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- 12/24/14--15:30: _Your family’s polit...
- 12/24/14--15:35: _With virtual semina...
- 12/24/14--15:40: _Will leadership sha...
- 12/24/14--15:45: _‘They want to win a...
- 12/24/14--15:50: _News Wrap: UPS, Fed...
- 12/25/14--09:10: _Russia calls North ...
- 12/25/14--09:50: _For last minute Chr...
- 12/25/14--09:52: _Are Americans comfo...
- 12/25/14--10:22: _What are your Chris...
- 12/25/14--11:25: _Did German and Brit...
- 12/25/14--11:33: _Former President Ge...
- 12/25/14--13:34: _NSA releases 12 yea...
- 12/25/14--15:25: _What will sink and ...
- 12/25/14--15:30: _Ukraine-Russia conf...
- 12/25/14--15:35: _How Pope Francis’ u...
- 12/25/14--15:40: _Banning ‘the box’ t...
- 12/25/14--15:45: _Independent theater...
- 12/25/14--15:50: _News Wrap: Pope Fra...
- 12/26/14--06:54: _Chef behind Michell...
- 12/26/14--08:12: _The musicians we li...
- 12/24/14--15:30: Your family’s political fights don’t have to ruin Christmas
- 12/24/14--15:40: Will leadership shakeup help Takata tackle airbag safety concerns?
- 12/25/14--09:10: Russia calls North Korea’s anger over Sony hack ‘understandable’
- 12/25/14--09:50: For last minute Christmas baking needs, see … your local library?
- 12/25/14--09:52: Are Americans comfortable with political dynasties?
- 12/25/14--10:22: What are your Christmas gifts worth to you?
- 12/25/14--13:34: NSA releases 12 years of damaging oversight reports on Christmas Eve
- 12/25/14--15:25: What will sink and what will survive as states test Common Core?
- 12/25/14--15:30: Ukraine-Russia conflict doesn’t stop at the church door
- 12/25/14--15:35: How Pope Francis’ upbringing shaped his role as reformer
- 12/25/14--15:45: Independent theaters rally behind ‘The Interview’
- 12/26/14--08:12: The musicians we listened to in 2014
GWEN IFILL: It is, of course, the holiday season, a time of joy and love, and, of course, the occasional family dispute.
One moment on C-SPAN recently caught our attention. Brothers Brad and Dallas Woodhouse were speaking about their own sharp political divide when they took a surprise call.
MAN: Let’s go to Joy — now go to Joy in Raleigh, North Carolina.
MAN: Hey, somebody’s from down South.
WOMAN: Well, are you right I’m from down South.
MAN: Oh God, it’s mom.
WOMAN: And I’m your mother.
And I disagree that all families are like ours. I don’t know many families that are fighting at Thanksgiving.
MAN: Is this really your mother?
MAN: My mom.
WOMAN: I was very glad that this Thanksgiving was a year that you two were supposed to go to your in-laws. And I was hoping — and I’m hoping you will have some of this out of your system when you come here for Christmas.
GWEN IFILL: So, is it so unusual to have a family that fights over politics during the holidays?
We decided to ask a few people in a heavily political area just outside Washington.
WOMAN: I’m one of those people. We just don’t discuss it. I’m on one end, and my brother is on the other end, and we just do not discuss it, period.
MAN: It is the holidays. No matter if it is Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, it’s time for family, and everybody put thing aside and worry about what and who we are, family.
MAN: Just remember they’re your family, and you don’t have to agree with them.
MAN: I think we can’t get away from it. I think it is inevitable. So we are — all just kind of deal with the holidays, and we are — enjoy ourselves, hopefully safe, and wish everybody a merry Christmas and happy new year.
GWEN IFILL: Hari Sreenivasan has more on the science of relationships and how to avoid problems at your family table.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me now from Raleigh, North Carolina, is the civility columnist for The Washington Post, Steven Petrow.
Thanks for being with us.
So a lot of us are heading to dinners or time with family that inevitably has some stress built in because of the opinions that they might hold, whether it’s about politics, whether it’s about other issues that are facing America right now. How do you deal with those family members who you just really disagree with strongly?
STEVEN PETROW, The Washington Post: Well, first of all, great to be with you. Happy Christmas Eve.
You know, I put a little post up on my Facebook wall earlier this afternoon and quickly got some snark back on this question: Eat by yourself or bring lots of duct tape.
So I’m going to move away from the snark here. Let me just say, this is not really easy. Everyone thinks civility is something that just kind of rolls off your tongue. You know, we have just been through a bruising political season, left and right, Democrat and Republican. So many folks are habituated to being on social media, where snark and sass and everything is really the language du jour.
And then, all of a sudden, bam, it’s Christmas Day, and family is in one room around one table looking at each other, and you’re hoping to get out of there alive. So I have three pointers that I want to make suggestions about.
The first is, make some pre-rules. And that means, you need to do that tonight. What do I mean by that? If you know the triggers in your family, the hot topics — let’s say it’s marriage equality or it’s Ferguson or it’s abortion — agree beforehand you are not going to have them on the table tomorrow. Just put them aside. You can come back.
Number two, don’t personalize it. If you are going to talk about issue, don’t dare say, Uncle John, you are, you know, Barack Obama incarnate or Mitch McConnell incarnate, whatever it is. So keep it general.
And I think the last point is really important. We have lost the art of conversation and listening. I think a lot of that comes from social media, Hari. We are so used to flaming and blocking and defriending, that we don’t know how to listen. We don’t know how to engage people.
And I really want to encourage everyone to do a little bit more of that and see where these conversations can go, because it’s really great to have friends and family that you don’t always agree with. You actually learn from them.
HARI SREENIVASAN: I have seen some stats that say a quarter of us have defriended people based on some of the things that they have shared on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, policy disagreements, really, that we don’t necessarily think about. But we say, you know, somehow, it does affect the core of us and who we are.
STEVEN PETROW: Yes.
I was very surprised at the Pew study statistic; 26 percent have defriended or blocked for political matters. It is not even something personal. It is politics. And we have really gotten habituated to not wanting to see those who disagree with us, you know, and not wanting to talk with them.
And that’s reflective of the larger culture. And I think when many of us say what can we do about this world that we live in, one thing we can do is start at home at the holiday table tomorrow.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, one strategy that people sometimes take is the silent treatment. Let’s just avoid this altogether. Let’s just deal with this once a year. I can be in the same room with this person, but I don’t have to talk about it. Let’s just not talk with them altogether.
Does that work?
STEVEN PETROW: I — I’m afraid not. But it’s a very prevalent tactic or strategy.
And there’s a study that came out from Texas Christian not long ago, 14,000 people. And it looked at the effects of sort of the cold shoulder effect or the silent treatment. And, basically, the result was, it’s manipulative and it’s not productive.
So, folks, again, it’s about talking. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to agree. It means that we’re going to find our way through this. And I think at every table tomorrow, there will be conflicts. That is really a given. It’s how we manage them that is important, how we talk our way through, so no silent treatment, sorry.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. And what — if it’s not intense political disagreement or about the state of race in America or inequality, what about if it is just the person that you are going to have dinner with that is annoying, and you know it’s annoying and other people know it’s annoying, but you have to sit with it and bear with it?
What is your — what is your best tip?
STEVEN PETROW: Hari, do you have one of those in your family too?
HARI SREENIVASAN: I’m not — I take the Fifth right now.
STEVEN PETROW: I’m taking the Fifth too, because I have got two families probably watching.
You know, there’s actually a beauty about having one person in a family who irritates everybody. It bonds and bands everyone else together. So, that used to happen in my family with my late uncle Ray. I can name names now.
You know, take it with a grain of salt. The evening is only going to be a couple of hours’ long, and then it will be next year.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And family lasts forever.
STEVEN PETROW: Family lasts forever, exactly. That’s what this holiday is about. It’s about family. Let’s not forget that.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Steven Petrow, the civility columnist of The Washington Post.
You can also find other tips online from Mark Shields and David Brooks. That’s on our Web site.
Steven Petrow, thanks so much for joining us.
STEVEN PETROW: Thanks, Hari. Happy Christmas Eve.
The post Your family’s political fights don’t have to ruin Christmas appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: With the cost of a college education in the neighborhood of a quarter-of-a-million dollars at some schools, growing numbers of students, educators and some Silicon Valley executives are starting to rethink the value and the business model of higher education.
As science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports, a small group of pioneers believes there may be another way.
MILES O’BRIEN: It’s a freshman dorm in a college with some fresh ideas about higher education.
Ian Van Buskirk is one of 28 founding students at San Francisco’s Minerva School.
IAN VAN BUSKIRK, Minerva Schools Student: Everyone is very driven, very humble, very motivated towards not only their own goals, but also the goal of creating an institution, a lasting impact on higher education.
MILES O’BRIEN: Like everyone else here, Ian is a gifted student. He was accepted at Duke University, but ended up coming to a college that feels like a Silicon Valley start-up, because it is.
Sultanna Krispil is also in the founding Minerva class.
SULTANNA KRISPIL, Minerva Schools Student: I think people have been thumping around the world guinea pig. But I would — I wouldn’t call us guinea pigs at all, because guinea pigs can’t necessarily say what they are feeling or how they are thinking.
MILES O’BRIEN: Minerva is a highly competitive liberal arts college without a single classroom, much less an ivy-trimmed campus.
The dormitory is on one floor of this old apartment building Nob Hill. Students will spend the first year here, and then the subsequent six semesters living and studying in six different cities around the world. Next year, they head to Buenos Aires and Berlin.
But the professors don’t go with them. In fact, they can be anywhere, including home, because they see their students exclusively online, via a proprietary software platform called the Active Learning Forum. It fosters a face-paced, engaging, seminar-style class. No lectures allowed.
Studies show students only retain about 10 percent of what they learn this way two years later.
So what are we seeing here? Is this the progression of the idea? What is this?
Ben Nelson is the founder and CEO of Minerva.
BEN NELSON, Founder and CEO, Minerva Schools: Imagine you were to go to a store to buy anything. And they would say, oh, yes, this product is a great product. You know, 90 percent of them fail within two years. Who would buy that product?
MAN: Well, hello and welcome, everybody.
Instead of tenure, professors here get stock options. And tuition? Ten thousand dollars a year, although the founding class gets a free ride. No federal grants or loans are accepted. Before he began designing a college from scratch with Post-it notes, Nelson was the president of the online photo printing company Snapfish.
BEN NELSON: Our goal is to create a movement where you actually have substantially better quality education, in a more effective way, actually, a lower-cost way, and have that be a model for other institutions to emulate.
MILES O’BRIEN: He has used his start-up acumen to raise $95 million in venture capital. Minerva is a for-profit corporation, accredited through a partnership with California’s Keck Graduate Institute. The founding dean is former Harvard Professor Stephen Kosslyn. He designed the curriculum based on years of reserve on visual perception, mental imagery and memory.
STEPHEN KOSSLYN, Founding Dean, Minerva Schools: If you get engaged with something, you are very likely to remember it, whether you want to or not. Just the act of thinking it through is going to make it stick.
MILES O’BRIEN: Kosslyn’s former colleague Harvard Professor Eric Mazur pioneered the idea of active learning 24 years ago, when he realized his students were not retaining much of his lectures on physics.
