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

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    The Baltimore Ravens have not commented on the newly released video that shows the brutality of running back Ray Rice's assault on his fiance in an Atlantic City elevator. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The NFL Players Association says that former NFL running back Ray Rice is immediately eligible to play in the NFL after winning an appeal for his indefinite suspension. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is now eligible to return to the National Football League after winning an appeal of his indefinite suspension, the Associated Press reports.

    Rice was suspended indefinitely from the NFL by Commissioner Roger Goodell in September after a video was made public showing the player punching his then-fiance, now wife in an elevator during a February altercation. The NFL Players Association said Friday that the suspension has been “vacated immediately;” meaning teams are allowed to sign Rice — whose contract was terminated by the Ravens after the video release — if they wish to pursue him.

    The former NFL star was arrested soon after the original assault and avoided jail time by agreeing to participate in an anger management program. Rice was originally suspended for two games in the aftermath of the incident until Goodell modified the suspension upon release of the video. The appeal — heard by former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones in early November — hinged on whether that action was an overstep in authority by the NFL.

    The post Ray Rice wins appeal; NFL suspension lifted appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays British mathematician Alan Turing in the new film “The Imitation Game,” answered readers’ questions. Watch his full interview on Friday’s PBS NewsHour.

    Benedict Cumberbatch is a busy man.

    After a press blitz to promote his new movie, “The Imitation Game,” the 38-year-old actor is already back at work playing Shakespeare’s Richard III in the BBC miniseries, “The Hollow Crown.” And of course there’s “Sherlock,” the BBC/Masterpiece crime drama in which he plays the iconic detective and which will soon begin filming its fourth season.

    Jeffrey Brown recently spoke to Cumberbatch about those two characters, which have been played many times by some legendary actors — a fact Cumberbatch finds both daunting and comforting.

    “It means that the culture can obviously take reinterpretations of these great, great, iconic roles and also there’s something in each, all of those performances that still draws people in,” he said.

    We put a few audience questions to Cumberbatch — about his most challenging role thus far, where Sherlock Holmes fits in to the characters he’s played and how “real” the character of Sherlock is to him. You can watch his full interview about “The Imitation Game” on tonight’s program.

    The post Benedict Cumberbatch on taking on Sherlock, Richard III appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: If you haven’t heard much about Benedict Cumberbatch, you’re likely to, soon. He’s starring in a popular TV series, and landing top feature film roles, including his latest as British mathematician Alan Turing. His work is stirring buzz about a possible Oscar nomination.

    The movie opens in New York and Los Angeles today, then nationally in December.

    Jeffrey Brown caught up with Cumberbatch in New York.

    ACTOR: This big paper you wrote, what’s it called?

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: “The Imitation Game.”

    JEFFREY BROWN: In real life and in the new film “The Imitation Game,” Alan Turing was a man of secrets.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: I like solving problems, Commander. And Enigma is the most difficult problem in the world.

    ACTOR: No, Enigma isn’t difficult. It’s impossible. The Americans, the Russians, the French, the Germans, everyone thinks Enigma is unbreakable.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Good. Let me try and we will know for sure, won’t we?

    JEFFREY BROWN: He was a brilliant British mathematician who worked in secret to break a key German code called Enigma, allowing Allied forces in World War II to see and plan for German attacks ahead of time, thereby saving perhaps millions of lives.

    Today, he is considered a father of modern computer science. But Turing also lived a secret life as a gay man at a time when that could and eventually did lead to his prosecution.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Well, the judge gave me a choice, either two years in prison or hormonal therapy.

    ACTRESS: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Yes, yes, yes, that’s right, chemical castration to — to cure me of my homosexual predilections.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Actor Benedict Cumberbatch recently told me why he was, as he put it, blown away to take on the role.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Well, first of all, the uncompromising nature of how the character is introduced, there’s no vanity about him. You just presented him. There is no explanation. He just is the way he is, sort of gauche at times, but incredibly direct, quite rude and disrespectful of authority, very smart and very funny.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You liked all of those things.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: I loved all of those things, because it was just there.

    You discover him. And then, just when you’re embroiled in reasonably getting to know him, and the reality of what then happened to him in the ’50s hits you, and you’re winded with the emotion of this injustice this man — and I was really upset and then angry, angry because I didn’t know about this story, I didn’t know enough about this story and why.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You saw him in parts or as this whole? How did you come to see him?

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: As a whole, very much as a whole. All these compressions of circumstance and the sense of the person created him, rather than it being one flavor.

    And you learn that as the film evolves. You think, well, this is quite a cold, difficult, isolated, uncooperative man. But you realize why. He’s been pretty hurt in his time and his life and very formative times.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The 38-year-old Cumberbatch has a penchant for playing complicated geniuses. PBS viewers know him of course as Sherlock, the lead in the modern-day take on the classic Arthur Conan Doyle story now in its third season.

    He’s also played WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Khan, a superhuman, in the most recent “Star Trek” remake, and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: For Stephen Hawking, I needed to understand the equations we were working on as best as I could.

    And while I may have got lost after the first sort of three minutes and just sort of looked at the guy explaining it to me and going, oh, you have got eyebrows, I desperately held onto his coattails to just give some kind of justifiable ownership over these extraordinary abilities that these men have.


    JEFFREY BROWN: You studied a bit of the science?

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: A lot. Yes, I tried to. But I would be the first person to fall if you ask me any specific questions.

    I could give you general explanations, but if you face me with his actual algorithms and ask me to explain the mathematics, the equations of his work, very hard.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In thinking about Alan Turing and some of the other characters you have played, scientific genius, artistic genius, it always has struck me as a viewer. They’re hard to do, because all the action is sort of in your head.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: But isn’t that sort of the gift of the camera, the fact that, through silence, we can see thought. We can perceive or project some understanding of someone’s internal life.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, but how do you project that internal life?

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Well, you rely a lot on the intelligence of an audience and you try to have those thoughts. You try to link your inner workings to the moment of the drama and of that character’s existence, and not overthink it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Cumberbatch spoke of a scene late in the film when Turing, weakened by drugs given to supposedly cure his homosexuality, is unable to work on an early computer that he has named Christopher.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Christopher’s become so smart. If I don’t continue my treatment, then they will take him away from me. You — you can’t let them do that. You can’t.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Alan Turing would take his own life at age 41.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: You can’t let them leave me alone.

    It was a hard scene. But the first three takes were sort of effortlessly emotional. And I couldn’t stop crying. And I realized seeing that it wasn’t that I was looking from the inside out. I was actually looking from the outside in. I was being an actor or a person that had grown incredibly fond of my character and thinking what he had suffered and how that would affect him.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You were aware of that in the moment, of being outside looking in?

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Yes, because it was out of my — it was out of — it didn’t stop at the end of the take. It carried on.

    So, then I had to adjust, and then I couldn’t feel where his place was in the scene. And then a couple of takes in, we were back on track.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So you had to get back inside the character.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Inside, yes, yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It sounds like a different sort of experience than the normal.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: I try to have that level of engagement with all the characters I play. That’s sort of…

    JEFFREY BROWN: You do?

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Yes. I think it — listen, even with a comic foil in a moment of silliness, it’s just — it’s — you are trying to do your job well.

    So, I try to work hard. I’m really proud of what I get to do as a living. I still pinch myself. But I also know it’s a craft, and I can get better at it and learn every time I do it. So I try to work hard no matter what the task is.

    But with this one, of course, there’s an added responsibility of legacy. I want to get it right for his story, for his history, so that, you know, we can bring this with pride to a wider audience, because it’s so important to make this man better known. And that bears down a little bit on you, of course, because you have that responsibility.

    But none of this was with hard. It felt absolutely necessary to do what we were doing in telling his story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Benedict Cumberbatch, thanks so much.

    BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: My pleasure. Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Online, we put together eight things you probably didn’t know about Alan Turing. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch answered questions from our Facebook fans. You can find those on our home page.

    The post Benedict Cumberbatch on ‘The Imitation Game’ and making Alan Turing less of an enigma appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This week a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, chose not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of a black teenager, Michael Brown, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced his resignation.

    For that and more, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    We welcome you both on this day after Thanksgiving.

    So, Mark, the aftermath, the reaction to the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict, we’re watching reaction all over the country. What does it say about the state of race relations in this country today?

    MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know if it says as much about the state of race relations as it certainly does about race perceptions.

    There are two different Americas when it comes, for example, to the performance of the police. A majority of Americans, white Americans, strong majority, believe that the police treat everybody the same. Black Americans do not see that the case. They see that blacks — that are treated disproportionately, with greater force than are whites.

    There is less confidence in the police on the part of blacks than there is whites. And, Judy, it’s borne out by the numbers in Ferguson; 86 percent — this a city that is two-thirds black. Out of the 53 officers on the police force, three of them are non-white and 86 percent of all the traffic stops were of black motorists.

    So there is that sense of the widening gap. I think we were all euphoric in 2008, the election of the first African-American president, who since has been reelected with a majority, that somehow race relations in the country have been resolved and we’re over — as an open wound. But on something like police treatment of black Americans, it obviously is two different countries.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it mostly, David, about perception of how people are treated by law enforcement?

    DAVID BROOKS: I think a little, yes, obviously, but not so much from the grand jury.

    I thought the grand jury report had — it angered a lot of people, but I think introduced a note of ambiguity to more people because it really did put some facts in front of the case and I think it made us cautious. I think one of the things it did for a lot of people is made them separate the episode from the condition.

    The episode was what actually happened that night between Wilson and Brown. And I think we learned that Wilson — Brown definitely went into the car, tried to seize the officer’s gun. And that makes it very hard to indict the police officer in those circumstances.

    We don’t know whether Wilson was attacking — or Brown was attacking Wilson when the final shots were fired, but we know there was a pretty ambiguous confrontation there which probably made conviction impossible. So we have some facts about the episode.

    The larger conditions, I think we still have a lot to say about, which is that there’s the legacy of distrust, the legacy of racism, the impact of poverty, the impact of inequality. And I think what’s happened with the larger condition is the distinct issue of civil rights has become embedded in a whole series of social problems, having to do with poverty, having to do with concentrated poverty, having to do with family structures, having to do with schools, having to do with disappearing jobs.

    And it’s become a lot thornier. And so what was a very simple good vs. bad civil rights story has become a much more complicated domestic policy story, really.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, is it possible — I was going to…

    MARK SHIELDS: Just — I just wanted to say on David’s — David makes a good point, but I think the difference is seen in the way he presented it.

    Whites look at this individual episode and the grand jury report, and I think the points he make are absolutely valid ones. But blacks, I think, have an understandable tendency to look at it as a pattern. In other words, there’s a presumption on the part of blacks that they’re not going to be treated as well or as fairly when dealing with the police.

    And i think that’s a major, major gulf. And make no mistake about it, Judy. The traditional ladder of — when America gets a cold economically, black America gets pneumonia. And the traditional road up, through factory jobs, manufacturing jobs that so many African-Americans have used to climb into the middle class, then educate their children in college, is no longer available.

    It’s no longer available for white working-class Americans either. The changed economy has compounded the problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We have heard from some viewers.Go ahead, David. Yes, go ahead. I want you both…

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it’s compounded the problem economically and led to the widening inequality.

    It’s also led, I think, for whites and blacks and Hispanics as well to a widening sense of disrespect, that not only is there no opportunity, but they’re being disrespected by people with authority. And that’s especially true with African-Americans because the legacy, the historical legacy of racism in this country.

    And it does make me think that, across a range of issues, but especially law enforcement issues, we have two models, the sort of dominant force model, which is what the police are used to using, and a model that gives much more emphasis on respecting people in the community, which is probably a little less aggressive sometimes, and which may be risky, but in the long run, that more respectful model may be the stronger and the healthier model for the communities.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s interesting. We have been hearing some viewers this week who are saying they don’t think the news media is reflecting the whole spectrum of the position that law enforcement is in.

    But, Mark, I guess my question, the next question for me is, can this country have a constructive conversation about this?

    MARK SHIELDS: You know, I hope we can, Judy.

    I think we’re capable of it if we — and acknowledging right up front that police officers have a tough job. When they get a 911 call or just any kind of a call, they’re going into a situation that’s laden and fraught with violence.

    And I in no way, I mean, intend any dishonor or disrespect to them and to the incredibly tough job and good job that they overwhelmingly do. I hope we can. It’s something that an African-American president — the only — only two Democrats in our history have been elected and reelected with a majority of the popular vote, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

    I would hope the president could help initiate and inspire such conversation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think it’s possible, David?


    And let’s start with the police. I do think it’s valid to say their view had not been represented. Like a lot of people in my business, I started as a police reporter in Chicago and spend a lot of time around police. And one of the things that has to be said about them, they spend a lot of their time in extremely unpleasant circumstance with extremely unpleasant people.

    And they have to wade into that to keep us safe. And God bless them for it. It does often mean that they have a very negative and sometimes a cynical view and armor, an emotional armor they put on about the communities they go into.

    And I suppose they need that for survival, but it does sometimes lead to a small authoritarianism, if you want to put it that — a little bullying sometimes in police behavior. And so, like everything else, the way the police behave, they’re human beings, and so some of it is incredibly normal and noble. And some of it is brutalizing. And they sometimes in some cases a brutalizing effect on the people they’re sort of lording over.

    It’s a human story of good and bad.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you both to running the Pentagon.

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Mark, steps down this week. He’s the third secretary of defense in the Obama administration to be leaving the position. They are now looking for a fourth. What does this say, does Chuck Hagel’s experience say about the administration, say about him?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, you know, I should acknowledge right up front I’m a sympathizer, supporter of Chuck Hagel, and have been for a long time, admired his own service both to the country politically and publicly and volunteered in the military to serve as heroically as he did in Vietnam.

    But, Judy, when you’re looking for your fourth secretary of defense in less than six years, which is what this administration is doing, and the previous two, Hagel’s two predecessors, both went public with charges of micromanagement from the White House, that — Bob Gates, a reasonable man, said it drove him crazy.

    When — when Leon Panetta said it’s leading to an exclusion of other voices, just a limitation, that the president is sort of surrounded by this clique of very hyper, uber loyalists, but with very few other people, that the Cabinet is excluded, I think it’s a comment on a situation that is serious to the president.

    And I really…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A situation that…

    MARK SHIELDS: A situation that he is in a bubble that is very, very narrowed, that they’re trying to run everything out of the White House.

    And I think this is a — I think it’s a problem that they had that Gates complained of it, that Panetta complained of it. And it didn’t change under Chuck Hagel. And they can fault Chuck Hagel. The president praises him and then immediately the White House staffs starts sniping that he wasn’t up to the job, he didn’t have the substance, he wasn’t proactive, whatever the hell that means.

    So, they immediately accuse the president of dissembling — their — their loyalists are suggesting the president was being disingenuous when he praised the president and — the secretary as an exemplary defense secretary.



    Well, each administration over the last 30 years probably has concentrated more and more power in the White House. For a long time, most of the other Cabinet secretary jobs have been neutered. But it used to be, you had the big three, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the surgeon general, had some independent authority.

    Under this administration, I think even the big three have been severely weakened, none more seriously than Chuck Hagel. There are people who follow this who say he underperformed in certain roles, especially the outside roles.

    But it’s certainly true that he wasn’t consulted in all sorts of policies concerning the Defense Department, that decisions were made in the White House both here and abroad and then he was told about them later. And he tried to be a good soldier. And so if you are going to hire somebody to be a good soldier, you can’t really fault them for not being proactive, because you’re not giving them anything to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do we look for the next secretary of defense to be somebody who very close — already in close with the White House, Mark?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, ironically, the next secretary of defense is probably Chuck Hagel.

    I mean, we have had two — Jack Reed, senator from Rhode Island, rejected it 30 microseconds after he was floated. Michele Flournoy, the former deputy secretary of defense, said she wasn’t interested. So, I don’t know who is going to be and then confirmed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick thought, David?

    DAVID BROOKS: I agree. They’re having trouble, because who wants to be a weak person with only two years left?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Less than a minute.

    To both of you, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. You have to tell me what you’re thankful for, Mark, and what you’re not thankful for.

    MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I am thankful for — I am thankful that American graduation rates in high schools are up dramatically, that our crime rate is down, that people are covered in health care.

    I’m grateful for the “NewsHour.”


