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

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    michaelsam

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The professor football player draft isn’t until May, but the news today about one potential prospect has meaning that promises to go far wider in the league and in professional sports.

    MICHAEL SAM, NFL prospect: I came to tell the world that I’m an openly, proud gay man.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: University of Missouri football star Michael Sam broke the news Sunday night in interviews with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” The New York Times and Outsports.

    MICHAEL SAM: It is a load off my chest. I told my teammates this past August that — I came out to my teammates. And they took it great. They rallied around me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The All American defensive end now stands to become the National Football League’s first openly gay active player after the draft takes place in May. Sam says he hopes his sexual orientation will be a nonissue.

    MICHAEL SAM: It shouldn’t matter.

    If I can — if I work hard, if I make plays, that is all that should matter. Can they — can he help us win games?  Is he a team play ever?  That’s all that should matter.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The NFL responded with a statement on its Web site that said: “Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

    Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams agreed, saying, all that matters is winning games and being respectful in the locker room.

    And, today, first lady Michelle Obama tweeted her support for Sam, saying: “You’re an inspiration to all of us. We couldn’t be prouder of your courage, both on and off the field.”

    But Herm Edwards, former head coach for the New Jersey Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, sounded a warning note that Sam could prove a distraction.

    HERM EDWARDS, Former NFL head coach: He’s bringing baggage into your locker room. So when you think about Michael Sam, all of a sudden, can the players handle the media attention that they’re going to get?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Assuming he’s drafted, Sam will join a small number of professional athletes who have chosen to come out while still playing. Basketball star Brittney Griner did so last year, after she became the number one pick in the Women’s National Basketball Association draft. And basketball backup center Jason Collins out last April while with the Washington Wizards of the NBA. The 35-year-old is not playing with a team this season.

    The Michael Sam announcement does raise plenty of questions about how the NFL, its players and Sam himself will deal with all this.

    We explore that with Wade Davis, a former NFL player who came out as gay after he retired. He is the executive director of the You Can Play Project, an advocacy group working for equality for LGBT athletes in sports. He spoke with Sam before his announcement. And Kevin Blackistone, he’s a panelist for ESPN who teaches sport journalism at the University of Maryland.

    We welcome both of you.

    Wade Davis, to you first.

    You did talk with Michael Sam. Help us — do you know why he chose to do this right now?

    WADE DAVIS, You Can Play Project: You know, one of the big things that Michael wanted to do was give executives, teams time to really evaluate him as a player and also have those hard conversations about what would it mean to draft a gay player.

    He wasn’t trying to hide anything. He also believes that what team wouldn’t want a player with the courage and strength that he has exhibited? I think that all teams want players who exhibit great leadership and great courage. And that’s all that Michael has done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How important a move do you think this is?

    WADE DAVIS: I think, to a lot of people, it’s an important move. And to Michael, it was something that was — he understood the gravity of it, but he wasn’t overwhelmed by it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean?

    WADE DAVIS: That he understood that this was a big deal as far as being the first openly gay NFL player. But, to him, he had — he was just — just doing something he’s always done, fought to fight through adversity, show up with a courageous heart and be himself.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Kevin Blackistone, how do you weigh the significance of what — of this announcement?

    KEVIN BLACKISTONE, University of Maryland: I think it is very significant. I think it is more significant for the NFL than it is for Michael Sam.

    A lot of people have asked about the hurdles that he is going to have to overcome when he gets in the league. But he has said he is very comfortable with who he is. He is a college graduate. He’s black. And the third thing is, he is gay, as if we need to know his sexual orientation.

    He was voted the MVP on his team by his teammates. He was one of the best football players in the SEC this past year. It is the NFL which has been homophobic for so long, one of the strongest bastions of homophobia in our society, that is going to have to deal with this, the executives who are going to have to decide whether to bring him into their franchise, coaches who are going to have to decide how to fit him into the fabric of the team, and teammates who are going to have to decide how to embrace him.

    Those are the real hurdles in this situation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s explore that for just a moment.

    What do you expect? I mean, what happens now? The draft, as we said, is not until May. It’s several months off.

    KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What happens at this point? Do the owners who may be interested in him, what…

    KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, the first thing that is going to happen is, he is being to be the center of attention at the NFL combine in April, which is when all the draft-eligible players hoping to get into the NFL show up and work out for all the scouts and the coaches.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Literally work out?

    KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Literally work out.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: They show them what they can…

    KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Exactly. And now it’s a televised event.

    So this is going to be the most anticipated NFL combine in the history of the NFL. After he gets through that will come the draft. And everybody will wait to see whether or not his situation and what he said about his personal life impacts what the rest of the league and the teams and the coaches and executives think about them.

    Already today, not more than 24 hours into this story, we have already heard rumors about this guy, Michael Sam, the SEC defensive player of the year, by far the best college football conference in the country, that his draft status has started to slip, simply because of this announcement.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you — Wade Davis, do you think that’s the case, that his draft status — I know it’s speculation, but what is your sense of that?

    WADE DAVIS: I would disagree with Michael a little bit.

    I think that — I’m sorry — Kevin. I think that we make these broad assumptions that the NFL is a homophobic place. But what I have experienced since I have come out and the work that I have been allowed to do with the NFL has been great.

    You know, I think that what happens is that we don’t see players who are out, and we make this broad assumption that they must be out because this place is homophobic. But players weren’t out in college. Players were not out in high school. So that speaks more about what our country needs to do as a whole more than it does what is wrong with the NFL.

    And I’m also a person that knows that players in the NFL have to deal with players of different races, different classes, different religions, and they make it work. And it is not cotton candy and lollipops, right? But it is a time where players have friction, and they can make fun of each other. They protect each other from everyone else.

    And I think that Sam has proven that by playing in the SEC, in one of the toughest conferences, that his teammates accepted him. And these are the same players who will be playing on Sunday. So I think that we do have to give athletes a lot more credit and say, hey, some of them may be homophobic, but a lot of them have gay brothers, gay sisters, gay cousins, and have experienced playing with someone who is gay.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Kevin Blackistone, do you think attitudes could be changing?

    KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, I think Wade touches on something here.

    I was talking to a friend of mine who has a lot to do with the league and is a former player. And he pointed out that, you know, the league is a very young league, and it has been getting younger year after year after year, and that there are a lot more players now who have played with gay players, maybe in high school, certainly have gay friends that they know from high school and college, that sort of thing.

    And so maybe they are a little bit more tolerant than their predecessors. Having said that, I still believe that the NFL has been and is a homophobic operation, given the fact that the only people we know of who have been gay and played in the league are people who have come out afterwards to say that they survived that environment. So, hopefully, Michael Sam can change that environment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wade Davis, is Michael Sam prepared, again — based on your talking with him, is he prepared? What is he prepared to face in the months to come?

    WADE DAVIS: Well, first of all, he doesn’t think he is going to face anything that he didn’t already face in college.

    You know, I would say probably 20 to 30 percent of the NFL is made up of guys who played in the SEC. So it’s not like he came from this small school, all right? And he also was the captain of his team. So he knows what it is like to be a leader. He knows what it is like to deal with adversity.

    He’s also understanding that it’s also his responsibility to protect his teammates, that there is going to be a player or two that may say something homophobic, but he is not going to run to the principal or to the media and say, hey, this guy said this and this guy said that. These are going to be his brothers. He’s going to earn their trust by his play off the field and showing up as other players do off the field.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we have to leave it there. It is a subject I know we’re going to spend more time on.

    But, tonight, Wade Davis, we thank you.

    Kevin Blackistone, thank you.

    KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Thank you.

    WADE DAVIS: Thank you so much.

    The post How does coming out by openly gay NFL prospect Michael Sam reflect changing attitudes? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    March Against NSA Mass Surveillance

    Creative Commons photo of a march against NSA mass surveillance in Washington D.C. on Oct. 26, 2013 by flickr user Elvert Barnes

    Activist groups, companies, and websites will encourage internet users to take a stand against government surveillance on Tuesday in a protest called “The Day We Fight Back.”

    On Feb. 11, 5,700-plus websites plan to post a banner on their pages encouraging users to use their social media accounts to protest surveillance by the National Security Administration and to phone or email their representatives in Congress about reforming internet surveillance. The protest is organized by the some of the same groups that orchestrated the movement against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in 2012. In response, “Congress, overwhelmed by the popular opposition, quickly backpedaled, leaving the legislation to die,” ‘The New York Times’ wrote in July, 2012.

    Demand Progress executive director David Segal said they are not expecting a response similar to the magnitude of the SOPA and PIPA backlashes. However, he told PBS NewsHour they expect “something quite sizeable.” The statement announcing the event speculated that “potentially millions of Internet users” would participate in the protest.

    The websites will urge internet users to contact their lawmakers and voice their support for the USA FREEDOM Act and encourage Congress to reject the FISA Improvements Act.

    The USA FREEDOM Act would implement a number of surveillance reforms, including the creation of the Office of the Special Advocate to participate in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or the FISA Court.

    The bill is currently in committee in both chambers of Congress. Segal said the “goal is to start driving that forward” and that he is confident the legislation has enough votes to move out of the House Judiciary Committee and to pass the House floor.

    Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R.-Wisc, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, also said it has broad support in the House. “If brought to the floor, I believe it will pass,” he said in a statement to the NewsHour. He also said he would “support any responsible efforts that give it momentum.”

    However, the bill faces a more difficult battle in the Senate and gathering the needed support will require “more wrangling and pressure on individual members,” according to Segal. To help create that pressure, when internet users enter their information to contact their lawmakers as part of “The Day We Fight Back,” they will first be connected to both of their Senators.

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has held a number of hearings examining government surveillance and scheduled another hearing for this week. The effort to reform government surveillance is “very much uphill,” said Leahy’s spokesman David Carle, adding “It’s a very serious subject and detailed piece of legislation.”

    A number of organizations have endorsed the bill, including Apple, Facebook and Google. The latter was a major participant in the SOPA and PIPA protests, but is not listed as a participant in “The Day We Fight Back.” However, Segal said Tuesday “you will see the involvement of some organizations that are not yet listed.”

    “The ultimate goal is to end surveillance programs in general,” Segal said. It is unclear whether “The Day We Fight Back” will produce enough pressure on Congress to push the legislation forward.

    When asked about surveillance’s role in ensuring the nation’s security, Segal noted that some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have said they have not seen any evidence that NSA surveillance was instrumental in protecting Americans. He said their opposition was significant given the “institutional disincentives” to criticizing the programs. “I’m inclined to trust them,” Segal said, referring to the Intelligence Committee members, “More so than I am inclined to trust the heads of these agencies that have operated in secret.”

    The day of protest is also in honor of activist and internet prodigy Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide last year. Swartz helped organize the SOPA and PIPA protests in 2012 and faced charges for distributing academic articles that were limited to database subscribers. He was a co-founder of Demand Progress with Segal.

    In a statement announcing the event one year after Swartz’s suicide, Segal said, “If Aaron were alive he’d be on the front lines, fighting back against these practices that undermine our ability to engage with each other as genuinely free human beings.”

