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

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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.

    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.

    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.

     

    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

    The post GOP response focuses on empowering Americans, not government appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    [Watch Video]
    In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama called on business leaders across the country to raise minimum wages. “Give America a raise,” he said. He also introduced plans for a new savings bond, a myRA, that will help workers contribute to their retirement savings.

    During his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, President Obama lauded America’s people and its institutions for slashing the unemployment rate and the deficit and boosting the manufacturing and housing sectors. America is better positioned than any other nation, he said. “That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.” But he put the onus on Congress and its individual members — will they “help or hinder” that progress?

    He identified technological change and globalization as the causes of stymied opportunity, noting that its origins precede the Great Recession.

    “The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”

    And reaffirmed his commitment to achieve his priorities with or without Congress.

    “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

    To get more Americans back to work, Vice President Joe Biden will oversee a reform of America’s training programs to try to match ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs. And to help out-of-work Americans find new opportunities, Mr. Obama wants to reform the unemployment benefit system to incentive returning to the workforce faster. “But first,” he continued, calling out the members before him in the imperative, “this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”

    “But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American. ”

    And that includes making the economy fair for women. “It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode,” Mr. Obama declared to resounding applause.

    The president recalled his own appeal for raising the minimum wage in last year’s State of the Union, noting that many states and business leaders have followed his lead. And he alluded to Americans’ overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage, telling local leaders that they don’t need to wait for Congress.

    He announced an executive order to raise the minimum wage for some federal contractors, but he admitted he’ll need the cooperation of Congress to reach more workers. “Give America a raise,” he said.

    President Barack Obama called for a higher minimum wage for federal contract workers in his State of the Union address Tuesday. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Wednesday, the president will direct the Treasury Department to begin a new savings bond — MyRA — to help every American save for retirement.

    Obama also called for closing tax loopholes and eliminating incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas.

    And as he did last year, he heralded manufacturing hubs across the country, giving a shout out to Raleigh, N.C., and Youngstown, Ohio. He announced the creation of six more and called on Congress to authorize even more.

    “This is an edge America cannot surrender,” Mr. Obama declared, calling on Congress to reverse last year’s sequestration cuts to research.

    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-Thru to help pay for college can be with you from the United States Capitol.”

    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 their pay, McMorris Rodgers vowed, Republicans will be able to say that they closed the gap.

    Original story:

    Expect to hear quite a lot about inequality and economic mobility during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening. Much of that message, and many of the policies, will sound similar to those in last year’s State of the Union; it’s the strategy that may look a little different this year.

    Mr. Obama is expected to announce an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for some federal contract workers, according to administration officials Tuesday morning. And he’ll promise to work with Congress on achieving the comprehensive $10.10 an hour minimum wage introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, last spring.

    In his 2013 address, Mr. Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, indexed to inflation, an initiative that never got off the ground. Democrats began rallying around a minimum wage in the $10 range this winter.

    A year ago, the president echoed many of the same economic themes he’ll invoke Tuesday night. Appealing to the middle class as the “engine of economic growth,” he lamented the stagnation of wages and incomes and the increase in corporate profits.

    Upward mobility for those who work hard, he stressed, is a cornerstone of the American dream. “And that’s why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them,” he said in 2013.

    The president also stressed the importance of putting people back to work and creating job training programs for young Americans last year. Championing manufacturing innovation institutes, like the one in Youngstown, Ohio, Mr. Obama asked Congress to help create more manufacturing hubs and make targeted investments in communities hardest hit by the recession.

    The economic vision he laid out for the middle class in 2013 was colored by his emphasis on bipartisan tax reform to reduce the deficit, balance the budget and avoid the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, all of which required congressional action.

    A 16-day government shutdown this fall put many of the president’s signature legislative issues, including his second-term emphasis on economic inequality, on the back burner.

    He returned to mobility in December. Delivering a major economic speech in one of Washington’s poorest neighborhoods, he committed to spending the last three years of his presidency tackling income inequality and stagnant upward mobility — the combined threat of which, he said, was greater than that of the deficit.

    Not until earlier this month did President Obama follow up on last year’s State of the Union call for federal investment in hard-hit communities. On the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, he announced his strategy for fighting income inequality in five “promise zones” across America. San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma will receive federal funding for education, housing and crime-reduction programs.

    But momentum around economic inequality has been building all year, with public acknowledgement that today’s minimum wage isn’t enough to survive. Earlier this year, fast food workers went on strike for higher wages, including Smithsonian employees in Washington who would benefit from the president’s executive order to raise the minimum wage.

    Many state lawmakers are pushing for state-wide wage hikes, and minimum-wage workers in 13 states are already going to see a raise in 2014. Voters in SeaTac, Wash., and New Jersey approved ballot initiatives to increase their respective minimum wages earlier this year.

    So while the president may not look forward to full congressional cooperation on his effort to raise the minimum wage or extend unemployment benefits, he does have the support of the majority of the American people at his back. Nearly three-quarters of Americans approve of raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, according to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center and USA Today. That public support enhances the president’s political capital to use executive action.

    Whatever the president is able to achieve with Congress will be shaped by the impending midterm elections. Tuesday’s State of the Union underscores the populist message Democrats are hoping will win them seats in November.

    But inequality and mobility have been rolling off the tongues of members of both parties, even though their respective solutions to tackling those issues differ greatly. Look for those differences to emerge in GOP responses from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who’s giving the official Republican rebuttal, and from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

    The post Obama to Congress: ‘Give America a raise’ and restore American Dream appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    [Watch Video]
    President Barack Obama pledged his commitment to U.S. energy independence by investing in natural gas and solar energy. He also talked about shifting to a “cleaner energy economy” that will benefit the environment.

    In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama addressed the country’s need for energy independence and a “clean energy economy.” He pledged his commitment to developing the country’s natural gas and solar power industries. The president said these changes are necessary to address climate change, a topic he has often addressed during his administration.

    “Climate change is a fact,” he said. “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

    Mr. Obama made climate change a cornerstone of his campaign in the 2012 election, and in his State of the Union address in 2013, he pledged greater action on climate change. In June, the president unveiled his plan to address climate change, which included curbing carbon dioxide emissions and investment in climate change adaptation for farmers and coastal residents, and loans for renewable energy and fuel efficiency projects.

    [Watch Video]
    Rob Stavins, a professor of environmental economics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, commented on the NewsHour that Obama’s climate change policy could succeed.

    But the president has also come under fire from the environmental community for his inaction on the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700 mile pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada through the Great Plains to refineries in Texas.

    [Watch Video]

     

    The post Addressing climate change, Obama pledges commitment to clean energy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is promoting his newly unveiled plans to boost wages for some workers and help Americans save for retirement – no action from Congress necessary.

    Obama on Wednesday was to flesh out the details of measures he says will help restore a lost sense of economic opportunity in the U.S. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama urged Congress to act in tandem but vowed he would circumvent Congress wherever he could during his final years in office.