    JUDY WOODRUFF: And not grateful for?

    MARK SHIELDS: I’m not grateful for David’s constant interruption and carping.


    MARK SHIELDS: No. No. There’s nothing I’m not grateful…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s nothing — I think that’s…

    MARK SHIELDS: … I’m not grateful for.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On that positive note, David, it’s your turn.

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, I was going to thank — be thankful for Mark Shields, who has been a great partner and friend for many years.


    DAVID BROOKS: But I think I may retract that now.


    DAVID BROOKS: The thing I’m not thankful for is that we don’t have 30 minutes on the show, which I think the viewers really demand.


    DAVID BROOKS: Not just 12 or 14.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m going to take to our executive producer. I think that’s a great idea.

    MARK SHIELDS: Please.

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

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.


    The post Shields and Brooks on the Ferguson ruling, Hagel resignation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Much of the attention on black Friday focuses on just how much people will spend. But one story that’s also important for retailers and local economies is a big shift in where people are shopping.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at how those changing habits are affecting the traditional mall.

    It’s part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

    PAUL SOLMAN: The remains of rolling acres in Akron, Ohio, poster child for a recent phenomenon in America, the dead mall. This one went dark in 2008, fixtures auctioned off, others swiped or vandalized, nature now reclaiming more than 50 acres that once hosted Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, the Parisian, 140 stores at its peak.

    University of Akron economist Amanda Weinstein:

    AMANDA WEINSTEIN, University of Akron: Even just a few years ago, you would see LeBron James as a teenager, he would be hanging out here. And now we see teenagers are breaking in and homeless people occasionally have been living in there, and so it’s really changed a lot.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Talk about understatement. Rolling Acres opened in 1975, swelled to 1.3 million square feet of retail. It was once the place to shop for miles around. But neighborhood income began to stall, as in so much of blue-collar America; teen gangs crept in. Rolling Acres was on a roll, in the wrong direction.

    AMANDA WEINSTEIN: We started seeing more discount stores. The J.C. Penney turned to a discount outlet store, so trying to get stores with the lowest prices possible.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But why spend money on gas to schlep to the mall when you can now get the lowest prices possible online? Is this then the future for the American indoor mall, just decades after it was hailed as a retail revolution?

    NARRATOR: And now let’s see how shopping can be fun.

    PAUL SOLMAN: In the 1950s, car culture spawned the suburbs and launched a half-century mall boom: 1,500 built from 1956 to 2005.

    NARRATOR: These young adults shopping with the same determination that led them to the suburbs in the first place are the goingest part of a nation on wheels.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But barely 1,000 indoor malls are left today, not a single new one built since 2006.

    LEN SCHLESINGER, Harvard Business School: Malls have been declining for years and will continue to decline.

    PAUL SOLMAN: The Harvard Business School’s Len Schlesinger.

    You mean malls like Rolling Acres in Akron, which is just…

    LEN SCHLESINGER: No, no, no. I’m talking about the high-quality malls that have been know, the — what we call the A malls. The B malls and C malls, the ones that have never drawn high-end customer bases or high-end traffic, they’re already in the process of being repurposed in all sorts of ways.

    They’re becoming bowling alleys.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Storage.

    LEN SCHLESINGER: Oh, yes, storage facilities, et cetera. And we will continue to see the repurposing of that real estate.

    PAUL SOLMAN: That’s because 15 percent of malls are expected to fail or be converted into non-retail space in the next decade. Why the across-the-alphabet decline? Well, online shopping has doubled in the last seven years. Tastes and habits have changed.

    ACTOR: What’s the matter? You look depressed.

    ACTOR: I hate working the theater. All the action’s on the other side of the mall.

    PAUL SOLMAN: For example, no longer are malls teeming with teens.

    ACTRESS: Thanks.

    What can I do for you?

    ACTOR: Can I have your phone number so I can ask you out sometime?

    PAUL SOLMAN: Today, teenagers play out their angst elsewhere or at home, on their computers, while the parents are shopping on theirs.

    So many malls. so little time. Thus, even the Atrium Mall in upscale Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, is now a construction site.

    LARRY GROSSMAN, ADD Inc.: It had marble and brass and lots of lights and mirrors, and so we had to find a way to repurpose it, but really mask the image that was sort of 1980s.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Let’s never forget the three rules of real estate: location, location and location. So developers are de-malling Atrium.

    Architect Larry Grossman.

    LARRY GROSSMAN: This is in fact the third time I have done this, because malls have tended to fail.

    In this case, it’s a total redo, where we’re looking for office uses, medical uses and retail mixed within a single structure.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Just down the road, a once-foundering middle-market mall has gone upscale. The old Chestnut Hill Shopping Center is now The Street, an alfresco faux town center with tony restaurants and shops, including the Polka Dog Bakery, featuring natural foods for Fido.

    And a former Macy’s is now SuperLux, a high-end cinema with table service.


    BRIAN SCIERA, WS Development: Cheers.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Brian Sciera of W.S. Development says these so-called lifestyle centers had better be unique.

    BRIAN SCIERA: If we want to survive today, we want to carve out a point of difference in the marketplace where we become something special, you have to be out of the commodity business and into the experience business.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Starting at $20 a seat, for instance, cinema style and comfort, including chocolate martinis. That’s because, says, Len Schlesinger:

    LEN SCHLESINGER: The fundamental question becomes one of, what’s going to draw traffic to a shopping experience? And it’s no longer the stores. Now it’s movies, gyms, restaurants and entertainment. And I think what the developers have done here is actually the new normal.

    PAUL SOLMAN: No guarantee.

    LEN SCHLESINGER: Never a guarantee in retail. Never a guarantee. You’re always adapting.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But Chestnut Hill, with its evermore well-heeled residents, is a much better mall bet than working-class Akron, Ohio, where the only use of Rolling Acres these days is a storage facility tucked away in one small wing of the complex.

    In the parking lot, the mall tells the history of the area, says urban economist Weinstein.

    AMANDA WEINSTEIN: Akron really started booming with the tire industry. And the tire industry is really what propelled it forward and it had tremendous growth from that industry. The tires here have been a little bit repurposed here and teenagers now using them for a little racetrack or an obstacle course.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But nobody is using the indoor mall itself, a post-apocalyptic vision of shopping mall America.

    This is Paul Solman, reporting from Rolling Acres in Akron, Ohio.

    The post Once temples of American commerce, indoor malls lose shoppers to e-stores appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Oil prices dropped again yesterday, this time approaching $70 a barrel after the OPEC cartel decided not to cut production levels.

    The decision comes after pressure had built among some OPEC members for a cut. Output keeps growing in the U.S. and elsewhere. New shale production here has added one million barrels of oil a day to the market this year. The average price at the pump is now $2.80 a gallon, and below that in some areas. That’s nearly 50 cents a gallon less than it was a year ago.

    Prices for crude have dropped by more than 30 percent since the summer. There are a wide variety of consequences to this big drop here and abroad.

    We explore all of this with Kevin Book with ClearView Energy Partners. It’s an independent firm that looks at energy research and investment.

    And we welcome you to the program.

    KEVIN BOOK, ClearView Energy Partners: Thanks for having me, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, why did OPEC members decide they didn’t want to cut production levels now?

    KEVIN BOOK: Well, there are two different parts to the OPEC membership right now.

    There are the Gulf producer states, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and then there are some of the other high-cost producers. It was the Gulf producers who really didn’t want the cut. They wanted to do two things, one, test to see if North America will stop producing and balance the world’s supply and, two, maybe discipline those other members, the ones who have been pushing for a cut, so that they bear some share of the burden for it when it happens.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, let’s talk about the first part. What is it that they’re looking for in the U.S. and the West, the Western oil producers?

    KEVIN BOOK: Well, the U.S. producer is a high-cost producer for the most part.

    A lot of our new oil, the shale oil and the oil from other type of formations that you hear so much about, actually is a little bit expensive relative to the world market. So if you look at where prices have gone, at least some of it is likely to stop. You don’t shut in wells here in the United States. What do you is, you don’t drill the next one.

    And because these wells decline so fast, it means that there is some possibility you will start to see a response, much like the response the Saudis used to do on their own, where supply will just start to taper off.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But we haven’t seen that yet.

