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

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    President George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet and others stand on the seal of the Agency March 20, 2001 at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Photo by David Burnett/Newsmakers

    President George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet and others stand on the seal of the Agency March 20, 2001 at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Photo by David Burnett/Newsmakers

    WASHINGTON — A controversial torture report by the Senate Intelligence Committee paints a pattern of CIA deception about the effectiveness of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods used on terror suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to leaked findings. The committee said it will ask the Justice Department to investigate how the material was published.

    The McClatchy news service late Thursday published what it said are the voluminous, still-classified review’s 20 findings. It concludes that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” failed to produce valuable intelligence; the CIA misled the Bush administration, Congress and the public about the value of the harsh treatment; the agency employed unauthorized techniques on detainees and improperly detained others; and it never properly evaluated its own actions.

    Both the CIA’s interrogation techniques and confinement conditions “were brutal and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers.”

    The reported findings are consistent with what senators have detailed about the investigation since its 2009 inception and with what numerous news reports, human rights organizations and various governmental and non-governmental studies have suggested in the decade since the CIA’s program started to coming to light. President Barack Obama has likened the harsh interrogations to torture, but the spy agency defends its actions and says much in the Senate committee’s report is inaccurate.

    The committee voted last week to declassify the summary and conclusions of the 6,600-page review and is now waiting for the Obama administration to censor material sensitive to national security.

    The panel’s chairwoman said an investigation into how the findings were published was underway. The two pages of findings published by McClatchy did not include the names of any U.S. government employees or terror detainees, locations of secret CIA prisons or anything else that might threaten national security. They also did not indicate how or why the committee reached its conclusions.

    “If someone distributed any part of this classified report, they broke the law and should be prosecuted,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “The committee is investigating this unauthorized disclosure, and I intend to refer the matter to the Department of Justice.”

    CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to address the publication of the findings.

    “Given the report remains classified, we are unable to comment,” Boyd said. He said the CIA was committed to carrying out an “expeditious classification review” of the parts of the report the Senate committee wants to make public. He reiterated, however, that the spy agency disagreed with several areas of the report.

    The committee and the CIA are embroiled in a related dispute concerning the production of the report, with each side accusing the other of illegal snooping. The Justice Department is reviewing competing criminal complaints.

    Given the ongoing tensions, Feinstein has appealed to President Barack Obama for the White House to head the declassification process for the torture report. The Obama administration up to now has said the CIA will take the lead in blacking out sections of the report that might reveal national security secrets, in consultation with other agencies of the executive branch.

    The CIA has a “clear conflict of interest,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a letter to Obama Friday.

    In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Feinstein and Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, a fellow Democratic member of the committee, said the public release of almost 500 pages of the report is “the best way to ensure that this program of secret detention and coercive interrogation never happens again.”

    “It will also serve to uphold America’s practice of admitting wrongdoing and learning from its mistakes,” they said.

    The senators sought to answer two of the main criticisms of the report from former CIA officials and others: that its conclusions were predetermined and that that it didn’t include direct interviews with CIA officials.

    Calling the report “fact-based,” Feinstein and Rockefeller said almost every sentence in the report is attributed to CIA cables, internal notes, emails, testimony and other documents.

    They acknowledged that Justice Department reviews of the spy agency’s program meant top CIA managers, lawyers, counterterrorism personnel, analysts and interrogators didn’t have to speak to the committee. But they said Senate investigators used transcripts from more than 100 interviews conducted by internal CIA auditors and other agency officials that took place while the harsh interrogations were still ongoing or shortly after they ended.

    ___

    The post Leaked report: CIA misled Bush administration on ‘brutal’ interrogation techniques appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A picture shows a mosaic representing Pope Francis on April 10, 2014 at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. (San Paolo Basilica). Photo by Andres Solaro/Getty Images

    A picture shows a mosaic representing Pope Francis on April 10, 2014 at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. (San Paolo Basilica). Photo by Andres Solaro/Getty Images

    In remarks quoted by Vatican radio Friday, Pope Francis “personally asked forgiveness for sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests.

    During a meeting with a Catholic children’s charity, Pope Francis said that he felt “compelled to personally take on all the evil” perpetrated by some priests, because “you cannot interfere with children.”

    “It is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church,” he said, adding that “sanctions” would be imposed on abusive clergy.

    In a response, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP, issued a statement calling on the Pontiff to take decisive action against abusive clergy.

    These steps include defrocking all known child abusers; handing enforcement over to secular authorities; punishing officials who failed to report instances of abuse; and ensuring the protection of whistleblowers.

    “Actions speak louder than words,” the statement reads in part.

    Still, Friday’s comments represent a shift in the Pope’s public statements on sexual abuse within the Church. Earlier this year, following a UN report accusing the Vatican of covering up pedophilia, Francis defended the Church, saying “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility…And yet the church is the only one that has been attacked.”

    He has since formed an advisory committee on the matter, made up of both clergy and laypeople – including a survivor of clerical pedophilia.

    The post Pope Francis asks forgiveness for “evil” of child abuse appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Addiction in Vancouver

    Watch Video

    Editor’s note: This video report contains depictions of intravenous drug use that may be disturbing to some viewers.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Vancouver, British Columbia is considered one of the most beautiful, livable cities in North America.

    But there’s a small part of the city that’s stunning in a different way… The downtown east side neighborhood is a grim reminder of the toll drug addiction takes.

    Everywhere you look, emaciated addicts walk the streets. Police generally don’t see the point of locking them up. Drugs are exchanged openly in broad daylight… Women on the street prostitute themselves. Over the course of a few concentrated blocks, you’ll see people smoking crack right on the sidewalk… or injecting themselves in an alley with heroin or cocaine…

    Not surprisingly, this neighborhood has been visited by another plague: back in the 1990s, this was the epicenter for one of the fastest growing AIDS epidemics in the world.

    DR. THOMAS KERR: Vancouver experienced what has been described as the most explosive epidemic of H.I.V. ever observed outside of Sub-Saharan africa. This is an incredibly rapid spread. We had this huge epidemic, and it was driven primarily by needle sharing.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But that’s changed now…. Thanks to a plan that’s dramatically reduced the spread of the disease… It’s happening, supporters day, by getting free H.I.V. Medication to addicts who share needles… they’re also steering addicts to this controversial facility where medical staff actually help them inject illegal drugs.

    The strategy being deployed in British Columbia is being studied closely – by the U.S., by China and by Europe – for how it’s successfully fought an epidemic among a very hard-to-reach population.

    So how does it work? Sometimes, it starts with people like Tracy D’Souza pounding the pavement. D’Souza’s a registered nurse, one of a small army of nurses working this neighborhood.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Now, I thought nurses wore white shoes. What’s the deal?

    NURSE TRACY D’SOUZA: [laughs] You don’t wear white shoes in the downtown eastside. [laughs] that’s for sure.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: With her medical kit strapped to her back, D’Souza’s off to see one of the dozen or so H.I.V.+ patients she cares for… wherever they are.

    NURSE TRACY D’SOUZA: If i have come in the alley to find you? No problem. If I have to come to your home? No problem.

    COLIN: Well, I feel like a nut.

    NURSE TRACY D’SOUZA: How’s your energy?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: D’Souza’s working with Colin today, who she’s known for several years. He likely contracted H.I.V. through sharing a needle. And even though he’s still using, he’s seeing D’Souza or other nurses every few weeks, and he diligently takes daily HIV retroviral drugs on his own.

    NURSE TRACY D’SOUZA: I think it’s a fallacy that just because people are using drugs, or selling sex that they don’t care about their health. I think they care very much — i think because of their mental health and addiction issues, it might be tougher

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This early and consistent H.I.V. treatment is a central pillar of British Columbia’s strategy…. And it’s one that began with important discoveries by this man’s team:

    DR. JULIO MONTANER: … and I said, oh, my god, this is huge. This is bigger than I thought. This actually can turn the epidemic around.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Julio Montaner is among the world’s experts on treating H.I.V. Born in Argentina, now a Canadian, Montaner helped found the ‘British Columbia center for excellence in H.I.V. and AIDS’

    Back in the mid 1990s, his team was one of the first to demonstrate what was then a contested idea: that aggressively treating H.I.V. in individuals not only helps them, but can prevent the spread across an entire community.

    Here’s how: It’s well-known that people with untreated H.I.V. are full of the virus, and if they share a needle with others, they’ll likely infect them and spread the disease. But treating those original patients with HIV medicine dramatically suppresses the amount of virus in their blood, which, research has shown, makes transmission to others much less likely. (according to Dr. Monatner, it’s more than 90% less likely.)

    DR. JULIO MONTANER: And we were able to put all of that together and statistically show that there was a very strong association. In fact, the single most powerful predictor of you as an injection drug user to contract H.I.V. was the amount of virus that was circulating in the community, which, upon bringing treatment to that community, came down. And so the number of new infections came down in parallel. In other words, it’s not the needles, stupid. It’s the virus.

    NURSE: I’m gonna go ahead and poke…

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: These findings triggered an even more aggressive campaign to test as many people as possible, and to get anyone who tests positive onto the meds as quickly as possible.

    This overall strategy is now called “treatment as prevention”

    But public health advocates in british columbia didn’t stop there: Dr. Montaner – along with many others – pushed for the creation of this facility, which is called “InSite.”

    DR. THOMAS KERR: So InSite is a very unique facility. It’s the only one of its kind in North America.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Thomas Kerr is an AIDS researcher who works at dr. Montaner’s center and has done several published studies of InSite.

    DR. THOMAS KERR: It is a place where people who inject illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, can come with drugs that they’ve obtained on the street, and inject under the supervision of a nurse

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Every morning, the minute the doors open, a group of addicts file in – the first of more than 700 who come here every day to shoot up. All the paraphernalia is laid out, free for the taking.

    Under the watchful eye of a team of specially trained nurses, addicts take a seat at one of a dozen different booths to do whatever drugs they’ve been able to buy on illegally the street.

    InSite opened in 2003… granted an exemption by the then-liberal government of Canada to allow the use of illegal drugs in a facility partly funded by taxpayers.

    On this morning, a woman named Jody allowed us to film her as she injected. She says she’s been an addict, on the streets for more than a decade… She’s been shooting up for so long that many of her veins are collapsed or covered with scars, and this morning, after repeated tries, she can’t find one that’ll work.

    NURSE: You finding it?

    JODY: No.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So.. One of the InSite nurses comes over to help her.

    JODY: Right there

    NURSE: It’s itty bitty. It’s really tiny.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Ever since this place opened, critics have been trying to shut this facility down. The now conservative national government says InSite enables drug use, not prevents it. It’s tried to close this facility, and prevent others from opening in canada:

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In 2005, canadian prime minster stephen harper said, “we as a government will not use taxpayers’ money to fund drug use … that is not the strategy we will pursue.”

    But in 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Insite can stay open

    InSite’s supporters argue that not only does the facility cut drug overdose deaths, reduce disorder in the area, and get more addicts into treatment programs… but they argue: its crucial in the campaign against H.I.V.

