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

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    BRISTOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07: In this photo-illustration a man holds a burger from a fast food outlet on January 7, 2013 in Bristol, England. A government-backed TV advert - made by Aardman, the creators of Wallace and Gromit - to promote healthy eating in England, is to be shown for the first time later today. England has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe - costing the NHS 5 billion GDP each year - with currently over 60 percent of adults and a third of 10 and 11 year olds thought to be overweight or obese. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: People have been warned for years about the dangers of eating too many saturated fats and the risks they pose for heart disease.

    But a new analysis of more than 70 studies finds that saturated fats do not necessarily lead to greater problems with heart health. The research, published in “The Annals of Internal Medicine,” also found no real benefit from taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements, like fish oil.

    Cathal Armstrong is a chef and co-owner of the restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. He’s long been focused on these issues in his work and in cooking, and he joins me now.

    Welcome to the program.

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG, Chef/Restauranteur: Thanks for having me. Alright.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This was a medical study. And, you know, we might normally talk to a scientist, but we want to talk to somebody who works with food, thinks about food issues every day.

    So, first of all, were you surprised that the result was that saturated fats may not necessarily be bad for your heart?

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: No, I wasn’t surprised at all.

    I mean, we have known for years that animal fats are actually good for you. And, you know, being involved in the food industry and what we do, it always boggles my mind when you hear these people come up with this idea that this area of food is bad for you or this area of food is bad for you, you shouldn’t be eating carbs, you shouldn’t be eating fats, you shouldn’t be eating this.

    And to brush things with broad strokes like that generally is not going to be accurate. Food is a much more complicated, much more complex thing than that. And a perfect example of it is orange juice. For years, everybody was telling you that they should drink orange juice. And then, all of a sudden, it turns out that orange juice is nothing but sugar.

    Because the complexity of the orange, we’re missing out on the benefits.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, part of what they saw in their research is that they looked at cholesterol, which saturated fat creates, but they found that there are different kinds of cholesterol, and that not all the cholesterol — it’s not just high density and the low density — but there are even more levels of cholesterol than that.

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: Absolutely.

    And we — that’s another good example where people have said that cholesterol, high cholesterol is bad for you. Cholesterol is actually a requirement of the body. We know we need cholesterol to absorb food properly. And to say that cholesterol is a bad thing isn’t — misleads people.

    And I think, you know, very often, people have a tendency to latch on to that word and then get misguided. The cholesterol that’s in butter is very healthy for you. But we thought for years that cholesterol is bad, so we shouldn’t eat any butter? That’s false.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you, as somebody who works with food every day, think about cholesterol and different kinds of cholesterol in the food you cook?


    And there’s a great food, the Jamon Iberico, which comes from Spain, which is this very, very fatty ham that is fed this all-acorn diet, which actually lowers LDL and raises HDL. So it would make sense that the more of this ham that you eat, the better off you are going to be, but that’s not true either.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, they did find — Cathal Armstrong, they did find another culprit. And that was sugar. They talked about high-carbohydrate foods. And I know you have had an interest in those.

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: Yes. We have been involved with the school lunch program and the Let’s Move campaign and the Chefs Move to Schools.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House campaign.

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: Through the White House, which I think is a really important campaign and great leadership.

    I’m convinced — and watching it from the sidelines, from a non-scientific perspective, I think it’s fairly easy to see that sugar is definitely the cause of all this problem that we’re having with health care in our country.

    We look at obesity, we look at diabetes, there are grocery stores that claim to be healthy grocery stores, but I defy anybody to go in there and spend less than 10 minutes finding a loaf of bread that doesn’t have some kind of a sweetener in it.

    But bread doesn’t have sugar in it of any kind. The classic recipes for baguette and ciabatta, there’s no sugar in those recipes. So even substituting agave nectar or honey isn’t a real solution there, because that’s just another sweetener, which is adding to the poor health in the — of our people.

    The main thing here is not to suggest that sugar is bad. It’s too much sugar. And we have sugar in everything. It’s in beer. It’s in soda. It’s in ketchup. It’s in every food that’s on every shelf in every grocery store.


    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: And there is just too much of it in our diet.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, there’s some pushback to the findings. We saw — I saw a quote today from a scientist who works with the American Heart Association who said it would be unfortunate if these results were interpreted to suggest that people can go back to eating butter and cheese with abandon.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that sounds like what you’re saying.

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: That’s absolutely right.

    And what I always recommend is a balanced diet. I think it’s great that we have come to the realization that saturated fat is not bad for you. But too much saturated fat is certainly going to be bad for you. And we need balance in our diets.

    You know, animal protein is the only natural source for vitamin B-16, which your body needs, but not too much of it. And I think the main thing that people should really to return to is what our grandparents ate. And eat food that’s in season in your locale. That’s how you’re going to do best. That’s how people evolved is to eat what was in our local locality when it was in season. So, right now, you should be eating root vegetables.

    And, in the summer months, we should eat all the tomatoes we can find in this area.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, they have done this massive study. They have studied 70 or 80 other studies and they have come back — basically, you’re saying they have come back to ground principle, which is…

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: Come back to what grandma ate.


    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: I lost 53 pounds. And people come up to me and say, oh my goodness, how did you do that?  And it’s very simple. Diet and exercise. Eat a balanced diet and get a good hour of exercise a day.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And is that — you took a look at this study today.

    Is that the bottom line, what people should do?

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: That is the bottom line of this study.

    And they even say it in the study. If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, you need a balanced diet and you need to exercise.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Cathal Armstrong, we thank you very much.

    CATHAL ARMSTRONG: My pleasure.

    The post New research challenges old wisdom on saturated fat appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: For the 24 soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House this afternoon, their service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam had already earned them a commendation, just not the one they ultimately deserved.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, we have the chance to set the record straight.

    GWEN IFILL: With the East Room as a backdrop, the president acted today to right an old wrong, awarding the nation’s highest medal for combat valor to a group of two dozen Hispanic, Jewish and African-American veterans.

    The ceremony came after a 12-year review by the Pentagon that blames racial or ethnic discrimination for denying the honor to a number of servicemen from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

    The president said it’s an example of why the nation must not shy away from confronting past discrimination.

    PRESIDEDNT BARACK OBAMA: No nation is perfect. But, here in America, we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that didn’t always see them as equal.

    So we have — each generation, we keep on striving to live up to our ideals of freedom and equality and to recognize the dignity and patriotism of every person, no matter who they are, what they look like or how they pray.

    GWEN IFILL: The recipients recognized this afternoon had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military commendation.

    Just three are still alive, Vietnam veterans Santiago Erevia, Melvin Morris, and Jose Rodela. Erevia charged into oncoming fire to knock out four enemy bunkers, then tended to wounded soldiers. Morris, a former Green Beret, was wounded three times recovering the body of his fatally wounded master sergeant. Rodela repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire during an 18-hour battle, as he tried to check on casualties in his company.

    After recounting those heroic efforts, the president invited all three men on stage for a special tribute, reciting Tennyson.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

    Santiago Erevia, Melvin Morris, Jose Rodela, in the thick of the fight all those years ago, for your comrades and country, you refused to yield. And on behalf of a grateful nation, we all want to thank you for inspiring us, then and now, with your strength, your will, and your heroic hearts.

    Please give them a big round of applause.


    GWEN IFILL: The soldiers recognized today represent the largest single group of Medal of Honor recipients since World War II.

    The president read citations for all 24 today, as family members accepted the honor for their deceased relatives.

    Watch the full ceremony:

    For more on how today’s remarkable ceremony came to be, we turn to retired Lieutenant Colonel Sheldon Goldberg. He is a 30-year Air Force veteran, now a docent at the National Museum of Jewish Military History.

    Thank you for joining us.

    It’s interesting to me how many of these 24 were either Jewish-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, one African-American. How did all this come to be today?

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG (RET.), National Museum of Jewish Military History: Well, this came to be back in the year 2000 or so, when, after earlier ethnic groups had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, it was questioned whether or not there were any Jewish veterans who had been denied this.

    And, as a result, Congressman Wexler put together an act called the Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act of 2001. And this act then got expanded somewhat to allow also for Hispanic and African-American and other ethnic groups.

    GWEN IFILL: To basically go back through the files and reconstruct people who…

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: Right. And it’s through World War II.

    I misspoke there, but through World War II, and allowing also up to Korea. So, the criteria was first to review those that had won the Distinguished Service Cross.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: And my understanding is that they picked out about 625 soldiers. And from that, it was whittled down again after reviews and documentation was searched and so on to about 200-and-some-odd.

    GWEN IFILL: You — go ahead.

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: This is why it took too long. It took 10 years to do this, plus I think the fact that the record center in Saint Louis had been burned to a certain extent and records were lost.

    GWEN IFILL: A lot of records were destroyed.


    GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you this.

    By the way, you mentioned the name Leonard Kravitz.


    GWEN IFILL: His nephew was at the White House today. He’s one of a lot of people know as Lenny Kravitz, actually.


    GWEN IFILL: It’s very interesting how this happens.

    But how widespread — you were in the service — how widespread was the kind of discrimination that would allow people not to be recognized for their heroics?

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: Well, fortunately, I can say, during my time in service, I didn’t notice anything like that. I cannot think of one anti-Semitic incident that I experienced in my entire 30 years.

    But you have to go back in the history and go all the way to the Civil War and thereafter where anti-Semitism, prejudice against blacks, for example, people believed that they didn’t fight. Mark Twain himself wrote an article in “Harper’s” magazine, I believe it was in 1895, that said that, while the Jew was a great civil servant, he neglected to stand up for the flag.

    And this was the reason the Jewish War Veterans, for example, was formed in 1896, to show that Jews, for one, did fight, and we were at the very front and in the forefront of combat in the Civil War and in subsequent wars afterward.

