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

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  • 01/31/14--17:22: Tough Calls
  • The post Tough Calls appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 01/31/14--20:23: Friday, January 31, 2014
  • We take a look at the pressure building behind a final decision over the Keystone XL pipeline after the State Department released a report on there being no major environmental risks. Also: Grading Ben Bernanke’s time at the Fed, the future for Syrian peace in doubt after talks come to end, advertisers follow football fans to mobile devices and Shields and Brooks analyze the week’s top news.

    The post Friday, January 31, 2014 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Mayoral election underway in New Orleans

    Voters will head to the polls in New Orleans on Saturday to cast their ballots in the mayoral election. The front-runner is the city’s current mayor, Mitch Landrieu.

    Landrieu’s campaign has highlighted the 20 percent drop in the city’s murder rate during 2013, as well as the mayor’s role in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Polls close Saturday at 8 p.m. CST.

    Gunfire and explosions in Bangkok as election day approaches

    Violent clashes between anti-government protesters and government supporters left at least seven injured in Bangkok on Saturday, in the lead up to the country’s general elections. It’s unclear whether the injured were protesters or government supporters.

    Gunfire and at least two explosions occurred during the day’s protests, with sporadic gunfire continuing into the evening.

    Voting for the general election is set to begin on Sunday.

    Morsi trial resumes in Cairo

    The trial for ousted president Mohammed Morsi resumed on Saturday in a Cairo suburb. The case charges the former leader for inciting violence during clashes between opposition protesters and Morsi supporters that left three protesters dead in Dec. 2012.

    His lawyer argued the court could not try Morsi because he was never officially removed from office, a claim Morsi has stuck to since being ejected from his post during a military coup in July.

    The post What we’re watching Saturday appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Immigration reform supporters leave the Senate chamber in the Capitol after watching passage of the Senate immigration reform bill on Thursday, June 27, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

    Supporters of immigration reforms leave the Senate chamber in the Capitol. Proponents of immigrant rights are lobbying state governments across the country to allow students lacking legal immigration status to qualify for in-state tuition and state financial aid. Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    In September, PBS NewsHour Weekend reported the story of one aspiring college student, Cynthia Cruz, who was born in Mexico but had lived in the United States since she was a baby. After graduating from a New Jersey high school, she enrolled at Rutgers, but was soon forced to drop out when she ran out of money.

    Lacking legal immigration status, Ms. Cruz did not qualify for in-state tuition at Rutgers and was unable to receive financial aid from the state.

    Ms. Cruz’s situation changed recently in the state of New Jersey, when Gov. Chris Christie signed a law to allow students who came to the U.S. when they were minors to pay in-state tuition.

    Critics of the legislation say in-state tuition discounts at state colleges and universities are a privilege that should be reserved for students who are U.S. citizens.

    15 states now have statutes on the books that allow students who have lived in the state for a set number of years, but who lack legal immigration status, to pay in-state tuition.

    Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Virginia are considering similar bills.

    University boards in Hawaii, Michigan and Rhode Island have acted independently to qualify these students for in-state tuition.

    States like California, New Mexico and Texas have gone a step further, with laws on the books that allow these students to be eligible for state financial aid, including scholarships and grants.

    Should students who lack immigration status in the United States be allowed to qualify for in-state tuition discounts? Correspondent Rick Karr explores the issue in this PBS NewsHour Weekend report from September.

    Related: Pursuing higher education without a social security number

    The post More states granting in-state tuition to immigrants appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — The major campaign committees collected almost a half-billion dollars in 2013 — a year when just two states chose governors, two had special Senate elections and six House districts had unplanned races — and spent most of it.

    That eye-popping sum doesn’t capture the millions raised and spent by the candidates themselves or the outside groups and advocacy organizations that plan to play a major role in 2014′s federal elections, which could tilt the balance of power in the Senate and perhaps the House, and races for governor in 36 states. Friday’s reports to the Federal Election Commission hint that November’s elections will be awash with cash.

    The two political parties’ federal campaign committees raised $371 million for federal races and spent just shy of $300 million. Add in the governors, and the total haul grows to almost $450 million.

    Friday’s top-line numbers put Democrats slightly ahead of Republicans, but not by a margin that would decide the fate of candidates in 2014. Taken with the Democratic National Committee’s almost $16 million debt and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s $3.75 million in red ink, they are roughly even.

    The DNC started 2013 with $20 million in debt. The DSCC started its year with $15.7 million in debt.

    Heading into this year, the reports suggest heavy spending will be the norm. The Republican National Committee alone spent $76 million last year, largely on rebuilding its campaign technology and hiring operatives to work alongside state parties.

    “The reason we did pretty well raising money in 2013 is that we were selling a plan to the people that were going to invest in the RNC,” party chairman Reince Priebus has said.

    The Republican National Committee said it raised almost $81 million last year and has $9 million in hand to keep working on a technology gap that, in part, cost it the last two presidential races. The RNC said it’s debt-free.

    The RNC outraised the Democratic National Committee, which took in — and spent — about $65 million. The DNC ended the year carrying $15.6 million in debt.

    The Democrats’ committee to elect members to the House raised almost $76 million last year to fund its effort to retake the majority. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reported it has $29.3 million in the bank.

    The National Republican Congressional Committee trailed, raising almost $61 million and banking $21 million for this year’s elections.

    The GOP enjoys a 32-seat advantage in the House, 232 Republicans to 200 Democrats. There are three open seats.

    On the Senate side of Capitol Hill, Democrats’ campaign committee raised $52.6 million to defend their majority. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also reported it had banked $12 million, but it had $3.75 million in debt heading into the election year.

    The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $36.6 million last year and had $8 million banked. It had no debt, meaning it had roughly the same amount of cash to send to its candidates as its Democratic rival.

    Thirty-five Senate seats are up this year, and Democrats will be defending 21 of them. The balance of power in the Senate is 45 Republicans, 53 Democrats and two independents who generally vote with the Democrats. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to wrest the Senate from Democrats’ control.

    The Republican Governors Association said it raised $50.3 million last year and has roughly the same amount in the bank. Its rival, the Democratic Governors Association, said it raised $28 million last year but did not release its bank balance.

    There are 36 gubernatorial races in 2014. Of those, Republicans control the governor’s office in 22 states.

    While the reports offer a glimpse at the number of television ads, phone calls, mail pieces and knocks on the door voters can expect, it doesn’t fully capture political activity heading toward November.

    Some of the biggest spenders were not included in Friday’s reports because, technically, they are not considered campaign operations. That means it will be months before a true assessment of political spending is possible.

    One example is Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The group already has spent around $6 million to criticize Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and $1.7 million attacking Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. The two are among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats.

    All told, the Koch-backed organization has spent more on television ads this year in seven states with competitive Senate races than all the outside Democratic groups combined have spent on Senate races in 10 hard-fought states. The group also has started a national advertising campaign on Fox News Channel and CNN.