    A steel plant near Pittsburgh and a Costco wholesale store in suburban Maryland were the venues for Obama to tout the new measures Wednesday. Vice President Joe Biden was to amplify Obama’s message with a round of television interviews and a speech at a community college in New York state.

    It’s a tradition for presidents to travel after delivering their annual address to Congress, pitching grand legislative goals for the year ahead. But this year, facing a Congress consumed more by midterm politics and gridlock than a hunger to advance his agenda, Obama was carrying a more modest set of executive actions as he prepared for the two-day trip.

    Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will be on hand at a U.S. Steel Corp. plant in West Mifflin, Pa., as Obama directs the Treasury to create a new savings program geared toward those whose employers don’t offer retirement plans – about half of all U.S. workers, according to the White House.

    The idea is to offer a “starter” account to let people start saving even if they can’t afford the large initial investment often needed for a private, commercial retirement account. Savers can start with just $25, and could opt to have contributions of as low as $5 deducted automatically from their paychecks.

    Dubbed “myRA,” the program will operate like a Roth IRA, so contributions to the plan will be made with after-tax dollars. That means account-holders could withdraw the funds at any time without paying additional taxes. The funds would be backed by U.S. government debt, similar to a savings option available to federal employees.

    Initially a pilot program, the accounts should be available through some employers by the end of 2014, the White House said. Investors can keep the accounts if they switch jobs or convert them into private accounts.

    Obama is also preparing to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for workers carrying out new federal contracts to $10.10, up from the current $7.25. Although the measure will only help a limited number of people, it’s intended to boost Obama’s repeated call for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers to $10.10.

    The stop at a Costco in Lanham, Md ., will also give Obama an opportunity to highlight efforts that many states are undertaking to try to improve wages for their workers. Maryland’s Democratic governor is pushing to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.

    On Thursday, Obama will visit a General Electric gas engines facility in Waukesha, Wis., not far from Milwaukee. He’ll also speak at a high school in Nashville, Tenn.

    The post Obama touts plan on contractor wages, retirement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The last 12 months have brought many changes to the PBS NewsHour. We launched a new format for the weekday show led by our co-anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. Our coverage expanded to the weekends with Saturday and Sunday broadcasts anchored by Hari Sreenivasan and produced by WNET/New York. And today we’re launching a completely overhauled PBS NewsHour website– the most expansive redesign in the history of our 18-year-old online presence.

    Over the course of the last three years, we’ve seen remarkable growth in demand for our content on digital platforms. In 2013, we added 5 million returning visitors compared to the previous year, and we’ve seen more than 100 percent growth in nearly every audience measure since 2011. This new site is designed to meet the demands of an expanding and more involved audience, and the changes aren’t just skin deep. Thanks to a public media collaboration between the PBS NewsHour and a skilled team at WNET’s Interactive Engagement Group, the new site is thoroughly modern. It’s more efficient, more secure, and easier to navigate on any device.

    Last fall, we reorganized our team of journalists to expand our coverage online, and the new site is built to showcase this effort. But it is also designed to change and adapt going forward. Online journalism hasn’t yet outgrown the experimental stage of its evolution. So, we will experiment, evaluate and improve. We will converse with our audience and rebuild ourselves with the wisdom of their feedback and the value of our instincts.

    Through all of this change, we’re fortunate to have clear goals and guidelines. We follow in the footsteps of our founders, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer. Their legacy is our roadmap in a world where lines are increasingly blurred and slopes are ever more slippery. We have Jim’s touchstone rules for journalism. We have a clearly defined mandate to serve the public interest. We have Gwen, Judy, Hari, Jeffrey Brown, Margaret Warner, Paul Solman, Miles O’Brien, Kwame Holman and countless other professionals who toil every day to uphold these values.

    At the PBS NewsHour, we strive to be fast and accurate; keen and fair; illuminating and discerning. Join us online and let us know how we’re doing. Visit our site, follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or catch our latest report on YouTube. We’re here for you.

    Let’s look at a few of the features on our new site:

    Easy to use on any device:

    Our new site is designed to work well on any device. Whether you’re on a tiny phone screen, a modest laptop or the biggest desktop monitor, you’ll find our content fills your screen to give you the best possible reading and viewing experience.

    Every page of the new PBS NewsHour site is designed to display well on a phone, tablet, or computer screen.

    Every page of the new PBS NewsHour site is designed to display well on a phone, tablet, or computer screen.

    Navigation menus:

    Everything we produce is easily accessible from menus across the top of our site. You’ll find these menus easy to navigate on your mobile phone, tablet or laptop.

    menus

    Drop down menus on the top of the page provide easy access to every part of our site, including the most recent content on our major topics.

    Recent programs:

    Find all the video reports we produce, on air and online, in one place. Our recent programs page offers access to thousands of PBS NewsHour videos, with no registration, no fees, and no barriers between you and our content.

    Live Streaming:

    We live stream the PBS NewsHour and PBS NewsHour Weekend every day. Our new site will feature the live stream on nearly every page, so you’ll never miss our broadcast or other important live events.

    Thanks for reading. Please leave us your feedback on the new site here and let us know what you think.

    The post Welcome to the new PBS NewsHour appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Housed passed the compromised farm bill by a 251-166 vote.

    Photo by Sarah McCammon, Harvest Public Media

    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

    The post In 251-166 vote, House passes compromised farm bill and sends to the Senate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    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.

    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.

    [Watch Video]

    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:

    (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.

    The post Is the famous ‘paradox of choice’ a myth? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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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.

    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.

    science-wednesday

    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.”

    The post Betting on the Super Bowl? Get math on your side appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 01/29/14--15:00: Wednesday, January 29, 2014
  • Tonight on the program, a winter storm walloped the South, senators Tim Kaine and Jeff Flake respond to the president’s State of the Union, viewers add their reactions to President Obama’s address, German chancellor Angela Merkel underlines stress of U.S. spying, Researchers make stem cell discovery by studying tissue stress and repair, and Poet Carolyn Forché gathers 500 years of suffering in new anthology.

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    Newswrap

    GWEN IFILL: They called out helicopters and Humvees in Atlanta today to rescue people who’d been stuck in snow since yesterday. The storm also immobilized large swathes of the Deep South and left at least six people dead. We will get a full report right after the news summary.

    Deep cold has descended on parts of Central and Eastern Europe as well. Temperatures in Moscow dipped to minus-eight degrees today, while furious snow storms pummeled Romania. Authorities there warned of gale-force winds and near-zero visibility.

    President Obama signed an executive order today to create starter retirement accounts for low-wage workers. It was part of the strategy he laid out in last night’s State of the Union address to act on his own if he can’t get Congress to go along. We will have much more on the day-after reaction to the speech later in the program.

    The director of national intelligence is urging Edward Snowden to return any still-secret documents he took from the National Security Agency. James Clapper told a Senate hearing today that Snowden’s leaks have already done profound damage and future leaks will only make it worse.

    LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), national intelligence director: Snowden claims that he’s won, and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.

