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

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    Rising inflation could spell trouble for retired folks living on a fixed income. Photo by Flickr user Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images.

    Rising inflation could spell trouble for retired folks living on a fixed income. Photo by Flickr user Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: Lew Mandell is at it again. The author of “What To Do When I Get Stupid,” Mandell is committed to helping his fellow boomers plan for a financially secure retirement. He’s argued for an age-in-place home and certain forms of annuities to help close the retirement income gap.

    With the beginning of the Fed’s “great unwind” of quantitative easing comes the potential threat of rising inflation. Lew now explains how that threat could hurt retired folks living on a fixed income and how they can protect themselves against it.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sense Editor


    In her Semi-annual Monetary Policy Report to Congress on Feb. 11, Fed Chair Janet Yellen projected that inflation would not exceed the Fed’s 2 percent target by more than a half percent. While a 2.5 percent rate of inflation would not appear to be high, think of it this way — it would double the cost of consumer goods in about 28 years. This could cause some difficulty for retired persons living on a fixed income.

    Of greater consequence would be the Fed’s inability to unwind its policy of quantitative easing without allowing even higher rates of inflation. The most liquid definition of the U. S. money supply, M1, which consists of checking account deposits and currency, has increased from 10 to 16 times Gross Domestic Product in the past six years. And in the same time frame, the Fed has famously tripled the amount of Federal reserves — the money it creates “out of thin air,” as critics often put it.

    Those who find themselves holding more low or non-earning “cash” balances than they really want, as the result of massive Federal Reserve bond-buying and thus lowering interest rates, face a stock market that many consider no bargain, an unappealing bond market (because if interest rates go up, current lower-interest bonds will be worth less), and a housing market in which they were recently burned. This could actually put further upward pressure on prices as consumers pour their excess money not into investments but instead into goods and services, arguably the only appealing category left. If this is accompanied by even moderate economic growth and a continued fall in unemployment, price pressure may further intensify as consumers catch up on expenditures they deferred since the downturn in 2008 and employers have to offer higher wages to attract employees.

    And if the recent movement to greatly increase the minimum wage (to $15 in my areaSeattle) succeeds, wage/price inflation may be especially difficult to contain as higher wages lead to higher prices, which then necessitate even higher wages to keep up.

    This should scare the hell out of those of us who are retired and living on (at least partly) fixed incomes. While we hope that Yellen and her colleagues at the Fed are able to keep inflation low, we must be concerned about what could happen to us if inflation exceeds the target by even a few percentage points. With a 6 percent rate of inflation, prices would double in about 12 years. With an 8 percent rate, they’d double in just nine years. And such numbers aren’t ridiculous; most of us baby-boomers are old enough to remember double-digit inflation in the late ’70s (to the extent we remember anything at all).

    Some retirees are fortunate to have sufficient regular income to meet their retirement needs. However, for most of us, only part of our needed income, most commonly Social Security, is protected against inflation. This will be the case if we have a defined benefit pension without a cost-of-living adjustment or if we are dependent on interest from bonds or other types of regular fixed-income investments.

    Many of us receive part of our retirement income from dividends on the stocks that we own. Clearly this income is not as safe from default or inflation as our Social Security retirement payments. Stock prices and dividends, in general, tend to adjust to stable rates of inflation over time, but they often do poorly when inflation is sudden or unanticipated.

    So, if we can’t trust the stock market to give us reliable, inflation-protected retirement income for life, perhaps the simplest way to lock in such income is to buy an immediate annuity that adjusts its fixed, guaranteed payments to a rate of inflation up to four percent. (Check out my answers to your annuities questions).

    I have calculated that adding this inflation adjustment to an annuity will cost me (a 70-year-old male) more than a third of the money that I would receive from an immediate fixed annuity without inflation protection, although if inflation averages more than 4 percent a year for the rest of my life, I would be better off buying a fully inflation-protected annuity, which would cost me a third of the benefit I would receive from a regular, non-inflation-adjusted annuity.

    My decision as to which annuity to buy must be based on the overall exposure that I have to inflation and the degree to which my financial situation can adjust to inflation, should it rear its ugly head. Say I believe the doomsayers who insist that inflation will rage over the next 30 years and that I expect to live that long, mainly on a pension that doesn’t rise with cost of living. Out of fear — or simple prudence — I might want to buy inflation protection. In that case, an inflation-adjusted immediate annuity may be worth the money I give up in benefits by purchasing one.

    Another way to protect the purchasing power of fixed income against inflation is by purchasing Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (“TIPS”), which the eminent financial economist Zvi Bodie (and, influenced by Zvi, Paul Solman) explained and endorsed years ago on these pages.

    So-called “TIPS” work like other Treasury bonds in that they pay a stated rate of interest on the amount that you have invested. If you buy a regular Treasury bond that has a yield of 2 percent and a face value of $1,000, that bond will pay you 2 percent of the face value ($20) per year until it matures, at which time it will repay the face value ($1,000) to you. The only difference with TIPS is that the face value of the bond increases with the rate of inflation.

    If you invest $1,000 in a 30-year TIPS bond with a rate of return of 2 percent of the face value, the face value will increase with inflation, which means that the value of the 2 percent interest will also increase with inflation. If inflation the first year is 5 percent, the face value of the bond will increase by 5 percent to $1,050 at the end of the year. In the second year, you will be paid 2 percent of this increased amount or $21 in interest.

    (A technical note: Interest on TIPS is actually paid twice a year and each interest payment is based on the consumer price index. Therefore, the actual interest earned depends on how much of the increase in the consumer price index has occurred in each six-month period. The examples given here have been simplified to aid in understanding.)

    Your total return for the first year thus includes the $50 increase in the face value of your bond and the $20 in interest for a total of $70 or 7 percent of your initial investment of $1,000. You don’t actually receive the inflation increase from the government until the bond matures, but what I am describing here assumes that you will indeed hold the bond until maturity.

    The amount of TIPS that you need to cover your loss in purchasing power from fixed interest income due to inflation varies with the average rate of inflation you expect over the next 30 years, as well as with the real rate of return paid on the TIPS when you buy them.

    If expected average inflation rates (over the next 30 years) were 2 percent, you would need to buy $52,257 in TIPS to cover the anticipated loss in purchasing power of a $10,000 fixed pension over 30 years. (Based on using up the entire TIPS investment in 30 years. This assumes that TIPS will continue to pay an inflation-adjusted, “real” rate of return of about 2 percent.)

    At a 4 percent expected rate of inflation, you would need to purchase $88,703 in TIPS. The table below estimates the amount of 30-year TIPS you must hold to offset purchasing power loss of $10,000 per year for 30 years.

    This table provides the author’s estimate of the investment in 30 year TIPS with a yield of 2 percent needed to offset average rates of inflation over that time on an annual payment of $10,000. Calculations underlying this table are complex and assume that the entire investment in TIPS will be used up (sold or matured) in 30 years.

    This table provides the author’s estimate of the investment in 30 year TIPS with a yield of 2 percent needed to offset average rates of inflation over that time on an annual payment of $10,000. Calculations underlying this table are complex and assume that the entire investment in TIPS will be used up (sold or matured) in 30 years.

    For a little perspective, inflation in the U.S. over the past century (since 1913) has averaged 3.43 percent, although the highest 30-year rate of inflation since World War II was 5.44 percent from 1966-1995. Right now, inflation is extremely low by historical standards — around 1.5 percent.

    Inflation is not politically popular, and the Federal Reserve is specifically charged with keeping it low. Therefore, high rates are not very likely over 30 years, although they did go into double digits for a few years in the early 1980s before dropping sharply once Paul Volcker’s Fed took action.

    If, for example, you want to buy inflation protection on $10,000 in income and you feel that it is unlikely that inflation will average more than 2 percent over the next 30 years (although it could be higher for some of those years), you would only have to buy $52,257 in 30 year TIPS. In other words, $52,257 in TIPS would provide enough of an inflation-adjusted return to make up for the loss in the purchasing power of your fixed pension.

    However, if you wanted to insure your purchasing power to the average inflation of 3.43 percent per year over the past century, you would need to invest $79,553 in TIPS because your fixed pension would lose much more purchasing power.

    The large investment needed to insure a $10,000 annual payment against the ravages of inflation helps us understand several valuable points. First, we should thank our lucky stars every day for the inflation protection provided by Social Security. If we have a life expectancy of 13 years and get Social Security retirement benefits of $30,000 per year, the value of the cost-of-living adjustment alone is worth about $153,000 in today’s dollars. Medicare is also protected against medical inflation.

    Second, if we are not yet retired, the 8 percent addition to our Social Security retirement benefits for each year we wait to accept payments after reaching full retirement age (currently 66) and until age 70, is fully protected against inflation, making it that much more valuable. That’s why Larry Kotlikoff constantly urges waiting until 70 to collect your full retirement benefit in his Monday “Ask Larry” columns.

    There are two problems connected with using TIPS to inflation-protect lifetime income, however. First, you are protected only against average rates of inflation that resemble those of the past and not against sustained, high rates of inflation approaching 10 percent or more.

    Second, 30-year TIPS (the longest maturity TIPS available) protect your income for only 30 years. If a 70-year-old lives to be older than 100 (or a 60-year-old lives longer than 90, which is a real possibility), the inflation protection will cease since the TIPS will have been used up. If that is a real concern, an additional deferred annuity that begins at age 90 or 100 could be purchased for a relatively small amount of money. Or you could buy TIPS every year for awhile to create what’s called a “ladder,” so that they will mature 30 years from now, 31 years from now (the TIPS you buy next year) and so on. That way, you never get caught short.

    The takeaway is that it is cumbersome, expensive and imprecise to inflation-proof your nominal retirement income. If some of your retirement expenses subject to inflation are covered by non-inflation-adjusted sources of income, it may be worthwhile to consider buying some TIPS if you have the financial resources to do so. And while dividends on stocks will often adjust to gradual increases in inflation, high rates of inflation often cause stock values to decrease in fear of an unstable economy.

    This is the reason why I include TIPS in my investment portfolio. It gives me a reasonable return on a very safe investment and it provides me with insurance in case inflation flares up again.

    The post How to protect your retirement if you think inflation is right around the corner appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Can the online rant help manage anger? Photo by Flickr User Stefan 1981.

    Can the online rant help manage anger? Photo by Flickr User Stefan 1981.

    It’s hard to mistake the Internet rant, often characterized by its run-on sentences, inflammatory remarks, capital letters and liberal use of the exclamation point. Often rooted in a heightened level of expressed emotion, uncensored anger or frustration, the rant is accessible to anyone armed with a computer keyboard and an Internet connection.

    We wanted to know — what are these Internet ranters really after? And does ranting bring them closer to their goal?

    vice-weekAs a moderator of the cyber publication and forum TELECOM Digest, Bill Horne has read “at least a thousand” digital rants. One of his duties is to filter out the typical complaint from the rant. The rant, he said, rarely makes the cut.

    “I have had ample opportunity to watch others being burned at the electronic stake as they abandon logic, courtesy, common sense and self-respect,” Horne said.

    But there are plenty of places in cyberspace where people can express their wrath uncensored, from Twitter and Facebook to sites dedicated exclusively to ranting.

    Many who write rants say they do it to feel less angry — the written outburst calms them.

