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

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    MIDTERM PREVIEW voter party logo

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans today basked in the glow of victory for their candidate in a hotly contested Florida special election, a result that could forecast trouble for Democrats ahead.

    Voters in Florida’s 13th Congressional District delivered their verdict in a special election that gained the national spotlight. Only 40 percent of those registered turned out, and they narrowly favored Republican David Jolly.

    DAVID JOLLY, R, Florida Congressman-Elect: I am honored and I am humbled to have received the support of my community and have the opportunity to serve as your next representative from Florida’s 13th Congressional District.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jolly took 48 percent of the vote, to 46 percent for Democrat Alex Sink. They battled in a Tampa-area district that has leaned Republican. The GOP has held the congressional seat for some 60 years. But Democrats hoped votes would swing in their favor after President Obama carried the district in the last two presidential elections.

    National parties and outside groups looked to Tuesday’s contest for early clues to next November’s midterm elections, especially how the president’s health care law will play.

    NARRATOR: Three hundred thousand Floridians will lose their health coverage because of Obamacare. Alex Sink supported it, and she still does.

    NARRATOR: Whose behind these ads smearing Alex Sink? Insurance companies and special interests. They have spent millions on David Jolly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The non-profit Sunlight Foundation reports overall spending on the race topped $11 million. Sink outspent Jolly by more than 3-1 one on television ads. But outside groups helped make up the difference for the Republican.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: Well, they had a big win last night in Florida.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, House Speaker John Boehner and the White House had decidedly different takes.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER: It’s about the economy. It’s about Obamacare. Listen, I have stood here after — after losing some special elections. I tried to put lipstick on a pig, but it was still a pig. So you can bet they will try to put lipstick on it today, but you all know what the facts are.

    JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: It’s a race where, again, Republicans held the seat for 58 years, where they routinely won that seat by 30 or more points. And last night, they won by less than two points. So it is what it is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jolly will fill the seat of the late Congressman Bill Young, who died last October, in his 21st term.

    We examine the outcome in yesterday’s special election and what it means going forward, with Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call newspaper, and Susan MacManus. She’s professor of political science at the University of South Florida.

    Welcome to you both.

    Susan MacManus, you know this state very well. Describe this district for us and where it is — it’s part of St. Petersburg — and who lives there.

    SUSAN MACMANUS, University of South Florida: Yes, it’s a district that is Pinellas County. It’s all in one county, with portions of downtown St. Petersburg is carved out. It’s predominantly Anglo or white district, a lot of older voters.

    Over half are baby boomers or seniors. But 25 percent of the electorate there is no party affiliation or a minor party. And there’s only a 2.4 percent difference in registration between Republicans and Democrats, with the Republicans having the upper hand.

    It’s been evolving into a very competitive district, and going into the election, Democrats were hopeful they could pick the seat up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Stu, as Susan says, evolving Democratic. Did one candidate or another, the Democrat or the Republican, have an advantage going in?

    STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: Well, in terms of the numbers, partisan numbers, no. This is a tossup district. The president won it twice, and George Bush won it in 2004.

    All the indices show a very evenly divided district. But I think it was clear Alex Sink, the Democrat, had significant advantages going into the actual special election. Republican Jolly had a primary challenge. His was — he has..

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Had a challenge.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: He had a primary challenge, right.

    His record — he was a Washington lobbyist. That is not a great credential to go to a special election. Christmas just a few months ago, Alex Sink had a million dollars in the bank. Jolly had just over $100,000 and he was in the middle of a primary contest.

    Alex Sink has won this district before, when then she ran statewide a couple of times. So all indications were that she had the advantage going into this race.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan MacManus, what was the message coming from each one of these candidates?

    SUSAN MACMANUS: Pure and simple, it was about Washington.

    So, if you were in favor of the president’s performance in office and Obamacare, it was clear Sink was your candidate. On the other side, if you didn’t like what was going on up here, you were very opposed to Obamacare, you wanted to get rid of it, then Jolly was your person.

    This is one of the clearest races in terms of choices that I have seen in Florida in a long time. And you had a libertarian in the race as well who was sort of overlaying on each of them, but in certain polls drawing 6 percent or 7 percent of support there.

    But it was absolutely crystal-clear the issues were really the dividing line, and it came down to your views on Obamacare and the president.


    STUART ROTHENBERG: There were some personal attacks, so that the Republicans complained about Alex Sink’s performance when she was chief financial officer of the state, or use of an airplane. Democrats talked about Jolly’s ethics, raising questions about him.

    But I think Susan is right. I mean, this boiled down to millions of dollars of ads, where Democrats said, you can’t trust David Jolly, he’s a lobbyist, he’s a Republican, he’s a conservative, he’s going to cut Medicare and privatize Social Security, and the Republicans saying, it’s all about Obamacare, Barack Obama, bigger government, more spending.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Susan, were you able to drill down and find out more about what voters — what their reaction is to the health care law?  SUSAN MACMANUS: I don’t think it’s really clear coming out of this, other than it mirrors the national polls, which show a slight majority are in favor of getting rid of it.

    But she really tried to segue or pivot away from Obamacare and focus on Social Security and Medicare.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the Democrat, Alex Sink.

    SUSAN MACMANUS: Alex Sink.

    And I don’t think that that really worked well, which is something I know Democrats were thinking about trying in other districts. But there is another factor that is kind of personal. And that is, he tried to cast her as a carpetbagger, someone who intentionally moved into the district from Hillsborough County just to run for this.

    And, at first, I didn’t think this was really significant because two-thirds of Florida voters were from someplace else. But the more I mingle with people in the county over there, I observed that it really was significant to people, and I think it did hurt her a bit in the end.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu, I have been reading some analysis today that the Democrat, Alex Sink, never really came up with an adequate explanation on the president’s health care law, on Obamacare, that she was on the defensive, didn’t explain it well.

    What are national Democrats saying about it today?

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, national Democrats have a totally different analysis than most people.

    Some of them are saying that this is a heavily Republican electorate and that Sink did relatively well because she answered the questions about Obamacare and health care generally. They continue to stress the numbers of the kinds of people who voted, that these were Republican voters.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It was a lower turnout, with 40 percent.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, absolutely. Democrats do have — often have trouble with low-turnout elections. Remember, elections are not about what Americans think. They’re about what the particular voters think.

    So there’s no doubt here. But there is a problem for Democrats. The fact that the electorate was so Republican suggests Republican enthusiasm and maybe lack of Democratic enthusiasm. And Democrats are going to have to deal with this in November in the midterms as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So — and, Susan, pick up on that. There’s a lesson for Republicans as well.

    SUSAN MACMANUS: I — yes.

    I think a lot of it is that Democrats do well in Florida and elsewhere when they get a large share of younger voters. It’s exactly who helped Obama win in the last hours, were the younger voters that turned out higher than people ever anticipated in Florida.

    She wasn’t able to really engage them. And I think some of the fault comes with these national ads which featured just about 100 percent older people in there. There was nothing that really drew younger people to the polls at all, and it’s spring break time in Florida.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is the first of many elections we’re going to be watching this year. We thank you both, Susan MacManus, Stu Rothenberg.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Thanks, Judy.

    SUSAN MACMANUS: Thank you.

    The post Can the GOP turn a Florida win into midterm momentum? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A 52-feet tall albino chimero coast redwood — a tree so rare it is believed to be one of less than 10 in the world — may end up under the axe in order to make way for a commuter train in California.

    According to the Associated Press, the tree might have to come down due to safety reasons. Federal regulators determined that the rare specimen was too close to a proposed set of future Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART, railroad tracks.

    Chimeras — a plant that contains two sets of DNA that have fused together — are considered a genetic oddity. Its dual genetics, however, allow the albino redwood to survive in the wild by allowing it to conduct photosynthesis, something that it would not be able to do naturally.

    If the tree comes down, SMART will be required to plant 20 coast redwoods to make up for the loss of the one tree. However, there may be a way for both sides to have their cake and eat it too: discussions have begun to see if it is possible to move the rare tree to city-owned land.

    The post Rare tree may find itself on the chopping block for train appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The World Wide Web turns 25 years old today. The date marks the publication of a paper that originally laid out the concept, which eventually led to the vast system of Internet sites we now use.

    Jeffrey Brown looks at how it’s changed the world we live in.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One way to do that is to look at how individual Americans think about the Internet and its impact on their lives.

    The Pew Research Internet Project did that in a survey just out. Among much else, it finds that 87 percent of American adults now use the Internet, and the number goes up to 97 percent for young adults from 18 to 29. Ninety percent of Internet users say the Internet has been a good thing for them personally, though the number drops to 76 percent when asked if the Internet has been a good thing for society generally, with 15 percent saying it’s been bad for society.

    And 53 percent of Internet users say the Internet would be, at minimum, very hard to give up.

    We’re joined by three people who’ve watched the growth of the Internet from different angles. Xeni Jardin is a journalist and editor at the Web blog Boing Boing, which covers technology and culture. Catherine Steiner-Adair is a clinical and consulting psychologist at Harvard Medical School, and author of “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”  And Daniel Weitzner teaches computer science and Internet public policy in at MIT. From 2011 to 2012, he was U.S. deputy chief technology officer in the White House.

