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

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    Bureau of Labor Statistics economists prepare the monthly jobs report in isolated conditions. Photo by Colorblind/Digital Vision via Getty Images.

    Bureau of Labor Statistics economists prepare the monthly jobs report in isolated conditions to protect the data. Photo by Colorblind/Digital Vision via Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: If it’s the first Friday of the month, it’s jobs day. But what happens before the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases that data at 8:30 a.m.? In other words, how is the data collected and calculated and whose job is that? Making Sense spoke with two BLS economists for an inside view of the monthly report.

    For all the attention the report gets, the data can be notoriously scattered each month – “noisy,” as Justin Wolfers told us. Economists take a stab at predicting the monthly numbers, but they’re the first to admit that any one month’s figures shouldn’t be given too much fanfare.

    Zachary Karabell agrees — and goes further. Author of “The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World,” Karabell argues that we obsess over statistics that don’t give a complete and nuanced picture of our economy. Watch Paul Solman’s conversation with him below:

    As we’ve long noted, the headline numbers that emerge from the BLS report (the unemployment rate and the number of jobs added) come from two different surveys, which sometimes deliver wildly different employment outlooks.

    In January, for example, the unemployment rate ticked down to 6.6 percent, its lowest since October 2008. But only 113,000 jobs were added. In February, the unemployment rate went up to 6.7 percent, but the number of jobs added was healthier, at 175,000.

    The percentage of unemployed people comes from the household survey, while the number of jobs added comes from the payroll or establishment survey — literally a survey of establishments (businesses) that employ people.

    BLS economists Karen Kosanovich, who works on the household survey, and Julie Hatch Maxfield, who works on the establishment survey, spoke with us about how they collect their data and the isolation they face in the days before the data is released.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sense Editor


    How do you come up with the unemployment rate?

    Karen Kosanovich: What we actually do is survey people all across America and ask them questions that allow us to categorize whether they’re employed, unemployed or not in the labor force. And so it’s the survey data that form the basis of our unemployment measure.

    The data collection is actually done by our partners at the Census Bureau; they’re the experts at knocking on doors and talking to individuals. They talk to about 60,000 households and collect data from about 108,000 people each month. We ask these people questions based on their activity in the prior week.

    So we will interview people in the first week, asking, “Last week, did you do any work for pay or profit?” We ask questions about work activity first, and then if they didn’t work, we’ll ask if they’ve looked for work in the last four weeks or if they’re on lay-off, waiting to be recalled from a job.

    So if you’re working, you’re employed. If you’ve looked for work, you’re unemployed. If you’re on lay-off from a job and waiting to be recalled, you’re unemployed. If you’re not employed or unemployed, we put you in a category called “Not in the Labor Force.” That “Not in the Labor Force” category would include people like my father, who’s retired at 85, or maybe someone who’s staying at home to take care of their children full time, or going to school.

    What are the limitations of the data?

    Karen Kosanovich: There are strengths and limitations. One of the strengths of the labor force survey is that it’s optimized to produce a measure of unemployment — and the change from one month to the next. But the statistical data are based on a sample, and so every sample survey that we have has a certain amount of error associated with it. … We need about two-tenths of a percentage point change for it to be considered statistically relevant. So you’ll notice in our reports that our language is fairly precise to account for that imprecision that’s part of the estimates.

    Do Census Bureau workers still knock on doors to conduct the household survey?

    Karen Kosanovich: The household survey data collection is both in person and over the phone. The first contact that we make is a letter that the home receives, and the first contact to collect data is in person. You get better results if there’s an individual that comes to the door that can show you their governmental ID and walk you through a series of questions. At the discretion of the respondents, we’ll collect information over the phone or in person — whichever they prefer.

    But the unemployment rate is only one part of the monthly jobs data the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases. Where does the number of jobs added or lost each month come from?

    Julie Hatch Maxfield: The establishment survey is exactly what it sounds like: we go after the establishments. Depending on the size of the firm, we will target someone in the payroll or accounting office. And we ask them to provide us the total number of employees that worked or received pay for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month.

    We collect data many different ways. A lot of our data collection is done electronically, mostly through the web, and through large data dumps from the firms themselves. And we receive that data every month to make estimates. There are about 145,000 establishments each month that we survey, which represents about one-third of all payroll non-farm jobs.

    What are the limitations of the establishment survey data?

    Julie Hatch Maxfield: As with any survey, there is error associated with it. For the establishment survey, a change has to be over 95,000 employees, and then you get a month for it to be a truly statistically significant change. So we have to have a change, plus or minus more than that amount, for us to say that there are more jobs added or lost.

    What’s the history of the establishment survey?

    Julie Hatch Maxfield: The current employment statistic survey, which is the establishment survey, has actually been around since 1915. It started with four manufacturing industries and then since then it’s been evolving, with service-providing industries added, becoming more a representation of what’s happening in the economy. … The data we use in the national estimates is also used in the state and area estimates as well.

    And the origins of the household survey?

    Karen Kosanovich: The household survey began in March of 1940. Prior to that time, there was no national measure of unemployment, and in fact, there wasn’t real consensus on how you would approach measuring unemployed individuals.

    How has the process changed?

    Karen Kosanovich: One of the most remarkable things to me is that it actually hasn’t changed greatly since 1940. … We’ve added additional questions to provide more nuance and additional detail in what we can describe. The biggest change in terms of the household data collection was that in 1994 we switched from a paper and pencil instrument to electronic data capture. But the timeline has been the same: we collect data on the week of the 19th, generally, and ask people questions about the 12th of the month. And we report the data just a few weeks later.

    Julie Hatch Maxfield: For the establishment survey, the biggest change has been in data collection. It used to be a mail survey exclusively, and now we do not collect any of the data through the mail.

    What kinds of security measures do you take to safeguard the numbers ahead of the official release?

    Karen Kosanovich: Confidentiality is important to us and it begins even before data collection. There’s a couple of main avenues. We obviously can’t go into a lot of details about the exact steps, but it begins with computer and electronic security from the very beginning of data collection through the publication of estimates. The individual staff members are an important line of defense — information is available only to those who have a work-related reason to know.

    And then we use physical security measures. So you may have noticed entering the building that we’re in a secure location — different parts of the office are physically isolated while production’s involved.

    And so it seems remarkable to people that economists have to take out their own trash during certain periods of the month while we’re preparing the unemployment news release. Suites are actually locked; there’s no trash collection or recycling that occurs during that time.

    You need an identification badge that allows you to be in that space. There are signs on the door that notify people that they are not allowed to enter. You would be accompanied if you do enter the suite.

    What was your reaction to that when you first started working here?

    Karen Kosanovich: It was an adjustment the first few weeks. It’s really important that you carry your identity badge if you’re going to the rest room during lockdown, or you need a friend to let you back into the suite. But you get very accustomed to it, and it becomes routine and just a part of our work day — just during our production periods. So this is not Pentagon-level security every day.

    So maybe not Pentagon-level, but why such tight security?

    Karen Kosanovich: Participation in both these surveys is voluntary, so one of the ways we treat our respondents well is protecting the information they give us. It’s very personal when the government is asking where you work, the kinds of things you do at work, how much you earn. For businesses, it’s very important that they be able to protect information about what they pay their employees. So we respect that information and keep it secure.

    And then because the data are economically sensitive, this information is classified as a principal federal economic indicator and so, because of the heightened attention that’s paid to it, there are additional procedures involved to be sure that we’re releasing the information uniformly to all of our data users.

    What do you make of the fanfare surrounding the Friday morning release of the jobs report?

    Karen Kosanovich: The hype that surrounds the minutes leading up to 8:30 when the data are released and the first few minutes afterwards — I’m not sure I understand all of that excitement. … For us it’s a longer term perspective on, not so much what one month’s number is, but what can we know about what’s occurring…the longer term trends.

    Julie Hatch Maxfield: I think part of what we are interested in is how does that message get across. Because we take great care on how the message is delivered. We really want to let you know a change is a change. We would not say that the unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percent because that’s not statistically significant…

    Sometimes there’s a level of frustration for us because we take time to craft our message and either different sound bites go out…or it’s a spin that’s not what we would actually say. You know, sometimes we are called to validate things that either were not the truth or not out there. Our job is to report the data as it is and to give factual analysis, not to put any spins on the data.

    We know this data is important to people, and we want to make sure that if we lead with something, that it makes economic sense to do so. We want to make sure that if there is an important change, we explain it as much as possible and if something is not statistically significant that we do not draw attention to it. A lot of what we try to do is give context to how the current month fares in comparison to recent trend.

    The post Why economists take out their own trash before the monthly jobs report appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Paralympic flag. Photo by Flickr user The Department for Culture, Media and Sport

    The Paralympic flag. Photo by Flickr user The Department for Culture, Media and Sport

    Concerns that Ukraine would be boycotting the Sochi Paralympic Games were quelled on Friday when the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee announced that — despite Russian occupation in Crimea — its team would still be competing.

    Valeriy Sushkevich, president of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine, had doubts swirling early Friday morning when he said Ukraine would not be participating if Russia invaded his country. But after discussions took place between athletes and Ukrainian officials, Sushkevich confirmed: “We are staying at the Paralympics.”

    Although Ukraine is remaining a part of the Games, only one of its 23 athletes appeared at the Opening Ceremonies on Friday. The rest of the team boycotted the athletes’ parade to protest Russia’s actions in Crimea.

    The Paralympic chief met with Russian president Vladimir Putin Thursday night to request peace in Ukraine during the games. He said that even though he did not receive any specific guarantees, his meeting with Putin was important.

    “The athletes have a right to have the Paralympic Games under peaceful conditions,” Sushkevich maintained.

    But he warned that any escalation in conflict between the two countries would make him reconsider his decision.