    In 2010, Leo Choi, a self-professed ranter himself, started a website called D-rant.com, an online forum that exclusively publishes anonymous rants. His goal: to provide a safe place for people to vent, without consequences. He contacted several anger management clinics and asked them to promote his website to their clients. (Fair warning: this site contains objectionable language and subject matter.) Having an outlet to air feelings can be helpful for people, he said.

    Ryan Martin, a psychology professor at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, found the opposite to be true. The emotional relief, his research showed, is only temporary. People experienced a downward shift in mood after reading rants, and after writing rants, they became more angry, not less. The study was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking in February 2013.

    Also from their research: ranting is linked to fighting, both physically and verbally. By surveying visitors of rant sites, they found that those who rant online are more likely to experience consequences of their anger in the real world, averaging nearly one physical fight per month and more than two verbal fights per month. Because of the limitations of the survey’s methodology, it’s unclear which comes first — physical aggression or virtual aggression — but Martin suspects the two feed off each other.

    “They express their anger badly, which is why they are on a rant site, and being on a rant site encourages them to continue expressing their anger badly,” Martin said.

    “When some people rant, it opens up a Pandora’s box,” said John Suler, a psychology professor at Rider University, who studies human behavior online. He said there is no way to predict whether ranting will even have the temporary emotional relief that ranters say they seek.

    “They (could) discover even deeper layers of frustration and hostility. When people rant, it leads to feelings of shame and guilt about being so angry and out of control. For many people, ranting is a dead end. It goes nowhere.”

    Choi believes his website can provide a starting point to help people deal with unwieldy emotions. Still, he says he often doubts that site users are taking the next steps to deal with their anger in adaptive ways.

    Misunderstandings, confusion and misplaced anger are also common in rants.

    “When you are talking about something in a purely written context,” Martin said, “it becomes harder to infer emotions. Sarcasm gets missed.”

    Horne describes this recent online dialogue: When he read a rant that poked fun at the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of Cherokee people, and joked about what it called a “secret government order,” he became enraged. He thought the writer of the rant was white and making fun of the deaths of thousands of Native Americans.

    Horne wrote to the ranter in a private message:

    “According to my family’s oral history, my great-great-great grandmother walked the trail of tears. My father was on the Cherokee rolls, so I know that there’s a good chance it’s true.

    The ‘secret government order’ you received was the idea that genocide is funny, and that it’s OK as long as white men do it to somebody else. They probably mixed it in with your Wheaties.”

    The ranter’s response surprised Horne:

    “I’m Cherokee on my mother’s side, and Blackfoot on my father’s side. Being quick to offend has started more wars than bullets have.”

    It wasn’t the first time Horne regretted a rant submission. When ranters mistake sarcasm for genuine belief, flame wars can ignite. The regret comes, Horne said, “two milliseconds after that you press the ‘Send’ key, because sometimes you just know that wasn’t something that you wanted to say.”

    “I (have) had posts that I thought were lucid, which others labeled as rants. And I think to myself, ‘Oh dear, did I really say that?’”

    Two-thirds of the rant-site users who responded to Martin’s survey said they appreciated when people commented on their rants, indicating that ranters seek an audience, and a response.

    Unlike the physical world, where yelling in someone’s face is not likely to yield a positive response, online, people can be rewarded for their expressions of anger — receiving likes, favorites, retweets and comments or responses to their rant.

    Suler says rant sites have created an unprecedented culture for anger, frustration and hostilities. “In a way, it does become a spectator sport where people try to compete with each other, while others watch the show.”

    More than half of Martin’s survey participants said they read rants as entertainment. That doesn’t surprise Horne. He said he enjoys reading them as amusement, in a “fascination-of-the-abomination kind of way.”

    Ranters’ reach increases when they post their angry thoughts on social media rather than discussion forums or rant sites. People can target their rants to their like-minded friends and yell figuratively louder as a group. In December 2013, when cable network A&E cancelled the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty,” — one of the stars made anti-gay comments in a GQ interview — Martin saw one such mob of ranters form.

    “I watched with fascination as an angry, online mob gathered their pitchforks and went after A&E, non-Christians, and liberals,” Martin wrote in a post on the science-of-anger blog, “All the Rage.” In this case, Martin observed, the ranters weren’t trying to appease or convert people to their position; they were only interested in finding other people who felt exactly as they did.

    Researchers who analyzed millions of posts on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform used in China, discovered that angry posts were shared more widely and more quickly than any other emotion.

    “I think that people are responding more quickly to that kind of emotional expression. And so people feel rewarded for that kind of thing,” Martin said.

    It’s not that anger isn’t a valuable emotion, he added.

    “Emotions are the body’s way of telling us things, of letting us know, in the case of anger, that we have been wronged or that there is a problem.”

    The problem, Suler said, is that the ranting is an ineffective and probably negative way to express that anger.

    “The expression of anger only has long-term, positive consequences when we understand the roots of the anger,” Suler said. “And when we set out to resolve the conflicts we have with other people, and within ourselves.”

    The post Why ranting online doesn’t help manage anger appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Teenagers in Oakland, Cali. are ready to go on the air with their STEM reporting. Youth Radio, a program underwritten by the National Science Foundation, is teaching high school students how to be in-depth reporters covering science and technology. Youth Radio mentors teach them the principles of investigative journalism and the tools of digital reporting. Their reports go beyond the radio waves as the students learn to develop mobile apps to deliver STEM reporting to the World Wide Web.

    NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien has more in this Science Nation report.

    For the record, the National Science Foundation is an underwriter of the PBS NewsHour.

    The post Teens take STEM reporting to the airwaves appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Obama spoke Friday on the situation in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is warning Russia there will be costs if Russia intervenes militarily in Ukraine.

    Obama says the U.S. is deeply concerned by reports of military movements by Russia inside Ukraine.

    He says any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be destabilizing. He says it would violate Russia’s commitment to respect Ukraine’s borders and would invite global condemnation.

    Obama says the U.S. stands with the world community to affirm there will be costs for an intervention.

    Obama spoke at the White House late Friday.

    THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

    Cold War-tinged suspicions between Washington and Moscow are spiraling over the crisis in Ukraine despite the Obama administration’s efforts to tamp them down.

    Instead of lowering tensions, attempts by senior U.S. officials to calm the situation appear to be heightening the perception in Russia that developments in Ukraine have become an East-West duel for influence on the territory of the former Soviet Union. At the same time, reports of Russian military maneuvers in and around Ukraine and its strategic southern Crimean peninsula have fueled deep distrust of Russia in Washington and kindled fears of a repeat of Russia’s 2008 conflict with Georgia, another western-leaning former Soviet republic.

    On Friday, as pro-Russia gunmen patrolled Crimean streets in armored vehicles and took over airports there, and Ukraine’s pro-Western interim authorities accused Moscow of invading their country, the White House and Secretary of State John Kerry delivered blunt warnings to Moscow against military moves in Crimea that could further inflame tensions.

    Kerry and White House spokesman Jay Carney both said any Russian military intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake” and that the United States was watching closely to see if Russian activity was “crossing a line.” They did not, however, spell out any consequences for such an intervention.

    Kerry said he called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the second time in two days to press the Kremlin to keep its promise to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

    Kerry told reporters that Lavrov had once again repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledge to do just that while also pointing out that Russia has broad interests in Ukraine, including a major naval base in Crimea.

    But Kerry, in comments that highlighted Washington’s rising suspicion of Moscow, said the U.S. is watching to see if Russian activity in Crimea “might be crossing a line in any way.” He added that the administration would be “very careful” in making judgments about that. Carney echoed Kerry’s comments at the White House.

    “While we were told that they are not engaging in any violation of the sovereignty and do not intend to, I nevertheless made it clear that that could be misinterpreted at this moment,” Kerry said. “There are enough tensions that it is important for everybody to be extremely careful not to inflame the situation and not send the wrong messages.”

    Ukraine, meanwhile, accused Russia of a “military invasion and occupation,” saying Russian troops have taken up positions around a coast guard base and two airports in Crimea.

    Kerry reiterated the U.S. view that Russian military intervention in Ukraine following the ouster of the country’s Russia-backed leader would run counter to Russia’s self-professed opposition to such operations in other countries, such as Libya and Syria.

    And Kerry noted that during his call with Lavrov, fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was holding a news conference in southern Russia in which he said he was not asking Moscow for military assistance and called military action “unacceptable.” In his appearance before reporters, however, Yanukovych, who still regards himself the president, also vowed to “keep fighting for the future of Ukraine” and blamed the U.S. and the West for encouraging the rebellion that forced him to flee last weekend.

    Any Russian military incursion in Crimea would dramatically raise the stakes in Ukraine, which is at the center of what many see as a tug of war between East and West.

    One of the catalysts for massive demonstrations that led to Yanukovych’s ouster was his rejection of a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of historical ties with Moscow. That EU agreement would have paved the way for Ukraine’s greater integration with the West, including potential affiliation with NATO, something to which Russia strongly objects for former Warsaw Pact members.

    Underscoring U.S. concerns are memories of the conflict in Georgia, where Russian troops remain in two disputed enclaves in violation of a 2008 cease-fire.

    Amid the heightened tensions over Ukraine, the U.S. this week twice renewed its objections to the Russian military presence in Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

    Kerry and other senior U.S. officials have tried without success to dispel widespread sentiment in Russia that the United States and Europe are trying to pry Ukraine out from under Russian influence. They have insisted repeatedly that Ukraine is not a “zero-sum game” in which one side – Russia or the West – wins and the other loses.

    Their argument, though, seems to be falling on deaf ears in Moscow, where Russian officials have been accusing the U.S. and its allies of meddling in Ukraine, fomenting anti-Russia sentiment and actively encouraging Kiev’s Western aspirations at the expense of its historical connections.

    On Friday, Kerry said issues like EU or NATO partnerships should be put on the back burner in order to concentrate on reducing tensions and setting up a democratic transition.

    “”We do not want to get caught up in the historical or the more current tensions over association agreements or NATO or other kinds of things,” he said. “There’s a place for that down the road if Ukrainians want to have that debate, but we do not believe that that should be part of what is happening now. Now is time for transition and for respect for the pluralism and diversity and democracy that the people Ukraine want.”

    The post Obama: ‘There will be costs’ to Russian intervention in Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Updated 5:20 p.m. EST

    President Barack Obama said Friday afternoon that “we are now deeply concerned about reports of movements taken by the Russian Federation within Ukraine” and “there will be costs” to any military intervention.

    Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty would be “deeply destabilizing,” he said at the White House.

    His comments came as tensions escalated in Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula located in the Black Sea. It is an autonomous republic with its own parliament and a mostly ethnic Russian population that formed part of the support base for ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

    Deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych holds a press conference in Russia. Image by BBC

    Deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych holds a press conference in Russia. Image by BBC

    After his removal from office Feb. 22, Yanukovych surfaced in Russia Friday and said he is still the “legitimate president” of Ukraine.

    “I intend to continue the fight for the future of Ukraine against those who, with fear and with terror, are attempting to replace the power,” he said in Russian.

    The new interim Ukrainian government said it will seek extradition of Yanukovych connected to the deaths of dozens of protesters.

    In Crimea, gunmen wearing unmarked military uniforms patrolled two airports, allowing commercial airlines to take off and land, and passengers to continue their travels. One man told the Associated Press that the men were part of the Crimean People’s Brigade, a self-defense unit intending to ensure no “radicals and fascists” come from other parts of Ukraine.