    And welcome to all of you.

    And, Daniel Weitzner, I will start with you, because you worked with Tim Berners-Lee, who — one of the main people that started all this 25 years ago. What has — what surprises you now, sitting here 25 years later, about where we’re at?

    DANIEL WEITZNER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Well, it does surprise me how tremendously the Internet and the Web has grown into every aspect of our lives.

    I think that a lot of us who were involved in the early days of the Internet and the Web had hoped that it could really reach the whole world. And there’s no question that Tim Berners-Lee, who — whose architecture for the World Wide Web really helped it to grow, had the ambition that it in fact cover the whole world — represent everything in the world. But I think it’s amazing how far we have actually come in that direction.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Catherine Steiner-Adair, you look at the interaction between individuals and our technology and with each other, therefore. That has cut both ways, I guess, at least from what we hear from people.

    What do you see?

    CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIR, Harvard Medical School: Oh, I think the possibilities for people to connect to one another around the world, or a grandma and a grandchild just across the state or the country, are phenomenal.

    But I think that we have all come to a moment in time where we’re sort of thinking we need to reboot and rethink, are we using these tools to connect in the best possible way? And we have to outsmart our smartphones, or else they really can take control over us.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, fill that in a little bit. What do you mean take control over us?

    CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIR: Well, the clearest example is texting and driving.

    You know, when you’re texting — when you’re driving and your phone goes off, and you have the sense of urgency and something really important might be happening, and you better answer it right away, and that part of our brain gets very quickly engaged and wants to react very fast.

    And we forget our ambient awareness, our empathy, our connection to the fact that the children we love more than anybody else in the world is sitting next to us in the car, and we’re risking their safety. So we have to get a little smarter about how we react to this technology.

    Well, Xeni, that’s a very specific example that hits us all in our daily lives. Right?

    XENI JARDIN, Boing Boing: Yes.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Continue our thinking about pros and cons from your perch.

    XENI JARDIN: Well, you know, I think the Internet is — talking about the Internet is like talking about whether electricity is good or bad or oxygen is good or bad. It’s just this powerful thing that connects all of us and that has become an invisible part of our lives.

    And I think we’re all from the last generation that began when there was no Internet. And to really understand where things are going for the future, we might want to have a 14-year-old or 15-year-old at the table.


    XENI JARDIN: But I can speak personally.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But they would be looking at their screen, right?


    XENI JARDIN: Yes, you know, I work with an independent publishing company that wouldn’t have been possible — Boing Boing couldn’t have existed before the Internet as a commercial enterprise. We have been around for 25 years, too.

    And I can also say that from my experience as a breast cancer patient. I was diagnosed young and didn’t know the first thing about managing this disease. I connected with mentors through the Internet that would have been — these friendships, these mentorships were so important to me. I think they saved my life. And I credit the Internet with that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Daniel, what about — this has been a year, for example, where we have learned a lot about privacy issues…

    DANIEL WEITZNER: That’s right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: … between Edward Snowden and as we learn more about the way we’re — the surveillance or the data mining of companies.


    JEFFREY BROWN: That’s certainly something new and a big part of this.

    DANIEL WEITZNER: It’s new.

    And in your category of what’s unexpected, I do think the Internet and the Web have come to reach into our lives in a much more intrusive way, in fact, a comprehensive way, such that we now have to deal with the world in which just about everything that we do as individuals is recorded and it’s visible, not only to ourselves and our friends and our Facebook friends, but to institutions that are interested in us, governments that may be interested, for good or for ill, criminals who can watch what we’re doing and take advantage of us.

    And so I think that, you know, the Internet is — and the Web has this incredible tension to me between extraordinary individual empowerment — I mean, everything that Xeni and Catherine have said about all the things we’re able to do with the Internet. At the same time, a lot can be done to us and a lot can be observed about us.

    And I think that, as a society, we’re still really adapting to how to handle all this information in a respectful, fair, and safe manner, how to — and how to make sure that institutions that are large and inherently powerful, whether governments or corporations, have some balance, because their power is being increased in a substantial way because of all this information.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Catherine Steiner-Adair, pick up on that.

    How much are people, individuals adapting to that? How much are we even aware of what’s going on? How much concern do you sense from people?

    CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIR: I think people are becoming increasingly concerned.

    And one of the good trends I see happening more and more in the schools I work in is that schools are doing more intentional education around social emotional intelligence, teaching kids digital citizenship, teaching the tools of cultural literacy, really helping them understand that multitasking doesn’t help you get your homework done well at all, and really trying to help children understand the disinhibiting effects of being on the Internet can lead them to say and do and act in ways that are not their best selves.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Xeni Jardin, I want to — another theme I want to bring out here is the mix of free information and the commercialization of the Web, because I think that wasn’t — well, you can tell me how much that was part of the original idea, but certainly we’re now in a much more commercialized space.


    Obviously, when the Internet began, this was something that evolved out of the government and out of the public sector, and it wasn’t intended as a big shopping mall. You know, this was something where we could communicate in times of a disaster. Our government could function in times of a disaster.

    And the history is all but forgotten now, where everything — I hardly go to stores anymore. I buy almost everything from my home off of Amazon or off of Zappos or what have you. I buy digital movies and watch TV digitally and so on.

    Just as the Internet enables interesting new kinds of independent businesses that wouldn’t have been possible before, this sense of power and commerce consolidated into the hands of a few extraordinarily powerful companies, I think, should be concerning, the fact that, for instance, Google is providing, you know, the fiber to our homes, or Facebook is providing the drones that will fly above delivering wireless Internet.

    At the same time, they’re connecting us socially and becoming the platform for commerce, that’s a little weird.

    DANIEL WEITZNER: You know, this tension of the public and the private, the govern — the commercial and non-commercial was — as Xeni said, was with the Internet from the very beginning.

    One of the first public policy debates about the Internet was whether to allow commercial traffic on the Internet at all. It was originally a network built for universities and research organizations. And, frankly, a lot of my older colleagues liked it that way.

    It was their own private playground and it was a very high-minded kind of place. Many of us, though, felt that it was important to open the Internet and the Web up to commercial traffic, in some part because it was the only way we could really imagine the Internet actually being able to spread all around the world.

    We didn’t think it was either feasible or even a good idea for the government to own the entire Internet. From a civil liberties perspective, we didn’t want a government-owned medium, where the government could then control who could say what on it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Right, so different alternatives.

    DANIEL WEITZNER: So, we inevitably ended up in a situation in which we rely on the commercial marketplace, we rely on private investment to bring much of this infrastructure, much of these services to us.

    Certainly, at the large end of that, when companies get too big, we have antitrust concerns. But I think that we are inevitably in a situation where this infrastructure that we rely on so much for both public and private goods is operated as a commercial enterprise.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Catherine Steiner-Adair, where — where — what’s your sense of where we are in this evolution?

    CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIR: I think one thing that is particularly important to think about — or two things, actually — is that when text replaces tone in the way we communicate.

    This is the first generation of teenagers to grow up thinking texting is great, and talking on the phone is really weird and intrusive and awkward, that we are really thinking — rethinking about one of our most essential forms of human connection, our capacity to hear one another, and to speech, to read social cues, to look somebody in the eyes.

    Skyping is great and I love it, but you can’t really look into somebody’s eyes the same way when you’re Skyping. And tech can do many things for us, but it can’t teach us how to be alone and be quiet in ourselves. And that’s an important thing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me — we’re still talking here, right, not texting.


    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Xeni, let me just…

    XENI JARDIN: That’s just because I have my phone in the other room.




    JEFFREY BROWN: You put it aside for a few minutes. I appreciate it.

    Well, finish us up here.


    JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your sense of where we are in this — same question — the evolution?

    XENI JARDIN: Well, you know, it’s interesting.

    What if some of these problems that we’re talking about now are just design limitations? What if the technology that comes, perhaps after we’re gone, allows us to communicate with more nuance, and to drift in and out of that mindfulness and presence, in the same kind of subtle and natural way that we all did before there were TV and phones?

    DANIEL WEITZNER: You know, as we think about the — how far we have come in 25 years, in the evolution of the technology, in the evolution of our — our social lives built around it, as Catherine is suggesting, I think it’s really important to recognize that the — that all of these technologies, the Web, is really a work in progress, still.

    It is changing so much. And I think that our goal ought to be to make sure that it’s changing in response to human needs. We see in so many ways that even large commercial services like Facebook and Google, when they do things that anger their users, they know it, and their users react, and, very often, those services change.

    So, as long as we’re in an environment where that can be that kind of flexibility, I think we will continue to head in the right kind of humane direction.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right. We will gather in 25 years and see where we’re at.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Daniel Weitzner, Catherine Steiner-Adair, and Xeni Jardin, thank you, all three, very much.

    DANIEL WEITZNER: Thank you.

    XENI JARDIN: Thank you.


    The post 25 years on, still adapting to life tangled up in the Web appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Love Ranch, a brothel located on the outskirts of Carson City, NV

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a landmark study funded by the U.S. Justice Department to learn more about how the underground commercial sex market in this country operates and to better understand its scope.

    Hari is back with that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It may be the world’s oldest profession, but little is known about the true economics of the illicit sex industry. It has never really been quantified, until now.