ERIC MAZUR, Harvard University: I discovered that my students weren’t even learning the most basic things. They were learning to — they were memorizing and applying things by rote. So that made me realize that my — quote, unquote — “excellent teaching” wasn’t that excellent at all and made me think about what I was doing.
MILES O’BRIEN: So Mazur flipped his classroom around. Students started gathering information on their own, class time spent applying the knowledge to solve problems. In May, Minerva’s nonprofit academy named him the first winner of the Minerva Prize for Advancements in Higher Education.
Mazur says he is thrilled to see his philosophy embraced in this manner, but:
ERIC MAZUR: My main worry is the fact that their entire or a huge part of their experience is in a dorm room. Why force — people are sitting in two neighboring rooms to participate with a wall between them and not actually physically bring them together.
BEN NELSON: We could have done that. We could have just said, hey, let’s do everything that we are doing now, except do it in a room. Well, it turns out the education is worse.
MILES O’BRIEN: What they get is not what you might expect when you think of online learning. Minerva bears little resemblance to massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which bring the lecture hall to cyberspace.
ERIC BONABEAU, Dean, Minerva Schools: Well, good afternoon, everyone.
MILES O’BRIEN: We watched as Professor Eric Bonabeau taught this 70-minute class in formal analyses.
ERIC BONABEAU: I love to treat my students as peers, so that we can solve problems together.
The observed difference is equal to 0.078.
MILES O’BRIEN: The subject on this day was statistics. It begins with a quiz.
So, Tanah, can you explain what you — why you think two is not correct?
WOMAN: Yes, because it is easier to object the null hypothesis if the is a smaller value for alpha. I’m saying why two is wrong.
ERIC BONABEAU: Yes.
MILES O’BRIEN: No way to quietly zone out on Facebook in this class. Students get called on frequently.
ERIC BONABEAU: You are here. Tell me what you think (INAUDIBLE) is.
IAN VAN BUSKIRK: It really is taking the seminar that you would get in real life, distilling it down to what it should be, what it should communicate, and then applying that to an online setting.
MILES O’BRIEN: They can raise their hands electronically and ask questions via text.
Bonabeau writes on the virtual blackboard, a shared document seen by all. He divides the class into breakout groups with a problem to solve on their own and takes a poll.
ERIC BONABEAU: Of those who chose slightly increase, I would be very curious to hear what your reasoning is here.
MILES O’BRIEN: Everyone is watched and recorded by an unblinking eye.
ERIC BONABEAU: Thank you for your attention and thank you for your enthusiasm. And I will see you on Thursday.
MILES O’BRIEN: Bonabeau then replays the class and grades students on their performance. They get instant and constant feedback on how they are doing.
SULTANNA KRISPIL: It’s really useful to be able to have the professor right there, who later goes back and is able to give you feedback on what you said and help you out with certain concepts that you might be struggling with.
ERIC BONABEAU: We are taking these principles of learning and we’re creating a completely new way of teaching that is based on those principles of learning. And what is interesting to me is that actually no university has done that. It’s crazy.
MILES O’BRIEN: Courses here are tightly linked to each other thematically, all aimed at teaching 129 so-called habits of mind. It is liberal arts with a lot of structure.
BEN NELSON: The problem with the traditional university is that there is no glue. Whatever happens in the course is whatever the professor wants. And whatever the professor wants has no idea what other professors have done with those students.
MILES O’BRIEN: Do you think the universities are really paying attention to what are you doing or…
BEN NELSON: Yes.
MILES O’BRIEN: Really? How do you know?
BEN NELSON: Yes.
The glare is palpable. We feel them staring.
MILES O’BRIEN: Educators are, indeed, watching this experiment closely. But since it is so new, the jury is still out. Minerva is clearly not for every student or for every curriculum. But it may take a brash start-up that is aiming high to fix what’s wrong with higher education.
Miles O’Brien for “PBS NewsHour,” San Francisco.
The post With virtual seminars and lower tuition, Minerva Schools offers online alternative to college appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: It’s been a record year for auto recalls, with disturbing stories about deaths, injuries and warning signs that were either missed or ignored by manufacturers and the government.
One of the biggest recalls of the year involved air bags in more than 24 million vehicles from a dozen automakers. But the manufacturer of the air bags, Takata Corporation, has resisted calls to do more.
And, today, its president stepped down.
Hari Sreenivasan picks up the story from there.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Today’s change is the biggest move inside Takata since the troubles became well known.
Stefan Stocker, the company’s first non-Japanese president, will be replaced by the company’s chairman and CEO, Shigehisa Takada. He’s the grandson of the company’s founder. But does the move help Takata deal with much bigger concerns over safety and get out from the cloud that has hung over the business since the reports began?
David Shepardson of The Detroit News has been covering this story, joins me from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
So why did they finally make this move?
DAVID SHEPARDSON, The Detroit News: Well, I think this is clearly another indication of Mr. Takada and the family exerting more control over the company’s operations.
As you said, Mr. Stocker was the first non-Japanese president of the company. And over the last 10 months, as the company has seen tens of millions of vehicles recalled around the globe, it’s raised the stakes for the company to try to show both the public and automakers that these vehicles are safe and, more importantly, that the company has an effective solution to fixing the issues and finding the root cause.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And speaking of that root cause, when millions of vehicle owners take their cars back into the shop to get this fixed, do we know that the new air bags won’t have these problems?
DAVID SHEPARDSON: Well, that’s the real question.
And the other issue is how long will it take them to actually get those replacement parts? At congressional hearings this month, members of Congress asked that very question. The problems with these air bags are twofold. One are production issues, as well as problems with the propellant at two factories in North America.
And many of the issues have shown up four, five, six years after these vehicles were exposed to high humidity. We don’t know if, four or five years from now, these same problems will surface in these replacement air bags.
Meanwhile, it will take at least six months to a year or more to get these millions of vehicles’ air bags replaced because there are so many vehicles ahead of them. Now, Takata says, in January, they’re going to up the production rate from about 300,000 replacement inflators to 450,000.
But in the wake of that, companies like Honda have taken a step of hiring an outside other company to also build replacement parts, but they won’t be ready for another six months.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And the company, Takata, had been resistant to this wider recall for quite some time, right?
DAVID SHEPARDSON: Right.
Back in mid-November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demanded that five companies and Takata declare the driver-side air bags defective across the country. Before that, these vehicles were recalled in high-humidity areas, like Florida, Hawaii, parts of the Gulf Coast. But they wouldn’t expand that nationally.
Then the government learned of an incident in August in North Carolina, a Ford Mustang, in which shrapnel exploded from a Takata air bag, causing leg injuries. And that was enough for the government to decide that this air bag recall should be expanded nationally.
And then, on Monday, BMW became the last of the five companies demanded to expand that recall. Takata has not taken that step. And the real question is, will they do it eventually, or is this about cost?
HARI SREENIVASAN: Speaking of cost, is this the new normal? I mean, all of these recalls do add some cost to the overall vehicle and the manufacturer. Are manufacturers more likely to pass those costs on to consumers?
DAVID SHEPARDSON: You know, they’re going to have to at some point, because these costs are running into the billions of dollars for these recalls.
I mean, at the end of this year, the U.S. there will have about at least 61 million vehicles recalled. That’s more than twice the all-time record set in 2004.
On Monday of this week, a new National Highway Traffic administrator, Mark Rosekind, was sworn in. He’s now taking a fresh look. And he comes from the National Transportation Safety Board, where he was a very strong safety advocate. And he’s been charged with really shaking up the agency, making sure they’re doing a good job of holding auto companies’ feet to the fire.
So it’s hard to see NHTSA being any — or returning to an era when they were not as aggressive. If anything, they are likely to be more aggressive going forward.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And what are the auto manufacturers bracing for, when they know that there is going to be a new sheriff in town and he has a more aggressive stance?
DAVID SHEPARDSON: Well, I think you are already seeing, in the flood of recalls this year, that auto companies are being much more careful to follow the rules.
And the rules are, within five days of determining of a defect, you have to recall those vehicles and notify the government. Already this year, we have seen record fines to companies for not notifying the government in a timely fashion, not recalling enough vehicles and not recalling similar vehicles with problems.
And the government has taken a very tough line with companies that drag their feet. So companies are trying to move faster. They’re taking a look at all of their recall operations, and they’re basically bracing for hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in future costs.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, David Shepardson of The Detroit News, thanks so much for joining us tonight.
DAVID SHEPARDSON: Thanks, Hari. Happy Christmas to you.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You, too.
The post Will leadership shakeup help Takata tackle airbag safety concerns? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: The American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group suffered a blow earlier today.
U.S. Central Command issued a statement saying that a Jordanian F-16 warplane crashed in Northern Syria. The jet’s pilot was apprehended by Islamic State fighters. It’s the first time a coalition service member has fallen into the jihadist group’s hands.
Apart from its high-profile slayings of American journalists and foreign aid workers, brutality, and rapid land grabs in Iraq and Syria, very little is known about the organization also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Tonight, we hear from one Westerner who just spent 10 days inside Islamic State territory and lived to tell about it.
German author, activist, and former politician Jurgen Todenhofer did the seemingly impossible. After months of negotiating over Skype, he won a written security guarantee from Islamic State forces, granting safe passage through their territory, so he could research an upcoming book.
Todenhofer and his son entered through a border crossing in Turkey and were taken to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s seat of power, and then to the Iraqi city of Mosul. They were tightly supervised, but allowed to shoot interviews with Islamic State fighters and even prisoners.
MAN: What did they tell you? What will happen to you? Will you be free one day?
MAN (through interpreter): They said, your government and you are prisoners of the Islamic State. And that’s what they said. They didn’t say we will kill you or slaughter you.
GWEN IFILL: The writer also reported seeing low-flying U.S. aircraft. He left Islamic State territory a few days ago and is now back in Germany.
I spoke to Jurgen Todenhofer earlier today.
Mr. Todenhofer, thank you for joining us.
I want to start by asking you why you decided to go behind the lines with Islamic State forces.
JURGEN TODENHOFER, Author: Because I started to write a book about ISIS at the beginning of the year.
And after some months, I realized that there was no real authentic information. And, usually, when I write a book about Afghanistan, I go to Karzai, the president, Karzai, and I went to the Taliban, the leaders of the Taliban.
And I went to Iraq. I met the government. And I met the Iraqi resistance. I spent seven days with them. So it’s my normal strategy when I write something that I speak to both sides.
GWEN IFILL: You didn’t go by yourself. You went with your son. And what I’m curious about was how you got in. Who do you call to get behind the force — the lines with ISIS forces?
JURGEN TODENHOFER: I called — I wrote to around about 80 German jihadists which were on Facebook.
I got about 15 answers. And with these 15 people, I started Skype conversations seven months ago. And, at the end, two were interesting. And with these two people, I Skyped maybe 20 hours altogether. And we had long discussions about their brutality, about their religion, and we had also long discussions about a guarantee, because I said I would only come to the country if I would get a clear guarantee.
And I got a guarantee from the office of the caliph. The problem was only that it wasn’t completely sure if the guarantee was really given by the office of the caliph. I couldn’t prove it. So the discussions continued. And at the end, I had the impression that the guarantee was correct. And I started.
