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

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    MATT GALLAGHER: Initial reader responses, let’s just get that out of our systems before we start talking craft.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: Here in Brooklyn, a group gathers to discuss the Vietnam war novel, Tree of Smoke. But this is no ordinary book club.

    It’s a meeting of current and former students of Words After War, a nonprofit that brings veterans and civilians together to discuss military conflict through a literary lens.

    Brandon Willitts, a former intelligence analyst in the Navy, co-founded Words After War last year.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: You were 18 when you enlisted?

    BRANDON WILLITTS: I was. I had just graduated from high school when I enlisted. It was– shortly after 9/11. At the time, you know, there was a real gravity to the situation. And it felt very immediate. And I felt like I had to do something. And that was the only thing I could think of to do was to join the military.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: Willitts deployed overseas in 2004, serving in Afghanistan, Bahrain and Qatar. He returned home in June of 2005.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: After over four years in the Navy, Willitts moved to Vermont to pursue a college degree. But at school, he says, he felt like an outsider.

    BRANDON WILLITTS: I think it’s like being a unicorn, what I imagine what being like a unicorn would be is that — they’re like, oh that’s so interesting but yet we should probably keep our distance because it’s so foreign to us and so alien to us. That’s what it was like being a veteran on a small, liberal arts campus in New England. Was that, I think people didn’t know what to make of me.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: During World War II, more than 12 percent of the American population served in the armed forces. As of 2013, that number stands at less than .5 percent.

    MATT GALLAGHER: There’s a joke within the veterans’ community that we’re the “other one percent.” Not the Wall Street barons, but the other one percent of American society.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: Matt Gallagher is a writing instructor at Words After War. At 22, he joined the Army as a cavalry officer and served a 15-month tour in Iraq. His memoir, Kaboom, was published in 2010.

    MATT GALLAGHER: I was a little angry when I first came back. In a way I felt that the military was being used and taken for granted by the broader American society. The WWII generation, both my grandfathers served. They went to war with America. We went to war for America. It’s a very subtle but important distinction.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: Gallagher leads the group in discussions about battles contemporary and historic. Students share their opinions about war and critique one anothers’ work.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: In case you’re wondering what civilians get out of the workshop, they say it gives them a window into what it’s like to serve in the 21st century.

    BRANDON WILLITTS: We are in search of writers who are interested in– in having conversations about war and conflict with civilians.

    ELISABETH PONSOT: And what do civilians bring to the table?

    BRANDON WILLITTS: They’re coming with the tangible skills. They’re coming with words on the page. And the veterans bring the experience. And I think brought– brought together– there’s a shared relationship. There’s a mentorship that can form.

    BRANDON WILLITTS: For those of us who transitioned out into the civilian world I think it’s our responsibility to engage civilians and to let them know about the experiences of combat, of, conflict, of transition.

    MATT GALLAGHER: It’s so important that– that– Americans stay engaged and involved– with their military. Like it or not it wasn’t just military patches that we wore over there. We wore the American flag. We were representing each and every American citizen.

    If on some small level, the Words After War writing workshop can kind of bridge that divide. Then we’re doing our part.

    The post ‘The other one percent’: Bridging the military-civilian divide in Brooklyn appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — With a bright look to its rebuilt website, version 2.0 of President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul represents another chance to win over a skeptical public.

    But more than possible computer woes lurk as HealthCare.gov’s second open enrollment season begins Nov. 15.

    The risks include an unproven system for those renewing coverage and a tax hit that could sting millions of people. Those tax issues are the result of complications between the health care law and income taxes, and they will emerge during next year’s filing season.

    “Things will not be perfect,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, trying to set expectations. “We are aiming for a strong consumer experience, and it will be better.”

    The Obama administration cannot afford to repeat last year’s online meltdown. Congress will be entirely in Republican hands in 2015, and GOP lawmakers will be itching to build the case for repeal. The Supreme Court’s decision Friday to hear another challenge to the law is also casting a shadow.

    The health insurance exchanges offer taxpayer-subsidized private coverage to people who do not have access on the job. HealthCare.gov will serve 37 states, while the rest run their own markets.

    This new sign-up period will be the first time that renewal has been tried for current customers, and also overlaps with the first tax-filing season that the law’s requirements are in effect.

    On the plus side, premium increases are expected to be modest in many, though not all, states. New insurers have come into the market, promoting competition, and regulators now take a close look at anything above a 10 percent increase.

    The online application for most new customers is down to 16 screens from 76. Website security is better, thanks to aggressive monitoring. The government and insurers have added call center staff.

    But the bar is higher, too.

    The Congressional Budget Office has projected that 13 million people will be covered through federal and state insurance markets in 2015. That means retaining most of the 7 million people now covered and adding 6 million more. Many are skeptics who sat out last year’s campaign.

    One potential motivator: The law’s tax penalty for remaining uninsured is rising, to a minimum of $325 for 2015.

    “We have some momentum built up,” said Rachel Klein, enrollment strategist for Families USA, an advocacy group supporting the law. “We can build on that, but it is a somewhat higher bar to find all the people we need to help, because by definition, they are harder to reach.”

    An Associated Press-GfK poll found that 31 percent of those questioned expect the health insurance exchanges to work better, while 49 percent think they will work about the same. Also, 18 percent expect version 2.0 to be worse.

    Some of the potential enrollment pitfalls:

    -For those already signed up, coverage will renew automatically if you do nothing. Sounds good, but maybe not. You could miss out on lower premium options and get stuck with an outdated and possibly incorrect subsidy. Shop around, but don’t dally. You have until Dec. 15 to update your income information or change plans if you want to have everything in place by Jan. 1.

    -New customers, be advised: The Nov. 15-Feb. 15 open enrollment is half as long as last time, and it overlaps with the holidays. Try to get familiar with some of the basic health insurance trade-offs. A low-premium silver or bronze plan may not make sense if you’ll wind up with high out-of-pocket costs for the deductible and copayments. In that case, you might be better off going for the gold.

    Some of the tax complications lurking:

    -Most current customers are getting a tax credit to help with premiums. Those subsidies are tied to income, so you’ll have to file new forms with your 2014 taxes to prove you got the right amount. Too much subsidy and your tax refund will get dinged. Too little, and the government owes you. It’s bound to cause anxiety because many people depend on their tax refunds to pay bills.

    -If you remained uninsured in 2014, you risk a penalty that will be deducted from your tax refund. It starts at $95 for those uninsured all year. Millions of people may qualify for penalty waivers, but getting exemptions could be an ordeal. Some appear simple, but for others you’ll have to mail in an application and supporting documents.

    Melissa Dresler of Lexington, Kentucky, said she’s lucky that she got covered, but she also learned some lessons that should make her a better shopper this year. The climate change researcher unexpectedly found herself in need of a delicate operation. She woke up one day and something was wrong with her right eye. It turned out to be a detached retina.

    Her surgery cost well into five figures, and she paid about $1,000. The problem came when she had to go out-of-network because of a complication. To keep premiums in check, many plans restrict a patient’s choice. The follow-up corrective surgery cost her about $6,000.

    “I may gripe once in a while, but I am so happy with Obamacare,” said Dresler. “I feel so lucky I was covered.”

    She adds: “If I had known that I was going to have a major emergency then I would have certainly invested more in a better plan.”

    The post Higher bar for health law in 2nd sign-up season appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Alan Newton, Jeffrey Deskovic, Drew Whitley, and Johnny Pinchback were all exonerated in the past decade. Credit: NewsHour

    When a wrongfully convicted person gets released from prison, it is a major news event: Local television crews capture the first steps of freedom and the speeches on the steps of the state capital, audiences empathize as they grapple with gratitude and rage, and the exonerees take their first steps into an uncertain future.

    Jeffrey Deskovic, who was in prison for 16 years after being wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of his high school classmate, said it was the most surreal moment of his life: “It felt like a dream,” he said. “When I stepped up to the microphones at the press conference, I asked ‘Is this really happening?’”

    But when the media limelight fades, the wrongfully convicted face the reality of navigating the world they were yanked from, often with limited financial and social support.

    According to the Innocence Project, it takes exonerees three years on average to receive any compensation after their release. More than a quarter get nothing. Among those who are paid, 81 percent get less than $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment.

    NewsHour spoke to a number of exonerated men from different states about their experiences reintegrating post-release. Some started over. Others are struggling. All of them, regardless of compensation, say they would pay anything to have the years they lost in prison back.

    IMG_hugfree

    Jeffrey Deskovic, New York
    Age: 41
    Exonerated: 2006
    Years in Prison: 16 years
    Compensation: Over $13,000,000 (so far)

    At age 16, Deskovic was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of his high school classmate. After nearly two decades behind bars, a DNA test finally exonerated him.

    Those first five years were very difficult, he said. Released at age 33, he had never lived alone or even gotten a driver’s license. “It was overwhelming. I felt like I didn’t belong, like a fish out of water.”

    Deskovic filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the various municipalities and officials involved in his conviction. After an arduous and lengthy legal process, he was awarded more than $13 million in 2011. Just last month he won a separate $41 million dollar judgement.

    “I would be willing to not only give the money back, I’d be willing to go into debt for that amount of money, maybe even double it, to have had my years back and had a normal life,” said Deskovic.

    Deskovic used part of his settlement money to set up his own foundation to help investigate other possible wrongful convictions across the country as well as offer financial and social support to other exonerees.

    “I’m trying to make my suffering count for something,” said Deskovic.
     Johnny Pinchback

    Johnny Pinchback, Texas
    Age: 59
    Exonerated: 2011
    Years in Prison: 27 years
    Compensation: $2,133,333

    Pinchback was convicted for the rape of two teenage girls, who misidentified him in a police lineup. It wasn’t until another exonerated man (who had been in prison with Pinchback) helped him appeal for a DNA test that the evidence proved he was not the perpetrator.

    Within months of being released he received a lump sum payment of approximately $80,000 for each year he was in prison from the state of Texas, and he’ll also continue to receive monthly annuity payments.

    “It could never pay for the time I did [in prison] , but at least now I can have some peace.” he said.

    He said he is now enjoying a normal life. He bought a ranch outside of Dallas where he spends time with his wife, his mom, and his dogs. Pinchback served six years in the military prior to his conviction and prison time.

    “After so many years of being told exactly what to do and where to be, I’m enjoying doing what I want to do.”

    Pinchback is just one of dozens of exonerees from Dallas County, which boasts more wrongfully convicted men than any other region in the country. He offers support and advice to other exonerees when they are let out.

    “I warn them that everyone will be asking you for part of your [compensation] money once those checks start rolling in, whether they supported you during your prison time or not,” said Pinchback. The advice he gives them: “Take care of the people you love, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you.”

