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

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    Photo by Flickr user Alan C.

    Years after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, researchers found an increase in the fertility rate. Photo by Flickr user Alan C.

    For 29 years now, Paul Solman’s reports on the NewsHour have been trying to make sense of economic news and research for a general audience. Since 2007, our Making Sen$e page has striven to do the same, turning to leading academics and thinkers in the fields of business and economics to help explain what’s interesting and relevant about their work. That includes reports and interviews with economists affiliated with the esteemed National Bureau of Economic Research.

    Making Sense/NBER logo

    Founded in 1920, NBER is a private nonprofit research organization devoted to objective study of the American economy in all its dazzling diversity, combining data with rigorous analysis to describe and explain the material world in which we live long before data analytics became fashionable. “Why Some Women Try to Have It All: New Research on Like Mother Like Daughter” and “Why Does the First Child Get the Gold? An Economics Answer” have been among our most popular posts on Making Sen$e, both of them largely based on NBER research. We thought our readership might benefit from a closer relationship.

    Each month, the NBER Digest summarizes several recent NBER working papers. These papers have not been peer-reviewed, but are circulated by their authors for comment and discussion. With the NBER’s blessing, Making Sen$e is pleased to begin featuring these summaries regularly on our page.

    The following digest summary was written by the National Bureau of Economic Research and does not necessarily reflect the views of Making Sen$e.

    Natural disasters that increase child mortality also may cause aggregate fertility rates to rise. In “The Effects of Mortality on Fertility: Population Dynamics after a Natural Disaster” (NBER Working Paper No. 20448), Jenna Nobles, Elizabeth Frankenberg and Duncan Thomas find a significant increase in aggregate fertility in their study area during the four years after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as indicated by a 0.7 increase in the total fertility rate over the expected rate.

    They find that mothers who lost one or more children were significantly more likely to bear additional children after the tsunami, but this additional fertility accounted for just 13 percent of the aggregate fertility increase. The majority of the aggregate increase occurred because childless women in communities with high mortality rates were more likely to begin childbearing than childless women in other communities.

    The Dec. 26, 2004, Sumatra-Andaman Islands earthquake was one of the largest ever recorded. Three tsunamis with waves 50 to 100 feet tall came ashore in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, killing an estimated 170,000 people. Differences in coastal topography protected some communities even as neighboring communities experienced mortality rates of over 50 percent.

    In early 2004, Statistics Indonesia conducted an annual, nationally representative socio-economic survey known as SUSENAS, which provided baseline data for the Study of the Tsunami Aftermath and Recovery (STAR), an international collaborative project of Indonesian and U.S. investigators led by Frankenberg and Thomas. The STAR team reinterviewed individual SUSENAS respondents in tsunami-affected areas, determined mortality status for 97.4 percent of the SUSENAS sample, and developed estimates of local community damage using satellite photos cross-validated by interviews with local authorities.

    “In communities with high mortality, both women who had lost children and women who had not had any children before the tsunami were more likely to have children.”

    The authors analyzed the fertility of individual women in STAR in the pre-tsunami baseline survey and in five annual post-tsunami surveys. These surveys provided detailed information about the mortality of household members. Researchers were able to contact 95 percent of those who survived the tsunami, obtaining complete pregnancy histories from women of reproductive age. Individual response to losing at least one child was estimated using pre-tsunami data on age, number of children, education, per capita household expenditure, and home and land ownership. Individual experiences during the disaster were controlled for, using a variable recording whether a person had seen friends or family struggle or disappear in the water. Of the 2,301 women who were mothers at the time of the tsunami, just over 5 percent lost a child.

    Mothers who lost a child were 37 percent more likely to have another child by 2009 regardless of the child’s age. In communities where no one was killed, women without children before the tsunami were less likely to have a child in 2006-09. In communities with high mortality, both women who had lost children and women who had not had any children before the tsunami were more likely to have children. As a result, an estimated 9,500 additional children were born by the end of 2009 in study-area communities that experienced substantial tsunami mortality.

    The authors note that although a five-year, post-disaster follow-up allows them to assess the effect of the tsunami losses on older women, it is too early to tell whether the increase in fertility reflects a shift in fertility timing or will result in larger complete family sizes.

    Linda Gorman, National Bureau of Economic Research

    The post Why did some Indonesian women bear more children after the 2004 tsunami? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. Many Americans feel the rise of ISIS is the most important news story of 2014, reveals an AP poll. Photo by Reuters

    Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. Many Americans feel the rise of ISIS is the most important news story of 2014, reveals an AP poll. Photo by Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Americans are closing out 2014 on an optimistic note, according to a new Associated Press-Times Square Alliance poll. Nearly half predict that 2015 will be a better year for them than 2014 was, while only 1 in 10 think it will be worse. There’s room for improvement: Americans give the year gone by a resounding ‘meh.’

    Here’s what Americans thought of 2014:

    Gains at Home, Slips Abroad
    On a personal level, about a third (34 percent) think 2014 was better than 2013, while 15 percent say 2014 was worse and half see little difference. Slightly fewer feel their year was a step down from the previous one than said so in 2013, when an AP-Times Square poll found 20 percent thought 2013 was worse than 2012.

    Americans are slightly more likely than they were a year ago to believe that the current year was better than the last for the United States— 30 percent say so this year, while 25 percent said so in 2013. On the other hand, Americans are more likely than in the 2013 poll to say this year was worse than last for the world as a whole, with 38 percent saying so now after 30 percent said so a year ago.

    A man is doused with milk and sprayed with mist after being hit by an eye irritant from security forces trying to disperse demonstrators protesting against the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 20, 2014. Brown's death, along with the death of Eric Garner and the ensuing protests were the most important story to Americans who identified as Democrats in the AP's year-end poll. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

    A man is doused with milk and sprayed with mist after being hit by an eye irritant from security forces trying to disperse demonstrators protesting against the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 20, 2014. Brown’s death, along with the death of Eric Garner and the ensuing protests were the most important story to Americans who identified as Democrats in the AP’s year-end poll. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

    Three Stories Share Top Spot
    Americans are divided on the most important news event of 2014, with the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, protests over the killings of black men including Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police officers, and the Ebola outbreak each named by about 1 in 10 Americans. In a separate Associated Press survey of news directors and editors, the killings of unarmed men by police stand out more clearly as the top story, with 22 of 85 respondents choosing it as the top news, about twice as many as the Islamic State or Ebola stories.

    Among the public, Democrats are most likely to name the unrest over Brown and Garner’s deaths as most important (14 percent), while Republicans are most likely to list the rise of the Islamic State (16 percent). Non-whites are more apt to cite the protests around Brown and Garner’s deaths than whites (14 percent among non-whites, 8 percent among whites). The poll was conducted before the shooting deaths of two New York City police officers by a man who threatened retaliation for the police killings of unarmed black men.

    Health workers carry the body of an Ebola victim for burial at a cemetery in Freetown December 17, 2014. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

    Health workers carry the body of an Ebola victim for burial at a cemetery in Freetown December 17, 2014. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

    Asked separately to rate the importance of 10 key stories, majorities call the expansion of the Islamic State militant group, the Ebola outbreak and the U.S. midterm elections extremely or very important stories. Nearly half rate immigration as that important, while 43 percent say so of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner stories. Only a third think the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the situation between Russia and Ukraine, or the rising number of states with legal same-sex marriage were deeply important stories.


    The death of Robin Williams stands out for AP poll respondents as the most memorable entertainment story of the year.

    The Year In Pop Culture
    Few Americans rate this year’s crop of pop culture events as memorable, with one big exception: The death of Robin Williams, and the ensuing discussion of mental health issues. About two-thirds call that a memorable event.

    Slightly more say it was more memorable (39 percent) than forgettable (34 percent) that CVS stopped selling cigarettes, and they’re divided equally on whether the ubiquitous ice bucket challenge was memorable (37 percent) or forgettable (37 percent). Thirty percent say the pitching performance of Mo’ne Davis, the first female pitcher to win a Little League World Series game, was memorable, while 41 percent say it was forgettable. Women are more likely than men to see Davis’s performance as memorable, 33 percent of women say so versus 26 percent of men.

    Another sports first: Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL, is rated forgettable by about half.

    Events rating as forgettable by a majority of Americans include the leak of hacked celebrity photos on Reddit, Ellen DeGeneres’s selfie at the Oscars, Taylor Swift going pop, and the marriages of George and Amal Clooney and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

    Ringing In The New Year

    About half of Americans plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve at home this year, while 2 in 10 say they’ll do so at a friend or family member’s home. Fewer than 1 in 10 plan to celebrate at a bar, restaurant or organized event, while about a quarter don’t plan to celebrate at all.

    Six in 10 Americans plan to watch the televised New Year’s Eve events in Times Square, including two-thirds of women and over half of men.

    The AP-Times Square Alliance Poll of 1,017 adults was conducted online Dec. 12-14, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

    The poll is a cooperative effort between AP and the organizers of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration, the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment. The Alliance is a nonprofit group that seeks to promote Times Square, and Countdown Entertainment represents the owners of One Times Square and the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop.

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

    The post Republicans cite rise of ISIS, Democrats point to Ferguson fallout as top stories of 2014, poll finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst used his 166 days aboard the International Space Station to build an enormous high-resolution time lapse sequence featuring more than 12,000 photos of the planet, the atmosphere and the systems on the station.

    As Discovery.com points out, the video shows much more than just the earth–it gives a glimpse of how the station itself operates every day:

    Solar panels rotate to catch the most sun and keep all systems up and running. At the 1:35 mark, a robotic arm extends to pluck a Cygnus spacecraft — one of the commercial spacecraft that help supply the ISS — out of, well, space. After collecting its payload, the same arm releases it on its homeward journey at the 4:50 mark. It truly looks like science fiction.

    The post Spectacular timelapse shows the International Space Station at work appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a brutally honest, but funny portrait of caring for elderly parents.

    Jeffrey Brown has that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The absurdities, horrors, comedies, most of all perhaps the anxieties of everyday life, these “New Yorker” covers could only have been drawn by longtime staff cartoonist Roz Chast.

    She grew up in Brooklyn in Flatbush. Her dad was an assistant school principal and her mom a high school teacher. Author of several books, this year, Chast tackled an uncomfortable subject, but one shared by many. “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir” is about the last few years of her parents’ lives.

    It was a finalist for the National Book Awards, the first time a cartoonist has been nominated in the nonfiction category.

    I talked with Chast recently at the Miami Book Fair and asked how this book came to be.

    ROZ CHAST, Author, “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?”: I think I have a habit of, in my head, taking notes on whatever, you know, whether they’re verbal or pictorial or just making a note of things as they’re happening.

    And, at some point, I think it started to dawn on me that there was actually a story here that I wanted to put on paper.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Is that the way you work normally? You’re taking notes? Like, what kind of notes? What would they look like? What would they say? Or would they be drawings?

