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

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Stocks made a sharp surge today, extending Wall Street’s best day of the year. Tech stocks led the way and built on yesterday’s gains, when the Federal Reserve pledged to be patient on boosting rates. The Dow Jones industrial average had its biggest gain in three years, rising 421 points to close at 17,778. The Nasdaq rose 104 points to close at 4,748. The S&P 500 was up 48 points to close at 2,061. And the price of oil dropped yet again to $54 a barrel.

    There’s word today that American airstrikes have killed three senior Islamic State military leaders. That’s according to General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He’s told The Wall Street Journal that the airstrikes happened in Iraq in recent weeks. He says, “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”

    In Nigeria, suspected Islamic extremists have killed 35 people and kidnapped at least 185 more. It happened Sunday in a remote northeastern village near the town where Boko Haram militants seized 276 schoolgirls in April. The news took days to get out because the militants destroyed communications towers.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed today that his country’s economy and the ruble will bounce back within two years. In a three-hour news conference, he blamed falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine and Russia’s dependence on exporting oil and gas.

    PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): Of course, the current situation has been caused primarily by external factors. But, also, much of what was planned to be done and what we said we should do hasn’t been done with regards to the diversification of our economy over a period of nearly 20 years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Putin also remained defiant, vowing that the West will never defang Russia. His approval rating amongst Russians still stands at 81 percent.

    Back in this country, an independent external review of the Secret Service is recommending new leadership from outside the agency. That’s according to a panel appointed by the Homeland Security Department after a number of security lapses. They recommend greater accountability at the agency and a higher security fence around the White House, among other things.

    The suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing returned to federal court today for the first time since being arraigned in July of 2013. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared at a final pretrial hearing. The 21-year-old has pleaded not guilty in the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. Jury selection is set to begin January 5. Tsarnaev could face the death penalty.

    And Ford Motor Company expanded a recall involving air bags today to make it nationwide. Another 447,000 vehicles have to be checked for faulty inflators that can cause driver-side bags to explode. The air bags were made by Japan’s Takata Corporation. Before now, the recall was limited to states with high humidity, mostly along the Gulf Coast.

    The post News Wrap: Putin vows West won’t ‘defang’ Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Claims of workplace discrimination against transgender people will now be covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a memo released Thursday.

    “This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” Holder said. “This will help to foster fair and consistent treatment for all claimants. And it reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all American.”

    Under the Bush administration, the Justice Department had previously stated the civil rights law did not cover discrimination based on transgender status, the Associated Press reported.

    This new interpretation allows the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to file Title VII claims against state and local public employers on behalf of transgender individuals. The department currently does not have the authority to file against private employers.

    “The federal government’s approach to this issue has also evolved over time,” Holder wrote, adding that President Barack Obama, in July, had ordered protections against gender-based discrimination for gay and transgender government employees or contractors.

    Gay rights advocates applauded the DOJ’s reversal on the issue.

    “This is a huge step forward for transgender litigants and will have an extremely positive impact in cases involving discrimination against transgender employees,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

    The post Transgender government workers now protected under Civil Rights Act appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The president’s policy shift on Cuba was celebrated and criticized today from Havana to Miami to Washington. Cubans and Americans alike digested the implications of ending a deep freeze that has lasted for decades.

    Hope filled the streets of Havana this morning, as Cubans welcomed renewed diplomatic ties with the United States.

    MAN (through interpreter): With these new relations, Cuba is hoping for prosperity. The country’s economy is going to grow. Relations are going to improve. Following 56 years of revolution, this is the best that could happen for our people.

    MAN (through interpreter): Cuba and the United States have never been enemies. There were just some political issues which were already out of place, and these steps are long overdue.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. policy shift will ease economic and travel restrictions on Cuba. It grew out of more than a year of secret negotiations facilitated in part by the Vatican, where Pope Francis offered his congratulations.

    POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church (through interpreter): Today, we are all happy, because we have seen how two nations who were separated for many years yesterday took a step closer to each other.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But in Miami today, Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart charged President Obama got nothing from Cuba on improving human rights.

    REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART, (R) Florida: There are little demands, if any, for freedom, for elections, for accountability, for the freeing of the rest of the political prisoners that President Obama has not deemed it important enough to require their liberation. And yet he says he is doing it for the good of the Cuban people?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Despite such criticism, White House officials dismissed any possibility of Congress trying to block the president’s actions. But the House and Senate would have to act to repeal the longstanding trade embargo on Cuba.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The president has done all that he can do using his executive authority. And the remainder — the remaining restrictions can only be removed through congressional action. And we certainly would encourage Congress to act in a bipartisan fashion to do that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In the meantime, presidential aides said they don’t rule out having Cuban President Raul Castro visit the U.S.

    We will explore the possible diplomatic, political and economic fallout from the Cuba policy shift after the news summary.

    The post Celebration and criticism for U.S. policy shift on Cuba – Part 1 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Farmers and ranchers struggle as Texas endures historic drought. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

    Farmers and ranchers struggle as Texas endures historic drought. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

    Farmers are already suffering from droughts worsened by global climate change.

    A study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that by 2050, global climate change could cut world food production by 18 percent.

    Environmental scientists suspect that managing water supplies will be the toughest challenge for farmers in the future. Current irrigation systems can’t cope with the changing weather patterns, Reuters reported Thursday. The study recommended that irrigation systems worldwide should be expanded by more than 25 percent.

    Modeling that expansion is complicated, the authors point out, due to competing data and scenarios on how rainfall patterns will change. The authors recommend investment in irrigation infrastructure after 2030.

    “If you don’t carefully plan (where to spend resources), you will get adaptation wrong,” David Leclere, one of the study’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    But the news isn’t completely bleak — a warming climate means northern climates may be able to grow more food. If international food markets adapt appropriately, global food production could rise by 3 percent by 2050, the study found.

    PBS NewsHour’s Coping With Climate Change has been covering ongoing droughts in California and Texas which have dried up crops and ranches.

    The post Climate change could cut 18 percent of world food production by 2050 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California, U.S. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg

    On Wednesday Sony Pictures canceled the release of “The Interview,” a movie about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, after the nation’s largest theater chains had said they wouldn’t play the movie. Sony has been the target of a large-scale hack of its computer data, with a group calling itself the Guardians of Peace claiming responsibility for near-daily leaks. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Friday that Sony Pictures Entertainment “made a mistake” in shelving a satirical film about a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader, and he vowed the United States will respond “in a place and manner and time that we choose” to a hack attack the FBI blamed on the secretive Communist regime.

    Speaking of Sony executives, Obama said at a year-end news conference, “I wish they had spoken to me first. … We cannot have a society in which some dictatorship someplace can start imposing censorship.”

    Envisioning other potential flashpoints, he imagined situations in which dictators “start seeing a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.”

    The president spoke a few hours after the FBI formally accused the North Korean government of being responsible for the devastating hacking attack against Sony, providing the most detailed accounting to date of the hugely expensive break-in.

    “Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced,” he said. “Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.”

    The administration earlier in the day formally accused North Korea’s government of being responsible but offered few hints about how or whether it would retaliate. Its proof: The U.S. detected communications between computer Internet addresses known to be operated by North Korea and hacking tools left behind at the crime scene, which the FBI also said contained subtle clues linking them to that country’s government.

    The decision to openly blame North Korea — which involved the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies — escalated an intriguing global game of brinkmanship that included the disclosure of confidential Sony emails and business files and threats of terror attacks against U.S. movie theaters until Sony agreed to cancel the Christmas Day release of its comedy, “The Interview,” which the hackers had demanded partly over a scene depicting the assassination of North Korea’s leader.

    The FBI described the Sony hacking as unusual because of “the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature.”

    “The FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions,” said the U.S. statement, which was not attributed to any official by name. It added: “North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves.”

    The statement did not suggest how or whether the Obama administration would respond but included a general promise to impose “costs and consequences” against any person, group or government using cyberattacks to threaten the U.S. or its interests.

    North Korea has denied it was involved but praised the hacking as a “righteous deed.” On Friday, a North Korean diplomat to the United Nations, Kim Un Chol, declined to comment on the American accusations.