    “I declare should this happen we will leave the games,” said Sushkevich. “We cannot possibly stay here in this case.”

    Ukraine’s presence at the Paralympic Games had been in question from the start due to the country’s ongoing political unrest. With Russian troops now creating further turmoil in Ukraine, three other countries — the UK, Germany, and the United States — have chosen not to send delegations.

    International Paralympic Committee president Phillip Craven was pleased with Ukraine’s decision to remain a part of the Games.

    “All week the [International Paralympic Committee] has been working closely with the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee in an effort to keep them here in Sochi,” he said. “The talking point of Sochi 2014 needs to be great sport and great athletes, not global politics.”

    “We want all the athletes who have trained for years to reach these Games to fully focus on events on the field as opposed to off.”

    The post Ukraine athletes protest, but compete in Paralympics despite Russian occupation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, isn’t reading much fiction these days. Instead, he said he’s been immersed in two nonfiction works: “The End of Power” by Moises Naim and “Present Shock” by Douglas Rushkoff.

    “I find them fascinating,” he told PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff. Woodruff’s interview with Dempsey about developments in Ukraine and sexual assaults in the military airs Friday.

    Dempsey described how Naim was called in to meet with military commanders, and the author told them “weaknesses” such as political and economic structures would end up defining them more than their military strength. “It’s fascinating and frustrating, though.”

    And Rushkoff’s book, Dempsey said, deals with how people’s concern about the future has morphed into a focus more on the present.

    “There’s so much information that comes in. Probably while you’re sitting here if you had your Blackberry on, it would have vibrated and you’d have been tempted to look at it because you can. And so when you think about dealing with weakness, and dealing with present shock, I think it helps illuminate the challenges we have today.”

    View all of our Military coverage and follow us on Twitter.

    The post Two books General Dempsey is reading appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Inside Fermilab's Tevatron facility in 2011. The physics lab has banned Powerpoint presentations. Photo by Flickr user Michael Kappel

    Inside Fermilab’s Tevatron facility in 2011. The physics lab has banned Powerpoint presentations. Photo by Flickr user Michael Kappel

    The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory – better known as Fermilab – is home to some of the most advanced technology in the world.

    Data collected from the Illinois laboratory’s Tevatron atom smasher contributed to 2012’s headline-grabbing discovery of the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” whose theoretical existence had remained unconfirmed for fifty years.

    And last month, Fermilab physicists announced that a 450-mile-long underground neutrino experiment had yielded its first results, which scientists believe will pave the way toward better understanding the universe’s earliest moments.

    With so much technological innovation going on across the lab’s campus, one might be surprised to walk into one of Fermilab’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Physics Center forums and see presenters using nothing more than a whiteboard and colored marker — no PowerPoint slides allowed.

    According to Fermilab’s daily newsletter, the forum banned computerized slides six months ago in an effort to better engage audiences. “Without slides, the participants go further off-script, with more interaction and curiosity,” said Florida State University assistant professor Andrew Askew. “With only a whiteboard, you have your ideas and a pen in your hand.”

    While the biweekly forums are attended primarily by academics, researchers and students, Fermilab appears to be increasing its efforts to reach the wider public as well. For this, though, they’re reverting back to the latest in technology: on Friday, they partnered with labs at Stanford and Berkeley to host a Twitter chat about dark energy.

    The post Advanced physics lab shuns PowerPoint, embraces the white board appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    miles_intvu

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Miles O’Brien has traveled the world for the NewsHour, and at times to very dangerous places, as he did for his current series of reports from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. The third installment in that series will air on Tuesday, the anniversary of the tsunami that destroyed it.

    After leaving Japan, he traveled to the Philippines for other upcoming stories. There, he dropped a heavy camera case on his left arm. The injury became life-threatening. And, during emergency surgery, Miles’ left arm was amputated above the elbow.

    He’s now back home here. And he joins us to talk about what happened, plus a little of Fukushima.

    Miles, we are so glad to see you.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Judy, it’s good to be here. It’s good to be anywhere. Good to be alive.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you know, people think reporting is a glamorous profession. You were over in Asia reporting on your own. You were, as you said, in Japan. You were doing your own camera work, sound. You were doing your own reporting.

    You’re in the Philippines, and then this accident happens.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes.

    You know, being a one-man band is — comes with its own set of risks. Being a journalist comes with its own set of risks. But I suspect if we had been talking about this before the accident, we would be thinking about perhaps a trip to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant or a war zone.

    And, sometimes, it’s the heavy case filled with gear that you need to be careful of. And that’s what I found.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it landed on your arm. You eventually got to the hospital.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes.

    It began as a bruise. And it just got a lot worse after about a day or so. And the pain got worse. And it — there was swelling. And it got me increasingly nervous when I saw some discoloration and ultimately some numbness in my hand. And when that happened, I knew I couldn’t deny it any longer. I had to get some medical help.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And by the time you saw a doctor, they pretty quickly identified it, you said, as acute compartment syndrome.

    MILES O’BRIEN: That’s correct.

    I had — literally had to Wiki it with my phone, because I never heard of compartment syndrome. And I’m just very grateful that the doctor there saw it for what it was, because it’s a very — very much a life-threatening situation.

    Essentially, what I found out very quickly is that your muscles and veins and some of your tissue sits inside kind of a sheathing, which is like the insulation on wire cable. But that sheathing doesn’t expand. And if there’s some sort of inflammation or something that causes swelling inside there, the pressure builds, and there’s no place for the blood to go.

    And what happens is, the blood flow cuts off. And the thing to do is an emergency fasciotomy, which actually cuts the sheathing, if you will.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Unfortunately, that was the goal. They told me going in, though, that, if things don’t go well, you might lose your arm.

    And I, of course, hoped for the best. When I woke up, I thought I felt my arm, but, unfortunately, things didn’t go for the best.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Miles, for the last three weeks, you have been without your left arm and with a lot of pain, one assumes.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes, what happens — it’s interesting.

    The pain, when you lose a limb, is in what is absent. Phantom limb pain is very — it’s an amazingly — well, it’s interesting on one level, as a reporter, this whole — the way your brain is wired. But it’s also incredibly painful.

    My — I — I feel my hand, in a way, more acutely than I ever did when I had it. It’s clenched up. It’s like it’s in a vice practically. And, at times, it can be extremely painful.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re feeling all that right now?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Oh, yes, absolutely.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How are you dealing with this? I mean, you are — I know you as somebody with limitless energy, always on the go. How you coping?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, you know, it’s interesting.

    You got to — it’s a little bit about, like, focus. You have a choice in life, wherever you are in life, to kind of — you know, I love what Winston Churchill said. You know, if you’re going through hell, just keep going.

    And part of keep going is, there’s some real wisdom in that. Here I was in a situation where I — one of my first thoughts was, here I went to Japan, went to the Fukushima Daiichi plant. I felt very strongly about getting those stories out. And I didn’t want to lose that opportunity.

    And so I started focusing on my work. And it was really an important and good tonic for me. I suspect I will have to pay the piper a little bit later, but it got me through a very tough time, just by focusing on doing these stories.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re not just a reporter. You’re a science reporter, so you have been looking — you have been looking at what happened to you very closely.

    You have also, you told me, been getting a lot of advice from people who have heard about this.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes.

    It’s interesting. I — I have heard — of course, one of the things you would think about in a situation like this when you’re in a country like that, would things have been different if it had happened here in the U.S.? Would I still have my arm?

    I asked my doctor that question. And he said, probably not, because the way this compartment syndrome manifests itself, the symptoms show up kind of late in the game. And then I heard from a lot of people who had been through it and have had their limbs salvaged, and they live a life of great suffering, because the limb is so damaged and painful.

    So those are the kind of things that, when the thing happens, you just have to move on, and not second-guess those kinds of things.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you — here you are. You have already been back reporting. You finished — you have put pieces — we have already ran two — have run two pieces you did on Fukushima on the “NewsHour.”

    You’re working on another piece. You’re a pilot, Miles.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you — how do you think about the future right now?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, that — there are things that, you know, I have conquered. I can do my stories. And I can — I tied this tie today. I’m very proud of those kind of little things.

    But I do like…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It looks good.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Thank you very much.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MILES O’BRIEN: I do like to fly airplanes.

    And so I was at the National Rehabilitation Hospital the other day, a fantastic facility right here in Washington. And I said, I really like to ride my bike. I like to fly airplanes. And I want to be able to get back to shooting video. Those are my three big criteria.

    They were like, oh, no problem. We have attachments for all of that. It’s like Inspector Gadget or something. And so part of my science and technology mind as a reporter is thinking, this is — this is kind of interesting, how this all works and the technology.

    And, sadly, the reason that the technology has progressed so much is because of the wars and because of the limb loss associated with that. But I, fortunately, will benefit from some of that technology.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what do you say to all those people out there who are watching who — you know, whose hearts go out to you, who — who want the best for you? What do you say to them?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, first of all, thank you.

    I haven’t been able to get back with everybody. I have heard from so many of all of them out there. And I just appreciate the concern and the show of love. And, you know, I — this is not the way you want to find out that you’re loved.

    But it really — it was wonderful. What I want people to know most — more than anything is that — not to worry about me, that I will be OK. I can figure this out. It’s — it’s surmountable. It’s not fun. It’s not something I would wish on anybody, but it can be done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, all of your friends are just absolutely in awe of you, Miles.

    Miles O’Brien, thank you for coming by.

    MILES O’BRIEN: You’re welcome.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we look forward to many, many years of continuing to work with you.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Thank you.

    The post NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien on moving forward after an accident led to amputation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The bitter cold that’s gripped much of the nation and hit some economic sectors hard apparently didn’t have a huge impact on jobs. Today’s Labor Department numbers for February exceeded economists’ expectations. Employers added 175,000 jobs last month. And the unemployment rate rose slightly to 6.7 percent, because more people were trying to find work.