    Drew Whitley

    Drew Whitley, Pennsylvania
    Age: 58
    Exonerated: 2006
    Years in Prison: 18 years
    Compensation: $0

    In 1989, Whitley was convicted for the murder of a young woman in Dusquene, Pennsylvania. He spent 18 years behind bars before DNA confirmed that hairs found in the ski mask of the killer did not belong to him, and he was set free.

    He returned to his hometown of Braddock, Penn., where he spends most afternoons cleaning up the local meat shop in exchange for food. He gets by on a social security check of about $700 a month. Just over a year ago he moved out of his mother’s home into an apartment that costs nearly half his monthly check.

    Without a compensation package in Pennsylvania, Drew Whitley sued in federal court. Even though a judge agreed that police officers were negligent in their investigation of his case, she ruled against Whitley stating that he did not prove intentional misconduct. He lost his appeals of the decision.

    In addition to his financial struggles, Whitley is still wrestling with the demons of his past. “Every time somebody walks up the hallway steps, I look out the peephole, because I think they might be coming to get me,” he said. “I wake up with nightmares that I’m still locked up.”

    Alan Newton

    Alan Newton, New York
    Age: 53
    Exonerated: 2006
    Years in Prison: 22 years
    Compensation: $0

    Newton served 22 years in prison for the rape, robbery and assault of a young woman who misidentified him. He spent years appealing for a DNA test, which the police claimed to have lost. It was finally found and tested proving that Newton was not guilty.

    He says people now know that he didn’t do the crime but they have a different concern about him as an exoneree.

    “They wonder if I picked up bad habits and became criminalized while I was in prison for all those years,” he said. “I feel like I have to defend myself against that fear.”

    In 2010, he won a federal lawsuit and was awarded $18.5 million by a jury. But Newton hasn’t seen a dime of that money: a judge reversed the jury’s verdict stating that Newton didn’t sufficiently prove intentional misconduct in his case, only negligence. Newton appealed but four years later, he’s still awaiting a decision from an appellate court.  “It’s very frustrating, but I’ve learned patience with the legal system” he said.

    Even without any compensation, Newton has made the most of his exonerated life. He got his Bachelor’s degree in business administration and now works for the City University of New York as a research associate. He speaks frequently about law enforcement practices leading to wrongful convictions and plans to apply for law school.

    Still, he feels he can’t truly move on.

    “At this point, it’s not even about blaming someone. I just want closure and to be able to move on with life. That’s what the money is about as much as anything else,” he said.

    Watch the full broadcast report on the varying compensation for those who’ve been wrongfully convicted in the US below. 

    The post The face of the wrongfully convicted: What life after exoneration looks like appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    People gather to look the illumination on Boesebruecke bridge in Bornholmer Strasse, where 25 years before thousands of East Germans first crossed unimpeded though a gate of the Berlin Wall into West Berlin, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall on November 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.  Credit: Getty Images

    People gather to look the illumination on Boesebruecke bridge in Bornholmer Strasse, where 25 years before thousands of East Germans first crossed unimpeded though a gate of the Berlin Wall into West Berlin, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall on November 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Getty Images

    On Sunday, Germans commemorated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which ended a years-long divide between East and West Germany on Sunday.

    “It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better, ” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a speech at the Berlin Wall memorial site. “That is the message of the fall of the Wall.”

    Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, said this message also applies to countries such as the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and other regions where human rights are being threatened, or violated.

    Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall was put up to prevent people from leaving then-communist East Germany and crossing to the West. The fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989 became a symbol for the end of the Cold War.

    At least 138 people died trying to cross the inner-German border in the capital, according to the Guardian.

    The post Germany marks 25th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Words After War writing workshop meets at Mellow Pages in Brooklyn, New York. Credit: NewsHour

    The Words After War writing workshop meets at Mellow Pages in Brooklyn, New York. Credit: NewsHour

    It was just after sunset on a fall evening in Brooklyn, and Matt Gallagher was mulling a breaking and entering.

    The 31-year-old writing instructor and former Army cavalry officer was to lead a class in ten minutes, but the library where he normally taught had been accidentally shuttered for the night.

    Moments later, Gallagher was on the shoulders of Marine Corps vet Matt DuPre, struggling through a window left ajar.

    “These military guys!” said comic book artist Jess Ruliffson, smiling and shaking her head from the ground below.

    Video by Elisabeth Ponsot and Ariel Ritchin.

    Successfully indoors, students claimed spots on well-worn couches and folding chairs to discuss a selection of World War II writings.

    Gallagher’s weekly workshop is held by Words After War, a literary nonprofit that brings together veterans and civilians for writing instruction in an effort to bridge the gap between the two increasingly separate groups.

    In the decade following the Sept. 11 attacks, only about .5 percent of the American population serves in the military, compared to more than 12 percent during World War II.

    While the statistical difference is significant, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Columbia University Allan Silver said the comparison to World War II does not give a full picture of the contemporary divide.

    “Now what you have is a steady flow of veterans in and out,” he said. “There’s no definitive end, no definitive victory in the old sense. Looking ahead and looking behind, the whole meaning of being a veteran has to change.”

    In a 2013 essay in the New York Times, retired Army Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry and professor of history David M. Kennedy wrote that “the greatest challenge to our military is not from a foreign enemy — it’s the widening gap between the American people and their armed forces.”

    It’s this growing gap that inspired Brandon Willitts to start Words After War last year.

    Willitts joined the Navy when he was 18 and served for more than four years as an intelligence analyst. Upon returning, he later moved to Vermont to attend Marlboro College.

    “I saw a lot of really, really smart people on my college campus who were otherwise disengaged from what was happening overseas,” he said. “It wasn’t because they weren’t interested. It was because we just didn’t know how to meet them halfway on some of this stuff.”

    Willitts said he hopes the workshops serve as a space for civilians to learn about what it’s like to be a veteran in the 21st century, and that barriers — real or perceived — will break down naturally as students share their views and critique one another’s work.

    “I think there’s something to be said about empowering civilians,” he said. “Here we are, veterans, the authorities on this subject, giving you agency and authority to be on a level playing field with us.”

    Emily Sogn, a PhD candidate in anthropology who joined the workshop last spring, said the simple act of putting veterans and civilians in a room together can be meaningful.

    “I teach freshman and they are a generation of people who have lived more than half of their lives at war, and yet they generally don’t know much about the wars or the military,” she said.

    “Academics, writers and vets don’t always naturally mix in the day-to-day. A place that’s facilitated to make these encounters respectful and pleasant — that’s a really important space to create.”

    For Gallagher, whose own memoir about his tour in Iraq was published in 2010, the workshop brings together vets and civilians around an issue that neither may believe unites them: war itself.

    “These wars belong to everyone,” he said. “We wore the American flag every day over there to represent everyone. You’re a part of this as much as I am.”

    The post Uniting through narrative: A vet’s plan to connect with civilians appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Saskia de Melker

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: On any given afternoon in Braddock Pennsylvania on the outskirts of Pittsburgh you’ll find Drew Whitley in Stambolis Meat Shop helping to clean up. It’s about all he can do now. He takes valium for an anxiety that is very real for him.

    What’s your life been like?

    DREW WHITLEY: Some days I wake up with nightmares from the night before. You know I st ill have nightmares that I’m locked up. If they locked you up for getting life without parole for somethin’ you– for something they know you didn’t do, ain’t no tellin’ what they might do, far as I’m concerned.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So you are still living in fear of the justice system?

    DREW WHITLEY: Oh, yes. I think I’ll be that way for the rest of my life.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Whitley’s fear and anxiety are based on fact. In 1989, Whitley, who had two previous convictions for theft and receiving stolen property, was convicted in the high profile murder of Noreen Malloy, a 22-year-old McDonald’s manager in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, another town near Pittsburgh. Although he always maintained his innocence.

    DREW WHITLEY: I’m hoping the judge will grant the DNA test so the whole city of Pittsburgh can see that they got another innocent man.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: He served 18 years in prison before DNA testing proved that hairs found in the killer’s ski mask did not belong to him. In 2006, he was set free.

    Eight years later, Drew Whitley’s exonerated life is anything but easy. He gets a disability check for $700 a month. Just last year at age 58 he moved out of his mother’s home into a tiny two room apartment which costs him nearly half his check.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Did people assume that as soon as you were exonerated that you would be paid money?

    DREW WHITLEY: Oh, yes. I did too. Me too. Yes, and it should be like that in every state.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But for all of his time spent wrongfully convicted in prison, all he left with was $100 that he earned working in the prison laundry. He didn’t get another penny from the state.

    While 30 states do offer compensation to the wrongfully convicted, Pennsylvania along with 19 others offers nothing.

    Exoneree Compensation 4 the web

    But even where there is compensation available, it is far from equal.

    For example, Texas pays all exonerees $80,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned, and the state is one of the few that also offers some medical care, life skills, and vocational training once they get out.

    In New Hampshire, however, the maximum amount an exoneree is entitled to is $20,000, no matter how long the innocent person spent in prison.

    The federal government has its own standard, offering $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration.

    But while there have been efforts since at least 2009 in the Pennsylvania legislature to introduce a compensation statute, it’s gone nowhere.

    Those who oppose a proposed compensation statute in Pennsylvania say there is “lack of regard for innocent victims.” and that they have been shown “no evidence of the need for such a law.”

    BILL MOUSHEY: If anybody had any kind of morals in the government, when something like that happened, they should reach out and fix it. And that’s not what happens. They fight. They don’t fix.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Bill Moushey is a journalism professor at Point Park University in Pittsburgh and a Pulitzer Prize nominated reporter. For years he and his students have investigated cases of the wrongfully convicted in Pennsylvania. His reporting in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette helped get Drew Whitley exonerated, and he still gets upset by cases like Whitley’s.

    BILL MOUSHEY: They used to have hopeless looks in their eyes when I’d look at ‘em across the table in a prison. But now they have helpless looks. And I think the helpless is a lot worse.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Why?

    BILL MOUSHEY: Because they worked their whole lives in prison to get out of prison because they didn’t do whatever it was they were charged with. And then they get out and nothing is the way they appear– it should have been. They are just thrown on the scrapheap of life like they were the day they walked into prison. And the only difference is, is that they’re only prisoners of their own homes now and not of the state.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What kind of support services exist for them after they’re out?

    BILL MOUSHEY: None.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In fact, Moushey says that when they are released those who have been convicted are in many ways better off than those who have been convicted but are later cleared.

    BILL MOUSHEY: If you get paroled in Pennsylvania or any state, you’re put under a very restrictive series of covenants where, you know, they blood test you for drugs, they make you go get a job, they lead you to job search agencies, they show you how to build a resume, they show you a variety of other things that are supposed to help you meld back into society. When you get exonerated, they open the door and say, “See ya later.”