    Addicts who come here can get tested for the disease and referred for treatment if they’re positive… they’re not sharing infected needles… and they’re in regular contact with nurses and medical staff who want to help them.

    DR. THOMAS KERR: If this facility wasn’t there, these people would be injecting in alleyways, running from the police, and would continue to be disconnected from the health care system. But we’ve now found a mechanism to connect with these people, and provide them with much needed care.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I hear everything that you’re saying. And your critics would argue that having someone on site, a nurse who could even help someone find a vein, that is partly condoning and making it easier for them. What is your argument against that?

    DR. JULIO MONTANER: You know, I used to think the same way as you just described, that all of this was enabling. I remember my first reaction. “you mean that i’m going to ask my junior staff, my residents to actually witness somebody injecting and i’m going to say, ‘oh, sure. Please go ahead and shoot.’ jeez, i’m out of my mind.”

    Well, you know, the problem is that this is not about doing the right thing or the wrong thing. The addicted person is injecting. Let’s face the music–

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: They’re going to do it regardless.

    DR. JULIO MONTANER: This is happening. This is happening in every single city in America. So by pretending that this is not happening, then you’re taking the same approach that the prime minister of my country is taking saying, “this shall not happen.” And so what? This is still happening, and he wants to criminalize them. And, you know what? He’s making the situation worse.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The data show their strategy has been working: by dramatically increasing the number of people being treated for H.I.V. in the British Columbia the number of new diagnoses of H.I.V. has been decreasing – cut by more than half.

    Even as they’re looking harder for the disease, they’re finding less of it.

    Dr. Montaner says, not only are they helping people, but they’re saving money. For every person who doesn’t contract H.I.V. in British Columbia, the government saves an estimated quarter-of-a-million dollars it doesn’t have to spend treating that person.

    DR. JULIO MONTANER: Investing more on this strategy is cost saving. It’s not just cost effective. It’s cost averting.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So wait, you’re arguing that if you spend more money on treating active H.I.V.cases in the end you will save more money because you’re not adding new patients to the pool of infected people.

    DR. JULIO MONTANER: William, I’m not arguing. I’m telling you. This is the way it is. And I don’t mean to be too provocative about it but the data is all in. You know, we have randomized clinical trials that now show that treating virtually stops transmission. We know that it stops disease progression. We know that puts people back to work. We know that prevent orphans. We know that– I mean, what else do we need? It’s obvious.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: British Columbia’s success preventing the spread of H.I.V. has prompted Chinese health officials (who’re also grappling with twin epidemics of H.I.V. And IV-drug addiction) to commit to a nationwide “treatment as prevention” model, based on this same strategy.

    The U.S. is doing two similar pilot studies, and “treatment as prevention” has now been adopted as the principal H.I.V. strategy by the World Health Organization, U.N. AIDS, and the International AIDS Society.

    The post Nurses help addicts inject heroin at controversial clinic battling H.I.V. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An empty bullet shell is seen outside the entrance of the al-Ghani oil field, belonging to Libya's Harouge Oil Operations company, near the city of Waddan in the central Al-Jufrah province on March 23, 2013. Photo by Abdullah Doma/Getty Images

    An empty bullet shell is seen outside the entrance of the al-Ghani oil field, belonging to Libya’s Harouge Oil Operations company, near the city of Waddan in the central Al-Jufrah province on March 23, 2013. Photo by Abdullah Doma/Getty Images

    New protests in Libya on Friday soured a lucrative oil deal between the parliament in Tripoli and rebel groups in the eastern part of the country. The protests shut down an oil terminal and refinery at Zawiya, located 28 miles west of the capitol in Tripoli, but also left the state of Libya’s oil exports open to speculation on world commodities markets. Oil and gas exports in Libya, the source of 95 percent of revenues for the democratic government established after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, were thrown open to question.

    The original deal, which was agreed to on Sunday, would have allowed two oil ports to open after a nine-month blockade that stopped 700,000 barrels of oil per day from flowing and cost the country $7 billion. An undisclosed amount of money was agreed to be given by the General National Congress, Libya’s legislature, to Ibrahim al-Jathran, the leader of the rebels in eastern Libya.

    The end of the blockade had been heralded in the oil futures markets. Libya, an OPEC member, holds Africa’s largest oil reserves and the price of “ Brent crude,” a trading benchmark for oil prices worldwide, has dropped about 3 percent since January amid speculation that Libya would ramp-up its oil exports. Traders and suppliers here in the U.S. calculated that the re-entry of Libyan oil on the world market would decrease the price, leading to even lower costs for refined fuel. But speculators feared that rebel protests would continue and oil futures reached a 5-week high on the New York market–also driven by increasing U.S. consumer confidence and energy instability in Eastern Europe. Brent crude prices see-sawed on news that Libya would continue to open its production lines.

    After the deal to re-open Libya’s oil terminals, the nation is operating at only 10 percent of its capacity, still stymied by protests. Overall, Libyan oil output has plummeted from 1.4 million barrels per day in 2012 to about 350,000 barrels per day in February 2014.

    The post Libya’s oil slowly comes back online after deal, driving speculation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A man holds a sign during the Iran hostage crisis at a student demonstration Washington, D.C. in Nov., 1979. Photo by U.S. News & World Report

    A man holds a sign during the Iran hostage crisis at a student demonstration Washington, D.C. in Nov., 1979. Photo by U.S. News & World Report

    WASHINGTON — In a rare diplomatic rebuke, the United States has blocked Iran’s controversial pick for envoy to the United Nations, a move that could stir fresh animosity at a time when Washington and Tehran have been seeking a thaw in relations.

    The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi’s name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful.

    “We’ve communicated with the Iranians at a number of levels and made clear our position on this — and that includes our position that the selection was not viable,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “Our position is that we will not be issuing him a visa.”

    Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the embassy takeover. He has insisted his involvement in the group Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line was limited to translation and negotiation.

    Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian U.N. Mission, said the decision was not only regrettable but “in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member-states to designate their representatives to the United Nations.”

    As host country for the United Nations, the U.S. must provide rights to persons invited to the New York headquarters. However, exceptions can be made when a visa applicant is found to have engaged in spying against the U.S. or poses a threat to American national security.

    Denying visas to U.N. ambassadorial nominees or to foreign heads of state who want to attend United Nations events in the U.S. is extremely rare, though there appears to be precedent. According to a paper published by the Yale Law School, the United States rejected several Iranians appointed to the U.N. in the 1980s who had played roles in the embassy hostage crisis or other acts against American citizens.

    Iran’s choice of Aboutalebi had pinned President Barack Obama between congressional pressure to deny the envoy entry into the U.S. and the White House’s delicate diplomatic dealings with Tehran. After more than three decades of discord, U.S. and Iranian officials have started having occasional direct contact, including a phone call last fall between Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

    Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said allowing Aboutalebi into the U.S. “would have been a slap at all American victims of terrorism, not just those taken hostage in 1979.”The U.S. and its international partners also have reached an interim agreement with Iran to halt progress on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program. Officials are in the midst of negotiating a long-term agreement to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

    Officials said Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the chief U.S. negotiator in the nuclear talks, informed Iranian officials involved in discussions in Vienna this week about the visa decision. The White House said it did not expect the negotiations, which are due to resume next month, to be affected by the matter.

    Despite some signs of progress in relations, many U.S. lawmakers continue to eye Iran skeptically, and Tehran’s choice of Aboutalebi sparked outrage from both Democrats and Republicans. The House and Senate unanimously passed legislation expanding the grounds for barring entry into the U.S. to include individuals engaged in terrorism.

    Carney would not say Friday whether Obama would sign that bill, but he said the president did share its sentiments.

    The administration’s decision to block Aboutalebi’s nomination drew praise from both parties, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the chief sponsor of the congressional legislation. In an interview with Fox News, Cruz said he appreciated the president “doing the right thing and barring this acknowledged terrorist from coming into the country.”

    Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said allowing Aboutalebi into the U.S. “would have been a slap at all American victims of terrorism, not just those taken hostage in 1979. We’re glad the Obama Administration made this choice, and Iran should stop playing these games. ”

    U.N. officials had no immediate comment on the U.S. decision.

    Iran had previously called U.S. rejection of Aboutalebi “not acceptable,” with Iranian state television quoting Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying he is one of the country’s best diplomats and arguing that he previously received a U.S. visa.

    American officials said Iran still has time to withdraw the nomination and application, suggesting the U.S. has simply chosen to not act on the visa instead of outright rejecting it.

    Without a U.S. visa, Aboutalebi would not be allowed to enter the United States. Iran could nominate a different ambassador or have Aboutalebi occupy the post from overseas.

    Despite the decades-long tensions between the U.S. and Iran, the Islamic republic maintains a robust diplomatic mission at U.N. headquarters in New York. The U.S. frequently allows visas for representatives from countries it disfavors, including Syria and North Korea, but restricts their diplomats’ movements and activities to a 25-mile radius of New York City.

    There have been previous instances where officials accused of terrorism or deemed to pose a threat to the U.S. have sought visas to appear at the U.N., including with a previous Iranian nominee in the early 1990s and more recently with Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir. In most cases, the U.S. has either signaled opposition to the applicant and the request has been withdrawn, or the State Department has simply declined to process the application.

    ___

    Associated Press writers Peter Spielmann at the United Nations and Matthew Lee, Lara Jakes and Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.

    The post U.S. blocks Iran’s controversial pick for UN ambassador appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama formally nominated his choice today to be the next U.S. secretary of health and human services. And he praised the woman who’s held the job for five years, during the battle over health care reform.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Kathleen will go down in history for serving as the secretary of health and human services when the United States of America finally declared that quality, affordable health care is not a privilege, but it is a right for every single citizen of these United States of America.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama and a boisterous crowd joined in giving Kathleen Sebelius a Rose Garden send-off and defending his Affordable Care Act.

    Sebelius was a popular former governor of Kansas when she came to HHS in 2009. But she took heavy criticism over the calamitous launch of the government Web site for health insurance enrollment, leading to multiple mea culpas to Congress.

    KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, Secretary of Health and Human Services: I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of healthcare.gov, so let me say directly to these Americans, you deserve better. I apologize.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, her tenure ended on a high note, as she announced yesterday that at least 7.5 million Americans have now enrolled in the insurance exchanges.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: She’s got bumps. I have got bumps, bruises. But under Kathleen’s leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done, and the final score speaks for itself.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sebelius herself suggested the opportunity to implement national health reform has been worth it.

    KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: This is the most meaningful work I have ever been a part of. In fact, it’s been the cause of my life. And I knew it wouldn’t be easy. There is a reason that no earlier president was successful in passing health reform, despite decades of attempts.

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL, Director, White House Office of Management and Budget: I also want to personally thank her for her support.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: To replace Sebelius, the president tapped Sylvia Mathews Burwell, head of the Office of Management and Budget. The Senate unanimously confirmed her for that job last year, but Republican opposition to the health care law could mean a tougher time this go-round.

    The White House today confirmed that Iran’s new ambassador to the United Nations in New York will not be allowed to enter the United States. A spokesman said the envoy was refused a visa because he was involved in seizing the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Denying visas to U.N. diplomats is rare, and Iran said the decision was regrettable.