    ROZ CHAST: A lot of — well, there would be drawings and notes.

    And the material for this book, a lot of it — some of it was cartoons that I had submitted as just part of my regular weekly submission. But the oven mitt story was something that I had visited my parents, and I picked up an oven mitt in my parents’ apartment and I said, you know, why do you have this? It’s disgusting. It’s grotty. It’s filthy. It’s burned. It has patches on it. Why are you patching an oven mitt, mom?

    And then I looked at the patches and I realized that the material from the patches came from a skirt that I had sewn in, like, seventh grade home economics class. And I realized she probably had that skirt someplace as well. It was very typical of my parents.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I know. I was going to say, because we come to realize that that is very typical. Right? Right?

    ROZ CHAST: Yes. Yes. Exactly.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They’re hoarders.

    ROZ CHAST: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They keep everything.

    ROZ CHAST: They keep everything. They cannot throw anything away.

    And I think this was a habit that came from their having grown up poor, both of them. They were children of Russian immigrants. And also they graduated from college into the Depression. And I think those sort of scrimpy habits continued all throughout their lives.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Your work is often very personal.

    ROZ CHAST: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But was this — did this take you into some deeper realm?

    ROZ CHAST: Yes, this was probably the most personal thing I have ever done.

    I think, with my cartoons, the parent-like figures are kind of my own archeypes of parents, and they’re taken a little bit from my parents and other people’s parents, and parents I have read about, and parents I dreamed about, and parents that I made up. And it’s like a mishmash. They’re not specifically — except in the case of things like the oven mitt story, which was actually true.


    ROZ CHAST: But, in this case, the people I was writing about was actually — were actually them.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that meant what for you?

    ROZ CHAST: Well, let’s put it this way. I could have not written it until after they died.

    JEFFREY BROWN: This, of course, happens to all of us.

    ROZ CHAST: Yes, of course. Of course.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Right. And so many people connect with watching a parent, in some cases, live on too long, if that’s OK to say.

    ROZ CHAST: Yes. But it’s not just that it happened to your parents. It also is going to happen to us.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes. Oh, really?

    ROZ CHAST: That — yes. I know. I know. I forget that most of the time. Sorry. You know what? I was wrong. I just made that up.


    JEFFREY BROWN: But did you have — you must have people coming up to you all the time and saying, oh, you told my story.

    ROZ CHAST: Yes, much more so than I expected.


    ROZ CHAST: I have gotten many, many letters from people who have said, you know, do you live in my house?


    ROZ CHAST: You know, this is exactly my story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes.

    ROZ CHAST: And I thought I was the only one who went through this.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Speaking of living in your house, I can actually say — we have known each other a long time — I lived in your house.

    ROZ CHAST: It’s true. It’s true.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. I moved into your apartment in Brooklyn when — and I only bring that up because it’s part of the story here. You moved to Connecticut.

    ROZ CHAST: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that meant moving away from Brooklyn, where your parents were.

    ROZ CHAST: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that’s one of the hinge points of this story, right?

    ROZ CHAST: Yes.


    ROZ CHAST: Yes.

    It’s — they were still living in the apartment where I grew up. We had moved in there in 1959, and they never budged. It was really an accumulation of 50 years of stuff, and they never threw anything away, ever.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Eventually, you had to deal with it?

    ROZ CHAST: Yes. Yes, it was really sad. It’s kind of horrible.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. You know what? Everything about this is sad, and yet funny, right?

    ROZ CHAST: Yes. Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, you’re exploring both sides of it in your cartoons and in this book.

    ROZ CHAST: There are some very funny things about it, yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes.

    ROZ CHAST: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Are you aware of the humor or the funny part of it as you’re doing it, or do you find the humor later?

    ROZ CHAST: It really depends.

    Sometimes, you know — I think, with a lot of things, at the time, everything is extremely upsetting, and then you look back on it, and it actually can be sort of funny.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Where did this all leave you? Was it — I mean, the writing of it, was that cathartic? Did it do anything for you?

    ROZ CHAST: It’s not cathartic. I didn’t write it for catharsis.

    I think, especially with my parents, I wanted to remember who they were. I wanted to remember all of it. I didn’t want to purge myself of it. I wanted to remember it. I wanted to remember what they sounded like and weird stuff, like, you know, how they stood, their posture, the kinds of conversations they would have.

    I didn’t want it to all become, you know, like all the edges sanded off, and then it’s just this kind of like, oh, yes, they got old, and now I can’t really remember anything about that time, you know?


    ROZ CHAST: So, I feel like I did write down and keep track of all of it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, it’s all in the book “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?”

    Roz Chast, it’s a real pleasure to talk to you.

    ROZ CHAST: You, too. Thank you.

    The post Readers relate to New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s personal book on aging parents appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the news, unfortunately, this holiday week wasn’t exactly peace on earth.

    New York City is mourning two assassinated police officers, and Sony released its controversial film “The Interview.”

    For our Friday news analysis, we are joined by syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

    Happy holidays to both of you.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Likewise.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as we say, Mark, the news is kind of tough.

    Let’s talk about Sony first. They went ahead and released this picture after all online, streaming, as well as in the theaters. The expectation is there are going to be more cyber-attacks like the one on Sony. What — has the U.S. handled this the right way and what’s been learned, do you think?

    MARK SHIELDS: You know, I think the president handled it right in his press conference, I thought, by saying it was an act of vandalism, rather than an act of terrorism, because if it’s an act of terrorism, then it does rise to the level of national security and there has to be an American governmental response.

    Judy, it is really difficult to generate enormous sympathy for Sony in this. They are not an admiral corporate character, and they have hardly handled themselves that way. The fact that North Korea is the heavy in the piece, and deservedly so, I just think that we are seeing only the edges of what cyber-security involves.

    The FBI director said in October there are two kinds of big companies in America, those that have been hacked by the Chinese and those that don’t know they have been hacked by the Chinese.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: By the Chinese.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes, and I just think that — I think North Korea is a secondary or tertiary player in this whole drama. But this is the new reality.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But they still were able to pull this off.

    Michael, lessons learned?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it did highlight a few things.

    One of them is the role of the NSA. This is an organization that is reviled by Snowden and Rand Paul and others, but it’s our front line of defense when it comes issues like this. They are heavily involved in this case. So I think it’s — this is an important part of our national defense that we need to take seriously.

    I also think that we have missed — the important emphasis this last week was in the U.N. Security Council in exposing North Korea, not in a screwball comedy, but in a major report, and then a Security Council session, where our ambassador, Samantha Power, laid out a very powerful case against North Korea, 100,000 people in gulags perhaps, systematic rape, torture.

    It’s an unbelievably grim circumstance that deserves a lot more attention than it receives. And I’m afraid that the controversy on the movie may have actually distracted from the real news, which is, the world is calling attention to this problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It almost got overlooked, in fact, the human rights…

    MARK SHIELDS: No, it did. That’s a good point.

    I would just point out, on the NSA, we know about the — the NSA has been playing offense for a long time. So we are aware that we are — we have not been missing in this action from — just check Mrs. Merkel’s phone records, if nothing else.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the North Korean Internet went down, but it was only for nine or 10 hours, and back up again.

    MARK SHIELDS: And who knew…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And nobody knows…

    MARK SHIELDS: It’s not a highly wired society.

    MICHAEL GERSON: It had no effect on North Korea.

    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The other story we’re covering today is the funeral of the New York City police officer who was killed and — assassinated sitting in a patrol car last weekend.

    Mark, this comes as there have been protests around the country about the killing of unarmed — young unarmed black men. I guess my question is, is this a conversation that’s shifted this week because of what happened to those police officers? And how do we as a country make any progress on this issue? It feels like we’re stuck on this.

    MARK SHIELDS: To answer your first question, yes, there’s no question it has changed.

    There’s a sense of urgency. What had been seemingly a pattern of tragedies and the different circumstances in Staten Island, Cleveland being different from Ferguson, but a pattern that was nonetheless disturbing, this was an act of just blatant assassination and people — because they were police officers.

    And I think, Judy, what it does is, it forces us to confront it. We all felt — I shouldn’t say all, but so many of us felt, after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and even more so after his reelection in 2012, that we had reached a watershed in racial relations in this country, that somehow we’d gone beyond the original sin of slavery and racism and all the rest of it, and that we were now just sort of a happy, whole society.

    You know, the numbers are terribly daunting, that this recession has hit African-Americans, non-white, Hispanic — non-Hispanic, non-whites harder than anybody else. We know what we don’t need to do, and that is to ignore the issue. And we don’t need to in any way turn our back on the fact that 93 percent of African-American children go to public schools.

    And, as Senator John McCain said, I think wisely, there’s no reason in the world to pay a bad congressman more than a good teacher. And I just think the last thing in the world we can do is turn our back on public education in this country and should concentrate our efforts and attention.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is that what we should be thinking more about, economic and education…

    MICHAEL GERSON: No, I agree with that, but there is a large policing issue here.

    And one of the main difficulties — we have had large shifts in the way race is viewed in America. There are generational shifts. One in 12 marriages is now an interracial marriage in America. That is going to shift opinion over time. There are some good things here.

    But there are fundamental disagreements on the way our criminal justice system is viewed by whites and blacks in America. And you see, this is largely a municipal issue, not a national issue. So, a place like Saint Louis, which is my hometown, has not done it well. They have not built trust.

    They have municipalities that are dependent on ticket revenue. They have a history of racial and class profiling in the way tickets are done. It’s perceived as harassment. And then, when a crisis comes, there’s no trust. There’s no resources of trust to build on.

    You look at a place like Los Angeles, which had huge problems in conflict between the community and the police, but have gotten better over the last decade. They now have a police force that is very closely representative of the racial composition of Los Angeles, a lot of trust built up over time. It’s possible to make those kinds of changes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: They have worked at it.

    MICHAEL GERSON: They have really worked at it. They have had good leadership, including William Bratton, who is now in New York.

    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

    MICHAEL GERSON: But it’s — it takes a lot of intentional effort to build that trust.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, I mean, is — do you see any signs that that’s happening, Mark? We have these conversations, but then you have a — the shooting, like what happened in New York.

    MARK SHIELDS: Judy, there are any number of topics that can be discussed at any time in America.

    And this has forced us to address this issue. I mean, we can make the decision to look at it briefly and then move away, or it can be central to the 2016 debate. I mean, Michael mentioned Rand Paul in another context. He has been one of those very vocal and visible in the question of sentencing and treatment, as Jim Webb, the former Democratic senator from Virginia, had been, in the treatment of people who were convicted of a crime and winning back the right to vote and winning back their citizenship and a chance to earn a living.

