabled the home builder to build homes more efficiently and economically because the construction crews could work faster with fewer errors when there were fewer variants available. These cost savings were passed on to customers in the form of no-cost upgrades; that is, the "standard" models contained features that would have been priced upgrades before.

    In both of these examples, choice reduction was undertaken to save money, not to increase sales. But increase sales they did, and in the case of the home builder, they increased customer satisfaction as well.

    And Iyengar, the author of the original jam study, has published evidence of a similar result when it comes to employee participation in retirement plans. When there are lots of mutual fund options available, fewer people participate than when there are only a few, even though by failing to participate, employees pass up matching money from their employers.

    Similar results have also been found by Tim Rice and Yaniv Hanoch in studies of sign-ups for the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. I can tell you that based on this research, if I were designing the Affordable Care Act and hoping for large enrollments, I would certainly have offered people fewer options than are available in most states.

    So too-much-choice happens. It just doesn't happen all the time. And we don't yet know when it does and when it doesn't. What should we make of this unsettling uncertainty? Do mixed results like these discredit the science that produced them?

    Let me return to Thompson's piece in The Atlantic. He says that "it's widely assumed that overwhelming people with options -- whether in TVs or delicious jams -- can make them less likely to make a decision." What is striking about this sentence? Well, prior to Iyengar's pathbreaking jam study, a mere 13 years ago, not only was this assumption about choice overload not "widely shared," it was non-existent.

    If you asked any economist about the possibility, you'd hear something like, "Nonsense. Adding options has to make people better off. If you don't care about all the options, you'll just ignore them, so that for you, it's neutral. But for someone dissatisfied with the common options, adding more will be an improvement. So some people benefit and no one suffers. QED!"

    Thus, it's not surprising to read Thompson's claim that economists call the effect "complete hogwash." From their point of view, choice overload is logically impossible. Forget the data. As a philosopher colleague of mine likes to say, with tongue firmly in cheek, "never let the facts get in the way of a good theory."

    Iyengar's initial study and her many follow-ups made a real contribution to our understanding, such that a principle that was once invisible -- indeed impossible -- a decade ago has become "widely shared" by now. Does choice overload always occur? Of course not. Does it affect all people, in all domains of decision making? Of course not. Does it matter how options are organized and arrayed? By all means, yes. Does adding options improve decision making by making salient features of alternatives that might otherwise be ignored? Sometimes, yes. But sometimes it has a perverse effect, by making salient features of options that ought to be ignored.

    In the studies of senior citizens making Medicare Part D prescription drug plan choices, it was shown that when there are a large number of plans from which to choose, decision-making quality suffers. Often people choose on the basis of essentially irrelevant features of plans, just because the relevant features are too complex to evaluate. Has anyone ever suggested that the sensible alternative to too many options is a single option? Absolutely and unequivocally not. Psychology has known about "single option aversion" for a half century. With too few options, there is the risk that none will be satisfactory, whereas with too many, there is the risk of paralysis, confusion and dissatisfaction.

    The trick is to find the middle ground -- the "sweet spot" -- that enables people to benefit from variety and not be paralyzed by it. Choice is good, but there can be too much of a good thing. Adam Grant and I recently published a paper suggesting that this "too much of a good thing" phenomenon is pervasive in psychology.

    The well-publicized failure to replicate the jam study reliably is certainly problematic. What makes it problematic is that we don't yet know what factors determine when choice overload will occur and when it won't. But this is in the nature of science. You could think of the history of scientific progress as just one damn mistake after another. Scientific claims are almost always wrong, principally because they are overly generalized and inadequately qualified. This is true in physics, it's true in medicine and of course, it's true in all the social sciences. Fallibility does not make science "pseudoscience"; it's the nature of the beast.

    The pity is that the public is so badly educated about how science works that it takes every correction or revision as a condemnation of what has come before. Lord knows there is plenty of pseudoscience out there. But with very rare exceptions, it is not produced by scientists. Someone who has a child who matured into a wonderful adult writes a guide to successful parenting. Someone who lost 20 pounds writes a book about successful dieting. These are the books that fly off the shelves. The ones describing the progress of real science, moving slowly and imperfectly toward understanding, typically don't.

    It is no doubt true that scientists sometimes seek popular audiences prematurely -- before their claims have been adequately tested by peers. I, myself, may have been guilty of this when I wrote "The Paradox of Choice" a decade ago. I believe that in most cases, the reason for this is that the scientist believes she has found something out that, while hardly certain, will improve the lives of at least some people.

    So, the final story on the "paradox of choice" has yet to be written. But to me, it is a beautiful example of how science works when it is doing what it should. An important idea goes from "unthinkable" to "commonly assumed." Then, further work reveals that there are limits to this idea. Over time, we develop generalizations that are appropriately qualified and contextualized. People understand something they didn't before, and spend their time and mental effort in ways that are more productive and satisfying than was the case before. This counts not as pseudoscience, but as scientific progress.

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


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    An additional $40 million has been pledged to save the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection, this time from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

    On the heels of the announcement that nine different philanthropic organizations pledged to raise $330 million for Detroit pensions and the struggling Detroit Institute of Arts, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has pledged $40 million in an effort to save the museum's historic collection.

    Without contributions, the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts might be forced to sell some of its pieces in order to help Detroit pay back some of its $18 billion debt.

    The money pledged by the Kellogg Foundation and others will likely go to the city's pensions, which are underfunded by an estimated $3.5 million.

    In a


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    Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson For players, teams and gamblers, millions of dollars ride on this year's Superbowl. Can math give an edge to predicting the winner? Left: Quarterback Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images. Right: Quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    This Sunday, millions of football fans will cheer for the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. More bets are placed on the Super Bowl than on any other single day sporting event, according to the American Gaming Commission. Gamblers in Nevada wagered $98.9 million on last year's game, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board expects this year's total to exceed that.