    In a taunting new email the hackers sent to Sony, they told the Hollywood studio that executives were “very wise” to cancel the movie’s release and said they planned no further disclosures of Sony’s confidential materials “as long as you make no more trouble.” The message warned “never” to release the film “in any form,” including on DVD. The email was sent to several employees. It was confirmed Friday by a person close to the studio who requested anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

    In Hollywood, actor George Clooney said the entertainment industry should take action now by pushing for the immediate release of “The Interview” online. In an interview with the trade site Deadline, Clooney urged Sony to “stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part.”

    The evidence implicating North Korea previously was described as largely circumstantial, including unspecified clues in the hacking tools left behind and the involvement of at least one computer in Bolivia previously traced to other attacks blamed on North Korea. Now, the FBI said those clues included similarities with other tools previously developed by North Korea in specific lines of computer code, encryption algorithms and data deletion methods. More significantly, the FBI discovered that computer Internet addresses known to be operated by North Korea were communicating directly with other computers used to deploy and control the hacking tools and collect the stolen Sony files.

    The FBI noted in its statement that it worked closely on the investigation with “other U.S. government departments and agencies.” Those included the National Security Agency, a person familiar with the case said on condition of anonymity because some of the information NSA was providing in the case was highly classified.

    An internal FBI investigative document obtained by The Associated Press identified the computers in the Sony hacking as operating in New York, Thailand, Poland, Italy, Bolivia, Singapore and Cypress. At least three were still functioning Friday, responding online to Internet test signals transmitted by the AP. The hackers previously published some of the stolen materials with a message that included five addresses using an anonymous email service in France.

    U.S. options for acting against North Korea are limited. The U.S. already has a trade embargo in place, and there is no appetite for military action. Even if investigators could identify and prosecute the individual hackers believed responsible, there’s no guarantee that any located are overseas would ever see a U.S. courtroom. Hacking back at North Korean targets by U.S. government experts could encourage further attacks against American targets.

    Evans Revere, a former State Department official and specialist on Korea, said if U.S. officials connect North Korea not only to the hacking attack but to the threats to carry out 9/11-style attacks against movie theaters, a case could be made to put North Korea again on a list of state sponsors of terrorism. That designation now is held by Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. North Korea was on the list for 20 years until it was taken off in 2008 by the Bush administration during nuclear negotiations..

    Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said putting Pyongyang back on the list would be warranted and that he did not doubt North Korea was involved. He called for tougher U.S. sanctions to cut Pyongyang’s access to hard currency by excluding from the U.S. financial system banks in other countries that hold North Korean funds.

    “This is not a just a corporate security issue,” Royce told the AP. “It is an act of aggression against the United States by a foreign government.”

    Associated Press Writers Jake Coyle in New York and Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.

    The post Obama: ‘Sony made a mistake’ in shelving ‘The Interview’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Artist’s rendering of NASA's Kepler space telescope in the second phase of its life. Image courtesy of NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle

    Artist’s rendering of NASA’s Kepler space telescope in the second phase of its life. Image courtesy of NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle

    NASA’s Kepler space telescope, once thought “beyond repair,” has found a planet two and a half times the size of Earth elsewhere in the Milky Way, the space agency announced Thursday.

    The newly discovered “super-Earth,” dubbed HIP 116454b, is nearly 20,000 miles wide and weighs 12 times as much as our home planet, researchers said in a statement.

    Circling a star that’s smaller and cooler than the Sun, the planet orbits its star once every 9.1 days and is 180 light-years from Earth. The planet is either three-fourths water or a gaseous planet like Neptune, researchers added.

    “Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries,” said lead researcher Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies.”

    NASA detected the planet after analyzing data Kepler collected over a 9-day period in February, months after the agency said it was investigating a way to fix a mechanical failure that had kept the planet-hunting spacecraft offline since May 2013. Nearly a year later, NASA gave Kepler a new, two-year mission, called “K2,” to continue its search beyond our solar system for potentially habitable planets.

    Kepler’s data helps NASA scientists — who called the telescope’s recent discovery a “comeback” — determine the compositions of these far-flung planets.

    “The Kepler mission showed us that planets larger in size than Earth and smaller than Neptune are common in the galaxy, yet they are absent in our solar system,” said NASA scientist Steve Howell, in a statement. “K2 is uniquely positioned to dramatically refine our understanding of these alien worlds and further define the boundary between rocky worlds like Earth and ice giants like Neptune.”

    Launched in March 2009, the $600 million space craft has confirmed the existence of 996 exoplanets.

    The post Kepler keeps going, finds new ‘super-Earth’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Illustration by Ruth Tam

    Illustration by Ruth Tam

    Giving back to the community is on most people’s to-do list, but it takes time and a commitment. A recent study from the National Conference on Citizenship shows that Millennials and teens are more likely to volunteer than other recent generations, and are more civically engaged.

    Youth reporters in PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs program went out into their communities to find and tell the stories of young people making a difference. They found students training to become volunteer firefighters, running pet rescues on Facebook, creating local TEDxYouths, holding math tutoring programs and mentoring peers with special needs.

    Connor Morgan volunteers at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, transporting patients to appointments and delivering lab specimens. Connor, a high school senior at Judge Memorial Catholic High School, said the work combines his love of medicine and military history

    “Veterans have done so much for us, and most people, I don’t think, truly believe that or appreciate that, so I wanted to do something to help them,” he said.

    Produced by Olivia Jacobs, Paul Olive and Caroline Pribble, students at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.

    At Central Hardin High School, students highlighted Trajan Tushkan, a high school sophomore who mentors elementary school children at the Mission Hope for Kids in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

    “Those kids look up to me, and I’m always there for them,” Trajan said.

    Produced by Gracie Eck, Gracie Hall, Cameron Lane and Risa Tomioka, students at Central Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

    Here are more stories inspired by young people who are actively giving back.

    Peer tutor inspires special needs students

    Produced by James Canada, Caleb DiPetro, Ashley Jury, Hannah Pickerell and McKaelin Taylor, students at Central Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. This video was produced with mentor support from Kentucky Educational Television.

    Teen firefighter has ‘heart and soul’ to get job done

    Produced by Matthew Hayner, a senior at York Comprehensive High School in York, South Carolina. This video was produced with mentor support from South Carolina ETV.

    Michigan student gives back in more than one way

    Produced by Annie Collick, a senior at Royal Oak High School in Royal Oak, Michigan.

    Empowering students is the solution

    Produced by Evan Aquinde, Hadassah Ballarta, John Fabella and Noah Pilotin, students at Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului, Hawaii.

    Giving time to animals in need

    Produced by Kara Azure, Mykaylynne Belgarde, Christian Decoteau, Talon Decoteau, Emily Gunville, Mackenzie Jerome, Kilyn Parisien and Seth Peltier from Turtle Mountain Community High School in Belcourt, North Dakota.

    Wisconsin teen serves up Thanksgiving celebration for community

    Produced by Hailey Collins, a junior at Black River Falls High School in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

    Student Reporting Labs connects classes with public media resources to teach journalism, digital literacy and civic engagement and is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post Eight stories made by and about young people making a difference appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Eighty-nine-year-old Kevin Bunnell and 16-year-old Mikinly Sullivan talk during a Cyber Seniors session, a program that pairs high school students with senior citizens who are interested in learning computer and internet skills.

    “She has changed my life,” says 89-year-old Kevin Bunnell. He is talking about 16-year-old Mikinly Sullivan, who once a week comes to the Frasier Meadows retirement community in Boulder, Colorado. The two are part of a program called Cyber Seniors, where high school students teach computer and internet skills to senior citizens.

    Bunnell, a retired educator and school administrator, says he has learned so much from Sullivan, even though he is 73 years her senior. Sullivan says the learning goes both ways. “I love listening to the stories from when he was young.”

    The goal of Cyber Seniors is much broader than simply connecting seniors to the digital age, says Jack Williamson, who runs the Boulder program. “It helps build relationships between young people and seniors, which is rare in this culture today.”

    On the day the NewsHour visited, Sullivan was teaching Bunnell how to catalogue and save the many poems that he has written over his lifetime. Most recently, he wrote a poem about the reverse mentoring that takes place through Cyber Seniors.