    Australia’s prime minister has raised new hopes that search teams are closer to finding what remains of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Visiting China, Tony Abbott said the signals detected underwater are helping make their search area even more targeted.

    TONY ABBOTT, Prime Minister, Australia: We have very much narrowed down the search area. We’re now getting to the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black boxes is starting to fade, and we are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Air crews dropped more sonar buoys today, but didn’t pick up any new pings. Planes also kept up the visual search for debris on the surface of the Indian Ocean.

    Investigators in Northern California are searching for answers after a fiery truck-bus collision killed 10 people yesterday. Many were high school students on a trip to visit a college. Explosions could be seen from miles away after a truck veered across a median and slammed into the bus. Survivors escaped by breaking through windows. Some were in critical condition today.

    Protesters in Eastern Ukraine held out in two cities today, as a deadline for surrender came and went without police action. The pro-Russian separatists have occupied government office buildings in Luhansk and Donetsk. They’re flying Russian flags and calling for a referendum like Crimea’s.

    Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk visited Donetsk today and said he’s open to political changes.

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Acting Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): The main goal is to satisfy people who want to see more power given to regions. This can be implemented within the framework of constitutional reforms by abolishing local administration and structures, and passing all powers to executive committees, which will be elected by the local population.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yatsenyuk also warned the protesters they may yet be forced out if they refuse to give up.

    Pope Francis took personal responsibility today for Catholic priests who sexually molested children, and he begged forgiveness. It was the first such statement by any pontiff over the abuse scandal that now spans two decades.

    The pope spoke in Vatican City to a French Catholic network of organizations that protect children’s rights.

    POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church (through interpreter): I feel compelled to take upon myself all the evil that some priests, quite a few in number, but obviously not so many in relation to the total number of priests, to take upon myself all the evil, and to ask forgiveness for the damage they inflicted for the sexual abuse of children.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Last month, the pope named some of the first members to a high-level commission on preventing sexual abuse in the church.

    First lady Michelle Obama and the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden, pledged new help today for some 5.5 million Americans who are caring for wounded troops and veterans. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter and former senator Elizabeth Dole joined in announcing a series of initiatives. They include expanded counseling, job training and financial assistance.

    President and Mrs. Obama have released their income tax returns for 2013. They paid just over $98,000 in federal taxes on income of about $480,000. That’s an effective tax rate of just over 20 percent. They donated nearly $60,000 to charity.

    The post News Wrap: Obama taps Sylvia Burwell to lead Health and Human Services appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    commoncore2

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This month, Oklahoma became the latest state to take a big step toward repealing the Common Core education standards. The Oklahoma State Senate passed a bill just last week to do so, this as more than a dozen other states are considering repeal, and still others are reviewing how they use the standards when it comes to teaching and testing.

    It’s a big shift from the broad and often bipartisan support that Common Core enjoyed just a few years ago.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Common Core was initiated in 2009 by the nation’s governors, seeking national standards for math and English literacy.

    U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supported the move, spending $350 million to develop Common Core tests.

    ARNE DUNCAN, Secretary of Education: I believe this new generation of assessment is an absolute game-changer for American education.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In relatively short order, nearly every state agreed to create curricula based on the Common Core guidelines.

    But more recently, a backlash has begun. Last month, Indiana became the first state to drop the Common Core standards it had already adopted.

    Governor Mike Pence explained the move in an Indianapolis radio interview.

    GOV. MIKE PENCE, R, Ind.: Hoosiers should be very proud and take every opportunity to be engaged in the fact that we’re the first state in the country that’s really going back to the principle that education is a state and local function.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now Oklahoma and other states are moving to follow Indiana’s lead. The criticism initially stemmed from conservatives leery of federal involvement, with some labeling the program “Obamacore.”

    Pennsylvania Congressman John Kline chairs the House Education Committee.

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

    JEFFREY BROWN: There’s been criticism on the left as well, particularly over testing requirements.

    New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has said execution of the standards was — quote — “flawed.”

    The program still has its champions, though. One is the Republican former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Last Sunday on FOX News, he made a push for Common Core.

    FMR. GOV. JEB BUSH, R, Fla.: If you don’t have high expectations, high standards, you’re not going to go anywhere. The idea that it’s a federal program is based — is just not true. It’s — it’s just not. It was voluntarily created by — by governors.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, the repeal move is gathering momentum. It’s expected to clear the Oklahoma legislature in the next few weeks.

    And we go to Oklahoma now to explore all of this.

    We’re joined by two state representatives. Republican Jason Nelson is co-author of bill to repeal the standards. Democrat Emily Virgin is opposed to such a repeal.

    Well, Representative Nelson, why — first with you — why is something that looked good in 2010 no longer the right way to go?

    JASON NELSON, R, Oklahoma State Representative: Well, what I think most legislators and Oklahomans looked forward to in 2010 was higher standards.

    I think a lot of states struggle with setting high standards and maintaining them, not watering them down over time. And I think the hope in 2010 was that Common Core would do that for us. And, as it turns out, the Fordham Institute looked at and compared the states’ standards against Common Core, and we found out that really we didn’t gain anything, but we did cede control to an outside entity.

    So the bill that we’re writing right now says that the state has to maintain control over its standards, but we also include higher ed in our state in our career tech system and developing the new standards, so the public and the legislators that will be voting on the bill have confidence that the standards will be actually higher than what we have had in the past.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Representative Virgin, you still support the Common Core as it was voted in earlier. Why? And why do you think there is this opposition now?

    EMILY VIRGIN, D, Oklahoma State Representative: I do support the Common Core as it was voted in with bipartisan support in 2010.

    I think the opposition is mainly coming from a lot of fringe groups. And, unfortunately, the Republican Party in Oklahoma is giving in to those groups, when we have school districts across the state, like my district in Norman, that have spent thousands of dollars and spent a lot on professional development implementing these standards over the last three years.

    And this bill would essentially just pull the rug out from our teachers and administrators. The problem with this bill right now is that we have a very short period of time to come up with a completely new set of standards, and I just don’t think that’s enough time. I don’t think it’s fair to the teachers and school districts and students that have spent much time and hard work implementing these high standards.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Jason Nelson, this is something we have heard in — around the country really, that part of the backlash is political, that that’s what happened, this turn against Common Core, that was bipartisan at one point.

    JASON NELSON: Well, to say that education policy is a political issue is an understatement of the year, certainly in Oklahoma.

    The reality is the people in Oklahoma want their kids to get a great education. Common Core promised that and, quite frankly, didn’t deliver. And so the state is left to look to another solution. We believe including higher ed and career tech in that process doesn’t just give us a set of good standards, but give us standards that exceed those that have been offered by the Common Core.

    So, you know, what was a good idea last year will be a good idea next year in the standards, and to the extent that school districts have initiated and implemented good practices and good standards in line with the Common Core, we want them to be able to continue that. But to the extent we have imposed on our local school boards and school districts and educators things that aren’t productive in our classrooms and beneficial to kids, we want to — we don’t want to force them to continue to do that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, you’re rejecting the notion that it’s fringe groups or outside groups that are really pushing the agenda here?

    JASON NELSON:  Well, there’s groups what I would say would be from the right and groups from the left.

    There’s educators that I know like the Common Core and there are educators I know that don’t like the Common Core. What the bill seeks to do is put back into the hands of our state board of education the responsibility and authority of developing the standards and really reversing the course that the legislature took in 2010, when we specified a very specific set of standards.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Emily Virgin, to be clear and fair, criticism does come from the left, comes from teachers unions, comes from various sources here.

    EMILY VIRGIN: Absolutely. It does come from both sides. Mainly, in Oklahoma, the opposition has come from the right, but I have heard some from the left also.

    But I think that’s a sign of a good set of challenging standards, is that we’re seeing some opposition from both sides. We still haven’t heard anything concrete as to what is wrong with these standards. And I have never seen any type of evidence that says that they’re not working.

    We know that we can’t go back to what we were doing before, because that wasn’t working, and this was put together by a group of governors, and educators who are involved in the process. And these are higher standards that will make sure that students in Oklahoma measure up to the rest of the country and that they don’t have to rely on remedial courses when they enter college.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Jason Nelson, that’s one of the questions here. You’re talking about high standards. Common Core talks about high standards.

    One of the things you hear is, this is just kind of a rebranding, that, OK, don’t call it Common Core. Now it’s going to be Oklahoma Common Core.

    JASON NELSON:  Well, and, in fact, that’s already happened. I think it was last year the governor by executive order said that the standards would be referred to as Oklahoma academic standards.

    And, again, if a standard, a set of standards and a practice of teaching is a good idea today, it will be a good idea tomorrow. And we would want teachers to continue to do that, but we want educators and parents in the business community and higher ed and our career tech system to be able to develop those standards.

    And that wasn’t the case totally last time. There was a national testing consortium that Oklahoma was a part of and then again the Common Core was developed by a group from outside the state. I think Oklahomans are capable of developing standards where the educators, parents, anybody that’s interested can get involved and make sure those standards reflect the aspirations of Oklahoma families, and businesses and educators.

    JEFFREY BROWN: If this goes down, Emily Virgin, are you — well, what do you think will be the implications for students in Oklahoma? Because part of the impetus of this, of course, was not to — to make sure that some states don’t fall behind.

    EMILY VIRGIN: Correct. And students in Oklahoma will not be able to be measured with the rest of the country that have adopted these standards.

    That was one of the big bonuses of the Common Core was that standards would be the same across the country. We would be able to measure ourselves against other states and against students in other states. And we won’t be able to do that if we pull out of the Common Core. Oklahoma will also have a really hard time — if we adopt really different from Common Core, we will have a hard time finding textbooks, we will have a hard time curriculum and professional development for our teachers, who have already — who have already implemented this in their classrooms.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, just briefly, are you expecting it to be repealed, in fact?

    EMILY VIRGIN: That has — that’s yet to be determined.

    We passed a bill in the House, and then it went to the Senate and became pretty different than what we passed in the House, and we’re expecting that to go to conference committee. So we may have to wait until the last few weeks of session. And I think that’s just not fair to our students and educators, who are relying on a consistent set of standards.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will watch what happens in your state and others.

    Representative Emily Virgin, Representative Jason Nelson of Oklahoma, thanks so much.

    JASON NELSON:  You’re welcome.

    EMILY VIRGIN: Thank you.

    The post Facing bipartisan backlash, Oklahoma reconsiders Common Core education standards 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’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentlemen, welcome.

    MARK SHIELDS: Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So we’re going to talk about Common Core in a minute.

    But, Mark, I want to start with what everybody’s been talking about today. And that is Kathleen Sebelius out as secretary of health and human services, after the big brouhaha over — over health care reform. What’s her legacy?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, let me just admit up front, Kathleen Sebelius has been a personal friend. For 46 years, I have known her. So, I like her.

    I have not talked to her about this. But part of her legacy, in a strange way, is a Washington story that nobody really talks about. And that is — Bob Gates did in his book — and that is each succeeding White House brings more and more power to the White House. Cabinet officials become essentially figureheads, to a great degree, I mean, State and Defense perhaps obviously less than others.