    So, there is a debate here. But I think the assassination of the police officers is not comparable to, but it directs the attention like the attack of the dogs of Bull Connor’s did in the civil rights. I mean, you can’t turn away from it and from those funerals and those families and say, well, this is just a simple problem, minor problem. We can now discuss whether we should cut the capital gains tax instead.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. Yes.

    Well, I want to — I do want to raise with you all something else that we are watching as we come. We’re just days away from the end of the year. It seems like — it was only seven weeks ago, Michael, that we had the midterm elections. President Obama seemed like he was back on his heels, he couldn’t get anything done.

    But then, in the course of the seven weeks, immigration reform initiative, he moved on a climate change, environmental agreement with the Chinese, and then, just in the last few days the announcement about normalizing relations with Cuba.

    And then there was a poll that came out, I guess, just a day or so ago, CNN, shows the president’s approval rating, it’s actually up, only four points, but it’s gone up.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what’s the deal? What is the story? As we head into the seventh year of his presidency, how do you see the balance of power between him and the Congress?

    MICHAEL GERSON: I think you have to start by saying that the press narrative of the president’s irrelevance was always absurd.

    The United States president is never irrelevant. He has the ability to do things. George W. Bush, at the low point of his approval in his second term, did the Iraq surge, which was historically quite important.

    Presidents have the power to do this and can. The real question is whether we now, in this fairly short legislative window at the beginning of the new Congress, before we get into the 2016 debate, where really all the legislative action is overwhelmed, is it possible to make some progress here?

    A lot of that depends on what Republicans do, whether they decide they want to pursue a positive, incremental agenda, even if it’s vetoed by the president, that shows what their values are, or whether they want catastrophic, cataclysmic conflict over budget and immigration and other issues, you know, up-or-down votes on major issues like that.

    That’s a different approach, a different strategy. And I think Republicans are going to need to be more incremental, more hopeful, more positive, more policy-oriented in this period in order to set up their candidate for 2016.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the balance?

    MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s been a real change in balance.

    I think even President Obama’s greatest admirers had a feeling during the fall that he was mailing it in, that he was almost enduring the office, rather than exhilarating in it. And every discussion, every decision seemed to be calibrated by, how is it going to affect Louisiana Senate race, or Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina?

    In a strange way, he’s been liberated since there, sadly by the defeat of those four Democrats, I’m sure, to him. But he seems reenergized. I mean, the audacity of hope, hope may not be dominant, but certainly audacity is back in the litany of the things that you mentioned he’s done.

    In addition to that, Judy, the Republicans find themselves in a very difficult position. It reminds me of when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States and the Democrats were in the majority in the Congress. And, 1986, along comes Iran-Contra. And Democrats immediately charge, Ronald Reagan knew about this completely. He cleared everything.

    And Jim Wright, who was the Democratic speaker of the House, the majority leader, about to become speaker of the House that next year, said, wait a minute, you can’t have it both ways. We can’t say Reagan for six years didn’t know what time it was, what day it was, and now he’s this diabolical mastermind.

    The Republicans have Obama characterized and caricatured as this feckless, sort of passive, disengaged — now he’s a despot. Now he’s in charge of everything. Now he is too strong. He’s overly muscular.

    So, I mean, they have got to decide on which Obama they’re going after at this point.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You have got 10 seconds to tell me which Obama they’re going to go after.

    MICHAEL GERSON: I don’t know.


    MICHAEL GERSON: But there are some divisions on the left too.

    The Warren anti-Wall Street wing could play out as well in this part as well.

    MARK SHIELDS: No question.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Both sides have their own internal divisions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Glad there are no divisions here right now.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there are some, which is OK, as we get to the end of the year.

    Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you both.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: an art restoration breakthrough.

    An international team of art historians and curators have developed a new technique to restore works of art without ever touching them. It’s being used for the first time on a Mark Rothko mural.

    Jared Bowen from WGBH in Boston has this report.

    JARED BOWEN: Even in 1960, it was a coup, when Harvard University landed Mark Rothko to paint a series of murals for its new penthouse dining room. Rothko was already considered one of the country’s greatest artist, and this was to be among his biggest commissions.

    NARAYAN KHANDEKAR, Senior Conservation Scientist, Harvard Art Museums: He really wanted you to be up close and surrounded by his work so that you could feel the — feel the painting.

    JARED BOWEN: Rothko paint panels to envelop the space. They and the studies and sketches he produced in planning them are now on view in the newly renovated Harvard Art Museum’s first special exhibition.

    They were robustly read, says curator Mary Schneider Enriquez.

    MARY SCHNEIDER ENRIQUEZ, Associate Curator, Harvard Art Museum: He had been focusing on these kind of purples and crimson, as we like to say, of course, at Harvard.

    The ground of crimson or purple is then set off with these extraordinary contrasts of this red that is just incredible. As you look at any of his paintings, the play of color and contrast blending and then working against and with each other has always been essential to his work.

    JARED BOWEN: The panels were officially installed in 1964, but were in steep competition with the room’s Harvard Yard views. The penthouse shades were rarely drawn and the light-sensitive murals suffered substantial damage.

    NARAYAN KHANDEKAR: As the sun would traverse the sky, the paintings became faded, and in an uneven way because of the geometry of the room, so some parts were shadowed. Some parts received more sunlight. The paintings changed. And so what started off as a unified whole slowly drifted apart.

    JARED BOWEN: By 1979, Harvard realized the murals were irreparably damaged and removed them from their dining room perch. And the series, one of only three ever painted by Rothko, was placed into storage and, aside from a few exhibitions, had largely disappeared from public view and memory.

    MARY SCHNEIDER ENRIQUEZ: It’s been an extremely sad thing that this extraordinary work of art has not been included in the art history of Rothko. So it’s been a real priority for all of us to bring these works back to our — back to a place in which we can study them and recognize the achievement in this extraordinary paintings.

    JARED BOWEN: Thirty-five years after removal, Rothko’s murals are once again on view, hung in the same configuration in a room with the same dimensions and against walls painted the same olive mustard Rothko himself chose.

    MARY SCHNEIDER ENRIQUEZ: This really brings them back and puts them in the middle of his entire history in a major way.

    JARED BOWEN: But they had to be hung without touching the canvasses, says conservation scientist Narayan Khandekar. It turns out Rothko mixed his own paint, which inadvertently left the canvases overly susceptible to ruin and far too fragile for physical touch-ups.

    NARAYAN KHANDEKAR: Rothko used this binding medium, glue-size, which is — gives a very porous surface. And if you put any kind of isolating varnish over that, it would saturate the paint. It would change the color relationships. Everything that we do as a conservation approach also has to be reversible.

    JARED BOWEN: How to restore the Rothkos to their original glory without ever touching them? To achieve that, Harvard collaborated with art historians and conservation teams from MIT and the University of Basel in Switzerland. They devised a software program that replicates Rothko’s original paintings pixel by pixel, color by color.

    NARAYAN KHANDEKAR: We were able to have access to an alternate panel that had been shipped up to Cambridge, but not installed, and which had unfaded sections on it, and were able to use those to make the final adjustments on the digital image of what the paintings looked like.

    JARED BOWEN: The digital recreation is projected with nonthreatening low light onto the canvas.

    NARAYAN KHANDEKAR: It’s about 2.07 million pixels. So, we have to calculate the color and the intensity for each of these pixels and then shine it in exactly the right spot.

    The color that’s on the painting, plus the compensation image, gives the viewer the impression of what the paintings looked like in 1964. We’re very, very confident that we’re as close as can be for this project.

    JARED BOWEN: The technology is a game-changer, museum officials say, but it also raises questions about whether conservation in the digital age fundamentally changes the art. Rothko’s color is back, but no longer by his own hand.

    MARY SCHNEIDER ENRIQUEZ: One of the key questions is, where is the line between what is the original work of art and the art that has the projection system on it? I mean, have we changed what he has done? No, we haven’t changed his canvases.

    JARED BOWEN: But they have changed the possibility that damaged masterpieces the world over can once again see the light of day with the elaborately configured light of a projector.

    I’m Jared Bowen for the “NewsHour” in Boston.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House said this week that more than 6.4 million people have signed up for health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act’s federal marketplace so far during this year’s open enrollment season.

    But even more people, nine million-plus, have gotten covered by Medicaid in recent months. And the decision by states whether or not to expand that federal-state program for the poor and those with disabilities is having a serious effect on the financial health of hospitals.

    Sarah Varney from our partner Kaiser Health News has that story.

    SARAH VARNEY, Kaiser Health News: A steady drizzle hasn’t deterred Jason Whitten from coming to this clinic in South Seattle to see if he qualified for Apple Health, Washington’s popular Medicaid program.

    MAN: You don’t have any medical insurance, right?

    MAN: No.

    MAN: No? OK. And how about dental?

    MAN: No.

    MAN: No dental, no medical?

    MAN: No.

    MAN: OK.

    SARAH VARNEY: Whitten, who is 34 years old, has gone without health insurance for 16 years.

    MAN: So, you got proof for the Washington applicant program?

    MAN: OK.

    SARAH VARNEY: He can come here to this Neighborcare Health clinic, instead of the emergency room, to see a physician. It’s his first insured primary care checkup since becoming an adult.

    MAN: And just take breaths in and out and relax.

    SARAH VARNEY: Medicaid had long been restricted, mostly to poor children and pregnant women and the disabled. Under the Affordable Care Act, they could open up their programs to nearly all poor adults; 27 states and the District of Columbia accepted the federal funds to do so.

    The state of Washington took up the cause with mission-like zeal. King County officials worked closely with community partners to put advertisements and enrollment helpers in the places visited by the working poor, like libraries, bus stations, courts, food banks, even restaurants.

    SARAH VARNEY: King County Executive Dow Constantine says Washington blew past Medicaid enrollment target it didn’t expect to reach until 2017. The county acted quickly, he says, because it could no longer bear the cost of so many uninsured residents.

    DOW CONSTANTINE, King County, Washington, Executive: It costs us all. It costs us in absenteeism at work. It costs us in days missed at school, and it just plain costs us on our health care bills. It is irrational, and the ACA presented us an opportunity to have a more rational system. And we took it.

    SARAH VARNEY: These aggressive efforts to sign up Washington residents for Medicaid has been a boon to hospitals. Here at Harborview, Seattle’s largest safety net hospital, the percentage of uninsured patients has dropped from 14 percent to 4 percent.

    Under the Affordable Care Act, most people who walk through Harborview’s doors, like Giday Tesfayeh, are eligible for some form of insurance. In the past, Harborview would have treated uninsured patients like Tesfayeh and been stuck with the bill.

    Indeed, Harborview provided about $220 million in so-called uncompensated or charity care last year. The federal government helps cover some of those costs, since hospitals can’t turn patients away from the E.R. But during associations over the health law, hospitals took a big gamble. They agreed to staggering cuts in federal uncompensated care payments, with the expectation that they would soon have millions of new Medicaid customers.

    For hospitals and states that expanded Medicaid, the bet paid off.