    Ukraine’s new interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said on his Facebook page that ”military units” from the Russian Navy fleet based at Crimea’s Black Sea port of Sevastopol were at one of the airports, which Russia denied, reported NPR.

    There also were reports of Russian helicopter flybys over Ukraine and the deployment of Russian tanks.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier in the day that the United States is watching developments in Crimea and whether Russia “might be crossing a line in any way.”

    Kerry said he had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the second time in two days to urge Moscow to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and that Lavrov again repeated that Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to do that.

    Meanwhile, Swiss authorities have launched a money-laundering probe of Yanukovych and frozen his assets in Switzerland while the investigation proceeds.

    Resource: The Associated Press is keeping track of recent key political events in Ukraine.

    The post Obama warns against Russian military intervention in Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Obama

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This was a day of deepening crisis in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, amid growing signs of a possible bid to break away from Ukraine.

    Ukrainian leaders accused Russia of a military invasion and occupation of its territory.

    NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report on the day’s events.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The situation in Crimea approached a dangerous pivot point, as Ukraine’s new government accused Russian forces of taking over two airports, a Coast Guard station and a border post.

    At a roadblock near one airport, this man said he had no idea who the armed men were, but they quickly set up a security perimeter.

    MAN (through interpreter): They arrived around 10:00 p.m. Right there, a machine gun was installed. The trucks passed through and immediately took control of the whole area. Armed men jumped out from the trucks.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The Crimean Peninsula is a bastion of support for Moscow, and is home to Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet.

    The fleet command denied the well-armed uniformed men on patrol were in fact Russian troops, but Russian military vehicles were seen outside the base, a possible violation of longstanding regulations. By late today, the gunmen had extended their hold on the main airport, and Ukraine’s largest airline said airspace over Crimea now was closed.

    In Kiev, the new interior minister called it an armed invasion, and the acting president warned against outside interference.

    OLEKSANDR TURCHYNOV, Acting President, Ukraine (through interpreter): According to established agreements, we demand from all countries guarantees to confirm in practice actions to respect the independence, sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and to refrain from using force against Ukraine’s territorial integrity or political independence.

    KWAME HOLMAN: He later said Russia was following the same strategy it used in the run-up to a war with Georgia in 2008, and he urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to cease what he called provocations.

    But large-scale Russian military maneuvers continued just across the border on Russian soil. And a Russian naval vessel took position at the entrance to a harbor that leads to Sevastopol and the Russian Black Sea fleet.

    In Washington, Secretary of State Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by phone. At a joint appearance with Colombia’s foreign minister, Kerry said Lavrov assured him that Moscow has no designs on Ukraine.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: I made it clear that intervention would, in our judgment, be a very grave mistake.

    I, nevertheless, made it clear that that could be misinterpreted at this moment and that there are enough tensions that it is important for everybody to be extremely careful not to inflame the situation and not to send the wrong messages.

    He reaffirmed to me that President Putin is committed and that, as a matter of policy, they do not intend to violate the sovereignty of Ukraine.

    KWAME HOLMAN: And this afternoon, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss Ukraine.

    Meanwhile, the deposed president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, renewed his claim on that post today in his first public appearance since he fled Kiev last Friday. He called the pending May 25 elections illegitimate, and the interim Ukrainian leadership bandits, speaking in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don hard by the Ukrainian border.

    FMR. PRESIDENT VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH, Ukraine (through interpreter): I intend to continue to fight for the future of Ukraine against those who are trying to seize it with the help of fear and terror. And I decided to announce it publicly. Nobody ousted me. I was forced to leave Ukraine under a direct threat to my life and the lives of my relatives.

    KWAME HOLMAN: He blamed the West for creating unrest, and insisted he had not ordered riot police to shoot protesters in Kiev, where more than 80 were killed. Video evidence last week showed heavily armed uniformed security forces firing live ammunition in Kiev’s central square.

    Ukrainian officials announced today they’re seeking to extradite Yanukovych from Russia to stand trial for ordering those killings.

    And Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein moved to freeze the bank accounts of Yanukovych and his son. Swiss prosecutors also announced Yanukovych is being investigated for alleged money laundering. The apparent spoils of his rule were on display last week, as protesters wandered through a vacant, garishly lavish palace that he’d had built for himself.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Late today, President Obama warned that there will be costs for any outside intervention in Ukraine. Speaking in the White House Briefing Room, he said the United States is deeply concerned by reports of Russian military movements.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia or Europe.

    It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence, and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine and of international laws. And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world.

    The post Obama warns against ‘profound interference’ in Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    JUDY WOODRUFF:In Moscow today, a Russian court put opposition leader Alexei Navalny under house arrest for at least two months. Prosecutors say he violated rules barring him from leaving the city of Moscow. The court banned Navalny from using the Internet or having any visitors. But he said the decree is meant to silence his outspoken criticism of President Putin.

    ALEXEI NAVALNY, Opposition Leader, Russia (through interpreter): Using my last opportunity, I just want to say that this is obviously an illegal prosecution. I think it is needless to explain that what happened is only aimed at limiting my ability to continue an anti-corruption investigation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Navalny is already serving a five-year suspended sentence on a theft conviction. He’s also charged with theft and money laundering in a separate case that has yet to come to trial.

    The medical relief group Doctors Without Borders says that it has been expelled from Myanmar, the former Burma. The move is linked to the group’s work with the Rohingya Muslim minority. They have come under attack by Buddhist-led mobs. Myanmar is predominately Buddhist, and the government has accused Doctors Without Borders of creating tensions.

    A powerful storm dumped heavy rain across much of California today, raising the risk of mudslides. The deluge brought much-needed relief to areas coping with long-term drought. But communities east of Los Angeles were vulnerable because mountain slopes above them were burned clean of vegetation by wildfires last month. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for 1,200 homes.

    In Alaska, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced initial steps to restrict, or outright bar, a huge gold and copper mining project. The proposed Pebble Mine operation would be near a Bristol Bay fishery that produces nearly half the world’s sockeye salmon. Separately, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that the number of sea otters in Alaska’s Prince William Sound has returned to what it was before the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

    The Obama administration has issued another fix to the health care law, this one to help states that struggled to get enrollment Web sites up and running. The change permits residents of those states to receive federal tax credits, even if they ended up buying insurance outside the online exchanges.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney:

    JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: The subsidies available because of the Affordable Care Act remain available no matter how you get insurance. And we’re making sure CMS is working closely with states to support their efforts to successfully implement their marketplaces. And that includes making sure that those who are eligible for subsidies are able to receive them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The problems with the federal health care insurance exchange have largely been repaired. But the states of Oregon, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Hawaii are still laboring to get their Web sites into optimum shape.

    A retirement surge means that regional airlines in the U.S. will need hundreds of new pilots each year over the next decade, but they may not get them. The Government Accountability Office reports that 11 out of 12 regional carriers failed to meet hiring targets last year. A major factor could be the average annual starting salary, just $22,400. Regional airlines handle half of all domestic flights.

    A major exchange for Bitcoins filed for bankruptcy protection today. Mt. Gox, based in Tokyo, acknowledged a massive loss of the virtual currency topping $400 million. It’s still unclear exactly what happened to the missing Bitcoins. We will find out more about the exchange’s troubles later in the program.

    The U.S. economy grew more slowly in the fourth quarter of last year than first estimated, an annual rate of 2.4 percent. The government said today that severe winter weather was partly to blame.

    On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 49 points to close at 16,321. The Nasdaq fell more than 10 points to close at 4,308. And the S&P 500 rose five points to finish at 1,859, another all-time high. For the month, the Dow and the S&P gained 4 percent; the Nasdaq rose 5 percent.

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    Russian Tanks

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Late today, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations proposed sending an urgent independent and credible mediation mission to help resolve Ukraine’s crisis.

    However, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed the idea, saying he was against imposed mediation.

    Our Jeffrey Brown takes a closer look at the tensions escalating between Russia and Ukraine.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And to do that, I’m joined by Dimitri Simes, president for the Center for the National Interest, a foreign policy think tank, and Angela Stent, director of the Center of Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. Her latest book is “The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the 21st Century.”

    And, Angela Stent, I will start with you.

    President Obama cited reports of troop movement in Ukraine, but it is a very confusing situation, isn’t it?

    ANGELA STENT, Georgetown University: It is very confusing.

    We do know that, in Crimea, pro-Russian forces, people and some forces have taken over local buildings. Some Crimeans would like to have a referendum to reassess the status of Crimea. On the other hand, there are other groups in Crimea that are not pro-Russian, and they support the interim government in Kiev.

    We really don’t know that much about what is happening, but we do know that Russia is clearly flexing its muscle there. It has important equities in Crimea. It is the headquarters of the Black Sea fleet, and they want to make sure that they don’t lose those equities.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Dimitri Simes, what does flexing its muscles mean? And one of the — the obvious question is, is an invasion or some sort of invasion under way?

    DIMITRI SIMES, Center for the National Interest: Well, there is already the Black Sea fleet right there is in Crimea.

    There are already Russian troops which are there, quite legally, associated with the Black Sea fleet. And clearly some other Russian units are arriving there. One element of confusion — Angela quite correctly talked about confusion, but it’s not only on who is doing what to whom, but what we are talking about, because Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has assured Secretary Kerry, as we hear, that there would be no Russian interference.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

    DIMITRI SIMES: Well, Russian position is, they’re not interfering, because they do not recognize the government in Kiev. They are talking about them as a so-called government.

    They didn’t say that…

    (CROSSTALK)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Even the definition of interference is…

    DIMITRI SIMES: Well, exactly.

    ANGELA STENT: Right.

    DIMITRI SIMES: And Yanukovych, from the Russian standpoint, is still a legitimate president. He’s in Russia.

    And he stated today publicly that he fully supports actions of self-defense units in Crimea. And a definition of self-defense units is quite broad, including the units provided by the Russian Black Sea fleet.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, Angela Stent, when the president says, as we also heard, that there would be costs to any military intervention, what might that mean? What sort of leverage would there be?

    ANGELA STENT: Well, that’s a very interesting question.

    We do not have that much leverage with Russia anymore. Our relationship with Russia has deteriorated. There is not much that Russia wants from us. And so I think — and on the other hand, we need to work with Russia on the Iranian question, and the Obama administration wants to achieve an agreement on Iran, on Syria, on all of these other issues.

    So there may be costs. There could be some kind of sanctions, although, even there, there is a limited possibility. So I’m not really sure what those costs would be.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, then, Dimitri Simes, there is a lot of history, obviously, with Crimea, Russia and Ukraine. For our audience, what should we know about it to help us understand this?

    DIMITRI SIMES: Ukraine, of course, was a part of Russia for more than 300 years.

    And it decided to secede, and everybody has accepted it as legitimate. Crimea was a part of Ukraine only since 1954. And it was given to Ukraine by Khrushchev, believe it or not, to celebrate 300-year anniversary of Ukrainian decision to join Russia. And, of course, at that time, Ukraine was a Soviet republic, an integral part of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev could not imagine in his wildest dream that that gift…

    JEFFREY BROWN: He was giving them something, but he wasn’t really giving away anything, right?

    DIMITRI SIMES: Let me say something, in my view, very serious that is not being discussed sufficiently.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

    DIMITRI SIMES: Russia has a major interest in Crimea.

    And unlike in Kiev, where Russia had very few instruments of power, and the West had many more instruments, in Crimea, Russia controls situation on the ground. And we have to understand that we either would have to develop a solution together with Russia, or there would be a military conflict.