    They Come on a Mission

    They come on a mission—
               to fill a gap in the lives of their elders.
    Their youthful expertise and wisdom,
               surprises us who are supposed to own such qualities.

    They are guided into this new experience
               by men and women who love to see their charges
               shoulder new mantles of knowledge and understanding.

    They come wearing hats of many shapes.
               We wonder if those hats are sending secret signals.
               But the messages escape us.

    We especially wonder about hats worn with flat bills to the back,
               and recall bills worked into curves
               until we seemed to peer from a tunnel.

    These young people come in all sizes and shapes.
    Some tall, bearded and muscular.
    Others in the bloom of impending adulthood.

    But these are only superficial signs and symbols.
    They also come with precious bounties,
               invisible on first sight,
               and still hidden during initial meetings.

    Then we bring forth computers
               and lay them before these youngsters
               along with our ignorance.

    Now the rules kick in.

    There are parietal rules to prevent
               behavior incompatible with our learning goals.
    Our student mentors have come,
               not to display their technical skills
               but to evoke understanding in those they teach.
    Corollary: The learner’s fingers
               are always on the keyboard and mouse.

    The mentor sits to one side of the booted computer.
    The voice is soft and patient.
    “You’re right, this won’t work.
               Let’s try this.”
    Or, “You will need to activate your location service
               before you can use all those other features.”
    Or, “Janel is good at scanning matters.
               We can stay after 4:00 and solve your problem.
               My Dad will be waiting out front.”

    Dedication, competence, and love are all here marshaled.
               These neophyte teachers
               have engendered rich and lively learning
               to be envied by master teachers.

    A proper educational project
               is judged by results.
    Are these young mentors transformed in some way?
               Did they really induce learning?
               Did they learn useful behaviors from their older partners?
               Did they learn new and mysterious things about themselves?

    And what of the elders?
    Did those hours with the young transform them?
               Did they learn to like and enjoy
               their look into youth culture?
               Were their computer frustrations eased?
               Did they learn new techniques
                          that made their computer lives
                          more pleasant and productive?

    The answers to these questions are yet to come.
    They may not flow forth in one bolus.
    More likely some answers will emerge unexpectedly—
               an image of a face will recall an “aha” technical moment.
    Or a sudden notice of fingers on a keyboard
               may awaken a moment of laughter
               that teetered on the edge of love.

    Words there will be about this experience–
               flowing easily from voices long separated.
               The assessment will go on long after many of our voices are hushed.

    Tune in to the NewsHour tonight to learn more about Cyber Seniors. You can watch on our Ustream Channel at 6 p.m. EST or check your local listings.

    The post 89-year-old retired educator writes an ode to young mentors appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    12DaysBanner_FinalTo show our appreciation for our audience, PBS NewsHour will be unveiling 12 gifts over the next 12 days. Check back here each day, from Dec. 8-19, for a new gift that you can easily download or print out right from our site. Each day’s gift will also be posted on our Facebook page.

    Share photos of yourself, your family and your friends enjoying the gifts on social media using the hashtag #12DaysofNewsHour. Who knows, your photo might be selected to be shown on air during on of our evening broadcasts!

    Dec. 8: First up, the first longplay 4K video of a crackling fireplace on Youtube. Despite its realism, our 4K video doesn’t actually generate heat, so it won’t dry your mittens. But it will give you cred if you hook it up at your holiday office party.

    Dec. 9: Snowed-in? Curl up by the fire and fight-off cabin fever while creating your very own NewsHour logo cross stitch. The pattern we’ve provided was created by former NewsHour staffer Justin Myers. Make one yourself and share a picture of it on social media using #12DaysofNewsHour.

    Dec. 10: The holidays are a busy time of year. But don’t be that guy who brings store-bought baked goods to your holiday party. Instead bake these! From a recipe enjoyed by our very own Judy Woodruff.

    Dec. 11: While there is no way to prevent the disappointment of those nearest and dearest to you when they call and you are not there to answer the phone, their feelings of disappointment may be assuaged ever so slightly by this unexpected and delightful voicemail greeting from Gwen and Judy.

    Dec. 12: Happy Friday! Not only have you made it to the end of another work week, you’ve arrived at Day 5 of our 12 Days of NewsHour. We hope today’s gift will keep you busy in the kitchen all weekend and satisfy your sweet tooth all week long.

    Dec. 13: Looking for a gift that is both personal and economical? Look no further. Use this stencil of the PBS NewsHour logo to create custom t-shirts, tote bags and more for everyone on your holiday shopping list.

    Dec. 14: What’s better than a Sunday crossword puzzle? A NewsHour-themed Sunday crossword puzzle. We hope you’ll find some time this Sunday to kick back and solve this 15-clue puzzle, perhaps while tuning in to NewsHour Weekend.

    Dec. 15: Imagine reliving that exciting moment when PBS NewsHour’s nightly broadcast begins to play on your television, computer or mobile screen every time the phone rings. Now you can.

    Dec. 16: You’ll need to look backwards and forwards, up, down and diagonally to find the names of your favorite NewsHour anchors, guests, recurring segments and more hidden in this word jumble.

    Dec. 17: Invite your relatives, neighbors, roommates and friends to join you for a rousing game of NewsHour bingo. Break out this five card set at your annual holiday party, or save it for a rainy day in the New Year.

    Dec. 18: Recognizing that Thanksgiving has passed, and that many of the social and political issues facing the nation have changed, we are offering an updated version of “The Mark Shields and David Brooks’ Guide to Holiday Civility.”

    Dec. 19: Before these twelve days of NewsHour come to an end, we have one more for you to unwrap: a behind-the-scenes holiday greeting from us, to all of you. In this timelapse video, take a virtual tour of our newsroom, our control room and set, and find a holiday message at the end of your #insidenewshour trip.

    The post Celebrate 12 days of NewsHour with 12 unique gifts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Take a holiday-themed tour of the NewsHour. Video shot and edited by Ariel Min.

    12DaysBanner_FinalHave you played enough PBS NewsHour-themed games over the past 12 days? Sufficiently stuffed yourself with cookie recipes from our staff? Decked your phone with greetings from Gwen and Judy, and sounds of the NewsHour? Learned how to have a civil holiday dinner with the help of Mark Shields and David Brooks? Warmed up beside our fireplace?

    If you missed any of our gifts, you can find them all here. But before these twelve days of NewsHour come to an end, we have one more for you to unwrap: a behind-the-scenes holiday greeting from us, to all of you.

    In the timelapse video above, take a virtual tour of our newsroom, our control room and set, and find a holiday message at the end of your #insidenewshour trip.

    Happy Holidays!

    The post 12 Days of NewsHour: Behind-the-scenes timelapse holiday greeting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft flies over a target area during Operation Desert Storm. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Fernando Serna

    An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft flies over a target area during Operation Desert Storm. President Barack Obama signed a defense bill today that would prohibit the retirement of the A-10. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Fernando Serna

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a massive defense policy bill that endorses his plan to fight Islamic State militants, including air strikes and training Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels.

    The law authorizes funds for basic military operations, from a 1 percent pay raise for troops to the purchase of ships, aircraft and other war-fighting equipment.

    It also authorizes the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels battling the extremists for two years and provides $5 billion to train Iraqis battling the militants who brutally rule large sections of the two countries.

    The measure provides the core funding of $521.3 billion for the military and $63.7 billion for overseas operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite Obama’s objections, it maintains a ban on transferring terror suspects from the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba to the United States for prosecution or imprisonment.

    Obama issued a separate statement criticizing the ban on Guantanamo transfers in the defense bill and the government funding bill he signed earlier this week. Obama declared at the outset of his presidency that he wanted to close the detention center, but Congress has thwarted his efforts.

    “I have consistently opposed these restrictions and will continue to work with the Congress to remove them,” Obama said. “The Guantanamo detention facility’s continued operation undermines our national security. We must close it.”

    House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, highlighted the ban on Guantanamo transfers. He said bringing terror suspects to the U.S. “would be both dangerous and deeply unpopular” with Americans.

    “House Republicans will continue to do all we can to protect our national security and support our men and women in uniform, and look forward to working with the president to do the same,” he said.