    To counter the Americans for Prosperity ads, former aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have begun airing ads defending incumbent Democrats. The effort, Senate Majority PAC, filed its report with the FEC showing it raised $8.6 million last year and has $3.2 million banked to keep Reid running the Senate.

    Its largest donor: Michael Bloomberg. The former New York mayor, a political independent, wrote the group a $2.5 million check.

    ___

    Associated Press reporter Philip Elliott wrote this report. Follow him on Twitter.

    The post Campaign committees collected almost $500 million in 2013 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    As sports fans across the country celebrate the biggest weekend of the football season, the frenzy around the game is already sparking conversations about team strategies, regional rivalries, and TV advertisements.

    But for filmmakers Jane Wells and John Keith Wasson, the Super Bowl was the spark for a very different concern — the underbelly of the sex trade.

    Scene from Tricked, a documentary on sex trafficking by Jane Wells and John Keith Wasson.

    Scene from the documentary film “Tricked,” copyright 3 Generations

    There is ongoing debate over the extent of sex trafficking at large sporting events. But in 2010, Wells read an article about women being brought to the Super Bowl host city, Miami, by sex traffickers.

    “That headline caught my eye so I starting investigating the subject and interviewing survivors. I gradually came to realize just how big a story sex trafficking is,” Wells said.

    The result of the filmmakers three-year journey exploring the sex industry is a new documentary called “Tricked.”

    The film follows people impacted by sex trafficking across the United States: from the young women and their families who share stories of abuse and manipulation, to the pimps who openly speak of how they traffic these women.

    The pair also traveled with the Denver Vice squad as the police pursued traffickers and talked with the ‘johns’ whose demand for sex underlies the industry.

    NewsHour recently spoke with the filmmakers about what they discovered while making the film.

    NEWSHOUR: You got a lot of incredible access to the many players – pimps, johns, girls, cops….were there challenges in getting people to talk on camera for your film?

    JOHN KEITH WASSON: One thing we found was that people had a sort of prepared speech or way of telling their story that they felt comfortable sharing with you. Danielle in particular developed a persona that allowed her to distance herself from the story and explain, ‘this is who that person was.’ And so our work was to get to a more personal and perhaps deeper story. So there was a lot of challenge in getting someone to truly open up because everything we’re dealing with here is so fundamentally sensitive. We had to be delicate and make an environment where they felt fine sharing with us a story that went beyond what they had felt comfortable telling strangers in speeches.

    Danielle Douglas discussing her experience in an excerpt from Tricked, copyright 3 Generations.

    View Danielle Douglas discussing her experience in an excerpt from “Tricked,” copyright 3 Generations.

    Danielle was incredibly courageous to allow us to film her growing understanding of how traumatic this experience was for her because we went back and filmed her again, and again, and again. Through Danielle’s story we realized the difficulty of that road to recovery trafficking survivors. And she really showed us the strength it takes to be an actual survivor, to overcome these hardships.

    JANE WELLS: And with the pimps I think one of the things that was very striking was that they don’t really, truly believe that what they’re doing is wrong. So they were much more open with us than I would have imagined before we started. So that allowed us to get incredible access to them because they really don’t have a lot of shame about what they do, or any shame at all. And they do what they do with impunity.

    NEWSHOUR: Explain the title of your film. Who do you think is being tricked and how?

    JANE WELLS: Well obviously ‘tricks’ is part of the parlance of the sex industry. But I think, obviously, the girls are the main ones who are being tricked by the pimps into doing this work. I think there’s a bigger picture which is that the wider culture is being tricked into thinking that maybe prostitution is something that is harmless, and it isn’t.

    JOHN KEITH WASSON:
    We just kept realizing that there’s trickery throughout the world of sex trafficking. And while we were working with these pimps, we realized that they are extremely articulate, and their ability to change the floor and come up with a different twist of logic while you’re talking to them, shows how complete the force, fraud and, coercion can be.

    We also found that ‘johns’ would come right out and say to us, “Oh, I never choose the girl that’s actually in a disadvantaged position. I’m smart enough.” And we bring up the numbers, saying, “Well, the vast majority of the women out there truly didn’t choose this on their own.” And yet the guy would still say, “Yeah, but you know, I make sure I only pick up ones who are just doing this to get through dentistry school, et cetera,” So that’s a situation where the guys, in many ways, are tricking themselves.

    NEWSHOUR: Were there perceptions that you had about the sex trade before you started making this film that changed by the time you finished the film?

    JANE WELLS: Absolutely. I think when I started; I thought that trafficking was really only an issue for underage children. What I learned was that there’s still so much force, fraud and coercion in the adult population. Things don’t magically change when people turn 18. So that was one thing. And the other was really just getting a much stronger sense of what the law enforcement does. We filmed some great and visionary cops doing amazing work, but we saw how they are constrained by the laws that they have to enforce. Some of the injustices are really in our criminal justice system itself.

    Sgt. Dan Steele of the Denver police making an arrest in the documentary Tricked. copyright 3 Generations.

    Sgt. Dan Steele of the Denver police making an arrest in the documentary “Tricked,” copyright 3 Generations.

    JOHN KEITH WASSON: I was blown away by just the sheer numbers and the extent of this crime throughout America. And it seems, anecdotally at least from the cops we followed, that the ages are getting younger, and the overall violence level associated with sex trafficking is escalating. It just seems like all the trends and numbers were really moving in a horrifying direction.

    Another thing that resonated was how in every place where we went, there were similar techniques in how the pimps really brought in their prey. And it just kept evolving from when we began filming to when we stopped filming. It began maybe with the pimps actually going to shopping malls to look for people who are sort of vulnerable, to blasting out a thousand people through computer and smart phone channels. The changing nature of the landscape was one of my horrifying takeaways.

    webadstricked

    Online sex trafficking ads shown in the documentary, “Tricked.”

    JANE WELLS: The pimps we found are incredibly smart, sophisticated criminals. And they’re very computer savvy and they move along as the technology moves along. So when I first started filming, we were out much more on the “track” in cities like Washington D.C., and seeing scores and scores of transactions on the streets.

    Then, things moved increasingly to the web: There was Craigslist and that got shut down. Then things moved to Backpage. There’s a tremendous amount happening on Facebook now and we also saw girls recruited by something called Mocospace which is a sort of chat-gaming room. And as soon as that became available, pimps were using it. So basically, any new methods of connecting with potential victims are snapped up very quickly.

    NEWSHOUR: In an op-ed, Jane, you called sex trafficking “the most misunderstood human rights abuse.” Why do you say that?

    JANE WELLS: First of all, many people still don’t see it as a human-rights abuse. Secondly, its an incredibly complex crime and issue altogether. But I think it’s also because many people believe that legalization is the answer, and that somehow all of the trends we’re seeing of more violence, younger children, and police enforcement problems will disappear with legalization. Nothing I saw led me to believe that’s the case, but the public at large seems to have two enormous misapprehensions: One is that it’s a victimless crime. And the second is that legalization will magically make all these issues disappear.

    NEWSHOUR: How did you address the distinction between prostitution and sex trafficking in making your film? Where is the line between those two things?

