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

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    Happy New Year from Shanghai! #Shanghai #newyear#2015#crazy#bund

    A photo posted by Jill Tang (@jill810) on

    Twenty-five minutes before midnight, at least 35 people were killed and another 42 injured during a New Year’s celebration in Shanghai, local media reported.

    Crowds had gathered on the Bund riverfront for a New Year’s countdown, Shanghai Daily reported, which lead to a stampede. The cause of the stampede is still unknown.

    The Shanghai government intended to scale down the city’s annual New Year’s event, after a record 300,000 people arrived last year for the light show. The packed crowds disrupted traffic and became a logistical nightmare, the Daily reported.

    This year, several New Year’s celebrations were scheduled throughout various locations in the city. The location where the Bund stampede occurred, the Daily reported, was only meant to hold 2,000 people.

    The post 35 killed, 42 injured in Shanghai stampede at New Year’s event appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    The Department of Health and Human Services is looking for ways to improve care and control costs as part of the Affordable Care Act. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    The health law’s ambitious lab for transforming how medicine is delivered and financed submitted its official report card to Congress on Tuesday, boasting of a few early results but mostly showing many works in progress.

    If you’re covered by Medicare, Medicaid or even private insurance, there’s a decent chance you’re part of one of the Department of Health and Human Services’ tests to improve care and control costs.

    Some 2.5 million patients and more than 60,000 hospitals, clinics and doctors will soon be participating in models run by HHS’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, the center estimated in its biennial report.

    Programs include “accountable care organizations” that pay based on quality and efficiency rather than the number of procedures; efforts to end preterm births; attempts to lower hospital readmissions for nursing-home patients; and large grants to states to change care for all consumers, including those covered by private insurance.

    The level of participation is “huge,” Dr. Patrick Conway, a senior HHS official who runs the innovation center, said in an interview. “We are shifting the way we pay for care in the United States. We are paying for outcomes and value instead of volume.”

    Or at least they’re trying.

    Much of medicine is still financed through “fee-for-service,” in which doctors and hospitals pocket money for each procedure they do, whether it’s needed or not. Four years after the innovation center opened, officials say it’s still too early to publish results on cost savings or care improvement for many programs.

    The 2010 health law created the innovation center, gave it a $10 billion budget over a decade and required HHS to report to Congress on its progress every two years. This is the second biennial report. Through fiscal 2014, the center had spent about $2.7 billion, it said.

    One early success according to HHS is the $450 million “Partnership for Patients” program to reduce bedsores, falls, infections and other injuries to hospital patients.

    Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality show a 9 percent reduction in patient injuries since 2010, representing 15,000 deaths averted and $4 billion in savings in 2011 and 2012, the agency said in its report. Many hospitals and payers are trying other routes to improve safety, and HHS acknowledged that Partnership for Patients probably can’t take all the credit.

    Programs with more mixed results include accountable care organizations, in which doctors and hospitals agree to take on financial incentives and often financial risk to improve and streamline care.

    Of the 32 original, “pioneer” ACOs, only 19 are still in the program. In three organizations that decided to exit, participants lost money. Some groups switched to the less-risky “shared savings” ACO program.

    Still, the pioneer ACOs alone generated more than $180 million in savings over two years, HHS said, although those results have not been independently verified.

    “We’re pleased with the results,” Conway said. “We actually designed the program so ACOs could switch risk tracks” by moving into the shared savings model.

    HHS has decided to end or trim other innovation programs.

    “We have terminated numerous sites that were not performing” in the community care transition program, in which local organizations work to limit hospital readmissions, Conway said. In addition, HHS has decided not to renew its $45 million program to give federally qualified health centers extra resources to manage high-cost Medicare patients, he said.

    Details on those decisions will be available soon, HHS officials said.

    With a program such as CMMI designed to test numerous and varied approaches, adjustments and teachable failures are to be expected, Conway said.

    “That was the vision for the innovation center — that we would test new models for care,” he said. “Any time you’re testing innovation, the chance of 100 percent success is very low.”

    The post HHS Innovation Lab attempting to change how health care operates appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A slang term in the Mac Leopard dictionary. Photo by Flickr user JL!.

    A slang term in the Mac Leopard dictionary. What’s your 2014 slang IQ? Take our quiz below. Photo by Flickr user JL!.

    As we bid farewell to 2014, there’s plenty of pop culture we won’t miss in the New Year. Ebola nurse Halloween costumes, anyone?

    Broadway singer Idina Menzel would probably like to fast forward past John Travolta’s introduction of her Oscar performance.

    “How I Met Your Mother” fans would prefer remembering the series without its March finale.

    Russians might want to forget that underwhelming sixth Olympic ring.

    Democrats might want to ignore November.

    For better or worse, there are parts of 2014 that will always remain with us. And that’s because they’ve been etched into the Oxford Dictionaries Online as new entries to reflect modern language. The master list reminds us how conversations sounded in 2014 — on the Internet and in real life. How did we feel? What did we prioritize? However odd, the way we expressed ourselves informally showed us at both our most creative and our most lazy.

    How well do you know the most recent additions? Take our quiz and share your answer!
    Quiz produced by Laura Santhanam.

    The post QUIZ: How well do you know 2014 slang? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    David, Lynn, Amy and Mark Frohnmayer are avid University of Oregon fans. David and Lynn founded the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund in 1989 after their three daughters, including Amy, were diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening disease. Photo from fanconi.org

    David, Lynn, Amy and Mark Frohnmayer are avid University of Oregon fans. David and Lynn founded the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund in 1989 after their three daughters, including Amy, were diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening disease. Photo from fanconi.org

    While millions of Americans tune in to watch Florida State and the University of Oregon play in the Rose Bowl Thursday, two families are using the high profile game to raise awareness for a rare disease, Fanconi anemia. Dave Frohnmayer is a former President of the University of Oregon, and he and his wife lost two daughters to the disease. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher also has a son with Fanconi anemia. The Frohnmayers spoke to PBS NewHour’s Hari Sreenivasan about the disease and the unique fundraising opportunity. Watch that conversation tonight.

    A disease in considered rare in the United States if it affects fewer than 200,000 Americans. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says there are approximately 6,800 such diseases in the United States. When considered all together about 30 million Americans suffer from a rare disease.