    GWEN IFILL: So, when you see this kind of recognition today, for you, there’s a broader meaning to it?

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: It’s a great day, I think, really for all Americans.

    I mean, it shows once and for all that there’s recognition that ethnic minorities in the United States are just as much American, just as patriotic as anyone else, and that they do, in fact, fight, defend their country, they are patriotic. And they are right there at the very front lines doing what is expected of them to do and even more.

    GWEN IFILL: Watching that ceremony today, I was struck by how emotional it was, especially so many of the surviving family members.

    And it makes me wonder whether recognition like this, especially after so many of them have passed on, can come too late?

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: I was thinking about that myself earlier.

    And it seems to me that the old saying better late than never is even more appropriate.

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: The fact is that they were recognized.

    It shows us to be the country that we believe that we are, where everybody has an equal opportunity, has a chance to be recognized. And I think that, as I said, this is really a great day, I think, for all America, not just Jewish-Americans or African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans.

    GWEN IFILL: What is it about, however, the Medal of Honor — they had all been recognized in some way in order — or they wouldn’t have even made it this far.


    GWEN IFILL: What is it about the Medal of Honor which takes it to the next level?

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: Well, that is the highest award that can be given for combat.

    I mean, it’s, what they say, for above and beyond the call of duty, and I don’t think anybody aspires to it. I think, if you talk to these winners, you will find that they’re probably the most humble group of people that you would want to meet. I have had the privilege to meet several Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and they’re just outstanding individuals.

    GWEN IFILL: And they were quite humble today at the White House as well.


    GWEN IFILL: Lieutenant Colonel Sheldon Goldberg, U.S. Air Force retired, thank you so much for helping us.

    LT. COL. SHELDON GOLDBERG: Thank you for letting me come.

    The post To right old wrong, Obama awards Medal of Honor to overlooked Hispanic, Jewish and African-American soldiers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Have you ever seen molecules bond, break or hula hoop? Chemist Ara Apkarian has. He and his team at the University of California Irvine are developing the chemiscope, a laser-powered device to record images at a molecular level. The lasers “poke” the molecules like the stylus on a record player and record them as the atoms move like a hula-hooper, he said.

    Each molecule is an individual, and has its own personality, Apkarian says. If chemists can observe how molecules move and what they look like, they will understand how to manipulate them.

    Miles O’Brien has more on this story for Science Nation*.

    *Science Nation is funded by the National Science Foundation, which is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.

    The post Watch atoms as they ‘hula hoop’ inside a molecule appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Pro-Russian self-defense activists sit on an armed personnel carrier, APC, after they seized the Ukrainian navy headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Viktor Drachev/AFP Photo

    Pro-Russian self-defense activists sit on an armed personnel carrier, APC, after they seized the Ukrainian navy headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Viktor Drachev/AFP Photo

    Updated 3:45 p.m. EST | Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, gave a 9 p.m. local time, 3 p.m. EDT, ultimatum Wednesday to release all military and civilian hostages, including Ukrainian navy chief Serhiy Hayduk, being held in the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol. The deadline has now passed.

    Earlier, Turchynov said in a statement that “unless Admiral [Sergiy] Gayduk and all the other hostages — both military and civilian ones — are released, the authorities will carry out an adequate response … of a technical and technological nature.”

    It remains unclear what the “adequate response” would entail.


    Original post as follows:
    The Ukrainian government said Wednesday that it has drafted plans to pull its troops out of Crimea, as Russian forces continue to take control of its military bases in the peninsula.

    “We are developing a plan that would enable us not only to withdraw servicemen, but also members of their families in Crimea, so that they could be quickly and efficiently moved to mainland Ukraine,” Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council secretary Andriy Parubiy said.

    A few hundred unarmed pro-Russian militiamen seized control of Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Wednesday and detained the Ukrainian navy chief Serhiy Hayduk, the Associated Press reports.

    The Pro-Russian forces overwhelmed the base, replacing the Ukrainian flags with Russian ones, according to the BBC. Ukrainian servicemen filed out of the base, offering no resistance. Sevastopol is also home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

    AFP reports that Russian forces also seized a military base in Novoozerne, a western Crimean town.

    On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to annex Crimea, two days after the region, which is largely ethnically Russian, approved a referendum to separate from Ukraine.

    The post Ukrainian government to withdraw troops from Crimea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Janet Yellen delivered her first press conference Wednesday, following the Fed's two-day Open Markets Committee meeting. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Janet Yellen delivered her first press conference Wednesday, following the Fed’s two-day Open Markets Committee meeting. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The Fed’s policy-making body, the Open Market Committee, announced Wednesday they will again draw down purchases of bonds by $10 billion. Monthly bond purchases will now decreases from $65 billion to $55 billion.

    The more noteworthy news, albeit technical in nature, is about the FOMC’s conditions for increasing the federal funds rate — the rate at which banks trade funds being held at the Federal Reserve. With unemployment at 6.7 percent — what the committee calls “elevated” — they’ve dropped the 6.5 percent unemployment threshold for raising the federal funds rate in favor of a more qualitative assessment of the labor market and inflation.

    The current target rate is between zero and one-quarter percent. The committee predicts that economic conditions may require the committee to keep rates low even after terminating the asset purchase program, known as quantitative easing.

    The reason for dropping that threshold, Fed Chair Janet Yellen explained in her first press conference, is not because it hasn’t been effective. Rather, adopting a more qualitative measure for forward guidance, she said, is about remaining transparent to the public. As the unemployment rate nears the threshold, she said, “the question is, markets want to know, and the public wants to understand, how will we decide what to do?” So removing the threshold “reflects changes in conditions we face,” she said, not any policy changes. The Fed’s goals remain full employment and inflation of 2 percent.

    Unusual weather patterns, Yellen said, have made it more difficult to assess the true health of the economy this winter.

    But labor market conditions, she said, have continued to improve. Yellen noted that broader measures of unemployment, which include what’s called marginally attached workers, have fallen, while labor force participation has increased. For much of 2013, the unemployment rate decreased in large part because people dropped out of the labor force, not because more people were working. For this reason, at previous FOMC press conferences, former Fed chair Ben Bernanke had acknowledged that a broader view of unemployment was necessary to gauge the health of the labor market.

    Beginning next month, the Fed will add to its coffers $25 billion of mortgage-backed securities and $30 billion of longer-term Treasury securities, which represents a $5 billion reduction from each category.

    The post Yellen defends Fed’s decision to forgo unemployment threshold appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A new plan proposed by Michigan legislators would create a pilot program to send low and middle income students to college for free, as long as they promise to pay into the program with a percentage of their post-graduate incomes. Image by Mehmed Zelkovic/Getty Images

    A new plan proposed by Michigan legislators would create a pilot program to send low and middle income students to college for free, as long as they promise to pay into the program with a percentage of their post-graduate incomes. Image by Mehmed Zelkovic/Getty Images

    Higher education doesn’t come cheap, but legislators in Michigan have proposed a creative solution for financing college tuition — make it free. That’s the first step. Second step: require the student to “pay it forward” by contributing a fixed percentage of their post-collegiate income into a fund that would help aid future college students.

    The proposed bill would create a pilot program with the goal of removing financial barriers to higher education like crushing student loans and high interest rates, said state Rep. David Knezek, a democrat who helped introduce the legislation in February. The plan would secure $2 million in start-up money and involve 200 low and middle-income students.

    Here’s how it works: in exchange for a “free” education, a student would be required to pay a fixed percentage — 2 percent for community college students and 4 percent for public university students — into the fund for five years for every year they attended school under the program. So a student who attends the University of Michigan for four years would pay into the program for 20 years.

    “The only thing free about this is it is interest free,” said Knezek. “You go into the program and as soon as you have a job and are above the federal poverty line, you start paying.

    Students also must maintain a good GPA and the program caps the number of years a student can participate — three years for a community college student and five years for a university student.

    John Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Oregon, told the Detroit Free Press that this is a simple mechanism for students to be able to afford college.

    “The percentage you’d have to pay is predictable and predetermined. You don’t have to worry about interest rates fluctuating. It’s all locked in.”

    But of course there are some disincentives for joining the program. A student who expects to do well in the labor market might not want to risk losing a percentage of his or her income for a fixed period of time.

    “As a result, those who expect to earn a lot won’t participate,” Susan Dynarksi, a professor at the University of Michigan, told the newspaper. “If the future starving artists flood into pay it forward and the future engineers shun it, the program will spiral into insolvency.”

    Americans have more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. PBS NewsHour’s Making Sense team has reported on the ever-growing student debt issue and what it means for new graduates.

    The bill is working its way through the Michigan legislature, but there is no scheduled hearing yet.

    The post Michigan plan promises to cover college tuition, but students must ‘pay it forward’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An 88-year-old translation of ‘Beowulf’ will soon join J.R.R. Tolkien’s published bibliography

    An 88-year-old translation of ‘Beowulf’ will soon join J.R.R. Tolkien’s published bibliography. Photo of “Beowulf” manuscript courtesy of Carson-Newman College.

    One of the oldest, longest and most influential works in the history of Old English will soon be experienced through the eyes of one of the world’s most beloved fantasy authors.

    J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of “Beowulf,” completed in 1926, will be published in May, his son Christopher Tolkien told The Guardian. In Tolkien’s version, the esteemed author utilizes a “creative attention to detail” that brings new life and a new perspective to the poem, according to his son.

    “It is as if he entered into the imagined past: standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark, listening to the rising anger of Beowulf at the taunting of Unferth, or looking up in amazement at Grendel’s terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot.”

    Tolkien, revered author of “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” series, was also a well-known scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature. His 1936 lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” was a milestone moment in the study of the poem, significant in shaping how the piece is read and understood in modern times.

