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

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    Sandra, a 29-year-old orangutan, is pictured at Buenos Aires' zoo, on December 22, 2014. Sandra got cleared to leave a Buenos Aires zoo she has called home for 20 years, after a court ruled she was entitled to more desirable living conditions. Argentina's Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights, AFADA, filed a "habeas corpus" writ -- a form of legal redress against unlawful imprisonment -- arguing she was "suffering an unwarranted confinement." The AFADA is in the process of securing Sandra's release to transfer her to a sanctuary where she is expected to live a more comfortable and happy life, lawyers said. Photo by Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

    Sandra, a 29-year-old orangutan, is pictured at Buenos Aires’ zoo, on Monday. Sandra got cleared to leave the Buenos Aires zoo she has called home for 20 years, after a court ruled she was entitled to more desirable living conditions. Photo by Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

    A court in Argentina has ruled that an orangutan was entitled to some basic rights as a “non-human individual” and can live in a partially free primate sanctuary, local media reported Sunday.

    Animal right lawyers argued that Sandra, held in captivity for 20 years in Argentina, was being illegally detained in the Buenos Aires Zoo and had proven cognitive abilities that didn’t allow her to be classified as a “thing,” Reuters reported.

    In November, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights, AFADA as it is known by its Spanish acronym, filed a habeas corpus on behalf of the 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan, which challenged the legality of Sandra’s detention. Sandra was born at Germany’s Rostock Zoo and was then transferred to the Buenos Aires Zoo in 1994.

    The court agreed that Sandra was a “person” with certain rights and is allowed to be transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil where she can enjoy greater freedom among other primates. The Argentina zoo has 10 days to appeal, The New Zealand Herald reported.

    “This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories,” AFADA lawyer Paul Buompadres said, as quoted in the daily La Nacion newspaper.

    Adrian Sestelo, Buenos Aires Zoo’s head of biology, told La Nacion that orangutans are naturally solitary animals that only come together to mate and tend to their young. He warned against assigning human traits to animals.

    “When you don’t know the biology of a species, to unjustifiably claim it suffers abuse, is stressed or depressed, is to make one of man’s most common mistakes, which is to humanize animal behavior,” Sestelo said.

    Earlier this month, a New York appeals court ruled that it was “inappropriate” to grant “legal personhood” provided by habeas corpus to a privately owned chimpanzee named “Tommy.”

    The post In landmark ruling, orangutan granted legal ‘person’ status in Argentina appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A Santa Claus walks through a toy store in Lille, northern France. According to a new poll, a majority of non-religious Americans say they partake in gift-giving over the holidays. Photo Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

    Turns out most people get Santa-like this time of year. According to a new poll, religious and non-religious Americans alike say they partake in gift-giving over the holidays. Photo by Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Christmastime is here and a new poll reveals the cards and gifts that are part of celebrating the holiday are ubiquitous, even among those who don’t share the Christian beliefs behind the story of the Magi who gave the first Christmas gifts.

    According to the Associated Press-GfK poll, 77 percent of Americans plan to exchange gifts this holiday season and 48 percent will send greeting cards. The gift-giving set includes about 8 in 10 Christians and 73 percent of those who say they have no religious beliefs.

    Greeting cards also cross denominational lines, with 53 percent of Protestants, 55 percent of Catholics and 40 percent of those without religious beliefs saying they will send cards this year.

    Here’s a look at how Americans view this season’s greetings:


    Americans who aren’t religious are less likely to send cards because they tend to be younger, and young people are less apt to send cards, regardless of their religious beliefs. Fifty-two percent of non-religious Americans over age 50 plan to send cards, not far off the 57 percent of Protestants and 64 percent of Catholics in that age group who will send them.

    Young people are the least likely of all demographic groups to say they’ll send cards this year. Just 29 percent of Americans under age 30 plan to, compared with 64 percent of seniors. The young are also the least likely to receive cards. Two-thirds under age 30 receive five Christmas cards or less per year. Among seniors, just 18 percent receive five or fewer cards in a typical year.

    Those under-30s, raised in the age of email, are most likely to reject the concept of cards altogether. Asked what type of card they prefer to receive, 21 percent say none, thanks. Just 8 percent of seniors share that view.

    Younger adults who do like holiday cards are more likely to say they want a photo card, while the older set tends to prefer handwritten notes or Christmas letters. A third of those under age 50 say photo cards are their favorites, compared with 18 percent of those age 50 or older. Among those 50 or older, 54 percent prefer a pre-printed or boxed card with a note or a personal signature, compared with 36 percent of younger adults. Another 12 percent age 50 or older say they’d really like a Christmas letter. And regardless of age, no one embraces the holiday e-card: Just 2 percent say they want one of those.


    Women are more likely than men to say they will send seasonal greetings to friends or loved ones this year, with married women most likely of all to send a card full of holiday cheer. About two-thirds of married women said they will send out cards, compared with 52 percent of married men, 42 percent of unmarried women and just 31 percent of unmarried men.

    On the gift front, married people are more apt to give presents than those who aren’t married (82 percent plan to exchange gifts this year compared with 66 percent of those who have never been married), though the gap between men and women among married people is significantly smaller than the card gap (84 percent of married women plan to give gifts compared to 80 percent of married men).


    D-I-Y is not on Americans’ wish list. Asked whether they prefer to receive a store-bought gift or a handmade one, Americans err on the side of the stores. By a 62 percent to 35 percent margin, people prefer their gifts to come from the store. Women (41 percent), rural residents (43 percent) and whites (38 percent) are most apt to favor handmade presents.

    When giving, however, the preference for store-bought wares is even stronger. Overall, 85 percent of Americans who will exchange gifts this year say they would rather buy a gift than make one. Women (17 percent) are still more likely than men to prefer handmade gifts.


    When it comes to cards, Americans receive more than they give. Although 50 percent of Americans say they won’t send any cards this year, just 11 percent say they don’t typically receive any cards. Forty percent say they usually get more than 10 cards around the holidays.

    Among the 48 percent who say they will send a card this year, 50 percent say they will send fewer than 20 cards. Those who plan to send more drive up the average to about 30 cards per sender, including 11 percent who say they plan to send more than 50 cards this year, presumably including one for the postman.

    The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

    Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

    Read the full AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

    Jennifer Agiesta and Emily Swanson of the Associated Press wrote this article.

    The post Poll: even non-religious Americans give gifts over the holidays appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

    According to a recent poll, 36 percent of Americans feel good about being able to find a quality job. It’s the highest rate since before December 2008. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

    According to a new Gallup poll released today, 36 percent of Americans think that now is a good time to find a quality job. That’s the highest percentage since November 2007, before the start of the “Great Recession.” Gallup’s analysis suggests that these numbers are “a sign that Americans are seeing improving labor conditions.”

    Last month, only 30 percent of respondents felt as confident about the job market. A positive outlook on employment prospects has been slowly improving since late 2011, when only 8 percent of those polled felt optimistic about their opportunities. Since Gallup began asking this question in August 2001, the highest percentage of those who felt it was a good time to find a job was 48 percent in January 2007.

    Gallup found that younger Americans (18-49) were more optimistic about their job prospects — 43 percent thought this was a good time to find a job, versus 29 percent of older Americans (50+) who thought the same. Democrats and those who lean Democratic were also more hopeful (47 percent) than Republicans and those who lean Republican (29 percent).

    Despite confidence in the job market being at the highest levels since before the recession, 61 percent of those polled still believe that now is a bad time to find a job.

    These new numbers are preceded by a positive jobs report last month, which showed a jobless rate of 5.8 percent, an increase in jobs added by private employers and more people working full-time rather than part-time.

    The poll was conducted Dec. 8-11, 2014, from a random sample of 805 adults who were 18 or older, living in all 50 states and D.C.

    The post More Americans optimistic about finding a job, most since Great Recession appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo illustration by NewsHour

    Rolling Stone Editor and Publisher Jan Wenner says the magazine will enlist the help of Columbia University’s journalism school to conduct an independent investigation into the publishing of the alleged University of Virginia gang rape story by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. Photo illustration by NewsHour

    Ongoing reports from The Washington Post and other outlets continue to raise questions and doubts about the reporting and fact checking of Rolling Stone’s November article “A Rape on Campus,” which opened with a graphic description of an alleged gang rape in a University of Virginia fraternity house.

    Today, Rolling Stone Editor and Publisher Jan Wenner released an editor’s note saying the magazine will enlist administrators at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism to conduct an “independent review … of the editorial process that led to the publication of this story.”

    “As soon as they are finished,” he writes, “we will publish their report.”

    Doubts about the accuracy of the November piece, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, first arose when Erdely seemed to evade questions from Slate and Washington Post reporters about whether she tried to contact the men Jackie, the subject identified only by nickname in her article, accused of rape.

    Follow-up reporting by the Washington Post uncovered that Jackie’s close friends doubted her account of the alleged gang rape. The newspaper’s reporting also disputed basic components of Jackie’s story including that the man she named as the leader of the attack against her was never a member of the fraternity where she said it happened.