    Here are a few of those rare diseases and links to foundations supporting research and awareness.

    Fanconi Anemia

    Fanconi anemia is a rare genetic disorder that prevents DNA from repairing. Most Fanconi anemia patients develop cancer and experience bone marrow failure. The current life expectancy is 33 years old. The disease affects fewer than 1,000 Americans. There is currently no cure.

    The Frohnmayers founded The Fanconi Anemia Research Fund 25 years ago. You can donate directly to their fund here.

    Jimbo and Candi Fisher began Kidz1stFund in 2011. You can donate directly to their fund here.

    Hope for Henry Foundation was founded for Laurie and Allen Strongin who lost their son, Henry, to Fanconi anemia in 2002. Hope for Henry provides carefully-chosen gifts and specially-designed programs for children with cancer or another serious illness in the D.C. area. You can donate online to their cause here.

    Huntington’s Disease

    Approximately one in 10,000 Americans has Huntington’s disease, an inherited progressive brain disorder that sees its patients lose control of both mental faculties and physical movements. People with Huntington’s typically begin showing symptoms between the ages of 30 to 50 and then have a 10 to 25 year life expectancy. There is no cure, but a lot of progress has been made to create treatments that slow down the disease’s deadly progression.

    The Huntington’s Disease Society of America has a wide variety of resources from information about the disease to advice on both living with Huntington’s and taking care of someone with the disease. You can contribute to one of their programs here.

    Apert Syndrome

    Many rare diseases, such as Apert Syndrome, are evident at birth and remain with someone for their entire life. When a child is born with Apert Syndrome (approximately one in every 150,000 births) their face may appear scrunched up and their hands and feet won’t develop properly. It’s a craniofacial condition that causes a premature fusion of skull plates, meaning the child’s face will never grow properly resulting in severe complications and intense surgery. Their fingers and toes will also likely be fused together and require surgery to separate. Apert Syndrome is very rare and like many diseases that affect so few people, not a lot is known about it. There is no guess on life expectancy, but someone with Apert Syndrome should expect to have 20 to 60 surgeries during their lifetime as well as countless hours of physical and speech therapy.

    The Craniofacial Foundation of America helps families that have a child born with a craniofacial birth defect or has experienced facial trauma. They have resources for parents and offer to cover non-medical expenses such as transportation to hospitals, food, lodging, and support networks. To see more of their work visit here. You can donate to their effort here.

    Madisons Foundation is a website that connects parents whose children have the same rare disorder. It also raises support for research into rare pediatric disorders.

    Cystic Fibrosis

    Affecting around 30,000 Americans, Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. A Cystic Fibrosis patient has a defective gene that causes mucus buildup in the lungs making it difficult to breath and in the pancreas which prevents the body from breaking down foods and absorbing nutrients. The median prediction is that a patient will live until their mid-40s, but everyone who has Cystic Fibrosis responds differently, making it hard to tell how long they will live. In 2014 the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug that treats the underlying cause of Cystic Fibrosis, but there is currently no cure.

    The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation helps educate people about the disease and provides financial support to patients, particularly for the new, expensive drugs. You can find more information and ways to help here.

    The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) has a full list of rare diseases in the United States as well as organizations and foundations supporting research and awareness for each disease. Rare Disease Day will be recognized on Feb. 28, 2015. You can find a way to contribute or participate here.

    The post As Rose Bowl shines spotlight on rare disease, here are three others that affect millions of Americans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    boyhood

    Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: We close tonight with a look back, this time at the year at the movies.

    Jeffrey Brown has that.

    Dana Stevens & Mike Sargent’s 2014 picks
     
    - “Boyhood,” directed by Richard Linklater
    - “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay
    - “Mr. Turner,” directed by Mike Leigh
    - “Still Alice,” directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer
    - “The Babadook,” directed by Jennifer Kent
    - “Get On Up,” directed by Tate Taylor
    JEFFREY BROWN: And we talk favorite films, best performances and more with film critics Dana Stevens of Slate and Mike Sargent of Pacifica Radio.

    And let’s just jump right in. We asked each of you ahead of time first to pick one top film you want to recommend to people. I know it was hard to whittle.

    But, Dana, you chose the film “Boyhood.”  Tell us briefly why.

    DANA STEVENS, Slate: That’s right.

    For the purposes of this conversation, I chose “Boyhood,” although I never like to rank my favorite movies, because I like to choose a favorite every day sometimes. But “Boyhood” I think is one of the outstanding movies of this year or of many recent years.

    If you haven’t seen it or don’t know the story behind it, it’s Richard Linklater’s sort of opus about a Texas family that takes place over the course of 12 years. And it was filmed over the course of 12 years, so it tracks this one boy and all the actors playing his family from — I guess he’s 6 or so at the beginning until — up until he leaves for college at age 18.

    So more than any film I can think of this year, it’s just an extremely ambitious experimental project, and one that really, really works.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, I want to show you a little clip from that.

    This is the dad, Ethan Hawke. He’s with the two children. He’s divorced at this point. I think this is about four years into the film. Let’s look at that.

    ACTRESS: These questions are kind of hard to answer.

    ETHAN HAWKE, Actor: What is so hard to answer about, what sculpture are you making?

    ACTRESS: It’s abstract.

    ETHAN HAWKE: OK. OK. That’s good. See, that’s — I didn’t know — I didn’t know that. I didn’t know you were even interested in abstract art.

    ACTRESS: I’m not. They make us do it.

    ACTOR: But, dad, I mean, why is it all on us though, you know? What about you? How was your week? You know, who do you hang out with? Do you have a girlfriend? What have you been up to?

    ETHAN HAWKE: I see your point.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so that’s a film shot over 12 years.

    Now, Mike Sargent, your top choice was looking back at a very important moment in history, civil rights history, right?

    MIKE SARGENT, Pacifica Radio: Yes, it was. It was the movie “Selma,” which I chose,” and similar to you, Dana, in that it’s hard to choose a favorite film. I can usually choose a top five.

    But I chose it because it’s significant in many, many ways. It’s the story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic march from Selma to Memphis to really secure voting rights for all of America. And it’s directed by an African-American female writer/director named Ava DuVernay.

    And it’s very significant that, A, it’s the first time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has ever been portrayed on screen. B, it’s by — there aren’t that many women making movies. And there definitely aren’t that many women of color.

