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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in the U.S., the release of the president’s budget today touched off a fresh round of debate in Washington about spending priorities.

    Mr. Obama called on lawmakers to support investments that would help create jobs. But Republicans said the plan spends too much and would hurt the economy.

    In boxes and on dollies, the 2015 fiscal year budget blueprint arrived at the Capitol this morning, while President Obama was describing it as balanced and responsible in a visit to a Washington, D.C., elementary school.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s a road map for creating jobs, with good wages and expanding opportunity for all Americans.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The nearly $4 trillion plan also serves as a kind of platform for Democrats in November’s congressional elections. It includes new spending for expanded preschool education, job training and public works. And it expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers, while separately adding more than $1 trillion in higher taxes over the next decade.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This budget gives millions more workers the opportunity to take advantage of the tax credit, and it pays for it by closing loopholes like the ones that let wealthy individuals classify themselves as a small business to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama withdrew last year’s offer to slow down increases in Social Security benefits. But the White House says the plan abides by spending limits in last December’s budget compromise.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And at a time when our deficit’s been cut in half, it allows us to meet our obligations to future generations without leaving them a mountain of debt.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The 2015 deficit would decline to $560 billion, but Republicans today said the red ink, spending hikes and tax increases mean the plan is dead on arrival.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.,Minority Leader: Rather than put together a constructive blueprint the two parties could use as a jumping-off point to get our economy moving and our fiscal house in order, the president has once again opted for the political stunt for a budget that’s more about firing up the base in an election year than about solving the nation’s biggest and most persistent long-term challenges.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Paul Ryan, the House budget chair, likewise called the Obama plan a disappointment.

    In a statement, he said: “It would demand that families pay more so Washington can spend more. It would hollow out our defense capabilities. And it would do nothing to preserve or strengthen our entitlements.”

    Ryan offered an extensive critique yesterday of federal anti-poverty efforts. He’s expected to release a Republican budget proposal in the coming weeks.

    Some of the more notable pieces of the president’s proposal, and expected to show up in the Republican alternative, are the different approaches to poverty, inequality and social mobility.

    We contrast those perspectives ourselves. James Capretta is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He served as associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. And Robert Greenstein, he is the founder and director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

    Welcome to you both.

    JAMES CAPRETTA, Ethics and Public Policy Center: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Bob Greenstein, let me start with you.

    The president said in his State of the Union address that he wanted Congress to reverse the tides of income equality, which he said have deepened in this country. Does he do so in that budget, and, if so, how?

    ROBERT GREENSTEIN, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: He does do it to some degree. There’s limits to what government can do there, but he makes, I think, a pretty solid effort.

    What he does is, he raises money both by cutting some lower-priority spending and raising some revenues, particularly through a series of measures to curb loopholes that are used particularly by very high-income people to avoid paying taxes the rest of us pay.

    He uses some of that money for deficit reduction, but he uses some of it for a series of investments. Some should help opportunity broadly, improvements in infrastructure, education, training, and scientific research. But some is targeted on encouraging opportunity from people low on the income spectrum through such things as an expanded wage supplement, Earned Income Credit, for very low-wage workers and significant investments in preschool education and early high-quality education for children from low-income families who otherwise start school already way behind their peers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim Capretta, how do you see what the president is doing here or not doing here, in your view, to close this gap?

    JAMES CAPRETTA: Well, first of all, I think the budget is really aimed at a political statement. I don’t think it’s really aimed at creating a legislative change. I don’t think there is any chance that many of these proposals will be enacted.

    It’s really aimed at — at creating a political argument that the Democrats can carry into the November election. Frankly, the White House has all but admitted that’s really what their aim is with this kind of budget.

    But, back to the issue of inequality, I think there is a real misunderstanding about how inequality came about and whether or not it really affects people on the low end. First of all, inequality has really happened because we have a global economy, and if someone finds a new idea or a new research effort or something that’s very innovative, you can do very, very well in this country if you’re a part of that.

    Does that come at the expense of people at the low end? No. There’s been many, many economic studies that have shown that just because somebody at the high end is doing better, that doesn’t come on the expense of the low end. So the president’s proposals really mis — a prescription for the wrong problem.

    Secondly, even if it was the right problem, the amount of money we’re talking about that he’s redistributing from people on the high end to the low end is very, very minor, given the size of our economy and really what the issue is. So I don’t think it is going to have much of an effect whatsoever, either because it won’t have any chance of passage and it’s really aimed at the wrong problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I want you to respond to that, Bob Greenstein, but I also want to get to what the two of you think the two parties might be able to come together on, if anything, this year.

    ROBERT GREENSTEIN: Well, let me respond to Jim’s point this is just a political statement because it isn’t going to pass this year.

    Paul Ryan’s budget isn’t going to pass this year either. Nothing much is going to pass this year. That doesn’t mean that the Obama budget or the Ryan budget, which I don’t agree with much in it, but it doesn’t mean that either budget is nothing but a political statement and should be ignored.

    Both budgets set forth a framework and a vision for a year-long debate, because significant decisions are coming starting in 2015, I think.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. Then let’s talk about where you see — what do you see in here, Jim Capretta, where you see the two parties could work together?

    JAMES CAPRETTA: Well, there’s one possibility. I don’t know how much of a chance, but around the Earned Income Tax Credit, there’s more bipartisan support for that kind of an approach to wage supplements than it is for just redistributing through taxing and spending.

    Earned Income Tax Credit is a program that Bob knows well that provides additional support directly through the federal tax system to people that are actually working, have a job, and it boosts their income directly to the proportion of earned wages. It’s the kind of thing that could be built on.

    It’s better than doing, frankly, a minimum wage increase, certainly of the size the president has pushed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is what the president has called on.

    ROBERT GREENSTEIN: I think we need to do both the minimum wage increase and the Earned Income Credit.

    You can’t do the whole thing through the Earned Income Credit. It puts too much strain on government finances. You can’t do the whole thing through the minimum wage. That puts too much strain on employers.

    But I think Jim is right that there is a potential here, for even another reason. The president is proposing to increase the Earned Income Credit for workers not living with minor children. We already have a sizable Earned Income Credit for families with kids.


    ROBERT GREENSTEIN: When you look at these young workers or middle-aged workers who are single individuals, if they’re paid low wages, they’re the one group whom the federal government today literally taxes into poverty or deeper into poverty. That should be something that both parties can say, that’s not a good idea. And both parties want to encourage these people to work more, and the Earned Income Credit does that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Jim Capretta, you see Republicans moving in the president’s direction, having more interest in doing something like this?

    JAMES CAPRETTA: Well, I wouldn’t say that.

    I think, in the area of Earned Income Tax Credit, which was your prior question, where there is possibility for some agreement, that might be some overlap. But, in general, I think the Republican approach would be very, very different. I think they are going to look at the range of programs that are aimed at helping the poor and say, look, a lot of these programs have been created without any relationship or understanding of how they interact with the others.

    You create large disincentives to work when you stack them all together. Lots of studies have shown that when you pay someone an income-tested benefit and then withdraw it when their earnings rise, in a sense, you have provided a disincentive for people to move up the wage ladder.

    So you stack all these things together, and some people are losing 80 percent or more of their additional earnings when they get a better-paying job. I think Republicans are going to look very hard at that and trying to get the work incentives right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But just to bore in for a second here in our remaining minute on the Earned Income Tax Credit, what’s the point at which you see the two sides coming together?

    ROBERT GREENSTEIN: There’s two possibilities.

    You could do improvements, expansion of the Earned Income Credit as part of bipartisan tax reform, or you could do it as part of the package, a compromise package with the minimum wage. I’m not sure I see either of those happening in 2014, but I think there’s a potential in a subsequent year.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see?

    JAMES CAPRETTA: I very much agree with…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What’s the point of connection?

    JAMES CAPRETTA: I agree with Bob on that. I don’t think much will happen in 2014. But…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Even on this?

    JAMES CAPRETTA: Even on this. It’s just too contentious. There’s too much that — both sides are going to want to take this to the election in November. After November, there is the possibility, even around a low-income agenda, that there might be some modest agreements.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we are going to leave it there. We thank you both, Jim Capretta, Robert Greenstein.

    JAMES CAPRETTA: Thank you.


    The post Does the president’s budget present solutions for closing the economic gap? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user threelayercake

    Photo by Flickr user threelayercake

    What do the Arctic’s ice cap, America’s bee population and Chipotle’s guacamole have in common?

    They’re all potential casualties of global climate change.

    In Chipotle’s 2013 annual report, the company noted that increasing weather volatility, changes in weather patterns and global climate change “could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients.”

    Listing possible price increases for chicken, beef, cheese, avocados, beans, rice, tomatoes and pork, the company, which prioritizes locally sourced ingredients, said changes due to global climate change would “adversely affect our operating results.”

    “Alternatively, in the event of cost increases with respect to one or more of our raw ingredients, we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas, rather than paying the increased cost for the ingredients.”

    If you’re upset right now, Chipotle wants you to know it’s not pleased either.

    “Any such changes to our available menu may negatively impact our restaurant traffic and comparable restaurant sales, and could also have an adverse impact on our brand.”

    Just how valuable are avocados to Chipotle’s operation?

    Think Progress reports Chipotle uses 97,000 pounds of avocado daily to make its guac, which translates to 35.4 million pounds of avocados yearly.

    Avocados have shrunk in size in recent harvests but the number of fruits have actually increased. So, what’s there to worry about? Chipotle, which recently absorbed a significant price increase in beef and introduced a new vegetarian tofu option, might be taking proactive steps to address how the climate could affect its business long term.

    The post Guacamole at Chipotle could be climate change’s next casualty appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: As American involvement, including multiple deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, winds down, a recent and disturbing trend is drawing new attention: an increase in the rate of Army suicides. And new research shows soldiers may be at greater risk even before they enlist.

    Jeffrey Brown has more.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The work was published in a series of papers in “James Marks Psychiatry” and done by independent researchers funded, in part, by the Army.