    But for stocks on Wall Street, it was a day of fluctuation, with the job news sending them up, and uncertainty over Ukraine sending them down. In the end, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 30 points to close above 16,452. The Nasdaq fell nearly 16 points to close at 4,336. The S&P 500 rose a point to close at 1,878. For the week, the Dow and Nasdaq gained more than a 1.5 percent; the S&P 500 was up nearly 2 percent.

    For a closer look at today’s jobs numbers, I am joined by Diane Swonk, senior managing director and chief economist for Mesirow Financial.

    Diane, welcome back to the NewsHour.

    So, despite the miserable weather, job creation was up. How do you explain it?

    DIANE SWONK, Mesirow Financial: Well, actually, February is the beginning of a hiring spree for most firms. Seasonally, it’s when we tend to have a big upswing. Even during the height of the crisis in 2009, February had the least losses during that month.

    So, it is the time when we start hiring up, particularly in the education sector. And this is something encouraging, because we have seen draconian cuts of teachers during the last several years, as state and local governments tried to balance their budgets.

    Finally, we did see teachers come back, in fact, in this month, and that’s very good, because it does mean that balance sheets are healing at the state and local level. We also saw a real imprint of the weather, though, on the composition of job growth. I call it the migration and hibernation.

    We saw department stores actually lay people off because people were not walking through the malls and were not going out. It was really cold here, and I know in Washington as well, and people just hibernated. On the other side of it, those who could migrated. They went to resorts, ski resorts, sunny locations. And, sure enough, employment in leisure and hospitality increased.

    So, you really did see the imprint of the weather even on the composition of those job gains. And we also were able to beat, despite the weather, that sort of seasonal upswing. It does suggest that we still have an underlying trend of healing in the U.S. economy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Diane, you — what you’re saying — what you’re saying is that the job creation appears that it’s going to continue?

    DIANE SWONK: I think we are going to see job creation continue. Of course, another big storm is predicted for the survey week in March of next week, so we’re going to still see displacement here.

    What we’re seeing from the weather is it deferred, displaced and, actually, because it destroyed some things, is creating economic activity on the road. A lot of potholes have got to be filled in the Midwest. A lot of tires got blown out. And, in fact, pent-up demand is really strong now for things like vehicles that are very old and many of them just plain died in this weather because of the cold.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Diane Swonk with Mesirow Financial, we thank you.

    DIANE SWONK: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In other news, Russia’s government threw its support behind the upcoming referendum in Crimea, where voters are due to decide whether to break with Ukraine and join Russia.

    Meanwhile, on the ground in Ukraine, there were reports a military base in Crimea was sieged by Russians.

    Jeffrey Brown has more on the day’s developments.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The sign reads in Cyrillic, “Crimea, Russian land,” and tens of thousands of Russians flooded Red Square for a government-sanctioned rally to urge the Crimeans to join Russia.

    MAN (through interpreter): It is our land. Our grandfathers and grand-grandfathers shed their blood there. Crimea should be part of Russia.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The Crimean Parliament has set a March 16 up-or-down vote on leaving Ukraine to become part of Russia. Late today, the Associated Press reported that a Ukrainian military post in Crimea was under siege by Russians, but no shots were fired.

    And, today, leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said that they would welcome Crimea becoming Russian.

    Valentina Matvienko is speaker of Russia’s Upper House.

    VALENTINA MATVIENKO, Speaker of Upper House, Russia (through interpreter): If the people of Crimea express their will at the referendum and make a decision to join Russia, we, as the Upper House of Parliament, will, of course, support such a decision.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But the interim government in Kiev, the United States and the European Union have all denounced the vote as illegal.

    President Obama reinforced that message in an hour-long call last night with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry. In a bluntly-worded statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Lavrov — quote — “warned against hasty and reckless steps capable of causing harm to Russian-American relations, particular sanctions, which would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang.”

    But, speaking in Dublin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that sanctions would be levied.

    ANGELA MERKEL, Chancellor, Germany (through interpreter): We said very clearly what sort of sanctions were to be adopted. If there were further attacks on Ukraine and its territorial integrity, then we will respond with a broad range of measures.

    JEFFREY BROWN: After meeting with European leaders in Brussels, the Ukrainian prime minister urged Russia again to leave Crimea.

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): In order for our Russian neighbors to become our partners, they, first of all, have to withdraw their troops. They have to abide by bilateral and multilateral agreements which Russia has signed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One vital agreement with Russia involves fuel supply, and, today, Russia’s state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, said it may suspend its supply to Ukraine, after it failed to pay for February deliveries. For now, it will continue transit shipments to Europe.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A Congolese rebel leader was convicted today of murder and pillage. Germain Katanga appeared before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his role in the 2003 massacre of more than 200 villagers in Eastern Congo. Katanga was cleared of committing sexual crimes and using child soldiers. It was only the second conviction made in the court’s 12-year history.

    A new study found malaria moves to higher elevations during warmer years, and creeps back down when temperatures cool. The findings were published in “Science” magazine, and analyzed data from Ethiopia and Colombia. Researchers from the U.S. and Britain said it was the first hard evidence of a link between climate change and malaria. And it could lead to a significant increase in places where people are more vulnerable. Malaria currently infects about 220 million people a year.

    The Kansas Supreme Court ruled today that the state’s current levels of public school funding are unconstitutional. It said that poor school districts in Kansas were hurt when the state decided to cut payments because of falling tax revenue during the recession. The justices said the state had failed to provide equity in education. It sent the case back to a lower court to determine what the new funding should be.

    The generation of Americans known as millennials are more likely to lean to the left when it comes to politics, even though they describe themselves mostly as independent. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that half of all adults aged 18 to 33 are Democrats or lean Democratic, the highest share for any age group in the last decade. The survey also found more young adults remain single, and are less religious than previous generations at this stage of their lives.

    The post News Wrap: U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs despite February’s harsh winter weather appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    US-MILITARY-DEFENSE-FORUM

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The crisis in Ukraine, budget battles, the wind-down and uncertainty of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the increase of sexual assaults in the armed forces and what to do about it, these are all front-burner issues for the highest-ranking uniformed member of the military, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Army General Martin Dempsey.

    In a rare television interview, he sat down with me earlier today at the Pentagon.

    General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, thank you very much for talking with us.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Well, I’m excited to be here today.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States is sending more military material, forces into Eastern Europe, F-15s into the Baltics, F-16s to Poland, another warship into the Black Sea. What message is the U.S. trying to send to Russia right now?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: We’re clearly trying to send a message to Russia, almost exclusively through diplomatic channels, so that I do have an open line with my Russian counterpart that I have used twice the last two days.

    But we’re trying to tell them not to escalate this thing further into Eastern Ukraine and allow the conditions to be set for some kind of resolution in the Crimea. But the message we are sending militarily is to our NATO allies.

    So, one of our responsibilities at times like this is to reassure our allies. And so the deployments you mentioned into the Baltic air policing mission, into the aviation detachment in Poland, the deployment of the ship, are really intended to reassure our allies.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the U.S. is saying to the allies, if this were to come to some sort of military conflict, the U.S. would back up NATO?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, don’t forget, we have — actually, we have NATO treaty obligations under Article 5 for collective defense.

    And, so, when they ask us for reassurance or they ask us to — for contingency planning, we respond, and we do have obligations with NATO.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, if there were to be a misunderstanding of some sort, if there were to be an accident that were to lead to something bigger, has the administration thought through the consequences of what that means, the two countries that are the greatest armed powers on the planet involved?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, that’s why we’re seeking aggressively to resolve this diplomatically, before we would reach the point where there could be a miscalculation.

    It’s probably worth mentioning why this is so unsettling to the Eastern Europeans. You know, we live here in America and sometimes don’t understand the realities of geography and demographics in Eastern Europe.

    There are — if Russia is allowed to do this, which is to say move into a sovereign country under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, it exposes Eastern Europe to some significant risk, because there are ethnic enclaves all over Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

    I will give you one example. There are 400,000 ethnic Romanians living in Ukraine. So this is enormously unsettling.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you know what the Russians are saying is that they have an historic relationship with — with Crimea, and they’re saying the Crimean legislature has voted now to have a referendum, and they’re saying what the government in Kiev did was illegal.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Of course they are. And they’re trying to roll back to the February 21 agreement, and we’re trying to suggest that, really, the clock started on February 24.

    Those are matters of diplomacy. Our role, as the military, is to seek ways to influence this without it being escalatory. And, by the way, I do have this open line with my Russian counterpart. So, everything that we have done, I tell him, here’s what we’re doing. Here’s why we’re doing it. We disagree fundamentally about your claim of legitimacy, but, as militaries, let’s try to avoid escalating this thing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But there is a chance it could escalate?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Of course there is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There is a chance of military conflict?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Sure. Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And is the U.S. prepared if that happened?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, that’s a question that I think deserves to be assessed and reassessed and refreshed as this thing evolves.

    But, remember, we do have treaty obligations with our NATO allies. And I have assured them that, if that treaty obligation is triggered, we would respond.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How much of your time right now, General Dempsey, is spent on this issue?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, quite a bit, although there’s other things going on in the world. And we just have this little matter of the budget.

    So, as much as I need to spend on it, I’m spending on it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of the budget, the administration announced just — and the Pentagon announced just a few days ago that there’s going to be a — or that you would like to have a downsizing of materiel and troops back to a size that we haven’t seen since before World War II.

    Because of what’s going on right now in Eastern Europe, any second thoughts about that?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, I’m not sure that if we had a million-man Army, that it would make — would have made any difference in the Russian calculation to enter the — to enter Ukraine.