    The Pentagon sought cuts in military benefits. Lawmakers compromised in the bill by agreeing to make service members pay $3 more for co-pays on prescription drugs and trimming the growth of the off-base housing allowance by 1 percent instead of the Pentagon’s deeper 5 percent recommendation.

    The law also prohibits retirement of the A-10 Warthog, the close-air support plane often described as ugly but invaluable.

    The A-10 Warthog was designed specifically to fly in low and attack enemy forces, loitering over the battlefield. The Defense Department had planned to eliminate the entire fleet and save $3.5 billion over five years in favor of newer and more capable aircraft. NewsHour reported back in February.

    The law changes the way the military justice system deals with sexual assault cases, including scrapping the nearly century-old practice of using a “good soldier defense” to raise doubts that a crime has been committed. The measure gives accusers a greater say in whether their cases are litigated in the military or civilian court system, and would establish a confidential process to allow victims to challenge their separation or discharge from the military.

    It also makes victims of the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas, eligible to receive the Purple Heart. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 wounded by Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, who has said he was angry about being deployed to Afghanistan and wanted to protect Islamic and Taliban leaders from U.S. troops.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, building bridges across the generation gap and the technology divide.

    The “NewsHour”‘s Mary Jo Brooks has our report.

    COURTNEY KERSHAW: You got it?

    DOROTHY STONE: Yes. Yes.

    COURTNEY KERSHAW: You work out for the day?


    MARY JO BROOKS: Twice a week, 24-year-old Courtney Kershaw and 89-year-old Dorothy Stone head out on errands. On the day we visited, there was a trip to the nail salon and the grocery store.

    Kershaw works for Denver-based concierge business called Capable Living, which provide services for senior citizens who live in their own home. Fees start at $1,000 a month. What’s unique is that the employees are all young people, so-called millennials who were born at the end of the last century.

    The goal of the company is not only to provide services, but to build bridges between a generation obsessed with smartphones and selfies with one that was raised in an entirely different era.

    COURTNEY KERSHAW: Some of my favorite things were you telling me about when you were my age and how you would fill up the car for 10 cents and go driving around all day.

    DOROTHY STONE: Oh, yes.

    When I was her age, the war was going on, so it was sort of a different situation, too, as far as young girls were concerned.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Amanda Cavaleri founded Capable Living five years ago, when she was just 20 years old. She now travels around the country speaking to young entrepreneurs and college students about the benefits and business opportunities for millennials who work with seniors.

    AMANDA CAVALERI, Capable Living: Most of my good friends never thought of this as a career, like myself. And most of them are on completely different paths. But there is a huge opportunity for millennials to get into this space. And on the business side, the financial side, there is a large opportunity.

    Do you mind if we brainstorm a little bit?

    MARY JO BROOKS: Cavaleri points to demographic data that shows, in 10 years, millennials will make up 75 percent of the work force, while baby boomers will be retiring from their careers.

    She thinks it’s just good business sense for young people to start developing services for this older generation and it makes good life sense for the two groups to interact.

    AMANDA CAVALERI: Elders are able to pass down their experiences and their stories. And they’re relevant again. And it’s being relevant that gives them meaning and purpose. And I do believe that those younger/older connections are very, very important to us to grow as a society.

    WOMAN: This happens to be me when I was, I don’t know, probably six months old or something like that.

    WOMAN: You’re really adorable.

    MARY JO BROOKS: One of Cavaleri’s newest projects is to start a nonprofit Cyber Seniors program in Denver. She plans to model it after one in nearby Boulder, where high school volunteers work with seniors on computer and Internet issues.

    BRUCE MACKENZIE: What do I do after?

    MARY JO BROOKS: Bruce MacKenzie lives in the retirement community.

    BRUCE MACKENZIE: I’m taking a class at the university called Hip-Hop 101. And I didn’t know how to listen to the rap songs that are on hip-hop. And Ryan (ph) showed me how to go to YouTube, which I never knew anything about. So I go to YouTube now and I can listen to all these rap songs for my class.

    MARY JO BROOKS: MacKenzie and other residents work with students from the nearby New Vista High School once a week.

    Kevin Bunnell loves it.

    KEVIN BUNNELL: These young women and men are just delightful. They’re bright. It makes me feel 10 years younger every time they come.

    MARY JO BROOKS: And the students are equally enthusiastic.

    TAYA BRUELL: I’m just a high school student and here I’m getting to connect with these people who don’t really know anything about technology. And I have the power to connect them, and it’s a really special feeling.

    STUDENT: I’m learning a lot from them and they’re learning from me. I have actually found through this that I think I like older people more than I like younger people.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Jack Williamson runs this chapter of Cyber Seniors.

    JACK WILLIAMSON, Cyber Seniors: It helps bridge the gap between the generation gap and the information gap and it builds relationships with young people and seniors, which is sort of rare in our culture today.

    AMANDA CAVALERI: Elders and children have a very natural bond that we have lost through the Industrial Revolution and then even more with the information age. But I believe that, you know, the technology that once displaced elders can now connect us again.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Cavaleri’s latest project is to develop a smartphone app so millennials can interview, record and preserve the stories of senior citizens. She hopes to begin a pilot program in two schools later this winter.

    I’m Mary Jo Brooks in Denver for the “NewsHour.”

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to talk about a full week of news, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, so much to talk about.

    David, the story today, the headline story is North Korea, the administration confirming that they are behind this cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

    First of all, the president said flat out today that Sony made a mistake. What do you think?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I guess I think so.

    You know, it’s — like the president said, we can’t have a country where people are self-censoring, and based on some foreign attack. If this was — if they had done a movie about a civil rights figure and a bunch of racists said, we’re going to do something to your company unless you pull this movie, and they pulled the movie, it would have been clear it would have been a disgraceful thing to do.

    And I think this is somewhat similar. I do have some sympathy for Sony. They’re out there all alone against a country spending apparently hundreds of millions of dollars to target them. This is a collective action problem. The companies have to stick together. The government has to say an attack on a U.S. company or any company sited in the U.S. is an attack on the country, and the government has to step in. And, frankly, journalists have to step in.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Step in? What do you mean?

    DAVID BROOKS: When these — when the e-mails were leaked, I think reputable news organizations shouldn’t participate in publicizing them.

    Now, obviously, they’re going to be out on the Web somewhere. Somebody is going to publicize what was in the e-mails. I do not think we should be involved in that business. It’s sort of — let somebody else do it. It is sort of aiding what is basically a terrorist act.


    MARK SHIELDS: I think David’s call for self-censoring on e-mails is high-minded. I don’t think it’s practical.

    And I think this did contribute in part to Sony’s action. I mean, there’s an old Earl Long expression. Never write what you can speak, never speak what you can whisper, never whisper what you can nod, and never nod what you can wink.

    And I think the e-mails were embarrassing to — not simply professionally, but personally to the people there. And I agree they’re trafficking in gossip. I think that accelerated Sony’s decision. And the question as to what happened between them and the theater owners is open, whether, in fact, Sony really did want the theater owners to say, take the pressure off us by saying you don’t want to show the film.

    I mean, the president, I thought, was quite forceful. He was very measured. And he has let it know — I mean, proportionally, we don’t know what form it will take. I thought the ambassador made good points in the previous piece as to what form it can take, given the fact that there is no economic commerce between the two countries.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is there a clear path for the — in a situation like this, David, where you have a government going after a private company?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, you know, the president said that he spends twice as much time as his predecessor as cyber-security and his successor will spend twice as much time than him.

    And so this is clearly going to be a gigantic issue. And among the cyber-security people — believe me, I’m no expert — but they talk about going on offense and that you have to have deterrents. We talk so much about smart and soft power.

    This is a new form of hard power. It’s a kind of warfare that is being waged on us. And you simply have to intimidate and deter. And so the U.S. has to, as it does, obviously, have a capability to deter. And that means going on offense against the people who are doing bad things whether they’re in China, North Korea, Russia or anywhere else.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, some have looked at this and said, should there be limits on what movies are made about or what books are written about? If you’re going to go after a sitting leader of a country, are you opening yourself up for something like this?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I assume it was discussed at some point.