    A study done by The Urban Institute, and released today, estimates that the underground sex market in each of seven U.S. cities generates between $40 million to almost $300 million a year. It also found that sex traffickers often operate with formal business models, some even doing market research.

    Meredith Dank is the lead author of the report and a senior research associate at The Urban Institute.

    So, what was the point of the report? Why did we need to do it in the first place?

    MEREDITH DANK, The Urban Institute: Because we didn’t really understand the scope of the underground commercial sex economy.

    Anecdotally, we heard a lot of stories, but this essentially gives a blueprint as far as entries and pathways into it, how they recruit others into the underground commercial sex economy and how they ultimately operate their business.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you studied these different cities. Were there particular patterns that repeated, any notable finds?

    MEREDITH DANK: So, as notable finds, I think two cities that really stood out as far as the size of their underground commercial sex economy was Atlanta.

    They — in the year 2007, we estimated they brought in about $290 million. And Seattle between the years 2003 and 2007 had grown — you know, it’s twice the amount of money. So it went from $53 million to $112 million.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And when you say the sex economy, it’s not just about the person that’s making the one transaction for sex and for money. It’s now — you’re talking about drivers, hotel rooms, and lots of support services.

    MEREDITH DANK: Exactly.

    So, there is — it’s almost like a small business structure. You have somebody at the head, which is typically your pimp or facilitator. In some cases, you have what they call — refer to as a bottom. So, that’s the right-hand oftentimes girl that helps the day-the-day management. Then you will have drivers.

    And, sometimes, you have legal businesses that are assisting with this, like hotels, rental car services, cell phone businesses.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so we just had a conversation marking the 25th anniversary of the Web. How has the Internet changed sex trafficking in the U.S.?

    MEREDITH DANK: So, the Internet has essentially bifurcated the market.

    So, before, it was primarily a street-based market. And now you have got, with the advent of the Internet, other ways where they can market and recruit other employees, in addition to just being able to create these partnerships with other traffickers and pimps.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is street level sex trafficking down, while online is up, or is there a correlation?

    MEREDITH DANK: We can’t conclusively say.

    At least of the pimps that we interviewed, they said about 50 percent were using Internet to post classified ads and things of that sort, but about 40 percent were still using the street. So what we were often told is, if the money isn’t coming in through the Internet and they are not getting calls, they will go to the street, because it is fast money and they know that there will be demand out there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, in all of these interviews, how did most people get into the sex trafficking — trafficking business?

    MEREDITH DANK: So, at least from the pimps and the facilitator sides, some common entryways was, one, generational pimping. Their father was a pimp. Their mom was a sex worker. So it was almost normalized within the family context.

    This is something that was a family business of sorts. Other ways was a neighborhood context. So, they would see this every day. As one pimp said: I came from a disadvantaged black neighborhood. So, for us, if we didn’t succeed at school, it was either the streets or jail.

    And within the streets, you chose drugs, sex, or in some cases theft, so it was normalized.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the areas that you also explored was child pornography. Tell us a little bit about that.

    MEREDITH DANK: So, we essentially, when we first received the — proposed to the NIJ to study this, we considered child pornography to be part of the underground commercial sex economy.

    But what we found early on is that the commercial aspect is really not here in the United States, that, primarily, these images are traded for free. And there’s the urgency in the proliferation of child pornography, because in order to get into more of these deeper membership communities, you have to produce your own child pornography.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, whether it’s a Department of Justice or a local police that reads this report, what do they get out of it?

    MEREDITH DANK: So, I think that now that we have this blueprint of entry pathways the recruitment is all about, I think that, at least from a prevention side, we can figure out not only how to prevent the victims and other individuals from being recruited by pimps and facilitators, but also figuring out prevention strategies to prevent actual pimps or future pimps from entering it.

    As far as intervention strategies, one thing that we found is psychological coercion is used quite often to not only recruit and retain their — quote — “employees,” so a lot more services need to be able to be provided for the victims and those individuals who would like to leave that life for — for mental health purposes.

    But, also, one — one element that we saw was this organized criminal element, particularly in Latino brothels and erotic Asian massage parlors. And law enforcement said that they just don’t have enough funding to be able to really infiltrate that, so more resources would be really helpful.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Meredith Dank, the lead author of the report and a senior researcher at the Urban Institute, thanks so much.

    MEREDITH DANK: Thank you.

    The post Study exposes scope and business strategies of America’s underground sex trade appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    China says one of its satellites has spotted possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner. The country’s Xinhua News Agency released images Wednesday, taken Sunday over the South China Sea, near where the plane reportedly vanished.

    The Boeing 777, which left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, vanished on Saturday and nothing has been seen or heard of the jetliner since. The plane was carrying 239 people.

    The images come after four days of fruitless searching. No other governments have confirmed the Xinhua report.

    The post China claims to have spotted debris from missing plane appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Updated 2:40 p.m. | Although Austin police did not release any of the victims’ names in this morning’s news conference, one of the two fatalities of the SXSW crash has been identified as 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr. His employer, MassiveMusic, updated their website and Facebook page Thursday with the following statement:

    “It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our close friend and colleague Steven Craenmehr, 35, on March 13th, 2014 at SXSW. During the 8 years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter. This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family and we are grateful for the years we spent with him. Our thoughts are with Steven’s family and friends.”

    Craenmehr was the creative director for MassiveMusic, a music agency founded in Amsterdam. Police Chief Art Acevedo said Thursday morning that a male cyclist was pronounced dead on the scene.

    The Austin American-Statesman also confirmed the identity of the suspect as 22-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens of Killeen, Texas.

    Original story, published 12:52 p.m.: A suspected drunk driver killed at least two people and injured 23 others early Thursday morning when he evaded a traffic stop and plowed through barricades set up for the South by Southwest festival, the Austin Police Department said.

    The man, whose name has not been released, fled from an Austin, Texas, police officer on DWI duty around 12:30 a.m., Police Chief Art Acevedo said. After feigning a stop at a Shell Gas Station, the driver fled and drove against traffic on a one-way street, where he struck numerous pedestrians, including a cyclist from the Netherlands who was pronounced dead at the scene. Most of the victims are in their 20s, Austin-American Statesman reported.

    The driver then overwhelmed the barricades at Red River Street, where he crashed into a man and woman aboard a moped. The woman, an Austinite, was pronounced dead, and the man is in stable condition, Acevedo said in a news conference Thursday morning. Initial reports said both had been killed.

    After hitting a taxi and a parked van, the man fled on foot before APD stunned him with a Taser gun. Five of the 23 injured remain in critical condition. They were transported to a nearby hospital within 15 minutes of the incident.

    The suspect faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. Acevedo said formal charges will come this afternoon.

    SXSW organizers issued a statement Thursday: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the tragic accident that took place last night here in Austin.”

    During the news conference, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said that SXSW is a long-time event and that this is the first time in 27 years that the city has seen something like this.

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    Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation/Flickr

    On typical weekday, approximately 6,500 to 7,000 trucks travel over I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass in Washington State. Now electronic devices could track how long this trucks are on the road, in order to prevent accidents by tired drivers. Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation/Flickr

    WASHINGTON — Commercial trucks and buses that cross state lines would have to be equipped with electronic devices that record how many hours the vehicles are in operation, according to a government proposal Thursday aimed at preventing accidents by tired drivers.

    Accident investigators often cite crashes where truck and bus drivers exceeded limits on work hours. In some cases, drivers or their employers altered paper logbooks or kept two sets of books, concealing their driving practices from inspectors.

    The electronic devices would make it harder for drivers to misrepresent their hours and would help reduce crashes by tired drivers, saving 20 lives and preventing 434 injuries each year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in the new plan.

    “Today’s proposal will improve safety while helping businesses by cutting unnecessary paperwork,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

    Safety advocates long have campaigned to get the government to require the devices. They succeeded two years ago in persuading Congress to direct the Obama administration to issue regulations. Thursday’s proposal is a step toward fulfilling that directive.

    But it takes at months, and often years, before proposed regulations are made final.

    Most large trucking companies already use such devices, said Jackie Gillen, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The devices are required in Europe, as well nearly a dozen other countries.

    But they have been opposed by small trucking companies and drivers who own their rigs, she said. Drivers call paper logbooks “comic books” because they’re so easy to fake, she said.

    “This is really going to cut down on the cheating and make it safer,” Gillen said. “Right now, drivers are under tremendous pressure with `just in time delivery’ and unreasonable demands by shippers to get loads to their destinations that they are forced to cheat and drive as far and as fast as they can.”

    The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

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    The fifth episode of “Everything But the News” explores the intersection of fitness and technology. Spoiler alert: the show pokes fun at none other than PBS NewsHour.

    PBS Digital Studios’ Web series “Everything But the News” follows PBS NewsHour’s public media-obsessed and supposed cub reporter Steve Goldbloom, as he reports on the latest tech trends out of Silicon Valley and beyond. The show gives viewers like you what we’ll call a faux “real” behind-the-scenes look at the making of a NewsHour story.

    “Our segments are the lost pieces of the edit room that should never make air,” said Goldbloom, a former inhabitant of NewsHour’s newsroom.