GWEN IFILL: So you kind of took a risk that this was genuine.
Did you have to make any pledges of allegiance to the caliphate in order to gain access?
JURGEN TODENHOFER: No, not one word, one positive word.
They knew that I had written several times very hard and critical articles against I.S. They knew that I had met several times President Assad. They knew all that. And I told them. I said, you know, you have read what I have said about you.
And they said, we don’t care about your personal opinion.
GWEN IFILL: So, what were your impressions about how strong ISIS is? There is some debate here and around the world about the scope of the Islamic State forces, whether it functions as a government, whether it has a justice system and what its ultimate goal is. What impressions did you take away?
JURGEN TODENHOFER: I got the impression that I.S. is much stronger than our Western politicians think.
I have met the Taliban several times, their leaders. I was in the Algerian war. I met the Front Liberal — National Liberation, which knocked down the French. I have seen very, very strong guerrilla troops.
But I think I.S. is the strongest I met, because they have an which is incredible. And they think, they believe that they have a historical mission. And this mission is to destroy all the religions besides the three religions, besides the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims, the Muslims in I.S. style, which means to destroy all the Muslims which are not — who are not democratic.
A Muslim who is democratic has, as they told me, to be killed because he puts laws made by man above laws made by God. And if they make these beheadings, they don’t have the feeling that they do something bad. They think, yes, we do it. It is necessary.
GWEN IFILL: There is much conversation as well about the influx of foreign fighters from the United States and other places. Did you see evidence of that?
JURGEN TODENHOFER: I think the foreign fighters play, especially in Syria, a very important role in Syria; 70 percent of the fighters are foreigners.
And, in Iraq, 30 percent are foreign fighters. And these foreign fighters are enthusiastic too. I was — I spent the two last days of my stay in a kind of recruitment house. It’s the first house where the people from Europe or from the United States arrive. And I met French people.
I met U.K. people. But I met also Americans. I met Americans from New Jersey. I met people from the Caribbean who had just passed their law exam and who prefer to fight in the Islamic State, instead of being a successful lawyer.
And every day, more than 50 people arrived only in this recruitment center. And they have several. So they can lose a hundred men in one day. It doesn’t matter.
GWEN IFILL: You spent time in Iraq and in Syria, in Raqqa and in Mosul. Was there a difference in what you saw in those two places?
JURGEN TODENHOFER: Here, I only can give an impression.
I had the impression that, in Mosul, their support is stronger, because in Mosul now, you have only Sunnis, because the Shias, the Yazidis and the Christians have been killed or forced to flee, and that in Raqqa, Bashar al-Assad is still at least as strong as I.S.
That is what I.S. fighters told me. And Assad is working also with a trick. He is still playing — paying salaries to his people in Raqqa and it seems to work. So Raqqa — the situation in Raqqa is not very clear.
GWEN IFILL: How does I.S. compare, in your impression, to al-Qaida?
JURGEN TODENHOFER: Al-Qaida is a non — an empty shell beside I.S. I.S. is much stronger. There is no comparison.
Al-Qaida has never been as strong, even in the times of Osama bin Laden, has never been as strong as al-Baghdadi. And even if this al-Baghdadi, this so caliph will die, the next one will come, because they have — they think that they have this historical mission. And they see that the West doesn’t have a successful strategy. There is no strategy.
You cannot bomb, you cannot knock down these 5,000 fighters, I.S. fighters in Mosul in a city of three million inhabitants, residents, because they don’t live in one apartment or in one house or in two houses or five houses. They live in different apartments, in every apartment, one or two. They don’t stick together.
So you cannot bombard the whole city of Mosul just to fight down 5,000 fighters. And if you send your troops, even your best troops, I think they would have very little chances to fight in the guerrilla war in a big city, because an American soldier, even your best soldier, the Marines or special forces, they want to come home. They want to survive. But these people want to die. They want to win and they are ready to die.
GWEN IFILL: For many Americans, their only exposure to ISIS is what they do to Western hostages. How did you get out? How were you not taken hostage and killed?
JURGEN TODENHOFER: I had this guarantee.
And the guarantee of the caliph is the most important document that you can have in this country. I had to fear, I think, much more the bombardments by the Syrians and also by Americans. Some Americans’ airplanes sometimes have been very, very low.
And when our driver, who was a Secret Service guy, was driving between Raqqa and Mosul, he was always watching through the window to see if American drones were following us. So, I think my risk to be beheaded wasn’t too high. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone.
GWEN IFILL: Jurgen Todenhofer, thank you so much for joining us and telling us your story.
JURGEN TODENHOFER: Thank you very much.
The post ‘They want to win and they are ready to die’: Lessons from 10 days with the Islamic State appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: From holy places to battlefields, Christians and others prepare today for the coming of Christmas. In Bethlehem, thousands of the faithful, along with tourists, crowded Manger Square, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, in advance of midnight mass.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis led midnight services before throngs of worshipers in St. Peter’s Basilica.
And, in Afghanistan, American troops marked the day with hymns and prayers.
LT. COL. BILL KILLOUGH, Chaplain, U.S. Army: There is sadness. I miss them. But they also know that we serve wonderful mission with the Afghanistan people. We want to serve them and support them. And they know I am here doing a good thing. And so it’s worth it.
GWEN IFILL: Here at home, weather made for some holiday travel headaches. Heavy rain and high winds in the Northeast, plus a wintry mix in Chicago, canceled about 500 flights nationwide. Meanwhile, power companies restored electricity to thousands in Mississippi. Deadly storms, believed to be tornadoes, ripped through the state late yesterday, killing four people.
Two major shippers have moved to make sure there’s no mass delay of Christmas deliveries. The Wall Street Journal and others reported today that UPS and Federal Express have capped air express shipments from big retailers. Last year, an 11th-hour surge of online orders overwhelmed the system, and two million packages failed to make it in time.
Authorities in Berkeley, Missouri, near Ferguson, called for calm today after a white policeman killed a black teenager last night. Police say 18-year-old Antonio Martin was being questioned about a theft when he pulled a gun, and the officer shot him three times. New protests quickly started, followed by clashes with police.
Crowds continued to gather, but the local mayor warned against jumping to conclusions.
MAYOR THEODORE HOSKINS, Mayor of Berkeley, Missouri: What I saw in this incident is not what people portray. This is not a policeman in the city of Berkeley half-cocked going out. You couldn’t even compare this with Ferguson or the Garner case in New York.
GWEN IFILL: The police said the officer was not wearing his body camera, and his car’s dashboard camera did not activate because its emergency lights were off. Security camera video did not clearly show the object in Martin’s hand.
In Iraq, a suicide bomber attacked a Sunni group fighting Islamic State forces today, killing at least 24 people and wounding 55. It happened at a military base in a town just south of Baghdad. Most of the dead were Sunni militiamen. The rest were Iraqi soldiers.
Ebola deaths in three West African nations are nearing 7,600. The World Health Organization announced today there have been 7,573 confirmed deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. That’s out of more than 19,000 confirmed cases across the three nations. Officials have said the actual numbers may be far higher.
Former President George H.W. Bush spent the day at a Houston hospital. The 41st president was admitted Tuesday as a precaution after he had trouble breathing. Mr. Bush is 90 years old and suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease. Two years ago, he was hospitalized nearly two months with bronchitis.
Sony Pictures expanded its release of “The Interview” to a national audience today. The film comedy, about a plot to kill North Korea’s leader, may now be rented or purchased online. It was already being released in independent theaters. Major theater chains dropped plans to screen the film after threats from a hackers group.
Wall Street had holiday hours today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained six points to close at 18030. It finished above 18000 yesterday for the first time. The Nasdaq rose eight points today to close at 4773. And the S&P 500 slipped a fraction to finish below 2082.
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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Thursday offered sympathy to North Korea amid the Sony hacking scandal, saying the movie that sparked the dispute was so scandalous that Pyongyang’s anger was “quite understandable.”
Washington failed to offer any proof to back its claims of Pyongyang’s involvement in the hacking, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said at a briefing, adding that the U.S. threats of retaliation were “counterproductive.”
The U.S. has blamed Pyongyang for the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures, which produced “The Interview,” a comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Pyongyang has denied a role in the hacking, but also praised it as a “righteous deed.”
Sony initially decided not to release the film because of threats against U.S. cinemas, but released the movie online Wednesday.
Russia’s ties with the communist North soured after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but have improved under President Vladimir Putin’s watch. Moscow has taken part in international efforts to help mediate the standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, although its diplomatic efforts have had little visible effect.
Last week, the Kremlin said that it had invited Kim to Moscow in May to attend festivities marking the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.
Commenting on the Sony hack scandal, Lukashevich said that “the concept of the movie is so aggressive and scandalous, that the reaction of the North Korean side, and not just it, is quite understandable.”
He went on to say that Pyongyang had offered to conduct a joint investigation into the incident, adding that the proposal could help ease tensions and reflected a “sincere desire of the North Korean side to study the issue in detail.”
“We perceive the U.S. threats to take revenge and calls on other nations to condemn the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as absolutely counterproductive and dangerous, as they only would add tensions to the already difficult situation on the Korean Peninsula and could lead to further escalation of conflict,” Lukashevich said.
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It’s the day before Christmas, and you want to bake a Santa-shaped cake, but you don’t have a pan shaped like the portly fellow. No need to panic — you just might be able to borrow the pan from your local public library.
The North Haven Memorial Library in Connecticut started lending out cake pans in 2010. Their collection — which includes at least 300 pans — was donated by members of the community. Pat LaTerza, the library’s director of Children’s Services, was looking for new ways to attract patrons and noticed a trend emerging at other libraries.
“What I love about it is that it brings in people who might not otherwise come into the library,” LaTerza said. “It gets them in the library, and maybe they will take out a book, which is what we hope for.”
LaTerza, who decorated cakes as a teenager in her grandparents’ bakery, saves photos of customer creations in a three-ring binder that other patrons can flip through to get ideas.
She says the patrons love the collection — people come from out of town just to borrow the pans. About 60 to 70 pans are borrowed every month.
Katherine Donohue, also known as the “Cake Pan Lady,” is the library’s technical assistant in charge of the lending program.
People borrow the pans for all sorts of reasons, she said — from birthdays to communions, and, of course, holidays like Christmas.
The collection includes several Christmas-themed pans: Santa, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, wreathes and snowflakes to name a few.
The library also lends out other non-traditional items including cookie cutters, puppets and, starting sometime next year, sensory toys for special needs patrons such as those with autism.
According to the American Library Association’s 2014 State of the American Libraries Report, more than 90 percent of people who responded said that libraries are important to their community.
The popularity of the cake pans have really caught on said Donohue, “people from all walks of life have come into the library to borrow them,” from a grandfather and grandchild who wanted to bake a birthday cake for grandma, to a father and daughter who came in every week to borrow a different pan.
If the library doesn’t have a particular pan, Donohue said “We try to show them what they could make with what we do have,” like using a snow flake pan for a Frozen themed cake, or using Easter egg shaped pans to double as mini footballs.
The post For last minute Christmas baking needs, see … your local library? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — Again? Really?