    Among the key findings: One in 10 soldiers qualified for a diagnosis of what’s known as intermittent explosive disorder. That rate is six times higher than in the civilian population. Soldiers also came into the Army with a higher rate of behavioral disorders such as substance abuse or ADHD than civilians.

    Dr. Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School is one of the principal investigators. He joins us now.

    Welcome to you.

    First, remind us of the extent of this problem. And what piece of it were you most focused on?

    DR. RONALD KESSLER, Harvard Medical School: Well, the extent of the problem is that roughly 18 out of every 100,000 soldiers commit suicide every year.

    So we’re talking about really still quite a small number of people, but it’s higher than the civilian population. And I was involved in the part of the study that looked at surveys to try to understand what the risk factors might be for these suicides.

    And, of course, the suicides are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more suicide attempts. There are many more people who are thinking about killing themselves, that life isn’t worth living and so forth. So we have looked at the whole range of mental health outcomes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, the research shows that many soldiers suffered from mental illness before coming into the military. Explain that. Tell us what you found.

    DR. RONALD KESSLER: Well, that’s true.

    The rates of mental illness among soldiers is considerably higher than in the civilian population, looking at people of the same age and the same sex and the same education. Part of that is because, when we look at lifetime prevalence of these disorders, some people who are soldiers today had higher rates of disorders than the civilian population even before they came into the Army.

    And they are substance disorders, ADHD, this intermittent explosive disorder you mentioned. They’re what we might think of as impulsive anger kind of disorders. In comparison, rates of anxiety mood disorders and rates of suicidality were not higher among soldiers than they were the rest of the population prior to time they entered the military.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so then what happens when they do enter the military? Then what they brought with them mixes with other risk factors. Were you able to look at specific cases and to see exactly what triggered suicide or suicidal thoughts?


    Well, there’s a combination of things. There are the things they come with, these impulsive anger kind of things that are more common in the population. And then, once they get in the Army, the rates of anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, increase.

    So, it’s a combination of both kinds of disorders that are strongly associated with suicidality. We find that the majority of the soldiers who are suicidal today have that accounted for by this profile of multiple emotional problems, some they brought in advance and some which they only acquired after entering the Army.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So the one obvious question is, how much screening takes place for new recruits, and what do your findings suggest about what should happen?


    Well, you can’t join the Army if you have a serious mental disorder. If you have made a suicide attempt in the past, you’re not allowed to join the Army. If you’re schizophrenic, have other psychotic disorders, a bipolar disorder.

    However, we don’t have any national registry for these things. And the questions are pretty much just asking people to report whether they have had these problems. And if they say no, even though they have, there’s not much that we can do to do anything about that.

    We don’t have any objective tests for the presence of mental disorders, in the way we do blood pressure or a thermometer or blood tests or things of that sort.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that’s what I was wondering. Does anything in the findings help identify those who may be more likely to make suicide attempts?

    DR. RONALD KESSLER: Well, as I said, you know, the main things are the people who make suicide attempts, not surprisingly, are people who have mental disorders.

    And the most important things are mental disorders. But if the issue you’re raising is, is there something we could do to figure how to not have people with mental disorders join the Army, the answer is probably not. And the reason is, there are very many people in the U.S. population who have a history of some kind of mental disorder in their life.

    Probably up to 40 percent, 50 percent of the population at some time in their life has had some mental disorder. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re all psychotic. You can have the common cold of mental disorders, where you could have a fear of dogs or of small spaces or a fear of speaking in public, or, after you loss a job or broke up with a girlfriend, maybe you were depressed for six weeks or so.

    Those all count as mental disorders. And if you were to exclude all of those people, there wouldn’t be many people left to join the Army.


    DR. RONALD KESSLER: So I think it’s not practical to think in terms of excluding all those kind of folks.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I was — I was asking that in part about — about excluding, but also once people are recruited and in the Army, are there things that the military could do better if — once people have been identified as having some sort of problems as they come in to — to deal with the kind of risk factors that you talked about that come with the military?


    The military does an extraordinary job of getting people the treatment after they have been exposed to trauma. And, in fact, the number of people in the military with mental disorders who are getting treatment is higher than the proportion of the population with the same disorders who get treatment.

    So the — addressing the problems of stigma and embarrassment and so forth, the military has done an extraordinary job. I think one thing that has caught all of us by surprise with these new findings is how many people came in before they had any exposure to traumatic military experiences with problems that subsequently were deemed to be important.

    And there, I think it’s more challenging. We know from other studies of disasters that, after Hurricane Katrina, after 9/11, many people came into treatment for mental disorders associated with those things.


    DR. RONALD KESSLER: But, in fact, a lot of those people turned out to have problems that were preexisting. The question is, how do you get people to come in before they get…

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right. OK.

    Ron Kessler of Harvard University, thank you so much.

    DR. RONALD KESSLER: My pleasure.

    The post New study links pre-existing risks to rise in Army suicides appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Tony Avelar / The Christian Science Monitor

    Photo by Tony Avelar / The Christian Science Monitor

    In the near future, the use of marijuana in the privacy of one’s home may no longer draw criminal charges in the nation’s capital.

    The bill, passed Tuesday by a 10 to 1 vote by the Washington D.C. Council, would also drop criminal offenses for marijuana possession and focus on civil fines, with a fine of only $25 for possession of up to one ounce — the second lowest penalty in the U.S. Smoking marijuana in public would remain a criminal offense, but would draw only a misdemeanor charge.

    The measure’s next stop is Washington Mayor Vincent Gray’s office; Gray is expected to sign it.

    But a possible hurdle for the bill remains. Any signed bill would have to travel to Congress, which has veto power over local laws in Washington — though that authority has only seen use three times since 1979, according to The Washington Post’s reporting.

    If the bill passes its next hurdles, D.C. would join 17 states that have partially decriminalized marijuana. While those states have broken federal drug laws, the Justice Department under President Barack Obama has not pursued any action against them.

    The post DC looks to decriminalize marijuana appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Last week, President Obama announced a new initiative to help level the playing field for young men of color.

    In Oakland California, one program is already under way.

    Aarti Shahani of KQED in San Francisco reports.

    OK, it didn’t say after the third element.

    AARTI SHAHANI, KQED: These teenagers spend hours glued to their computer screens. But they’re not playing games or doing their homework, for that matter. They’re studying something they’re not taught at school: computer coding.

    They’re picking up Python and HTML5 and Ruby on Rails.

    Johnnel White is a sophomore at Vallejo High.

    JOHNNEL WHITE: It’s a new language. It’s like you learn — like you’re learning Spanish, but you’re learning something else other than Spanish, letters and numbers and symbols.

    AARTI SHAHANI: This is the Hidden Genius Project, a small nonprofit that’s working to recruit young black men into the high-tech sector. It’s one of the few parts of the economy that’s booming and aching for diversity.

    The boys have to apply to the program. And, if accepted, they commit to classes twice a week in Oakland. Bryon Muccular is a sophomore at Salesian High School in Richmond. He had hoped for a football career. Then a knee injury put him on the sidelines.

    BRYON MUCCULAR: I didn’t think I would be doing anything in life. And this comes along, Hidden Genius Project, and it just — it just opened — I just saw it open doors for me.

    AARTI SHAHANI: Bryon lives with his grandparents, who really like what he’s doing, but don’t quite get it.

    Delores Murray is his grandmother.

    DELORES MURRAY: I don’t have any inkling what coding is.


    AARTI SHAHANI: Murray does understand that it’s a promising step. Instead of just playing video games, her grandson could end up making them, for money.

    DELORES MURRAY: It has been a real good thing for a teenage young man who is trying to do the right thing. He is trying to stay out of the streets, trying to get good grades. He has all this going for him. And then Hidden Genius comes along, and just kind of adds a little more gel to the pudding, so that it — you know, it kind of sets.

    AARTI SHAHANI: A few weekends ago, the Hidden Genius students spent three days working nonstop to build games and mobile apps. It was their very first hackathon, one for black male achievement.

    And behind it is Kalimah Priforce. Priforce, now a tech entrepreneur, started in a very different place. He grew up in foster care. And while he found a way out, his little brother didn’t.

    KALIMAH PRIFORCE, Qeyno Labs: The system reduced a lot of his opportunities to pursue his own dreams. He actually wanted to be a computer scientist. So he stayed in the group home system until he was 18, and then he aged out and he was killed a couple of months later. So that was when I decided that I would focus on becoming an educator.

    AARTI SHAHANI: Hackathons are about generating ideas and prototypes fast. The best ideas make it to market, but that’s later. Today, the focus is on mobile apps that help teens deal with everyday problems, like what to eat and whether to show up to school.

    Bryon and his group are working on a do-it-yourself adventure game about decision-making. Johnnel’s team is creating a fitness app, with a cartoon bird that gets slimmer the more the user exercises.

    STUDENT: How many should we do?  I mean, one jumping jack?

    STUDENT: Five or 10?

    AARTI SHAHANI: Each team has tech professionals coaching the students.

    JOHNNEL WHITE: So, it was like, we need coders, we need designers, we need a lot of people.

    AARTI SHAHANI: Oakland is a stone’s throw away from Silicon Valley, and companies like the music streaming site Pandora have set up shop here.

    But, Priforce says, while the community is largely African-American, the startup work force is not.

    KALIMAH PRIFORCE: Some of these kids, they could be considered misfits. They could be considered disadvantaged and all these different weird terms. But I like to prefer to see them as low-opportunity youth.

    MAN: And we are trailblazers.


    AARTI SHAHANI: At the end of the weekend, each group pitches their ideas to each other…

    STUDENT: Twelve-point-five million potential customers.

    JOHNNEL WHITE: … and a panel of judges.

    WOMAN: How did you reach out to folks to get more input on the game?

    AARTI SHAHANI: Hackathon funder Mitch Kapor has invested over a million dollars in the Oakland startup scene this last year alone. He says the East Bay is full of untapped potential and maybe even the next billion-dollar company.