    Striking a balance between comedy and reporting, the show dives into the worlds of Vidcon and YouTube, online dating and ride-sharing, and most recently, fitness and technology. But “fun” isn’t exactly the word Goldbloom and producer Noah Pink would use to describe the experience.

    “It looks like fun. Unfortunately, it took a lot of editing,” said Pink.

    After getting permission from PBS and the NewsHour to run with the show, Goldbloom and Pink — who’ve known each other since babyhood — worried that at any minute of filming, someone, as Goldbloom frequently imagined, would call in to question the decision to “give this animal permission to do this” or even pull the plug.

    Fears aside, Goldbloom and Pink spent a good deal of time researching the companies and people profiled in each episode, in preparation for each interview.

    “I like to think we prepared as much as we did for an ordinary segment,” Goldbloom said. “The last thing we wanted was for it to look like a high school play.”

    There are facets of the show that are indeed fake. “Jordan Smith” for instance, supposedly Goldbloom’s “PBS producer,” is in fact (gasp!) Goldbloom’s cousin from Toronto.

    But one thing that’s undeniably real are those intros from Judy Woodruff, Gwen Ifill and Hari Sreenivasan. How did Goldbloom convince them to partake in the show?

    “I just asked.”

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    WASHINGTON — Seeking to influence workers’ incomes where possible, President Barack Obama signed a presidential memorandum Thursday directing the Labor Department to devise new overtime rules that would make more workers eligible for time-and-a-half pay for their extra hours of work.

    The memorandum was one of the most far-reaching executive actions taken by the president this year. The rules would be aimed at salaried workers who make more than $455 a week and those who are ineligible for overtime because they are designated as management even though their supervisory duties are minimal.

    “Unfortunately, today millions of American aren’t getting the extra pay they deserve,” Obama said during a White House ceremony attended by workers and employers.

    The memorandum does not specify what the rules or new salary thresholds should be, leaving the rule-making to the Labor Department. A proposed rule is not expected until the fall.

    The memo, however, underscores Obama’s pledge to bypass Congress when necessary and act on his own on economic initiatives. For instance, even as he calls for Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, he has taken executive action to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors.

    Advocates of new regulations on overtime say millions of workers could benefit. Critics say it could overburden companies, especially small business, and actually cost jobs.

    At issue in the overtime initiative are regulations that create exceptions to legal requirements that employers pay time-and-a-half for time worked beyond a 40-hour work week. Currently, salaried workers making more than $455, or $23,660 a year, aren’t eligible for overtime if some of their work is considered supervisory even though many spend most of their day doing manual, clerical or technical work with few management duties.

    “If you’re making $23,000 typically you’re not high in management,” Obama said.

    Some labor economists say broadening the universe of workers who can get overtime would increase take-home pay for workers, thus benefiting the larger economy. The new regulations could also encourage employers to reduce overtime work and hire more employees to work the extra hours without having to pay time-and-a-half.

    Obama’s attention to overtime dovetails with his emphasis on correcting wage disparities, a theme that he has said will be central to the remainder of his presidential term. It also serves his political ends during a midterm election year, giving him a populist issue along with his calls for a higher minimum wage and better pay for women.

    The salary-per-week limit separating those who get overtime and those who don’t was increased to $455 in 2004 during the Bush administration. At the time, it hadn’t been increased since the mid-1970s.

    “What we know right now is the threshold has been eroded by inflation, and there are 3.1 million people who, if the threshold had kept up just with inflation, would automatically be covered by overtime provisions,” said Betsey Stevenson, a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

    Business groups said any forced increase in wages has consequences that could affect employment, prices and the survival of certain companies which, they said, already have to comply with requirements of a new health care law.

    “Similar to minimum wage, these changes in overtime rules will fall most harshly on small- and medium-sized businesses, who are already trying to figure out the impact of Obamacare on them,” said Marc Freedman, executive director of Labor Law Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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    Hundreds of people who were dealt jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Colorado may be eligible to have their convictions reversed, The Associated Press reported.

    The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that people whose cases were under appeal when Amendment 64 took effect in December 2012 may have their convictions thrown out under the law that legalized recreational marijuana.

    “This is a huge victory,” said Brian Vicente, one of the amendment’s authors. According to Vicente, Colorado has prosecuted as many as 9,000 cases a year for marijuana possession. A number of the appeals were still in the courts after the drug was decriminalized.

    Amendment 64 in Colorado decriminalized possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, but commercial sale of the drug didn’t commence until the beginning of this year.

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    Photo by Flickr user Elliott Brown

    McDonald’s employees have filed several class-action suits against the company for alleged wage theft violations. Photo by Flickr user Elliott Brown

    On Thursday, seven class-action lawsuits were filed against McDonald’s by employees who allege the company has committed wage theft violations.

    The suits, filed in New York, California and Michigan, claim the fast food giant made employees work off the clock, reduced hours on time cards and refused to pay workers for overtime. Additional claims specific to some of the suits allege that some workers were not getting timely brakes, receiving reimbursement for uniform cleaning or were not paid until customers came into the store — even if the employees had been there earlier.

    If the allegations are true, such actions would stand in violation of the Federal Labor Standards Act, which, according to the Department of Labor, “establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.”

    In a statement, McDonald’s says they are reviewing the allegations:

    McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants. We are currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees are committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations.

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    Deescalating tensions with Russia over Ukraine, George Cabot Lodge argues, require an economic policy that doesn't cripple Russia, but gets the former imperial power to recognize their dependency on the world economy. Above, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the G20 Summit last year in St. Petersburg. Photo by Alexei Danichev/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images.

    Deescalating tensions with Russia over Ukraine, George Cabot Lodge argues, requires an economic policy that doesn’t cripple Russia, but gets the former imperial power to recognize its dependency on the world economy. Above, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the G20 Summit last year in St. Petersburg. Photo by Alexei Danichev/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: Ahead of Crimea’s secession vote on Sunday, Russia’s defense minister has announced new military operations near the Ukrainian border. But while Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to meet with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in London Friday, President Barack Obama Wednesday hosted the interim Ukrainian prime minister at the White House to air the possibility of a political solution for a more autonomous Crimea. “There’s another path available,” Mr. Obama said, and “we hope that President Putin is willing to seize that path.”

    Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday voted to expand Mr. Obama’s authority to impose sanctions on Russia. Those economic penalties would spare Russian banks and energy companies but ban visas and freeze assets for Russian officials deemed responsible for intervention in Ukraine.

    Crippling sanctions are not the answer, argues George Lodge, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School.

    So how to set Mr. Putin on that alternative path to avoid the need for sanctions? It’s about cajoling him into recognizing that Russia’s economy is dependent on the world around him – a world that frowns upon Russia’s human rights abuses.

    Students of American history will recognize Lodge. Before joining the Harvard faculty, he had a distinguished career in the Navy and Washington under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, later running against the latter’s youngest brother, Teddy, in 1962 for Senate. Lodge lost — as had his father Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., to JFK in 1952. (Grandfather Henry Cabot Lodge Sr. was the legendary isolationist senator who helped block the U.S. from joining the League of Nations.)

    Lodge first appeared on Making Sen$e just before the 2012 elections arguing that “we don’t practice what we preach” when it comes to American ideology and the way we think about government.

    Back to the crisis at hand, Lodge uses a fictitious phone conversation between Mr. Obama and Putin to illustrate how to slowly and cautiously tighten the screws around Putin.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sen$e Editor

    The scene is the Oval Office. The red telephone rings. President Barack Obama picks up the receiver.

    “Is that you Vladimir? How’re you doing?”

    “Hello, Barack. To be honest — not too well.”

    “Well, you know, I told you the other day that what you are doing would have costs.”

    “I got big problems. I’m pulling our troops out of Crimea, but we’re broke, Barack. Billions in foreign debt — those Olympics were expensive — and nobody wants to lend us money. We’re going to have to get a deferral or something. The Chinese won’t give an inch. Iran can’t help. Syria is in a hole. The IMF says forget it. We can’t even pay the interest. For some reason, investors are pulling out and no more are coming in.”

    “Yeah. I saw in the papers that the value of the ruble has gone to historic lows. Not so good for what you have to import. Given our friendship over the years, Vladimir, I’d like to help, but what can I do?”

    “I saw you provided those idiots in Kiev with a $1 billion loan guarantee. How about doing the same for us?”

    “Interesting suggestion, Vladimir. Let me toss it around over here and I’ll get back to you.”

    Two days later:

    “Hello, Vladimir.”

    “Yes, Barack?” (Eager anticipation is in the Russian’s voice.)

    “We might be able to help, but of course, we want to see all your troops back home in Russia. Also, we have some concerns about human rights. Like the good looking TV anchor who the other day said you make her ‘feel sick.’”

    “Barack,” the Russian interrupts. “Get serious. That’s nothing to how she’s going to feel after a few weeks in the Lubyanka. But really, this is no time to be worrying about human rights.”

    “Vladimir, you don’t understand us very well. We’d like to see those Pussy Riot girls back on the stage. And the Ukrainians want to try your buddy Yanukovich for crimes against humanity — like murder of several hundred of his constituents. So we’d like to see him sent home to face justice.”

