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

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    A lookout post at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Senate investigators released a 500-page report Tuesday detailing CIA practices, accusing the spy agency of inflicting pain and suffering on prisoners beyond legal limits and deceiving the nation with narratives of life-saving interrogations unsubstantiated by its own records. Photo by the National Guard.

    A lookout post at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo by the National Guard.

    WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Saturday that four Afghans from the Guantanamo Bay detention center have been returned to their home country in what U.S. officials are citing as a sign of their confidence in new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

    Obama administration officials said they worked quickly to fulfil the request from Ghani, in office just three months, to return the four, who had been cleared for transfer as a kind of reconciliation and mark of improved U.S.-Afghan relations.

    There is no requirement that the Afghan government further detain the men, identified as Mohammed Zahir, Shawali Khan, Abdul Ghani and Khi Ali Gul.

    Eight Afghans are among the 132 detainees remaining at Guantanamo.

    The move is the latest in a series of transfers during the past two months. President Barack Obama has been pushing to reduce the number of detainees as he tries to make progress toward his goal of closing the globally condemned detention center for suspected terrorists.

    Administration officials, speaking on a condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, say more transfers are expected in the coming weeks.

    Guantanamo now holds the lowest number of detainees since shortly after it opened nearly 13 years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those remaining include 64 approved for transfer.

    Although the four Afghans have long been approved for transfer, the move sparked debate in Washington. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did not immediately sign off after Gen. John F. Campbell, the top American commander in Afghanistan, raised concerns they could pose a danger to troops in the country. Administration officials say Campbell and all military leaders on the ground have now screened the move.

    “The United States is grateful to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Pentagon statement said “The United States coordinated with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

    One administration official involved in the review said most, if not all, the terrorism accusations against the men had been discarded and each is considered a low-level operative at best.

    Before he can close Guantanamo, Obama faces the challenge of working out what to do with any detainees who aren’t cleared for transfer – either because the United States wants to prosecute them or continuing holding them because they are considered too dangerous to release. Congress has passed legislation blocking detainees from coming the U.S. for detention or trial.

    Some Guantanamo opponents are questioning whether the United States has the authority to continue detaining prisoners captured in the Afghan conflict after the end of combat operations at year’s end.

    “We will certainly expect to see legal challenges to continued detention at the end of hostilities, which is just in a couple weeks,” said J. Wells Dixon, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Dixon has assisted on the case of Khan and said hopefully he can reunite with his father and brother after nearly 13 years at Guantanamo.

    “He was sent to Guantanamo on the flimsiest of allegations that were implausible on their face and never fully investigated,” Dixon argued. “He never should have been there.”

    The post US sends four Afghans home from Guantanamo Bay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    113th Session Of Congress Convenes

    WASHINGTON — In an almost annual ritual, Congress has passed a last-minute package of temporary tax breaks, sparing millions of businesses and individuals from unwanted tax increases just weeks before start of filing season.

    Congress extends these tax breaks every year or two, usually at the last minute, drawing complaints from business leaders tired of the uncertainty. This year’s package will add nearly $42 billion to federal budget deficit, according to congressional estimates.

    Five things to know about the year-end tax package, which President Barack Obama signed into law Friday:


    Businesses big and small, commuters who use public transportation, teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies and people who live in states without state income taxes.

    The package of 54 tax breaks is a collection of narrow provisions targeting specific groups and industries, held together by a few broad tax breaks that benefit millions.

    In all, they affect about one in six taxpayers, according to the Tax Institute, the independent research arm at tax giant H&R Block.

    Among the biggest breaks for businesses are a tax credit for research and development and an exemption that allows financial companies such as banks and investment firms to shield foreign profits from being taxed by the U.S. Several provisions allow retailers and other businesses to write off capital investments more quickly.

    Other, narrower provisions include tax breaks for film and theater producers, NASCAR racetrack owners, racehorse owners, and rum producers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

    One protects struggling homeowners who get their mortgages reduced from paying income taxes on the amount of debt that was forgiven.


    Some of the tax breaks were originally intended to be temporary, but powerful interest groups keep them alive year after year. Others are popular but expensive, leaving some deficit-weary lawmakers reluctant to make them permanent.

    For example, some conservatives say a generous tax credit for using wind farms and other renewable energy sources to produce electricity has outlived its purpose. The tax break was first enacted in the 1990s to help kick-start a fledgling industry. It has been renewed many times since.

    One of the most popular tax credits rewards businesses for investing in research and development. Both Democrats and Republicans want to make it permanent, but congressional estimates say it would cost $156 billion in lost revenue over the next decade, so lawmakers simply renew it every year or two, masking the true long-term cost.


    Yes, the vast majority of them expired at the beginning of the year. The bill Congress passed retroactively extends them through the end of this year, enabling taxpayers to claim them on their 2014 income tax returns.


    Tax experts say it’s terrible policy to let these tax breaks expire repeatedly, only to renew them retroactively at a later date.

    Consider this: The tax credit for research and development is supposed to provide an incentive for businesses to invest in R&D. The credit expired in January and was just renewed, nearly 12 months later. How much incentive do you think the credit provided while it was expired?

    Also, business groups complain that companies can’t accurately project expenses from year to year because they don’t know for sure whether Congress will renew their tax breaks.


    The tax breaks expire again on Jan. 1, creating more uncertainty next year.

    Lawmakers from both political parties say they want to overhaul the tax code, presumably dealing with these tax breaks once and for all. That would be a heavy lift, even with one party – Republicans – controlling both the House and Senate.

    If Congress can’t accomplish a tax overhaul, lawmakers may still try to make some of the tax breaks permanent while letting others expire. If they fail, Congress could be right back where it was this year, passing another last-minute temporary tax package.

    The post Congress passes last-minute tax breaks. What should you know? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Nasser Omer is an accountant, husband, and father of two grown kids. This Indian-American is also a devout Muslim — and as such, he tries to get to his nearest mosque as often as possible to pray.

    NASSER OMER: For Muslim men, it is mandatory to pray five times a day in congregation. That is the reason we need to go to the mosque.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Omer lives in Kennesaw, Georgia, a rural community of about 30,000. It’s just over 25 miles northwest of Atlanta…. a quiet town… one where confederate flags fly freely. There are at least 40 churches in Kennesaw but no mosque, so Omer — one of perhaps a hundred Muslims in town — has to drive to the neighboring town of Marietta where there are a couple mosques.

    How far is the nearest mosque for you to go to now?

    OMER NASSER: It’s about ten miles from here. And it takes about 30 minutes from my home to the mosque, one way. After the prayers, again, 30 minutes to come back.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: A few months ago, Omer and a few other Muslim families decided they’d like to open their own small mosque in their own town. They found this strip mall — it had multiple vacancies, the price was right — and so they filed the paperwork to open a small storefront mosque right here. This Pentecostal Church had done something very similar a few months before. To help them with the process, they enlisted a local Muslim community leader — Amjad Taufique — he’d helped set-up another mosque in Marietta.

    So, why does Kennesaw need a mosque?

    AMJAD TAUFIQUE: Well, I mean, Muslims try to make it five times a day to the mosque and in this day and age, it’s a little difficult to be there five times a day. But usually, if you are close enough — five, ten minutes’ drive — you can go there early in the morning prayers, in the evening prayers at least. And you build up the community.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:At first, the application process was routine. The zoning board ok’d the idea, but as word got out about the proposed mosque, some opponents showed up in force at the next planning commission meeting. Cris Eaton Welsh — who thinks the mosque should be approved — sits on the Kennesaw City Council.