    The Washington Post has interviewed the friends Jackie first went to following the alleged rape. Those friends say their conversations with Jackie were misrepresented in the Rolling Stone story. Last week, the newspaper reported that emails sent by Erdely and a Rolling Stone fact checker to University of Virginia staff give no sign that school officials were asked about Jackie, her alleged rape nor her interactions with university officials.

    The post Rolling Stone announces independent review of discredited UVA rape article appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Jack Andraka wins the Intel ISEF award in 2012 for his research on cancer detection. Photo by Flickr user FEBRACE

    Jack Andraka wins the Intel ISEF award in 2012 for his research on cancer detection. Photo by Flickr user FEBRACE

    Forget homemade volcanoes and models of the solar system. Today’s science fairs feature self-driving cars and computer-generated simulations of galaxies.

    And the prizes, if you’re really good, award way more than extra credit. The most ambitious young inventors have the chance at scholarships and research funding for projects normally pursued by Ph.D scientists.

    As these contests go, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is like the Wimbledon of science fairs, an ultimate goal for any serious competitor. Every May, high-school students who have won district, regional and state competitions join teams from more than 80 countries. Many of the world’s top inventors and young minds attend to take home a grand prize, but also to have their work recognized and evaluated by scientific professionals. The top winners each year receive $75,000 and $50,000 scholarships.

    The competition, which began as the National Science Fair in 1950, takes its name from its Intel Corporation sponsorship, which began in 1997.

    “Students really gain from owning a problem,” says Michele Glidden, director for science education programs at the Society for Science and the Public, which organizes the event.

    Jack Andraka won the Intel ISEF award in 2012 at age 15 for his research on early detection of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer. His method uses color metric paper sensors to detect signs of these cancers in human blood and is “28 times faster, 28 times less expensive and over 100 times more sensitive than current tests,” according to the award announcement.

    “I definitely had this teenage optimism that other people would call ignorance of the field, but it helped me to be unhindered in taking unconventional methods to pursue the project,” Andraka said.

    Now a high school senior set to attend Stanford University next fall, Andraka has given TED Talks around the world, has an upcoming book release scheduled for March, a patent pending on his early detection test and is continuing to pursue his research at Georgetown University on weekends and after swim practice.

    Canadian teen Ann Makosinski, who invented a hollow flashlight powered by heat generated from the human hand at age 15, gives a TED talk on her project. Photo by Flickr user TEDx RenfrewCollingwood

    Canadian teen Ann Makosinski, who invented a hollow flashlight powered by heat generated from the human hand at age 15, gives a TED talk on her project. Photo by Flickr user TEDx RenfrewCollingwood

    Canadian teen Ann Makosinski, who invented a hollow flashlight powered by heat generated from the human hand, has also achieved pseudo-celebrity status. She went on to win first prize in her age group at the 2013 Google Science Fair and won an award in the electrical and mechanical engineering category at this year’s Intel ISEF. She was named one of TIME Magazine’s “30 People Under 30 Changing the World” and made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

    If they’re really lucky, hardworking science students like Andraka and Makosinksi could get their work archived alongside that of Thomas Edison and Jonas Salk. The National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors, operated by the National Museum of Education and now celebrating its 20th year, selects a number of U.S. teenagers as inductees every year, with the final selection made by a national youth board of students from around the country.

    “Our award is not about money, it’s about having a place in history,” says Nicholas Frankovits, executive director for the National Museum of Education. “We have so many names and great accomplishments coming in each year it’s unbelievable.”

    With high profile companies like Intel and Google taking an interest in young inventors, there are more opportunities than ever for teenagers to pursue cutting-edge research and solve problems in new ways. Science fairs have always been testing grounds for curious young minds, and past ISEF winners have already become Nobel laureates. Who knows, the cure to cancer or the next light bulb could start with a 15-year-old’s science project.

    The post Today’s science champions, tomorrow’s Nobel scientists appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user reynermedia

    A study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics shows that frequent consumption of fast-food may slow children’s academic growth. Photo by Flickr user reynermedia

    Frequent fast-food consumption may slow children’s academic growth, according to a new nationwide study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

    A team of researchers led by Kelly Purtell, assistant professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, examined data from a study of 11,740 students. The students were tested in math, reading and science when they were in both fifth and eighth grades. In fifth grade, they also completed a food consumption survey.

    Children who reported eating fast-food four times a week or more in the fifth grade showed lower test score gains in the eighth grade in all three subject areas by up to 20 percent. Children who reported eating fast-food just one to three times a week still lagged behind their non-fast-food eating peers in one subject–math.

    The researchers admit their study cannot prove that fast-food consumption was the cause of the student’s lower test scores. However, they did control for other factors that have been linked to poor academic performance. The results of the study did not change, even when the researchers took into account school quality and socioeconomic status, as well as how often each child watched television and how regularly they exercised.

    While this particular study did not delve into why fast-food may slow children’s academic growth, past research has linked iron, and other nutrients lacking in many fast-food products, to cognitive development. Diets high in fat and sugar have also been shown to impede memory and learning.

    “We’re not saying that parents should never feed their children fast-food,” says Purtell, “but these results suggest fast-food consumption should be limited as much as possible.”

    The post Fast-food slows learning, study shows appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The holidays are a time of the year when people get together with their loved ones and it’s often a period for reflection and intimate conversations.

    Tonight, we look at a kind of unique oral history project that’s built a legacy from gathering thousands of those kinds of conversations and many more. Its founder just won a major award for his work, which may be well known to many of our viewers.

    Hari Sreenivasan recorded this conversation in our New York studio.

    NARRATOR: Time now for StoryCorps.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more than a decade, the StoryCorps project has been recording and archiving the stories of everyday Americans, more than 50,000 in all so far, that are as varied as a family of five becoming homeless and forced to move into a shelter.

    SHERRY GILLIARD: I remember pulling my hood over my head because I was embarrassed. I didn’t want her to see me, you know, or a colleague says, we’re going to go volunteer and we’re going to feed the families, and it would be at my shelter.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: To an Alzheimer’s patient speaking with his wife about his losses.

    ROBERT PATTERSON: One thing that I experience with Alzheimer’s is, I live in the moment, because I can’t remember what happened yesterday. I can’t remember what happened 10 minutes ago.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: To a mother speaking with the man who killed her son.

    MARY JOHNSON: I just hugged the man who murdered my son. And I instantly knew all that anger and animosity, all that stuff that I had in my heart for 12 years for you, I knew it was over.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: StoryCorps’ vision comes from its creator, Dave Isay. The idea? Get two people together in a room or booth with a microphone, primarily friends or loved ones, and let them talk and listen to each other.

    It began with a soundproof booth in Grand Central Station in New York City. Today, the project has a van that travels around the country, as well as recording rooms in several cities. The stories are archived at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., but they also are made available to the public more easily.

    Excerpts are heard each Friday on NPR, often emotional ones, like the case of an Arkansas woman who took it on herself to provide caring for AIDS patients in the early days of the crisis, when no one else would.

    RUTH COKER BURKS: I marched myself out to the nurses station, and I said, can we call his mother? And they go, honey, his momma’s not coming. He’s been here six weeks. Nobody’s coming.

    And so I went back in, and he looked up at me, and he said, oh, momma, I knew you would come. I stayed with him for 13 hours while he took his last breath.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: PBS broadcasts animated stories based on the audio.

    LANCE CPL. TRAVIS WILLIAMS, U.S. Marine Corps: That morning, we loaded into the vehicle, and I get tapped on the shoulder. And I got told that I need to bounce up to the next vehicle. And I said, catch you guys on the flip side. And that was the last thing I ever said to him. Next thing I know, I just hear the loudest explosion. And I see that’s my squad’s vehicle that got hit.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: StoryCorps has found ways of refining its mission over the years. It has special initiatives for military families, teachers, gays and lesbians, and others. Now Isay has won a $1 million prize from TED Talks and a chance to continue expanding the StoryCorps model.

    Joining me now is Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps.

    Thanks for being with us.

    DAVE ISAY, Founder, StoryCorps: Hi, Hari. It’s good to be here.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right.

    So, six Peabodys, a MacArthur genius, more than 50,000 interviews. How did we get here?

    DAVE ISAY: Well, you know, it was a very — it’s a very simple idea. We set up a booth in Grand Central Terminal where two people can come and have a conversation about their life with the help of a trained facilitator, crazy idea, and it just worked.

    And here we are. It’s really a project about connection, giving people a chance to listen one another and recognize, you know, the value in their lives and the lives of others.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what is it that empowers people to share the way that they do? I mean, some of these are very intimate and personal stories.

    DAVE ISAY: Yes.

    I mean, all of them, 50,000, as you said. I think — you know. It’s the — I think there is a formality in that interview setting, the fact that every interview goes to the Library of Congress, and, of course, as you know, the power of the microphone to give the license to ask things and to say things you don’t normally get to say.

    I think a lot of people think of StoryCorps, there is kind of a mortality piece to it. And it’s a chance for people — they know that this is an record that is going to outlive them. They know they are speaking to future generations. And just magical things happen.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s a lot of our listeners, our viewers also listen to NPR in the mornings.

