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- 04/16/14--15:39: _Are new regulations...
- 04/17/14--06:04: _In photos: Saving T...
- 04/17/14--06:10: _Americans predict w...
- 04/17/14--06:19: _Obama says U.S. mil...
- 04/17/14--06:51: _Ukraine looks to ‘d...
- 04/17/14--07:50: _Nine confirmed dead...
- 04/17/14--08:19: _Live Chat: Gwen Ifi...
- 04/17/14--08:45: _Putin admits unmark...
- 04/17/14--15:02: _News Wrap: Families...
- 04/17/14--15:08: _Hungary practices t...
- 04/17/14--15:09: _Tentative diplomati...
- 04/17/14--15:10: _U.S. cautious about...
- 04/17/14--15:24: _After threats of pa...
- 04/17/14--15:30: _SeaTac airport work...
- 04/17/14--15:39: _Kepler telescope sp...
- 04/17/14--15:44: _Counterterrorism ad...
- 04/18/14--06:02: _First Person: Venez...
- 04/18/14--06:14: _Eight million healt...
- 04/18/14--07:02: _IRS audits less tha...
- 04/18/14--07:58: _Easter preparations...
- 04/17/14--06:04: In photos: Saving Timbuktu’s treasures from extinction
- 04/17/14--06:10: Americans predict what the future looks like for technology
- Fifty-three percent believe it would be a change for the worse if “most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them.” Think: Google Glass.
- Only 22 percent are in favor of drone use.
- “Countries such as Japan are already experimenting with the use of robot caregivers,” but 65 percent of Americans surveyed thought it would be a negative change if robots became primary caregivers.
- While 66 percent thought it would a change for the worse if parents could alter their future babies’ DNA, lower-income Americans had slightly more positive views on the matter than those of higher-income levels.
- 04/17/14--06:19: Obama says U.S. military ‘superior’ to Putin’s Russian forces
- Obama again warns of consequences for Russia on Ukraine
- 2016 women under the microscope
- Is Obama not “Deporter-In-Chief”?
Politico’s Katie Glueck reports that GOP donors worry that Jeb Bush’s family won’t want to be put through the scrutiny of a presidential campaign.
Michael Bloomberg’s new group “Everytown for Gun Safety” is out with a new ad depicting a young girl finding a handgun while playing hide-and-seek with her brother.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency is moving forward on rules to limit political activities of tax-exempt groups, but that the IRS and Treasury will be rewriting controversial draft guidelines for what constitutes “candidate-related political activities.”
The New York Times reports that Kathleen Sebelius is weighing a challenge to incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts. She has until June 2nd to decide.
Put Alaska First is airing an ad in defense of Sen. Mark Begich’s support of the Affordable Care Act, specifically the provision against denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions — without mentioning the law or Mr. Obama by name.
Many of Put Alaska First’s ads have attacked Republican Dan Sullivan as a carpetbagger, as well as outside interests like Americans for Prosperity, but this seemingly homegrown super PAC, Huffington Post notes, gets most of their money from DC.
The law firm whose taxpayer-funded investigation of the George Washington Bridge scandal exonerated New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a $10,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association nine days before releasing their report.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gets just a 40 to 44 percent approval rating in the latest Winthrop poll.
Since she announced her candidacy in late February, Debbie Dingell, the wife of retiring Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., has only spent $11,543 on her campaign and still has $518,263 cash on hand.
Democrats and Republicans continue to spar over the Senate-passed immigration reform bill, but this time it was during a call between Mr. Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that blocks cities from creating their own minimum wage standards.
The Nation’s Jarrett Murphy analyzes New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first 100 days in office and the struggle he’s had to uphold his campaign promises.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., now says he will campaign for GOP candidate Jim Oberweis, after having first said he would not out of loyalty to his friend Sen. Dick Durbin.
- 04/17/14--06:51: Ukraine looks to ‘de-escalate the situation’ with Russia
- 04/17/14--08:19: Live Chat: Gwen Ifill answers your questions
- 04/17/14--15:08: Hungary practices the ‘watering of the girls’ for Easter
- 04/17/14--15:10: U.S. cautious about diplomatic deal to calm conflict in Ukraine
- 04/17/14--15:30: SeaTac airport workers fight exclusion from $15 minimum wage
- 04/17/14--15:39: Kepler telescope spots a planet that seems a lot like home
- 04/18/14--06:14: Eight million health care sign-ups take sting out of GOP attacks
- 8 million health care sign-ups mean good news for Democrats
- Reality check: Top seven key Senate races are in very red states
- But does GOP map expansion recede?
- Hillary Clinton’s numbers back to politics as usual
Obama’s Day: The president meets with the head of the American Legion and then awards the 2013 Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the Naval Academy Football team.
During a nearly seven-hour negotiation, Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and the Ukrainian foreign ministry worked out a deal to help alleviate the political unrest and violence in Ukraine.
Cliven Bundy, a rancher in Nevada who has refused to pay grazing fees for the past 20 years, was recently joined by armed supporters in a face-off against the Bureau of Land Management. On Thursday, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, spoke out against the group, calling them “domestic terrorists.”
Outside political groups are increasingly using positive spots, having watched Mitt Romney fail to deliver an alternative message other than a barrage of negative ads in 2012. Of Americans for Prosperity’s ads this year, 16 percent have been positive compared to zero in 2012.
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden will run for governor instead of seeking a third term as attorney general.
A spokesperson for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she will not run for Senate. Sebelius announced her resignation last week after heading the turbulent health care rollout.
Republicans have taken a new shot at campaign outreach for the primaries: online gun sweepstakes.
A new ad from North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis’ Senate campaign takes on Majority Leader Harry Reid, accusing the senator of trying to “fool Republicans.”
In a letter thanking Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee for their support on extending unemployment insurance, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called House Republicans’ failure to cooperate “callous, shortsighted and immoral”.
The League of Conservation Voters launched a $1 million ad campaign against Colorado GOP Rep. Cory Gardner as part of their Dirty Dozen Senate program.
Defending Main Street, a Super PAC that defends GOP incumbents, is up with an ad attacking the Club for Growth in Idaho by tying Club for Growth President Chris Chocola to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The DCCC is prioritizing money for the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents and most promising challengers, causing some challengers to worry they’ll have to fend for themselves.
President Obama and Eric Cantor had very different takes on a phone call the president made to him. Cantor: “The president called me hours after he issued a partisan statement which attacked me and my fellow House Republicans and which indicated no sincere desire to work together.” Obama: “So, it was a pretty friendly conversation.” Obama said he called to wish Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, a good Passover. Cantor focused on immigration. The president acknowledged they did talk about immigration and what could be done in the House.
Mitt Romney’s long winter is over, Robert Costa and Philip Rucker write. Embracing his role as party elder, Romney is “heartened” the party hasn’t ignored him, and he’s using his sway to fundraise and campaign for fiscal conservatives.
Mr. Obama’s top campaign advisers will be helping opposing candidates in Britain’s general elections next year: Jim Messina for Prime Minister David Cameron and the ruling Conservative Party, and David Axelrod for Labor leader Ed Miliband.
The New York Times’ David Brooks swats at the anti-Common Core crowd, saying their opposition, led by talk radio conservatives, means “The circus has come to town.” You can catch more from Brooks tonight on the NewsHour when he joins Mark Shields and Judy Woodruff.
Hillary Clinton’s new book will be called “Hard Choices.”
- 04/18/14--07:02: IRS audits less than 1 percent of big partnerships
- 04/18/14--07:58: Easter preparations commence in Spain
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the continuing fallout from a major chemical spill in a West Virginia river earlier this year. Anger and anxiety among residents has spurred new calls for action and legislation.
It’s been three months since Charleston, West Virginia, suffered one of the worst contaminations of drinking water in U.S. history.
On January 9, a storage tank at Freedom Industries leaked up to 10,000 gallons of the chemical MCHM, used in coal processing. Some of it ran into the Elk River, just upstream from a water treatment plant that serves the Charleston region. The spill quickly led to shutting down the water supply for nine counties.
More than 300,000 people were affected, and the utility, West Virginia American Water, struggled to figure out how bad the contamination was.
JEFF MCINTYRE, President, West Virginia American Water: In other words, what kind of quantities can be present in drinking water and not pose harm to our customers? We don’t know that the water is not safe, but I can’t say it is safe.
JUDY WOODRUFF: By the end of January, frustrated residents turned out at a town hall, demanding answers.
SHAMAYA LEWIS: Who do I trust? Do I trust the water quality specialist that’s been told to call me and I have been continually following up on? I spoke to him again yesterday. Or do I trust you all to go ahead and let my children, you know, bathe and stuff in the water? I’m extremely frustrated. I just want to know, who do you trust?
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the weeks since, the do-not-use order for water has since been lifted in all nine counties. A federal investigation of the Freedom Industries site is continuing, and the company itself has filed for federal bankruptcy protection.
Earlier this month, a bill passed by a U.S. Senate committee creates new regulations and requirements for above-ground storage tanks. It does include exemptions, including potentially for some chemicals.
Back in West Virginia, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has already signed a law establishing new regulations on storage, inspection and emergency response.
But many observers wonder just how tough the implementation of new regulations will be.
We talk to two who are following all of this. Evan Osnos is an author and he’s writer for “The New Yorker” magazine. And Ashton Marra, she is the statehouse reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
Welcome to you both.
Ashton Marra, to you first. What is the — what is the feeling now in West Virginia? Are people drinking the water?
ASHTON MARRA, West Virginia Public Broadcasting: You know, there’s no reliable source of information that tells us, yes or no, people are drinking the water.