    But, that said, we do have an obligation to deter conflict and to prepare for it should it occur. And we are reaching a point, because not only the depth of the budget reductions, but also the mechanism, the draconian way it’s applied, where we really can’t move money around or balance the budget in any responsible way, that is affecting our readiness.

    So, if you’re asking me, you know, does this increase the urgency with which I articulate the risks that we are beginning to accrue, sure, it does.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I ask because I’m sure you know there has been a crescendo of criticism. The chairman of the House Armed Services — Armed Services Committee, Congressman Buck McKeon, among other things, said this.

    He has called the downsizing immoral. He says U.S. adversaries are growing bolder as a result of it. He talks about China and Russia arming up while the U.S. is preparing to arm down.

    How do you answer this?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, I think the we can still be — look, even at the budget level that has been submitted by the department, which is about $115 billion over the Budget Control Act, most commonly known as sequestration, at that level, we can still be the most powerful military in the world in 2020, which is about where we project out to.

    There will be more than a million men and women in uniform in the active component and almost two million when you add up the Guard and Reserve. We have forward operating bases. We have close, strong alliances. This is not a military in decline, nor will it be at the level of the budget we submitted.

    But if we’re driven to the full level — or the full reductions of the Budget Control Act, this thing called sequestration, yes, then we will have what I think would be too much risk.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask the question on the other side, which, as you know very well, a number of Republican and even — and Democratic deficit hawks are saying this budget doesn’t abide by the lower budget numbers of the past, that it ignores the deficit, blows a hole through it.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You have got critics coming from that side. What do you say to them?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, you know, the — I’m trying to actually manage the criticisms on both sides and do what I think is right for the country.

    And I think we have done that in the way we have articulated this budget submission and what we would do, both to be more fiscally responsible — you know, I’m a citizen, as well as a soldier, and I understand the fiscal constraints that the nation faces. And we can actually do this. That’s my message.

    We can’t do it at sequestration levels. I have said that very clearly, but we can do it at the level of the submission. We have to have the flexibility, though, to make the hard decisions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Afghanistan, the president said that the U.S. is prepared to pull out all American troops from Afghanistan if you can’t get that security agreement you need from Afghanistan’s leaders.

    Current President Karzai is saying he’s not going to do it. And, right now, the Afghan government has announced they’re dissolving a critical guard force that protects supply convoys, international aid groups.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What does all this mean for the future of the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Right.

    We do need a bilateral security agreement. And we need it because we need a demonstrated statement of commitment from the Afghans that they’re going to treat us like partners, and not, on occasion, accuse us of being occupiers.

    If you’re asking me how I think this will resolve itself, I think we’re probably in a position where it’s unlikely we will get it from the current president, and probably more likely that we will get it after the elections, which will begin to constrain our options post-’14.

    But I will also tell you, when I was over there, we had a very candid conversation with each other about the fact that, although there’s uncertainty in ’15 and beyond, we have got a lot of work to do in ’14. So, if you’re asking me where we’re focused right now, we’re focused on ’14.

    Some of these things that President Karzai has done, with releasing prisoners and dissolving this convoy protection force, those are disturbing, because they’re — they violate agreements we have already made with them. And they’re risky because of the increased danger that they pose, but they’re also risky in the message it sends about, you know, their ability and willingness to live up to agreements as they’re made.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There have been — I’m going to turn back — there’s so much to ask you about, but I do want to ask you about a couple of other things that have gotten attention here in the United States, a number of embarrassing incidents in the last few years involving U.S. military personnel, suspicions of cheating on exams by sailors at a nuclear training program, Air Force officers accused of cheating on different qualification exams, separate scandal involving senior Navy commanders and other incidents.

    What’s going on in the armed forces? Is this something, the kind of thing that’s always been happening, and it’s just now coming out, or is this a different period? How do you see it?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: I think what happened is, we have gotten a little careless maybe and sloppy over the last 10 years with the mechanisms that used to provide oversight, checks and balances, a safety net, if you will, for professionalism.

    We became consumed with preparing to go on a deployment, going on the deployment, coming back, and getting ready to go again. We stopped sending young men and women to our professional military education when they should have gone. We stopped doing things like command climate surveys. We got sloppy with contracting oversight.

    And we have got to go back — I will tell you what we have got to do. We have got to go back to the small disciplines that really make a difference in defining ourselves as a profession. And we will.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There are some analysts who have been out there saying you have been surprisingly low-key, though, on this issue, that they — that, in essence, they have said they have looked to you to speak up more about it, to admonish the forces more about it, and they have been surprised no one’s been publicly fired over these incidents.

    How do you — what do you say about that?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, what I say is don’t — don’t characterize my public persona with my level of interest and the urgency with which I deal with this internal to the profession.

    And, by the way, we have to separate out these different issues. Some of them are actually criminal. Some of them are ethical and behavioral issues. Some of them are sophomoric cultural issues. And some of them are just plain stupidity.

    And each of those has to be dealt with in a different way. You can’t lump all of that together and decide, you know, one size fits all.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Another issue, there’s been a lot of public attention recently around the problem of sexual assault and abuse in the military. Just yesterday, 55 United States senators…

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: … voted to take the prosecution for this kind of thing out of the chain of command.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Right. Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Not enough to pass, but a majority of the Senate…

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: … said this.

    What does this say about the confidence of our senior political leaders in the military’s ability to handle this?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: No, your point is a great one.

    Even though Senator Gillibrand’s bill was defeated, a majority of the Senate of the United States expressed a lack of confidence in our ability to solve this ourselves. By the way, I respect greatly what both Senator Gillibrand and Senator McClaskey have done — McCaskill have done to help us with — to put a constellation of reforms around our Uniform Code of Military Justice to help us.

    We are currently on the clock, if you will. The president of the United States said to us in December, you know what? You have got about a year to review this thing and show me you can make a difference.

    And we understand that, you know, this — just because Senator Gillibrand’s bill was defeated yesterday doesn’t mean that, a year from now, it may not be reintroduced. And if we haven’t been able to demonstrate we’re making a difference, then we deserve to be held to the scrutiny and standard.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One other thing, General, news reports that a far larger number of troops are being kicked out of the armed forces with less-than-honorable discharges just in the last couple of years, many more so than in the past.

    That means, of course, they are not eligible for veterans benefits. People who follow this issue say many of these are folks who are getting kicked out because they have acted up, but they’re acting up because of psychological trauma during Afghanistan and Iraq, and they’re not getting the treatment they need in the services.

    How do you see this?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, I see it.

    Second of all, there are mechanisms in place, to — to the greatest extent possible, to make sure that we are both administering justice, if you will, for indiscipline and misbehavior, which we have to do, but, at the same time, understand the pressures that we have had the force under for the past 10 years.

    There’s an appeals process that actually extends well into retirement. What we can’t do is begin to excuse indiscipline, misconduct and criminal behavior because of the possibility that it was created by the conditions of post-traumatic stress and other things.

    The point here is, we have got to watch both of those. And I think we have got in place — I’m confident, in fact, we have got in place mechanisms to allow us to try to really unpack what has gone on. But that’s not to say that there won’t be the occasion where we maybe miss something. But we do see it, just as you described it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: General Martin Dempsey, thank you very much.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Thank you for your interest.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Our conversation continues online, where General Dempsey tells us what books he’s reading right now, and about his love of literature and poetry.

    The post Joint Chiefs chairman Dempsey on Ukraine, military sex abuse and budget cuts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    20140307_shieldsandgerson

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson.

    Jeff is back and in charge of that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

    David Brooks is away today.

    Well, gentlemen, let’s go back to the beginning of that interview we just heard.

    Mark, the NATO treaty, the commitment to come to the aid of Eastern European countries, a confrontation with Russia, Cold War type of talk.

    MARK SHIELDS: It — well, I think the gravity of the situation was very much underlined by General Dempsey.

    I mean, he — he was serious. He didn’t pretend that it wasn’t. He didn’t want this to be “The Guns of August,” that we stumbled into something. He said he’s keeping — want to open the lines of communication with his counterpart in Russia, as well as urging and emphasizing diplomatic efforts.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What jumped out to you, Michael?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it really struck me how scared the Eastern Europeans must be, all of these things, talking about Article 5, talking about troop movements.

    They’re needed, but it’s frightening that they’re needed. Vladimir Putin wants to re-litigate the end of the Cold War. That’s one of his goals. And he uses tools of intimidation in what he regards as his sphere of influence. And that intimidation is working. I think that interview indicated that it needed to be reassured.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what is your sense of how much the stakes have raised for the U.S., even politically, in this last week, as the move into Crimea has happened?

    MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think — let’s be very blunt about it. Foreign policy is not a front-burner issue to the American people right now, and has not been.

    And the economy remains so, trailing health care. But it is obviously getting more attention, and understandably so, because the stakes seem higher, and the possibility for, I don’t want to say catastrophe, but for crisis, certainly have increased.

    I think, politically, you have seen a change in this country. The reality is this. There is minimal enthusiasm for another war in this country. I mean, we went through — without recycling, we went through a war where we were told we were going to be greeted as liberators, that was false intelligence that the other country had weapons of mass destruction, that it was going to be a cakewalk. And it wasn’t. And it hasn’t worked out.

    And so I think the American enthusiasm for military engagement is pretty limited.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But…

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    But I want to throw in, because there has been an increase this week of criticism from Republicans of President Obama, Michael, John McCain said, this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy, in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it’s worth saying, just in response, that the threats of the world don’t really care if Americans are interested or not.

    They arrive on their own timing. And America needs to be prepared for them. I think that McCain and Graham have made a tough critique here. I think historical counterfactuals are always very difficult. This could have happened with Teddy Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan in power. You don’t really know.