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There is another option to try to get compensated: suing. That’s what Jeffrey Deskovic did. Like Drew Whitley, Deskovic was also wrongfully convicted of murder, and even had an additional charge for rape in New York state, and served almost as much time in prison before he was also exonerated in 2006 by DNA.

    But he sued and was awarded more than $ 13 million dollars by the state of New York and the other municipalities involved in his conviction. And just last month, he won another multimillion dollar judgement.

    Now, Deskovic is working in his own way to make sure people don’t have to go through what he did. He set up a foundation with his settlement money to help investigate other possible wrongful convictions across the country as well as offer financial and social support to other exonerees — sometimes with something as simple as a regular karaoke night with other guys who are wrongfully convicted.

    JEFFREY DESKOVIC: It’s cathartic for me. And I feel like I’m making a difference. And I’m tryin’ to make my suffering count for something.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Even so, Deskovic says suing was an arduous process. After 16 years in prison, he spent another decade trying to make it right.

    JEFFREY DESKOVIC: It took less than a year for me to get to a trial and to be wrongfully convicted on the criminal side. And in terms of getting a settlement, it took five years. And then to even get a civil rights trial, eight years. And then no social services in the meantime.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Drew Whitley sued in Federal Court alleging that his civil rights were violated. But the bar for proving misconduct is high. Even though a federal judge agreed that police were negligent, she ruled against his lawsuit saying, “A reasonable officer in 1989 would not have fair warning that conducting a reckless investigation was unconstitutional.”

    So, even though there are admissions of mistakes and of shoddy police work, Drew Whitley is unlikely to get paid by Pennsylvania.

    BILL MOUSHEY: Well, not unlikely. He’s not gonna get paid. He sued. The judge threw the case out. And there’s really no recourse, unless we had a compensation package. And we don’t.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: If all this strikes you as arbitrary that one wrongfully convicted person is paid while another is not, it’s because our criminal justice system is largely decided by each individual state.

    BERNARD HARCOURT: We’re dealing with, you know, 50 different states plus the federal government, right. And they take different views about these matters.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Bernard Harcourt is a law professor at Columbia University who studies punishment in the criminal justice system. He says that while compensation packages may be the more immediate and certain route for helping exonerees, multimillion dollar lawsuits could have a larger impact.

    BERNARD HARCOURT: One of my fears really is that if you have a too straightforward system where anyone who is wrongfully convicted gets 50,000 dollars a year, we stop paying attention. You lose the impetus to really try to make sure that no one actually goes through this.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Having been through it himself, Deskovic says that preventing wrongful convictions is even more important than compensating exonerees after the fact.

    JEFFREY DESKOVIC: It could never give me my years back. I would be willing to not only give the money back. I’d be willing to go into debt for that amount of money, maybe even double it, to have had my years back, to have had a normal– had– had a normal– life.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: A normal life is all Drew Whitley was hoping for when he was exonerated.

    What were your expectations for your life when you got out?

    DREW WHITLEY: A good place to stay, food to eat and transportation. That’s all I really want outta life. Like everybody else. I don’t wanna– I don’t wanna be filthy rich or a millionaire, or whatever. I just want a place to stay. Roof over my head and transportation.

    The post Exonerated but not free: What do we owe the wrongfully convicted? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — The 2016 presidential race was about the new Republican-controlled Congress even before the polls closed Tuesday night.

    As the GOP rout became clear late on election night, would-be Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton found herself with a ready-made foil in the Republican-led Congress that begins next year just as a few high-profile senators seized on their new status as a springboard into 2016.

    Some Republican governors already have begun to try to distance themselves from unpopular congressional leaders in both parties.

    “I think governors make much better presidents than members of Congress,” said Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., who just won his third election in four years and is contemplating a presidential bid.

    Republicans are facing their most unpredictable presidential primary campaign in a generation, while Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite for Democrats who are reeling from heavy losses in last week’s midterm elections.

    Republicans successfully tied Democratic candidates to President Barack Obama at every turn, winning Senate races in Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina, usually competitive states in presidential elections. Even before polls closed, ambitious GOP began casting Democrats’ struggles as a referendum on Clinton as well as Obama.

    “In many ways, she was the big loser on Tuesday because she embodies everything that’s wrong with Washington,” Walker told NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday, echoing the attacks of his ambitious GOP colleagues in recent days.

    As many as a dozen Republicans are considering presidential runs after a dominant midterm performance that many consider the first step in retaking the White House.

    Strategists report an early burst of activity among prospective candidates, who are taking initial steps to create super political action committees and nonprofit organizations that would allow them to begin raising campaign money even before they announce their intentions.

    While it wasn’t technically a campaign ad, the 2016 primary season saw its first television special over the weekend.

    An hourlong documentary featuring retired brain surgeon Ben Carson, a conservative favorite little known on the national stage, ran in more than two dozen states Saturday and Sunday. The program, which likens Carson to former President Ronald Reagan at times, was produced by Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, who noted that Carson didn’t pay for the nationwide run that included states such as Iowa, South Carolina and Ohio.

    “Make no mistake, he’s seriously thinking about running,” Armstrong said.

    Also thinking of running are at least three first-term senators who will begin next year in the Senate majority: Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Some have adopted a bipartisan tone in the midterm’s aftermath, although the likelihood of continued Washington gridlock poses political risks for the trio as Congress’ approval ratings hover near all-time lows.

    “I want to get things done,” Paul told The Associated Press in an interview, although he was among the first to attack Clinton last week, casting his party’s midterm success as a referendum on Clinton as much as Obama.

    Paul planned to meet with advisers this coming week to map out his plans for the next few months. He insists he will not make a final decision about the 2016 presidential contest until next spring.

    “There’s a lot of personal gnashing of teeth with family trying to decide if we’re willing to go through this,” Paul said.

    The primary season takes another big step forward later this month when the Republican Governors Association meets to elect a new chairman in Florida.

    All eyes will be on Walker, with the outgoing chairman, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, passing the reins to another ambitious governor. Advisers suggest that a run for the post may signal disinterest in a 2016 presidential run; fundraising logistics make it very difficult to do both.

    As governors gather in Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush headlines a Washington conference for his education foundation that seems certain to draw strong 2016 buzz.

    GOP operatives and donors report that Bush is beginning to signal stronger interest in a presidential run, although some suggest he needs to act relatively quickly.

    “If he waits too long he’ll start to lose his advantages, the built-in network,” Republican strategist and former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber said. “Those people are not going to wait forever.”

    While Republicans governors could use Washington dysfunction to their advantage, a GOP-led Congress also gives Clinton an easy target if party leaders try to repeal Obama’s health care law, produce budget plans that cut money for children and the elderly, or become mired in gridlock. Obama often railed against the GOP-led House in his 2012 campaign and President Bill Clinton effectively used divided government to his advantage in the 1990s.

    Hillary Clinton’s advisers are assessing the results of the election and looking at what another campaign might entail.

    She appeared at nearly four dozen political events in 19 states during the fall campaign, offering a glimpse of a possible campaign message: She would be an advocate for distressed families and offer a steady hand for a government that has been paralyzed by gridlock.

    Clinton has said she expects to make a decision around the beginning of the year but remains under pressure to announce her intentions.

    Some Democrats, however, say there’s little incentive for her to rush in given her dominant role.

    “She has to let the dust settle. There is no reason for Hillary Clinton or any other candidate to declare their intentions anytime soon,” said Donna Brazile, a longtime adviser to the Clintons.

    The post GOP’s successful midterm showing shapes 2016 presidential race appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Voters wait in line to enter a polling place at the town hall in Jamestown, North Carolina, on Nov. 4, 2014. Americans head to the polls to cast their vote in local, state and national elections. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    Voters wait in line to enter a polling place in Jamestown, North Carolina, on Election Day last week, but turnout for these midterms was the lowest since 1942. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • Just 36.4 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2014
    • Turnout increased in some places, but decreased in most, including populous states like California, New York and New Jersey
    • The top 10 best and worst voter participation states of 2014

    Lowest turnout since WW2: Final numbers are still being tallied, but at this point it looks pretty clear that turnout in these midterms was the lowest overall in 70 years. Turnout of the voting-eligible population was just 36.4 percent, according to the projection from the United States Elections Project, run by Dr. Michael McDonald at the University of Florida. That’s down from the 41 percent that turned out in 2010. You have to go all the way back to 1942 for lower numbers when turnout in that midterm was just 33.9 percent. They had a pretty good excuse back then — many adult-age Americans were preoccupied with fighting in a world war.

    midterm election Turnout 1940-2014

    Turnout increased in 14 states: Turnout actually increased in 14 states, plus D.C., from 2010-2014. In 10 of the 14, there were competitive to potentially competitive Senate races. In nine of the 14, there were governors’ races. Here’s where turnout increased, ranked by biggest increase:

    1. Louisiana: +12.9% (38.9%-43.9%)
    2. Nebraska: +10.1% (37.5%-41.3%)
    3. Arkansas: +9.9% (37.5%-41.2%)
    4. Wisconsin: +9.4% (52.0%-56.9%)
    5. Maine: +7.4% (55.2%-59.3%)
    6. New Hampshire: +6.8% (45.7%-48.8%)
    7. Alaska: +6.6% (51.9%-55.3%)
    8. Washington, D.C.: +4.8% (28.9%-30.3%)
    9. Colorado: +4.7% (50.6%-53.0%)
    10. Kentucky: +4.2% (42.4%-44.2%)
    11. North Carolina: +3.8% (39.2%-40.7%)
    12. Florida: +3.4% (41.7%-43.1%)
    13. Kansas: +2.6% (41.7%-42.8%)
    14. Iowa: +1.4% (49.9%-50.6%)
    15. Oregon: +0.2% (52.6%-52.7%)

    It was down, though — and by a lot in many places — in 36 others. Here are the top 10 biggest decreases:

    1. Missouri: -27.4% (44.5%-32.3%)
    2. Washington state: -27.3% (53.1%-38.6%)
    3. Delaware: -27% (47.5%- 34.5%)
    4. California: -25.5% (44%-32.8%)
    5. Indiana: -24.5% (37.1%-28.0%)
    6. Oklahoma: -23.2 (38.8%-29.8%)
    7. Nevada: -23% (41.3%-31.8%)
    8. Alabama: -22.1% (43%-33.5%)
    9. Utah: -20.7% (36.3%-28.8%)
    10. Mississippi: -19.7% (37%-29.7%)

    Significantly factoring into the overall decrease because of its population was California, which despite a governor’s race was off by a quarter of its 2010 participation. Also factoring in — Ohio (down almost 20 percent), as well as New York and New Jersey, which were both down about 17 percent. Even Georgia, despite its hotly contested Senate race, was down 14 percent. And for Democrats looking for what went wrong in blue states like Maryland and Massachusetts, turnout was down in those states by 10 percent as compared to 2010.

