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

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    Maj. Gen. James F. Martin Jr. and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James provide updates on the Malmstrom Air Force Base test compromise investigation findings to the Pentagon Press CorpsThursday. Photo by Scott M. Ash/U.S. Air Force

    Maj. Gen. James F. Martin Jr. and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James provide updates on the Malmstrom Air Force Base test compromise investigation findings to the Pentagon Press CorpsThursday. Photo by Scott M. Ash/U.S. Air Force

    WASHINGTON — Investigators dubbed them “the librarians,” four Air Force nuclear missile launch officers at the center of a still-unfolding scandal over cheating on proficiency tests.

    “They tended to be at the hub” of illicit exchanges of test information, said Adam Lowther, one of seven investigators who dug into details of cheating that has embarrassed the Air Force and on Thursday brought down virtually the entire operational command of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

    At least 82 missile launch officers face disciplinary action, but it was the four “librarians” who allegedly facilitated the cheating, in part by transmitting test answers via text message. One text included a photo of a classified test answer, according to Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, who announced the probe’s findings Thursday.

    Wilson said the four junior officers were at “the crux of it,” and that three of the four also are accused of illegal drug activity. The rest of the accused either participated in cheating or were aware of it but failed to blow the whistle, Wilson said.

    Lowther said the investigation team examined evidence from cellphones allegedly used to transmit the offending text messages but was unable to interview the accused because all four obtained legal counsel at the outset of the probe.

    In response to the scandal, the Air Force fired nine midlevel commanders at Malmstrom and announced it will pursue a range of disciplinary action against the accused 82, possibly to include courts-martial. A 10th commander, the senior officer at the base, resigned and will retire from the Air Force.

    Air Force officials called the discipline unprecedented in the history of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. The Associated Press last year revealed a series of security and other problems in the ICBM force, including a failed safety and security inspection at Malmstrom, where the exam cheating occurred.

    Lowther said the investigation team interviewed missile launch officers and others at the Air Force’s two other ICBM bases and found no indication of cheating there.

    “Folks clearly crossed the line at Malmstrom,” Lowther said in a telephone interview. He is a faculty member at the Air Force Research Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

    The investigators found what Lowther described as “a persistent cultural problem” inside the ICBM force — a perception among the crews “that you don’t want to be there,” in part because of a sense that the mission is not highly valued.

    In an emotion-charged resignation letter titled “A Lesson to Remember,” Col. Robert Stanley, who commanded the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, lamented that the reputation of the ICBM mission was now “tarnished because of the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man.”

    Stanley, seen as a rising star in the Air Force, had been nominated for promotion to brigadier general just days before the cheating scandal came to light in January. Instead he is retiring, convinced, as he wrote in his farewell letter Thursday, that “we let the American people down on my watch.”

    Separately, another of the Air Force’s nuclear missile units — the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. – announced that it had fired the officer overseeing its missile squadrons. It said Col. Donald Holloway, the operations group commander, was sacked “because of a loss of confidence in his ability to lead.”

    The 90th Missile Wing offered no further explanation for Holloway’s removal and said it “has nothing to do” with the firings announced by the Air Force in Washington.

    Together, the extraordinary moves reflect turmoil in a force that remains central to American defense strategy but in some ways has been neglected. The force of 450 Minuteman 3 missiles is primed to unleash nuclear devastation on a moment’s notice, capable of obliterating people and places halfway around the globe.

    In a bid to correct root causes of the missile corps’ failings — including low morale and weak management – the Air Force also announced Thursday a series of new or expanded programs to improve leadership development, to modernize the three ICBM bases and to reinforce “core values,” including integrity.

    Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service’s top civilian official, told a Pentagon news conference that a thorough review of how testing and training are conducted in the ICBM force has produced numerous avenues for improvements.

    “We will be changing rather dramatically how we conduct testing and training going forward,” while ensuring that performance standards are kept high, James said. More funds will be invested in refurbishing the underground ICBM launch control centers and making other infrastructure improvements, she added.

    Wilson, head of all Air Force nuclear forces as commander of Global Strike Command, said the changes in training and testing will be far-reaching.

    “We’re not just putting a fresh coat of paint on these problems,” he said. “We’re taking bold action.”

    James had promised to hold officers at Malmstrom accountable once the cheating investigation was completed and the scope of the scandal was clear. None of the nine fired commanders was directly involved in the cheating, but each was determined to have failed in his or her leadership responsibilities.

    Wilson said investigators determined that the cheating, which officials originally said happened in August or September last year, began as early as November 2011 and continued until November 2013.

    A total of 100 missile launch crew members were identified as potentially involved in the cheating, but nine were cleared by investigators. Another nine of the 100 are being handled separately by the Air Force Office of Special Investigation; eight of those nine involve possible criminal charges stemming from the alleged mishandling of classified information.

    The cheating involved unauthorized passing of answers to exams designed to test missile launch officers’ proficiency in handling “emergency war orders,” which are messages involving the targeting and launching of missiles.

    Nine key commanders below Stanley were fired, including the commanders of the 341st Wing’s three missile squadrons, each of which is responsible for 50 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles.

    Also sacked were the commander and deputy commander of the 341st Operations Group, which oversees all three missile squadrons as well as a helicopter unit and a support squadron responsible for administering monthly proficiency tests to Malmstrom’s launch crews and evaluating their performance.

    No generals are being punished. Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was fired in October as commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for all three 150-missile wings of the ICBM force, is still on duty as a staff officer at Air Force Space Command but has requested retirement; his request is being reviewed.

    Carey was fired after a military investigation determined that he had engaged in inappropriate behavior while leading a U.S. government delegation to a nuclear security exercise in Russia last summer. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein.

    The cheating at Malmstrom was discovered in early January during the course of an unrelated drug investigation that included two launch officers at Malmstrom and others at several other bases. The drug probe is continuing.

    The post Four ‘librarians’ at core of nuclear cheating ring appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Same-sex couples hug after getting married in a group ceremony at the Oakland County Courthouse March 22, 2014, in Pontiac, Mich. On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. will recognize those marriages despite Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision not to grant those couples state benefits. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Same-sex couples hug after getting married in a group ceremony at the Oakland County Courthouse March 22, 2014, in Pontiac, Mich. On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. will recognize those marriages despite Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision not to grant the couples state benefits. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the federal government will recognize the 300 same-sex marriages that took place last week in Michigan, despite the stay that was placed on further ceremonies by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Saturday.

    Holder said in a statement that these Michigan couples will receive federal benefits.

    One week ago a federal judge in Detroit ruled that Michigan’s ban on gay marriages violated the U.S. Constitution, allowing hundreds of same-sex marriages to be performed in four counties the following day.

    But then Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Wednesday that although the marriages were legal, the state won’t extend marriage rights and benefits to those same-sex couples until further court rulings.

    Invoking a similar announcement he made in January for 1,000 same-sex couples in Utah, Holder explained that “these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled.”

    Michigan joins a growing list of states, including Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, that have overturned gay marriage bans since December.

    The post U.S. will recognize 300 same-sex marriages in Mich., Holder says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user Darwin Bell

    Bad weather in Mexico has caused the price of limes to surge in the U.S. Photo by Flickr user Darwin Bell

    On a sour note, Mexican restaurants in the U.S. are confronting a surge in lime prices that have forced some to make do without the essential ingredient on their menus.

    Bryan Black, director of communications for the Texas Department of Agriculture, pointed to heavy rains in Mexico that have destroyed a large amount of the lime crop. “With limited supplies we are seeing lime prices skyrocket,” he said Thursday.

    John Berry, who runs the Mexican restaurant La Fonda in San Antonio, told Reuters that the price he pays for a case of limes has jumped to nearly $100 from $14 last year.

    “Real simple,” Berry said. “We don’t buy them. We substitute lemons.”

    Most limes consumed in the U.S. come from the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Colima, and Guerrero, which have been hit by heavy rain and cold weather, according to the Reuters report.

    There have also been reports of shipments being disrupted by drug cartels. The Knight’s Templar cartel reportedly controls, through extortion, Michoacán’s lime and avocado production.