    JOHN KEITH WASSON: Well, that’s the thing: There’s a very clear distinction between the two. Prostitution is, in theory, a girl or guy who is choosing, to participate in offering sex for money at their own volition. Then you have sex trafficking, which is any minor who’s involved, who’s selling sex for money. And whoever is aiding or working with that child to buy or sell sex is committing a crime. And that kid is a victim of sex trafficking. And for anybody who’s over 18, it’s trafficking if they are tricked into selling sex through force fraud or coercion. So then there is the question of, ‘is it hard to define, force fraud and coercion?’ What we’ve found is actually, it’s really not. It’s quite clear if there is a girl who’s working and making zero dollars with someone who is clearly benefiting from her selling her body, something is going on there that is force, fraud or coercion. The difficulty is sometimes the trafficking victims don’t even realize at that moment that they are victims. And that’s where the challenge is and where a lot of the work has to happen.

    JANE WELLS: We also filmed in Sweden where the Swedish have a broader sense of what sex trafficking is than most people do in this country. They look at a continuum of harm in the lifetime of someone who’s worked in prostitution. So it might be that right now, at this moment in time somebody doesn’t self-identify as a victim and doesn’t believe they are being trafficked. But it could be that they were under pimp control in the past, or it could be that later on in their life they might be threatened or forced to continue sex work and be very damaged by the process. That view means that anybody in the sex industry is certainly very susceptible, if not already partaking in sex trafficking. I found that argument to be incredibly compelling to me, especially in relation to Danielle, because we’re working with her a decade after she came out of the life and she’s still experiencing and re-experiencing a tremendous amount of trauma now.

    NEWSHOUR: Were there aspects of sex trafficking that you didn’t get to address that you would have liked to explore more?

    JANE WELLS: Well, I think one of them is the socioeconomic factors that make people more vulnerable to the manipulation that comes from pimps. And that can be runaway children, homelessness, hunger, and other factors. We weren’t able to touch deeply on that and that’s a huge factor. I think that there is a statistic out there that 30 percent of runaway youths will have some sort of encounter with the trafficking industry within 48 hours of leaving home. So just by the nature of being a runaway, of being hungry, of being on the streets, there’s this huge vulnerability there that pimps and traffickers can prey on. Also we didn’t have any male victims, boy victims. And the perception all along tends to be that the boys and men don’t have pimps. And when we were finishing the film, we did film a former male prostitute and he did have pimps. So there’s just so much more going on out there.

    JOHN KEITH WASSON: Our goal is just to begin the dialogue. We realize that 20 films about this subject matter have to be made because there’s so much detail. It’s a very complex crime that’s going on. And slowly, I think we’re figuring out as Americans that it’s happening here, and it is our fellow Americans who are falling prey.

    In our own film, it would’ve been nice to explore perhaps just some of the non-stereotypical situations in the sex trafficking industry; for example, just showing that there are female pimps out there and that there are all sorts of people who are taking advantage of the industry.

    NEWSHOUR: There’s now been a lot of media and public attention to sex trafficking around the Super Bowl – what effect do you think that has?

    JOHN KEITH WASSON: The Super Bowl is an excellent entry point for people to learn about sex trafficking. It sheds light on this issue. But the reality is that it’s happening every day and everywhere in America. And so we want to certainly focus on it during the Super Bowl, but then keep in mind that it’s also happening elsewhere and everywhere — the other 364 days out of the year.

    JANE WELLS: Because the Super Bowl is such a quintessential part of the American narrative, I think it’s also an excellent way to underscore that this is a domestic issue. Because there’s still a sense among Americans that it happens elsewhere, not right here at home.

    All video excerpted from “Tricked,” copyright 3 Generations.

    The post Filmmakers explore sex trafficking abuses in ‘Tricked’ documentary appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Anti-trafficking billboard in New York City

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: All this week there have been more than a few concerns on the minds of the Super Bowl Host Committee, including the selling of counterfeit tickets, and of course worries over what had been bitter cold weather.

    BRONCOS FANS: “We’re just here to see the team, hopefully we’ll get up in front and I’m sorry my mouth is just so cold I can’t even talk.”

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But in this church in Montclair, New Jersey only nine miles away from where the game will be played tomorrow, Sister Pat Daly has a very different concern about the Super Bowl: protecting young women she believes are being exploited by sex traffickers.

    SISTER PAT DALY: People don’t really realize the underside of these celebrations. We see spikes of advertising for sex trafficking and prostitution in and around large sporting events.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  One so-called Super Bowl week special we found online this past week offered customers a chance to ‘get out of the freezing weather and get warm and cozy with me.”

    Another from someone calling herself a “new Barbie in town” and calling herself a “NFL Super Bowl Secret” promised “satisfaction is always guaranteed.”

    Sister Pat says traffickers take advantage of the increased demand for prostitution by bringing in girls and some boys from across the region.

    The effort to control trafficking at Super Bowls is actually nothing new. For the past three years, starting in Dallas in 2011 nuns and other activists have mobilized to raise awareness of sex trafficking around the game, especially of minors.

    SISTER PAT DALY: Anyone who is involved who is 18 years and younger is going to be a victim of human trafficking. Certainly we’re not going after prostitutes – that’s not what we’re about. What we’re trying to do is focus on the people who are really being held captive, who feel trapped.

    DANIELLE DOUGLAS: The fear and the coercion is really what holds someone back from doing what they want to do.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Danielle Douglas, who was profiled in a recent documentary about sex trafficking called tricked, claims she knows firsthand about the problem.

    At the age of seventeen and about to start her freshman year of college in Boston, she says she was befriended by an older man, who, one day without warning, dumped her on the street without any belongings and demanded she prostitute herself. When she didn’t, she says he severely beat her.

    DANIELLE DOUGLAS: The way that he treated me got progressively worse. He was very violent and he would beat me all the time. He would also verbally abuse me. He kept me on a very shot chain and made sure that I was always right next to him unless I was with a john and that’s part of their manipulation tactics is to keep you very, very close and not let you have any time to yourself. I had food deprivation, sleep deprivation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  By her account she was held for two years and routinely forced to turn tricks at big sporting events.

    DANIELLE DOUGLAS: I was forced to go to certain areas when there were large events Celtics playoffs, big games, big concerts, things like that to be in the area of those events where it was known for people to go after those events – bars restaurants, hotels.

    DANIELLE DOUGLAS: There’s alcohol, there’s usually large groups of male people. It’s a form of entertainment. It’s a way that men feel like when they are not with their other half, their girlfriends or wives and are with their male friends they are looking for something else to go on to after the main event and this is what happens. And people know that. The pimps know that and they will direct the people under their control, men and women, girls or boys to those areas.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And that’s why, with the game fast approaching, sister pat and 400 volunteers who work with her from Connecticut to Philadelphia, have been reaching out to hotels – from small motels to big chains — asking their cooperation in blocking sex trafficking from their lodging. They’re asking hotels to post missing children’s fliers.