    His own writing was influenced in no small way by “Beowulf.” Tolkien scholar John Garth told The Guardian that the poem had “a deep and detailed impact on what Tolkien wrote – from his earliest poem of Middle-Earth, written in September 1914, right through ‘The Hobbit’ with the theft of a cup from a dragon hoard, and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ with the arrival at the halls of Rohan.”

    This new translation — released 15 years after Seamus Heaney’s version became an international bestseller — is expected to be well-received by Tolkien’s fans.

    “I can already see it in [British bookstore chain] Waterstones — the leather-bound, illustrated gift edition, filed next to ‘The Hobbit’ and the boxed DVD ‘Game of Thrones,’” said poet Simon Armitage.

    “Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary,” including the translations, a series of lectures given about the poem, and a “marvelous tale” written by Tolkien, will be released on May 22 through HarperCollins.

    The post Tolkien’s 88-year-old ‘Beowulf’ translation to be published this spring appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flicrk user umjanedoan

    New research suggests chronic sleep loss can lead to a loss of brain cells. Photo by Flicrk user umjanedoan.

    A sleepless night can cause a lot more than a sluggish day, a new study warns.

    Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience Tuesday claims that chronic sleep loss can lead to a permanent loss of brain cells — nullifying any hope to “make up” for lost sleep.

    Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine studied lab mice while rotating them through periods of rest, short and extended wakefulness — similar to the day-to-day sleep patterns of shift workers. After three days of testing, they found that the mice had experienced increased cell death and lost 25 percent of the neurons essential for “alertness and optimal cognition” — a result researchers fear could also happen in humans.

    “In general, we’ve always assumed full recovery of cognition following short- and long-term sleep loss,” said Dr. Sigrid Veasey, associate professor of Medicine at UPenn and part of the research team. “But some of the research in humans has shown that attention span and several other aspects of cognition may not normalize even with three days of recovery sleep, raising the question of lasting injury in the brain.”

    Further research is planned to determine if humans are susceptible to the observed brain damage through extended periods of wakefulness, and if brain damage could be linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

    The post Losing sleep can lead to brain damage, scientists warn appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Crimea Recognised As Sovereign State By Putin

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Toyota now formally admits it misled consumers and regulators over unintended acceleration problems in its cars that triggered global recalls. The automaker agreed to pay $1.2 billion, the largest such federal penalty ever imposed on an auto company. We will take a closer look at the case right after the news summary.

    In Ukraine, the new leaders in Kiev announced they’re drawing up plans to evacuate Ukrainian troops from Crimea. This came in the face of Russian moves to consolidate their grip on the breakaway province.

    Pro-Russian militiamen pushed their way into part of the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol this morning. Shortly afterward, the Russian flag was raised at the entrance, as the Ukrainian servicemen gave way.

    OLEKSANDER BALANYUK, Navy Captain, Ukraine (through interpreter): There is nothing we can do against the crowd, nothing. Everything happened spontaneously. There were many promises from the Russian side and our side that the base will not be stormed, that all issues will be resolved through political means, but, as you see now, there was a takeover.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The takeover came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty aimed at annexing Crimea. In response, Ukraine’s national security minister called today for turning Crimea into a demilitarized zone as it tries to withdraw its troops. And he announced joint military exercises with the U.S. and Britain.

    But Crimea’s new prime minister appeared unfazed. He banned Ukrainian officials from entering the region and called for other parts of Ukraine to follow Crimea’s lead.

    SERGEI AKSYONOV, Prime Minister, Crimea (through interpreter): This patriotic rise that we have in Crimea and in Russia today that united us all, regardless of our political views or political parties, should continue and spread over to southeastern Ukraine.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, indeed, pro-Russian militia members took up positions today outside Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. They said they were ready to block any western forces from entering.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. and European Union again pressed Moscow to relent. Vice President Joe Biden was in Lithuania, where he pledged the U.S. will defend its NATO allies and that Russia will pay a price for seizing Crimea.

    VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation. There are those who say that this action shows the old rules still apply, but Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In a bid to resolve the crisis, the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, left this afternoon for talks in both Moscow and Kiev.

    We will talk with Margaret Warner, on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, later in the program.

    Israeli airstrikes blasted Syrian military posts today, killing one soldier and wounding seven. The raids happened in southwestern Syria, near the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan Heights. Israel said it was retaliation for a roadside bombing in the Golan that wounded four Israeli soldiers. Suspicion for that attack fell on Hezbollah, the Shiite militia allied with Syria.

    The FBI has stepped up its role in the hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner. U.S. officials said today the bureau is helping analyze deleted data from the pilot’s flight simulator. That word came amid an uproar at the Malaysian government’s daily briefing.

    We have a report from Lucy Watson of Independent Television News. She’s in Kuala Lumpur.

    LUCY WATSON: A mother’s anguish for the whole world to see captured just moments before the media briefing, after traveling thousands of miles to beg for answers.

    This pandemonium is because the relatives have now been taken inside this room behind me by officials. They came here this morning because such is their frustration and distress towards the Malaysian government at the lack of information they’re getting, some 12 days on now, hidden away because, earlier, they dared to voice their anger.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): Please, help me bring my son back. I just want to see my son. So many days have passed, and nobody from the government has come to see me.

    LUCY WATSON: Yet, on a day of great drama, the investigation made little progress. The search is now focusing more on the southern Indian Ocean, the most remote and furthest point where the aircraft would’ve run out of fuel.

    But there are still guards outside the pilot’s home. And police continue to analyze data from his flight’s simulator, some of which he removed.

    DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, Transport Minister, Malaysia: Some data has been deleted from the simulator, and forensic work to retrieve this data is ongoing. I would like to take this opportunity to state that the passengers, the pilot and the crew remain innocent until proven otherwise.

    LUCY WATSON: It’s not what they came to hear. And this wasn’t what they wanted. But this is an unprecedented event.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: First lady Michelle Obama is headed to China for a six-day visit. White House officials say it is not intended to address any policy issues. Instead, Mrs. Obama is scheduled to spend a day with the Chinese president’s wife focusing on education. Later, she and her mother and two daughters will visit cultural and historical sites.

    The governor’s race in Illinois began in earnest today, one of the year’s toughest campaigns, in a state with one of the hardest-hit economies. Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner won Tuesday’s Republican primary, spending $6 million of his own money.

    This morning, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn and Rauner were already swapping charges over the minimum wage and economic leadership.

    GOV. PAT QUINN, D-Ill.: A billionaire with nine mansions calling for a reduction in the minimum wage and taking $2,000 out of the pockets of everyday people who are doing the best they can.

    BRUCE RAUNER, Gubernatorial Candidate, R-Ill.: I’m proud of the businesses we have built. I’m proud of the success we have brought. And I wanna bring that success to Springfield, run it more like a business, make it efficient, effective, transparent.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats have held the governor’s office in Illinois for more than a decade.

    The Federal Reserve signaled today it may start raising short-term interest rates sometime next year. That would follow the end of the Fed’s stimulus program, which it dialed back another notch today. The combination didn’t go down well on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 114 points to close at 16,222. The Nasdaq fell more than 25 points to close at 4,307. And the Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped 11 points to finish at 1,860.

    We will hear some of what Fed Chair Janet Yellen had to say today later in the program.

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    GWEN IFILL: Four years after launching a criminal investigation of Toyota, the government wrapped up its case today by announcing a major settlement, in which the company admitted criminal wrongdoing for concealing safety concerns.

    ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General: Today, we can say for certain that Toyota intentionally concealed information and misled the public about the safety issues behind these recalls.

    GWEN IFILL: In a toughly worded statement, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the record $1.2 billion settlement this morning. Toyota, the federal investigators said, purposely concealed what it knew about the full scope of unintended acceleration issues, linking them to faulty brakes, sticking gas pedals and tangled floor mats.

    ERIC HOLDER: Toyota confronted a public safety emergency as if it were simply a public relations problem. Put simply, Toyota’s conduct was shameful. It showed a blatant disregard for systems and laws designed to look after the safety of consumers. By the company’s own admissions, it protected its brand ahead of its own customers.

    GWEN IFILL: Recalls began in 2009, and ultimately spread to more than 10 million Toyota vehicles. Company sales plunged, but have since rebounded.

    In a news release today, Toyota USA’s chief legal officer, Christopher Reynolds, insisted the auto giant has become more responsive since 2009.

    He said, “This agreement, while difficult, is a major step toward putting this unfortunate chapter behind us.”

    But Holder said the case also serves as a warning to others in the auto industry.

    ERIC HOLDER: Other car companies shouldn’t repeat Toyota’s mistake. A recall may damage a company’s reputation, but deceiving your customers makes that damage far more lasting.

    GWEN IFILL: That’s a not-so-veiled reference to General Motors, now facing its own federal investigation over its handling of faulty ignition switches. The company finally recalled 1.6 million vehicles last month, amid revelations it had known of the problem since 2004.

    Another 1.7 million vehicles were recalled for different problems on Monday. GM says there have been 13 deaths, but a study for the Center for Auto Safety found the real number could total more than 300, a number GM disputes.

    In a video posted to GM’s Web site Monday, new CEO Mary Barra promised the company is completely focused on the problem.

    MARY BARRA, General Motors: And we are putting the consumer first, and that is guiding every decision we make.

    GWEN IFILL: Yesterday, Barra apologized, saying she’s very sorry for the loss of life tied to the defects. The GM probe could last months. As for Toyota, federal prosecutors say they will dismiss a criminal wire fraud charge in three years if the company fully complies with the settlement.

    Some further detail now on today’s settlement and what it means for the auto industry. David Shepardson covers it for The Detroit News. And Joan Claybrook is a past president of Public Citizen and she served as chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under Jimmy Carter.

    How does this, David, compare to previous settlements we have heard about?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON, The Detroit News: The Toyota settlement is by far the biggest ever. This was a huge blow to the company from the attorney general.