    10 Highest Voter Participation States of 2014:
    1. Maine 59.3%
    2. Wisconsin 56.9%
    3. Alaska 55.3%
    4. Colorado 53%
    5. Oregon 52.7%
    6. Minnesota 51.3%
    7. Iowa 50.6%
    8. New Hampshire 48.8%
    9. Montana 46.1%
    10. South Dakota 44.6%

    10 Lowest Voter Participation States of 2014:
    1. Indiana 28%
    2. Texas 28.5%
    3. Utah 28.8%
    4. Tennessee 29.1%
    5. New York 29.5%
    6. Oklahoma 29.8%
    7. Mississippi 29.7%
    8. DC 30.3%
    9. New Jersey 30.4%
    10. Tie-West Virginia/Nevada 31.8

    Quote of the day: “Lose Mary Landrieu’s clout … for this?” “Whoa!” — a strikingly personal Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., campaign ad that takes aim at Rep. Bill Cassidy’s “coherence.” An announcer speaks the first part, with stammering clips of Cassidy throughout, followed by Cassidy’s, “Woah!” from the Republican Leadership Conference. Landrieu is the underdog in the Dec. 6 runoff. If Cassidy wins, it would give Republicans a 53rd seat.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1775, the U.S. Marine Corps founded. No American president has served in the Marines, but how many have served in the military? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Roy Wait ‏(@ind22rxw) for guessing Thursday’s trivia: How many times did William Jennings Bryan run for president and against whom? The answer was: three times, twice against William McKinley and once against William Howard Taft.

    LINE ITEMS

    • President Obama nominated Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to succeed Attorney General Eric Holder on Saturday.

    • President Obama admitted that his administration had not effectively sold their policies to the American people in an interview on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “It’s not enough to just build a better mousetrap,” he said.

    • The president arrived in Beijing Monday morning for a three-day China visit.

    • Republican Ed Gillespie conceded to Sen. Mark Warner Friday in the very close Virginia Senate race, saying “I ran because I love our country and our commonwealth, and it would be wrong to put my fellow Virginians through a recount when in my head and in my heart I know a change in the outcome is not possible.”

    • Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., won reelection Friday, after a new batch of ballots put him over the edge against Republican challenger Carl DeMaio.

    • Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro and Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy have emerged as frontrunners for chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will make the final selection.

    • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could be ready to make a deal with Republicans regarding presidential nominees in order to avoid late nights and tough battles in his remaining weeks as majority leader. But the White House and Democrats might not be on board with Reid.

    • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee may have cancelled ads in Louisiana, but Sen. Mary Landrieu is receiving fundraising help from Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kay Hagan and James Carville, all of whom have sent email pitches on her behalf.

    • Despite their midterm victory, Republicans still have a narrow path to the presidency. They must count on maintaining last week’s strong leads among rural, white voters, especially those who have gone Democratic in the past, and building support among Hispanics.

    • Ads tying the GOP to the Koch brothers may not have had the intended effect this cycle, but Democratic strategists think they should be amplifying that message for their party to have greater success at the polls.

    • In an interview with NPR about his new book and his brother’s potential presidential run, former President George W. Bush told David Greene, “Some guy at one time said to me, ‘You know, I don’t like the idea of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Bush.’ I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ I said, ‘How you like the idea of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton?’ And the point is that these may be the two best candidates their party has to offer.”

    • Democrats are launching their own state-focused organization known as the State Innovation Exchange, or SiX, to compete with conservative groups like ALEC.

    • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

    TOP TWEETS

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

    Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Rachel Wellford at rwellford-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    The post 2014 midterm election turnout lowest in 70 years appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    va

    “MyVA” is the VA’s largest reorganization plan.


    WASHINGTON — On the eve of Veterans Day, the Veterans Affairs Department announced a reorganization Monday designed to make it easier for veterans to gain access to the sprawling department and its maze-like websites.

    VA Secretary Robert McDonald called the restructuring the largest in the department’s history and said it will bring a singular focus on customer service to an agency that serves 22 million veterans.

    “As VA moves forward, we will judge the success of all our efforts against a single metric: the outcomes we provide for veterans,” McDonald said. The VA’s mission is to care for veterans, “so we must become more focused on veterans’ needs,” he said.

    The VA has been under intense scrutiny since a whistleblower reported this spring that dozens of veterans may have died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital, and that appointment records were manipulated to hide the delays. A report by the department’s inspector general said workers falsified waitlists while their supervisors looked the other way or even directed it, resulting in chronic delays for veterans seeking care and bonuses for managers who appeared to meet on-time goals.

    The inspector general’s office identified 40 patients who died while awaiting appointments in Phoenix, but said officials could not “conclusively assert” that the delays caused the deaths.
    As part of the restructuring announced Monday, the VA will hire a chief customer service officer and simplify the way it is organized to deliver health care and other services, McDonald said. For instance, the department will create a single customer service structure with a limited number of regional divisions that will apply to all aspects of the agency, from health care to benefits, loan centers and even cemetery plots. The VA now has nine separate regional structures of varying size and at least a dozen websites, many with their own user names and passwords.

    Eventually, McDonald would like all veterans to have one user name and password for all VA services. McDonald hopes to complete the reorganization within a year.
    Veterans also should be able to communicate with officials in a single region to solve problems, McDonald said. Under the current structure, a veteran may live in one VA region for health care, another region for mortgage services and a third for veterans’ benefits.

    The reorganization, to be known as “MyVA,” is designed to provide veterans with “a seamless, integrated and responsive customer service experience — whether they arrive at VA digitally, by phone or in person,” McDonald said.

    McDonald, a former CEO of consumer-goods giant Procter & Gamble, has been pushing to refocus the VA on customer service since taking over the troubled agency in July, following a scandal over long patient wait times for veterans seeking health care and widespread falsification of records by VA employees and managers to cover up the delays.
    McDonald has been urging VA employees to refer to veterans as customers and to refer to him as “Bob,” rather than “Secretary.” He also has given out his cell phone number to reporters and veterans alike and urged them to call him with questions and suggestions.

    Some members of Congress have disputed the inspector general’s report on the Phoenix deaths and suggested that language casting doubt on the link between the delays and patient deaths was inserted at the suggestion of top VA officials in Washington. The IG’s office and the VA have denied that claim.

    Three high-ranking officials at the Phoenix facility have been placed on leave while they appeal a department decision to fire them. Four other high-ranking executives around the country were targeted for removal, but only one was fired. Two officials retired and a third was granted an extension for more time to respond to the VA’s decision.

    The scandal led to the ouster of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and to a new law making it easier for veterans to get VA-paid care from local doctors.

    McDonald told the CBS News program “60 Minutes” on Sunday that the VA is considering disciplinary action against more than 1,000 employees.

    “We’re talking about people who violated our values,” he said.

    The post VA announces ‘MyVA’ plan, largest reorganization in department’s history appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Social Security Administration benefit calculators intentionally underestimate your benefits. Photo by by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

    Social Security Administration benefit calculators intentionally underestimate your benefits. Photo by by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

    Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff has spent every week, for over two years, answering questions about what is likely your largest financial asset — your Social Security benefits. His Social Security original 34 “secrets”, his additional secrets, his Social Security “mistakes” and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we feature “Ask Larry” every Monday. Find a complete list of his columns here. And keep sending us your Social Security questions.

    Kotlikoff’s state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its “basic” version. His new book, “Get What’s Yours — the Secrets of Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits,” (co-authored with Paul Solman and Making Sen$e Medicare columnist Phil Moeller) will be published in February by Simon & Schuster.


    How Do Disability Beneficiaries Proceed at Full Retirement Age?

    As I’ve written, based on what I learned from former Social Security technical expert Jerry Lutz, disability beneficiaries have two options when they reach full retirement age.

    The first is to do nothing and have ​your ​disability benefit automatically convert to your retirement benefit. If ​you​ have a spouse or an ex-spouse on wh​ose earnings record ​​you​ can collect spousal benefits, taking this course of action, actually inaction, will mean ​your​ full spousal or full divorced spousal benefit will be automatically converted into ​your​ excess spousal or excess divorced spousal benefit.

    GOT SOCIAL SECURITY QUESTIONS?

    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    Your full spousal benefit is half of the full retirement benefit of your spouse or ex-spouse. Your excess spousal benefit is your full spousal benefit less 100 percent of your own full ​retirement benefit ​inclusive of​ any increase​ due to delayed retirement credits obtained by suspending your retirement benefit​ after full retirement. Thus your excess spousal benefit is smaller, generally far smaller than your full spousal benefit. Indeed, your excess spousal benefit can be negative, in which case it is set to zero.

    And, this nasty gotcha – having your full spousal or full divorced spousal benefit potentially disappear​ just because you filed for your retirement benefit (or were automatically filed for your retirement benefit thanks to Social Security’s automatic conversion of disability benefits) – can’t be undone by suspending your retirement benefit. Even while your retirement benefit is suspended, your spousal benefit will still be based on the excess spousal benefit formula. So it’s the filing, voluntary or forced, for your retirement benefit that plunges you into excess benefit world, not your actual collection of your retirement benefit.

    The second option when you reach full retirement age​ is to file a withdrawal request form (SSA-521) stating the following: “I wish to withdraw the conversion from disability to retirement benefits that would otherwise occur at full retirement age, per section B.4 of POMS GN 00206.005.” POMS stands for Social Security’s Program Operating Manual System — in other words, Social Security’s definitive rulebook.

    In filing this form (and you can do so up to four months before reaching full retirement age ​and 12 months after reaching full retirement age), you gain the option of filing just for your full spousal or full divorced spousal benefit at full retirement age and waiting to ​file for your own retirement benefit​ until, say, age 70, when it will be 32 percent higher (after inflation) than your current disability benefit.

    A Case Study in Social Security’s Incompetence

    N​ow for the distressing case study. On March 8, I received an email from a lovely 65-year-old disabled divorcée, whom I will call Ann to protect her identity, asking me how to maximize her remaining lifetime benefits. I emailed her about the second option and told her to take it.

    To review, I suggested she withdraw the conversion of her disability benefit to her retirement benefit, file just for her full divorced spousal benefit, and then, at 70, file for her own retirement benefit. Given her own work history and that of her ex, this strategy would produce significantly more benefits.

    Ann visited her closest Social Security office in Holyoke, Massachusetts, this past June and was told she could not follow option two. That’s not true.