    GWEN IFILL: Clapper said terror groups have changed how they communicate to avoid detection as a result of the leaks.

    The Federal Reserve is dialing back a bit more on its economic stimulus efforts. In a statement today, the Central Bank said it will cut its bond-buying program another $10 billion to $65 billion a month. The move helped trigger a new sell-off on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 189 points to close at 15738. The Nasdaq fell 46 points to end at 4051.

    Meanwhile, the European Union announced proposed reforms for the continent’s 30 biggest banks. The rules are similar to the Volcker rule imposed on U.S. banks. They’re designed to curb risk-taking and protect taxpayer money in the event of a bailout. The rules must first be approved by member governments and by the E.U. Parliament.

    In Ukraine, the Parliament voted today to offer amnesty to protesters who’ve been arrested, but only if their comrades end the occupation of government buildings. Demonstrators have been using the buildings in Kiev as dormitories and support facilities in subzero weather. Opposition leaders have so far rejected the government’s amnesty proposals.

    The Syrian peace talks in Geneva broke a little ground today, with the first discussion of a transitional government. The Assad regime and the Western-backed opposition met with a U.N. mediator, but, afterward, it was clear the two sides are still far apart.

    LOUAY SAFI, Syrian National Coalition spokesman(through translator): The most important thing is, we started today to talk about a transitional governing body. Of course, this body is tasked with ending oppression and starting free life and ending the military fighting in Syria.

    BOUTHAINA SHAABAN, adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: And they want to jump to the item that speaks about transitional government, and they are only interested in being in government, while what we are interested in is to stop this horrid war that is — for which, you know, our people are paying a very, very high price.

    GWEN IFILL: The U.N. negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi conceded he doesn’t expect substantive progress by Friday. That’s when the talks wrap up.

    A new five-year farm bill is one step closer to becoming law. The House of Representatives passed the measure today 251-166, and sent it to the Senate. The bill would cost nearly $100 billion a year, and preserve most crop subsidies. It also shaves 1 percent off the food stamp program, about $800 million a year.

    Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed today the Justice Department is investigating the data breach at Target stores. Hackers stole about 40 million credit — debit and credit card numbers during the holiday shopping season. They also got personal information on about 70 million other people. At a Senate hearing, Holder said investigators will attempt to track down the hackers, as well as anyone else who exploits the stolen data.

    Scientists in Boston and Japan have scored what looks like a breakthrough in creating stem cells. They used a relatively simple method: giving ordinary cells — giving ordinary cells found in mice a quick acid bath. The stress turned them into stem cells. The results were published in the journal “Nature.” If the method works in humans, it could become much easier to grow replacement tissue and organs.

    West Virginians whose drinking water was tainted by a chemical spill may be breathing traces of formaldehyde when they shower. A state environmental official told lawmakers today he can guarantee it’s happening. He said the chemical spilled by Freedom Industries breaks down into formaldehyde, which can cause cancer. Federal health guidelines say it takes a lot of exposure for that to happen.

    The post News Wrap: NSA director urges Snowden to return still-secret documents appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Senators

    Watch Video

    GWEN IFILL: President Obama hit the road today to build popular support for his State of the Union agenda.

    NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s time to give America a raise.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The president kicked off his post-State of the Union tour at a Costco store in Lanham, Maryland. He highlighted the chain’s starting entry-level pay of $11.50 an hour, more than $4 above the federal minimum.

    BARACK OBAMA: So, right now, in Congress, there’s a bill that would lift the federal minimum wage to $10.10, $10.10 — $10.10, that’s easy. It will give more businesses more customers with more money to spend. I guarantee you, if workers have a little more money in their pocket, they will spend more at Costco.

    KWAME HOLMAN: While Congress considers, Mr. Obama plans to act on his own, raising the minimum to $10.10 for those working under future federal contracts with an executive order. He made that a recurring theme last night, serving notice he’s through waiting on key issues.

    BARACK OBAMA: But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still, and neither will I.

    KWAME HOLMAN: In addition to the minimum wage hike, the president also plans executive action to streamline the permitting process to build factories that use natural gas, increase protection of environmentally sensitive federal land from gas and oil exploration, and create a new savings program, myRA, for workers whose employers don’t provide retirement plans.

    He signed that order at a second stop today, a U.S. steel plant near Pittsburgh.

    BARACK OBAMA: We want every American who works hard and takes responsibility to retire with dignity after decades of honest work. These are real, practical, achievable solutions to help shift the odds back a little bit in favor of more working and middle-class Americans.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The enthusiasm the president found for his 2014 agenda on the road is unlikely to be matched with bipartisan support back in Washington.

    Congressional Republicans roundly challenged his vow to bypass them with executive orders and pointed out any serious accomplishments will be hard to achieve without their support.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: It’s clear President Obama missed the mark last night.

    KWAME HOLMAN: On the Senate floor, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded that note today.

     

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: He refused to reach across the aisle in a way that would lead to immediate job growth opportunities. That’s distressing news for our country. It’s especially disheartening — disheartening for the middle class. The president wants to keep doing the same old thing, just without as much input from the people’s elected representatives in Congress, basically, all the same policies, less of that pesky democratic accountability.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the divisions, the parties stood together last night when the president honored Army Sergeant 1st Class Cory Remsburg, who was badly wounded in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan. The president hopes for more unity as he continues to sell his State of the Union initiatives tomorrow in Waukesha, Wis., and Nashville, Tenn.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what are the prospects for the president and Congress to find common ground in 2014?

    We pose that question to two members of the Senate, Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona.

    Senators, welcome to the “NewsHour.”

    Senator Flake, I’m going to start with you.

    Looking back on what the president had to say last night, do you think it makes it more likely that Washington is going to address the country’s major problems?

    SEN. JEFF FLAKE, R-Ariz.: I think there are a couple of areas where we do have some agreement, where the Senate has already acted, for example, immigration reform.

    The president said that he’d like to see a bill there. The House needs to take action, and I think it will. So that’s one area. Also, trade, the president needs trade promotion authority. That’s something that he will likely get a lot more Republican votes for than Democratic votes. But he’s got to work to round up some Democratic votes for that.

    That’s an area where I think we will see both parties working together.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Kaine, what about you? Do you think it’s more likely things are going to get done as a result of what the president said?

    SEN. TIM KAINE, D-Va.: I think, Judy, it is, and not just because of what the president has said.

    Even though our approval is still pretty low here in Congress, we have been on a bit of a roll. We got a two-year budget bill at the end of December. We got an appropriations bill done in mid-January. Yesterday, here on the Hill, there was an announced conference deal on the farm bill, a five-year farm bill, which we have been struggling to find now for a number of years.

    And I agree with what Jeff said. I was sitting with a Republican House member, retiring Virginian Frank Wolf, who has been in the House for 34 years, kind of back in the corner last night. And when the topic of immigration reform came up, I asked Frank what he saw the thought, and he said: Look, I — it will go through some twists and turns.