    The post Internet protest to ‘fight back’ against surveillance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    iran

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Over the weekend, Iran agreed to provide more information to the International Atomic Energy Agency in its long-stalled investigation of suspicions that Tehran may have worked on nuclear weapons, a claim that the Islamic state denies.

    The move comes on the heels of an agreement that Iran reached with world powers months ago to curb aspects of its nuclear program, in exchange for limited sanctions relief.  The Obama administration credits so-called crippling economic sanctions with bringing the country to the negotiating table.

    Tonight, we take a closer look at the impact of those sanctions as seen inside Iran.

    PBS NewsHour correspondent William Brangham reports.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of the first things you notice when you come to Tehran is the air. A thick blanket of smog hovers over the city most winter days, especially when the winds don’t blow. Many believe this pollution is yet another way Western sanctions are impacting Iran.

    Of course, Tehran is a busy and congested place, so it’s had pollution for years. But a few years ago, when sanctions squeezed Iran’s ability to import refined gas, the government began refining its own much dirtier gas. Since then, the country’s air quality has worsened. The World Health Organization says Iran’s air is often dirtier than Shanghai’s. Face masks are a regular sight on the streets.

    According to The New York Times — quote — “Iran’s Health Ministry has reported a rise in respiratory and heart diseases, as well as an increase in a variety of cancers that it says are related to pollution.”

    In other ways, the impact of international sanctions on Iran isn’t so visible. Tehran’s stores are full. Shoppers are out in force. And many Western goods are available for those who can afford them. This electronics mall in downtown Tehran carries every latest laptop, iPad and mobile device imaginable.

    But talk to middle-class Iranians on the streets, and you start to hear a different story.

    HAMID AKHLAGI, Small business owner (through interpreter): People are walking around, but few are actually spending.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Shopkeeper Hamid Akhlagi, who runs a small store in the Tajrish market in Tehran, says, while things may look fine on the surface, he and his customers are reeling from another one of the main effects sanctions have had on Iran, skyrocketing inflation, now estimated by many economists to be over 30 percent.

    Prices for everyday staples of the Iranian diet, things like chicken and rice, have risen dramatically, in part because of sanctions.

    Akhlagi says the cost of goods in his store never seem to stop going up. One example: A single bar of Dove soap used to cost about 60 cents. Two years later, it’s almost $2.

    HAMID AKHLAGI (through interpreter): The price has doubled, twice, three times, four times. So that’s made it harder for people to buy things.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As Western powers have ratcheted up sanctions on Iran to force the nation’s leaders to curtail their nuclear program, economists say the nation’s economy has been badly damaged. The World Bank estimates Iran’s GDP contracted 1.5 percent last year and almost 3 percent in 2012.

    The official unemployment rate ranges from 10 to 15 percent. But most analysts believe it’s double that, maybe higher for young Iranians. This economic pain is made even worse because the local currency, the rial, lost about 75 percent of its value in 2012, and has scarcely recovered.

    SAEED LAYLAZ, Economist: I think that the main problem has been the mismanagement, but the sanctions make the situation much, much harder.

    Saeed Laylaz is a prominent Iranian economist. And while he believes the prior administration, the Ahmadinejad administration, badly mismanaged Iran’s economy, he says Western sanctions only compounded the damage. For example, by constraining Iran’s energy exports, isolating the nation’s banks and freezing billions of dollars in Iran’s oil revenues, Laylaz believes sanctions made many middle-class Iranians poorer.

    SAEED LAYLAZ: At the moment, the labor force of Iran at the moment is 35 to 40 percent poorer than three, two years ago, in spite of the fact that we have 800 billion U.S. dollar petro — petrodollars, our income, hard currency income.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But people are 35 to 40 percent poorer than they were?

    SAEED LAYLAZ: Poor, yes, the labor force.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Even though the country has all this money?

    SAEED LAYLAZ: Yes.

    MARK DUBOWITZ, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: I think that sanctions always disproportionately impact the most disadvantaged people in a society.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Mark Dubowitz heads the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. He believes that economic pain has served a purpose. He points out that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected in large part to fix the economy and to reduce sanctions.

    And while Iranian leaders deny it, Dubowitz argues it was the pain from sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in Geneva over its nuclear program and Dubowitz argues sanctions should be decreased.

    MARK DUBOWITZ: The goal of these sanctions in Iran is to put Iran’s supreme leader at a fundamental choice between the survival of his regime and a nuclear weapon. And at the very least, those sanctions have now gotten the Iranians to the table. And I think most people agree that but for those tough sanctions, Iran’s leader wouldn’t be negotiating with the United States and our allies right now.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But as we saw on our recent visit, many Iranians believe sanctions have impacted them in ways beyond just their wallets.

    At the Dr. Sapir Hospital in South Tehran, a Jewish charity hospital that cares for mostly poorer Iranians, we met Dr. Ciamak Moresadegh. He runs the hospital and also represents Iran’s Jewish community in the Iranian Parliament. Though his hospital got a donation of several hundred thousand dollars from the Rouhani government a few weeks after our visit, Moresadegh told us because of inflation and Iran’s sagging economy, which he blamed in part on sanctions, his hospital was deep in debt.

    DR. CIAMAK MORESADEGH, Dr. Sapir Hospital: Since last year, our loss was something about $1 million per year.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One million U.S. dollars?

    DR. CIAMAK MORESADEGH: Yes.

    This year, we are more than two million U.S. dollar loss, because we want to protect the patients who cannot pay.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Moresadegh says those patients are the real victims. He says sanctions have hurt his ability to get crucial medicines for them. He says drugs for geriatric patients, those with multiple sclerosis and those with certain cancers, including childhood leukemia, are extremely hard to get.

    Even though the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees sanctions in the U.S., specifically allows for the sale of humanitarian goods like food and medicine, Moresadegh says that repeated warnings and crackdowns about violating sanctions like the ones announced just last week have scared many companies away from doing any business with Iran.

    DR. CIAMAK MORESADEGH: They say that something doesn’t affect food and drugs, but many banks and most of the banks in the world are scared from the USA. They say that if we transact with Iran, even for drug and food, they would punish us and the USA would punish us. So, it’s better for us to be safe, since have no transaction with Iran. So we cannot find a way to have our drugs.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: A senior Treasury Department official told us the U.S. doesn’t target any companies doing legal business with Iran. Furthermore, the department argues that sanctions are not responsible for these drug shortages that are being reported in Iran. They point to data indicating that exports of pharmaceuticals to Iran are rising, and not declining. They argue that, if there are any shortages in Iran, it’s more likely caused by something within Iran itself.

    Back in Iran, the economy has shown small signs of recovery. Inflation dropped a few points in recent months, and the nation’s stock exchange has come to life.

    Despite that, the Rouhani government last week was compelled to hand out millions of free food packages to help counteract still sky-high prices.

    Whether the economy continues to improve and what affect it has on Iran’s negotiations with world powers remains to be seen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Representatives from the United States and other world powers are expected to meet with an Iranian delegation in Vienna next week to begin talks aimed at reaching a final agreement over the country’s nuclear program.

    The post Economic sanctions have tangible consequences for average Iranians appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A Ukrainian artist plays the piano set on the anti-government opposition barricade in Kiev during a concert organized for the activists and for the policemen on February 10, 2014. Photo by AFP/Sergei Supinksy

    A Ukrainian artist plays a piano set on the anti-government opposition barricade in Kiev during a concert organized for activists and policemen on Feb. 10, 2014. Photo by AFP/Sergei Supinksy

    Some activists in Kiev, Ukraine decided to air their protests toward the government Monday through the power of piano.

    The blue and yellow instrument — the same colors as Ukraine’s flag — sits atop an anti-government barricade on Grushevsky Street, the scene of deadly January clashes between police and protesters. With riot police standing on the other side of the barrier, demonstrators took to the platform and tickled the ivories for piano arrangements of Frédéric Chopin, the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and “Shche ne vmerla Ukraina” — Ukraine’s national anthem which translates to “Ukraine Has Not Yet Died.”

    The AFP reports that similar concerts were organized across nine other Ukrainian cities Monday. In Kiev, riot police attempted to stage their own musical rebuttal, blasting Russian pop songs from their side of the barricade.

    The piano performances were not the protests’ first. A masked man in combat gear, dubbed the Piano-Extremist, has given several impromptu concerts to protesters outside City Hall in Kiev.

    “The piano has become the symbol of the revolution, of peaceful resistance,” Markiyan Matsekh, an activist who initiated the musical campaign, told the AFP. “There are different opinions in our country and we must unite around sure-fire values such as art.”

    Protests have been ongoing in Ukraine since early December, when the country refused a trade agreement with the European Union.

    The post Ukrainian protests alive with the sound of music appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    limitsofpartnership

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As U.S. and Russian athletes compete head to head and skate to skate, so to speak, on snow and ice in Sochi, a new book looks at their broader competition for global influence.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner talked to the author today.

    As a proud Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over the opening of the Sochi Olympics Friday night, notably absent were President Obama or Vice President Biden. Putin and Washington are at odds over asylum for NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the unrest in Ukraine, how to handle Syria and Iran, and gay rights in Russia.

    In fact, the U.S.-Russia relationship has been on a roller coaster ever since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, despite the efforts of four successive U.S. presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and President Obama, to reset it.

    A new book, “The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russia Relations in the 21st Century,” seeks to explain why. The author is Angela Stent, who served in the State Department and on the National Intelligence Council under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

    Angela Stent, welcome.

    Years ago, you had an encounter with Vladimir Putin that revealed why these Games are so important to him.

    ANGELA STENT, author, “The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russia Relations in the 21st Century”: We certainly did.

    So I’m part of a group. And we have met with Mr. Putin for the last 10 years. We have had dinner with him, occasionally lunch. And this time was 2007, just after Russia had won the Olympic Games. And we stood overlooking the beautiful Black Sea on this spectacular terrace in his government mansion there. And he explained to us that this was to show that Russia, you know, had come back, that the 1990s and all the humiliation was over, and that this was going to be a world-class Games and this was going to be a very important moment in the sun for Russia.

    MARGARET WARNER: And is that, that passion of his, that desire of his to have Russia recognized that way, is that really at the nub of the theme of this book, why it’s been so hard to forge a productive partnership since the end of the Cold War?

    ANGELA STENT: It certainly has.

    I think that most Russians look back on the 1990s and they see this as a time of humiliation and chaos, where the U.S. was able to — quote, unquote — “dictate to Russia” what it should do. Putin’s claim to fame, his appeal to his population is that he has brought Russia back, that Russia is now again a great power, and also that Russia really offers a different model to the world.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, what do you mean a different model?

    ANGELA STENT: Putin has now claimed a turf for Russia, saying that Russia is sort of the leader of a new conservative international system.

    He blames the United States and the Europeans for having lost their way, that Russia is now the harbinger of traditional family values. And he also appeals to the Islamic world for that, and that in fact Russia is now the harbinger of true Christian values, and that it respects the absolute sovereignty of other countries. It doesn’t go around the world telling other countries how they should live or what kind of political system they should have.