    And so everything is micromanaged from the White House. The idea that the health care plan, the biggest initiative of this administration, the most historic action, wasn’t going to be managed by the White House was just absolutely imagination. It just couldn’t be true. They were on it. They were in it up to their eyebrows.

    So, when it went wrong, somebody had to take the hit, and that was Kathleen Sebelius. And she took it. She was secretary of HHS. She stepped up manfully, to use a bad adverb. She took responsibility. She took accountability. She apologized.

    And if it works — because the rule is very simple. All — anything that goes right, Judy, the president gets credit. Anything that goes wrong…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Somebody else.

    MARK SHIELDS: … it goes to a Cabinet officer or other factors.

    If this works out, if health care does turn out the way its supporters and many Americans want it to, then all credit will go to President Obama. If it doesn’t, then Kathleen will be blamed, fairly, unfairly, or maybe — maybe not by historians, but in the short run.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Will she get some of the credit, though, David, if this works out in the long, long run?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, I guess so.

    I — if it works out in the long, long run, I mean, we remember Frances Perkins, who was instrumental in passing Social Security. And she gets credit for that. So, I think if it works out in the long, long run, which I’m skeptical about, that she will get some credit about it.

    Mark’s right. I wasn’t — haven’t been thrilled with the way the president sort of off-loaded blame during the whole Web page fiasco. I thought he publicly shouldn’t have done that. He should have said — taken it on himself, just as a management, as a leadership technique.

    I think it’s fair to say a couple of things. First, she was — with all the reputation that has gone on, and it’s very negative about her around Washington, she was certainly not a dynamo at HHS. And, sometimes, to move an organization, you have to be just a — just a dynamo.

    And it seems that she was not that. Nonetheless, it’s also true that secretaries do not run their agencies, that the agencies run their agencies, and the secretaries can have only a limited effect on what’s going on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the bureaucracy.

    DAVID BROOKS: The bureaucracy, the career people, are really running the thing.

    And it was always going to be hard to get government workers, who are not Silicon Valley tech — tech geeks, to start up a pretty ambitious Web page — Web site. And, so, I’m a little less down on her than is the common currency right now in Washington.

    MARK SHIELDS: I would take exception with David, in the sense that — I mean, I’m sure David talks to a lot of people.

    I think that Kathleen got high marks from the kind of cliques in the Cabinet, all right, in Washington. And the people whom I know and who I respect and whose performance I respect were high on Kathleen. The people who worked for her were fiercely loyal and very committed and kind of emotional in support.

    She was twice elected as a Democratic governor of Kansas, the reddest of Republican states, and she was one of the five best governors in the country, according to “TIME” magazine. So, I mean, she was not — she was a person of considerable accomplishment when she came here. And she was key to Barack Obama.

    I mean, without Barack — she — when Hillary Clinton became the woman candidate in 2007, Kathleen Sebelius was one of the few major women officeholders who endorsed Barack Obama.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s true. That’s true.

    Well, now they have named another woman, David, Sylvia Burwell, who has been running the Office of Budget and Management, to take her place. Does this allow the administration to get a fresh start with health care?

    DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think the changeover of the Cabinet secretary is going to have — is going to change anybody’s opinion of what they think about the thing.

    It strikes me as an exceedingly good choice. Burwell overcame some early disadvantages. She went to Harvard, got a Rhodes Scholarship.

    (LAUGHTER)

    DAVID BROOKS: But despite that background, she’s managed to do OK in life.

    She worked through the Clinton years. She’s worked through the Obama years. She does around town — I have only met her a few times — but she has a sterling reputation, both for intelligence, for policy knowledge, experience, but especially for management implementation skills.

    So if she’s — if you walked around the Obama White House looking for people with the top reputations, she certainly would be among them.

    MARK SHIELDS: I think it was a good choice, and puts the Republicans on a — who have made Obamacare and Affordable Care Act their centerpiece of what they stand for, and that’s it — they stand for opposition to it — it’s going to be tough to oppose her, having voted 96-0 to confirm her as budget director just a year ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Unanimously.

    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

    So, I think it’s going to be tough to oppose her. But it’s not a new start, but she — you don’t have the face there any longer that you can blame and use as a target politically. You can’t blame her.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, this week, we also observed the anniversary of another big, big piece of legislation, David, the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    The whole week, we have heard a lot about it. How do you see — how do you believe the Civil Rights Act has changed this country?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s one of the great pieces of legislation of the 20th century. Aside from the legal effect it had on how we enforce laws, it sent a marker that discrimination of all sorts was just not going to be tolerated.

    And, of course, it’s been an imperfect journey along that route, but the intellectual shift happened with that law, and that the people who were defending any sort of discrimination or were motivated by sort of unfairness were on the defensive. And I think it accelerated the increasing fairness of society.

    The one point I have said about all the coverage of it, it seems to me a little politically-heavy, a little LBJ-heavy. If you looked at some of the momentum up to the law, to me, the crucial event, a crucial event was the March on Washington.

    And it’s worth remembering, then, when Bayard Rustin and Philip Randolph really first initiated the idea for that march, there was intense opposition from the establishment civil rights groups. And it was seen as a bold move. It was only after Birmingham that you got some momentum behind that thing.

    And that — and it’s an emphasis that to pass major legislation like that, it really helps to have a gigantic social movement first. And it’s very hard to do that without the social movement first.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Out in the country.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    No, and the March on Washington, just if you’re going to start passing out credit, Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers was the organizer, architect, engineer and producer of that. Without that — but it was transformational, the Civil Rights Act.

    I was there the night it passed the Senate in 1964.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You were there in the Senate?

    MARK SHIELDS: I was.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Whoa.

    MARK SHIELDS: But, in 1965, that — this was way down the predicate — it changed, Judy, that an African-American family could go into a McDonald’s, a father could go in with his children and buy a hot dog or a hamburger or whatever, which it was federal law that there was discrimination in movie theaters and bus stations, in transportation, in hotels, motels.

    That changed. But ’65 was the key. And that was the Voting Rights Act.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Voting Rights Act.

    MARK SHIELDS: Because that was power. That was actual power at the polling place. And, to me, that was the key.

    But, without ’64, you never get to ’65. And without either, you don’t — Lyndon Johnson was — was central. He was — he was dominant, make no mistake about it. He was a man, like all of us, with faults, but he was a legislature/executive unmatched.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, 49 years later, we’re still talking about voting rights, the act, as Mark said, David, the law that passed the year after the civil rights.

    DAVID BROOKS: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What’s the main unrealized promise of both of those pieces of legislation?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s the inequality of living conditions, that these many years after the Civil Rights Act, African-Americans are — still have lower graduation and lower incomes. There are still inequalities, and not only inequalities of opportunity, but inequalities that are defined along racial lines.

    And so that’s still a remaining challenge. And I would say that’s more a challenge of economic opportunity and social policy, less of some of the legal stuff. But it remains a core stain on our society, that the color of skin is really — either advantages you or disadvantages you in the course of your life.

    MARK SHIELDS: I agree with what David said.

    I would just add that Colin Powell put it very bluntly when he spoke in North Carolina to a group of businessmen after that state passed a very restrictive voting rights act or voter I.D. law. He said, there is no voter fraud. There is none. And all of these voter I.D. laws that have been passed since the Supreme Court decision last year limiting the Voting Rights Act are intended for one purpose.

    And that’s to suppress nonwhite voters. And that remains a part of unfinished business in our politics.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, while we’re talking about voting, and it’s this year, of course, the midterm election in 2016. It’s never too soon to talk about that.

    Two prominent maybe presidential candidates in the news this week, David, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush repeating his support for immigration reform and for the Common Core, which we just heard Jeff’s conversation about.

    Conservatives have jumped on him. What does that mean?  Do we — do you think he’s going to run? What’s your thinking about Jeb Bush?

    DAVID BROOKS: I personally don’t think he is going to run. That’s just a guess, based on no knowledge, just simply because he’s not shown the intense desire in the past. And I have never seen a candidate where that intense desire flowers in middle age. You’re born with it or something.

    I think he’s right on the merits on both subjects. And he’s reminded — reminiscent of where his brother was, frankly, and where the Republican Party used to be not too long ago, in support of Common Core, which are high standards, and much higher standards than the state standards, in support of a compassionate immigration policy.

    And so I think he’s absolutely right on the merits. But where the Republican Party has shifted, it makes it much harder than it was when his brother ran.

    MARK SHIELDS: There are two kinds of conservatives. There are five minutes to midnight conservatives and there are five minutes to sunrise conservatives — five minutes to midnight conservatives, that things are bad, and they’re going to get worse.

    Five minutes to sunrise conservatives think, yes, things are bad, but they’re going to get better. And Jeb Bush — Jeb Bush is very much in the second category. And the Republican Party, especially the congressional party, is overloaded with five minutes to midnight conservatives.

    They’re just hoping that Obamacare implodes. They’re just hoping that things go wrong and get worse, that unemployment somehow rises. And I think, in that sense, he brings something to the race that it desperately needs. I would say there’s one number to look at to decide whether he runs.

    He has approximately a 40-inch waist right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Whoa.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: If that goes down to 34 inches, I will say he is running.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are we going to start using that as a measurement?

    DAVID BROOKS: Then he will be an it’s 5:00 somewhere conservative.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, very quickly, 45 seconds.

    Hillary Clinton, the other possible presidential candidate, had a shoe thrown at her, Mark, in Las Vegas yesterday. She ducked. What does it say about her character, do you think?

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: She handled it superbly.

    There are very few unscripted, spontaneous moments in politics. Yesterday was one of them in Las Vegas. And Hillary Clinton showed humor, she showed grace, and she showed a certain self-deprecating quality. I thought it was a 10-strike for her.

    DAVID BROOKS: But throw a flip-flop.

    (LAUGHTER)

    DAVID BROOKS: Throw something challenging. Don’t throw a big shoe, or maybe a cowboy boot.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It looked like a heavy shoe, wasn’t it?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think you want to throw a flip-flop, just something symbolic, not to hurt anybody.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: She asked if it was a bat or Cirque du Soleil.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

    You guys are both the Cirque du Soleil every — every week.

    (LAUGHTER)

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

    The post Shields and Brooks on Sebelius’ legacy, the 1964 Civil Rights Act appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Markets Continue Downward Slide As Trading Opens

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wall Street extended its decline today following a major sell-off Thursday that included the single worst day for the Nasdaq since 2011.

    The technology-heavy index has dropped more than 8 percent from the high it reached after the dot-com bust of 2000. Today, the Nasdaq fell another 54 points to close below 4,000 for only the second time this year. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 143 points to close at 16,026. And the S&P was down 17 at 1,855 — at 1,815, its lowest level in two months.

    There are questions now about whether the long market rally may have hit a wall.

    Hari Sreenivasan picks up on that and the specific concerns in tech and biotech.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I am joined now by Hugh Johnson. He’s a market analyst and runs his own investment management firm.

    So, Hugh, first off, what’s happening with these tech stocks and, maybe more specifically, the biotech ones?