    The problem — the case that they’re making, however, is that there’s a cumulative case against this administration, when you look at defense cuts, when you look at the reset with Russia, which ended the isolation of the Russians after the Georgian invasion, when you look at the president constantly talking about nation-building at home, six years of rhetoric, talking about retreat and retrenchment.

    The case here is, this does matter. If you look historically, when Kennedy met Khrushchev and a sensed weakness in that relationship in the summit that they had, a real disaster in the Cold War, he — Khrushchev started building the Berlin Wall two months later.

    These kinds of things can matter in the calculations of foreign leaders.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think of this…

    MARK SHIELDS: I could not — I could not disagree more with Michael on this.

    First of all, John McCain and Lindsey Graham can use their rhetorical barbs. When you hired Barack Obama, you were not hiring someone who was going to do a bad imitation of Clint Eastwood and say, make my day, or anything of the sort.

    He has a rational, thoughtful, serious approach. He’s not somebody who speaks in bombastic terms or hurls thunderbolts rhetorically. The reality is that the reset with Russia — and I am second to none in my dislike of Putin — but the reality is that we wouldn’t have had an election in Iran, in my judgment, without that reset with him that led to a more moderate leadership there and a chance for rapprochement and denuclearization that — as far as the Syrian situation is concerned, I don’t think we would have gotten as far as we have with chemical weapons without Putin’s involvement.

    But I’m not in any way defending him. The reality is, there is no action statement that any of these people have. They say — it’s like my saying, let me tell you, this is too much. Putin’s a bum. And this can’t stand. And what are we going to — all right, what do we do? What do we do?

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, what’s the answer?

    MICHAEL GERSON: What we do is a long-term strategy of isolation against Russia. We’re imposing sanctions. We’re working with the Europeans, who are less willing than we are to take these kind of actions.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    MICHAEL GERSON: But…

    JEFFREY BROWN: But you’re agreeing that this really does stem a — well, these words, feckless foreign policy?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, the situation here is that we did have a previous Russian invasion of one of its neighbors, Georgia.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    MICHAEL GERSON: There was the creation of isolation. That isolation was ended. That’s what the reset meant.

    It’s not irrational for Vladimir Putin to say, I can outlast this isolation as well. And we need to signal that’s not the case, that he can’t outlast this isolation, like he did the last one.

    MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know, militarily, beyond what has happened so far, what would lead to the United States’ engagement or involvement.

    And I don’t how the sanctions are going to be employed, absent European cooperation. Are we going to cut off the gas that Europe depends on? That means the United States is going to have to export it. That’s going to mean lifting the ban on the United States exporting natural gas.

    I mean, there are a lot of complicated moving parts. And there seems to be a glee on the part of so many on the Republican side right now, led by Rudy Giuliani, who just extolled Putin as the admirable leader. There’s a real leader, somebody who decides in the morning what he wants to do, gets it through Parliament, and, 30 minutes later, it’s done, I mean, an anti-democratic endorsement by Dick Cheney, who says that Barack Obama would rather spend money on food stamps than on our troops, I mean, Dick Cheney, who presided over a 40 percent cut in our national defense budget when he was secretary of defense at the end of the Cold War.

    So, there just seems to be sort of an eagerness to lacerate Barack Obama.

    MICHAEL GERSON: I don’t think there’s — I don’t think there’s an eagerness here.

    I think what a lot of analysts are saying is that we are gradually increasing the isolation of Russia, slowed down by the Europeans. But he is moving to consolidate his gains with a referendum on March 17, which is coming up, to incorporate the Crimea into the Russian empire.

    MARK SHIELDS: Now, I have a problem with this, OK, because the people of Crimea, I assume, were going to say they should have some right to self-determination, if this is done legally and constitutionally.

    MICHAEL GERSON: It’s not legal.

    MARK SHIELDS: No, but if it’s done legally and constitutionally under international monitors, and they vote to associate, identify with Russia, then that — what is — what is the United States talking — isn’t that what Iraq was all about, self-determination? Isn’t that what we were going to have there? That was what that war was about.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, one last word, and then I want to get to one other subject.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, that was precisely Dempsey’s point.

    If you were to allow Russian self-determination across Eastern Europe, you would have endless conflict and chaos. This can’t be allowed. This — this — we can’t allow Russia to reassert its role in what it regards as its sphere of influence against pro-Western governments like the Ukraine.

    MARK SHIELDS: I’m not recommending that or suggesting it as an alternative.

    I do remember, because I’m older than you, times when the United States of America sent troops…

    JEFFREY BROWN: Uh-oh. He played the age card on you.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: … troops into the Dominican Republic — into the Dominican Republic to protect American citizens, which was a myth, which was a myth. And we did it. And that — that is in recent American history.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

    I want to turn to one other very different subject here. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has now twice gone to the floor of the Senate to denounce the Koch brothers, the major contributors to conservative causes, and he used very strong language.

    He called their activity un-American and accused them of trying to buy the country.

    Michael?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, first, it’s worth saying that when a powerful political leader uses his office to attack private citizens engaged in political speech, that’s a problem.

    He didn’t use this to talk about broad issues on campaign finance reform. In fact, what he said is — and we need to quote him — “I’m after the two brothers.” That’s really intimidation and abuse of power by a public official.

    It’s also very typical of a conspiratorial narrative that’s on the left and the right, that, somehow, when you’re losing or when you’re not doing well, it’s the fault of some billionaire you don’t agree, George Soros or the Koch brothers.

    You know, I think people should engage in arguments, not question the motives and funding of their opponents.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think, Mark?

    MARK SHIELDS: I think it was unfortunate that Senator Reid used the term un-American. I mean, that has echoes of the era of Joseph McCarthy, when careers were ended and lives were trashed by that epithet.

    Is American public political financing is a disaster? It’s a disaster beyond a scandal, beyond a tragedy. It’s — we went through elections from 1976 to 2008 in this country where candidates for president accepted limits on what they could receive and what they could spend, and then accepted public financing in the general election.

    And that was broken, let it be noted, by Barack Obama in 2008, under the myth that John McCain was going to raise more money than he did. And he raised twice as much as McCain did.

    From that point forward, you knew public financing was over, because the Republicans had always been defensive about it. Add — bring in the Citizens United case that said, mistakenly — if any one of these judges had ever have run for sheriff, they might have known the truth — said that a corporation is a person, the total, diametric opposite of what — everything that Teddy Roosevelt and Republicans had stood for.

    And we have now opened this up to people like the Koch brothers or anybody else with a billion dollars, the left, right. And I’m telling you, what it does is, it turns the candidates into mendicants, into supplicants, and basically into ideological eunuchs.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, just 30 seconds.

    The tactic, you’re saying — the problem is real, but the tactic perhaps is wrong?

    MICHAEL GERSON: I think there are disturbing elements about this system, but they’re not distributed by ideology.

    You have Soros and Koch. You have the unions and you have the Chamber. That the system, you may not like, but it doesn’t privilege one party or one ideology. And we have generally believed in a marketplace and ideas.

    MARK SHIELDS: I’m not even talking ideology. I’m talking about the fact that candidates spend all of this time — and the more time you spend raising money, the more money you raise, it narrows — it narrows your issues, because you end up taking money from so many sources, that you’re not going to raise issues that are going to in any way alienate them.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we ended up with our first agreement there. Alright.

    Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you both very much.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.

    The post Shields and Gerson on Cold War echoes, campaign financing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user Pietro Izzo

    Photo by Flickr user Pietro Izzo

    A California proposition set to go into effect at the beginning of 2015 is at the center of a lawsuit from five states. The proposition mandates eggs can only be sold in the state if they come from chickens housed in cages that meet certain size requirements, larger than the typical industry standard.

    The California law requires a chicken coop be 60 square feet (five feet by 12 feet) and hold no more than 60 chickens. At that size, an at-capacity cage would allow one square foot per chicken.

    But attorneys general from Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma as well as the governor of Iowa argue that’s too much, and have sued in federal court to block California from imposing the space requirement on eggs shipped in from other states. The lawsuit argues the California law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

    “This is not an animal-welfare issue; it is about California’s attempt to protect its economy from its own job-killing laws by extending those laws to everyone else in the country,” Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said in a statement. “The citizens of California made a choice for their own state, and when they realized it would harm their egg producers, they made an unconstitutional decision to spread the damage to other States. If California can get away with this, it won’t be long before the environmentalists in California tell us how we must build cars, grow crops, and raise cattle too.”

    However, proponents of the “egg law” say it’s simply inhumane to continue stuffing more and more chickens into less and less space.

    “[These] are small wire cages where about 95 percent of laying hens spend their entire lives,” wrote Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Friedrich in the Huffington Post. “Imagine spending your entire life in a wire cage the size of your bathtub with four other people. You wouldn’t be able to move, so your muscles and bones would deteriorate. Your feet would become lacerated. You would go insane. That’s precisely what happens to laying hens.”

    In 2010 California voters agreed with Friedrich’s position on animal welfare and passed Proposition 2, mandating chicken cages to nearly double in size. According to the summary prepared by the California State Attorney general, the proposition “Requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.”

    Failure to comply could lead to a fine or up to 180 days behind bars.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that attorneys for Missouri argue farmers would have to either spend $120 million to make their henhouses compliant or stop sales to California.

    Chickens, unlike cattle and horses, are not covered under the Humane Slaughter Act. California represents the largest domestic chicken egg market.

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    Doug Varrieur, a 57-year-old resident of Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, found a little-known part of Florida law that prohibits local officials from inhibiting gun rights in any way. To avoid a 70-mile trip to the closest commercial gun range, Varrieur set up targets in his backyard on December 26, after purchasing pistols for himself and his wife for Christmas. Outrage over the live gunfire immediately spread among local neighbors and was only amplified when they found out that legally, there was nothing they could do to shut down Mr. Varrieur’s new range.

