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

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    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is on the verge of proposing long-awaited rules for commercial drone operations in U.S. skies, but key decisions on how much access to grant drones are likely to come from Congress next year.

    Federal Aviation Administration officials have said they want to release proposed rules before the end of this month, but other government and industry officials say they are likely to be delayed until January. Meanwhile, except for a small number of companies that have received FAA exemptions, a ban on commercial drone flights remains in place. Even after rules are proposed, it is likely to be two or three years before regulations become final.

    That’s too long to wait, say drone industry officials. Every year the ban remains in place, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic benefits that drones could provide, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.

    “We need some sort of process that allows some of the low-risk operations,” said Jesse Kallman, the head of regulatory affairs for Airware, a drone technology company backed by Google Ventures. “I think Congress understands that, and hopefully they’ll take steps in the coming year to address that.”

    That appears to be what some key lawmakers have in mind. “We in Congress are very interested in UAS,” Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said at a hearing this month, referring to unmanned aerial systems, or drones. “We understand UAS are an exciting technology with the potential to transform parts of our economy. … It is our responsibility to take a close look.”

    One of the committee’s first priorities next year is writing legislation to reauthorize FAA programs and overhaul aviation policy. The bill is expected to include directions from lawmakers on how to integrate drones into the nation’s aviation system. The last reauthorization bill, passed in 2012, directed the agency to integrate drones by Sept. 30, 2015, but it’s clear the FAA will miss that deadline.

    The FAA is expected to propose restricting drones weighing less than 55 pounds to flying at altitudes under 400 feet, forbid nighttime flights and require drones be kept within sight of their operators. Drone operators may also be required to get pilot’s licenses, a possibility already drawing fire from critics who say the skills needed to fly a manned aircraft are different from those needed to operate a drone.

    Shuster indicated he’s concerned that requiring pilot’s licenses might be burdensome and unnecessary. And keeping drones within sight of operators would be too strict and limit their usefulness, he said.

    The reason for keeping drones within line of sight is that they don’t yet have the ability to detect and avoid other aircraft.

    AUVSI, the drone industry trade group, recently hired Mark Aitken, former legislative director to Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., as its government relations manager. LoBiondo is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, which will write the FAA reauthorization bill.

    “We’re really looking at an incremental approach still,” Aitken said. “It’s not something that is going to happen overnight.”

    Congress already is getting pushback from private and commercial pilots who worry about possible collisions. The FAA receives reports nearly every day about drones sighted flying near manned aircraft or airports.

    “As a (Boeing) 737 captain, I’ll be damned if myself and 178 other people are taken down by a 12-pound or a 50-pound or a 150-pound piece of metal coming through my windshield,” said Ben Berman at a recent forum hosted by the Air Line Pilots Association. “There are too many near misses occurring every day like this.”

    Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents private pilots, said online videos show that “operators are flying near airports, in the clouds and in congested airspace.” He called such actions “reckless” and said they will inevitably lead to a collision.

    FAA regulations permit recreational users to fly small drones as long as they stay at least 5 miles away from an airport, limit flights to less than 400 feet in altitude, keep the aircraft in line of sight and fly only during the daytime.

    Last week, drone industry trade groups teamed up with the FAA and model aircraft hobbyists to launch a safety campaign aimed at amateur drone operations. The campaign includes a website, http://www.knowbeforeyoufly.com , where operators can find FAA regulations and advice on how to fly safely. The trade groups said they also plan to distribute safety pamphlets at industry events and are working with manufacturers to see that safety information is enclosed inside the package of new drones.

    Retailers say small drones, which are indistinguishable from today’s more sophisticated model aircraft, were popular gifts this Christmas.

    The post Key decisions on drone rules likely to come from Congress in 2015 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A relative shows a picture of passengers believed to be travelling on missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 at the airport in Surabaya, East Java, on December 28, 2014. The AirAsia Airbus plane with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore early on December 28, officials and the airline said, in the third major incident to affect a Malaysian carrier this year. AFP PHOTO / Juni KRISWANTO        (Photo credit should read JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP/Getty Images)

    A relative shows a picture of passengers believed to be on board the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 at the airport in Surabaya, East Java, on Dec. 28. The AirAsia plane with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore early on Dec. 28. Credit: Juni Kriswanto/AFP/Getty Images

    Authorities in Indonesia have halted the search for missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 as night fell on Sunday, Reuters reported. The search will resume at first light on Monday morning.

    Air traffic control in Jakarta lost contact with the plane at 6:17 a.m. on Sunday, as the flight was en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.

    There was no distress call issued from the plane before it disappeared from radar screens, Reuters reported.

    The pilot had requested “deviation due to en-route weather” before contact with the plane was lost, the airline said. The aircraft was flying at 32,000 feet and asked to climb to 38,000 feet to avoid clouds, air transportation director at the Transport Ministry Joko Muryo Atmodjo said at a press conference on Sunday.

    There were 162 people on board the Airbus A320-200 aircraft, which had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16, the airline said.

    “We are deeply shocked and saddened by this incident,” CEO of AirAsia Indonesia Sunu Widyatmoko said in a statement from the company posted on Facebook. “We are cooperating with the relevant authorities to the fullest extent to determine the cause of this incident. In the meantime, our main priority is keeping the families of our passengers and colleagues informed on the latest developments.”

    In an updated statement, AirAsia revised the breakdown of those on board the missing flight. Of the passengers, there were 149 people from Indonesia, three from South Korea, and one each from Singapore, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. The crew was comprised of six Indonesians and one French national, the co-pilot.

    The post Search halted for missing AirAsia plane as night falls appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-ISAF-NATO

    NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers salute during a ceremony marking the end of ISAF’s combat mission in Afghanistan at ISAF headquarters in Kabul on Dec. 28, 2014. On January 1, the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat mission, which has suffered 3,485 military deaths since 2001, will be replaced by a NATO ‘training and support’ mission. Credit: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

    A small ceremony was held in Kabul on Sunday to mark the end of the 13-year United States-led NATO combat mission in Afghanistan.

    “Today marks the end of an era and beginning of a new one,” said U.S. General John Campbell commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), after taking down and rolling up the ISAF flag.

    “Today NATO completes its combat mission, a 13-year endeavor filled with significant achievements and tremendous sacrifice, especially by the thousands of coalition and Afghan army and police wounded…who gave so much to build a brighter future for this war-torn land,” Campbell said.

    The event was kept a secret until just before it began for fear of an insurgent attack.

    Staring Jan. 1, the Afghan army will be charged with providing security for the country. More than 13,000 NATO soldiers will remain in the area as part of an operation called Resolute Support, aimed at providing training and support to the Afghan military, the Associated Press reported.

    The White House released the following statement on Twitter:

    The ISAF is confident that the 350,000-strong Afghan security force is prepared for the conflicts ahead, it said in a statement.

    The event came as deadly Taliban attacks were on the rise over the past year, claiming the lives of more than 3,200 Afghan civilians and 4,600 Afghan soldiers and police, Reuters reported.

    Roughly 3,500 foreign soldiers, among them about 2,200 Americans, have died since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.

    The post NATO marks end of combat mission in Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 31:  In this handout provided by the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama (L) talks on the phone with Speaker of the House Boehner as Vice President Joe Biden listens  in the Oval Office of the White House August 31, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama stated that he will seek Congressional authorization for the U.S. to take military action following the alleged Sarin nerve gas used in an attack on Syrian civilians.  (Photo by Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images)

    U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Speaker of the House Boehner as Vice President Joe Biden listens in the Oval Office of the White House Aug. 31, 2013 in Washington, DC. There is growing skepticism that anything will change in Washginton during Obama’s final two years in office. Credit: Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — It was supposed to be a joke. “Are you still president?” comedian Stephen Colbert asked Barack Obama earlier this month.

    But the question seemed to speak to growing weariness with the president and skepticism that anything will change in Washington during his final two years in office. Democrats already are checking out Obama’s potential successors. Emboldened Republicans are trying to push aside his agenda in favor of their own.

    At times this year, Obama seemed ready to move on as well. He rebelled against the White House security “bubble,” telling his Secret Service detail to give him more space. He chafed at being sidelined by his party during midterm elections and having to adjust his agenda to fit the political interests of vulnerable Democrats who lost anyway.

    Yet the election that was a disaster for the president’s party may have had a rejuvenating effect on Obama. The morning after the midterms, Obama told senior aides, “If I see you moping, you will answer to me.”