    And one of the things that she did that I really found powerful, not just in that it’s moving and it couldn’t be more timely with what’s going on in America, is that she really cast a light on the people who were also part of the movie, not just Martin Luther King, but also the women who were involved, some of the other people involved.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, here’s a short clip from that one. This is Martin Luther King in a Selma church.

    DAVID OYELOWO, Actor: Those that have gone before us say no more.

    ACTORS: No more!

    DAVID OYELOWO:  No more!

    ACTORS: No more!

    DAVID OYELOWO: That means protest. That means march. That means disturb the peace. That means jails. That means risk.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    DAVID OYELOWO: And that is hard.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That is David Oyelowo playing Martin Luther King Jr. And he came up for both of you when we asked about some great performances of the year.

    Dana, another one that you mentioned was Timothy Spall playing the artist Joseph Turner in “Mr. Turner.”

    Let’s just look at a short clip of that first and then you can tell us about it.

    TIMOTHY SPALL, Actor: Mrs. Booth, would you be so kind as to look out of the window?

    ACTRESS: What am I looking at?

    TIMOTHY SPALL: From the tip of your nose to the bridge, to the curve of your brow, you put me in mind of a Greek sculpture I’m familiar with of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Dana, I saw that one, that film. That is full of grunts and groans, kind of strange character, an artist walking through life. What did you love about that performance?

    DANA STEVENS: Well, yes.

    I was going to say that the clip that you chose to show was probably one of the most verbal scenes Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner has in the entire movie.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, exactly.

    DANA STEVENS: He essentially sort of grunts his way through life and is this very inarticulate at times, but also extremely intelligent and sensitive and well-spoken artist, when he wants to be.

    It’s such a complex character. And unlike most artist biopics, unlike nearly every artist biopic I can think of, it really maintains the mystery of the distance between the artist and the creation of his art. You never quite understand this character, Turner, that he plays. And yet you become so close to him over the course of the 25 years or so of his life that the movie covers. It’s an extraordinary performance by Timothy Spall.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mike, one of the performances you cited was the one by Julianne Moore. She is playing a woman who recently finds that she has Alzheimer’s. The film is “Still Alice.”

    Let’s take a quick look at a clip from that.

    JULIANNE MOORE, ACTRESS: I have always been so defined by my intellect, my language, my articulation. And now sometimes I can see the words hanging in front of me, and I can’t reach them, and I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know what I’m going to lose next.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us why that performance stood out for you, Mike.

    MIKE SARGENT: Well, I think the performance stood out because I think it’s a very powerful subject, and I thought she handled it very well.

    There could easily be the tendency to overdo it and be overly dramatic. And I thought that there are a lot of moments of restraint and a lot of moments of emotion that she conveys very well. There’s so much going on within her. There are a lot of things that she does, I guess similar to Timothy Spall, where — towards the end of the film where she’s not really speaking that much, but you really get what she’s going through.

    And I think in a year where there weren’t as many strong female performances as I had — in previous years, I thought this was a very moving performance.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You both said how hard it is to pick a top film, top performance. Let me make it open it up a little bit for you and make it a little easier, starting with you, Dana Stevens.

    You can talk about some other films, but especially what I want to ask you about, perhaps some hidden gems, things that we didn’t get a chance to read about or to see.

    DANA STEVENS: Yes, in the name of advocacy, especially because “Boyhood,” the film that I named as my favorite, is — has been so popular, and beloved, and almost everyone I know has seen it, I want to recommend “The Babadook,” which is this Australian horror film that not a lot of people have seen, I think.

    JEFFREY BROWN: An Australian horror film, huh?

    DANA STEVENS: An Australian horror film.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

    DANA STEVENS: It’s the debut film of a woman named Jennifer Kent, who previously was an actress in Australian TV and movies.

    And it’s a really astonishing debut. Even if you’re not a horror movie person, if you just admire, for example, “Rosemary’s Baby” or a really, really artfully done horror movie that’s about more than just is the monster going to get somebody, right, one that has got some sort of allegorical richness and depth to it, I really recommended “The Babadook,” which is both a monster movie, a home invasion thriller, and a kind of parable about motherhood.

    It’s just extraordinary.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Mike Sargent, can you top that?

    MIKE SARGENT: I don’t know if I can top that, but I definitely have to say there’s a film that’s pretty much gotten forgotten by this time of the year because it came out so early in the year.

    And that’s “Get On Up.”  And that is the film that stars Chadwick Boseman playing James Brown. And it starts from him being very young up until the point where maybe most people our age remember him, where he wasn’t quite the man he once was.

    But I have to say, I thought Chadwick Boseman gave a phenomenal performance. And, for a while, you completely forget you’re watching an actor. You’re just watching James Brown do his thing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

    Well, that’s our short look at 2014, the films.

    Mike Sargent of Pacifica Radio and Dana Stevens of Slate, thank you both very much. And happy viewing in 2015.

    DANA STEVENS: Same to you.

    MIKE SARGENT: Thank you for having us.

    The post Two film critics take a look at 2014’s best movies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newyears2015

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Well, the fireworks and the champagne corks are already popping in other parts of the world, as 2014 leaves and 2015 arrives. So what should we be expecting during the next 12 months?

    We thought we’d ask.

    Hari is back with the questions.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Every December 31, the world arrives at a time of reflection. T.S. Eliot said next year’s words await another voice, though writer Robert Clark said that the new year is exactly the same as the old year just colder.

    To find 2015′s voice and discuss if it will be really any different than 2014, we brought together Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent with “The Atlantic,” Helena Andrews of The Washington Post’s Reliable source, and Evan McMorris-Santoro, White House correspondent for BuzzFeed.

    So, let’s start with something we don’t talk about too much on the program, which is entertainment and really the consequences of the Sony hack. We were talking about it a little bit off camera. What do you think is going to be the sort of giant repercussion? On the one side, we saw really how Sony executives think and talk about their actors behind closed doors. And on the other side, we launched a movie without having 3,000 theaters, and it didn’t do so bad.

    HELENA ANDREWS, The Washington Post’s “Reliable Source”: I think the most interesting thing about the Sony hacks were those e-mail where you have executives, like, making fun of the president, talking about, should I ask him to finance — did he like “Django Unchained”? Did he like “12 Years a Slave”?