    KEVIN BOOK: It hasn’t happened yet.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The other part of it you mentioned was a difference of view among OPEC members themselves.

    KEVIN BOOK: The high-cost producers like Iran and Venezuela very much wanted to see a cut, but they didn’t want it to be their oil. That’s a problem that Saudi Arabia hopes to remedy by maybe giving them a little bit of a breeze in their face for the next several months.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So they keep production at a level about where it is right now. Oil prices are dropping. How long will they stay that way?

    KEVIN BOOK: Well, there’s other things that matter too. One is demand.

    Demand has been moribund globally. You would expect to see ordinarily, with prices falling this much, a rebound, uptick in transportation event, more people driving, more people flying. But the truth is we have gotten a lot more efficient, Judy, so you don’t feel it as much.

    And GDP drives most of the incremental demand in the developing world, and their GDP isn’t growing as fast. So what you’re getting is a relatively slow time on the demand side. That could pick up and curtail some of the glut right now. But I would expect to see it go for another three to six months.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, in the meantime, who is hurt by the most by this? We know a number of countries are going to feel — are already feeling it now.

    KEVIN BOOK: Well, the biggest pain is probably being felt by Venezuela.

    They have a very high cost for breaking even for their economy. And a lot of their oil is already spoken for. It goes in kind to China. Even if the price were higher, they couldn’t take a market price for it. Then there’s Iran. And Iran is in an interesting situation. They might have another million barrels per day if there’s an Iran deal on nuclear sanctions with the P5-plus-one, and so they very much don’t want to rock the boat right now because they need to ask for something later.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Russia.

    KEVIN BOOK: Well, Russia — Russia’s in a situation where not only are they facing a low price, but they can’t have investment coming from the West in some of the fields they want to develop.

    For Russia, the problem is really three to five years out, because what they will be facing is a situation where there’s stark declines in their conventional fields.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Benefiting from this, though, consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere, who use a lot of gasoline and are happy to see prices go down.

    KEVIN BOOK: This is a shot of stimulus for the U.S. economy, $65 billion a year, based on a 50-cent-per-gallon decrease. That’s a lot.

    But it doesn’t go everywhere all at once. And some consumers might not necessarily spend right away. It’s — ironically, the longest-distance drivers, who are the most affected, are the ones in the lowest-income households, and they may not be rushing to the store for reasons that have nothing to do with the gasoline price.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you say what the near-term effect or near- and medium-term effect is going to be on the U.S. economy?

    KEVIN BOOK: Well, it’s likely to be stimulative and it’s likely to take a little time to stimulate.

    Right now, year to date, the price drop hasn’t been here that long, so on an average household basis, we estimate about $80 per household, individual that actually has been received by lower prices to date. That’s not a whole lot of stimulus just yet.

    Go a full year at $75 a barrel, and you’re talking about $330, $340. That starts to show up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Not an incentive right now to drive less anyway.

    KEVIN BOOK: Well, no. No one is driving less. And they might start driving more.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Kevin Book with Clearview Energy Partners, we thank you.

    KEVIN BOOK: Thanks so much for having me.

    The post How will plunging oil prices affect the economy? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF:  A flurried frenzy of shoppers lined up at stores across the country, as retailers competed for holiday business in a year that’s seen lackluster sales so far.

    The annual Black Friday shopping blitz got under way early.  Many big box stores opened on Thanksgiving Day so bargain hunters could capture door-buster deals in advance.

    DEBBIE HEFNER, Kmart Shopper:  I love to be out with people.  And some people are crazy out there.  They’re crazier than what we are.


    MAN:  You know, 1080p television, I did — I did a lot of searches online, over and over and over and over and over again for the last two weeks, and this is the best deal that I could find.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  Many waited hours in line for a chance to snag deeply-discounted merchandise.

    For store managers, Black Friday means big business.  It’s a day when many retailers average as much as 20 percent of their annual sales.

    JOSE COCA, Store Manager, Kmart:  This is what we prep the first three-quarters for.  This is the fourth quarter for us, big time, fun time, and a lot going on.  I mean, this is where you want to be.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  The National Retail Federation estimates about 140 million people in the U.S. will shop at some point Thanksgiving Thursday through Sunday.

    More than 25 million of them were expected to take advantage of the sales yesterday alone.  Across the Atlantic, British shoppers were copying the Black Friday frenzy.

    Scuffles broke out among customers battling to get the best deals.  But, for some back in the U.S., this Black Friday took on a different purpose.  Workers picketed Wal-Mart in numerous locations across the country demanding more full-time jobs and $15-an-hour wages.

    A handful were arrested in Chicago for blocking traffic, while in Missouri, protesters voiced their anger over the recent grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who fatally shot a teenager.  They demonstrated at Wal-Mart and Target stores.

    The Ferguson area has already taken a major financial hit from rioting in the wake of the decision.

    PATRICIA BYNES, (D) Committeewoman,  Ferguson Township:  These aren’t just buildings.  These aren’t just businesses.  These are people’s lives.  This is their employment.  For a business owner, this is what they commit to every day.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  The Saint Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce estimates some 60 businesses around Ferguson were looted, burned or vandalized this week.

    Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced new plans today to offer no-interest and low-interest loans for businesses affected by the violence.

    Police in Austin, Texas searched for a motive behind a gunman’s attack on the city’s downtown entertainment district early this morning.  Around 2:30 a.m., a lone shooter sprayed the courthouse and police headquarters with a barrage of bullets and tried to set the Mexican Consulate on fire.  The suspect died on the scene, and his car was checked by a bomb squad robot for explosive material.

    Authorities later determined it was safe, but Austin’s police chief said the impact of the attack could have been much worse.

    ART ACEVEDO, Chief, Austin Police Department:  It’s important to note that hundreds — over 100 rounds — we don’t have an exact count — obviously, that’s part of the investigation — but many, many, many rounds were fired in downtown Austin.  You all from Austin know how many people were on the streets.  We’re very fortunate.  This Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Friday and this weekend, I give thanks that no one but the suspect is injured or deceased.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  Police identified the suspected gunman late today.  He’s 49 years old and he lives in Austin.

    In Northern Nigeria today, at least 80 people were killed and many more wounded in a bomb and gun attack on a mosque.  As many as three bombs ripped through the central mosque in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city.  Shortly afterwards, hundreds of rioters filled the streets throwing stones and sticks.

    The attack bore the hallmark of Boko Haram, the Sunni jihadist movement, but no group has yet claimed responsibility.

    In Syria, rebel fighters made big strides south of Damascus today by capturing a string of towns from government forces.  Rebels hope by reaching the capital city from the south, they can bring down President Bashar Assad’s regime.  Their success stands in contrast to Northern Syria, where U.S.-backed rebels are struggling against Islamic State militants.

    Pope Francis had strong words for Islamic State militants today during a visit to Turkey.  In remarks to the country’s Muslim leaders, he condemned Islamic militants perpetrating violence against Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq.  The pope is in the Muslim nation for a three-day visit.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greeted the pontiff at the presidential palace in Ankara.  During his trip, Francis is expected to push Turkey to take a stronger stance against the Islamic extremists.

    Mexico announced a government plan to crack down on crime today.  President Enrique Pena Nieto said he’s giving the Mexican congress the power to dissolve local governments that may have been infiltrated by drug gangs.  The plan also gives state authorities control over municipal police.  The crackdown comes two months after 43 college students disappeared, and were allegedly murdered by a drug gang working with local police.

    On Wall Street today, stocks closed out November with the second straight month of gains.  In a shortened day of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average gained half-a-point to close at 17828.  The Nasdaq rose four points to close at 4791.  The S&P 500 dropped five points to close at 2067, mainly because of the sharp drop in crude oil prices.  For the week, the Dow lost a quarter-of-a-percent.  The Nasdaq rose 1 percent.  And the S&P was nearly flat.

    Ray Rice, the former running back for the Baltimore Ravens, had his appeal of an indefinite suspension by the National Football League overturned today by an arbitrator.  Rice was initially suspended for two games.  But when a video surfaced of him punching his then-fiancee, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made the suspension indefinite.  Rice was let go by the Ravens.  The decision today means that he is eligible to play again, but many sports analysts say that is unlikely before the season ends.