    People close to Obama say he is energized at not having to worry about helping – or hurting – Democrats in another congressional election on his watch. He has become more comfortable with his executive powers, moving unilaterally on immigration, Internet neutrality and climate change in the last two months. And he sees legacy-building opportunities on the international stage, from an elusive nuclear deal with Iran to normalizing relations with Cuba after a half-century freeze.

    “He gained some clarity for the next two years that is liberating,” said Jay Carney, who served as Obama’s press secretary until this spring. “He doesn’t have as much responsibility for others.”

    Still, pillars of Obama’s second-term agenda – gun control, raising the federal minimum wage, universal pre-school- seem destined to stand unfulfilled. Wrapping up the Iraq and Afghanistan wars isn’t turning out to be nearly the tidy success story Obama once envisioned. Even supporters say one of the president’s top remaining priorities may have to be simply preventing Republicans from dismantling his earlier accomplishments, including the health care law.

    The Yes-We-Can man is entering a twilight of maybes, his presidency still driven by high ambitions but his power to achieve them running out.

    Before the midterm election results arrived, Obama’s advisers say, the president realized he would finish his presidency with Republicans running Capitol Hill.

    Whatever message the Democrats’ defeat sent about the president’s own standing, Obama concluded the status quo meant more gridlock.

    Indeed, 2014 had been another year of fits and starts for a White House that has struggled to find its footing in Obama’s second term.

    The feeble HealthCare.gov website stabilized, but scandal enveloped the Department of Veterans Affairs. Syria got rid of its chemical weapons, but a violent extremist group pulled the U.S. back into military conflict in the Middle East. The unemployment rate fell, but so did Obama’s approval ratings – to the lowest levels of his presidency, worse than the second-term averages for most recent presidents.

    “I don’t care who you are, after eight years or six years of the presidency, your influence has eroded,” said Robert Dallek, a historian who has met periodically with Obama. “Even someone like Eisenhower or Reagan, you just can’t sustain it.”

    While White House officials acknowledge the presidency has challenges in its waning years, they say recent economic gains and executive actions on immigration and climate change show Obama still can exert considerable influence.

    “This year the president’s policy successes vastly outstripped his political successes,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser.

    Nearly two dozen White House officials, former Obama aides, presidential historians and political analysts discussed Obama’s standing as he closes his sixth year in office, some on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss their conversations with the president or his top advisers.

    For much of the year, Obama appeared to struggle with the realization that his political standing had slipped.

    He publicly complained about criticism of his foreign policy by pundits in Washington and New York (his private gripes were more colorful and profane). Despite Democratic pleas to stay out of November’s elections, he said his policies were indeed on the ballot. He desperately sought to break free of the confines of the White House.

    One afternoon in June, he joined his chief of staff in making an impromptu Starbucks run on foot, leaving aides and reporters sprinting to catch up.

    “Bear on the loose,” the president’s advisers jokingly said. They said it was good for his mood to break free from the bubble.

    But there were also real concerns in the West Wing about his behavior. Not only was he trying to escape the ever-present press, but Obama was ordering his Secret Service detail to keep its distance.

    In 2014, Obama also went back to war in the Middle East. Less than three years after the last American troops left Iraq, Obama sent U.S. forces back to train and assist the country’s security forces in fighting Islamic State extremists. By fall, the U.S. was launching airstrikes against the militants in Iraq and Syria.

    As he announced the strikes, Obama promised Americans this time would be different from the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No U.S. combat troops would on the ground, he said.

    But he seemed to be trying to reassure himself as much as anyone else.

    In public and in private, Obama appears to understand his presidency may end on a war footing. He’s been reading “Redeployment,” a collection of short stories about the Iraq war by former Marine Phil Klay. Shortly before Christmas, he made an unusual visit to a military base in New Jersey to thank troops and their families – and pledge to preserve hard-fought military gains abroad.

    Obama is realistically optimistic about what he can get done over the next two years, advisers say. He wants to try tax reform and sees opportunities to accelerate growth and job creation with the economy on firmer footing. Aides have reached out to historians and political scientists to solicit ideas for Obama’s next State of the Union address, including fresh ways to address income inequality.

    “They have reasonable expectations,” said Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, who spoke with White House aides about income inequality before the election. “It is the sixth year, after all.”

    A big question hanging over the White House is how much Obama, whose charisma once charmed the world, can still shape the national debate.

    “There’s almost always a point of diminishing returns on a president’s words,” said Jeff Shesol, a former presidential speechwriter for Bill Clinton.

    Indeed, the president is forging ahead as something of an isolated figure.

    December’s debate over keeping money flowing to the government showed Democrats in Congress won’t hesitate to go their own way. In recent weeks, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York has questioned the timing of Obama’s 2010 health care law. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi pronounced herself “enormously disappointed” that Obama embraced a spending bill she saw as a GOP attempt at blackmail. And Sen. Bob Menendez, the outgoing Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, began work with Republicans on new penalties against Iran – against Obama’s wishes.

    Inside the White House, Obama’s tight inner circle of loyal advisers keeps shrinking.

    The trio of political gurus who helped run his presidential campaigns – David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs and David Plouffe – have long since moved on. As has onetime chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago. Other longtime aides, including Pfeiffer and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, are said to be eyeing exits. Bringing in fresh talent is becoming a greater challenge. Obama may have to navigate this challenging phase of his presidency without a full stable of trusted advisers with whom he’s comfortable.

    Many Democratic operatives are also more interested in spots on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s potential presidential campaign than joining an administration entering its twilight. In some instances, it has been hard for the White House to get prominent Democrats to publicly back Obama’s policy decisions, particularly on foreign affairs, until they know Clinton’s position. Clinton is widely expected to announce a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    Obama is trying to branch out. He started keeping his version of a bucket list: the names of authors, business leaders, innovators and others he wants to bring to the White House for a private lunch or dinner. Some who have visited: inventor and business tycoon Elon Musk, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, a major Republican donor.

    Obama has opened up his social circle beyond a core group of friends from Chicago and his childhood in Hawaii.

    He’s become close to former NBA basketball player Alonzo Mourning, who has hosted fundraisers for Obama’s presidential campaign. Former football player Ahmad Rashad, who dated senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett earlier this year, worked his way into the president’s golf outings and joined the first family on vacation in the Florida Keys and Martha’s Vineyard.

    ESPN host Michael Wilbon, an occasional golf partner, said Obama displayed an astounding “ability to compartmentalize” amid the past year’s frustrations.

    “A lot of successful people have to have that, but not like the president,” Wilbon said.

    Obama admits to being distracted at times. Asked how much sports he watches on TV, the president told ESPN this month, “There are times I will admit at night, when I’ve got a really fat briefing book, where I might have the game on with the sound off.”

    Less than halfway through his presidency, Obama reflected on how being in office had left him “all dinged up.”

    The vaunted “hope” posters from his 2008 campaign are “all dog-eared and faded,” he said at a fundraiser three years later.

    He was searching for ways to re-create the energy of 2008. Heading into his final two years in the White House, that challenge is greater.

    While Obama and his team talk a good game about opportunities ahead, they’ve been here before: Plunging into a new year full of energy and ideas, only to run smack into Washington gridlock.

    Signs that Obama’s presidency is closing are all around.

    Within weeks, the race to replace him will begin in earnest. Democrats are lining up to endorse Clinton, though she’s yet to declare her candidacy.

    By spring, a committee of Obama friends and advisers will announce which city will host his presidential library. Honolulu, Chicago and New York are in contention.

    People close to Obama say he is weighing what he will do when he leaves the White House at the relatively young age of 55. He is studying the paths his predecessors have taken and has expressed interest in working on both domestic and international issues. He is considering ways to expand mentoring programs he started for young black men in the U.S. and emerging leaders in Africa and Asia.

    “He’s going to have a very unique opportunity and ability to reach young people not only here but in other countries,” said Jon Favreau, Obama’s longtime speechwriter who left the White House last year.

    It is less clear where Obama and his family will go after their time in the White House ends. They own a red-brick, Georgian-style home in Kenwood, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Their oldest daughter, Malia, graduates from high school soon and has been looking at colleges in California. The president is said to be drawn to the idea that he could blend in more easily in bustling New York.

    Obama is already imagining life with fewer restrictions.