    DAVE ISAY: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How difficult is it to distill a 40-minute conversation down into three minutes or two minutes or five minutes, or whatever it is?

    DAVE ISAY: And we distill one out of every 340-minute conversations down to three minutes. So we have a great — we have a brilliant production team who edits these things.

    But, you know, to us, every interview is equally valuable. We think of it as potentially a sacred moment in people’s lives. But some of them have this kind of universal quality about them which almost kind of demand that they be shared with a larger audience.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You have essentially an archive of America in a way that history books don’t, that you have actually captured the stories of the citizenry.

    DAVE ISAY: yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I mean, that’s different than when schoolkids will thumb through a history book and say, what was happening at that time?

    DAVE ISAY: Sure.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I mean, you have actually kind of got a cross-section of people, at least in the last 11 years, of what America was like.

    DAVE ISAY: Yes. Through the voice of every day people, yes.

    The great oral historian Studs Terkel cut the ribbon on our first booth all those many years ago. And he was a great proponent of bottom-up history. History is often told from the top down, from statesmen and politicians and famous people and rich people. But there’s such value, there is such richness to hearing these stories through our voices, through the voices of regular people.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how has it made you and your team’s producers different? This is — we only hear a tiny fraction of all the stories that come through StoryCorps.

    DAVE ISAY: Yes.

    Well, I mean, it’s — in many ways, it is. It’s history, but it’s also kind of collecting the wisdom of humanity because of the nature of what is talked about in the booth. We have a small production team. We have lots of facilitators who travel the country, you know, bearing witness to these interviews.

    And I think, you know, personally, for me, it’s made me much more hopeful these last 11 years. You know, we have been in all 50 states, thousands of cities across the political spectrum, every kind of person you can imagine. And the facilitators who are out there collecting the wisdom of humanity invariably come back.

    And if you ask them what they have learned, they — it is a very high-stress job. They are very emotional interviews. And it’s boom, boom, boom, interview after interview. And if you ask them, they say that they have learned that people are basically good, every one of them, you know?

    And the other thing they will say is that if you think you can judge the interior life of someone by how they look or how they’re dressed, you are always going to be wrong.


    So, as you said, all these interviews are archived forever in the Library of Congress. And you have actually made it a point to go into different communities as well.

    DAVE ISAY: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You focused in on military conversations. You focused in on the LGBT community. Why?

    DAVE ISAY: Well, you know, StoryCorps, I come from — I used to make documentaries, social justice documentaries.

    And StoryCorps — and I created StoryCorps because I came to believe when I was doing these interviews, and wherever it was I was, prisons, homeless shelters, that people being listened to, the act of being listened to, you could almost see people’s back straighten, you know?

    And we have a commitment at StoryCorps to make sure that the voices of those who may feel least heard are celebrated through StoryCorps and that, you know, people can recognize the grace and beauty and power in their own stories, wherever they are, whoever they are.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Going forward, where does StoryCorps go? You are 11 years old now.

    DAVE ISAY: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s say in 10 years from now, we’re having this conversation. What’s happening?

    DAVE ISAY: Well, we — we’re working hard to turn StoryCorps into a sustaining national institution.

    I feel like we’re at the first yard line, like at the very beginning of a long game. StoryCorps is about — you know, it’s about listening. It’s about — at this time of like huge divide, it’s about recognizing the value in everybody’s story. And, really, if you are just going to sum it up in one language, it’s realizing that, you know, every life matters, and every life matters kind of equally and infinitely.

    I feel like we have a very, very, very, very long way to go. But I have an amazing group of people who I work with at StoryCorps. And we’re going to fight body and soul with every cell of our body to make this really take root and kind of move the needle in this country, we hope, becoming a more kind of compassionate, thoughtful, better listeners, and a country that treats everybody with dignity.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Dave Isay of StoryCorps, thanks so much.

    DAVE ISAY: Thanks, Hari.

    The post Storycorps gives America a microphone and the chance to tell a story appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Sarah Rose Nordgren has published poems in a variety of outlets, including in Agni, Ploughshares, the Iowa Review, the Harvard Review, the Literary Review, the Best New Poets anthology. She received of the 2011-2012 Fine Arts Work Center Poetry Fellowship and the 2014 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.

    Sarah Rose Nordgren has published poems in a variety of outlets, including Agni, Ploughshares, the Iowa Review, the Harvard Review, the Literary Review and the Best New Poets anthology. She received of the 2011-2012 Fine Arts Work Center Poetry Fellowship and the 2014 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.

    When Sarah Rose Nordgren looks back at her childhood, she calls it “distinctive,” filled with myth and fable.

    “I’ve always been interested in things like myth and fable because I’ve always been interested in childhood and I had a very distinctive childhood that was very full of those things,” Nordgren told Art Beat. “Very full of fantasy worlds, very full of living in the woods with no supervision. I shouldn’t say no supervision, little supervision, less supervision than I think a lot of people have these days.”

    The poet grew up in North Carolina and the experience of what she describes as her fantastical childhood, and her interest in stories and dreams, permeates how she approaches her poetry. Nordgren, whose debut collection “Best Bones” was published at the end of September, has often been talked about for her surrealistic storytelling style, but she doesn’t see it that way.

    “I’m not trying to write something fantastical, I’m not trying to write something surreal. I’m actually trying to get at something very, very real and very, very grounded in the world, and that is the best way that I know how to do that, sometimes through strangeness because of the intensity of the experience.”

    Through dramatic monologue and persona poetry, Nordgren contemplates identity, family and relationships. Sometimes that identity is being stripped away, like in her poem “Sisters” about sisters and the “very raw and almost violent teenage girl relationship,” and in “1917,” where the narrator wants to travel back in time and take away her mother’s identity to save her from the pain she will experience in her life.

    Other poems deal with the construction of relationships and the identity of an individual versus that of the group to which they belong. “Best Bones,” the titular poem, explores this theme by examining an individual’s feeling of loneliness within a tight, loving family unit.

    When you finally reach the penultimate poem of the book, “When You’re Dead,” you start to redefine all these elements that the book has set out to understand.

    “It attempts to dismantle the idea of identity and the idea of life after working through those issues through the entirety of the book,” said Nordgren. “It tries to take them back apart again and get back to something much more basic or more primal.”

    Listen to Sarah Rose Nordgren read “Sisters” from her debut collection, “Best Bones.”


    the duckling in the shoebox dying fluttering fast
    its leaves and twigs I am green
    transparent sister told my sister her legs are not
    gorgeous crawling to the bathroom
    said you both like that anorexic look but not me
    on TV a wrestling match the mean
    woman in leather tore up the drawing from that retard
    who loved her once I pissed my pants
    laughed too hard sat in the driveway for an hour
    on the bus the drunk girl cried
    I’ve just been through hell I’m supposed to be
    a bridesmaid where is my dress
    I’ve lost the two people the African Grey in summer
    flew up into the trees my father’s
    shoulder where are the two people that I love?

    Originally, the collection was titled “The Only House in the Neighborhood,” the title of another poem in the book. Over the years it took to put the book together, Nordgren began to think of it as a house.

    “(The book) contains all these different voices of the mother, voices of a father, voices of children, voices of old men, voices of servants. They are speaking out of a desire for some kind of feeling of unification, that they all want to know who they are, but they all want to be whole people and that these roles are usefully defining, but they are also extremely limiting to the psyche,” said Nordgren. “It’s almost like they are calling out to each other over some great expanse even though they are sitting right next to each other at the dinner table.”

    That wholeness is what the book finally aims to achieve. The image of the house and the family, Nordgren seeks to have everyone be individual, functioning parts of a working whole.

    “The house is like a bed that everybody gets tucked inside and put to sleep.”

    “Sisters” from “Best Bones,” by Sarah Rose Nordgren, © 2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

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    Pope Francis Exchanges Christmas Greetings With The Roman Curia

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    GWEN IFILL: Pope Francis took church leaders and Catholics around the world by surprise today when he used an annual Christmas event in Rome to sharply rebuke and audience of top church officials for their shortcomings.

    The cardinals, bishops and priests of the Curia, who run the Holy See, sat mostly silent and unsmiling as the pope delivered a scalding review of their behavior.

    POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church (through interpreter): Let’s start with the sickness of feeling immortal, immune or, even more, indispensable and therefore of neglecting the necessary routine checkups.

    GWEN IFILL: Francis said the Vatican officials have a spiritual Alzheimer’s that makes them forget their real purpose, and he listed 15 illnesses, or sins, from vanity to gossip-mongering to materialism.

    POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): There is also the sickness of the stony mind and spirit, of those who along the way lose their inner serenity, their vivacity and their audacity and end up hiding behind papers, becoming machines for practices, and not men of God.

    GWEN IFILL: The first non-European pope in 1,300 years has increasingly confronted the Italian-dominated Curia. Internal power struggles were widely blamed for Pope Benedict’s decision last year to resign.

    For some insight on what led to the pope’s remarks today, I am joined by Kevin Eckstrom, editor in chief at Religion News Service.

    I feel like that was building for a while. That was quite a lot he unloaded today.

    KEVIN ECKSTROM, Religion News Service: Yes.