    “Barack, I know you’re a cool cat, but really, you must be kidding.”

    “Think it over, Vladimir, and give me a call tomorrow. By the way, you should know that my oil and gas people are after me to help them enter the European market in a big way.”

    As this imaginary telephone conversation suggests, Russia’s economy is not strong enough to withstand the punishment that the United States and Europe can administer.

    The decline in the value of the ruble means that Russian imports, such as essential machinery, automobiles, high-tech products and more, have become prohibitively expensive.

    U.S. exports of oil and gas to Europe will reduce the ability of Russia’s own oil industry to earn foreign exchange. Oil and gas are essentially Russia’s only competitive exports. If those exports decline, Russia cannot earn the hard currency it needs to service its huge debt.

    Seizing Russian assets abroad will cripple domestic production, causing unemployment. Foreign investment in Russia has already withered. Inflation is sure to follow with a low-value ruble chasing too few goods.

    At the moment, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be dreaming of a long-gone imperial Russia. If the U.S. and the West stand firm with an economic strategy focused on his weaknesses, he is doomed to fail. As Putin realizes this, he could become increasingly dangerous, tempted to launch a devastating military assault. Nobody needs this.

    The way out, as this conversation suggests, is for Mr. Obama and European leaders to nudge him towards reality: to tighten the screws slowly, carefully, and respectfully, hoping that Putin and those around him, especially the business community, will help him to understand his dependence on the rest of the world and undertake serious negotiations about Crimea and the rest of Ukraine.

    There is no space here to discuss the substance of those negotiations, but here are two thoughts: Russia’s desire to control Crimea is understandable. Under the terms of a long-standing agreement with Ukraine, Sevastopol is an important naval base (somewhat similar to the Guantanamo arrangement between the U.S. and Cuba). And, while it could be argued that Russia’s human rights policies are none of our business, they do provide leverage in negotiations.

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    GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba. Photo by the National Guard.

    Man stands guard in Guantanamo Bay watchtower. Photo by the National Guard.

    An Algerian man held at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp for 12 years without trial has been sent back to his native home, according to U.S. military officials on Thursday. The Pentagon has portrayed the move as a step toward closure of the prison base in Cuba, where 154 detainees remain.

    Ahmed Bel Bacha, 44, is now in custody of the Algerian government. In 2009, he was convicted in absentia of terrorism-related charges. State Department spokesman Ian Moss said Bel Bacha has the right under Algerian law to a retrial.

    The Defense Department said the transfer took place “with appropriate security and humane treatment assurances.”

    According to a leaked 2006 security assessment of Bel Bacha, he was training at a militant camp in Afghanistan when the U.S. bombing campaign started in 2001. He was captured after he fled to Pakistan and was turned over to U.S. forces. Detained for suspected militant activity and links to al-Qaida, Bel Bacha was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002. He participated in two long-term hunger strikes in the prison, and his lawyers say he was subject to abuse.

    Bel Bacha is the last of four Algerian detainees to be repatriated to Algeria after a 2009 executive order mandated a task force to review the men’s files. The interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force recommended the men for transfer, with unanimous consent from the six departments and agencies on the case.

    President Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to close the controversial prison within a year of taking office, but the task proved more difficult than expected.

    In December, Congress passed legislation easing restrictions for overseas transfers of detainees cleared to leave the prison. Legislators have expressed concern over releasing detainees to countries where security is lax. There is also a ban on sending any Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. prison system.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The war of words on Ukraine escalated today, as did Russian military movements. It all came as a crucial vote in Crimea draws closer.

    In the dead of night, about 8,500 Russian troops began new military exercises just across the border from Ukraine. The Russian Defense Ministry wouldn’t say how long the war games will last, but it did say they involve firing at a potential enemy up to nine miles away.

    Still, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Sochi for the Paralympics, deflected any blame for the tense situation.

    PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): I would like to assure you that Russia didn’t initiate. It wasn’t an instigator of these difficult circumstances, which you know about and which we are talking about here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Putin’s protestations did little to mollify German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Addressing Parliament, she issued her sternest warning yet.

    CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter): If Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine. We wouldn’t only see it, also as neighbors of Russia, as a threat. And it wouldn’t only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia. No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia economically and politically.

    SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt., Judiciary Committee Chairman: Obviously, today, we’re focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said the damage could be triggered Sunday if Crimea votes to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: The hope, Mr. Chairman, is that reason will prevail, but there’s no guarantee of that whatsoever. The European community is strongly united. They will meet on Monday. The president of the United States has made it clear that he’s prepared to move.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, at the U.N. Security Council, Ukraine’s interim prime minister made a direct plea to the Russian ambassador.

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Interim Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): We are looking for an answer to the question whether the Russians want war. Now, I’m sure, as the prime minister of Ukraine, which for decades had warm and friendly relations with Russia, I am convinced Russians do not want war.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, across Crimea, anti-fascist and pro-Russia billboards lined the highways. And inside polling stations, workers put the finishing touches on voting booths for Sunday’s referendum.

    At the same time, pro-Russian self-defense units beefed up checkpoints in Crimea. And more recruits to the pro-Russian Crimean army were sworn in to their positions in Simferopol.

    The Ukraine-related developments, coupled with weak economic news from China, rattled Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial dropped 231 points to close below 16,109. The Nasdaq fell almost 63 points to close at 4,260, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 nearly 22 points to 1,846.

    A bipartisan group of U.S. senators say they have reached an elusive compromise to extend government benefits for the long-term unemployed for another five months. Leaders on both sides said today the deal would be retroactive to the end of last year. Roughly two million people have run out of jobless benefits since then.

    The death toll rose to at least seven today in New York City, after an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings. Yesterday morning’s blast was triggered by a natural gas leak. More than 60 people were injured, with five more still missing. Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the still-smoldering wreckage today. He praised fire and rescue crews who endured a wet, freezing night to keep searching.

    BILL DE BLASIO, D, Mayor of New York: Everyone involved in the rescue effort has given their all. I was up today meeting with some of the first-responders. They have been fighting through the cold. They have been fighting through the wind, exceedingly difficult circumstances, and they have stuck with it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Residents reported smelling gas at the site the night before the explosion, but fire and utility officials say they received no complaints of gas leaks in recent weeks.

    The same winter storm that swept through New York State pummeled northern New England today with more than two feet of snow. But the storm’s worst effects were in the Midwest, where a 50-vehicle pile-up killed three people yesterday on a turnpike near Sandusky, Ohio. Officials said it will take days to clean up the wreckage.

    The international search for a Malaysian jetliner has expanded again toward India. A U.S. Navy destroyer, the Kidd, moved today to join the effort. That word came as U.S. investigators told The Wall Street Journal and others the plane may have flown for hours after its last known contact based on engine readings. Malaysian officials, meanwhile, dismissed Chinese reports of possible debris sightings.

    We get more on that angle from Rageh Omaar of Independent Television News.

    RAGEH OMAAR: These grainy satellite images released by the Chinese authorities were set to show debris from the Malaysia Airlines plane, some measuring 60 feet in size. Hopes were raised, only to be crushed hours later, another day, another false lead in this extraordinary and mysterious search for Flight MH370.

    DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, Transport Ministry, Malaysia: We have contacted the Chinese Embassy, who have notified us this afternoon that the images were released by mistake and didn’t show any debris from MH370.

    RAGEH OMAAR: Six days gone, and not a shred of credible information. Little wonder that speculation about what happened is now rife, ranging from hijacking to the accidental shooting down of the plane. The Malaysian authorities find themselves caught in the middle, defending themselves against the mounting questions and frustrations.

    DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN: There is no real precedent for a situation like this. The plane vanished. We have extended the search area because it is our duty to follow every lead. And we owe it to the families. And trust me when I say we will not give up.

    RAGEH OMAAR: All the while, the size of the search operation grows, now covering thousands of square miles in the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, the Andaman Sea.

    It also involves over 80 planes and ships from over nine countries, from the United States to Brunei, all of them unable to find any clues or any answers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in Washington, the chief U.S. law enforcement officer has endorsed a proposal to cut federal prison sentences for many nonviolent drug traffickers. Attorney General Eric Holder said today the current policy is not justifiable financially or morally.

    ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General: I understand that people feel a certain tension in this notion that we’re going to spend less, we’re going to put people in jail for smaller amounts of time, and yet you’re going to tell me that we’re going to be more safe.

    And, yet, the — the empirical studies that I have seen, and which I have faith in, indicate that, if done appropriately, those are in fact the results that you can get.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Holder spoke to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is considering the proposal.

    Pope Francis today marked the first anniversary of his papacy. There were no formal celebrations, in keeping with the pontiff’s simpler style. Instead, he took part in a spiritual retreat near Rome, where he sent out a message to 12 million followers on Twitter. It said, simply, “Pray for me.”