    At the same time, we’re getting movies like “Selma” and Chris Rock’s “Top Five” and “Dear White People,” this great little independent movie. It’s crazy. It’s like a roller coaster. We have gotten these more diverse movies and TV shows, honestly, but you see on the back end that some of that old, like, total discriminatory stuff behind the scenes is actually going on.

    So, will Sony backtrack and, all of a sudden, we will see these interesting indie movies featuring diverse casts, so they can say, oh, by the way, we’re not really racist? I don’t know. That might happen.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG, The Atlantic: Yes. A lot of Korean-heavy casts, obviously.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I think they have got to go right to their strong point, which is movies about North Korea again.

    No, the interesting — from sort of a business side of that question, it’s amazing that the North Koreans may or may not have forced — because we don’t even know who actually did the hack — may not have forced some sort of a huge change in the way we get movies, because if this works, if people are just downloading directly, the studio — if I were a theater owner, I would be quite worried about this moment, because we don’t know how this is going to change in the next year.

    But if this is a viable way of sending movies out to people, they are going to do it and if they can bypass the theaters, all the better.

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, BuzzFeed: My prediction is that, next year, you are going to see a studio bribe a government to hack them, so as to boost public interest.

    (LAUGHTER)

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: “The Interview” is not a movie — “The Interview” would have come and gone, right, probably. And in this case, now it’s a huge cultural moment. I mean, it’s great for people who made it, not so good for Sony, I guess, in the long run.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: … we won’t remember in a year.

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Right.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I am pretty sure of that, too.

    HELENA ANDREWS: Exactly. In a week.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so, in 2015, your predictions for the entertainment world?

    HELENA ANDREWS: Predictions for the entertainment world?

    I think — will people stop subscribing to cable? You know what I mean? Possibly. I watch my Apple TV more than I do HBO.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, cord-cutting will increase.

    HELENA ANDREWS: I think, absolutely, cord-cutting will increase.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I was happy to see the return of vinyl in a huge way. And so with any luck, next year, we move back to eight-track.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Oh, nice.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: That’s what I…

    HELENA ANDREWS: Oh, wow.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Because I got a box full of them in the basement.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: So, I really like the sort of throwback year.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Super hipster kitsch.

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Those wax Edison tubes, cranking it.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: And then just live performances in your house.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: I think it’s all pretty good news for entertainment.

    One of the things about all this disparate stuff that is happening now, with all this on-demand and all this streaming, there’s so many new shows that come out all the time. There are so many new venues for entertainment. I think 2015 is going to be a great year for entertainment. I thought 2014 was a pretty good year for entertainment too. I think it will be good.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Jeffrey, I want to start with you on this one.

    Let’s talk a little bit about the world, which you focus on throughout the year. ISIS, Russia, Israel-Gaza, what could possibly go wrong in 2015, or right?

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Right. Right. Right. Right.

    Yes, Ukraine is going to work out just fine.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: No.

    You know, we’re in an interesting moment. And we’re coming to a point where we’re going to have to have a more realistic assessment of — let’s just take ISIS, for example — much more realistic assessment of how much damage we’re going to be able to do to ISIS in the current circumstances.

    And we’re going to — it’s a depressing conclusion that you have to draw, but, right now, across the greater Middle East, you have got five or six or seven fairly large safe havens for al-Qaida and al-Qaida-style groups. And there doesn’t seem to be a concerted effort on the part of the civilized world, if you want to call it that, to do anything about that.

    And so my fear is that, you know, we’re moving toward the end of the Obama presidency. Obama has come into office — came into office promising to refocus us on the war on terror, Afghanistan, not Iraq. And we’re heading into the last quarter of his presidency, where you just see this mushrooming of these groups, and no serious strategy to deal with it.

    So that’s a problem. Israel and Palestine? Here’s my bold prediction. No peace treaty next year.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Oh, really going out on a limb.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Yes. Yes. I want to come back and — with any luck, I will be proven wrong.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, that’s 100 percent…

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: The contradiction, of course, is that you see this every year around this time. The world is actually safer and less violent than most periods in history.

    Partially because of our inundation of information and the interconnectedness of everything, we feel as if we’re under siege in a way that we’re just not. That said, you know, you have in Asia, China has the capability of being quite aggressive toward neighbors. Russia obviously in the European arena, and Iran and a combination of Iran and ISIS in the Middle East put plenty on the plate for an administration that has never been that interested in focusing on foreign policy.

    So there’s going to be a huge number of problems that come up in the next year.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Evan, does the White House feel this kind of pressure?

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: I think that they are pretty — feel pretty good about foreign policy actually lately.

    They have had some challenges. Obviously, this year has been a tough one for them most of the time. But they ended it on this high note with this Cuba deal, and changing relations there and continuing — negotiations with Iran are still ongoing.

    I think the White House feels like that foreign policy — as a lot of presidents do at the end of their terms, right, they turn to foreign policy. And the president wants to do that and I think feels like they have places that they can go and places they can do successful things with that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Helena, your big prediction for the world?

    (LAUGHTER)

    HELENA ANDREWS: For the world.

    I mean, but speaking about — obviously speaking of Cuba and entertainment, you have got — just reading recently that the artists in Cuba are all of a sudden excited about all the art dealers that might be able to come to the island at this point and buy all this amazing art.

    And there was a story about Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith showing up at this artist’s studio and paying $45,000 for a portrait. You have got — remember when Jay-Z and Beyonce went to Cuba and it was this whole huge thing? Oh, my God, Obama gave their — his best friends, it’s like, a way to go to Cuba, which ended up totally not being true

    So, I think, especially when it comes to Cuba, you’re going to see a lot of entertainers, I think, showing up and wanting to be like the first people to get to Cuba, before it’s not cool anymore, you know? And I think that’s absolutely going to be a trend.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So we’re also entering in the world of domestic politics survivor season, or in the words of “Highlander,” what was it, there can be only one, right?

    You’re going to have…

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: But, for now, there could be 20.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There could be 20.

    And in the process, you’re also starting to see, at least in both the major parties, people staking out positions and kind of cutting each other off at the pass and saying, oh, I’m definitely going to get you to say this thing on camera, so I can use it in an attack ad against you later on.