    She was later told that she could do this, but for her to collect higher benefits at age 70 she would need to go back to work during those years. That’s not true either. I asked Jerry Lutz, the former Social Security technical expert who double checks all my Making Sen$e columns, to send her the regulation that permits option two (B.4 of POMS GN 00206.005), which states, in its entirety:

    In cases involving automatic conversion (e.g., DIB to RIB conversion at FRA, wife’s benefits converted to mother’s benefits without an additional application), if the beneficiary requests in writing not to receive the new benefit, treat the request as a request for WD. Approve the request if the conditions for approval of a WD are met, regardless of whether the conversion has been made.

    Jerry and I both encouraged Ann to go back to Social Security and tell them to read this provision. Ann went to the Springfield, Massachusetts, Social Security office, hoping ​that office would actually know and follow the law. Here’s her description of what happened:

    Dear Larry and Jerry,

    Well, I just came from the SS office [in Springfield], having printed out all the material you both so kindly gave me some months back. The SS agent, a young man, read through your written advice carefully and finally said it could not be done ​– ​that Disability benefits are, in effect, Social Security benefits​ –​ but ​that ​he would check with his “specialist” while I waited.

    He came back and dropped a bomb in my lap: yes, I could do this (suspend my disability conversion to SS just before [my Full Retirement Age of] age 66 and take half my ex’s SS and then at age 70 file for my own), but I would have to repay everything I’ve gotten so far in disability payments first! For me that would mean perhaps $40–$50K! Since this payback aspect wasn’t included in your advice to me (and not addressed in Larry’s column that used me as an example that this could be done), I’m mighty perplexed.

    So is this true — I would have to do the entire payback to adopt my plan? Thanks to you both again,

    Ann

    I wrote Ann back explaining that the Social Security staff at the Springfield and Holyoke offices had this wrong. Jerry wrote as well, saying, in part:

    Unfortunately, supervisors at SSA aren’t appointed based on their technical expertise. Please make sure that the title of the person(s) whose name you get is either Technical Expert or Office Manager. Repaying all of the benefits you’ve received would be required if you were withdrawing your claim for disability benefits. That is NOT what you are doing. You are withdrawing the conversion from disability to retirement benefits that would normally occur at age 66. You are permitted to do that per POMS GN 00206.005. You haven’t yet received any retirement benefits, so there is nothing for you to repay. It’s really as simple as that.

    If I were you, I would already have contacted my Congressperson about the problems that you are having. They would make an inquiry on your behalf, which would receive the attention of the most knowledgeable people in your local office.

    Yesterday, I spoke with Ann on the phone. She told me that based on Jerry’s advice, she went ahead and called her closest Social Security office (Holyoke) and requested to be connected with a supervisor, whom she asked to patch her through to a technical expert.

    According to Ann, the supervisor​ pulled up her record of inquiry at the two Social Security offices and chastised her for visiting a second office. The supervisor also told Ann, who cannot easily come into the office because of her disability, that she could not speak with a technical expert over the phone. She would have to come back to the Holyoke office (for her third Social Security office visit on this matter) and essentially begin again with an intake staffer, showing a printed copy of the POMS section Jerry provided as “proof.” If the intake staffer decided the case merited an expert, she could see an expert. This, of course, amounted to telling Ann to redo exactly what she had done in June with the same expected outcome.

    Ann has now contacted Rep. Richard Neal, and is waiting to hear from his office. I promised Ann that I will keep writing about her situation until Social Security gets it right. I will keep you, my readers, posted on the outcome. But the main reason I’m writing about Ann’s story is ​to advise you to be as tenacious as possible if you want to get what’s yours from Social Security.

    The post How Social Security denied one woman the advice she deserved appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A former paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne, Derrick Brown won the 2013 Texas Award for his poetic play “Strange Light.” His newest collection of poetry is called “Our Poison Horse.”

    A former paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne, Derrick Brown won the 2013 Texas Award for his poetic play “Strange Light.” His newest collection of poetry is called “Our Poison Horse.”

    When poet Derrick Brown moved from the city of Austin to more rural Elgin, Texas, he was searching for “a peaceful plot of land to hunker down.” The pastoral surroundings, as well as the cycle of life he observed around him — like “the birds waiting for carcasses,” he says — enabled Brown to slow down and regain his voice.

    Brown, who comes from a similarly rural Texas community, told Art Beat that “everything my father wished I was started to hit me: growing food, building fences, riding tractors.”

    While he was living in Elgin, two horses he was watching for neighbors were poisoned. Some kids deliberately sprayed pesticide on the animals, causing some of their skin to burn, peel off, and scar. The process of watching the horses — a mare named Lacey, in particular — heal and redevelop trust for a human inspired the collection’s signature poem and title.

    That experience, and others from that time, spurred “Our Poison Horse,” a new collection that hit shelves on Oct 1. The book comes after a 10-year hiatus that the writer took after feeling creatively drained.


    Listen to Derrick Brown read “Our Poison Horse” from his book of the same name.

    Our Poison Horse

    The horse in our field.
    The black one.
    Our poison horse.

    Why would anyone try to poison her?
    They think boys wanted the flies on her dead
    That or the boys wanted to see her skin peel

    The pesticide scar,
    healing now as the jagged underline
    slowly closes daily
    on the mare’s body,
    The underlining of everything awful
    about us

    I ask you if there is anything worth saving?

    You land me
    a kiss so hot
    the ferns die.

    A grip so tight,
    the blisters
    keep you from volunteering to carry
    anymore coffins.

    Broken fast
    like an under chucked
    snowball.
    Lungs rising
    like Dresden
    steeples

    A kiss so hot
    the butcher’s meat
    is ready

    You are
    this coward’s drink,
    A last drink
    before
    the bell rings
    and the crowd wants blood
    and the raptors spin.

    Your face is leaking
    you are the one permanent wedding.
    I’m a teenage dog in the back of a truck
    I gotta jump. When will it all slow down enough?

    You tell me you love me
    and it unfolds my will
    to live


    Brown began writing in 1992 as a member of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

    “In the foxhole I would turn on my red flashlight and read things and rewrite psalms so I could connect with them.”

    He was honorably discharged in 1993 and then traveled the United States, reading his poetry at universities and literary festivals. After his pause from writing, Brown wrote “Strange Light,” a poetic play that won the 2013 Texas Book of the Year Award, and opened for the indie rock band the Cold War Kids during one of their European tours.

    But, “Our Poison Horse,” is different from his other works — he said he purposely wrote an autobiographical work.

    In the title poem of the collection, Brown references a romantic relationship that ended around the same time as the incident with the horses. The hurt and trauma experienced by the horse extends to human nature and the heart as well.

    “How could a human hurt something so beautiful … that unfolded all of these poems,” said Brown.

    “[But] ‘Our Poison Horse’ isn’t just about that. I took a look at a relationship I was in and wasn’t taking care of it. I realized, we’re probably just like those beasts.”

    “Our Poison Horse” from “Our Poison Horse” by Derrick Brown. Published in 2014 by Write Bloody Publishing. Used by permission from Write Bloody Publishing.

    The post Weekly Poem: Derrick Brown heals a horse and puts it to verse appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    “Sesame Street,” the long-running children’s television series that airs on PBS, celebrates its 45th birthday today.

    To look back at 45 seasons entertaining and educating children, the show’s Twitter feed shared 45 facts Monday; including Oscar the Grouch’s original color, Elmo’s favorite food and how Cookie Monster’s fingers set him apart from his other fellow monsters.

    The post Sesame Street celebrates 45 years with 45 facts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    rockefeller_bookfly

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight:  In the aftermath of the 2014 midterm elections, we take a look back to a different political time, a time when a national figure could describe himself as having a Democratic heart with a Republican head, and be taken seriously.

    That man, Nelson Rockefeller, was a four-term governor of New York, served as vice president in the mid-1970s, and ran three times for the presidency.

    Now historian and “NewsHour” regular Richard Norton Smith has written a new biography, “On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller.”

    I talked to him recently.

    Richard Norton Smith, welcome back to the NewsHour.

    RICHARD NORTON SMITH, Author, “On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller”: Thanks. Good to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you surely now know more about Nelson Rockefeller than any living person on the planet. You spent 14 years working on this book. Why does he deserve so much of your time and talent?

    RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Oh, gosh.

    Well, he’s an enormous figure, obviously, in the history of the Republican Party, but in the history of the 20th century. I will bet you very few of your viewers know he’s really the father of NATO. At the U.N. conference in 1945, a very young diplomat, Nelson Rockefeller, was responsible for amending the U.N. charter to allow for the creation of defensive military alliances.

    That’s NATO. The history of the Cold War and of the 20th century would have been very different had it been otherwise.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And there’s so much more.

    He came from this larger-than-life family. His grandfather was a founder of Standard Oil. He was clearly shaped by his family, but on the other hand, he didn’t conform to that, did he?

    RICHARD NORTON SMITH: No.

    I mean, his grandfather was arguably the most hated man in America, except his other grandfather, who was Senator Nelson Aldrich, Republican leader of the United States Senate, who was hated in his own sphere.

    So Nelson had a lot to redeem, in a sense. The key figure is his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who today would be a political candidate. That wasn’t possible then, so he became her surrogate. When he was born, she said: “I have done my duty by this family. I have given you a John III. This one is mine.”

    And it was from Abby that he imbued his love of people, and politics, and art, and all things contemporary, his joie de vivre, everybody that made him such a charismatic figure and ultimately such a power, not only in New York, but nationally.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You write, among many other things, about his severe learning disability, the dyslexia, and how he throughout his life compensated for that and how that also shaped him.

    RICHARD NORTON SMITH: That’s right. His dyslexia went undiagnosed. He was 50 years old before he ever heard the word dyslexia. He went through life believing that he had a deficient I.Q.

    And his mother, again, the redoubtable Abby, said surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. And he took her advice. And every Rockefeller operation was in fact marked by all of these advisers and gurus and policy wonks, one of them Henry Kissinger, whom he introduced to the American scene.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, let’s talk about his politics. He worked for Franklin Roosevelt as a young man. Then he went on — he was a Republican. But he didn’t believe in so much of what was the gospel of the Republican Party.

    He was a huge supporter of the civil rights movement. He opposed everything Barry Goldwater stood for. Where does he fit in the ideological spectrum?

    RICHARD NORTON SMITH: He really goes back to Teddy Roosevelt.

    Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive conservative, a great believer in the capitalist system, but also someone who understood, like Disraeli in England, that that system inevitably produced inequities, inadequacies, injustices. Therefore, it was the role of the Republican Party and particularly of thoughtful conservatives to, in a proactive way, address those inequities, so that popular disaffection could not grow and build toward — away from reform to revolution.