    Asked in a New Yorker interview earlier this year whether he would want to be a judge, Obama said that sounded a bit “too monastic.”

    “Particularly after having spent six years and what will be eight years in this bubble, I think I need to get outside a little bit more.”

    The post What will Obama’s final two years as president bring? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    SURABAYA, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 28:  Relatives of missing Air Asia QZ8501 passengers cry at the crisis centre of Juanda International Airport Surabaya on December 28, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Air Asia announced the flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore, with 162 people on board, lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24 a.m. local time Sunday morning.  (Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    ZACHARY GREEN: At Singapore’s Changi airport, friends and relatives gathered to await news about AirAsia flight 8501, which disappeared early this morning. Among those waiting: the fiance of a young man who had been traveling with relatives.

    FIANCE: It was supposed to be their last vacation, before we got married. It was to be his last vacation with his family.

    ZACHARY GREEN: The flight took off at 5:35 am local time from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city. The scheduled flight time to Singapore was 1 hour 55 minutes.

    But at 6:13 am, 38 minutes after takeoff, the pilot radioed air traffic control, asking to change course and increase altitude to avoid storm clouds. There were reports of lightning in the area.

    The flight was last seen on radar three minutes later at 6:16 am, near Belitung island in the java sea.

    A minute later, it was gone. According to an Indonesian transportation official, no distress signal had been sent out.

    Search and rescue teams from Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia spent several hours Sunday searching for any sign of the plane, an Airbus A320. But as night fell, officials halted the search until morning. The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, and India have all volunteered search and rescue teams.

    TATANG KURNIADI: I heard many rumors from people and I said the rumors are not true that the plane has been found and wreckage has been found — this is not true.

    Tony Fernandes, chief executive of AirAsia, a budget carrier based in Malaysia, also cautioned against speculation.

    TONY FERNANDES: We do not know what’s happened yet, so we’ll wait for the accident investigation to really find out what’s happened. Our concern right now is for the relatives and for the next of kin. There is nothing more important to us for our crew’s family, and for our passengers’ families that we look after them.

    ZACHARY GREEN: Airasia has had a clean safety record since the company began operating in Malaysia 13 years ago. The plane that went missing had undergone maintenance just the month before.

    Last march, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared with 239 people aboard, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It’s never been found.

    In July, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

    The post What we know (and don’t) about the missing AirAsia jetliner appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    LowGasPrices

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ever since oil prices started plunging, we’ve heard experts predict that consumers would use the money they’re saving on gas to spend more on Christmas gifts. Did it turn out that way?

    For more about the Christmas shopping season, we are joined now via Skype from Albany, New York by Sara Germano of the Wall Street Journal.

    So considering we have a couple of days left in the calendar year, but really the retail season starts around Thanksgiving, how did we do so far?

    SARA GERMANO: So far, so good. We’ll really start to see the results into January and once the government reports its spending data and some of the largest retailers report their quarterly earnings.

    But early indications show that so far, Christmas shoppers and holiday shoppers were coming out in force this season and spending a little bit more than they have in seasons past.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So how much of this is related to kind of an increased consumer confidence combined with that decrease in gas prices that we talked about?

    SARA GERMANO: Yes. Everyone loves to talk about the gas prices. They’ve been down.

    They’re now down below $2 in some states. And that’s putting about $450 million a day into American’s pockets.

    You know, consumers we’ve spoken with have said that having that extra bit to spend is going a long way.

    Although some consumers are also saying they’re being a little bit more careful with that extra money, and some of it is going to savings.

    So we’re really starting to try to look for how much of that extra cash earned by falling gas prices is going to be put back into the economy or saved for some other red-letter day.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. What about that kind of standard question we ask: Are the online retailers taking bigger and bigger chunks out of the brick-and-mortar players, or is it a kind of healthy balance now?

    SARA GERMANO: Well, the biggest issue in retail right now is actually figuring out, you know, who is going to win online sales growth.

    And it’s a game the brick-and-mortar retailers, especially the big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target are trying to compete more effectively with the web-based retailers like Amazon and eBay.

    So, the last few years you have seen definite strides in that direction from the brick-and-mortar retailers.

    Just this year, Wal-Mart said that it would do online price matching to better compete in that area.

    The next phase of this now that Christmas is over, the next phase of this competition we’ll see is the returns. Like all those ugly Christmas sweaters that you didn’t like or didn’t fit.

    Those online sales are going to be shipped back. And a lot of the shipping companies like FedEx and UPS and maybe even the U.S. Postal Service are bracing themselves for what they expect to be a pretty heavy return system, particularly for online sales.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. And what about the shift that we’re seeing in retailers heading towards mobile?

    Even small businesses are putting out apps now. I mean, is it making a big difference? Are people buying or shopping on their cell phones?

    SARA GERMANO: Yes, and that’s something that is part of that, you know, shift to online sales that even the brick-and-mortar retailers are trying to get better at.

    A lot of efforts have gone into building better mobile apps for shopping. You’re seeing a lot of web rooming and showrooming, sort of the buzzwords we have been hearing over the past few months and years.

    People trying to be savvier shoppers, knowing the prices of whatever it is they want to buy, knowing where they can get it online or in stores.

    And you’re also seeing a bit of a decrease in impulse spending, too.

    Consumers are — because of all these efforts and the retailers trying to get better at offering the best prices, the best education, the best apps, you know, customers are going to be smarter.

    And they’re not as likely to buy off the cuff because they’re equipped with so much more information.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Sara Germano of the Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

    SARA GERMANO: Thank you.

    The post Did plunging gas prices boost holiday spending? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Glasgow, Scotland. A healthcare worker has been diagnosed with Ebola a day after flying home to Glasgow from Sierra Leone, the Scottish government said on Monday. Photo by Russell Cheyne/Reuters

    Glasgow, Scotland. A healthcare worker has been diagnosed with Ebola a day after flying home to Glasgow from Sierra Leone, the Scottish government said on Monday. Photo by Russell Cheyne/Reuters

    A healthcare worker who returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa tested positive for the disease, Scottish officials said Monday. She is the country’s first confirmed Ebola patient.

    Traveling to Scotland on a British Airways flight late Sunday night, the patient fell ill by Monday morning, according to a statement from the Scottish government. The patient was then admitted to and isolated at the Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow, where she was diagnosed with the deadly disease.

    The patient had layovers in Casablanca and London before arriving in Glasgow, officials said.

    “Having been diagnosed in the very early stages of the illness, the risk to others is considered extremely low,” the statement read, adding that “all possible contacts” with the patient have been contacted and anyone considered at risk will be “closely monitored.”

    Officials said the patient will be transferred to a high-level isolation unit at the Royal Free hospital in London as soon as possible.

    “Scotland has been preparing for this possibility from the beginning of the outbreak in West Africa,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “and I am confident that we are well prepared.”

    According to the World Health Organization’s latest numbers, Ebola has claimed more than 7,800 lives, with about 20,000 people testing positive for the disease. Most of the deaths have occurred in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

    Senegal, Nigeria and Spain were all declared Ebola-free the past few weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

    The last known U.S. case was declared “free of the virus” in November. And if Mali doesn’t record any new Ebola cases, it could be declared free of the disease on Jan. 18, the WHO said.

    The post First Ebola case confirmed in Scotland appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    obama_20141219WASHINGTON — While President Barack Obama hasn’t ruled out the possibility of reopening a U.S. Embassy in Iran, Republicans say the Senate will vote within weeks on a bill to impose more sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program.

    Obama was asked in an NPR interview broadcast on Monday whether he could envision opening an embassy there during his final two years in office.

    “I never say never,” Obama said, adding that U.S. ties with Tehran must be restored in steps.

    Washington and its partners are hoping to clinch a deal with Iran by July that would set long-term limits on Iran’s enrichment of uranium and other activity that could produce material for use in nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is solely for energy production and medical research purposes. It has agreed to some restrictions in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from U.S. economic sanctions.

    On a visit to Israel on Saturday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the new Republican-controlled Senate will vote on an Iran sanctions bill in January.

    He said the bipartisan sanction legislation says: “If Iran walks away from the table, sanctions will be re-imposed. If Iran cheats regarding any deal that we enter to the Iranians, sanctions will be re-imposed.”

    Graham also is sponsoring legislation that would require any deal with Iran to be approved by Congress before sanctions could be lifted.