    But he was feeling relatively optimistic about the House doing an immigration reform bill. It will look different than the Senate bill, but then we will — we will get in conference and trade. And there may be other issues. So, we are moving ahead. We have to get over the debt ceiling hurdle. I’m sure we can do that without a stumble. But I detect a little more willingness to work together here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me pick up quickly on immigration.

    Senator Flake, you both have now said you think that’s a real possibility. Do you think that there’s going to — that there could be an agreement that includes a pathway to citizenship?

    JEFF FLAKE: Well, the Senate included a pathway to citizenship. That’s what I prefer, and I think the Senate prefers in general.

    The House may say that those who are here illegally can access current avenues to citizenship, but no special path would be created. That would be a kind of hybrid that might win the day. I think that that’s a step forward. I think that’s something that the president could and would accept.

    So, yes, it may not be exactly like the Senate did, but that’s fine.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you could accept that, and you’re saying you think the president would?

    JEFF FLAKE: I don’t want to say where the president is, but it’s something I could accept. And I would hope that the president would as well.

    Not everybody who is here desires to be a citizen. In 1986, it was made relatively easy for people to achieve citizenship. And, in the end, I think fewer than a third ever did. But my own view is, if you’re going to be here for 20 or 30 years, you ought to have the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship. But not everyone feels that way.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Kaine, what about you? Is that language you could live with, if it’s a short of a path to citizenship?

    TIM KAINE: Well, I really want to — I really want to keep battling for that path to citizenship, because I don’t think having kind of a permanent, locked-in, second-class status is a good idea.

    However, I think that Jeff is probably right. If we’re going to predict what the House bill might be before it goes into conference, I think they will do the border security and they will do visa reform and maybe DREAM Act provisions. But I think, on citizenship, they might fall short of where the Senate is.

    That will then be a challenging negotiation. But we shouldn’t — you know, we shouldn’t predetermine where that negotiation will go. Getting the House to pass something would be big, and then we have our conferees, and folks like Jeff who worked on the bill hard getting in that room and trying to figure out the best possible deal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Flake, what about some of the other things the president talk about? He talked about wanting to build ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Is his prescription the right prescription? And, if not what, is?

    JEFF FLAKE: I think what is the right prescription is to have conducive tax and regulatory policy to allow people to climb that ladder.

    And I have my differences with where the president has been on that issue, particularly on regulatory policy. It’s very difficult for people to get ahead. We have federal agencies, partly because the Congress really hasn’t functioned for several years, that have just taken it upon themselves to impose regulations that make it very difficult for businesses to flourish and to hire.

    And so I think there are things that we can agree on. The president talked about fundamental tax reform. I think we’d all like to see that. It rarely happens this close to an election, but hope springs eternal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it sounds like the parties are still far apart on some of these formulas.

    Senator Kaine, do you see the prospect of the two parties coming together on some of these things?

    TIM KAINE: I think we can.

    But these issues, the economic ones, may be more difficult, because I do think, on the Democratic side, we’re strongly in support of increasing the minimum wage. Had the minimum wage just risen with inflation from when it was last increased, it would be about at where we’re going to hopefully peg it as we move forward.

    And I think that will be very positive in creating those ladders into the middle class. And then there are the education and human capital strategies. You know, the most — probably the best ladder into the middle class is a — is training, either education or career and technical training that will enable you to have the skills that we need in the 21st century.

    And the president talked about that last night, career and technical training, taking some of the federal programs that exist and trying to streamline them and make them better. That was an applause line that reverberated in both chambers, both parties. I think we all recognize we can do better there.

    But I think the human capital strategies and then dealing with the minimum wage, those are things that we have to do, because we’re seeing there’s a lot of inequality. And it’s not just inequality. We need more mobility. There are going to be people at the lower end of the wage scale, but they have to feel like they have a path where they can — they can succeed and climb. And a lot of people aren’t feeling that now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And I do sense a difference between the two of you.

    Senator Flake, what about the president’s stating last night, yes, I want to work with you, Republicans, when you want to work with me, but when you don’t, I think that I need to take executive action? And he listed several he plans to execute.

    JEFF FLAKE: Well, I would say there’s very little that he can do in a productive way to get this economy jump-started if he tries to do it unilaterally.

    Anything that is going to do something for the economy, whether it’s creating certainty on the fiscal side, some reform of our entitlement programs, or, as I said, conducive tax and regulatory policy, that’s going to take cooperation, collaboration with the Congress. So I think there’s very, very little productive he can do on his own.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that, quickly, Senator Kaine?

    TIM KAINE: I want the president to use all of his executive powers, just like other presidents do.

    This president actually, in terms of executive orders per year, has probably less than a lot of our most recent presidents. But I do agree with Jeff. Probably the big things that will really help the economy will require Congress working together. And we have got one staring us in the face.

    Having gotten over two the two-year budget deal that was great, not perfect, but we got a deal, omnibus appropriations, we do have to get over this debt ceiling hurdle in the next few weeks, do it together, not stumble. If we do, I think we will have shown that we are trying to provide some certainty, which could be very helpful in the private sector.

    I know I was talking to Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund recently, and she said, if you get over that hurdle, then this two-year budget deal, you will start to see some economic lift. And that is the kind of thing — the president can’t do that. That’s on us to try to find that accord between the Senate and the House.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very fast, final yes-or-no question to both of you. Do you think this year is going to be more productive than last?

    Senator Flake?

    JEFF FLAKE: Yes, more productive.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator…

    TIM KAINE: I agree with Jeff on that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very interesting.

    Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Jeff Flake, thank you.

    JEFF FLAKE: Thank you.

    TIM KAINE: Thank you.

    GWEN IFILL: We wanted to get reaction to the president’s speech from outside Washington. So we asked viewers like you to submit YouTube videos and our public television stations to gather local opinions.

    Here’s a sample:

    BONNIE MCKINLAY, Oregon: I was hoping that he would take a powerful stand pushing for energy renewal — energy renewables and energy conversation and energy efficiency. So I was let down.

    KENT MORLAN, Oklahoma: He doesn’t get mean enough with the opposition. He needs to basically take these issues and beat the snot out of the Republican Party with them, because the majority of the people want the minimum wage. They don’t like the great income disparity.

    ARLEEN BEST, Philadelphia: I was hoping he would talk about Obamacare because there are so many glitches it, people having a hard time applying for health care. People have lost jobs and cannot get health care.

    ROBERT RUBENSTEIN, Oklahoma: What I was hoping to hear was that the president was going to work with Congress to set some limits on the NSA’s collection of data. And he really didn’t do that.

    KYLE POWELL, St. Louis: I latched on to him talking about using his executive power the way that Bush did and Clinton did before him to try to move around Congress.

    I hope that he doesn’t have to go through with that threat — or that promise, I should say, but the fact that he did I’m hoping will spark Congress to actually want to work towards getting things done, as opposed to using their pride and their power and their position to stalemate each other.

    GWEN IFILL: You can watch all of the responses on our Web site, where you’re still welcome to upload your own video.