    You don’t see this type of language used, I mean, shameful, cover-up, and said that Toyota, during the 2009 time frame, knew it had problems and not only did it opt not to do anything, but it canceled a proposed fix. So this is as strong as the company — as the government could be and finally extracted an admission of wrongdoing from Toyota, which it had steadfastly refused to do for five years.

    GWEN IFILL: For the record, we invited representatives from Toyota and GM to join us tonight, and they declined.

    How big deal does this seem to be to you in your experience following these issues, Joan Claybrook?

    JOAN CLAYBROOK, Former President, Public Citizen: I think it wants huge.

    It’s huge because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t have criminal penalty authority. And so it depends on the Justice Department to do something they never have before. And it’s also suggests, the settlement, that they’re going to do something more with General Motors and they’re putting out a warning to all the companies.

    I think that the chief executives of every single auto company around the world is taking a hard look at their defect files, and what they have not reported and what they should have reported. This is going to force them to behave and act in the consumer interest.

    GWEN IFILL: Often, in these kinds of business settlements, the company — the affected company says, I’m not admitting wrongdoing, but I’m willing to settle this so it doesn’t go to court.

    Reading the statement of fact that Toyota itself agreed to, they admit criminal wrongdoing.

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Right. They’re not — they’re going to enter this deferred prosecution agreement, so they’re not pleading guilty. But that was something the Justice Department really wanted in these negotiations that have gone on for a long time.

    They didn’t want Toyota to simply write a check. They wanted them to admit that they had done wrong. But on the other hand, Toyota has turned the page, like other companies. They’re now recalling vehicles a lot faster. The company has changed dramatically since then, but they are still paying the price from what happened then.

    GWEN IFILL: Is that true, Joan Claybrook, that companies are already learning the lessons of the lawsuits and threats and investigations?

    JOAN CLAYBROOK: They are, because the auto companies have been able to keep a lot of this information secret.

    And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not had a lot of transparency. It’s something that we’d like to see changed. So it’s very hard for the consumer. They may write a letter, but it goes no place. And so here these companies have been unmasked. It’s very embarrassing. It means they’re going to change, they’re going to more responsive, reactive.

    And I hope that certainly all of them are going to be more responsive to consumer complaints and lawsuits, because that’s a source of information about problems on the road.

    GWEN IFILL: A billion dollars is a lot of money, $1.2 billion, but there have been a lot of lawsuits, federal, state, civil lawsuits, which I assume are still out there?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: The legal bills for GM — for Toyota total — will top at least $3 billion. There’s a $1.6 billion settlement with over 10 million owners of Toyotas for various reasons. They have settled with state attorney generals.

    There are individual claims for crashes. So when you would all the costs up for Toyota, it will be well over $3 billion. But, remember, for this year, Toyota expects to make about $19 billion in profits, about half — double what they made the year before and 30 percent of the revenue comes from the U.S. So, their…

    GWEN IFILL: This hasn’t affected their bottom line?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Well, certainly a little bit, but certainly one out of $19 billion is still significant.

    But what this is really about Toyota about getting past this, because this is a very profitable market. And the more they can do to show customers that they have gotten the lesson, that they’re way beyond this, the better, since they’re making a lot of money here.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, David, you and I were here just last week talking about the General Motors recall. And I wonder whether this rings a bell for you, Joan Claybrook, that this is very — you’re Mary Barra, the new GM CEO, that you’re looking at this and thinking, oh…

    GWEN IFILL: … next.

    JOAN CLAYBROOK: Oh, General Motors is definitely next. And there’s definitely been a cover-up of the General Motors problem. The campaign knew.

    GWEN IFILL: Do we know that yet?

    JOAN CLAYBROOK: Oh, absolutely. The company found it on the testing ground in 2004. They sent out bulletins to their dealers in 2005 and 2006 in which they identified what the problem and what the fix was.

    They had a meeting with the Department of Transportation in 2007, where the Department of Transportation had an investigation where the investigators said the air bags didn’t inflate, and, by the way, the ignition switch was on accessory, which means it wouldn’t operate the car, but you could play the radio, but it wouldn’t inflate the air bag.

    And so it was clear way back then. And I think that the Department of Transportation has completely failed in its duty here. And General Motors has harmed the public terribly. And I think there are going to be many more deaths and injuries that are going to show up. Now that the public is aware of this, they’re calling General Motors. They have all these 50 people who are answering the phones, and you’re going to hear a lot more about…

    GWEN IFILL: If it is true that there’s handwriting on the wall here, what strategy is General Motors using to respond to try to get out ahead of it?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: I think Mary Barra publicly apologized this week, said they are going to take care of the victims, although they haven’t explained how.

    But I do think there’s a lot of questions left unanswered. Yes, the chronology that GM has laid out shows that they did know of significant problems with this over 10 years. We don’t have the e-mails, the memos that Congress and NHTSA are seeking to know. What did they know, when did they know it, did GM really think this was a serious problem, or was it, as someone have suggested, a failure to connect the dots?

    So I think there are still a lot of questions. We don’t know if what happened to GM rises to the same level as Toyota. But that’s what Congress and NHTSA are going to get to the bottom of. And that’s what GM has got to be worried about. Is this — are they going to take the same public relations hit?

    GWEN IFILL: Let’s end this by talking about government’s role, because that was very strong language we heard from the Justice Department today, not just from the attorney general, but also from the secretary of transportation, the investigator from the FBI.

    So what does that say about a change in attitude maybe in the federal government towards these kinds of investigations?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Isn’t that interesting that NHTSA, as Joan said, can only impose penalties of about $60 million on Toyota. And the Justice Department said, no, we are going to fine you $1.2 billion for all the vehicles you sold that we believe fraudulently were sold.

    So that basically means, hey, they can fine GM or any other auto company, sky is the limit, if they determine they broke the law. And absolutely every auto company has got to be very nervous and checking their books very carefully.

    GWEN IFILL: Briefly, do you think it’s a change in the federal government’s approach?

    JOAN CLAYBROOK: We need new legislation. We need criminal penalties at NHTSA, which they don’t have. We need higher civil penalties. We need more transparency at that agency.

    Yes, it’s sort of like don’t ask, don’t tell. No one asked, they didn’t tell. And they should have. And so I believe that there are a number of changes, including more submission of documents and data. And they need a higher budget. Their budget is $134 million for the whole auto safety program for the entire United States. Totally insufficient.

    GWEN IFILL: Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen, of course, is how we know you, and David Shepardson of The Detroit News. Thank you both very much.

    JOAN CLAYBROOK: Thank you.

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Thanks, Gwen.

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    According to Rajesh De, general counsel for the National Security Agency, U.S. technology companies had full knowledge of the NSA’s bulk data collection.

    During a hearing Wednesday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, asked whether the metadata, collected under Section 702 of the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act occurred “with the full knowledge and assistance of any company from which information is obtained.”

    De said yes, adding that the surveillance program Prism, was an “internal government term” that became a public one as a result of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

    “Collection under this program was a compulsory legal process, that any recipient company would receive,” he said.

    Technology companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, YouTube, Apple, denied involvement with the NSA surveillance program and said the agency did not have backdoor access to their customers’ data.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday that Russia would stop at Crimea, many are concerned about the fate of Eastern Ukraine.

    Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, arrived in the city of Donetsk this morning. It’s been the scene of fierce, sometimes deadly street battles in the last week between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian demonstrators.

    I spoke to Margaret a short time ago.

    Margaret, hello.

    First of all, this news that Ukraine is announcing plans to pull all of its troops out of Crimea, what are you hearing?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, this news just broke in the last hour.

    So we called the aide-de-camp of the colonel commanding the Belbek military base, which is right near the capital, whom we interviewed in our piece on Friday. And this aide-de-camp said, as far as they know, they have received no orders yet, they’re just still hunkered down.

    However, the orders are not surprising from Kiev, in that the acting president said something like a week or 10 days ago they do not have forces to send down to Crimea to rescue Crimea or fight back for Crimea because they will not be able to defend the region where I am now, which is southeastern Ukraine right along the Russian border.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And indeed you are — you have now moved into a different part of Ukraine. How different does it feel, Margaret, from Crimea?

    MARGARET WARNER: You know, really different, Judy, and I’m kind of surprised because I have read so much about the pro-Russia demonstrations. They’re actually had more violence here than they have ever had in Crimea, with a demonstrator — pro-Ukrainian common demonstrator killed just last Thursday in a sort of face-off between the two camps in Lenin Square three blocks from here.

    But the difference is that, in Crimea, which is 75 percent to 80 ethnic Russian, the pro-Russian fervor was really palpable. People walked around the streets with Russian flags in their lapels, wearing the sort of orange and black symbol of Russian strength and symbolism.

    And there was an election going on. Here, it is much more subtle. There is pro-Russian sentiment here. It clearly has been aroused. And in fact, I met with the governor today at some length, this billionaire businessman who has agreed to be the governor here, who says that, off camera, really, it’s generated by these 100 or 200 Russian specialists, he called them, who come in here, they have got the whole playbook, they know what to do.

    But they also can get 4,000 or 5,000 people out in a square to demonstrate in favor of closer tries or even union with Russia. So there is something going on here, but you do not have, for instance, Russia or Russian-linked military forces on every corner like the way you did in Crimea. So, as I said, it’s a more subtle story, but it’s one that Kiev is very worried about.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you picking up reaction, though, Margaret to Putin’s — the Russians taking Crimea?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, yes, Judy.

    At a shopping center tonight, I would say the number one reaction was one of grief. You know, Crimea is a place that Ukrainians love to go to vacation, fabulous hiking, great beaches. And people told us they were actually very sad about this. One man said, “I’m feeling more Ukrainian now that part of my country has been taken away.”