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: From my understanding, there were over 200 people that showed up to the meeting, and there–

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And that’s unusual?

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: Very unusual, you might have three people, five people.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Is that right? Normally three people show up? You had 200 this time?

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: 200 people show up this time, and it was: “You can’t let this in our community, they’re gonna practice Sharia Law,” and lots of fear, and I believe, misunderstanding in the community.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It didn’t help that the day before the city council was to hold their next meeting to discuss the mosque, the Islamic militant group ISIS released another video showing the beheading of another American, this time aid-worker, and former US Army Ranger, Peter Kassig. Welsh says this ongoing violence by some Muslims in the Middle East made any moves by a Muslim group in Georgia seem suspicious to some people in her community.

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: And they’re seeing it every single night on the news. And– and I think that instills–

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Seeing ISIS and Al-Qaeda, beheadings–

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: ISIS and Al-Qaeda, uh-huh (AFFIRM)–

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And so they thought that this was gonna be an outpost for ISIS?

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: Yes, absolutely.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Over the last couple of days, we’ve been asking people around town what they think of the proposed mosque, and the reactions have been split about 50/50. Half the people for, half against. The interesting thing though is the people who are against the mosque were very reluctant to talk with us about it on-camera. People who support the mosque, however, they were very eager to talk.

    MAN: You know, they have every right to worship where they want. It really doesn’t bother me. I mean, I hope it goes through for them and, you know, I hope it’s successful.

    WOMAN: I don’t have a problem with the mosque coming to town. I think that this country’s built on religious freedom. And I think that we should respect that.

    MAN: I do have prejudice, prejudices like everybody else that’s been formed with all the 9/11 and everything that’s been going on. I’m a live-and-let live type of person. And as long as people are good citizens — like I try to be– it’s okay with me.

    CHAD LEGERE: I don’t want Sharia law in Georgia.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We were able to track down one critic who’d speak publicly. Chad Legere works at a fire-proofing company and lives in a neighboring Georgia town. He says from what he’s seen of groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, he can’t trust the intentions of any Muslims.

    Do you know the people who are behind this mosque? I mean, they say, “We’ve been living in this community for decades, we’ve raised our families, gone to schools, and we’ve never shown a trace of violence.” Does that example not convince you they might have different intentions than you think?

    CHAD LEGERE: Like I said, prove it. Go on record condemning I.S.I.S. I haven’t seen it. And definitely not on a widespread level. Why are Christians running around scared? Why did they– why did they need to put a mosque inside a shopping center? What’s the next step? Wal-Mart’s? We gonna have a mosque at every Wal-Mart?

    AMJAD TAUFIQUE: What they’ve seen in the news media is a small you know, group of people acting upon themselves, calling themselves Muslims and doing the things that are heinous crimes and we as Muslims in America, you know, definitely do not condone those acts at all. We condemn those acts. We are against those as much as anybody else.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You mentioned that you condemn these acts, and this is one of the things we heard from people is that they feel that the American Muslim community doesn’t do enough to condemn the acts of ISIS and Al Qaeda. What is your response to that?

    AMJAD TAUFIQUE: I’m really, you know, trying to do this for past so many years. It’s just don’t know how else can we go out and reach out to the community and tell them that we’ve done that, and continue to do that. There are websites which gives links after links after links where Muslims, not only in the United States of America, but all around the world, have condemned these acts. And we continue to do that, because this is really not Islam.

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: I’m a practicing Catholic. You know, I don’t understand their religion, but I know that our Founding Fathers meant it when they penned the Constitution, and that means that whether I agree with it or not, they’ve got the right to be there.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But City Council member Welsh says the anti-Muslim vitriol only got worse when the City Council had to finally vote to approve or deny the proposed mosque. Welsh, who by day is a chiropractor, wife and mom of two young girls — says the day of that vote was a scary one.

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: The Monday of the vote, around 4:00 in the afternoon, I was here in my office and a police officer came over in the middle of my patient hours and said that she needed to speak to me. And I was like, “I’m really busy.” And she said, “No, I have to talk to you now.”

    And my Facebook information, my children’s pictures, my office phone number, my home address, my office Facebook page had all been released onto a “hate site.” And sending me some very graphic torture pictures of ISIS and saying, “This is the kind of thing that you’re trying to bring to our community, what kind of person are you?” And at that point, I got a little rattled.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The police escorted Welsh over to city hall for the vote. Protesters had already been gathering — many from out of town — and they were happy to speak out.

    FIRST PROTESTOR: To me it is a threat to my freedom, my children, and everything I own. And that includes my life and the life of my children.

    SECOND PROTESTOR: They’re training their kids how to do terrible things to Americans and we’re trying to stop it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That night, the City Council voted down the proposed mosque, 4-1. Welsh was the only one who voted in favor. The City Council didn’t give any reason why they rejected the mosque proposal, and none of the Council apart from Welsh would talk with us.

    The Mayor of Kennesaw has said that the debate had nothing to do with religion. Instead, he said it was based on concerns about proper zoning, parking and traffic congestion.

    But Atlanta attorney Doug Dillard says those can’t be the sole reasons.

    DOUG DILLARD: So parking, traffic, hours of operation, all that kind of thing can be dealt with, but they cannot be, in and of themselves, a reason to deny the application.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dillard is building a lawsuit against Kennesaw on behalf of the mosque group. He represented two other mosques in two other Georgia towns in recent years who’d been denied permits to build or expand, and both times, he helped the mosques move forward.

    Dillard says Kennesaw — just like those other towns — is violating both Constitutional and Federal protections against religious discrimination. Dillard says just look at that Pentecostal church that was allowed in that other strip mall. He says Kennesaw can’t greenlight a Christian church and then turn around and deny the Muslim mosque.

    DOUG DILLARD: I think the reason for the opposition is that this is a group of Muslims. They don’t want ‘em to worship in Kennesaw, period. They don’t care where you put ‘em.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But do you have any evidence that that’s the case?

    DOUG DILLARD: Only through their actions having approved Christian, and opposing the Muslims, and if you look at the opposition — “Terrorists go home” — it’s pretty evident that the opposition is uninformed and is putting forth an argument that’s not lawful.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: On top of Dillard’s proposed lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department told the NewsHour it was also looking into the situation in Kennesaw.

    Given the immense blow-back, and that the mosque was voted down, do you wish you had not stepped out and publicly declared yourself in favor?

    CRIS EATON-WELSH: I don’t like the publicity, I don’t like the spotlight, I don’t like any of that. I still think it was the right thing to do, for me. And I would still do it again.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Facing a possible lawsuit, and a possible Federal investigation, the Kennesaw City Council last week made a dramatic turnaround. The four members of the council who’d voted “No” asked that their votes be withdrawn, and changed to “Yes” votes. That made for a unanimous approval of the mosque’s permit.

    If nothing changes, supporters of the mosque say they’ll drop their lawsuit and hopefully soon begin work preparing the site.

    The post Freedom of religion? Mosque debate in Georgia town reveals sharp divide appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A new fish species has been discovered living at the greatest depths ever explored in the Pacific Ocean, researchers announced Friday.  

    Biology professor Paul Yancey and students from Washington state’s Whitman College found the translucent fish swimming in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean and Earth’s deepest location found off the coast of Guam.

    A video shows the yet-to-be-named fish gliding slowly and looks almost as if it’s wearing a diaphanous nightgown that rises and falls behind it.

    In addition to discovering this new species, researchers also brought back the deepest rock samples ever collected.