    He is — from the day he was elected, it has been clear that he was going to be a reformer and that some heads with probably roll. But what we are starting to see sort of in real time is how extensive that is going to be. Just a couple of weeks ago, he fired a leading American conservative, Cardinal Burke, who was sort of leading the opposition.

    And so what he has shown is that he is going to do what it takes and maybe even fire who he needs to fire to kind of get his way.

    GWEN IFILL: When he talks about reform, has any of that happened, other than this firing? Or is he exhorting mostly at this point?

    KEVIN ECKSTROM: He is still sort of laying the groundwork. It seems like he has been pope forever, but it hasn’t even been two years.

    So, he is still sort of getting his grounding. He has moved to reform the Vatican Bank and he has moved on issues like sex abuse. But he’s really getting going now, laying the foundation for the kind of church not only that he wants, but the church that he wants to pass on to the men who are you going to come after him.

    GWEN IFILL: Is it significant that he is an outsider? As we mentioned, he was the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, and that he’s not Benedict?


    And the other thing to remember is that he is the first Jesuit pope. The Jesuits are the church’s largest religious order. And they have had a long history of tense relations with Rome. They have always viewed actions coming out of the Vatican with a lot of suspicion and uncomfortableness, I guess.

    And so he embodies that. And so when he challenges power, when he asks why are we doing things the way that we do, that’s very Jesuit of him, and that’s very much a part of his DNA. And you can see that playing out in his programs.

    GWEN IFILL: And he talked about ailments and diseases. It didn’t sound like he was saying, here is a problem we can fix, like, for instance, with the priest sexual abuse scandal. Let’s fix that. He’s saying, there is something that goes pretty deep.

    KEVIN ECKSTROM: Right, and it’s not just a policy problem or, you know, an administrative problem, but these are really spiritual problems.

    And he’s talking about cliques and gossiping and backbiting and careerism and the sorts of things that are not the kind of middle management that he wants in the church or in the men that surround him. I mean, he’s really talking about qualities of people, particularly the qualities that he doesn’t want.

    GWEN IFILL: What fixes does he have in mind?

    KEVIN ECKSTROM: Well, he has started by, you know, making some appointments.

    So if you looked a couple of weeks ago when he appointed a bishop to Chicago, he appointed somebody who was very pastoral, fairly progressive, not an administrator, not a ladder climber. So, you know, the pope has unlimited authority in some ways. He’s an absolute monarch.

    But there are constraints. He faces a huge bureaucracy and he — there are only certain things that he can do. One of the most powerful things that he can do is the people that he surrounds himself with, so the people that he appoints and also the people that he demotes.

    GWEN IFILL: Pope Benedict was seen as being more doctrinal, much more of an academic. Pope Francis seems more a man of the people. At least, that’s the way he has been hailed.

    But can any pope change a system that is as entrenched as the problems that he has identified here?

    KEVIN ECKSTROM: Well, you have got 2,000 years working against him.

    But the thing that he does have is the charisma and the power of his personality. And it’s very clear that he has a lot of people behind him. He’s got a lot of popular support. And you can’t understate the importance of that in trying to…

    GWEN IFILL: But does he have support in the curia? They didn’t look thrilled.

    KEVIN ECKSTROM: Well, not all of them.

    But some of them have been the victims of the very sorts of behaviors that he has been talking about, backbiting and stabbing and that sort of thing. So there are people in there that support him and want to see a lot of change.

    GWEN IFILL: Kevin Eckstrom of Religious — Religion News Service, thank you very much.

    KEVIN ECKSTROM: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s turn to the latest on expanding health insurance coverage and the real costs for people.

    The law is called the Affordable Care Act. And while there’s been much attention on enrollment, there’s been less discussion about a key question, affordability. The first month of the new enrollment season through has gone a lot more smoothly than last year. More than 2.5 million people have selected a plan through the federal exchange so far.

    But what about premiums and out-of-pocket costs?

    Mary Agnes Carey covers this for Kaiser Health News. I sat down with her the other day to discuss the latest.

    Mary Agnes Carey, welcome back.

    MARY AGNES CAREY, Kaiser Health News: Thanks for having me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s talk first about enrollment. We understand there has been a surge in interest just in the first month. What are you seeing?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: From November 15 to until December 10, which was the last set of reported figures, 2.5 million people have signed up for a health plan on healthcare.gov.

    And, by comparison, this is what happened in the first three months of last year, when you had all those Web site problems. We’re not seeing those this year. But there seems to be real interest.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you — so is it just the fact that the Web site is up and working? Is there something else going on here?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, it’s certainly more appealing to go to a Web site that actually works and sign in.

    But we have had a year of information about the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps people that didn’t get in a year ago are seeing people that are in the Affordable Care Act and getting insurance and decided to sign up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what — and, just quickly, what is going — what is it that is smoother about the process? Is it the response? Is it — what is it? Is it the delay time?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: If you had already been in the exchanges, a lot of your information on your application was pre-filled in for you. That made it faster.

    The whole experience of getting on, comparison shopping, signing in and getting a plan, for the most part, has been phenomenally smoother. So, I think it’s just a smoother consumer experience. That has been their focus this year. They have talked about that quite a bit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And people have now heard that message?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: They have heard that message. And they are going to continue to hear it because open enrollment doesn’t end until February 15.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s talk now about cost. This is a big piece of this puzzle.

    What are you finding out? Because in some places we’re hearing premiums have gone up. In other places, they have gone down. What is Kaiser seeing there?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, what’s really interesting is health insurance, like politics, is local. You have variance between states. You have variance within counties internally.

    There are some places where premiums are going up by 10 percent or higher. There are other counties where they are dropping by 10 percent or lower, and so you really have to get on there and examine to see what you can find.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what — and so how do you explain that? I mean, why — in the places where it’s going up, where are they?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, for example, if you look at my colleagues Jordan Rau and Julie Appleby did a story looking at the effect of competition and what’s happening around the country with these premiums.

    They looked at some counties in Southern Indiana where the number of insurers went from one to four. It’s an increase in competition. And so the premiums dropped by 25 percent. But then they also took a look at Chattanooga, which is already one of the least expensive areas in the country to get insurance. While the number of insurance companies doubled there, the premiums still went up by 16 percent.

    So even competition sometimes doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get a lower price.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there something in common, though, about the places where prices have gone up or have gone down? Can you find anything in common with these places?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: It could be — if prices are dropping, it could be more insurers got in. Some insurers held back in 2014 and they decided to wait to see what the marketplace was.

    For a place where premiums are increased, it could be you have a monopoly insurer that has got a big piece of the market or an insurer that got in on 2014, looked at the claims experience, and think — they may have thought, I didn’t price this right. I need to raise my premiums.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about — Mary Agnes, what about rural vs. urban? Is that making a difference?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: It absolutely does.

    In an urban area, you tend to have more competition. That tends to keep prices down. But in the rural areas, you tend to have fewer provide — fewer insurers, rather, and that can make prices go up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So is this — was there a way to predict that this was going to happen? Or is it just the vagaries of the marketplace?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: I think it’s the vagaries of the marketplace.

    And you have to remember before the Affordable Care Act became law, you had all sorts of price variation in the individual market. You might have had premiums that went up 8 or 10 percent a year. So now you’re looking at — for example, the Kaiser Family Foundation did a study where they looked at all the counties across the country.

    And for the benchmark silver plan, that’s the second cheapest Silver plan, they have an average increase of 2 percent. So, again, that’s a national number. But when you get down and look at counties, you could see a lot of variance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And HHS, Department of Health and Human Services, put out a report saying the premiums are rising about 5 percent, but that has evened out, average across the country.


    And that’s where these averages, they are interesting and they are important, but they don’t tell the whole story. That is where people really have to shop around. This is a message you have heard from HHS officials. You will continue to hear it. If you are currently have coverage on the exchanges, you have got to get back in there and look, because, if there is more competition in your area, your prices may change.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just a reminder, we’re not just talking about premiums here, because there are other — it’s deductibles, it’s co-pays.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: You have got to look at all the money that is going to come out of your pocket to get health care. It’s not just the premiums. And that’s a really important message, because people sort of look at that premium — and it’s understandable and they focus on it — but there are, as you say, a lot of things, your co-pays, your deductibles, your cost-sharing. It’s the total package that you have got to think about.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health News, we thank you.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Thank you.

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    GWEN IFILL: Next: another in our Breakthrough series.

    It’s the story of a teenager who’s the founder of a start-up, quite possibly the world’s youngest entrepreneur to get venture capital backing.  That would be compelling enough, but his project makes it all the more unusual.  He is creating a new low-cost braille printer for the blind to improve access and literacy.  And it involves the use of, of all things, LEGOs.

    Here’s special correspondent Jackie Judd.

    JACKIE JUDD: At the age of 12, Shubham Banerjee learned how random the universe can be.  One seemingly inconsequential occurs, in this case the ring of a doorbell, and life changes in a big way.

    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: I looked out.  No one was there.  But I did see a flyer over there, and which asked for donations for the visually impaired.