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: I think last year was the year of Republicans vs. Democrats, which you have seen for a while now, this — this pitched battle between the parties.

    Next year is going to be the battle of Democrats vs. Democrats and Republicans vs. Republicans. You have the 2016 presidential field is going to be opening up. We have already seen Marco Rubio from Florida, senator from Florida, vs. Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky. They already have — the Republicans, they already have a strong battle going on between them.

    On the Democratic side, we saw at end of the year Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi sort of fighting against the White House over the spending deal that ended up being passed, over the objections of a lot of progressives that are on the president’s base.

    That kind of stuff is what we’re going to see now, because we’re going to have — because the GOP is in charge of the entire Congress. They have to sort of hold themselves together. And they have had some problems doing that right along. And now, without any Democrats to sort of fight against, that will become more and more evident.

    And the Democrats have their own problems too trying to sort of jockey for position and the left trying to stake out a place before 2016 kicks off.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: There are two Hillary-related — on the Democratic side, two Hillary-related things that I’m watching.

    The first is, who becomes the most credible alternative to Hillary in the primaries? You know, Elizabeth Warren is obviously the favorite of people to Hillary’s left. She says she’s not running. She always says, I’m not running in the present tense.

    There’s a slight door open there. There’s Bernie Sanders, who is an adorable socialist, but probably not a serious candidate. Martin O’Malley — I mean, there are people there. And so what I’m watching is not only who’s jockeying and how they’re jockeying, but waiting to see if Hillary makes another kind of mistake that gives somebody on the left the real opening.

    You know, she had a couple of missteps when she talked about leaving the White House in debt and her closeness — allegedly closeness to Wall Street, all of this. And so that’s an interesting piece. And the second piece of that is, I’m curious to watch how Hillary Clinton positions herself, both as an ally of President Obama and as something distinctly different.

    And that’s always very interesting to watch as we move through this. And she has to do it at a certain point. However, he is becoming more popular. So it becomes a slightly more complicated proposition for her.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

    So, Helena, you have avoided the possible — possible prediction that Jeffrey was going to make is that one Republican and one Democrat will come out as presidential candidates. Other than that, what is your prediction for 2015?

    HELENA ANDREWS: I’m probably the only person who is watching Michelle Obama. Am I the only one that is still into Michelle Obama?

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Senator Michelle Obama?

    HELENA ANDREWS: She just lost a fight, technically, on the budget bill in terms of the changes to the school lunch program. Right now, you can’t do — it’s whole grains or half-grains, right?

    And we got all those Instagrams of like the sad lunches that kids are having to eat now. And it’s, like, thanks, Michelle Obama. And I’m really interested to see, like, how that’s going to move forward, especially with Sam Kass leaving the White House, joining his wife, Alex Wagner, in New York. But he’s still going to be very involved in the Let’s Move campaign.

    So, I think there’s going to be some interesting tensions between Michelle Obama and the Republican Party, which Hillary Clinton found herself in that type of situation when she was first lady. So maybe there will be some nostalgia back to that kind of…

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: And you want to boldly predict that she’s going to run for her office.

    (LAUGHTER)

    HELENA ANDREWS: I do.

    JEFFREY GOLDBERG: You want to go out on a limb, right?

    HELENA ANDREWS: But I think I want that more than she actually wants it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, I’m going to predict that adorable socialist will not be Bernie Sanders’ bumper sticker, but it will be a T-shirt, I think, by the end of this segment.

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Yes, adorable socialist.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, on that note, Helena Andrews, Evan McMorris-Santoro, and Jeffrey Goldberg, thanks so much for joining us.

    EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Thank you.

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    medtesting

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    GWEN IFILL: Next: a second story looking at health care. It’s the latest in our Breakthrough series.

    Tonight: how one doctor is trying to use data to revamp the way he and his colleagues treat not-so-rare diseases.

    Special correspondent Jackie Judd reports.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN, Co-Founder, The NNT: Have you had side effects for these steroids before? Have you ever had — no? OK. Sometimes, people get a little loopy.

    WOMAN: I’m loopy all day.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: You’re loopy all day. Well, then you don’t have to worry about it.

    JACKIE JUDD: Dr. David Newman is a disrupter. He is trying to disrupt how doctors practice medicine, how young doctors think about effective treatment and how patients interact with their doctors.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: Any time I go to a dinner party, there’s always at least one story I have to hear about somebody who went to their doctor. And it’s usually a very dissatisfied customer.

    So we all know that there’s been a lot of strife between the medical culture and the patient community. So we have been sort of growing apart, and I think what we’re trying to do is information symmetry.

    JACKIE JUDD: Information symmetry is a fancy way of saying information sharing. And in this case, the information is on this Web site, TheNNT.com, created by Newman and a fellow doctor.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: What about aspirin?

    What’s the number of people you need to treat with an aspirin in order to save a life?

    MAN: Fifty.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: Fifty is a good guess. So, it’s about 40. We do a couple of others.

    JACKIE JUDD: NNT, the number needed to treat, is a concept developed by epidemiologists over 25 years ago, but not widely used. It is the number of people who need to receive an intervention, from medication to an MRI, for one person to be helped.

    For example, eight people having asthma attacks would have to be treated with steroids for one person to improve and avoid a hospital visit. So the NNT for the treatment is eight.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: So, lower numbers needed to treat are better, because it means you only need to treat a few people in order for one to benefit. If you had to treat hundreds of thousands of people or even dozens, then it becomes little bit more of a crapshoot that anybody is going to actually benefit from that intervention.

    JACKIE JUDD: Newman, who presides over the organized of chaos of the E.R. at Mount Sinai in New York City, has a passion for linking patients to treatments that are proven to be effective. That may sound rather basic, but Newman says doctors order questionable tests and treatments every day.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: It feels crazy the way we have been taught. The way we have been taught to think about this, it feels crazy to say no to anything on this list. But, in reality, it’s not only crazy. It’s a little bit of a lottery that you’re going to be the one who it actually helped.

    JACKIE JUDD: Across the country, at Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto, California, a young doctor named Kristin Fontes saw a 7-year-old in the E.R. with ear pain. Fontes used the usual tools of the trade, a stethoscope, a thermometer, and something not so usual.