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s been nearly a decade since the Bush administration changed the threshold for when overtime pay kicks in. President Obama announced his own plan today to revise those regulations. It could mean higher pay for millions of workers, but some businesses are worried about the costs.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For the president, it’s a new attempt to address pay equity without going through Congress, where his economic agenda is largely stalled. He’s directing the Labor Department to update overtime pay rules for an estimated five million workers.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I’m going to use my pen to give more Americans the chance to earn the overtime pay that they deserve. Now, overtime’s a pretty simple idea. If you have to work more, you should get paid more.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The focus is on salaried workers, including shift leaders and managers at fast food restaurants and stores who are designated as supervisory and make at least $455 a week. The president wants to raise that salary threshold and change the definition of supervisor.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It doesn’t make sense that, in some cases, this rule actually makes it possible for salaried workers to be paid less than the minimum wage. It’s not right when business owners who treat their employees fairly can be undercut by competitors who aren’t treating their employees right. If you’re working hard, you’re barely making ends meet, you should be paid overtime, period.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has rejected the plan. It issued a statement that said, in part: “Changing the rules for overtime eligibility will, just like increasing the minimum wage, make employees more expensive and will force employers to look for ways to cover these increased costs.”

    Republicans also protested, the Obama plan will cost jobs.

    House Speaker John Boehner:

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: If you don’t have a job, you don’t qualify for overtime. So what do you get out of it? You get nothing. The president’s policies are making it difficult for employers to expand employment. And until the president’s policies get out of the way, employers are going to continue to sit on their hands.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The president is leaving it to the Labor Department to work out the details, and any proposed rule will be subject to public comment. That means a new overtime standard might take effect some time in 2015.

    We get views from two camps deeply immersed in the debate.

    Jared Bernstein is a former chief economist to Vice President Biden. He’s written on this and is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And Dan Bosch is the manager of regulatory policy at the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group opposed to the move.

    So, Dan, let me start with you.

    Why is reforming overtime going cost to jobs?  How does it hurt small businesses?

    DAN BOSCH, National Federation of Independent Business: Well, for small businesses, this is just the latest in a long line of government mandates that have been coming out of Washington lately. This is on top of a proposed minimum wage increase, rising health care cost, and a tidal wave of government regulation. These burdens are disproportionately troubling to small businesses.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What about this idea that this is just part of a larger onslaught that small businesses are feeling?

    JARED BERNSTEIN, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: I don’t think so.

    And, in fact, in this case, it’s uniquely different from some of the other policies that Dan mentioned. For example, if an employer doesn’t want to pay overtime to someone, that is time-and-a-half to a worker, they can hire a worker at a straight time wage, and that does two things. It actually saves the employer overtime costs and it creates more jobs, which is something that we could use about now.

    And that was actually one of the motivations for the overtime rules originally in the Fair Labor Standards Act that is now about 75 years old.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is that a possibility, that actually straight time workers or non-overtime employee could actually put a dent into this unemployment range or problem that everyone is trying to tackle?

    DAN BOSCH: Well, I think the smallest businesses, which is who I represent, usually around five to 10 employees per business, they’re not going to have the capital to be able to bring on a new employee.

    What is going to happen is, the business owner will take on the added responsibility of the worker who should potentially be getting overtime now. And they will cap the overtime worker at 40 hours.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is there a way that this could backfire?

    JARED BERNSTEIN: Well, I don’t really understand the logic that Dan is espousing there, because the capital is actually — the capital, the labor cost has actually diminished.

    Remember, you would have to pay time-and-a-half for your overtime worker newly covered by this idea. And, remember, let’s not lose the fact that we’re talking about adjusting a threshold for inflation that hasn’t been adjusted for 10 years. That threshold, below which you automatically get overtime right now, is about equal to the poverty level for a family of four.

    So I think President Obama has a case when he talks about making this more fair for people who are working long hours. And, again, employers can avoid higher labor cost. That’s not the same as with the minimum wage.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about this idea that the threshold hasn’t been adjusted for inflation even in the last nine years, that it’s been flat?

    DAN BOSCH:  Well, small businesses today, they’re not rolling around in cash.

    Our small business optimism index that we release monthly shows small businesses see the economy at a recessionary level or a subpar growth level, so they are not in a position right now to be increasing their labor costs.

    JARED BERNSTEIN: Let me say something about that. The reason you work someone for overtime, the reason you have somebody work overtime is because the demand for the goods and services that you are providing is very strong.

    And you can’t meet that based on simply straight time pay. If the story that Dan is telling is true — and I certainly believe him — then you’re not seeing the kinds of pressures in terms of demand for what it is these small business folks are providing that they would need to use overtime.

    And if they don’t need to use overtime, this doesn’t affect them. If they do need to use overtime workers and they don’t want to, they can hire someone at straight time and save themselves some salary there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is that true, that if you’re having to…

    DAN BOSCH:  I think the only point I would make there is, I don’t know that the smallest businesses are going to bring on additional people.

    I think the small business owner will try to take over that additional work that needs to be done his or her self.

    JARED BERNSTEIN: So, here’s the thing. Any time you get into this kind of discussion about what a mandate would do, you have to look back at the empirical evidence.

    And what it showed time and again, whether you’re talking about minimum wages or even overtime rules, because we have raised this threshold in the past, businesses small and large, they hire when they need to, and they don’t hire when they don’t need to. And when we have increased this overtime threshold in the past, we haven’t seen anything like the kinds of disemployment or job loss effects that Dan is suggesting we would.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dan, what about this idea that there are supervisors in name only, that perhaps some small employers are cheating the system by saying, hey, you know what, you are a supervisor, you are not eligible for overtime, even though they might not be making that much money?

    DAN BOSCH:  I can’t speak to whether or not companies are actually doing that. I’m sure it happens somewhere. I don’t know how prevalent it is.

    But I would say that something that we have seen as a possible element that might come out of this proposal is that small businesses would have to calculate a percentage of what task you perform as an employee or supervisor and what you aren’t. That, if that comes to fruition, is going to be extremely burdensome on small businesses. That is a very complicated calculation to have to make for every employee every week, every year.

    JARED BERNSTEIN: Well, in fact, that has always been part of the law. Part of the — this part of — this white-collar part of the Fair Labor Standards Act has always asked employers, how much of your time does your employee spend in a supervisory position?

    And that’s — so there is nothing new about that. What is different here is that the way the law was changed in 2004, to the detriment — to the detriment of overtime workers, is that if you — if 95 percent of your time is spent doing the type of work that would be covered by overtime pay, and then for an hour a week, you supervise someone else, you can be exempted from overtime pay just based on that one little chunk of your week.

    And that’s wrong. What you could end up with — in the current situation, what we have that is too many of these workers don’t look like executives, managers, professional supervisors at all, but are treated that way under this law, and, therefore, don’t get the overtime pay they should.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, one of your concerns is, going forward, that this creates a climate of uncertainty for small businesses. Explain.

    DAN BOSCH:  Well, this process is not going to just, you know, happen this week or even, you know, in a couple of weeks or months, what have you.

    This is going to be an extremely lengthy process. And I actually think, personally, that I think you said in your piece that 2015 might be the time frame for this. I think that is extremely advanced. I don’t know that this can happen that quickly, if the Department of Labor goes through the proper processes that it’s supposed to.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Can the administration get this done by the time they’re out of office?

    JARED BERNSTEIN: Yes. I mean, this could be done in a matter of months.

    There is a comment period where the administration, I think very justifiably, asks stakeholders to weigh in, what they think. And then — then the administration will step in and change the rules, much as we have been discussing so far.

    So I can see this happening in a matter of months. In fact, if you go back to the 2004 changes, I think they took about six months, as I recall.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right.

    Jared Bernstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Dan Bosch from the Business — Federation of Independent Business, thanks so much for joining me.

    DAN BOSCH: Thank you.

    JARED BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

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    Anti-nuclear protesters rally on March 9 in Tokyo, two days before Japan commemorated the third anniversary of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that caused a massive failure at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s been three years since a tsunami destroyed the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, and forced the government to shut down the plants that remained. Today, regulators announced they would speed up safety checks on a pair of idle reactors in southwest Japan, a key step in the prime minister’s push to restart them and others.

    NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien looks at the debate raging in the country about that idea.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In Japan, a meticulous and massive cleanup is under way near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    They are scraping off two inches of soil contaminated with cesium and other radionuclides expelled from the plant after a series of explosions triggered by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The contaminated soil is bagged, placed on a watertight pad, and then covered with a tarp. It will be stored like this until a permanent site can be found.

    The radioactive cesium will remain in the soil for 300 years. At Yutaka and Keiko Hakozaki home in Naraha, the cleanup apparently worked. We took some Geiger counter readings in their yard. Cesium levels were 0.204 microsieverts per hour, just under the government limit of 0.23.

    Still, the Hakozakis are unsure about returning to their home, but their feelings about nuclear power are now etched in stone.

    “We experienced this accident firsthand, which is all the more reason we think that nuclear power plants are not suitable for this country,” he said.

    Right now in Japan, not a single nuclear power plant is online generating electricity, 48 nuclear reactors, able to generate 30 percent of Japan’s electrical demand, idle while this country decides if the Hakozakis are right or if turning the nukes back on is prudent, perhaps even mandatory, to maintain Japan’s highly electrified lifestyle.

    Japan is making up for the idle nuclear facilities by running their fossil fuel plants at full-tilt, importing $266 billion worth of oil, gas and coal last year. In the country where the Kyoto protocols were drafted, CO2 emissions are up 13 percent.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing an energy policy that would turn the nuclear plants back on as soon as they meet more stringent safety standards adopted after the Fukushima meltdowns. While he has the votes in parliament to make that happen, he doesn’t have much support on the street. In fact, polls show as much as 80 percent of voters here now oppose nuclear power.