    And in a military conflict, the stakes would be much higher for Russia than for the United States. So who is going to blink first an interesting question. If I would be President Obama, I wouldn’t be talking about any red lines in Crimea for the United States.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But explain. Fill in that. Russia controls the situation on the ground in the Crimea?

    ANGELA STENT: It does have a lot of leverage there, because the majority of the population, not all of them, but majority are Russians, and they want more autonomy for their region.

    And even though they did vote in 1991 to be part of an independent Ukraine, they do want a special status. I think the other thing we have to realize is, we don’t know whether this interim government in Kiev is going to be able to impose its will much beyond Kiev and the western parts of Ukraine.

    And this is, I think, part of the Russian game too, is to wait and see whether this current newly formed government lasts, and, if not, what comes next, and then the situation might change again.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Crimea does operate somewhat autonomously right now, correct?

    ANGELA STENT: It certainly does.

    But, interesting, the city of Sevastopol, where the Black Sea fleet is headquartered, actually under — supposed to be under the direct jurisdiction of Kiev. So it is even more confusing, because there are different levels of autonomy there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, so what does all this say about the possibility of how — well, the question how far Russia might go to protect its interest to an invasion like what we saw with Georgia?

    DIMITRI SIMES: At this point, I think Putin does understand that he has a major stake in the relationship with the United States, with the European Union. And he would like to control the situation and to limit the damage.

    I think, at this point, it is still possible to reach a deal where new authorities in Kiev would start talking to the Russians in a more conciliatory way. Actually, that is what the Obama administration also recommends. And, in return, the referendum in Crimea, I’m sure it will take place on May 25 as scheduled. But they wouldn’t talk about independence.

    They would just expand somewhat their autonomy. I don’t think that this would be a terrible deal for the United States. Having said that, if the situation continues to escalate, all kinds of unpredictable things, unthinkable things may become thinkable in a matter of days.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what is your analysis of the possibility of escalation?

    ANGELA STENT: Well, the U.S. is not going to get into a military conflict with Russia over Ukraine.

    I mean, that is clearly out of the question. But things could escalate. Dimitri is right. If Moscow is worried that this new government in Kiev would revisit the lease agreement with Russia, whereby it is there until 2042 for the fleet, that would be a serious provocation. They probably won’t do that.

    But everything is, at the moment, quite unpredictable.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And what do you make of this international mediation mission that Samantha Power raised today?

    ANGELA STENT: Well, it would be very — I mean, clearly, the only long-term solution is for everyone to work together, the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the Ukrainians, both on the economic level.

    And, today, Mr. Putin signaled that Russia was willing to work with the IMF there, but on the political level too. I wonder whether it’s too early to do that now. But I guess the immediate task is to de-escalate the possibility of military conflict.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, as we heard, the Russians immediately said this mediation isn’t necessary, which goes to your earlier point.

    (CROSSTALK)

    The post Why Russia is ‘flexing its muscle’ in Crimea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    fukushima

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we take you to a place that garnered headlines around the world three years ago, but has hardly been seen since, because it’s so dangerous.

    NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien is our guide.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Three years after the meltdowns, the road to Fukushima is still a gauntlet of roadblocks and strict security checks.

    And inside the exclusion zone, it remains a post-apocalyptic landscape of abandoned towns, frozen in time. We were on our way to one of the most hazardous places on Earth, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, granted the NewsHour permission for a rare tour inside the plant, where three nuclear reactors melted down after the great Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011.

    In the seismically isolated and radioactively protected emergency response center, we met the man in the hottest seat of all here, superintendent Akira Ono. He runs an unprecedented decommissioning project that will not be done for decades. He prefers not to call it a cleanup.

    “After all, if you are just cleaning up after an accident,” he told me, “there is a lack of quality, meaning speed is the only concern. I feel that isn’t enough. We need to look ahead, 30 to 40 years.”

    To see it firsthand, we had to suit up. We must also wear a full face mask and respirator for good measure, resembling astronauts on the way to a fully fueled rocket. We donned special shoes and hardhats, then boarded a bus that would get us as close to the meltdowns as the laws of physics and common sense would allow us.

    Fukushima Daiichi or, number one, was a complex of six boiling water reactors designed by General Electric. They were built on sloping terrain, sandwiched between a mountain ridge and the Pacific Ocean. The nuclear cores are between 600 and 800 feet from the harbor.

    Three of those cores are now melted down, still steaming hot, their steel containment structures breached. Engineers believe some of the nuclear fuel has melted right through the steel containment vessels on to a concrete basement floor, where it is exposed to groundwater.

    As the ground water passes through the pump, it gets mixed in with the contaminated water that is used to cool the melted-down cores. The result is an awful lot of water that needs to be captured, or else it ends up in the ocean.

    Each and every day, about 100,000 gallons of fresh groundwater seeps into the basements of the plant, where it becomes contaminated with a witch’s brew of radionuclide. TEPCO is furiously trying to keep pace with the water. They finish a new quarter-million-gallon holding tank here about every other day.

    But the hastily built tanks have been leaking, prompting a switch to a welded design, buttressed by gutters, dikes, trenches and water sealants. Regardless, no one disputes the plant is steadily leaking radiation-tainted water into the sea.

    “When you go out to the open ocean, there is very little contamination found,” says superintendent Ono. “Basically, the contamination is limited to the port.”

    At the port, they are bolstering the last line of defense. This water-shielding wall should be complete in September. Behind it is a system that injects a chemical into the ground that turns water into a viscous gel, stemming the flow to the sea. The company is also testing an idea to bury cooling pipes near the melted reactors to freeze the ground, making impermeable ice plugs in walls that would keep the clean and contaminated water apart.

    But all of this is clearly not sustainable. In about three years, they will run out of space for new water holding tanks. Then what?

    Masayuki Ono, no relation to the superintendent is general manager of TEPCO’s nuclear power division.

    “We can’t solve this problem by simply increasing the number of tanks,” he told me. “We need to solve the fundamental issue of underground water coming in.”

    And TEPCO is also investing a lot in this sophisticated radiation water-filtering technology. In trial runs, the advanced liquid processing system, ALPS, has cleaned up 12.5 million gallons of water. ALPS removes cesium, strontium and 60 other radioactive nuclides, but not tritium. There is no practical way to factor out this isotope of hydrogen.

    “It is hard to remove tritium with scientific methods,” he says. “But given its biological properties, it is a radioactive substance with a very limited risk.”

    Nuclear engineer Lake Barrett worked for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at Three Mile Island in the wake of the meltdown there in 1979. He is now a special adviser to TEPCO’s president.

    LAKE BARRETT, TEPCO special advisor: When you combine all the water on the site with the tritium, the tritium levels will be so low at Fukushima that they would meet the international drinking water standards.

    MILES O’BRIEN: TEPCO has no authorization from the Japanese government, local residents or fishermen to discharge any water at all, including what is leaking, from the Fukushima Daiichi site.

    But a release of millions of gallons of water tainted with tritium into the ocean seems inevitable.

    LAKE BARRETT: You can release it into the ocean, in a normal controlled release, which is what I personally believe they ought to do. But they have to work through the fishermen and all the governors and all the social issues that have to be addressed with that.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The long-term solution here is to remove and secure the nuclear fuel. At unit four, they have begun that process. This reactor was shut down for maintenance when the tsunami hit. And so the fuel had been moved into this storage pool.

    Even though the reactor wasn’t running, during the worst of the crisis, hydrogen gas accumulated in the reactor buildings, causing a series of explosions. Debris rained down into the pool, landing on top of the stored fuel assemblies. Workers have now carefully plucked away the pieces and have begun removing the 1,533 fuel assemblies stored here.

    “It is assumed that some debris fell through the gaps,” engineer Takashi Hara told me. “So far, we don’t think it is anything that will cause the fuel to get stuck. However, it could be the case in the future, so we’re proceeding very slowly.”

    The fuel assemblies are transported in casts that will be stored in a more seismically secure common storage pool. If all goes as planned, this process will be complete by the end of this year.

    But removing the melted fuel from units one, two and three is another matter entirely. The radiation levels are simply too high for humans to ever get close enough to clean up. Even so, TEPCO is vowing to have the fuel debris removed from one of the reactors by mid 2020. But how? The only way to do that is to invent robots that can do the job. And that is precisely what they’re trying to do.

    LAKE BARRETT: They’re probably the most robotic society, you know, there is on earth. Now you have to take it to another level, you know, to work in the high radiation field and to do things that they have never done before.

    MILES O’BRIEN: There are many things that will have to be done here that have never been done before in order to decommission this plant.

    “We will need to incorporate more and more new things,” superintendent Ono told me. “You can’t brood on the past for answers. I want to take on the various challenges with a constructive attitude.”

    Before we left, they carefully scanned all of us and checked the dosimeters that we carried along the way. During our four-and-a-half-hour tour, we absorbed as much radiation as we would have in a single chest X-ray. It was dark when we rode the bus out of the exclusion zone. It was a quiet ride, as we all processed the magnitude of the mess.

    Three years after the meltdowns, the crisis has not ended here. In some ways, it is still unfolding.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next Wednesday, Miles will have a report on the Fukushima meltdown’s effect on fish in the surrounding waters.

    And we want to note, these stories were produced before Miles’ trip to the Philippines, where an accident led to the loss of his left arm. As we said earlier this week, we, his NewsHour colleagues, are in awe of his courage.

    There is more information about what happened, and a link to Miles’ blog, on our Web site.

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    Flipping through channels, it’s easy to catch a reality show promotion that includes some kind of fight. The more negative emotion on TV, the better for ratings. But wrath isn’t just popping up in entertainment — it’s proven successful on political opinion shows, where correspondents use their personalities to degrade others and promote a highly politicized brand.

    vice-week

    In their new book, “The Outrage Industry: Public Opinion Media and the New Incivility,” Tufts University professors Sarah Sobieraj and Jeffrey M. Berry examine the rise of incendiary rhetoric and indignation in political commentary and how it’s become our new normal.

    PBS NewsHour spoke with co-author Sarah Sobieraj about their research. This conversation has been edited for length.

    NEWSHOUR: What exactly is “outrage” in political opinion media?

    SARAH SOBIERAJ: Outrage is a concept we developed to describe political speech and behavior involving efforts to provoke emotional responses — especially anger, fear and moral indignation — from the audience through the use of categorical statements, misleading or inaccurate information, ad hominem attacks and partial truths about opponents. It is a form of political communication that glosses over the messy nuances of complex political issues and instead focuses on melodrama, mockery and forecasts of impending doom.

    Outrage book cover

    What’s more, this unique brand of incivility has become the mainstay of an entire genre of political opinion media that is not really about dialogue or information, but instead takes the form of a wildly entertaining verbal jousting match, with the victor of the day being the team that most effectively paints the other side as dangerous, misguided or inept.

    In your research, how frequently did you observe “outrage” and to what extent was it considered strongly conservative or liberal?

     

    Well, our first reaction was amazement, to be completely honest. We knew there would be quite a bit of outrage, but it was rampant. (The worst offenders) were using outrage speech and behavior at a rate of more than one instance per minute …. There are more programs on the right that are outrage-based than there are on the left — talk radio, for example, is over 90 percent conservative — and if you look at the average number of outrage incidents per episode, there are more instances in shows hosted by conservatives than liberals. Having said that, the left is very nasty too. There are no innocents here. What’s more, the techniques used by the left and right are actually quite similar.