There’s a survey being conducted by the local county health department and another survey by our state Bureau for Public Health. But right now, all we have is anecdotal evidence. I can tell you from my interaction with colleagues, people through my reporting, it seems that life is pretty much back to normal.
But, anecdotally, I know that mothers, especially mothers of young children, pregnant women, they are still cautious about using the water, especially ingesting it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ashton Marra, is there a sense, with this new state law passed, though, that people are better protected because there’s now new regulation?
ASHTON MARRA: I think we’re starting to get there.
As the law made its way through the Statehouse, it became more and more comprehensive. The environmentalist groups, a lot of community action groups were glad to see that. But I think it’s going to be one of those that takes the test of time. Most of the most strict regulations coming from that law will be put through the rule-making procedure, basically, that our State Department of environmental protection will decide the specifics of that law.
So, I think it’s going to take looking in to those rules, seeing how they play out over the next couple of years, before we can really say whether or not that relationship between the public and the government has been fixed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Evan Osnos, you have written this piece for “The New Yorker” this month. You actually had been in West Virginia just after college, what, 15 years ago, and you went back to do this reporting, fascinating piece reporting on the complex relationship between the community, the coal industry, the chemical industries, and its relationship that’s changed over time.
EVAN OSNOS, The New Yorker: Yes, this turned out to be a story not just about a chemical leak, but really about how politics and the kinds of debates we have the proper role of government, for instance, can actually impact government services down to things as elemental as the delivery of safe drinking water.
And what you discover was that, over the course of the last 10 or 15 years, the way that West Virginia regulates chemical industries, coal industries has changed. And they have systematically reduced the way that the government can actually go in and inspect and police these facilities.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you talk about the relationship and the effect that all this — that it has had on health, on safety of people there.
You report that, I guess in the last eight years, there have been five major industrial incidents. What did you find about the attitude of ordinary folks toward this — these industries that have been the lifeblood of the state?
EVAN OSNOS: This is what is so interesting.
Over the decades, of course, people have had a fluctuating relationship with the chemical industry, for instance. After all, if you were a chemical worker, you stood to earn twice as much as the average wage in the state. It put food on people’s tables.
So, for a long time, people were willing to look the other way when, for instance, the air tasted funny or the air smelled different or the water tasted funny. But the truth is that over the years there have been a series of industrial accidents that have galvanized the environmental community, galvanized regular citizens.
And they have begun to pay more attention to what’s happening to their health, and what they discovered wasn’t reassuring. So, over the course of the last few years, they have, for instance, petitioned the federal government to take over the way that the Clean Water Act is enforced in West Virginia. They have said that the state regulators are now near completely broken down, as they put it.
So there’s a real recognition that, at a certain point, the state was no longer carrying its end of the bargain.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And how did you find this bill affecting that debate?
EVAN OSNOS: Well, it did focus attention in a way that none of these accidents before really had.
And the reason is that this bill hit the state capitol — in fact, it hit on the second day of the annual meeting of the state legislature. It forced the conversation in a way that the previous ones had not, because, after all, if it’s a leak, for instance, up in the hills, it doesn’t affect people the same way. It doesn’t drive the conversation.
And what you have are these town hall meetings where people were flooding in and saying, we no longer trust our state legislators, and we don’t trust our elected officials to be acting in our best interests.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ashton Marra, we saw in that tape just a moment ago — in fact, a woman was asking that very question. How do we know who to trust here?
What — in your reporting, what are you finding about the level of trust between citizens, especially those in this affected area, and the people who they thought were protecting them?
ASHTON MARRA: In the months following this chemical leak, I think it’s quite obvious that there — that that level of trust has been broken.
Lawmakers, as they worked on this chemical spill bill, a way to regulate these above-ground storage tanks, their main concern was rebuilding that trust. We heard that over and over again in speeches and debates on both the House and Senate floor here in West Virginia during our session.
But, like I said earlier, I think it’s honestly just a test of time. Can we recover from this? Can our legislators and our lawmakers rebuild that trust in the community? That’s something we will have to wait and see.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All this happens, Evan Osnos, as the state as — you also write about how the state is changing politically. A lot is at stake here. There’s a big Senate race in West Virginia this year.
How are the public officials in West Virginia sorting through this right now?
EVAN OSNOS: Well, historically, West Virginia was a Democratic state. This was a place that going back to days of FDR had really felt that it was close to the federal government, relied on the federal government for help.
But over the last 10 or 15 years, as the coal industry has found itself in economic distress, it has organized politically very effectively. And so it has supported candidates for government in West Virginia who have been — we can say they have been assertive in making sure that the voice of the coal industry was heard in government.
And so over the course of the last few years, it’s now become difficult for somebody who takes a stand against the coal industry to make sure that you’re going to get a fair shake and that you will make it through your next election.
I think this week, what we have seen that is that it has changed that debate a bit. It has forced people to talk about the fact that the coal industry maybe has more of a say in government than people want it to have in West Virginia. There were candidates, for instance, who I spoke to who said, if I take a stand against the coal industry, I know that I will be targeted in my next election.
They were worried that if they took interest in this chemical leak, that they might not make it through. I think that the upswell of public attention, the clear indication that people want a change is a sign that some of those candidates may in fact be able to continue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ashton Marra, is there — is there any kind of consensus about who or what is at fault? How much of the blame are people placing on the industry, on this particular company, which, as we said, has filed for bankruptcy, and how much on the regulators?
ASHTON MARRA: I think a majority of the complaints so far have been put toward the industry.
It’s the industry’s fault, is what a lot of people think. But I think, as the — as investigation has unfolded, we have seen that this is partially the government’s fault as well. Our state Department of Environmental Protection wasn’t equipped to handle or to regulate this type of industry, but it was something that was overlooked. It was a loophole here in state law, and honestly is a loophole in federal law as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Evan Osnos, just finally, what you’re saying is that that is a relationship — this relationship we’re talking about is changing before our very eyes.
EVAN OSNOS: It is.
I think this is a moment when people are starting to demand more of their elected officials, and say, it’s up to you to set the priorities for state regulators, to make sure that they hold companies to account and ultimately to protect the public interest.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Evan Osnos, Ashton Marra, we thank you.
EVAN OSNOS: Thanks.
The post Are new regulations tough enough to prevent another West Virginia chemical spill? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
When Islamist militants took control of northern Mali in 2012, they left their mark by vandalizing the sacred sites of Timbuktu. Now, an international effort is underway to repair the damages.
When the militants, known as Ansar Dine, captured Timbuktu for several months in early 2012, they smashed more than a dozen mud and wooden mausoleums using sledgehammers and burned thousands of ancients manuscripts kept in the “city of 333 Sufi saints.”The Ansar Dine wanted to impose strict Sharia law in Mali, and considered as idolatry the Sufi Muslims’ reverence of their ancestral scholars in Timbuktu, said Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the Bamako, Mali-based Africa unit of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The armed groups thought that destroying the sites of the buried saints would keep residents from going to them to pray, said Eloundou Assomo. “It was very traumatic for the communities,” but it didn’t stop them from visiting the crumbled remains.
After a French-led military operation drove out the Ansar Dine from Timbuktu, an international team led by UNESCO traveled there in the summer of 2013 to assess the damages to the earthen structures. They found 16 mausoleums destroyed and more than 4,000 ancient manuscripts burned.
On March 14, UNESCO and the Malian government formally launched the restoration operation with logistical support from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali. The reconstruction of two of the mausoleums was completed this week.
Repairing all of the mausoleums will take about a year, and rehabilitation of the mosques and libraries in Timbuktu and Gao — another Malian city captured by rebels — is expected to take about four years, said Eloundou Assomo. He said about $3 million of the $11 million total cost has been raised so far.
The area “tells the long history of Mali and the heritage of humanity,” said Eloundou Assomo. At the ceremony marking its restoration, he said the locals called it “the rebirth of Timbuktu.”
View another Culture at Risk feature on Myanmar.
The post In photos: Saving Timbuktu’s treasures from extinction appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Over the past 50 years, Americans have witnessed the first man walk on the moon, the birth of the Internet and cellphones, large and small and large again. What will the future of technology and science hold in the next 50 years? Controlled weather? Space colonization? Personal drone use?
Pew Research Center recently asked the American public about their predictions and hopes for the future of technology. The “U.S. Views of Technology and the Future” report, released Thursday, found that a majority of the more than 1,000 Americans surveyed believe that the next five decades will see the custom creation of transplantable organs, and computer-developed art, music and novels rivaling human talent. And while most don’t believe the United States will see teleportation, space colonization or controlled weather, more people found those first two ideas more likely scenarios than the ability to choose which way the wind blows.
“Clearly nature holds a place in the popular imagination that even some of the most challenging engineering projects can’t match,” said senior researcher of Pew Research Center’s Internet Project Aaron Smith.
When it comes to short-term changes regarding some controversial technological advancements, the majority is wary:
Pew notes it’s not that everyone is completely opposed to trying new technology. They’re just “inclined to let others take the first step.”
Getting brain implants to improve memory or eating lab-grown meat, on the other hand, might not have many takers at all. Just twenty-six percent would (literally) change their minds, and only 20 percent were willing to try Franken-meat. But the opinion was nearly split on riding driverless cars, with 48 percent up for the challenge and 50 percent uninterested.
We’re asking: What technological advancements are you looking forward to in the future? Tell us in the comments below.