    Johnese Spisso oversees the University of Washington’s clinics and hospitals, including Harborview.

    JOHNESE SPISSO, Chief Health System Officer, U.W. Medicine: We anticipate our numbers for charity care this year will reduce by about 20 million to 30 million. And as we continue to get more patients signed up, we see that flattening.

    SARAH VARNEY: Moving Medicaid patients away from expensive emergency care to primary care clinics is another way the hospital is trying to save money.

    Seattle resident Zoe Azalea says it is a change that has helped her take control of her health again. For three years, the former nurse relied on yoga in the park as one of her only means of dealing with crippling pain. A series of accidents left her unable to work and she lost her health insurance. Without access to physical therapy, the results became devastating.

    ZOE AZALEA, Harborview Medical Center Patient: I wasn’t able even to use this hand at all or grip. And I couldn’t even pick up a water bottle.

    SARAH VARNEY: A social worker called Azalea at home and urged her to enroll in Apple Health. Now that she has her Medicaid card, she has been able to get physical and occupational therapy and see specialists, including a spine doctor.

    Dr. Richard Goss is the medical director at Harborview. He says, insured patients undeniably get better access to medical care than uninsured ones.

    DR. RICHARD GOSS, Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center: Over the many years that I have worked here, I have seen all too many scenarios where people present with cancer, or with advanced heart disease or lung disease or strokes, and they’d gone for many years without access to care. When there’s basic health care coverage, so many more doors are open.

    SARAH VARNEY: Across the nation, hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid have recorded sharp declines in uninsured admissions, 30 percent in the first quarter of 2014, and 50 to 70 percent in the second quarter.

    Unpaid hospital bills are expected to fall by $4.2 billion this year in states that allowed poor adults into Medicaid. In states that didn’t, the drop is expected to be $1.5 billion, mostly from people who bought private coverage in the new marketplaces.

    Caroline Pearson tracks state Medicaid decisions at Avalere Health, a research and consulting company.

    CAROLINE PEARSON, Avalere Health: When the law passed and the hospitals sort of signed on for these cuts, Medicaid expansion was expected to be mandatory in every state. Of course, that changed when the Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional, and the hospitals are really the ones that have been caught in the crosshairs of that decision.

    SARAH VARNEY: Pearson says it’s a precarious time for hospitals because of the cuts for covering the uninsured that they agreed to when the Affordable Care Act was being debated.

    CAROLINE PEARSON: Some of these hospitals may end up in the red as a result of failure to expand Medicaid. And those cuts grow each year, so it’s a problem that is going to get worse over time.

    SARAH VARNEY: And here in Winchester, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, the local hospital here is already beginning to feel those federal cuts.

    Unlike in Seattle, though, the percentage of uninsured residents has declined very little. Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature has rejected pleas by the state hospital association to expand Medicaid, and that’s left hospitals like Winchester Medical Center, run by Valley Health System, facing double jeopardy.

    WOMAN: You’re diabetic?

    PATIENT: Yes.

    WOMAN: High blood pressure?

    PATIENT: Yes.

    WOMAN: High cholesterol?

    PATIENT: Yes.

    SARAH VARNEY: In response to its own worsening finances, Valley Health laid off 28 people and is taking a hard look at costly services like its trauma center that treats people after car accidents and other serious injuries.

    Mark Merrill is the CEO of Valley Health.

    MARK MERRILL, CEO, Valley Health: That’s an expensive endeavor. And as these payment cuts continue to go, we have to evaluate, are these the types of programs, like the trauma, like behavioral health, that we can sustain? There is a need for those services certainly here, but if the reimbursement doesn’t justify the ability to sustain those, we have to evaluate whether or not we can continue these.

    SARAH VARNEY: Merrill and other hospital executives says the divide between states expanding Medicaid and those that have not could lead to a new type of two-tiered system in U.S. hospitals, between those able to maintain robust services in states like Washington and those like Virginia sliding into greater financial uncertainty.

    I’m Sarah Varney in Winchester, Virginia, for the “PBS NewsHour.”

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We return to Iraq and Syria, where the brutal advance by the Islamic State has been at least partially checked in both countries.

    The nearly five-month-long U.S. and allied bombing campaign against the Islamic State group continued yesterday and today, with 39 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. The strikes came across a large swathe of territory held or under attack by the faction also called ISIS or ISIL, two days after the group captured a Jordanian pilot whose fighter jet crashed in Islamic State-controlled territory.

    Today’s attacks went from Kobani, Syria, through the group’s makeshift capital in Raqqa, on to Sinjar, Iraq, near Kirkuk, and in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and a prize the group took in June, forcing out the Iraqi army while barely firing a shot.

    On Wednesday, Gwen Ifill spoke with Jurgen Todenhofer, a German author and former lawmaker who’d recently spent 10 days within the Islamic State area of control.

    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, Author: 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.

    He is still playing — paying salaries to his people in Raqqa and it seems to work.

    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.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The group’s military strength has been matched by an online media onslaught. Its now-infamous films showing its grisly murders of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers are paired with videos showcasing an idyllic life under its control, marketplaces flush with goods, children eating ice cream in parks.

    But that idealized portrait is at odds with reality, according to an article in today’s Washington Post. It describes failing infrastructure, power cuts, skyrocketing prices for sparse goods, and hunger.

    And that article was written by Liz Sly. She’s The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Lebanon. She’s in England right now, where I spoke to her just a short while ago via Skype.

    And a note: The noise you hear during the interview was a small glitch with her computer.

    Liz Sly, thank you for talking with us.

    Your article describes collapsing government services, people living in miserable, even unsafe conditions. Fill out the picture for us.

    LIZ SLY, The Washington Post: Well, yes.

    For a long time, I think the Islamic State has made it part of their reputation, not only are they a fearsome fighting force, but they also deliver this great government.

    So, I set out to find out how they do that. And what I actually found out from other people I spoke to is that they’re not really delivering government, they’re not really delivering services, that services that are being delivered are coming from government workers who are still receiving their salaries and doing what they can under very difficult circumstances.

    But they’re being paid, and paid by the government, not by the Islamic State. And there’s a little bit of Western aid getting in. But, otherwise, really, people are starting to suffer a lot from shortages of medicine, unsanitary water, a lack of food, very high prices, and very, very little help reaching them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you describe victim rules that are being imposed? At one point, you wrote about hospital workers at a meeting, and then they were detained because a couple of them were smoking?

    LIZ SLY: It’s one thing to impose strict rules. It’s another thing to actually make society work.

    They are continuing to impose very strict rules. People are being executed for cursing God. They are being detained for smoking. But society, as we normally think of it, is not actually functioning.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We have just been talking about the reporting done by a German journalist, Jurgen Todenhofer, who wrote, of all the insurgent groups he’s seen, he thinks Islamic State is the most determined, the most effective, the strongest. This is a very different picture, isn’t it?

    LIZ SLY: Well, I’m not sure it’s an entirely different picture.

    I have seen his reporting. I have seen his conclusions. I don’t think this means they are going to be defeated militarily soon. I wasn’t looking at them, the military aspect of their structure and organization. I was looking at their ability to deliver on-the-ground government for the people who they claim to be ruling in the name of Islam.

    They are not delivering that government. I still think they have a very formidable fighting force, that they are militarily capable. There are no alternatives from the ground. So, I don’t — the fact that their governance is failing I don’t think means that they are necessarily going to be defeated any more easily in the short-term under current circumstances.

    But I think, in the long term, it calls into questions how sustainable the project that they have envisaged for themselves is and whether, in the long run, people won’t start to turn against them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You do also write about the morale among some of the fighters. You said it’s starting to slide. What did you find about that?

    LIZ SLY: Well, yes, that’s another interesting aspect that I think we’re only starting to see right now, which is that we’re starting to get these reports of fighters on the ground not being necessarily happy.

    I have heard a number of anecdotes of fighters who are trying to leave. It’s very hard to leave because they confiscate your passports and identity documents, whether you’re Syrian, Iraqi or a foreign fighter. It’s not easy to leave. But I have heard of people trying to leave, people trying to swap documents with other Syrians, so that they can get out of the country using those documents.

    We have also heard of a new police force that has been set up to go around and detain fighters who are shirking their duties and hiding at home. So, I also think that things might not be entirely good on the military side as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just finally, you feel confident about your sources for this?

    LIZ SLY: Well, yes.

    I — you can meet people who live there very easily. You can go to Turkey. People travel back and forth. People come for medical treatment. They have relatives there. The only goods that are getting in and out of the Islamic State at the moment are coming from places like Turkey.

    So, you can meet people and talk to them face to face about this. And some of these are people who have direct experience of delivering governance in those areas. They didn’t want their identities disclosed, because that’s very dangerous for them. But I talked to a lot of people, and I built up a very clear picture of things not quite being as rosy in the Islamic State as they themselves portray it to be.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Liz Sly, reporting for The Washington Post, we thank you.

    LIZ SLY: Thank you.

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    BANNER YEAR us flag stock market bkg  momitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: With less than a week to go, the Dow Jones averages may be poised to finish the year at a record high. Other stock indexes are also back to high levels. But that’s not all. 2014 has turned out to be the biggest year for multibillion-dollar mergers and acquisitions since the financial crisis hit.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Thanks, Judy.

    More than $3 trillion in deals worldwide have been announced this year, many of them including American companies. There have been some enormous ones in the pharmaceutical world. Drugmaker Actavis is buying the manufacturer of Botox, Allergan, for $66 billion. There are more than $400 billion of announced deals in the health care sector overall.

    Media mega-deals were a part of this boom too. Comcast will pay $45 billion for Time Warner Cable, if regulators approve it.

    What’s behind the frenzy? And what kind of impact do these deals have on the companies, employees and the economy historically?

    For that, we turn to Andrew Ross Sorkin. He co-hosts “Squawk Box” on CNBC and is a columnist for The New York Times and editor at large of its DealBook section.

    So, Andrew, what’s behind all these mergers and acquisitions this year?

    ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, The New York Times: Well, what’s behind these deals is actually what’s behind the market, which is confidence.

    Mergers and acquisitions happen to be probably one of the better barometers of confidence, not so much just in the market itself, but really in the boardroom and corner offices of these businesses. CEOs feel better about their businesses. Perversely, they don’t do deals when they probably should, which is when the market is low, but as the market gets better, they feel better about their own condition.

    And, therefore, they go out and make deals. It’s a quick way to add revenue at a time when a lot of businesses are struggling to grow unto themselves and so they go out and they buy. There are remarkably low interest rates now, cash on the balance sheet. You mentioned those pharmaceutical deals. A lot of those were driven by taxes, the idea of a tax inversion, this idea that you could go effectively change your headquarters abroad.