    How did we arrive at this point?

    It’s increased dramatically since the early ‘90s. There has always been outrageous political speech in the media, but it was uncommon. Father Coughlin was noteworthy for his venom, but he was an exception. Over the last 25 to 30 years, an entire genre grounded in outrage-based content has developed. We argue that this increase isn’t a simple reflection of an increase in political polarization on the part of audience, but instead reflects of a set of technological, regulatory and political changes that have rendered this type of content profitable in a way that would have been unheard of in the ’70s. There are certainly fans, but the real driving force is profitability.

    Political opinion shows speak to smaller, more specific audiences. How is that more profitable?

    Take a look at any of these media: television, radio, or the web, and in all cases we see that the audience has fragmented into tiny slivers …. As a result, we have a remarkably cluttered media landscape. If you are producing content, you need to break through that clutter somehow. If you’re in scripted television, perhaps you use sex and violence. You use edgy humor. In political opinion media, the equivalent is carefully negotiated shock and agent provocateurs. That steady stream of “pop” combined with very low production costs relative to other kinds of programming, and certainly relative to something like traditional journalism, makes this a winning recipe.

    How do you think the prevalence of all this outrage shapes our lives?

    The driving narrative in these shows is that there are good guys and bad guys. It’s not that hosts simply disagree with their opponents’ policies, their opponents are bad people. They’re portrayed as inept, manipulative, dangerous. At the personal level, we suspect that these caricatures have the potential to create a barrier between people, to make us less open to hearing the political ideas of others. If you accept the narratives offered by Lawrence O’Donnell and Rush Limbaugh, you are bound to be more suspicious of others and less tolerant of differing views. Furthermore, it exacerbates our discomfort with discussing politics, and that’s a cornerstone of democracy.

    Has political opinion media had a real effect on politics?

    I think the impact has been heaviest on the right, because the conservative side of the industry is so much more robust than the liberal side. One thing we note is the steady drumbeat that stigmatizes congressional collaboration and compromise. Every vote is interpreted as a litmus test of ideological purity, which can be really detrimental to the legislative process.

    One example is the government shutdown. As a whole, the government shutdown reflected badly on Republicans — they took a hit in the polls, but if you look at each Republican legislator, the votes make sense because they didn’t want their feet held to the flames. Immigration reform, which seems essential to the party’s future, was voted down in the House because the “outrage industry” went on a tirade against it. Limbaugh criticizes RINOs — Republicans In Name Only — and no one wants to be targeted with that criticism.

    And it isn’t just sticks and stones. Fans of these programs have high levels of political involvement and as we have seen, Republicans that fail the litmus test run the risk of getting “primaried” right out of their districts. Some feel the only way to protect themselves is to be as far right as possible, so there is no room for someone to run at them from the farthest end of ideological spectrum. Thus, even though the country gives low marks to the Congress for gridlock, it is the fear of retribution from cable, talk radio and political blogs, and then eventually from their constituents, that actually makes it rational for legislators to favor gridlock.

    Many people love watching Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow; what would you want those viewers to consider?

    Oh, they are incredibly charismatic and entertaining. There is a lot to enjoy in outrage-based content. But it’s important to consume critically, even when you are listening to people you agree with and respect. Outrage-based opinion hosts are not charged with providing the news of the day. What they do is respond, selectively. They engage with the news of the day that sets them up most effectively for a zinger. They omit news that doesn’t spin well for the home team, and often over emphasize things that are brand-friendly, but not of much importance. The result is a funhouse mirror version of the day’s events. Some fans believe these shows are the only sources they can trust for information. That’s a pretty impressive feat, really, to have convinced someone that an opinion program offers the truth, while conventional news is riddled with bias. Having said that, I don’t think it’s bad to enjoy these shows, it is just important to understand how they work and consume a broader curriculum of information.

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    mtgox

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A week ago, most people never heard of an online currency exchange known as Mt. Gox. But it’s suddenly become the subject of international interest and its recent turn of fortune is prompting many questions about the future of the virtual currency Bitcoin.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles issued his mea culpa before news cameras in Tokyo today.

    MARK KARPELES, CEO of Mt. Gox: There was a weak area in the system, and, as a result, we lost Bitcoins. I am deeply sorry that I have caused trouble to everyone.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: His website had been one of the largest online exchanges for the digital cryptocurrency known as Bitcoins. Bitcoins are generated, or mined, by computers, solving math problems that become ever more complex and time-consuming.

    The site went offline Tuesday amid allegations of major theft, and Karpeles acknowledged today he can’t account for 850,000 Bitcoins. That is almost 4 percent of all the Bitcoins that will ever be mined, and they’re valued at about $425 million.

    The catastrophic losses prompted picketing this week outside the company’s Tokyo offices

    KOLIN BURGESS, Mt. Gox User: I had 311 Bitcoins in there, which at the time before this started was worth around $300,000. So it looks like that has disappeared.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Bitcoins were created in 2009 to enable anonymous cross-border transactions without third-party oversight or expensive transaction fees. And their value soared in recent months.

    Some entrepreneurs even set up ATM-like vending machines to distribute a hard version of the currency. But security concerns and Bitcoin’s use in money laundering caught the eye of world regulators. In October, U.S. officials shut down the Silk Road, a major online marketplace for drugs and other illegal products based purely on Bitcoin transactions.

    Today, Japan’s finance minister said the Mt. Gox collapse wasn’t unexpected.

    TARO ASO, Finance Minister, Japan (through interpreter): I really wondered whether this would continue. I thought it would indeed go bankrupt at one point. But it has indeed happened quickly.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Supporters of Bitcoin say Mt. Gox is an isolated case, and that virtual currencies still have great potential.

    The post Major Bitcoin exchange files for bankruptcy, loses $425 million in virtual currency appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    bitcoin

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more on all this, we turn to Kashmir Hill, senior online editor and writer at Forbes who has been following these events closely. She’s also author of the e-book “Secret Money,” recounting a week she spent living exclusively on Bitcoins.

    So, first of all, explain to us what Mt. Gox was and how it got so big.

    KASHMIR HILL, Forbes: So, Mt. Gox was one of the earliest Bitcoin exchanges. Its name, Mt. Gox, actually stands for Magic the Gathering Online Exchange, because it started out basically dealing in Magic cards.

    So it was interested in value created by virtual worlds. And so it made sense that it would move into virtual money created for the real world. So it was very early. It became one of the biggest exchanges out there, in part because it just arrived — arrived to the game very early on.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so this potential theft or robbery or dissolution of money that happened — well, it didn’t really happen Tuesday. We don’t exactly know what happened, do we?

    KASHMIR HILL: We don’t really know. There is still a black hole of information around exactly how Mt. Gox may have lost these 850,000 Bitcoins.

    There was one document that was leaked that said that there was a leak in their cold storage wallet. And they blamed hackers who took advantage of a flaw in their code to take Bitcoin out of their system. But we still don’t exactly know what happened.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So if these coins were to come back into circulation, isn’t there the equivalent of a serial number on a dollar bill? Wouldn’t they show up because all of the transactions on all of the Bitcoins are in a kind of open log?

    KASHMIR HILL: Right. So, unless their servers fell in the ocean or something, the Bitcoins weren’t completely destroyed. They were taken from Mt. Gox.

    And, theoretically, Bitcoin is one huge public ledger, and so if we could figure out which transactions were the fraudulent ones, fraudulent ones, the theft, we could trace the Bitcoin, and potentially follow it to whoever has stolen it.

    But there are ways within the Bitcoin system to kind of confuse where Bitcoin moved. But, theoretically, we could potentially see when the Bitcoin taken and kind of see the flow of transactions as to where it went.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what about the people who lost money? Is there any way that they can be made whole again? There isn’t an FDIC or even a bank that they can go complain to.

    KASHMIR HILL: And for a lot of critics of Bitcoin, they are pointing to this as saying, see, we told you so. You put all of this money into a virtual currency, and now it’s gone away.

    You know, Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy. They did say they have some assets, but they also have a lot of debt. So, right now, it’s looking like customers of Mt. Gox who were using Mt. Gox as their Bitcoin bank have lost their savings, which is — which is really sad for a lot of people who had a lot of money there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So the Japanese finance minister was one of those critics. He wasn’t shy about his pessimism or skepticism for it.

    How are other countries around the world and possibly their central banks positioning themselves to not just Bitcoin, but other cryptocurrencies?

    KASHMIR HILL: Here, the U.S. regulators and lawmakers are being pretty progressive around Bitcoin.

    And they are pointing to things like Mt. Gox, saying, we need regulation. We need some kind of oversight of businesses that are involved in Bitcoin. So I think this will give them more fodder for calling for that kind of regulation.

    New York’s — New York’s financial regulator said that they want to issue bit licenses for Bitcoin businesses, where they will be audited and checked and make sure that there is nothing like what happened with Mt. Gox, where people’s Bitcoin just disappear overnight.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So it seems like the regulation could be a double-edged sword here. On the one hand, it could slow things down, which is exactly the opposite of what Bitcoin proponents want. On the other hand, it could add some legitimacy to these currencies.

    KASHMIR HILL: Early Bitcoin adopters who liked Bitcoin because it was free of the state and free of regulators have looked askance at the calls for regulation.

    But people who have gotten in later, who are more interested in the kind of legitimate uses of Bitcoin to, you know, avoid transaction fees when sending money, are pretty excited about the idea of these businesses actually having some kind of oversight.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And how significant is it that this particular exchange, the collapse of the largest exchange of Bitcoin, what is the consequence of that on these cryptocurrencies? It seems that there are arguments on both sides, one saying that is actually going to make the system stronger, then the other saying this is the beginning of the end.

    KASHMIR HILL: So, Mt. Gox was for a long time the largest exchange. It was kind of the only place where you could go to buy Bitcoin.

    But, as the value of Bitcoin has risen, it has attracted other exchanges. So there are very big exchanges in China, for example. There’s one in Slovenia. And here in the U.S., a company called SecondMarket is planning to launch one this summer. So there are other players in the Bitcoin market now. So a lot of people are saying that Bitcoin is just going to route around Mt. Gox’s failure.

    It just clears the field for other, more legitimate companies to operate. Other critics say, you know, this is — in terms of mainstream — mainstream adoption and new people entering the Bitcoin market, this is going to be very scary for them, the idea that you might buy a bunch of Bitcoin, and then overnight see them disappear.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And while we have repeatedly talked about Bitcoin, it’s just one of multiple currencies. It’s sort of the gold to — there is a silver, there’s a copper out there, right?

    KASHMIR HILL: There are other cryptocurrencies out there.

    There is Litecoin. There is Dogecoin. These are basically currencies where they have copied the Bitcoin code and then modified it in some way. So it is very similar to Bitcoin with slight differences. And Litecoin is actually — it saw more of an increase in value over the last year than Bitcoin did, relatively. If you bought $100 worth of Litecoin in January of last year, it would have been worth something like $30,000 in January of this year.

    So we’re definitely seeing a kind of wider interest in cryptocurrencies, or altcoins, as some people call them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Kashmir Hill from Forbes, thanks so much.

    KASHMIR HILL: You’re welcome.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, Ukraine, Russia, David, U.S. officials are now saying they’re convinced the Russian military is in Crimea. You heard President Obama’s warning today. What are we to make of this?

    DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes, I thought the warning was strong. I thought the reference to costs, I thought the reference to how deeply concerned the U.S. would be and the West would be if Russia continues this was a reasonably strong statement for him to go out there, but fully justified.

    Ukraine was clearly — and Putin was clearly not going to do anything. He was going to throw some thuggish weight around. He will probably get to a reform to the electoral law. But the crucial thing here is money. Ukraine is a country which was really teetering toward bankruptcy.

    And so this is a country for sale. And Putin has shown in the West, when we offered an IMF package a few months ago, we weren’t really willing to back it up with any money, and Putin. He was willing to outbid us. And so this is going to come down to who is going to outbid who. And I’m sure Putin thinks he can outbid us again, outbid the West again.

    The administration sources I talked to are pretty resolute that we’re going to offer some money this time to keep the possibility of a Western-leaning Ukraine a fiscal reality. And so I think the administration is pretty resolved not to let Putin get away with this, given the leverage we have.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you see this going, Mark?

    MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, Chip Bohlen, who was the great U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, said, there is no such thing as an expert on Russia; there’s just various degrees of ignorance.

    And I fall in that category. I’m amazed that Putin, just having really been reflected glory of the Olympics…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a week ago.

    MARK SHIELDS: A week ago. And having earned the goodwill that apparently was behind his rule, the prominence, the celebrity, the adulation, puts it on all on the line.

    And David — I agree with David. Ukraine is in terrible shape. It needs $25 billion. It’s a country that has a gross domestic product of $176 billion. I mean, it’s not a wealthy country at 46 million people. And if it’s going to come, Judy, it’s going to come from the West and it’s going to come with strings attached, just as Greece did, perhaps not as severe, but there will be austerity, because they have an overvalued currency.

    They have got a kleptocracy, with business moguls just cutting deals with the government, and the government with them. I mean, across the globe in the past year, we have seen democracy after democracy, and it’s been disappointment after disappointment. And I think is one where it’s going to require the best efforts and the long-term stamina of the West.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But what about the military piece of this? I mean, the fact that the Russians are sending their troops in, they’re sending military equipment in, David, does this rise to a different level? I know you’re stressing the economy, both of you, but what about the military?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, there are two elements of Putin’s personality. The one is that everything is for sale. It’s all about organizing corruption.

    And one of the things he’s got to — probably going to work on is the oligarchs in Ukraine take up 80 percent of the economy. He can insert the Russian oligarchs. So that is one side of his personality.

    But the second side of his personality — personality in crisis after crisis is the psychology of fear. And he saw how the Ukraine parliament, even the people nominally on his side, were basically running for their lives in the last couple weeks. And so he’s going to put the pressure on the other way. And that’s just the way he always is. That is what we understand about him, that he’s an autocrat who believes in ruling by fear. And so he’s beginning to instill the fear. This is probably small-bore. And I think he’s on his best behavior sort of because of the Olympic glow. He can get a lot rougher than this, as we saw in Georgia.

    And so the people I speak to expect him to — they have no illusions about the character of this guy. The U.S. policy, U.S. attitudes toward Putin within the administration, the last two administrations have really hardened to an amazing degree. And he is now seen as a narcissistic autocrat.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what is really at stake here for the United States, Mark? I mean…

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, the importance of Ukraine and its European engagement, I mean, I think for the future of — I think we have to establish the premise that honest, functioning, competent democracies are good, are good for world peace, are good for world — good for the people of those countries, first of all.

    And that — Ukraine has not had that. And its only hope for that evolving, painful though it will be in its birth, is, in my judgment, the United States and the E.U. working together, and being in for the long run.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But if — when it comes to Russia, though, tensions keep rising. We’re counting on the Russians in some regard in Iran, in Syria.

    MARK SHIELDS: With Syria, yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, in a host of troubled parts of the world, even the Middle East.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, if you wanted to delimit the bad things that could happen, Dimitri Simes mentioned earlier on the program just the possibility of miscalculation.

    I mean, nobody thought World War I was going to happen either, not that we’re going to have World War I, but you could have miscalculations and you really could have something recently terrible if Ukraine breaks up. So there’s that. But, then, as you say, he could say, you mess with me in Ukraine, I’m going to really mess with you in the parts you really care about, which is Iran and Syria, where we do need them.

    But I would just go back to Putin. We definitely need long-term stability in Central Europe and in Ukraine and in countries like that. But Putin is a history-making individual. He sees himself as someone who is shaping history. And people like that are inherently destabilizing.

    And so he is the head of really a failing country with a lot of power, a lot of money, and an itch to destabilize the world. And so it’s his stability, it’s his either rise in power or fall in power that may be ultimately what is at stake, one of the world’s great troublemakers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s bring it back home and talk about something that happened in this country this week, Mark.

    And that is Arizona, a zigzag, I guess you could say, where the legislature passed a law saying — a bill saying that merchants, service providers could refuse to provide a service to anyone who is gay. Now the governor, Jan Brewer, Republican, vetoed this.

    What does it all add up to?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, follow my lips, Judy.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, ADL, add to that Apple, Marriott, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Marriott Hotels, Starwood Hotels, the loss of any standing for Arizona as a resort or convention center was on the table.

    And Jan Brewer understood this. It was the old biblical injunction, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. This wasn’t God’s. This was Caesar. This might have been freedom of religion on the part of the — or religious freedom on the part of advocates of this legislation, but this came right down to Arizona facing the same ignominy and loss of capital that it faced on Martin Luther King Day, when it refused to accept Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday and again lost convention business.

    So, I think it was a pretty practical, hardheaded decision made, and with Mitt Romney, to his credit, weighing in, in favor for vetoing it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Along with Arizona’s two senators.

    But, David, it is not just the Arizona legislature. What is it — I think there are six other states that are now considering similar legislation.

    DAVID BROOKS: Right.

    Well, hopefully — well, without declaring my interests here, hopefully, we will see the same result. And what is interesting to me is the reassertion of the corporate country club establishment. That is what really rallied here and really changed the bill, that this is an establishment that has been losing power to the Tea Party, in part, as my colleague Gail pointed out, because of the campaign finance reform that made it hard for the big donors to control the party and made it easier for the Tea Party.

    But — but, so — but this was a reassertion of more or less the corporate elite, and saying, don’t do this to our state. And they carried the day. And what is I think useful is that a lot of the small, marginal groups, often some of the Tea Partiers or the social conservative groups that are off on the fringes, have had their way, because the people in the establishment who are in the center have not been able to slap them down.

    And here was a case where they did that, facing ruinous economic costs. And I can’t see why other states wouldn’t face the same logic and wouldn’t try to mobilize. And if you think the center needs to mobilize against the fringes, this would be a good sign.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. This is a fun subject, tax reform.

    The — Mark, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Dave Camp, today rolled out what would be a pretty dramatic change in tax — the tax code, getting us down to three rates, really, 10, 25, 35.

    But the leadership, Republican and Democratic leadership, basically said, it’s not going anywhere.

    MARK SHIELDS: I would say, first of all, two cheers for Dave Camp. We have had a lot of talk in this town, a lot of seminars, a lot of focus groups, a lot of theses on — written on the subject of tax reform.

    But we haven’t had a committee do anything. And Dave Camp, the Republican, in his last year as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, did, in fact, produce a document, which had heresy in it.

    Dave Camp said for those banks, for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, those struggling little mom-and-pop shops that were bailed out by the American people, that he would impose a tax upon them, a slight tax. But this is something that Republicans don’t do, now, haven’t voted for a single tax since 1993, before 1993, starting with Bill Clinton.

    So, you know, I thought it showed daring, imagination.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s not going anywhere.

    MARK SHIELDS: I was very disappointed in the speaker’s reaction, blah, blah, blah, which was an insult to somebody who had spent some real work on it.

    No, it isn’t going to go anywhere, Judy, because something like this takes a gestation period of three, four years and a lot of work. Dave Camp began the work.

    DAVID BROOKS: I’m still hurting from Mark’s smear on seminars.

    (LAUGHTER)

    DAVID BROOKS: I do seminars.

    (LAUGHTER)

    DAVID BROOKS: I thought it was a good step forward.

    Like Mark, it’s a step. And it’s not going to pass, but it’s a step, and a step for some of the reasons Mark said. But it’s a — it’s was a Republican plan that preserved the progressivity of the tax code, and maybe even increased it a little, and a plan that is revenue-neutral, but a plan that would produce amazing economic benefits if enacted.

    If the Republicans — if the Democrats want to come in and say, we will adopt a similar strategy, maybe we want a little more revenue, then you really could begin to have a negotiation, or at least you would if we lived in a normal political system.

    But I thought it was — as Mark said, there is a lot of political opposition to this. Why should we put out a plan cutting somebody’s mortgage interest deduction before an election, when it’s not going to pass anyway?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    DAVID BROOKS: So he did the right thing in putting it out there and getting this debate going another step forward. So I agree with Mark. I think it was an outstanding step.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally — maybe we have time for two things.

    And one is the president rolling out this program this week called My Brother’s Keeper, all about, Mark, young men of color, saying, we need to do something. A lot coming it is coming from the private sector, but it’s doing something about young men who just have not had a way up the ladder, as the president put it.

    MARK SHIELDS: No, I thought — I thought it was pitch-perfect for the president.

    This was something that he spoke about from a very personal experience, personal angle. He spoke to the young men in the room, autobiographically about his own, having gotten high and not done well in school, and all the rest of it.

    For somebody who is criticized often, even by his own supporters, of being too cool, too distance, too detached, I thought it showed a very welcome passion on a subject in which he has, in my judgment, unique standing.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    And I would say what it does, people say, oh, it’s not — there’s no money, there’s no — it’s all private sector. But it does a couple of things. First, it begins to mobilize a coalition on behalf of some of these programs that the next president can use. And the second thing it does, there is going to be a lot of testing and studying to find out what actually works and then gathering of that information.

    So I think it’s — it’s not huge, but it lays the predicate for some policies for the next president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Gwen did a wonderful interview — had a wonderful report this week talking to some of these young men. It really is — it really does give you hope.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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    Northern lights activity in Scotland's Ochil Hills near Menstrie. Photo by Flickr user Brian Smith.

    Northern lights activity in Scotland’s Ochil Hills near Menstrie. Photo by Flickr user Brian Smith.

    People across the British Isles looked up at the night skies on Thursday and saw a rare sight — the dancing, flickering lights of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.

    The clearest views of the light display were in Scotland and northern England, but they pushed as far south as Wales and the Channel Islands off the coast of France. A combination of clear, cold weather and a strong solar storm on Feb. 25th made the conditions the best in decades for viewing the lights.

    Spectacular colors of the Northern Lights look like fire in the sky over the water near Black Point, Wales. Photo by Flickr user Adrian Kingsley-Hughes.

    Spectacular colors of the Northern Lights look like fire in the sky over the water near Black Point, Wales. Photo by Flickr user Adrian Kingsley-Hughes.

    The colors varied from brilliant green to pink to bright red and shades inbetween. According to the British Geological Survey, the dazzling display happens when explosions on the Sun hurl large amounts of charged particles into space. The particles that head toward Earth take two or three days to gravitate to the geomagnetic polar regions where they collide with gas molecules and fill the sky with colors.

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    Zookeepers at the Johannesburg Zoo in South Africa have been working diligently in an effort to cheer up Wang — the last polar bear on the African continent.