There are more than 300 million people in America, yet the same two families keep popping up when it comes to picking a president.
The possibility of a Bush-Clinton matchup in 2016 is increasingly plausible.
After months of hints and speculation, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he’s actively exploring a bid for the Republican nomination.
And while Hillary Rodham Clinton hasn’t revealed her intentions, she’s seen as the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination.
Between them, the two potential rivals have three presidents and a U.S. senator in the branches of their family trees. And three governors, as well.
Why are these two families so dominant in modern politics?
It turns out that even though Americans profess to reject dynasties, in politics they’re quite comfortable with familiar names.And a famous name can bring a candidate instant brand recognition, important fund-raising connections and a ready network of political contacts. It may also suggest competence at a time of dysfunction — like now.
“Power begets power,” says Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan. “Dynasties can self-perpetuate.”
A political pedigree can have its negatives, though. A prominent surname sometimes carries unsavory associations and the risk of a fatigue factor.
Both sides of that equation were evident after Bush, 61, the son and brother of a president and the grandson of a senator, made his announcement.
Party activists said the Bush name would help Jeb attract early money, talent and supporters around the country.
But Bush’s brother, George W. Bush, was hugely unpopular at the end of his presidency six years ago. And while people seem to think more of him now, the recent release of a Senate report on Bush-era torture practices was a ready reminder of past controversies.
Clinton, 67, a former secretary of state, senator and first lady, will face the same competing dynamics of familiarity vs. fatigue if she enters the race.
Former President Bill Clinton is enormously popular now, and would be sure to campaign for his wife as he did in the 2008 race, but there is still plenty of lingering unwanted baggage from his White House years.
After Bush edged closer to a run last week, the liberal RootsAction group quickly set up a NoBushesorClintons website and began collecting signatures on a “declaration of independence” that pledges to “reject future domination of government by the Bushes and Clintons and by Bush/Clinton-like policies.”
But Princeton historian Julian Zelizer thinks the comfort element might be more important to 2016 voters than any same-old, same-old worries.
“Washington’s broken, and voters and campaign donors are looking for people who seem to know what they’re doing,” he said. “The familiarity of these names becomes a big benefit and counteracts any sense that, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe these are going to be the candidates again.’ ”
Despite some groaning about a possible Bush-Clinton sequel, there’s plenty of reason to think voters will simply take a breath and size up the primary election candidates on their merits.
“It’s all about alternatives,” Zelizer says. “If that’s the best choice available, people will get over it.”
Dynastic politics, in which multiple family members hold elected office, are more common than people might think in the U.S.
The U.S. has had 44 presidents, and eight of them came from four families (two each of Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt and Bush).
Nyhan points to a 2010 study published in Legislative Studies Quarterly that found that over the previous two centuries, nearly 9 percent of members of Congress were closely related to someone who had served in a previous Congress. It concluded that such politicians “enjoy ‘brand name advantages,’ giving them a significant edge over comparable nondynastic opponents.”
That kind of talk makes Jeff Cohen’s skin crawl.
Cohen, a co-founder of the RootsAction group, said even his non-political friends frequently complain about the dominance of the Bushes and Clintons.
“It’s a source of frustration and it’s broad,” he says, calling the Bushes and Clintons “symbols of a corrupt system and a permanent governing class.”
Even Bush’s mother has suggested a third President Bush could be one too many.
“If we can’t find more than two or three families to run for high office, that’s silly,” she said earlier this year.
(Mom supposedly has since come around to the idea of another Bush candidacy.)
Clinton, for her part, may have to worry as much about Obama fatigue as she does about Clinton fatigue.
“She served in Obama’s Cabinet, she’s been around a long time, and she’s quite old for a presidential candidate,” says Nyhan. “So the Republicans have an opportunity to run a turning-the-page campaign against her.”
Of course, if she’s running against a Bush, that’s a harder case for Republicans to make.
The post Are Americans comfortable with political dynasties? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Paul Solman spoke with Scroogenomist Joel Waldfogel and Dan Ariely, among others, for this report on the deadweight loss of Christmas.
The bulky sweater from grandma cost her $50 at Macy’s. But to you, forever the sweater-shunning type, it’s worth significantly less. And how about the expensive coffee table book you gave your Uncle Joe? Well, since he already has it, your copy is worth pretty little to him.
So maybe all that holiday spending was a waste, unless you knew exactly what the recipient wanted. But even then, how could you be sure your friends and family get the same value from your purchase that you paid? You can’t. They probably would have been better off, economically speaking, with cold hard cash.
There’s even an economic theory for this doom-and-gloom perspective: “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas,” coined by University of Minnesota economics professor Joel Waldfogel some 20 years ago. Simply put, buying Christmas gifts for someone else is inefficient.
His idea has gone on to have a life of its own, and he updated it with the 2009 book, “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Gifts for the Holidays.” On Making Sen$e last year, Paul Solman explored the meaning and the limitations of the theory with the scroogenomist himself.
But over the years, the theory has encountered a fair amount of criticism, even from economists. Waldfogel is the first to admit he does give gifts, especially when his wife gives him hints about what she wants. But Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Biden and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, thinks there’s something to be said for giving gifts that the recipient doesn’t even know he or she wants.
Bernstein, writing in the Washington Post this week, “Have yourself an inefficient Christmas”:
“Nana’s” paperweight: My wife’s stepmother (that would be “Nana”), someone we rarely see, once gave me this paperweight-like object that you can use to hold down the pages of a book. I didn’t think much of it, meaning it was a candidate for precisely the inefficiencies we’re worrying about here. And yet, it lives on my nightstand, and I use it every night, which makes it the most used holiday gift I’ve ever received.
In other words, I didn’t know I needed it. The fact is that no recipient is “perfectly informed” about their needs and wants, so even a throwaway gift can be life-altering — or at least it can keep the pages in place while you’re flossing (TMI??…my bad).
The larger point is that too much economic thinking and modeling is based on the notion of “rational economic actors with full information” vs. the reality of who we really are: often irrational people driven by all kinds of misperceptions.
Likewise, Avner Ben-Ner, a University of Minnesota colleague of Waldfogel’s, pointed out that we often think we need things that we don’t. That makes it hard to argue that giving us more money to spend would be the most efficient gift. “I don’t know about you,” he told Paul, “but my closets, my basement, my attic are full of things that I bought with good money, thoughtfully, I thought, and I discovered that I don’t like this.”
Besides, economic efficiency, in a social setting, only gets you so far. “If you are an economist in the world of normal human beings, and you go to dinner parties and you offered people cash, you’re going to be treated very badly,” Duke behavioralist Dan Ariely told Paul Solman last year. “It would basically imply prostitution,” he continued. “When you give a gift to somebody, you basically are hiding the economic nature of the transaction.”
And so, while the coffee table book you gave this Christmas may not have been the most efficient gift for your uncle, there’s an argument to be made that your spending was a gift to all of us — supporting seasonal jobs and pumping more money into the economy. As Matthew Yglesias writes in Vox, “Christmas is the greatest economic stimulus.”
Widely remembered as the unofficial cease-fire between British and German troops at the start of the first World War, the details surrounding the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 have become muddled over time.
As might be expected with any story passed down through generations, new narrative threads emerge, much like the recently discovered letter written by General Walter Congreve, who described the act as “one of the most extraordinary sights anyone has ever seen.”
When British and German soldiers met in No Man’s Land, it “was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas.”
The most enduring image out of the cease-fire is the impromptu game of soccer that apparently occurred between enemies. And although historians continue to debate whether a soccer match ever took place — Congreve’s letter doesn’t actually mention a game of soccer — the public has embraced the symbolic possibility that tired soldiers sought a respite from hellish war with something as leveling as soccer.
To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Christmas Truce, the Open University poured through the Imperial War Museum’s archives and put together a photo gallery showing the role soccer played in the lives of troops in World War I.
Researchers have said that the troops — Allies or Central Powers — enjoyed playing soccer in breaks between fighting, a distraction from the horror of war. The Imperial War Museum said the sport was used as a recruitment tool. Grantland’s Brian Phillips, noting the ever-present soccer ball in many wartime group photos, said soccer meant something deeper than a “morale-boosting pastime”:
It’s a way to hide the horror under one layer of spectacle and another layer of moral virtue — a way to pretend that war is like a game, that there are rules, that there is safety. A way not to look into oblivion. We missed the cruel irony in all those soccer balls that show up in World War I photos. Nothing is a metaphor for war. War is a metaphor for nothing.
One hundred years since the Christmas Truce, Phillips’ words may resonate, but the world has also chosen to remember what brief moments of joy soldiers could embrace in the midst of nightmare.
The post Did German and British troops really stop fighting and play soccer 100 years ago? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
HOUSTON — Former President George H.W. Bush remains in a Houston hospital on Christmas Day after experiencing shortness of breath two days ago.
Family spokesman Jim McGrath said Thursday that the 90-year-old Bush remained at Houston Methodist Hospital. McGrath said Bush is “still doing well,” but did not offer details.
McGrath previously said Bush was hospitalized Tuesday evening as a precaution.
Bush is the oldest living former American president. He suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease that has forced him to rely on a motorized scooter or wheelchair. But he’s also skydived on at least three of his birthdays since leaving the White House, including a tandem jump for his 90th birthday in June.
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The National Security Agency released documents on Christmas Eve revealing surveillance activities that “may have violated the law for U.S. policy over more than a decade,” reports David Lerman at Bloomberg.
Compelled by an ACLU FOIA request, the agency published 12 years of quarterly reports that were created for the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board between 2001 and mid-2013.
The reports are heavily redacted but include details of intentional and unintentional misuse of the NSA’s signals intelligence gathering systems.
The reports detail unauthorized signals intelligence gathering that included data about U.S. citizens, unauthorized personnel using the intelligence gathering systems and abuses of the NSA’s spying tools for personal use. NSA signals intelligence includes phone call metadata gathered through the NSA’s links to telecommunications companies, as well as much more granular communications scooped up by the agency’s electronic spy network. There are also several references to employees failing to complete required “refresher” training on signals intelligence systems.
In many instances, NSA employees ran poorly constructed or unauthorized queries in the NSA systems, and ended up gathering data on U.S. citizens or unintended targets. In most of these cases the data was then destroyed.
In one case, detailed in the third quarter of 2007, an NSA instructor ran an unauthorized search during a training session:
Misuse of the U.S. SIGINT System. While teaching a class on analyzing communication networks, the instructor purposely entered the phone number of his friend, who was neither a U.S. person nor living in the United States. [sentence redacted] The Instructor was counseled on the restrictions on NSA authorities and was mandated to attend training on USSID SP0018, which he completed in July 2007.
Lerman also reports on instances of NSA systems misuse that were already publicly known:
Those cases included a member of a U.S. military intelligence unit who violated policy by obtaining the communications of his wife, who was stationed in another country. After a military proceeding, the violator was punished by a reduction in rank, 45 days of extra duty and forfeiture of half of his pay for two months, according to the letter.
In a 2003 case, a civilian employee ordered intelligence collection “of the telephone number of his foreign-national girlfriend without an authorized purpose for approximately one month” to determine whether she was being faithful to him, according to the letter. The employee retired before an investigation could be completed.