    The post Served with high lime prices, Mexican restaurants make lemonade appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The 6000th B-24 bomber is ready to fly at Willow Run Bomber Plant in 1944. Photo by Flickr user The Henry Ford

    The 6,000th B-24 bomber is shown at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in 1944. Photo by Flickr user The Henry Ford

    The World War II bomber plant in Michigan that gave birth to the icon Rosie the Riveter needs an infusion of cash to save the site from being demolished. “The Save the Bomber Plant campaign” has already raised $6.5 million, but needs another $1.5 million by May 1 to buy the old Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., west of Detroit. The group’s plan is to convert about 175,000 square feet of the enormous former factory into an aviation museum that also focuses on workplace diversity. During the war years, the factory employed 40,000 people, many of them women and minorities who’d been kept out of manufacturing jobs until the war began.

    A group of women rivet a B-24 in 1944. Photo by Flickr user The Henry Ford

    A group of women rivet a B-24 in 1944. Photo by Flickr user The Henry Ford

    Rosie the RiveterOne of its most famous workers was Kentucky native Rose Will Monroe. She moved to Michigan to work at Willow Run and it was there that Hollywood producers spotted her when they were casting the role of a “riveter” for a government film about the war effort at home. Monroe went on to star in the film and also in the government’s iconic “We Can Do It!” poster, showing Rosie the Riveter with her shirtsleeves rolled up.

    She came to represent thousands of women who joined the workforce to make munitions and weapons as the war raged overseas. At its peak, the Willow Run plant produced one B-24 Liberator bomber per hour. After the war ended, the factory went back to making automobiles for General Motors. It closed permanently in 2010 and portions of it have already been torn down.

    The post Birthplace of WWII icon ‘Rosie the Riveter’ at risk appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Angélique Kidjo reflects on African music and using song to create human connections.

    Grammy-winner Angélique Kidjo is out with a new album, “Eve,” and an autobiography, “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music.” With a preface by Desmond Tutu and the foreword by Alicia Keys, “Spirit Rising” shows something about her reach and twined humanitarian and musical interests.

    She’s touring now in the U.S. and continuing her efforts to empower African girls and others through her UNICEF ambassadorship, and through her own foundation in her native Benin. The album celebrates the range of musical partnerships she fosters: new and well-known guest musicians including Dr. John, Rostamm Btmanglij (Vampire Weekend), The Kronos Quartet and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg. In addition, remarkable singers and women’s choirs from several African villages in Benin and Kenya sing in a wide array of native Beninese languages including Fon, Yoruba, Goun and Mina.

    Angélique Kidjo

    Angélique Kidjo

    Kidjo’s accolades span 20 years and thousands of concerts around the world. TIME Magazine has called her Africa’s premier diva and London’s Daily Telegraph named her the undisputed Queen of African Music. Kidjo’s 2008 recording “Djin Djin” won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album and her last studio recording, “Oyo,” was nominated in the same category.

    “The voice is the mirror of your soul, and I want my soul to touch other people’s soul(s),” Kidjo told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown.

    They spoke before her recent performance at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, where she talked about her early passion for music: “At nine, I start singing in my brothers’ band, where my father would come and smuggle me to a club. It made me discover my city differently.” But she added, music was very much woven into everyday life too: “You don’t need to be doing a party to play music. I mean going on stage, doing a concert like I’m going to do is a western concept. Because when we were not doing (a concert), we just bring the drums out, we start singing, dancing and everybody knows the songs or they listen to it and jump in.”

    Watch Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Angélique Kidjo on Friday’s NewsHour. You can tune in our Ustream channel at 6 p.m. EST or check your local PBS listings.

    Video shot by Quinn Bowman and Rebecca Jacobson and edited by Victoria Fleischer.

    The post Angélique Kidjo’s voice reflects her soul appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    cows

    WASHINGTON — The White House has announced a wide-ranging plan aimed at cutting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling, landfills and other sources. The plan announced Friday is part of President Barack Obama’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

    The White House said the Environmental Protection Agency will study how methane is released during oil and gas drilling and decide by the end of the year whether to develop new regulations for methane emissions. If imposed, the regulations would be completed in 2016.

    Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas released by landfills, cattle and leaks from oil and natural gas production. Methane is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, the most abundant global warming gas, although it doesn’t stay in the air as long.

    The post White House looks to cut methane emissions in new plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Flickr user Pavel "KoraxDC" Kazachkov

    The success of sanctions against Russia depends on what they’re targeted against. Photo by Flickr user Pavel “KoraxDC” Kazachkov.

    A short post today about when economic sanctions work and when they don’t.

    Sanctions don’t work when:

  • They’re not targeted, as with Cuba. As we learned from prominent dissidents there more than a decade ago, the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba may have done more than almost anything else to keep the Communist regime in power by enabling it to use the embargo as an excuse for Cuba’s poor economic performance.

    Elizardo Sanchez, who had spent eight-and-a-half years in prison in Cuba and is still a prominent dissident there, was typical and unequivocal:

    I believe the embargo is the best ally the totalitarian government has, because it justifies its failures. When there’s no medicine, or transport, or food, everyone says, ‘it’s Washington’s fault.’ For that reason, when politicians in Washington try to lift the embargo, the [Cuban] government doesn’t help. The embargo serves the interests of the government here.

  • They’re targeted at the wrong things. Oil, for example. I’ve learned this from Yale economist William Nordhaus, who visualizes the world oil market as a giant bathtub. If there’s more production than demand, the bathtub fills. If there’s more demand than production, it drains. But sanctions like an oil embargo have no effect on the world’s demand for oil — in fact, they might even raise it, as buyers hoard it in anticipation of a shortage and speculators bid up its price accordingly.

    As for an effect on supply, it’s not obvious. As long as there’s sufficient demand, why not keep supplying? Some consumers — in China, say — will buy what you’ve got. And surely, as a producer, you want to sell it.

    So then, why impose sanctions at all? Which leads us to those instances in which sanctions do work.

    Sanctions do work when:

  • They’re targeted at the most vulnerable parts of an economy: at the financial system and the very rich. One of my staple insights into economics is that the word “credit” comes from the Latin verb credere: to believe. Money flows into those countries with high credibility and flows out when credibility wanes. If the inflow of money is curbed due to sanctions from major economies like ours, credibility wobbles and credit contracts accordingly. And when global money starts to leave, domestic money has an incentive to leave too: what’s called “capital flight.” Panic — by definition — is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    As for the rich, if they can’t operate easily in the global economy due to a freeze on their foreign assets, say, well — to the extent they have influence over government policy, they have reason to pressure it in ways that bring the embargo against them to an end.

    In evaluating sanctions against Russia, then, it would be wise to see if its oligarchs are being seriously targeted, especially in England, where so much of their money has gone in recent years (a large part of London’s remarkable boom). And I’ll be watching the extent to which the Russian banking system and stock market tremble. Oil sanctions? I could be wrong, but I won’t take them all that seriously.

    Fore more, The New Yorker’s John Cassidy has done a nice job of summarizing the sanctions debate in this piece from last year about sanctions against Iran.

    The post Sanctions against Russia: What will and won’t work appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user ATOMIC Hot Links

    Photo by Flickr user ATOMIC Hot Links

    After nearly eight years of lengthy court battles, it appears that a Malaysian woman mistakenly put on the federal government’s no-fly list will become the first person to be taken off of it.

    On Tuesday, a lawyer from the Justice Department said it would not appeal a federal judge’s decision to remove 46-year-old Rahinah Ibrahim from the terrorist watch list. The judge ruled the agency violated Ibarhim’s right to due process by putting her on the list without telling her why.

    The government admitted Ibrahim ended up on the list only after an FBI agent checked the wrong box on some paperwork.

    The announcement caps off a saga that began in 2005, when Ibrahim, then a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, was prevented from getting on a flight to Malaysia. She was then allowed to leave, only to have her U.S. visa revoked. At the time she was given no other explanation than that she had been put on the no-fly list, so she sued the Justice Department in 2006 to find out why.

    Shrin Sinnar, a professor at Stanford Law School who testified in the case, told Reuters that the ruling was the first time a judge has ordered the government to fix mistakes it has made in a case involving the no-fly list; something he says will now be the precedent.