    These discoveries will help scientists better understand this elusive part of the sea and the creatures that live under its extreme conditions. The research also gives insight into climate change as scientists look at how much carbon the sea absorbs and the effects it has on organisms there.

    While past explorations of this cavernous crescent shaped part of the sea focused on reaching its deepest spot, Challenger Deep, Whitman College scientists on research vessel Falkor targeted depths ranging from 16,404 to 34,777 feet with five deep-sea vehicles called landers.

    The Mariana Trench is nearly seven miles deep at 36,201 feet. In other words, if Mount Everest were placed at its bottom, the peak would remain 7,000 feet below sea level, according to National Geographic.

    Five times longer than the Grand Canyon, the trench has been protected under the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, which former President George W. Bush put into effect in 2009. The protected area covers roughly  61 million acres of submerged lands and the waters above.

    The post New fish species discovered in deepest part of Pacific Ocean appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Leaders in North Korea on Saturday called the Obama Administration’s accusations that it was behind the cyber attack on Sony Pictures “groundless slander” and threatened to retaliate unless the United States agreed to conduct a joint investigation with them.

    The comments were included in a statement broadcasted on the official state-controlled KCNA news agency, Reuters reported, and read by an unnamed spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry who maintained the country was not behind the attacks.

    “We propose to conduct a joint investigation with the U.S. in response to groundless slander being perpetrated by the U.S. by mobilizing public opinion,” the North Korean spokesman said. “If the U.S. refuses to accept our proposal for a joint investigation and continues to talk about some kind of response by dragging us into the case, it must remember there will be grave consequences,” the spokesman said.

    Neither the White House nor the State Department had commented on North Korea’s response by Saturday afternoon.

    On Friday, President Barack Obama said the U.S. will respond “in a place and manner and time that we choose” to the hack attack the FBI blamed on North Korea and said it was similar to others carried out by the country.

    He also said that Sony Pictures Entertainment “made a mistake” in its decision to shelve a film about a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader, the Associated Press reported.

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

    The post North Korea calls Sony hack claims ‘slander,’ threatens to retaliate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Visitors walk across a bridge over the Tumen river from North Korea to the town of Tumen in China's Jilin province on March 21, 2009. Credit:  Peter ParksAFP/Getty Images.

    Visitors walk across a bridge over the Tumen river from North Korea to the town of Tumen in China’s Jilin province on March 21, 2009. Credit: Peter ParksAFP/Getty Images.

    Chinese authorities arrested Christian missionary Peter Hahn near the China-North Korea border on Friday.

    The 74-year-old Korean-American was detained at the end of November and was charged with embezzlement and possession of fake receipts, his Shanghai-based lawyer Zhang Peihong told the Associated Press.

    “The charges leveled against him are just excuses,” Peihong said, who alleged they were part of a larger crackdown by Chinese authorities on Christian nonprofits in the area.

    Hahn, a naturalized U.S. citizen who fled from North Korea years ago, was the head of a Christian aid agency and set up a vocational school, which served North Koreans in the Chinese border town of Tumen. The school was shut down in July.

    Both Hahn’s lawyer and his wife, Eunice, told Reuters that more than a decade ago Hahn had helped North Korean defectors, but that he had stopped doing so.

    In August, Canadian Christian couple, Kevin and Julia Garratt, who had lived in the border town of Dandong for decades and had opened a coffee shop in 2008, were detained on suspicions of stealing state secrets, according to the Wall Street Journal.

    The post China arrests US aid worker on North Korea border appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: In recent days, pro-western Kurdish fighters, backed by American air power, have forced ISIS fighters in Northern Iraq to retreat from territory they seized last summer.

    For more about this, we are joined by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Cordesman previously served in the State Department and was the director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

    So, what happened in the past few days?

    ANTHONY CORDESMAN: What happened is that a combination of Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. and other airpower, opened up a line where Yazidis — these are a minority group who have been stranded on a mountain range for months — could actually move out along the ground.

    Now, this was important not only because the Yazidis for the first time were given a secure ground route to escape, but there are estimates that up to 8,000 Kurdish troops were involved, that they were able to make effective use of air support, that this is the largest operation so far as an offensive ground-air operation against the Islamic State.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, strategically it’s important because they are able to maintain control of a region?

    ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well, it’s important because they were able to operate a significant ground force with air support. We need to remember that again and again, we’ve been told it’s going to take two to three years to create an effective combination of Kurdish, Iraqi, and Sunni Iraqi forces that could actually liberate the parts of Iraq occupied by the Islamic State.

    This is not a decisive victory. The Islamic state is still making some gains in the south. It hasn’t affected the situation in Syria. There still has been no really effective operation by the Iraqi ground troops, except in a refinery area in Beiji. This is very early days in a very long but low-level struggle.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Speaking of Iraqi ground troops there, have been reports there have been almost mass desertions in some corners from Shiite forces that signed up. They were crucial in order to take back certain gains that ISIS has made, but is Iraq slipping again from maintaining that morale and maintaining that troop force that can hold off ISIS?

    ANTHONY CORDESMAN: We have to understand there are an awful lot of reports here, and some of them are more accurate than others. There were a lot of Shiite militias involved. These are not forces that can really stay on the ground. They really had only limited capability to push Islamic forces out. They were helpful in defense.

    The core is the Iraqi army, frankly, collapsed under the previous prime minister, a combination of corruption, bad leadership, almost everything that could go wrong did. We are now trying to salvage some nine brigades out of a force that once had 46 brigades.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. So, what’s happening in the Mosul area now?

    ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well, the fact is it remains under the control of the Islamic State. The air campaign, efforts to shut off the illegal export of petroleum — all of these have weakened the Islamic State.

    There is really a problem with power. Almost all of it has to come from local generators. There are problems with water. There are no real jobs in the area, and, oddly enough, it’s the Iraqi central government that is paying for the schools that the Islamic State now supervises.

    So, you have some elements of a state from the Islamic State, but the situation in Mosul and the areas it controls seems to be steadily deteriorating.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Anthony Cordesman joining us from Washington, thanks so much.


    The post What’s behind the recent retreat of ISIS in Northern Iraq? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Two NYPD officers were shot to death in their patrol car in Brooklyn shortly before the suspected gunman shot himself in the head at a nearby subway station.

    Two NYPD officers were shot to death in their patrol car in Brooklyn shortly before the suspected gunman shot himself in the head at a nearby subway station.

    NEW YORK — Two New York Police Department officers were shot and killed Saturday in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

    At a press conference Saturday evening, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton identified the shooter as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who fled the area and later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

    “Today, two of New York’s finest were shot and killed with no warning, with no provocation,” Bratton said. “They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform and for the responsibility they embraced to keep the people of this city safe.”

    At 2:47 p.m., New York City police officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, a seven-year veteran of the force, were sitting in their marked patrol car when Brinsley approached, Bratton said.

    “He took a shooting stance on the passenger side and fired his weapon several times through the front passenger window, striking both officers in the head,” Bratton said.

    Bratton said the officers, who had been assigned to that particular location to address complaints of violence in the area, did not have an opportunity to draw their weapons and may have not even seen Brinsley.

    They were both taken to Brooklyn’s Woodhull Medical Center where they died from their injuries.

    Brinsley reportedly ran to a nearby subway station and shot himself in the head on the train platform. He was taken to Brooklyn Hospital Center where he was pronounced dead.

    Bratton said Brinsley had a “very strong bias against police officers,” according to his social media accounts, which indicated that he had traveled earlier Saturday from Baltimore, Md., where he was linked to another incident where a woman was shot and wounded.