    The post Senators react to the State of the Union: ‘We’re moving ahead’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Georgia snow

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  We lead off with the winter storm that has wreaked havoc across much of the South for the past 24 hours.

    Jeffrey Brown has been looking into what happened.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It was just a few inches of snow, but it triggered utter chaos. All around Atlanta, thousands of people got stranded overnight in a mass exodus to get home early. Countless wrecks, including jack-knifed trucks, ground traffic to a halt in icy gridlock. Hundreds of students spent the night on school buses.

    Ray Henry of the Associated Press in Atlanta says others faced their own unique dilemmas because of the weather conditions. We spoke this afternoon via Skype.

    RAY HENRY, Associated Press: One woman actually ended up giving birth, was en route to a hospital, basically got stuck on an interstate and delivered a healthy child. So, that’s very good.

    Other people were running out of gas after sitting in traffic that was basically just stalled for six, seven hours. Several people needed to — or many people needed to be picked up by National Guard Humvees and brought into sort of warming stations or shelters. It’s pretty messy out there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And some people took to social media, including this snowed-out Atlanta Facebook page, to offer and request supplies and shelter.

    RAY HENRY: It seems like a lot of useful info was communicated. People were able to get tips about warming shelters. Local churches were advertising that they were opening their doors along routes. People were even advertising, hey, I got a house near the highway and some guest bedrooms, and people are welcome to come stay.

    Some people were even talking about shuttling to gas to those had just basically run out to kind of keep them going. It was interesting to watch. It seems like at least in some parts it was effective.

    JEFFREY BROWN: McKenzie Dunn was one of those stranded.

    MCKENZIE DUNN, stranded motorist: I don’t think they were prepared for it, which kind of irks me, because it happened two years ago.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It didn’t help that Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, had tweeted yesterday morning that his city was ready for the storm.

    MAYOR KASIM REED, D-Atlanta: We’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Today, Reed defended the snow response, but also offered something of a mea culpa.

    KASIM REED: And 120 pieces of state equipment have been mobilized. The National Guard has been mobilized. The city of Atlanta has been running 12-hour shifts. We have been running our spreaders and sanders nonstop.

    The issue is — and people are going to stop feeling frustration when we get people out of cars on the interstates. And I will take credit for — I will take credit or blame for my statement. We made a mistake by not staggering when people should leave. So I will take responsibility for that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said the state didn’t deploy its trucks and plows earlier because it wasn’t clear where the snow was going.

    GOV. NATHAN DEAL R-Ga.: The National Weather Service had continually had their modeling showing that the city of Atlanta wouldn’t be the primary area where the storm would hit, that it would be south of Atlanta. I don’t blame anyone. Mother Nature has a mind of its own, and it does what it chooses to do.

    And even with the best of forecasting, I don’t think anyone could have totally predicted that was going to have the magnitude within the short window of time in which it occurred.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All of the children stuck on school buses were rescued by this afternoon. Others had hunkered down last night in their schools, and officials spent the day trying to get them home safely.

    GOV. NATHAN DEAL: We are having the National Guard and the state troopers working, and the National Guard will provide lead vehicles as the school buses make their routes to return those children back to their homes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The A.P.’s Ray Henry says private citizens have also pitched in.

    RAY HENRY: The storms also brought out some good sides of people.

    For example, Home Depot stores regionally had basically just opened their doors for people stuck on the interstate. There are a lot of stories about people helping out one another, for example, opening up homes, guest bedrooms to people who were stuck. One person that the staff interviewed today basically had his own private Humvee and was making sort of runs to pick up people who were stranded on the interstate. So there has definitely been some testiness, but there’s also sort of been some Southern graciousness.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Ice and snow also made for treacherous travel in Central Alabama, where more stalled and abandoned vehicles littered the highways.

    YOLANDA SMILEY, stranded motorist: We ended up coming down here.

    MAN: And we don’t have no way home,

    YOLANDA SMILEY: No way home. Yellow Cab won’t come and get us, so we’re hoping that my brother-in-law can make it and come and get us. And they need to put some sand and some salt on these streets.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Overall, emergencies were declared in six states to help expedite much-needed crews and supplies for extensive cleanup efforts.

    MAN: I hope this is over with soon. I have had enough winter.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There was hope for a bit of a respite. Forecasters said temperatures in the South will gradually warm in the days ahead.

    The post Rare Arctic blast paralyzes southern communities ill-equipped for snow and ice appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Georgia governor

    JEFFREY BROWN: And just a short time ago, I spoke with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal via Skype. He was unable to get to a television studio because of the conditions.

    Governor Deal, thanks so much for joining us.

    What’s the situation right now? Are there still people stranded in cars, schools, and elsewhere?

    GOV. NATHAN DEAL: Well, the situation is much improved from what it was yesterday.

    There are still some people who are in their cars. I have taken an aerial helicopter tour of our interstates, and we have most of the area completely opened, with a few exceptions. However, because it was such a heavy outpouring of snow and in such a short time frame, and we had so many people on the roads, there are still vehicles that are on the sides of the roads or in the outside lanes that still will need to be removed.

    The roads are being cleared, so that if they have their drivers in them, many of those are now being able to get back into the main pathway of the roadway and be able to move their vehicles. We are hopeful that the weather change which will come tomorrow will get above freezing.

    And if that happens, then it will allow many of these roads to be completely cleared. But it appears that we have made significant progress. We are trying to extract those drivers that are still in their vehicles. If they choose to leave, they will be provided the option of doing so, and taken either to their homes or to another area where they can be secure and not be in the elements.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You know, there have been a lot of questions and some anger at officials. I wonder, what would you say tonight to residents who are angry about the way that the state and other government officials handled this?

    GOV. NATHAN DEAL: Well, we tried to respond as quickly as we could. The mayor of the city of Atlanta and I and our resources have worked very cooperatively together, because we were faced with the same problems. We had the interstate responsibility, and he, of course, had the off-interstate roadways.

    And they both experienced the same kinds of heavy traffic, where everybody got on the roadway at practically the same point in time. And that creates a huge backlog of traffic. Atlanta is one of the larger metropolitan areas. And we have a lot of natural traffic, people wanting to go and come back and forth to work.

    We also have the major interstate corridors that lead into the downtown area and around the perimeter of Atlanta.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Excuse me. Was there a lack of coordination, or some have even thought about a lack of trust between government and some of the local — local governments.

    GOV. NATHAN DEAL: No, absolutely not.

    We all were on the same page. We worked together. The truth of the matter is that we were all surprised. This — I am told that, for yesterday, as a calendar day, that it was the largest snowfall we have had on that date, January the 28th, here in Atlanta. So it was a combination of a lot of things.

    It came in a very quick time frame. People got on the roadway, and there were just too many cars and too many trucks to be able to accommodate any rapid movement with snow being packed down and becoming ice very quickly.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Can you tell us briefly what you are looking at in the next hours or day in terms of how long you think it will be before you get back to something approaching normal?