    Standing alongside Graham, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Iran a “dangerous regime” that should be prevented from having nuclear weapons.

    “I believe that what is required are more sanctions, and stronger sanctions,” Netanyahu said.

    The Obama administration has been telling members of Congress that it has won significant concessions from Iran for recently extending nuclear talks, including promises by the Islamic republic to allow snap inspections of its facilities and to neutralize much of its remaining uranium stockpile. Administration officials have been presenting the Iranian concessions to lawmakers in the hopes of convincing them to support the extension and hold off on new economic sanctions that could derail the diplomatic effort.

    Obama has threatened to veto any new sanctions legislation while American diplomats continue their push for an accord that would set multiyear limits on Iran’s nuclear progress in exchange for an easing of the international sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. Senate hawks are still trying to build a veto-proof majority of 67 votes with Republicans set to assume the majority next month.

    Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., told Fox News Sunday that Senate Republicans might have enough backing from Democrats to pass veto-proof legislation that would impose more sanctions on Iran.

    “The good thing about those votes, they will be really bipartisan votes,” he said. “I have 17 Democrats with me. . We have a shot at even getting to a veto-proof majority in the Senate.”

    The post Obama won’t rule out U.S. embassy in Iran appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    chambliss

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    GWEN IFILL: A new Congress arrives in Washington after the new year, even as many veterans head out.

    Tonight and tomorrow, we talk to two of them, one Democrat and one Republican, about what they found here and what they now leave behind.

    We begin tonight with Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

    Judy conducted this exit interview a few days ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Chambliss, thank you for talking with us.

    So, you…

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, (R) Georgia: Sure. Good to be with you.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You are retiring just as your party is about to take over the majority in the Senate, a new opportunity to work on some of the issues you care the most about. No regrets?

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: No regrets whatsoever, Judy.

    I’m happy as I can be for my colleagues in the Senate. They are going to be in the majority next time around. But, you know, it’s — there comes a time when you need to make a decision what your future needs to be relative to staying in public service or moving on to the next chapter and let new ideas and fresh ideas come forward.

    So I made the decision at the right time. I’m very happy with it, but I’m surely happy for my colleagues too.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one of the issues that I know you cared a lot about is the federal debt, not to be confused with the deficit, which has been shrinking pretty dramatically in the last year or two, but the debt which is about I think $18 trillion right now.

    You spent a lot of time with a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called gang of six. You came up with a proposal that would have involved tax reform, cuts in government spending, changes in so-called entitlements. That didn’t fly. Are your expectations that there is going to be serious — a serious move to address the debt now?

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, Judy, here we are, fixing to start a new session of Congress, and, within the first six months, they’re going to have to raise the debt ceiling again.

    I’m very hopeful that the new majority that comes in is going to say OK, guys, we have got to get serious about this. And if they’re going to get serious about it, it’s not rocket science. It’s what it is going to take to solve this issue of this debt. You do have to cut spending. You have got to reform entitlements and you have got to increase revenues through changing the tax code.

    You just simply can’t do one, which we have tried with sequestration just to cut spending. It doesn’t work. You can’t do it by raising taxes. You have got to have a combination of those three items that Bowles-Simpson, Domenici-Rivlin, as well as gang of six said needed to be done.

    And we can increase revenues without raising taxes through major reforms of the tax code. I really hope that the next majority in Congress is going to take this serious and they’re going to move forward with the foundation, frankly, that the gang of six laid.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But we know that members of the Congress in both parties have been resistant, Democrats resistant to go along with some of the spending cuts, Republicans reluctant to go along with some of the tax changes you talked about.

    I just want to ask you, Senator. You said — in your final farewell remarks on the floor of the Senate, you spoke in a very moving way about your friendships with other senators, both Democrats and Republicans. And you mentioned, for example — I mean, I was struck by what you said about Senator Mark Warner. You said you had spent hundreds of hours together working on this debt issue.

    What is it about the rest of the Senate, members of the Senate that makes it so hard for them to work across party lines?

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, this is not easily done.

    The hard and tough votes that are going to have to be made are not going to be politically popular. But, you know, we didn’t get sent to Washington to make the easy votes. Members get elected to the Senate to take those hard and tough votes and to make those tough decisions, Judy.

    Until we get the mind-set to do that, I think it’s going to be very difficult to see it done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you think it’s harder to get it done than it was when you — than it was when you first entered the Senate 12 years ago?

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: You know, that’s a good question.

    What we saw when I first got to the Senate was still a lot of that not just working across the aisle, but working across different parts of the country. We had a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans who really wanted to see things done and they would compromise on the numbers or compromise on policy without compromising on principles.

    And I worked very closely with Ted Kennedy. Now, Ted and I were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but we worked very hard to come up with some solutions on immigration issues, the H-1B and L-1 visa issues. And we found the right compromise.

    And those are the kind of liberals and Republicans that have to come together somewhere in the middle to find that sweet spot. And we saw that 12 years ago. You don’t see much of it now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But what do you say to those members who are saying, but wait a minute, what I’m hearing from my constituents is they want me to stick to principles, they’re not interested in having me go and find compromise with the other party?

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, we saw that with the government shutdown, Judy. And I would like to think that that is still fresh in the minds of those members of the Senate who will be coming back, as well as in the minds of the general public.

    Nobody wins in a government shutdown. And that is where we’re headed if we’re just so hard-headed that we’re going to — everybody on the hard right is going to stay there, everybody on the hard left is going to stay there, and not willing to come towards the middle some.

    You don’t have to — you don’t have to compromise on principle, but you can sure compromise a little bit on policy and a little bit on numbers, and, wow, we could really provide the leadership that the world remembers and that the world is so starving for today.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One last question on a particular issue, and that’s immigration reform. Do you expect to see the Congress move on immigration reform in the near term?

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, there’s going to be a huge debate on that issue, in my opinion.

    I mean, the president’s laid his marker out there. And now you’re seeing a lot of criticism on the president issuing the executive order on immigration. But the fact of the matter is, Congress didn’t act. I would have preferred for the president to say, OK, Congress, here’s what I’m going to do on the 15th of April if you don’t make a decision to come together on immigration reform. This is what — this is what is going to happen.

    I think that would have forced their hand. He didn’t do that, so I hope what we don’t see is just simply trying to tear down what he did,but take what he did and build on it. Make changes to it if you disagree with it. But our system is broken. We have got to find a solution to this immigration situation in our country.

    I do think now is the time to do it. And I would love to see them do it right out of the box as a new majority.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Saxby Chambliss, no doubt, many of your colleagues are listening to your words of advice.

    We thank you.

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Thank you, Judy.

    GWEN IFILL: Tomorrow, we turn to the other side of the aisle, to one of Nancy Pelosi’s departing top lieutenants, Representative George Miller, a Democrat of California.

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    Photo by Flickr user Keith Gerstung

    Researchers looked to gain insight on alcohol’s effects on the human brain — while getting zebra finches to sing while drunk. Photo by Flickr user Keith Gerstung

    Humans aren’t the only species that tend to belt out an inebriated song or two after consuming alcohol — songbirds will get in on the act as well. But first, scientists had to get them drunk.

    A study published last week in the journal PLOS One examined the effects of alcohol on the singing of the zebra finch. As the zebra finch, a songbird, learns to sing in a method analogous to the way humans learn to speak, researchers looked to get an insight into how alcohol affects cognitive function by observing intoxicated birds.

    To get the birds effectively inebriated, researchers offered the zebra finches spiked juice, which the birds drank readily until their blood ethanol content was raised significantly. With the alcohol in their system, the birds began to sing, their songs were clearly slurred:

    The strongest effects of alcohol on song were on amplitude and entropy, detectable over whole motifs and at the individual syllable level. The effect on entropy, in particular, indicates a destabilizing effect of alcohol on song production, disrupting a bird’s ability to maintain its normal acoustic structure of song and its component syllables.

    Also of note was that, while alcohol had broader effects on areas such as amplitude and entropy, the effect on the syllabic structure of the birds’ songs were more varied. Zebra finches’ songs contain various syllables with different acoustic structures, which the study writes reflects “a diversity in the neural encoding and vocal production mechanisms the birds use for generating them.” As different syllables were affected across songs and individual birds, the researchers look to futher study whether alcohol may affect specific regions in the brain more than others.

    The researchers hope to test further hypotheses on intoxication in humans based on the results from this study, including the ability to detect drunkenness by voice analysis.