    Under Florida Statute 790, gun control is solely under state–not local or municipal–jurisdiction. Violation of the statute is subject to a $5,000 fine. After legislatures bolstered the law in 2011, the governor is legally allowed to remove from office any local government official who attempts to restrict gun use.

    Rick Ramsay, the sheriff of Monroe County where Varrieur’s residence-turned-shooting-range is located, told Reuters, “”You can slice and dice it anyway you want, but there’s an accident waiting to happen.” His disapproval of the law is shared by Michael Ryan, the mayor of the Southeast Florida town of Sunrise. In February, Ryan wrote to Governor Rick Scott to ask him to promise not to remove any local official who imposes reasonable restrictions on target shooting in residential neighborhoods.

    Lawsuits in both Palm Beach and Broward counties are currently underway in attempts to overturn the state statute. In response to Ryan’s request, Governor Scott said it would be “prudent” to wait until these lawsuits are resolved before making a decision.

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    A hobbyist drone. Photo by Flickr user Steve Lodefink

    A hobbyist drone. Photo by Flickr user Steve Lodefink

    A federal judge ruled Thursday that the Federal Aviation Administration does not have jurisdiction over small, commercial drones. However, drone lawyers caution commercial enthusiasts from interpreting this ruling as a free-for-all license to fly.

    The judge’s decision, defined anything controlled remotely — i.e. no pilot aboard — is a model aircraft, with no restriction on size. Currently, the FAA has no regulations governing model aircraft flights.

    Therefore, even unmanned aircraft the size of commercial airplanes could legally fly in the airspace, said attorney Tim Adelman. It’s a large loophole, one that he predicts the FAA will look to close in the coming weeks.

    “It’s one of those things that people are looking at and jumping up and down,” said attorney Tim Adelman. “But when you break it down and look at it, I think we need to temper those expectations.”

    Adelman, chair of the Unmanned Systems Practice Group at the LeClairRyan law firm in Annapolis, said he would advise entrepreneurs to hold off on investing in production of more drones for at least a few more weeks.

    Drone lawyer Shannon Brown predicts the pressure put on the FAA as a result of this ruling could lead to a response far less favorable than what drone enthusiasts and entrepreneurs would want.

    The post Lawyers on commercial drone ruling: proceed cautiously appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Thousands of conservative activists gathered just outside of the nation’s capital this week to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest political gathering for those that lean right.

    Many attendees came to the conference to learn more effective ways to spread their conservative message. Throughout the speeches from Republican party leaders and among the crowds, conversation focused on how to use that message in order to win the mid-terms in November and the presidential election in 2016.

    On the first day of CPAC, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, “We don’t get to govern if we don’t win. And it’s not only bad when we don’t get to govern, because we don’t get to mold and change our society. What’s worse is they do.”

    “Let us come out here resolved not only to stand for principles, but let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.”

    But within the party, there is a clear divide between tea party supporters and traditional Republicans. One participant, Jeff Frazee, told PBS NewsHour he throws his support behind leaders like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, over the more moderate conservatives because he thinks they are more likely to bring future success to the GOP.

    “If the Republican party wants to survive it has to embrace Libertarian wing. If it doesn’t, I think you’re going to have a shrinking party,” Frazee said. “Where the growth is in the party, where the excitement and energy is with young people and libertarianism.”

    CPAC wraps up on Saturday with speeches from Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.


    Video shot and edited by Quinn Bowman

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    harmoneykids

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    This report was originally broadcast on Jan. 4, 2014. 

    JOSH ARONSON: Vianey Calixto lives in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles and like many of her friends she was struggling in school.

    Vianey’s interest in learning music prompted her parents to enroll her in a music program in their neighborhood called the Harmony Project. In the three years since, much has changed in Vianey’s life.

    VIANEY CALIXTO:   Music is like a dialogue because we can play a certain thing  – let’s say the violin can play something back –it could be the same melody different notes and it’s like a conversation talking back and forth.

    JOSH ARONSON: Serving more than 2000 students with a budget of 2.5 million dollars, the mostly privately funded Harmony Project is filling a gap in low-income areas where schools have cut music education programs.  Students get at least 5 hours of music classes and rehearsals each week year round. For poor students it’s tuition free including their instrument.

    Fifty-nine-year-old Margaret Martin started the Harmony Project in 2001 after witnessing something on the streets of her hometown – Los Angeles.

    MARGARET MARTIN:  This party of badass LA gang members comes walking through a farmers’ market and stops to listen to a tiny kid playing Brahms on a tiny violin. They had shaved heads, tats, gang clothing, and attitude. After five or six minutes without saying a word to one another I watched those gang members pull out their own money and lay it gently in the child’s case. Those gang members were teaching me that they would rather be doing what the child was doing than what they were doing but they never had the chance.

    MARGARET MARTIN:  Harmony Project is a researched based replicable program and we commit to our students for their entire childhood.

    JOSH ARONSON: The programs are started purposely in tough inner city areas to serve children of poverty.

    MARGARET MARTIN:  We know that dropout rates are about 50 percent in the neighborhoods where we built Harmony Project Programs.

    More than 80 percent of poor black and Hispanic kids do not read at grade level.

    JOSH ARONSON: It’s well documented that children whose mothers have little education, are rarely being read to and verbal interaction is minimal. Scientists believe that this not only puts them behind in school but those children rarely catch up because their brains are not be developing as rapidly as the brains of more stimulated kids.

    MARGARET MARTIN:  Early sustained music learning is actually the frame upon which education itself can be built for low-income kids.

    JOSH ARONSON: Margaret Martin was convinced of that because of the graduation rate of kids who have gone through her program. This year, she says, 93 percent of them finished high school in four years and went to college. But Martin acknowledges she does not have the formal training to prove that music helps kids grasp language better and become more proficient readers. So she enlisted the help of this woman. Her name is Dr. Nina Kraus. She is a neurobiologist at NorthwesternUniversity and for 25 years she has studied how the brain processes information – the neurobiology of auditory learning.

    JOSH ARONSON: What is the connection between sound and reading?

    DR. NINA KRAUS: Well there’s a connection with sound and reading in that when you’re learning to read you need to connect the sounds of words that you’ve heard for many years with the symbol on the page. So you’re making a sound to meaning connection.

    JOSH ARONSON:   No one has ever proven conclusively that music improves learning, and some studies have found no link at all. But, after being contacted by Martin, the Northwestern scientist designed tests to measure the impact music had on this group of low-income kids.

    Dr. Kraus started in 2011 with a group of 80 students from an LA gang zone. The students came from similar backgrounds and were all motivated to learn music at the Harmony Project. Half the kids were selected to start music study then and the other half, the control group, waited a year to begin. Dr. Kraus’s team took a mobile testing lab to LA at the beginning and then once a year for two years, to assess the change in the kids’ brain response in specific areas important for good reading and learning skills.

    Brain wave science
    More about the study of music and the human brain from The Music Instinct

    JOSH ARONSON:  What are some of the tests like that you actually do on these kids to measure these things?

    DR. NINA KRAUS:  We’re very interested in children’s rhythmic skills. And so we ask them to tap along with a steady rhythm.

    So if you just present a beat like on a metronome and you ask a child to tap along with a beat, that ability is linked with reading ability.

    LAB TECHNICIAN: Ready set go.

    DR. NINA KRAUS:  We ask them to listen to words or parts of words…

    LAB TECHNICIAN: Imagine that you are at a party – there will be a woman talking and several other talkers in the background.

    DR. NINA KRAUS:  We ask them to listen sentences that are presented in noisy backgrounds and they have to repeat back as much of the sentence that they were able to hear…

    SPEAKER RECORDING AND THEN KID IN THE LAB REPEATS:  The pencil was cut to be sharp ….

    DR. NINA KRAUS:  And of course the background gets noisier and nosier and it gets harder and harder to hear the sounds.

    CHILD IN LAB:   A toad and a frog each had to tell a tale

    DR. NINA KRAUS:   People who had musical training are better at hearing speech in noise. And it’s not that different from what you’re asking your nervous system to do when you’re listening for a teacher’s voice in a noisy classroom.

    And so we just simply know that if we ask people to repeat back sentences that are presented to them in background noise that if you have musical training, that you are better at repeating back the sentences accurately than if you did not have that musical training.

    JOSH ARONSON: I guess that’s especially true when a child is sitting in an orchestra and has to distinguish the sound he’s making, and his section is making, from all the other sounds in the orchestra.

    DR. NINA KRAUS: Exactly.

    JOSH ARONSON: So the red is the group of kids who have had music experience and between year one and year two the perception in noise is a straight line up.

    And the black line represents the Control Group that started music in year two. Their comprehension of meaning in a noisy environment goes up only then, after they started music.

    DR. NINA KRAUS: And the kids who have now had 2 years of musical experience are continuing to make gains.

    Music education is an important investment in teaching a child all kinds of skills.

    JOSH ARONSON: Dr Kraus is still analyzing data. But she says preliminary findings suggest music may enhance the neurological development of kids in the Harmony program who had been behind in school.

    DR. NINA KRAUS:  You can document that kids who have had musical education now have nervous systems that respond more accurately and precisely to meaningful elements in language.

    VIANEY CALIXTO: In science I had very low grades and then once I started learning about music and being able to practice and concentrating, my science grades have gone higher and so have my other grade in other subjects. I would concentrate in my music and it was something to be focused on and not be bothered by anyone. I was using that on my homework and on any type of class work also. Science is now one of my best subjects.

    JOSH ARONSON: And you like it now?

    VIANEY CALIXTO: Yes I love it.

    JOSH ARONSON: What do you say to those who say …well these kids all listen to music? They are listening all the time. Why doesn’t that work?