    But critics of the program say Ibrahim’s story may be difficult to repeat. The American Civil Liberties Union recently released a scathing report on the program and said it is virtually impossible for those who say they have been wrong accused to find recourse:

    The ‘redress’ procedures the US government provides for those who have been wrongly or mistakenly included on a watchlist are wholly inadequate. Even after people know the government has placed them on a watchlist… the government’s official policy is to refuse to confirm or deny watchlist status. Nor is there any meaningful way to contest one’s designation as a potential terrorist and ensure that the US government… removes or corrects inadequate records. The result is that innocent people can languish on the watchlists indefinitely, without real recourse.

    For its part, the government has said the no-fly list prevents terrorist acts and that providing classified information in cases like Ibrahim’s could harm national security. “Even if the subjects have no terrorist intentions,” Attorney General Eric Holder wrote during the trial, “disclosure of the reasons they came under investigation may reveal sensitive intelligence information about them, their associates, or a particular threat that would harm other investigations.”

    The post First person successfully sues to be removed from the U.S. no-fly list appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video via euronews

    Twelve sheep and a sheepdog walk into the Louvre.

    If it sounds like the beginning of a joke, it’s not. In Paris Friday, French farmers protesting European Union agricultural policy herded a flock of sheep down the steps of the Louvre’s famous glass pyramid entrance and then into the museum itself. The protesters were from the Peasants’ Confederation and were fighting against subsidy cuts the EU is proposing that could hurt small farms.

    Officials at the Louvre said no one was arrested and no artwork was damaged during the protest.

    The post Flock of sheep aid French farmers’ protest at Louvre appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced at a news conference Friday that yet another member of his administration — his appointed head of the New Jersey Port Authority David Samson, who to this point Christie has strongly defended in the George Washington bridge scandal — is out.

    Christie contended that Samson, 74, resigned not because of wrongdoing but because he had been wanting to step down for a year. Christie said he asked him to stay on during his reelection.

    “The only reason he stayed is because I asked him to,” Christie said, adding, “I have every faith and trust in David’s integrity.”

    Samson’s resignation, however, comes a day after an internal Christie administration review was released showing Christie did not know of the lane closures before they happened. Despite the 350-page report, Samson was not interviewed for the review. Christie said that was because “there were issues of attorney-client privilege that would be compromised.”

    Christie said the bridge scandal would not affect his decision to run for president. But he acknowledged if he were to run for office now, he would be hampered by the scandal.

    “There’s no question that this shakes your confidence,” Christie acknowledged in a sometimes testy news conference. “And if it doesn’t shake your confidence, you’re arrogant.”

    The post Another top Christie administration official steps down appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    596px-2010-05-14-USCYBERCOM_LogoWASHINGTON – The Pentagon plans to more than triple its cybersecurity staff in the next few years to defend against Internet attacks that threaten national security, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.

    Hagel’s comments at the National Security Agency headquarters in suburban Washington come as he prepares to visit China next week, where officials are likely to challenge him amid reports of aggressive U.S. cyber spying.

    “The Department of Defense is on its way to building an elite, modern cyberforce,” Hagel said in a speech at the retirement of Gen. Keith Alexander as head of the U.S. Cyber Command and NSA. “This force is enhancing our ability to deter aggression in cyberspace, deny adversaries their objectives, and defend the nation from cyberattacks that threaten our national security.”

    The Pentagon has been recruiting outside talent for the work as well as encouraging people already in the military to train for the jobs. By 2016, the Pentagon should have 6,000 cyber professionals, Hagel said. That compares to some 1,800 by the end of this year.

    “Our nation’s reliance on cyberspace outpaces our cybersecurity,” Hagel said. “Our nation confronts the proliferation of destructive malware and a new reality of steady, ongoing and aggressive efforts to probe, access or disrupt public and private networks, and the industrial control systems that manage our water, and our energy and our food supplies.”

    He said government and private businesses have a far better grasp of cyber threats than they did a few years ago, thanks in part to Alexander’s work as the first commander of Cyber Command.

    Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the Navy’s Cyber Command, is awaiting Senate confirmation for a fourth star to allow him to succeed Alexander at Cyber Command. No confirmation is needed for his appointment as head of the NSA, but officials said Friday that Rogers will not step into either job until the Senate approves him as head of Cyber Command.

    Noting President Barack Obama’s announcement Thursday on reforms to the government programs that have swept up data on Americans’ phone calls, Hagel said: “We will continue to engage in a more open dialogue with the American public.”

    Obama asked Congress on Thursday to end quickly the government’s bulk collection of phone records under reforms he hopes will address privacy concerns while preserving the government’s ability to fight terrorism.

    The U.S. accuses China’s army and China-based hackers of launching attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property. China says it faces a major threat from hackers, and the country’s military is believed to be among the biggest targets of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.

    Pending Rogers’ confirmation, the current deputies of Cyber Command and the NSA, Lt. Gen. John Davis and Richard Ledgett, respectively, will be in charge.

    The post Pentagon plans to triple cybersecurity staff appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pedestrians walk by a sign posted outside of a healthcare enrollment fair on March 18, 2014, in San Francisco. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    A sign sits outside of a healthcare enrollment fair on March 18, 2014, in San Francisco. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


    WASHINGTON — Despite a late surge in sign-ups, support for President Barack Obama’s health care law is languishing at its lowest level since passage of the landmark legislation four years ago, according to a new poll.

    The Associated Press-GfK survey finds that 26 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act. Yet even fewer — 13 percent — think it will be completely repealed. A narrow majority expects the law to be further implemented with minor changes, or as passed.

    “To get something repealed that has been passed is pretty impossible,” said Gwen Sliger of Dallas. “At this point, I don’t see that happening.”

    Sliger illustrates the prevailing national mood. Although a Democrat, she’s strongly opposed to Obama’s signature legislation. Yet she thinks “Obamacare” is here to stay.

    “I like the idea that if you have a pre-existing condition you can’t be turned down, but I don’t like the idea that if you don’t have health insurance you’ll be fined,” said Sliger.

    That central requirement that virtually all Americans have coverage or face fines remains highly unpopular. Forty-one percent said it should be completely repealed, about double the 19 percent who said it should remain in the law as passed. Obama, insurers, and most policy experts consider the so-called individual mandate essential to creating a big insurance pool that keeps premiums affordable.

    The poll was taken before Thursday’s announcement by the White House that new health insurance markets have surpassed the goal of 6 million sign-ups, so it did not register the potential impact of that news on public opinion. Open enrollment season began with a dysfunctional HealthCare.gov website last Oct. 1. It will end Monday at midnight EDT, on what looks to be a more positive note.

    Impressions of the coverage rollout while low, have improved slightly.

    Only 5 percent of Americans say the launch of the insurance exchanges has gone very or extremely well. But the number who think it has gone at least somewhat well improved from 12 percent in December to 26 percent now. The exchanges are marketplaces that offer subsidized private coverage to people without a plan on the job.

    Of those who said they or someone in their household tried signing up for coverage, 59 percent said there were problems.

    Repealing the health care law is the rallying cry of Republicans running to capture control of the Senate in the fall elections. The Republican-led House has already voted more than 50 times to repeal, defund or scale back “Obamacare,” but has been stymied in its crusade by Democrats running the Senate. Playing defense, Democrats are campaigning with a message of fixing the law to make it work better.

    The poll found that 7 in 10 Americans believe the law will be implemented with changes.

    Forty-two percent think those changes will be minor, and 30 percent say they think major changes are in store.

    Combining the 42 percent who see minor changes coming and 12 percent who say they think the law will be implemented as passed, a narrow majority of 54 percent see either tweaks in store, or no changes at all.

    The only part of the law that seems immune to changes is an early provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26. Fifty-one percent said it should remain as passed.

    The poll suggests that even the popular ban on insurers denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions could be tweaked. While 39 percent said it should remain as passed, 43 percent wanted to keep it with changes.

    Larry Carroll, 64, a church deacon from Cameron, W.Va., says he’s strongly opposed to the health care law, but doesn’t have high hopes for repeal.

    “The federal bureaucracy simply seems to be too strong,” he said. “The federal bureaucracy is like an anaconda.”

    Teresa Stevens, a factory supervisor from Jacksonville, Fla., said her two adult sons shopped for coverage on the health insurance exchanges and found it too expensive.

    “There are so many different things they say about (the law) that are not true,” she said. “It’s not affordable.”