    Now, the Treasury Department and the Obama administration have tried to prevent that, but those were some of the things that came together this year that really pushed so many of these deals across the finish line.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is it that the board of directors of companies look at that cheap cash or cheap debt that you mentioned and they see this big stock price, and so they almost have more currency to go out and make these acquisitions?

    ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: That’s what traditionally happens.

    You have a lot of cash on the balance sheet. You think to yourself, what can I do? Can I build a new — if I build a new factory on my own, will that help? Or can I go buy that business over there? Would that help me? And, by the way, would that help me sooner?

    One of the things that happens in all of these transactions is you always hear the word synergy or rationalization. So the bad news is that traditionally what that means is somebody’s losing their job. They’re trying to save money and create additional profits, and the way they do that is of course by merging these two businesses together and then squeezing by removing the jobs that overlap.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. In the short term, when we see that kind of price bump on the company that is about to get bought, historically, do mergers make sense? Because we also see on the flip side a lot of these mergers start to dissolve.

    ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: You are hitting the nail on the head. At least 50 percent of transactions, big mergers like this, fail, and, frankly, some of them fail spectacularly. The academic literature suggests that deals unto themselves are not a panacea at all.

    And, in fact, one the things we’re also seeing this year is the breakup of many companies. So, you’re seeing Hewlett-Packard, which merged with Compaq over a decade ago, they’re splitting themselves up; eBay is breaking itself up. And, historically, it’s actually the breakups which create more value over time, oddly enough, than the mergers themselves.


    What’s the role of activist investors? We have seen the Carl Icahns and the Daniel Loebs of the world make a lot of news this year.


    HARI SREENIVASAN: What are they doing and does that increase or decrease this flow of mergers and acquisitions?

    ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: You have also hit on another major trend this year that’s really changing the dynamic inside the boardrooms of so many of these companies.

    Now that there are so many activist investors putting pressure on boards and CEOs for profits, and sometimes frankly quick profits, the boards and companies are looking to do deals in part to answer that out of fear, frankly, that you know what? Their jobs could be on the line because these activist investors could mount proxy contests to kick them out.

    That’s also led to some of these breakups of these companies, with all this pressure from these activists, who have become much more involved than they ever have before. A lot of these folks are scared. And, by the way, making a deal oftentimes creates a sort of honeymoon period, a 12-to-24-month period where they can look at the investor and say, we’re doing something, give us a little bit of time.


    And how about that all the deals aren’t actually going through, in the sense that I remember Rupert Murdoch wanted to make a play for Time Warner or SoftBank was interested in T-Mobile for a little while, but got sort of spooked by regulators?

    ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: One of the other major trends of 2014 has been the regulators and the sea change in Washington, which has been a bit more reticent about transactions.

    We’re waiting to see whether a number of deals will cross that finish line. Other deals have been held up. And then you have folks like Rupert Murdoch at what the Fox — the 20th Century Fox corporation going after Time Warner. That deal did not go through in part because they withdraw that offer.

    But a number of the pharmaceutical deals, which were led by this tax idea, this inversion idea that they could change their headquarters and create a new sort of citizenship in another country, some of those deals have blown up because the regulators have said, you know what? We’re not going to allow that to happen.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Andrew Ross Sorkin, thanks so much for joining us.

    ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Thank you. Happy holidays.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Friends and relatives lined up this afternoon at the wake for a New York City policeman, Rafael Ramos. He was one of two officers shot dead last Saturday by a gunman, who then killed himself.

    Hundreds turned out at a church in Queens, a day before the Ramos funeral. At the same time, a spontaneous memorial of flowers and candles kept growing at the site of the shootings in Brooklyn.

    Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, Christmas night protests over recent police killings of black suspects turned violent. A crowd smashed windows and even wrecked a public Christmas tree.

    In Syria, there’s new word of government airstrikes that killed more than 50 people in the last two days. Activists and witnesses report airplanes and helicopters dropped barrel bombs on two towns near the key city of Aleppo. The aerial assault hit residential and industrial targets in both towns, now held by Islamic State fighters. In addition to the dead, at least 175 people were wounded.

    Nations all around the rim of the Indian Ocean marked 10 years today since the tsunami that left almost 230,000 people dead. Survivors and relatives of the victims gathered at services from Indonesia to India.

    Jackie Long of Independent Television News reports.

    JACKIE LONG: A gentle smattering of flowers, quiet remembrance in Indonesia for the day the tsunami struck.

    The devastating effect of the wave that day touched countries across the Indian Ocean and beyond. Indonesia suffered the highest number of causalities. This is Aceh province, one of the worst-hit areas of the country.

    Today, in Banda Aceh in Indonesia, the message is a simple one. “Thanks to the world,” they say. Thirty-five countries helped in the rescue and rebuilding operation in Indonesia alone.

    The Ocean Queen Express heads along the coastline south of Colombo in Sri Lanka, a potent symbol of this country’s attempts to move on. A thousand passengers were killed when the tsunami ripped the train from the tracks 10 years ago.

    For some, rebuilding their lives has been more of a struggle. Ramachandran, a fisherman in a coastal town in Tamil Nadu in India, lost five members of his family. Much has been done to make the area safer should another tsunami hit, but he says the people still live in fear.

    MAN (through interpreter): Now things are normal, but we never know when it will come again. Even though they put these stones here to stop the water from coming in, we are brave to still live here on the coast.

    JACKIE LONG: A police boat swept a mile inland by the tsunami was the focal point for official commemorations in Thailand. Nearly 5,500 people were killed here, half of them foreign tourists.

    But away from the speeches, on the sands of beaches where so many died, relatives and friends paid their own tributes, making sure the memories of their loved ones will never disappear.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The tsunami was one of the worst natural disasters in recent history.

    The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists began a major prisoner swap today involving some 370 soldiers and rebels. The exchange near the rebel-held city of Donetsk was the biggest since fighting began in Eastern Ukraine earlier this year. A September cease-fire largely failed, but the level of fighting has slackened in recent weeks.

    NATO has condemned Russian intervention in Ukraine, but, today, the Kremlin struck back. President Vladimir Putin approved a new military doctrine that names the Western alliance as the number one military threat to Russia. The change came as Putin’s government is battling an economic slowdown brought on in part by Western sanctions over Ukraine.

    Back in this country, Wall Street closed out Christmas week with new highs. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 23 points to close at a record 18053. The Nasdaq rose 33 points to close near 4807, its best finish since march of 2000. And the S&P added almost seven to finish at 2088, also a record. For the week, the Dow gained nearly 1.5 percent; the Nasdaq and the S&P rose just under 1 percent.

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    WASHINGTON — If Hillary Rodham Clinton seeks the White House again, her message on the economy could be an important barometer as she courts fellow Democrats.

    Members of her party are watching closely how the former secretary of state outlines steps to address income inequality and economic anxieties for middle-class families. Some members of the party’s liberal wing remain wary of Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, six-figure speaking fees and protective bubble.

    Clinton is widely expected to announce a presidential campaign next year and remains the prohibitive favorite to succeed President Barack Obama as the party’s nominee in 2016. But how she navigates a party animated by economic populism, an approach personified by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, could represent one of her biggest hurdles. Democrats bruised from GOP gains in the 2014 elections are pushing for big policy changes – raising the minimum wage and pay equity, for example – that favor the declining middle class.

    “We don’t win when we play small-ball and calibrate. Why not try to be bold?” said Anna Galland of MoveOn.org, which launched a draft campaign to lure Warren into the race.

    Warren says she’s not running for president, but her confrontational approach on Wall Street and reducing the gap between the rich and poor has generated a loyal following. She showcased this posture during December’s “lame duck” session of Congress, when she led the charge against a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill – ultimately signed by Obama – that repealed part of the Dodd-Frank financial law and loosened contribution caps for some political donors. Clinton has yet to comment on the spending plan.

    During the fall elections, Clinton often pointed to the broad prosperity during her husband’s administration and advocated for policies to raise the minimum wage, address pay equity for women and provide paid leave for new mothers.

    In a nod to liberals, Clinton has voiced concerns about the concentration of wealth, pointing to the rise in income and wealth to the top 0.01 percent of the population. “Some are calling it a throwback to the `Gilded Age’ of the robber barons,” Clinton said in May.

    Clinton also has stumbled on the economy. At a fall event, she drew criticism from Republicans when she said “don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.” She quickly cleaned up those comments, arguing that trickle-down economics had failed.

    Her supporters point to her 2008 primary campaign, when she scored wins in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as an indicator of how she could connect with working-class families. They also downplay the differences between her and Warren on the economy.

    “I think the debate is not going to be about big major fundamental directions for the economy. The disagreement will be how to get there,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has backed Clinton.

    Clinton could have more opportunities to connect with – or alienate – liberals in 2015.

    One moment could come on the nomination of Lazard investment banker Antonio Weiss to lead a Treasury Department office overseeing domestic finance. Weiss, Warren contends, would represent a long line of Wall Street executives who are part of the revolving door between Washington and the financial markets.

    Clinton has not yet spoken publicly about Weiss’ nomination.

    She remains a favorite of Wall Street from her time representing New York in the Senate. At a recent conference sponsored by the New York Times’ DealBook, Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein said he had “always been a fan of Hillary Clinton” and argued it was important for political leaders to have relationships with key institutions. “I certainly don’t think it’s a virtue to declare a big segment of the economy off limits,” he said.

    Promoting economic growth and wages will also be on the calendar. The AFL-CIO has invited Warren to deliver the keynote address at its national summit on wages in early January, giving her a plum appearance before labor leaders.

    About a week later, the Center for American Progress, which was founded by ex-Clinton administration officials, will release a report offering ways to spur middle-class growth, ideas that might guide Clinton’s agenda. The panel is co-chaired by Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton.

    Tad Devine, an adviser to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is considering a 2016 presidential campaign, noted that Bill Clinton campaigned in 1992 as a different kind of Democrat willing to reform welfare and appeal to centrists. This time, he said, Hillary Clinton will need to make a decision of how she will position herself on the economy.

    “There is a huge audience right now for people who want to have a completely different economic theory of what’s wrong with the country and how to fix it,” Devine said.

    The post In anticipation of possible second run, all eyes on Clinton’s economic plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, DC, Dec. 1, 2014. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

    Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush spoke during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, DC, Dec. 1, 2014. Bush announced his plans to “actively explore” a 2016 presidential campaign on Dec. 16, 2014. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

    MIAMI — As he takes steps toward a presidential run, Jeb Bush is resigning from the board of Tenet Healthcare Corp.

    The health care company said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that the former Florida governor told Tenet’s board of directors that he would step down at the end of the year. Bush has been a director since 2007.

    The move comes as Bush explores a presidential run and unwinds some of his business commitments. A Bush spokesman said last week that the potential Republican contender will leave his advisory role with British banking giant Barclays by Dec. 31.

    Bush’s ties to Tenet, as well as other financial firms, could complicate a potential campaign. The health care giant supported and promoted President Barack Obama’s health care law, which remains deeply unpopular among the conservative activists who play an outsized role in presidential primaries.