The post Americans predict what the future looks like for technology appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Today in the Morning Line:
Cold War games: President Obama flexed some American military muscle in an interview with CBS News, saying of Russia, “They’re not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians. We don’t need a war.” Reuters described the comments as Obama “using words unheard since the Cold War.” Obama warned Russia of “consequences” for what he sees as Russia violating Ukrainian sovereignty and that it was “absolutely clear” Russia has “supported at minimum non-state militias in Eastern Ukraine.” Three pro-Russian separatists were killed in Eastern Ukraine, and Ukrainian officials said a national guard base came under attack. Russia’s Vladimir Putin was sharply critical, warning that Ukraine’s leaders were taking it into an “abyss” and called accusations that Russia was behind the unrest in Eastern Ukraine “[nonsense]” — although he did for the first time acknowledge the presence of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. He also raised the potential for Russia to use force in Ukraine, asserting that his Parliament gave him authority to do if necessary. “I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that by political and diplomatic means we will be able to solve all of the sharp problems,” he said in a televised interview in Russia. Still, for all the saber rattling, the most the West is calling for is another round of tougher sanctions, though some in the U.S. have called for arming Ukrainians. Today begins another round of talks in Geneva with Secretary of State Kerry.
2016 women under the microscope: Mother Jones has a lengthy look at popular New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and paints her as “the next Sarah Palin – Petty, vindictive, Petty. Vindictive. Weak on policy.” Maybe the worst part of the story for Martinez is having called a Democratic opponent a “little b—-” (an aide refers to another Democrat as a “retard”). She also said of teachers, “They already don’t work, you know, two and a half months out of the year.” And her campaign suggested quietly recording a YouTube discussion about everyone in the state needing to “feel the pain,” so when the time came for education cuts once in office, she wouldn’t be called out as a flip-flopper. There’s plenty of palace intrigue, but much of this reads like the behind-the-scenes of a typical hard-fought campaign rather than something that will imperil her. In fact, the “little b—-” anecdote may actually help her with donors and strategists because it makes her look tough, frankly. And on teachers, as a Republican, she probably wasn’t going to be getting the teachers’ union endorsement in a presidential run anyway, if she ever does decide to do that. But this is the kind of scrutiny that will continue for people like Martinez, who will be on everyone’s short list for the GOP future.
Vetting Hillary: Meanwhile, the vetting of the Dems’ top female prospect continues. In the latest what-kind-of-president-would-Hillary-be retrospective, The New York Times fleshes out her diplomatic legacy, noting that her service to Mr. Obama makes it harder for her to tout her own more hawkish record. And of crucial importance, her aides say, is conveying that her most publicized project — defending the rights of women and girls — is part of a strong national security strategy.
Warren’s memoir: Another woman looked to by many on the left as the future is Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Though she has said she’s not running for president in 2016, the release of her forthcoming book, “A Fighting Chance,” (which includes a brief, flattering shout out to Hillary Clinton), is going to stoke all kinds of speculation about her future. She writes that she reluctantly agreed to build up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, knowing that Mr. Obama was considering other, less controversial candidates to be its director, with one White House adviser telling her she’d be best as [the agency’s “cheerleader.”] She took offense. “I assume that was meant as a metaphor,” Warren writes, “but I had to wonder: Cheerleader? Would the same suggestion have been made to a man in my position? I did not rush out to buy pom-poms.” She also calls out former White House economic adviser Larry Summers for drawing a line and wanting her to choose whether she was an “outsider” or an “insider.” He said insiders don’t criticize other insiders. “I had been warned,” she writes. Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant, put it this way to the Boston Globe: “It’s not the book that would have been on the syllabus for her Harvard Law School class.” But if she ever runs, “it will be on the syllabus of every reporter covering the presidential election in 2016.”
Immigration numbers on the decline? The number of deportations through U.S. immigration courts have dropped significantly in the last five years. “The statistics present a different picture of President Obama’s enforcement policies than the one painted by many immigrant advocates, who have assailed the president as the ‘deporter in chief’…,” the New York Times reports. The courts saw 26 percent fewer immigration cases last year than in 2009, and court deportations have decreased by 43 percent in that same time period. A couple of other things to consider: The courts do not oversee all deportations. And since the administration has increased border security significantly, many illegal immigrants who are caught are deported immediately and never see an immigration courtroom. What’s more, budget cuts have meant fewer judges to help the courts get through the mountain of immigration cases that have piled up. Although the overall numbers have gone down, there are still individual cities around the U.S. where immigration cases have increased. According to a Department of Justice report, Harlingen, Texas, for example, saw a 60 percent spike in cases; Houston’s increased by 52 percent and Phoenix was up 30 percent.
Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1961, 1,200 exiles, under the orders of President John. F. Kennedy, landed on the shores of Cuba in what became known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. What agency head was forced to resign after the failed overthrow of Fidel Castro? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer @NewsHour, @rachelwellford, @DomenicoPBS, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Unfortunately, no one got yesterday’s answer to yesterday’s trivia — “How many senators originally voted against the legislation to end slavery in DC?” Answer: 14.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 17, 2014
— Charlie Mahtesian (@charlieNPR) April 17, 2014
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The post Obama says U.S. military ‘superior’ to Putin’s Russian forces appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GENEVA — Ukraine is hoping to placate Russia and calm hostilities with its neighbor even as the U.S. prepares a new round of sanctions to punish Moscow for what it regards as fomenting unrest.
The carrot-stick strategy emerged as diplomats from Ukraine, the U.S., the European Union and Russia met Thursday for the first time over the burgeoning crisis that threatens to roil the new government in Kiev.
It also comes as Russia hones a strategy of its own: Push the West as far as possible without provoking crippling sanctions against its financial and energy sectors or a military confrontation with NATO.
The four foreign ministers continued meeting after four hours of negotiations Thursday. But while the talks were ongoing, Russia’s foreign ministry retweeted a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin accusing the U.S. of double standards.
“I think we still have a chance to de-escalate the situation using the diplomatic means,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, told reporters late Wednesday ahead of the talks. “And we are trying hard.”
However, Deshchytsia said the diplomatic discussions also must be tempered with efforts “to look for a more concrete and adequate response to Russia’s plans and actions.”
Obama administration officials tamped down any expectations that the meetings in Geneva would yield a breakthrough or Russian concessions meaningful enough to avoid new U.S. penalties. And French President Francois Hollande said Thursday the goal was to de-escalate the situation, but that the West had alternatives.
“We can raise the level of sanctions if there isn’t a solution, but this isn’t what we want,” Hollande said in a statement from Paris. “What we want is to reach a de-escalation.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began his day with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Asked if he was expecting to make any progress Thursday, Kerry shrugged. He also met individually with Deshchytsia and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before all four of the top diplomats sat down together.
With Ukraine struggling to contain a pro-Russian uprising in its eastern region bordering Russia, the Obama administration is readying additional sanctions against Moscow and a boost in aid for the Ukrainian military in the coming days, U.S. officials said Wednesday. The sanctions likely will target more wealthy individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the entities they run, while military aid could include medical supplies and clothing.
“Each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, there are going to be consequences,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday in an interview with CBS News. “Mr. Putin’s decisions aren’t just bad for Ukraine. Over the long term, they’re going to be bad for Russia.”
On Thursday, Putin denied claims that Russian special forces were fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine. He called the Ukrainian government’s effort to quash the uprising a “crime.”
The U.S. military aid was expected to stop short of body armor and other equipment for Ukraine’s troops. Additionally, the Obama administration is reluctant to send weapons and ammunition, as Kiev has requested, amid fears that lethal supplies would be seen as an escalatory step by the U.S. and trigger a more aggressive response from the estimated 40,000 Russian forces massed on its border with Ukraine.
Despite the diplomatic freeze between Moscow and Kiev, a senior State Department official said Ukraine’s negotiators planned to try to assuage Russia’s concerns during Thursday’s talks. Deshchytsia and his team were expected to brief Russia and the other diplomats on what Kiev was doing to transfer more power from the central government to the regions, including letting local areas keep more of their funding and elect their own leaders.
The Ukraine diplomats were prepared to field questions from negotiators and even seek Russia’s advice on how to quell concerns in Moscow about the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine and the approaching May 25 presidential elections to ensure they are inclusive for all candidates.
Ukraine’s outreach during Thursday’s talks will help test whether Russia is willing to respond to a diplomatic solution to the crisis, said the U.S. official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Brussels, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the military alliance would increase its presence in Eastern Europe, including flying more sorties over the Baltic region west of Ukraine and deploying allied warships to the Baltic Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, told reporters that ground forces also could be involved at some point, but gave no details.
So far, the military movements and two initial rounds of sanctions against Russians and Ukrainians accused by the West of stirring up the unrest have done little to ease tensions.
Officials said a full-scale Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would result in broad U.S. and European sanctions on key Russian economic sectors, including its powerful energy industry. However, European nations are divided on whether to limit its access to Russia’s oil and gas supplies, and a vote to sanction must be unanimous among the EU’s 28 member states.
The sanctions that could be levied in the aftermath of the Geneva meeting were expected to focus on Putin’s close associates, including oligarchs who control much of Russia’s wealth, as well as businesses and other entities they control. It was unclear whether those sanctions would change Putin’s calculus, given that the U.S. and the Europeans already have launched targeted sanctions on people in Putin’s inner circle.
Pace reported from Washington. AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington, AP Writer Lori Hinnant in Paris and AP Television News Senior Producer Ed Brown in Geneva contributed to this report.
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Rescuers continued search attempts Thursday for hundreds of missing passengers from a capsized ferry sinking 12 miles off the coast of South Korea.