    According to zoo staff, the 29-year-old male bear has been suffering from symptoms of depression since the death of his longtime partner bear Geebee in January. Workers fear the combination of stress from the passing of Geebee with the summer heat waves of South Africa could ultimately lead to the demise of Wang, who is nearing the end of life expectancy for a polar bear.

    Despite polar bears’ normal tendencies to live individually, Wang and Geebee were best friends — due in large part to the fact that they had been together since infancy, when they were relocated simultaneously to the Johannesberg Zoo in 1985. When Geebee was found dead in the pool of their enclosure of apparent heart failure on January 13, Wang took her death harshly according to workers at the zoo. Wang tore up the toys and grass in his enclosure, bent the steel door of his pad, barely ate his food rations and stayed awake during the night, guarding the body of his deceased partner and choosing to stay out in the sun rather than enter his room.

    To combat this post-mortem depression, workers have encouraged Wang to play with his food; hiding dog biscuits in his toys and freezing apples and fish into chunks of ice for Wang to chip apart and eat. On Valentine’s Day, keepers wrote “We love you Wang” on a cardboard box filled with treats — including a heart-shaped beef steak — and gave it to Wang as a gift. Despite the nominal success of these efforts, Katja Koeppel, the zoo’s manager of veterinary services, says Wang continues to miss his dearly departed friend.

    “Wang is pining for Geebee,” Koeppel told the Wall Street Journal, “and is understandably very stressed.”

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    This report was originally broadcast on January 12, 2014.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  From the outside, it looks like a beautiful old estate, but this is no private residence. Inside, investigators for the German Federal Government are poring through decades old records, searching for the last remaining Nazi war criminals who might have escaped justice.

    This is part of a much broader national effort underway in Germany to wrestle with the legacy of the holocaust… it includes the construction of memorials and museums at a record pace —  the revamping of the nation’s curriculum so that all German school kids get a fuller understanding of the Nazi era.

    But perhaps few are as crucial to this effort as this man.  His name is Kurt Schrimm, and he runs the central office in Germany that’s still trying to bring former Nazis to justice.

    KURT SCHRIMM: (translated from German) Right now only murder is punishable. All other crimes have passed the statute of limitations and can no longer be punished.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thirty one years ago, Schrimm was a local public prosecutor investigating robberies, murders and gun crimes… but when this history buff heard of an opening in a regional office investigating war criminals, he jumped at the chance.  And soon after, a conversation with one Holocaust survivor drove home the importance of this work.

    KURT SCHRIM: (translated from German) I met an elderly Jewish lady in New York at the end of the 1980’s who had survived the war. She said “I’ve been waiting more than 40 years for a German official to be interested in my case.” She told me “it doesn’t matter whether this person is put to trial or goes to prison; the most important thing is that you listened to my story.”

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   Schrimm would like to see the men he’s investigating prosecuted… but establishing their guilt in court has been complicated….   Following World War II, to convict a German soldier of murder, prosecutors had to prove a direct, personal responsibility for the killing of an innocent person.

    But several years ago, Germany successfully prosecuted 91 year-old retired Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk with being an accessory to the murders committed while he was a guard at the Nazi’s Sobibor death camp.…and now Schrimm is hoping to use that legal precedent to prosecute dozens of others, including guards who worked at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

    To build their cases, they’ve not only talked to survivors… but drawing on the Nazis own meticulous records and maps of the camps, investigators try to determine if guards, or even low-level workers like cooks, knew about, or witnessed the genocide.

    KURT SCHRIMM: (translated from German) For these cases we went to Auschwitz personally and looked at the whole camp and checked whether it was possible to see from the kitchen whether a new train of prisoners was arriving, or whether you could see the gas chambers.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   After completing their investigation, Schrimm’s office has recommended that thirty former Auschwitz guards – men now in their late 80s and 90s – be prosecuted as accessories to murder.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Given that many of these men are in their mid to late 90s, and many of them may not even live to see a trial, let alone a prison cell, how much of this, do you believe, is symbolism, and how much of this justice being served?

    KURT SCHRIM:  (translated from German) I think on one hand it’s important for the survivors, for the victims, that these cases are investigated. On the other hand, it’s also important for Germany. Germany during the war committed such terrible crimes that, after the war, Germany had a terrible reputation.  So we try to improve that reputation by prosecuting these cases.

    ERNST GRUBE: (translated from German) The current generation no longer has to confront what happened, so in my opinion, the Demianiuk trials, and these 30 or however many names that were found, they have a function to explain again to people what happened — the crimes of that period.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Ernst Grube is an 81 year-old Holocaust survivor. As a child growing up in Munich, he and his family lived right next to the old Jewish synagogue, which the Nazis destroyed… he and his family were eventually sent to a concentration camp.  (we sat down in Munich’s Jewish museum, directly across from the newly built synagogue.)

    Grube says the priority today must be to understand the roots of those crimes, not just prosecuting the perpetrators of them.

    WILLLIAM BRANGHAM: As somone who has witnessed these crimes firsthand, it seems you must have a very personal connection to these prosecutions?

    ERNST GRUBE: (translated from German) Given that, apart from my parents, all our family was killed, it goes without saying that it‘s always a difficult moment for me, and the older I get, the more emotional the impact it has on me.  But it can’t be about that. We want the words we say to help make sure these crimes don’t happen again.  The emphasis should be on the time running up to the war, and, of course, what’s happening today.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   What’s happening today, is the rise of what Grube believes are frighteningly similar prejudices in German society – similar to what he experienced as a Jewish child seventy years ago.

    According to the German government, there has been a rise in neo-Nazi crimes in Germany in recent years. Most of them targeted at germany’s growing immigrant population, including Turks and Roma immigrants, derisively called „gypsies“

    In one of Germany’s most high profile cases – members of a neo-Nazi subgroup are currently on trial for ten racially motivated murders across the country.

    Last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel felt the need to publicly apologize for these racist crimes, calling them her country’s “shame”

    And later, Merkel visited the Dachau concentration camp– and again warned of the growing extremism in her country.

    For his part, Ernst Grube counters that extremism by visiting classrooms, telling his story, and reminding students that there are echoes of the past all around.

    ERNST GRUBE: (translated from German) So, what shapes my life today are my childhood experiences of being ostracized, being mocked for being a Jew, being isolated for being a Jew, being attacked for being a “gypsy”, as people said at the time this is something that must – and I believe can – be conveyed to young people. That is what drives me to be so active today.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  This ongoing remembrance of the Holocaust is hardly limited to the few remaining survivors of the war…

    Germany has been putting up holocaust memorials, Nazi musuems and historical exhibitions in nearly all its major cities.  The nations’ schools are required to teach in depth lessons on the Nazi era to middle and high schoolers and almost all German students have visited a concentration camp or holocaust museum.

    And the commemorations also come in more personal ways

    WOLFRAM KASTNER:  I hope that it will never happen again, but if it would start again, it would start not anywhere but here.  In our mind, in our streets, in our city, in our village, in our school.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Wolfram Kastner is an artist in Munich – the city which Adolph Hitler called the capitol of the Nazi movement and one city that has often been criticized for down-playing its role in the rise of the third Reich.

    While Munich saw the opening of the Jewish museum in 2007 and is currently building a major center on the history of Nazism, critics argue the city still doesn’t do nearly enough to acknowledge its past.

    For example, at one of the city’s major landmarks — the Konigsplatz – there’s barely a sign that it was center stage for many of Hitler’s large Nazi rallies or that this was where Nazi youth had their notorious book burnings.

    WOLFRAM KASTNER:  They want the city very clean for tourism.  To invite all people from all over the world to come to Munich to Oktoberfest, and it’s all nice and wonderful and pretty, and it’s so marvelous,  And the black marks, the dark points of the history are cleaned away.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   among his many works, Kastern has defied authorities by burning black circles in the grass at Konigsplatz – a symbolic reminder of those book burnings seventy years ago.

    Kastner’s current project has been to tell the stories of particular Jewish families who lived in Munich during the 1930s, and were sent to concentration camps by the nazis. To do so, he paints these suitcases – similar to the ones victims carried to the camps — and places them outside the very buildings where the families lived, along with a plaque telling their stories.

    WOLFRAM KASTNER: There lived a family– Meyer.  And– they were killed.  Why?”   But if you see a girl, a face, a story, a history of her, It’s another feeling, and it– history comes near.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   In the end, Germany is doing what few nations have done before…. Not celebrating its greatest accomplishments, but building monuments to its darkest time.   …determined to keep history clearly in sight.

    ERNST GRUBE:  I think nowadays, it’s about communicating how it even came to pass that such things could happen. What happened before Auschwitz, what happened before Buchenwald, what happened before Dachau, and after Dachau, after the concentration camp? So it’s about the question: “how could this happen?”, that’s one aspect. And the other is: “yes, ok, but what’s that got to do with me, today?

    KURT SCHRIMM (translated from German) According to German law we are committed to prosecuting these cases –  it is true that because of their age they may never reach trial or go to prison, but  it is just and right that we go after these cases.

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    A collection of memes from tumblr related to thinspiration - anorexia

    A #thinspiration search on Tumblr pulls up images connected to anorexia and bulimia.

    Type the terms “#thinspiration,” “#thinspo” or “#ana” into various social media networks, and a disturbing underground world comes into focus. Images of emaciated legs and protruding ribs are flanked by words like “starving for perfection” and drastic tips to drop weight. Combined, they reveal a troubling movement that advocates eating disorders.

    Last year, outrage erupted over such pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia posts found on social networks Tumblr and Instagram.

    In response, those networks made efforts to ban content tagged with the related terms. Both Instagram and Tumblr implemented new guidelines that prohibit content that “promotes or glorifies self-harm,” along with advisory pop-up notifications that direct people to websites where they can find help.

    But the posts haven’t stopped. And don’t expect them to anytime soon.

    The so-called “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” websites have been around for years. Social media just makes the world easier to access. What’s more, social media users quickly found ways to sidestep the networks’ new guidelines by creating alternative search words to tag the content.

    According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. It’s natural to turn to social media — a 24/7 community — to talk about their struggles. But it’s not uncommon for comments in those posts to encourage starvation and purging rather than caution against such behavior.

    How do you block out these harmful messages? The National Eating Disorders Association — the group that advises Tumblr and Facebook on how to manage this type of content — aims to combat the problem by using social media to fuel positive support and to focus on early intervention in the lives of young people, when anxieties are most impressionable.

    Proud2BMe.org, an online community connected with the association, tries to reach these young people before they find such content.

    Proud2BMe encourages positive body imagery on social media sites like Tumblr.

    Proud2BMe encourages positive body imagery on social media sites like Tumblr.

    “Many young people I work with talk about social media having a negative impact on their body and recovery because it is so comparison-based,” said Claire Mysoko, a project consultant for Proud2BMe.

    James — an 18-year-old high school senior from Philadelphia and a member of NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs team — suffered from depression when he was younger, due in part, he said, from his difficulty accepting himself “as a dark-skinned African-American.” During that time, he said he didn’t eat regularly and was plagued with suicidal thoughts. Though he’s found support and more happiness since, social media can still trigger his feelings of insecurity.

    “On social media, you have to look like this, your body has to be shaped this way, you have to have this skin color, you have to have this smile to be acceptable to society,” he said. “And I don’t fit it.”

    Leaving your house no longer means leaving the online world behind. And the self-doubt, envy and inadequacy often sparked by the comments and photos of strangers and “friends” is harder to escape. For adults, these feelings sting. But for young people, the wounds can cut deeper.

    vice-week

    “One of the root issues of eating disorders is perfection and people-pleasing,” Mysoko said. These are desires that mirrors that need for “likes”, “favorites” and approval on social media.