    MITCH KAPOR, Kapor Capital: I have always been looking around corners. So, when I got started in personal computers in 1978, nobody took them seriously. And when I started working on and investing in Internet companies in 1993, nobody took it seriously, and so on. And so this really isn’t any different.

    AARTI SHAHANI: Black and Latino kids spend plenty of time using technology, but the Hidden Genius Project wants to see consumers become producers, and see that diversity reflected in high-tech products. Take violence on the streets.

    KALIMAH PRIFORCE: If we want to build an app that could have saved Trayvon Martin’s life, one of the best approaches is to make sure that Trayvon Martin is able to build that app for Trayvon Martin.

    STUDENT: What potential.

    AARTI SHAHANI: As exciting as it is, a hackathon is short-lived. It will take a lot of coding, and programs like the Hidden Genius Project, to really change the game.

    JOHNNEL WHITE: I live in South Vallejo, so it’s ghetto every day. A lot of people stand outside. And I chose to code and come to Hidden Genius because I wanted to get away from it.

    STUDENT: With this app, I think we can modify our choices, make better decisions, and maybe, in the future, I think we can change the world with this game.


    STUDENT: Thank you.

    The post ‘Hidden Genius’ helps disadvantaged teens learn code of the tech industry appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Copies of President Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget are shown for sale at the Government Printing Office Tuesday in Washington. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

    Copies of President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget are shown for sale at the Government Printing Office Tuesday in Washington. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    The dramatic developments in Ukraine may have overshadowed the release of President Barack Obama’s budget blueprint Tuesday, but the fact of the matter is the proposal was always going to have a hard time gaining traction on Capitol Hill in an election year.

    As a matter of policy the $3.9 trillion plan unveiled by the president Tuesday does not stand a chance of being enacted. But it will certainly find a use as a political instrument to help Democrats frame the debate about spending priorities leading into November’s midterm elections.

    For months the president has made clear he intends to spend the remaining years of his presidency focused on economic mobility, whether that be through extending unemployment insurance benefits, raising the minimum wage or launching a new public-private initiative to help young men of color. His 2015 budget offers a fuller view of that picture, requesting fresh spending on administration priorities such as early childhood education, job training programs and manufacturing centers, while generating $1 trillion in revenue over the next decade by raising taxes on wealthier Americans.

    “Our budget is about choices. It’s about our values,” Mr. Obama said during a visit to Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C. “As a country, we’ve got to make a decision if we’re going to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, or if we’re going to make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy, and expand opportunity for every American.”

    Congressional Republicans quickly dismissed the president’s proposal.

    “This budget isn’t a serious document; it’s a campaign brochure,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement. “In divided government, we need leadership and collaboration. And in this budget, we have neither.”

    House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the plan as “a clear sign this president has given up on any efforts to address our serious fiscal challenges.”

    He added: “After years of fiscal and economic mismanagement, the president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet.”

    Ryan will offer a formal rebuttal to the president’s budget in the coming weeks.

    As the Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported earlier this week, the plan “will focus on welfare reform and recommend a sweeping overhaul of social programs, including Head Start and Medicaid.”

    The Ryan budget poses a potential risk for GOP lawmakers running for re-election by putting them in a position of having to defend a proposal that would overhaul programs with broad public support. And with the GOP budget having zero chance of advancing through the Democratic-controlled Senate, a vote in favor of it would be largely symbolic.

    There does not appear to be much overlap between the visions of the two parties when it comes to the country’s budget picture, but one potential area of agreement is the Earned Income Tax Credit.

    The president’s plan calls for expanding the program to childless working adults, at a cost of $60 billion, paid for by eliminating tax breaks for hedge fund managers and self-employed high-wage earners.

    On Tuesday’s NewsHour Judy Woodruff explored the idea with Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

    Capretta said the EITC would be a better alternative than raising the federal minimum wage as the president has called for. “I don’t know how much of a chance, but around the Earned Income Tax Credit, there’s more bipartisan support for that kind of an approach to wage supplements than it is for just redistributing through taxing and spending,” he said.

    Greenstein said the two issues should be dealt with together. “You can’t do the whole thing through the Earned Income Credit. It puts too much strain on government finances,” he said. “You can’t do the whole thing through the minimum wage. That puts too much strain on employers.”

    One thing Capretta and Greenstein did agree on: these issues are unlikely to be resolved before the November election.


    The first contest of the midterm elections opened Tuesday with Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Pete Sessions handily defeating their primary challengers by convincing margins, while Rep. Ralph Hall received less than 50 percent of the vote and will face a May runoff against former U.S. attorney John Ratcliffe.

    Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will also face a runoff against Houston lawmaker and radio host Dan Patrick, who finished with a double-digit lead over Dewhurst in Tuesday’s primary. As Politico notes, the lieutenant governor in Texas “arguably has more power than the governor.”

    Dewhurst ran for Senate in 2012, finishing first in the primary, only to be toppled in the runoff by now-Sen. Ted Cruz, who overcame an initial 10-point deficit. But Patrick doesn’t face that uphill battle. “We will show the rest of the country what it means to be conservative,” he said after Tuesday’s first-place showing.

    The high-profile gubernatorial matchup, however, is set following party primary victories Tuesday by Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis. Judy Woodruff previewed the November contest between Abbott and Davis with Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News.

    While initially hyped as a harbinger of GOP contests to come, the staying power of conservative incumbents like Cornyn and Sessions carries little significance for the wider midterm landscape. Stockman was known for disappearing from the campaign trail and ran a campaign from the right against Cornyn without strong tea party support. Roll Call’s David Hawkings writes that the real takeaway from the Texas primaries shouldn’t be about the GOP; it will be about Democratic turnout and how soon the state will turn purple.


    • McClatchy reports that the CIA Inspector General’s office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of CIA malfeasance related to the preparation of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s yet-to-be-released report on the agency’s secret detention and interrogation program.

    • A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 59 percent of Americans — a record high — support same-sex marriage. And regardless of their personal preference on the issue, 50 percent of Americans think gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

    • Speaking at a private event in California Tuesday, Hillary Clinton compared Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, reports the Long Beach Press Telegram.

    • The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin examines John Podesta’s role in pushing the Obama administration to take more aggressive steps when it comes to environmental policy.

    • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid upped the ante on his criticism of the Koch brothers Tuesday, accusing the conservative billionaires of trying to “buy America” and suggesting GOP lawmakers were “addicted to Koch.” The Nevada Democrat also refused to back off his comment last week calling the Kochs “un-American.”

    • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., charged Tuesday that the administration’s response to the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, contributed to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

    • A new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll finds Hillary Clinton better liked heading into 2016 than she was at the start of the 2008 presidential campaign.

    • Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Atlanta Tuesday to help raise some money for Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn.

    • The Washington Times reports Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has asked lawmakers in the Bluegrass State to approve legislation that would allow him to run for president and re-election to the Senate in 2016.

    • The wife of Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has accused the congressman of shoving her during a domestic incident over the weekend. Grayson’s office called the charges “absolutely false.”

    • In a Jersey Shore town hall Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie downgraded his estimate of how much federal aid the state will receive for Hurricane Sandy and blamed the inefficiencies of the federal insurance program on the size of government. But the biggest applause came in response to a question about “Obamacare,” when Christie said, “elect a new president.”

    • The National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle explained Monday’s Supreme Court arguments examining Florida’s use of IQ scores to determine whether someone is “intellectually disabled” for the purposes of a death sentence.

    • Private consumption of marijuana in the nation’s capital was decriminalized by the D.C. Council Tuesday. The measure, which is expected be signed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, conflicts with federal law.

    • Fox News host Greta Van Susteren tweeted Tuesday night, “I am told this is certain: Scott Brown is going to run for US Senate in NH.” The former Massachusetts senator and Fox News contributor responded in an email to Politico saying, “I am not sure who she talked to, but it was not me. I know what the timelines are and when I need to make a decision, one way or the other. I will make my decisions in due course. Until I announce or file with the FEC, it is all just speculation.”

    • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


    Rachel Wellford and Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

    Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

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    WASHINGTON — Russia is unlikely to pull back its military forces in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, analysts and former Obama administration officials say, forcing the United States and Europe into a more limited strategy of trying to prevent President Vladimir Putin from making advances elsewhere in the former Soviet republic.

    It’s an unsettling scenario for President Barack Obama, who is under pressure to show he has leverage over Putin in a deepening conflict between East and West. The threat of economic sanctions, along with a series of modest measures that include canceling trade talks with Moscow and suspending plans to attend an international summit in Russia, have so far done little to persuade the Russian leader to pull his forces back from Crimea.

    I’m not optimistic they’re going to leave,” said Michael McFaul, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Russia until just last week.

    McFaul, in an interview on MSNBC, said he was expressing his personal view, not speaking on behalf of the administration. White House officials have condemned Russia’s military maneuvers in Crimea as a violation of international law and insist they would oppose any long-term occupation of the region.

    “We would not find that to be acceptable,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

    A senior administration official said it would be up to Ukraine’s central government to decide the future of Crimea, where nearly 60 percent of the population identify themselves as Russians. The official said the U.S. would oppose any Russian efforts to formally annex Crimea or recognize its independence, steps that would echo Moscow’s moves during its 2008 conflict with Georgia, another former Soviet republic.

    Ukraine is in the midst of a months-long political crisis sparked by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of historical ties with Moscow. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine last week, Russian forces quickly moved into Crimea, despite Obama’s warnings that there would be costs for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

    Putin’s fast and defiant dismissal of Obama’s threats sparked a new round of criticism from the White House’s Republican opponents. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accused Obama of having “a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”

    Obama and his advisers insist they still have an array of options at their disposal, the most stringent being economic sanctions that could go into effect as early as this week. The European Union appears to be treading more cautiously, but the bloc’s 28 leaders are set to decide on initial sanctions at an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

    But even with tough economic penalties, some regional analysts say it may already be too late to reverse course in Crimea.