    Bush, however, has been a vocal opponent of the health care measure, calling it “flawed to its core.”

    In its filing this week, Tenet noted that Bush is “not resigning on account of any disagreement” with the company.

    Advisers have long said that Bush would review his business ties should he run for president. Opposition researchers in both parties have already begun sifting through his connections seeking fodder for attack.

    According to corporate filings, Bush sits on the boards of three other companies – Rayonier Inc., Empower Software Solutions and CorMatrix Cardiovascular Inc. – and is chairman and manager of Britton Hill Holdings, a Florida-based private equity and business advisory group.

    While some strategists have said Bush’s private-equity work could open him to some of the same criticisms that dogged the GOP’s last presidential nominee, business executive and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Bush himself has said his business record would be an asset in a campaign.

    “We’re creating jobs. We’re expanding business. I’m not ashamed of that at all,” Bush said of his private-equity work in a recent interview with ABC’s Miami affiliate WPLG-TV. “I think that practical experience is something that might be useful in Washington, D.C., to be honest with you.”

    The post Jeb Bush steps down from healthcare company board appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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     New York City Police Officers salute at the funeral of slain New York City Police Officer Rafael Ramos, one of two officers murdered while sitting in their patrol car in an ambush in Brooklyn last Saturday afternoon on December 27, 2014 in New York City. Thousands of fellow officers, family, friends and Vice President Joseph Biden are expected at the church in the Glendale neighborhood of Queens for the funeral. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

    New York City Police Department officers salute at the funeral of slain officer Rafael Ramos, one of two officers murdered while sitting in their patrol car in an ambush in Brooklyn. Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

    Tens of thousands of mourners gathered on Saturday for the funeral of New York City Police Department officer Rafael Ramos, who was killed along with his partner on Dec. 20 by a man targeting the police.

    Vice President Joe Biden attended the funeral and offered his condolences to Ramos’s widow, Maritza, Reuters reported.

    “Your husband, and his partner, they were a part of New York’s finest, and that’s not an idle phrase,” Biden said. “I believe that this great police force of this incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide. You’ve done it before and you will do it again.”

    <> on December 27, 2014 in New York City.

    U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and his wife Jill (R) enter the Christ Tabernacle Church for the funeral of slain New York City Police Officer Rafael Ramos. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton also spoke at the funeral, which was held at Christ Tabernacle Church in the Glendale neighborhood of Queens.

    “Our hearts are aching today. We feel it physically. We feel it deeply. New York City has lost a hero – a remarkable man because of the depths of his commitment to all around him,” de Blasio said.

    As de Blasio made his remarks, hundreds of officers watching the funeral on giant screens outside the church symbolically turned their backs on the mayor.

    Tension between police officers and the mayor has been simmering since the police union’s president, Patrick Lynch, said the mayor had fostered a climate of anti-police sentiment that led to the shooting that killed Ramos and Liu.

    “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” Lynch said on Dec. 20. “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

    Funeral Held For One Of Two NYPD Officers Murdered In Brooklyn

    Justin Ramos arrives wearing his father’s jacket to the funeral of his slain father, New York City Police Officer Rafael Ramos, one of two officers murdered while sitting in their patrol car in an ambush in Brooklyn last Saturday afternoon. Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

    Ramos, 40, was a married father of two. His older son, Justin, arrived at the funeral wearing his father’s police department jacket.

    At a memorial service on Friday, Justin remembered his father as a man who worked hard to provide for his family.

    “Dad, I’ll miss you with every fiber of my being,” he said.

    Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu, were shot and killed while sitting in their patrol car in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

    At a press conference held on the day the officers were killed, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said the two were shot without warning.

    “They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform and for the responsibility they embraced to keep the people of this city safe,” Bratton said.

    Bratton identified the gunman as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who died following the shootings of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. In online postings, Brinsley had threatened the police, saying he would act to avenge the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

    Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, emphatically denounced the killings of officers Ramos and Liu at a press conference in Harlem on Dec. 21.

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

    The post Thousands gather for funeral of slain NYPD officer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 8.15.20 PM

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    JOHN LARSON: We begin on the road, on a rural highway, with the story of a journey.

    And before it’s over, I hope you see why we traveled hundreds of miles across Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, to tell you about a woman who sat next to me on an airplane.

    When you’ve flown more than 2 million miles in coach, you sometimes get a chance to sit in first class.

    You wait for your name to work its way up a list, and when it happens — it feels like you won the lottery.

    So, I was feeling good when I boarded American Airlines Flight 1015 Dallas to San Diego. I was in seat 5B. Next to me in 5A was Donna Hahn.

    She wore expensive jewelry, a woman of privilege, I thought. But as we flew across Texas, I learned I couldn’t have been more wrong.

    DONNA HAHN: My grandparents lived in a little home that had a tin roof on it. They were sharecropping.

    JOHN LARSON: Donna’s family, her parents and grandparents were like other poor sharecroppers from Arkansas, picking cotton on other people’s lands.

    They were the kind of poor that can take generations to overcome.

    So, when she invited me to her family’s reunion, I accepted.

    I bet you didn’t think I’d show up here, did you?

    DONNA HAHN: Well, I just think you’re a brave soul.

    JOHN LARSON: The reunion was like others I’ve been to.

    DONNA HAHN: This is brother and sister right here.

    JOHN LARSON: At least until Donna and her sister –

    DONNA HAHN: There she is.

    JOHN LARSON: — begun to sing.


    JOHN LARSON: It turns out that their parents were run off their cotton field.


    DONNA HAHN: There were just some unrest in that area, civil unrest.

    JOHN LARSON: Unrest. To learn more, we joined Donna and her sister Bonnie on a trip back to Arkansas.

    DONNA HAHN: Wow, look how big that church is.

    BONNIE COBB: Mercy sake.

    DONNA HAHN: When you come back someplace as an adult, the perspective is so different.


    JOHN LARSON: They hadn’t been back since they were little girls and the family had no addresses.

    They knew only that their parents had shared crop with a black family and the two families had been friends, working and living side by side in two small houses outside the little town of Dumas, Arkansas, which is where we found two abandoned houses at the edge of a cotton field.

    So, could this be it?

    DONNA HAHN: Could be. I mean, I don’t know if this is the exact cotton field, or the place where my parents lived.

    JOHN LARSON: What they did know was what happened one night in 1957.

    BONNIE COBB: We had all gone to bed, and all of a sudden, it was just so much noise and everything else outside.

    It must have been maybe 15 men and they were on horses and they had white sheets on them and they were riding around and around our house, and they were carrying lighted torches.

    JOHN LARSON: The Ku Klux Klan was still a powerful local force here in the ‘50s. But would it have threatened a white family for being too close to a black family?

    ESSIE DALE: I had crosses burning my yard.

    JOHN LARSON: We asked the mayor of the next town over and she said, absolutely.

    Does that story surprise you?

    ESSIE DALE: Not at all.

    JOHN LARSON: Not at all.

    ESSIE DALE: No, it doesn’t.

    BONNIE COBB: It probably only lasted about 10 minutes at the most.

    JOHN LARSON: But it was enough.

    BONNIE COBB: And then they just rode off.

    JOHN LARSON: Donna’s family packed the next morning, and left their home in the cotton field.

    They moved to Louisiana, where their lives, believe it or not, got even harder.


    JOHN LARSON: Donna’s father was working in this gas station in the small town of Monroe, Louisiana, when a car crushed him against the back wall.

    DONNA HAHN: Because he jumped up, it caught him right at his legs and just crushed him from the legs down.


    JOHN LARSON: In Arkansas, we came across this abandoned church. Back in its day, it was what whites called a “colored church.”

    Donna’s father had once preached in such a church back in his sharecropping days, but then he backslid. He lost his faith.

    But now that he was paralyzed, he began preaching in small churches and tent-show revivals across the South. Which meant Donna was constantly moving.

    DONNA HAHN: All the way from Nebraska, all the way down to the tip of Texas and Louisiana and Arkansas. I sang from the time I was five years old until I left in high school.


    DONNA HAHN: I would have to literally climb up on a chair so people could see me over the pulpit and sing.

    JOHN LARSON: Donna got married in high school, raised two daughters, but she was increasingly suffering from a genetic bone condition.

    Her knees would dislocate. Her bones would break, requiring surgery after surgery.

    REVEREND RON LILES: He will take you on a trip that you cannot imagine.

    JOHN LARSON: Donna’s pastor would visit after each procedure.

    How many times do you think you’ve needed to go to the hospital?

    REVEREND RON LILES: In excess over the years of – 30 times.


    JOHN LARSON: And it was while she was recuperating from another surgery that her husband told her their 26-year marriage was over.

    DONNA HAHN: I remember thinking to myself, I had been totally rejected. And I remember thinking, I am really alone.

    JOHN LARSON: As we flew our last leg into San Diego, Donna told me despite her lifetime of upheavals, faith had kept her going.


    JOHN LARSON: Donna went to college and graduate school. The reason she was in first class?

    She’s now an international consultant. And you’ll never guess what her specialty is.

    DONNA HAHN: A discipline called “change management.”

    JOHN LARSON: Change management.

    DONNA HAHN: Change management.

    JOHN LARSON: So your – essentially your field of expertise is change?

    DONNA HAHN: Absolutely.

    JOHN LARSON: Change. That thing that happens to all of us, Donna says, when we’re not looking.


    JOHN LARSON: Donna did eventually find the land her grandparents had sharecropped. Their house had been torn down, their garden was gone.

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This would have been exactly where the house was sitting.

    DONNA HAHN: Wow.

    JOHN LARSON: But the son of the farmer who owned the land remembered her family well.

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were poor. There’s no doubt about it. I mean, they were about as poor as it gets.

    They didn’t have money. But – you know – what we don’t have in money, we make up for in other ways.

    DONNA HAHN: My grandparents, my dad, my cousins, my uncles – all walked on this land.

    JOHN LARSON: So in the end, we wound up back where her family’s story began. Back before the Klan, the revivals, and the broken bones.

    DONNA HAHN: And you come from such humble beginnings, it makes you really grateful for what you have.

    Hats off to you, Grandma and Grandpa. I appreciate you.

    JOHN LARSON: On our way back to the airport, I felt I was seeing things through Donna’s eyes.

    I saw changes all around us, and how hard and beautiful the whole thing is. That’s another thing about flying coach. Sometimes it’s more than just my seat that gets an upgrade.

    That’ll teach you to talk to someone on an airplane.

    DONNA HAHN: I’m telling you –


    DONNA HAHN: Trying to mind your own business, you end up in a cotton field in Arkansas.