    DR. KRISTIN FONTES, Stanford Health Care: One of my favorite pieces from the NNT that I like to not only teach, but also show parents, is the idea that an antibiotic may not actually be helpful in ear infections in kids who are otherwise healthy, and that, actually, although it may not be helpful in terms of helping patients feel better as far as pain, it may actually cause them to diarrhea. And so I use that one — actually just happened.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: How are you doing?

    JACKIE JUDD: Newman and his partner created the NNT Web site to give everyone in the medical pipeline, from physician’s assistants to patients, access to information and analysis and to frame that information around what’s best for the patient.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: This is a widespread problem in medicine, that we don’t have easy access to simple, aggregated versions of what the science says. We often don’t know where to go to find that simple version of the information that can tell us yes or no or how high, how low, how good, how bad.

    JACKIE JUDD: Since launching the Web site in 2010, the founders and other like-minded doctors have analyzed the research, crunched the numbers and posted information on about 200 illnesses and the effectiveness of the conventional treatments.

    To simplify the information even more, the treatments are color-coded, green, yellow, red, and black.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: In the case of PSA testing, it’s pretty clear that the harms outweigh the benefits. So that’s an example of a screening test where the harms are more powerful and more important and more common than the benefits. So that’s a black.

    Mr. Cruickshank, how are you doing?

    MAN: Good.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: How are you feeling?

    JACKIE JUDD: On this day in the E.R., Philip Cruickshank feared he was possibly having a heart attack. Newman, who never wears a white jacket and always touches his patients to indicate they’re in this together, wanted to go slow, and he drew on the NNT to explain why.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: I think the chances that this is a heart problem going on today or that you’re in danger from a heart problem are less than 1 percent.

    So, if the blood tests all look good and the EKG looks good, would you feel comfortable going home and following up with your doctor, or do you want to think about going further for that 1 percent chance?

    Yes? OK.

    JACKIE JUDD: What if he had said, yes, that 1 percent scares me enough, I want you to keep going?

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: In this case, what we’re trying to do is use the data to really drive decisions in real time, so that patients’ value systems can really be the biggest driver.

    JACKIE JUDD: But, in a way, you have reversed that relationship. If he had said, the 1 percent scares me, you would have been the one who had to capitulate.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: No, it’s very true. He’s got the power. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the way it ought to be. We use the data as best we can to let his value system be the powerful one in the conversation.

    You are a smoker?

    MAN: Yes.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: How much?

    JACKIE JUDD: Evidence-based medicine began to be taught and practiced in the 1980s. However, the evidence is not always robust. And the NNT is a formula based on the experience of many patients, not the single patient sitting in front of the doctor.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: OK.

    JACKIE JUDD: So not everyone is a fan of Newman’s approach. A fellow doctor argued on an E.R. Web site that: “The NNT has value for common medical problems, but not something unusual, like diagnosing a brain hemorrhage. We have to be careful,” he wrote, “with how we apply the NNT. Despite the low yield, I don’t think we are ready to abandon the search for these needles in the high-risk haystack.”

    But for the disruptive Newman, ruffling feathers is all part of the game plan.

    DR. KRISTIN FONTES: He definitely has a lot of guts. I think it’s hard to go up in front of the medical community and speak about controversial subjects, but I think he has the right combination of intelligence, experience, and also a willingness to really go against the grain.

    JACKIE JUDD: Dr. David Newman hopes everyone in the health care system will go along with him.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: If people actually go to the Web site and see the numbers and start using those numbers in interactions with physicians or with patients, we would be delighted.

    JACKIE JUDD: You mean the patient side?

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: I mean everybody. I mean, I do mean the patient side. I do mean the consumers. But I also mean doctors who need this kind of information at their fingertips. I mean insurance companies. I mean health policy people. I mean people who write laws.

    So I’m talking about everybody.

    I have got good news. The blood test looked good.

    MAN: OK.

    DR. DAVID NEWMAN: OK?

    JACKIE JUDD: I’m Jackie Judd in New York for the “NewsHour.”

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    rosebowl

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    GWEN IFILL: Tomorrow, on one of college football’s biggest days, the focus will be on sport, but also on a very different kind of battle, the special challenges faced by those diagnosed with a rare disease and their families.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s even more at stake than usual in tomorrow’s 101st Rose Bowl game. The number-two Oregon Ducks will face the number three Florida State Seminoles for a spot in the national title game.

    But the schools and their supporters are also finding common ground off the playing field, in fighting a rare blood disorder called Fanconi anemia. It affects fewer than 1,000 Americans. But, as fate would have it, both Florida State and Oregon’s communities have been affected.

    On the Florida State side, Ethan Fisher, 9-year-old son of head coach Jimbo Fisher and his wife, Candi, suffers from the disease. Fisher has pushed for increasing awareness.

    JIMBO FISHER, Head Football Coach, Florida State University: That’s how things are defeated. You have to present them. You have to bring them to the forefront so people can help you. And that’s the way so many other diseases in this world have been conquered. And that’s our goal. We’re going to conquer this disease. It’s not going to define Ethan or our family, and we’re on a mission to find a cure.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Former University of Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer and his wife, Lynn, have lost two children to Fanconi anemia, and a 27-year-old daughter is now fighting the deadly disease. Both families have created and helped fund research organizations, the only two in the United States for Fanconi anemia.

    And during tomorrow’s Rose Bowl, every time a team scores a touchdown, their respective research organizations will receive a donation. It’s just one example of high-profile individuals combating underfunded diseases. Among others, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason has a foundation that helps those with cystic fibrosis.

    So how do people afflicted with the rare disease manage to fund medical research, track down specialists or find treatment regimens? And how much can a national stage like the Rose Bowl game help to draw attention to their cause?

    For those and other questions, I’m joined by Lynn Frohnmayer and David Frohnmayer, co-founders of the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, which they started in 1989 after their children’s Fanconi anemia was diagnosed. And Dr. Marshall Summar, he is a research scientist and chief of genetics and metabolism at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and is a rare disease specialist.

    So, Mr. and Mrs. Frohnmayer, I want to talk to you first.

    How big of a deal is the Rose Bowl national stage, so to speak, to raise awareness of Fanconi anemia, or F.A., as it’s called?

    DAVID FROHNMAYER, Co-Founder, Fanconi Anemia Research Fund: Well, any chance you get to put something in the public eye that’s very important, but very rare and poorly understood, you take that chance, you take that opportunity.