    A supporter of former Democratic President Bill Clinton, Stevens said the economy has soured for working people under Obama. “Everything is so expensive, not just health care,” she said.

    The poll found that much of the slippage for the health care law over the last four years has come from a drop in support, not an increase in opposition.

    In April of 2010, soon after the law passed, 50 percent of Americans said they were opposed to it, while 39 percent were in favor.

    Now, just 26 percent say they are in favor, a drop of 13 percentage points. Forty-three percent say they are opposed, a drop of 7 percentage points since four years ago.

    The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

    Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

    The post Survey finds only 1 in 4 Americans support the new health care law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama has wrapped up his weeklong trip overseas with stop in Saudi Arabia, in an effort to heal a growing rift with a key partner in the Middle East.

    Jeffrey Brown has that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The president arrived in Saudi Arabia at a tense time in U.S. relations with the desert kingdom. He met with King Abdullah for two hours at a royal farm outside Riyadh. The elderly monarch wore what appeared to be an oxygen tube.

    He was joined by Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who’s just been named second in line to the throne. There were no public statements, but aides said Mr. Obama hoped to reassure Abdullah on key concerns.

    On Syria, for example, the Saudis want the U.S. to provide more military aid to Sunni rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. He’s backed by Shiite Iran.

    In Washington today, the State Department’s Marie Harf sought to play down divisions over Syria.

    MARIE HARF, State Department Spokeswoman: We have always had same goals with Saudis, right? We have had some tactical differences. We have had conversations and worked through them and today feel like we are in a stronger place, with our two countries closely coordinating even more what kinds of assistance we’re providing, how we can increase that assistance, what makes the most sense, and how we can change the balance of power there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, reports today indicated the president may reverse his opposition to supplying the Syrian rebels with surface-to-air missiles.

    But Riyadh also harbors deep doubts about U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran. And the Saudis took a dim view of U.S. support for Arab spring uprisings in Egypt and other Arab states.

    All of this led senior Saudi officials last year to warn of a — quote — “major shift” away from their longtime reliance on the U.S. The kingdom even turned down a seat on the U.N. Security Council, accusing that body of failing to take firm action on Syria and other issues.

    The post In visit to Saudi Arabia, Obama seeks to heal U.S. rift with key partner appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    saudiarabia02photo

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    JEFFREY BROWN: And for more on the state of this relationship, I’m joined by Toby Jones, a historian at Rutgers University who studies and writes on the Gulf states, and Frederic Wehrey, a former U.S. Air Force officer who served in and around the Middle East, including the Persian Gulf. He’s now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    Fred Wehrey, let me start with you. Tell us — fill in the picture a bit more about these recent tensions. What do you see as the main issues here?

    FREDERIC WEHREY, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace: Well, I think the discord stems from a series of disagreements about the way the Middle East is unfolding, Iran, Syria, Egypt.

    The Saudis fundamentally are worried that this nuclear deal will leave Iran’s regional aggression unchecked, that the United States is really being sort of hoodwinked by Iran. On Syria, they believe we’re not doing enough to check Iran’s influence in that country, that we’re not supporting the Syrian opposition enough.

    But there’s also a series of fundamental disagreements about the post-Arab spring Middle East, especially in Egypt. The Saudis believe the administration had a dangerous naïveté about the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Saudis have stepped in and backed the military government there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Toby Jones, all of these are big developments of the last few years.

    TOBY JONES, Rutgers University: Yes. That’s right.

    There is also something more fundamentally at stake from the perspective of Riyadh, and that’s that the United States was, at best, ambivalent about the prospect of democracy in the Arab world following the Arab uprisings. The Saudis are deeply fearful of the possibility of political empowerment and popular rule, and so they have acted in a very that is very aggressive to counter that.

    I think that caught the Americans off-guard, although it could have been easily anticipated. So, I would add, in addition to the geopolitical problems that Fred outlined very clearly, the Saudis are terrified by the prospect of a new political order across the region and that the Americans might support it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, staying with you, Toby Jones, what did the U.S. want out of this meeting, and what does it want now from this relationship?

    TOBY JONES: Well, I think American and Saudi interests align theoretically around issues of terrorism, about how to deal with Iran if it doesn’t accommodate the United States’ demands with respect to its nuclear program and negotiations there.

    But, in practice, there are deep decisions, and I think the Americans wanted to show up, reassure the Saudis that, look, this is a relationship that’s lasted for quite a long time and it should proceed going forward. But there are also — there’s a moment on the horizon, if you will, in which these things might have to be rethought.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Fred Wehrey, how — deep divisions, a rift, we use these words. How big a rift? How does it show itself? What’s being done, if anything, to mend it?

    FREDERIC WEHREY: Well, this is a significant, I think, period of turbulence that we’re going through.

    But we have to remember, throughout the period of — or the history of U.S.-Saudi relations, there’s always been the sense by the Saudis that the United States is not a reliable security guarantor. You go back to the Kennedy administration, they were saying, look, you’re not doing enough to support us against Nasser, after the Iranian Revolution, the same thing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: This is an old story.

    FREDERIC WEHREY: It’s an old story.

    We’re — I think the region is changing and fundamentally different — in fundamental ways. The U.S. sees it going one way. The Saudis see it going another. And I do think the relationship will have to be renegotiated later on.

    Right now, the pillars of the relationship, the fundamental pillars of the relationship, the mil-to-mil cooperation between the U.S., the military assistance that the U.S. gives to Saudi Arabia remains solid. There’s also excellent cooperation on counterterrorism.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And is that from both sides, from the Saudi military and U.S. military? Those interests have not changed, you’re saying?

    FREDERIC WEHREY: That’s my understanding, yes.

    I think there’s still this fundamental recognition by the Saudis that they need U.S. military support. We see them going on shopping sprees to other countries, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, but, fundamentally, no one else is providing the type of support that the U.S. provides.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Toby Jones, you’re suggesting that these — some of this rift is really due to the perceptions by the Saudis of the Obama administration and more recent actions.

    TOBY JONES: Yes, I think that’s correct.

    I think the Obama administration has staked out a minimalist position in the Middle East, where it would like to sort of reduce the American footprint there. I know military strategists don’t see our position in the Persian Gulf as being sustainable over the long term. And this is a very serious concern for the Saudis.

    I think Fred is exactly right that the relationship, at least rhetorically, has been framed through the language of security and Saudi Arabia’s anxiety about its own stability in what it calls a dangerous neighborhood, that the Americans have bought into that and protected — protected it for their own political and economic interests.

    But let’s also remember that the Americans have profited a great deal from being in the region. This hasn’t been something that we have been strong-armed into. There’s a great deal of oil wealth that gets recycled through the American economy, with the purchase of massive and expensive American military weapons systems.

    So there’s been a lot of agreement, if you will, on some basic issues. And I don’t see those things necessarily changing. The question is whether the Americans are willing to commit their military resources in the long term in the region.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What about, Fred Wehrey, starting with you, values issues, human rights issues? The White House said today there was no discussion of human rights at the meetings today. But this remains important for many people.

    Should the U.S. be taking those more seriously? Have we turned a blind eye to practices by the Saudis within their own country and throughout the Arab world?

    FREDERIC WEHREY: Unfortunately, I think we have turned a blind eye. And I do think we should be pressing more. It’s really unfortunate that we seem to be so focused on soliciting Saudi support for these regional objectives, that we’re ignoring or brushing off some very disconcerting and I think alarming domestic developments.

    The Saudis have just enacted a sweeping anti-terrorism law. There’s massive censorship. They have criminalized the Muslim Brotherhood, which most Arab — other Arab states and the United States regards as a legitimate political movement. So, this is very worrisome. And I do think we should be raising these issues, not solely because they align with our values, but you can argue from a security perspective.

    We know from 9/11 that what happens inside the kingdom and the Gulf doesn’t stay in that region, and it can affect our security.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Toby Jones, one other issue we saw in our setup piece, an aging monarch, a new person named as number two. There are many princes, I gather, vying for that, I gather.

    How much of this unsettled period has to do with what happens with the succession in Saudi Arabia?

    TOBY JONES: Well, I don’t think the Saudis have anxieties about succession. I think they see pretty clearly what the line of transition will look like.