    The first family welcomed the official White House Christmas Tree to Washington today.  The 20-foot white fir from a Pennsylvania tree farm arrived by horse-drawn wagon this morning.  First lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia and the family dogs were on hand to receive it.  The tree will stand in the White House’s Blue Room throughout the holiday season.

    The post News Wrap: Black Friday inspires frenzied shopping, protests on workers’ rights and Ferguson appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — On a trip to Afghanistan during President Barack Obama’s first term, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was stunned to find a telephone line at the military’s special operations headquarters that linked directly back to a top White House national security official.

    “I had them tear it out while I was standing there,” Gates said earlier this month as he recounted his discovery. “I told the commanders, `If you get a call from the White House, you tell them to go to hell and call me.’”

    To Gates, the phone in Kabul came to symbolize Obama’s efforts to micromanage the Pentagon and centralize decision-making in the White House. That criticism later would be echoed publicly and pointedly by Gates’ successor, Leon Panetta.

    The president’s third Pentagon chief, Chuck Hagel, was picked partly because he was thought to be more deferential to Obama’s close circle of White House advisers. But over time, Hagel also grew frustrated with what he saw as the West Wing’s insularity.

    There have been similar gripes from other Cabinet officials, but the friction between the White House and the Pentagon has been particularly pronounced during Obama’s six years in office. That dynamic already appears to be affecting the president’s ability to find a replacement for Hagel, who resigned Monday under pressure from Obama.

    Within hours, former Pentagon official Michele Flournoy called Obama to take herself out of consideration, even though she was widely seen as his top choice and would have been the first woman to hold the post.

    Flournoy officially cited family concerns, but people close to her say she also had reservations about being restrained like Hagel and would perhaps wait to see if she could get the job if another Democrat – namely Hillary Rodham Clinton – won the presidency in 2016.

    Obama’s eventual nominee will join a national security team that is under intense criticism for its response to the rise of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. The president has authorized airstrikes in both countries and sent about 3,000 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces.

    He has resisted sending American troops into ground combat and has insisted the military campaign is not designed to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose 3 1/2 year assault on civilians helped create the chaos that allowed the Islamic State to thrive.

    The foreign policy landscape looks far different from what Obama envisioned when he ran for the White House and pledged to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Obama has been seen in the Pentagon as being overly suspicious of the military and its inclination to use force to address problems. To some in the Pentagon, the president’s approach to the military seems particularly cool and detached when compared with that of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, who was more eager to embrace the military and accept its judgments.

    Stephen Biddle, an occasional adviser to U.S. combat commanders, said the White House has fallen victim to “group think” and is distrustful of advice or perspectives that challenge its own.

    “That’s a bad policy development design,” said Biddle, a political science professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

    Several White House, defense and other administration officials discussed the relationship between the president and the Pentagon on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so publicly.

    On foreign policy decision-making, Obama relies in particular on national security adviser Susan Rice and chief of staff Denis McDonough. Secretary of State John Kerry has managed to carve out some areas of influence, particularly on Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some Pentagon officials say they have seen an increasingly close relationship between Obama and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    But at the Pentagon, senior officials say there is growing frustration with a lack of policy direction and clarity from the White House that has hampered the military’s ability to quickly respond to fast-moving events around the world. Policy recommendations from the Pentagon are often discussed exhaustively in White House meetings that can bog down, delaying decisions and sometimes resulting in conclusions that remain vague.

    Over the past year, officials said the Pentagon leadership was particularly baffled by the White House’s slow deliberations on Russia’s moves against Ukraine and the rise of Islamic State militants.

    Earlier this fall, officials said, Hagel sent Rice a memo on Syria reflecting the views of military commanders who feel Obama’s strategy lacks cohesion and has included too many one-off decisions, such as resupplying Kurdish forces fighting the militants in the Syrian town of Kobani. Hagel and military commanders were particularly concerned about a lack of clarity over Obama’s position toward Assad.

    On Ukraine, officials say Hagel pressed the White House to speed up the protracted debate over providing even nonlethal assistance to Ukrainian forces and to look for new options when the support the administration did provide proved ineffective in stopping Russian-backed rebels.

    Obama’s advisers deny Hagel was ousted because he challenged the president. They cast the former Republican senator as the wrong fit for a job in which he never appeared comfortable. The aides also defended the White House’s lengthy internal deliberations, saying Obama’s decision-making process reflects the complexity of the problems.

    Hagel’s ouster has spurred a flurry of suggestions from foreign policy experts for how Obama can repair his relationship with the Pentagon, from ousting his West Wing aides to revamping the White House’s National Security Council, which has ballooned from a few dozen staffers in the 1970s to more than 400.

    But Gates, the former Pentagon chief who voiced his frustrations during a forum this month at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California, suggested the real issue rested with the president himself.

    “When a president wants highly centralized control in the White House at the degree of micromanagement that I’m describing, that’s not bureaucratic, that’s political,” he said.

    The post Hagel’s exit and the uneasy White House-Pentagon relationship appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    NewsHour Weekend’s story on parents in New York filing a lawsuit opposing it’s teacher tenure laws — spurred by the success of a similar lawsuit in California – tells the story of just one battle in a war being waged across the country.

    Dozens of states have changed their tenure laws in the last few years. The Education Commission of the States found that as of 2011, 18 state legislatures had modified their tenure laws and that trend continues.

    747321 teacher blackboard

    In 2011, Florida eliminated continuing contracts for teachers. South Dakota got rid of tenure for new hires but will grandfather those hired until 2016 into the previous tenure system. Idaho gave school districts the option of forgoing  tenure, but voters overturned that decision in a referendum.

    The Education Commission of the states keeps a database on its website to inform teachers, parents, administrators and legislators of changes and the status of related lawsuits.

    In 2012, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal spearheaded a sweeping reform to the state education system which would make it harder to earn and retain tenure.

    It is clear that (the law) does not provide for a full and fair or ‘elaborate’ post-termination due process hearing before a credible, objective, independent, hearing body,” according to Judge Benjamin Jones’ ruling in the case of Monroe City School Board vs. DeAnne Williams.

    In October, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the proposed changes to the Louisiana teacher tenure law.

    In May, however, in North Carolina, a judge struck down a law that would eliminate teacher tenure.

    For more information on teacher tenure laws in your state:

    Watch the report on the California student’s lawsuit:

    The post Teacher tenure rules are in state of flux across the nation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Teacher In Classroom

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

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

    ELIZABETH VERGARA: He would just be at his desk. Like, just using his computer or sleeping. And I didn’t even learn anything. Like, I was getting behind.

    BEATRIZ VERGARA: And he would let students smoke marijuana -

    MEGAN THOMPSON: They were smoking marijuana in class?

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

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

    BEATRIZ VERGARA: She would call this girl “whore,” and, like, “Slut, go over there.’

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

    BEATRIZ VERGARA: I was scared to ask questions ’cause I didn’t want her to, like, I didn’t want her to offend me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The plaintiffs say the laws deny students their right to a quality education, guaranteed by the California constitution, and affect poor and minority students more.

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

    MEGAN THOMPSON: David Welch is a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded and largely finances Students Matter – an education-reform group that spearheaded the lawsuit.

    As of 2012, Welch had donated or loaned nearly two million dollars to the group, which is footing the bill for a high-powered legal team that includes Ted Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States.

    Welch has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and went to public schools for most of his education.

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

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

    MEGAN THOMPSON: What motivated you?

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

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

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

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

    MEGAN THOMPSON: One law Welch is fighting is the statute that governs teacher layoffs. California is one of ten states that requires seniority be considered to determine who stays, and who goes during budget cuts.

    John Deasy is the former superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District. While superintendent, he testified against the so-called “Last-In, First-Out” law.

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

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

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The Vergara lawsuit also challenged laws governing teacher tenure. California’s two-year probationary period for new teachers is one of the shortest in the nation. After two years, most teachers get permanent employment status.

    Former Superintendent Deasy says that permanent status means the LA school district can end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a single, underperforming teacher, a process, he says, that can take a decade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    TEACHER: We read and wrote every day.

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

    TEACHER: I did not.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: After months of argument deliberations, last June, the judge ruled in favor of the Vergara plaintiffs, declaring the tenure laws unconstitutional. The judge wrote in his decision, “Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students.”