    And he blames the United States and the Europeans for behaving like the Soviet Union and trying to impose their value system and their political system on other countries.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, in the four resets or attempts to reset the relationship between American presidents and Russian presidents that you outline in your book, has the U.S. always been laboring under a basic misconception of where Russia wanted to go?

    ANGELA STENT: I think that is part of the problem. It’s a very big part of it, that in the ’90s we really thought that Russia wanted to become like the West, wanted to adopt our values, our political system. It became increasingly clear that it didn’t.

    And the Russians have always wanted from us an equal partnership of unequals. We haven’t understood that or we haven’t been willing to accept that as a condition of improving the relationship. And that’s been a huge problem for the last 22 years.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, let’s take one example.

    And this is with George W. Bush right after 9/11, in which Putin suddenly saw the chance for this sort of counterterrorism alliance. Why did that go sour?

    ANGELA STENT: I think that went sour because, again, we had very different expectations of the third reset, which I would say was actually Putin’s reset.

    Putin, I thought, I believe thought that the U.S. would recognize Russia as an equal, a strategic partner, that it had special rights in its neighborhood, it served privilege interests, the former Soviet states, and that we would cease to sort of tell Russia or suggest to Russia how it should run its domestic system or criticize it for its lack of democracy and human rights.

    We, I think, had other expectations. And so, by the end, this whole relationship was in tatters because the Russians looked to NATO enlargement to the Baltic states and they looked at the freedom agenda of the Bush administration, which was also directed towards Russia, and so that their expectations were really mismatched then.

    MARGARET WARNER: And let’s look at now the relationship between President Obama and President Putin in his return to office, and take just one example, which was Russia granting asylum to Edward Snowden. Now, how does that fit into what Russia is trying to do?

    Well, was it more than just wanting to stick a thumb in the eye of President Obama?

    ANGELA STENT: Well, I think, for Putin, this was a golden opportunity, when Edward Snowden landed in Hong Kong and needed somewhere to go and went to Moscow and then stayed there, because Putin was able to say, ah, the United States, you’re criticizing us for lack of democracy. You’re criticizing us for the way we treated protesters against me, against Vladimir Putin, and criticizing us for spying on our citizens. What are you doing? You’re doing just what we are doing or even much more than that.

    So, it was a great propaganda opportunity for him.

    MARGARET WARNER: Yet Secretary of State Kerry is working very hard right now to work with Russia on certain specific issues, say, Iran’s nuclear program or the conflict in Syria. What will it take to at least have a productive, selective partnership, if not a full one?

    ANGELA STENT: Well, the partnership works when we work together on these multilateral issues, where we both have a very important stake in their outcome, so, Syria, Iran, the greater Middle East in general, and actually post-2014 Afghanistan.

    And it works because we’re quite realistic there that we have common interests, and we eschew commenting on what is happening domestically in Russia.

    MARGARET WARNER: And again looking ahead to the future, to what degree do you think Vladimir Putin actually represents the aspirations of the Russian people, including all those Russians who came out to demonstrate against him? Is he a throwback, or is this really the Russia of the future that we need to get used to?

    ANGELA STENT: I think Putin represents the aspirations of about half of the Russian population, who support a strong state, a strong leader and who want to see Russia back on the world scene, and not necessarily accepting, embracing Western values or even interests.

    He doesn’t represent the aspirations of the educated urban elites who would like to live in a more modern society with better governance. But even those people, even a lot of the younger urban elites do want to see Russia as a strong international player. They have national pride.

    But I would — I don’t think that this represents the Russia of the future. I think that there will be slow evolution in Russia, that Russia will eventually become a more modern and probably a more democratic society on Russian terms. But it’s going to take a very long time.

    MARGARET WARNER: Angela Stent, thank you

    The post What will it take for U.S. and Russia to have a productive partnership? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: A classical art form meets cutting-edge technology, an opera that will be simulcast, where viewers around the globe can interact with the performance this Sunday.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

    MAN: Wow. They remember their parts.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In the future there will be robots. But there will also be opera, the power of technology joined to the human imagination.

    (SINGING)

    JEFFREY BROWN: That, at least, is one message from the opera “Death and the Power” by composer, computer scientist, and futurist Tod Machover.

    TOD MACHOVER, “Death and the Power”: A lot of my work has been about humanizing technology and making technology, especially in music, be an extension of human gesture.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Machover’s opera tells the story of Simon Powers, a successful businessman seeking immortality through technology by downloading his mind and spirit into a computer program called the System.

    Now, stay with us here, because his essence becomes incorporated into physical objects. Robots line up on stage, representing each of the main characters of the show. During the prologue and epilogue, they also serve as a kind of Greek chorus. They’re all that is left on planet Earth. Once every year, they gather to remember and tell the story of Simon Powers, even though they have no real knowledge of human emotion.

    They are moved about by iPads and remote controls using cutting-edge software such as a position tracking system and 3-D visualization.

    With a libretto by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky, it’s a new twist on old-age life-and-death questions, and newer ones about the role of technology.

    TOD MACHOVER: The great thing about technology is that it allows us to be more human, to extend what we really want to express and what we really want to do, and hopefully to connect to people more deeply.

    Oh my God. That’s unbelievable.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Today, Tod Machover’s professional home is the opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab, where he and his team created the software that launched the popular “Guitar Hero” video game. He and his current team of graduate students play to their hearts’ content, exploring sounds, inventing new instruments.

    During our visit, the team was working on its latest challenge. “Death and the Powers,” which had its premier in 2010 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, is now being presented at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. This time, it includes a simulcast in 10 cities around the world, and, this being the Media Lab, not just any simulcast, but a new kind of experience in itself, with interactive features that allow remote viewers to take in the opera from a variety of viewpoints, including from inside the robots, to impart what it’s like from Simon’s point of view within the system.

    MAN: Actually, it kind of looks like a robot.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Sensors’ control to Powers will translate his voice, breath and physical gestures to the entire set, including a computer- controlled chandelier, as he tries to entice his loved ones to join him in the system.

    Peter Torpey, a postdoctoral associate, was test-driving some of the programs.

    PETER TORPEY, MIT media lab: We are taking that technique of translating the singer’s performance, his off-stage performance, and affecting everything that the remote audiences see, so we can put that in their hands with mobile devices and affect the view that they have of the performance in Dallas.

    JEFFREY BROWN: This is one performance where you are actually asked to turn your smartphone on. An app used by remote audiences will flash images that occupy the mind of the main character and buzz participants during key moments.

    Audiences in Dallas will have other ways to experiment with how music is experienced. Doctoral student Elly Jessop showed us the Sensor Chair that will be installed in the opera house lobby, attempting to measure expressivity.

    ELLY JESSOP, MIT media lab: We have always been interested in not just developing technologies for virtuosos, for opera singers, for professional cellists kind of thing, but saying, once you know, what does it mean to be expressive? How do you track that? How do you capture that? How do we take that and make a form that anybody can experience?

    JEFFREY BROWN: So from 21st century lab to 18th century barn?

    TOD MACHOVER: That’s right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They’re both part of your life?

    TOD MACHOVER: They’re both pretty deeply part of my life, yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Ten years ago, Tod Machover converted an old barn in suburban Boston into a studio where he works on his compositions, the old wood framing the computer screens and loudspeakers.

    He’s currently composing a symphony for Perth, Australia, or perhaps better to say with Perth. This is the third in a series of collaborative city symphonies, in which the public uses online tools to record sounds that are incorporated into a musical portrait of the city.

    He played us a bit of the work in progress, his cello accompanied by computer. He’s also now working on a new collaboration called “Vocal Vibrations” with several scientists and a Buddhist monk. It explores the connection between the human voice, through its vibrations, and one’s mental and physical health.

    TOD MACHOVER: How can music help with depression, with changing mood? How can we help people express themselves, maybe somebody who has physical limitations, like someone with cerebral palsy who can’t speak? Is there a way that I can build and instrument so that people can speak through music?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Questions for the future.

    In the meantime, with a performance coming up, it was the health of what they call the Operabots that was uppermost for Machover and his team. At a rehearsal in a church near the lab, Bob Hsiung, known as Robot Bob, said that the machines, which are tightly choreographed, were showing some of their personality quirks.

    BOB HSIUNG, MIT media lab: There’s a couple that are troublesome that we know of. Like, there’s Q, which tends to jitter, and we don’t really know why. He’s — maybe he’s just nervous.

    JEFFREY BROWN: He will get over it, no doubt, and this opera of the future will go on.

    The post Singing robots show humanity of technology in opera of the future appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Public assistance recipients are required to apply for all other types of benefits for which they may be eligible, including Social Security. If their Social Security benefits exceed a certain amount, that could affect their eligibility for other forms of public assistance. Photo by Flickr user http://www.flickr.com/photos/breadfortheworld/Bread for the World.

    Public assistance recipients are required to apply for all other types of benefits for which they may be eligible, including Social Security. If their Social Security benefits exceed a certain amount, that could affect their eligibility for other forms of public assistance. Photo by Flickr user Bread for the World.

    Larry Kotlikoff’s Social Security original 34 “secrets”, his additional secrets, his Social Security “mistakes” and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we now feature “Ask Larry” every Monday. Find a complete list of his columns here. We are determined to continue it until the queries stop or we run through the particular problems of all 78 million Baby Boomers, whichever comes first. Kotlikoff’s state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its “basic” version.


    Duncan Smith — Eugene, Ore.: I have recently become disabled and am receiving Social Security disability benefits (SSDI). I have an adult daughter with Down Syndrome who receives $721 in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. Now I have been told that since she is my daughter, instead of SSI, she will have to get SSDI payments based on what I receive.

    Although this is a little bit more than her SSI, she will lose her current benefits from Section 8 (housing vouchers) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and actually come out negative, compared to if she just received her SSI amount.

    The Social Security office says she has to take SSDI, and if she does not want that, then she will have nothing, not even SSI anymore. Is this correct? She lives independently in her own apartment and is not supported by me.

    Larry Kotlikoff: I’m turning this answer over to Jerry Lutz, the former Social Security technical expert who reviews each week’s Q+As.

    Jerry Lutz: Duncan’s situation happens quite frequently. Since SSI is not an earned benefit, recipients are required to apply for all other types of benefits for which they may be eligible, including Social Security. So, Duncan’s daughter cannot elect to pass up Social Security benefits and remain eligible for SSI. Each state has their own criteria for determining eligibility for Medicaid, housing assistance, food stamps, etc. I just googled Oregon’s monthly income cutoff for Medicaid eligibility, and it looks like it is $1,273. Assuming that’s accurate, Duncan’s daughter should continue to be eligible for some types of public assistance, as long as her Social Security benefit doesn’t exceed that amount.


    Sandra — Santa Fe, N.M.: If you continue to work after full retirement age (66) while collecting your Social Security benefits, is your AIME recalculated to include earnings each year that you continue to work?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, Sandra. Every year you work can, potentially, raise your Social Security benefits. If, for example, you could keep working to age 100, your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) that’s plugged into Social Security’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) formula to calculate your retirement will be recomputed each year right up through age 100.