    There was a gentleman who said he had lived in Belarussia and he thought it was marvelous the some Crimeans — some Ukrainians, that is, those in Crimea can go back to the mother country. So there’s a split.

    The thing that again Kiev has to be worried about is a couple of people we talked to said, you know, I don’t want to be part of Russia, I have relatives there. I don’t want really to live in Russia, but I’m not going to go out and fight for this Ukrainian governor either. Every single leader we have gone independent has been a crook. Let them go out and fight.

    And this is really the problem that the Kiev government faces, which is to make people feel they have a stake in Ukraine as an independent country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, given that, what do you think the chances are that Eastern Ukraine could be the next flash point?

    MARGARET WARNER: There’s no doubt that the sort of Putin playbook has been followed here.

    For instance, Saturday, they have demonstrations in 11 different cities almost at the same time. Now, that is not an accident. And so there is some kind of operation going on here. We haven’t seen it ourselves because we have only been here less than 24 hours. We haven’t seen a demonstration yet.

    But what the Kiev government is worried about is that, as I said, they do tap into some pro-Russian sentiment here again, as in Crimea, people who say, well, we watch Russian television, we hear about how much better conditions are there, people get higher pensions and higher benefits and better wages. Whether or not that’s true or not remains to be seen.

    But I think that the central government in Kiev does have a legitimacy problem. They have not won all the hearts and minds of the people here in this part of Ukraine, and so, they have appointed, for instance, these wealthy oligarchs, billionaire businessmen, one of whom, Sergei Taruta, we met with at length today, who really have been brought in to try to sort of rally the troops and also restore order, bringing some of the management they have from business to what has been a very unmanageable situation here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner, continuing to do great reporting from Ukraine, thank you.

    MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Judy.

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    Rising Sea Levels monitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s often difficult to see how climate change is altering the environment in our daily lives. To counter that and draw attention to the issue, the White House today launched a new website to visualize scientific data on droughts, wildfires and the rise in sea levels.

    As you will see in this report, the residents of South Florida are already noticing how higher water is changing their local landscape.

    Special correspondent Kwame Holman narrates our story. It was done in collaboration with the South Florida public media station WPBT, and it begins with longtime fishing boat Captain Dan Kipness.

    DAN KIPNESS, Fishing Boat Captain: I have lived in Florida my whole life. I’m actually a native. And, more importantly, I have been on Miami Beach for like 55 years, and I’m a captain.

    Captains are used to looking at the ocean. If you look at it long enough — and I have had enough time to look at it — you can see small changes turn into big changes over a period of time. You’re going to see water coming out of Biscayne Bay, up the storm sewers, and onto the streets until it’s about a foot deep.

    And that’s not freshwater. That’s saltwater. There’s no rain. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Everyone can see that. Some people go, oh, we broke a sewer main or a water main broke. That’s not what it is. That’s sea level rise.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Miami Beach is a barrier island that is mostly only a few feet above water level. High tides are higher than they were in the past, and the risk of torrential rainstorms has worsened with climate change.

    In recent years, increased flooding from high tide and weather events has been a stark wakeup call for people living on South Beach.

    WOMAN: I remember people taking pictures and laughing when we saw people canoeing down West Avenue, but then a lot of people started asking questions. It’s scary in a lot of ways that what could actually happen here.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Dr. Hal Wanless, professor and chair of the Department of Geologic Sciences at the University of Miami, has been studying sea level rise for decades.

    DR. HAL WANLESS, University of Miami: The two big things that have been and will affect sea level are the expanding ocean as it warms. The second big factor affecting sea level rise now is ice melt. And the ice melt’s a totally different game. Ice can melt at rapidly accelerating rates.

    I videoed this time-lapse footage in Greenland in August of 2013. As these icebergs melt, they add to sea level rise.

    KWAME HOLMAN: South Florida political leaders have adopted a unified sea level rise projection, calculated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. the projections indicate sea levels will rise three to seven inches by 2030 and nine to 24 inches by 2060.

    Pete Harlem knows these projections all too well. He is the geographic coordinator at Florida International University, and pioneered the precise mapping of sea level rise for South Florida.

    PETE HARLEM, Florida International University: Two feet of sea level rise is projected from roughly from 2040 to 2060 some time. And so, when we get to that point, we’re going to see this as the Miami Beach of that near future.

    So, now taking that water level to four feet, it’s just not going to be a place you want to live in a house.

    KWAME HOLMAN: And it’s not just people living on barrier islands who need to be concerned about sea level rise. Most of South Florida is susceptible to flooding, as infrastructure becomes overwhelmed by rising seas or heavy rainfall.

    Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera is the chief modeler and an expert in South Florida’s complicated hydrologic system.

    DR. JAYANTHA OBEYSEKERA, South Florida Water Management District: We have regional flood control system that was designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly with the state about 50 years ago.

    And at that time, sea level rise wasn’t a major factor, that they didn’t worry about. But now some of the infrastructure we have on the coastal belt are basically not working as they were designed.

    KWAME HOLMAN: When there is heavy rainfall, the canals receive and move the excess water. That water is released into the bays and estuaries and eventually into the ocean.

    The system was designed for the water to flow by gravity, with the water flowing from the higher canal levels to the lower ocean levels. As the sea rises, however, gravity will no longer do the job and so there could be more flooding on the land as the water has nowhere to go.

    Richard Grosso is the director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic and a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University.

    RICHARD GROSSO, Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic: It’s been the local utility directors, people who run water treatment plants, people who run sewage treatment plants, people who maintain roads, who have been required to institute very expensive retrofits.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The Miami Beach Public Works Department is working on improvements now.

    ERIC CARPENTER, Miami Beach Public Works Department: We have done our storm water management master plan that was adopted in 2012, and that had identified approximately $200 million worth of improvements that we needed to do over the next 20 years in order to keep pace with sea level rise and addressing flooding concerns within the city of Miami Beach.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Some of that infrastructure includes pumps.

    RICK SALTNICK, Senior Capital Projects Coordinator: Everything collects on the inlets on the streets and then runs through those white pipes down there. They’re PVC pipes. They then all drain via gravity to the storm water pump station, and then pumped out of the storm water pump station and injected into the ground 80 to 100 feet down.

    We’re sizing these pumps to provide the proper level of service 20 years from now and at the sea level 20 years from now.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Miami Beach is not alone in addressing sea level rise. South Florida has become a model for regional cooperation on this issue.

    Projections by a four-county climate change compact were turned into an action plan with more than 100 recommendations. Those now are being reviewed. Some have been adopted by county governments.

    Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs has been at the forefront of South Florida climate change discussions and has earned national recognition for her work.

    KRISTIN JACOBS: I see one of the biggest hurdles for us in going forward is term limits, when you consider the leaders that are necessary, the cheerleaders that are necessary to continue pulling this very heavy train forward.

    And without that leadership, the one that casts the vote, the one that decides the budget, the one that directs their staff resources to any given priority, if you don’t have that, at any point in time, all of this could all fall apart.

    KWAME HOLMAN: But the plans come at a high price, something always politically difficult. As a member of the compact, former County Commissioner Katy Sorenson has been an advocate for planning for the coming changes.

    KATY SORENSON, Good Government Initiative: No one wants to pay increased taxes or fees, but if people want to live here, we have to make these investments to do the infrastructure planning, the pump systems, all the stuff that needs to be done so that we can stay habitable.

    RICHARD GROSSO: One of the biggest challenges we have in South Florida and across the country is this disconnect between the best long-term investment and economic strategies for a community vs. a political process that is short-term in terms of its rewards.

    For most local elected officials, they’re not going to be around to reap the rewards of those smart, thoughtful decisions that they made 10, 20 years ago. And so that system still puts pressure on the folks who do have the power, who do have the votes to continue to make short-term gain kinds of decisions. That is our biggest challenge presented by sea level rise right now.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Recently, commissioners for the city of Miami Beach voted on measures that are expected to double to $400 million, the cost of keeping water out of its city streets.

    GWEN IFILL: You can read more about the White House’s new climate data initiative, and find a link to a full documentary on rising sea levels. That’s from South Florida’s WPBT, and it’s on our Web site.

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    FED WATCH monitor yellin fed reserve

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    GWEN IFILL: Janet Yellen held her first news conference today as the new chair of the Federal Reserve, and she immediately weighed in on a few key questions. Among them, when will interest rates rise?

    In December 2012, Fed officials said they would keep short-term interest rates near zero until unemployment dipped to 6.5 percent. But now, as that rate has neared that level, the job market has still not fully recovered.

    Today, Yellen explained why she has decided to rely on other measures beyond the jobless rate.

    JANET YELLEN, Chair, Federal Reserve: It’s becoming, as the unemployment rate gets closer and closer to 6.5 percent, to breaching that threshold that seems like the one that is likely to be breached.

    The question is, markets want to know, the public wants to understand beyond that threshold, how will we decide what to do? But in assessing the real estate of slack in the market and ultimately of inflationary pressures that might — or deflationary pressures that could result from that, it’s appropriate to look at many more things.

    GWEN IFILL: Yellen, who the Fed’s vice chair under Ben Bernanke, was also asked how her role was changed.

    JANET YELLEN: In many ways, I feel the buck stops with me in terms of management of the FOMC and responsibility to assure that the Federal Reserve makes progress on its goals of getting the economy back on track and making progress on our financial stability and regulation objectives.

    GWEN IFILL: To help us assess the day’s developments at the Fed, I am joined by David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

    David, welcome back.

    DAVID WESSEL, The Brookings Institution: Thank you.

    GWEN IFILL: So, the news that she made today was that this tapering that we keep waiting to see whether the Fed is going to end, this support that the Fed has been providing to the economy was going to continue.

    DAVID WESSEL: She said, as has been expected, that the Fed will continue to reduce the size of its monthly bond buying.

    But I think the more focus on what she said about what will happen when in terms of raising interest rates.