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    HOMICIDE WATCH MONITOR

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    GWEN IFILL: This has been a year of extensive debate over crime and justice and public safety. But keeping track of the ebb and flow has often fallen to organizations outside of law enforcement. Now, one of those tracking sites is shutting down.

    Jeffrey Brown is back with that story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case. That’s been the mantra of a group called Homicide Watch started by two journalists in Washington, D.C., to comb databases and document under-reported crimes occurring in their city.

    It’s received much praise from law enforcement and families of victims. And the concept has been picked up in other cities, including Chicago, Boston, and Trenton, where sites partner with a local newspaper or university.

    Now, though, the original Washington, D.C., site is shutting down, unable to find a permanent home.

    Joining us is Laura Amico, a Boston Globe reporter who created the site with her husband, Chris, who we should say worked previously with the “NewsHour” online.

    And, Laura Amico, welcome to you.

    First, what’s the idea behind Homicide Watch? Why did you think it was needed?

    LAURA AMICO, The Boston Globe: Hi, Jeff. Thank you for having me.

    Homicide Watch started because I had a need, and I was willing to take a risk. We moved across the country from California so that my husband, Chris, could take that job with “PBS NewsHour.”  And I found myself an unemployed crime reporter in 2009, when there just weren’t that many jobs in journalism.

    As I was searching for a job, I saw a need to be done in my local community. I saw families of victims and suspects trying to connect on places like Facebook and Twitter and Legacy.com. They were looking for information about cases and they were looking to connect with one another to share what they were learning.

    I looked at this and I looked at my skills. And I saw that I had a lot of free time on my hands and thought maybe there is something here I can do. And it grew very organically out of that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so how do you actually do it? How hard is it to comb through databases? And what were you trying to put together on the site for people?

    LAURA AMICO: It started day one with visiting D.C. Superior Court. And everything that’s on Homicide Watch D.C. comes from the courthouse or from law enforcement and legal sources.

    We create our own data by going through the press releases from the police department, by going through the court records, and hand-collecting the different elements that make up our context and understanding of how the criminal justice system works.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, even today, I was looking at the site. You had on the site right now a father and son were killed in a shooting Sunday night along Southern Avenue. This is in Washington, D.C.

    So what kind of information — information like that that you put out there, and then how is it shared, how do people contribute to it?

    LAURA AMICO: People find it very organically, mostly through search or through knowing HomicideWatch.org.

    We see a lot of people coming in because they’re looking for people’s names that they know. They’re looking for addresses where they see crime tape up. They’re looking for information because they know something. What we see them doing with that then is reading the stories and then commenting on them, sharing their experiences, whether they knew the victim or the suspect, whether they have experience with the criminal justice system in this case, and sometimes even sharing information about what they would like to see happen, how they would like to see the criminal justice system working.

    And that’s really gratifying.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so how does this differ from the way most crime is covered today, or is the difference that most crime is not covered today and you’re trying to put it out there?

    LAURA AMICO: Most newsrooms cover crime in the day-to-day blotter approach. So they hear about something overnight from the police department. They write that up as a 150-, 200-word, maybe a 500-word story. And then that story disappears five, six, seven hours later.

    What Homicide Watch does is that it stores that story in our database, with all of the data around it, so that we’re able to then put it into its context of, this is the fifth homicide on this street in the past two years, or this is the 10th victim under the age of 18, or 50 percent of the victims this year have been male or female, whatever it may be.

    And that helps the public better understand the role that violent crime is playing in the communities and what they would like to do about it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, we said it is up and running in several other cities. And I gather there are other such efforts in still more cities.

    What’s the potential here? Where does it seem to work well? What kind of situation does it work well in? And why have you yourself now, as we reported, have to close down the Washington, D.C., office?

    LAURA AMICO: In all the cities that we’re in, in Chicago, in Trenton, New Jersey, here in Boston in partnership with Northeastern University, we see an incredible community around these sites.

    We see people wanting to engage on these issues, wanting to better understand how the criminal justice system is working. And those are communities where Homicide Watch works very well. I believe that there are many more of those communities across the United States.

    What’s happened in Washington, D.C., is that, two years ago, I accepted a Nieman-Berkman Fellowship at Harvard to study journalism innovation. And Chris and I moved to Cambridge in order for me to complete that fellowship.

    We ran a Kickstarter campaign at that time to raise money to pay student interns to keep doing the work I was doing, going to court to attend trials, hearings, sentencings, et cetera. We have been running with those interns for two-and-a-half years. And it’s become increasingly evident that we can no longer continue to edit the site and run the site from Boston.

    It is a local news site, and we believe it needs D.C. ownership that can be there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, just briefly, but more broadly, you see the potential for this around the country, and you see it developing?

    LAURA AMICO: That’s correct.

    I think that any community that is trying to come together to talk about how they would like the criminal justice system to work is a community that is better served by reporting that includes context, and includes data, and includes space for them to share.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Laura Amico, thank you so much.

    LAURA AMICO: Thank you.

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    COST OF WAR  colombia  reparation monitor

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    GWEN IFILL: We turn now to Colombia, where a civil war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army, or FARC, has lasted more than half-a-century. Along the way, it’s claimed more than 200,000 lives.

    Peace talks have offered some hope, but they have dragged on for more than two years.

    Tonight, special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on efforts to bring reparations to the war’s victims. Its part of his Agents for Change series.

    A warning: Some of the images in the story may be disturbing.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Edgar Bermudez is one of seven million victims, 15 percent of Colombia’s population, who’ve been promised reparations for their suffering in this country’s long-running civil war. The 35-year-old former policeman lost his sight and much of his face in 2005, when a land mine set by rebel forces exploded.

    EDGAR BERMUDEZ (through interpreter): The way you see me is a lot better than I used to look. I didn’t have eyebrows. My nose was a lot more damaged. I had a lot of scars and injuries that stuck out in my face

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bermudez suffers from hearing loss and other issues. He struggles to support his two daughters and wife. She didn’t want to be filmed. Reprisals are an ever-present danger.

    EDGAR BERMUDEZ (through interpreter): The police gave me a pension, but it’s not commensurate with my injuries. They didn’t give me the funds to finish my surgery. Reparations have to be far bigger, more multidimensional than what’s being given now.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Colombia has set up more than 100 victims centers like this one. They are the first stop in a long journey that’s supposed to bring education, health and housing benefits, some cash and, where possible, return people to land they were driven from.

    The government’s war with leftist FARC rebels, which dates back to the height of the Cold War, shows some signs of ebbing. Peace talks are being held in Havana, Cuba.

    However, Paula Gaviria, who heads the agency helping victims, says her task is fraught with complication.

    PAULA GAVIRIA, Director, Unit for Attention and Reparation Victims: We’re doing this in the middle of conflict, and we are hopeful that this will have a good end with the FARC in Havana. But there are regions like Buenaventura, where it’s not only conflict with the FARC, it’s different conflicts that are there. There’s narcotics, there are guns going in and out.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Buenaventura, 300 miles from Bogota on the Pacific coast, is the country’s largest commercial port.

    It’s also a transshipment point for narcotics, an industry that has thrived in the turmoil of the war. Soldiers patrol here ostensibly to keep FARC rebels out. But many residents say the real danger comes from paramilitary groups who’ve run amok.

    Started by rich landowners who also oppose the FARC, these groups are often allied with the military. Some are connected to the narcotics trade. They have driven some 12,000 people a year from their homes and murdered with impunity.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): A friend came to visit me on November 3, 2013. The paramilitaries came into the neighborhood, they took my friend outside and shot him in front of my children and my nieces and nephews.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ten years ago, they took her father away. The family never heard from him again, never reported it, for fear of even worse consequences.

    Even today, she does not want her image or her real name. We are calling her Gloria.

    Dozens, if not hundreds have disappeared or been murdered, some with particular brutality, their bodies dismembered and disposed of in clear sight, in a campaign intended to terrorize people. Things began to change in one small part of the neighborhood called La Playita. Some 4,000 residents put up a gate and a sign and declared it a humanitarian space.

    Starting last April a nervous calm has distinguished it from other neighborhoods. So have frequent visits by outsiders. These are organized by a group called the Interdenominational Committee for Justice and Peace.

    Father Jesus Alberto Franco Geraldo was one of its founders.