    As I described in “How Social Security Pays You to Work Forever,” if your earnings remain above Social Security’s ceiling on taxable earnings, your AIME, and thus your PIA, will rise every year.

    As a result, all the beneficiaries from your work record — your own retirement benefit, the spousal benefits of your current and any ex-wives (if you were married for 10 or more years to them), your children if they are young (under age 16) or disabled (having first been disabled before age 22), as well as your survivors when you die — will receive higher benefits. In addition, the family benefit maximum, which depends on your PIA, will go up.

    So keep earning those big bucks! But, if you are earning small bucks, contributing to Social Security may not mean any higher benefits because even though your AIME is still recomputed, it may not change because your prior 35 years of highest indexed annual earnings remain the same 35 years.

    The best way to sort out what more you’ll get back from Social Security (in terms of higher benefits) as a result of working longer is to run yourself through a careful Social Security software program where you can plug in your projected future covered earnings.


    Question: I am 57 and retired, and my husband just turned 62. I am retiring in April 2014. We both have earned our own maximum Social Security benefits. Should he take his Social Security now? When should I?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If you are desperate for the money, you may have no option. But otherwise, the best strategy will likely be for you both to wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit and have you take just your spousal benefit when you reach full retirement age — age 66-and-one-half in your case.


    Sylvia — Fairfield, Calif.: I am disabled and 55 years old. My husband passed away 11 years ago. He paid into Social Security but had a state job for 20 years.

    I receive my and his disability retirement from our employer. I was told by friends that I cannot receive his Social Security because of my income from our retirements. Is this true? So his Social Security just goes away because he passed away? Social Security told me that I did not pay into enough quarters to receive disability retirement for mine. Are these correct answers to my issues?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If your husband had 40 quarters of coverage in jobs from which Social Security taxes were withheld, you should be able to collect a survivor benefit. They are available as of age 50 for disabled spouses. So I’d go back to Social Security and check on this.

    If you don’t have enough quarters to be eligible for Social Security disability insurance, you probably worked in non-covered employment. If the disability payments you receive are from a government (federal, state or local) employer, your potential Social Security widow’s benefits may be fully offset.


    Theresa — Placerville, Calif.: I will be 63 in four months. My husband will be 60 in two months. His Social Security benefit will be more than twice mine at age 66 ($731 for me, $1,616 for him). What is our best strategy for claiming Social Security benefits?

    Larry Kotlikoff: There are different options to consider, and only a first-rate software program can tell you which is best. One option is for your husband and you both to wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit. Your husband would collect a full spousal benefit between full retirement age and 70.

    Another option is for your husband to file for his retirement benefit before full retirement age, specifically when you reach age 66, thereby permitting you to collect a full spousal benefit and wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit at its highest possible value. Under this second option, your husband could suspend his retirement benefit starting at full retirement age and start it up again at 70 at a 32 higher value than when he stopped it.


    Kathy — Pittsburgh, Penn.: I am 68 years old and still working. I plan to work until 70 and then start collecting my Social Security. Recently my spouse passed away. He was 68 and was collecting his Social Security. I was told that I could collect his Social Security now. I intend to keep working and paying into my own Social Security.

    If I were to collect his Social Security at this time, would it affect the Social Security I am to receive at age 70? I know what I will receive at 70 is more than his benefit at this time. I do not want to start on his if it will affect mine at age 70.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Very sorry about your loss. Yes, start your survivor benefit immediately. It won’t reduce the retirement benefit that you’ll start taking at 70.


    Trina — Des Moines, Iowa: I look after a family member who has been totally disabled since age 49. He is now 68. He received SSI at the start of his disability, and eventually began drawing his regular Social Security.

    This gentleman was previously married more than 15 years. He has never remarried. His ex-wife is now 61. Is he entitled to any spousal benefits even though he is currently taking Social Security based on his own work history? Although he was the higher earner during the marriage, it is possible his ex had higher earnings in the ensuing years, but this is not known.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your family member should be able to collect an excess spousal benefit starting when his ex-wife reaches age 62. The excess spousal benefit may, however, equal zero since it’s computed as the difference between half his ex’s full retirement benefit less his current Social Security retirement benefit. If this difference is negative, it will be set to zero.

    The post How Social Security could affect your eligibility for food stamps or other public assistance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Keith Cerny, general director and CEO of The Dallas Opera, brings together the business and artistic side of a production. He recently sat down with Jeffrey Brown to talk about what “Death and the Powers” means for the future of opera.

    “Death and the Powers” has been called the future of the opera. Composed by Tod Machover and developed at the MIT Media Lab, this science fiction opera fills the stage with robots alongside actors and combines computers with the sounds of the orchestra. But, as a simulcast, it’s also exploring the world of audience interaction through technology.

    Enter Keith Cerny, the general director and CEO of The Dallas Opera. When Cerny saw a performance of “Death and the Powers” for the first time, he knew within the first five minutes that he wanted to bring it to Dallas.

    “It’s really a genre-stretching piece in that it has not only great opera singing and interesting orchestral writing, but also all this technology — the robots, the light displays, the musical chandelier.”

    Dallas will host the opera that will be simulcast to as many as 10 other cities in the U.S. and abroad, on Feb. 16.



    Ben Bloomberg has preparing the “Death and the Powers” opera audio and other systems for its first international 10-city simulcast. He presents a simulation of interactive technology during the simulcast.

    Ben Bloomberg, a second year Masters student at MIT, has been working on audio and other systems for the “Death and the Powers” opera and its first international simulcast. He concedes there is much that could go wrong with such a complex production, but confidently says he doubts it will. But that’s the kind of challenge he embraces: “That’s my favorite part. That’s one reason I love doing live productions because everything happens in the moment and we have to make sure everything works.”



    A post-doctoral associate in the Opera and the Future Group, Peter Torpey been working on “Death and the Powers” since 2007.

    Peter Torpey, a post-doctoral associate in the Opera of the Future Group, has been working on “Death and the Powers” in its various incarnations since 2007. He says the scope of the project is pretty mind-boggling in and of itself: “I couldn’t even begin to count the hours that go into making this. There are so many systems that get designed, the testing of putting everything back together. We’re adding a whole new layer of technology for this simulcast experience.”



    Tod Machover, creator of “Death and the Powers,” explores the interaction of music and technology.

    Tod Machover’s “Vocal Vibrations” combines a multi-layered, surround-sound vocal with interactive, meditative singing to explore new ways that the human voice can influence mental and physical health. The project runs in Paris through the summer and will move to Cambridge, Mass., in the fall. Machover explained how the experience works and why more exploration of music’s effects is needed: “Music may be one of the activities that uses more parts of our brain. You can look at all the textbooks and you won’t find a single good explanation about why music exists in every culture. Some people think that one of the purposes of music was a kind of exercise to get all the parts of our brain active and perhaps to synchronize them and to get them to communicate, so powerful things happen when we listen to music and it’s very little understood.”

    The post Sci-fi opera ‘Death and the Powers’ is doing things differently … with robots appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 02/10/14--17:50: Monday, February 10, 2014
  • The post Monday, February 10, 2014 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Get Covered Illinois and The Onion are hoping to attract the younger generation with a set of humorous online ads

    Get Covered Illinois and The Onion are hoping to attract the younger generation with a set of humorous online ads

    In an attempt to get more “young invincibles” to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the state of Illinois’ health care outreach program, Get Covered Illinois, is teaming up with Chicago-based satirical news website, The Onion. Slogans such as “Recently Insured Man Can’t Wait To Get Out There, Start Seriously Injuring Himself” and “Man Without Health Insurance is Forced to Sell Action Figures to Pay Medical Bills” will be seen in banner ads, a video, an editorial and a custom news section on The Onion website in a humorous campaign targeting uninsured young adults aged 21-34.

    That age group — the same group of people who are The Onion’s core audience — — makes up 53 percent of the uninsured residents in Illinois, according to state data. The demographic is considered critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act. According to experts, roughly two in five Americans signing up for healthcare through the marketplaces should be between the ages of 18 and 34 in order to prevent premiums from rising and insurers from dropping out. As of the January progress report released by the Department of Health and Human Services, only 24% of enrollees are in that age group.

    Get Covered Illinois hopes to boost those numbers by understanding their target audience and taking a creative approach to spreading the message. Jennifer Koehler, executive director of Get Covered Illinois said in a press release, “We know that to effectively reach Young Invincibles … we have to work with non-traditional, and especially digital, sources for news and entertainment. That’s where The Onion fits right into our outreach strategy.” Get Covered Illinois is also making a push to engage young adults through social media — GCI’s Facebook follower count has tripled since December– and to more traditional digital, radio and TV outlets through advertisements that will lead up to the March 31 federal health care sign-up deadline approaches.

    The post State of Illinois and The Onion team up to sell health insurance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The popular mobile app “Flappy Bird” has been downloaded more than 50 million times. Photo by Flickr user Desiree Catani

    The popular mobile app “Flappy Bird” has been downloaded more than 50 million times. Photo by Flickr user Desiree Catani

    Not many people choose to walk away from a fortune. But that’s exactly what Dong Nguyen, 29, did as the creator of the notoriously difficult but immensely popular smartphone game “Flappy Bird.”

    “Flappy Bird,” which appears as a throwback to 1980s arcade games, compels you to navigate a tiny, yellow bird with obtrusive orange lips through a series of green pipes. A single finger tap keeps the bird in the air but unless timed perfectly, the bird will not fly between the pipes but crash into them and restart the game.

    The game was downloaded more than 50 million times and was reportedly bringing in more than $50,000 per day from in-app ads. It was the most downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store in January but on February 8, at the peak of “Flappy Bird’s” popularity, Nguyen posted these cryptic apologies on Twitter:

    The difficulty of the game earned Nguyen several dramatic reviews calling him an “evil genius” and “satan himself.” But was the attention really so bad that it would prompt a removal of the game?

    In the days following Nguyen’s informal announcement, media speculated over what triggered such an abrupt upheaval. In an interview with Forbes in his native Vietnam, Nguyen explained he wanted to preserve the game’s simplicity.

    “Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed, said Nguyen. “But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has been a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.”

    True to his word, Nguyen deleted the app from mobile app stores a day after his announcement.

    “Flappy Bird is a success of mine,” he conceded in tweet. “But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.”

    Unable to understand this departure, numerous reports of his suicide appeared online. Such claims were invalidated after the Forbes interview appeared, describing him more relaxed after a few days free from the Internet.

    Not to be outdone, numerous “Flappy Bird” copycats such as “Flappy Bee” and “Flying Flappy Unicorn Bird” popped up around the web. On eBay, an auction for an iPhone with “Flappy Bird” downloaded reached $99,900 before administrators removed it.

    Nguyen is not planning on selling “Flappy Bird” and is not planning on taking legal action against its lookalikes. Instead, he has hinted at a sequel and for those still not sated, Nguyen’s four other games are still online.

    The post Creator of popular ‘Flappy Bird’ discontinues game appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo By Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

    A college student studies at Regis University library. Photo By Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

    According to a Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday, college graduates today are in a much better economic position compared to their peers with only a high school degree.