    MARGOT AND PAT TALKING TO MOTEL MANAGER: We’re going around to all the hotels in the area and we’re asking them to at least keep this in their office so that they can look at images of the girls and then see if they recognize anyone.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  They’re also asking them to post the national hotline in hotel rooms and encouraging them to train staff to recognize the red flags of trafficking.

    SISTER PAT DALY: We’re certainly asking people to be watchful of underage children. And then anyone who seems to be coerced. It’s really a sense of so many of the stories we’ve heard from people who are on staff at hotels who have said, ‘yeah we had this gut feeling.’ Well, now we’re trying to train that gut feeling so that the front desk knows what to do or the people in housekeeping – they certainly know what is going on in a hotel room.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Sister Pat’s anti-sex trafficking campaign is actually part of a larger effort. For more than 20 years, she’s been the executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment… which works alongside other faith-based institutional investors to promote corporate responsibility.

    Their message about sex trafficking seems to be getting through.

    The American Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents more than 50,000 hotels, motels, lodges and inns, recently developed a trafficking training program. The Association gave us a statement saying”

    “All employees are expected to comply and are encouraged to alert the authorities if there is suspected trafficking in their hotel.”

    While some dispute that sex trafficking actually spikes at sporting events like the super bowl, sister pat believes attention surrounding the game presents an opportunity to publicize the wider problem.

    And it is enough of a concern that authorities in New York and New Jersey have focused attention on it.

    In the days leading up to tomorrow’s game, New York City Police reported a jump in prostitution arrests — some following from fake sex ads posted by police. Authorities also cracked down on a sex ring that they say had been under surveillance for months. Authorities said they “decided to act now in the hopes of disrupting any parties that might have been in the works for the upcoming Super Bowl weekend.”

    INSPECTOR ANTHONY FAVALE, NYPD: While we will engage in operations that will apprehend persons for prostitution at every twist and turn of that process we going to campaign to see if there is the potential that this person is a victim of trafficking.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The issue of sex trafficking also came up at a recent security briefing for tomorrow’s game.

    COL. RICK FUENTES, SUPERINTENDENT NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE: In this area, troopers, local police officers have been trained to recognize this activity. And of course of most importance is whether children are involved in this trafficking which is obviously a very grievous crime. So we are looking to interrupt this activity where and when it occurs and we are also not just looking to just make arrests although of the traffickers themselves but we’re also looking to rescue people who are trapped in this lifestyle.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Danielle believes the efforts of Sister Pat and others are starting to pay off because of heightened awareness among law enforcement officials and business leaders. But she fears the gains could easily be lost.

    DANIELLE DOUGLAS: The moment we decide to stop causing awareness the pimps will most likely go right back to taking the people under their control back to the event.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  A thought echoed by Sister Pat, who is already looking ahead to next year’s game

    SISTER PAT: We’re looking at a time today where human beings are treated like commodities so we’re going to continue to be working together long after the Super Bowl moves on to Arizona.

    The post Nuns, law enforcement mobilize to prevent sex trafficking around the Super Bowl appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    20140201_SIMENDINGER_INTV

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: During his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama unveiled a plan designed to help Americans save for retirement. Something he called a MyIRA, or MyIRA. For more about this we’re joined now from Washington by Alexis Simendinger. She is the White House Correspondent for Real Clear Politics. Thanks for joining us. So, first of all, explain it to us, what’s the problem the administration says this is going to address?

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Well, the administration, like many people, are very worried that many workers in the United States don’t have any option through their workplace to save for retirement, and in fact are not putting money away for retirement and will find that social security isn’t enough, or that they should have been looking for private options like Individual Retirement Accounts. So as part of his executive initiatives, the president with the Treasury Department, established a new pilot program that they hope to finish by the end of this year, get it up and running, use a private financial management firm as the administrator, but give millions of workers who don’t have options through their employment a chance to save in little micro-accounts — very risk free, there will be low returns, but it will be very safe. And they’re describing this as a way to almost have a training or a beginner savings account that would allow workers to get more used to putting money away for retirement, and eventually accrue enough that they could roll it over into regular IRA that we’re all used to, where we chose the funds we want to invest in.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so one of the points we’re hearing is that this would be something that employees would opt out of instead of opt into. Why is that important?

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: No, actually what’s interesting about this proposal is the president is saying he would very much like congress to take up a separate legislative initiative that would be called the opt-out, it’s an automatic IRA. And congress is a little resistant to that idea because they’re concerned that it would require employers to sign up their workers, and they prefer, especially republicans, that it be a voluntary idea, continuing the way we’re doing it now in the retirement system. But the president is saying that there are many studies out there that suggest that workers are much more likely to put aside money for retirement if they’re automatically signed up for a retirement account through their workplace and then they have the choice to opt out. And there are many academic studies that show we overcome our inertia about saving if someone actually starts to execute it for us. So without congressional support the president is saying he wants to create this little starter saving account, the MyIRA, and encourage workers to think about payroll deductions, automatically, with their employers, employers could offer this, and that they would then accrue money in a very small way, but very risk-free, and get more used to saving.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay, briefly how do they know how many people would sign up?

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Very good question. And they don’t know. They have some, in the administration, some ballpark estimates, but they don’t know behaviorally how many workers would be interested in this, how many employers will make this an option to do the payroll deduction, how well they’ll be able to spread the word that this is available. So they’re not estimating how many, other than to say many millions, they hope, after the pilot program.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Alexis Simendinger from Real Clear Politics. Thanks so much.

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Thanks Hari.

    The post Obama announces retirement savings initiative appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    NHWE20140201_ARON_INTV

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: There is a new and potentially important development in the investigation of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. To tell us more about that and the governor’s latest response to it we’re joined now by Michael Aron — he’s the Chief Political Correspondent for NJTV News. So, for someone not in the tri-state area, not thinking about the Super Bowl, not thinking about Governor Christie, what happened yesterday and why is it so important?

    MICHAEL ARON: Late yesterday, David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official at the center of the George Washington Bridge lane closures, through his attorney, asked the Port Authority to pay for his legal defense, something that they said they won’t do. In the three-page letter asking the Port Authority to pay for his legal defence, the attorney writes “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly…”  Basically accusing the governor of having lied. And when people first heard this they thought, the governor’s going down, he lied. But I went back to the transcript of the governor’s press conference on this three and a half weeks ago…

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Two-hour press conference…

    MICHAEL ARON: …two-hour press conference, 26-page transcript, on page five, he says, “I knew nothing about this. Until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure, and even then I was told this was a traffic study.” Well, it started to be reported in the papers that Friday, and the closures existed Monday through Thursday. Wildstein says he knew about it during the closures, that could have been as late as Thursday. Christie is saying I learned about it on Friday. I don’t know if they’re really that far apart in what they’re saying. So while the tabloids here in New York this morning say “Gov., you’re lying,” is that really such a big lie?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay and this defection, I mean people will also attribute their different motivations for Mr. Wildstein’s team, perhaps getting a more lenient sentence if he turns on the governor. Or Is this a sign of more things to come? Are there other members of that inner circle?