    His ruling is currently on hold as it’s being appealed by the unions and California Governor Jerry Brown.

    But it spurred legal action in another state. Within weeks, parents in New York filed two lawsuits, now consolidated in to one, opposing that state’s teacher tenure laws.

    Former NBC and CNN anchor Campbell Brown is backing the lawsuit through a nonprofit she launched earlier this year and is speaking out extensively in support of it.

    CAMPBELL BROWN: But we know that the single most important school-based factor in determining a child’s success is the effectiveness of the teacher, so why wouldn’t we do everything possible to get the most effective teacher possible in every classroom?

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The New York plaintiffs are also aided by a famous attorney, David Boies, who’s leading Brown’s nonprofit. Boies was Al Gore’s attorney after the 2000 election, and he successfully argued against California’s gay marriage ban in front of the Supreme Court.

    But just like in California, the unions are fighting the lawsuit. New York State United Teachers filed a motion to dismiss the suit; it’s president saying, “Tenure is an important safeguard that ensures children receive a quality education. It enables teachers to speak out in the best interest of their students and it protects academic freedom.  

    Arguments in the New York lawsuit are expected in January.  

    The post California students take a stand to topple teacher tenure; New York up next appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    NEW YORK — Rashana Jackman isn’t old enough to vote in an election, but she could soon have a vote on a city-appointed board that takes influential stands on neighborhood issues.

    At 17, the Brooklyn high school junior is considering applying to serve on her community board, under a new state law that lets 16- and 17-year-olds join the panels that function as front lines of local government in the nation’s biggest city. The advisory but oft-heeded groups opine on zoning changes and liquor license applications, consult on city budgeting for local projects and serve as conduits for community concerns.

    “It’s a great opportunity for me to make a change in my community,” said Jackman, who’s interested in education, health and social services in the diverse Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

    In allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to hold up to two of each board’s 50 seats, New York is among communities nationwide giving school-age people more of an adult-sized say in government. The idea has sparked some debate over whether teens are prepared to weigh issues and regulations that can elude adults.

    Teens have occasionally been tapped for New York’s community panels in the past. City Comptroller Scott Stringer was 16 when appointed to a community board in 1977, an experience the veteran politician says “has stayed with me my entire career.”

    “Through a teenager’s eyes, you were really part of the government. You had a formal role in decision-making,” he recalls.

    But members generally have been 18 and older – usually far older. The new state law enshrines a voting role for younger teens, who can apply early next year for terms starting in April on 59 boards citywide.

    Advocates say youths should have a part in decisions about their neighborhoods and their participation can help groom future leaders and give current ones a next-generation perspective.

    “It helps young people get invested in their communities . and I really believe that 16- and 17-year-olds have a lot to contribute,” said state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Democratic former community board member who spearheaded the law with Republican state Sen. Andrew Lanza.

    About 20 students listened at a Brooklyn high school this month as officials described how a community board seat could give them a voice on everything from parks to police.

    “It is allowing you to say, `I want to talk about stop and frisk. I want to talk about whether cops should be in my school,’” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told them.

    Around the country, some school boards have student representatives, sometimes as voting members; Los Angeles’ massive school district is planning for a non-voting student rep after protests this spring. Minors – as young as 12 in San Francisco – can sit on youth advisory commissions in some cities. Small cities including Hillsdale, Michigan, and Roland, Iowa, have elected 18-year-olds as mayors in the last decade. And Takoma Park, Maryland, last year lowered its voting age to 16 for municipal elections.

    Still, some New York lawmakers have misgivings about putting minors on community boards that handle complex zoning and other issues.

    “I think it belittles the position” and lessens the boards’ significance to elected officials,” says Assemblyman David Weprin, a Democratic former city councilman who voted against the state legislation. To Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb, “youth involvement in the community is one thing,” but youths voting on budget and liquor license recommendations “is quite another.”

    Sixteen-year-old Sophie Steinman-Gordon acknowledges she has much to learn about the city budget, and she says she’ll be a bit nervous about being taken seriously if named to her community board, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope.

    “But I think that feeling would just motivate me to be as good as any of the adults on the board,” said Steinman-Gordon, a junior at a Manhattan high school.

    Proponents emphasize that the opportunity isn’t a fit for all teenagers or, probably, for all boards. But some are ready to welcome teens’ thoughts: “I’m 47 – I don’t really know what a 17-year-old wants,” said Henry Butler, a Brooklyn community board manager and former chairman.

    High school junior Josh Waldman, who’s contemplating applying for the Park Slope board, thinks teen members stand to give and get perspective.

    “I think community boards could use 16- and 17-year-olds’ input because we do not come in with as many fully formed ideas as older community members,” said Waldman, 16. And “it could show young people the potential for government that actually does things.”

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    Egyptian demonstrators confront riot pol

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM, PBS ANCHOR: For more on today’s ruling, we turn to Samer Shehata. He is an associate professor of Middle Eastern politics at the University of Oklahoma. He joins us now from Norman, Oklahoma.

    Professor, how important is this ruling for Egypt?

    SAMER SHEHATA, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: It has very little political significance for Egypt’s future political development. It’s unlikely that this is going to affect the course of events in terms of government policy or even in terms of opposition protest. Mubarak is, in many ways, yesterday’s news. It’s important in other ways, but not for Egypt’s political future.

    BRANGHAM: And are there larger implications, if not in Egypt, then for the rest of the Middle East?

    SHEHATA: Well, I think Mubarak’s acquittal today is, of course, symbolically very important. I mean, Mubarak was Egypt’s president, really an authoritarian president for twenty-nine and a half years. It’s also the case, I think, that over 860 people, 6,000 people were injured during the 18 days of the uprising.

    And so, to not try Mr. Mubarak in a fair way and hold him accountable, at least complicit for some of those deaths — not to mention those in the ministry of the interior — is really a travesty of justice. So, symbolically, of course, it’s an absurd outcome.

    And I think it is quite telling in terms of where Egypt is right now in comparison to the goals of the 2011 revolution or uprising. Mr. Mubarak is found not guilty. He’s likely to become a free person in a few months, whereas there are thousands of political prisoners in Egypt today, including many of the revolutionaries, the youth who initiated the January 25 uprising.

    BRANGHAM: So, for the average Egyptian who may have seen Mubarak’s overthrow as hugely important for the “Arab Spring”, what does it mean, that he might soon be a free man?

    SHEHATA: Well, I think it tells us largely about the fate of the “Arab Spring”, quote-unquote, nearly four years after it began in a small town in the interior of Tunisia in December of 2010. Many of the hopes and aspirations that many of us had for the Arab world, a renaissance, political democracy, human rights, rule of law, a new era of participation, and so on, that largely that has not been fulfilled with the partial exception, quite a hopeful exception, of Tunisia.

    But if we look at Egypt, if we look at Libya, if we look at Syria, certainly, if we look at Bahrain, very little progress has been made. And authoritarian regimes — in some cases very bloody and brutal authoritarian regimes — were really the absence of the rule of law, and chaos are the order of the day.

    BRANGHAM: OK. Professor Samer Shehata, thank you very much for joining us.

    SHEHATA: You’re welcome.

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    Senegal's president Macky Sall (right) welcomes Mali's president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita upon his arrival at Dakar airport, on November 29, 2014, on the opening day of the 15th summit of the International Organisation of French-Speakers. Keita announced at the summit Mali was free of Ebola. Credit: Getty Images

    Senegal’s president Macky Sall (right) welcomes Mali’s president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita upon his arrival at Dakar airport, on November 29, 2014, on the opening day of the 15th summit of the International Organisation of French-Speakers. Keita announced at the summit that Mali was free of Ebola. Credit: Getty Images

    The president of Mali declared the country free of Ebola on Saturday as the number of people who have been infected with the virus across West Africa rose above 16,000. 

    President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said the last patient known to be suffering from the virus in Mali had been successfully treated, Reuters reported.

    “The suspected case turned out to be negative and the day before yesterday we had the good news of the first cured case of Ebola so I can now say zero cases in Mali,” Keita said at a summit in Senegal.

    Six people have died from Ebola infection in Mali out of eight registered cases, the World Health Organization said this week. An additional 285 people are believed to have come into contact with the virus and are being monitored.