    Adults of the so-called millennial generation, who are currently between the ages of 25 and 32, are much more likely to have a higher income and job satisfaction if they have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median income for a millennial college graduate, the survey says, is typically around $45,500, compared to $28,000 for a high school graduate. Also, more than half of college graduates say they are “very satisfied” with their jobs, compared to 37 percent of those with a high school degree or less.

    Millennials with only a high school degree are also more likely to be unemployed or living in poverty. The survey showed that the unemployment rate for high school graduates is 12.8 percent, more than three times the rate among college graduates. Furthermore, 21.8 percent of high school graduates live in poverty, which is nearly four times the amount of college graduates in poverty.

    The Pew survey showed that this gap between college and high school educated adults has only widened over time. In 1979, the rate of high school graduates in poverty was only double that of college graduates. The annual income disparity between high school and college graduates has also nearly doubled over the past 30 years.

    While the economic gap between high school and college graduates has widened, young adults today are generally worse off than in past generations. Wages have stayed relatively the same when adjusted for inflation, despite the dramatically higher levels of education among today’s young adults. ”The Millennial generation should be earning more than earlier generations of young adults,” wrote the authors of the report. “But they’re not.” Furthermore, the overall percentage of young adults in poverty has doubled over the past 30 years, regardless of education level.

    Although young adults today face a more bleak economic outlook than generations past, many still believe a college education is worth the price in today’s economy. Despite the rising cost of college, 88 percent of millennials with a bachelor’s degree or higher say that their education has paid off.

    The post Despite cost, survey claims college education pays off appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    On Monday the Obama administration announced another delay in rolling out the Affordable Care Act, weakening the requirement to offer coverage next year for large employers and postponing it for smaller ones. Here’s what it means.

    The Obama administration pressed the pause button on part of the health law again. Kaiser Health News reporters explain what it means for employers, employees -- and politicians. Getty Images

    The Obama administration pressed the pause button on part of the health law again. Kaiser Health News reporters explain what it means for employers, employees — and politicians. Getty Images

    There have been other delays in health-law implementation. What’s different about this one?

    This is the second big change to rules for employers. The ACA requirement for employers with at least 50 workers to offer minimum coverage — or pay a fine — was supposed to take effect in January. But after getting complaints from business ,the administration said last summer it would wait until 2015 to penalize employers that didn’t offer coverage.

    Now the administration has moved the deadlines again. Companies with 50 to 99 employees won’t have to offer minimum coverage until 2016. And companies with at least 100 employees are required to offer minimum coverage to only 70 percent of their workers in 2015, down from a previous target of 95 percent.

    Will this affect me?

    If you work fulltime for a large company, probably not. Most employers with at least 100 workers already offer a medical plan because it helps them hire and retain talent, not because of a government rule.

    “For the majority of large employers … neither the employees nor the employer are going to see that much of a difference,” says Steve Wojcik, vice president for public policy at the National Business Group on Health, a big-business coalition.

    Employers with staffs under 50 have always been exempt from the coverage requirement. (Still, many do offer health insurance.) They are likely to be untouched, although growing businesses that had been reluctant to go over the 50-worker threshold may feel freer to hire.

    Companies most affected are those in the 50-to-99 employee slot and large retailers and restaurant chains, many of which don’t offer coverage to many employees now.

    “I imagine we’ll have some employers in that space who were not offering coverage before and were gearing up to offer it in 2015,” said Edward Fensholt, director of compliance services for Lockton Benefit Group. “They’ll probably be delighted with the delay.”

    I work a flexible schedule for a big retailer. Does this delay my access to company health coverage?

    It might. But it also might delay a cut in your hours. Once the ACA is fully implemented, large companies must offer coverage to anybody who puts in at least 30 hours a week. Analysts expect big-box chains, restaurants and hotels to offer insurance to some workers who currently lack it but also to limit hours for others to avoid coverage requirements.

    Shrinking the big-employer target in 2015 from insuring nearly all workers to 70 percent gives more time for those adjustments to take place, analysts say.

    There are elections in November. Isn’t this mainly about Democratic damage control?

    That’s what Republicans say. Besides seeing the delay as new evidence that the law is fatally flawed, they depict it as political camouflage for vulnerable Democrats, as a way to avoid potential October stories blaming job-market disruption on the health law.

    House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said Democrats don’t believe they “can survive politically if Obamacare is allowed to fully go into effect. This is just one more admission that the law is bad for hardworking taxpayers and American employers.”

    Democrats say the extension is about giving employers more leeway to comply with a very complex law.

    Do I have to still buy coverage if my employer doesn’t offer it?

    In most cases, yes. Unless you get an exemption, you must enroll by March 31 or pay a penalty.

    People whose companies don’t offer coverage can purchase insurance in online state and federal marketplaces. If they earn less than $46,960 for an individual or $78,120 for a family of three, they could qualify for a subsidy.

    Why do employers get a reprieve from ACA requirements but not individuals?

    It’s a question many are asking. Some believe the administration will yield to pressure to delay the mandate for individuals, especially since so many of the online marketplaces proved difficult to navigate.

    “How are you going to penalize people who didn’t make it through the system?” wonders Joseph Antos, a health care economist at the American Enterprise Institute.

    Insurance companies, which need as much participation as possible to make individual coverage financially sustainable, would sharply oppose such a move. Unfortunately for Democrats, that nuance might be lost on voters.

    “It’s hard to explain to the electorate that [postponing the individual mandate] would subvert the risk pool,” said Dan Mendelson, head of consultant Avalere Health.

    Will this pacify critics?

    No. True, the National Retail Federation’s Neil Trautwein said the administration should get “a gold medal” for “its agility and flexibility” in working with employers.

    But the change doesn’t affect that many companies. And it delivers a new talking point to opponents who say the law is unworkable.

    “Employers know they have the administration on the run,” said Robert Laszewski, an insurance consultant and former industry executive. “Putting this off one more year isn’t going to mollify them. They are more mad now because they are more convinced they are right.”

    Jay Hancock, Julie Appleby and Mary Agnes Carey wrote this report.

    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

    The post Questions and answers on the latest ACA delay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The new chair of the Federal Reserve Bank signaled today she’s largely keeping the policies of the man she replaced. Janet Yellen made her first public comments since taking over last week from Ben Bernanke. She told a congressional hearing that the Fed will keep interest rates low and gradually reduce stimulus efforts as long as the economy improves. And she played down the January drop-off in job creation.

    JANET YELLEN, Federal Reserve: We have to be very careful not to jump to conclusions in interpreting what those reports mean. There were weather factors. We have had unseasonably cold temperatures that may be affecting economic activity in the job market and elsewhere.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yellen’s testimony went over well on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 193 points to close well over 15,994. The Nasdaq rose almost 43 points to close at 4,191.

    Some of the nation’s leading tech firms joined an international protest today against U.S. government surveillance. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others sent a letter to President Obama and Congress. They urged an end to collecting bulk data from Internet communications, and they call for greater oversight of surveillance programs.

    The House of Representatives voted this evening to raise the national debt ceiling again with no strings attached. Nearly all of the chamber’s 200 Democrats supported it, while most Republicans were opposed. That came after Republican leaders gave up on a different strategy.

    NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio.: Speaker of the House: Let his party give him the debt ceiling increase that he wants.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker John Boehner gave way this morning to President Obama’s demand to raise the debt limit through March of 2015, minus any conditions sought by Republicans.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Our members are not crazy about voting to increase the debt ceiling. Our members are also very upset with the president. He won’t negotiate. He won’t deal with our long-term spending problems without us raising taxes.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Boehner and his fellow leaders had hoped to add a provision reversing a cut in military pensions, but the Republican rank and file reportedly balked.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER: We will let the Democrats put the votes up. We will put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed.

    KWAME HOLMAN: As for the military pension issue, it will have to be dealt with in separate legislation.

    In the Democratic-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid applauded the Republican decision today.

    SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Majority Leader: I hope this commonsense approach will continue throughout the year, so we can actually get some things done. Boehner has said that he’s going to pass a clean vote on not defaulting on the debt. If they do that, I’m confident we will move over here as quickly as we can.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Later, there was word the Senate might vote to raise the debt ceiling tomorrow. That would be well in advance of the February 27 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for Congress to act, or risk having the federal government default.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What forecasters call a potentially catastrophic winter storm was sweeping snow and ice into the Deep South today. President Obama declared a state of emergency for Georgia. There, the storm threatened to drop a crippling layer of ice, knocking out power for days. Supermarket shelves emptied in Atlanta, although the city got mostly rain at first. Airports from Dallas to Charlotte canceled almost 900 flights.

    The U.S. may wait for the next president of Afghanistan to sign an agreement leaving some U.S. troops there past 2014. So far, President Hamid Karzai has refused. And today’s Wall Street Journal reports U.S. officials doubt he will ever change his mind.

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed as much today, telling a Senate hearing, “I don’t believe that President Karzai is going to sign it.”

    The Syrian peace talks made little apparent headway today in Geneva. In Washington, President Obama said the two sides are far from stopping the violence and reaching a political transition.

    Still, after meeting with French President Francois Hollande, Mr. Obama said, for now, at least, he doesn’t see a military solution.

    BARACK OBAMA, president: We are continuing to explore ever possible avenue to solve this problem, because it’s not just heartbreaking to see what’s happening to the Syrian people. It’s very dangerous for the region as a whole, including friends and allies and partners like Lebanon or Jordan that are being adversely impacted by it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On a separate issue, the Syrian ambassador to Russia said the worst of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile will be removed by March 1. The Assad regime already missed two deadlines.

    China and Taiwan held historic talks today and hailed a new chapter in their relations. Envoys for the two sides met in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing. It was their highest-level session since the mainland came under communist rule in 1949. Beijing still regards Taiwan as a renegade province, but tensions have eased as trade between the two has grown.

    In the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it was a big day at snowboard and ski jump venues. A spoiler alert: Tune out for a moment if you don’t want to know who won just yet. In the men’s halfpipe, American Shaun White lost his bid for a third gold, and failed to medal. A Swiss snowboarder won. And Germany’s Carina Vogt won the Olympics’ first-ever women’s ski jumping competition.

    Shirley Temple Black, the darling of Depression-era Hollywood, died overnight at her home near San Francisco. As Shirley Temple, she started dancing at the age of 2 and acting when she was only 3. From 1935 to ’38, she was America’s top box office draw, and even had an alcohol-free drink named after her. Her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” came from the film “Bright Eyes.”

    (SINGING)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The actress retired from the screen at the age of 21 and, in later life, went on to Republican politics and a diplomatic career, serving as ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Shirley Temple Black was 85 years old.

    The post News Wrap: House votes to raise debt ceiling without conditions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A solar engineer trainer at Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India demonstrates how to build a solar light. The U.S. criticized India for protecting its domestic solar industry at the expense of U.S. manufacturers. Photo by UN Women Gallery.

    A solar engineer trainer at Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India demonstrates how to build a solar light. The U.S. criticized India for protecting its domestic solar industry at the expense of U.S. manufacturers. Photo by UN Women Gallery.