    I mean, David’s point, are you going to be inhibited by making a biographical piece on Martin Luther King or John Lewis because some racists say you can’t do it, or Mandela, or whatever the case, you can’t be stampeded.

    There had to be some consideration given to the marketability and what the impact would be of making — on a closed society, on someone who is not simply just paranoid, but obviously a self-deity as well. So, it’s a — I guess you substitute any other country. I mean, would you do it — would you make a satire on the assassination of the prime minister of Israel, of the pope, of the queen of England?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are there any limits here?

    DAVID BROOKS: No, of course not. If a guy is a dictator, a ruthless dictator like this guy, you almost have a moral responsibility to write negative things about them.

    And that’s the job of what we do. Now, it’s complicated because we have had so many of these cases involving Islam. Now, in another faith, then you want to show respect, obviously, because it’s a faith. But that doesn’t mean if somebody is an Islamist radical, you couldn’t — shouldn’t go after them.

    And there have been cases obviously, in Europe particularly, where theater companies, where newspapers have backed down in the face of that threat. But you sort of have a moral responsibility. And being what we do it’s not that complicated, it’s not that dangerous, but we do have some responsibility to criticize people who deserve criticism.

    MARK SHIELDS: Those of us a certain age do remember Charlie Chaplin’s Hitler, and, you know, the idea, and the brilliance of a piece like “The Producers,” of being able to make — enable people to laugh at somebody, which is the last thing in the world that a despot can live with.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk another big story this week, and it’s Cuba opening up to this country, David, after 53, 54 years.

    Was it the right thing to do for the president to do this on his own and to say, we’re going to — we have given it a shot for half-a-century, it’s time to do something else?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it was the right move.

    Listen, this policy has been in place longer than I have been alive and it’s failed all that time. So, eventually, maybe you try something else. And so this is about regime change. And I think Marco Rubio, who objected so strongly, has a case.

    Venezuela is now poor because of the price of oil. They can’t afford to subsidize Cuba. Maybe the Cuban regime would have fallen faster and maybe we’re giving them a lifeline by opening up some trade and giving them some economic support.

    Nonetheless, I think the way to look at it is, are we strengthening Cuban society with American influence? That regime is going to fall. We want Cuba to be a decent place to live after that regime falls. It’s better to have American influence there economically, culturally, intellectually. It will be a better society, so when the regime finally does fall, the transition, which we now know is so hard, from communism will be a little easier. I think the president did the right thing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you say, Mark?

    MARK SHIELDS: David Brooks has been more successful in his five decades than has been this policy toward Cuba.


    MARK SHIELDS: You can make the case, Judy, that sanctions have worked economically. And I think they have — I think they’re working right now against Russia. They certainly worked against South Africa.

    They worked — I think you can make the case they brought Iran to the bargaining table. They have not worked with Cuba. They were intended, when they were installed, to put pressure through the Cuban people on the Castro regime and it would topple.

    The reverse occurred. It made, if anything, the administration — the regime became stronger and more entrenched. And so — and irrespective of Senator Rubio’s arguments, which may be — have historic validity, I think we want to acknowledge what we have done is wrong, it’s made no sense.

    And if we do want to hasten that change and be part of that change, be an agent of that change and to make — help make Cuba a freer and fairer and better country, then I think that we believe in our exchange, a free exchange. So I commend the president for it. I think he did the right thing.

    Politically, I would just point this out. John Kerry in — Al Gore in 2000 got 29 percent of the Cuban American vote in 2004. And Florida is the epicenter of what — Cuban Americans politically in this country. Al Gore got 29 percent in 2004. Barack Obama got 35 percent in 2008. And they split the vote in 2012.

    So it is more of a political opportunity than it is a political liability.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, the fact the president did it on his own, he didn’t wait for Congress to get rid of the trade embargo?

    DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s fine. I have conniptions when he does something on immigration, on domestic policy. But on foreign policy, the president has a lot more leeway. And I so think it’s fine that he did it.


    I mean, no, wait for the Congress, Judy? Come on.


    MARK SHIELDS: Let’s be — I’m serious about this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Did I say something crazy?

    MARK SHIELDS: We have a Republican primary coming up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, speaking of Florida politicians — you both mentioned Marco Rubio — there is another Florida politician, David, Jeb Bush, the former governor, who hasn’t had his name on a ballot I guess in 12 years.

    But he is moving closer to running. He’s going to set up an exploratory committee. What do you think? What does it look like?

    DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s the favorite.

    I wouldn’t say he’s a huge favorite, by any means, but I think he’s a plausible candidate. He was a successful governor from a swing state, and he has a good reputation in the party. He’s pretty conservative, not so much on immigration, but compared to Republican presidents in the past, he’s pretty conservative, not as conservative as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul,.

    But he is sort of where the mainstream of the party is and I believe the party is coming back from its Tea Party phase. And it’s coming back to about where Jeb Bush is. And, basically, obviously, the obvious problem is he’s — last name is Bush. He has some hedge fund and some income issues he will have to deal with, but compared to the other candidates, the Christies, maybe the Rubio, the Paul, the Cruz, he has looked pretty — he looks less flawed than the other guys.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Whoa. That’s high praise.

    MARK SHIELDS: Less flawed.


    DAVID BROOKS: Even better than our Cuba policy.


    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. That’s right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And how do you size it up?

    MARK SHIELDS: I think that Jeb Bush had a good week.

    If you’re in the situation right now thinking about running for president, you want to postpone that as long as you can. You want to keep your powder dry. You don’t want to go through a two-year marathon endurance contest.

    So what he did was, he forced the issue. he forced the issue by his announcement of an exploratory committee. Let it be noted that no exploratory committee in the history of American politics has ever come back and said anything but, there’s a groundswell out there for you, boss. Everybody wants you to run.


    MARK SHIELDS: But, by doing this, he did a couple of things.

    First of all, he said he was going to release all his e-mails. That puts pressure on who?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: From the time when he was governor.

    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, when he was governor.

    That puts pressure on Chris Christie, the current governor of New Jersey, who has got some e-mails he’d just soon not have made public, and on Hillary Clinton, a possible opponent. She’s been reluctant to make public all her e-mails. He has also moved up the timetable for others to make the decision, smoked out people.

    I do not see him as this great moderate. In fact, he was an ardently conservative governor of Florida. On two issues, on Common Core, the education standards test, which was a Republican embrace and has now been moved and abandoned by virtually every Republican and shoe leather, and immigration, are the two that really make him, I guess, the king of moderates in the current Republican Party.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you don’t think it hurts — or do you think it hurts that he’s a Bush, another, the father, one son and now the other son?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it hurts.

    But if he wasn’t running against a Clinton, it would really hurt. But if he’s running against a Clinton, what are we going to choose? It’s George Washington vs. Thomas Jefferson. We have some old names here.

    MARK SHIELDS: Franklin Roosevelt, four times president of the United States, winner of World War II, saved the country in the Depression, his namesake, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., could get elected to the House of Representatives only from New York. He couldn’t even get elected attorney general.

    The idea that George Herbert Walker Bush, a thoroughly admirable and good patriotic American, would spawn two sons in the space of 20 years who become president, are we that thin on talent in this country of 315 million people  that we go back to the same family three times in less than a generation?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We may have to ponder that one over the holidays. We have got a few days to think about it.

    We’re not going to see the two of you before Christmas. I want to wish both of you a wonderful holiday, a merry Christmas.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And a happy new year.

    MARK SHIELDS: Same to you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And thank you for 2014, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

    DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you very much.

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    DIRTY BUSINESS monitor coal ash EPA

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The past few years, and a pair of major spills into waterways and communities have brought a whole new concern about the coal industry to the forefront. It’s about a byproduct called coal ash.

    After a six-year battle, the Environmental Protection Agency has now set the first national standards for how to regulate and deal with it. But some argue the federal government pulled its punches.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: December 22, 2008, more than a billion gallons of coal ash, a by-product of coal-burning energy production, mixed with water, burst through the banks of a containment pond in Kingston, Tennessee.

    The coal ash slurry flooded homes, farmland and poured into the Emory River, prompting what would become a billion-dollar cleanup. Earlier this year, more than 80,000 tons spilled from a Duke Energy holding pond into North Carolina’s Dan River. According to the EPA, more than 100 such breeches, though usually smaller, happen every year.