In August, 2013, Judy Woodruff spoke with former NSA analyst Russell Tice who said the agency collects every domestic communication, “word for word.”
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Public schools across the country are transitioning to the Common Core, a set of new academic standards in math and language arts. But, increasingly, protests to them have gotten louder this year, and some states are even rethinking their decisions.
With a little help from Hollywood, special correspondent John Tulenko of Learning Matters helps break down where things stand at year’s end.
JOHN TULENKO: A 1950s’ Hollywood drama tells a story of a lifeboat full of survivors of a shipwreck, too full, as it turns out.
ACTOR: We can’t save all your lives. There are too many people in this boat.
JOHN TULENKO: To keep the overcrowded lifeboat from sinking, some have to get tossed overboard.
ACTOR: I have to let you go, boy.
ACTOR: Not me. Not me. Let me stay.
JOHN TULENKO: The dilemma of that old film, who stays on board, who gets thrown over, that’s a great way to think about the Common Core these days.
It was launched in 2008, a lifeboat full of big ideas to save public schools. But, out on open seas, it’s had to toss aside key parts of the plan just to stay afloat. And the water is getting rougher.
PROTESTERS: No more Common Core!
JOHN TULENKO: According to a recent survey, 60 percent of Americans don’t want their teachers to follow the Common Core, among them comedian Louis C.K.
LOUIS C.K., Comedian: And then I look at the problems, and it’s like, you know, Bill has three goldfish. He buys two more. How many dogs live in London?
JOHN TULENKO: To help us navigate these troubled waters, we have turned to three experts.
Neal McCluskey of the conservative Cato Institute:
NEAL MCCLUSKEY, Cato Institute: Clearly, the opinion, the public opinion of the Common Core has moved against it, especially if you use the term Common Core.
JOHN TULENKO: Chris Minnich, who leads the Council of Chief State School Officers, a group that helped write the Common Core.
CHRIS MINNICH, Council of Chief State School Officers: Given the amount of attention that we have received on the negative side, it is amazing to me that we’re — that we’re at a place where we still have all of these states being willing to work together. I think it’s a sign of the strength of these standards.
JOHN TULENKO: And Catherine Gewertz of Education Week, who has been following this journey from the start.
CATHERINE GEWERTZ, Education Week: There’s different stripes of criticism, though. And much of it has been not about the content of the standards, but about how the standards came about.
JOHN TULENKO: Common Core state standards were created to raise the bar for everyone. They were developed by the state’s governors and others, not the feds. And the expectation was that states would adopt them voluntarily. That idea was the first to go when states were slow to sign on.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have got the act now.
JOHN TULENKO: In 2009, Washington grabbed the helm through what it called the Race to the Top. States that agreed to a list of reforms, including high standards, could win a share of $4.3 billion in federal education funds, this at the height of the great recession.
WOMAN: First, let’s start with the big picture.
JOHN TULENKO: Forty-five states quickly signed on to the Common Core.
NEAL MCCLUSKEY: And then the backlash came because, suddenly, in 2011, 2012, districts get confronted with these new standards, and they say, what are these? Where did they come from? I’m looking at the math. It doesn’t make any sense. How come I’m hearing that good literature is being thrown out?
And so we moved to a system of national standards without ever having had a meaningful national debate about doing that.
JOHN TULENKO: And then, when the standards reached schools, the boat was rocked by the sudden challenge of getting teachers equipped and ready.
CATHERINE GEWERTZ: There’s incredible work going out there. I have seen some of it. But, in a lot of places, we see this showing up in the polls. Teachers are not getting what they need at all.
JOHN TULENKO: That includes books and curriculum aligned with the Common Core, and it’s why large numbers of public school teachers have already jumped ship.
I saw a recent poll, 41 percent of teachers in favor, 44 percent opposed.
CHRIS MINNICH: So it’s been mixed. Depending on which state you’re in, there are states that have had — have great implementation stories, where their teachers are polling much higher than the polls that you mentioned earlier.
In the places where it’s not, we need to make sure that we tweak that and we solve those problems. But, quite frankly, this is going well across the country right now.
JOHN TULENKO: But there is one thing teachers almost unanimously oppose.
NEAL MCCLUSKEY: Where we have seen a big change in opposition to Common Core is not to the standards itself. It’s to the testing and accountability that’s connected to it.
CATHERINE GEWERTZ: And the tests are being given this spring. And a lot of teachers feel like, we’re barely getting our arms around the curriculum and you’re giving tests?
NEAL MCCLUSKEY: You will evaluate teachers based on it. You will reward teachers based on it. You will evaluate schools based on it.
And so a lot of teachers and especially state-level unions have said, we don’t like the Common Core because of all the ramifications attached to it.
JOHN TULENKO: Sharp criticism from teachers forced U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, arguably the ship’s captain, to alter course.
ARNE DUNCAN, U.S. Education Secretary: We think many states want to take the pressure off of teachers, teachers who are working extraordinarily hard this year.
JOHN TULENKO: At the start of this change year, the secretary belatedly offered states a one-year reprieve from using Common Core test scores to evaluate teachers.
Even states are backing away. Of the 45 who started, 14 have thrown Common Core tests overboard in favor of developing their own.
NEAL MCCLUSKEY: Many cited the cost of the test. The ultimate goal is to have them be online. And that’s expensive.
You have got to get the bandwidth. You have got to get the computers. And, also, a lot are concerned with, what happens when something goes wrong on test day? The other part of this, though, it’s possible that they have dropped out of the test because they knew if you leave the test, you’re essentially leaving Common Core, and if you control your own test, you can set your own proficiency scores again.
CATHERINE GEWERTZ: The states are nervous. Any time more kids don’t meet the proficiency mark, it’s a politically very difficult position for states. They have to tell people, are our kids getting dumber? Why are our kids not performing well? We’re raising expectations? It’s harder, but it’s tough, tough politically.
JOHN TULENKO: There’s one move that many states have used to help the Common Core stay afloat in politically treacherously waters.
ACTRESS: Common in, darling. Last one in is a rotten egg.
ACTOR: Counterbalance. Counterbalance!
JOHN TULENKO: Twenty-five have dropped the name.
Ever heard of the Next Generation content standards and objectives?
CATHERINE GEWERTZ: No, but I’m not surprised that someone came up with that name.
JOHN TULENKO: Is this rebranding?
CATHERINE GEWERTZ: Sure, it is. States recognize that this is tricky stuff. So, yes, some states have renamed. Some have rewritten. Some have bailed.
JOHN TULENKO: Of the 45 states and the District of Columbia that originally signed on, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia are rewriting Common Core standards. Indiana and Oklahoma have opted out, with South Carolina to follow next year. But that still leaves 38 states more or less on course.
CHRIS MINNICH: This blip was to be expected because, as you raise the expectations on any system, there will be — there will be pain points. But I think we have weathered the storm.
ACTOR: We’re alive.
JOHN TULENKO: But the boat hasn’t landed safely yet, and this spring’s Common Core tests could produce another storm.
I’m John Tulenko in New York reporting for the “NewsHour.”
The post What will sink and what will survive as states test Common Core? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
HARI SREENIVASAN: We turn again now to a country which has dominated headlines for much of the last year, Ukraine.
While much has been reported about the overthrow of its former leader, new government, annexation of Crimea, the Russian incursions into the country, tonight, special correspondent Kira Kay brings us a story on the less-known battle that’s happening in the former Soviet republic over religion.
The story was produced in partnership with the Bureau for International Reporting.
KIRA KAY: In the Western Ukrainian village of Butyn sits a picturesque blue church. It has survived two World Wars and the communist and atheist Soviet Union.
Now, in 2014, with its nation gripped in war, Saint Nicholas has become another battlefront in the conflict, one of beliefs and even political influence. It used to belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the country’s largest denomination, with a direct link to Russia’s own politically influential Orthodox Church.
But villagers in Butyn say it all began to unravel when their priest refused to pray for the protesters, who were calling for the overthrow of a pro-Russian president in Kiev’s city center a year ago.
SVETLANA EVGENIEVNA, Ukraine (through interpreter): That was my child there. They were students and children of other parents that were residents of our village. That was the last straw.
KIRA KAY: Svetlana Evgenievna and her neighbors felt they had to remove their priest.
SVETLANA EVGENIEVNA (through interpreter): There was a gathering of the village. There were shouts and quarrels, and we weren’t sure what to do. One man proposed a referendum, how many for and how many against?
KIRA KAY: Villagers voted to switch allegiance to the smaller, unofficial, but overtly pro-Ukrainian church called the Kyiv Patriarchate. In October, a new priest arrived and pro-Kyiv parishioners, backed by ultra-nationalist activists, took over the grounds.
And the village of Butyn isn’t alone. More than 30 other Ukrainian communities have removed priests belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate. The process has sometimes been chaotic, even violent. In Butyn, Moscow Patriarchate loyalists, like Tamara Kaznovetska and Olga Tsimbaluk, were locked out.
TAMARA KAZNOVETSKA, Ukraine (through interpreter): Someone told me: “You are a bandit. You are a separatist. You pray in the language of the aggressor. I was just going to church. I pray to God. I don’t pray to Putin.”
We are not against Ukraine. We are simply Christians who cannot leave our 1,000-year-old faith.
KIRA KAY: The Kyiv Patriarchate was started in 1992 by a breakaway priest named Filaret, who felt Ukrainians deserved a church separate from Russia. Last year, it grabbed the political moment and not only joined protesters, but protected them.
Eighteen-year-old protester Irina Kocubinskaya was hurt in an attack by riot police and found refuge with others at a monastery run by the church.
IRINA KOCUBINSKAYA, Ukraine (through interpreter): The church played not just an actual, but also a symbolic role. People remarked we were hiding here, just like they did from barbarians 1,000 years ago. That the priests here opened the doors, I think, is important, because the Moscow Patriarchate would hardly do the same.
KIRA KAY: The simmering perception that the Moscow Patriarchate is on the wrong side of history in Ukraine was too much for some priests, like Father Vitaly Eismonth.
FATHER VITALY EISMONTH, Kyiv Patriarchate (through interpreter): I was anxious. I thought the church would speak, but the church was silent. And when Russian forces intruded in the east, the church I was serving for 23 years, and was defending all this time, turned its back on its people. I couldn’t defend it anymore.
KIRA KAY: Eismonth defected to the Kyiv Patriarchate and joined a church 100 miles from home, subordinate to much younger priests. He says the sacrifice it worth it.
FATHER VITALY EISMONTH (through interpreter): People are awakening, and I think it’s only the beginning. And of course it’s alarming for the priests because their influence is not the one they thought they had.
KIRA KAY: Kyiv Patriarch Filaret openly supports Ukraine’s political changes, and doesn’t pull any punches when talking about his rival church.
PATRIARCH FILARET, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate (through interpreter): In the Moscow Patriarchate, there are priests and bishops that are openly supporting Putin and calling our government a junta. And when people hear that, they want to leave.
KIRA KAY: Bishop Kliment is the spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate.
BISHOP KLIMENT, Spokesman, Moscow Patriarchate (through interpreter): This slander and informational filth has become a real propaganda war against our church that has escalated to the point where it destabilizes Ukraine.
KIRA KAY: Kliment says that, although his church is affiliated with Russia, it makes its own decisions.