    “The idea that there’s a contest over Crimea is a little silly,” said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia analyst at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington. “It’s in Russian hands and it was always on the verge of being in Russian hands.”

    Rojansky said the most pressing concern for the U.S. is instead to keep Putin from pushing into Russian-friendly areas of eastern Ukraine, where U.S. officials are warily eyeing ethnic skirmishes. Putin on Tuesday said he saw no reason for Russia to intervene there at the moment but added that he reserved the right to take that step if Russian speakers in the region were in danger.

    Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican who served during Obama’s first, said he’s skeptical that economic sanctions will work.

    “I think the challenge the president faces is that our allies may not be as willing to go along with these sanctions as they should be,” Gates said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.” He said European countries have shown little inclination to apply strong economic sanctions against Putin.

    Gates, who for years headed the CIA, said that Putin “knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s trying to re-establish Russian influence and a measure of control over the former states of the Soviet Union.”

    The Crimean peninsula is separated from the rest of Ukraine by geography, history and politics. It only became part of Ukraine in 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the peninsula to the republic where he began his political career, a transfer that hardly mattered until the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 and Crimea ended up in an independent Ukraine.

    Crimea’s port city of Sevastopol is also home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its thousands of naval personnel. Yanukovych, the ousted Ukrainian president, extended the fleet’s lease until 2042, but Russia fears that Ukraine’s temporary pro-Western government could evict it.

    The U.S. is not calling for a full Russian withdrawal from Crimea, the Obama administration official said, but does want Moscow’s forces to return to their normal operating position at their base, where they have an agreement with Ukraine to keep up to 11,000 troops. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the situation by name and would speak only on condition of anonymity.

    The situation in Crimea has drawn comparisons to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway territories of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Russia has continued to maintain a military presence in both, violating a cease-fire that ended its 2008 military conflict with Georgia and ignoring repeated condemnations from the U.S. and Europe.

    Barry Pavel, who worked on the White House National Security Council under both Obama and President George W. Bush, said reasserting control of Crimea may be even more important to Russia than the Georgian territories.

    “Russian nationalists consider this to be practically Russian territory,” said Pavel, who now serves as vice president of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “The chances of Russian forces ever leaving where they are are very low.”

    The long-term ramifications of Russia’s remaining in Crimea are unclear, particularly as the rest of Ukraine works through its next steps following Yanukovych’s ouster. But Heather Conley, a Europe analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it would be a dangerous proposition for the U.S. and Europe to allow Putin to view gains in Crimea as an opportunity to launch incursions elsewhere in the region.

    “Then this does start looking like appeasement,” she said. “If you believe that more is in the offing, you have to take a stand now.”

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    Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

    Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

    For Catholics, Wednesday marks the start of Lent: a time of reflection, atonement, and heightened humility. This year, the festival will overlap with the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election – and the Catholic leader is unhappy with the level of celebrity accompanying the commemorations.

    “To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me,” he told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published today.

    Even before the Vatican began issuing commemorative coins, stamps and a DVD in advance of the March 13 anniversary, this pontiff had an unprecedented pop cultural following. A street artist emblazoned a Vatican City wall with an image of Francis soaring through the air like Superman in January, around the same time the Pope made the cover of Rolling Stone – a Papal first.

    In the interview, Francis protested his rock star treatment. “The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person,” he said.

    Over the next 44 days, Catholics worldwide will endeavor to humble themselves through fasting and self-denial, but Pope Francis’ Lenten struggle may be uniquely paradoxical: his insistence on normality seems only to elevate his followers’ adulation. Indeed, even a recent accidental f-bomb during his weekly address was embraced as simply another sign of his superhuman normalcy.

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    Map of Arkansas

    The Arkansas experiment to use federal Medicaid dollars to help low-income people buy private health insurance plans will survive another year.

    This “private option” of Medicaid expansion — which narrowly passed in the state’s House of Representatives on Tuesday after being rejected in four previous votes – allows those below 138 percent of the poverty level to enroll in plans like Blue Cross and Blue Shield through the state’s insurance exchange.

    Many conservatives in the Republican-controlled legislature found that to be a much more palatable option than enrolling more people in the traditional Medicaid program, which they see as a broken and inefficient system that offers poor-quality care. Offering this alternative allowed Arkansas to bring billions of federal dollars into the state economy, while expanding coverage to some of the state’s sickest individuals and saving hospitals millions in uncompensated care costs.

    Nearly 100,000 people have enrolled so far; about 250,000 are eligible throughout the state.

    Arkansas devised the plan last spring and received a waiver from the federal government to use Medicaid money to pay for it, with Washington paying 100 percent of the costs for the program in the first three years and the state eventually picking up 10 percent of the tab thereafter.

    But just as the idea began picking up steam in other states — Iowa passed a version of the private option and Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Utah and Virginia are considering plans of their own — the law in Arkansas faced a near-fatal blow.

    Watch the NewsHour’s full report:

    Under state law, funds for the private option must be re-authorized each year by a three-fourths majority in the 100-member House and 35-member Senate. Meeting that threshold seemed unclear this winter – especially after the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act caused several lawmakers to reconsider their votes this time around.

    But the plan narrowly passed the Senate in late February. And now that it’s made its way through the House, reauthorization is expected to be signed by Gov. Mike Beebe, a democrat and big supporter of the plan.

    In an interview with the PBS NewsHour in February, Beebe said the private option plan is not only a model for other conservative states who don’t want to expand traditional Medicaid, but a case of good governance.

    “This was a great example of good bipartisan working relations, because Republican leaders in the state legislature — both the House and the Senate — helped fashion and craft this private option, and they worked with Democrats, and they worked with our office, and they worked with our Human Services Department to craft what ultimately was done. It’s a shining example of how Republicans and Democrats can work together in a bipartisan fashion to solve problems,” Beebe said. “Washington could take a lesson from that.”

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    When the Japanese Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox fell last month, it took Bitcoin holders’ money with it. Japan, like the United States, does not recognize Bitcoin as a currency, so there’s little straightforward recourse for people who lost their coins in the $460 million hack attack.

    So what happens to the value of all those lost Bitcoins? Enter Goxcoin — a new digital currency that would insure the assets trapped in Mt. Gox. According to Wired, speculators can buy the rights to those lost Bitcoin assets — in Goxcoin. If it’s looking like those assets will never be recovered from the hacked exchange, speculators can sell those assets (again, in Goxcoin). But, if you do think those assets will be recovered one day, you can buy more Goxcoin.

    Goxoin would be a minted digital currency, a “strange hyper-speculative bitcoin derivative,” as Wired describes it, that would be backed by claims to those trapped Bitcoins. The value of the coins is to be determined, but theoretically, one Goxcoin would represent one Bitcoin lost in Mt. Gox.

    The idea’s not going anywhere without the approval of Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles — and that’s a longshot. However, issuing Goxcoin would provide a strong incentive to track down the missing 850,000 Gox Bitcoins — whose discovery would drive up the price of Goxcoin — were it to be created.

    As PBS NewsHour explored with Forbes’ Kashmir Hill, there’s little precedent for recovering a loss of digital currency that’s not actually regulated as currency.

    Goxcoin’s supporters describe the predicament on their website:

    As far as the Japanese legal system is concerned, bitcoins might as well be pencils, and Mt.Gox might as well be a pencil factory. If nobody insures pencils, and there is no claim process to recover pencils, the pencil value is reckoned into a dollar amount, which is then discounted and paid out as the recovery of missing or stolen funds, over a number of years.

    …For people with bitcoins in the system this is a terrible outcome. Your should-be-deflationary bitcoin value has become anchored to a fiat price that reflects insolvency.

    Until Tuesday, people whose Bitcoins were stolen in the Mt. Gox hacking could still just trade their lost Gox Bitcoins for “real” Bitcoins (albeit, less of them) on a site like Bitcoinbuilder.com. But as of this post’s publishing, an announcement on their site says they won’t be accepting Gox Bitcoin trades since Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy protection.

    To learn more about the rise of Bitcoin, watch our Making Sense segment below, and read about how gamblers wager billions on unregulated Bitcoin sites.

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    The Obama administration announced two-year extensions Wednesday for individual health policies that were not compliant with the new health care law. The offer builds on the one-year reprieve granted by the White House to people who had their health plans canceled last year. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    The Obama administration announced two-year extensions Wednesday for individual health policies that were not compliant with the new health care law. The offer builds on the one-year reprieve granted by the White House to people who had their health plans canceled last year. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Warding off the specter of election-year health insurance cancellations, the Obama administration Wednesday announced a two-year extension for individual policies that don’t meet requirements of the new health care law.

    The decision helps defuse a political problem for Democrats in tough re-election battles this fall, especially for senators who in 2010 stood with President Barack Obama and voted to pass his health overhaul.

    The extension was part of a major package of regulations that sets ground rules for 2015, the second year of government-subsidized health insurance markets under Obama’s law – and the first year that larger employers will face a requirement to provide coverage.

    Hundreds of pages of provisions affecting insurers, employers and consumers were issued by the Treasury Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. It will likely take days for lawyers and consultants to fully assess the implications.

    The cancellation last fall of at least 4.7 million individual policies was one of the most damaging issues in the transition to a new insurance system under Obama’s law. The wave of cancellations hit around the time that the new HealthCare.gov website was overwhelmed with technical problems that kept many consumers from signing up for coverage. It contradicted Obama’s promise that you can keep your insurance plan if you like it.

    The latest extension would be valid for policies issued up to Oct. 1, 2016. It builds on an earlier reprieve issued by the White House.

    Other highlights of the regulations include:

    - An extra month for the 2015 open enrollment season. It will still start Nov. 15, as originally scheduled, after the congressional midterm elections. But it will extend for an additional month, through February 15 of next year. The administration says the schedule change gives insurers, states and federal agencies more time to prepare. This year’s open enrollment started Oct. 1 and ends Mar. 31.