    And let’s remember that the Saudis have historically had difficult moments of succession in the 1960s, as well as at the very end of the 1970s. I think their priority is to protect the, to protect the family’s privilege, its status atop what is a difficult system to manage, because they don’t rule by popular consensus. They rule through brutality and through the threat of violence and through co-option.

    But I think that they have an idea in mind they want to stick together through good times and bad times. And they will protect themselves pretty effectively.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Toby Jones and Fred Wehrey, thank you both very much.

    FREDERIC WEHREY: Thank you.

    The post What’s behind the widening division between U.S. and Saudi Arabia? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Obama Delivers Remarks On ConnectED At Maryland Middle School

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, Indiana became the first state to drop the so-called Common Core public education standards adopted across much of the country. State officials there will now create their own plan.

    Indiana may be the first to do so, but likely won’t be the last. There’s growing anger about the overall role of the federal government in education, and often it focuses on the secretary of education.

    The NewsHour’s special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has our report.

    JOHN MERROW: Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who ran the public schools in Chicago for eight years, is President Obama’s friend and trusted confidante, and this former pro basketball player can still hold his own on the court.

    MAN: Oh, my, what a look.

    MAN: He’s got to be playing on the president’s team every pickup game, right?

    JOHN MERROW: However, with national visibility and power comes criticism, on the right from John Kline, chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

    REP. JOHN KLINE, R-Minn., Chair, Education & Workforce Committee: When you give the Cabinet secretary a big pile of money, and then he starts changing policy, in effect dictating policy, that’s acting like a superintendent.

    JOHN MERROW: And on the left from Diane Ravitch, author of “Reign of Error.”

    DIANE RAVITCH, Author, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools”: We now have local communities asking their state for permission, and the state asking Arne Duncan for permission, and Arne Duncan as the nation’s school superintendent.

    JOHN MERROW: Why are critics on the left and the right accusing Arne Duncan of meddling in the nation’s 100,000 public schools? How much power do they think he has? How much power does he have? It turns out, quite a lot.

    Only nine men and women have served as secretary of education. That’s because the U.S. Department of Education didn’t exist prior to 1979.

    FORMER PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: This administration declares unconditional war on poverty in America.

    (APPLAUSE)

    JOHN MERROW: Washington became deeply involved in education in 1965 with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as ESEA. It gave money to schools serving impoverished children.

    JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN, New York University: The idea was, we have to create social institutions that will help compensate for different kinds of disadvantage.

    JOHN MERROW: So, it was about equity?

    JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely.

    JOHN MERROW: Everything changed in 2001 with the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB.

    FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The fundamental principle of this bill is that every child can learn, we expect every child to learn, and you must show us whether or not every child is learning.

    (APPLAUSE)

    JOHN MERROW: Washington was no longer giving money to help one group, the disadvantaged. Now the federal government wanted results: Every school had to prove that all students could meet the mark.

    Education historian Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University explains.

    JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN: I think it was unprecedented in what it had the federal government doing, which is requiring everybody to test the kids in grades three through eight, requiring them to disaggregate its data in different ways, including based on race and ethnicity, tying various sanctions, positive and negative, to those outcomes.

    JOHN MERROW: If schools didn’t improve, they faced significant consequences. Schools could be shut down, all teachers and administrators replaced. Before long, the law that everyone once supported was being roundly criticized.

    DIANE RAVITCH: I fell for it. Lots of other people fell for it.

    REP. JOHN KLINE: Now everybody knows it won’t work. It is time to fix the law.

    ARNE DUNCAN, Secretary of Education: My plan A was always to work with Congress to fix No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind is fundamentally broken. It is obsolete. It had many perverse incentives, led to a dummying down of standards, led to too much of a focus just on a single test score. So No Child Left Behind was doing frankly a lot of harm.

    JOHN MERROW: No Child Left Behind, which requires all students to be proficient this year, expired in 2007, but it remains the law of the land until Congress rewrites it. Because not a single state has achieved 100 percent proficiency, all 50 states are breaking the law, or would be, if Secretary Duncan didn’t grant them waivers.

    The waivers are, in effect, carrots to avoid the big No Child Left Behind stick.

    REP. JOHN KLINE: The secretary is allowed to grant waivers; his predecessors granted waivers.

    But what he’s doing is granting temporary, conditional waivers. That is, you get the waiver if you do what I want you to do.

    JOHN MERROW: Duncan has granted waivers to 43 states that have agreed to certain conditions, including using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

    REP. JOHN KLINE: That’s a terrible way to establish education policy.

    ARNE DUNCAN: Previous secretaries have provided waivers to states on various things, so this is, again — legally, folks are happy to challenge this if they want to, but we’re on strong, strong, solid footing there.

    And we’re going to continue to partner with states. We are out traveling in the country every week. We talk to teachers, we talk to parents, students, school board members, and hopefully what you have seen is a much better sense of partnership.

    JOHN MERROW: When the economy tanked in 2009, Secretary Duncan’s power over education increased dramatically. A desperate Congress approved a $100 billion education stimulus package to keep schools from shutting down, teachers from being laid off. Nearly $5 billion of that was discretionary, meaning that Duncan could spend it as he saw fit.

    No previous secretary of education had ever had such power. In 2009, the president announced a competition for the money.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Rather than divvying it up and handing it out, we are letting states and school districts compete for it.

    JOHN MERROW: Almost every state entered the race, but few were expected to win.

    MAN: We’re nervous.

    JOHN MERROW: So, states will get more money if they do this thing that Duncan wants?

    ARNE DUNCAN: If you play by these rules, absolutely right.

    JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN: Some of us like to talk about Race to the Top as No Child Left Behind on steroids. The principles of Race — Race to the Top are the same as No Child Left Behind, which is, you know, we’re going to reward states that set and maintain a high standard.

    JOHN MERROW: States that agreed to Duncan’s conditions, including developing common standards and assessments and using student test scores to evaluate teachers, had a better chance of winning.

    ARNE DUNCAN: I’m a much bigger believer in carrots and not sticks; and if, you know, you encourage people to go in a certain direction, if they want to go into a different direction, they absolutely have the right to do that.

    JOHN MERROW: What the secretary called encouragement, his critics saw as coercion.

    DIANE RAVITCH: The states went along with Race to the Top because they were all broke.

    JOHN MERROW: You’re saying the states were bought? 

    DIANE RAVITCH: They — yes, well, yes, of course.

    JOHN MERROW: During the Race to the Top competition, a coalition of states released the Common Core state standards. These were developed with money from private foundations, not federal dollars; 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted them.

    REP. JOHN KLINE: If you adopt the Common Core, you’re much more likely to get Race to the Top grants, much more likely to get a temporary conditional waiver. And that puts the secretary in the business of starting to drive national standards and perhaps national tests and national curriculum. We don’t want that.

    JOHN MERROW: The Common Core is not curriculum. It’s up to individual states to develop how and what to teach. But Duncan’s Education Department has funded the development of Common Core tests, to the tune of about $350 million.

    ARNE DUNCAN: I believe this new generation of assessments is an absolute game-changer for American education.

    JOHN MERROW: Duncan’s critics say he went too far when he financed the tests.

    DIANE RAVITCH: The law is very clear that no agent of the U.S. government may do anything to direct, control, or supervise curriculum and instruction.

    JOHN MERROW: Testing is not curriculum.

    JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN: Testing — no, it’s not. But it controls curriculum. Testing — what is tested is what gets taught. Everybody knows that.

    REP. JOHN KLINE: That’s the ultimate fear, that the federal government does get in the curriculum business and tells the states what they’re supposed to teach.

    JOHN MERROW: As for the secretary, he stays resolutely on message.

    ARNE DUNCAN: It’s important to have high standards. We have encouraged that. How you teach to those higher standards, the curriculum behind that, we have never touched that, never have, never will do that.

    JOHN MERROW: Although the discretionary dollars are almost gone, Secretary Duncan still has the power to grant or withhold waivers. And if any of the 46 states with Race to the Top funding or NCLB waivers do not live up to their end of the bargain, the secretary could force them to return millions of dollars.

    The post Secretary Arne Duncan defends against growing criticism from left and right appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    o-JEOPARDY-GIFS-570If you’re struggling to accept the fact that many of your favorite childhood films are more than 20 years old, try this: Jeopardy! is turning 50 this weekend. Yes, fifty.