    And large, noisy protests like this outside Abe’s office are a regular occurrence.

    KAORI ICHIGO, Anti-Nuclear Protester (through interpreter): We continue this protest until they give up all the nuclear power plants.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But, in Japan, walking away from nuclear power is a tricky proposition. Over the years, the country has not invested much in renewable alternatives. Solar and wind power generation contribute barely 1 percent to the grid.

    But the man who was prime minister when the meltdowns happened is trying to change that. Up until March of 2011, Naoto Kan was a proponent of nuclear power.

    “I changed my attitude within a week after the accident, when the worst-case scenario became clear,” he told me. “I concluded that we have got to quit using these nuclear plants.”

    Kan’s administration increased subsidies to encourage people to install solar panels on their homes. And Japanese corporations are also embracing renewable energy. The Kyocera Corporation has built a giant solar farm in Southern Japan capable of generating 70 megawatts. The company has also developed a smart renewable home concept that allows people to generate and store solar power.

    So, 41 degrees Celsius is the temperature of the hot water?

    WOMAN: Yes.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In Tokyo, the giant construction firm Shimizu recently opened a new headquarters building that is wrapped in solar panels and brimming with energy conservation technology.

    And Kan himself, now a member of parliament, is practicing what he preaches.

    There it is, huh? This is when you were putting them on, yes?

    He showed me a satellite image of his home outside Tokyo. The roof is covered with solar panels rated to generate 5.7 kilowatts of electricity.

    NAOTO KAN, Former Prime Minister, Japan (through interpreter): Within 10 to 20 years, all the electricity that was being produced by the nuclear plants will be supplied by renewables.

    MILES O’BRIEN: For that to happen, Japan will need a lot of people to start thinking like dentist Hideki Shinzawa. His home in Kashiwazaki is outfitted with solar panels and a wind turbine.

    “If installing solar panels were to become mandatory, I feel that most homes could be self-sufficient,” he told me.

    Shinzawa lives only five miles from the largest nuclear power plant in the world, TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility on the west coast of Japan. The company says it is ready to begin generating electricity here again after investing $2.6 billion in safety upgrades.

    A senior plant manager, Takeshi Ohta, gave me a tour. We began at the new 50-foot high tsunami wall.

    TAKESHI OHTA, TEPCO Deputy Superintendent: We have 891 piles under this basement. So, this wall can withstand the massive power of earthquakes and also following tsunami.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In addition to the giant wall, they have built a five-million gallon reservoir high above the reactors that can supply cooling water for seven days, using only the force of gravity.

    And 100 feet above sea level on a hill overlooking the plant, they have staged a series of gas turbine backup generators and a fleet of fire engines.

    TAKESHI OHTA: So, these fire engines are essential for us to keep cooling the reactor.

    MILES O’BRIEN: What happens to this plant may very well be key to Japan’s energy future. TEPCO is seeking permission to restart two reactors here in July. If that happens, it will make it easier for other nuclear power plants to come back online.

    But the governor of the prefecture that is home to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is fighting TEPCO’s proposed plan. Despite a series of investigations and reports on Fukushima over the past three years, Hirohiko Izumida is insisting there are still unanswered questions.

    “The cause of the accident at Fukushima is yet to be identified, yet they are declaring that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is safe. I find this exceedingly arrogant,” he said.

    And while many of his constituents depend on the TEPCO plant for their livelihood, they too are wary of nuclear power.

    “If these alternatives are improved enough through some sort of scientific advances, that would be best,” says Yoshinori Takahashi, a bus driver at the plant. “Then the use of nuclear power will naturally taper off. I wish for it to be eliminated that way.”

    That is the goal at here on the Pacific coast, 50 miles east of Tokyo. These wind turbines are the first phase of a project to build 50 more offshore.

    Mamoru Komatsuzaki is president of the wind power company. He says Japan is 10 years behind nations that have embraced renewables, leaving the country with few viable alternatives to nuclear power.

    “It is impossible to fill the gap right away, because it takes time to build renewable energy sites,” he said. “I think we can catch up in about six years.”

    When the Japanese make a commitment to catch up, they have an extraordinary way of delivering on that promise. But it seems inevitable they will have to rely on nuclear power in the meantime. The reactors may be safer, but will they be safe enough?

    The post Japan considers energy future after Fukushima appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Joining to us talk about the prospects for a vote on the convention and two points of view on what it means for the United States is Representative Jim Langevin of Rhode Island. And Michael Farris, he’s chancellor of Patrick Henry College in Virginia and the chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

    We welcome you both to the program.

    Congressman Langevin, let me start with you. What would this convention mean for countries around the world if it were ratified in all these countries?

    REP. JIM LANGEVIN, D-R.I.: The ratification would mean so much, in terms of protecting the rights of persons with disabilities around the world, ensuring the — protecting their human dignity, and ensuring that they enjoy the same protections that people with disabilities enjoy here in the United States.

    This is both a policy statement, but it’s also a policy in substance that would ensure that all the things that — many of the things that we enjoy here now and sometimes maybe even take for granted because of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act would be now set forth for other nations to aspire to and to adhere to as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it would to the have enforcement mechanisms; is that right?

    REP. JIM LANGEVIN: No. In a sense, this is a — ratifying the treaty sets out broad principles to which nation was aspire to when they are passing their laws or when they’re reviewing their laws and their access to public accommodations or even how they treat with disabilities, that people with disabilities aren’t hidden or brushed aside, but they are actually — and would be included in society.

    Again, the — in many ways, the treaty is such that it is really aspirational and encourages nations to adopt the kind of laws and enact the kind of laws that we have enacted, both with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ADA…

    REP. JIM LANGEVIN: … act, which has made such a profound difference in the lives of people who deal with disabilities.

    I was injured before the ADA was passed. I was injured in 1980. And I can tell you, the ADA has made a profound difference in my life and that of people with disabilities across this country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask Mr. Farris, then, why do you oppose the ratification of this convention?

    MICHAEL FARRIS, Home School Legal Defense Association: Treaties are not merely as operational documents.

    They’re international law. They have binding legal effects. And the legal effects have different approaches in different nations, depending on that nation’s own constitution, relative to how they treat international law.

    But they’re creating a binding legal obligation to obey the standards that are set forth in the treaty. There were aspirational documents. The U.N. has a declaration on the rights to persons with disabilities. Nothing wrong with the declaration. I am all for these as aspirational statements.

    But I believe that the United States should make the law for itself, in that I don’t believe that using international law to control domestic policy is the most effective way to deliver the kind of services that we need for our disabled community.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though the language here is based on existing law in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act. What is it that would be different about the U.N. convention from what is already law?

    MICHAEL FARRIS: Well, there are several differences in the U.N. treaty. The rules on guardianship are different. The rules on families with disabled children are different.

    Right now, the law in the United States for families with disabilities are, parents are presumptive decision-makers for their children in every case, unless there is proof of harm. Article 7 of this treaty changes that rule from a presumption of parental authority to a presumption that the best interests of the child standard controls, which is not a question about what is decided, but who makes the decision.

    That decision, that rule in Article 7 means the government is the presumptive decision-maker for children. It’s a big shift in law and would take away rights that we have under the IDEA, for example.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that is a reference to the educating of children.

    MICHAEL FARRIS: That’s right. Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Langevin, how do you respond quickly to this point about the change in the convention?

    REP. JIM LANGEVIN: So, two points.

    First of all, there is already a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says that these treaties that would be ratified by the United States are basically saying they are international commitments, but do not have the force of law.

    And that is clear in a U.S. Supreme Court decision involving the state of Texas. The second of which is, the RUDs, if you will, the reservations, understandings, and declarations that have been adopted by the United States Senate make it clear that it wouldn’t infringe on parents’ rights, in terms it of either educating their children or the other arguments that the chancellor has raised.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let — you want to respond to that?  And then I want to pick up on this, because a number of Republicans are arguing in favor of this, Senator John McCain, former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, Senator Bob Dole, as we saw.


    There are a number of people that are on the moderate side of the Republican Party that have supported the treaty. But the basic question is, do we want to make our policy decisions for this country using international law or American law?

    The congressman has properly described his view as setting an as aspirational standard. What we don’t need is more aspiration. We need more implementation. And the disabled community has some legitimate complaints about the way families are being treated right now under our own policy.

    Rather than wasting time on this aspirational document, as they see it, we should really be dealing with trying to implement good policy to help disabled people overcome some of the barriers that still exist.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just very quickly, the congressman’s point about the United Nations — I’m sorry — that the Supreme Court has said that this kind of language wouldn’t supersede American law.

    MICHAEL FARRIS: Well, I have filed briefs in the Supreme Court on this very issue. And I have a degree in international law.

    They’re just — his point is relative to the technical meaning of implementation. Do the judges implement it or does Congress have the implementation power? We have a duty when we ratify to obey it. Congress has a duty to implement.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just a few words, Congressman Langevin?