    • New maximum out-of-pocket cost levels for 2015. Annual deductibles and copayments for plans sold on the insurance exchanges can’t exceed $6,600 for individuals or $13,200 for families. While not as high as what some insurance plans charged before the law, cost sharing remains a stretch for many.
    • An update on an unpopular per-member fee paid by most major employer health plans. The assessment for 2015 will be $44 per enrollee, according to the regulations. Revenues from the fee go to help insurers cushion the cost of covering people with serious medical problems. Under the law, insurance companies can no longer turn the sick away. The per-person fee has been criticized by major employers. It is $63 per enrollee this year, and is scheduled to phase out after 2016. Some plans, including multi-employer arrangements administered by labor unions, will be exempt from fees in 2015 and 2016.
    • Treasury rules for employers and insurers to report information that’s crucial for enforcing the law’s requirements that individuals carry health insurance, and that medium-to-large employers offer coverage. Although officials said the reporting requirements have been streamlined, businesses see them as some of the most complicated regulations to result from the health care law. The Internal Revenue Service will collect the information, because it is in charge of dispensing tax credits for individuals and small businesses to buy coverage as well as levying fines on those who fail to comply. The individual mandate is already in effect; the employer requirement begins to phase in next year.
    • Notice of a potential delay, optional for states, in a promised feature of new health insurance markets for small businesses. The feature would allow individual employees – not the business owner – to pick their coverage from a list of plans. The health insurance exchanges for small businesses have been troubled by technical issues this year. Small Business Majority, a group that supports the health care law, said it’s disappointed. The administration says no final decision has been made.

    It’s not clear how many people will actually be affected by the most closely watched provision of the new regulations, the two-year extension on policies that were previously subject to cancellation. The administration cites a congressional estimate of 1.5 million people, counting those in individual plans and small business policies.

    About half the states have allowed insurance companies to extend canceled policies for a year under the original White House reprieve. The policies usually provided less financial protection and narrower benefits than the coverage required under the law. Nonetheless, the skimpier insurance was acceptable to many consumers because it generally cost less.

    The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which represents state regulators, was skeptical of the change.

    “Creating two tiers of plans – the compliant and non-compliant – could result in higher premiums overall and market disruptions in 2015 and beyond,” said NAIC president Adam Hamm, who is North Dakota’s insurance commissioner. Although Hamm is a Republican, the NAIC is nonpartisan.

    Separately, the House on Wednesday voted to delay for one year the penalty faced by individuals under the law if they fail to sign up for health insurance. It was the 50th time Republicans have forced a vote to repeal, gut or change Obama’s health overhaul.

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    GWEN IFILL: The push for a peaceful resolution in Ukraine stalled again today.  When all was said and done, it remained unclear if or when Russia might reconsider its actions in the Crimean region.

    Paris was the focal point for today’s diplomacy, but negotiators came away with little to show for their efforts. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his counterparts from Russia, Britain, France and Germany. The session was brief, with no breakthroughs.

    Kerry said the meetings were constructive, and that no one is served by further confrontation.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We agreed to continue intense discussions in the coming days with Russia, with Ukrainians in order to see how we can help normalize the situation, stabilize it, and overcome the crisis.

    GWEN IFILL: But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave no indication, before or after the Paris meeting, that Moscow would pull back in Crimea. Instead, he insisted, again, that the troops occupying much of the region are not Russian, but local.

    SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): Regarding the self-defense forces created by the people of Crimea, we do not have any power over them. They do not listen to our orders.

    GWEN IFILL: Lavrov also declined to meet with Ukraine’s acting foreign minister. He said there would be further discussions in days to come.

    Meanwhile, in Crimea itself, U.N. special envoy Robert Serry was forced to abandon his mission there after his car was surrounded and he was threatened by a pro-Russian crowd.

    New trouble cropped up elsewhere as well. Pro-Russian activists stormed and retook a government building in the eastern city of Donetsk only hours after being ejected. There’s been no talk of any American military action in Ukraine, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a Senate hearing that the Pentagon is taking other steps.

    CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense: I earlier this week directed the Department of Defense to suspend all military-to-military engagements and exercises with Russia. Also, this morning, the Defense Department is pursuing measures to support our allies, including stepping up joint training through our aviation detachment in Poland and augmenting our participation in NATO’s air policing mission on the Baltic Peninsula.

    GWEN IFILL: The head of NATO said the alliance also decided to suspend most of its meetings with Russian officials and review all of its cooperation with Moscow.

    On the economic front, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in Kiev, talked up prospects of immediate financial aid from the West.

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Prime Minister, Ukraine: A good gesture made by the United States government to support the state of Ukraine with $1 billion of guarantees is the first sign that Ukraine could be back on track in terms of economic stability. But we need to move further, and we strongly believe that our European partners would provide a package of economic and financial aid to Ukraine too.

    GWEN IFILL: The European Union confirmed it, saying a $15 billion package over two years is in the works. That’s the same amount that now-deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accepted from Russia in November.

    For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said today there’s no reason to damage economic ties between his country and the rest of the world.

    PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): We see a certain political tension, but it shouldn’t influence our current economic cooperation. There is no need to create additional problems for anyone.

    GWEN IFILL: Despite Putin’s plea, European leaders have given Russia until tomorrow to leave Crimea, or face sanctions.

    Back in this country, researchers report a second baby born with HIV has been successfully treated. The announcement came today at an AIDS conference in Boston. The baby girl, born in California, was treated with a drug combination almost immediately after birth. She is now nine-months-old and free of the virus. The same treatment previously worked on a baby born in Mississippi.

    Americans who like their existing health insurance coverage may get to keep it another two years. That would extend a transition first announced last fall after millions had their policies canceled under the president’s health care law. Now administration officials say the extensions will be valid to October 1 of 2016, even if the policies don’t meet new requirements for coverage.

    President Obama’s nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department was blocked today. Debo Adegbile fell well short in a Senate test vote, with seven Democrats joining Republicans in opposition. They criticized Adegbile’s work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, who in 1981 was convicted of killing a Philadelphia policeman.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Minority Leader: I think this particular nominee would likely not have been nominated at all, but for the majority leader breaking the rules of the Senate last November to change the rules of the Senate, thereby lowering the threshold.

    This nominee, however, was so unfit for the position to which he’s been nominated, that even seven Democrats couldn’t support it.

    GWEN IFILL: President Obama called the Senate vote a travesty. And the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, said the nominee was treated unfairly.

    SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Majority Leader: I feel very strongly about this man. I think he was a person that was for the job. This man didn’t enter a courtroom for this — the murderer. He didn’t write a single word of any of the briefs on behalf of the murderer. He worked at the NAACP. And it wasn’t his brief.

    GWEN IFILL: Reid reserved the right to bring up the nomination again, but the prospect of the success appeared uncertain at best.

    Homeowners in flood-prone areas may soon get relief from higher premiums for federal flood insurance. The House voted overwhelmingly last night to undo the increases. They were imposed under a 2012 law to help the program tackle its $24 billion debt. The House measure now has to be reconciled with a similar bill that passed the Senate.

    A leading coal producer agreed today to pay a $27 million fine and spend another $200 million to reduce toxic discharges. The settlement involves Alpha Natural Resources and its operations in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. It’s the largest fine ever for water pollution violations. We will have more on the penalty later in the program.

    In Texas, Republicans and Democrats have chosen their nominees for governor in a closely watched race. Attorney General Greg Abbott secured the GOP nomination in a Tuesday primary, while Democrats chose state Senator Wendy Davis. They will face off in November.

    Israel seized a ship in the Red Sea today and said it carried advanced rockets intended for Palestinian militants in Gaza. The naval raid happened in international waters, about 1,000 miles off Eilat on the Israeli coast. The rockets were found aboard a ship flying the Panamanian flag. Israel — Israel’s military said they were made in Syria and smuggled by Iran.

    Traveling in Los Angeles, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it shows Iran cannot be trusted, especially in ongoing nuclear talks.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel: These weapons were going to be used against Israel. The entire operation, this clandestine operation, was organized by Iran. While Iran is conducting these talks, smiling to the international community, it continues to arm terrorist groups, continues to perpetrate terrorism around the world.

    GWEN IFILL: Iran denied any involvement. And a spokesman for Hamas, the militant group ruling Gaza, denied the rockets were bound for its territory.

    ISMAIL HANIYEH, Hamas Adviser (through interpreter): This Zionist tale is a silly claim and a futile fabrication aimed at justifying the blockade on the Gaza Strip, as if there was a port with ships that come and go from Gaza. In actuality, the strip is blockaded, and they are talking about a ship that was found in the Red Sea thousands of miles away. This is a big lie.

    GWEN IFILL: In Washington, the State Department said the U.S. worked closely with the Israelis as they planned the raid, and agreed to let them take the lead.

    Meanwhile, Iran claimed it now has missiles with multiple warheads. Four types of ballistic missiles were displayed today. The defense minister said two of them have multiple warheads, boosting their destructive power. Some of Iran’s missiles are believed to have a 1,200-mile range, capable of reaching much of the Middle East.

    U.N. human rights investigators charged today that all sides in Syria’s civil war are committing war crimes by shelling and starving civilians. The investigators blamed the major powers for not acting to rein in the warring parties. And they called again for the U.N. Security Council to refer the worst violations to the International Criminal Court.

    Pakistan has restarted peace talks with the Taliban. The two sides met again today for the first time in three weeks, after the Pakistani Taliban announced a one-month cease-fire. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has pushed for negotiations since he took office last year, but they have proceeded in fits and starts.

    The World Health Organization is recommending that daily consumption of sugar be cut in half, amounting to just 5 percent of your total calories. The WHO found higher sugar consumption is strongly tied to obesity, tooth decay, and a number of chronic diseases.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 35 points to close at 16,360. The Nasdaq rose six points to close near 4,358. And the Standard & Poor’s 500 finished down a fraction, at 1,873.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The SAT, long a subject of great debate, is about to undergo some big changes. The College Board, which administers the exam, taken by high school students, announced a partial overhaul that will take effect in the spring of 2016.