    Coal ash contains toxic contaminants like mercury, arsenic and lead, and environmental groups have long warned holding ponds are not only prone to ruptures, but also leak into groundwater. They had pushed for coal ash to be classified as a hazardous material. That would give regulatory authority of the substance to the EPA.

    But in announcing new standards for coal ash storage and disposal today, EPA head Gina McCarthy said that power would remain with the states.

    GINA MCCARTHY, Environmental Protection Agency: This rule sets a commonsense, consistent baseline for industries and states to follow, and that communities can rely on to prevent health risks, as well as costly cleanups.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Industry groups said they were pleased the EPA didn’t classify coal ash as hazardous waste, but they said the new rules were still too tough.

    We learn more now about the new rules and the reaction to them from Dina Cappiello, national environmental reporter for the AP.

    So, Dina, the key question here was this — whether coal ash qualifies as a hazardous waste. What did the EPA say?

    DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press: That it’s a nonhazardous waste.

    They related it today like household garbage. So they chose to make it not hazardous and treat it under a different classification, which is basically the same classification we have as household trash.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And what’s the reasoning behind that?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: The reason, the EPA said today, was it didn’t — that the current record and the current evidence showed that it didn’t meet the hazardous classification and through other measures they could protect communities and public health from these ash waste sites.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The exemption from federal oversight has been there a long time.

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Yes, Congress put it in place.

    I think what people don’t understand is that, like, a lot of energy wastes are exempt, not only coal ash, but drilling wastes are exempt, coal mining waste is exempt, because Congress said so. But what they also said was, if you evaluate the waste and at some point in future time the risk is great and it should be classified as hazardous, you have the authority to do that.

    So that’s what the EPA Was doing. So twice before, before today, it’s the third time the EPA has said we’re not going to do it as a hazardous waste.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so what did they do? What kind of new strictures did they put on?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: So, in classifying it like a solid waste, like household trash, what that requires is that all new waste sites at power plants would have to have liners which protect groundwater. There will be monitoring requirements. There will be for closure if they don’t use it anymore to basically take the water out and cap it so it’s an impermeable barrier.

    And they would also have to, interestingly, let the public know and disclose the monitoring tests, so the public could actually police it and see if it’s violating water quality standards.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, how much is known at this point? How many studies have been done about the environment or health consequences of the spills or leaks that have happened?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Well, lots.

    After the Tennessee Valley Authority spill in 2008, the EPA kind of went into high gear on this. And then we also had the Dan River case down in North Carolina. So, they actually went around and surveyed a lot of ponds, looking at their structural integrity, see what they were doing, so gathered a lot of information.

    And just because something is not classified as hazardous doesn’t mean it doesn’t have hazards. That’s what the environmentalists were saying today, that this is hazardous. It has arsenic in it. It has lead in it. It has mercury in it, things that are actually in coal. And if those leach into the environment in certain quantities, it could be a risk, and that’s why the environmentalists push for the hazardous waste…

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the environmental community is not happy today?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Very upset today.

    Let’s face it. They have gotten a lot they have wanted on coal from the Obama administration, from the carbon rules to the mercury air pollution rules. They really wanted this to be a hazardous waste classification. And, furthermore, they wanted a strict deadline for closing all of the sites out there that don’t meet these standards, and that didn’t happen today.

    What the EPA Said is, we can deal with legacy sites, sites that are inactive and unlined, have no liner, that are operational landfills, but we have no authority at landfills if the power plant is no longer operational.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the coal industry’s response?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: The coal industry and the recycling industry — this is actually widely recycled — about 40 percent is recycled — are pleased with the rule.

    But, again, they want to work with Congress to make it very clear that the states are in charge of enforcement and actually to deal with those legacy sites so they have certainty going forward.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, very briefly, when you look at what might happen next, would it be legislative or legal or both?

    DINA CAPPIELLO: I think that the new Congress is going to take it up.

    Senator Inhofe put out a statement with Senator Capito and said, we are going to look at this and we want to kind of revisit legislation that passed in 2013 in the House that would make it clear that states have the enforcement authority here.

    Now, that hasn’t worked so well in the past. It’s been kind of a patchwork quilt of regulation, some states controlling it like solid waste, like what the EPA said they had to today, some not, and enforcement varying depending on state budgets and how many sites are out there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Dina Cappiello of the AP, thank you so much.

    DINA CAPPIELLO: Thank you.

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    FLEDGLING DEMOCRACY  Tunisia  ballot box and flag  monitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Four years ago this week, the radical transformation and upheaval known as the Arab spring was tripped off in the North African country of Tunisia.

    A frustrated and unemployed street vendor set himself on fire after authorities confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling without a license. That single act prompted weeks of demonstrations, which ultimately led to the ousting of then President Ben Ali, who had ruled the country for nearly 25 years. Other protests quickly erupted across the Arab world.

    Leaders in Egypt and Libya were forcibly removed. A brutal civil war began in Syria. And, today, much of the region remains mired in instability. One ray of possible hope, however, is back in Tunisia, where millions of citizens are expected to vote this week in the country’s presidential runoff election.

    Filmmaker Jessie Deeter has been traveling there in recent months to document the country’s fledgling steps toward democracy in parliamentary and then first-round presidential elections.

    She produced this report with the NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This is what shoe-leather presidential campaigning looks like in Tunisia.

    Candidate Kalthoum Kennou hit the streets of a working-class neighborhood ahead of the first round of elections, listening to and seeking the support of citizens struggling to get out of poverty.

    MAN (through interpreter): There are some villages, trust me, that don’t even see the sunlight. I swear to God.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): For the past two weeks, my feet are cooked from walking from village to village. I have toured the whole country.

    KALTHOUM KENNOU, Tunisian Presidential Candidate (through interpreter): It’s normal that I would come here in this place, not far from the capital. You see how people are living in misery.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Perhaps normal now, but unheard of in the not-so-distant past.

    Kennou is the country’s first ever female presidential candidate. And during the Ben Ali regime, the independent judge suffered harassment and arbitrary job transfers for her stance against the former leadership. Kennou didn’t make it past the first round of the presidential elections and doesn’t think change is happening fast enough.

    However, many Tunisians think their country is heading in the right direction. Lofti Garbi is one of them. He’s been a metal worker at a souk for more than 20 years. He says that despite some economic hardship, things have improved since the revolution.

    LOFTI GARBI (through interpreter): The situation is better than it was with Ben Ali because Ben Ali didn’t allow for freedom like we have now. It’s true that for any country that has a revolution, there has to be a period of four or five years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: He proudly voted in the recent parliamentary elections, but kept his ballot choice private.

    LOFTI GARBI (through interpreter): I am very happy to voted. And God willing, those we elected will do good things for Tunisia.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The Secular Coalition Party — Nidaa Tounes — won that contest, taking over from the Islamist party, Ennahda. What makes Tunisia so unusual among post-Arab spring nations with leadership changes and political turmoil is the actions of that Islamist party.

    Instead of holding on to power and fighting when it became clear it no longer had support of the majority, it decided to step down. And in the presidential elections, it opted not to put forward a presidential candidate. Ennahda’s leader, Rashid Al-Ghannushi, explains why:

    RASHID AL-GHANNUSHI, Ennahda Leader (through interpreter): We are in a transitional phase between dictatorship and democracy. We need the rule of consensus, the distribution of power among more than one party. For that reason, we chose to limit ourselves.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Although Tunisia has received high marks on its Democratic process internationally, security remains a serious problem for the country.

    RASHID AL-GHANNUSHI (through interpreter): Nationally, the biggest danger we face is the danger of terrorism, mainly because Tunisia is located in a terrorized region. Our borders to Libya are open, which makes it possible to traffic weapons and to train young Tunisian men.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There are more Islamic militants from Tunisia fighting in Syria and Iraq than any other nation.

    Just last week, the Tunisian interior minister declared that there are now 2,400 fighters from his country for the al-Nusra Front or the Islamic State. And some are returning home. The balance between the newfound freedom of expression and providing a secure country for citizens and investors is front and center in this weekend’s presidential elections, pitting interim president and self-described voice of the revolution Moncef Marzouki against a man who held a top job in the government of former President Ben Ali, Beji Caid Essebsi.