    Nelson Rockefeller famously said, if you have a poor education and poor health, then I believe society has let you down. He believed that there was such a thing as society, and he believed that democratic, with a small-D, capitalism would be judged, indeed would survive, based on its ability to address those and other needs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He was of course four — for four terms governor of New York. You write that people thought he badly wanted to be president, but you said, every time he got close, he seemed to sabotage himself.

    RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Happy Rockefeller, his second wife — the divorce and remarriage was a huge controversy 50 years ago.

    Today, arguably, it wouldn’t be. But she told me she wondered how badly, in fact, he wanted to be president, because every time he got close, she said, “He did something stupid, like marry me.”

    There are other people who believe that the ghost of Franklin Roosevelt haunted him and that, when he looked at the presidency, he wasn’t running against John Kennedy or Richard Nixon,but it was FDR. FDR was the president. And there was, believe it or not, hidden away from the public an element of vulnerability and even of self-doubt when it came to his ability to command the presidency the way that FDR had.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You spend an entire chapter, final chapter on his death. He was 70 years old. He was off with a young woman who was his mistress, died of a massive heart attack.

    Why devote — why was that the end — why was that particular thing the end, and why devote that much time to it?

    RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Well, unfortunately, for a whole generation, it came to define and in many ways to diminish him.

    The fact is, there’s a lot we didn’t know. The background is that he was dying. He had a very serious heart condition, which, again, he kept from the public. To this day, that’s news. But in a larger sense, there’s one continuing, historically relevant, significant part of that story, and that is the role of the press.

    The way I tell the story is the story of a cover-up that unraveled very quickly. I argue, beginning that night, not with Gary Hart or later incidents, but beginning the night of Nelson Rockefeller’s death, the press redefined what was traditionally considered public vs. private.

    And you can get a pretty good argument over whether it’s been good for journalism or good for democracy, but there’s very little doubt that it began with Nelson Rockefeller’s death and the cover-up that unraveled.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It is an extraordinary book, extraordinary storytelling. A lot of love and a lot of labor went into it.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Norton Smith, we thank you.

    RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Thank you so much.

    The post Looking back at the life and politics of Nelson Rockefeller appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    stradivarius

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: the story of an unusual heist in the world of classical music that was years in the making, with an unlikely thief, a police commissioner devoted to the symphony, and a historic instrument.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It’s called the Lipinski Stradivarius, a violin made 299 years ago by the master instrument-maker valued at some $6 million dollars. And on January 27, following a performance, it was stolen from Frank Almond, the concert master of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

    But just nine days later, it was found safe and sound in the attic of a local house. Forty-two-year-old Milwaukee native Salah Salahadyn pleaded guilty to the theft last month and today was given a seven-year sentence.

    Journalist and writer Buzz Bissinger told the strange tale of the robbery and its aftermath in a story for “Vanity Fair” magazine. He’s the bestselling author of “Friday Night Lights” and other books and joins us now.

    And welcome to you.

    So the theft itself was pretty easy. Done with a Taser, right?  Tell us a little bit about the theft and the plot.

    BUZZ BISSINGER, Vanity Fair: Well, you know, Salah Salahadyn had a plan. It was a plan he talked about in prison.

    He said — and he was right — he said, you know what would be really easy is to steal a Stradivarius from a violinist, because they really don’t protect them much. There’s no security. And he thought about it and he basically went and did it. He cased Frank Almond’s house. He knew his patterns. He went to his concerts. He knew his exit patterns.

    And on that very, very frigid, frigid January night, he got out of his van. He saw Frank coming out of the concert hall. He used the Taser. Frank was obviously shocked. And he took his $6 million Stradivarius violin and, by the way, bows that were worth $50,000.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Not hard to take, but then hard to know what to do with, right?  Do we even know what the motive was?  I saw some theory that maybe it was to take it and then give it back for the money that he’d get.

    BUZZ BISSINGER: You know, look, it’s common sense. He had a plan, and, you know, it was a fine plan in terms of stealing the violin, although Frank did take care of hit. He wasn’t cavalier about it, like some actually musicians are.

    But what are you going to do with it?  Where are you going to fence it?  It’s not like hubcaps. It’s not even like a giraffe. No one wants it. So, what are you going to do with it?  He had no idea, I believe, what to do with it.

    What he said about wanting to buy the apartment complex where he lived to help older tenants and minority tenants, he’s given a lot of different stories as to what he was going to do with it. I personally think he was going to try to profit from it.

    But he had one big problem, which is the police commissioner, Commissioner Flynn of Milwaukee, Ed Flynn, he may be the only police chief in the country who knew what a Stradivarius was. He went to the orchestra. He knew board members. And the police officers at the scene, they didn’t know what it was.

    They kept saying, Mr.  Almond, how do you spell Stradivarius?  And then they said, what, $6 million?  Well, he knew. And he got one on the phone with one of the police officers of the scene. And this were his exact words: “Send in the cavalry.”

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: “Send in the cavalry.”

    BUZZ BISSINGER: The cavalry was sent in.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    BUZZ BISSINGER: And Salah Salahadyn was a goner basically after that. They had cops and detectives, some from homicide, all over the place.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There is of course a history of Strads being lost, sometimes taken, although not usually, I don’t know if ever, by this kind of means.

    Tell us a little bit about this particular violin, because of course it has its own history. It’s named after one of its former owners, a Polish violinist.

    BUZZ BISSINGER: Well, you know, Stradivarius, there are about 600 instruments left.

    You know, the Stradivarius, it’s amazing. It’s remarkable. You think about it, that an instrument that was made 299 years ago is still basically perfect. I don’t think anything — there is no anything that’s ever been equaled by what Stradivarius has done and the sound he created.

    This was made 299 years ago. The original owner was Tartini, and he had this dream. He had a dream where the devil came to him, basically, and said, I’m going to play the most beautiful sound and melody ever. And he wrote it down. It was called “The Devil’s Symphony,” or “The Devil’s Sonata,” and then, from there, it went to  Lipinski, who I believe was a Polish violinist.

    From there, it went other places. And, finally, it did end up in the hands of a man. And his wife was a concert violinist who had ties to Milwaukee, which is how it found its way to Milwaukee.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And so, in the end, what do you take from all of this?  It sounds like it’s partly a very funny tale of a caper gone awry that didn’t have a chance from the start really. It’s also partly, potentially tragic. So what do you take?

    BUZZ BISSINGER: Yes, I find tragedy in it.

    I mean, it’s very Coen brothers-esque. And to me, the tragedy is, first of all, Frank Almond could have seriously gotten hurt, not necessarily by a Taser. But if you crack your head on the ice — and there was thick ice — you can die.

    And I thought there was a tragedy in Mr.  Salah Salahadyn. I met him. He’s a very, very smart, bright, engaging guy, but he kind of got on the wrong track. He had two prior criminal felony convictions. And my sense was, you know, you could have done a lot else with your life than be the manager of an apartment complex, of which he was making no money, and then this cockamamie scheme to steal a violin.

    And that is, to me, where the tragedy was. This was a guy who should have done more with his life, but got caught up in the cycle of poverty and not knowing how to get out of it. It really shouldn’t have happened.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Buzz Bissinger, thanks so much for telling us the story.

    BUZZ BISSINGER: Thank you.

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    watercrisis_mexico

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    GWEN IFILL: Violent protests continued in Mexico today. Demonstrators clashed with police in Acapulco, as anger mounted over the disappearance of 43 students.

    Late last week, three men detained in the case admitted to setting fire to the victims. Government investigators said they found dozens of charred bodies. They are still working on confirming the identities.

    Many throughout the country have been critical Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response.

    Tonight, we take a look at another less attention-getting, but still severe, issue facing Mexico, the water shortage in its capital city.

    “NewsHour” special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro filed this report, part of our series Agents for Change.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Every day, long lines of water tankers fill up at pumping stations, 4,000 gallons on each truck, enough for two homes for about a week.

    It’s not an emergency or drought. This is normal practice in Mexico City. With a population of 22 million, it’s like filling a swimming pool with a teacup.

    Environment scientist Juan Jose Santibanez did the math for one large neighborhood.

    JUAN JOSE SANTIBANEZ, Environment Scientist (through interpreter): In Iztapalapa, there are 1,000 trucks distributing water to two million people, which is nowhere near enough to meet the needs of those people.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s expensive, inefficient and customers like Sylvestre Fernandez, a struggling cab driver, are not satisfied.

    SYLVESTRE FERNANDEZ (through interpreter): Sometimes, it takes or up to five days after we request it. And sometimes we can’t buy other things, like diapers for the baby, because we have to pay for water.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The alternative, really the only choice for many of the poorest is self-service from a municipal tap.

    Amelia Segura Trudges down and then back up a steep mountain, jerricans on the back of three donkeys, which her husband, Andulico Bonilla, helps unload.

    ANDULICO BONILLA (through interpreter): It’s really hard. It takes 20 minutes to go down the hill, and then we have to walk back up. We collect enough for about three days when it rains. When it’s dry, we need more.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The city struggles to meet the pressing demand. Water is pumped up from aquifers and also piped in from a neighboring province. Its purified in plants like this, but here there’s also a shortage of trust. Mexicans consume more bottled water than any other nation.

    One reason is that less 10 percent of the metro area’s sewage is treated. The rest flows in open canals, often washed up with rains that flood this bowl-shaped city, overwhelming many homes in poor neighborhoods.

    These pictures are from a film documentary called “H2Omx.”  The director, Jose Cohen, said he wanted to inject a sense of urgency about this growing crisis.

    JOSE COHEN, Documentary director: We found out that it’s an extremely serious health emergency, and there is a lot of social injustice going on.

    JUAN JOSE SANTIBANEZ (through interpreter): There is a very high probability that, by 2020, there will be a mini-revolution, at least in Mexico City.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: No one disagrees the dwindling supply and growing population are leading to a severe crisis. Yet there seems to be little momentum to do something about it. For one thing, where to start?

    Work crews are shutting off the water supply to this neighborhood so they can plug a leak a few hundred yards down the street. The problem is not that there are a few big leaks, but rather thousands of small ones across miles and miles of underground piping. Mexico City loses 1,000 liters of water per second through this system.

    JOSE COHEN: Forty percent of the water that is available to the valley is lost to leaks.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Almost half of it.

    JOSE COHEN: Almost half of it. And 60 percent of the water that we use comes from the aquifer, the one that is drying.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not only do people not get water. Extracting it from aquifers below is causing the ground to sink.

    You see evidence of it in buildings that are tilting precariously, as this one is doing in the basilica of Guadalupe Complex, one of Mexico City’s most historic landmarks. Geologists say this city has sunk more than 40 feet in the last half-century.