    The changes include: eliminating a mandatory essay and making it optional. The SAT will revert to a top score of 1,600, instead of 2,400, as is the case now. It also ends penalties for guessing incorrectly. And it will make the vocabulary testing less arcane. There will be new fee waivers for lower-income students too.

    College Board president David Coleman said he was concerned the SAT, and the testing mania surrounding it, was putting an even bigger burden on disadvantaged students.

    DAVID COLEMAN, President, College Board: We must confront the inequalities that now surround assessment, such as costly test preparation. It is time for the College Board to say in a clear voice the culture and practice of test preparation that now surrounds admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For a closer look at the changes and the reason behind it, we turn to special correspondent for education, John Merrow.

    John, welcome to the program.

    JOHN MERROW: Hey, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, first of all, how big a change is — big a deal is this that they’re making these changes?

    JOHN MERROW: I think it’s a big deal.

    The changes you mentioned, students will applaud several of them, getting rid of the obscure vocabulary words, using propitious in favor of self-deprecating. They will be in favor of that. They like getting rid of the penalty for guessing and they, I suspect, will like getting rid of a mandatory essay.

    The older folks will like going back to 1,600, instead of 2,400. There’s a search comfort level with that number 1,600. It’s kind of like the New Coke. That was an experiment that didn’t work. And I think everyone will applaud the fee waiver for certain students, for low-income students, to make it easier for them to use the SAT.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So when the president of the College Board says — I saw he said, among other things, the test should offer worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles, what was he saying?

    JOHN MERROW: Well, I think he wants to make the test more relevant, to make the SAT more relevant, so that, in the questions, the language part of it, the students will be reading source doctors, Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and asked to make some judgments and find some evidence.

    So, at least in theory, that’s not going to be as susceptible to test prep. Whether it turns out that way, I would suspend judgment on that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it possible to say by looking at these changes what’s going to be tested in each student?

    JOHN MERROW: Well, what Mr. Coleman wants is that this will connect more closely to the high school curriculum, which is, of course, itself being changed.

    And in the clip you played and in parts — other parts of his speech, he went after test prep, saying that this is a source of inequality, that wealthy families can pay for test prep, and that gives them an unfair advantage. And you didn’t mention that there’s an alliance that he’s formed with Sal Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy, with — basically with free prep lessons, so can still get ready for the SAT. They just won’t have to spend all that money. That’s his hope.

    I’m a little bit skeptical about that. I think, if he is trying to drive a stake through the heart of the test prep industry, good luck with that. They’re smart people. And, there I would predict that their business will actually improve because they will be able to say, hey, there’s a new SAT, we can help you get ready for it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: When he says he’s concerned about inequality, the fact that students who are disadvantaged have been — students who come from a low-income background, for example, may be disadvantaged, do you see these changes addressing that?

    JOHN MERROW: It may well be that the content — the different content of the SAT will work to the advantage of students who tend to business, who do their work, and that shouldn’t be determined by your income level.

    This test has almost always been a better predictor of your parents’ income and education than of how well you might do as a freshman. He acknowledges that. I think — I think what’s happening — part of what’s happening here, Judy is — is that the College Board is paying attention to market share.

    Now, it’s a direct competitor of another test called the ACT. And just two years ago, the ACT surpassed the SAT. More kids took the ACT than the SAT. And this matters, because these are both businesses. And just like the restaurant, they need customers. And even more upsetting, I think, for the SAT is that a number of states have embraced the ACT.

    Kentucky will use the ACT as a measure of school quality. I don’t know any state uses the SAT. Perhaps there are. But there are certainly, I believe, 13 to 14 states now rely on the ACT, and that has to be a little bit scary for the folks at the SAT.

    So I think, you know, that’s part of what’s driving this. It’s — they’re losing market share.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And remind us, in thumbnail, what is the difference between the two tests?

    JOHN MERROW: Well, the ACT has a science section. The SAT doesn’t.

    The ACT is generally seen as being much more closely aligned with high school curriculum, much more a test of what the kids learned, more of an achievement test, if you will. SAT, what does the A. stand for? At one point, it was the Scholastic Aptitude Test, then the Scholastic Achievement Test. Some say it’s Scholastic Advantage Test. It’s now known as the SAT, just like KFC used to be Kentucky Fried Chicken.

    So, I think the ACT is seen by more people as just a more reliable test. And Mr. Coleman is moving aggressively to counteract that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you started out by making a distinction between how students will see this and how some adults will see it. And, I mean, just finally, if you’re a student and if you’re a parent or an educator, how do you view — what do you make of this change?

    JOHN MERROW: Well, you know, the other part of this, Judy, is that about 800 colleges no longer require either of these tests. So, that’s another factor in what’s going on here.

    Mr. Coleman is moving to say this — this SAT matters. If he’s losing market share to the ACT and 800-plus colleges no longer require the SAT or the ACT, he’s moving aggressively to try to make that happen.

    Now, I talked to Nick Lemann, who knows more about this than just about anyone, the author of “The Big Test.”  And he said that, on balance, these are positive changes, these are a good thing. We will see. I think the — I kind of like using words like propitious.


    JOHN MERROW: But it shouldn’t be a guessing game that you study for. So, using words that are words we use in the real world, that makes a lot of sense.

    So, I think probably Nick Lemann is right that a lot of these changes are good. But don’t forget that the underlying motive, I think, is a market share — a market share one.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Special correspondent for education John Merrow, thank you.

    JOHN MERROW: Thank you, Judy.

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    GWEN IFILL: Now to the second of a three-part series on the impact of the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

    Tonight, we look at questions about the safety of fishing in the region now and in the future.

    NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien traveled there recently and has the story.

    MILES O’BRIEN: As brisk winter mornings go, this was a fine one to go fishing. We steamed out of the port of Kashima, Japan, on the good ship Inari Maru. Our captain was Kimio Sato, a fourth-generation fisherman. His son, Kosi, was at the helm.

    Their predecessors in the family business never went on an expedition like this one.

    “We cannot eat the fish we catch,” he told me. “All fish must be released. We are allowed to fish only the amount necessary for inspection.”

    The Inari Maru was plying troubled waters, fishing for data. It’s part of a long-term effort to figure out when, if ever, fish caught near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will be safe to eat.

    Really reeled in nets filled with flounder, but threw most of them back into the Pacific. In the end, their haul was just one small bucket, about 12 pounds of fish, headed to a lab to be tested for radionuclide.

    In Japan, the radiation safety standard for fish is 100 Becquerels per kilogram, the most stringent in the world.

    “We occasionally catch fish exceeding that safety standard,” says Kimio. “I don’t think there are many, though, but because we’re in the 20-kilometer zone, I think we should be cautious.”

    KEN BUESSELER, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: The Fukushima reactor in the background.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Scientists who have studied these waters wouldn’t disagree. Ken Buesseler is a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. He was part of the team 12 weeks after the meltdowns on a research expedition financed by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, also a NewsHour funder.

    Buesseler cut his scientific teeth studying the impact of the Chernobyl meltdown on the Black Sea.

    KEN BUESSELER: And I just knew, though, from that experience was that the most important thing was to get there as quick as we could to see what was happening in the ocean at that time.

    MILES O’BRIEN: He and his team have gathered sediment, core and water samples at various depths off of Fukushima during four separate voyages now. They do some preliminary work at sea, but the real heavy lifting to measure the radioactivity in the water is done in labs at Woods Hole.

    CRYSTAL BREIER, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: This is Fukushima water. This is from our cruises this past September. We found there is still contamination.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Research associate Crystal Breier is tracking two isotopes of cesium, 137 and 134. Cesium 137 has a half-life of 30 years, so it takes about 300 years to mostly disappear.

    But cesium-134 doesn’t stick around as long. With a half-life of only two years, it’s all but gone after 20. So scientists can say with certainty that cesium-134 found in the Pacific today is from Fukushima.

    CRYSTAL BREIER: It’s been persistent. It has not gone away. It’s still — so it’s indicating that the reactors are leaking out more cesium, and there is still a problem.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The plume of water tainted with radiation from Fukushima is only now reaching the other side of the Pacific.

    This has prompted an online tsunami at pseudoscience, blog rumors and wild accusations on the U.S. West Coast. This viral YouTube video shows a man waving a Geiger counter at a beach near San Francisco.

    MAN: Here I am on the beach.

    MILES O’BRIEN: It seems scary, but the experts say it is meaningless. In fact, the real experts are certain the amount of cesium in the plume is not and will not be a threat to marine or human health 5,000 miles from Fukushima.

    KEN BUESSELER: If we get up to about seven Becquerels per cubic meter, that’s beyond what I’m actually expecting. That will be 1,000 times less than what we’re allowed to have in our drinking water.

    MILES O’BRIEN: That said, like any scientist worth his salt, Buesseler would like hard data to confirm it. So he is among a cadre of scientists asking various federal agents to fund a proper scientific study on the Fukushima plume as it arrives in the U.S.

    They approached the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. All said the same thing: It’s not their responsibility.

    KEN BUESSELER: One of our frustrations is our government hasn’t taken this on as something that we should sponsor in terms of our national interests. There is often a lot of finger-pointing going on. And we’re hoping in the long run we can actually make some progress to find a home, as we call it.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In the meantime, Buesseler is relying on some foundation support and he’s doing some crowd-sourcing.

    KEN BUESSELER: All it takes is filling up one of these containers.

    MILES O’BRIEN: He launched a Web site and created these kits to make it easy for anyone to do some fieldwork.

    Interested individuals and communities pay $550 for the box, gather samples, and ship them to Woods Hole for analysis. The data is shared online. So far, donors have funded 33 sample sites. But how is the radiation affecting the creatures that live in the sea, and ultimately the human beings who enjoy eating seafood?

    NICHOLAS FISHER, Stony Brook University: There’s cesium-137.

    MILES O’BRIEN: This one.