    Proud2BMe aims to rally young people in support of all kinds of healthy bodies. For example, one of their main initiatives, led last year by 19-year-old Benjamin O’Keefe, Proud2BMe’s “teenage ambassador,” resulted in Abercrombie and Fitch’s expansion of clothing sizes.

    After reading a 2006 Business Insider article where Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries said the company goes “after the cool kids,” O’Keefe — who suffers from anorexia — started a Change.org petition that challenged the company to expand their size selection. Proud2BMe teamed up with O’Keefe and after a meeting with Abercrombie and Fitch, the company officially began carrying plus-sizes in November 2013.

    “It was incredible to see that my voice and my story could create a narrative of change and start a really big movement across the world,” O’Keefe said.

    And ultimately, if the bad advice is loud, the good advice — like this message from James — must speak louder:

    “Accept yourself. There are people out there like you, and they will accept you. But you have to accept yourself first.”

    NEDAwareness Week ends Sunday. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, NEDA can be reached online and by phone at 1-800-931-2237.

    The post Fighting social media ‘thinspiration’ with messages of self-acceptance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is warning Russia “there will be costs” for any military maneuvers it launches in Ukraine, a move U.S. and Ukrainian officials say they believe to be already underway.

    Officials say Obama may retaliate by canceling a trip to Russia this summer for an international summit and could also cut off trade discussions with Moscow. But it’s unclear whether those moves will have any impact on Russia’s calculus in Ukraine, which is at the center of what many see as a tug of war between East and West.

    “Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing,” Obama declared Friday in a statement from the White House. Such action by Russia would represent a “profound interference” in matters that must be decided by the Ukrainian people, he said.

    Separately, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that while he would not address specific U.S. options, “this could be a very dangerous situation if this continues in a provocative way.” Asked about options in a CBS News interview, he said that “we’re trying to deal with a diplomatic focus, that’s the appropriate, responsible approach.”

    As Obama prepared to speak late Friday, a spokesman for the Ukrainian border service said eight Russian transport planes had landed with unknown cargo in Ukraine’s Crimea region. Serhiy Astakhov told The Associated Press that the Il-76 planes arrived unexpectedly and were given permission to land, one after the other, at Gvardeiskoye air base.

    U.S. officials said they also believed Russian personnel had entered Crimea. The State Department urged U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel plans in Ukraine because of “the potential for instability.”

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to host the Group of Eight economic summit in June in Sochi, the site of the recently completed Winter Olympics. The U.S. is in discussions about the summit with European partners and it is difficult to see how some of those leaders would attend the summit if Russia has forces in Crimea, according to the administration officials. They were not authorized to discuss the situation by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

    Obama canceled a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin last year after Russia granted asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, though Obama still attended a separate international meeting in Russia.

    The administration’s warning that trade talks could be halted came as Russian officials were in Washington for economic discussions with Obama advisers.

    For the U.S., levying punishments on Russia is complicated by the myriad issues on which the White House needs Moscow’s help. Among them: ending the bloodshed in Syria, negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran and transporting U.S. military troops and equipment out of Afghanistan through Russian supply routes.

    At the White House, a somber Obama decried the situation in Ukraine and warned about deeper outside intervention.

    “Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, that would invite the condemnation of nations around the world,” he said. “The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”

    Political turmoil in Ukraine has pushed President Viktor Yanukovych from office. Yanukovych held a news conference in southern Russia Friday in which he said he was not asking Moscow for military assistance and called military action “unacceptable.”

    In his appearance before reporters, however, Yanukovych, who still regards himself the president, also vowed to “keep fighting for the future of Ukraine” and blamed the U.S. and the West for encouraging the rebellion that forced him to flee last weekend.

    One of the catalysts for massive demonstrations that led to Yanukovych’s ouster was his rejection of a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of historical ties with Moscow. That EU agreement would have paved the way for Ukraine’s greater integration with the West, including potential affiliation with NATO, something to which Russia strongly objects for former Warsaw Pact members.

    Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior U.S. officials have tried without success to dispel widespread sentiment in Russia that the United States and Europe are trying to pry Ukraine out from under Russian influence. They have insisted repeatedly that Ukraine is not a “zero-sum game” in which one side – Russia or the West – wins and the other loses.

    Their argument, though, seems to be falling on deaf ears in Moscow, where Russian officials have been accusing the U.S. and its allies of meddling, fomenting anti-Russia sentiment and actively encouraging Kiev’s Western aspirations at the expense of its historical connections.

    There was no known contact Friday between Obama and Putin, who last spoke a week ago.

    Kerry did call Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the second time in two days to press the Kremlin to keep its promise to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Kerry said he warned Moscow against military moves in Crimea that could further inflame tensions.

    Lavrov repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledge to do just that while also pointing out that Russia has broad interests in Ukraine, Kerry said.

    The secretary of state said the U.S. was watching to see if Russian activity in Crimea “might be crossing a line in any way.” He added that the administration would be “very careful” in making judgments about that.

    Kerry reiterated the U.S. view that Russian military intervention in Ukraine following the ouster of the country’s Russia-backed leader would run counter to Russia’s self-professed opposition to such operations in other countries, such as Libya and Syria.

    Underscoring U.S. concerns about Russian intervention are memories of the conflict in Georgia, where Russian troops remain in two disputed enclaves in violation of a 2008 cease-fire.

    Amid the heightened tensions over Ukraine, the U.S. this week twice renewed its objections to the Russian military presence in Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

    This report was written by Associated Press White House Correspondent Julie Pace. AP writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

    The post Obama warns Russia of costs for military intervention in Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Russian parliament voted unanimously on Saturday to allow President Vladimir Putin to use the country’s military forces in Ukraine.

    Putin made a statement to parliament ahead of the vote asking lawmakers to formalize the country’s military presence already underway in the region of Crimea, which has a majority ethnic Russian population.

    “I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the socio-political situation in the that country,” Putin said in statement published on his website.

    Crimea began distancing itself from Kiev almost immediately after months long protests resulted in the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych last week. Following the turmoil in the capitol Crimea closed its airport and installed pro-Russian guards at important buildings.

    The region asked for Russia’s help after seizing control of regional parliament and electing a pro-Russian prime minister.

    According to Reuters, Crimea’s prime minister Sergei Aksyonov said unmarked servicemen from the Russian Black Sea Fleet were deployed and have maintained a presence in the region’s parliamentary building since Thursday.

    During the emergency parliamentary session, the Russian parliament also recommended recalling the country’s ambassador to Washington in response to a statement President Barack Obama made on Friday warning Russia about the “costs” of a military invasion.

    The post Russian parliament votes to allow military force in Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Urban farms are responsible for a very small portion of food we eat in the U.S., but a relatively new type of farm – one that uses no soil – might make a big difference in the future. NewsHour’s Tracy Wholf reports.

    TRACY WHOLF: This may look like another commercial greenhouse, but it’s actually a working science lab for students in kindergarten, up through the 8th grade. It’s one of 12 that’s been built as part of an initiative to put 100 greenhouse labs in New York City schools by 2020.

    ERIN MOUGHAN-SMITH, 7TH GRADE TEACHER:  Nine, eight, seven…

    SHAKIRA, 2ND GRADE TEACHER:  All harvesters, just for the front row, right here.

    TRACY WHOLF:  Putting greenhouses in secondary schools isn’t new, but using hydroponic growing systems is. A method of farming using water and nutrients instead of soil – hydroponic farming allows students to study a variety of environmental science concepts and urban sustainability.

    SIDSEL ROBARDS:  One of the things that our programming really emphasizes is science education and the science behind the growing.

    TRACY WHOLF:  Sidsel Robards is the director of development for New York Sun Works – a non-profit that is dedicated to building science labs in urban schools.

    SIDSEL ROBARDS:  So it’s really not about urban farming for us, it’s about talking about science and because most people care about food, urban farming is a great way to do it.

    TRACY WHOLF: New York Sun Works opened this 1400-square foot greenhouse lab on the roof of the school gymnasium in 2010. Because hydroponic growing systems are water-based, they are much lighter than their soil counterparts and easier to install on a roof. There are also several other benefits to hydroponic growing over traditional soil farms:

    It requires less space, nutrient levels in water can be more easily controlled than soil, and water is constantly recirculated – which leads to less water usage over time, as compared to traditional soil gardens.

    How much does a greenhouse like this cost?

    SIDSEL ROBARDS: This one cost $850,000.

    TRACY WHOLF: Wow.

    SIDSEL ROBARDS: Yeah, so that sounds like a lot, but if you compare it to what a science lab costs, it’s probably about the same.

    TRACY WHOLF:  Using a combination of public money, grants and private donations, New York Sun Works helps design and build greenhouse labs that will suit each school’s needs.

    The program’s curriculum was designed to fulfill requirements mandated by the New York state science standards. And by using hydroponics as a tool, not only can teachers cover general science topics, it also encourages discussions about developing sustainable systems to help alleviate problems faced in urban environments.

    TRACY WHOLF: So tell me, what have you guys built, what is this?

    JADEN AULT, 7th GRADE STUDENT:  This is a VIG, a vertically integrated growing system.

    TRACY WHOLF:  So what kind of plants have you planted in yours?

    JADEN AULT: Lettuce, basil and kale

    TRACY WHOLF:  So this is something I could grow on my roof?

    OSSIAN HELLER, 7th GRADE STUDENT: Yeah, like, if you went to your landlord and asked him, “Can I grow some plants on the roof?” And he said, “Uh, sure.” Um, it’s easier to get your food from local place and it’s healthier and it’s cool and, yeah.

    SHAKIRA, 2ND GRADE TEACHER: If you’re harvesting, please select a large plant.

    TRACY WHOLF: With the help of the students, this particular greenhouse can produce up to 9,000 lbs. Of produce a year – more than the kids could ever eat. So this class of second graders voted to donate their greens to meals-on-wheels…

    SHAKIRA, 2ND GRADE TEACHER: Thank you, appreciate it.

    TRACY WHOLF: …which delivered the produce to a senior citizen’s center in midtown Manhattan.

    SIDSEL ROBARDS: So one of the great things about all of the produce they create here is that it’s a great way to connect to the community.

    TRACY WHOLF:  Just like the students, many businesses are also experimenting with hydroponic greenhouses – a point not lost on the kids.

    ERIN MOUGHAN-SMITH, 7th GRADE TEACHER: The kids are like, “Who else has a greenhouse?” They’re starting to get really into it and germinate. “They’re like, “We heard this high school has one! We know that they have a greenhouse over there and what else can we do?”

    TRACY WHOLF:  With 20 more greenhouse labs in development, New York Sun Works is well on its way to reaching its goal of 100 labs by 2020. And the trend is catching on in other parts of the country. New York Sun Works has been contacted by school districts in Colorado and Oregon to bring the program to their states.

    And with more commercial hydroponic farms opening up in Oklahoma City, St. Louis and Washington D.C., urban farming continues to grow.

    SIDSEL ROBARDS:  There’s a lot of science concepts in the farming system. I think it’s a great way to show kids that science is not just guys in white lab coats, it’s actually everything that’s around us. It’s science for everyone because everyone needs a good science education.

    The post Greenhouse labs spur student learning on Manhattan rooftops appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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