    GWEN IFILL: What did she say?

    DAVID WESSEL: Well, the Fed had said, as you pointed out, that they would keep rates low well beyond the point where unemployment gets to 6.5 percent.

    We’re almost there, so they had to change their promises. And she had a long list of things that they are going to look at. And the bottom line was, we’re going to keep interest rates low for a very long time, probably well into 2015, and we’re going to raise them when we raise them very, very slowly, because the economy has been so weak.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, there was some disagreement about when that would actually be.

    DAVID WESSEL: Yes, I think what happened was, she was trying to be vague. The Federal Reserve…


    GWEN IFILL: That never happens at press conference.

    DAVID WESSEL: But she made a mistake and she got a little specific.


    DAVID WESSEL: She said they would keep rates near zero for a considerable period after they stopped buying bonds. That’s what the statement said, and I think that was meant to be vague.

    Some reporter said, what do you mean considerable period? She said, oh, six months or something like that, at which point the market did the arithmetic and said, oh, my God, they’re going to raise rates in March 2015, and the stock market plunged.

    If you look at the forecast of the individual members of the FOMC, she called it dot plot in their quarterly statement, you can see that most of them expect rates to go up some time in 2015.

    GWEN IFILL: But she couldn’t — she wasn’t supposed to say that?

    DAVID WESSEL: I think she was meant to be very careful to be contingent, to say we are on a plan to keep rates low for a long time, providing the economy behaves as we expect. The charts showed you about 2015. I think the six months was little more specific.

    GWEN IFILL: Why is unemployment not an effective yardstick anymore for deciding when the Fed should act?

    DAVID WESSEL: Because the unemployment rate looks better than the job market is because so many people have dropped out of the work force.

    If you’re not looking for work, you’re not counted as officially unemployed. And she noted, for instance, that 5 percent of the people in the work force are working part-time, but they wished they had full-time jobs. So they’re employed, but not full-time, and she said that was very high and a big concern of hers.

    GWEN IFILL: When we think about the Fed and the kinds of actions they take, we think very much about numbers, and about which number goes where, and how many months, and what the interest rate is, but it seems like it also, especially in terms of interpretation at moments like this, more about nuance than about numbers.

    DAVID WESSEL: Absolutely. And the markets do numbers, not nuance.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    DAVID WESSEL: So she has a difficult time.

    She’s trying to communicate to the markets, we’re going to keep rates low for a long time. We think that if the economy behaves as we expect, that we will probably begin raising them in 2015. We have a lot of disagreement about how fast we’re going to raise them, and everything could change if the economy does poorly or, as she pointed out, if inflation continues to be surprisingly low, which she mentioned several times.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, as you know, we watched very carefully these changes in command over at the Fed. She was Ben Bernanke’s deputy. The question is whether there’s going to be any big change. How is she different from him?

    DAVID WESSEL: I don’t think there will be any big change in policy. I think what has happened, it’s like we had a Broadway show and we had a leading man who was the actor on the successful Broadway show for eight years. He has left the production, and this was the debut of his replacement, an actress…

    GWEN IFILL: The understudy.

    DAVID WESSEL: Yes, the understudy.

    And you never quite know how she’s going to do with the spotlight on her. So I think there will be differences in style, but I don’t think there will be differences in policy. And I think she handled the debut pretty well. Except for that one little slip, I think it was pretty well done. GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you.

    You have covered the Fed. You have covered — I don’t think there were press conferences before Ben Bernanke took over.

    DAVID WESSEL: Right.

    GWEN IFILL: But you have watched this sort of rollout before. How did she handle that and what kind of first impressions did she leave?

    DAVID WESSEL: I think she was very comfortable answering questions. She seemed nervous to me when she was reading this interminably long statement. Everybody wanted to get to the statement.

    She fielded the questions well. She gave very long answers. I don’t know whether that was a tactic, because you give longer answers, you get fewer questions. I have seen the president, President Obama do that to you.

    GWEN IFILL: Do the same thing.

    DAVID WESSEL: Right. I think she used a little more economic jargon than Mr. Bernanke did. And I suspect she will work on that.

    But, all in all, I give her a very high mark for a debut for which there was a lot of pressure.

    GWEN IFILL: David Wessel, now of the Brookings Institution, and still writing a column for The Wall Street Journal, thanks for helping us out.

    DAVID WESSEL: You’re welcome.

    The post Despite dip in unemployment, Yellen says Fed will hold low short-term interest rates for now appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, there’s the so-called silent generation, the boomers, Generation X, and most recently the millennials. Each has left, and is leaving, an imprint unique to their times.

    But now we know more about the ways the youngest adults differ from and clash with their parents and grandparents. That’s the focus of the new book “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown” by Paul Taylor, the executive vice president of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

    I talked with him recently.

    Paul Taylor, it’s great to have you back on the program.

    PAUL TAYLOR, Pew Research Center: What a pleasure. What a pleasure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s talk about this. The looming showdown, what do you mean by that? And, as you talk, I want our audience to look at how we break down those age groups just to remind everybody.

    But what do you mean by looming generational showdown?

    PAUL TAYLOR: Well, there is a book about demographic change and its generational equity.

    The country has gone through two massive demographic changes simultaneously. We’re becoming a majority non-white nation. In 1960, we were 85 percent white. By 2060, we will be 42 percent white. At the same time, we’re going gray; 10,000 baby boomers a day, today, turned 65. Another 10,000 tomorrow will turn 65. This continues every single day until 2030, at which point we have doubled the number of people on Social Security and Medicare and those systems don’t work anymore.

    So what this book does is look at those changes and it looks at the potential generational conflicts they set up, because young and old today, because of these changes, don’t look alike, they don’t think alike and they don’t vote alike. And we are going to have to figure out how to rebalance our social safety net to make it work in the 21st century with a lot of political differences between young and old.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And big challenges.

    And, again, I just want to remind everybody what those age groups are, the millennials 18-33 years old today, Gen X 34-39 today, the boomers 50 — the big group — 50-68, and the silent, 69-86.

    But let’s talk about the politics. You mentioned they have very different views. You found — and, again, I did some reporting on this a number of years ago and it’s interesting how many of the things we saw then remained true for this millennial generation. They think of themselves, more of them, as independents than any generation at their age.

    PAUL TAYLOR: One of the things we found fascinating is that they are not anchored to some of the traditional institutions of society.

    They’re politically independent at the highest levels we have ever measured. Fifty percent say, I’m an independent.


    PAUL TAYLOR: They’re unaffiliated with religion, again highest levels we have measured. About three in 10 say, I have no religious affiliation.

    And they’re not getting married. One in four today of the 18-to-32-year-olds are married. That’s about half the number of their parents’ generation when they were the same age. The fact that they’re politically independent doesn’t mean that they don’t have strong political views. They do. They have now been in the election — in the electorate for two or three national election cycles, and they have come in as the mostly strong Democratic voting cohort in the 40 or 50 years that we have been measuring these things.

    So they’re socially liberal. They’re politically liberal. They believe in an active government. They just don’t like the idea of attaching themselves to big organizations. They attach themselves instead to their friends through social networking sites. That’s the way they organize their lives.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it is interesting, because, as you say, when you add the millennials who identify themselves as Democrats, and you add leaners, you get about 50 percent of this age group.

    PAUL TAYLOR: That’s right. No, there’s no mistaking them as a distinctive liberal cohort, just not affiliated to parties and other institutions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One other thing — and there is so much to talk about from this book, Paul Taylor, but a little bit of a contradiction here. You start out talking about how this may be the generation, first one in our memory, younger generation, who may grow up to be not as well-off as their parents.

    On the other hand, this is an optimistic generation.

    PAUL TAYLOR: Very optimistic.

    And maybe that’s just the timeless optimism of youth, but the economic circumstances are very striking for this generation. And it’s — quite frankly, it’s one of the other reasons why so few are getting married, even though they’re now well into their 20s and early 30s. We asked them, do you want to get married? Do you value marriage? And most millennials say yes.

    Well, why haven’t you gotten married yet? And the most common response is I don’t have the economic foundation to be a good provider.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of them are living at home.

    PAUL TAYLOR: And a lot of them are still living with mom and dad, because that turns out to be a good place to go when you can’t find a job and you can’t make ends meet.

    But of all the economic indicators that we track, whether it’s poverty rates, whether it’s employment, whether it’s unemployment, whether it’s wealth, today’s millennials are doing worse than the Xers or the boomers were doing at the same stage of the life cycle. And this is new.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So how do you explain this view that 49 percent, half of them are upbeat about America’s future?

    PAUL TAYLOR: Most young adults are — they’re not only upbeat, by the way, about America’s future. They’re upbeat about their own future.

    We ask the question of adults of all ages, do you have enough money now or do you think you will eventually have enough money to live the life you want to lead? And 85 percent of millennials say, eventually, yes, it’s all going to work out fine. And then we ask about the country’s future. Millennials are upbeat.

    If you go back to the boomers, who had their complaints about the America of the ’60s and ’70s, they were much less upbeat in their youth about the future of the country. I think this is something distinctive about this generation. They know they have been dealt a lousy hand in terms of the economy.

    The 32-year-olds who today — think about when they got out of school, and think about the economy they have faced over the last six or seven years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Financial collapse.

    PAUL TAYLOR: The ones who didn’t go beyond high school have had a terrible time. The ones who did it right and went to college are saddled with this enormous student debt that’s an albatross to them getting started.

    Yet, I don’t know whether it’s the way they were raised. There’s been very nurturing parental norms that brought them up. I don’t know whether it’s the sense of empowerment that comes from being digital natives, comes from organizing your lives around the technology that allows you to sort of place yourself at the center of the network that you have created. It’s empowering. But they believe in the future. They think it’s going to work out all right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: They have got a lot of years for us to try to figure it out. They are a fascinating generation.