    NICHOLAS FISHER: That’s cesium-134.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In New York, at Stony Brook University, Nicholas Fisher is focused on radioactivity in fish. He studies the ultimate sushi delicacy, bluefin tuna. These amazing creatures spawn near Japan, migrate to California, then return to Japan. He measured tuna caught in San Diego four months after the meltdowns.

    NICHOLAS FISHER: We were quite surprised to see that every single fish we analyzed had clear evidence of Fukushima-derived radionuclides in their tissue.

    MILES O’BRIEN: This is what worries sushi lovers, but Fisher and his team measured only 10 Becquerels per kilogram of Fukushima cesium. Remember, the allowable limit in Japan is 100 Becquerels.

    NICHOLAS FISHER: It’s very, very low, and it’s much lower than that from the naturally occurring radionuclides, which no one was ever worried about in the first place.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But eating bottom fish, like flounder, is another matter. Cesium released at the crippled nuclear power plant has made it into the sediment. That makes it unlikely these Fukushima flounder will be deemed safe enough to catch and sell any time soon.

    NICHOLAS FISHER: Those levels are very high and in some cases clearly exceed safety limits. I would certainly avoid eating those fish.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Kimio Sato gave us some flounder samples, so that we could test them independently. We took the flounder over to the citizens radioactivity measuring station in Minamisoma.

    Kutuhiro Yoshita chopped the fish into small pieces and put into a lead-shielded gamma spectrometer. It detects and measures cesium and all other gamma radiation emitters. The numbers were lower than expected, combined cesium in these flounder, less than 10 Becquerels per kilogram, safe enough to eat.

    But fishermen here will need to catch and test a lot more flounder before they can be declared safe to eat, just part of Kimio Sato’s frustration.

    “The number of fish is increasing fast because we haven’t fished for three years,” he says, “and they’re getting bigger.”

    Three years ago, Kimio Sato rode out the tsunami in the wheelhouse of this boat. His wife, Fumiko, just barely escaped before their home was washed away. They now live in tiny temporary quarters. And now Kimio wonders if he has lost his legacy as well. The fifth generation of Sato fishermen may very well be the last.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Egypt, the trial of three Al-Jazeera journalists, which has sparked a global outcry by press freedom advocates, resumed today.

    Jeffrey Brown reports.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Tanks guarded the fortified entrances of Cairo’s Tora prison today.

    Inside, Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste, wearing white prison uniforms, stood in the courtroom’s defendant cage. They and other Al-Jazeera journalists are accused of endangering Egyptian national security by assisting a — quote — “terrorist organization,” namely, the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The military-backed government banned the group after ousting President Mohammed Morsi in July. Al-Jazeera maintains the charges are — quote — “absurd, baseless and false,” as do the journalists’ relatives who spoke after the hearing.

    ASSEM MOHAMED, Brother of Defendant (through interpreter): The accusations directed towards them are far from the truth. None of them are affiliated to any political party, movement, or the Muslim Brotherhood. They use the same equipment used by all other channels. If they have a problem with Al-Jazeera, the journalists have nothing to do with it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The defendants’ lawyer claimed progress based on the way the hearing went.

    FARAG FATHY, Defense Lawyer (through interpreter): Today, the session was to hear witness testimonies. The most important of these was the national security officer who is in charge of investigating the journalists. From the questions, it can be said that the accusations directed towards these three defendants have completely collapsed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The trial has sparked outrage among human rights groups, journalistic organizations and others. Protesters have demonstrated at Egyptian consulates in Mexico City, Istanbul, and elsewhere, demanding the journalists’ release.

    And, in February, the Obama administration urged Egypt to drop the charges.

    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

    JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: The government’s targeting of journalists and others on questionable claims is wrong, and it demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection — protection of basic rights and freedoms.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Al-Jazeera has also spearheaded an online campaign with Twitter photos of hundreds of people with their mouths taped shut and the hashtag #freeajstaff.

    The International Press Institute says the case highlights growing dangers to journalists worldwide. In all, 119 members of the press died while on assignment in 2013. No place was more deadly than Syria, where the ongoing civil war claimed the lives of 16 journalists last year.

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    Liz Wahl, an anchor and correspondent for the Russian government-funded television network, RT — formerly known as “Russia Today” — announced her resignation during a live broadcast Wednesday.

    Wahl, who works for RT’s Washington bureau, said she could not be part of a “network funded by the Russian government which whitewashes the actions of [Russian president Vladimir] Putin.”

    Wahl’s resignation comes two days after her RT colleague, Abby Martin, condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine on-air.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: And we explore the Al-Jazeera case and threats to journalists now with Alison Bethel McKenzie, executive director of the International Press Institute. She traveled to Egypt in January, where she met with the foreign minister to discuss Egypt’s media climate. And Reuters reporter David Rohde, while working for “The New York Times” in 2008, he was captured by the Taliban and spent seven months in captivity inside Pakistan.

    Well, welcome to you both.

    Alison McKenzie, I would like to start with you.

    Remind us first of some of the details of this case in Egypt. What exactly is the government saying that Al-Jazeera journalists did?

    ALISON BETHEL MCKENZIE, International Press Institute: Well, they’re saying not just of Al-Jazeera journalists, who are the bulk of the journalists who are currently in jail, but all of the journalists, including journalists from Turkey and Yemen, that they have been practicing terrorism by affiliating with a terrorist group mostly.

    They’re also claiming, in some cases, that the journalists are not licensed to work in Egypt and are stirring the pot, in other words, going against the Egyptian government and showing the Egyptian government in a very bad light. That is their chief complaint.

    JEFFREY BROWN: David Rohde, what’s your reading of this particular case? Clearly, some of it is attached to Al-Jazeera being funded by the Qatar government, which is at odds with the Egyptian government.

    DAVID ROHDE, Reuters: Yes.

    To me, this is part of this larger struggle where the military government is trying to crush the Muslim Brotherhood. And these journalists from Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazeera itself are sort of part of that. The Egyptian military sees Al-Jazeera as — as part of Qatar’s effort to sort of back the Brotherhood. Qatar denies that.

    But, more importantly, Al-Jazeera denies it. And it — the charges are essentially ridiculous, based on everything I have seen, and it’s a classic effort by a government to scapegoat journalists for problems in the country.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, Alison, you have talked to officials there. What is the — what are the stakes here, first — first in Egypt itself? What do you see as the stakes?

    ALISON BETHEL MCKENZIE: Well, the problem is — well, there are many problems, but the main problem is, this is causing self-censorship, not by journalists, only by journalists who work in Egypt who are from Egypt, but foreign correspondents as well.

    Some of these people who have attacked journalists — and most of the ones who have been physically attacked have been broadcast journalists, because they are most visible, especially cameramen. The people who are attacking them are getting away with it. There’s a climate of impunity, which is a very big problem there.

    But the stakes are really, really high. Most recently, two years ago, Egypt wasn’t even on the radar in terms of one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Today, it is one of the most dangerous places for journalists. And one of the big problems is that we don’t see a solution to this any time soon.

    We’re hoping that there will be some sort of diplomatic solution, maybe a conversation between Al-Jazeera and the military government, but they’re very far apart. And there is great disdain for Al-Jazeera from government officials, military officials in Egypt and by some citizens.

    But, at the end of the day, as David mentioned, we don’t believe that journalists should be jailed for what they write or what they broadcast on radio or television.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, David Rohde, I…

    ALISON BETHEL MCKENZIE: And they certainly shouldn’t be detained.


    David Rohde, as…


    JEFFREY BROWN: … we mentioned, there’s a lot of outside pressure coming from the — from the — from the outside world.

    What’s your experience, your experience in particular? And in a case like this, how much impact does that have? Is there the possibility that it also causes somewhat of a backlash?

    DAVID ROHDE: There are sort of two different dynamics going on here.

    I was kidnapped by insurgents. And that is a danger that journalists are facing. There’s actually 30 journalists now kidnapped or missing in Syria. Most of them have been grabbed by jihadist rebels in the north of the country. In Egypt, this is a second trend, which is governments cracking down on journalists.

    Now, worldwide, there’s been roughly a 50 percent increase in the number of journalists in jail since 2008. There’s 211 journalists in jail at this point. And it’s — it’s outrageous. So, you have both groups, governments sort of blaming journalists and insurgents at the same time. I think public pressure can help with governments. Iran was pressured a great deal publicly when they detained journalists in 2009. So, I think the more noise, the more complaints against the Egyptian government, the better.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Alison McKenzie, now we have started to broaden this out from Egypt internationally.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What — how do you — how does this particular case fit in to the — to bigger concerns for journalists around the world?

    ALISON BETHEL MCKENZIE: The problem is that we have seen an increase — and David sort of alluded to this — an increased — an increase in the number of journalists who are being attacked, kidnapped, jailed, detained without being charged for indefinite periods of time.

    And one of the biggest things — or — that’s being used against journalists is this idea of journalists being terrorists. And these charges are generally very flimsy charges, with no proof, and people are using — and it’s increased, obviously, since September 11 — are using terrorism as a means to detain journalists, because they don’t like what they read or what they hear.

    The problem is enormous. And we are very concerned also about the safety of journalists, not only them being detained in prison, but being murdered, and brutally murdered. So we’re quite concerned. And the U.N. Council of Human Rights has made this quite an issue, the safety of journalists. And, of course, where I am today, Austria, the country of Austria has made it one of their priorities to address this issue of the safety of journalists, and particularly women journalists.

    We have seen an uptick in attacks and assaults in everything from rape to kidnapping of women journalists, more than we have seen in recent history, and that is of great concern to us.

    JEFFREY BROWN: David Rohde, just in our last minute or so, so, you can fill in that picture a little bit more. I mean, this is — this is this is upgrading the dangerous for journalists operating around the world?

    DAVID ROHDE: It definitely is.