    I asked — I didn’t know why.  I just asked a random question to my parents.  How do blind people read?  They didn’t really have time for me, so they said: “Sorry, I’m busy.  Can you go Google it?”

    JACKIE JUDD: And one thing lead to another.

    Shubham, whose previous ambition had been to quarterback his football team, learned that a diminishing number of the blind read braille.  In part, voice recognition technology has taken away the need.  But the now 13-year-old became convinced that the cost of a braille printer, which expands the reading universe for the blind, is prohibitive.

    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: I found out it was $2,000 onwards.  Many people don’t really have the — are not that privileged to own one.  And that’s when I decided to try and hack together a braille printer and a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit.

    JACKIE JUDD: Yes, you heard correctly.  He ordered a robotic LEGO kit.  After seven attempts and many, many late-nights, voila, he had an inexpensive portable braille printer.

    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: I had to make it myself, program it myself.  And I just seemed to make a braille printer.  So there are actually three motors.  This motor over here, it rotates the paper over here, so you would get the imprint — or output — sorry.  This motor moves the head left and right.  This motor over here moves the head up and down.

    JACKIE JUDD: Shubham’s one-person focus group is Henry Wedler, blind since birth and a doctoral student in chemistry at the University of California, Davis.  Wedler learned about the LEGO printer from a local newspaper story and then got in touch.

    HENRY WEDLER, University of California, Davis: I explained to him what we really need is some way for blind people to be able to produce braille, not necessarily quickly, but sort of on the go, just like sighted people can produce print on a printer.

    That sort of printer, that sort of technology has never existed for me or any other blind person that reads braille.

    JACKIE JUDD: So Shubham kept going.  The LEGO version needed a sighted person to operate it.

    HENRY WEDLER: Is there much paper left on this particular one?

    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: Right here.  This is…

    JACKIE JUDD: And it just wasn’t practical for mass production.

    He cannibalized a standard printer and converted it, all with a little help from some new and moneyed friends.  What began as an at-home project, then a science fair exhibit, then a winning entry at a technology symposium eventually lead to attention and dollars from a major player in Silicon Valley.

    Intel Capital, the venture capital arm of Intel, where Shubham’s father works, decided to back the project, but did so only after putting the boy through the ringer to make sure no one would question whether this was about nepotism or innovation.

    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: I started calling my friends, dude, I got funding from Intel.  I was telling my mom.  I was screaming.  I was just really happy.

    JACKIE JUDD: In addition to funds, Intel asked Shubham to experiment with its new microprocessor called the Edison to determine how it could make the printer far more functional for the blind.

    ED ROSS, Intel Inventor Platforms: What is inside here is the processor, the memory, the storage and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so that it can communicate with things around it.  And we made that, you know, super, super simple for people to be able to innovate on top of.

    JACKIE JUDD: And that’s what the eighth grader did.

    And is this for a visually impaired person to use?


    JACKIE JUDD: This one is?

    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: This one, actually, I’m not fully done with it, but sooner or later, we will — or I will actually add voice to text, where you can say it through phone, perhaps, print out A.

    ED ROSS: So, you and I wake up in the morning and we look at our phones or we look at the newspaper to find out what is going on with the headlines.  Well, somebody without sight can’t do that.

    And so what he had Intel Edison do is, Intel Edison now goes out and grabs from the cloud the headlines from CNN or BBC or “NewsHour” and has those automatically print.

    HENRY WEDLER: You know, we all can listen to a book or we can listen to our computer talk to us, which is what I do with my computer every day, I don’t have a way to print braille easily.

    There is something so special that comes with taking a page, opening a book, and reading that page yourself.  I think you can say that as a print reader as well; is that true?

    JACKIE JUDD: Absolutely.

    News of Intel’s investment went viral, and the middle schooler is now something of a celebrity in the tech world and even got invited to a White House tech event.

    Shubham’s parents created a company called Braigo, a combination of braille and LEGO, to push the invention forward.  His mom is CEO, dad is on the board, and Wedler is a consultant.  It’s a lot for an adolescent to handle, the money, the fame, the pressure to succeed.

    You had said it’s hard for him to be a 13-year-old.

    NILOY BANERJEE, Father of Shubham Banerjee: Yes.

    JACKIE JUDD: In what ways is?

    NILOY BANERJEE: First of all, he does double work.  He has to maintain his grades, but at the same time, he has also other obligations, especially working with investors, working with technology, you know, people.

    JACKIE JUDD: Do you worry about that?

    MALINI BANERJEE, Mother of Shubham Banerjee: Yes.  As a mom, yes, I do.

    I worry a lot because, you know, now people recognize him, you know, that he goes places.  And he is just my baby.

    JACKIE JUDD: Do you see moments where you think the pressure — the pressure got to him today?

    MALINI BANERJEE: Yes, I do.  But then, you know, it’s opposite.  He tells me: “Mom, it’s OK.  I can do it.”

    JACKIE JUDD: No one is saying how much Intel Capital put into the project, but enough to hire engineers to kept testing and refining the printer, which Shubham hopes will sell for less than $500.

    What’s next?

    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: Next is still bringing my company forward.  I do have a couple of ideas that are starting in my head.

    JACKIE JUDD: Like?

    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: I have secrets.



    SHUBHAM BANERJEE: They’re all secrets.

    JACKIE JUDD: But we will be hearing from you again?


    JACKIE JUDD: Most start-ups fail.  But, as Shubham Banerjee has found, life is random.  And he may just be the one to score.

    This is Jackie Judd in Santa Clara, California, for the “NewsHour.”

    GWEN IFILL: Random, indeed.

    We have more on teen inventors, including one high schooler who created a flashlight powered by heat generated from your hand.  That’s on our home page, PBS.org/NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: While much attention in recent days has been paid to accusations that North Korea hacked into Sony’s computer systems, the isolated country was in the spotlight at the United Nations Security Council this afternoon for another reason.

    The groundbreaking meeting, which North Korea boycotted, focused on that country’s dismal human rights record and could lead to the International Criminal Court.

    Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that North Korea’s links to the Internet went completely dark this morning. The outage is being described as one of the worst North Korean network failures in years. It comes just days after President Obama warned that the U.S. would seek retaliation for the Sony attack.

    Joining me now for more on that is David Sanger of The New York Times.

    David, thank you for being with us.

    So the outage of the Internet in North Korea is being described as toast. What do we know about it?

    DAVID SANGER, The New York Times: Well, not a huge amount, Judy, other than the fact that, as you know, North Korea doesn’t have many Internet connections.

    It’s got about a little over 1,000 official Internet protocol addresses, which would be probably you would find more on some city blocks in New York City. So, as a target for turning off the Internet, they’re pretty vulnerable.

    But it also means that if an accident happened or something like that, which seems possible, but not entirely likely right now, it would be fairly easy to go turn it off. You have to remember that North Korea does almost no business over the Internet. It does almost no banking.

    In fact, the Internet connections are really only for the military, the elite and, of course, their propaganda organs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So is this a mere inconvenience for the North Koreans? What is the practical effect?

    DAVID SANGER: Well, the practical affect is that that elite group wouldn’t be able to communicate outside of the country.

    Inside the country, North Koreans can use an intranet that is completely controlled by the state. And, of course, its content is completely controlled. So it’s not as if you can do a Google search from North Korea, unless you are the privileged few.

    So the question is, when the president talked the other day about a proportional response to what he told CNN was an act of cyber-vandalism, is this what he had in mind? Now, some have argued that what happened to Sony Pictures, if you believe that was the North Koreans, which the president has said he has no doubt it was, was actually an act of vandalism, whether it was an act of terrorism.

    It’s very hard to tell because, in cyber-conflict, it’s all short of war kind of stuff. And the United States government was a little bit caught on its back heels here by the destructive nature of the attack on Sony.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, I’m reading this afternoon that U.S. officials are denying, not for attribution, but they’re denying that the U.S. government had any role in this. What you have learned about that?

    DAVID SANGER: You know, we haven’t learned a whole lot. If, in fact, it was a covert program that was approved by the president, then a denial would be completely consistent with American policy.

    But we reported over the weekend that the United States had gone to China and asked the Chinese to cut into North Korea’s ability to send malware, malicious code outside of the country. All of North Korea’s or just about all of North Korea’s Internet connections run through China. They go through a state-run company called China Unicom.

    So if the Chinese has decided to go along with a U.S. request — and that’s a very big if — then it’s possible that the Chinese cut them off.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what is the thinking on that? I mean, there’s been some reporting that there’s debate inside China among Chinese leaders about how much they should come down on North Korea. Is it the sense that maybe they did participate and maybe they did help in this?

    DAVID SANGER: Well, maybe they did.

    Over the weekend, I was told by U.S. officials that the Chinese had not responded to the U.S. request. And it’s possible that they’re acting on their own. We have seen moments when the Chinese have tried to keep North Korea under control by turning the spigot down on the pipelines that send oil into North Korea.

    We have seen them at various moments cut down on trade. So it is not inconceivable that they would do so here. At the same time, the Chinese, of course, have seen the United States indict five members of Unit 61398, the cyber-hacking unit of the People’s Liberation Army, just last May.