    The post One family moves on from its sharecropping past in Arkansas appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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     Eight people sentenced to three years in jail after joining an illegal gay wedding ceremony are seen behind the bars in Cairo, Egypt, on November 1, 2014. The men were found guilty of spreading 'indecent images' and 'inciting debauchery' over a video that appeared to show them celebrating a gay marriage in Cairo. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

    Eight people sentenced to three years in jail after joining an illegal gay wedding ceremony are seen behind the bars in Cairo, Egypt, on November 1, 2014. The men were found guilty of “inciting debauchery” over a video that appeared to show them celebrating a gay marriage in Cairo. Credit: Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    An Egyptian appeals court on Saturday upheld the convictions but reduced the sentences of eight men who appeared in a same-sex wedding video.

    Last month, the men were convicted of “inciting debauchery” and sentenced to three-year prison terms after a video surfaced online of them at what appeared to be a gay wedding, the Associated Press reported. The sentences were cut to one year.

    “Over the years, Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested, tortured, and detained men suspected of consensual homosexual conduct,” Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement following the arrests of seven of the men in September.

    “These arrests represent another assault on fundamental human rights and reflect the Egyptian government’s growing disdain for the rule of law,” Reid said.

    All of the men have consistently denied the charges.

    Same-sex marriage is illegal in Egypt and while homosexuality is not an offense, in a country dominated by conservative Muslim values, gays have been charged with violating laws of morality, Reuters reported.

    The most recent and high profile of these cases occurred in 2001. Known as the Queen Boat Trials, more than 50 men were arrested and charged with “habitual practice of debauchery,” after being detained on a cruise ship discotheque. Others were also charged with “contempt of heavenly religions.”

    Nearly half of the men in the Queen Boat Trials were convicted, and served sentences ranging from two to five years.

    Gay rights activists say that at least 150 men in Egypt have been arrested in connection to alleged homosexual behavior in the last 18 months.

    The post Upheld convictions, reduced terms for men in Egypt gay marriage video case appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, speaks with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., before the start of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on 'The State of VA Health Care' on Thursday, May 15. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/

    Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, speaks with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., before the start of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on ‘The State of VA Health Care’ on May 15, 2014. Sanders said he will decide whether to run for president by March 2014. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/

    BURLINGTON, Vt. — Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders says he’ll decide by March whether to launch a 2016 presidential campaign and, if so, whether he’ll seek the Democratic nomination. Either way, Sanders says he wouldn’t run just to nudge the debate to the left.

    “I don’t want to do it unless I can do it well,” he told The Associated Press. “I don’t want to do it unless we can win this thing.”

    Sanders, a socialist, said he grew up “solidly lower middle class” in a Jewish family in Brooklyn – his father, an immigrant from Poland, sold paint for a living -and his views about the distribution of wealth were formed early.

    “A lack of money in my family was a very significant aspect of my growing up … kids in my class would have new jackets, new coats, and I would get hand-me-downs,” Sanders said.

    After his graduation from the University of Chicago, Sanders came to Vermont in the 1960s as part of the counterculture, back-to-the-land movement that turned the state from solid Yankee Republican into one of the bluest in the country.

    He won his first election – for Burlington mayor – by 10 votes, and since then has carried a consistent message thought eight terms in the House and now his second term in the Senate: The rich have too much, the poor and working class not enough.

    Sanders said the issues about which he’s been railing all these years are only becoming more dire. The wealth gap has grown, and the middle class, he says, is “collapsing.”

    “You have one family, the Walton family of Walmart, owning more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people,” he said. “We have 95 percent of all new income going to the top 1 percent. You have millions of families unable to afford to send their kids to college. People are desperately worried about whether or not they are going to retire with dignity.”

    Sanders has a 12-step plan that he says will restore the economy and especially the middle class, most of it dependent on higher taxes on the rich and corporations. Among the proposals: A $1 trillion infrastructure building program that would “create 13 million decent-paying jobs,” more worker-friendly international trade deals and legislation to strengthen unions, and transforming the U.S. energy system “away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”

    He says he’ll make a “gut decision” about running for the presidency – and, perhaps, challenging Democratic favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    He would be 75 in 2016, but “my health is good,” he said, knocking on a wooden conference room table. He said he couldn’t remember the last time he’d called in sick to work.

    Sanders said he is weighing whether to run as an independent, as he has done in Vermont, or as a Democrat. He has been critical of both major parties over the years, though he has aligned with liberal Democrats on many issues.

    Tad Devine, a longtime consultant to Democratic presidential candidates, agreed that 2016 might present an opening to Sanders, a year in which his message could resonate. Fewer people feel they can afford the American dream of sending kids to college and looking forward to a secure retirement, Devine said.

    “Even the majority of Republicans believe that the deck is stacked against the people in this country,” Devine said. “That’s exactly what Bernie has been talking about for a long time.” Devine, who previously worked for Sanders, said he plans to work for the Vermont senator if he enters the race.

    Devine said Sanders also could run on a solid legislative record in a Congress that hasn’t been known for getting much done recently. As chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Sanders this year got passed a $16.3 billion package designed to address problems in the troubled VA health system. His liberal-left record includes voting against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act in 2001, both while he was in the House.

    Clinton would pose a key challenge for Sanders.

    “I think the question is, is he a step too far for the mainstream of the Democratic Party? He is a socialist,” said Kathy Sullivan, a member of the Democratic National Committee and a Clinton supporter. “I don’t think you’ll find the socialist wing of the Democratic Party is that big, contrary to what Republicans might think.”

    Peter Burling, a former New Hampshire state senator, longtime Democratic Party leader and a Clinton supporter, said Sanders might have an advantage over her in the amount of passion he can deliver.

    “I don’t think she demonstrated it in the race against (Barack) Obama in 2008,” Burling said. Sanders would contrast with Clinton because “he can speak with unfettered passion,” Burling said.

    The post Sanders: I’ll decide whether to run for president by March appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  North Korea today blamed President Obama for Sony’s decision to release the controversial film “The Interview”, which tells the story of a fictional plot to kill North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.  The recent hacking of Sony, which was widely blamed on North Korea, has caused the Obama administration to consider new steps to protect against cyber attacks.

    Carol Lee of “The Wall Street Journal” is in Hawaii, where the president is vacationing, and joins us now from Honolulu.

    So, Sony was the first kind of big, red flag.  What does the White House think is the consequence of that for other companies around the U.S.?  Do they think that this is the cyber threats could increase?

    CAROL LEE, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  They do.  And their main concern is that what happened with this Sony attack is, as one administration official put it, marks a crossing of a threshold into this kind of new wave of cyber attacks that are essentially cyber extortion, where a nation state or another organization or group hacks into a company or perhaps the government and uses that as leverage to try to get the company or the government to meet certain demands.

    In the instance with Sony, it was that they pull this movie “The Interview,” and initially, what was concerning to the White House was that Sony agreed to do that, which basically, you know, rewarded this action.  And, you know, despite the reversal on that, the White House feels like this still marks a crossing of the threshold and, you know, the possibility of seeing additional attacks like this is real because it essentially worked.

    So, the White House is exploring some new ways to try to get the government and the private sector on the same page in this and to try to combat this so that these sorts of things are minimized in the future.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, what are some of the initiatives that the White House is taking?

    CAROL LEE: Well, this whole thing is new.  This is a new area in cyber security.  And the government and the private sector are not necessarily entirely in sync in some of these things, and that was — that was exposed in the very public disagreement between President Obama and Sony executives over whether or not to release the film.

    So, first, you know, obviously the president said that he wished Sony had talked to them.  So, I think you’ll try — probably see some additional communication at very high levels at the White House.

    And then cyber-security legislation, the president called on Congress again to pass something stricter.  The hope in the administration is that companies now have an incentive to try to get some sort of regulations or standards in place because what’s happened until now is they’ve resisted that.  There’s different — the Chamber of Commerce and other group — business-lobbying groups have said setting certain minimal standards for groups — for industries like banking or energy would be burdensome and could lead to litigation if somehow they had those standards and an attacker was able to still penetrate.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And some companies have been bush pushing back because they don’t want to give of the government too much access to their content or users’ information, right?

    CAROL LEE:  That’s right.  It’s a really strange relationship between the government and the private sector because typically you have a government that acts as a regulator and companies that are regulated.  And in this instance, it’s not like that.  And when you throw in these added national security concerns, it creates an entirely different relationship, and a new dynamic that sort of both sides are trying to feel their way through.  And it’s very uncertain right now, and the whole process is sort of piece meal.

    But now, the hope is, at least from the administration’s side, is that this will lead to some sort of way in which that they can get further — closer together and more on board as they try to navigate this strange relationship where businesses need the government to be involved in things like this because the government is the one who can come in and actually, you know, figure out who did it and do criminal investigations and prosecutions.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Carol Lee of “The Wall Street Journal” joining us from Honolulu — thanks so much.

    CAROL LEE:  Thank you.  Thanks for having me.  

    The post How can the US join forces with the private sector to fight cyberextortion? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An AirAsia flight with 162 aboard lost contact with ground controllers over the Java Sea between Surabaya, Indonesia, and the plane’s intended destination, Singapore, the airline said Sunday.

    Air traffic controllers lost communication with flight QZ8501 at 7:24 am local time.

    There were 155 passengers on board, two pilots and five cabin crew, the airline said. The passengers included 138 adults, 16 children and one infant.

    The airline said in a statement on Facebook that the missing aircraft was an Airbus A320-200.

    The aircraft had requested “deviation due to enroute weather” before losing communication with ground controllers, the airline said in an updated statement. Over the past week, Malaysia has witnessed severe flooding along its east coast, with at least five people dead and more than 120,000 displaced.

    Flight QZ8501′s captain had clocked 6,100 flight hours and the first officer had a total of 2,275 flight hours, the statement said. The company added that the missing aircraft had been in for routine maintenance on Nov. 16.

    The contact ended about 42 minutes after takeoff, according to Hadi Mustofa, an official with the Indonesian transportation ministry who spoke to Indonesia’s MetroTV. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said it was notified 30 minutes after contact was lost.

    The Singapore Air Force and Navy are already searching with two C-130 aircraft.

    The Malaysia-based AirAsia has never lost a plane before, the Associated Press reported.

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    SFU scientist Regine Gries

    SFU scientist Regine Gries endured more than 180,000 bedbug bites on her arms during the study, which researchers say has led to a chemical combination that can be used to lure and trap bedbugs for the killing. Credit: Simon Fraser University via Flickr

    Researchers at Simon Fraser University have discovered a chemical combination, which can be used to lure and trap bedbugs for the killing, according to findings published in the chemistry journal, Angewandte Chemie, on Dec. 21.

    The combination is made up of six components that work together to create a pheromone used to attract and immobilize the wingless bloodsucking bedbugs known for infesting beds in houses and hotels.

    “This trap will help landlords, tenants, and pest-control professionals determine whether premises have a bedbug problem, so that they can treat it quickly,” Biology professor Gerhard Gries said in a statement.