    He’s presenting himself, and his party, which won the parliamentary contest, as a return to stability. But some are worried this could mean returning power to the once feared security forces which had a reputation for abuses and mass detentions.

    Corinna Mullin is a professor at the University of Tunis.

    CORINNA MULLIN, University of Tunis: One of the underlying problems under Ben Ali, of course, was the exclusionary politics and the politics of fear. And there is a fear that there is a possibility to return to that. It could spiral out of control very quickly. It’s a very slippery slope.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Essebsi has pushed back against those concerns, and in a “NewsHour” interview last year, he said that he and others shouldn’t be blamed for the transgressions in the former dictator’s government.

    BEJI CAID ESSEBSI, President, Nidaa Tounes Party (through interpreter): The old regime isn’t all dirty, you know? There were two million Tunisians with Ben Ali. We can’t exclude them all.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Back on the streets, the former-judge-turned politician Kalthoum Kennou isn’t enamored with either candidate, but says keeping the peace in Tunisia is key.

    KALTHOUM KENNOU (through interpreter): There is a risk of the old regime and the new dictatorship as well. I am against both. If the president manages to make peace and security in Tunisia automatically, there will be an evolution on the economic plan because people are afraid of investing. I hope that people will be able to make things better in the future.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Metal worker Lofti Garbi is counting on that better future, hoping his country emerges as an Arab spring success story among a region deep in turmoil.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Hari Sreenivasan.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We now take a closer look at North Korea and cyber-terrorism and what the president had to say about it all this afternoon. It made up the dominant topic at today’s White House news conference.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It was the first question.

    QUESTION: And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie? Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And an unequivocal seven-word answer.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yes, I think they made a mistake.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama told the White House press corps that Sony is in a difficult position, but was wrong to withdraw its own film.

    BARACK OBAMA: We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States, because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.

    Or, even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

    So, that’s not who we are.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Notably, Kim Jong-un’s name was never mentioned. But the president clearly targeted the North Korean leader in his remarks, using pointedly casual terms like “some dictator” and poking fun at the seriousness of the movie involved.

    BARACK OBAMA: I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco.


    BARACK OBAMA: I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The greater question for the president is, how will the United States respond to North Korea? The attack cost Sony Pictures tens of millions of dollars so far and an unknown hit in its business position. But the named attacker is another nation, one which is known for its unpredictable, defiant military posture.

    BARACK OBAMA: They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.

    More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates.

    We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done. We’re not even close to where we need to be.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president said his team has presented options for a response to North Korea and he is reviewing them, and that he is also looking at detailed ideas for strengthening cyber-security. As he forms a response, the president stressed that he sees the threat as serious and urgent.

    BARACK OBAMA: If we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies. This is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: After the press conference, Sony CEO Michael Lynton responded to the president. He told CNN: “The president, the press and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened.”  He also said: “We have not caved. We have not backed down.”  And he added, Sony still plans to let people see the movie, but that theaters and home video distributors are not willing to show it yet.

    He also contradicted the president. He said Sony had reached out to a White House adviser. But he didn’t say whom.

    North Korea, by the way, today denied that it was behind the attack.

    Let’s explore some of the many questions all this raises with Dmitri Alperovitch. He is co-founder and chief technology officer of CrowdStrike. It’s a security technology company. And former ambassador Jack Pritchard, he’s been involved with Korean peace negotiations for both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

    And we welcome you both.

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, CrowdStrike: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Dmitri Alperovitch, to you first.

    What do you make of the FBI finding — and the president referred to it — that North Korea and North Korea alone was behind this attack?

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH: At CrowdStrike, we absolutely agree with that. We have actually been tracking this actor. We actually call them Silent Chollima. That’s our name for this group based that is out of North Korea.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Say the name again.

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH: Silent Chollima. Chollima is actually a national animal of North Korea. It’s a mythical flying horse. And we have been tracking this group since 2006. They have been engaged in a lot of destructive attacks against South Korea predominantly and U.S. forces in South Korea. And this is their first major attack against a U.S. company that is destructive in nature.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I ask you because there were questions in the last few days about whether North Korea was capable of mounting this kind of attack. You’re saying they clearly were.

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH: They absolutely are. They’re not the best cyber-power out there. They’re not as good as United States and they are not as good as Russia or China, but they’re in the second tier and they absolutely have this capability. And they have been using that capability for the last eight years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

    Let me turn now to another piece of this story, Jack — Ambassador Pritchard. And that is, we know the president said that Sony made a mistake in pulling back the film, and then we heard the reaction from Sony’s CEO. But what I want to ask you about at this point is the president’s characterization of North Korea’s leader.

    At one point, he said — he talked about some dictator someplace, and then he talked — he seemed dismissive of the fact that North Korea has launched such a major attack, cyber-attack on, he said, a company that just made a satirical comedy.

    JACK PRITCHARD, Former U.S. Special Envoy for Negotiations with North Korea: Yes.

    Well, number one, I think the president is trying to avoid publicly naming Kim Jong-un as the force behind this, but you have got to take a look at the history of North Korea. It’s been led by one family, the grandfather, the father and now the son. And throughout the history of North Korea, any attack on the leadership required North Korea to respond.

    So it’s not surprising they did, regardless of what we may think of the — how funny the movie is or whatnot. From a North Korean perspective, it’s an attack on the core of their being, and it requires a response. What we weren’t prepared for is the level and the fact it was this type of cyber-attack. But, clearly, we knew something was going to happen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you make of the president’s term some dictator someplace? You said he wanted to avoid naming Kim Jong-un. Why?


    You know, every time you talk about the North Korean leaders, using their name, it raises the hackles of the North Korean leadership. And he’s probably trying to not artificially raise a tit-for-tat response between the United States and North Korea at the governmental level. He’s still formulating what he’s going to do and how he’s going to respond.

    So, what he doesn’t want to do is give North Koreans the fodder to suggest that it’s the United States beating up on this poor, small country and some dictator that’s leading it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in terms of a response, we heard the president say that it’s going to be proportional and he said it’s going to at a time of the U.S. choosing. He’s not going to be announcing it. It will be done behind the scenes, presumably. What are the options?


    Well, you know, in basic terms, there are three things could be done, diplomatic, military and economic. On the diplomatic side, we don’t have a relationship with North Korea. We can’t leverage something that they may want to preserve, so that’s out.

    On the military side, anything that we would contemplate would have to have the full cooperation and understanding and approval of South Korea, and that doesn’t fall within the proportionality that the president is talking about. That leaves you economic aspects to deal with.

    And from my point of view, I think there are probably three things that the administration’s looking at right now. One, it’s a coordination, consultation with the other members of the six-party talks, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.

    I would expect they’d also take this to the United Nations to kind of put it on the record in the world spotlight, if you will. And, third, and what will actually be the proportionality that will do some damage to the North Koreans would be financial sanctions. If you think back to 2005, when the Treasury Department imposed sanctions that affected the Banco Delta Asia, a small bank in Macao that only had about $25 million worth of North Korean money, it caused a great deal of angst in North Korea that ultimately led them to additional bad behavior, but finally brought them back to the negotiating table.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to bring Dmitri Alperovitch back into it.

    Now, the president also talked about the need to work, he said, with the international community the start setting up some kind of rules of the road. What could that look like? What can the international community do?

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH: Well, the first thing you can do is encourage additional information-sharing on the indicators and the type of tactics that the North Korean regime has used, as well as the other actors that are out there. The intelligence on this group has been around, as I said, for most of eight years.

    If these companies that have been coming under attack from them had that intelligence, if they had used it proactively to hunt on their networks for that adversary, this type of event could have been prevented. That’s a very critical thing that we don’t have right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so you’re saying the U.S. and other countries could begin to create something like that?

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH: Well, that’s right. The U.S. government has a lot of information. The private sector has a lot of information. You could encourage additional information-sharing, declassify some information related to the intelligence we have on some of these bad actors and share it with the private sector.

    That would be a good first step. You could also start talking about norms of behavior, that it’s not OK for a nation state to do this to a private company, to completely destroy its network, to take its information and leak it out into the public, and there will be repercussions when you do it. That would be a first good step.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Dmitri Alperovitch, Ambassador Jack Pritchard, we thank you both.