    But professional sports gamblers like Rufus Peabody know that when it comes to putting money on football, math is powerful.

    "I use zero percent gut instinct," he said.

    Instead, Peabody, who founded Massey-Peabody Analytics, which analyzes professional and college football, looks at statistics. Peabody isn't betting on a winner in this year's Super Bowl. He'll be betting on smaller aspects of the game, where the statistics can give a clearer picture of the outcome. That's because, even as a professional gambler who relies on the numbers, Peabody says it's hard to find value against the spread in every game.

    "If I'm bidding on football against the points spread, the benchmark is 50 percent," i.e., from the start, it's a coin toss. "I'm hoping to win 55 percent of the time," Peabody said.

    We had DEN in top 2 every week of the year. SEA first hit #2 for us after week 3. Neck-and-neck since week 10. pic.twitter.com/dq76HWSmuk

    — Massey-Peabody (@MasseyPeabody) January 22, 2014

    Using advanced statistics, sports analysts try for better than 50-50 accuracy when it comes to predicting a winner. As of this publication, many analysts are tipping their scales in the Broncos' favor for Sunday's game. But there are dozens of different statistical models that analysts use to forecast the outcome of any game.

    With so much money riding on one game, how accurate is one prediction? At best, a mathematical model can predict the winner 65-70 percent of the time, said Keith Goldner, chief analyst at numberFire. And even advanced statistics have a limit.

    "If you had all the information you needed and you had the perfect mathematical equation to kind of predict a winner, you could only be correct about 75 percent of the time ... in theory," said Brian Burke, co-creator of FourthDownBot for the New York Times and founder of Advanced NFL Stats.

    For statisticians, being a sports fan is crucial to knowing which numbers are important. Goldner spends as much time watching the NFL as possible. Sports fans can memorize and recite the stats of games and their favorite players. But in statistical analysis, not all numbers are equal, Goldner explained. Rushing yards, passing yards, turnovers, interceptions -- each is given its own weight in a formula.

    How important those numbers are depends on what you're asking your model to do, explained Ben Alamar, a sports analytics consultant. As a result, every analyst has a different model, even though many are using the same techniques. In Alamar's model, he looks at how each team performs in a certain situation, and weighs each matchup. For example, how does each team perform at first and 10, offensively and defensively? When matched against another team, based on their history, how do they match up at the first and 10?

    Goldner, on the other hand, looks at how many points a team can score in any given scenario, and runs the numbers from there. Both Alamar and Goldner are calling the game for the Broncos, by a margin of one to two points.

    Burke's model calls the game for the Seahawks, but only by a point. Burke said his formula is a bit simpler than Alamar or Goldner's. Using statistics to predict the winner of a football game is a bit like trying to make cupcakes, he explained. Every analyst is using the same ingredients, but they each have their own recipe. While some formulas may be aiming for the perfect cupcake, his looks for what each of those ingredients mean and how important they are in making a good cupcake.

    "(The model is) really trying to figure out how football really works and understand what makes teams win, versus what makes teams lose. ... It's not optimized to predict a winner but it's one of the happy side effects of the model. I stick by it," he said.

    In order to make any formula work, statisticians need good data, and a lot of it. That makes football a more challenging sport to analyze statistically than baseball, Goldner said. Most analysis relies on comparing a team's performance over time, and an NFL team only plays 16 games in a season. Major League Baseball teams play 162 games in each season. Baseball simply has more data, Goldner said, so playing by the numbers is a bit more clear cut. The book "Moneyball" explains how understanding player statistics made the Oakland A's more competitive.

    With more information, analysts can build better models, and they can tell them a lot about how to improve the game. Goldner points out that statistical analysis is growing in every sport as coaches and managers look to the numbers to recruit the best players and adapt their strategies. Take a look at the Carolina Panthers this year, he said. Based on the odds, their coach tried to "go for it" more often on the fourth down, and the Panthers saw some success as a result.

    "In general, the statistical stuff isn't going to, in one season, completely turn you around...what the stats do is they give you a very marginal increase in your chance of winning games and performing better," Goldner said. Again, look at the Panthers. Their 76.9% fourth down conversion rate got them to the post-season, but not past the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional round.

    "A lot of the old timers in the sport don't trust the people coming in touting their numbers and who have never played the game. And similarly, a lot of people who crunch the numbers tout their numbers without giving any credence to the knowledge that the old timers have accumulated," Goldner said.

    And there's so much random chance in a football game -- the way a ball bounces, the wind, a player's last minute decision -- that no formula can account for all of it, Alamar said. When it comes down to it, you just can't beat the spread at this point, he said, and 70 percent accurate is "not exactly an 'A' on an exam."

    "Anyone who tells you they can beat the spread with their statistical model is probably lying," Alamar said. "Because if you can do that, you don't tell anybody."

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    Carolyn Forche, co-editor of the anthology "Poetry of Witness," read Major John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Field."

    Carolyn Forche was deeply affected by her experience in countries at war.

    Forche is the co-editor of the new anthology "Poetry of Witness." When she started collecting poems by writers who had endured warfare, censorship, and other extreme situations, people told her she was collecting political poems. But Forche wanted to look more deeply and "understand the poetry as an outcry of the soul."

    She worked through 500 years of English language poetry featuring the aftermath of "war and upheaval' and included wartime poets as well as poets less associated with that kind of destruction, like poet Emily Dickinson who lived during the Civil War.

    According to Forche, Dickinson "was engaged and effected by a country at war."

    Listen to Forche read Emily Dickinson's poem "They Dropped Like Flakes."

    Forche says you can feel their experiences when you read the poetry.

    "It becomes legible in the poems."


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