    Paul Taylor with Pew Research Center, thank you.

    PAUL TAYLOR: Thanks, Judy. Thank you very much.

    The post How the values, uphill optimism of the Millennials compare to older generations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    miro  monitor

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    GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: The Spanish artist Joan Miro was one of the most renowned painters of the 20th century.

    Jeffrey Brown takes us to an exhibition that offers the chance to see the artist in a new light.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A recent evening at the Seattle Art Museum, and visitors are puzzling over an assortment of cast-off items, a bent garden rake, a headless doll, a flattened straw basket, all assembled into sculptural creatures by the Spanish artist Joan Miro, who once said he wanted to create a phantasmagoric world of living monsters.

    Curator Catharina Manchanda says, if they are monsters, they are at least playful ones.

    CATHARINA MANCHANDA, Seattle Art Museum: This sculpture really resonates with me. I don’t know what it is, but it kind of captures both something so light-hearted, but also it has a certain gravitas, which is, of course, reflected in the title. It’s called “The Warrior King.”

    JEFFREY BROWN: “The Warrior King,” yes, but with a spoon in his hand. Right?

    CATHARINA MANCHANDA: Yes, he is brandishing a cooking spoon, instead of a sword here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What is that? Do you know?

    CATHARINA MANCHANDA: It might be an embroidery hoop, so an object that comes from the home, and perhaps more feminine and domestic. There is something both very strong, but also fragile there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The 60 works here, from the last two decades of Miro’s long life, after he was already famous, are from the collection of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, and none have ever been shown in the U.S.

    Paintings feature symbols and figures, as in the large-scale “Women and Bird in the Night.”

    CATHARINA MANCHANDA: This may look completely abstract to you when you first look at it, all these primary colors on this white background. But what we actually have is a bird perched in some kind of landscape and a crescent moon, that blue shape right above it. They all stand for an imaginary universe.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A new element of late Miro is the interplay between painting and sculpture. In “Woman, Bird and Star,” Manchanda says, you can see Miro’s use of shapes and collage, and then compare how similar techniques show up in the nearby sculpture titled “Figure.”

    So walk me through this, fondue forks, some kind of gourd-like vegetable. What else?

    CATHARINA MANCHANDA: Well, I have a whole tree trunk here. Also, you can see over here these little arms here. You can really see each and every object in its various colors and materials.

    And then — and this is really the important second step — he casts them in bronze. And what you get as a result is that all these disparate elements become unified. It’s almost like the memory of these objects.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The memory of the objects, you think that is the way he thought about it?

    CATHARINA MANCHANDA: That’s how I think about it, yes. Yes. Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes.

    Miro collected the objects from a variety of sources, often finding things washed up on the beaches near his home in Mallorca.

    Biographer Jacques Dupin wrote that Miro would come back from walks — quote — “laden down like a packhorse with all sorts of things, valueless, obsolete, but capable, in his eyes, of metamorphoses.”

    All the works in this exhibition, in fact, were created when Miro was in his 70s and 80s. This is a portrait of the artist as an older man.

    CATHARINA MANCHANDA: He was internationally celebrated. He had retrospectives, awards, every recognition. He could have just been content with what he had accomplished up to that point. But he kept saying: I have to keep moving forward.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Did he slow down? Were there any signs of diminishing?

    CATHARINA MANCHANDA: Well, you would think that work like this would have been physically quite demanding. I mean, here you are at age 88 and he is still building all these different objects, some of them larger in scale.

    But I don’t see any indication that he was slowing down. And what’s even more amazing is, it’s not like he was going back and repeating things. He really keeps pushing the boundaries all the way to the end.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Miro died in 1983 at the age of 90. This exhibition of his final works will remain in Seattle through May, and then travel to the Nasher Art Museum in North Carolina.

    The post Late works by Joan Miro show famed creator practicing art of metamorphosis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk.

    The Japanese practice of dolphin hunting is again under criticism, with an ex-hunter calling the practice inhumane. Photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk.

    The annual Japanese dolphin slaughter in Taiji Cove that has drawn international ire, has yet another detractor.

    Izumi Ishii, an ex-dolphin hunter, has gone on record contradicting the Japanese government’s claims that the practice is a century-old tradition, but instead had originated as late as 1969.

    Ishii told The Japan Times on Monday that mentors taught him and other fishermen in Futo, Japan, how to round up and kill massive amounts of dolphins in 1969 by herding them into the notorious Taiji Cove. He believes that was the first time the practice was conducted in Japan.

    Ric O’Barry, a dolphin rights activist and former dolphin trainer of Flipper — the aquatic star of the 1963 feature film of the same name — joins Ishii in his criticism. O’Barry is a staunch defender of dolphins and has released scores of the captured creatures. He brought international attention to the slaughters in Taiji Cove when he starred in the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove,” a film that horrified viewers and rallied international pressure for Japan to stop the practice of dolphin hunting.

    In Taiji, fishermen insert long metal poles into the water, banging the rods to create loud metallic noises that confuse the dolphin’s unique sense of sonar navigation. The dolphins are subsequently herded into the shallow cove where fishermen kill them by the hundreds, saving some to sell into captivity, while butchering the dead to sell their meat. Ishii said he found the dolphins to be incredibly docile and intelligent animals that refused to bite at the fishermen even as they were being slaughtered. He said the resulting moral conflict caused him to give up the practice, and hopes that by submitting a massive signature campaign to the Fishery Agency, he can persuade the Japanese government to end their practices.

    In January, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy criticized the annual dolphin drive hunt in a tweet, saying she was “deeply concerned by the inhumaneness of the drive hunt dolphin killing.”

    Despite international condemnation of the slaughters, Japan’s government has vehemently defended the practice, and has contradicted Ishii’s statements.

    “Dolphin fishing is one of traditional fishing forms of our country and is carried out appropriately in accordance with the law,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. “Dolphin is not covered by the International Whaling Commission control and it’s controlled under responsibility of each country.”

    Ishii’s criticism will likely serve to escalate foreign pressures to stop the slaughters. A petition on the website Take Part currently has over 600,000 signatures for Japanese government to end the Taiji drive hunts.

    The post Ex-dolphin hunter contradicts Japanese government’s claim that dolphin slaughter is ‘century-old tradition’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Marijuana for saie in a coffeeshop in the Netherlands.

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: When you first visit Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops (that’s what all the marijuana shops here are called), the thing you notice is how normal it all seems.

    It’s not unlike a quiet café or Starbucks in the U.S.: people, mostly foreign tourists, sitting around, sipping coffee, all the while openly smoking the marijuana they bought right there in the shop.  What could easily get you arrested in most American cities, here, it’s just fine.

    MICHAEL VELING: And of course Americans, they love the potent weed.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Michael Veling owns and runs two coffee shops in Amsterdam.  He was one of the original entrepreneurs back in the 1970s when the Netherlands first began allowing the sale of cannabis.

    MICHAEL VELING: And this has been going on for more than 40 years now and nobody gives a real shit.  And it hasn’t brought this country down.  I mean, what’s the fuss all about? 

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  So you might think that buying, selling, smoking and growing small amounts of marijuana is perfectly legal… Well, it’s not.  Tolerance is the key word here. The government tolerates all these activities, and you won’t be arrested or fined or hassled.  The government licenses coffee shops to sell marijuana as long as they follow a strict set of rules:  no one under 18 is allowed to buy (or even set foot in the door)   no advertising (that’s partly why they’re called ‘coffee shops’ and not ‘cannabis shops.’) no alcohol or hard drugs. Customers can buy a maximum of 5 grams of marijuana at a time – that’s about half a cup.   You can take it home, or smoke it in the café. (This is one thing you won’t see in Colorado or Washington – on site smoking)

    So… if the United States is heading down this road of allowing recreational use of marijuana, what is the potential harm?

    FRANZ TRAUTMANN: We have a drug which is relatively harmless.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Franz Trautmann is a lead researcher at The Trimbos Institute – the Netherlands’ top government-run research group on mental health and addiction. For years he’s been evaluating the effects of different national drug policies.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What about the larger argument that many people in the U.S. feel that when the government does step forward and say, “We’re going to allow the sale of cannabis for recreational use,” that that is a terrible message to young people?

    FRANZ TRAUTMANN:  Well, it is a– let’s say, it’s a less terrible message than to say, “We keep alcohol legal and we keep tobacco legal.”  In fact, I’d say alcohol and tobacco; they really cause, in the long run, irreversible health damage. Can be brain damage, liver damage, lung damage. With cannabis, we don’t have overdoses.  We don’t have liver cirrhosis.  We don’t have lung cancer.  We have a drug which is relatively harmless.  It is harmful, partly, but it is relatively harmful—harmless.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Scientists with the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the U.S. point out that marijuana can be damaging:  they estimate that about 9 percent of people who use it will become addicted to it… its harms can be especially pronounced for kids, pregnant women, and those with the potential for mental illness.  But in the Netherlands at least, two of the other big public health fears about loosening marijuana laws haven’t come to pass:

    First – according to European Union data, forty years of coffee shops haven’t coincided with a rise in the use of hard drugs like cocaine or heroin.  This is the fear of what’s called the ‘gateway effect’ – where critics argue marijuana users are more likely to move on to harder drugs.

    Second, according to the U.N. (among others), Dutch policy hasn’t turned the Dutch into a nation of potheads, either. Only about 6 percent of people in the Netherlands report using marijuana, compared with about 9 percent in France, 11 percent in Spain, and about 15 percent in the U.S.