BISHOP KLIMENT (through interpreter): We have both a political and military conflict in Ukraine, and some religious groups are using this to play some kind of card. Factually, what is happening is a raider seizure. They are unconstitutionally taking away the rights of people. They are opening a second front inside of Ukraine.
PATRIARCH FILARET (through interpreter): The Moscow Patriarchate reacts as if we are invading its churches. We are not invading. We are accepting parishes that want to switch.
KIRA KAY: One of the more contentious turnovers, which Bishop Kliment complained about to the Ukrainian Parliament, was in the village of Khodosy.
WOMAN (through interpreter): Putin, stop. No go now to Ukraine.
KIRA KAY: There was a vote here too, but the Moscow Patriarchate priest and his followers barricaded themselves inside, using a fire extinguisher to ward off the crowds that had gathered. Several people were injured, and local officials, like Ruslan Siviy, say they are not equipped to handle such chaos.
RUSLAN SIVIY, Region Administrator (through interpreter): By law, the government shouldn’t intervene into religious affairs. But, unfortunately, we can’t stay out of this, since the tensions are physical. Government officials locally and in Kiev should create mechanisms to satisfy the people, so that it will be easier for us to manage.
KIRA KAY: Ukraine’s church crisis is now drawing strong language from Moscow, the Kremlin labeling it a human rights violation, and President Putin himself deriding activists for their silence on the seizures that he calls a tragedy.
Back in Butyn, parishioners don’t see it that way and are embracing their new church.
NADIYA PARIY, Ukraine (through interpreter): Today, we are hearing a prayer for our dear Ukraine. We are a hearing prayer for our kids that died. We are hearing a prayer for those who are fighting for our freedom. That’s why I am enormously happy.
KIRA KAY: Meanwhile, holdouts Tamara and Olga are journeying to a Moscow Patriarchate church in a nearby town that has welcomed them and also their priest. It can be seen across the valley from the little blue church of Saint Nicolas, one more division in a nation at war.
This is Kira Kay in Western Ukraine.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now: change at the Vatican.
Pope Francis is ushering in a new era in Rome.
Jeffrey Brown has that.
JEFFREY BROWN: This is the second time Pope Francis has delivered a Christmas message to the world’s Catholics. Almost two years ago, in March of 2013, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the first pope from the Americas, the first non-European pope since the year 741.
He was a surprise choice and he has captured the world’s attention ever since. Francis has chosen a simpler lifestyle at the Vatican, residing in a guest house, instead of the Apostolic Palace, forgoing the chauffeured Mercedes in favor a plain black sedan.
He has begun to travel and take a more active role in diplomacy. Last month, he visited Turkey, where thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Christians have fled the forces of the Islamic State. While there, he reaffirmed the use of military force against I.S.
And now we have learned of his key part in shepherding negotiations that led to an opening between the U.S. and Cuba. In September of next year, Francis will travel to Philadelphia for an international meeting on the family. He is also expected to stop in New York City.
A new biography begins to fill in more of the story of the man, “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.” Its author is Austen Ivereigh, a British journalist, former adviser to a top English cardinal, and co-founder of Catholic Voices, a lay group that works to improve the church’s representation in the media.
And welcome to you.
AUSTEN IVEREIGH, Author, “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope”: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: When you go back to his childhood, Pope Francis’, his roots in Argentina, what do you see? What picture emerges of the future pope?
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: I see a man of lower-middle class, Italian immigrant, who understands the pain and the suffering of the poor and of people who move country to the new world, a man who’s profoundly religious actually from an early age, but not in a particularly kind of pious way.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, not expected that he would have gone on to the priesthood?
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: His piety, his religiosity was noticed by his colleagues at school at an early age, also his intelligence. He was a standout smart guy who loved to solve people’s problems.
And I think, there, you see a little bit of the future pastoral pope that we have now.
JEFFREY BROWN: And the understanding of the poverty and the poor comes from?
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: Well, from his family.
He grew up actually reasonably comfortably, but there wasn’t a lot of money around. They didn’t take vacations. They recycled clothes. But I think it was more from him. I understand from his friends, childhood friends, that he was always doing things for others and helping people and concerned.
And when he spoke about his future, he said, I don’t want to be stuck in a cathedral. I want to be out there with the people on the frontier, where the poor are.
JEFFREY BROWN: Those years where he was the head of the Jesuit order in Argentina order were — were horrible years in Argentina.
And there has hung over him the what happened or what didn’t happen, did he do enough to stop the killings, the disappearances that were going on in the so-called dirty war?
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: It was an extremely tough time where there was a polarization in Argentina, as well as within the Jesuits.
You have one of the Western Hemisphere’s largest guerrilla forces, the Montoneros and the ERP, which genuinely threatened the state. And you have then a ferocious dictatorship, which then kills thousands of them in order to exterminate them.
So, he takes over the Jesuit order at a time of internal crisis in the order and refocuses the Jesuits on their mission, on the poor. And he tries to, as it were, detach them from ideology. So, that was really his role during that time.
He steered a delicate line, trying to achieve two things, on the one hand, protecting his Jesuits from the regime, from the dictatorship, on the other hand, protecting those whom the dictatorship was after.
Now, these two things were in contradiction. If it had been known he was doing the second, the Jesuits would have been in danger.
JEFFREY BROWN: But do you know how he looks back at those years now and at that time? Does he feel that he did enough then or…
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: No.
JEFFREY BROWN: No?
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: And he’s said so publicly.
He’s tortured by the fact that there were people who came to him for help whom he couldn’t help. But he did help a lot of people. He actually sheltered dozens of people. He got dozens of people out of the country.
I don’t think anybody who lived through that time afterwards, realizing what happened — and they really only realized later — ever really thinks they did enough.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, moving up to today, the book is called “The Great Reformer.”
What does that mean? A reformer in what sense?
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: One of the reason I wanted to call the book “The Great Reformer” is that it’s quite a provocative title for people in the church, because reform in the church history has gone wrong. It’s ended up in division and in schism.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: But there’s another kind of reform, which actually goes all the back, Saint Francis of Assisi, some of the great medieval popes, who were all about recalling the church to its fundamental mission, to reducing its dependence on poverty, status, wealth and power, depending on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, focusing on the poor.
I see him as in that tradition. And that’s why I say he’s a great reformer. And, as I show in the book, in every position he’s been in, in the church in Argentina and now, he’s actually done that. He’s reformed.
JEFFREY BROWN: It doesn’t mean, though, overhauling church teachings. There was — does it? There was much attention when he spoke out about, for example, saying the church seems to put too much emphasis on homosexuality or abortion.
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: It was understood at the time as meaning — by some people — as meaning in some way — weakening or diluting church doctrine. He wasn’t saying that at all.
What he’s saying is that there is another part of church teaching which we need to understand, which is God loves you, God wants to heal you, save you, the church is a mother, as well as a teacher. Now, that bit, he thinks, has got lost in perhaps the effort of the church over the last few years to have a kind of clarity of doctrine.
So, what he’s doing is not changing church teaching. He’s thinning it out and showing it in its fullness.
JEFFREY BROWN: Some of what he has done has stirred some opposition or controversy within the church. Right?
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: Well, the opposition to Francis is real, and it came to the fore in October, when he called together the world’s bishops to consider very difficult questions.
Now, some of them disliked even that and disliked particularly the way the media was interpreting it. I reckon it’s probably maybe 20 or 30 out of 190 that were there. We’re not talking, in other words, about any majority, but nonetheless a group of people who I think are uncomfortable, who yearn for a certain kind of clarity which they think Francis is threatening.
I think he exposes people’s attachment to ideology, rather than the Gospel.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you finally, where do you think his biggest impact will be?
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: I think there’s going to be massive two achievements in this papacy.
The first is the reform for which he was elected, reform of church governance, clean up of the Curia, clean up of the Vatican, finances, that kind of thing. I don’t think he thinks that is the most important thing he will do, but I think actually it is a very important thing.
And in the book, I kind of break the story of the remarkable breakthrough that is now happening between Catholics and evangelicals, and this is particularly important of course here in the U.S. Most Protestant Christians are now evangelicals. The Catholic Church hasn’t had much of a relationship with them.
He is very much of that ilk. He’s a charismatic Catholic who knows evangelicals very well. As I believe there will be an important declaration in the coming years between Catholics and evangelicals which will do a lot to end the rivalry between them.
I think there will be other things, breakthroughs. But I think those are the two big ones.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. The book is “The Great Reformer.”
Austen Ivereigh, thank you so much.
AUSTEN IVEREIGH: Thank you.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now: a move to make it easier for people who have been convicted of a crime to find employment after being released from prison.
Several states and municipalities are preventing employers from asking about criminal convictions up front. The so-called ban the box movement would eliminate a check-box on initial job applications.
Brandis Friedman from our affiliate WTTW in Chicago has this report.
WOMAN: How do I know I can trust you?
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN, WTTW Chicago: It is a question any employer might ask the students in this room. Each of them has a felony conviction and has served time in prison and each of them wants to prove to a future employer that he or she can be trusted.
Twenty-six-year-old Carl Lynch is one of the students receiving job readiness training from the Safer Foundation, a nonprofit that helps released prisoners transition back into society.
CARL LYNCH, Job Seeker: The economy is always changing. Jobs are always getting tougher. And I feel like it’s just preparing me to be ready to reenter into the work force.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Lynch was released from Illinois State Prison in early July after serving two years for breaking into a car with someone inside. He says a new job will help make him the father he once was to his two children.
CARL LYNCH: I want to feel like the provider I was before I left. know I never can get the time back, but it’s important just for me to be there and let them know that dad’s back.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: He’s hoping to get a job in hospitality or customer service, but the job search has been difficult. And Lynch thinks it’s because of the tiny box on those job applications that asks candidates whether they have ever been convicted of a crime.
CARL LYNCH: It makes you a little uncomfortable. You get that anxiety when you get to that box, like, wow, how are they going to judge me, knowing I committed this crime? How are they going to feel about this?
WOMAN: That has kept a lot of people out of the interview. With this question removed, that would really help you.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Illinois is the latest in a series of states and municipalities to pass a law prohibiting employers from asking applicants if they’d been convicted of a felony on initial job applications.
Phil Schreiber is a labor and employment attorney in Chicago.
PHILLIP SCHREIBER, Labor and Employment Attorney: Essentially, it delays when a prospective employer can inquire about a candidate’s criminal history, until the employer has notified the employee that the employee will be granted an initial interview.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: While each law is slightly different, the goal for each is to get job applicants with convictions past the initial screening.
PHILLIP SCHREIBER: For example, Hawaii says you have to have a conditional offer of employment. Most of these laws have various exceptions do vary somewhat from state to state as well.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: The Illinois law, which takes effects January 1, 2015, applies only to private employers with 15 or more employees. It provides exemptions in situations where state or federal law prohibits hiring applicants with certain convictions, where the new hire would require a fidelity bond that insures employees who work with money, or where the new applicant would need to be licensed under the Emergency Medical Service Assistance Act.
Advocates say a bill like this has been a long time in the making.