    MICHAEL ARON: There are, he is clearly looking for immunity. This now the fourth time he or his lawyer have signaled he would like to be immune from prosecution and has more to say. He’s also looking for help with his legal bills that are going to be considerable. At the same time yesterday Bill Stepien, the governor’s former campaign manager, through his attorney, indicated that he will not comply with a legislative subpoena either for documents or testimony, he would take the fifth. And finally, Bridget Kelly, the third out of four people so far implicated in all this has changed lawyers this week, going from someone who was seen to be close to Chris Christie to a much more bulldog aggressive, democratic leaning, white collar defense attorney — some say the best in the state — Michael Critchley. They might have a deal that they would like to present to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

    HARI SREENIVASAN And Wildstein has a long history with Christie?

    MICHAEL ARON: They went to high school together. Chris Christie and David Wildstein went to volunteer for Tom Kean Sr. running for governor in 1977. The governor said at his press conference, ‘this notion that he’s my childhood friend, my high school friend, is way overblown. I was class president and athlete, I don’t know what David was doing.’ But what’s been lost in all this is that for the last 10 years David Wildstein ran a website, a political website, and I can’t imagine that Chris Christie didn’t communicate as U.S. Attorney with David Wildstein quite a bit to get the message out about the various undertakings that he was behind — all those 10 years he was building his name and his brand.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So finally there are multiple investigations underway. One looking at bridge gate, another looking at whether the governor used Sandy funds in forms of retribution or as a reward for supporting him. Where are these investigations? What’s the pace of them?

    MICHAEL ARON: They’re gonna go slow. It feels like I guess another big revelation or some bombshell piece of testimony could speed things up. But the legislative subpoenas, the first round to 18 people and two organizations — the governor’s office and his campaign committee — are due on Monday. I imagine it’s gonna take the staff and the leads of that committee at least a week or ten days to sift through that, decide what they want to release to the public. The U.S. attorney we learned yesterday, through indirect means, is looking at both bridge gate, as we call it, and sandy recover, use of sandy funds, has impaneled a grand jury. That process could take months.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent for NJTV News, thanks so much.

    MICHAEL ARON: Thanks Hari.

    The post Official alleges Gov. Christie knew about bridge lane closure appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 02/01/14--16:53: Saturday, February 1, 2014
  • On Saturday’s program, new fighting breaks out in Syria after a week of largely unsuccessful peace talks in Switzerland aimed at resolving the three-year-old conflict. Later, we take a closer look at the retirement savings initiative President Obama announced in his State of the Union address. And we look at how the tri-state area is preparing for the increase in prostitution and sex trafficking expected to occur in the shadow of the Super Bowl.

    The post Saturday, February 1, 2014 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    In an e-mail to supporters Saturday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office rebuked claims made by his former ally, David Wildstein.

    The strongly-worded e-mail, written with the headline “5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell,” was obtained by and posted on the political news website, Politico.com. A spokesman for the governor confirmed the email’s authenticity to Reuters.

    The e-mail challenged a New York Times report that said the former Port Authority executive claimed to have evidence proving Mr. Christie knew about the lane closings that ensnarled traffic on the George Washington Bridge over a four-day span in September.

    “For the second time in 24 hours, the governor’s office has responded forcefully to the latest allegation by David Wildstein that the governor didn’t tell the whole truth in his Jan. 9 press conference,” NJTV Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron told PBS NewsHour in an e-mail. “They are sticking with the position that he knew about the GWB lane closures only after the fact and when press accounts appeared.”

    “Of course, if it comes out that Christie knew about the lane closures ahead of time, or went along with a four-month cover-up for some period of weeks, he’s in grave trouble. But for now he is sticking to his position,” Aron added.

    Last month, the governor said he was “blindsided”by the bridge scandal, when correspondence among his closest aides indicated the traffic jam had been purposefully orchestrated to to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. for not endorsing the governor’s bid for reelection.

    “I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution,” Mr. Christie said.

    Related:

    A letter released yesterday on behalf of Port Authority official David Wildstein says evidence exists that proves New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew about the controversial George Washington Bridge lane closure while the situation was ongoing. How may this development affect the investigation? Hari Sreenivasan talks with the Michael Aron of NJTV News about the unfolding scandal.

    The post Christie’s office attacks former appointee’s claims appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Viewer response to food waste report.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to our “Viewers Like You” segment. Your thoughts about our program.

    Our piece last week about new entrepreneurial efforts to limit food waste was well received.

    James Carnazza tweeted us“It’s encouraging to see more mainstream coverage of ways to address the food waste challenge in the USA.”

    On the NewsHour website, Brent Krocker wrote:

    “What a great piece on food waste in America. I’m guilty and sickened by the food we throw away every day. I would love to see more programs to compost and recycle the food we put into our landfills every day. I believe that the food giants would make a huge difference if we could implement a composting program within them.”

    But Jim Gordon wrote:

    “Composting is admitting defeat in most cases. Let’s work to prevent waste to the point composting is the only salvage option. There are too many hungry working poor out there. In Japan farmers put up a little roadside self-service shack to offer cheap or free cosmetically challenged foods to the public.”

    A number of you told us of local efforts to curb food waste.

    Pamela L Hoak said:

    “The big stores here in northern Indiana give the food that is nearing its sell by date to the food bank. Therefore I believe that the food bank and food pantries should learn about, or implement, a compost program so that any food left over can be composted. There are many unity/community gardens that could easily take on the task of composting for their local area.”

    On Facebook, Steve Williamson wrote:

    “It’s just stupid what we toss. All of that could be going to making soil. And you know what soil is good for? Growing food without the need for tons of chemicals.”

    The post Viewers respond to our report on food waste appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    Editor’s note: This report was originally broadcast on November 24, 2013

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM (in court):  Since I can’t control what you’re gonna do, I can control what I’m gonna do.  And what that means, in the future, if you violate any of the conditions of probation, you can count on me giving you some jail time

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  This isn’t the way things used to be.  When Judge Steven Alm was assigned to a felony trial courtroom in Honolulu in 2004, he saw judges routinely warning offenders to follow the rules of probation … and probationers just as routinely ignoring those warnings.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: At sentencing, the judge says no drugs, you have to see your probation officer, you have to pay your restitution.  And then, in the real world, they go out there and violate those conditions.  And typically, there’s no consequence.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  No consequence because the only threat was years in prison.  But that threat was usually only carried out after dozens of violations over months or years.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: And I thought what a crazy way to try to change anybody’s behavior.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: So, people just aren’t reforming.  They’re not getting better.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: That’s right. They’re not.  They’re getting worse.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Judge Alm – a former city prosecutor and U.S. Attorney with a reputation as one of the court’s toughest sentencers, wasn’t having it.  So he decided to try a different approach – an approach based on his experience as a father.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: I thought to myself, well, what would work to change behavior?  And I thought of the way I was raised, the way my wife and I would– were trying to raise our son.  You tell him what the family rules are, and then, if there’s misbehavior, you do something immediately.  Swift and certain is what’s gonna get people’s attention and help them tie together bad behavior with a consequence and learn from it.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM:  Do you need to sit in jail any longer to realize how seriously we’re gonna take all this stuff?