    The American quiz show first launched its daytime version on March 30, 1964. Over the years it has become a cultural icon. The answer-and-question quiz format ran for 11 years on NBC, was briefly rebooted and then debuted in 1984 as the current syndicated show hosted by Alex Trebek.

    The show’s popularity grew in the 1980s to the point that it spawned special versions especially for celebrities, kids and college students. Often parodied, the blue wall-buzzer quiz format has been fodder for Saturday Night Live, The Golden Girls, the Simpsons and others.

    Recently, contestant Arthur Chu’s eleven-game streak using a controversial and unusual strategy has upset longtime Jeopardy! fans.

    Ken Jennings, famously set the record for the longest winning streak on the show after 74 games. And of course, a final Jeopardy! question late last year taught us how to pronounce the ‘GIF’ image format the way its creator intended.

    The post This popular American game show is about to turn 50 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    shieldsbrooks

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

    Gentlemen, thank you very much.

    So, President Obama in Europe this week, Mark and David, trying to rally the allies, stiffen their spine to stand up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, if that becomes necessary.

    But, Mark, is the West united and ready to do what it takes to stand up to Russia if they need to?

    MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know, Judy.

    We hope that’s the case. But I think we’re closer to it this week than we were probably two weeks ago, because, if anything, Putin’s actions have driven the Western allies closer together. There was lingering — were lingering problems. The United States’ invasion, occupation of Iraq was opposed by France and Germany. There have been disagreements sometimes on what to do in the Middle East.

    But there’s been now a recognition of dependence and interdependence, that they have a lot more in common than they have dividing them. And I think, if anything — the allies, as we call them, the Western — Europeans are a lot closer and more united than they were, in large part because of the leadership of the leaders, including the president, but particularly because of Putin’s actions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: More united, David, and strong enough to do what it takes?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, those are two separate questions. More united, for sure, certainly united on our analysis of Vladimir Putin.

    I thought President Obama said it very well in Brussels this week, that Putin represents really a threat to the global order, that he — the idea that you can change borders, the idea that you can have spheres of influence, that’s just not acceptable in a post-Cold War world. And I think the Europeans and Americans see that the same way.

    What we’re going to do about it, there is union, but there is some division. The Europeans are obviously, for economic reasons, a lot less willing to go far on sanctions. They rely on Russia for energy. They rely on Russian oligarch money through their banking systems, real estate, schools. And so they have been a little more hesitant.

    Nonetheless, I think the sanctions have been pretty strong. The crucial issue going forward to me is this issue of aggression. Vladimir Putin doesn’t necessarily seem to be moved by economic sanctions alone as he masses troops on the Ukrainian border.

    Do you actually have to have some sort of military deterrent? And nobody is talking about putting Western troops into Ukraine, but arming Ukraine, some other method of deterring from Putin from actually going in and rewriting those borders.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does the West, Mark, have the stomach? Or is it prepared to do something like that?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don’t think Ukraine, I don’t think anybody pretends that’s the case, Judy. And I think the appetite for further military engagement is pretty far diminished after Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.

    But I do think that the isolation of Putin, rather than humiliation, which I think is what the president has approached, has been wise. Let’s understand, Putin doesn’t represent some international movement. It’s not communism, in the sense that there are outposts all over Central America following Putin.

    This is one man. He is the decider. He is Russia right now. And I think to the degree that he can be isolated and made to — just as President Reagan didn’t say, let’s go in and take down that wall and destroy it, he said, tear down that wall, and I think that’s been really the approach that President Obama has taken this week.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And maybe that phone call today, David, or late today, was a good sign. We don’t know. We don’t know what really came of it.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    I would say it’s not just Putin, one man. I think I disagree with Mark on that one. Putin is part of sort of a nationalist ideology. The books he sends out to regional governors really saw Russia as the crucial world power, the bridge between East and West, playing a much more enlarged role.

    And one of the things we have seen in Russian public opinion is, Putin’s stock has surged. He’s become very popular in the course of this crisis. And the idea of invading Ukraine is also quite popular.

    MARK SHIELDS: I’m not questioning his popularity in Russia, or his support in Russia. What I am saying is, there are not Putin outposts in Nicaragua, there are not Putin outposts in Central America and Latin America, because there’s no ideology or philosophy here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, next stop for the president was Rome, where he met with Pope Francis.

    How important — and it was a very interesting meeting. The pictures were kind of captivating, the two of them talking. How important is it for the president to be seen or any president to be seen as aligned with the Catholic — the Roman Catholic pope?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, yes, I think this pope is great, has captured the imagination.

    Pope Francis, I mean, is 89-3 favorable among American Catholics, according to Gallup. He’s 11-1 favorable among all Americans, and including among Protestants. So, he’s a world figure. He’s where Barack Obama was five years ago, man of the year and sort of captured the imagination, a rock star.

    But I think, politically, it’s important in this country because, very bluntly, Republican leaders have been shrewdly close to Catholic bishops on particularly cultural and social issues, on abortion, on same-sex marriage. They have identified with them. And this pope has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music. And he talks an awful lot more about the idolatry of money.

    He talks about trickle-down economics being a failure, and treating human beings as throwaways. And so he’s actually — as Steve Schneck said on the broadcast last night with Gwen, he’s to the left of Barack Obama. He talks about the poor. Barack Obama talks about the middle class.

    So, I think in that sense, politically and economically, it was good for the president, and it certainly strengthens his economic argument here at home.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, some of the pope’s popularity can rub off on the president, or that is not the way it works?

    DAVID BROOKS: Maybe if he converts.

    (LAUGHTER)

    DAVID BROOKS: No, I don’t think so.

    One of — the interesting thing about these meetings, for any U.S. president, is the pope and — and whenever a pope — and this, obviously, is a magical pope, but any pope comes with the history of Catholic social teaching behind him so far, probably always.

    And that’s a communal social teaching. That’s a social teaching that emphasizes solidarity. On economic terms, that’s going to put the church more on the left, on social terms, probably a little more on the right. There’s always going to be differences with any U.S. president, just the way our politics is aligned.

    And I think it always has a positive effect on the president by reminding a U.S. leader — we tend to come from a more individualistic country — of a more communal philosophy.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    DAVID BROOKS: And the pope gave the president his book, and I hope, personally and both theologically, he reads that book.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, two other things I want to ask you both about.

    One, Mark, is the health care law, White House celebrating yesterday. The deadline is the end of March. They’re celebrating. They have — six million Americans have now signed up.

    Is this — we know the law is still very unpopular, or largely unpopular with the American people. Does this, though, in some way take the edge off of the negative that the Republicans have made this as an issue?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s the old better than expected, Judy, is where it is.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: I mean, seven million was the target. Now it’s six million, and the Democrats are doing a little victory dance in the end zone over that.

    It’s certainly far better than it was. And you can see that there’s been an all-out effort made. I do think the Republicans, quite honestly, have promised to come up with one that will cover everybody at a lower cost and at no intrusion. We’re still waiting for that. It hasn’t — it hasn’t happened.

    But it has been an abject failure on the part of the Democratic administration to sell this plan. It was 36 percent approval four years ago in the CBS poll, 39 percent approval two years ago, and 41 percent approval. It’s a failure to convince people, persuade people that they’re right and the other side’s wrong.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    Well, I think the plan has achieved credibility. There was some possibility — I never thought it was a large possibility — there was some possibility that people wouldn’t sign up and the whole thing would collapse just by lack of effort. It has crossed that threshold. So it is going to function. The question is whether it will function well or poorly, whether the exchanges will work, whether the cost things will work, whether innovation will be driven by this.

    And then we’re simply too soon to tell. It will take two or three years to even begin to get some sign of that. What we have now is people really reacting to it individually. A lot of people are pleased. They’re getting — they’re getting insurance at lower cost. A lot of people are displeased. They’re seeing their premiums go up.

    I suspect, over the next six months, seven months, a lot of those individual experiences will begin to replace the more ideological reaction which people have to the bill now. I suspect it will still be a pretty good issue, at least this election, for Republicans.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one issue people are paying to today, Mark, is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. An internal report has essentially exonerated him of any role of this bridge closing political — what’s become a political disaster for him.

    Does this report in any way mitigate the political damage that he’s taken, the hit he’s taken?