    Gries worked with his wife, biologist Regine Gries – who endured more than 180,000 bedbug bites on her arms during the study – chemist Robert Britton, and other researchers for five years as they searched for a way to eradicate the pesky and potentially costly bloodsuckers.

    The team hopes, as they work with Canadian company Contech Enterprises Inc., to have an affordable bait and trap on the market sometime in 2015.

    Although the parasites were nearly wiped out a century ago, there has been a global bedbug resurgence over the past 15 years. Between 2007 and 2010, the estimated number of emergency room visits for bedbug bite injuries in the United States went from 2,156 to 15,945, according to a study published by the National Institute of Health.

    The post Researchers unveil new chemical combination to trap bedbugs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Timothy Fugatt, the minister of music at this church near Childersburg, Alabama, says that it’s his deep faith in God that got him through some tough times. His son, Cole, was born with a rare brain disease.

    TIM FUGATT: The spheres in his brain didn’t divide properly. So pretty much when you look through a CT scan, it was nothin’ but fluid.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: But life got even tougher after a seemingly minor incident in December of 2010 when he was pulled over by police and ticketed for an expired license plate tag.

    TIM FUGATT: I was coming from the hospital where had been staying with Cole there in the hospital. And as I come into town, they had– a traffic checkpoint.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Timothy’s wife, Kristy, had also gotten tickets for two traffic infractions and both were ordered to appear in the Childersburg municipal court. The Fugatts told the judge about their hospitalized son and were both found “not guilty”, as these court documents show. But the judge ruled that the two still had to pay “court costs” of about $500.

    During this period, Timothy Fugatt says he was spending so much time at the hospital with his son that he couldn’t hold down a job, and with his wife also not working, they couldn’t afford to pay the court costs… so their case was turned over to (GRAPHIC) Judicial Corrections Services, a private company that collects fines for the city.

    Fugatt says that Judicial Corrections Services, known as JCS, told him that he and his wife could be jailed if they didn’t pay what they owed.

    TIM FUGATT: They would just plain out say, you know, “If– if you can’t pay then they’ll issue you a warrant for your arrest.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Did that scare you?

    TIM FUGATT: Of course.

    Fugatt says he did the best he could to pay off his family’s fines, but says when he couldn’t continue to pay and he and his wife missed at least one court date, they were arrested and jailed.

    TIM FUGATT: I felt completely like a criminal. I mean I didn’t sell drugs. I didn’t break into anyone’s home. I didn’t kill anybody. I had an expired tag.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: So you and your wife were found not guilty of the traffic violations. But still you were being arrested.

    TIM FUGATT: We were being arrested, yes. I was very upset, very angry

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: They were released several hours later when a relative paid a portion of what they owed.

    That incident contributed to the Fugatt’s decision to become part of a lawsuit against Judicial Corrections Services and the town of Childersburg. The suit alleges that incarcerating people who can’t pay their fines violates the constitution. Though some experts argue that jail time is legal for those who don’t make a good faith effort to pay their fines, In 1971 The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution prohibits imposing “a jail term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith pay the fine in full.”

    DAVID DINELLI: That’s exactly what’s happening here.

    David Dinelli is the deputy legal directory of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization that is not involved in the Fugatt’s lawsuit but has represented others in similar situations. Dinelli estimates a 1,000 people every month are going to jail in Alabama because they cannot afford to pay a fine.

    DAVID DINELLI: Everyone thinks that debtor’s prison is over. It’s behind us. It isn’t. As a matter of practice, and in some cases, policy, the courts ask one question, “Can you pay the fine.” If you can’t then you have to what’s called “sit it out in jail.” That is unconstitutional unless the court first conducts an inquiry into whether they’re indigent and the causes for their inability to pay the fine. Routinely what’s happening here is that no such inquiry is undertaken.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Did anyone in the court every try and assess whether or not you could afford the pay the fees?

    TIM FUGATT: No, Sir. It was just pass and go. It was really fast. It was really fast.

    Collecting fines is more important than ever because many cities face budget shortfalls. But these same cities don’t have the personnel to collect the fines. So increasingly they turn to what are known as private probation companies. That’s where Judicial Corrections Services comes in.

    STEVEN BOONE: We were approached by the– the probation service. They found a niche.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Childersburg officials declined to speak with us, so we met with Steven Boone, the finance director for Mountain Brook, a city neighboring Childersburg that also hired Judicial Correction Services. Its court is one of over a 1,000, in at least 12 states across the country, that’s hired a private probation company, according to Human Rights Watch.

    Judicial Correction Services collects fines at no cost to the cities it works for.

    STEVEN BOONE: they’re helping us to become more efficient, and they’re helping us to ensure that we don’t get a backlog of delinquent accounts that may ultimately get so old and people move away that we’ll never collect it. So it’s– I think it’s a win/win.

    SENATOR CAM WARD: I think private probation has a role.

    Republican state senator Cam Ward is the chairman of the judiciary committee and has been following the growing trend of private probation. Not only does Ward support the use of such companies, he believes the industry will continue to grow.

    SENATOR CAM WARD: Now, I will tell you this, I think the trend to privatization in– in the area of collections, I think that will continue all across the country until you see a concentrated effort to put more money into the collection services that the state runs.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: But these private debt collectors are by definition in business to make money. And even though they don’t charge the city anything, they charge offenders, like Timothy Fugatt, $45 a month plus a $10 start-up fee, until a debt is fully paid off. This on top of the $500 in court costs that Fugatt already owed.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Can you tell me if you were making an effort to pay these off?

    TIM FUGATT: We were. Yes, Sir. Even though, you know, I was makin’ the effort, I wasn’t gettin’ very far with it. It was– it was till all these fees adding up. So I wasn’t gaining much ground.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Still, 4 months after their initial court date, documents show that the Fugatt’s scraped together enough to pay off almost $300 of the $500 they owed in court costs.

    But then things went from bad to worse.. in June of 2011, their son, Cole, died. A month later their house that had been in the family for generations was foreclosed upon. At this point the Fugatts say they were consumed with grief and were missing their appointments with JCS. Timothy says he explained the difficult circumstances his family was under, but he says the JCS probation officer wouldn’t work with him at all.

    TIM FUGATT: It was all at one time, just– just hit us all at once. And I explained it all to them. But we– you know, it was either pay or go to jail.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Being threatened with a jail sentence, did that help you to come up with the money?

    TIM FUGATT: It helped to try a little harder. But, you know, still. I mean, as the old saying goes, you know, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Over the next 8 months with JCS monthly fees adding up, the couple missed at least one court date each and were fined additional fees for failure to appear. Then a warrant for their arrest was issued. By the time of their arrest in February of 2012, the Fugatt’s had racked up $2,500 in additional court fines. Remember all this began with three traffic violations for which they were found not guilty.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: If– if you would’ve come up with the money that you owed Judicial Correction Services and you would’ve shown up for all of your appointments with them and to the courts, none of this would have ever happened?

    TIM FUGATT: You’re right. It– it wouldn’t have happened. But, you know, the situation I was in, I was doin’ what I could do, you know? I had– a dying child, no steady job at that point because we were back and forth to the hospital, I was doin’ what I could do.

    David Dinelli of the Southern Poverty Law center says that people like the Fugatts end up paying JCS off for years because of all the additional fees and added fines that they often accrue.

    DAVID DINELLI: They’re in a system in which all they are doing is paying JCS, Judicial Collection Services on a monthly basis for the privilege of staying out of jail.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: We asked legal scholar and Columbia Law professor Gillian Metzger to take a look at the lawsuit and to evaluate the constitutionality of private companies, like Judicial Correction Services, collecting fines for cities like Childersburg. She has no involvement in the case.

    GILLIAN METZGER: Part of what due process requires– is that you have an impartial decision maker. And if the company that is imposing the fees and continuing your supervision has a financial interest in your staying under supervision, then that really calls– calls their– impartiality into question. And they have a financial motive.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Metzger also says the court is obligated to provide alternative options for an individual to pay off a debt to society, such as community service, if he or she is indigent.

    GILLIAN METZGER: If you’re not paying because you’re just too poor to pay, then the court can’t automatically imprison you. They have to do an investigation about alternative arrangements in order to– to allow you to work off the fine in some other way.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: We reached out to JCS multiple times for an interview, but we never received a reply. But on its website JCS says the lawsuit is “baseless.” We also tried unsuccessfully several times to ask the mayor of Childersburg, “BJ” Meeks, if he was satisfied with the services JCS has been providing the city, but city hall never responded to our request. So we went to a city council meeting to ask.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: After speaking to some of the residents here, they feel like they’ve been threatened with a jail sentence if they don’t pay their fines and I wonder if you had a comment.

    MAYOR MEEKS: Well Then that’s up to the court system. Is, you know..

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: I mean, is it not unconstitutional to jail somebody who cannot pay their fee?

    MAYOR MEEKS: I don’t know, again, if the court system is satisfied with it under state Supreme Court jurisdiction…I know that we contract, we are one of the many many cities in Alabama that uses contract service, and the reason being because of not having enough personnel, we have…
    Even State Senator Cam Ward, who supports the private probation industry, has concerns.

    STATE SENATOR CAM WARD: What’s currently in existence is almost like the Wild West. There is no regulation. If you’re gonna create a system that, quote/unquote, is a “debtors prison,” all you’re doing is inviting yourself to a federal lawsuit, is what you’re doing.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: As for the Fugatts, after being charged an initial court cost of about $500 for traffic violations of which they were found not guilty… court documents provided by the Fugatt’s lawyers show that they’ve paid almost $1,300 to the Childersburg Court. It’s a number that doesn’t even include all the additional monthly fees they paid to Judicial Correction Services… a figure the City of Childersburg declined to provide us due to pending litigation.

    Timothy Fugatt says that his family still owes more money to Judicial Corrections Services. How much? He’s not sure. He says JCS stopped contacting him after the lawsuit was filed.

    While the Fugatt’s case is still pending, Since our story aired last spring the Childersburg Municipal Court recently issued a “standing order” stating that “In no case shall an indigent defendant be incarcerated … based solely on his or her inability to pay fines.” Fugatt’s attorney also told NewsHour that hundreds of Childersburg residents no longer have warrants out for their arrest and have been taken off Judicial Corrections Services roster. In a statement to NewsHour the City of Childersburg says it is “pleased with the actions … taken to transform the court, which was the subject of some negative press attention, into a model for other courts to follow.”

    And Childersburg is not alone. The city of Montgomery, that also hired Judicial Correction Services, has agreed to new policies to avoid jailing people who are too poor to pay minor fines. In November, A federal court approved a settlement for plaintiffs who were suing the city, alleging they were unlawfully jailed. The settlement requires Montgomery to stop contracting with Judicial Correction Services.

    The post Return of the debtors’ prison? Many still jailed for inability to pay fines appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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