    The Obama administration criticized India’s solar energy policies Tuesday for discriminating against U.S. exporters and creating challenges for investing in India’s solar infrastructure. The announcement came after Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization Monday claiming the solar program doesn’t follow WTO rules.

    “These unfair requirements are against WTO rules, and we are standing up today for the rights of American workers and businesses,” Froman said.

    India’s massive solar program, called the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission or National Solar Mission (NSM), calls for Asia’s third largest economy to pump out 20 times as much solar power by 2020. While this is a potential lucrative policy for manufactures to cash in on India’s growing green energy industry, it also requires material for solar panels to be locally made in India. If completed, the solar program would increase solar energy in India from less than one percent of India’s power capacity to five percent in 2022.

    Before the solar program started, U.S. exports totaled $119 million. But as local manufacturing requirements were introduced in 2011, U.S. exports decreased, causing concern among the U.S. energy industry.

    “We are almost three years in the making of the U.S. trying to get India to move back from this local content requirement,” said John Smirnow, vice president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

    India’s laws risk U.S. companies from realizing $200 million to $300 million in sales as the program ramps up into its second and third stages, Smirnow said.

    U.S. and India relations have been strained in recent years. Indian politicians across the political spectrum in New Delhi expressed their outrage last December when Indian diplomat in New York was strip-searched after police arrested her on charges she illegally submitting fraudulent documents to get a visa for her housekeeper and paid her housekeeper far less than the legal minimum wage.

    The dispute also comes at a time when the Obama administration hopes to back its pledge for a bipartisan trade promotion authority to boost American manufacturing through exports, as stated in the president’s State of the Union address last month.

    In the WTO, the U.S. has created six cases against India since 1996. India is also America’s second-largest export market for solar products after Japan.

    The post White House criticizes India’s solar industry regulations amid WTO dispute appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    drone

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In an unusually public exposure of an internal government debate, Obama administration officials confirmed they are deciding whether to target an American citizen living in Pakistan who is believed to be plotting terrorist attacks.

    The disclosure comes as the administration considers the extent of the president’s powers amid new revelations about the technology behind unmanned drones, so often used to go after terrorists abroad.

    For more, we turn to Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times, who wrote today’s story about the American citizen abroad. He’s also the author of “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth.”

    Mark Mazzetti, welcome back to the program.

    MARK MAZZETTI, The New York Times: Thanks for having me on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, who is the person they’re targeting and where is he or she?

    MARK MAZZETTI: Actually, we don’t really know the answer to both questions. We don’t know the identity yet of the person that is under discussion.

    And as we reported today, the person is in Pakistan, and the assumption is that he is in the western part of Pakistan in the mountains, which is traditionally sort of out of bounds for the Pakistani soldiers and for Pakistani policemen. And so that’s why the military — the Obama administration is debating whether to kill him vs. try to have the Pakistanis capture him.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what has he done to make him a potential target?

    MARK MAZZETTI: Again, it’s still — that’s a good question. There’s been some information in the last 24 hours that he was involved in attacks across the border in Afghanistan using IEDs. And that would sort of put him in the category of someone who potentially could be targeted, because, as Obama explained in May, they — the United States will target only people involved in ongoing attacks against Americans.

    So, for someone to actually be considered targeted, to be targeted under the new rules, they would have to have some kind of a connection to attacks against Americans. And we believe it would be attacks against troops in Afghanistan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what exactly is the debate that is going on? What’s the argument inside the administration on each side of this?

    MARK MAZZETTI: Well, I mean, the real — the biggest part of the debate is the fact that this person is an American citizen.

    And there’s this — it’s very rare and an extraordinary circumstance for a president to order the killing of an American citizen overseas. And the — four Americans have been killed during the Obama administration. And as the administration admitted last year, only one, they had deliberately tried to target.

    So if they are going to make the deliberate decision to kill an American citizen, they have to get a sign-off from the Justice Department, and they have to really be quite confident that this is the right decision to sort of deny this person the due process. And so that’s the center of the debate.

    But there’s other elements as well. Since President Obama announced these new rules and restrictions in May, he announced a preference to have the military vs. the CIA carry out drone strikes. The rub here is that, in Pakistan, it’s an entirely CIA operation. The Pakistani military — the Pakistani government will not allow the military to take over the mission because they want to still have the sort of veneer of secrecy that the CIA provides.

    So there’s a few different elements here that make this sort of a policy conundrum for the administration.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this something — isn’t it unusual to have this debate out in the open like this?

    MARK MAZZETTI: Yes, sure.

    And it’s been apparently going on for months, but it only kind of — we got a glimpse of it last week when Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, really lit into the new rules that President Obama laid out in May, when he basically said that the rules are so restrictive, it’s making America less safe, and that people who were once able to be targeted cannot be targeted under the new rules.

    So, then it sort of — a week later, a little less than a week later, it emerged sort of what Rogers was really talking about was in part the debate over this one individual.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if it’s been going on for months, doesn’t it risk alerting the enemy that they’re going to be targeted?

    MARK MAZZETTI: Well, I think fact that it’s been going on for months probably indicates that there’s really a split over whether this would be worth it and whether this person is even someone important enough and dangerous enough to be targeted.

    There was very little debate inside the Obama administration about Anwar al-Awlaki, the first American citizen to be killed during the Obama administration. There appears to be far greater debate about this individual.

    I think that it also should be pointed out that it’s still very difficult to know — here we are almost a year later since the new rules were put in place — how the rules are being put into place, what the ground rules are, whether the rules are being followed.

    There’s still so much secrecy involved in these programs. There has not been a great deal of transparency since President Obama announced these new rules in May. And so it’s hard to really judge as an outsider what is different now than it was before May of last year.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, do you get the sense that the administration is close to making a decision on this, or that this could go on for some time?

    MARK MAZZETTI: It’s hard to know.

    I mean, certainly, I’m sure they were not happy to have this aired out in public, that the internal workings of the debate are now reported in the press. And so it’s hard — certainly, this could go on for some time. Their argument was that this person might be — go to ground.

    But, as we have pointed out, that — President Obama has made no secret of the fact that he will target remnants of al-Qaida or al-Qaida affiliates in Pakistan. So it wouldn’t necessarily be a huge surprise to this individual that the United States might be going after him.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One other quick thing, Mark Mazzetti. There’s also separately a report that the administration is looking at whether the president has the authority to expand targeting to al-Qaida-affiliated groups to so-called ISIS, the Iraq — al-Qaida in Iraq and Syria, now that al-Qaida central has split off from that group.

    It’s a little bit complicated, but tell us in a nutshell what that’s about and where it’s headed.

    MARK MAZZETTI: Well, it’s an interesting debate, because basically it goes back to the authorities that were instituted right after 9/11, when Congress gave the president broad authority to go — to basically go get the people responsible for 9/11.

    Well, here we are so many years later, and those responsible for 9/11 have largely either been captured or killed, and al-Qaida as it existed on September 11, 2001, is very different and has all these different splinter groups. And so the question that now is presented is, is a group, this group ISIS that now, at least formally, is no longer aligned with al-Qaida, you know, does the president have the authority to go after them?

    As the one story today acknowledged, it’s a little bit of an academic debate, because we don’t think there’s a huge momentum in the Obama administration to start doing lethal strikes in Syria or Iraq to take on this group. But it does really get to the issue of, you know, what are the authorities going to be going forward now that we’re out of the post-9/11 age and in this era where the threat is far different than it was so many years ago?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Following it all, Mark Mazzetti with The New York Times. Thank you.

    MARK MAZZETTI: Thank you.

    The post Obama administration faces conundrum in weighing drone attack against U.S. terror suspect appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: American cities often wrestle with redeveloping blighted areas, since longtime residents are often displaced in the process.

    There’s a seamy neighborhood in San Francisco called the Tenderloin that’s resisting change right now, despite a high-tech boom that could upgrade the area.

    Our special correspondent Spencer Michels has our story, co-produced with public station KQED San Francisco.

    SPENCER MICHELS: No one is sure where the Tenderloin got its name, but it has been the soft underbelly of San Francisco for decades: drug dealing and drunks, prostitution, the homeless and mentally ill, troubled veterans, and impoverished new immigrants; 28,000 people live in the 40-square-block area in single-room occupancy hotels and dingy apartments.

    The neighborhood is adjacent to the city’s affluent booming downtown, with its expensive hotels, upscale shops and well-attended theaters.

    Judy Young, executive director of the Vietnamese Youth Development Center, moved into the Tenderloin from an Asian refugee camp in 1981.

    JUDY YOUNG, Vietnamese Youth Development Center: I was 8 years old and we lived in this crappy one bedroom, I think it was haunted, apartment. And there was like six of us to a one-bedroom. And the neighborhood was the worst you could ever find.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Four thousand children still live in the neighborhood, and more than 30 years later, the downtrodden still line up for free meals at St. Anthony’s Dining Hall in the heart of the Tenderloin.

    JUDY YOUNG: Families do live here because it is one of the most affordable places in the city. And people don’t realize how high the housing is in San Francisco. And so, if you can find a studio or one-bedroom here now for $1,200, that’s pretty affordable, compared to other places.

    SPENCER MICHELS: But now a new wave of tech enterprises are moving into the city and nearby Silicon Valley, bringing with them well-paid workers who can afford to live in newer and more upscale digs and patronize pricey bars and restaurants.

    Twitter, with 2,000 employees, recently opened its new headquarters just across the street from the Tenderloin. And that’s brought in a few new businesses and put pressure on the city to clean up the area.

    I have spent most of my life in and around San Francisco, and I have seen lots of changes, but, somehow, the Tenderloin seems to have avoided that change. It’s still not a pleasant place, but it’s home for the poor. Many other cities have had places like the Tenderloin, but they have redeveloped them. Somehow, the Tenderloin has resisted that.

    One reason San Francisco has not redeveloped the Tenderloin is the city’s experience in the largely African-American neighborhood called the Fillmore or Western Addition. In the 1960s, the city declared the area blighted and essentially bulldozed it into oblivion, forcing thousands of blacks to move out of the city. Critics called it black removal.

    San Francisco magazine editor Gary Kamiya says that it was a huge mistake.

    GARY KAMIYA, San Francisco magazine: The destruction of the Western Addition in the name of urban renewal, probably the greatest sin in the history of San Francisco.

    SPENCER MICHELS: With that in mind, the city’s supervisors passed zoning laws and rent control designed to make it nearly impossible to displace the Tenderloin’s population by upgrading the housing stock, turning residential hotels into more lucrative tourist lodgings, and pricing out the poor, even in the midst of the nearby tech revolution.

    Randy Shaw is longtime director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a nonprofit in the neighborhood. He says those laws help preserve a place where people could afford to live, the working poor included.

    RANDY SHAW, Tenderloin Housing Clinic: The Tenderloin has been for the last really almost 100 years a working-class neighborhood, and now it’s become San Francisco’s last working-class neighborhood, and the last it will ever have, because it’s the one neighborhood in San Francisco that cannot be gentrified, for a number of reasons, land use protections, zoning protections, rent controls, and a unique housing stock which has no single-family homes.