    GOV. NATHAN DEAL: Well, we are hopeful that, with the thaw tomorrow, that we should have almost all the vehicles that either were left by their owners or those that may still be occupied, that we will have them off of the roadway.

    We concentrated our efforts because it wasn’t just state and local government that got caught by surprise. We had school systems that had children in their schools. And when the snow came, even though they called a halt to their school day, we had several thousand students who had to spend the night in their schools last night.

    We have now verified that all of those students have been returned home or at least are on their way home at this point in time. We called in the Georgia State Patrol. They provided security at each of those school sites. We called in the National Guard, and they became a force that worked to get the children that were on school buses — some 99 school buses at one point in time that had children on them, we were able to get them off of those buses and either back to their schools or to another location.

    So, as far as the schoolchildren are concerned, we feel fairly comfort at this point in time that they are back home and they are with their parents or their families.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia, thanks so much, and good luck.

    GOV. NATHAN DEAL: Thank you very much.

    The post Georgia Gov. anticipates clear roads as state thaws from winter storm appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    SOTU responses

    GWEN IFILL: We wanted to get reaction to the president’s speech from outside Washington. So we asked viewers like you to submit YouTube videos and our public television stations to gather local opinions.

    Here’s a sample:

    BONNIE MCKINLAY, Oregon: I was hoping that he would take a powerful stand pushing for energy renewal — energy renewables and energy conversation and energy efficiency. So I was let down.

    KENT MORLAN, Oklahoma: He doesn’t get mean enough with the opposition. He needs to basically take these issues and beat the snot out of the Republican Party with them, because the majority of the people want the minimum wage. They don’t like the great income disparity.

    ARLEEN BEST, Philadelphia: I was hoping he would talk about Obamacare because there are so many glitches it, people having a hard time applying for health care. People have lost jobs and cannot get health care.

    ROBERT RUBENSTEIN, Oklahoma: What I was hoping to hear was that the president was going to work with Congress to set some limits on the NSA’s collection of data. And he really didn’t do that.

    KYLE POWELL, St. Louis: I latched on to him talking about using his executive power the way that Bush did and Clinton did before him to try to move around Congress.

    I hope that he doesn’t have to go through with that threat — or that promise, I should say, but the fact that he did I’m hoping will spark Congress to actually want to work towards getting things done, as opposed to using their pride and their power and their position to stalemate each other.

    GWEN IFILL: You can watch all of the responses on our Web site, where you’re still welcome to upload your own video.

    The post Viewers respond to the 2014 State of the Union appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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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

    The post Got health problems? Blame it on Neanderthal DNA appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    germany

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: German Chancellor Angela Merkel used her own major address today to take aim at the United States’ surveillance programs. In her inaugural speech to Parliament, she said that the spying by the U.S. and Great Britain sows distrust and that — quote — “In the end, there will be less, not more security.”

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner is in Berlin, and tonight she examines the strain that the NSA surveillance revelations created between old allies.

    SGT. CHRIS MCLARREN (RET.), former U.S. Army surveillance intelligence analyst: What did we listen to? Basically, everything that went through the air.

    MARGARET WARNER: A band of Germans joined former U.S. Army Sergeant Chris McLarren in 10-degree cold last Sunday to tour Teufelsberg, or Devil’s Mountain, a vital Allied listening post during the Cold War.

    This hill above West Berlin was the first home base for high-tech signals surveillance in Germany. The spying operation had a clear target, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. And the purpose was a clear one: to prevent a war or to be ready for one.

    SGT. CHRIS MCLARREN: So long as they listened and we listened, there was no surprise, no panic, no military overreaction. And here we all are.

    MARGARET WARNER: McLarren, a former Army intelligence analyst here in the 1970s who never left Germany, says his tour attendance ticked up last summer, when documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed widespread modern-day NSA surveillance in Germany and again after news that the NSA had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

    German citizens’ disproval of such government surveillance is now three times greater than in Britain or France. There’s a reason for that, McLarren told us as he escorted us to the ruined structure that passes for a guard shack.

    SGT. CHRIS MCLARREN: I think in many ways, many Germans are very private people, and from their history and the kind of culture they have got, perfectly understandable.

    MARGARET WARNER: Because they know what abuses that can lead to?

    SGT. CHRIS MCLARREN: That’s true, OK? And I think that’s the great fear which they have.

    MARGARET WARNER: That collective fear stemming from the Nazi-era Gestapo and the 40-year Cold War of East Germany’s secret police the Stasi hangs so heavy here that an angry Merkel compared the NSA surveillance to the Stasi.

    Her visceral reaction was echoed Saturday night at the Prater Graten beer hall in Eastern Berlin by cardiologist Henrik Thomsen, who remembers the surveillance state that fell along with the Berlin Wall when he was just 19.

    DR. HENRIK THOMSEN, Germany: We had it and we didn’t like it. So we don’t want it. We don’t want anybody trying to get to know what we do or what we think.

    MARGARET WARNER: At the 100-year-old Clarchens Ballhaus that same night, social worker Andreas Klein was dismayed that America doesn’t grasp its allies’ anger over this or seem to care.

    ANDREAS KLEIN, Germany (through translator): They don’t understand the fears in Europe, and specifically in Germany. Ever since 9/11, my impression is that America considers its priorities about security to be more important than considering our concerns about privacy.

    MARGARET WARNER: To understand those fears and concerns, we went to visit the old Stasi headquarters in Far East Berlin. It amassed files on millions and persecuted, jailed and killed thousands. This one central office holds 60 miles of records, which tens of thousands of Germans use each year to research there or their families’ own invaded past.

    The archive’s director, former East German dissident Roland Jahn, was once jailed for his beliefs. Yet he cautions against easy comparisons between NSA spying and Stasi era abuse.

    ROLAND JAHN, Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archive (through translator): There’s a fundamental difference between an intelligence service in a democracy and a secret police in a dictatorship. The secret police use the information to manipulate and punish people to maintain the power of one party. Under democracy, the intention at least is to use the information to protect all citizens.

    MARGARET WARNER: Yet he says indiscriminate of collection on everyone should raise red flags.

    So is that what you mean, that if it’s never been abused, the vast collection shouldn’t be a problem?

    ROLAND JAHN (through translator): This type of question has to be answered every single day, because the intelligence services have to be controlled in a democracy and you have to answer the question how much freedom can you limit to preserve security? What good is safety if we lose freedom? What good is freedom if we don’t have safety?

    MARGARET WARNER: With the Cold War long over, it’s tempting to ask why Americans should be concerned about Germans’ unhappiness with an intelligence tool it now uses to combat new global threats against them both.

    First, it’s a political problem. The U.S. needs Germany’s cooperation and trust on delicate issues, from nuclear negotiates with Iran to the allied drawdown from Afghanistan.

    JOHN KORNBLUM, former U.S. ambassador to Germany: The need for active American political role, active American management, active American concern in Europe is just as great as it was 25 years ago.

    MARGARET WARNER: Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany John Kornblum is often called upon to explain America’s actions to the German public, as he did on a raucous TV talk show Sunday night built around a new interview with Edward Snowden.