    JACK PRITCHARD: Our pleasure.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: One of its own agencies says the U.S. government is not ready to handle a nuclear terrorist attack or a large-scale natural catastrophe. That was part of a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office obtained by the Associated Press. It found the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a hard time coordinating different agencies’ disaster efforts, and an overall medical response plan in the event of a nuclear attack is still five to 10 years away.

    This is one of several disaster response reports the GAO plans to release in the coming months. Turkey signaled today that it could start training Syrian opposition fighters this winter. The Turkish foreign minister gave a time frame of before March.

    It includes both training and equipping fighters going after Islamic State militants. One of the key portions of President Obama’s strategy in Syria involves fielding local forces in the fight against the insurgents.

    Pakistan executed two militants today after reinstating its death penalty in the wake of a deadly school siege in Peshawar. The men had no links to the siege. Meanwhile, Pakistani ground troops, backed by warplanes, also killed 77 militants in a northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border. And in Islamabad, lawmakers walked out of Parliament to light candles for the 148 victims of this week’s massacre.

    RUBINA KHALID, Pakistani Senator (through interpreter): The concept of good and bad Taliban has to come to an end. They have to be wiped out across the board. Right now, Pakistan doesn’t need politics; it needs harmony.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The United Nations Office on Human Rights appealed to Pakistan today to stop carrying out executions in response to this week’s attack. A U.N. spokesman said it could do more harm than good by — quote — “feeding a cycle of revenge.”

    Back in this country, a listeria outbreak linked to tainted caramel Apples has killed four people and sickened at least 28 others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the bacterial illnesses were reported in 10 states, from Washington to North Carolina, between mid-October and late November. The pre-packaged caramel apples were sold under the Carnival and Kitchen Cravings brands.

    The Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with T-Mobile today over the practice of cramming. The company will pay up to $90 million for billing customers for cell phone text services that they didn’t order. Most affected customers will get refunds for text services they never signed up for, like horoscopes and celebrity gossip updates.

    In economic news, prices at the gas pump keep falling. The average price for a gallon of gasoline is now below $2.50, for the first time in about five years. Meanwhile, the price of crude oil ended a little higher in New York trading, rising more than $2.00, to close above $56 a barrel.

    Stocks extended their gains on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average was up more than 26 points to close above 17,804. The Nasdaq rose nearly 17 points to finish at 4,765. And the S&P 500 added nine to close at 2,070. For the week, both the Dow and the S&P gained around 3 percent. The Nasdaq rose 2 percent.

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    THAT'S A WRAP monitor OBAMA

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama said today that the United States would respond proportionally and at time of its choosing to the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The FBI confirmed this morning that North Korea was behind the attack on the company.

    Mr. Obama spoke on that and other issues at a year-end news conference.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: It was a year-end review dominated by the events of one week. As the fallout continued from the Sony hacking scandal, and the studio’s decision to cancel the release of the movie about assassinating North Korea’s leader, the president weighed in.

    BARACK OBAMA: Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities and this and that and the other. I wish they had spoken to me first. I would’ve told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Without divulging specifics, he said the U.S. will respond to the attack.

    Mr. Obama also discussed his move to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba. He acknowledged the country’s regime still oppresses its people, but did find room for optimism.

    BARACK OBAMA: What I know deep in my bones is that if you have done the same thing for 50 years and nothing’s changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome. And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: His action on Cuba was just the latest instance of Mr. Obama’s using the power of the executive. Last month, he acted to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. Both moves enraged Republicans, who will control both houses of Congress come January.

    Despite their differences, and the gridlock that has gripped Washington for much of his tenure, the president said he still believes cooperation is still possible.

    BARACK OBAMA: We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement, and we have got to be able to make that happen. And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame-duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama took just a handful of questions, and only from women reporters, including one on race relations in America. It comes as the nation deals with anger over grand jury decisions in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict white police officers in the killing of two black men.

    The president says the country’s made progress, but work remains.

    BARACK OBAMA: I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we have had. These are not new phenomena. The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been in the past stories passed on around the kitchen table allows people to, you know, make their own assessments and evaluations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president left tonight for his family’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii.

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    St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson Monday in Clayton, Missouri. Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte/Reuters

    St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch revealed Friday that he was aware that some witnesses lied before the grand jury in the case against Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August. Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte/Reuters

    In an interview Friday afternoon with St. Louis radio station KTRS 550 AM, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said he knew that some witnesses were lying to the St. Louis grand jury about the Michael Brown case.

    McCulloch said he thought it better to give the grand jury more information, rather than less, and let the jurors decipher which statements were credible.

    “I thought it was much more important that the grand jury hear everything, what people have to say — and they’re in a perfect position to assess the credibility, which is what juries do.”

    McCulloch said he will not file perjury charges against those who may have lied under oath.

    In that same interview, when asked why the grand jury decision was announced in the later evening hours and only a few days before Thanksgiving, McCulloch said, “there was no good time to announce this. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen.”

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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has been criticized as cautious on foreign policy, but the secret negotiations on Cuba suggest a willingness for bold and risky action, if he can keep tight control and rely on a few close aides.

    It’s a pattern Obama followed during clandestine talks with Iran that led to an interim nuclear deal and in under-the-radar discussions with China on a climate change agreement announced last month.

    Such diplomatic breakthroughs have buoyed Obama and may help counter charges that his responses to other international matters, including the rise of Islamic State militants and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, are weak and ineffective.

    “Around the world, America is leading,” Obama said Friday in a year-end news conference. The president cited the announcement that he was normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than five decades of Cold War acrimony with the communist island nation and “turning a new page in our relationship with the Cuban people.”

    The secret talks with Cuba, like the negotiations with Iran and China, were carried out by a small number of officials who slipped in and out of Washington.

    The Iran talks were handled by State Department officials William Burns and Jake Sullivan, who have since left the administration. The point person on China was White House counselor John Podesta. Leading the Cuba mission from the White House were deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and senior Latin America adviser Ricardo Zuniga, who met with Cuban officials nine times in Canada and at the Vatican.

    In each instance, the advisers’ close proximity to the president was intended to send a message to their counterparts that they were negotiating with Obama’s full authority.

    The overtures to Iran and Cuba were gambles for Obama. The U.S. was negotiating with two countries with whom it had not had diplomatic relations in decades. Leaks about the talks could have undermined what little trust there was on either side.

    In opening a direct channel with Iran, Obama also risked angering Israel, which sees the Islamic Republic and its pursuit of a nuclear weapon as an existential threat. In shifting course on Cuba, the president risked antagonizing congressional Republicans and a few Democrats, though his new position largely puts the U.S. in line with how the rest of the world deals with the small island just 90 miles off U.S. shores.

    There are few guarantees that Obama will achieve his goals. The president has given the negotiations over a final nuclear deal with Iran a 50 percent chance of succeeding, and he acknowledged on Friday that substantial political and social change may be slow to come to Cuba.

    On other foreign matters, Obama has proved less willing to gamble, especially when potential military options are up for discussion. For example, his policy on Syria’s civil war has been seen by critics and allies as slow and indecisive.

    The president has faced questions, too, about whether he has acted aggressively enough in helping Ukraine counter Russia; his response so far has relied chiefly on economic penalties. They have contributed to a precipitous fall in Russia’s currency, but there is little indication that economic pain is causing Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back from Ukraine.

    “It’s great when you can do something with two guys in the White House,” said Jon Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “When you get a higher level of complexity, people are baffled at what the administration is trying to do.”

    Beyond diplomacy, Obama also has taken risks by approving rescue attempts of hostages in Syria and Yemen, and aggressively used drones and special operations forces against terrorists, including the 2011 raid in Pakistan that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.

    Yet Obama sometimes has helped perpetuate the image of a president paralyzed at the prospect of risk. When Obama was asked this year to outline his foreign policy doctrine, he described it a strategy that “avoids errors.”

    “You hit singles, you hit doubles,” Obama said, turning to a baseball analogy. “Every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.”

    Some supporters cringed, believing that description misconstrued an appropriately cautious approach in a complicated world.

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