ANTHONY LOWERY, Safer Foundation: Employment is the biggest link to reduce recidivism. When people are returning from prison, the first thing that they want to do is get a job to show their worthiness, to show their viability, first of all to themselves and also to their families. Employment discrimination routinely denies that opportunity.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Safer Foundations director of policy and advocacy Anthony Lowery says, as prison populations have boomed, governments are looking for ways to cut expense of incarceration and communities are looking to turn former inmates into productive citizens.
ANTHONY LOWERY: It is the biggest challenge of their lives. The criminal worker is the new civil rights issue of our time. People are routinely denied opportunities for employment, no matter how minor their record is, and no matter how old the record is.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: The Illinois Department of Corrections releases about 30,000 inmates a year, and, of them, half return to Chicago. Of those 15,000, experts say about 80 percent come to one of seven neighborhoods like this one, often, unfortunately known for its culture of poverty and violence.
Ban the box advocates say when entire communities face a glut of people who can’t get jobs, the cycle of poverty just keeps spinning.
CARL LYNCH: I see it every day. I see people recommit and committing crimes that they have done in the past and think something different is going to happen. But it’s not. That’s why I don’t want to go down that route again. I want to try to find work.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Under existing federal and state laws, employers aren’t allowed to use a conviction as a pre-screening tool. But advocates say it’s not working.
Todd Belcore is the lead attorney of the community justice unit at the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
TODD BELCORE, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law: Pre-screening is a constant. It’s being done in nearly every state.
And so there’s — that’s why the movement actually precipitated. Those people are frustrated. We’re asking people who commit crimes, who endure the time, who get the education necessary to get extra training and do all these things to get their lives back on track. And when they do all those things, there’s no job opportunities available for them because they’re being denied outright.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: But because of those laws, attorney Jeffrey Risch, who chairs the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Employment Law Council, argues ban the box measures aren’t necessary.
JEFFREY RISCH, Illinois Chamber of Commerce Employment Law Council: Before ban the box, there was Title VII. Before ban the box, there was the Illinois Human Rights Act. There are other — there are a variety of federal laws that protect candidates from having employers use criminal convictions or arrest records as filters. Those exist. They still exist.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: He says employers already following those existing laws won’t have a problem obeying yet another one, and employers will still be allowed to learn an applicant’s criminal history, just not up front.
JEFFREY RISCH: How recent, what’s the nature of the underlying offense, what facts can we gather, and what exactly, precisely is this person going to do for the employer,all that has to be taken into consideration.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: And that’s exactly what advocates for people like Carl Lynch are hoping.
WOMAN: It motivates me to see a person go out there and get a job.
CARL LYNCH: I’m going to feel like I got a good chance every day, because if I’m going to sit back and be sad and blue, that’s — that’s not going to get me anywhere.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: In Illinois alone, it could make a difference for more than three million people who have a criminal background.
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Less than a week ago, Sony indicated that, under pressure of threats, the moviegoing public wasn’t going to be able to see the comedy “The Interview” at a theater today. But that decision hit quickly on a trip wire of criticisms about geopolitics, freedom of expression, terrorism and more.
And in a quick reversal of fortune, the movie opened in more than 300 locations today, mostly at small independent art house theaters.
JOSH LEVIN, West End Cinemas: Christmas Day is usually a busy day for the movies, but this is unlike any experience we have ever had before.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Even before the first screenings, the film was selling out at smaller theaters. Co-star and co-director Seth Rogen made a surprise appearance at a midnight screening in Los Angeles.
SETH ROGEN, Actor: We thought this might never happen at all.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama, who was on vacation in Hawaii and criticized Sony’s initial decision, wouldn’t say if he would watch, but he said:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m glad it’s being released.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The release of the comedy, about a CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was canceled last week after hackers threatened potential attacks at theaters. The president has said North Korea is behind the hacking of Sony.
Moviegoers were out early at Washington, D.C.’s West End Cinemas, including Mohammed Shouman.
MOHAMMED SHOUMAN, Washington, D.C.: I decided to show my personal support for theaters that show it and my personal support for free speech.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Sarah Arlinghaus admitted the Rogen/Franco style wasn’t her usual movie fare.
SARAH ARLINGHAUS, Washington, D.C.: I wouldn’t have seen it if the North Koreans hadn’t decided I shouldn’t see it. I would like to sit near the exits just in case we have to evacuate quickly.
HARI SREENIVASAN: “The Interview” is also available as video on demand. It can be seen on Google Play, YouTube Movies, and Microsoft’s Xbox.
Still, before major exhibitors pulled out, the movie was originally scheduled to play in 3,000 theaters.
Art House Convergence, a coalition of about 250 independent theaters, wrote an open letter to Sony earlier this week offering to show the movie.
I spoke to the group’s director, Russ Collins, yesterday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he also runs the State Theatre, that’s showing it today.
Russ Collins, why did so many of the members of your organization, the independent theaters, decide to run this movie?
RUSS COLLINS, Conference Director, Art House Convergence: There were two reasons.
One, we initially reached out to the employees and Sony Corporation, but their employees in particular, who are the folks that we have the interface with, just to express our empathy for the difficulties that they have encountered the last month after their company was hacked and their e-mails went down and their telephone went down and all of their records went down.
It’s just been a very, very difficult time for Sony employees. And we just wanted to express how we felt and that we wanted to support them. And one of the ways we could support them is, if Sony decided to release “The Interview,” we as independent theaters would be willing to screen that, or at least we thought we might.
And when the word got out among the Art House Convergence group that this might be a possibility or something that we could offer, they were enthusiastic in their response, and it just kind of took off from there.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. No disrespect but a Seth Rogen movie and an Art House Convergence group usually don’t go in the same sentence. This isn’t usually the fare of an independent movie house.
RUSS COLLINS: That’s absolutely true.
Independent movie houses are dedicated to a diversity of programs, documentary films, foreign language films, independent American films, classic films, but we’re also strongly committed to freedom of speech and artistic expression dynamics.
This is something that art houses do this on a regular basis. And when this particular exhibition became a freedom of speech issue, it aligned with the values of independent theaters, so making the offer seemed to work with our values and our capabilities and the diversity of the programs and facilities and locations that are out there in North America for independent cinema.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So one of the things that people might be thinking about, whether they’re going to see this movie at one of your theaters or a different one, is, are there additional safety precautions that you’re taking into consideration?
RUSS COLLINS: We’re encouraging each of our theaters to consult with their local law enforcement officials, have the law enforcement officials work their channels to see if there is any concerns.
In our particular case, the University of Michigan has a Korean studies program and we have contacted them to get their input. So we are out there concerned and vigilant about seeking any unusual telemetry about unusual behavior.
So far, we haven’t encountered any, at least in our particular market, but I’m sure theaters are going to do what they need to do to assure that their customers and their employees are safe at these screenings.
HARI SREENIVASAN: We have seen reports that some screenings of this movie are selling out. And I look at some of the Web sites like Rotten Tomatoes and so forth, and it’s not particularly because this movie is Oscar-worthy, to put it mildly. Do you think it’s — is it because of the publicity that there are people attracted to this?
RUSS COLLINS: I think there’s two reasons.
One is that, when the initial release was planned, they looked to screen it at 2,000 to 3,000 to 4,000 screens. The way it’s turning out, it’s going to be 200 or 300 screens that are actually showing “The Interview.”
But, obviously, all of the national press that’s occurred and all of the issues about the film have resonated a particular interest in the notion of this film and the difficulties that Sony has encountered. So I think there’s a lot of curiosity. That curiosity will be satiated very quickly, and the film will live and die and be successful and have a long life based depending on how it’s received, and both critically and by audiences.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Is this an opportunity? Do you see this as an opportunity for more people to kind of reintroduce themselves to the independent or small theaters that are in their neighborhoods vs. the big chains that usually run a movie like this?
RUSS COLLINS: Yes, independent theaters, art houses are out there all over the country. The objective of the Art House Convergence is to increase the quantity and quality of art houses.
So, yes, this might be a nice introduction to customers who are more interested in going to a Seth Rogen stoner comedy than those who tend to go to the art house fare. However, who knows. This could be the “Citizen Kane” of stoner comedies.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.
What about the competition with perhaps the streaming sites? I know that, I think, sites like YouTube and a couple of others are planning to make this available to people. So, really, is the competition shifting away from AMC and Regal vs. art house to art house vs. streaming?
RUSS COLLINS: Well, in the art house market, video on demand, day-and-date of video on demand and theatrical screenings has occurred for a couple of years now. So, we’re used to that.
Obviously, we like complete theatrical clearance. If you have a monopoly, you tend to do better. But that’s part of the modern cinema world is day-and-date release and all the diversity, availability through online and cable access.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Russ Collins, thanks so much for your time.
RUSS COLLINS: Thank you. And happy holidays.
HARI SREENIVASAN: This Christmas brought all the traditional celebrations of the day, but along with them, new calls for an end to suffering. The most ardent of those appeals came from the Vatican.
The crowds who filled St. Peter’s Square heard a holiday lament from Pope Francis. “There are so many tears this Christmas,” he said, the ravages of Ebola, fighting in the Middle East and Ukraine, and terror attacks, like the one that killed scores of students in Pakistan.
And he decried the persecution of Christians and others by Islamic State militants.
POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church (through interpreter): I ask him, the savior of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution.
HARI SREENIVASAN: But many of those beset by strife, including refugees in Iraq, still found ways to celebrate. And health care workers in Sierra Leone brought what cheer they could to Ebola patients, despite a government ban on public celebrations.
Meanwhile, Christmas in Cuba took on a new air of hope that renewed relations with the U.S. will change lives.
MARILYN ALVAREZ, Cuba (through interpreter): It is a gift. It really is a gift. I hope everything works out in the best possible way, because it would bring a lot of benefits to work in better conditions.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In London, Queen Elizabeth took up a similar theme with her own annual message to the world.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II, United Kingdom: Even in the unlikeliest of places, hope can still be found. A very happy Christmas to you all.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It was a sentiment that echoed high into the heavens…
MAN: Hello from the International Space Station.
HARI SREENIVASAN: … where astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts shared season’s greetings, a miniature floating Christmas tree, and this image of a celestial sunrise on Christmas morning.
Back on Earth, some of the more unusual traditions played out, as members of the Berlin Seals winter swimming club took their annual Christmas Day plunge into a freezing lake.
Christmas Eve brought a second night of protests in Berkeley, Missouri. A night earlier, a black 18-year-old was shot dead by a police officer after he allegedly pulled a handgun. Last night, demonstrators marched down Interstate 170, blocking traffic. They also held a vigil and staged a die-in at the gas station where the shooting took place. Police say they made a handful of arrests.
The loss of a Jordanian military pilot in Syria prompted appeals from his government and family for his safe return today. He went down yesterday in a region controlled by Islamic State fighters. The U.S. military said his plane crashed and wasn’t hit by enemy fire.
We have a report from Nelufar Hedayat of Independent Television News.
NELUFAR HEDAYAT: Captured by Islamic State, the first U.S.-led coalition soldier in the hands of the terrorist organization; 26-year-old Moaz al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot, was captured by I.S. after his F-16 fighter jet crashed.
Initially, Islamic State claimed responsibility for shooting the jet down, celebrating with a macabre victory parade through the streets of stronghold Raqqa. But, of course, none of this matters much to Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh. Islamic State are well-known for brutal treatment and beheadings of the captives.