Nine passengers have been confirmed dead, the South Korean government claims, with 179 rescued thus far. Rescue teams battling murky, cold waters, rain, fog and powerful waves attempted to draw responses from passengers that could still be trapped on the ship by hammering on the hull, but received no answer.
The ferry’s captain, Lee Joon-seok, is under investigation and faces potential criminal charges after abandoning the ship via lifeboat 32 minutes after reporting an accident.
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Do you have questions for Gwen Ifill? Join her for a live chat, hosted by PBS’ Washington Week, at 12 p.m. EDT Thursday.
On the table: all things politics.
For a long time, Russian President Vladimir Putin remained silent over the involvement of Russian troops in Crimea. However, speaking on a televised call-in show Thursday, Putin admitted for the first time that the troops present in Crimea wearing unmarked uniforms were Russian soldiers.
Putin also reaffirmed his claims that Russian special forces are not stirring unrest in eastern Ukraine.
“It’s all nonsense, there are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine,” he said.
Putin holds that protests in the east of Ukraine are driven by the locals while taking issue with Ukrainian authorities’ decisions to use the military to tackle the protests. He added that the West, who is urging him to disarm protesters in the east of Ukraine, must also apply equal pressure to the Ukrainian government to pull its army back.
“They are sending tanks, armored personnel carriers and cannons there!” said Putin. “Have they gone nuts?”
The Russian president, however, was optimistic about talks in Geneva involving the European Union, Ukraine, Russia and the United States — the first meeting of its kind since the beginnings of the Ukraine crisis.
“I think the start of today’s talks is very important, as it’s very important now to think together about how to overcome this situation and offer a real dialogue to the people,” Putin said.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Search-and-rescue crews spent a second day working to find more than 270 people missing in a ferry disaster off the coast of South Korea. At least 25 deaths have been confirmed since the vessel went down yesterday.
We have a report narrated by Lucy Watson of Independent Television News in Beijing.
LUCY WATSON: They urge for a response, banging the hull of this stricken vessel, hoping to hear survivors, because this is still a rescue operation.
Remarkably, 24 hours earlier, as passengers phoned for help, there was an uneasy calm. They were unaware of how fast they were sinking. An announcement told them to stay where they were because it was less dangerous.
But it’s come to this, collective anguish as yet another body is brought in. And this man, who cowers from the cameras, was the captain, responsible for those on board, who could face a criminal investigation. He says he’s sorry, he’s ashamed, but he was one of the first to abandon his ship.
So this boat took many families to see it for themselves, to be close to where their children could be alive, trapped inside air pockets, such frustration as an operation hampered today by rough seas, even a watching president didn’t need the enormity of this disaster pointing out.
But it was too much for some. This was a relative who collapsed and was taken to hospital, and where this young girl is. She is 6 years old and remembers her ordeal, filmed here being rescued without her parents and without her brother. So, efforts must be made for the hundreds still missing, no matter how desperate it appears.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Three seagoing cranes are expected to arrive in the next two days to help salvage the sunken ferry.
There were new concerns today about the fate of 115 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants. The students were kidnapped Tuesday from a boarding school in Borno state in the northeastern part of the country. Today, the school principal denied the Nigerian military’s claims that most of the girls had been freed. She said only 14 have returned.
The underwater search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has narrowed. Authorities in Australia said today they have refined the target area after analyzing four pings heard 10 days ago. It was unclear how much longer the search will last, especially on the Indian Ocean’s surface, where nothing’s been found.
Malaysia’s defense minister spoke in Kuala Lumpur.
DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, Defense Minister, Malaysia: The intensive search in the areas where it is most likely to be — where we can find possible traces of the airplane or the black box, if at all, will be over the next few days. So all efforts and focus is being focused in that direction.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, a U.S. Navy deep-sea drone turned up nothing in its first full scan of the Indian Ocean floor. And officials ruled out the possibility that an oil slick in the area came from the plane.
Iran has now neutralized almost three-quarters of its most sensitive nuclear stockpile. The United Nations Atomic Energy Agency reported today that much of Tehran’s 20 percent enriched uranium has been converted to less potent forms. At the 20 percent level, it’s close to becoming fuel for nuclear weapons. The U.S. responded to the report by releasing another $450 million in frozen Iranian assets.
President Obama touted new numbers today on health care enrollments. He announced that at least eight million people have now signed up through insurance exchanges. About 35 percent are under the age of 35, which is key to making the law work. Younger, healthier people pay in more than they use in medical insurance. The president said the upshot is the repeal debate should be over.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This thing is working. I have said before, this law won’t solve all the problems in our health care system. We know we have got more work to do, but we now know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans, and take insurance away from millions more.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Officials have not yet released figures on how many of the eight million enrollees had been uninsured.
The president also criticized House Republicans again today for blocking comprehensive immigration reform. They have argued for a more piecemeal approach. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported court-ordered deportations of unlawful immigrants actually dropped 43 percent between 2009 and 2013. Pro-immigration groups have sharply criticized the president over deportations.
The Congressional Budget Office today disputed White House claims about the size of deficits and tax hikes under President Obama’s proposed budget. The nonpartisan agency estimated red ink of $6.6 trillion over 10 years, instead of $5 trillion, as the budget forecasts. The CBO also said the tax hikes will total $1.4 trillion, significantly more than official estimates.
Wall Street closed out a short workweek on a quiet note. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 16 points to close at 16,408. The Nasdaq rose nine points to close at 4,095. And the S&P 500 added two to finish near 1,865.
Nobel-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today at his home in Mexico City. He had been ill for some time. Starting in 1947, Garcia Marquez gained world renown for his short stories and novels. They included “One Hundred Years of Solitude” And “Love In the Time of Cholera,” among many others. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was 87 years old.
On a happier note, Chelsea Clinton announced that she and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are expecting their first child. The daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is 34. She serves as the vice chairman of her family’s foundation.
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A school girl in Kalocsa, Hungary is soaked by a bucket of water Thursday as part of a rehearsal for a south Hungary Easter tradition known as the “watering of the girls.” Tradition dictates that participating girls dress in traditional garb and take to the streets, where boys will throw buckets of water at them as they run past.
The ritual is rooted back to pre-Christian times in Hungary’s tribal past as far back as the second century AD, and is meant to promote fertility.
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GWEN IFILL: Glimmers of hope surfaced in Geneva today, as the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union agreed to call for an immediate halt to violence in the country. The announcement followed one of the bloodiest nights since the new government took control in Kiev. Three people were killed and more than a dozen were injured at a military base in Mariupol.
Lindsey Hilsum from Independent Television News was there today and filed this report.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Bullet casings and a bloodied bandage, evidence of last night’s clash between Ukrainian soldiers guarding this base and masked intruders.
ALEKSANDR KOLINICHENKO, Deputy Commander, Ukrainian Army (through interpreter): We can only guess who they were, but their aims were definitely not peaceful. Their main goal was to enter the military base and seize our weapons.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Today, the police in Mariupol were trying to establish exactly what happened.
I have been talking to a soldier who was here. He said that at first the protesters were peaceful and included women and children, but then armed masked men appeared without uniforms. He said, first of all, they tried to storm this guardhouse. They had Molotov cocktails. They came through and they went charging up there, but at that point, the soldiers repelled them.
Footage from the incident shows Molotov cocktails flying as the men tried to force their way into the base. It’s not clear who was shooting. A vehicle caught fire or was maybe set ablaze. They chanted “Berkut, Berkut,” the name of the now disbanded paramilitary security police hated in Western Ukraine, but much loved here in the East.
A protester used a megaphone to call on the troops from the national guard to reject the government in Kiev, but they refused. Three protesters were killed in the fracas that followed and several wounded, including Sergei Shevchenko, injured by shrapnel. We found him in hospital in Mariupol today. He said he and his group had no firearms. They wanted to seize those in the base, so the soldiers couldn’t fight people like him who want an independent republic in Eastern Ukraine.
SERGEI SHEVCHENKO, Anti-Government Protester (through interpreter): We took Molotov cocktails to the military base because they turned the lights off and we couldn’t see anything. If we were going to take their weapons, we needed to light our way.
LINDSEY HILSUM: But Molotov cocktails are not lights. Molotov cocktails are for exploding.
SERGEI SHEVCHENKO (through interpreter): If you want, you can kill a person with a toothpick or a fork. Is that a good explanation?
LINDSEY HILSUM: Police were guarding his hospital room. He said he expected to be arrested when he recovered.
Anti-government protesters remain in control of the municipal headquarters in Mariupol. In Donetsk tonight, those who support the government in Kiev are rallying round their flag, showing that not everyone in the East wants independence or closer links with Moscow. The Geneva statement says all sides must refrain from violence and intimidation, in the hope that the deaths in Mariupol will be the last.
GWEN IFILL: Hours away, in Switzerland, diplomacy returned to center stage.
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has the details.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: Diplomacy requires willing partners.
MARGARET WARNER: The talks in Geneva began with low expectations, as Secretary of State John Kerry met with his counterparts from Ukraine, Russia and the European Union.
But after seven hours of negotiations, they announced the terms of a deal.
JOHN KERRY: We agreed today that all illegal armed groups must be disarmed, that all illegally seized buildings must be returned to their legitimate owners, and all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.
MARGARET WARNER: For its part, Ukraine’s government must make good on plans to grant the Eastern regions more autonomy, as Russia has demanded. European monitors are to oversee compliance.
Kerry acknowledged, it won’t be easy.
JOHN KERRY: All of this, we are convinced, represents a good day’s work, but, on the other hand, this day’s work has produced principles, and it has produced commitments, and it has produced words on paper. And we’re the first to understand and to agree that words on paper will only mean what the actions that are taken as result of those words produce.