    SPENCER MICHELS: But Kamiya thinks something has to change in the Tenderloin. In his recent book, “Cool Gray City of Love,” he claims that nonprofits like Shaw’s and other progressive forces have impeded progress and created a museum of depravity in the Tenderloin.

    GARY KAMIYA: San Francisco is very left-leaning. The nonprofits have a very strong political base in the city. To simply take an undesirable population and go warehouse them somewhere is, you know, extremely problematic. So there’s kind of a — there’s an understandable reason to not want to make a dramatic change in the Tenderloin.

    SPENCER MICHELS: In the middle of our interview, we were interrupted by one resident, a man who calls himself Dirty Ray.

    Why do you live in the Tenderloin?

    MAN: Why do I live in the Tenderloin?

    SPENCER MICHELS: Yes.

    MAN: Because we’re flushed into the areas. This is where we have to survive the best that we can.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Kamiya understands that point of view, but he blames the nonprofits that own or operate much of the Tenderloin housing. He says they have an interest in keeping things as they are.

    GARY KAMIYA: What the nonprofits want to do is maintain their stake here. This is where they have their structures. They own or lease dozens of buildings, and thousands of people are housed and supported here. They’re being part of the solution.

    But, ironically, they’re also part of the problem. The city is very loathe to step in and say, let’s sweep this all away, let’s move it somewhere else.

    SPENCER MICHELS: But Shaw denies the charges and says he has worked hard to get rid of crime in the area.

    What about the nonprofits?  Do they have a stake and they want to keep things the way they are?

    RANDY SHAW: No, that’s absolutely false. I mean, nobody has spent more time than me trying to reduce crime in the Tenderloin.

    The problem has been that the police allow activities to go on in the Tenderloin they don’t allow in other neighborhoods.

    POLICE OFFICER: You have got to get off the sidewalk, guys. Come on.

    SPENCER MICHELS: For their part, the police say they devote plenty of resources to the Tenderloin, with frequent street patrols and a special unit housed here.

    But, according to Captain Jason Cherniss, the basic problems here are not law enforcement issues.

    CAPT. JASON CHERNISS, San Francisco Police Department: Public safety doesn’t belong to the police. Public safety belongs to cooperation between the police and the community. If the environment is comfortable for drug dealers and drug trafficking, removing that drug dealer is only going to take that one drug dealer off the street, but the environment still stands.

    SPENCER MICHELS: As for why the cops don’t make more arrests?

    CAPT. JASON CHERNISS: Well, if you’re not used to seeing people who are mentally ill, who don’t smell good, who are incontinent, who talk to themselves, those are things that could scare you, yes. But we don’t criminalize homelessness in San Francisco.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Meanwhile, San Francisco is changing rapidly. Other older, modest neighborhoods have been gentrifying, with the poor residents moving out as prices rise.

    So far, that hasn’t happened to the Tenderloin, which raises a thorny question that compassionate, but upscale San Francisco must answer: How do you clean up a drug-infested, crime-ridden area without displacing the unfortunate population that lives there?

    The post San Francisco’s last working-class neighborhood gets left behind in boom times appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, just how vulnerable is the United States’ electrical power grid? It’s a question getting new attention, after The Wall Street Journal published a detailed account of an organized sniper attack on an electrical substation near San Jose, California, last April.

    Shortly before 1:00 a.m., someone cut telephone cables near the substation. About a half-hour later, multiple gunmen quickly fired dozens of shots at 17 transformers inside the perimeter of the station. Fifteen minutes later, transformers began to fail.

    But officials managed to avoid serious disruptions by rerouting power. The shooters escaped before police arrived, and they have not been caught. The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time of the attack, Jon Wellinghoff, has described it as the most serious domestic terror attack on the grid.

    Yesterday, I recorded a two-part conversation about this incident, starting with Wellinghoff.

    Jon Wellinghoff, thank you for being here.

    How much of a concern is this to you, what happened last April?

    JON WELLINGHOFF, Former Chairman, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: Well, thank you Judy. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.

    It’s a great concern to me, because this does evidence that there are individuals out there who have the capability to plan and carry out a very sophisticated attack on our nation’s grid. And so, given that knowledge and given the fact that we have some very vulnerable aspects to that grid, we need to step up our efforts to protect it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What — what made this particular station vulnerable?

    JON WELLINGHOFF: Well, it’s not any different really than multiple other stages.

    It’s a high-voltage transformer station that transforms power from generating stations out to the transmission lines. It is really very much like numbers of others, 100 or so other very high-voltage ones around the country that has very little protection.

    It’s only protected by a chain-link fence and in some instances some video cameras and lights internal to the station. Other than that, it’s very open to attack, and this was attacked from the outside. They didn’t even get through the chain-link fence. They actually shot through the fence from 40 to 60 yards outside of the facility.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why did you call it a terrorist attack?

    JON WELLINGHOFF: Well, I don’t think there’s any need to have any particular label on it.

    What the facts are, though, is the issue of, in fact, you had individuals who purposely attacked a station, and did so with a very, very detailed plan that they then turned over to individuals who were extremely well-trained and knew exactly what they were doing.

    So, regardless of who the individuals were, we know now that there are people with these kinds of capabilities who can carry out this type of an attack on what is a very vulnerable part of our grid.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say they were well-trained, I mean, what does that — what does that tell you about what this attack represents? Does that mean they had to study this station, they had to study the grid? What does it mean?

    JON WELLINGHOFF: They definitely had to study the station.

    They, in fact, it appears, set up targeting positions prior to them arriving at the station, so they had somebody come out ahead of time and determine exactly where to set up and shoot. They also had to determine where the 911 cable was, the fiberoptic cable that they cut prior to going in the station to reduce the number of 911 calls.

    So they had a number of specific pieces of information they pieced together. They also knew exactly where to target on the station. They, in fact, targeted the cooling fins on these high-voltage transformers, rather than hitting the transformers or their glass bushings. So they knew that in targeting those cooling fins, they could start the oil to leak out of the fins, cause those transformers to have to shut off, but still have plenty of time to get away, as they did.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet, it’s been pointed out, as we said, that power wasn’t lost to people, to folks who use power in the area. Does that say something about the resiliency of the power grid?

    JON WELLINGHOFF: Well, I’m not sure it’s so much resiliency or as luck or as to the time that this attack took place.

    It took place during a very low-level load time, where there wasn’t a lot of power being used. It was in the spring and it was at night. So those are the times when the least amount of power is being used and the least stress on the system.

    If the attack had taken place, for example, in the middle of summer in a very high-power usage time, there might have been a different result, number one. Number two, they actually missed three transformers here in the substation. Those three transformers were able to keep up the entire Silicon Valley area. Without those transformers, there would have been a black out, ultimately, and, again, there could have been blackouts if it had been during the summer.

    So I’m not sure that it’s a testament to resilience as it was a testament to just luck and circumstances.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how much — how worried should all of us be about the vulnerability of this nation’s electrical grid, power grid?

    JON WELLINGHOFF: I think we should be extremely worried, because, in fact, there are a limited number of high-voltage transformer substation nodes within the country.

    And a coordinated attack, physical attack on those nodes could do us a great deal of damage, including causing massive blackouts across the country. And those nodes are currently not being protected in any way, other than, as I say, primarily a chain-link fence. There’s no guards 24/7.

    There’s no obscuring of the targets with inside, and there’s also very little protection around those targets.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But some steps have been taken to harden these other substations, haven’t there been, since this happened?

    JON WELLINGHOFF: There may have been some steps taken, but they have not been extensive yet.

    I have briefed a number of utility executives. I know they’re taking this very seriously. We can’t put any blame on those executives. I think they are taking this as seriously as they can. But we have to understand, this is not a problem for individual utilities. This is a national problem, because, in fact, there are national consequences to these blackouts. And so it has to be something that should be undertaken by Congress and the administration.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what needs to be done? Can this kind of an attack be — actually be prevented in the future?

    JON WELLINGHOFF: It can be — the risk can be reduced substantially. You can never prevent someone from trying to attempt an attack.

    But, certainly, you can do simple things like make the fences around these stations opaque, so you can’t see through them. Beef up the camera security, the lighting security. And you can do things like put physical concrete barriers in front of the transformers, like they do in areas overseas where they have critical infrastructure facilities.

    There’s a number of things that can be done. And I know that things are moving forward, but, ultimately, I think we need an agency and an administration to be given the authority, like the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has authority over security at power plants, nuclear power plants. We need to have a similar type authority over these grid stations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly managed to get all of our attention.

    We thank you, Jon Wellinghoff.

    JON WELLINGHOFF: Thank you, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For a second view on these questions, we turn to Mark Weatherford, a former deputy undersecretary for cyber-security at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration. He’s also served as the chief of security for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which was formed by the power industry to guarantee the reliability of bulk power. He’s now with the Chertoff consulting group.

    And we welcome you to the program.

    You just heard Mr. Wellinghoff say that he’s very concerned about this. How concerned are you?

    MARK WEATHERFORD, Former Deputy Undersecretary, Department of Homeland Security: Oh, I’m concerned as well.

    I think the — probably the biggest issue here is that we have focused an awful lot the past couple years on cyber-security within the electricity industry. And this incident is an example of maybe we were focusing too much on the wrong thing, when a simple physical attack like this was able to do this kind of damage.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We talked about it. At one point, he had called this a domestic terrorist attack, the worst of its kind on the power grid. Do you consider it the same thing?

    MARK WEATHERFORD:  Well, certainly, the chairman had been — had access to and briefed in much more detail than I have. And I am not in the law enforcement game, so I really — I wouldn’t presume to call it a terrorist event. I just don’t have enough information to do that.

    It’s certainly something concerning. It is something that was focused. I think it was targeted. It was well-planned-out. So it wasn’t just a couple of guys deciding to go off and shoot a couple rounds at a substation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Which you were telling us sometimes happens around the country. But this was on a much larger scale.

    So what does it say to you about how worried all of us should be about the power grid?

    MARK WEATHERFORD:  Well, I don’t know that I would say worried.

    One of the things that the chairman mentioned was that we can never mitigate our risk down to zero. I mean, we’re not going to live in a risk-free environment. But what we can do is, we can apply some mitigation steps to some of these substations and to some of the other facilities around the country.

    The power companies, the utility industry is actually devoting a lot of resources to this already, as the chairman said, to hardening the substations, to putting up barriers. And there’s a lot of new technologies out there that are providing new capabilities for linking the people and the technology components of these remote substations.

    And that’s — you can imagine, that’s a challenge. There’s about 45,000 of these substations around the country, obviously, some in more critical areas than others, many in rather rural areas, and some in very urban areas.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know — he didn’t say this on camera, but I know my colleagues, in talking to him earlier today, he pointed out there may be thousands of substations around the country, but he said there are a much smaller number that are vulnerable in the way that this station was in California.

    MARK WEATHERFORD:  Well, I wouldn’t say that they’re not more vulnerable, but they’re more critical to the bulk power system, and — because of the location where they are.