    Reactions flood in from across the country

    The killings come on the heels of months of demonstrations around the country, centered in Ferguson, Mo., protesting several recent police killings of unarmed black men and a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, with a chokehold.

    On Saturday evening, the hashtag #BlueLivesMatter lit up Twitter, a reference to the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag associated with the protests.

    “Let’s face it, there has been a very strong anti-police, anti-criminal justice system set of initiatives underway,” Bratton said, adding that it wasn’t yet clear whether Brinsley had been part of any of the demonstrations.

    Rev. Al Sharpton released a statement Saturday evening condemning the use of violence as a means of revenge.

    “We have stressed at every rally and march that anyone engaged in any violence is an enemy to the pursuit of justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown,” Sharpton said. “The Garner family and I have always stressed that we do not believe that all police are bad, in fact we have stressed that most police are not bad.”

    On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Police Department tweeted that officers would wear a black band to mourn the two victims.

    “Our city is in mourning, our hearts are heavy,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the press conference. “We lost two good men who devoted their lives to protecting ours. Officer Ramos and Officer Liu died in the line of duty, protecting the city they loved.”

    In a statement, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “This deplorable act of violence is the opposite of what New York is and what New Yorkers believe in. Tonight, we all come together to mourn the loss of these brave souls.” 

    Carey Reed contributed to this report. 

    The post Gunman ‘assassinates’ two NYPD officers in Brooklyn ambush appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: You probably heard that during his news conference yesterday, President Obama took the apparently unprecedented step of only taking questions from female reporters.

    BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Carrie Budoff. Cheryl Bolen. Julie Pace. Lesley Clark. Roberta Rampton.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It might be a very small example of how the president, often criticized for his caution, is now doing things his own way as he begins his last two years in office.

    For more, we are joined by Peter Baker, White House reporter at The New York Times.

    So, is this press conference an example of this new President Obama that we’re seeing in the last six weeks?

    PETER BAKER: Yes, that’s a good question. The truth is I was in the room, had my question ready to go, and I didn’t even notice that it was only women being asked.

    The truth is, there are a lot of — you know, strong, powerful, and incredibly talented women in the White House press corps. So, it’s hardly an unusual thing to have them ask questions of the president.

    But what’s interesting, of course, is the president is coming off a period where he’s supposed to be in lame duck mode, having lost rather decisively the midterm elections.

    And instead, he’s cut a climate deal with China. He’s issued an immigration order that’s pretty sweeping, and this week, of course, the big diplomatic opening to Cuba. So, if he’s a lame duck, he clearly hasn’t gotten the memo.

    He wants to show anyway that he’s not a lame duck, and we’ll see how far he can take it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the calculations, at least from the White House, that you’re hearing that went into this? I mean, clearly, it wasn’t a surprise that he had all these things lined up, and was it dependent on how the midterm elections turned out?

    PETER BAKER: Each of these, of course, is a different thing. I mean, he had a trip to China scheduled for after the election, regardless of how the election turned out, and they’ve been negotiating the climate deal for quite a while.

    This Cuba deal has been in the works for 18 months. You know, I don’t think it’s dependent on the election.

    I do think the election, though, at least according to his aides, you know, has given him a sense of feeling liberated not just from the campaign but even from his own Democrats.

    You know, he’s been taking on his own fellow allies in Congress on a couple of occasions since the election. He no longer feels wedded to them in a way that he feels he has to worry about their election chances cause the campaign is over, so he can take on Republicans when it comes to things like immigration. He can take on the Democrats when it comes to things like these tax deal and spending deals they have been working on.

    So, it’s going to be interesting to see how he takes this next two years, whether this is a new President Obama, whether there is a temporary moment, but it’s certainly been a fascinating few weeks.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And this isn’t too dissimilar with what President Bush did in his last two years, right after a pretty bad election result then, too, midterm.

    PETER BAKER: Yes. You know, it’s interesting, after his sixth year, after his second midterm, President Bush came out of it, having lost both Houses of Congress, and he took away a message exactly the opposite of what the winners of that election thought it was. They thought it was a mandate to get out of Iraq.

    He went the opposite way. He doubled down. He sent more troops. He changed the strategy. He said, we’re going to take one more shot at winning this thing and I don’t care if there is a political price to be paid.

    And it did pay off for him, because obviously, the violence went down substantially over the next year, and he was able to leave behind an Iraq at the end of his term that looked a whole lot better than the one that he had in front of him at the end of that midterm.

    So, he did defy, in effect, the result of that midterm, at least what some people thought was the result of that midterm, just as President Obama today seems to be taking his own course forward, regardless of what the winners of the midterm elections would have him do.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How much of this is politics and how much of this is an interest in what your personal legacy will be if you’re president?

    PETER BAKER: Well, I think if you get at this stage of your presidency, you’re six years done. The largest legislative achievements you’re going to get are usually behind you and you start to look for other ways to make a difference. You start to think about how history will view you.

    And, of course, President Obama had talked for a long time about reaching out to rogue actors like Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and so forth. Cuba seemed to be an opening that he could, in his view, anyway, make a difference that will stand in the history books.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Peter Baker of The New York Times, joining us from Washington — thanks so much.

    PETER BAKER: Thank you. Happy holidays.

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    WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is ending 2014 much in the same way he started it, frustrated in efforts to push Israel and Palestinians toward peace.

    With a diplomatic showdown looming this past week over Arab plans to force Israel from occupied Palestinian lands within three years, Kerry prepared for a quick trip to Jordan in hopes of finding a calmer alternative.

    By Thursday, the crisis appeared to have been averted when Palestinian and Jordanian officials said they would not push their resolution to an immediate vote in the U.N. Security Council, partly because the U.S. threatened a veto.

    The fast-moving political drama was a small, if temporary, victory for America’s chief diplomat in his quest to end generations of fighting and tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. But it also showed how unlikely it is that Kerry can help restart peace talks soon, much less achieve the lasting truce he long has hoped to arrange.

    “If people come together, work together, exert an effort to try to find the common ground here, I’m confident that the people of Israel are as interested in peace as are the people in Palestine, in the West Bank, in Jordan, and in the region,” Kerry said recently.

    “But this is not the moment to opine on that process,” Kerry said.

    Last January, Kerry was immersed in the latest round of peace talks that were set to expire in late April. He started the year on a plane to Jerusalem, where he was greeted by Palestinian protests, threats of new Israeli settlement construction and criticism from U.S. officials over how the Obama administration was handling the delicate negotiations.

    The hits kept coming.

    Even as he urged both sides to resist tit-for-tat barbs, Kerry was lambasted by Israel’s defense minister as “obsessive” and “messianic” and accused of ignoring demands that Palestinian officials said had to be part of a final deal.

    He pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to uphold a pledge to release Palestinian prisoners, but to no avail. He prodded Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to consider recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, but was soundly rejected.

    In the end, disputes over territorial borders, security, refugees and the fate of Jerusalem could not be settled. The final breakdown was set into motion when Israel moved ahead with plans to build settlement units in an area of east Jerusalem that Palestinians consider their territory.

    “And, poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in early April, just weeks before a deadline for a framework plan toward a final peace deal.

    Soon afterward, Abbas agreed to form a unity government with Palestinian political rival Hamas, which Israel and the U.S. consider a terrorist organization. Israel angrily cut off the peace negotiations.

    It only got worse.