MARGARET WARNER: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used much the same language to describe the deal.
SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): We approved a document to go with the Geneva statement of April 17, in which we agreed on the initial concrete steps that will de-escalate tensions. All illegally armed groups must be disarmed. All illegally seized buildings must be returned to the legitimate owners.
MARGARET WARNER: But underscoring the difficulty, some pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk suggested they weren’t ready to accept the terms. That’s one of 10 Eastern Ukraine cities where militants have seized key government sites.
The U.S. and Ukraine have accused Russia of fomenting the unrest, and Kerry warned the onus is on Moscow to make the deal work or face additional sanctions.
Later, in Washington, President Obama said military options are not on the table, but he sounded his own note of caution about the agreement.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that. And we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
Hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin held forth at length on Ukraine in an annual call in show. He sharply criticized the Kiev government.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): People in Eastern Ukraine have started to arm themselves. And instead of realizing that something bad is going on in the Ukrainian state and make any attempts to start a dialogue, the authorities have started to threaten with force even more and unleashed tanks and aviation on civilian population. This is another grave crime of the current Kiev authorities.
MARGARET WARNER: Putin again denied that Russian forces or even instructors are playing any role in the events in Eastern Ukraine, but for the first time, he admitted they were involved in Crimea before it was annexed.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter): I didn’t conceal that it was our task to provide conditions for the free expression of the will of Crimea’s residents. That’s why, of course, our servicemen stood behind Crimea’s self-defense forces. They acted in a very correct way, but resolutely and professionally.
MARGARET WARNER: The Russian leader also warned Moscow may not recognize upcoming elections in Ukraine next month. And he didn’t rule out intervening in Ukraine again.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter): I can remind you that the Upper House of Parliament granted the president the right to use military force in Ukraine. I very much hope that I will not have to use that right and that we will be able solve all current pressing issues in Ukraine by political and diplomatic means.
MARGARET WARNER: Putin even took a question from American Edward Snowden, the national security leaker now living in asylum in Russia. He called in to ask if Russia conducts sweeping surveillance of private communications of the sort he’s charged the U.S. does. Putin said no.
Back in Kiev, the acting Ukrainian prime minister dismissed Putin’s performance and accused him of telling fairy tales.
ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Acting Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): There is only one person in the world who believes that there are no Russian troops in the East of Ukraine. His name is Vladimir Putin.
MARGARET WARNER: Earlier this week, the Kiev government announced an anti-terrorist operation against the pro-Russian separatists in the East. That offensive has bogged down and there were no further military moves today.
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GWEN IFILL: Margaret’s here with more.
Margaret, you are going to have to parse this for us. On one hand, John Kerry came out and said big new agreement, and then the president sounded more cautious, and we heard Putin saying things that the United States believes not to be true.
MARGARET WARNER: That’s right.
GWEN IFILL: Do they believe this is the real deal?
MARGARET WARNER: They honestly don’t know, Gwen. I talked to officials late this afternoon. They say, we don’t know.
And a glimmer of hope is about as far as President Obama went. And there were a couple of things that I think are noteworthy. One, it makes no mention of Russia drawing back the 40,000 troops they have got massed on the border, which was one of the things that Secretary Kerry was going in there to talk about, or at least that’s what we were told.
Secondly was the incident — or the conversation that I referred to in the tape piece, and I followed up further, which is from one of the heads of one of these armed groups that’s taken over that building in Donetsk.
And, basically, he told both Reuters and me through a translator that, well, let’s — if all illegal occupations have to end, let’s first clear the Maidan, which of course Independence Square in Kiev where the original revolutionary demonstrations took place this winter and protesters still remain, trying to keep the new government honest.
And when I followed up with a question about, well, were you reassured at least that in this agreement it talks about constitutional reforms that will protect the rights of minorities, he said, what we want is federalization in the constitution. That’s a Russian codeword for essentially creating a bunch of little rump states in Eastern Ukraine so disconnected from Kiev that they are easily manipulated by Russia.
GWEN IFILL: So, that means that Russia has the upper hand or at least the leverage in this kind of negotiation?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, that’s — that’s a really interesting question.
All right, clearly, on the ground, Russia has the leverage. They have got the 40,000 troops. They have got armed people on the ground, both Russians and Ukrainians. And they have got the initiative. The United States and the West have as their partner this — this transitional government in Kiev that is really back on its heels and struggling on many levels, which we have talked about.
However, the administration does believe that the sanctions and the threat of sanctions on a broader scale give the U.S. and the West some leverage. And you heard President Obama say that, when he said — he didn’t say, well, some — something brought Russia to the table, but he said essentially they recognize that their economy, which was already, I think he said stuck in the mud has been hurt by further sanctions and perhaps they are thinking about the fact that further sanctions would damage them more.
GWEN IFILL: But, to be clear, when we hear the word de-escalation, the U.S. hears Russia steps back and takes away its troops, and Russia hears that Maidan is disarmed. They hear a completely opposite thing.
MARGARET WARNER: Certainly, their supporters hear it.
GWEN IFILL: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: And it was clear that the president and Secretary Kerry, they are putting the onus, as we heard, squarely on the Russians, right?
GWEN IFILL: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: But Lavrov in his press conference said as — Kerry said, well, I made it clear to Secretary Lavrov or Minister Lavrov that, if we didn’t see improvement by the weekend, there will be more costs.
Lavrov told those Russian reporters, as far as we’re concerned, it’s up to Ukraine to make it work.
GWEN IFILL: Oh, great. OK.
MARGARET WARNER: Right.
GWEN IFILL: So, who in the end has to enforce this deal, assuming it’s an enforceable deal?
MARGARET WARNER: Well, they talk about these monitors from the OSCE.
Now, this is a well-meaning, but I would say toothless group of 57 countries that was created at the end of the Cold War. It includes Russia, all the Europeans and many others. They don’t have any enforcement. They may be the eyes and ears. I think television cameras are going to be the greater eyes and ears.
But the other question is, will there just be a lot of quibbling about language. Right? Does ending all occupations mean that first the pro-Kiev government protesters have to disband? And all of that — first of all, we haven’t gotten a fine, granular reading of these meetings and what the side conversations were, because they are all on a plane.
But that is really where — I don’t want to use the cliché that everyone does, the devil is in the details, but really the administration doesn’t know.
GWEN IFILL: That glitzy call-in show that we saw Putin…
MARGARET WARNER: An annual event for him.
GWEN IFILL: The annual event where he walked on stage and he took questions, including from Edward Snowden, watching that carefully, as we can only assume U.S. officials are, what did they see in it that gave them any reason to hope and what did they see in it that worried them?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
Well, I don’t think they saw much reason to hope, because, remember, he did that first. It was almost like he was laying the groundwork for the talks.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: And they saw the same preeny, cocky, confident Vladimir Putin.
They tried to make much of the fact that, aha, he admitted Russian agents were behind what happened in Crimea and they are following the same playbook in Ukraine. But Russian experts in the administration I talked to were very troubled by two things.
One, he started about talking all of Eastern and Southern Ukraine as Novorossiya, which is a term that goes back 300 years, when this whole area from Crimea all the way west, all the way up to Moldova, including the important port city of Odessa, and then all the way east to the Russian border, were part of Russia.
GWEN IFILL: They call that new Russia. That’s what that means.
MARGARET WARNER: Novorossiya, I see — I should have said that.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: That’s what that means. And that was the term.
And he said something about, so, Novorossiya, that was part of Ukraine in czarist times, and that was given away in 1920s. Well, why? Only God knows.
So it sounded to people in the administration as if he is laying that sort of historical…
GWEN IFILL: Again.
MARGARET WARNER: … rationale once again.
GWEN IFILL: Margaret Warner, thanks always for clearing it up for us.
MARGARET WARNER: My pleasure.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Nine months after it became the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy, Detroit is drawing closer to a deal on how to protect current and former city workers from deep pension cuts.Until recently, officials had been warning of painfully large pension reductions. The shift was announced yesterday, and, today, leaders of the retired police and firefighters group voted in favor of it. Pensions for those retirees had faced a pension cut of up to 14 percent. Under the new deal, they wouldn’t take a cut. Other civilian workers faced a reduction that could have been as high as 34 percent. That’s been scaled back to 4.5 percent. Any action on pensions is being watched by other cities that confront huge debt.
And Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television is here to fill in the picture.
Welcome back to the program.
Christy McDonald, am I right that there were these dire warnings up until just a day or so ago that pension cuts could be enormous?
CHRISTY MCDONALD, Detroit Public Television: Absolutely, Judy.
And that’s probably part of the negotiation process. You don’t come to the table first with your best deal. You have to start the negotiation. And those negotiations have been coming fast and furious ever since the city put its first plan of adjustment on the table about a month or so ago, which really is the road map of how Detroit is going to get itself out of bankruptcy.
And so there’s been a lot of back and forth, but there’s also been a lot of moving parts in different aspects to deal to try to offset those pension cuts. And it’s something called the grand bargain is what we’re calling it here in the city of Detroit.
What it is, is about $815 million that would help protect art at the DIA from being liquidated and sold to offset those pension cuts. Some of that money would come from foundations and also the Detroit Institute of Arts itself, but $350 million of that would also come from the state.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, what turned this around, because there was a serious concern that the retirees were going to take a big hit? What broke the dam?
CHRISTY MCDONALD: Well, when you take a look at this entire process, no one is going to be happy at the end of a bankruptcy process. No one is really going to win.