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Despite all the tough talk, Judge Alm called his new program “HOPE.”  It stands for “Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement.”    Judge Alm worked with the probation supervisor, public defender and law enforcement to institute his new procedures, which were pretty simple:  if any probationer violated the rules, they’d be punished immediately.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: In some ways, HOPE is parenting 101.  A lotta the folks in the program, I think, grew up in families was– where there wasn’t a lotta structure.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: Make sure you call the hotline every weekday morning.

    Hawaii Hope statistic 2

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The HOPE program targets probationers at highest-risk of violating the rules, and Alm estimates around 80% of them abuse drugs and alcohol.  So unlike regular probation, where offenders can usually anticipate a drug test at a scheduled appointment, hope imposes drug tests that are frequent, and random.   Probationers are assigned a color and a number and must call a hotline every single morning.

    RECORDING:  Today’s UA colors are Blue 2, Green 3…

    MEGAN THOMPSON: If their color and number are called, they must report by 2pm – no excuses.  Short jail stays – sometimes just a few days long – are immediately imposed for positive drug tests and other violations, like missing appointments.  But there’s some leeway here:

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: Anyone who shows up and tests dirty, and admits to it is telling me that they’re having problems,  they messed up, but they’re taking responsibility for it.  I understand that.  So I’m going to reflect that by only giving you a couple days in jail. And so, we’re gonna work with you on that.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: These seemingly simple reforms in Hawaii soon produced remarkable results.  An arm of the department of justice funded a study five years after the program launched.  That study found that compared to people in regular probation, HOPE probationers were half as likely to be arrested for new crimes, or have their probation revoked.  They ended up spending about half as much time in prison.  And were 72% less likely to use drugs.  The results from Hawaii caught the attention of criminal justice experts across the nation.

    TODD CLEAR: When I first encountered the HOPE model I was skeptical.  Most criminologists are.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Todd Clear is an expert on criminal justice at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  He says he was skeptical, because old models of deterrence that use threats usually don’t work, because the threats were too big, and never carried out.  But HOPE, he says, does the exact opposite.

    TODD CLEAR: What they have done with– the HOPE model has been to– ratchet down the level of penalty so that it’s something you can actually afford to do and then– and then ratchet up the likelihood that if you engage in misconduct, you will actually experience that penalty.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Clear says the HOPE model also works because these penalties are seen as fair by the offenders.

    TODD CLEAR: Rapid responses that are reasonable, that are understood to be reasonable, that are clearly un– that the person understands what was happening and why it was happening have a behavior-shaping– behavior-changing– capacity.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Hope’s success in steering offenders away from prison was so promising that programs modeled after it have now launched in courtrooms in 17 other states.   Washington State, for example, put its entire parole and probation population into its version of HOPE.  And the federal department of justice has launched HOPE programs in communities in four states.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Here in Honolulu, the program is working for people like John Kema. He was picked up in 2006 for resisting arrest and possession of methamphetamine.  Kema’s case was representative of larger problems that Hawaii struggles with: high rates of meth use, and disproportionately high incarceration rates among Native Hawaiians.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: First, Kema was put in regular probation.  For two years, he repeatedly missed appointments and failed drug tests, all with few consequences.

    JOHN KEMA: I wasn’t ready to– to give up drugs and alcohol.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Then in 2009, his frustrated probation officer put him in the HOPE program where he faced Judge Alm.

    JOHN KEMA: At first I didn’t like him, honestly.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Yeah– why not?

    JOHN KEMA: He kept putting me back in jail.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Within months, Judge Alm slapped Kema with a short jail stay for a dirty drug test.  Then there were the daily phone calls.

    JOHN KEMA: When I had to start calling the color on a daily basis, you know, that’s when I started turning around in my life.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Why?

    JOHN KEMA: Because I needed to be accountable for those times that I call.  You know.  It was totally up to me to make the right decision whether I– wanna go back to jail or I just wanna have freedom.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Was that the first time in your life that you were really being held accountable?

    Hawaii Hope statistic

    JOHN KEMA: Oh, totally.  Totally.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: After repeated violations and jail stays, Kema says he finally learned his lesson.  He checked into a drug treatment program in 2012 and has been sober for more than a year.  He graduated from HOPE last summer.

    JOHN KEMA: As long as you worry about yourself, you’ll be alright, Mark.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Today he’s a mentor to others who struggle with substance abuse.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: You’re working with people who have been engaged in pretty serious behavior that could send them to prison for years.  But with the threat of just a few days in jail, they’re shaping up.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: It’s the disruptive nature of this program.  It’s not something bad might happen years down the road, it’s you’re going to jail today.  That will cause them to change.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Judge Alm also says the program could save taxpayers big time: According to Alm, a probationer on HOPE costs about $1,500 a year.  Prison in Hawaii costs around $46,000.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But critics say the swift sanctions come at a cost: the stricter rules mean more work for probation officers and drug testers, more strain on the local jail, and a bigger workload for the Honolulu police, who have had to serve hundreds of warrants for HOPE probationers who’ve gone on the run.

    KEITH KANESHIRO: it’s taxing the criminal justice system, law enforcement in being able to look for them– being able to bring ‘em back.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro thinks judges should put more people in prison from the start.  He also thinks HOPE keeps offenders on probation too long and allows them too many chances.

    KEITH KANESHIRO: What kind of consequences– do we have for these probationers?  When people violate the conditions of probation, who commit crimes– they need to go to prison.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Is it better though that these offenders are in HOPE probation, which in theory has more oversight, more requirements for checking in, more drug testing than regular probation?

    KEITH KANESHIRO: Just by having them do drug testing is not supervision.  It’s one form of supervision.  And– but it’s not enough.

    Hawaii Hope statistic 3

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Not enough, Kaneshiro says, because even though it’s been rare, he’s seen about a half-dozen offenders on HOPE probation charged with serious crimes like rape and murder, since he took office in 2010.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: There have been some instances of people committing very serious crimes while–

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: Yes.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: .- part of the HOPE program, including murder.  Do those people belong in a probation program?

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM:  Well, if we all had crystal balls, they might have been sent to prison.  In the cases I’m aware of like that, when they were first put on probation, they were put on probation, say, for possession of a small amount of drugs.  There’s no question some people on HOPE are gonna get charged with crimes.  Some people on probation as usual are gonna get charged with crimes.  The good news, the people in HOPE are getting– charged with new crimes a lot less often.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  Many are also shaping up and getting off probation.  The day we visited four successful HOPE probationers were discharged from the program.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM (in court):: The motion for early termination is granted.  You’re no longer under court supervision because you’ve shown you can be responsible.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: We want people to decide I can have a life without drugs.  I can have a life without committing crime.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM (in court):: Best of luck to you in the future.

    PROBATIONER:  Thank you.