    HUGH JOHNSON, Hugh Johnson Advisors: Well, if you take a look at market history, you know, what we have had more recently, as Judy suggested, is right on.

    And that is, we have gone a long period — you remember 2013, the market up 30 percent. Nobody expected that. That’s a long time for the market to be going up without some sort of an adjustment or a correction. So I think this all starts with the basic sort of commonsense perception that this has got to be at least a correction in an ongoing bull market.

    Now, it’s a little bit more than that because, you know, if you have stocks going up a straight line, basically, as they did in 2013, they’re going to reach levels that are arguably very overvalued. And I think this starts really as a valuation issue. Really, the prices of stocks got to levels that didn’t reflect underlying fundamentals, reflected unrealistic growth rates, and, as a result, they started to sell.

    And when they start to go down, when some stocks start to go down, it tends to be sort of contagious. It spreads. It makes everybody worried that we’re going to have a repeat of 2000 or maybe 2008, which is fresh in the minds of just about every investor. So it really starts with valuation. Valuation is really, I think, the number one issue.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So were the tech stocks or biotechs more volatile in these valuations?

    HUGH JOHNSON: Yes, they’re really more volatile because of the expectation, particularly when you look at the Internet stocks, then sort of new technology, social media stocks. You can also look at the biotech stocks. They have reached levels that reflected growth rates which are much higher than the sort of widespread or broader market, reached levels that, quite frankly, in my judgment, reflected very unrealistic prospects for their fundamentals.

    At the same time that that happened, those companies themselves told us that the kind of prospects that Wall Street was expecting is not in the cards, and that kind of touched it off. It really was those stocks in particular that have reached levels. It wasn’t quite so widespread. And, as a result of that, you see the decline being primarily technology, primarily biotechnology, and a few other sectors.

    It spread a little, but not a lot. Some sectors of the market, the safer sectors, where there’s not an earnings problem, utilities, telecommunications, consumer staples, things like food stocks and household product stocks, they didn’t get the — they didn’t have anywhere near the kind of decline. It’s primarily the so-called high-flyers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK, so this is a correction, or is it the beginning of a bear?

    HUGH JOHNSON: That’s a great question.

    It’s probably only a correction. For you to make the case that this is the start of a bear market, I think you have to make the case that it’s going to be a decline in stocks that’s going to be accompanied by a recession. I think it’s very hard to make a case that we have a recession in the cards in 2014-2015.

    The consensus forecast for the economy, something like 2.6, 2.7, good growth in 2014, even stronger growth in 2015, when we take a look at some of those things that kind of tell us where things are going, index of leading economic indicators, those indicators tell us — they continue to go up, continue to tell us that the economy is going to expand through 2014 and ’15.

    So I think, based on all those kind of let’s call them tea leaves, you really have to come to the conclusion — we don’t know for sure, but a conclusion — that this is probably a correction, and a fairly severe one, one that’s going to really test us, in an ongoing bull market, not the start of a bear market that will be accompanied by a recession.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Hugh Johnson, thanks so much.

    HUGH JOHNSON: My pleasure.

    The post Has the market rally in biotech and Internet stocks hit a wall? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    poet

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally: the power of words in the fight for civil rights.

    This week, we did explore the legacy of monumental moments in the country’s struggle toward equality, from Marian Anderson’s historic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to landmark legislation spearheaded by President Lyndon Johnson.

    Tonight, Jeff continues his travels with U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey to discover where poetry lives, this time to her native Mississippi and ending with a march in Selma, Alabama.

    (SINGING)

    JEFFREY BROWN: It was a journey of memory, including the painful one of killing Medgar Evers in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi, home in 1963.

    MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS: To me, you’re standing on hallowed ground.

    JEFFREY BROWN: On this day his widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, daughter Reena and others paid honor.

    REP. JOHN LEWIS, D, Ga.: This one man gave his blood to help free not just a people, but a nation. We’re more than grateful.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It was also a journey of language, the power of words to move a nation.

    EVERS-WILLIAMS: If I could have your attention…

    JEFFREY BROWN: The annual Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage was founded 14 years ago by the Faith and Policy Institute and civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis to commemorate key events from the era and bring politicians from both sides of the aisle together with activists from then and now.

    This year, Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and I joined in for what turned out to be a deeply personal experience for her. Natasha grew up in Mississippi the daughter of a black mother and white father.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY, U.S. Poet Laureate: You know, I felt like I grew up in sort of the intersections between the Civil War history, civil rights history, and then that — that moment into which it was born.

    And it is the scaffolding that holds up all the things that I’m concerned about as a poet. I think, for me, a commitment to social justice always undergirds my poems.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Over three days, more than 100 participants traveled by bus through the Mississippi Delta, Clarksdale, Ruleville, money, on to Jackson, and then into Alabama for a march in Selma.

    In Jackson, they visited Tougaloo College, a historically black liberal arts school founded by Christian missionaries for freed slaves.

    REV. EDWIN KING, Freedom Summer Organizer: People gathered after the assassination of Medgar Evers.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There, they heard from Reverend Edwin King, one of the organizers of the 1964 Freedom Summer, who delivered the sermon at the funeral for civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered nearby that summer.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: It seemed the angels had gathered.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Natasha read one of her poems titled “Incident” based on a childhood experience of witnessing a cross burning on her family’s lawn.

    Here’s an excerpt.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: We tell the story every year how we peered from the windows, shades drawn, though nothing really happened, the charred grass now green again.

    We peered from the windows, shades drawn, at the cross trussed like a Christmas tree, the charred grass still green. Then we darkened our rooms, lit the hurricane lamps. At the cross trussed like a Christmas tree, a few men gathered, white as angels in their gowns. We darkened our rooms and lit hurricane lamps, the wicks trembling in their fonts of oil.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Afterwards, Natasha and Reverend King talked about poetry’s role in the movement.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: Do you think of poetry? I think I certainly do see it as another kind of, another form of sacred language.

    REV. EDWIN KING: It’s there. And in the music of the freedom songs, we could hold on to each other. We could express our fears together that we could never quite say out loud. I’m afraid, but I will go ahead.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: Right.

    REV. EDWIN KING: But we could sing we’re not afraid, because we were. So music is a form, a poetic form of telling the truth.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In Jackson, down the street from the state capitol, there was a service at the Galloway United Methodist Church, at one time a segregationist congregation which lost many members when it finally opened its doors to blacks in 1967.

    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was one of the Republican representatives who made the trip, in his case for a second time.

    REP. ERIC CANTOR, R, Va., Majority Leader: I think, in all, it increases the sensitivity for all of us to never, ever again allow something like this and the hatred that produced the civil rights movement for the struggle for justice, to make sure that we continue that fight and not ever allow that hatred to come back in.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The state of Mississippi, in fact, is currently building two museums about its history with a focus on civil rights.

    But at a dinner for the pilgrimage group, former Mississippi Democratic Governor William Winter spoke of more troubled times.

    FMR. GOV. WILLIAM WINTER, D, Miss.: And we wasted 20 years, and I apologize to the people of Mississippi for not having asserted more leadership. We white folks owe as much to you and your martyred husband as black folks do, because you freed us, too.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The last day of the pilgrimage was spent in Selma, Alabama.

    One sign of the enormous changes here, Terri Sewell, the first black valedictorian of Selma high and now the state’s first black congresswoman. For her, this trip wasn’t so much about memory as legacy.

    REP. TERRI SEWELL, D, Ala.: Old battles are now new again. Progress is always elusive. So, I think that it’s important that we never forget what happened here on this bridge and that we are ever vigilant in fighting for the right to vote.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Forty-nine years ago, the Brown Chapel served as a starting point for the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches for voting rights.

    John Lewis described what would become known as Bloody Sunday, when police used billy clubs and tear gas against the 600 marchers who had crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

    REP. JOHN LEWIS: I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to die.

    JEFFREY BROWN: We talked after the service.

    I was listening to you inside talking about what happened here 49 years ago. It sounds like it’s really fresh memories to you.

    REP. JOHN LEWIS: There’s not any way that I can forget what happened here 49 years ago. It’s just as fresh as the morning dew.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Fresh as the morning dew?

    REP. JOHN LEWIS: It’s just as fresh as the air we breathe here in Alabama. I grew up not too far from here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: How important was language and words to what happened here and in these marches?

    REP. JOHN LEWIS: Oh, words meant everything, words, music. Without words, without the spoken word, Selma and the movement would have been like a bird without wings.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There were more words and music, as this year’s pilgrimage concluded with a march over the bridge.

    When we first talked about the project, this was the event you first told me about.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: Well, for me, it had a lot to do with my own work, my own poems, but in a larger sense, what I think about the necessity for American poetry in general, and that is for a kind of recording of our cultural moment and to record the history of a people.

    JEFFREY BROWN: As the pilgrimage came to an end…

    REP. JOHN LEWIS: We continue to walk.

    JEFFREY BROWN: … John Lewis, on a bullhorn near where he was beaten half-a-century ago, told the crowd, the movement continues today.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Online, you can watch the full reading of Natasha’s poem “Incident,” and you can read her reflections from the trip. That’s on our Poetry page.

    The post Remembering civil rights history, when ‘words meant everything’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    refugees

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to those whose lives have been upended by war.

    In Syria, more than 6.5 million are displaced inside the country, many without access to aid, and nearly two million more have fled to neighboring countries. In Central Africa, new humanitarian crises are emerging in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, all of this as aid groups struggle to deal with harsh and deadly conditions on the ground, as well as a massive shortfall in finances.

    Earlier this afternoon, I spoke to Antonio Guterres. He’s the former prime minister of Portugal and the current United Nations high commissioner for refugees. I spoke to him about some of the most pressing issues his organization faces.

    U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, thank you very much for joining us.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees: Pleasure to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You have your hands full in so many parts of the world, but let’s start with Syria. Tell us what the main challenge there is now.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Well, the main challenge is, it’s a never-ending conflict.

    We have now the largest displacement in the world for decades, 6.5 million people displaced inside the country, more than 2.6 million refugees coming into the neighboring countries. And, as you can imagine, it’s not only a terrible tragedy for the Syrians. It’s becoming an enormous threat to the stability of the region and a global threat to peace and security.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what is your agency able to do right now for these refugees?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Well, what we’re doing is essentially mobilizing our partners, 125 organizations, together with the governments, in order to try to give shelter, protection, water, food, and to put as many children in school as possible — but only one-third of the children refugees are at schools — and to provide health care to these people, knowing that whatever we do is not enough, knowing that these people have suffered so much, that they deserve from the international community a much stronger solidarity, a much stronger proof that we understand their needs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what more do you need right now for the Syrian refugees?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Well, I think, for the Syrian refugees, we need more support from humanitarian organizations, but also massive support to the host countries.

    A country like Lebanon has one-forth of its population in Syria. The impact on the economy, on the society, on the educational systems is huge. The destabilizing impact in relation to the political life of the countries is also huge. So massive international solidarity is needed. And let’s be honest. The world has not been able to provide to these generous host countries the kind of support they deserve and they badly need at the present moment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There was a U.N. resolution passed early this year to allow more aid into Syria. Has that made a difference?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: It has made some difference, but they are still far from being able to provide enough assistance to the people that either have been displaced by the conflict, or are trapped, besieged in some areas, and many of them living outside even worse than the refugees themselves, because not only do they not see their needs being addressed, but their insecurity is enormous.