You know that the banks are going to take a severe haircut, but really the most vulnerable people of all in this entire process are those retirees, the people who worked for the city of Detroit and were promised a pension at the end of it, and it was actually protected by the state constitution.
Well, the bankruptcy judge said in the beginning — this is federal bankruptcy court — those pensions are going to be allowed to be touched. So, everyone knew and was looking at this pension issues and the retirees, knowing that some sort of special protection would have to come towards them. And so I think that you have people working at the state level.
You also have people who are eying the assets of the DIA because a lot of the valuable artworks are owned by the city of Detroit. And that is an asset that could possibly be liquidated. People wanted to protect that, but knowing that they wanted to protect retirees, some of whom are making an average of maybe $20,000 a year in that retirement.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, clarify for us again — you just referred to this — who is going to make up the difference here? Where is the money coming from?
CHRISTY MCDONALD: A couple of different places, one, the state, $350 million. But that has to be approved by the state legislature.
And they have been watching this very carefully if they are going to approve this or not. They have been watching to see if the pension boards are going to give a little bit in this entire negotiation process, that $350 million.
We’re also going to be looking at foundations. Several powerful foundations have stepped forward with several hundred million dollars for this process. Also, the DIA has pledged that they will raise $100 million. And this is going to be over a span of about 20 years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, and, as we just reported, the police and fire union have voted to — in favor of this. So, does that mean that the retirees across the board are happy with this?
CHRISTY MCDONALD: It’s not a done deal yet.
But those boards, the pension boards, the general pension board and also police and fire, they have endorsed this deal. They have said to their rank and file, OK, I think this probably the best that we’re going to get.
But every retiree, they’re going to have to vote on this. And that voting process will start in May and will go until June. So, it’s not a done deal yet. But when you get to the endorsement of the boards who have been going back and forth in these negotiations that this might be the best deal that they are going to get, they are going to be listening to that.
But they’re not going to escape from this unscathed. Police and fire, they won’t get a cut, but their cost of living adjustment, that’s going to drop from about — just over 2 percent to 1 percent a year. And cost of living for the general retirement fund, they are not going to get one at all.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Christy, again, just remind us why there’s a difference between the cut the police and fire workers are going to take vs. all the other city employees?
CHRISTY MCDONALD: You have got — you have got two different pension boards. And so they managed their money a little differently.
Police and fire, they weren’t as aggressive. They were more moderate in their investments. The other pension fund, a little different. And they say that that pension fund, the general pension fund, has a shortfall of about $4.5 billion. The board disputes that number a little bit that the emergency manager came up with and said, no, we think it’s closer to $2.5 billion.
But, again, you are still looking at a huge amount of money there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Christy, I just read — I guess it was on the wires a few minutes ago that the judge overseeing all of this said today that it’s essential that the city’s elected leaders commit to supporting whatever plan they finally come up with.
CHRISTY MCDONALD: Absolutely, because we’re going through this bankruptcy process.
And this is taking care of Detroit’s financials. But, really, what we’re looking at is, what is Detroit going to be like coming out of bankruptcy? How is the city going to be able to function?
And the person reason who is running this process, the emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, he could probably be gone. His term is going to be up, his 18-month term, in the fall. They’re hoping to get the city out of bankruptcy in October, but then you’re going to hand the reins back over to a mayor, city council.
They are the ones who are going to be making the financial decisions all over again. So, they want to make sure that they are on board, that they know what is going on and have that plan for coming back out again and endorse that plan, so then they can move and make sure that Detroit can be a thriving city once again and a growing city, because that’s really the goal here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Christy McDonald with Detroit Public Television, thank you very much.
CHRISTY MCDONALD: Thanks, Judy.
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GWEN IFILL: We move now to the Pacific Northwest and part one of a Paul Solman series on the debate over raising the minimum wage.
Tonight, he has the latest on a story he first brought to our attention last fall.
It part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.
PAUL SOLMAN: A lot was at stake last November in SeaTac, Washington, home of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, as local citizens decided the fate of a proposition to jack up the minimum wage there to $15 an hour, for thousands of workers, the promise of a huge pay hike, 63 percent if they were making the state minimum of $9.19 an hour, plus paid sick leave, which promised to be a benefit for the flying public as well.
WOMAN: Every employee that I work with comes to work sick because they have to put food on the table.
ABDIRAHMAN ABDULLAHI, Employee, Sea-Tac’s Hertz Car Rentals: Imagine you’re flying on an airplane. The worker who clean up the airplane before you fly, he was sick and he’s cleaning the airplane, imagine you eating on that table, you know?
PAUL SOLMAN: But higher costs would boomerang against low-income workers, business spokesman Maxford Nelson insisted.
MAXFORD NELSON, The Freedom Foundation: The workers who retain their jobs might be better off, but an increased number of other workers lose their jobs entirely.
PAUL SOLMAN: A bitter, costly campaign ensued, a recount, and, in the end, the ayes had it by 77 votes.
But, on decision day, Alaska Airlines, the main opponent of the $15 minimum wage proposition, filed a lawsuit in county court, arguing that a city can’t set ordinances for an airport operating within its borders.
HEATHER WEINER, Yes! for SeaTac: Unfortunately, a county judge agreed with Alaska Airlines and took away the benefits for about 4,700 workers at SeaTac Airport.
PAUL SOLMAN: Heather Weiner is spokesperson for the pro-$15 minimum wage side.
HEATHER WEINER: I’m being a little cheeky when I say this, but it’s like a mini-Bangladesh over there right now. You know, we have got high-end products and airfare, and people with high income flying in and out of SeaTac, 30 million people a year. And yet the people who are moving the bags, pushing the wheelchairs, serving the food, selling the magazines aren’t able to support their families. It’s really a tragedy.
PAUL SOLMAN: Just outside the airport, at SeaTac’s larger hotels and parking lots, some 1,600 workers did get their raises on January 1. But for the 5,000 or so workers on airport property, the court decision now being appealed was a body blow.
WOMAN: Hearing this, my heart just sunk. I feel that now I can never get ahead.
PAUL SOLMAN: Jenay Zimmerman, who manages taxis at the airport, still makes $11.90 an hour. Baggage handler Joshua Vina of Menzies Aviation, which services several airlines here, including Alaska, still earns $9.50 an hour.
JOSHUA VINA, Baggage Handler, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: It was actually going to help me pay a lot of things off. It was going to help me have a lot more things to give to my wife and my son. And I’m barely supporting them right now with this.
PAUL SOLMAN: A decade ago, Alaska Airlines’ ramp workers had a union contract paying over $20 an hour, plus benefits, if you had worked there a few years. But when we were here in November, we saw some current workers on a free food line at church.
Heather Weiner was eager to tell us why.
HEATHER WEINER: In 2005, Alaska Airlines fired 500 people. They just laid them off without any kind of notice, and replaced those people with low-wage jobs at Menzies Aviation. Menzies Aviation is now the corporation that handles more than half of the bags and other services for Alaska and at SeaTac Airport.
And, Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines’ profits are way up. They reported half-a-billion dollars in profits in 2013, and the way they did that was in part by making sure that the people who work for them don’t make any more than minimum wage.
PAUL SOLMAN: The connection between wages and profits is pretty obvious, says Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, an outspoken advocate for the $15 minimum wage.
NICK HANAUER, Second Avenue Partners: Clearly, the CEO and senior managers of Alaska Airlines, and their board of directors, and their shareholders would prefer that most of the value created by that enterprise goes to them, and almost none of the value created by that enterprise goes to their workers.
PAUL SOLMAN: Alaska Airlines declined our interview request, but sent a written statement — quote — “Alaska is profitable now, but the past decade has been the most challenging in the history of airlines. In order to survive, we turned to airport-based contractors that work for multiple airlines and provide economies of scale. While we can’t dictate the labor relations practices of our business partners, we do strive to work closely with them on pay rates that reflect the job market” — unquote.
We tried to reach Alaska’s business partners, and other SeaTac airport contractors, 21 companies in all, none of which agreed to an interview.
MAN: I appreciate the call, but we’re going to pass.
PAUL SOLMAN: Even the off-airport employers complying with the law took a pass, though some lamented it to local reporters.
DAVID ROLF, SEIU Healthcare 775NW: The Cedarbrook Lodge said that they were going to have to lay off employees, and instead they’re doubling their room capacity and hiring.
PAUL SOLMAN: Union leader David Rolf was a prime mover behind Proposition 1.
DAVID ROLF: I think there was a lot of rhetoric designed to scare people leading up to that election, and so far all of the doom and gloom has not proven correct.
PAUL SOLMAN: Meanwhile, as both sides await the state Supreme Court’s ruling on appeal, some SeaTac Airport workers aren’t waiting around for judicial relief.
Tracey Thompson is secretary-treasurer of local 117 of the Teamsters.
TRACEY THOMPSON, Teamsters Local 117: It’s not just the represented workers that matter. It’s the non-represented workers, and women and persons of color are the ones who are suffering most by having such low minimum wage and poverty level wages here.
PAUL SOLMAN: Workers like Hani Osman, a driver at SeaTac Airport’s Avis Budget Rent A Car, which the Teamsters recently succeeded in organizing with the help of this Somali refugee.
HANI OSMAN, Employee, Sea-Tac’s Avis-Budget Car Rentals: We don’t get vacation. We don’t get sick call. We don’t get nothing, and that’s why we fought for the union.
PAUL SOLMAN: We met Osman at the SeaTac Teamsters hall, where she and others were voting on their first union contract, which will guarantee health care, retirement, vacation, sick leave, a grievance procedure, and $15 an hour if the lower court decision is overturned.
Are you really excited about the fact that you have now gotten a union?