    At the same time, the number of people who have been infected by Ebola across West Africa has risen above 16,000 with the death toll from the outbreak reaching nearly 7,000, the WHO said on Friday. Most of the new deaths were recorded in Liberia.

    In just the two days since the WHO’s last fatality figures were released, the number of deaths rose by more than 1,000, but the new figure likely includes a backlog of previously unreported deaths from earlier in the outbreak.

    The virus is spreading fastest in Sierra Leone, where 6,802 cases have been reported. Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, said the uptick in infections has caused a shortage of hospital beds and health care workers, the Associated Press reported. 

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    DIYALA, IRAQ - NOVEMBER 24:  A member of a Peshmerga forces stands guard after Iraq army forces and Peshmerga launch an operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Celavle town of Diyala, Iraq on November 24, 2014. Iraqi army forces and Peshmerga regained control of Diyala's Celavle town.  (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: We’re turning now to the threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Just a few months ago, some U.S. officials worried that ISIS fighters could actually overtake Baghdad, but there are new signs of confidence in the fight against the Islamic jihadists in Iraq.

    For more, we are joined from Grand Rapids, Michigan, by Douglas Ollivant, a partner with Mantid International.

    Doug, welcome back.

    I understand you spent a good deal of time in Baghdad. What is it like in Baghdad today?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT, MANTID INTERNATIONAL: The atmosphere in Baghdad was very positive, both among the Iraqis and with many of the U.S. forces at our embassy.

    I think what most struck me in Baghdad was the sense of normality of life. People are going about their business. They’re shopping. There are traffic jams because everyone is out shopping and going to work and going to where they need to go.

    When you go to Baghdad airport, the security is tight, but you get there, and there are lines. There are people flying all over the world to and from Baghdad — just how much life is going on, even though the front in some places is not too far away.

    BRANGHAM: President Obama recently approved the sending of another 1,500 troops, which is basically a doubling of the U.S. force there.

    How much of the recent changes that you witnessed would you credit to U.S. forces involvement there?

    OLLIVANT: Well, I think external forces, both the United States and — we have to be candid — Iran’s intervention have greatly assisted the Iraqis with pushing back the Islamic State. With coaching from these outside powers and, of course, with U.S. air power in support, both the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga, both of which did not look very good — let’s face it — in the initial push of the Islamic State into Iraq, have made some fairly serious gains over the last couple of weeks.

    In Salah Al-Din and Diyala, the Iraqi army has pushed forward. They broke the siege at Beiji refinery. And in the north, the Kurds have been able to push a little further, in towards Mosul.

    BRANGHAM: I’m curious about the Iraqi Army because, you know, we spent years and billions of dollars trying to create a reliable force, and when ISIS first showed up, much of that force was defeated or vanished into thin air. But you seem to feel that they are doing a better job now and are able to stand up a little more effectively.

    OLLIVANT: Well, I think some more reliable troops have been brought from the south, troops that are very devoted to the Iraqi state. But part of this, I think, is the army that we built for the Iraqi army. This was an army that was built to be a police garrison force. And that’s what we built it for. And then when it faced this Islamic State army that came in and pushed through it, this was an opponent for which they were not prepared.

    Now, we don’t want to downplay the very real problems with the Iraqi army — the corruption, the lack of training, the siphoning off of money. There are very real problems with the Iraqi army that we don’t want to downplay. But there is some thought that if we focus this new Iraqi army on this new problem set that they’re facing, that we could have some different results in the not-too-distant future.

    Now, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. They’re not going to beat the Islamic State next month. This is still a 12 to 30-month endeavor. But the signs right now are good.

    BRANGHAM: A lot of our fight in Iraq, obviously, is against ISIS. They’re not just in Iraq but they’re also in Syria. Do you have any sense, any sense that the successes that you’ve seen in Iraq could possibly translate to success in Syria?

    OLLIVANT: Unfortunately, no.

    In Iraq, we have the basis of a political solution. Now, there’s a huge uphill climb in Iraq — to get reconciliation with the Kurds, with the Iraqi Sunnis in the north, and we can’t downplay how difficult that is. But there’s a very real possibility that that could happen if everyone plays their cards right.

    In Syria, there’s no way that I can tell you a story, however implausible, about how the politics in Syria might come back together in a way that produces an outcome that would be OK with us. I mean, let’s be candid — the most likely outcome were the Assad regime to fall in Syria is the take of Syria by the Islamic State and/or the Nusra Front, the official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, which sometimes gets lost in the talk about the Islamic State, but is nonetheless a very real — you know, official al Qaeda affiliate in the country.

    So, the politics in Syria are just much, much more difficult.

    BRANGHAM: Douglas Ollivant, thank you very much for joining us.

    OLLIVANT: Thank you, William.

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    A cloud of cold, charged gas around Earth, called the plasmasphere and seen here in purple, interacts with the particles in Earth's radiation belts — shown in grey— to create an impenetrable barrier that blocks the fastest electrons from moving in closer to our planet. Image by NASA/Goddard

    A cloud of cold, charged gas around Earth, called the plasmasphere and seen here in purple, interacts with the particles in Earth’s radiation belts — shown in grey— to create an impenetrable barrier that blocks the fastest electrons from moving in closer to our planet. These findings were published in Nature magazine on Nov. 26, 2014. Image by NASA/Goddard

    A team led by professors and scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder have discovered an invisible shield in space that blocks Earth from so-called “killer electrons,” according to findings published in Nature on Thursday.

    “Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons,” said Professor Daniel N. Baker, the lead author of the study in a press release.

    “It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon.”

    According to NASA, “killer electrons” are the devilish doppelgangers of Earth’s subatomic allies.

    While the flow of electrons is used as electricity to power everything from cell phones to light bulbs, when electrons reach high speeds like that of more than 100,000 miles per second in space, they can become dangerous and have been known to destroy satellites and even injure astronauts.

    The shield, said to be located some 7,200 miles from Earth and impenetrable, lies within the Van Allen radiation belts, two rings around Earth containing potent electrons and protons trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field.

    In 2008, NASA’s STEREO spacecraft, discovered that electrons turn into speedy, destructive “killer electrons” in part when picked up in the Belts by powerful radio waves known as whistlers.

    Luckily though: “It’s almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space,” said Baker of the shield, which was discovered using data collected by NASA’s Van Allen probes.

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    Activists gathered in Ferguson, Mo., on Saturday to take part in a march to the state’s capital to protest the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

    Organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), up to 1,000 people are expected to join the “Journey for Justice” march at some point along the route.

    The trip will last seven days and span about 134 miles from Ferguson to Jefferson City, NAACP staff member Jamiah Adams told NewsHour Weekend.

    The grand jury’s decision on Monday not to charge Wilson sparked more protests in Ferguson and other U.S. cities leading to hundreds of arrests nationwide.

    “Journey for Justice” is the NAACP’s push for state and federal racial profiling law reform and a call for leadership changes within the Ferguson police department and other police departments in the United States, according to a NAACP press release.

    “People are very enthusiastic,” Adams said. “The community is outside their doors clapping and standing up for justice for Michael Brown.”

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    Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo. police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August, sparking months of protests, has resigned in the wake of the shooting, the Associated Press reported Saturday.

    Wilson cited security concerns in his decision to leave the police department.

    “I have been told that my continued employment may put the residents and police officers of the City of Ferguson at risk, which is a circumstance that I cannot allow,” Wilson said in a resignation letter. “It was my hope to continue in police work, but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me.”

    Wilson’s statement was posted in full by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

    I, Darren Wilson, hereby resign my commission as a police officer with the City of Ferguson effective immediately. I have been told that my continued employment may put the residents and police officers of the City of Ferguson at risk, which is a circumstance that I cannot allow. For obvious reasons, I wanted to wait until the grand jury made their decision before I officially made my decision to resign. It was my hope to continue in police work, but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me. It is my hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal. I would like to thank all of my supporters and fellow officers throughout this process.

    Wilson had been a member of the city’s police department for six years, the Post-Dispatch reported.

    A grand jury decided not to indict Wilson in Brown’s death on Monday, inciting renewed protests in Ferguson and in major cities around the country.

    In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday, Wilson said he believed he acted in accordance with his training and the law when he fatally shot Brown, who was unarmed.

    “I did my job and followed my training,” Wilson told Stephanopoulos. “The training took over.”