Today, his father, Safi, has added to the many voices pleading for al-Kasasbeh to be released unharmed.
MAN: What would you say?
SAFI YOUSEF AL-KASASBEH, Father of Captured Pilot (through interpreter): I send a message to our generous brothers of the Islamic State in Syria to host my son with generous hospitality and not to be ungenerous towards my son. I asked God to fill their hearts with love and I ask for him to be returned to his family, wife and mother, to return in safety.
NELUFAR HEDAYAT: Al-Kasasbeh has been a pilot for the Jordanian air force for six years. Jordanian warplanes have joined several other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, forming the 40-strong coalition.
MOHAMMED MOMANI, Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs: Jordan will continue in its fight against terrorism. And we know that we will win at the end, because this is the right thing to do and this is for the sake of our security and stability of this country.
NELUFAR HEDAYAT: U.S.-led campaign against I.S. started back in September. This month, airstrikes have been intensifying as the mission to degrade and destroy Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continues.
HARI SREENIVASAN: This is the first time a pilot from the coalition been captured. So far, there have been no public demands or conditions set for his release.
Islamist gunmen in Somalia attacked the main base of African Union peacekeepers today. The Al-Shabab militants struck in Mogadishu, the capital city. An A.U. military spokesman said eight of the attackers were killed in the resulting gun battle. Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu for four years, until 2011, when the peacekeepers drove them out.
And in Indonesia today, thousands remembered a day of disaster; 10 years ago tomorrow, a catastrophic tsunami killed nearly some 230,000 people in 14 countries, most of them in Indonesia. Today, a church in Banda Aceh, a city that was all but wiped out by the giant wave, held a special Christmas service. And thousands flocked to a mosque that was one of the few buildings to survive.
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WASHINGTON — Political advisers, chiefs of staff, press secretaries and national security advisers have come and gone in the nearly six years Barack Obama has been president. Now, Obama’s personal chef is waving goodbye.
Sam Kass has been a fixture at the executive mansion, serving up nutrition policy alongside meals for Obama, his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha. He was not only their personal chef but senior adviser for nutrition policy, giving him a seat at the table where administration officials hashed out everything from updated food labels to new requirements for healthier school lunches.
Kass, a newlywed, is leaving the White House at the end of the month, but don’t ask him what the Obamas like or don’t like to eat. “Top secret,” he said.
“I love this family and believe in everything the president and first lady are doing and this has been the greatest job of my life and I assume will be the greatest job of my life,” the 34-year-old Chicago native said in an interview. “But I’m going to be with my wife. Once you’re married you kind of need to be together.”
Kass’ wife, MSNBC host Alex Wagner, is based in New York City.
Kass’ relationship with the Obamas started when they hired him to cook healthier meals for the family in Chicago before the 2008 elections. Michelle Obama was a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center and caring for young daughters, while Obama was a U.S. senator spending most of his time in Washington.
But the relationship sprouted well beyond the professional. Besides Kass’ tireless work for Mrs. Obama, for whom he wore a third hat as executive director of her anti-childhood obesity campaign, Kass sometimes traveled with Obama and joined his weekend or vacation golf outings. Obama, in turn, blocked out several hours on his busy schedule to attend Kass’ late-August wedding.
Obama said Kass “has grown from a close friend to a critical member of my team” and has left “an indelible mark on the White House.” Mrs. Obama praised Kass’ “extraordinary legacy of progress,” which she said includes healthier food options in groceries, more nutritious school lunches and initiatives to improve how food is marketed to kids.
Unlike any White House chef before him, Kass helped make decisions with far greater potential consequences than whether the president’s veggies, which Kass often plucked from the first lady’s garden on the South Lawn, should be steamed or sautéed.
The school lunch changes have led Mrs. Obama into a public spat with the School Nutrition Association, an industry-backed group that represents school cafeteria workers and food companies that sell to schools. The group has lobbied Congress to weaken the standards, arguing they are a burden on financially pinched districts and a big reason why kids are throwing their lunches into the garbage.
A House Republican-led effort to allow some districts to ignore the new lunch standards altogether failed to advance in Congress, but requirements for more whole grains in school foods will be eased instead. The fight over the broader standards is expected to heat up again next year when Republicans, who are sympathetic to the association’s arguments, will control both houses of Congress.
Nutrition advocates say anyone who hopes these issues will disappear with Kass will be disappointed.
“This administration is very committed to nutrition and obesity prevention. That commitment runs very deep,” said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who has pushed for healthier school meals.
Despite her group’s issues with the lunch standards, Patricia Montague, the School Nutrition Association’s chief executive, said Kass and “Let’s Move,” the first lady’s anti-childhood obesity initiative, played “an important role in promoting healthier lifestyles for children both at school and at home.”
Kass will stay involved with “Let’s Move,” along with broader efforts to improve childhood nutrition, the White House said.
Testifying to Kass’ commitment, former colleague Kristina Schake said Kass spent weekends living the work he did at the White House, including visiting farms, farmers markets and food purveyors. “He can talk about different types of lettuce the way other men talk about sports teams,” she said.
Kass said his plan after leaving the White House is to get some sleep, and “I guess I’ll also be the chef for my wife.”
As for who will prepare Obama’s dinners going forward, Kass said the White House kitchen staff has it covered.
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It’s almost 2015. Before we ring it in with bursting fireworks and swirling confetti, we want to reflect on some of the great Art Beat stories from this past year.
Today we’re asking, which musicians did we listen to in 2014? We heard about the Beatles before they inspired mania and violinists Joshua Bell’s redo of a train station concert. We learned from musicians who used their art to protest the shootings in Ferguson and about an organization that helps struggling blues artists stay on their feet. And so many more.
Here are some highlights from the NewsHour’s music coverage in 2014. Take a listen:
Newly released recordings reveal Beatles before they inspired mania Before the Beatles took America by storm, Paul, John, Ringo and George were featured on BBC radio programs 53 times. Those Beatles performances, recorded between 1962 and 1965, have now been released. Jeffrey Brown talked to Kevin Howlett of BBC about his laborious search for many of these live, early, pre-Beatlemania recordings.
One of Africa’s biggest stars uses empowering song to lift up women and girlsBenin-born Angelique Kidjo has made the empowerment of women and girls a part of her music and life’s work for decades. The Grammy winner has attracted a global following with her mix of African and Western music styles and lyrics in a number of different languages. Jeffrey Brown profiled Kidjo latest album, “Eve,” as well as her new memoir, “Spirit Rising: My Life My Music.”
Charles Bradley, a new force in old-fashioned soul, channels past heartaches for ‘Victim of Love Singer Charles Bradley was making a living as a James Brown cover act when he was “discovered” by Daptone, a record label helping bring about a resurgence of soul music. These days, Bradley’s songs reflect the story of his own past, drawing a growing number of fans to his gospel of soul and heartbreak. Jeffrey Brown shared the story of the singer’s breakthrough and latest album.
Jason Moran strikes up the band — and a conversation — to enthrall new jazz listenersJason Moran, one of today’s best-known younger jazz musicians, is a true believer that his art form can transport and transform an audience. Now the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington, the musician has a public platform to share his passion. Jeffrey Brown interviewed Moran about his work to bring the jazz experience to more people.
What drives Willie Nelson to keep singing and travelingCountry legend Willie Nelson, 81, is still on the road. Jeffrey Brown sits down with Nelson to talk about the burst of songwriting behind his new album, “Band of Brothers,” controlling his temper and how he stays fit on tour.
Blues musician John Németh gets ‘greasy’ in MemphisJohn Németh says he fell in love with the blues as a teenager growing up in Idaho. Decades later, he’s touring to promote his new album, “Memphis Grease.” Art Beat sat down with Németh before a show at Gypsy Sally’s in Washington, D.C., to talk about his new album and the state of the blues.
Soul musician Curtis Harding on keeping with tradition and staying current Soul musician Curtis Harding originally wanted to be an oceanographer, but growing up in a musical family left its mark. “My mother’s a gospel singer. My sister plays piano. We all sang in the church, sang on the road,” he says. Harding talked to Art Beat before a concert at DC9 in Washington, D.C., about his debut album, “Soul Power.”
What does a 21st century protest song sound like? If you’re folk musician Ezra Furman, it echoes of Bob Dylan. If you’re legendary songwriter Lauryn Hill, it borrows from Rodgers and Hammerstein. If you’re hip hop artist J. Cole, it’s an elegy with a beat. Though these artist span the musical spectrum, the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have inspired them all to put their reactions into song.
Agnes Obel taps into the piano’s ‘dreamy nature’Danish musician Agnes Obel grew up surrounded by guitars, pianos, marimbas and double basses. Her father collected and sold instruments and her mother was a classical pianist, so you can say that music is in her blood. She doesn’t like to describe her sound, but when she does, her first choice is as “piano music.” Obel spoke to Art Beat about her second album, “Aventine” and her “piano music” before a concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
Violinist Joshua Bell turns train station into concert hall to encourage arts educationA superstar of classical music might normally draw a huge crowd, but that wasn’t the case when violin virtuoso Joshua Bell held an impromptu recital in a Metro station in 2007 — largely ignored by a few thousand commuters. In September, Bell returned to give a performance at Washington’s Union Station, and this time people paid attention. Jeffrey Brown sat down with Bell to talk about the 2007 experiment and why this year’s performance was different.
For every American musician who makes it big, there are many, many more who eke out a living to be able to afford new guitar strings. The Music Maker Foundation, based in North Carolina, helps struggling blues artists meet their basic needs, record their music and book tours. Jeffrey Brown reports on their efforts to preserve American culture and keep the music coming.
Ralph Peer popularized the genres of country, blues, jazz, gospel and Latin. His story begins in the era of the wind-up crank cylinder and ends in the age of color television and is told in the new book, “Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music.”
Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn meld marriage with musical collaborationDespite playing a common instrument, celebrated banjo players Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck have kept their musical careers separate. But after performing together as a favor to a relative, the two realized their different styles could be complementary, leading to a new collaboration and a family tour complete with their 21-month-old son.
Kennedy Center honors Al Green for soul and staying powerAl Green was one of five artists honored at the Kennedy Center this year. Jeffrey Brown talks to the singer, whose iconic voice has stirred souls with pop music and gospel for decades, about a life of making music and preaching.
‘This is M.E.’ embraces Melissa Etheridge’s musical spectrumSinger-songwriter Melissa Etheridge has been known for her country and rock hits, but on her new album, “This Is M.E.,” she also adds R&B and soul to the mix. Gwen Ifill sat down with the veteran musician to discuss her artistic evolution and the realities of making an album today.
Kate Davis’ ’40s-style jazz rendition of Meghan Trainor’s pop hit “All About That Bass” has garnered more than 8 million views on YouTube since September. But she isn’t only about that one instrument. Davis talked to Art Beat about her attraction to the bass and writing her own songs before a performance at Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland.
Forty years ago, musician Nick Drake died at age 26, and is often remembered today as a “solitary, misunderstood lonely poet.” Now his sister wants to set the record straight, to provide a fuller picture of the artist. The result is “Nick Drake: Remembered for a While,” an authorized companion to his work.