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM (in court):: Ok, thank you, good job.

    PROBATIONER: We can go to daddy!

    JUDGE STEVEN ALM: That’s what it all about.  That’s what we’re looking for.

     

    Funding for this story provided by Pacific Islanders in Communications.

    The post A new probation program in Hawaii beats the statistics appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 02/02/14--07:23: What we’re watching Sunday
  • Syrian military continues barrel bombing campaign

    The Syrian military continued its campaign of barrel bomb strikes on the city of Aleppo on Sunday. At least 83 people have died in the attacks that began on Friday.

    senior leader of an Islamic rebel group was also killed in a car bombing in Aleppo on Saturday. The twin car bombs left 26 others dead.

    Israeli officials react to Sec. Kerry’s boycott warning

    Top Israeli officials criticized U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after he warned Israel about the potential for increased boycotts from Europe if peace talks with the Palestinians fail.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly shrugged off the advice, while Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Kerry’s comments were “unfair” and “intolerable.”

    “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a gun to its head when we are discussing the matters which are most critical to our national interests,” he said.

    IOC pressures Russia to resolve hotel issues

    With thousands of journalists and media set to arrive in Sochi on Monday to cover the 2014 Winter Olympics, the IOC is putting pressure on Russia to resolve the problems with hotels. Currently, only six of nine hotels are up and running at full capacity.

    According to the Associated Press, IOC President Thomas Bach said the situation would “be solved in the next couple of days.” However, some members of the media who arrived early learned they’re hotel rooms were not ready.

    The post What we’re watching Sunday appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — There’s been no real reduction in the number of U.S. school shootings despite increased security put in place after the rampage at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

    Police patrol the streets outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012. Credit: REUTERS/Adrees Latif

    Police patrol the streets outside Sandy Hook Elementary School following the 2012 shooting in which Adam Lanza killed 20 first graders and six adults before shooting himself. An AP analysis found that since Sandy Hook, increased security measures at schools across the country have not reduced the number of school shootings. Credit: REUTERS/Adrees Latif

    In Pennsylvania and New Mexico, Colorado and Tennessee, and elsewhere, gunfire has echoed through school hallways, and killed students or their teachers in some cases. “Lockdown” is now part of the school vocabulary.

    An Associated Press analysis finds that there have been at least 11 school shootings this academic year alone, in addition to other cases of gun violence, in school parking lots and elsewhere on campus, when classes were not in session.

    Last August, for example, a gun discharged in a 5-year-old’s backpack while students were waiting for the opening bell in the cafeteria at Westside Elementary School in Memphis. No one was hurt.

    Experts say the rate of school shootings is statistically unchanged since the mid- to late-1990s, yet still remains troubling.

    Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, said there have been about 500 school-associated violent deaths in the past 20 years.

    The numbers don’t include a string of recent shootings at colleges and universities. Just last week, a man was shot and critically wounded at the Palm Bay Campus of Eastern Florida State College, according to police.

    Finding factors to blame, rightfully or not, is almost the easy part: bad parenting, easy access to guns, less value for the sanctity of life, violent video games, a broken mental health system.

    Stopping the violence isn’t.

    “I think that’s one of the major problems. There are not easy answers,” Stephens said. “A line I often use is do everything you can, knowing you can’t do everything.”

    Bill Bond, who was principal at Heath High School in West Paducah in 1997 when a 14-year-old freshman fired on a prayer group, killing three female students and wounding five, sees few differences in how shootings are carried out today. The one consistency, he said, is that the shooters are males confronting hopelessness.

    “You see troubled young men who are desperate and they strike out and they don’t see that they have any hope,” Bond said.

    Schools generally are much safer than they were five, 10 or 15 years ago, Stephens said. While a single death is one too many, Stephens noted that perspective is important. In Chicago there were 500 homicides in 2012, about the same number in the nation’s 132,000-plus K-12 schools over two decades.

    “I believe schools are much safer than they used to be but clearly they still have a good ways to go,” Stephens said.

    The recent budget deal in Congress provides $140 million to support safe school environments, and is a $29 million increase, according to the office of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

    About 90 percent of districts have tightened security since the Newtown shootings, estimates Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

    Many schools now have elaborate school safety plans and more metal detectors, surveillance cameras and fences. They’ve taken other steps, too, such as requiring ID badges and dress codes. Similar to fire drills, some schools practice locking down classrooms, among their responses to potential violence.

    The incident involving the 5-year-old in Memphis led to the use of hand-held metal detecting wands inside elementary schools in Shelby County’s school district.

    Attention also has focused on hiring school resource officers, sworn law enforcement officers who are trained to work in a school environment, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. He said his organization estimates there are about 10,000 of them in the U.S.

    Canady said it was such an officer who helped avert more bloodshed at Arapahoe High School in the Denver suburb of Centennial when an 18-year-old student took a shotgun into the building on Dec. 13 and fatally shot another student.

    Since the shootings at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, in which two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 26 others before killing themselves, police nationwide have adopted “active shooter” policies where officers are trained to confront a shooter immediately.

    “The goal is to stop it, from the law enforcement side, stop it as quickly as you can because we know with an active shooter if you don’t stop it, more lives will be lost,” Canady said.

    Confronting a shooter certainly carriers risks.

    In Sparks, Nev., math teacher Michael Landsberry was killed in November after calmly approaching a 12-year-old with a gun and asked him to put the weapon down, witnesses said. The boy, who had wounded two classmates, killed himself.

    Weingarten said more emphasis needs to be placed on improving school cultures by ensuring schools have resources for counselors, social workers and after-care programs. Many of these kinds of programs were scaled back during budget cuts of recent years.

    Experts have said a healthy school culture can prevent such incidents and even lead students to tell adults about classmates who display warning signs that they could commit such violence.

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters Thursday that he also believes strong mental health support systems in schools are important. But he said schools are doing a “fantastic” job with school security and often schools are the safest place in a community.

    He blames easy access to guns as a root cause of the problem, but that’s a contention that doesn’t have widespread agreement as gun control continues to be a hotly debated topic.

    “This is a societal problem, it’s not a school problem,” Duncan said.

    Bond, who is now the safe schools specialist with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said there was a time when he believed school shootings would stop. He’s come to a sad realization that gives him a “sick pit in my stomach” that they won’t end, he said.

    “Schools are still part of the American society and the American society is violent,” Bond said.

    AP Education Writer Kimberly Hefling wrote this report. Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Sheila Burke in Nashville, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pa., and Jim Anderson and Dan Elliott in Denver contributed.

    The post Despite increased security, school shootings continue appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks

    Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, shown here at a New York Knicks game in December, was found dead on Feb. 2, 2014. Credit: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Oscar award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his Greenwich Village apartment on Sunday. He was 46.

    The cause of death has not been confirmed, but the New York Times, citing law enforcement, said Hoffman appeared to have died of a drug overdose.

    Law enforcement officials told the Associated Press Hoffman was found with a syringe in his arm.