    And, of course, the Rose Bowl is something that interests tens of millions of people. It happens to involve my former university, where I presently teach, University of Oregon.And it involves another family across the country who have been devoted to trying to cure Fanconi anemia as well.

    So this is an opportunity to make a case, not only make a case, but to show the human impact, the human side of the story, to raise awareness and to raise the possibility of philanthropy, because medical science has advanced so rapidly in addressing this disorder once attention was focused on it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dr. Summar, that attention, focus, there are 7,000-plus rare genetic disorders out there. And I’m going to feel a little callous saying this, but it’s almost the best thing that can happen is a celebrity gets it.

    DR. MARSHALL SUMMAR, Children’s National Medical Center: In many ways, there’s some truth to that.

    But, actually, all of these disorders benefit from the attention to one of them. If you take the 7,000 different disorders we’re talking about, they will affect something like to 8 percent to 10 percent of the U.S. population, so you’re talking 25 million people with some form of a rare disease.

    But no one’s heard or usually has not heard of most of the individual diseases, like Fanconi anemia. Many folks, this will be their first exposure to this.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It was mine, yes.

    DR. MARSHALL SUMMAR: Yes.

    And what many folks find is, after they hear that, they go, oh, wait, I might have known someone who has that, or this is something that touches me in some way, or I have met someone along the way.

    And the knowledge gets out. It helps with both the funding. It helps with the research. It helps us move things along. And so when one disease kind of gains this type of notoriety, and obviously the Rose Bowl, was a premier place for that to happen, it actually helps out the entire community.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mm-hmm.

    So, Lynn Frohnmayer, I want to ask…

    LYNN FROHNMAYER, Co-Founder, Fanconi Anemia Research Fund: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: … what happened before the Rose Bowl, right, all these years that you didn’t have this national stage, so to speak? How did you get people interested, get people committed, especially on the research side?

    LYNN FROHNMAYER: Well, Hari, it took a long time, to tell you the truth.

    Our daughters were diagnosed in 1983. And the first thing that we had to cope with was the devastation of this kind of a diagnosis. We were told that they would experience bone marrow failure, perhaps leukemia, that they probably wouldn’t live to adulthood, that there were really no effective treatments or a cure for this disease.

    Bone marrow transplant outcomes were absolutely dreadful back then. And we were told that, if they did live to adulthood, they were at very high risk for cancer. So the first thing we had to cope with was this absolutely devastating news that, ultimately, all three of our daughters — we had five children, three with Fanconi anemia — had the same dreadful, dreadful disease.

    It took us two years to form a family support group. And we did that in 1985. And it wasn’t until 1989, six years after the diagnosis, when we finally had the courage and the strength to begin to work on, OK, what can we do about this horrible diagnosis? You have got to be able to pick yourself up off the floor, dust yourself off and say, what can we do to make a difference?

    And we were able to do that finally, but it wasn’t overnight, not at all.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dr. Summar, what about these other 7,000 diseases? How do they gain kind of attention, especially from the pharmaceutical companies, right?

    I mean, I hate to be a capitalist about it, too, but where’s the market? If it’s only 1,000 people or 500 people, do drug companies say, OK, we will take that risk and we will put in all that money into research and development and try to find a cure, vs. going after diabetes or cancer, right?

    DR. MARSHALL SUMMAR: Well, that’s actually a great question, because, historically, they didn’t. They stayed away from the rare disease field. They figured there weren’t that many patients. There wasn’t much market.

    A group of folks got together about 35 years ago and passed something called the Orphan Drug Act, or the Orphan Disease Act. And it actually created a set of market incentives, including exclusivity around the use of the drug, exclusivity on the patent for additional years, things like that, that suddenly made it financially and economically viable for companies to come into the rare disease field.

    Now, we are actually seeing a lot more interest now. We’re actually seeing a growth of the rare disease market, expanded 25 percent to 27 percent per year, whereas the regular drug market expands at a rate of about 20 percent to 23 percent.

    Why? Well, after we did the human genome, one of the things we found is that common diseases were separating into smaller and smaller groups. So, take pancreatic cancer. Suddenly, you have numerous genetic subtypes of pancreatic cancer that became rarer and rarer, same thing with prostate cancer and others.

    So, in many ways, the common disease market is starting to represent or look a lot like the rare disease market. So, many of the pharmaceutical companies now recognize that there’s a spectrum here between the common diseases and the rare diseases and they need to be in both markets.

    So we’re seeing a lot of interest, a lot of investment in that market. There’s probably one other thing that draws folks in, too. And let’s take Fanconi anemia — Fanconi anemia for an example.

    When we learn something about Fanconi anemia, we learn something about what can cause cancer, what can cause bone marrow failure. So our families, our very, very brave patients and our very, very brave families are often our best teachers in the field of medicine about things, because, by having maybe one gene, two genes that cause a disease — it’s 15 genes, actually, in Fanconi anemia, roughly — we learn a tremendous amount about what happens, what happens with bone marrow failure, what happens with cancers.

    Down syndrome is a great example, too. The first genes that were mapped for Alzheimer’s were learned of because in Down syndrome, about half the patients in their 20s to 30s develop an early onset form of Alzheimer’s. So we knew where to look.

    So, all of these diseases, all 7,000 of them, are teaching us something for the rest of the population.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: David Frohnmayer, what about when you are starting out and you find out this devastating news, after you get over the grief? What sort of a support network exists? How did you decide to model your foundation and get into it and make sure that you weren’t kind of replicating the work that others had already done?

    DAVID FROHNMAYER: Well, actually, it’s a good question.

    There wasn’t anything else for Fanconi anemia. And a researcher, Dr. Arleen Auerbach at Rockefeller University, suggested that Lynn and I form a support group. So this was pre-Internet, pre-Web days.

    We actually wrote letters. We send out — visited medical centers. We recruited families. And then, through this slow process, it then ballooned into faster and faster networking that got together.

    We also had enormous help from Dr. Nancy Wexler and the Huntington’s disease people, who had formed a hereditary disease organization maybe 10 years before ours. And they were very generous with us. They shared ideas. They told us the importance of getting scientific expertise of the very top quality. They talked about bringing peer review in. They talked about having cross-disciplinary scientists, because all these diseases are tremendously complicated, and there’s not a single medical specialty that addresses every one of the phenomena of Fanconi anemia.