    MARK SHIELDS: Bulletin: Governor Christie’s lawyers find Governor Christie innocent.

    As I understand it, there are three investigations being conducted at the taxpayers’ expense. This is the first one, a million dollars to a firm that has represented the governor. So it’s not exactly Archie Cox or Henry Jaworski coming in — Leon Jaworski, rather — coming in…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Of Watergate fame.

    MARK SHIELDS: Watergate fame, independent counsel, or a Star Chamber.

    They interviewed everybody, except the three people that the governor continually throws under the — every available bus, Bridget Kelly, and Mr. Wildstein, and Bill Stepien.

    So I think that there’s a lot of questions. We still have the U.S. attorney investigating, and we still have the legislature investigating. And the governor wants to declare himself innocent. He’s free to do that.

    I just think what you have seen, Judy, you have seen him going from 41 to 12 favorable — 41 percent favorable to 12 percent unfavorable in the Wall Street poll to 17 percent favorable, 32 unfavorable. That’s a 44-point swing. He’s trailing Hillary Clinton by 12 — double digits in his home state. I just think that this has been a real blow to him, and he just can’t whitewash it himself.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And he told Diane Sawyer at ABC, David, that he’s still very much thinking about running for president. Or at least he didn’t rule it out.

    DAVID BROOKS: Right.

    I guess I agree with Mark. It is an internal investigation. But I do think one thing we can say is less likely, which is that there will be some smoking gun e-mail that will surface. I assume this firm — and it’s run by reputable people — Randy Mastro and other people are reputable people — I assume they didn’t bury some sort of smoking gun e-mail that they found among all their document searches.

    So he may still have to face the testimony of these three people, the testimony of people that he did know what was going on. But there’s no — at least so far, no hard evidence that he knew what was going on with the lane closures.

    So that, I think, is real good news for him. As for the political prospects, I’m struck by two things. The first is, I have seen him talking to Republican donor groups, and they are not interested. They want to talk about the national issues. The long-term problem, which is the one Mark referred to, is the popularity.

    I think he has a little possibility, using the money he’s going to be getting, to build back some long-term possibility, but he’s obviously hurt.

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

    The post Shields and Brooks on Obama’s Vatican visit and a health reform milestone appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    angelique

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: one of Africa’s most notable singers.

    Jeffrey Brown caught up with Angelique Kidjo here at George Washington University recently, where she called on the world to sing, dance, and lift up the women of her continent.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Angelique Kidjo dedicates her new album “Eve” to the women of Africa, to their resilience and their beauty.

    Born in the small West African country of Benin, now living in Brooklyn, Kidjo has made the empowerment of women and girls a part of her music and life’s work for decades, from the Afro-pop song “Hello” to her anthem “Afrika.”

    She sings in a variety of African languages, along with French and English, and mixes African rhythms with Western pop, soul and jazz. The idea for her latest work came during a trip to Kenya, when she encountered a group of women singing traditional songs. She went on to record them and then other women’s choral groups in Benin, and it all became part of an album celebrating women’s potential.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO, “Eve”: A woman doesn’t sit home doing nothing. It’s impossible; 5:00 a.m. in the morning she’s already up humming a song, getting ready, thinking about how this day going to go, what can I do to make this day a special one, even though there are challenges. It’s not living. It’s survival, but they have a skill of survival, survival in beauty, resilience, mind and strength.

    And every time I go, I’m reminded that it’s not about money. It’s about how you fall and how you rise. It’s about how you see yourself in the role you play in your society and in the world, and who you are deeply. You have to know yourself to be able to go know other people. And that is something that I want the voice to tell the world.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The Grammy-winning Kidjo has attracted a global following and performed and recorded with leading Western stars, including Bono and Alicia Keys.

    And now she’s told the story of her rise to the international stage in a new memoir: “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music.” It’s timed to a U.S. tour and the release of her 10th album.

    The story begins at home, with nine siblings, two supportive parents, her mother was a dancer and her father an amateur musician, and one very determined young girl, ready to sing her heart out.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: The voice is the mirror of your soul, and I want my soul to touch other people’s souls.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And you knew this even as a young girl?

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: I have so much fun when I’m singing. And music has always been my breath, my strength. Everything comes back to it. I have grown up in a family where my parents have made this — the house available to every human being.

    That’s my father’s will, to open the house to peoples’ brain. My father sees people more as what we can intellectually in your heart, what we can share together.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But, in her culture, girls weren’t supposed to aspire to be Aretha Franklin, an early role model for the young Angelique.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: The defining moment for me was coming back from school one day where out of the blue, I start hearing people throwing stone at me, saying — spitting at me, calling me a whore, a prostitute, all kinds of horrible name.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It just wasn’t something girls were supposed to do. ANGELIQUE KIDJO: No. You sing traditional music, it’s OK, because our tradition is oral. So I came home crying, saying, I don’t want to sing anymore.

    And my grandmother said to me, that’s all? You are crying because some stupid people are making comments? I have an advice for you: You cannot be loved by everybody and you cannot love everybody. If what you do makes you happy, and within our circle of family, we support you, we love you, we don’t judge what you do.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Kidjo left her homeland in 1983, after a communist regime took over and cracked down on artistic freedom. She went to Paris and established herself in the music scene there. She also met her musician husband, Jean, now her manager.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome the voice.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In a further nod to her past, on the new album, the 53-year-old Kidjo recorded the voice of her 87 year-old mother, Yvonne Eve, on a song called “Bana,” which urges people to value each other over money.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: At 8 years old, when I was singing women’s rights with my mother, I didn’t even know I was being a feminist at the time.

    So, for me — for her not to be there, it wouldn’t be completed. And her voice was the last one that I recorded, because I always ask her why we are blamed, women are blamed for everything. And then she said to me, because men have told our story for us. We need to tell our stories, all of us, men, women, all around the world.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That is what she aims to do with her work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and with her own Batonga Foundation, which has promoted education for girls across Africa since 2007.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: Women are the backbone of Africa. And when you educate a young girl, once she becomes a mother, she put boys and girls equally to school, she understands sanitation importance, she understand vaccination, she understand a lot of things that would help her kids grow up to be healthy and to be well-educated.

    The woman that is educated raises the GDP of the country. Child death at birth is reduced drastically. Diseases disappear. I mean, we transform Africa completely by educating more women, because we need new leaderships.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The empowerment theme continues to animate her music. One song suggests that, since women suffer during war, they should have a role in brokering peace. Another addresses forced marriages.

    At the end of concerts, Angelique Kidjo invites the crowd to join her on the stage. It’s a festival of dance and song of all ages, sizes, men and women.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: Music nourished the person that I am to be able to give. And when I’m on stage, I always say, stage is my little heaven. If heaven looked like this, the day I die, if I die, if I can continue doing this, oh, boy, I’m dying tomorrow.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You can listen to more of Angelique Kidjo’s music on Art Beat.

    The post One of Africa’s biggest stars uses empowering song to lift up women and girls appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The 2014 U.S. budget. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

    The 2014 U.S. budget. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

    A 14-year-old student thinks he has calculated a way to save the U.S. government more than $100 million per year, and it’s as simple as changing typefaces.

    The answer is to require all printed documents to be written in the typeface Garamond, says Suvir Mirchandani of Pittsburgh. After examining the most commonly used characters and comparing different typefaces for a science fair project, Mirchandani found that using Garamond could reduce his school district’s ink usage by 24 percent and save upward of $21,000 annually.

    Applied to the scale of documents printed by the federal government, the savings would be $136 million. If state governments joined in, Mirchandani estimates an additional $234 million could be saved.

    Whether or not the Government Printing Office will apply the typeface change remains to be seen, but Garamond may be the new favorite for those hoping to squeeze a few extra droplets of black ink out of their printers.

    The post How the Garamond typeface could be worth $100 million in government savings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    MEGAN THOMPSON: Sisters Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara attend public high school in a low-income, mostly Hispanic section of northern Los Angeles.  The girls are aiming for college, and would be the first in the family with higher degrees.

    But the Vergara sisters say that in middle school, they faced obstacles in pursuing their education – chaotic classrooms and little to no instruction.  Elizabeth, now a junior, and Beatriz, a sophomore, say back in 7th grade, they both had a particularly bad history teacher.