HANI OSMAN: We’re so happy about it. Everybody’s so happy about it. And now we’re getting some results.
PAUL SOLMAN: What kind of results?
HANI OSMAN: For example, if we hit a car, we used to get suspended. You move like 100 cars a day, and if you scratch a little car, you get suspended for two weeks without pay.
PAUL SOLMAN: Really?
HANI OSMAN: Yes. And now we don’t have to see that again.
PAUL SOLMAN: Which brings us to one final note: The company that directly employs Hani Osman and colleagues isn’t Avis Budget. It’s the GCA Services Group.
HEATHER WEINER: GCA is a contractor that has 30,000 employees around the country. They are owned by Blackstone, which is a major Wall Street investment group, which is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
PAUL SOLMAN: That prompted a last question for multimillionaire investor Nick Hanauer about his fellow one-hundredth of the 1 percenters.
How do you personally feel when you hear that a company like Blackstone has taken workers who used to work for Avis and Budget back to minimum wage, subcontracted?
NICK HANAUER: On the one hand, I feel like it’s a moral abomination, but the truth is that they may have felt that they needed to do that because their competitor had already done it and they wouldn’t be able to compete on price if they hadn’t.
PAUL SOLMAN: The seemingly inexorable pressure of competition, in other words, which is why the workers of SeaTac have been organizing, they say, to counter with pressure of their own.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now for something out of this world.
NASA scientists think they have discovered the most Earth-like planet yet circling a star that’s about 500 light years away from us. For now, you can just call it Kepler-186f.
Hari Sreenivasan is in our New York studio, and he has a fuller look at why it’s exciting astronomers.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It was discovered by the Kepler space telescope. And as shown in this animation, it’s said to be in a so-called Goldilocks zone, where it’s not too far from its sun, Kepler-186, and its temperatures could be just the right environment to allow liquid water to flow on its surface.
Tom Barclay is part of the NASA team and with the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute. He joins us from Mountain View, California.
So, if — Judy said this is 500 light years away. Why is this discovery so consequential?
TOM BARCLAY, NASA Ames Research Center: So, while we won’t be going there any time soon, this really demonstrates that there are planets the same size as our own within the habitable zone of other stars.
The habitable zone is a region where we think, with the right atmospheric conditions, liquid water could exist on the surface. Now, we don’t know whether this planet does have an atmosphere, but if it did, we could — and it had similar characteristics to our own, had greenhouse gases that heated the planet, it could host liquid water.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, there’s been a lot of attention today to the size of the planet being so Earth-like.
Why does that matter?
TOM BARCLAY: So, the one planet where we know there’s life is our own. And that’s an Earth-size planet.
In our own solar system, there are two Earth-size planet. There’s Earth and Venus. Both those are rocky. So we deduce by proxy that this planet may well be rocky.
There were a number of other planets discovered, the smallest of which in the habitable zone is about 40 percent bigger than Earth. These are called super Earth-size bodies. And they may be rocky. They may have a significant amount of liquid water around their surface.
But they don’t remind us of home. They’re much more massive. They may be six to eight times as massive as our own planet. The gravity is going to be much higher. They may be much hotter inside, so they don’t have layers like our own planet, with a core, a mantle and a crust.
This planet, while we don’t know for sure what it looks like, probably could well be rocky, could well have similar characteristics to our planet.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, let’s do a thought experiment for our audience, if you will.
Let’s say we devise sort of vehicle that bends space and time travel 500 light years, and you and I are standing on the surface of this particular planet. What does life look like, what does it feel like while we’re standing there?
TOM BARCLAY: So, this planet orbits a star that is cooler than our own.
It’s slightly oranger, so if you looked in the sky, it wouldn’t appear like the white sun we see. It would slightly more orange. This star also reveals less starlight than we receive from the sun. So, it will be a bit dimmer on the surface. Perhaps at midday on the surface of this planet, you would receive a similar sort of illumination to that what we receive maybe an hour before sunset.
There wouldn’t be the rich blues you see from our orange. It would be a much duller color. And that’s because there’s not as much blue light coming from its star because it more orangey, more red. There’s less blue light, less blue light to scatter, so the ocean’s duller.
The clouds and the ice on this planet would be a similar color to their star, rather than the white clouds and ice we see. So they may all be an orangey color as well.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s say, just on the basic physics that we understand about Earth, if this is slightly larger, does that change the gravity and, for example, how we feel we weigh?
TOM BARCLAY: Yes, so this one is very comparable to Earth.
If it was exactly 10 percent larger than Earth, you would feel a little — and it was made of the same thing as Earth — you would feel slightly more gravity, maybe 40 percent more. It wouldn’t be vastly different.
You know, people go at 40 percent more g force fairly regularly without feeling significantly different. So, you wouldn’t — it wouldn’t be that unusual for us.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And we’re spinning around that star how fast? Not 365 days for a whole year?
TOM BARCLAY: No, their year would be much shorter.
Because the star is cooler, the region where liquid water could exist, the habitable zone, is located much closer in.
So, while we go around our star once every 365 days, they go around their star once every 130 days. So, the star — so the year — you would have many more birthdays.
HARI SREENIVASAN: That’s not so bad news.
OK, so let’s talk about next steps. This was from data that you had from the Kepler telescope. What’s the next telescope and what is it going to look for?
TOM BARCLAY: So, as mentioned, you mentioned at the start, this start is about 500 light years away. This is not an especially bright star. We couldn’t see it with our own eyes.
The next step is to try and find planets orbiting much brighter stars, much closer-by stars. So, NASA is launching a mission called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, in a couple of years, specifically to find planets similar to this one, but orbiting our nearest neighbors in our cosmic backyard.
Once we have found those, spacecraft like the James Webb Space Telescope will try and study their atmospheres to tell whether there is a similar atmosphere to our own. Is there oxygen? Is there carbon dioxide? Is there water vapor and nitrogen, the right things to — that are conducive to life?
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Tom Barclay, thanks so much for joining us.
TOM BARCLAY: Thank you.
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GWEN IFILL: Boston, Fort Hood, Kansas City, Oklahoma City. What happens when random mass violence strikes home? What do we call it, and how do we prosecute it?
This week, Lisa Monaco, the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser, spoke out on that topic in a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School. And she joins me now.
Welcome to the NewsHour again.
LISA MONACO, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism: Hi, Gwen.
GWEN IFILL: Today, the attorney general, Eric Holder, gave a speech at the observances in Kansas City, in which he talked about this kind of domestic terror as an affront to the nation.
Is it terrorism?
LISA MONACO: Well, Gwen, I think what I talked about in Cambridge on the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings just a few days ago was that violent extremism has been with us in many forms, unfortunately even 19 years ago this week in Oklahoma City.
So, it comes in many forms. And what we need to do is bring community efforts together to counter it.
GWEN IFILL: I do want to talk about what the solutions are. But also I think what we call it matters too, right? You used the term attack on the homeland to describe the Boston Marathon bombings. You’re a Boston native. Obviously, it hit close.
That is particularly vivid language, but still not the T-word.
LISA MONACO: Right.
Well, I think we can get caught up in labels. I think, as the attorney general spoke out quite movingly, as you indicated, today in Kansas — and our hearts go out to the people of Overland Park. They are investigating that matter and looking at it as a hate crime.
And so I don’t want to get ahead of that process. Obviously, that is a matter for the prosecutors and the investigators. But what we have seen is extremism comes in any number of forms. And it’s not confined to any one community. It’s not confined to any one individual of a particular faith. We need to respond to it and reject it regardless of faith, regardless of where it’s present.
GWEN IFILL: Or regardless of employment or standing.
At Fort Hood, the president after that spoke out about the threat from what he described as radicalized individuals. How is that different from responding to other kinds of threats which could be in the homeland or elsewhere?
LISA MONACO: Right.
Well, that’s exactly right. The dangerous of an individual being drawn to violence, being radicalized to violence, it’s some of what I spoke about the other day. We have to do a lot more as a government and as a community to understand what draws people to violence, what takes them down that path.
And that’s one of the things we’re trying very hard to do, to bring the community together to understand it and to impart the best science, the best expertise, the best understanding of what draws people to violence and how we, as a community, whether it’s coaches, teachers, faith leaders, how can they intervene with individuals in their community to point them in another direction.
GWEN IFILL: Americans look at violence that happens close to home differently than at a distance, for obvious reasons.
But how do you act when it’s the same type of violence, but it’s just here? How is our reaction as a government, as a community, how is it different or how should it be different?
LISA MONACO: Well, we have a really good example in the Boston bombings.
What we saw there and what we commemorated and remembered on Monday was a — was a community coming together to respond, both medical professionals, law enforcement, community members, to both respond to an attack, an expression of violence from two individuals radicalized, and then to help a community heal.
GWEN IFILL: When you talk about a community action, it almost sounds like you’re saying not over here on the federal government, over there in your hometown.
LISA MONACO: Well, I think what we have learned is that there are limits to what the federal government can do in terms of identifying individuals who are being drawn to violence.
We’re not always going to be able to see the warning signs. The government isn’t best positioned to see that, necessarily, all the time. In fact, we have crunched the data.
GWEN IFILL: But should it be better positioned to see it?
LISA MONACO: Well, I think we can be by working with the community, by engaging more.
We have looked at this very hard. What we have found from one study is that, in 80 percent of the cases, community members saw warning signs, but they didn’t see them as an indicator of a problem, whether it was a teacher hearing from a student that they were interested in traveling abroad to fight, whether it was a parent seeing a kid being more confrontational.