    We have displaced people inside Syria that have moved six, seven times, and the war is coming after them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as we know, Syria is bad enough, but there are also crises on the African continent, the Central African Republic, a crisis unfolding there, where you have Christian militia forces stopping and attacking Muslim civilians trying to leave. What is the latest information you have from there?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Well, it’s exactly that.

    There was never a religious problem in the Central Africa Republic. This was artificially created by those that tried to manipulate the feelings of the people and the fears of the people, putting Christians against Muslims and Muslims against Christians. And that is horrible. And today what we’re witnessing is the risk of a religious cleansing of all the Muslims from the western part of the country.

    And at the same time, the eastern part of the country that has a majority of Muslims has been completely abandoned by the state, and so a terrible humanitarian situation, in a country where the state has practically disappeared, and where it is absolutely essential to increase security, increasing quickly the number of military and police that are there from the African Union waiting for the U.N. force to come, and at the same time helping the Central African Republicans themselves to have a minimum of police, a minimum of judicial system, and some jails at work allow for all the criminals that are around to be prosecuted, to be condemned, if that is the Kay, and jailed, and not to go on creating anarchy and chaos all around the country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, can money make a difference there?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Money is essential, but it’s more than money. It’s a strong political commitment to increase the security. And that requires more forces on the ground.

    Without more forces on the ground, it will be impossible to prevent the kind of generalized violence that we are witnessing in the Central African Republic.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And then another part of the African content, South Sudan. I was looking today. You have more than 280,000 refugees there crossing the border into Uganda, into Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan just since September. This is a crisis affecting a number of countries.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Yes, and it is something that breaks our hearts.

    I was recently in Nyal. It’s a small place inside South Sudan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you said you just came back from there.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: … controlled from — by the opposition, where I went with the World Food Program executive director.

    And all of a sudden, two young men came to see me and said, we were you in 2005 in a refugee camp in Uganda. And at that time was when the comprehensive peace agreement was signed, and we were enthusiastic about going back. And they came back to South Sudan, and all of a sudden, they are displaced again.

    We had half-a-million South Sudanese go back home full of hope, full of joy, wanting to rebuild their country. And now the truth is that the political leadership of the country, both government and opposition, has created a situation in which all these people are in a dramatic humanitarian situation with hunger, with all basic needs not being taken care, and because of the violence, forced to flee again into neighboring countries.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What is your message, High Commissioner Guterres, for Americans who are listening, others who are listening who think, I would like to help, this is such a big problem, what can I do, and does it make a difference? What do you say?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: I think that Americans have been extremely involved in South Sudan.

    Many American volunteers have been working there and supporting the people. And that is, of course, something that we should praise. Support, financial support, humanitarian aid in South Sudan and in neighboring countries to help the refugees is also essential, but political commitments in order to force the parties to make peace.

    And I think the countries of the region and those that have invested so much, like the U.S., in South Sudan need to do everything possible to make sure that this completely stupid war — there are no different programs — it’s just a struggle for power and for the control of the resources, the oil — that this completely stupid war is ended.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you look for contributions to the commission, to the refugee work you’re doing?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Well, of course we need — we badly need support.

    African — all our African operations are dramatically underfunded because the attentions are very much on the Syria crisis.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: But it’s only support of UNHCR. It’s support to all NGOs, all U.N. agencies that are working both inside South Sudan and in the countries around.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a massive undertaking.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: It is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we thank you very much for talking about with us about it, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Thank you.

    The post As refugee crises escalate, UN commissioner calls for ‘massive international solidarity’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    jailtime

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    Timothy Fugatt, the minister of music at this church near Childersburg, Alabama, says that it’s his deep faith in God that got him through some tough times. His son, Cole, was born with a rare brain disease.

    TIM FUGATT: The spheres in his brain didn’t divide properly. So pretty much when you look through a CT scan, it was nothin’ but fluid.

    But life got even tougher after a seemingly minor incident in December of 2010 when he was pulled over by police and ticketed for an expired license plate tag.

    TIM FUGATT: I was coming from the hospital where had been staying with Cole there in the hospital. And as I come into town, they had– a traffic checkpoint.

    Timothy’s wife, Kristy, had also gotten tickets for two traffic infractions and both were ordered to appear in the Childersburg municipal court. The Fugatts told the judge about their hospitalized son and were both found “not guilty”, as these court documents show. But the judge ruled that the two still had to pay “court costs” of about $500.

    During this period, Timothy Fugatt says he was spending so much time at the hospital with his son that he couldn’t hold down a job, and with his wife also not working, they couldn’t afford to pay the court costs… so their case was turned over to Judicial Corrections Services, a private company that collects fines for the city.

    Fugatt says that Judicial Corrections Services, known as JCS, told him that he and his wife could be jailed if they didn’t pay what they owed.

    TIM FUGATT: They would just plain out say, you know, // “If– if you can’t pay then they’ll issue you a warrant for your arrest.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Did that scare you?

    TIM FUGATT: Of course.

    Fugatt says he did the best he could to pay off his family’s fines, but says when he couldn’t continue to pay and he and his wife missed at least one court date, they were arrested and jailed.

    TIM FUGATT: I felt completely like a criminal. I mean I didn’t sell drugs. I didn’t break into anyone’s home. I didn’t kill anybody. I had an expired tag.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: So you and your wife were found not guilty of the traffic violations. But still you were being arrested.

    TIM FUGATT: We were being arrested, yes. I was very upset, very angry

    They were released several hours later when a relative paid a portion of what they owed.

    That incident contributed to the Fugatt’s decision to become part of a lawsuit against Judicial Corrections Services and the town of Childersburg. The suit alleges that incarcerating people who can’t pay their fines violates the constitution. Though some experts argue that jail time is legal for those who don’t make a good faith effort to pay their fines, In 1971 The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution prohibits imposing “a jail term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith pay the fine in full.”

    DAVID DINELLI: That’s exactly what’s happening here.

    David Dinelli is the deputy legal directory of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization that is not involved in the Fugatt’s lawsuit but has represented others in similar situations. Dinelli estimates a 1,000 people every month are going to jail in Alabama because they cannot afford to pay a fine.

    DAVID DINELLI: Everyone thinks that debtor’s prison is over. It’s behind us. It isn’t. As a matter of practice, and in some cases, policy, the courts ask one question, “Can you pay the fine.” If you can’t then you have to what’s called “sit it out in jail.” That is unconstitutional unless the court first conducts an inquiry into whether they’re indigent and the causes for their inability to pay the fine. Routinely what’s happening here is that no such inquiry is undertaken.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Did anyone in the court every try and assess whether or not you could afford the pay the fees?

    private probation

    TIM FUGATT: No, Sir. It was just pass and go. It was really fast. It was really fast.

    Collecting fines is more important than ever because many cities face budget shortfalls. But these same cities don’t have the personnel to collect the fines. So increasingly they turn to what are known as private probation companies. That’s where Judicial Corrections Services comes in.

    STEVEN BOONE: We were approached by the– the probation service. They found a niche.

    Childersburg officials declined to speak with us, so we met with Steven Boone, the finance director for Mountain Brook, a city neighboring Childersburg that also hired Judicial Correction Services. Its court is one of over a 1,000, in at least 12 states across the country, that’s hired a private probation company, according to Human Rights Watch.

    Judicial Correction Services collects fines at no cost to the cities it works for.

    STEVEN BOONE: They’re helping us to become more efficient, and they’re helping us to ensure that we don’t get a backlog of delinquent accounts that may ultimately get so old and people move away that we’ll never collect it. So it’s– I think it’s a win/win.

    SENATOR CAM WARD: I think private probation has a role.

    Republican state senator Cam Ward is the chairman of the judiciary committee and has been following the growing trend of private probation. Not only does Ward support the use of such companies, he believes the industry will continue to grow.

    SENATOR CAM WARD: Now, I will tell you this, I think the trend to privatization in– in the area of collections, I think that will continue all across the country until you see a concentrated effort to put more money into the collection services that the state runs.

    But these private debt collectors are by definition in business to make money. And even though they don’t charge the city anything, they charge offenders, like Timothy Fugatt, $45 a month plus a $10 start-up fee, until a debt is fully paid off. This on top of the $500 in court costs that Fugatt already owed.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Can you tell me if you were making an effort to pay these off?

    TIM FUGATT: We were. Yes, Sir. Even though, you know, I was makin’ the effort, I wasn’t gettin’ very far with it. It was– it was till all these fees adding up. So I wasn’t gaining much ground.

    Still, 4 months after their initial court date, documents show that the Fugatt’s scraped together enough to pay off almost $300 of the $500 they owed in court costs.

    But then things went from bad to worse.. in June of 2011, their son, Cole, died. A month later their house that had been in the family for generations was foreclosed upon. At this point the Fugatts say they were consumed with grief and were missing their appointments with JCS. Timothy says he explained the difficult circumstances his family was under, but he says the JCS probation officer wouldn’t work with him at all.

    TIM FUGATT: It was all at one time, just– just hit us all at once. And I explained it all to them. But we– you know, it was either pay or go to jail.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Being threatened with a jail sentence, did that help you to come up with the money?

    TIM FUGATT: It helped to try a little harder. But, you know, still. I mean, as the old saying goes, you know, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.

    Over the next 8 months with JCS monthly fees adding up, the couple missed at least one court date each and were fined additional fees for failure to appear. Then a warrant for their arrest was issued. By the time of their arrest in February of 2012, the Fugatt’s had racked up $2,500 in additional court fines. Remember all this began with three traffic violations for which they were found not guilty.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: If– if you would’ve come up with the money that you owed Judicial Correction Services and you would’ve shown up for all of your appointments with them and to the courts, none of this would have ever happened?

    TIM FUGATT: You’re right. It– it wouldn’t have happened. But, you know, the situation I was in, I was doin’ what I could do, you know? I had– a dying child, // no steady job at that point because we were back and forth to the hospital, I was doin’ what I could do.

    David Dinelli of the Southern Poverty Law center says that people like the Fugatts end up paying JCS off for years because of all the additional fees and added fines that they often accrue.

    DAVID DINELLI: They’re in a system in which all they are doing is paying JCS, Judicial Collection Services on a monthly basis for the privilege of staying out of jail.

    We asked legal scholar and Columbia Law professor Gillian Metzger to take a look at the lawsuit and to evaluate the constitutionality of private companies, like Judicial Correction Services, collecting fines for cities like Childersburg. She has no involvement in the case.

    GILLIAN METZGER: Part of what due process requires– is that you have an impartial decision maker. And if the company that is imposing the fees and continuing your supervision has a financial interest in your staying under supervision, then that really calls– calls their– impartiality into question. And they have a financial motive. So there is, I think, a real constitutional issue here simply on that arrangement.

    Metzger also says the court is obligated to provide alternative options for an individual to pay off a debt to society, such as community service, if he or she is indigent.