    REV. JESUS ALBERTO FRANCO GERALDO (through interpreter): Our work with the international community is what keeps us alive, ensures that we haven’t been assassinated. The reason we have the attention of the international community is our ability to provide really concrete documentation.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The group was started in the ’80s, when violent evictions and extrajudicial killings began to escalate. They have collected large amounts of evidence, bringing cases to the courts and to global human rights groups.

    FATHER JESUS ALBERTO FRANCO GERALDO (through interpreter): We began at a time of assassinations of human rights defenders, and those haven’t stopped to this day.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Under orders from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Colombia’s government provides security protection to the group. But Father Alberto Geraldo says there are no real guarantees because corruption allows criminal and paramilitary groups to still operate.

    FATHER JESUS ALBERTO FRANCO GERALDO (through interpreter): I travel in a government car, and I receive government protection. Last year, that car was shot three times while it was parked in front of my house.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In Buenaventura, the Justice and Peace group sent Maria Mosquera and her brother Edwin to live in the humanitarian zone. The goal is to have constant vigilance, record any incidents and hold security forces accountable for doing their job.

    MARIA MOSQUERA (through interpreter): When we first arrived, there was a lot of fear. No one left their house after 6:00 p.m.

    EDWIN MOSQUERA, Justice and Peace (through interpreter): They built a gate outside, and that was the symbol that said, we don’t want paramilitaries in here anymore.

    MARIA MOSQUERA (through interpreter): We asked for the police to be present at five strategic locations in the humanitarian space. The role of the police is to patrol just the perimeter of the area and to be alert for the paramilitaries.

    ORLANDO CASTILLO (through interpreter): Since the 13th of April, when the humanitarian space was inaugurated, we have not had one single killing.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a small, but significant gain for community activists like Orlando Castillo, who led the effort to invite the Justice and Peace group in. He’d counted 27 death threats in recent years, he says.

    Gloria also lives in fear of her life. She doesn’t send her young children to school because it’s outside the safe zone,nor does she visit her husband who lives two hours away. Many residents of Buenaventura in general say they has been an escalation of terror in recent years. Free trade agreements, including one with the United States, have made the land more valuable and people living here more vulnerable to being driven out.

    EDGAR BERMUDEZ (through interpreter): Colombia has suffered a great deal of violence as a result of just a few interests, but it’s been regular everyday people who’ve had to suffer the consequences and take the brunt of that violence.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back in Bogota, former policeman Bermudez is going back to school. He hopes some day to start a organization to help wounded combatants.

    I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro in Colombia for the “PBS NewsHour.”

    GWEN IFILL: A version of this report aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”  Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

     

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    Lt. Sean Flood, Ranger Deb McNamara, Ranger Ted Fusco and Capt. Stephen Owens, who help provide security at the Massachusetts State House, participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on Aug. 7. Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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    GWEN IFILL: Tonight, as we approach the end of the year and the deadline for last-minute tax-deductible charitable giving, we look at philanthropy at the click of a keyboard.

    We start with a look at the viral campaign that changed the online game last summer, the ice bucket challenge.

    It was the Internet craze of the summer, people around the globe dousing themselves in ice-cold water to raise money and awareness for ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, from NBA star LeBron James, to former President George W. Bush, and even cartoon character Homer Simpson.

    ACTOR: Hoo!  Hoo, boy!  Oh, that was cold.

    GWEN IFILL: All told, the effort raised $220 million for ALS research. The association thanked donors in September.

    No one could have predicted this amount of attention for ALS, but we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who was willing to stand up to a disease that steals your ability to walk, talk, and even breathe before it takes your life.

    GWEN IFILL: But the challenge also generated criticism, that it was too much a gimmick, taking attention away from other worthy causes.

    The idea for the campaign was widely credited to the family and friends of Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. And, just yesterday, he celebrated his 30th birthday at a New England Patriots game.

    Pete’s mother, Nancy Frates, helps run the family’s Team Frate Train fund, which covers some costs of Pete’s care. She also serves on the board of the ALS Association. She joins me now to talk about the lasting impact of this year’s ice bucket windfall.

    Nancy Frates, thank you for joining us.

    We’re talking about $220 million worldwide. Is that what you expected?

    NANCY FRATES, Team Frate Train: Oh, I don’t know if we set any expectation when this started.

    When we started in July when it came to Boston, initially, it was to raise awareness. And raising awareness was a mission that my son set two-and-a-half years ago, the day he was diagnosed. We as a family looked at the situation of ALS. It was discovered about 140 years ago.

    Lou Gehrig was 75 years ago. And when the doctors told us that our 27-year-old son had ALS, we kind of went to our knowledge Rolodex. What did we know about ALS at that moment? And all I knew was that it was bad, and that Lou Gehrig was 75 years ago.

    And the second question was, what is the treatment? And, unfortunately, there is no treatment and there is no cure. I’m not exactly sure what was more devastating, the actual diagnosis or to find that there was nothing that was being done right now.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, you know, full disclosure, full disclosure here, Judy Woodruff and I both took that challenge at one point this summer. And I’m still — still cold thinking about it.

    (LAUGHTER)

    GWEN IFILL: What was more valuable in the end after this whole exercise? Was it the money that was raised or was it the awareness?

    NANCY FRATES: Oh, I think both. I think one — they’re hand in hand with each other.

    We knew, if we raised awareness, that the funding would follow, because our family looked at it as an unacceptable situation, that the disease had been in the shadows. And we knew we needed to get the reality of what the disease actually does to a patient and to the family and community around it.

    And once people realized that there was no treatment at all for this disease right now and what it actually does to a patient with a three-to-five year prognosis, that they would feel the same way we felt, that it would be unacceptable.

    So, awareness, we knew it would lead to funding. And continued momentum in the awareness will — we believe, will continue the funding coming in, until we find the treatment and cure.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, where did the money go? How do you measure the success of this, other than money in the bank?

    NANCY FRATES: Well, it’s — we’re already putting the money to work. The ALS association in the United States, in October, we released $22 million, $10 million and a $5 million grant.

    Both of those funded projects that had matching funds. The $10 million had a $10 million matching fund from the ALS Finding a Cure Foundation, and $2.5 million grant from the Tow Foundation.

    All of that, $18 million of the $22 million went directly to research projects that are being used in discovery and development of therapies that we can quickly get to pharmaceutical companies and to clinical trials.

    GWEN IFILL: Nancy Frates…

    NANCY FRATES: The other $4 million…

    GWEN IFILL: I’m sorry. Pardon me.

    I just wanted to ask you, what do you say to other worthy causes, other charity who feel like they could use a little boost, who feel like maybe they got distracted by this bucket challenge, that the viral nature of it took money out of their coffers?

    NANCY FRATES: And from my discussions with other people involved in other charities, that quite didn’t happen.

    August traditionally in nonprofits is a very slow month. And the fact that the ice bucket challenge happened in a month where nonprofits really don’t count on any money coming in, other diseases — and I’m sorry I don’t have any facts and figures to actually back this up — but I have been told that other nonprofits saw a rise in their coffers during that month.

    The other piece is that the ALS Association reports that 50 percent of the donations that were received during this campaign were from 18-to-30-year-olds. That’s good news for everybody in the nonprofit world. That means that this generation has dipped their toes into philanthropy.

    And as they grow and as their income grows, that is good for all nonprofits.

    GWEN IFILL: Was this a lightning strike or is this something that can be duplicated?

    NANCY FRATES: I’m not sure if we want to duplicate it or if we just want to enhance it, grow it.

    We want to keep the educational arc going. As far as we’re concerned, awareness will continue to keep the money coming in. And we know that there are a lot of very smart people working on this disease. They just needed to have the light shone on it and to have the money start coming in.

    We’re talking about game-changing money that the ice bucket challenge gave to the ALS community at large. So I have talked to the top doctors and the top researchers. And all of them have said this is the tipping point in the trajectory of the disease.

    GWEN IFILL: All right.

    Nancy Frates, mother of Pete and member of the ALS Association board, thank you very much.

    NANCY FRATES: Well, thank you for having me.

     

     

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    Facebook

    Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The Facebook algorithm.

    An unpredictable and constantly changing beast that your Newsfeed thrives on. It’s had its criticism over the years, and most recently has been chastised for Facebook users’ Year in Review summary that weaves together your most popular posts from 2014. Popularity, however, is based not on circumstance, but engagement. So a photo that elicits a sad memory, but received several likes, might have taken center stage over a more blissful memory.