    The Obama administration had warned that the aborted peace talks could lead to a new Palestinian uprising. By summer, violence began to spiral with the kidnapping and deaths of three Israeli teenagers, allegedly by Hamas. That was followed by a suspected revenge killing of 16-year-old Palestinian youth by Israeli extremists.

    The stage was set for a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls. The fighting killed at least 2,100 Palestinians and 72 people from Israel.

    At the height of the war in early August, when Kerry was traveling in India, he tried to arrange a cease-fire. He even called a middle-of-the-night news conference in New Delhi to announce that an agreement had been reached. That cease-fire fell apart in less than two hours. Netanyahu gruffly advised Kerry “not to ever second-guess me again” on trying to force a truce.

    Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended cease-fire largely brokered by Egypt later in August.

    But tensions between Israel and Palestinians remained high, and spiked last month.

    Violent demonstrations led Israel in November to restrict Muslim access to a holy site in Jerusalem that includes the al-Aqsa mosque, the third most sacred place in Islam, and the ancient Hebrew Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism. With the crackdown came a fresh round of deadly Palestinian attacks.

    Neighboring Jordan, custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and just one of two Arab nations at peace with Israel, pulled its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest.

    But at the request of Palestinian leaders, Jordan last week sought a Security Council vote that probably further frayed the kingdom’s relationship with Israel. The Arab proposal would have set a 2017 deadline for Israel to leave Palestinian territories. Officials on Thursday said the vote would be delayed while diplomatic discussions continued.

    That gives time for the potential of an alternative proposal to set the groundwork for peace talks to resume, as Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have suggested for months.

    Given the decades of U.S. failure to broker a final peace deal, expectations were high that Kerry would bring a new approach. Now, critics in the Mideast and Washington wonder why he bothered at all.

    Dennis Ross, a former U.S. diplomat and Mideast peace negotiator, said the “pretty sour atmosphere” between Israelis and Palestinians probably will prevent a final peace deal soon. But giving up, he said, will only “guarantee that things will get worse.”

    “If you say our only choice is to do nothing or solve the whole problem, inevitably you’ll do nothing,” Ross said. “And you’ll create a vacuum, and then the worst possible forces will fill the vacuum. But The notion that we’ll be able to solve everything at once is also not realistic.”

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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said his plan to normalize relations with Cuba gives the U.S. a chance to influence events at an important moment of change for the communist nation, and he brushed off critics who accuse him of kowtowing to dictators.

    Obama said a half-century of trying to push out the Castro government through isolation has not worked. He said his administration is taking a look at whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror, acknowledging that Havana’s inclusion makes it difficult for the U.S. to pursue closer ties.

    “If we engage, we have the opportunity to influence the course of events at a time when there’s going to be some generational change in that country,” Obama told CNN’s “State of the Union” in an interview set to air Sunday. “And I think we should seize it and I intend to do so.”

    Obama’s move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba elicited cheers from longtime opponents of the strict U.S. position toward Cuba. But his announcement last week also drew fierce opposition, including from some U.S. lawmakers in both parties who said Obama failed to win any commitments from Cuba to democratize before the easing of U.S. penalties and travel restrictions.

    On Saturday, Cuban opposition leaders in Miami joined Cuban-American politicians and activists, pledging to oppose Obama’s plan.

    Cuban President Raul Castro, speaking to his National Assembly, said that Cuba would not renounce its communist system despite the normalization of ties with the U.S. He paraded three convicted spies just released from U.S. prison, and they shook their fists in victory in front of parliament.

    Obama said it’s wrong to accuse him of letting dictators outmaneuver him, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin as an example. After all, Russia’s currency is now collapsing under the weight of U.S. and European penalties, he pointed out.

    “There is this knee-jerk sense, I think, on the part of some in the foreign policy establishment that, you know, shooting first and thinking about it second projects strength,” Obama said.

    “We have been very firm with respect to those countries that we think are violating international law or are acting against our interests. But I have been consistent in saying that where we can solve problems diplomatically, we should do so.”

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    HONOLULU — The United States is reviewing whether to put North Korea back onto its list of state sponsors of terrorism, President Barack Obama said as the U.S. decides how to respond to the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that law enforcement has blamed on the communist nation.

    Obama described the hacking case as a “very costly, very expensive” example of cybervandalism, but did not call it an act of war. In trying to fashion a proportionate response, the president said the U.S. would examine the facts to determine whether North Korea should find itself back on the terrorism sponsors list.

    “We’re going to review those through a process that’s already in place,” Obama told CNN’s “State of the Union” in an interview to air Sunday. “I’ll wait to review what the findings are.”

    North Korea spent two decades on the list until the Bush administration removed it in 2008 during nuclear negotiations. Some lawmakers have called for the designation to be restored following the hack that led Sony to cancel the release of a big-budget film that North Korea found offensive.

    Only Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba remain on the list, which triggers sanctions that limit U.S. aid, defense exports and certain financial transactions.

    But adding North Korea back could be difficult. To meet the criteria, the State Department must determine that a country has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, a definition that traditionally has referred to violent, physical attacks rather than hacking.

    Obama also leveled fresh criticism against Sony over its decision to shelve “The Interview,” despite the company’s insistence that its hand was forced after movie theaters refused to show it.

    While professing sympathy for Sony’s situation, Obama suggested he might have been able to help address the problem if given the chance.

    “You know, had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what that story was,” Obama said.

    Sony’s CEO has disputed that the company never reached out, saying he spoke to a senior White House adviser about the situation before Sony announced the decision. White House officials said Sony did discuss cybersecurity with the federal government, but that the White House was never consulted on the decision not to distribute the film.

    “Sometimes this is a matter of setting a tone and being very clear that we’re not going to be intimidated by some, you know, cyberhackers,” Obama said. “And I expect all of us to remember that and operate on that basis going forward.”

    North Korea has denied hacking the studio, and on Saturday proposed a joint investigation with the U.S. to determine the true culprit. The White House rejected the idea and said it was confident North Korea was responsible.

    But the next decision – how to respond – is hanging over the president as he vacations with his family in Hawaii.

    Obama’s options are limited. The U.S. already has trade penalties in place and there is no appetite for military action.

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    TRILLION DOLLAR  DEAL monitor capitol dome moneyIn the last fiscal year, the federal government recovered a record $5.69 billion under the False Claims Act, which means the payouts to the whistleblowers, who play a crucial role in exposing cases of fraud, have been some of the biggest ever. 

    Whistleblowers who file false claims lawsuits can receive up to 30 percent of the money that a company pays to the government, which added up to $435 million in whistleblower rewards primarily for mortgage, health care and defense fraud cases.  

    Here’s a round up of some of the biggest false claims settlements and the subsequent whistleblower rewards from the last fiscal year:

    Johnson & Johnson
    Settlement: $2.2 billion “to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from allegations relating to the prescription drugs Risperdal, Invega and Natrecor, including promotion for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration  and payment of kickbacks to physicians and to the nation’s largest long-term care pharmacy provider.” It’s one of the largest health care fraud settlements in U.S. history, according to the Department of Justice. 

    Whistleblower’s share: $167.7 million divided among whistleblowers in Pennsylvania ($112 million), Massachusetts ($27.7 million) and California ($28 million).

    JP Morgan Chase
    A New York City Police office stands atSettlement: $614 million “for violating the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and underwriting non-compliant mortgage loans submitted for insurance coverage and guarantees by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs,” according to the Department of Justice.

    Whistleblower’s share: $63.9 million will go to Keith Edwards, a former assistant vice president supervising a government insuring unit for JP Morgan, for providing tips that led to the company’s agreement to pay $614 million.