    Enrique Lomnitz moved back to his native Mexico from the U.S. five years ago, anxious to put his industrial design degree from MIT to work.

    ENRIQUE LOMNITZ, Engineer/Entrepreneur: Everywhere I went, people were talking about water, about how they used to have more water, how they used to have higher-quality water, how water was getting more expensive. I started thinking about, well, to me, it was a very obvious question. Why aren’t people using rainwater?

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So Lomnitz started a social enterprise that installs rainwater collection and storage systems in businesses and homes.

    ENRIQUE LOMNITZ: This part of the city gets very high rainfall. It gets up to 1,500 millimeters. So a house like the one we’re in right now, for example, has 240 meters of roof, which is about enough for two low-income families to go all year.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In five years, Lomnitz’s group has installed 1,500 such systems, not many, he admits, but there are big obstacles. Homeowners simply can’t or won’t pay the $1,000 cost. As for the government helping out?

    ENRIQUE LOMNITZ: I have had people ask me for bribes, for example. They could put up a couple hundred thousand rainwater harvesting systems in their municipality, and they will basically say, you — this project will go to you, but, you know, what’s going to come to me?

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Another complication, politicians are limited to just one term.

    ENRIQUE LOMNITZ: So, as soon as people take office, they’re actually looking for a future somewhere else. I think if all of the buildings were harvesting rainwater, I think we’d be talking about at least something like 30 percent of the city’s water needs could be coming from rainwater harvesting.

    ENRIQUE LOMNITZ: But Ramon Aguirre, who heads the city’s water department, thinks that number is much lower, since rainfall varies widely across the city.

    RAMON AGUIRRE, Director, Mexico City Water Department (through translator): It is less than 10 percent, and that is being generous. To build infrastructure to capture the water, store the water, purify the water, it’s just not financially viable.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His department has developed a comprehensive repair plan.

    RAMON AGUIRRE (through interpreter): We’re talking about collecting rainwater, fixing the leaks in the whole system, increasing the use of recycled water, which can be used for bathing and recharging the aquifers and generally lowering consumption of water.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The problem? A price tag that is four times the amount of money he gets in his department.

    RAMON AGUIRRE (through interpreter): Water is a basic service, and it’s very politicized. We have one of the lowest rates in the country, when we should have some of the highest, but they are politically set. To compensate for that very low rates, we need very big subsidies from the government, which we don’t get.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, for the foreseeable future, he expects to worry more about containing social unrest, dispatching more tanker and repair trucks, like he does today, than about the long-term problems that are literally sinking one of the world’s largest cities.

    In Mexico City, I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro for the “NewsHour.”

    GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

     

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    Money

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Every election year, more and more money is spent on political campaigns. 2014 has been no different.

    “NewsHour” political director Domenico Montanaro looks into just how much was spent and where it went, but he starts with how many people actually cast a vote.

    DOMENICO MONTANARO: Fewer people voted in last week’s midterm elections than in a very long time. Just 36 percent of voters went to the polls, the lowest since 1942.

    Voters back then had a pretty good excuse. Many of them were fighting in a World War. In this election, though, there was one group paying close attention, big-money donors. More money was spent on these congressional elections than ever before, $4 billion. And estimates show there’s about $200 million out there in so-called dark money that goes unreported.

    Despite spending hitting record levels, the number of people giving money went down. That’s the first time that’s happened in at least a quarter-century. Fewer donors and more money means more people with deep pockets participating in the system.

    And so where and how was the money spent? Much of it went to television ads. More than a billion dollars was spent on TV ads, with almost half going to just 10 Senate races. The most money was spent in North Carolina with its hotly contested Senate race, won by Republican Thom Tillis, who ousted incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan.

    It was the one state where Democrats actually outspent Republicans on the air. In the nine others, Republicans had the edge. Overall, $113 million was spent in North Carolina, nearly $100 million in Colorado, and $85 million in Iowa. All three were considered Democratic firewall states, places Democrats said, if they won, they’d hold the Senate. They were outspent in two of them and lost all three.

    And in all of them, outside groups spent far more than the campaigns. There’s another way to look at these numbers. How much was spent per voter? Alaska, with its high-profile Senate and governor’s races, tops the charts. More than a $120 was spent per voter in the land of the midnight sun, where they are still counting votes. Both the Senate and governor’s races have not yet been called.

    So why does money matter? Sure, it’s the most ever spent on a midterm. But that, by itself, doesn’t tell us much. Consider this — 94 percent of the biggest spenders in House races won. And for the Senate, it was 82 percent. That makes who spends the most a pretty good predictor of who is going to win.

    Domenico Montanaro, “PBS NewsHour.”

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the impact of money in this year’s election and how it could expand in the next presidential race, we are joined by Matea Gold of The Washington Post.

    Welcome back to the program.

    MATEA GOLD, The Washington Post: Great to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So,  mind-boggling amount of money. Matea, you have now had a few days to look through the data and how much was spent and so forth.

    But tell us what — you were telling one of the things you noticed, that the Democrats, even though they lost so many races, were able to raise more money this cycle.

    MATEA GOLD: Sure.

    This is a really big story that’s part of the 2014 race. We really saw Democrats engaged in the big money super PAC world in a way they hadn’t in 2010 or 2012. There was a lot of ambivalence and reluctance on the part of Democratic donors to give these unlimited sums. A lot of them just felt like the whole system was broken and they didn’t want to participate.

    But after 2012, where I think saw the impacts that super PACs could have, they jumped in, in a big way. And so Senate Majority PAC, which was a super PAC advised and led by top advisers to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, started aggressively raising money early in the cycle. In end, the super PAC and an allied nonprofit were able to put $60 million into these key Senate races.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how did you see the money being spent? I mean, we hear so much about the TV ads. Is that where it was and was that seen to be the most effective place?

    MATEA GOLD: Clearly, a huge share of the money went into television ads.

    But we saw on the right a really interesting development, in which more and more conservative groups plowed their resources into new forms of reaching voters. So they engaged in opposition research really early in the cycle. They started investing in field, ground operations to reach voters. They started investing in more data efforts to try to consolidate their information about voters.

    And a lot of this was being done at the direction of donors, who really were disappointed with the return they got on their investment on 2012, when they spent hundreds of millions of dollars to try to eject President Obama from the White House unsuccessfully.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re talking to people in both parties obviously and people on the outside. And we have talked a lot about how much money was raised on the outside.

    What do you see as the lessons being taken place from all the players here about what they need to do two years from now in the presidential cycle?

    MATEA GOLD: Well, I think what is clear, we’re going to see two trends develop.

    One is that single-candidate super PACs became de rigueur in this race. And so we saw that at a presidential level in 2012. Now pretty much every competitive congressional race is going to have single-candidate super PACs. That means that your friends and family can write unlimited sums of money to give your super PAC just to help get you elected.

    And on the presidential front, we already see a huge infrastructure in place, Judy, for Hillary Clinton, who has not even announced yet. but there is already a super PAC poised to run ads for her. There’s an opposition research group.

    The Republicans have noticed this. They are already working to try to form their own infrastructure to compete with that. So, I think if anything the outside groups are going to become even more of a sense of driving the action in the coming years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Matea Gold with The Washington Post, the woman who walks around with a calculator, thank you.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MATEA GOLD: My pleasure.

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    GM CEO Mary Barra Holds Press Conference On Ignition Switch Recall

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    GWEN IFILL: There’s yet another new revelation in General Motors’ mass recalls over faulty ignition switches. Internal e-mails show GM ordered half-a-million replacement switches nearly two months before telling safety regulators about the problem.

    The e-mails were released as part of a class-action lawsuit. The switch problem has been linked to at least 32 deaths and caused the recall of 2.6 million vehicles.

    David Shepardson has been covering the story for The Detroit News and he covers — and he joins me now.

    David, welcome back.

    So, shoes keep dropping. Why are we just hearing about this one now, David?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON, The Detroit News: Well, these e-mails that you mentioned were in four million pages of records that are in a depository in this multidistrict litigation suit.

    And lawyers for people suing have been mining these e-mails and uncovered them. And you’re right, it does raise questions about, why didn’t the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration know? Why didn’t GM disclose the fact that six weeks before they ultimately decided on the recall to go ahead with what’s a very large order?

    At least, on its face, it suggests the company was preparing for a recall far earlier than we knew.

    GWEN IFILL: And not only a large order, but an urgent order with words like aggressive and we need to do this right now kind of in those e-mails.

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Right.

    GWEN IFILL: Is that unusual, that 500,000? Is that a larger than you would usually expect?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: I mean, it is unusual in the sense that this happened a day after a meeting where GM said, we don’t have enough information to decide on a recall, and ultimately it got pushed back six weeks.

    Now, companies do start ordering parts for big recalls earlier than the actual recall happens, for the obvious reason that you don’t have the parts, you announced a recall, your dealerships are flooded with customers, and you can’t get the parts in.

    Remember, even with this aggressive timetable, GM didn’t get the parts until April, so it took them a long time and as a result they gave out thousands of loaner cars.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, is the question about the recall or the question about notifying the government about the impending recall?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Exactly.

    You’re required within five days of determining that there is a safety defect to notify the government and start the process. It does raise questions, did GM know there was a defect and what did the senior management of the company know? Because, remember, the new GM CEO said she didn’t learn of the problem or the issue generally until late December.

    And we don’t know the answer to whether Mary Barra knew about this large order of parts.

    GWEN IFILL: What has she said? She has said — just to refresh people, she had said that she didn’t that there was this problem until when?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Right.

    Late December, she heard of the issue generally, but she has said and testified that she didn’t know of the recall or the decision to recall the vehicles until January 31, the day GM decided.

    GWEN IFILL: And she hasn’t been asked about this parts question, this order — parts because we didn’t know about it?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Right. Exactly.

    GWEN IFILL: So, it seems like we’re kind of on a hamster wheel.

    What is — we have heard about recalls being delayed before in this whole unfolding saga.

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Right.

    GWEN IFILL: Does this more — make that story more extensive than we previously thought?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: I think what it does is it shows there’s a lot of ammunition for critics on Capitol Hill to push for auto safety reforms.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Remember, there are now 10 — auto companies that have recalled eight million vehicles — or eight million cars for exploding air bags, that shrapnel can hit people and potential injure or kill them.

    And it raises questions about, has GM come clean completely about the early days of this problem and whether — you know, did the company know more in December, you know, six weeks before this actually — the recall began?

    GWEN IFILL: Mary Barra has said whenever asked about that this — that was the old GM and this is the new GM.

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Right.

    GWEN IFILL: How would the new GM — what changes have been put in place that would stop that sort of thing from happening today?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Well, GM is taking things far more aggressively.