    And it’s actually local journalists that are being targeted the most, and it’s local journalists that are trying to report about corruption and problems in the government itself. So, there will be this veneer of, it’s terrorism and these broader issues. But this is just people in power silencing journalists that are writing stories that are — you know, that hold them accountable.

    The — the stories of foreign journalists get a lot more headlines, but, again, the vast majority of victims in these cases and the vast majority of murders are local journalists being killed by local governments or local criminals.

    So, it’s — again, the problem is, the trend is terrible, imprisonments are up, killings are up, and it’s — it’s not stopping. And there has to be much more of an outcry against this.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, David Rohde, Alison Bethel McKenzie, thank you both very much.


    DAVID ROHDE: Thank you.

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    GWEN IFILL: We return now to the EPA’s settlement today with one of the largest coal producers in the country over pollution in five Appalachian states.

    Dina Cappiello, the national environment reporter for the Associated Press, joins us now.

    Twenty-seven-and-a-half million dollars in fines, $200 million for the cleanup, in the range of penalty, how does this rank?

    DINA CAPPIELLO, The Associated Press: Well, it’s the biggest ever for a company that violated its water pollution permits.

    So, obviously, other companies have paid big fines in the past. In 2008, the EPA settled with Massey Energy, another coal company, for $20 million. But this is the biggest ever for a company that violated permits it had from states.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, describe to us how widespread the pollution was.

    DINA CAPPIELLO: The numbers here are pretty staggering.

    You’re talking over 6,000 violations, violations over 300 state-issued permits, hundreds of streams, tributaries and rivers, 79 active coal mines, 25 coal processing plants, where they put the coal and wash it before it’s shipped, over five Appalachian states. So it’s a pretty massive coverage area for the settlement.

    GWEN IFILL: So, how — how did the discharges occur?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Well, actually, they’re actually piped into these waterways. And states issue permits for these companies that give them certain limits.

    And in this case, this company repeatedly, from 2006 to 2013, exceeded those limits that they were actually authorized to discharge.

    GWEN IFILL: So, it’s not illegal to discharge; it’s just that there’s a cap on how much they can discharge?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Correct. They have an amount, and they went over that amount repeatedly, in some cases over 35 times the limit that was put into their permits.

    GWEN IFILL: So, how many violations?  You said 6,000?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Over 6,000.

    GWEN IFILL: Just with this one company?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Just with this one company.

    It’s a very big coal company, a big conglomerate. The settlement covers Alpha Natural Resources, which is based in Virginia, and 66 of its subsidiaries.

    GWEN IFILL: What — when we talk about pollution, what kind of pollutants are we talking about?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: So, what we’re talking about here is, we’re talking about total suspended solids is what the EPA would talk about.

    And these are just kind of bits and pieces of things that come out in the coal mining process, but they also contain heavy metals, which are toxic to fish and other wildlife. We saw this recently in the Duke Energy case, the big coal ash spill down in North Carolina, included many of the same contaminants.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    DINA CAPPIELLO: And while they’re not — they’re not water quality or drinking water problems that are usually filtered out in treatment, they are problems for the ecology of these waterways.

    GWEN IFILL: We talked about the North Carolina case. And we of course covered pretty closely the West Virginia case from a few weeks — two months ago, when we — we found all out that water was contaminated, in fact, may still be. Is there a connection?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: The connection is coal.

    So, you know, it’s — it’s widely known in, and the EPA has acknowledged this, that coal has a really big footprint on our water resources. And I’m talking about from the mining of coal all the way to the burning of coal for electricity and the waste created by that process, which is what happened in Duke — in the Duke Energy case in North Carolina.

    So it’s about coal. The West Virginia spill was a spill of a chemical used to clean coal.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    DINA CAPPIELLO: This is a — we’re talking right now about discharges from mines that happen on a routine basis. And then, in North Carolina, it was about coal ash spilling into a waterway. This is ash that’s collected actually by air pollution equipment. And so we’re actually transferring what we’re taking out of the air into waterways.

    GWEN IFILL: So, we know that this was a settlement. So, how do the coal — how does the coal industry respond to this?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Well, Alpha — in my interviews, Alpha was very interesting. I mean, obviously, they acknowledged they had these violations, but they made the point that they’re a very large company.

    They actually acquired Massey Energy in 2011, increasing their portfolio, increasing the number of permits. They have over 700 permits, they told me, from state officials. They have five — thousands of discharge points. So, they said, you know what? In the grand scheme of things…

    GWEN IFILL: This wasn’t a lot?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: … this wasn’t a lot. This is 2 percent of — we’re 99.8 percent in compliance most of the time.

    GWEN IFILL: So it’s the cost of doing business?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Well, they said, hey, we are — we predicted this was going to happen. We knew we were probably going to have to pay this. We have accounted for it. We expect no layoffs. But what they’re saying is, we’re a very large company, we can do better, but we do pretty well right now.

    GWEN IFILL: OK. So, aside from the $27 million in fines, $27.5 million, there’s $200 million for cleanup. What do these companies, what is it required that they do now?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Well, they’re going to have to put wastewater treatment systems on their — on these discharges on these mines.

    Right now, basically, these wastes are just kind of collected and they kind of settle out in very crude systems before they just are emptied into the stream. They are going to have to do — boost monitoring. They are going to have to get a third party to validate that monitoring.

    And they are going to have to digitally record the violations. In many cases, these companies are submitting just reams of actual paper to these states, and the states don’t really have the available resources to keep track of the violations that are self-reported by these companies and then follow up on them.

    GWEN IFILL: When you talk about self-reporting, does this — does a settlement like this tell us that the EPA is getting tougher or that companies are just stepping up?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: I think the EPA, with both the 2008 settlement and this settlement today, is keeping tabs and kind of knows that this is — this is a tough thing to get their arms around, and states need help to kind of police this.

    There’s just so much of it out there. There are so many mines, so many discharge points. And I think you are going to see very quickly Republicans in Congress and the coal industry and their allies talk about this in the broader context of what Obama is doing with coal, which is really cracking down on its air pollution — you had the first ever carbon pollution limits that are proposed for new power plants — as a larger kind of take on coal.

    GWEN IFILL: So there’s actually a crackdown under way of some kind? They’re not wrong about that?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Correct.


    Dina Cappiello of the Associated Press, thank you.

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Thank you.

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    A Chinese People's Liberation Army, PLA, officer practices conducting the military band before the opening session of the 12th National People's Congress, NPC, in Beijing. The Chinese government annouced its 2014 budget Wednesday, including a 12.2 percent increase in defense spending. Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

    A Chinese People’s Liberation Army, PLA, officer practices conducting the military band before the opening session of the 12th National People’s Congress, NPC, in Beijing. The Chinese government annouced its 2014 budget Wednesday, including a 12.2 percent increase in defense spending. Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

    The Chinese government announced Wednesday that their defense budget will increase by 12.2 percent, nearly 808 billion yuan, for the 2014 fiscal year.

    In U.S. dollars, China will be boosting its defense budget from $117 billion to approximately $132 billion, the biggest military increase in the last three years, Reuters reports. The military expansion includes investments in computer software technology and a boost in spending for their navy, one capable of operating in international waters.

    While the White House budget for 2015 plans to decrease defense spending, including a reduction of the U.S. Army to to pre-World War II levels, the proposed U.S. defense budget is $496 billion, about 5 times the size of the Chinese.

    Premier Li Keqiang, China’s head of government, spoke about the defense budget increases at the opening of China’s annual session of the National People’s Congress on Wednesday. Keqiang said China would “strengthen research on national defense and the development of new and high technology weapons and equipment” and “enhance border, coastal and air defenses.”

    Chinese increases in defense spending come as new tensions have emerged in East Asia. The Chinese declared an air defense zone that overlaps with Japanese-claimed airspace and has sent its navy into the South China Sea for precious oil and gas claims, much to the consternation of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

    In December, Japan announced a defense build-up of its own to protect its interests against a more expansive China.

    “It fits into a broader pattern that we’re seeing,” said Chris Johnson, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I think they’re still biding their time but they’re not hiding their strength any more.”

    China observers, such as Johnson, also a former China analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, point out that China has rapidly increased its defense spending for the past two decades.

    In part, this is due to the perception that China needs to strengthen itself if the U.S. is to “pivot” toward Asia. The foreign policy decision, announced by President Obama in 2011, is a maneuver that the Chinese believe involves creating alliances that check Chinese power, Johnson told the NewsHour.

    Obama will visit the region on a multi-country Asian tour in April.

    The post China plans to boost defense spending by 12 percent appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Video by Washington Post

    One of the most frequently taken college admission exams in America has just undergone a significant makeover. The College Board, which administers the SAT, announced Wednesday the first major changes to the test since 2005.

    The changes, which will not take effect until 2016, include the removals of mandatory essays, penalties for incorrect answer and obscure vocabulary words.

    The redesign intends to better represent what students study in high school, the College Board says, and also show the mastery of skills and evidence-based thinking expected for success in college and careers. The new test, for example, might ask students to justify a chosen answer with supporting evidence or a quote from a text.

    Additional changes include:

    • Math questions will now focus on linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning.
    • The overall scoring will return to the original 1600 scale, with 800 being the top score in both reading and math. The now optional essay will receive a separate score.
    • The new test will be available by paper and computer.

    The SAT test has lost ground to rival test, the ACT, in recent years, and a number of colleges and universities have stopped requiring either college admissions test when students apply. A recent study has also found a student’s grades in high school are a better predictor of college success than standardized tests. College Board president David Coleman, in an story in The New York Times, acknowledged that finding, and the fact that many students are anxious about taking these standardized tests.

    The national nonprofit advocacy group FairTest were quick to criticize the revamped SAT. Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer said that the revision fails to address “historic weaknesses” and may lead more universities to drop standardized test scores as admission requirements.

    Schaeffer, however, did offer cautious praise of the College Board’s decision to partner with nonprofit Khan Academy to create and offer free test preparation courses, in addition to aiding low-income students taking the exam with four fee waivers.

    The post College Board redesigns the SAT appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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