    Bank of America
    Bank of America To Buy MBNA For $35 Billion
    Settlement: $16.65 billion – the largest civil settlement with a single entity in American history — “related to the packaging, marketing, sale, arrangement, structuring and issuance of RMBS, collateralized debt obligations, and the bank’s practices concerning the underwriting and origination of mortgage loans.”

    Whistleblower’s share: Former Countrywide Financial executive Edward O’Donnell is collecting more than $57 million for helping federal prosecutors force Bank of America to pay $16.65 billion for its role in churning out shoddy mortgages and related securities before the financial crisis.  

    Amedisys Inc.
    Settlement: $150 million “to the federal government to resolve allegations that from 2008 to 2010 they billed Medicare for nursing and therapy services that were medically unnecessary or provided to patients who were not homebound, and otherwise misrepresented patients’ conditions to increase payments,” according to the Department of Justice.  

    Whistleblowers’ share: $26 million split collectively among former Amedisys employees.

    Omnicare Inc.
    Settlement: $124.4 million “for allegedly offering improper financial incentives to nursing facilities in return for their continued patronage of Omnicare to supply drugs to elderly Medicare and Medicaid patients.“

    Whistleblowers share: $17.24 million will be awarded to Donald Gale, a former Omnicare employee.

    The post Fortune of fraud: Top 5 biggest payouts to federal whistleblowers in 2014 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Women place flowers at a memorial to the two New York Police Department  officers that were shot and killed nearby December 21, 2014 in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Women place flowers at a memorial to the two New York Police Department officers that were shot and killed nearby December 21, 2014 in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Flags flew at half staff around the city of New York on Sunday, as residents mourned the killings of two New York Police Department officers in what was characterized by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton as an assassination.


    NPYD officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, were taken to Brooklyn’s Woodhull Medical Center where they were pronounced dead.

    Officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, of the 79th precinct in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn were shot while they were in uniform in their patrol car on Saturday. The shooter, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, fled the scene following the shooting and later died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Ramos and Liu died of their injuries at Brooklyn’s Woodhull Medical Center.

    NYPD officers gathered at the hospital to pay their respects and also salute their fallen colleagues.

    Many turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio when he arrived to hold a press conference on Saturday night at Woodhull.

    “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” said Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the country’s largest municipal police union. “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.”


    Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, traveled from Baltimore, Md., earlier Saturday to Brooklyn.

    Brinsley traveled from Baltimore earlier Saturday and shot the two officers execution-style, in an apparent retaliation for recent killings by police of unarmed black men, which sparked protests over the past few months in cities across the nation.

    “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today,” Mr. Brinsley apparently wrote on an Instagram posting, the New York Times reported. Brinsley also referred to the death of Eric Garner, a black man killed during an encounter with police in Staten Island: “They Take 1 Of Ours, Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.”

    Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, joined the Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem for a press conference Sunday, in which she denounced the killings of officers Ramos and Liu.

    “My husband was not a violent man, so we do not want any violence connected to his name,” she said.

    Baltimore police said they became aware of Brinsley’s intentions on Saturday afternoon and called NYPD officials to alert them that Brinsley had traveled to Brooklyn.

    The call came in less than an hour before the shooting.

    The post New York City mourns NYPD officers slain in Brooklyn ambush appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    RICK KARR: For most of the eighteen years that she spent working for the medical device manufacturer C.R. Bard near Atlanta, Julie Darity says she had unwavering faith in the company’s integrity. Upholding it was part of her job.

    JULIE DARITY: My entire career had been compliance, and making sure that things were done appropriately, according to the regulations.

    RICK KARR: You believed in this company, you thought this company was doing the right thing.

    JULIE DARITY:  Oh, I did.

    RICK KARR: But her faith was tested when she started working with a team that sold radioactive pellets used to treat prostate cancer. It was her job to review every transaction the team made and she began to suspect they’d developed a scheme to overcharge Medicare, which paid for most of the pellets.

    She says sales reps persuaded customers to use Bard’s product — even though it was more expensive than the competition’s — by giving them free medical equipment, rebates, and grants. The incentives came at the expense of taxpayers, because Medicare was paying the higher price Bard set.

    JULIE DARITY: There were instructions that I was given to do things that clearly were inappropriate, perhaps illegal, and so when those things would happen I would question management about it. My hope was that things would be resolved.

    RICK KARR: She says they did nothing, so – according to court documents filed later — she reported her concerns in an ethics complaint to Bard’s corporate headquarters. The company sent investigators to visit the site and, at around the same time, she alleges her superiors began mistreating her.

    JULIE DARITY: I came to feel that I was a problem employee.

    RICK KARR: You came to feel that?


    RICK KARR: After a year, C.R. Bard fired her the week before Thanksgiving. Two days later, she began preparing a civil whistleblower lawsuit. Because federal money was at stake in its allegation of Medicare fraud, she filed her case on behalf of the United States, as well as herself.

    The scheme she alleged was complex. Her lawyer would need to connect all the dots and she had to provide the evidence. She spent the next seven years finding it by poring over documents and the contents of a laptop that

    Bard had sold to her.

    Is that like, the laptop?

    JULIE DARITY: This is the laptop.

    RICK KARR: It’s got a Bard sticker on it there…

    JULIE DARITY: That information was only available from sales records that happened to be on this laptop.

    RICK KARR: Her lawsuit was filed under a provision of federal law that Congress had strengthened twenty years earlier to encourage whistleblowers.

    SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: We didn’t known that it was going to turn out to be the best tool that exists in government today for fighting fraud in government.

    RICK KARR: Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was a sponsor of the whistleblower reform in 1986. It came about after auditors discovered that the Defense Department had been buying four hundred dollar hammers and six hundred dollar toilet seats. Grassley thought individual Americans might be able to stop waste and fraud that the Pentagon failed to.

    SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: It gives outside pressure and outside incentives, empowering people when government is not doing its job to do its job.

    RICK KARR: The law had been on the books since the Civil War. Military contractors had supplied the Union army with sick horses and mules, faulty weapons and ammunition, and tainted rations. Congress sent President Abraham Lincoln the False Claims Act which let whistleblowers file suit on behalf of the government — and keep a portion of the penalties if a suit was successful.

    The law that Lincoln signed was based on a legal concept that dates back to medieval England. Back then, lawyers used a Latin phrase to describe it that means, “one who sues on behalf of the King as well as oneself.” Today, lawyers still use the first two words of that phrase — qui tam — as the name of this kind of whistleblower lawsuit.

    In the fiscal year that ended on September 30, the federal government recovered five point six nine billion dollars under the False Claims Act.

    JOYCE BRANDA: You can’t argue with success. You can’t argue with close to $6 billion this fiscal year, which is the largest amount we’ve ever recovered.

    RICK KARR: Joyce Branda is in charge of False Claims Act cases at the Department of Justice.

    JOYCE BRANDA: I think the success of the statute breeds success. So the more cases are filed and the more we recover under the statute, it gains that much more notoriety.

    RICK KARR: The suits get attention thanks to the amount of money some whistleblowers have made, typically no more than a quarter of the money that is recovered. Darity’s share was more than ten million dollars when C.R. Bard paid more than forty eight million dollars to settle the case.

    There’s a self interest in this, if you’re successful, this suit is successful, you get a chunk of money out of this, you’re not doing this out of purely altruistic motives.