    They’re recalling vehicles, sometimes fewer than hundreds of vehicles at the slightest signs of problems. So, even though they have had 78 separate recall campaigns, many are coming after one, two, three reports of problems.

    So they would say — they would never have done what occurred in this case, which is monitoring a problem year after year, and not doing anything, creating committees, trying to get to the root cause. The new GM would, they say, move much faster and wouldn’t let this fester as long as it did.

    GWEN IFILL: And a $35 million fine we’re talking about, right, So far?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Right.

    And, remember, the Obama administration has called for raising that. That’s the maximum allowed by law by NHTSA. They want to raise it to $300 million. But the real question is the Justice Department. Remember, they fined Toyota $1.2 billion. The Justice Department and the attorney generals could opt to fine GM under different statutes and for much more.

    GWEN IFILL: So, other shoes could be yet to be drop?

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Yes. It’s probably a long way from being over.

    GWEN IFILL: Keeps you busy, David Shepardson.

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Yes.

    GWEN IFILL: Thanks a lot.

    DAVID SHEPARDSON: Thanks, Gwen.

     

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    netneutraility_obama

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president’s focus may be on Asia, but earlier today, he surprised many by weighing in on the future of the Web.

    The subject? Net neutrality, or the idea that all traffic on the Web should be treated equally. It’s been the focus of a major debate and battle for years, as the Federal Communications Commission must decide how to treat broadband providers. Some of the biggest ones have argued there’s a place and a need to offer premium service at a different price, while still maintaining vital access for all.

    The White House released a video in which the president made his most direct comments yet about how he thought the FCC should proceed.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They should make it clear that whether you use a computer, phone or tablet, Internet providers have a legal obligation not to block or limit your access to a Web site. Cable companies can’t decide which online stores you can shop at or which streaming services you can use, and they can’t let any company pay for priority over its competitors.

    To put these protections in place, I’m having the FCC to reclassify Internet service under Title II of a law known as the Telecommunications Act. In plain English, I’m asking them to recognize that for most Americans the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We get a deeper explanation of the president’s move and look at the reaction to it with Megan Smith. She’s the chief U.S. technology officer at the White House.

    Megan Smith, welcome to the “NewsHour.”

    I think the first question is, why is the president making I think what some are saying is an unprecedentedly strong statement of his own views about how the Internet should operate?

    MEGAN SMITH, U.S. Chief Technology Officer: Thanks, Judy.

    Yes, it’s important to note the FCC has already received 3.7 million comments from Americans. And today the president is adding his voice to that. Net neutrality is such an important principle for the Web and for the Internet. It’s how the Internet’s operated for all this time.

    And we just want to make sure that that stays very clear as we advance into the future.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me — let me read you some of the comments that have been pouring in today from some folks who are concerned about this.

    MEGAN SMITH: OK.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The former chairman of the FCC, he’s now president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Michael Powell, he issued a statement saying — quote — “We are stunned the president would abandon the longstanding bipartisan policy of lightly regulating Internet and call for extreme regulation.”

    MEGAN SMITH: It’s interesting some of those reactions. I have seen some of those as well.

    This principle of net neutrality is how the Internet has been operating for — since the beginning. And so the FCC has an opportunity here to just put that into practice with moving to Title II. So there’s not some kind of extreme regulation being added here.

    The most important thing is, we really want to make sure the American people are able to get to any Web site they’d like to get to. Let’s say, for example, you wanted to reach a couple different video providers. You don’t want one of those providers to be able to pay extra so that they can get to you faster and others are slower. You want the Internet to operate just as it operates equally across all that.

    Also, can you imagine if you’re making a brand-new startup and there’s one or two of you in a garage? You want to make sure that that Web site can get to you just as fast as a Web site from a very powerful company. It’s one of the most important principles of net neutrality and it’s how it has been operating from the beginning.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re also seeing comments from Verizon. It’s calling it a radical reversal of course that would, in and of itself, threaten great harm to the Internet. We have the leading mobile phone association, CTIA, saying imposing antiquated commentary or regulation on the — quote — “vibrant mobile wireless ecosystem is a gross overreaction.”

    MEGAN SMITH: Yes, I’m seeing those too, but it’s not playing out in how the Internet actually works.

    One of the things that’s interesting today, if you look at Twitter, you see an extraordinary amount of comments on the other side of that. So it’s a natural American conversation. What is great is, people like Vint Cerf, inventor of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, who is the inventor of the Web, very supportive of continuing the Web to be — have the same kind of regulation that it’s had the whole time.

    Net neutrality is very important. For example, if you were on the phone, you wouldn’t want your phone provider to, say, stop you from calling Hertz if you wanted Avis or vice versa, Avis vs. Hertz. We want to make sure that the Internet operates the same way that the phone service operates.

    And that’s what Title II in these telecom regulations make available. And so we can do this lightweight, flexible law for the Internet service providers to have them be covered under this law, and then one of the things is it allows for something called forbearance, so there’s a long history of these folks not having to have the regulations where they are having price controls or other things like that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s, in effect, the president telling or at least saying to the independent Federal Communications Commissions that this is how sees — he wants it to issue regulations. What does that say about the president’s view of the independence of the FCC?

    MEGAN SMITH: The FCC is an independent regulator, an independent organization, and they will make a decision. They call for input from across the country.

    And so the president is weighing in today with a voice — he’s been supportive of net neutrality since the very beginning, since he was candidate Obama before he was president. So, again, there were 3.7 million comments that came into the FCC and continue — they are going to be mixing all those different comments together and looking at the opportunities and deciding this themselves as an independent regulator.

    It’s just such an important principle for our economy and for our future and for innovation and for the protection of the American people to be able to have access to whatever Web sites they would like to go to, and for the independence of the savviest entrepreneurs who have been able to make these incredible Web sites that have really grown our economy. And we want to make sure that that continues strong into the future, and that the ISPs are not able to create paid toll roads or unfair advantages for different Web sites and have people pay different amounts.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You say 3.7 million people have weighed in, but you would agree the president expressing his view is a heavier, shall we say, finger on the scale than anyone else’s, isn’t it?

    MEGAN SMITH: It’s very important.

    But the FCC is an independent organization, and they are going to look at all the different things in front of them. But the president’s feels very strongly that this is important for our economy, it is important for entrepreneurs, it’s important for the protection of the American people and for the flexibility, of course, in this industry to make sure that we have this lightweight expression of this Title II law available to us to keep the Internet free and open for all the American people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Megan Smith, some have asked, why is the president doing this now? Was it — is there a reason he waited until after the election to step in?

    MEGAN SMITH: I’m not a pundit, so I’m not sure about timing in that.

    But I think, really, the most important thing is, he feels incredibly strongly about this, and these are the times when the FCC is considering these issues. So it’s important for he and the rest of the American people to be out there with our voices.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Megan Smith, who is the chief technology officer at the White House, we thank you.

    MEGAN SMITH: Thank you, Judy.

    The post Why is Obama weighing in on net neutrality? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    APEC Bilateral Meeting - China & Russia

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: And Margaret joins me now.

    Other than getting away from bad electoral news here, what is the president hoping to accomplish on this trip, Margaret?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, last week, when Secretary Kerry said that the U.S.-China relationship was the most consequential one in the world and would do a lot to shape this century, and that really to me summed up the opportunities and the dilemma for the president.

    So, on the one hand, you have China, a rising power, challenging U.S. dominance in that part of the world really for more than half-a-century, and with a kind of aggressiveness, assertiveness territorially that is kind of new.

    But Washington can’t approach this like some 20th century grand rivalry because the U.S. needs China, not just economically, but on a lot of these issues like climate change, like Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions that the U.S. can’t really solve without China.

    And so the dilemma is, you know, how to incorporate concerns that the U.S. has about China’s performance on human rights, on cyber-theft, on a whole raft of issues, without totally alienating the Chinese. And you saw that today when you listened his comments, the president’s, about the Hong Kong protests, because though he said, please, you need to exercise restraint, he was very restrained himself and he acknowledged there was a complicated relationship with Hong Kong.

    GWEN IFILL: Is that because he has a more complicated with Beijing or a less one than last time, when he and President Xi met in California?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, in California, that was more of a “get to know, can we build a new relationship” session.

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    MARGARET WARNER: But it’s certainly different than he went to China last time, in ’09, where right off the financial crisis the Chinese kept lecturing him about the state of the American economy, you caused this, we’re weathering it well.

    Now that has been reversed. The U.S. economy is doing better than — not better than the Chinese, but the Chinese are having problems. But basically I would say that the White House still took note of the elections, went in to trip determined to demonstrate to the Chinese that this is no lame-duck president and that in fact White House officials have been telling their counterparts in China his hand will be strengthened in Asia-Pacific because you’re going to have Republicans in charge of the Senate, they will be willing to spend more on the security side in Asia and they will more open to this TPP, which China doesn’t like one bit.

    GWEN IFILL: The Trans-Pacific Partnership.

    But on this very day, we hear about Chinese hacking of U.S. Postal Service and there have been regular reports of this. Are there tensions there? We saw tension between Abe and Xi, but are there also tensions between the U.S. and its partners, potential partners?

    MARGARET WARNER: Huge, huge, particularly on cyber-security.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    MARGARET WARNER: And you can expect — Susan Rice, the national security, said they would have candid conversations.

    You can expect him to raise this. But the U.S. argument is, look, we know each spy on one another as governments, but you all also spy to steal secrets and designs for American companies to give to Chinese rivals. We don’t do that. And they agree to disagree on that, I think.

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    Well, as the president was arriving in Beijing came news or as he was on his way that two American detainees who have been held in North Korea were released. Is that a coincidence?

    MARGARET WARNER: It’s unclear because you can never know, Gwen, what’s in the mind of Kim Jong-un or any North Korean leader.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    MARGARET WARNER: I would say not directly. Certainly, I haven’t been told that Chinese — it was Chinese pressure.

    But China’s always been the kind of buffer and protector of North Korea. That said, the new Chinese leadership regards the new North Korean leadership as a little bit, one person said to me, wacko. Their relationship with and influence with North Korea is not as great as it was.

    And it is possible that this new human rights report that has — that — that documented sort of systematic or gross violations they called it in the North Korea prison system may have meant that Kim Jong-un and his folks were nervous they would be referred to the Criminal Court, and maybe they decided it might be — make it easier for China to protect them on that, but we really don’t know.

    GWEN IFILL: Timing is everything. However, it’s hard not to see it that way.

    MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

    GWEN IFILL: Margaret Warner, thank you.

    MARGARET WARNER: As always.

     

    The post Why the U.S. can’t ignore or alienate the rising power of China – Part 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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