    MARGARET MARTIN:  Nobody ever got fit watching spectator sports. Doing it transforms your nervous system. It makes you basically a better learner.

    JOSH ARONSON: Who‘s to say that arts education in general whether it’s dance or painting might be as beneficial as music in terms of developing learning skills for these kids?

    DR. NINA KRAUS:    There have been a number of studies. And the language abilities seem to be strengthened by the music instruction more than the art. And so these language-based skills seem to profit from music instruction.

    JOSH ARONSON: The Harmony Project has 17 sites in Los Angeles and one in Ventura. And there are 16 more in three other states.

    CONDUCTOR: Here we go. From the Allegro. Measure 37…

    JOSH ARONSON: What are the goals, where do you want to take this?

    MARGARET MARTIN:  Oh man, my dream is to build Harmony Project programs in inner cities throughout the country because our students are achieving their unique potential. They are blossoming.

    American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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    WASHINGTON — Four Central European nations are urging the United States to boost natural gas exports to Europe as a hedge against the possibility that Russia could cut off its supply of gas to Ukraine.

    Ambassadors from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic made their appeal Friday in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. A similar letter was expected to be sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

    The letter from the four nations, known as the Visegrad Group, asks for Congress to support speedier approval of natural gas exports, noting that the “presence of U.S. natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe.”

    The ambassadors warn that the unrest in Ukraine has brought back Cold War memories and that energy security threatens the region’s residents on a daily basis.

    “Gas-to-gas competition in our region is a vital aspect of national security and a key U.S. interest in the region,” the ambassadors wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

    Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, and previous disputes between Ukraine and Russia have led to gas supply cuts. Russian state gas company Gazprom has increased the pressure on Ukraine’s new government, which now owes $1.89 billion for Russian natural gas, by warning that if Ukraine doesn’t pay off its debt, there could be a repeat of 2009, when Russia cut off supplies to Europe because of a pricing dispute with Ukraine.

    Recent advancements have made it possible for gas that normally flows through Ukraine to the EU to instead flow the other direction, so that nations like Poland and Hungary can supply gas to Ukraine if Russia were to cut off its supply. But with gas supplies limited, the region is still vulnerable unless the U.S. makes it easier to import American natural gas, the ambassadors argued.

    Boehner and Republicans have been urging the Obama administration to clear the way for more exports amid a natural gas boom in the U.S. The Energy Department has only approved six export licenses in recent years out of about two dozen pending.

    In a statement Saturday, Boehner called on Obama to “heed this call from our allies” and “do everything possible to use American energy to reduce the dependency on Russia for our friends in Europe and around the globe.”

    “I hope President Obama will heed this call from our allies to use his `pen and phone’ to direct the Secretary of Energy to immediately approve pending natural gas export requests and do everything possible to use American energy to reduce the dependency on Russia for our friends in Europe and around the globe.”

    The White House has argued that Russia’s dependence on gas revenues makes it unlikely that the country will cut off supplies to Europe despite the ongoing crisis in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where the Russian military has intervened in what the U.S. regards as a violation of international law.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that because Europe has had a relatively mild winter, gas supplies are at or above normal levels. He said even if the U.S. did approve more export licenses, it would take until the end of 2015 for gas to be delivered.

    “Proposals to try to respond to the situation in Ukraine that are related to our policy on exporting natural gas would not have an immediate effect,” Earnest said.

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    A woman holds up identification for a friend who may be aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. Family and friends gathered in a Beijing hotel on Sunday awaiting news from the ongoing search off the coast of Vietnam.

    Surrounded by media at a Beijing hotel, a woman holds up identification for a friend who may be aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing off the coast of Vietnam on Saturday morning. Credit: Wang Zhao/Getty Images

    Rescue crews from multiple countries were still searching on Sunday for a Malaysia Airlines plane missing off the southern coast of Vietnam — more than 20 hours after the Boeing 777-200 aircraft carrying 239 people vanished early Saturday morning.

    Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at 2:40 a.m. on Saturday, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jaujari Yahya said at a press conference. The aircraft, carrying passengers from 14 countries including the U.S., departed from Kuala Lumpur at 12:40 a.m. and was due to arrive in Beijing at 6:30 a.m.

    In a statement issued by the Vietnamese government, the deputy chief of staff of the country’s army Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan said the craft “lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam’s air traffic control.”

    Pilots on board had not reported any problems with the plane. There had not been reports of bad weather or any other sign indicating why the plane might have disappeared.

    While no signs of wreckage have been found, search planes did spot two oil slicks off the Vietnamese coastline. Planes and ships were sent to check out the situation, but there was no confirmed connection with the disappeared plane.

    Malaysia, Vietnam, China and the Philippines have dispatched ships to assist in the search. The U.S., Singapore and the Philippines have also sent military planes.

    The U.S. State department confirmed on Sunday that three U.S. citizens were on board. Most of the passengers on the flight were from Asia, while there were others on board from countries including Australia, France and Ukraine.

    At least two of the passengers on board were reportedly using stolen passports linked to an Austrian and Italian citizen who both said their documents were taken while traveling in Thailand.

    The last fatal Malaysia Airlines incident occurred in 1995 near the Malaysian city of Tawau, in a crash that left 34 dead.

    This is the second deadly crash of a Boeing 777 throughout the 19-year history of the aircraft. The first took place in July of 2013 when three people were killed after an Asiana Airlines flight crashed short of the runway at the San Francisco International Airport.

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    CHINA-MALAYSIA-VIETNAM-MALAYSIAAIRLINES-TRANSPORT-ACCIDENT

    People stand beside the arrival board showing the missing Malaysia Airlines flight at Beijing Airport on March 8. The U.S. State Department confirmed Saturday that three Americans were among the 239 aboard the aircraft. Credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department confirms that three Americans were aboard the Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished Saturday.

    Spokeswoman Jen Psaki says in a statement that officials from the U.S. Embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Beijing are in contact with families of the passengers. The department says it’s working to determine if other U.S. citizens may have been on the flight.

    No additional information was released.

    The aircraft went missing early Saturday on a flight from Malaysia to Beijing. Vietnamese air force planes report spotting a pair of large oil slicks in the area where the Boeing 777 disappeared.

    Psaki extended condolences to the loved ones of passengers on Flight MH370.

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    Since 1975, the United Nations has been celebrating International Women’s Day each year on March 8. This year’s theme is “Equality for women is progress for all.”

    Organizations, international corporations and celebrities from around the globe took to social media on Saturday to mark the event.

    Some posts are celebratory — others cautionary.

    The current state of women in the world’s workforce was also detailed earlier this year in The World Bank’s “Gender at Work” companion to the World Development Report on Jobs.

    Women's World Daily -- figures from The World Bank's Gender at Work report.

    Women’s World Daily — figures from The World Bank’s Gender at Work report. Credit: Kristin Miller/NewsHour Weekend

    Official UN observances of International Women’s Day were held in New York on March 7.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the event:

    For more on International Women’s Day, you can also watch the UN’s playlist of related videos:

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    Steve Szabo

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s been a week now since Russian forces occupied Crimea, an area that’s been part of Ukraine for the last 60 years. Publicly, at least, neither side seems to be giving ground. Russia may be on the verge of annexing the region and the West is imposing sanctions. One country might be uniquely positioned to help resolve the dispute — that country is Germany. for more about this we’re joined from Washington by Steve Szabo, he’s the Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy and has written extensively about German foreign and security policy for many years. So Steve, why is Germany uniquely positioned here? How could they break this log jam?

    STEVE SZABO: Well, they are by far the most important player in Europe on Russia and Russia policy. You really can’t have a European position without Germany on Russia and of course the European position is central to the American strategy because we can’t have a really effective strategy if the Europeans are not on board. Secondly, the Germans are a huge economic player in Russia, by far the largest foreign player. So they have a lot of impact on Russia, the Russians listen to them because of this close economic relationship and so the Germans can, I think, speak to Putin with a little bit more confidence, let’s say. He would have more confidence in them then talking to, let’s say, to Obama or to somebody from other countries. So they’re increasingly important interlocutor between the West and Russia.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what do we know about the relationship between the two leaders, Merkel and Putin?

    STEVE SZABO: It’s very bad. It’s at least as bad as the Obama Putin relationship. Don’t forget she grew up in East Germany and Putin was a KGB officer in East Germany at that time. And when they first met, when she was chancellor, Putin knew that she had a big fear of dogs, especially big dogs. So Putin brought his big dog into the meeting to show her that he knew that and that he could intimidate her. She’s also felt that when Putin speaks German to her she’s being interrogated. So it’s, on a personal level, is very bad. But Merkel is a professional, she’s a scientist, she’s very rational, she’s a politician. She understands that you have to separate personal feelings from political relationships and she’s done that as well. So she does, I think she does that very effectively.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Wow, now this is in the context of U.S.-German relationship that’s gone through restrains when we realize one ally has been bugging the cell phone of another ally.

    STEVE SZABO: Absolutely. That’s a very important factor right now in this whole relationship on Russia and Crimea and Ukraine. Because the German-American relationship is really in a bad state right now. The Snowden effect has been very deep in Germany much deeper than anywhere else really in Europe. You have to of course think about their history, not only the Nazi past but the East German Stasi were always listening in to German conversations. So the Germans are super sensitive and they also felt that the U.S. was their best ally and really a friend, and I think they feel a bit betrayed. So now they have, they’re kind of caught in the middle. They have a certain sense of distance from the U.S., they also have the strong economic stake with Russia. but at the same time, the German public and the German media are extremely critical of what’s going on in Russia and with Putin in particular. So it’s a very difficult time I’d say for them right now. It’s a very tough time for the U.S. to try to work with the Germans given this Snowden impact, and the fact that they’re still very disappointed in the Obama Administration.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what are the Germans doing right now? It seems neither Germany or the U.S. want to take the lead on sanctions and possibly put their own companies in their countries at a competitive disadvantage.