    GILLIAN METZGER: If you’re not paying because you’re just too poor to pay, then the court can’t automatically imprison you. They have to do an investigation about alternative arrangements in order to– to allow you to work off the fine in some other way.

    We reached out to JCS multiple times for an interview, but we never received a reply. But on its website JCS says the lawsuit is “baseless.” We also tried unsuccessfully several times to ask the mayor of Childersburg, “BJ” Meeks, if he was satisfied with the services JCS has been providing the city, but city hall never responded to our request. So we went to a city council meeting to ask.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: After speaking to some of the residents here, they feel like they’ve been threatened with a jail sentence if they don’t pay their fines and I wonder if you had a comment.

    MAYOR MEEKS: Well Then that’s up to the court system. Is, you know..

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: I mean, is it not unconstitutional to jail somebody who cannot pay their fee?

    MAYOR MEEKS: I don’t know, again, if the court system is satisfied with it under state Supreme Court jurisdiction…I know that we contract, we are one of the many many cities in Alabama that uses contract service, and the reason being because of not having enough personnel, we have…
    Even State Senator Cam Ward, who supports the private probation industry, has concerns.

    STATE SENATOR CAM WARD: What’s currently in existence is almost like the Wild West. There is no regulation. If you’re gonna create a system that, quote/unquote, is a “debtors prison,” all you’re doing is inviting yourself to a federal lawsuit, is what you’re doing.

    As for the Fugatts, after being charged an initial court cost of about $500 for traffic violations of which they were found not guilty… court documents provided by the Fugatt’s lawyers show that they’ve paid almost $1,300 to the Childersburg Court. It’s a number that doesn’t even include all the additional monthly fees they paid to Judicial Correction Services… a figure the City of Childersburg declined to provide us due to pending litigation.

    Timothy Fugatt says that his family still owes more money to Judicial Corrections Services. How much? He’s not sure. He says JCS stopped contacting him after the lawsuit was filed.

    The post Without funds to pay fines, minor incidents can mean jail time appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    obamaweekly

    Credit: Whitehouse.gov

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is making his case for equal pay for women – a leading election-year issue for Democrats.

    Obama says in his weekly radio and Internet address that it’s an embarrassment that women earn less than men even in the same professions and with the same education.

    Obama issued an executive order this past week that bars federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries.

    Such an order is considered a way for women to become better informed about their pay.

    In the Republicans’ weekly address, Cathy McMorris Rodgers – a congresswoman from Washington state – says the economy under Obama is hurting women.

    She says Republican proposals to help small businesses and increase jobs will benefit all.

    The post In weekly address, Obama reiterates call for equal pay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    There are reports that a gas attack hit a village in the central province of Hama on Friday, with both the Syrian government and rebel forces blaming each other for the incident.

    SyriaPoisonGas

    An amateur video posted online showed the scene in a hospital room in Kfar Zeita, a Syrian village where the latest gas attack reportedly took place. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the attack. Credit: Associated Press

    The country’s main western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, accused the government of carrying out the poison gas attack in the village of Kfar Zeita.

    The U.K based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also blamed the government regime for the incident. Rami Abdel Rahman who runs the anti-government information office said regime planes dropped explosive barrels on the village resulting in “thick smoke and odors,” according to the BBC.

    On the other side of the civil war, Syria’s state-run television has put the blame on Nusra Front, an al-Qaida linked rebel group. The network reported that the group had released toxic chlorine causing two deaths and leaving more than “100 people to suffer from suffocation.”

    The TV network also reported having information that Nusra Front was planning to launch additional attacks in another part of Hama and the northern province of Idlib. They did not give details about how they obtained this information.

    None of the claims by either side have been independently verified. However, there has been video posted online by the opposition that reportedly showed victims using oxygen masks in a Kfar Zeita hospital.

    According to the Associated Press, an activist currently based in Turkey and in contact with residents in Hama said the attack took place in the rebel-held village around sunset on Friday.

    The Syrian National Coalition said there was another attack on Friday in Harastra, a suburb of Damascus. The group has reached out to the United Nations to initiate a “quick investigation into the developments related to the use of poisonous gas against civilians in Syria.”

    This is not the first time chemical weapons have been used during the ongoing civil war in Syria that began more than three years ago.

    Hundreds of people died after a chemical attack on the capital city of Damascus in August. While the U.S. and other Western governments blamed on the Syrian regime, the government has continued to deny these accusations.

    The post Syrian village reportedly hit by poison gas attack appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A look from above at wide-area surveillance technology in action. The tool is described in a new report by the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED as "Google Earth with a rewind button." Credit: CIR

    A look from above at wide-area surveillance technology in action. The tool is described in a new report by the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED as “Google Earth with a rewind button.” Credit: CIR

    A report from Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED posted Friday takes an in-depth look at new technologies that could revolutionize policing, including improvements to fingerprint databases and facial recognition software.

    The piece also touches on the potential use of wide-area surveillance by law enforcement, a technology described as “Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city.”

    These new advances raise questions about how extensively the public is monitored by the government.

    To learn more about how the nation’s state of surveillance may be changing, I spoke with G.W. Schulz, Homeland Security Reporter for CIR.

    “What we wanted to do was identify technologies that were coming around the corner for law enforcement agencies,” Schulz said.

    “There’s already an ongoing 21st century discussion about the types of digital technologies that police are adopting and the potential privacy and civil liberties implications for them… We wanted to look a little bit further down the road to see what could be implemented in the coming years.”

    Watch “State of Surveillance” by the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED, a report examining the new technologies police departments are using to fight crime and the civil liberties concerns raised by these tools.

    The post Wide-area surveillance technology triggers privacy concerns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    interviewgrab[1]

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Organic food sales totaled some $30 billion dollars in the U.S. last year and suppliers can barely keep up with demand. Earlier this week, the nation’s largest retailer, Walmart, announced that it would slash prices of some of its organic products by 25 percent. The company said it acted after research showed that nine out of 10 of its customers would purchase organic products if they were affordable. For more on what this move could mean to consumers and businesses we’re joined now by Phil Wahba, who covers the retail industry for Reuters. So, first of all, what’s the significance? The largest retailer in the country, but beyond that why is this news so important?

    PHIL WAHBA: Well, this news is so important because people think that this is going to be the inflection point that will make organic foods more mainstream. And so Walmart already sells about 1,600 different items that can be considered organic, but they’re mainly dairy and produce. Now they’re adding 100 items from under the Wild Oats brand, and those will not have the typical premium that you see with organic food. It’ll be, there’s a 25 percent premium typically, and that will be gone. So a lot of people think that this is a way to bring organic food to lower income shoppers and make it more mainstream.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And does that mean that other retailers adjust their prices?

    PHIL WAHBA: Well, the impact will actually be more on foodmakers, a lot of analysts say. So there won’t be that much pressure on Whole Foods because there isn’t that much overlap between the Whole Foods shopper who’s a bit more affluent and the Walmart shopper. But what’s gonna happen is people think that there is going to be more of the line that’s used for farming in the U.S. will be used for conventional farming — I mean, for organic farming rather than conventional. And so that in turn will lower cost and it’ll create a virtuous cycle for organic foods, and in turn that will pressure companies like ConAgra and Kellogg, among others, to offer more organic foods.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So this is really more of a pressure on those manufacturers of food to start creating more organic food into the pipeline for retailers then?

    PHIL WAHBA: Absolutely.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So even as we see these trend lines going up in terms of consumption and sales, this is still a very small fraction of the overall food market?

    PHIL WAHBA: That’s right. It’s roughly 4 percent of food spending in the United States, but it’s growing by about 10 percent per year, and if you look at companies like Walmart or Target they get a huge amount of their sales from grocery. And Walmart gets about 55 percent of its revenue from grocery and it has been a struggling business for them. And so this is a way for them to give a boost to their overall grocery sales.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what does this do for the producers of food? Let’s look at the supply side and the farmers. I mean right now it seems like these prices are buoyed up because the supply is shorter than the demand.

    PHIL WAHBA: Well several groups, such as the Environmental Working Group and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, believe this is going to be an incentive for more farmers to use more of their land for organic farming. And what’s going to happen is that you’ll have more resources, you’re going to have economies of scales. And so overall organic food prices — beyond these 100 items Wild Oats items Walmart will be selling — will fall and that will in turn pressure the package food makers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so this isn’t necessarily likely to happen anytime soon. Even if a farmer turns over his land into organic crops, his or her land, this takes a couple of years for the FDA to give you that seal, right?

    PHIL WAHBA: Well, it’s, you know you can’t just turn your farm — use your farm differently from one day to the next. But the reason this has been seen as a pretty big deal is that it’s a turning point now in food consumption. And if organic food now has typically been associated with more affluent shoppers, urban shoppers, and a lot of people think this is the first step towards it becoming mainstream and viable for lower income shoppers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what kind of products under this Wild Oats brand will Walmart be selling?

    PHIL WAHBA: Well the thing that’s important to remember is that this is not going to be dairy and produce. So these 100 products include things like tomato paste, olive oil, garbanzo beans. So it’s packaged food as well. The other 1,600 items that Walmart sells that are considered organic, which are mostly produce and dairy, they will keep that organic price premium.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And is this also trying to catch up with the trend of younger people who are more conscious about what goes in their food?

    PHIL WAHBA: Yeah, you know there’s lower income shoppers are like everyone else. They want to eat in a healthy manner, they want to eat foods that are good for them that are produced in a manner that’s sustainable for the economy. So it’s as you mentioned before, Walmart’s own research found that 90 percent of its shoppers would be willing to buy organic food if it were affordable.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Phil Wahba from Reuters. Thanks so much.

    PHIL WAHBA: Thank you.

    The post Walmart announces plan to cut prices on some organic products appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — As millions of Americans race to meet Tuesday’s tax deadline, their chances of getting audited are lower than they have been in years.

    Budget cuts and new responsibilities are straining the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to police tax returns. This year, the IRS will have fewer agents auditing returns than at any time since at least the 1980s.

    Taxpayer services are suffering, too, with millions of phone calls to the IRS going unanswered.

    “We keep going after the people who look like the worst of the bad guys,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in an interview. “But there are going to be some people that we should catch, either in terms of collecting the revenue from them or prosecuting them, that we’re not going to catch.”

    Better technology is helping to offset some budget cuts.

    If you report making $40,000 in wages and your employer tells the IRS you made $50,000, the agency’s computers probably will catch that. The same is true for investment income and many common deductions that are reported to the IRS by financial institutions.

    But if you operate a business that deals in cash, with income or expenses that are not independently reported to the IRS, your chances of getting caught are lower than they have been in years.

    Last year, the IRS audited less than 1 percent of all returns from individuals, the lowest rate since 2005. This year, Koskinen said, “The numbers will go down.”

    Koskinen was confirmed as IRS commissioner in December. He took over an agency under siege on several fronts.

    Last year, the IRS acknowledged agents improperly singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012. The revelation has led to five ongoing investigations, including three by congressional committees, and outraged lawmakers who control the agency’s budget.