    REP. JIM LANGEVIN: The RUDs, the reservations, understandings, and declarations, make it very clear that there is no one that has standing to sue in a U.S. court, for example, to require the states to do anything that they do not want to do under the treaty.

    It doesn’t supersede U.S. law. And it has been made very clear that this document will encourage other nations to aspire to what we have achieved if in the United States. It is such important — and it weakens our argument if we don’t pass and ratify this treaty.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there.

    Congressman Jim Langevin, Michael Farris, we appreciate it. Thank you.

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    2014 Paralympic Winter Games - Day 6

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The 2014 Paralympic Games being played in Sochi this week have once again focused attention on the talented athletes from around the world who have overcome a variety of disabilities to compete there.

    They inspired us to look into the status of a global treaty that would directly affect them and others with disabilities.

    I recorded this report a few days ago.

    It’s a landmark of sorts at the Paralympic Games, a wall commemorating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  In fanfare last week, it was revealed to the world. The convention aims to make sure that those with disabilities have equality under the law, access to public places and facilities, and basic education.

    Thousands have signed the wall in Sochi, including American athletes. However, the country that sent them there is one of the few dozen countries in the world that have not ratified the convention the wall celebrates. Despite the fact the treaty is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, this Congress hasn’t ratified the treaty.

    BOB DOLE, Former Presidential Candidate: Primarily, it prevents discrimination against disabled people who might be traveling abroad. And it also gives us a seat at the table.

    We’re going to be held responsible and accountable.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Dole is the former Senate majority leader and Republican presidential nominee who lost the use of his right arm after he was wounded in World War II.

    BOB DOLE: Support is wide, so we just have to make our case. And we’re doing it almost every day. We’re working on some way to convince members that this is the right thing to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Opponents of the treaty say that it gives the United Nations jurisdiction over local and state laws.

    RICK SANTORUM, R, Former U.S. Senator: Isabella is our youngest child. She is a special gift to us.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum is one of those opponents. He’s also the father of a young daughter with a developmental disability.

    RICK SANTORUM: We already have laws that protect everything that is in this convention. We already meet or exceed what this convention calls for. There’s no benefit to the United States from passing it. There is no benefit to any children here in the United States from passing it.

    WOMAN: It is so decided.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: The convention was adopted by the U.N. in 2006. President Obama signed the treaty in 2009.

    MAN: The Senate will come to order.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It went to a vote on the Senate floor in December 2012, but fell six votes short. Last fall, opponents managed to scuttle another attempt to get the treaty before the Senate. So far, a vote on the issue has not been scheduled for 2014.

    The post What prevents the U.S. from signing the U.N. disabilities treaty? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The PPIC graded various sectors of the state’s water system: drinking water, flood protection, stormwater control, wastewater treatment, urban and rural water systems. California got passing grades for drinking water and wastewater treatment. But rural water systems, flood protection and stormwater pollution control in the state were failing. And as many as 10% of the systems key elements were underfunded, the report found. Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

    The PPIC graded various sectors of the state’s water system: drinking water, flood protection, stormwater control, wastewater treatment, urban and rural water systems. California got passing grades for drinking water and wastewater treatment. But rural water systems, flood protection and stormwater pollution control in the state were failing. And as many as 10% of the systems key elements were underfunded, the report found. Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

    Water in California is critically underfunded, according to a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California. The 81-page report estimates that plugging the leaks in the state’s water system could cost an extra $150 to $230 a year per household.

    The PPIC graded various sectors of the state’s water system: drinking water, flood protection, stormwater control, wastewater treatment, urban and rural water systems. California got passing grades for drinking water and wastewater treatment. But rural water systems, flood protection and stormwater pollution control in the state were failing. And as many as 10% of the systems key elements were underfunded, the report found.

    Stormwater pollution and runoff is a particularly concerning issue for the state. The PPIC report estimates that local water agencies have stable funding for half of the annual costs of stormwater projects. Runoff from rainstorms carries harmful chemicals from fertilizers, pesticides and even chromium 6 into underground aquifers. In turn, that affects another system that the PPIC found lacking: groundwater storage and treatment.

    A large portion of funding for water projects is covered by water and sewer bills and taxes. Federal investment for water projects is likely to drop, which means water customers will end up footing the bill, the report said.

    For more on this story, check out Southern California Public Radio’s

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    Protest in front of the Russian Consulate in NYC

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Protests in Egypt which led to the toppling of two leaders, the Syrian civil war, and massive demonstrations in Turkey, Brazil and other countries in recent years all have been at least partially fueled by the use of social media.

    Tonight, Hari Sreenivasan explores how technology is evolving and being used on all sides in the crisis in Ukraine.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: To assess what’s changed and what hasn’t as various sides try to win the message battle, I’m joined by someone who follows the use of technology in social and political movements. William Dobson is the politics and foreign affairs editor at “Slate” magazine. He’s also author of the book “The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.”

    So, last time we spoke, it was after the Arab spring. Here’s a different revolution in the Ukraine. What’s changed technologically?

    WILLIAM DOBSON, Slate: Well, the actors have grown much more sophisticated.

    When we think about the Arab spring, what people were really focusing on were Facebook and Twitter. Now, those tools are still incredibly important, and you saw them being used to great effect in Kiev and elsewhere.

    But now, at the same token, activists understand that these social media tools can also be used as a weapon against them. And they are very concerned about a surveillance state and having their own activities monitored.

    So you see their toolkit now has really expanded. And that expansion involves beginning to use new tools, technological tools that allow them to have safe, secure, and sometimes even encrypted communication one-to-one or across many people.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So, one of those apps that really took off, for example, in Venezuela is Zello. What does it do?


    Zello is sort of — you can almost imagine sort of like a digital walkie-talkie. And what it allows you to do is create a channel. And on that channel, you can have tens or even hundreds of people, all who have access to this one communication channel.

    And so you saw it used in Ukraine, for example, where, if you were occupying a square, as they were, and you are concerned about government repression or having the square attacked by police or paramilitary, this was a tool that allows you to have a real-time battlefield intelligence, where you can have many people, all of these people who have access to this channel, in different positions around the square, giving everyone else, sharing with everyone else information about where the troops are, where — the places that are safe to exit, places that are now under threat.

    You really saw Zello first take off a little bit about a year in Turkey, with the massive protest over at Gezi Park there. And now, as you mentioned, in Venezuela, you have had hundreds of thousands of people download it in the last month.


    And there’s also still text-based apps, instead of just WhatsApp, which now got bought by Facebook. There’s a lot of people switching to Wickr?

    WILLIAM DOBSON:  Yes, right.

    Wickr is like a texting service where those texts you receive are encrypted. It is often the case now in my own reporting with activists in different countries around the world that, if they want a contact made for an interview, or if we’re going to arrange the time and schedule for that interview, we are going to do it over Wickr in many instances, or we will do it over something like Silent Circle, which is another app, where you can send text messages that, somewhat like Snapchat, will ultimately erase and disappear not long after you have received them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, I can set it to disappear two minutes after you read it?

    WILLIAM DOBSON:  That’s right.


    So, these technologies, how are they encouraging or enabling a level of communication between the troops on the ground now, the protesters?

    WILLIAM DOBSON: Well, essentially, they are — they are vital at this point, because you have to — the first thing you have to understand about many of these places is that there is no way for these groups, these activists or organizers to communicate through the national media.

    The national media is completely controlled by the state. So when you think about radio, TV, newspapers, and you have — many times, it’s impossible for them to get their message across that way. So, they are going to rely on social media almost entirely. And these more sensitive, secure communications are vital for them to be able to organize and rally and plan.

    You know, I was talking to one activist just the other day who said, you know, we never pick up the telephone anymore. He said, it wouldn’t even occur to us to pick up the telephone, because we know those lines are tapped or there is too much of a danger that they would be. So, we — our first resort is to turn to these types of tools.

    And they also change the tools they’re using all the time. They don’t want to be predictable.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how smart are those dictators, so to speak, in your book getting? Are they keeping up with this technological race?

    WILLIAM DOBSON: They are keeping up. They are doing their best to keep up.

    And you see them employing the tools as well. So, for example, in Ukraine, we saw a little bit over a month ago where the government started to send massive text messages out to people who were in the square. So, if you were a protester in the square, all of a sudden, you got a text message saying, dear subscriber, you’re engaged in a mass disturbance.

    So this was the government saying, A, I know who you are. B, I know what you are doing. So the idea that you are an anonymous face in this crowd, forget about it. We know. And we’re able to figure that out based on geo-locating where you are in the square.

    So, only people that were involved in the protests were receiving that. That is a level of specificity that is frightening, and it was intended to intimidate. However, your question was how effective have they been?


    WILLIAM DOBSON:  Well, how effective were they?

    I mean, it didn’t really intimidate people, now, did it?  And that is the problem. The regimes haven’t really found ways to use this technology in such a way that they get the outcome that they are seeking, which is to reduce the numbers of peoples in the square. If you have waited to the point that there are people in the square, as a regime, you probably already waited too long.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, William Dobson, author of “Dictator’s Learning Curve” and from “Slate” magazine, thanks so much.

    WILLIAM DOBSON:  Thanks for having me.

    The post Revolutionaries around the world add new social media networks to tech toolkit appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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