We have to learn together and educate community members and trust in community members who can come and intervene and point that usually youth to a different path.
GWEN IFILL: Is watching for signs, watching for behavior changes, is that a little passive in the face of what’s sadly and repeatedly growing problems here?
LISA MONACO: Well, it’s not the only thing we’re doing.
We certainly need to make sure we as a community are poised to see those warning signs and see them as signs of trouble, but our law enforcement needs to and has been — and, in fact, Boston is a great example of this — prepare for in advance to understand how they’re going to respond, how they’re going to work together to respond to an act of violence.
GWEN IFILL: You mentioned in your speech in Cambridge a comprehensive prevention model.
LISA MONACO: Mm-hmm.
GWEN IFILL: What does that look like at the federal level, the state level, and the local level?
LISA MONACO: What it really means is engaging with community members, and not just on the security side, whether it’s educators, health professionals, religious leaders as well, sharing best practices.
What do we know? What has our expertise taught us about how somebody becomes radicalized? How can we share that information so people can understand to see these warning signs?
GWEN IFILL: Is that a law enforcement response? The debate we always have when things happen is whether it should be a law enforcement response, whether it’s a debate about gun control, or whether it should be a mental health response or something else like that, or are you talking about a combination of all these things?
LISA MONACO: All of them.
GWEN IFILL: Emphasis on one or the other?
LISA MONACO: It can’t be done in any one silo.
It is in part a law enforcement response, because this is a public safety issue that we’re talking about first and foremost. And law enforcement has a role to play, but so do teachers and so do parents and families.
GWEN IFILL: And should these kinds of crimes be prosecuted differently?
LISA MONACO: Well, I guess it depends on what you mean.
I think they have got to be prosecuted based on the facts and the evidence that is presented, which is exactly what’s going to happen here.
GWEN IFILL: I guess what I mean is whether it should be prosecuted as terror, prosecuted as domestic murder charges, as a regular criminal charge.
LISA MONACO: Well, in both instances, we have got statutes on the book that are going to be available to us, and we can’t apply any one cookie-cutter approach to it.
GWEN IFILL: Lisa Monaco, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, thank you very much.
LISA MONACO: Great to be with you.
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Two months of protests in Venezuela, fueled by slow economic recovery and high crime, have left at least 40 people dead and prompted the Vatican and neighboring countries to intervene. If you ask the pro- and anti-government demonstrators why they rally for their cause, they reveal a disparate picture of how President Nicolas Maduro is handling this most recent crisis.
The PBS NewsHour sent a camera crew to talk to two women with very different views about how they see their country and their future.
“I can’t go out on the street and get what I want to feed my child, I always have to stand in line, always have to be looking from supermarket to supermarket to see what I can find,” said Geraldine Colmenares, who lives in San Cristóbal, Táchira state, with her son. “Also the lack of safety, I can’t go out on the street without thinking if I’m going to get back home alive, I mean, if I’ll get back home at all.”
She said former longtime President Hugo Chávez “had a good idea of what he wanted to do, but he didn’t know how to implement it.” Maduro “wants to do the same as Chávez but he can’t. He doesn’t have the intellectual capability to do it,” she added.
In Caracas, Marlin Marchand defended Maduro, who has been in office for a year. “President Maduro is a good person. He is on the side of the poor.”
Marchand said the president is trying to implement socialism the way Chavez would have wanted. “Maduro in spite of his mistakes, because nobody is perfect, is trying … to deal with this peacefully.”
Videos shot by Vincent Chanza and Daniel Ramirez, and edited by Victoria Fleischer and Justin Scuiletti. Watch Friday’s PBS NewsHour for a full report on Venezuela.
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Today in the Morning Line:
Health care: President Barack Obama took to the White House briefing room Thursday to announce that eight million people had signed up for insurance through federal and state exchanges under the health care law. He said 35 percent of the enrollees were under 35 years of age. (A caveat here: That number includes children who would be covered by the plans. In fact, just 28 percent of enrollees were between 18 and 34. The percentage is key to controlling costs and almost more important than the overall number of signups.) Regardless, the health care news is politically significant for the White House and Democrats. It takes some of the sting out of conservatives’ withering attacks on the law and highlights the potential danger of Republicans’ singular messaging focus against “Obamacare.” “If Republicans want to attack a law that’s working, that’s their business,” Obama touted Thursday. But his message was less to Republicans, and more to skittish Democrats: “I think Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud. … I do not think we should apologize for it. We should not be defensive about it. I think it is a strong, good, right story to tell.”
How this might change the playing field: Though Republicans hold the upper hand in the race for control of the Senate, Democrats are still within striking distance in key races, and Thursday’s announcement is welcome news for them. That said, vulnerable Democrats have a reason to be skittish. It’s important to remember that many of the key Senate races this year are taking place in states favorable to Republicans, where Mitt Romney won by large margins, and where the president and the health care law are deeply unpopular. But, IF the health care law bad news is over, it could perhaps mean the playing field shrinks a bit again in the states where Republicans have expanded — places Obama won in 2012. The field widened to 12 states — with the prospect of going up to 14, including Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia and potentially Oregon and Minnesota. But does the wave recede a bit now to the original seven GOP targets (plus a couple others): South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina and Louisiana? That doesn’t mean Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire are off the table — or even that Republicans can’t win there. By no means. Of course they can. But Democrats have to be feeling a little bit better about their chances. It’s something to watch in the polls in coming months.
Could the law ever become popular? To a bigger point President Obama addressed yesterday, he was asked essentially whether the law could ever become popular. His answer: “My view is that the longer we see the law benefiting millions of people, the longer we see accusations that the law is hurting millions of people being completely debunked, and the more the average American that has health insurance sees it’s not affecting them in a negative way, then it becomes less of a political football.” Democrats point to the fact that social-welfare programs like Medicare didn’t start out popular but have later become untouchable. That’s possible, but it’s still VERY early to say. It’s highly unlikely the partisanship in the numbers on the law budge until Obama leaves office. Asked whether the law will ever move past the current partisanship, Obama said, “That’s going to take more time.” As we’ve written previously, it’s probably unlikely to change much until there’s a Republican PRESIDENT who embraces the law and tries to “fix” it.
2016: Clinton’s numbers back to politics as usual: Hillary Clinton gets just a 49 to 45 percent favorable rating in a Fox News poll. (It is traditionally a good poll.) That’s a stark dropoff from her numbers when serving as secretary of state, but the more polarized view is to be expected, as Clinton is seen increasingly as the likely Democratic nominee. It’s why it has always been in her interest to NOT appear political for as long as possible before 2016. The poll also finds that Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Chris Christie’s favorable ratings are all underwater. In fact, Paul is the only one who is a net-positive with independents. In head-to-head matchups, Clinton beats Christie 50 to 42 percent, Bush and Paul 51 to 42 percent.
Daily Presidential Trivia:
On this day in 1994, former President Richard Nixon suffered a stroke and died four days later. He is buried beside his wife, Pat, in California. How did the two meet? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer @NewsHour, @rachelwellford, @DomenicoPBS, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to former NewsHour producer Katelyn Polantz (@kpolantz) for getting yesterday’s answer- CIA Director Allen Dulles. An honorable mention to Colter Diehl (@colterdiehl), who came in a close second.
— EJ Dionne (@EJDionne) April 17, 2014
My most exciting title yet: Grandmother-To-Be! @billclinton and I are thrilled that Chelsea and Marc are expecting their first child!
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 17, 2014
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The Internal Revenue Service audits fewer than 1 percent of large business partnerships, according to a government report released Tuesday.
That means some of Wall Street’s largest hedge funds and private equity firms are largely escaping close scrutiny by the IRS, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
The Government Accountability Office says the number of large businesses organized as partnerships has more than tripled since 2002, yet hardly any get audited. In 2012, only 0.8 percent were subjected to field exams in which agents do a thorough review of books and records.
The GAO defines large partnerships as those with more than 100 partners and more than $100 million in assets.
“Auditing less than 1 percent of large partnership tax returns means the IRS is failing to audit the big money,” said Levin, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on investigations.
“It means over 99 percent of the hedge funds, private equity funds, master limited partnerships and publicly traded partnerships in this country, some of which earn tens of billions each year, are audit-free,” Levin said.
More than 80 percent of large partnerships are in the finance and insurance industries, the GAO report said.
The IRS said auditing partnership returns is a priority, but that budget cuts over the past four years have left the agency with the lowest number of enforcement personnel in years.
“Since Fiscal 2010, the IRS budget has been reduced by nearly $900 million,” the service said in a statement. “The IRS has about 10,000 fewer employees than in 2010, affecting our work across our taxpayer service and enforcement categories. Last year, we had 3,100 fewer people in our key enforcement positions than in 2010.”
Overall, the IRS audited fewer than 1 percent of returns by individuals last year, though the chances of getting audited increased with income, according to IRS statistics.
The GAO report says the audit rate for large partnerships has been low since at least 2007.
The IRS releases annual statistics on audits, including the number of partnerships returns that are examined. But the IRS doesn’t usually break down partnership returns by asset size.
Overall, more than 4.4 million partnerships filed tax returns in 2011, and 0.42 percent were audited, according to IRS statistics. That same year, the GAO says there were 2,226 large partnerships, and only 20 were audited. That’s about 0.9 percent.
“This is a real problem and serves as yet another example of why Congress needs to get serious about comprehensive, bipartisan tax reform,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “This includes looking at the growth of large partnerships and working with the proper parties – including the IRS – to put in place a smart framework for auditing and governance.”
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— Stéphane Arnaud (@StephaneArnaud_) April 18, 2014