    Kornblum understands the reaction, but he thinks it’s overwrought.

    JOHN KORNBLUM: It’s deeply emotional. And it of course means that the realities are often forgotten or covered over. In this case, of course, there’s a bit of hypocrisy because Germany depends upon this surveillance, as do most of our other European allies.

    MARGARET WARNER: Wolfgang Bosbach, chair of the Parliament’s Interior Affairs Committee, concedes that NSA surveillance has helped German authorities foil terrorist plots. Yet even with his access to classified information, he says was caught off-guard by the scope of it.

    WOLFGANG BOSBACH, German Parliament Interior Affairs Committee (through translator): The indiscriminate monitoring of an entire population, completely regardless of whether individuals or organizations were suspect of posing a threat to the security of the U.S.? Yes, that was an unpleasant surprise.

    MARGARET WARNER: President Obama promised Merkel the U.S. wouldn’t spy on her any longer, though when her top national security officials came to Washington late last year to push for a no-spy agreement covering German citizens more broadly, they came back empty-handed.

    WOLFGANG BOSBACH (through translator): That still leaves 99.99 percent of Germans. There are 81 million people living here, but only one chancellor.

    MARGARET WARNER: The Obama White House was concerned enough about reaction here to grant the president’s only interview after his recent NSA policy speech to Germany’s ZDF network. Kornblum believes the relationship will weather this.

    JOHN KORNBLUM: I don’t think there is going to be a major long-term diplomatic rift. I think this is one of the short-term events that the United States and its European allies get into fairly often.

    MARGARET WARNER: But Bosbach says Germans remain deeply disappointed in their longtime ally.

    WOLFGANG BOSBACH (through translator): How does the U.S. government intelligence see Germany’s legitimate interests in protecting the basic rights of its citizens? It’s about the foundation of the relationship. It’s not a question of, how do the curtains look? It’s about the very foundation of the house.

    MARGARET WARNER: One part of the foundation at risk, trillions in trade between the U.S. and Germany and Europe, much it built on U.S. communication and Internet firms kill Google, Yahoo! and Facebook.

    Former Ambassador Kornblum has talked to some and says they are worried about losing business to European competitors.

    JOHN KORNBLUM: If you’re considered to be a company whose interests are guided by the government of your country, and I’m doing a contract and I don’t want to risk that, then I will find somebody who is not.

    MARGARET WARNER: But the most profound effect of all seems to be the German public’s realization that they have become enmeshed in a system that could invade their privacy more intimately than the ghost of their past could.

    Thirty-two-year-old Frederick Fisher, whose Internet site Tame aggregates Twitter feeds, says the hashtags NSA and Snowden have led his site list for months, as Germans struggle to grasp the dark side of the Internet.

    FREDERICK FISHER, Tame: It was such a new and exciting thing. And it had this empowering potential, so I think we were all like really shocked to see that it had become this like potential control and censorship apparatus.

    MARGARET WARNER: Back on the frigid hilltop listening posts, consultants Michael Kreft and Andrew Weissenberg found it equally wary, and despite taking steps to hide their identity on the Internet powerless too.

    MICHAEL KREFT, health care consultant: Actually, there is not much you can do. You know, I move. I have my mobile phone with me. It’s very easy to lose privacy.

    ANDREW WEISSENBERG, health care consultant: If the people in your country want to know something about us, they will know it.

    MARGARET WARNER: That’s one reality that Germans and Americans share.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with Chancellor Merkel on Friday in Berlin. The U.S. surveillance program is expected to be high on their agenda.

    The post In Germany, memories of repressive national spying inflamed by U.S. surveillance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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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 statement, the Battle Creek-based Kellogg Foundation stressed its Michigan roots and called the pledge an “investment in the future of Detroit.”

    “We have a strong belief that people have the inherent capacity to solve their own problems and our support is meant to come alongside and strengthen the opportunities for success. In addition to financial resources, we offer our active collaboration with civic leaders and philanthropic partners. If we are to chart a new future for Detroit, it is clear that this will require big ideas, great passion and creative collaboration.”

    H/T Zachary Treu

    The post Michigan foundation pledges $40 million to Detroit’s art collection appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Carolyn Forche

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: capturing the full range of the human experience on the page.

    Jeff is back with our book conversation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Poets write of many things, of love, of nature, of their own interior lives. From at least the time of Homer to our own, they have also written of war, political upheaval, national tragedies, the dark things that people do to one another.

    A new anthology looks at this tradition as it’s played out in English literature. It’s called “Poetry of Witness,” co-edited by Carolyn Forche and Duncan Wu.

    Ms. Forche joins me now, a professor of English at Georgetown University. She is herself an acclaimed poet who’s written of strife in Central America and elsewhere.

    And welcome to you.

    CAROLYN FORCHE, “Poetry of Witness”: Thank you very much.

    JEFFREY BROWN: First what, do you mean by poetry of witness? What does that mean?

    CAROLYN FORCHE: “Poetry of Witness” is written by poets who endured conditions of extremity, who passed through the suffering of warfare, imprisonment, forced exile, censorship, banning orders.

    They passed through these experiences. Their language also passed through it. And they write in the aftermath. And their language articulates that suffering. It becomes legible in the poems.

    JEFFREY BROWN: As I go through it here, it’s almost like an alternative history, or the news, and I was thinking about what we do on this program.

    CAROLYN FORCHE: We felt that we were reading back through 500 years of English-language poetry to find out what happened in the aftermath of all of the wars and everything that — all of the upheaval in England and her former colonies. This is all English-language poetry.

    And we felt that this was a new way of reading it, that we have discovered something very special, and that is that poets have always been embroiled in the events of their times in history. And they have always spoken of it in their work. And we have gathered it all together in one place.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think — I mention that you have done this kind of work, and I have read it for many years. How do you think about it personally? I mean, do, you think of yourself as a witness, to use your word, or a reporter, in a sense, or as poet first?

    CAROLYN FORCHE: Well, I have been in countries at war, especially when I was younger, by force of circumstance, in the beginning as a translator, and then accompanying my husband, who was a journalist.

    And I was very deeply affected by it. And some of that experience emerged in the poems. And at first, everyone was saying, oh, it’s political. These are political poems. But I thought, we have to think about this more deeply. We have to open a space for reading work that emerges in the aftermath of violence and conflict, and not politicize it, but actually understand it as a kind of outcry of the soul.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Some of the — many of the poems are directly about war, for example.

    But then you include someone like Emily Dickinson. We don’t think of her as a war poet. We think of her sitting at home, right, and yet what?

    CAROLYN FORCHE: We think of her in the white dress up in her room, but she wrote most of her poems during the Civil War. And in her letters, we find laments over the war dead. She knew many combatants. The war was very much in her mind.

    She even said at one point in a letter, I am singing from the charnel steps. I’m singing from the tomb that’s holding the bones and the bodies. And she’s very poignant in her letters in this regard. And so we found some poems that she had actually written and published in “Drum Beat,” which was a magazine that was dedicated to raising funds to help soldiers with medical supplies.