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    WASHINGTON — Anthony Elonis claimed he was just kidding when he posted a series of graphically violent rap lyrics on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class and attacking an FBI agent.

    But his wife didn’t see it that way. Neither did a federal jury.

    Elonis, who’s from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was convicted of violating a federal law that makes it a crime to threaten another person.

    In a far-reaching case that probes the limits of free speech over the Internet, the Supreme Court on Monday was to consider whether Elonis’ Facebook posts, and others like it, deserve protection under the First Amendment.

    Elonis argues that his lyrics were simply a crude and spontaneous form of expression that should not be considered threatening if he did not really mean it. The government says it does not matter what Elonis intended, and that the true test of a threat is whether his words make a reasonable person feel threatened.

    One post about his wife said, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”

    The case has drawn widespread attention from free-speech advocates who say comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social media can be hasty, impulsive and easily misinterpreted. They point out that a message on Facebook intended for a small group could be taken out of context when viewed by a wider audience.

    “A statute that proscribes speech without regard to the speaker’s intended meaning runs the risk of punishing protected First Amendment expression simply because it is crudely or zealously expressed,” said a brief from the American Liberties Union and other groups.

    But so far, most lower courts have rejected that view, ruling that a “true threat” depends on how an objective person perceives the message.

    For more than four decades, the Supreme Court has said that “true threats” to harm another person are not protected speech under the First Amendment. But the court has been careful to distinguish threats from protected speech such as “political hyperbole” or “unpleasantly sharp attacks.”

    Elonis claims he was depressed and that his online posts under the pseudonym “Tone Dougie” were a way to vent his frustration after his wife left him and he lost his job working at an amusement park. His lawyers say the posts were heavily influenced by rap star Eminem, who has also fantasized in songs about killing his ex-wife.

    But Elonis’ wife testified that the comments made her fear for her life.

    After she obtained a protective order against him, Elonis wrote a lengthy post mocking court proceedings: “Did you know that it’s illegal for me to say I want to kill my wife?”

    A female FBI agent later visited Elonis at home to ask him about the postings. Elonis took to Facebook again: “Little agent lady stood so close, took all the strength I had not to turn the bitch ghost. Pull my knife, flick my wrist and slit her throat.”

    Elonis was convicted of making threats of violence and sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison. A federal appeals court rejected his claim that his comments were protected by the First Amendment.

    The Obama administration says requiring proof that a speaker intended to be threatening would undermine the law’s protective purpose. In its brief to the court, the Justice Department argued that no matter what someone believes about his comments, it does not lessen the fear and anxiety they might cause for other people.

    “The First Amendment does not require that a person be permitted to inflict those harms based on an unreasonable subjective belief that his words do not mean what they say,” government lawyers said.

    The National Center for Victims of Crime, which submitted a brief supporting the government, said judging threats based on the speaker’s intent would make stalking crimes even more difficult to prosecute.

    “Victims of stalking are financially, emotionally and socially burdened by the crime regardless of the subjective intent of the speaker,” the organization said.

    The case is Elonis v. United States, 13-983.

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    A wild tiger walks through his domain in the dry forest of Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan, India during the hot and dry summer months. Credit: Getty Images

    A wild tiger walks through his domain in the dry forest of Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan, India during the hot and dry summer months. Wildlife officials in India said this week that tigers are dying in record numbers in that country, mostly due to poaching. Credit: Getty Images

    Tigers are dying in record numbers in India, mostly due to poaching, wildlife officials said this week.

    At least 274 tigers have died in the last four years, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told Indian parliament members on Nov. 26.

    Only 82 of those tigers died due to natural causes, according to census data, while the rest of the deaths — most of which occurred outside of tiger reserves — were blamed on poaching or other unknown reasons, Indian science and environment magazine Down to Earth reported.

    New tiger population estimates will be released at the start of the next census cycle in December.

    More than half of the world’s estimated 3,200 wild tigers live in India, where numbers have declined steadily since the 1990s, due in large part to black market demand from Southeast Asian countries, the Associated Press reported.

    Indian Zoo Authorities Set Fire To Stockpile Of Illegal Wildlife Parts

    Indian authorities hold a tiger skin as they set fire to a stockpile of illegal wildlife parts at the Delhi Zoo in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014. Credit: Getty Images

    Earlier this month, Javadekar and other Indian authorities set fire to a stockpile of more than 42,000 illegal animal parts as part of a campaign to discourage wildlife smuggling in the region.

    Tiger and leopard pelts, reptile skins, elephant tusks, rhino horns and other materials made from endangered animals were loaded into a large oven at the Delhi Zoo and set ablaze.

    “The exercise is an attempt to deplore the unethical, indiscriminate and most unlawful activities of harvest and trade of wildlife products,” the Environment Ministry said in a statement on Nov. 2. 

    The post Inflamed by poaching, record-high tiger deaths reported in India appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — Like a student who waited until the night before a deadline, lawmakers resuming work Monday will try to cram two years of leftover business into two weeks, while also seeking to avoid a government shutdown.

    Their to-do list includes keeping the government running into the new year, renewing expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses and approving a defense policy measure that has passed for more than 50 years in a row.

    Also pending are President Barack Obama’s requests for money to combat Islamic State militants, battle Ebola and deal with the influx of unaccompanied Central American children who have crossed into the U.S.

    Among the lower profile items on the agenda are renewing the government’s terrorism risk insurance program and extending the ban on state and federal taxes on access to the Internet.

    Obama’s move to protect millions of immigrants from deportation proceedings and make them eligible for work permits appears to have made it more difficult to navigate the must-do items through a Capitol where cooperation already was in short supply.

    The No. 1 item is preventing a government closure when a temporary funding measure expires Dec. 11. The House and Senate Appropriations committees are negotiating a $1 trillion-plus spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1 and are promising to have it ready by the week of Dec. 8.

    The tax-writing committees are trying to renew a bundle of expired tax breaks such as the deduction for state and local sales taxes and the research and experimentation credit. Some, like tax credits for renewable energy projects such as wind farms, are a hard sell for GOP conservatives, but eagerly sought by Midwestern Republicans such as Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.

    The House has passed legislation that would make several of the tax breaks permanent; the Senate’s approach has been to extend them only for 2014 and 2015. Negotiators appeared to near an agreement last week only to have the White House put it on ice with a veto threat. The administration said an emerging plan by House Republicans and top Senate Democrats was tilted too far in favor of businesses.

    The president’s authority to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria expires Dec. 11. Lawmakers probably will renew it while postponing action until 2015 on a broader, new authorization to use military force.

    Obama also is requesting more than $5 billion to pay for sending additional noncombat troops and munitions to Iraq and cover other military and intelligence costs associated with fighting the militants. He wants $6.2 billion to tackle Ebola at its source in West Africa and to secure the U.S. against any possible outbreak. Also pending is a $3.7 billion request to address the immigrant children.

    Legislation to renew the government’s terrorism risk insurance program, which expires at year’s end, is eagerly sought by the construction, real estate and hospitality businesses. But negotiations between the chairman of the House Financial Service Committee, GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Senate Democrats, including Charles Schumer of New York, appear to have stalled. The program serves as a backstop in the event of a terrorist act that causes more than $100 million in losses.

    The annual defense authorization bill has passed every year for more than five decades and the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees are eager to avoid breaking the streak. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., are both retiring after long tenures in Congress. Negotiators remain at odds over the Pentagon’s cost-saving proposals to trim military benefits.

    Facing diminished budgets, three defense secretaries – Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel – have insisted that the cost of personnel benefits have become unsustainable and threaten the Pentagon’s ability to prepare the military for fighting a war. Military pay and benefits account for the largest share of the budget, $167.2 billion out of $495.6 billion.

    The Defense Department has proposed a slight increase in pharmacy co-payments and a gradual reduction in the basic allowance for housing, from 100 percent for off-base housing costs to 94 percent.

    The Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed the cuts, but the House committee rejected them.

    “There’s some modest changes requested of our personnel side that makes sense,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an interview.

    Lawmakers opposed to the changes and powerful outside military organizations argue that the benefits help attract men and women to the all-volunteer force where they and their families make unique sacrifices.

    The post Shutdown looms as lawmakers enter last weeks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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