    The IRS also is implementing big parts of President Barack Obama’s health law, including enforcing the mandate that most people get health insurance. Republicans in Congress abhor the law, putting another bull’s-eye on the agency’s back.

    The animosity is reflected in the IRS budget, which has declined from $12.1 billion in 2010 to $11.3 billion in the current budget year.

    Obama has proposed a 10 percent increase for next year; Republicans are balking.

    Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the IRS budget, called the request “both meaningless and pointless” because it exceeds spending caps already set by Congress.

    Koskinen said he suspects some people think that if they cut funds to the IRS, the agency won’t be able to implement the health law. They’re wrong, he said.

    The IRS is legally obligated to enforce the health law, Koskinen said. That means budget savings will have to be found elsewhere.

    Koskinen said he can cut spending in three areas: enforcement, taxpayer services and technology. Technology upgrades can only be put off for so long, he said, so enforcement and taxpayer services are suffering.

    Last year, only 61 percent of taxpayers calling the IRS for help got it. This year, Koskinen said he expects the numbers to be similar. To help free up operators, callers with complicated tax questions are directed to the agency’s website.

    “The problem with complicated questions is they take longer,” Koskinen said.

    Your chances of getting audited vary greatly, based on your income. The more you make, the more likely you are to get a letter from the IRS.

    Only 0.9 percent of people making less than $200,000 were audited last year. That’s the lowest rate since the IRS began publishing the statistic in 2006.

    By contrast, 10.9 percent of people making $1 million or more were audited. That’s the lowest rate since 2010.

    Only 0.6 percent of business returns were audited, but the rate varied greatly depending on the size of the business. About 16 percent of corporations with more than $10 million in assets were audited.

    Most people don’t have much of an opportunity to cheat on their taxes, said Elizabeth Maresca, a former IRS lawyer who now teaches law at Fordham University.

    Your employer probably reports your wages to the IRS, your bank reports interest income, your broker reports investment income and your lender reports the amount of interest you paid on your mortgage.

    “Anybody who’s an employee, who gets paid by an employer, has a limited ability to take risks on their tax returns,” Maresca said. “I think people who own their own business or are self-employed have a much greater opportunity (to cheat), and I think the IRS knows that, too.”

    One flag for the IRS is when your deductions or expenses don’t match your income, said Joseph Perry, the partner in charge of tax and business services at Marcum LLP, an accounting firm. For example, if you deduct $70,000 in real estate taxes and mortgage interest, but only report $100,000 in income.

    “That would at least beg the question, how are you living?” Perry said.

    Koskinen said the IRS could scrutinize more returns – and collect billions more in revenue – with more resources. The president’s budget proposal says the IRS would collect an additional $6 for every $1 increase in the agency’s enforcement budget.

    Koskinen said he makes that argument all the time, but for some reason, it’s not playing well in Congress.

    “I say that and everybody shrugs and goes on about their business,” Koskinen said. “I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not.”

    Associated Press reporter Stephen Ohlemacher wrote this report. Follow him on Twitter.

    The post As cuts and new duties strain IRS, chance of audit relatively low appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Federal land managers say “escalating tensions” led them to release all 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land in southern Nevada from a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority.

    Bureau of Land Management Chief Neil Kornze announced an abrupt halt to the weeklong roundup just hours before the release.

    “Based on information about conditions on the ground and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public,” Kornze said in a statement.

    Hundreds of states’ rights protesters, including militia members, showed up at corrals outside Mesquite to demand the animals’ return to rancher Cliven Bundy. Some protesters were armed with handguns and rifles at the corrals and at an earlier nearby rally.

    Las Vegas Police Lt. Dan Zehnder said the showdown was resolved with no injuries and no violence. Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie was able to negotiate a resolution after talking with Bundy, he said.

    The fight between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management widened into a debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy. The dispute that ultimately triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the bureau cited concern for the federally protected tortoise in the region. The bureau revoked Bundy’s grazing rights after he stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded federal court orders to remove his animals.

    Kornze’s announcement came after Bundy repeatedly promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect his property and after a string of raucous confrontations between his family members and supporters and federal agents during the weeklong operation.

    Bundy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement praising the agency for its willingness to listen to the state’s concerns. He earlier criticized the agency for creating “an atmosphere of intimidation” and trying to confine protesters to a fenced-in “First Amendment area” well away from the sprawling roundup area.

    “The safety of all individuals involved in this matter has been my highest priority,” Sandoval said. “Given the circumstances, today’s outcome is the best we could have hoped for.”

    Nevada’s congressional delegation urged the protesters to be calm and to leave the area.

    “The dispute is over, the BLM is leaving, but emotions and tensions are still near the boiling point, and we desperately need a peaceful conclusion to this conflict,” U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said in a statement. “I urge all the people involved to please return to your homes and allow the BLM officers to collect their equipment and depart without interference.”

    The 400 cows gathered during the roundup were short of the BLM’s goal of 900 cows that it says have been trespassing on U.S. land without required grazing permits for over 20 years.

    Bundy, 67, doesn’t recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada. His Mormon family has operated a ranch since the 1870s near the small town of Bunkerville and the Utah and Arizona lines.

    “Good morning America, good morning world, isn’t it a beautiful day in Bunkerville?” Bundy told a cheering crowd after his cattle were released, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

    The crowd protesting Saturday recited the pledge of allegiance, and many offered prayers. Others waved placards reading, “This land is your land,” and “We teach our children not to bully. How do we teach our government not to be big bullies?” according to the newspaper.

    It’s the latest skirmish since the 1980s when the Sagebrush Rebellion challenged federal ownership of Nevada rangeland ranchers said was rightfully theirs.

    A federal judge in Las Vegas first ordered Bundy to remove his trespassing cattle in 1998. The bureau was implementing two federal court orders last year to remove Bundy’s cattle after making repeated efforts to resolve the matter outside court, Kornze said, adding the rancher has not paid grazing fees in 20 years.

    “This is a matter of fairness and equity, and we remain disappointed that Cliven Bundy continues to not comply with the same laws that 16,000 public-lands ranchers do every year,” Kornze said. “After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million. The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially.”

    Ken Ritter in Mesquite, Nev., contributed to this report.

    The post ‘Escalating tensions’ led Feds to release cattle in Nevada appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

    Armed pro-Russian separatist forces occupy a state security building in the eastern city of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12. Protestors and militia forces have seized control of state buildings in other cities in the region including Donetsk and Luhansk. Credit: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

    Triggered in part by a security officer’s death, Ukraine’s acting president Oleksander Turchinov said on Sunday that the country’s armed forces were planning to launch a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” against the pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

    The security officer was killed after gunfire erupted between pro-Russian militia and Ukrainian special forces in a wooded area outside of the eastern city of Slovyansk.

    Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov confirmed in a Facebook post that the officer had been killed.

    Turchinov offered a Monday deadline for the separatists currently occupying government buildings in the region to surrender their weapons. He blamed Russia for this weekend’s uprisings.

    “The blood of Ukrainian heroes has been shed in a war which the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine,” he said during a national address.

    Russia’s foreign ministry said Ukraine’s plans for military operation were a “criminal order.” The ministry called on Western officials to rein in the Ukrainian government in order to prevent a civil war.

    The clashes come after armed pro-Russian separatists took over government buildings — including a police station and security service office — in Slovyansk on Saturday.

    Slovyansk is located within the province of Donetsk, which borders Russia and has experienced heightened turmoil in recent weeks.

    The regional administration in Donetsk said at least nine were wounded in Saturday’s attacks, stating that “an armed confrontation” was taking place in the area.

    A lawmaker from the region, Vladimir Kolodchenko, witnessed the attack and said four gunmen pulled up in a car and began firing at Ukrainian soldiers who were standing next to their vehicles. He said everyone left the scene shortly after the incident.

    Ukrainian special forces also initiated an operation on Sunday to remove the pro-Russian forces from state buildings in the eastern part of the country.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a phone call on Saturday that he was concerned that the attacks “were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.”

    However, Lavrov placed the blame on the Ukrainian government, saying it had failed “to take into account the legitimate needs and interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population.”

    The post Clashes with pro-Russian separatists intensify in eastern Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    interview

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Experts at Columbia, MIT and Harvard have concluded that a small papyrus fragment made public two years ago is from ancient times, not a forgery. But its contents continue to provoke controversy. That’s because it quotes Jesus making references to “my wife,” and also includes the words “she will be able to be my disciple.” For more about this we’re joined by Michael Peppard, he’s a professor of theology at Fordham University and author of the book “The Son of God in the Roman World.” Alright, so first of all, what’s the scientific finding confirm and why does it matter?

    MICHAEL PEPPARD: Right, well when this came to light about a year and a half ago, there was a lot of uproar about “why wasn’t this tested” “how do we know it’s not a forgery.” Typically with ancient papyri, they’re not tested by science, they’re tested by paleography — meaning the study of handwriting. And yet because there was such a bombshell finding here in this phrase “my wife.” It was sent out and professor Karen King commissioned this from Harvard to be sent out for testing. Now the truth about this scientific testing is that it cannot authenticate something as much as it can prove that it’s not fake. So what I’m saying is that–

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s a difference…

    MICHAEL PEPPARD: Yeah, there’s a difference, the testing did not falsify anything. So that kind of tilts the scale a little bit back towards authenticity, right? But I would say that the community of scholars that study early Christianity, like myself, are still kind of in this middle ground of mysteriousness about the text. That being said, some of the critics on the forgery side argue that there is bad grammar, that there are other indicators, bad penmanship and that kind of stuff. But papyrologists — that is nerds like us that study ancient papyri — we see bad handwriting all the time. The apostle Paul himself in the new testament talks about his bad handwriting. So handwriting it’s a techne in Greek, it’s a skill, it’s acquired. And so we might think of typing, right? Typing doesn’t mean you’re smart or something like that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So to a non-Christian scholar, what are the religious ramifications if Jesus did have a wife? Why does that matter so much?

    MICHAEL PEPPARD: Right, so what we have here is probably a 7th or 8th century papyrus, which if authentic preserves possibly an earlier text, which doesn’t really tell us anything about the first century; so we have layers of history here. I would say most scholars do not think Jesus was married and I don’t think that’s a pious answer, I think it’s an answer about historically plausibility. I think Jesus was an itinerant, apocalyptic teacher, he says very controversial things critical of biological and domestic family life, already there in the canonical scriptures. And so I think that most scholars and most Christians will say “well we don’t think Jesus was married, and we think that is a later discussion about the roles of women as disciples, and the role of kind of sex and family life.” But now that is interesting, for a different reason, I think to most scholars. And that is that this papyrus gives us another window into what were some live debates in early Christianity. Debates such as: is procreation a vehicle for holiness or is celibacy — voluntary celibacy– a vehicle for holiness. A second debate that it clearly was engaging was the worthiness of women as disciples, especially Mary the mother and Mary Magdalen, two of the main figures that were discussed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Some of these debates we’re still having a couple thousand years down the line. Alright, Michael Peppard from Fordham University. Thanks so much.

    The post Papyrus referencing Jesus’ wife dates back to ancient times appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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