    That froze most official discussion between China and the U.S. on cyber. So it’s not clear the Chinese would be interest in doing us any favors. And, of course, Sony is — or Sony Pictures is the U.S. subsidiary of a Japanese firm. And the Chinese and the Japanese are not exactly on the greatest terms these days.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, finally, David, and just quickly, am I right that there are still other options for the Obama administration to use to exercise against North Korea?

    DAVID SANGER: Absolutely.

    And this might not be the only one. This might not be one at all if it turns out that this wasn’t the United States. The president referred in an interview with Candy Crowley of CNN over the weekend to the possibility of putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. That would be a lengthy process.

    It also probably wouldn’t make that big a difference, since there are so many sanctions against the North. There is the possibility that they could try to cut off funds to the elite again, which the Bush administration did by cutting off funds in a bank in Macao that was used by Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong Il.

    There are possibilities that the U.S. could mess with other infrastructure inside North Korea through cyber-attacks if the U.S. is that well inside the country. And we don’t know how good those connections are.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Sanger watching the story for The New York Times, we thank you.

    DAVID SANGER: Thank you, Judy.


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    OFFICERS DOWN   NYPD police shield and chips of 2 slain officers monitor

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    The New York police killings touched a nerve that was already aflame in the wake of weeks of protests, raising questions about cause and effect.

    Here with two views on that debate are Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, and Mark Levine, a member of the New York City Council.

    Mark Levine, do you see a connection, a through line between Ferguson, Staten Island, and now what happened in Brooklyn at all?

    MARK LEVINE, New York City Councilman: I think that’s a very dangerous conclusion to draw.

    This was a man who was mentally and emotionally ill, documented history of such problems. And he didn’t appear to have a strong ideology or history of movement activism. So we should be careful ascribing logic to his actions.

    And I think we should be careful to inflame this moment by blaming protesters, blaming the mayor. I think we all need to unite and grieve at the loss of two of our own and pause for a moment to reflect and remind each other that we have a responsibility to care for citizens and police united.

    And that vision, I hope, will put us on a path towards the kind of police reform which serves communities and police both.

    GWEN IFILL: Patrick Colligan, you are in New Jersey, but you heard what your counterpart said on the streets of New York this weekend. Do you see a connection?

    PATRICK COLLIGAN, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association: It’s tough to ignore what happened, you know, despite — you know, despite the mental capacities. It’s tough to ignore what happened since August the 9th, since the shooting occurred.

    And, you know, it was impossible for police officers. We’re human. It’s impossible to watch the new reports, watch people wishing for our death, watching the violence against the officers, and then unfortunately watching two officers literally slaughtered in a patrol car doing nothing, and just let it go away and just make it a time for healing. It’s just — it’s a time for vigilance for us. We have to be extra careful.

    GWEN IFILL: Do you — I want to stay with you for a moment, Mr. Colligan. Do you believe that any — that this tragedy has been used by anybody as a political opportunity?

    PATRICK COLLIGAN: It hasn’t been used by the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association. We just put a warning out to our members, our 33,000 members throughout the state, just to be extra vigilant, not to get into the routines that we find ourselves in.

    It’s been a tough time. I have been a police officer for 23 years. And I got to be honest with you. This has been the toughest — toughest couple of months that I have had to deal with, with just the feeling and the pervasive actions of people, even in New Jersey, people putting their hands up when we pull up, things like that.

    It’s just — it’s been a difficult few months for us.

    GWEN IFILL: Mark Levine, what do you think about that? Is there a political opportunity being grabbed here?

    MARK LEVINE: There have been plenty of political opportunities from the likes of George Pataki, Bernard Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, all of whom have attempted to blame Mayor de Blasio for this horrific incident, an incident by a mentally ill person, as I mentioned.

    I will say that today I think we have perhaps taken a step back from the precipice. In New York City, my sense is that police union leadership has pulled back from some of the heated rhetoric and that there will be a pause on this kind of language, at least through the date of the funerals of the officers, four or five days hence.

    And a number of prominent protest leaders in New York City have also called for the temperature to be lowered and for a period of respect.

    GWEN IFILL: But officer Colligan just said he believes that it has been a very difficult time for police officers in the last few months. Do you believe that police officers have been at greater risk?

    MARK LEVINE: Because of the protests?

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    MARK LEVINE: No, absolutely not.

    Policing is an incredibly dangerous job. And it deserves our respect, for people who are willing to put their life on the line to protect us. But the facts are that the number of police killings are down dramatically if you take the perspective of several decades.

    In 1971, there were 12 officers killed in the line of duty in New York City. This year, there were two. One death is one too many. And we need to do everything in our power to prevent it. But the city does remain safer today for the general population and for police, arguably, than at any point in its history.

    GWEN IFILL: Officer Colligan, do you think that this was about one deeply troubled individual or was it a symptom of something larger?

    PATRICK COLLIGAN: Look, the problem is, we have one individual come up on Saturday, and, again, murder two police officers. But what the media doesn’t have access to and what the general public doesn’t have access to are the law enforcement reports, the credible threats against us. We get those. We have gotten a lot in the last 48 hours, not only credible threats, but arrests have been made.

    I think there was an arrest in New York made today, arrest by Secret Service in Tennessee and other arrests. So to say that it’s one individual coming up, that is pretty disingenuous, to be honest with you.

    GWEN IFILL: Do you think there are — I’m going to stay with you, officer Colligan. Do you believe that our nation’s leaders or mayors like Mayor de Blasio or in other public settings are weakened by these debates? Or is it a debate that we need to have?

    PATRICK COLLIGAN: I think the debate that needs to be had, you know, the vast majority of police officers throughout this country — I will speak throughout the country — are hardworking, dedicated police officers.

    And to watch — to watch the protests in New York and wish for the death of cops, I am all about a peaceful protest. You watch — I see the die-ins in Grand Central Station. That’s a peaceful protest. And the people are getting their point across.

    But when you are throwing garbage cans off the level of a bridge and you’re punching police officers in the face and, of course, murdering two in a police car, it’s tough not to — I don’t know what they are missing here. If you let it continue and let a protest get out of hand, then I don’t know what else you are going to expect. You’re going to have to expect violence.

    GWEN IFILL: Mark Levine, as you mentioned, the mayor has called for a pause until after the funerals in any kind of public protest. Some activists have said, this is muzzling their right to continue to speak. Where do you come on that?

    MARK LEVINE: Look, the work of reforming how we police in New York City is still under way.

    And we have a long way to go. There are real policy debates that we need to continue to play out. But I think we need to do them understanding that we have a chance to make policing safer for communities and for cops themselves.

    When we install cameras as part of standard gear for police officers, we’re not only protecting communities, helping to build trust, but we’re giving officers a defense against unwarranted accusations. When we provide officers with handheld devices like tablets and smartphones, as New York City now will be doing, thanks to funding from the Manhattan DA, we give them new tools, a tool that incidentally might have avoided bloodshed on Saturday if we had gotten a picture of the attacker out to all cops on the beat.

    So we need to continue this debate on how to make New York City ever safer and ever fairer, safer both for police and for citizens, and these questions will remain controversial. But it’s essential that we have this debate in a civilized way, not only without violence, but without violent language.

    And that goes for both sides. I am optimistic that more and more people are coming to this conclusion and that perhaps, perhaps, out of this tragedy, we will get to a better place where we can have passion, but civil discourse on these issues.

    GWEN IFILL: Mark Levine, a member of the New York City Council, and Patrick Colligan of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, thank you both very much.

    MARK LEVINE: Thank you.

    PATRICK COLLIGAN: Thank you.


    The post New York police killings raise questions of cause and effect after weeks of protests – Part 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: New York City was on edge today, after the fatal shootings of a pair of police officers. The weekend attack sparked police union accusations against the mayor and left him on the defensive.

    New Yorkers stopped all day to place flowers at the site in Brooklyn where two policemen were killed on Saturday. And the murders dominated the day for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, including at a luncheon for the city’s Police Athletic League.

    MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, New York: It was an attack on our democracy, it was an attack on our values, it was an attack on every single New Yorker, and we have to see it as such. I think it’s time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in due time.

    GWEN IFILL: The two officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were shot as they sat in their cruiser on Saturday. Their killer, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who had a history of violence and apparent mental instability, shot his girlfriend Shaneka Thompson in Baltimore, before traveling to New York, shooting the officers, and then taking his own life.

    Earlier, he posted social media references to the police killings of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On Instagram, he wrote: “They take one of ours. Let’s take two of theirs.”

    Over the weekend, leaders of protests over the Garner and Brown cases, as well as their family members, condemned the killings of Ramos and Liu.

    GWEN CARR, Mother of Eric Garner: We are going in peace, and anyone who’s standing with us, we want you to not use Eric Garner’s name for violence, because we are not about that.

    GWEN IFILL: But the head of New York’s police union charged the mayor and protest leaders set the stage for what happened Saturday.

    PATRICK LYNCH, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association: We tried to warn. It must not go on. It cannot be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.

    GWEN IFILL: Police officers even turned their backs on de Blasio in protest Saturday night when he visited the hospital where the two officers had been taken.