    His family released the following statement:

    We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone. This is a tragic and sudden loss and we ask that you respect our privacy during this time of grieving. Please keep Phil in your thoughts and prayers.

    Hoffman won an Academy Award for his performance as author Truman Capote in the 2005 movie, “Capote.”

    He was also nominated in the best supporting actor category for his performances in “The Master,” “Doubt,” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

    His role as a gay member of a pornographic film crew in the Paul Thomas Anderson film “Boogie Nights” is considered to be one of his breakthrough performances. The actor also garnered attention for his work on the Broadway stage in “Death of a Salesman.”

    In January, Showtime announced the actor would star in a comedy series called “Happyish.”

    Hoffman is survived by his longtime partner, Mimi O’Donnell. The couple has three children.

    The post Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead at 46 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    If you just watch the game, a conservative estimate of the running time of the Super Bowl is at least three and a half hours. Add in the pre-game and post-game analysis and the entire event could top six hours.

    What else could you be doing with that time? Reading a book is one option.

    Click to view slideshow.

    According to Forbes magazine — which did the math in the article “Do You Read Fast Enough to be Successful?” — the average adult has a reading speed of about 300 words per minute. The book publishing standard runs to approximately 250 words per page.

    So, an average adult should be able to read at least one 200-page book during the Super Bowl.

    Access the full text or learn more about the 14 books below:

    The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    Casino Royale,” Ian Fleming

    The Wasteland,” T.S. Eliot

    We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” Shirley Jackson

    The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

    The Interpreter of Maladies,” Jhumpa Lahiri

    Metamorphosis,” Franz Kafka

    Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time,” Dava Sobel

    Into the Wild,” Jon Krakauer

    Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus,” Mary Shelley

    Animal Farm,” George Orwell

    The War of the Worlds,” H.G. Wells

    The Old Man and the Sea,” Ernest Hemingway

    The post 14 books you could read in the time it takes to watch the Super Bowl appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The HIll

    Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For all the talk about gridlock in Washington, there’s growing bipartisan support for a plan that’s gotten little attention — that is to cut off public funding for the national political conventions. Molly Hooper, a reporter for The Hill, has been working on this story. I spoke to her earlier from Washington.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So how much public funding is there that goes for these conventions and what are they proposing to do with it?

    MOLLY HOOPER: Well, right now as of 2012, the American people paid $36 million dollars between the two major party conventions. But the money that the Republicans and Democrats want to use would actually be funding a 10-year research initiative for pediatric health issues, and that money would be $126 million dollars over that period of time. So that would encapsulate two political conventions

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay, so right now, about a quarter of the political conventions come from our pockets, and the rest, from what, sponsors?

    MOLLY HOOPER: Yes, sponsors. And it’s actually a loophole that the parties have found where, you know, you go to these conventions every four years, show up in a city and there’s a host committee. And that host committee can take unlimited amount of money from corporate sponsors. The law was originally written so that corporations could not essentially buy political parties. And so you see members up on Capitol Hill saying ‘you know these events, number one, not a lot of news is made at these events — they’re four day pep rallies. Why are we using taxpayer dollars to pay for it?’ It won’t be very difficult for them to raise the money to make up for the difference. And so originally this bill was going to just give the money right back to the Treasury, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said ‘wait a second, we can use this money for pediatric research.’

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what are those who are on the side of public financing saying? Are they concerned that this could turn into the Coke versus Pepsi convention?

    MOLLY HOOPER: Oh yes, well they don’t like it to begin with. They’re actually saying that, the GOP and Democrats, the people who want corporations to essentially Coke v. Pepsi conventions to happen, they’re saying ‘this is just a fig leaf.” You know the proponents of ending the public financing, all they’re doing is wrapping it up in this bill for kids research. When really, in fact, it’s just an authorizing bill and won’t necessarily appropriate the funds for those kids you know research initially.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Molly Hooper joining us from Washington D.C., a reporter for The Hill.

    MOLLY HOOPER: Thank you.

    The post Support grows to cut public funding for political conventions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama sat down with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on Sunday for a pre-Super Bowl interview.

    During the brief conversation, the two exchanged words on topics including the Healthcare.gov website, the Benghazi attacks and the IRS audit scandal.

    In a tense exchange about Mr. Obama’s handling of the 2012 attacks against two U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, Mr. O’Reilly said detractors claim the president delayed calling it a terrorist attack to benefit his campaign. Obama responded tersely, saying, “they believe it because folks like you tell them that.”

    Mr. O’Reilly pressed the president on the problematic Healthcare.gov rollout, repeatedly asking why Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had not been fired. He also asked whether the president thought telling Americans that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” was his “biggest mistake.”

    When posed with a viewer question about why the president wanted to “fundamentally transform the nation,” Mr. Obama said he didn’t think “fundamentally transforming the country was necessary.”

    “I think that what we have to do,” he said, “is make sure that here in America, if you work hard, you can get ahead.”

    This is the second time Mr. Obama and Mr. O’Reilly have faced off in a pre-Super Bowl scenario. The first took place prior to the 2011 game.

    An extended portion of the interview will air Monday on The O’Reilly Factor.

    The post Obama defends record in pre-Super Bowl interview appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    As the NFL rakes in about $10 billion in revenue per year and the winners of Super Bowl Sunday will take home around $92,000 each — NFL cheerleaders are sometimes paid less than minimum wage for their performances.

    OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 15: The Raiderettes the Oakland Raiders Cheerleaders performs during an NFL Football game against the Kansas City Chiefs at O.co Coliseum on December 15, 2013 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    The Oakland Raiders Cheerleaders performs during an NFL Football game in December. NFL cheerleaders are sometimes paid less than minimum wage for their performances. Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The U.S. Department of Labor said Wednesday it had launched an investigation into the treatment of the Oakland Raiders’ cheerleaders, known as the “Raiderettes.”

    The investigation was prompted by a first-of-its-kind lawsuit filed last month by a Raiderette who alleged wage theft and unfair employment practices.

    According to the suit, the Raiderettes earn around $1,250 per season, or about $5 per hour. Minimum wage in California is $8.00 per hour.

    The plaintiff claims the team withholds pay until the end of the season, does not cover expenses like travel and fines the cheerleaders for violations like bringing the wrong pom-pons to practice.

    The Raiders’ top-paid player Darren McFadden earns close to $6 million a year, according to Fox Sports.

    The Raiders are not the only team in the league with low-paid cheerleaders. San Diego Chargers cheerleaders are paid $75 per game, for example. Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders earn around $150 per game, and Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders are paid around $100 per game, according to the Atlantic.

    Some cheerleaders employed by NFL teams say the job is not about the money and is more of a hobby. They add the exposure of being an NFL cheerleader can lead to better, more lucrative positions down the line.

    “I always say, ‘Cheerleading doesn’t pay the bills, but it pays the soul,’” Seahawks cheerleader Kristal-Lynn told Al Jazeera.

    “I love it. I love it because I love football — the sound of the players colliding and seeing them score right in front of me,” she said.

    The post Some NFL cheerleaders paid low wages for performances appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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