    This Metcalf substation obviously was in a very sensitive and critical location. But I think, as you pointed out in the interview, it speaks to the reliability of the bulk power system that the operators and the system was able to continue without really even the lights blinking. No one even knew that the event had happened.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But didn’t he say that was mainly because it was spring, there wasn’t a high demand for power at that time of year?

    MARK WEATHERFORD:  So, I think those are factors.

    But I don’t necessarily agree with him on the entire concept there, because the bulk power system is designed to be able to absorb these kinds of the incidents and events. Substations go offline, I won’t say all the time, but it happens. And it happens during nature events. It happens during other kinds of events. They go offline, and, typically, the system heals itself without people even knowing about it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about his final point that this is something that the federal government needs to get involved in, that Congress needs to pay attention to, national regulatory attention? He talked about some of the things that need to be done to harden these sites.

    But, essentially, his point was that the country, the government needs to focus on this much more than it has been.

    MARK WEATHERFORD:  There are a few things I think that the government should do.

    I always get a little anxious when we start thinking about more regulation. This is an industry that’s already very regulated. But there are a few things that can be done. You know, there’s — certainly, better information-sharing between the government and the private sector is always going to be something I think that the government can do more of.

    One of the things I think that would help a lot, and that is if the government could work with the state public utilities commissions and help the state PUCs understand this issue better, because there’s a bit of a gap right now, a bit of a divide between what the federal government is doing and what the state — the 48 PUCs in the continental United States are doing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we appreciate it. I know it’s a much bigger subject, but we thank you for coming in. Mark Weatherford, thank you.

    MARK WEATHERFORD:  Thank you, Judy.

    The post Sniper attack sparks worry over security of nation’s power grid appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    artseducation2

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Schools across the country are putting new shared standards in math and reading into practice, but what about for the arts? Are those required to be taught as well?

    The NewsHour’s special correspondent for education, John Merrow, looked at those questions recently.

    Here is an encore of his report.

    JOHN MERROW: Most public schools in the United States offer some sort of music instruction, but according to a federal government report, about four million elementary school students do not get instruction in the visual arts.

    WOMAN: Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.

    STUDENTS: Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.

    JOHN MERROW: Ninety-six percent of public elementary schools do not offer theater or drama and 97 percent do not offer dance.

    These grim numbers contradict what most states say about the arts; 46 states require that the arts be taught in elementary school, including North Carolina, which mandates that every student receive equal access to art instruction.  It’s a law that doesn’t seem to be enforced.

    Jones County, in rural North Carolina serves 1,200 students, most from low-income families. While its four elementary schools do offer music instruction once a week, not one offers instruction in dance, theater or art.

    JIMMI PARKER, principal, Maysville Elementary School: Every year we kind of joke about it and we ask, oh, are we getting an art teacher this year? I mean, I was hired into this county probably 10 years ago. And I cannot remember having an elementary art teacher.

    JOHN MERROW: With no art teacher on staff, principal Jimmi Parker of Maysville Elementary has had to rely on local talent.

    JIMMI PARKER: We do our best. We have volunteers come in. All kinds of artists live in our area.

    JOHN MERROW: These sixth graders remember when a professional artist came to their school for a month.

    STUDENT: I liked the work we did with her, when we did the shadows with the trees.

    STUDENT: Oh, this is really cool.

    JOHN MERROW: Unfortunately, that was three years ago, when these students were in the third grade.

    Would you like to have more art?

    STUDENTS: Yes.

    JOHN MERROW: Two hours west of Jones County, the picture is very different. Like Maysville, Bugg Elementary School in Raleigh serves mostly low-income families. But, unlike Maysville, Bugg has four full-time certified arts teachers in dance, music, the visual arts, and theater.

    I asked these fifth graders how many minutes of the arts they have in a week.

    STUDENT: During the week, the calculation would be about nine hours.

    STUDENT: I would say about 15 hours.

    STUDENT: I would say around 10 hours a week.

    JOHN MERROW: OK. So we have got seven-and-a-half, 10, nine.

    MICHAEL ARMSTRONG, principal, Bugg Elementary School: I love the idea that the kids couldn’t fully answer that.

    WOMAN:  So she called up the doctor and the doctor said…

    JOHN MERROW: Michael Armstrong is principal at Bugg Elementary.

    MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: They definitely have 45 minutes a day with a true, trained arts teacher. And then, because all of our staff are trained in the arts, that will bleed over into more time.

    MARIA EBY, first grade teacher, Bugg Elementary School: I’m going to turn into the beanstalk now and I want you to understand the beanstalk’s side of the story.

    JOHN MERROW: First grade teacher Maria Eby is using the story of Jack and the Beanstalk to teach drama and science.

    MARIA EBY: We are studying plants and what they need and what they give and how they relate to the world.

    What are three things that plants do for us?

    STUDENT: They give us food.

    MARIA EBY: They give us food, like beans.

    And then the drama part of it, they had to improvise as that character.

    You are the old lady that gave them the beans. And why did you let him in the castle?

    STUDENT: Because…

    JOHN MERROW: What’s the goal? Do kids learn more?

    MARIA EBY: Well, children all learn in different ways. And its our job to make sure we’re presenting things in different ways.

    JOHN MERROW: But nobody said dress up like a beanstalk.

    MARIA EBY: Nobody made me do that, no. That was my own free will.

    MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: Pull out your iPads with your portfolio on it, OK?

    JOHN MERROW: This school feels rich.

    MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: Yes.

    JOHN MERROW: Are you?

    MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: Not at all. There’s two parts to that. The money is one part. Mind-set is another whole thing. So if you really believe that the arts are of power, that alone can have an impact. And if you don’t have that mind-set, then I don’t think there’s enough money in the world to pay for a strong enough arts program.

    JOHN MERROW: But money makes a difference.

    Bugg Elementary is what’s known as a magnet school. Magnet schools receive additional resources to attract a diverse student body. Bugg gets an extra $406 per child, nearly $250,000 a year. Principal Armstrong spends much of that money on the arts, and says he has watched his students thrive.

    MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: Students that have been in this program from kindergarten to fifth grade have a higher self-confidence, have a higher understanding of how they learn, and are actually making higher test scores.

    JOHN MERROW: In contrast, instead of the arts, Jones County has focused its efforts on improving math and reading instruction. Over the past few years, both schools have improved, although Maysville Elementary has outperformed Bugg on most state tests.

    This year, the mind-set in Jones County seems to be changing. The district hired an elementary art teacher.

    CINDY O’DANIEL, Maysville Elementary: You see all the different kinds of coral.

    JOHN MERROW: At Maysville Elementary, Cindy O’Daniel teaches seven art classes, back to back, with just one break and no time between classes to set up or clean up.

    I was looking at your schedule. It’s a pretty hectic day.

    CINDY O’DANIEL: We move quickly. But the 45 minutes is a better time slot to get something accomplished. And I have other schools that it’s 30 minutes, and so it’s hurry up and start, and hurry up and finish.

    Hey, you guys, listen up. We’re running out of time.

    JOHN MERROW: One of her classes is actually two kindergarten classes combined.

    CINDY O’DANIEL: It is organized chaos, and it’s tough to get around to all the students in a regular class size in 45 minutes.

    JOHN MERROW: And Maysville is not her only school.

    How many schools do you teach in?

    CINDY O’DANIEL: Four.

    JOHN MERROW: How many kids do you work with?

    CINDY O’DANIEL: I haven’t slowed down long enough to figure it out.

    JOHN MERROW: Nationwide, nearly half of elementary school art teachers work in more than one school. I asked the students at Bugg how they would feel about having only 45 minutes of art a week.

    STUDENT: I guess if I had never been in this school to start with, I would think it’s normal. But now that I’m here, I realize if I were to go to another school and it only has 45 minutes of art, I wouldn’t feel like it’s a real school.

    CINDY O’DANIEL: I would love for it to be every other day. I would like them to have more time to think, more time to absorb, to assess information, instead of hurry up, hurry up, clean up, time is running out.

    JOHN MERROW: Do the kids at your school get enough art?

    JIMMI PARKER: No. They still don’t get enough art.

    JOHN MERROW: How much is enough?

    JIMMI PARKER: I guess enough would be when the kids are satisfied. When we ask them, do you get enough art, and they can say, yes, I feel like I have art in everything I do every day. It might not ever reach that point, but when they tell us they’re getting art, that will be enough.

    JOHN MERROW: You’re a ways from there.

    JIMMI PARKER: A long ways from there, a long ways.

    JOHN MERROW: In 2014, a coalition of arts organizations will release new standards for the arts. But it will be up to each state to decide whether to adopt and enforce them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Since John’s piece first aired, a draft version of those standards has been released, and the public comment period on them begins on Friday.

    The post N.C. elementary schools promise arts education but access is far from equal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    With Democratic support, the U.S. House voted Tuesday to suspend the debt ceiling to March 15, 2015 with a Senate vote expected before the Feb. 27 deadline. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

    With Democratic support, the U.S. House voted Tuesday to suspend the debt ceiling to March 15, 2015 with a Senate vote expected before the Feb. 27 deadline. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

    Less than 24 hours after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tried to sell fellow Republicans on a plan to increase the nation’s borrowing limit with a modest condition attached, Democrats got exactly what they wanted: a no-strings-attached vote to raise the debt limit.

    House Democrats provided nearly all of the votes to pass the measure, which will give the Treasury Department authority to increase borrowing until March 2015. The final vote was 221 to 201, with 199 Republicans and two Democrats voting against the measure. Crucially, 28 Republicans voted with Democrats in order to make sure the debt limit passed.

    Congress had until Feb. 27 to increase the limit, according to the Treasury department, or the U.S. government would not be able to pay all of its bills.

    After Monday evening’s meeting in the Capitol basement, it was clear Boehner’s leadership team did not have the votes for a debt limit increase with a minor provision — the repeal of a change to military pension plans enacted under a recent budget deal.

    Boehner announced at a Tuesday morning news conference that he would rely on Democrats to pass the debt limit bill, one without any conditions.

    “Our members are also very upset with the president. He won’t negotiate. He won’t deal with our long-term spending problems without us raising taxes,” Boehner said Tuesday morning. “He won’t even sit down to discuss these issues. He is the one driving up the debt, and the question they are asking is, why should I have to deal with his debt limit?”

    Boehner voted for the clean debt limit increase, even though it is rare for the Speaker of the House to cast a vote.

    Because of the passage of this debt limit increase, as well as the passage of a two-year spending bill in December, the possibility of debt default or a another government shutdown is unlikely before November’s mid-term elections.

    This news also shows just how much the game has changed since the summer of 2011 when Congressional Republicans were able to get President Obama to agree to spending cuts in exchange for a debt limit increase.

    The White House has since refused to make major concessions in exchange for increasing the nation’s borrowing limit. The Obama administration contends that it’s Congress’ responsibility to raise the limit if it authorizes spending that exceeds revenue.

    The debt limit legislation passed Tuesday will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

    The post After day of drama, House raises the debt ceiling without conditions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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