    This afternoon, the mayor and New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton responded at a joint news conference.

    MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: I will keep reaching out to everyone who serves this city. They don’t have to all agree with me.

    WILLIAM BRATTON, New York City Police Commissioner: Can you point out to me one mayor that has not been battling with the police unions in the last 50 years? Name one. Name one. So the experience of this mayor in terms of some cops not liking him is nothing new.

    GWEN IFILL: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has appealed for calm on all sides. And a number of big city police departments put their officers on alert, amid the new surge of tension.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Milwaukee joined the list of cities today in the spotlight over fatal police shootings. That came with the news that a white policeman who shot a mentally ill black man to death in April won’t face criminal charges. Officer Christopher Manney shot Dontre Hamilton 14 times. He said Hamilton fought with him and grabbed his baton. The district attorney ruled it a case of self-defense.

    JOHN CHISHOLM, District Attorney, Milwaukee County: In reviewing this case, we came to the conclusion that, based on all the facts, all the circumstances present to a reasonable officer and officer Manney’s position at the time the circumstance occurred, that his use of force was privileged and was justified.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Officer Manney has since been fired. Hamilton’s family today asked for a federal investigation and also called for calm.

    GWEN IFILL: President Obama announced his pick for the number two spot at the Justice Department today. Sally Yates is federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Georgia. If she’s confirmed by the Senate, she will oversee day-to-day operations at Justice.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The French firm Alstom SA will pay a record $772 million for violating U.S. laws against overseas bribery. The power and transportation company pleaded guilty today in federal court in Connecticut, where one of its American affiliates is located. Federal officials say Alstom used bribes to win more than $4 billion in projects abroad.

    GWEN IFILL: Fierce clashes raged in Northern Iraq again today, as Kurdish Peshmerga forces battled Islamic State fighters for control of a key town. The clashes center around Sinjar. In recent days, the Kurds broke a months-long siege of the mountain that overlooks the town. The plight of thousands of people trapped on the mountain led to the initial U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State units last fall.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: India’s Parliament dissolved into chaos today over efforts by Hindu hard-liners to convert Christians and Muslims by force. Opposition lawmakers threw papers and swarmed the center of the Upper House of Parliament, halting its proceedings. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was — has not spoken on the forced conversion. He is himself a Hindu nationalist.

    GWEN IFILL: And in Tunisia, a veteran of previous regimes, 88-year-old Beji Caid Essebsi, has won the North African nation’s first free presidential election. He ran as an anti-Islamist and claimed victory in Sunday’s runoff. Tunisia’s 2011 revolution inspired the Arab spring uprisings.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in the country, Wall Street posted its forth winning session in a row. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 154 points to close at 17,959; the Nasdaq rose 16 points to close at 4,781; and the S&P 500 added nearly eight to finish at 2,078.

    GWEN IFILL: “Rolling Stone” magazine asked today for an independent review of how it handled the story of an allege gang rape at the University of Virginia. The account, by Sabrina Erdely, was called into question when it came out she never contacted the accused attackers. “Rolling Stone” now says the Columbia Journalism School will examine its editorial process.


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    The head of the Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan acknowledged that some agency interrogators used "abhorrent" unauthorized techniques in questioning terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks. He said there was no way to determine whether the methods used produced useful intelligence, but he strongly denied the CIA misled the public. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

    The head of the Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan acknowledged that some agency interrogators used “abhorrent” unauthorized techniques in questioning terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks. He said there was no way to determine whether the methods used produced useful intelligence, but he strongly denied the CIA misled the public. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — At times, waterboarding rendered al-Qaida terror suspect Abu Zubaydah hysterical. But later, a message to CIA headquarters described an interrogator merely lifting his eyebrow and snapping his fingers, leading Zubaydah to “slowly (walk) on his own to the water table” to lie down.

    The Senate torture report released earlier this month describes how the CIA’s harsh interrogation program sought to make detainees passive and powerless to resist, using techniques from sleep deprivation to stress positions to waterboarding to induce a state that psychologists call “learned helplessness.” ”Compliant” was the interrogators’ description of Zubaydah.

    Whatever it’s labeled, specialists say the brain clearly can become conditioned by extreme fear and stress, notwithstanding CIA assertions that what was done would not cause any permanent mental or physical harm.

    In that Senate report are “dramatic examples that clearly indicate that people are going to be damaged psychologically for a very long time,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, an adviser to the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights who has long treated survivors of torture from around the world.

    He ticked off a list: post-traumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, depression, enduring personality changes.

    What happens in the brain? Clues come from studies of things like memory formation and stress — not torture — in animals. For example, repeated moderately stressful experiences, such as restraining a rat’s movements over a period of time, can physically alter structures that control fear and anxiety, said neuroscientist Bruce McEwen of Rockefeller University.

    While some changes are reversible, “the brain is never the same as it was before,” said McEwen, who studies the effects of chronic stress.

    In fact, enough stress and trauma can damage memory systems, he added. Reflecting on news accounts of the torture, he said “it’s sort of counterproductive” when trying to get people to remember things.

    Physical torture can affect the brain, too. But by itself, “psychological torture undermines the very ability to think, and it doesn’t leave any marks,” said psychologist Steven Reisner. The concept of learned helplessness stemmed from experiments in the late 1960s that influenced depression research: Dogs were given mild jolts of electricity that they couldn’t avoid. Then they were put in a divided box where they could escape more zaps by jumping to the other side, but they didn’t try. They’d been conditioned to accept their fate.

    Fast forward a few decades. The Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation of suspected terrorists called that research a model for two contract psychologists who helped design the program.

    Physical torture can affect the brain, too. But by itself, “psychological torture undermines the very ability to think, and it doesn’t leave any marks,” said psychologist Steven Reisner, a co-founder of the Council for Ethical Psychology, who has criticized health providers’ involvement in the interrogations.

    Even a few days of sleep deprivation fog the mind, he noted, while sensory deprivation can lead to hallucinations and other symptoms of psychosis.

    Humiliation adds powerfully to the sense of being out of control. Stress positions, such as shackling hands over the head, mean a shift can bring pain or punishment, until “the mind begins to turn against itself, blaming itself for not following the exact order of the torturer,” Reisner said.

    The Senate report said accused 9/11 attacks facilitator Ramzi bin al-Shibh was repeatedly shackled nude, kept in stress positions, physically abused and “kept in total darkness to heighten his sense of fear” for weeks at a time. In 2005, a CIA psychologist wrote that al-Shibh had “remained in social isolation” for 2½ years and was having “alarming” psychological deterioration, including visions, paranoia, insomnia and attempts at self-harm. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and placed on anti-psychotic medications.

    Longer-term disorders such as PTSD involve flashbacks and nightmares stemming from how the brain processes traumatic situations.

    “It’s clear that fear-related memories are deeply embedded,” said Rockefeller’s McEwen.

    Animal studies show brain chemicals released in the emotional rush help a traumatic experience take root, explained neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux of New York University. The amygdala, your brain’s threat detector, absorbs the details so that later, something in the environment can subconsciously trigger an alarm — maybe a car backfiring that reminds it of a gunshot — and once again cause anxiety.

    At the same time, chronic stress such as from PTSD can shrink regions involved with memory and attention that usually moderate fear responses, McEwen added, making it harder to put that car backfire into context and calm down.

    “These kinds of health issues can go on for years and years,” said Dr. Allen Keller, director of the Bellevue Hospital/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, who said he has evaluated some terror detainees who were released.

    Survivors have to feel safe enough to seek mental health treatment.

    “There’s nothing we can do to undo what happened, but there’s a lot we can do to help individuals rebuild their lives,” he said.

    AP Writers Stephen Braun and Ken Dilanian contributed to this report.

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    PBS NewsHour’s “Politics on the Rocks” team is Meredith Garretson on the mic and Matt Ehrichs behind the camera. Matt also edited the video.

    It’s holiday season in D.C. And you can’t swing a dead appropriations bill in this town without hitting an amateur pundit with an open bar tab and an opinion. So, with only a few days until Christmas, NewsHour’s “Politics on the Rocks” team returned to two of our favorite pubs — the historic Old Ebbitt Grill and Capitol Hill’s Hawk ‘n’ Dove — to get revelers’ takes on some very important political topics. For example: You’re Nancy Pelosi’s Secret Santa, what do you buy her? If you had a minute alone with Mitch McConnell, what would you tell him? And, of course, which politician do you want to meet under the mistletoe?

    “Politics on the Rocks” was also on the scene on Election Night. See what thirsty Washingtonians had to say about the midterms. And keep an eye out for us in 2015.

    The post Which politician do you want to meet under the mistletoe? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to add same-sex marriage cases to the agenda this term. Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to add same-sex marriage cases to the agenda this term. Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Gay marriage cases are on the Supreme Court’s agenda with enough time for the issue to be argued and decided by late June.

    The justices could decide as early as Jan. 9 to add same-sex marriage to their calendar this term, according to an update Tuesday on the court’s docket. That date is the first time the justices will meet in private in the new year to consider adding new cases.