    JULIE DARITY: My primary motivation for this was full vindication. Yes, I was compensated, but I worked very hard for the American people, who recovered almost 40 million dollars, then they got all my tax money, which was significant, my lawyers got a nice big chunk of it, and I got what was left.

    RICK KARR: Did you get rich off this?

    JULIE DARITY: We’re comfortable off this, but we’re living in the same home we lived in for almost eighteen years, I’m still driving my Honda Civic hybrid, it’s a 2005 model, no Maserati in my garage.

    Darity’s now working for the social security administration helping people appeal disability claims.

    Even though the False Claims Act worked out for her, a former deputy attorney general says it needs reforming.

    DAVID OGDEN: What often follows lots and lots of money is, are problems of people who are pursuing marginal, frivolous claims, because there’s potentially a big payday at the back end, and that is an issue.

    RICK KARR: David Ogden has worked on both sides of the False Claims Act, first at the Department of Justice, and now at a D.C. law firm that defends companies in whistleblower suits. He argues that the vast majority of cases are dismissed or abandoned because so many are meritless. He’s become the leading advocate in a campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to reform the law.

    Ogden says the biggest problem with the False Claims Act is that it can impose penalties that are out of proportion to the fraud a company may have committed. He also says it doesn’t give companies enough opportunity to fix problems before the federal government gets involved.

    DAVID OGDEN: I think the false claims act is extraordinarily useful and has really been innovative and important in helping to detect fraud after it occurs and punishing fraud after it occurs and then recovering money for the government. It’s very good at that and that’s very important. What the false claims act is not good at and what I think needs to be fixed, and I think there’s an opportunity to do it, is to prevent fraud before it occurs.

    RICK KARR: He proposes amending the law … to grant immunity to a company if independent auditors certify its fraud prevention and whistleblower protection measures … and if the firm reports any fraud it finds to the government.

    DAVID OGDEN: If it’s a good company that cares, and wants to comply with the law, have the companies stop it, have the companies report it, if they don’t then let’s whack them with the big penalties.

    RICK KARR: Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says that would gut the False Claims Act. The only change he supports is one to prevent companies from defrauding the government a second time.

    SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: Heads roll– you don’t do business with the federal government ever or for– a certain period of time.

    RICK KARR: Hit ‘em where it hurts on the bottom line, basically–

    SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: Yes. If you like doing business with the federal government, you ought to do it in– in a honest way, not in a fraudulent way. And if you do it in a fraudulent way, there ought to be a price to be paid.

    RICK KARR: For C.R. Bard, that price was nearly fifty million dollars. But Julie Darity says she paid a price, too.

    Did you think, at some point, oh my god I’m one of those whistle blowers I hear about?

    JULIE DARITY: I did, and it’s got such a negative connotation, but I would think most people are like me, and it’s a very painful process, it’s not easy, you’re a pariah.

    RICK KARR: No regrets?

    JULIE DARITY: No regrets. I would still do it again because it was the right thing to do.

    The post Whistleblowers win with False Claims Act, but does it actually deter fraud? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Fast food workers and activists demonstrate outside McDonald's downtown flagship restaurant on May 15 in Chicago. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yesterday, we told you that the National Labor Relations Board filed formal complaints against McDonald’s and some of its franchisees.

    To unpack this story further, we’re joined now by Steven Greenhouse. Until this past week, he was a correspondent for The New York Times who covered labor issues, among other things.

    So, what does the NLRB allege that McDonald’s or its franchisees did?

    STEVEN GREENHOUSE: So, the Labor Board says that McDonald’s and many of its franchisees around the country improperly retaliated against, spied on workers who participated in this Fight for 15 campaign of fast food workers, demanding a base wage of $15 an hour at fast food restaurants around the country.


    So, there’s usually a distinction between McDonald’s, the owning franchise, or, I guess, the brand, and all of the franchisees. But why are they lumped together in this?

    STEVEN GREENHOUSE: What’s really gotten under McDonald’s and the business community’s skin is the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board is saying McDonald’s is a joint employer with its franchisees.

    So, it’s saying that a franchise that might have 30 employees and often acts as if, well, I, the franchise owner, I’m the only employer, the NLRB is saying McDonald’s exercises so much influence over the restaurants, telling them, you know — with all sorts of requirements about how to cook, how to keep things clean, ways to handle your employees, the NLRB said, McDonald’s, you’re a joint employer.

    And, for McDonald’s, that’s quite bad news, because it means if a franchise owner is charged with not paying overtime or if he’s charged with retaliating against someone for exercising his — his rights to form a union, not just the franchise operator will be accused and charged, but McDonald’s itself can be held jointly responsible.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this has repercussions beyond McDonald’s, then.

    STEVEN GREENHOUSE: Yes. So, this has sent shockwaves through franchise industries around the country, you know, restaurants, retailers, I guess auto lube company — all sorts of companies.

    And then, on Friday, there was this big telephonic — telephonic news conference with the Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the International Franchise Association, and the National Restaurant Association.

    They’re upset. And they really want to persuade the courts, they want to persuade Congress to do something about this NLRB action.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, now it goes in front of an administrative law judge, but what does that mean? What are the next steps in this fight?

    STEVEN GREENHOUSE: So, these are only allegations. It’s civil, not criminal.

    So, a judge will hear it. And if the judge rules against McDonald’s, then McDonald’s will likely appeal to the five-person NLRB in Washington, then probably to the federal courts.

    Unions are very, very happy about what the NLRB did, because it means that it gives them much more leverage pressure against — against McDonald’s and its franchisees.

    If McDonald’s is considered a joint employer, that means it will pressure its franchisees to comply with the law more.

    And unions are trying — this fast food campaign is trying to unionize McDonald’s. And the fact that it could — that if it’s a joint employer, you could try to run a nationwide campaign to unionize all the McDonald’s around the country, rather than just this franchise here in New York and this one in Cincinnati, this one in Saint Louis.

    So it is really is a boon for the unions, but, as I said, it’s not great for McDonald’s.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Steven Greenhouse, thanks so much.

    STEVEN GREENHOUSE: Sure. Great to be here.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to Viewers Like You. Your feedback about some of our recent work.

    Many of you wrote us about last night’s signature piece describing the controversy about a mosque being opened in one Georgia town.

    A few sympathized with opponents of the plan.

    Virginia Lee said: Can’t help wanting to exclude Muslim FUNDAMENTALISTS from our country. Their rules concerning women are disgusting and seen to contravene our laws. Accept our culture or don’t come.

    Bachcole added this: If the Muslims do not pledge their belief in freedom of religion, then deport them. If they do pledge their belief in freedom of religion, then I don’t care where they set up their mosque.

    One viewer said media coverage of terror acts by Muslim extremists overseas distorts American’s views of Muslims.


    This is what happens when one terrorist group after another engages in mass murder and destruction in the name of Islam. The media reports all of these atrocities and this is what is seen. The reason we have such backlash against muslims has to do with the narrative, and that is the responsibility of the media as well as Muslims themselves. Good Muslims need to work that much harder to educate others.

    But most of you defended the right of American Muslims to worship as they please.

    Angela Morrison wrote: Sorry folks. You either believe in freedom of religion and the Constitution or you don’t. You don’t get to pick and choose.

    AK said: We are full functioning hypocrites. We love free speech until we dislike what is being said. We love freedom of religion as long as it is our religion.

    And Greg Costello added this: I’ve lived next door, literally 20 yards away, from a Mosque for the past 4 years. Haven’t had a single bad encounter.
    People fear what they don’t know. They fear people who are different.