    STEVE SZABO: That’s exactly right and I think this is the important point that we have to keep in mind in trying to develop our own sanction policy because we don’t want to penalize our own companies. Our economic stake is much smaller than the European or the German stake, but it’s still there and there are certain companies that are trying to make, that have some substantial investments, let’s say, in Russia. So I think that what the Germans are trying to do is to try to find some sort of solution to send a signal to Russia that this is being taken very seriously, but at the other hand they realize that they are in a situation where they really can’t afford to take serious economic sanctions because the impact on their economy would be quite substantial. Don’t forget that they get about a third of their energy — their gas and their oil — directly from Russia, so this would have a devastating impact on their economy. So it’s a bit like the U.S.-China relationship. We have a lot of problems with the Chinese, but at the same time we have this very strong economic relationship which really limits what we can do.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So how do those energy needs play into all this? It seems that there’s a few European countries already asking for the U.S. to start selling them natural gas.

    STEVE SZABO: That’s right, and we have a very difficult decision here because we want to keep the natural gas here to keep our energy prices down and this will allows us to be more competitive in the international competition with German and European companies. So the more that we send to Europe, the more that affects our economy at home. The other factor of course is that Gazprom is now threatening to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine and a lot of the gas to Europe goes through Ukraine. The Germans have a separate gas pipeline with the Russians so I think they’re a little bit more immune from that, but I think overall we are seeing right now that energy can be a major factor in how the Russians try to destabilize Ukraine and put pressure on the Europeans, and also put pressure on the U.S.-European relationship.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what could Germany do in these conversations with Putin?

    STEVE SZABO: Well, I think what they can do, and I really think the Germans are going to have to be the intermediaries between the West and Russia. I don’t think, I think the U.S. is too poisonous right now in terms of Putin’s view of us. So I think they have to take the lead and to tell the Russians essentially how serious this is, and that they really are risking a much more serious breach with the west if they don’t understand that they can’t go beyond Crimea. I think Crimea is a containable situation, but if the Russians were to go into eastern Ukraine I think that we’re talking about a very, very serious unpredictable relationship. What the Germans and the Europeans are doing right now is threatening to stop, they were talking about liberalizing visas with the Russians into Europe , into Russia-into Germany sorry, they want to now suspend those discussions. They’re suspending trade discussions. they’re talking about going through this European Union Trade Association with Ukraine as a way of bolstering Ukraine. So these are the kind of things I think that Europe and the Germans can do.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Steve Szabo from the Transatlantic Academy. Thanks so much.

    STEVE SZABO: Thank you, my pleasure.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    This report was originally broadcast on Nov. 3, 2013. 

    ANNOUNCER: Environmentalists and oil and gas companies are used to finding themselves on opposite sides of debates about fossil fuel consumption, pollution, and global climate change. But in Pennsylvania, some environmental advocacy groups have formed an unlikely coalition with oil and gas companies…and that’s led to a rift with other environmentalists. Correspondent Rick Karr reports.

    RICK KARR: Environmentalists have been protesting against fracking in Pennsylvania ever since the state’s natural gas boom began about ten years ago.

    RICK KARR:  Their main concern is that the chemicals that are pumped into wells at high pressure to extract the gas will leak into the water table and spill into lakes and streams. Advocates of fracking say the threat of contamination has been grossly exaggerated. But environmentalists say oil and gas companies need to come clean about the risks.

    MARK BROWNSTEIN: It is– fundamentally an untruth to walk into a community and say that this is a 100% safe process.  It isn’t.  No industrial process is, okay. Make no mistake about it, the risks are real.  And they’re substantial, right.

    RICK KARR:  Despite all of those concerns, Mark Brownstein of the Environmental Defense Fund is now working with oil and gas companies that are fracking in Pennsylvania. Brownstein says the environmental group isn’t in favor of fracking — but it IS in favor of using more natural gas as an alternative to coal … because gas is cleaner.  A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency says that U.S. power plants have recently cut their total greenhouse gas emissions by more than six percent — mostly because so many have switched from coal to gas. Brownstein believes natural gas is the fossil fuel we should be using — until we can get our energy from renewable resources like wind and solar power.

    MARK BROWNSTEIN: That’s what we want.  But we also understand that it’s going to take some time to get there.  And the question is, is what do you do in the meantime, right?

    RICK KARR:  So a little over two years ago, the Environmental Defense Fund started to talk to the companies fracking for gas in Pennsylvania – the ones that many other environmentalists see as the enemy.

    MARK BROWNSTEIN: And in order to make change, you have to take the time to learn their industry, learn their concerns, and be able to talk with folks on their terms about what you see the problems are and also what you see the opportunities are to fix those problems.

    RICK KARR:  One of the oil and gas companies Brownstein approached also saw an opportunity.  Paul Goodfellow is a Shell executive.

    PAUL GOODFELLOW: This idea of creating an environment where you can have a rational conversation with people and look at the data, look at the facts, think about how collectively we can, you know, raise the performance bar and I think is a conversation that we can do with more of taking place.

    RICK KARR:  Earlier this year, Shell and three other energy companies … joined the Environmental Defense Fund and six other nonprofits … to form a coalition called the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. Its first order of business was to announce a set of environmental standards for fracking that Brownstein hopes can serve as a model for the industry, and for state and federal regulations.

    MARK BROWNSTEIN: What we’re hoping to do with this project, frankly, is constantly push the envelope in terms of what is possible.  Certify companies to that higher standard.  Let that be an example for regulators, sure.  But for– others in industry too as to what is possible, and in so doing, you’re constantly trying’ to move this forward in a positive– in– in a better direction.

    RICK KARR:  Three of the fifteen standards the group announced are aimed at reducing diesel emissions at fracking sites. Seven of them are aimed at keeping the fracking chemicals out of water supplies, lakes, and rivers. Right away, environmentalists split into two camps. The EDF and its partners in the coalition touted the standards as a breakthrough. Many other environmentalists saw the standards as empty rhetoric from the energy companies.

    RICK KARR: Do we just have to take Shell’s word and the word of– other energy companies that you’re going to abide by these higher standards?

    PAUL GOODFELLOW: No.  Because I think, you know, the key element is not just the fact that there are 15 performance standards. It’s the fact that there’s an independent auditor that will come around and verify that our operations are actually executing to those standards. It’s about having the independent, verifying audit, if you like, that actually comes and looks at our operations in Pennsylvania, and says, “Yes.  You are meeting the standards.”

    JOHN DETWILER: I will start to believe that it makes a difference the first time that somebody stops drilling a well or doesn’t drill a well based on one of those standards.

    RICK KARR:  John Detwiler is an anti-fracking activist who’s lined up against the coalition.

    JOHN DETWILER: I mean, the score card right now is, the amount of benefit to the environment absolutely none.  The benefit to the industry is you’ve got a new myth and that says that the environmentalists are now on board.

    RICK KARR:  Detwiler’s a retired engineer who spent much of his career advising the power industry. He believes it’s impossible to frack for gas safely.

    JOHN DETWILER: I think there’s a mindset in the extraction industry that what really matters is what’s under the ground.  And you don’t choose your sites based on what’s on top. You know, the people, the houses, the trees, that’s just the stuff that’s in the way.  You choose it based on how much you’re going to get.

    RICK KARR:  Fracking wells have been popping up closer and closer to Detwiler’s native Pittsburgh, and places that are important to him.

    JOHN DETWILER: My grandkids played in this park.  You know, our older ones learned to ride their bikes in this park ’cause they lived down the road.  So it certainly has personal value to me.

    RICK KARR:  Allowing an energy company to drill under the park could earn the county two to four million dollars up front, according to the county executive. And as much as seven hundred thousand dollars a year in royalties after that.

    RICK KARR: Can you blame in this time of budget deficits, a county government for saying, “We’d like to have that money.”

    JOHN DETWILER: I think there’s something more important at stake here is– are you going to sell anything and everything? I’d like to see us start off by deciding that there are some places that aren’t worth it. Even if they took some of that money and built a boat dock or a concession stand or something like that, you know, this– this is not just another plastic entertainment venue.  I mean, this is a little slice of nature that we can treat as nature.  If we frack underneath it, then deep down at some level, it’s just another factory even if it has grass on top.

    RICK KARR:  Detwiler says fracking has made gas so inexpensive that it’s distracting Americans from the need to invest in renewable energy sources. And that the Environmental Defense Fund’s coalition with oil and gas companies is only going to make the situation worse.

    RICK KARR: Do they have a point at all there?

    MARK BROWNSTEIN: I understand where the passion is coming from, right.  And I share that.  But to stand by and do nothing to minimize risk to public health and the environment from fossil fuel production is unacceptable to me.

    RICK KARR:  Mark Brownstein says that if the evidence shows that oil and gas companies in the coalition aren’t serious about improving the environmental standards for fracking, the EDF will walk away — and make sure that everyone knows why. For now, though, he’s borrowing a phrase Ronald Reagan used when he sat down to negotiate with the Soviets: Trust, but verify.

    The post Can environmentalists and frackers be friends? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — Federal safety officials say a team of experts is en route to Asia to be ready to assist in the investigation of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner that disappeared with 239 people on board.

    The team includes accident investigators from National Transportation Safety Board, as well as technical experts from the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing.

    The Boeing 777-200 went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.

    The safety board said in a statement Saturday the team was sent now because of the travel time involved even though the plane hasn’t yet been found.

    The board said that once the plane is found, International Civil Aviation Organization protocols will determine which country will lead the investigation.

    The post U.S. to assist in Malaysia Air crash investigation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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