    This was the case for web consultant Eric Meyer. In a blog post last Wednesday title “Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty,” Meyer wrote about seeing a preview of his Year in Review that featured his six-year-old daughter who died of a brain tumor earlier this year.

    “I didn’t go looking for grief this afternoon, but it found me anyway, and I have designers and programmers to thank for it … Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out.”

    The post quickly garnered attention.

    Others voiced similar experiences of encounters with unwarranted sadness or anger upon seeing photos of deceased friends and family — moments we share on Facebook, but aren’t necessarily worth a revisit.

    Facebook’s Year in Review product manager Jonathan Gheller told the Washington Post that the app “was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought [Meyer] grief rather than joy.”

    He said he personally reached out to apologize to Meyer. In turn, Meyer thanked Facebook and apologized for dropping “the Internet on his head for Christmas.”

    The post Facebook’s inability to be ‘human’ results in messy ‘Year in Review’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GREEK TURMOIL greek parliament monitor

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    GWEN IFILL: In Athens today, the Greek prime minister called snap elections after Parliament failed to agree on a new president. The contest is less than a month away, and many fear that an outright rejection of years-old and painful austerity measures could send shockwaves throughout the European economy.

    Paul Mason of Independent Television News reports.

    PAUL MASON: In the Greek Parliament, they vote one by one. But by the time they had voted down the government, all eyes were on this man, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the far-left Syriza Party, submerged in a media scrum, but potentially on the brink of power.

    “The future has begun,” he said. “Be optimistic, and glad.”

    But the market’s weren’t. The Greek stock market plunged by 7 percent, and the cost of government borrowing rose. Two years ago, Tsipras was still effectively leader of a small protest party. His typical interview venue was the street. Then came austerity, imposed by Europe, resisted on the streets, increasingly with violence.

    But, as austerity drained political goodwill towards the centrist parties, today, one poll put Syriza 6 percent ahead. By 25 of January, Europe could have its first far-left government. The snap election leaves the Greek prime minister, and the whole European strategy of austerity in Greece, fighting for survival.

    ANTONIS SAMARAS, Greek Prime Minister (through interpreter): What Parliament failed to do, the Greek people will now do to rid of us uncertainty and establish stability in the country.

    PAUL MASON: Though there is some growth now, the Greek economy has shrunk by a quarter in five years. On depressed streets like these, where there’s high unemployment, the election will be a straight fight, the entire political establishment vs. the far left and its allies, at stake, the 319 billion euros Greece still owes Europe and the IMF.

    Syriza, its economic chief told me, wants to write off half that debt and end austerity.

    JOHN MILIOS, Economic Chief, Syriza Party: Austerity will end. And the debt shall be restructured for the benefit of the whole continent of the Euro Zone.

    PAUL MASON: And it sounds nice in theory, but what if social chaos breaks out?

    JOHN MILIOS: We think that the chaos will start if the policies of austerity continue. We see the tension in the society is enormous, that it’s like a boiling water covered.

    PAUL MASON: When young people rioted this month in Athens, it showed the kind of pressure Syriza would come under if it took power. Some observers think a change of government here could be the catalyst for a wider European rethink.

    COSTAS LAPAVITSAS, University of London: Europe has followed policies of austerity for six years now that are obviously wrong. They’re obviously malfunctioning. The performance of Europe is much worse even than the United States. Europe needs a change of policy. But, given the current state of politics in Europe, it’s unlikely to happen, unless there’s a jolt. Greece might deliver that jolt.

    PAUL MASON: The displays at the Athens Stock Exchange, deep in the red today, tell what the markets think of that.

     

    The post Facing snap elections, uncertainty grows in Greece appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    END OF AN ERA_Monitor

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    JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now is NPR’s Sean Carberry. He was the news organization’s chief Kabul correspondent before it closed down its permanent presence in Afghanistan just a few weeks ago.

    And welcome to you.

    And I want to start where that peace ended with the troops that will remain even after this is officially declared over. What will they be doing?

    SEAN CARBERRY, NPR: Well, they will have two primary missions. One is counterterrorism operations, so going after any remnants of al-Qaida or affiliated groups that are still in Afghanistan.

    The second is what the military calls a train, advise and assist mission, which is essentially to continue mentoring and helping the Afghan forces, which is really what has been going on for the better part of the last year. U.S. forces transitioned from running combat operations to this training advisement largely over the course of the year. So there is not a huge dramatic shift that is happening right now.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. That is the obvious question is, what does it mean in practical terms that — this end-of-the-war ceremony?

    You’re saying not that much.

    SEAN CARBERRY: Right. It really is more ceremonial than it is substantive at this point, because U.S. forces have been conducting very few combat operations over the past year.

    They have drawn down. Afghan forces are leading operations. U.S. forces are continuing to support in some cases. They provide air support, sometimes some on-the-ground support. Special forces do some joint operations. And most of that will continue next year with just a smaller number of forces. So there will be U.S. forces who will still be seeing combat. There will still be U.S. air support provided, intelligence, other support to the Afghan forces.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, when we speak of the resurgence of the Taliban, we see their ability to have deadly attacks, at least in small force. How much are they — how strong are they? How much are they able to change things in larger ways?

    SEAN CARBERRY: Well, it’s always hard to assess them as a force, because they do operate in cells. They’re scattered around the country.

    They did carry out a number of large-scale attacks over the course of the summer. They did challenge Afghan forces in a number of places. They carried out a lot of attacks that did take over terrain for a while and the Afghan army had to come in and push them back out. So they are clearly a very substantial force and able to put Afghan forces on their heels in parts of the country.

    And we saw a huge uptick in violence the last couple months I was there, in November, about 12 different suicide attacks in Kabul alone, the most violent month certainly in the time that I was there, and a lot of people said one of the most violent months they had seen. So the Taliban are still very strong, active and want to push and challenge this new government that’s in place.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the new government, before we get there, the Afghan security forces, their ability to counteract the Taliban at this point?

    SEAN CARBERRY: U.S. forces generally say Afghan forces can hold their own. But in the face of an ongoing insurgency, holding their own is not a fantastic grade.

    And while they can fight well, they still have huge problems with logistics, with maintaining their equipment, with intelligence. The air force is years away from being a powerful force that can replace the airpower that the U.S. and other countries provided. So they can fight on the ground, but they’re not a self-sustaining force by any stretch of the imagination.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so the new government Ashraf Ghani still having some trouble even getting organized, still facing a bad economy, still facing the Taliban threat.

    SEAN CARBERRY: Yes. It’s three months since he was inaugurated and there’s still no new cabinet. And part of this is a function of this dynamic of this national unity government, which was the compromise to end the election standoff that went for months over the course of the summer.

    Secretary of State John Kerry had to fly in multiple times to broker a resolution to the disputed outcome. As a result, you have Ashraf Ghani as president and Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up, as the CEO of the government. So they have to agree on a new cabinet. They have to agree on a lot of decisions that are being made.

    And they each have their own circles of people around them that they have to deal with. So it’s made a much more complicated government situation. And they have not been able to accomplish very much in the first three months.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that — what have been the priorities of Ghani and the government at this point? What kind of initiatives are they able to take?

    SEAN CARBERRY: Well, so far, Ghani has tried to put a focus on cleaning up the government. It was a notoriously corrupt government and country.

    He’s tried to focus on going after some of the serious cases. The Kabul Bank case where there was nearly a billion dollars siphoned out of the bank by its shareholders several years ago, he reopened that case, has tried to prosecute these people to send a signal that this government is going to be clean, is going to go after corruption.

    So he’s taken some steps in those regard, but on any large-scale effort, there really hasn’t been anything major that has been accomplished by this administration yet.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you, finally and briefly, from your time there — and it was about almost three years that you were there — how much has life changed for citizens?

    SEAN CARBERRY: It depends where you are in the country. For some, it has changed. Some places are more secure. They’re seeing a little bit more economic development. Some places got worse over the time that I was there.

    So, still, people are very concerned about security. They’re very concerned about the economy. And, by and large, there’s not a huge net positive change today from when I first got there. So the country still has a lot of challenges and a long way to go before it’s going to be stable, secure and sovereign.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Sean Carberry, thanks so much.

    SEAN CARBERRY: You’re welcome, Jeff.