    FRANZ TRAUTMANN: In the Netherlands, if it comes to prevalence of cannabis use in the population, we are not the highest.  France is much higher.  Spain is much higher.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Places that have no coffee shops–

    FRANZ TRAUTMANN: –and which are fully repressive also on the user.  I mean, Spain is changing now, but France has been always very repressive.  So you have there higher prevalences than here.  So making it easily accessible doesn’t mean that you get an enormously high prevalence.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Of course, it’s not clear if Americans’ drug use will match the Netherlands – the two countries are different in so many ways:  in size, in culture, in demographics.

    And there are aspects of Dutch policy that are causing significant problems … and those problems have prompted a vigorous debate among citizens and politicians alike in the Netherlands about how their coffee shop system should evolve.

    Here’s one example:  even though you’re allowed to walk into a coffee shop and buy pot…  no one is allowed to grow large amounts, or sell pot to those coffee shops.  Just listen to coffee shop owner Michael Veling describe this:

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I see over here you have a menu where people can come and make a selection from a variety of different choices of things that you sell.  Where do you get that from?

    MICHAEL VELING: I don’t know.  That is the great mystery of the Dutch system.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So you just wake up in the morning and there’s a little delivery that magically appears?

    MICHAEL VELING: Magically, for certain.  But officially and also unofficially, I do not have suppliers.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  The Dutch say they always intended to address this bizarre gap in the law… which exists because when the coffee shops were first introduced back in the 70s, there was such widespread criticism from America and from Europe that the Dutch say they were pressured to not go further and regulate their supply chain as well.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So the person who ‘magically’ delivers your supply to your shop, he’s breaking the law?

    MICHAEL VELING: Oh, definitely.  And he– if he’s arrested, he’ll go to jail.

    ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER: I started as a grower….

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Veling put us in touch with his supplier, who agreed to talk with us as long as we didn’t reveal his identity, or even use his real voice.  He told us he imports some of his marijuana from abroad, but much of it he says is grown domestically in the Netherlands by a network of home-growers — housewives, lawyers and the like.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you ever worry that, even though this is considered a fairly tolerant society, that you might be prosecuted for what you do?

    ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER: That’s a possibility.  Yes, every day.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Every day?  Doesn’t that get stressful after a while?

    ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER: No, you get used to it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  This decision not to regulate the supply chain causes several problems: not only do the Dutch lose their chance to tax that side of the business, but more importantly: it’s allowed an illegal export market to flourish.   A senior police official estimated that 80 percent of the pot grown in the Netherlands gets sent abroad and ends up on the black market.

    Another Dutch official said: “We now function as a supplier of drugs for the rest of Europe…we never intended to become one of the major exporters of cannabis to the world.”

    Officials in ten major Dutch cities have appealed to the government to finally fix this gap in the law, but nothing’s happened.

    Back in the U.S., Colorado and Washington are regulating the entire pot market – how it’s grown, processed, sold and taxed.  Their rules were designed to protect consumers, and to ensure none of that legal pot ends up on the illegal market.  The irony here of course is that the U.S. – which used to criticize Dutch policy – now has two states implementing even more comprehensive policies than the Dutch ever have.

    Back in the Netherlands, the Dutch have continued to refine their policy.

    They’ve stepped up enforcement of coffee shops. Back in the late 90s, there was a concern about too much leniency towards them so stricter rules were written, and violators closed down.  No new licenses have been issued in almost 20 years.

    The Dutch are also tackling the rising potency of pot – (something both Colorado and Washington want to do as well).  Dutch scientists regularly test coffee shop marijuana, and anything over a certain level is considered a hard drug and forbidden for sale.

    The Dutch have also had a big national debate about whether ‘drug tourism’ needs to be reined in.

    In the small city of Maastricht, which sits on the Netherlands’ southern border with Belgium and Germany, city officials saw an alarming number of foreign visitors crossing into their town with just one destination in mind.

    Onno Hoes is the mayor of Maastricht.

    ONNO HOES: In the past we had more than two million foreign visitors of the coffee shops.  And you can say of course that’s good for the economy, because when they are here they spend also money to other things.  But the knowledge is they don’t go to other shops.  They don’t go to hotels or restaurants.  They just enter the country, buy it, smoke it in the shop, in the car, go back to the shop for a second part and then go back home.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  For a city of just 120,000 residents – and one whose streets were laid out back  in the Middle Ages – two million visitors snarled traffic and caused a headache for local residents.

    Other border-town mayors voiced similar complaints, and so two years ago, new national rules went into effect banning anyone who’s not a legal Dutch resident from buying in the coffee shops.  No more tourists allowed.

    The new rules exposed some sharp divisions in the country.  Amsterdam (along with other big, northern cities) said it would never comply with the ban on foreigners.  (It can handle crowds better, plus tourists bring in hundreds of millions in revenue) but Maastricht and other mostly southern border towns welcomed the ban and did comply.

    Subsequently, six of Maastricht’s fourteen coffee shops closed down (some for breaking the rules and selling to tourists… several said they just didn’t have enough customers anymore).  By all accounts, the streets are much quieter now, but there was a downside: street drug sales spiked.

    ONNO HOES:  I’m very satisfied with the fact that the foreign people aren’t welcome any more in Maasrticht.  So we need a certain period of course to get a new balance. And, again, it’s much safer– much healthier in the city of Maastricht now.  And it’s much more place for the city to develop in an economic way.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  For his part, Amsterdam coffee shop owner Michael Veling hopes that the U.S. doesn’t continue its rapid path towards legalization… he’s worried that might encourage other countries – including his – to follow suit.

    Veling says the Netherlands’ odd, quasi-legal, patchwork system serves to keep the price of pot high – and the number of competing coffee shops low – which this one businessman does not want to see changed.

    MICHAEL VELING: I’m fearing American policy makers because when cannabis is legalized in this country, I lose my business.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Why is that?

    MICHAEL VELING: Well, because it’s a legal product.  So the margins and everything will change dramatically–

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meaning if everyone can sell it, prices are going to go down, your profits go down–

    MICHAEL VELING: Yes.  Of course.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Economics.

    MICHAEL VELING: Simple economics.

    The post What can the Dutch teach the U.S. about selling pot? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The founder of Westboro Baptist Church — an independent Baptist church known for anti-gay protests and picketing military funerals — has died. Daughter Margie Phelps told The Associated Press that Fred Phelps died shortly after midnight Thursday. He was 84 years old.

    Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., was made up almost entirely of Phelps’ extended family. Throughout his life he led the small congregation in believing that deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan were God’s punishment for tolerance of homosexuality. The church took this belief across the country, protesting military funerals in more than 40 states.

    In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phelps and his church in a major free-speech ruling. The case, Synder vs. Phelps, was filed by the family of Matthew Snyder, a fallen soldier whose funeral was picketed by Phelps and his daughters. Snyder sued Phelps for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church were protected by their First Amendment rights.

    After the Supreme Court victory, their activities have since inspired a federal law on funeral picketing as well as additional laws in more than 40 states.

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    Jeffrey Brown, Maung Hla Thaung (center) and Ko Ko Gyi talk of politics, prison and late-blooming love. Photo by Mary Jo Brooks/PBS NewsHour

    Maung Hla Thaung (center) and Ko Ko Gyi talk of politics, prison and late-blooming love. Photo by Mary Jo Brooks/PBS NewsHour

    Chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown is writing from Myanmar (formerly Burma) as part of a new series, “Culture at Risk.” Learn more about why Jeff is there in his reflection, “Is culture at risk in Myanmar?

    “I am a woodworker and designer,” Maung Hla Thaung tells us. “But I like to say I’m a ‘cabinet maker.’”

    He lets out one of his big laughs and sees we understand the double meaning he intends. Over breakfast we’ve been talking about the political situation in Myanmar today and his work as a longtime opponent of the military regime. This is a man building furniture and, he hopes, political change.

    We’re joined by Ko Ko Gyi, a leader of what’s known here as the ’88 generation — students who took to the streets in 1988 in protest against the dictatorship. It would end in a brutal crackdown of arrests and new repression. For Ko Ko Gyi it led to 18 years in prison: three separate stints, the last one ending only in 2012. He relates his story with a sense of ease, without rancor, almost casually.

    I ask how it began. He was a young student, he says. He studied international relations and dreamed of being a diplomat. But he and his friends wanted the freedom to think and speak. Most of them, he says, ended up in prison or exile.

    At this point Maung Hla Thaung speaks up: Ko Ko Gyi has been a political activist forever, he says. “I was one for about 15 minutes.” Again, the laugh.

    He tells us of his accidental life in opposition. Before 1988, he says, he was an engineering student and not especially political. But he went along with friends to a demonstration and, seeing people watching from their houses, started shouting out, “Don’t be afraid, it’s OK.”

    “I always had the loudest voice,” he says now. And suddenly people were looking at him — who is this guy? — and listening to him. At a large gathering, he says, someone pushed him forward to make a speech — the first in his life — and there he was, somehow a political leader.

    Today, Maung Hla Thaung, in addition to his woodworking business, works for HOPE International Development Agency, focusing on the plight of ethnic minorities in the country. Ko Ko Gyi is secretary of the ’88 Generation organization, which continues to promote a “free and open society.” They remain wary of the political reform process underway here, seeing much done and said for the benefit of the international community — to help end sanctions and bring in more investments — but little in the way of real reform of the system.

    These are the questions very much in play here: How far will democratic reform go? Will the military truly give up power? Or are the generals, having “put on civilian suits,” ready to put their uniforms back on at the first sign of losing power?

    For the moment, though, there are other matters to attend to. As we prepare to depart, Ko Ko Gyi tells us that in several days he is getting married. (This brings one more belly laugh from Maung Hla Thaung — “So this time you’re getting a life sentence”!) The 51-year-old Ko Ko Gyi, clearly a man of dignity and purpose, is also not above a good laugh. “My fiancé is 20 years younger than I am”, he says. “But I don’t count my years in prison. So we are really very close in age.”

    The post Breakfast with the ‘cabinet maker’: Building political change in Myanmar appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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