    As always, feel free to leave us comments online at newshour.pbs.org, tweet us @NewsHour or on the NewsHour Facebook page.

    The post Viewers respond to report on controversy over Georgia mosque appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The man who shot and killed two New York Police Department officers in Brooklyn Saturday expressed anger against the government for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown on social media and had previously attempted suicide, officials said Sunday.


    Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, traveled from Baltimore, Md., earlier Saturday to Brooklyn.

    At a press conference, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said that 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who fatally shot himself in the head after killing NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, had no gang connections and had not been radicalized.

    Boyce said police were still investigating Brinsley’s Instagram account on which he posted a photo of the gun he would use in the shooting and wrote that he was seeking revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men who were killed by white police officers earlier this year.

    He reportedly wrote: “They Take 1 Of Ours, Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.”

    Brinsley had traveled to New York earlier Saturday from Baltimore, Md., where around 5:30 a.m. he broke into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and shot and injured her during a confrontation and then fled with her phone. She later identified Brinsley to police, who began tracking his movements via the phone.

    ny daily news crime scene 3

    The shooting occurred in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn at 2:47 p.m., police said.

    Brinsley arrived in New York around 10:50 a.m., and he discarded the phone at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn around noon.

    The NYPD was alerted to Brinsley’s whereabouts in Brooklyn only about an hour prior to the shooting.

    Boyce said Brinsley spoke briefly with two men immediately before the shooting at 2:47 p.m in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, telling them, “Watch what I am about to do.”


    NPYD officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, were taken to Brooklyn’s Woodhull Medical Center where they were pronounced dead.

    He then walked up to the patrol car and fired four shots at Ramos and Liu at point blank range. ConEdison workers in the area witnessed the event and alerted two officers from another precinct. They followed Brinsley as he fled into a nearby subway where he shot himself in the head.

    Boyce said Brinsley, who was born in Brooklyn, where his estranged mother and child currently live, had previously served time in prison for criminal possession of a weapon.

    Earlier Sunday, flags flew at half staff around New York, as residents mourned the killings that Police Commissioner Bill Bratton characterized as an assassination. A memorial was set up where the officers were shot and a candlelight vigil was scheduled for Sunday night.

    The post Gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley wanted revenge for recent police killings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Two Cops Shot And Killed Execution Style In Brooklyn

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  For the latest about the murder of those two New York City police officers, we’re joined now by Pervaiz Shallwani.  He’s the criminal justice reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
    So, what are the cops that you’re talking to saying right now?

    PERVAIZ SHALLWANI:  The top brass at the police department are telling officers, you know, that they need to do their jobs and not to take to social media, and to, you know — and to mourn in peace.
    But there are unions out there who are expressing, you know, a very different sentiment.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, the police department’s union, or a couple of them actually even went out of their way to say, don’t make arrests unless absolutely necessary, and don’t go out and respond to any crime unless you have got backup with another car.

    PERVAIZ SHALLWANI:  There has been some rumor.  That hasn’t come out, you know, as an official statement, but there has been sort of behind-the-scenes rumblings about that.


    And so — but we have also seen former officials, the former Mayor Rudy Giuliani that we quoted earlier in the story, but also the former governor of New York, Governor Pataki, really laying the blame squarely on the mayor’s office and all of the protesters.


    There have been — definitely been some dissenting voices, what — political, as well as former NYPD, telling — saying that this is — this is becoming a rift between the mayor’s office and the police department.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And how about the connections to what happened in Baltimore?

    PERVAIZ SHALLWANI:  At this point, police have determined that — that the suspect had shot an ex-girlfriend at about 5:45, 6:00 in the morning, and then a few, several hours later, learned that he had made postings on Instagram saying that he was looking to kill police officers.

    They were able to determine by cell phone that he was in New York City and had sent — as well as sent out — and reached out to the NYPD as well, sent out a wanted poster to the NYPD that reached the NYPD right as the shooting was occurring.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, the Baltimore Police Department got the message to the NYPD, just too late?

    PERVAIZ SHALLWANI:  Not necessarily too late.

    They got — the first connection, it sounds like, between the Baltimore Police Department and the NYPD was about 2:10.  By the time there was a wider connection and in — sent out department-wide, it was about 2:45.  And the shooting happened at about 2:47, so it was happening right as — as this was — as this was occurring.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, what do we know so far about the suspect?

    PERVAIZ SHALLWANI:  At this point, we know the suspect has an extensive criminal history in Georgia, had spent some time in jail.  He’s originally from Brooklyn and appears to have been moving around quite a bit over the last several weeks.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  In that criminal past, any violent history?

    PERVAIZ SHALLWANI:  There’s quite a bit of a violent history.

    There’s also — there’s also reports out there that he has a mental health history.  The history includes everything from — from terroristic threats, as well as a past gun possession charge, I believe.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Pervaiz Shallwani from The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

    PERVAIZ SHALLWANI:  Thank you.

    The post NYPD officer killings expose rift between police and mayor appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Mourners gathered today at the scene of last night’s killing of the two New York City police officers. And residents last night expressed shock and anger.

    WOMAN: At the end of the day, two families is missing somebody for the holidays, and its wrong!

    MAN: What are we? We living in Dodge City or something like that? It doesn’t happen like this. Who does this?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM  [narration]: Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were shot at point blank range, sitting in their patrol car Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn.

    NEW YORK CITY MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Today is a sad day…

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM [narration]: The suspect — 28 year old Ismaaiyl Brinsley — fled to a nearby subway station and shot himself fatally in the head. Earlier yesterday, Brinsley — who had a long criminal history — shot and wounded his girlfriend in this housing complex outside Baltimore before traveling to New York. He then posted a photo on Instagram of the gun he would later use to kill the officers, indicating the shooting would be revenge for the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown — two black men killed by white police officers this year. He wrote “They Take 1 of Ours… We Take 2 of Theirs. Shoot the police”

    The killing of Brown and Garner — and the decisions by grand juries not to indict the officers involved — led to nationwide demonstrations, and in New York — led to a public fallout between New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and the police union. After the Garner grand jury decision earlier this month, De Blasio said he’d been warning his mixed race son Dontae to be wary of the quote “dangers” he might face in interactions with police.

    NEW YORK CITY MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Charlane and i have had to talk to dontae for years about the dangers he might face…

    That prompted New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch to say police had been “thrown under the bus” by the Mayor. And Lynch tried to get De Blasio barred from attending police funerals. Last night, following the killing of the two officers, Lynch said protestors and public officials had quote “blood on their hands”

    PATRICK LYNCH: That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM [narration]: Last night, when Mayor De Blasio went to the hospital where the officers had been taken, police officers turned their back on him.

    Late this afternoon, the NYPD’s Chief of Detectives, Robert Boyce, knocked down published reports that Brinsley may have had ties to a militant prison gang, but said he’d made anti-government statements on social media.

    ROBERT BOYCE: There is one where he burns a flag and made some statements. There’s others with talks of anger for the police. He specifically mentions Michael Brown and Eric Garner…. Right now we have no gang affiliation at all attributed to this man. He has no tattoos to suggest anything of it and he has no religious statements that we found on Instagram at all. None whatsoever.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM [narration]: Boyce also offered a glimpse of brinsley’s upbringing and mental state.

    ROBERT BOYCE: He had a very troubled childhood and was often violent. Mother expressed fear of him and she says she hasn’t seen him in one month. Brisley attempted suicide in the past and attempted to hang himself a year ago.

    The post ‘It’s wrong’: Shock, frustration surround shootings of NYPD officers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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