    The post Can Afghan forces hold their own? – Part 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    NATO

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    GWEN IFILL: After 13 years, a major mission for U.S. forces and others in Afghanistan came to its official end with little fanfare this weekend.

    And, as Jeffrey Brown reports, there are major doubts as to whether the country is now capable of fighting a resurgent Taliban.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A subdued ceremony in Kabul brought a formal close Sunday to the longest war in American history.

    GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL, Commander, International Security Assistance Force: Today, NATO completes its combat mission, a 13-year endeavor filled with significant achievements and branded by tremendous sacrifice.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The conflict began with a U.S.-led invasion in October 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. The assault quickly ousted the Taliban from power, but fighting continued as the American focus shifted to Iraq.

    Then, in 2009, President Obama ordered a surge, and U.S. force levels peaked in 2010 with 140,000 troops. Since then, the U.S. combat role has wound down after a tremendous cost in both blood and money. More than 2,200 Americans been killed over the course of the Afghan war. Another 22,000 were wounded. And to date, the war effort has cost the U.S. Treasury $1 trillion.

    Now, though, the Taliban is mounting its own resurgence, making 2014 the war’s deadliest year, with 5,000 Afghan security forces killed, including four just today. It’s a daunting challenge for the country’s new president, Ashraf Ghani.

    PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI, Afghanistan (through interpreter): If the insurgents, with their terrorist acts, want us to ignore the peace movement, they are wrong. Or if they think that by their terrorist acts they can weaken our intentions, they need to know that people of Afghanistan have a unified intention and they will never surrender to terror acts.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Still, thousands of Afghans have fled the violence and now face a harsh winter in makeshift camps like these in Kabul. In a bid to bolster the regime, some 13,000 foreign troops, mostly Americans, will remain in Afghanistan next year.

    The post U.S., NATO end combat role in Afghanistan amid resurgence by Taliban – Part 1 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    MYSTERY IN THE AIR  monitor air asia

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    GWEN IFILL: Now back to the search for the missing AirAsia flight.

    Wall Street Journal correspondent Gaurav Raghuvanshi has been covering this story from Singapore. I spoke to him a short time ago via Skype.

    Gaurav Raghuvanshi, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

    Can you tell us what the latest is that you know?

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI, The Wall Street Journal: Well, it has been more than two days and the plane is still missing.

    So probably get identified as the day breaks today. As for the aircraft are not able to search. So, when the day breaks, which will happen in a couple of — in fact, a little more than an hour from now, we will see the ships and the aircraft renewing their search and trying to look for this aircraft.

    GWEN IFILL: How extensive is the search at this point?

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: They’re trying to look all over this — an area that is around the last known location of the aircraft.

    And they said yesterday that they want to broaden the search a little bit. So they are including some parts of the islands over there to see if the aircraft actually ended up on land.

    GWEN IFILL: Is weather the leading theory? I know it’s monsoon season there.

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: That’s right. Monsoon is the season.

    And weather is possibly one of the factors, because we are aware that there was a little bit of a problem at the time the plane was in the area. But until the aircraft is found, everything is just a theory.

    GWEN IFILL: Do we know anything about the experience of the pilot?

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: Well, he had more than 20,000 hours of flight experience.

    He was an Indonesian air force pilot, formerly an air force pilot. And he had more than 6,000 hours on this particular aircraft type with this airline.

    GWEN IFILL: And how about the safety record of AirAsia itself?

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: Well, AirAsia so far has had no safety issues. It has been a very safe airline in the last 20 years or so that it has been running. So, with AirAsia, there have been no safety issues.

    GWEN IFILL: There have been obvious comparisons to the missing Malaysia jet from earlier this year, even though the routing obviously is different.

    But can you tell us what is similar and what is different?

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: Well, the only thing that is similar is that the aircraft has not been found.

    Typically, there are — if an aircraft goes down, there are these transmitters that get triggered. And it is fairly quickly that the signals from those transmitters are picked up, so we broadly know where the aircraft is. And that seems to be the case with this particular — with this particular incident, because the signals from that transmitters — from those transmitters from the airplane have not been picked up.

    GWEN IFILL: And yet other planes, apparently, went through similar airspace just before and after this plane turned up missing.

    Is — anything surface yet from those other jets that tells us something, whether they also went through turbulence, whether they changed altitude, anything that would give any indication about what happened here?

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: There was an Emirates aircraft that was about 20 minutes ahead of this plane.

    And that plane did — did make some — some — same distress calls. It was seen on the radar track as it was moving slightly away from its course. And that’s probably because of weather.

    We tried to speak to the airline. They said that the aircraft arrived on time, and they wouldn’t give us more details. But, from the radar track, it does appear that that particular aircraft also tried to avoid some weather.

    GWEN IFILL: The Java Sea, where the search is concentrated, is supposed to be more shallow than the area where they were looking for the Malaysia jet.

    Is that — has that raised hopes about the potential of finding any kind of wreckage?

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: Well, yes, there is a lot of difference in the terrain, because the Java Sea, where the aircraft was last located, is actually reasonably shallow, like — it something like 50 meters, which is actually pretty shallow.

    So that does give hope that it will be easier, the search for this aircraft will be easier.

    GWEN IFILL: And how many countries are we talking about involved in this search right now?

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: At the moment, it is primarily Indonesia, which has been helped by aircraft and ships from Malaysia and Singapore.

    There are other countries as well. The U.S. has offered and they stand ready to come into the search if required.

    GWEN IFILL: Gaurav Raghuvanshi of The Wall Street Journal, thank you so much.

    GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI: Thank you.

    The post Was weather to blame for AirAsia disappearance? – Part 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    This image of the United States of America at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC

    This image of the United States of America at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC

    The U.S. population is expected to reach 320.09 million on Jan. 1, 2015, a 0.73 percent increase from the previous year, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a statement Monday.

    The Census Bureau projected the country’s population to be 320,090,857 at the start of the new year, adding that this calculation represented a 11.35 million person increase, or 3.67 percent, from the last population estimate in April 2010.

    “In January 2015, the U.S. is expected to experience a birth every eight seconds and one death every 12 seconds,” the statement said. “Meanwhile, net international migration is expected to add one person to the U.S. population every 33 seconds.”

    All those factors meant a net gain of one person every 16 seconds to the U.S. population, the Census Bureau said.

    Last week, the Census Bureau reported that Florida surpassed New York as the third most populous state in the U.S. Florida’s population reached 19.9 million people, 147,000 residents more than New York. The Sunshine State trails California, the country’s most populous U.S. state, followed by Texas.

    As for the world population, the Census Bureau projected it to be around 7.21 billion people, up 1.08 percent from 2014. Its estimates show that 4.3 births and 1.8 deaths will happen globally every second, starting January 2015.

    The post U.S. population to top 320 million at start of 2015, Census reports appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap_ferry

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    GWEN IFILL: Emergency crews today completed rescuing 427 people from a Greek ferry that burned off the coast of Albania. At least 10 others died. Fire broke out yesterday on the ferry’s car deck, not far from the island of Corfu, between Italy and Albania. Video from the Italian navy showed crews lifting passengers from the upper deck of the vessel onto rescue helicopters. The operation was hindered by driving rain and high winds.

    In Iraq, a suicide bomber killed at least 15 people and wounded two dozen more, just north of Baghdad. It happened at a funeral for a man linked with pro-government Sunni militias. Officials said the attack bore the hallmarks of Islamic State militants.

    A British medical worker was diagnosed with Ebola today after flying home from Sierra Leone. The patient arrived in Scotland last night, and only then showed symptoms. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization announced the number of cases in West Africa has passed 20,000, with more than 7,800 deaths.

    The Kremlin confirms that Russia’s — Russia’s economy, that is, lost ground this year for the first time since 2009. It shrank by half-a-percent, under pressure from falling oil prices and sanctions over Ukraine. The news sent the Russian ruble tumbling another 8 percent.

    Back in this country, the number three House Republican acknowledged he addressed a gathering hosted by white nationalists in 2002. The Washington Post reported Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise was then a state representative speaking on wasteful spending. His office says Scalise was unaware of what it called the sponsor’s hate-fueled ignorance.

    And Wall Street had a lackluster day. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 15 points to close at 18038; the Nasdaq was virtually unchanged, closing just under 4807; and the S&P 500 added about two to finish at 2090.

    The post News Wrap: Hundreds rescued off burning Greek ferry appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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