    So she was engaged and effective, and she lived in a country in a time of war, and so she’s included here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You take us through of course many of the famous World War I poets and then World War II and after.

    I’m just wondering, in our last minute here, about where we are today. There’s a lot of talk about contemporary poetry being more inward, people writing about themselves. Is there still a sense of writing about the world, about what’s happening?

    CAROLYN FORCHE: The tradition continues in all countries, even our own.

    Our veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam, the wars that we have been engaged in, in the last several decades, are writing, and we have some very poignant and masterful poems that have come of it. Unfortunately, it continues. And our poets continue to speak of it, and they aren’t silencing themselves.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well, we have asked you to read a number of those poems that we’re going to put online.

    CAROLYN FORCHE: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And we invite the audience to go take a look at those.

    And I thank you for that.

    CAROLYN FORCHE: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the new anthology is “Poetry of Witness,” co-edited by Duncan Wu and Carolyn Forche. Thank you very much.

    CAROLYN FORCHE: Thank you.

    The post Poet Carolyn Forché gathers 500 years of suffering in new anthology appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    POTENTIAL BREAKTHROUGH  stem cells

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    GWEN IFILL: Today’s news of a breakthrough in stem cell research captured the attention of scientists around the world.

    For years, researchers have been investigating how to get adult stem cells to behave more like embryonic ones, which would allow them to be developed into almost any organ or tissue. The findings announced today involve a simple treatment, immersing adult mouse cells in a mild acid bath. As seen here, mouse embryos were grown with beating heart cells derived from this process.

    Dr. Charles Vacanti was one of the lead researchers from the team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. And he joins me now.

    Dr. Vacanti, this is kind of amazing. Are you explaining — are you telling us you’re making stem cells, instead of finding them?

    DR. CHARLES VACANTI, Brigham & Women’s Hospital: That is correct. And we believe we’re doing exactly what’s being done in the body when you normally have an injury.

    GWEN IFILL: So how did you come about this?

    CHARLES VACANTI: It’s been a long process.

    I started working with this with my brother Martin about 15 years ago, first looking for a better cell to use in tissue engineering. And in 2001, we described a stem cell that we thought we had found, and several years later, we started to wonder, rather than finding the cell, were we making the cell with the harsh environment of the isolation process?

    GWEN IFILL: And that’s the acid bath I was just referring to?

    CHARLES VACANTI: Yes.

    And, actually, we tested seven different stimuli to see which stresses would cause mature cells to naturally revert back to their embryonic stem cell state.

    GWEN IFILL: I have to — I noticed, Doctor, you’re an, anesthesiologist and your brother is?

    CHARLES VACANTI: A pathologist.

    GWEN IFILL: A pathologist.

    Neither of you are stem cell experts. How did you stumble across this discovery?

    CHARLES VACANTI: Well, we started doing this in the early days of stem cell reports. And, in the 1990s, there were very few stem cell reports. And it seemed logical.

    We had had a lot of experience with tissue engineering, but it seemed logical that in order to do this effectively, we would need to find a better cell than currently used mature cells.

    GWEN IFILL: By the way, when you say you have some experience with tissue engineering, you’re the guy who grew the ear on the mouse back in the day. I think it was the late ’90s?

    CHARLES VACANTI: Actually, 1995. I am guilty of that one.

    (LAUGHTER)

    GWEN IFILL: I still remember those pictures. It was creepy then, creepy now.

    But let’s stick back to what you have discovered now. Are you saying that the research premise all these years for all these experts who were trying to get to the bottom of how to create stem cells, the research premise was wrong?

    CHARLES VACANTI: I’m saying that when I read a lot of the stem cell papers, when you describe their isolation process, the harsh conditions, the conclusion was that people were killing adult cells and only the very hardy stem cells were surviving.

    And I think that they were looking at it from the wrong perspective. So we started to wonder, if, rather than in natural, normal injury and repair, is it the stem cells that reside in the tissue doing the repair, or the harsh environment causing mature cells to change back to stem cells, which are doing the repair?

    GWEN IFILL: Interesting.

    CHARLES VACANTI: And it seems like a simple difference, but I think it’s important.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, one the differences, it seems to me, is that you know the debate around stem cell research has always been around embryonic stem cell research, because you had to destroy embryos in order to get access to that. And that has crossed all kinds of barriers for people. This, if it pans out, removes that possibility?

    CHARLES VACANTI: That was the intention.

    So it is my belief that we can now create autologous, so specific for any individual, their own embryonic stem cells for use to generate new tissue without ever having to create an embryo or ever having to destroy an embryo.

    GWEN IFILL: So give me a practical therapeutic application for this. And obviously we’re not growing ears on the backs of mice anymore.

    (LAUGHTER)

    GWEN IFILL: So say this is possible for human use. What is the benefit?

    CHARLES VACANTI: So, my belief is you could use it for many, many, many organs, and I will give you an example.

    If you look at any vital organs, your heart, your lungs, your liver, your kidneys, you only need about 20 percent function in any of those organs to survive. So when people go into kidney failure or lung failure, it’s because they are down to less than 20 percent function. They may be down to 10 percent.

    So rather than building an entire new kidney or entire new lung, which is a noble cause, and I think will be achieved some day, why not start with delivering cells to those injured tissues, those diseased tissues, and see if you can boost the function back up over 25 percent? And now you can live a normal, healthy life.

    So, I think the first applications will be not growing new tissue, but boosting existing tissue function.

    GWEN IFILL: So, if…

    CHARLES VACANTI: An example — sorry.

    GWEN IFILL: Go ahead.

    I was going to ask you for an example. If you have a heart that’s not pumping blood the way it ought to be, and it’s working at some percentage less than it could be, you could build that heart back up?

    CHARLES VACANTI: Just build it back up. Use serial delivery of these cells that will then turn into heart muscle and you may take your heart function from a very low ejection fraction to one that’s compatible with life.

    GWEN IFILL: It’s fascinating.

    So, assuming that this is tested now in mice, is it being tested in other species? And then how long — it takes a while — before we begin to see an application in humans?

    CHARLES VACANTI: So, we have already tested it in several other species. And we have even begun work with human skin cells.

    And what we found in primates and humans and sheep and pigs, we found the process is very similar. So we have isolated cells. We believe we have reverted them back to stem — to embryonic stem cells, and we started to test these. We have not done it to the same degree that we demonstrated in this report, because this is an extremely sophisticated, complicated, and expensive study to do.

    So we are slowly doing all the necessary markers and gene studies, but our early studies are very suggestive that we have now repeated it in older animals, in primates, and in humans. But we have yet to determine if, indeed, they are as potent as the cells that we created in the mice.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, we will be watching to see what happens next. It’s truly fascinating science.

    Dr. Charles Vacanti of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, thank you.

    CHARLES VACANTI: Thank you so much.

    The post Researchers make stem cell discovery by studying tissue stress and repair appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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