    ELIZABETH VERGARA: He would just be at his desk.  Like, just using his computer or sleeping.  And students were just using their magazines and he wouldn’t care.  They would be throwing food or, like, stuff.   And I didn’t even learn anything.  Like, I was getting behind.

    BEATRIZ VERGARA: And he would let students smoke marijuana -

    MEGAN THOMPSON: They were smoking marijuana in class?

    BEATRIZ VERGARA: Yeah.  I know, it’s hard to believe.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Beatriz also says a science teacher was offensive.

    BEATRIZ VERGARA:   She would call this girl “whore,” and, like, “Slut, go over there.  Stop flirting.”  And then, yeah, it was horrible.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: What went through your mind when you heard that?

    BEATRIZ VERGARA: I don’t know, it wasn’t right.  A teacher should not offend you.  I was scared to ask questions ’cause I didn’t want her to, like, I didn’t want her to offend me.

    ALICIA MARTINEZ (Spanish):  They were really being traumatized by these teachers.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  Beatriz and Elizabeth’s mother Alicia Martinez, who emigrated from Mexico, says she complained to a school administrator about the two teachers – and two others.  But, she says, nothing happened.

    ALICIA MARTINEZ (Spanish): He didn’t do anything to address the situation.  They didn’t take me seriously.

    Courtroom sound:  You do solemnly state that the testimony you may give…

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  So in 2012 Martinez volunteered her daughters to join a lawsuit against the state and the teachers unions that went to trial in January.

    Teacher tenure in flux around the nation

    Teacher tenure in flux around the nation

    ELIZABETH VERGARA IN COURT:  I just felt that I was wasting my time, not learning anything.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  The nine student plaintiffs in the case – known as Vergara v. California - are challenging two main areas of state law:  permanent employment and dismissal statutes the plaintiffs say make it difficult to get rid of bad teachers, and the seniority-based layoff system, which they say makes it hard to keep good, less-senior teachers during difficult times.

    BRANDON:  There were certain teachers that you knew, if you got stuck in their class, you wouldn’t learn a thing.

    KATE:  Instead of learning our subject, we sat in class coloring and watching YouTube videos.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The plaintiffs say the laws deny students their right to a quality education, guaranteed by the California constitution, and affect poor and minority students more.  If successful, experts say the legal strategy could be used to challenge education laws in other states.

    DAVID WELCH: Our education system delivers a constitutional right so there’s a certain responsibility of our society to deliver.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  David Welch is a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded and largely finances Students Matter – an education-reform group that spearheaded the lawsuit. As of 2012, Welch had donated or loaned nearly two million dollars to the group, which is footing the bill for a high-powered legal team that includes Ted Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States.  Welch has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and went to public schools for most of his education.

    DAVID WELCH:  It’s because of these teachers that I’ve been able to have a successful career as an engineer and entrepreneur.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  Welch also has three young kids and has supported other education and environmental causes over the years.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  What motivated you?

    DAVID WELCH: I’m a– I’m a father, I’m an employer.  And when I look at the system, I realize the system actually inhibits one of the most important things that are for an education– for a child and that’s access, the uniform access, for every child to have a passionate and effective teacher.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Some of your critics have said, “You know what?  This isn’t a grassroots movement.  The kids were–recruited– and– maybe they’re just being used for the personal mission of a wealthy businessman.”  What do you say to that?

    DAVID WELCH: When you sat there and you watch the children get on stand, there’s no one that put them up to that other than themselves.

    RAYLENE IN COURT: It made me not want to try, or show up to school

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  One law Welch is fighting is the statute that governs teacher layoffs.  California is one of ten states that requires seniority be considered to determine who stays, and who goes during budget cuts.  John Deasy is the superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, and he testified against the so-called “Last-In, First-Out” law.

    JOHN DEASY:  I couldn’t think of a more destructive statute for students, staff, in a system.  We have had to lay off very effective teachers in the same school that we are documenting a teacher for dismissal.

    Their contributions to the school, their relationships with students, how they’re supporting and helping parents, none of the factors other than the hiring date is used.  Now is seniority– an important contribution?  I would argue it is.  It shouldn’t be the only and sole factor however.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  The Vergara lawsuit also challenges laws governing teacher tenure.  California’s two-year probationary period for new teachers is one of the shortest in the nation.  After two years, most teachers get permanent employment status.  Superintendent Deasy says that permanent status means the LA school district can end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a single, underperforming teacher.  A process, he says, that can take a decade.

    JOHN DEASY: The overwhelming majority of teachers are amazing people, phenomenal people.  So we’re talking’ about a small sub-set who should, and must, leave employment.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: It came out during the trial that only about 3% of teachers who are– who were evaluated last year were below standard.  So we– should we overhaul the system to take care of what might just be a few bad apples?

    JOHN DEASY: When you’ve identified chronic low performers you can’t exit them quick enough so the students are not being harmed.  That’s that we’re talking about.

    JOSHUA PECHTHALT: Are there teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom?  Absolutely.  But to blow up the entire system– for– for evaluating and protecting teacher rights based on a couple of students’ perspective– I think really misses the boat.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers, one of the unions fighting the lawsuit.  He says the unions support efforts to streamline the dismissal process.

    JOSHUA PECHTHALT: I think the dismissal process could be more effective and more efficient.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  Pechthalt says that many ineffective teachers are weeded out during the two-year probation period.  And, he says, granting permanent status to the rest encourages them to stay on the job, despite often difficult classroom conditions.

    JOSHUA PECHTHALT: The bigger problem we have in California and I think nationally is that we can’t keep teachers in the profession.  Classes are overcrowded.  There aren’t enough resources.  So that really is the bigger issue in public education.  And that’s creating conditions that make it attractive for people to make this– a lifelong profession.

     KELLY IWAMOTO:  It’s a remainder of 2, and a divisor of 3.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Fourth grade teacher Kelly Iwamoto of Inglewood, CA, says she knows first-hand how precarious her job can be.  Because she doesn’t have enough seniority, she’s been laid off three times in the last three years, then brought back.  Even so, she supports the seniority-based layoff system.  She says it’s objective and clear.

    KELLY IWAMOTO: It’s fair.  It’s fair, and I support it.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  Iwamoto also says she supports the other part of the law that’s being challenged – permanent status for teachers after two years.  She says that provision actually helps her advocate for students, without fear of being fired.

    KELLY IWAMOTO: Because I speak out very frequently about– resources being– brought to our district for lowering class sizes.  And if I’m vocal– and someone doesn’t like what I’m saying, then I can be let go for that.  And I don’t think that’s fair.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  Iwamoto and the unions also say a teacher’s “effectiveness” is difficult to measure, and, they say, students don’t necessarily connect with every teacher.  During the trial, Elizabeth Vergara testified that she learned nothing in English class and wasn’t assigned an entire book to read all year.  But the teacher testified that Vergara’s reading scores actually went up.

    TEACHER: We read and wrote every day.

    ATTORNEY: Did your class read more than one chapter of a book for the entire school year?

    TEACHER: Absolutely.

    ATTORNEY:  And did you ever receive any negative marks on your evaluations or observations?

    TEACHER: I did not.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The defense also argued that many superintendents – including Deasy himself — have successfully worked within the rules to get rid of ineffective teachers.

    ATTORNEY: LAUSD increased the number of School Board initiated dismissals from 10 in the 2009-2010 school year, to 99 in the 2011-2012 school year?

    JOHN DEASY: I believe that is accurate.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Some people on the other side of this issue have said that, “You know what?  This isn’t about the statutes, it’s about management.  And if the district, or a school, is well run, they can– they can get rid of ineffective teachers.”

    JOHN DEASY:  That is not the point.  The point is students’ rights to be in front of a highly effective teacher– a teacher who is not harming them every single day of the year.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The Vergara sisters say that’s all they want for their old middle school.  As it turns out, those first two teachers they complained about are still teaching there.

    ELIZABETH VERGARA: I think that’s horrible.  ‘Cause, I mean, there’s students that actually want to learn.

    BEATRIZ VERGARA: I want to have good teachers that motivate me.  Not only me, but everyone.

    MEGAN THOMPSON:  The judge will deliver a verdict in the case in the coming weeks … any decision he makes is expected to be appealed.

    The post Can a lawsuit by nine students topple teacher tenure? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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