    Most, if not all, of the cases they accept for review by mid-January will be argued in late April. The court would then have two months or so to come to a decision.

    Lawyers for same-sex couples in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee rushed to get their legal papers filed in time for that early January conference.

    The couples are appealing a decision by a panel of federal judges in November to uphold anti-gay marriage laws in those states. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is so far the only federal appeals court that has sided with states that are seeking to preserve bans on same-sex marriage since a Supreme Court decision in June 2013 struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law.

    Four other appeals courts — in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Richmond, Virginia — have ruled in favor of gay and lesbian couples.

    Between those rulings and the Supreme Court’s decision in October to turn away state appeals, the number of states allowing same-sex couples to marry has risen to 35.

    Now, though, the existence of a split among the appellate courts has made Supreme Court intervention very likely.

    Interviewed on Radio Television Suisse recently, Justice Antonin Scalia declined to answer a reporter’s questions on same-sex marriage. “I should not speak to that because we will doubtless have that case in front of us fairly shortly,” Scalia said.

    People on both sides of the gay marriage divide had expected the court to agree to resolve the debate in October. The justices had before them appeals from five states that sought to uphold their bans. Same-sex plaintiffs who won in the lower courts also pressed the Supreme Court to intervene.

    The justices did not explain their surprising refusal to get involved then, although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said publicly that there was no urgency to the court’s involvement as long as lower courts were ruling uniformly. The 6th circuit’s ruling changed that equation.

    Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio also are calling for the court to hear and decide the issue soon, while Tennessee is urging the justices to let the appeals court ruling stand.

    Louisiana’s same-sex marriage ban also is on the Jan. 9 conference agenda, but that case is unusual in that it has yet to be heard by a federal appeals court.

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    Photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon.

    Photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon.

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

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

    Question: I have worked all my life and made big bucks. I recently lost my job and am almost 61 years old. My husband is already on Social Security but I will get more than he does. I am worried about how much I will lose if I cannot get a job until I am age 66? They will not calculate going forward — just what it says now. I think it will decrease but is there a percentage?


    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    Larry Kotlikoff: You won’t lose benefits if you don’t work and contribute more to the Social Security system. What you will lose is the potential ability to raise your annual and, thus, you lifetime benefits based on Social Security’s Re-computation of Benefits​. This provision raises your benefits if your earnings in the past year exceeded the lowest of your 35 past highest covered earnings after those earnings prior to age 60 have been indexed upward due to economy-wide real wage growth.

    As I’ve written before, if you earn above the covered earnings ceiling, you will definitely replace the lowest of your past highest 35 years of covered earnings with your current earnings. So if you are, as you say, a high earner, you should consider how much more in benefits you’ll receive from working. There is inexpensive commercial software that can make these calculations. Apart from working and earning more, you should opt to take just your spousal benefit at age 60 and your own retirement benefit at age 70. This will maximize your lifetime benefits.

    Camillo — Italy: I was deported from the United States in 2007 after 45 years of being a permanent resident. Okay, I made a few mistakes. Now I’m 66 years old and would like to get my pension from Social Security. How do I go about doing that? Am I entitled to it?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Camillo, I’m sorry to tell you this, but deportees cannot be paid Social Security benefits unless they are re-admitted to the U.S. for permanent residency. Here is a reference from Social Security’s manual.

    Katy — Calif.: Larry, thanks for all the great information. My spouse is 57 and collects Social Security disability. He became disabled five years ago. He also receives a small retirement benefit from the county, which was set up as a pension trust. We do not anticipate him being able to work again in his lifetime.

    I am turning 62 this year, and retired from the CSU system with a disability retirement in 1997. I have been receiving retirement benefits from the state as a result of an employment injury. I was able to be retrained into another occupation, and now work full time with a private company. The company I am with has set up an ESOP, and I will be fully vested by the time I intend to retire at age 70. Both my spouse and I have worked enough years to earn full credits with the Social Security system and have been married for 20 years. There must be a few strategies we would be wise to consider, and I don’t think it is too early to start thinking about them. I appreciate your time.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You can file just for a spousal benefit when you reach full retirement age and wait until 70 to collect your own retirement benefit. Your husband can withdraw the automatic conversion of his disability benefit into his retirement benefit. This, by the way, does not entail his withdrawing his disability benefit. Nor does it entail suspending his retirement benefit. Rather it’s withdrawing the conversion of the disability benefit into a retirement benefit when he reaches full retirement age.

    Having done this, your husband can file just for his spousal benefit at full retirement age, given that you will have filed for your own retirement benefit by this point. At 70, your husband would file for his retirement benefit. It will equal his current disability check bumped up by roughly 28 percent to account for the delayed retirement credits he will accumulate by waiting to collect.

    Jean — N.C.: My husband passed away when I was 60 years old. I was not working that much when he died. I started taking my survivor benefits then, and still do. Can I take my own benefits at 70?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Very sorry for your loss. Social Security won’t pay you two benefits at once. Instead it will pay the larger of the ​two benefits. If your retirement benefit at 70 exceeds your widows benefit (which doesn’t sound very likely), your monthly check will rise and equal your retirement benefit.

    Question: I am retired. I am drawing Social Security. I can only make a certain amount without penalty. I retired in May. My question is, at what point during the first year does that income amount start? How much can I make after retiring? I have already earned more than allowed this year before retiring. Does that limit start from my retirement date? Or have I already maxed out for this current year?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Please check out this column,
    “Retiring? Here’s how to get an extra month of Social Security benefits for free” for a detailed answer to your actually quite complicated question.

    The post Will Social Security count my big earnings if I lose my job before 66? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    New York Republican Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) on his way for a vote at the Capitol January 15, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    New York Republican Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) on his way for a vote at the Capitol January 15, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    NEW YORK — U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm admitted Tuesday to federal tax evasion, pleading guilty to charges he had fought as he won re-election last fall but that now leave his congressional future in question.

    Asked outside court if he planned to resign his seat, Grimm said no.

    “I’m going to get back to work and work as hard as I can,” the Staten Island Republican said, shortly after he entered a guilty plea to one count of aiding in the filing of a false tax return.

    Grimm had been set to go to trial in February on charges of evading taxes by hiding more than $1 million in sales and wages while running a Manhattan health-food restaurant.

    After his court appearance, Grimm apologized for his actions, saying what he did was wrong.

    “I should not have done it and I am truly sorry for it,” he said.

    During the hearing, Grimm, joined in court by two attorneys, acknowledged sending his accountant underreported receipts and using the leftover money to pay employees off the books and cover other expenses.

    Sentencing was scheduled for June 8. Prosecutors said a range of 24 to 30 months in prison would be appropriate, while the defense estimated the appropriate sentence as between 12 and 18 months.

    Federal prosecutors did not immediately comment after the hearing.

    News of the plea brought pressure from Democrats for Grimm to step down.

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement earlier Tuesday that it was “past time for Michael Grimm to go,” calling his continued presence in Congress “a disservice to the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn and a stain on the institution.”

    The DCCC and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to ensure Grimm’s departure.

    Boehner has forced other lawmakers to resign for lesser offenses. He quickly orchestrated the 2011 resignation of Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y., a married lawmaker who responded to a personal ad by emailing a shirtless photograph of himself to another woman.

    Boehner does not plan to comment on Grimm’s situation until the two discuss it, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.

    Grimm told reporters he had spoken to GOP leadership but declined to specify with whom and what those conversations entailed. He said he would remain in office as long as he was able to serve.

    Grim has made similar statements before. Asked in October whether he would resign if found guilty, Grimm responded, “Certainly, if I was not able to serve, then of course I would step aside.”

    But if Grimm refuses to resign, it would take a rare vote by his fellow lawmakers to expel him from the House. The last member to be expelled was James Traficant, D-Ohio, who was kicked out of Congress in 2002.

    A former Marine and FBI agent, Grimm got to Congress by scoring an upset win over first-term Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon in 2010. Grimm won re-election in November, little more than six months after he was indicted.

    According to an indictment, the tax fraud began in 2007 after Grimm retired from the FBI and began investing in a small Manhattan restaurant called Healthalicious. The indictment accused him of underreporting more than $1 million in wages and receipts to evade payroll, income and sales taxes, partly by paying immigrant workers, some of them in the country illegally, in cash.

    When he was initially charged, Grimm called the case “a political witch hunt” and declared, “I’m a moral man, a man of integrity.”

    The case stemmed from an investigation of Grimm’s campaign financing. He was never charged with any offense related to his campaign, but a woman romantically linked to him pleaded guilty in September to lining up straw donors for his 2010 run. Grimm has denied knowledge of any fundraising improprieties.

    Grimm, 44, made headlines in January after telling a local cable TV news station reporter he wanted to throw the journalist off a balcony in the Capitol for asking about the campaign finance inquiry.

    An independent advisory office recommended that the House Ethics Committee investigate the balcony incident. The ethics panel deferred its investigation into Grimm while the Justice Department case was ongoing.

    If Grimm doesn’t resign, the panel is sure to address the case next year.

    Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor in Washington and Tom Hays and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.

    The post Rep. Michael Grimm pleads guilty to federal tax evasion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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