    So we had some good models. And people have modeled their orphan disease efforts after those that Lynn and I have helped to sponsor. So, I think there’s a community out there of people who say, you know, we can’t go it alone, we will learn from others, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and if we copy well and improve, that that’s one of the basic things we can help to do to improve human health more generally.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dave and Lynn Frohnmayer and Marshall Summar, thanks so much for joining us.

    DAVID FROHNMAYER: Thank you.

    LYNN FROHNMAYER: Thank you, Hari.

    DR. MARSHALL SUMMAR: Thank you.

    GWEN IFILL: You can find more about Fanconi anemia and other rare diseases and the organizations that help fund and support their treatment on our Web site at PBS.org/NewsHour.

     

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    File photo of detainees sitting in a holding area at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay

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    GWEN IFILL: The Pentagon announced today five more detainees were released from Guantanamo. The three Yemenis and two Tunisians, who had been held for more than a decade at the U.S. military prison, have been flown to Kazakstan for resettlement. All told, 28 detainees have been moved from the facility this year, the most since 2009. But 127 still remain.

    We’re joined now by a reporter who has logged more time at the detention site in Cuba than any other, Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald.

    Carol, welcome to the “NewsHour” again.

    So, five prisoners, two of them Yemenis, three of them — three of them Yemenis, two of them Tunisians, transferred to Kazakstan. What is the significance of that destination?

    CAROL ROSENBERG, Miami Herald: I think that illustrates just how far-flung the State Department efforts have been to try to get the men who are cleared for release out of Guantanamo.

    That’s the 20th nation to agree to take in, on an almost refugee status, as a resettlement men, who can’t go home. You said they’re from Yemen, which we have heard earlier there was more violence today. And they’re from Tunisia. And the U.S. was not comfortable allowing them to return to their homelands.

    So they looked around the world, and Kazakstan agreed to take them in.

    GWEN IFILL: And just…

    CAROL ROSENBERG: Go ahead. I’m sorry.

    GWEN IFILL: I’m sorry.

    I was just saying, and just recently, we heard about five more that went to Uruguay, another unusual destination.

    CAROL ROSENBERG: Yes, Uruguay was a really fascinating model for this, because President Mujica had decided that he would not only bring them in; he would take in their families.

    And so we’re waiting for actually the Syrian families of some of these detainees who were released to join them in Uruguay. The goal is for these men to settle down and start new lives in these countries and to put behind them the dozen or so years they spent at Guantanamo.

    And, again, it illustrates the inability to bring them to the United States as they look around the world for countries that will resettle them, the men who have been cleared to leave there, Gwen.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about that. You talk about these men. They have been cleared for years. Who are they? Are they dangerous? Should anybody be worried about their release?

    CAROL ROSENBERG: Well, one of the men who left yesterday was told 10 years ago — he was evaluated 10 years ago that — as a low risk with a heart condition and bad health and could not go back to Tunisia.

    So the evaluation in 2004 for this Mr. Lutfi was that he need not be at Guantanamo. But it illustrates just how hard it is to find places for them to move and start new lives. All five of these men, not one of them had been charged with a crime. They were all cleared by the national security task force that met in 2009, and it was a matter of finding locations for them.

    It’s not clear, you know, that they necessarily arrived there as hating the United States, but after all these years, the goal is to get them to the next place where they won’t look back at their period at the detention center, but they will look forward at whatever’s been arranged for their next life. We don’t know what they are going to have in Kazakstan.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, we have now seen 28 of these detainees released this year. Is this a trend we see? Is this something that is purposeful, that is going on with this administration? And is it something that can continue, considering the fact there is so much resistance to this in Congress?

    CAROL ROSENBERG: So, 28 are gone, but 127 remain, of which 59 are cleared.

    So the only way to close Guantanamo is to move some of them to the United States. So if the goal is to get that detention center emptied and closed, you can find countries like Kazakstan, but the real solution is to bring them to the States, which, as we know, Congress has forbidden and it will be up to the administration to either persuade them to change their mind or make a decision on whether to defy them.

    Guantanamo doesn’t close unless some of those detainees come to the United States. Remember, some of these men are on trial for the 9/11 attacks. And one is on trial for the USS Cole attack. These men are not in a position to be sent to other countries and relocated elsewhere.

    The question will be, if they are held and tried at Guantanamo or in the United States and, if convicted, where they will serve out their sentences. Or, in some instances, you know, these are death penalty cases.

    GWEN IFILL: And of the 60 which are cleared, we can expect — or we are anticipating to see them released in dribs and drabs or all at once in the next few months?

    CAROL ROSENBERG: Fifty-two of them are Yemeni.

    It is a slow process of finding nations to take in Yemenis. And I think anyone who’s sort of been seduced by the idea that they have 59 slots out there for the men who have been cleared for release are a little bit naive.

    The State Department closer has left — is leaving his job as of tonight. The State Department still has diplomats traveling the world trying to find locations. But this is far from closed. And the men who are cleared for release are far from getting on planes to go.

    GWEN IFILL: Carol Rosenberg on the case for The Miami Herald, thank you very much.

    CAROL ROSENBERG: Thank you, Gwen.

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    newswrap

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    GWEN IFILL: Search efforts in the air disaster off Indonesia made little progress today, in the face of rough conditions at sea. That left relatives of the 162 passengers and crew to endure another day of waiting for the remains of their loved ones.

    Solemn and quiet, a military honor guard carried the flower-laden coffins, marked simply one and two, down the tarmac in Surabaya, Indonesia. The bodies of a man and a woman were the first returned from AirAsia Flight 8501. They were taken to a local hospital for identification.

    But efforts to continue the search for victims were hindered by strong winds and heavy rains. By mid-afternoon, officials called off air operations.

    MOCHAMAD HERNANTO, National Search and Rescue Agency (through interpreter): The weather now is bad over there. It wouldn’t be possible for divers to go into the water. Our priority now is not to search for the plane, but the retrieval of victims.

    GWEN IFILL: The search is focused in relatively shallow waters of the Java Sea, where the jetliner disappeared Sunday en route to Singapore. The first bodies and pieces of wreckage were spotted yesterday, and, today, sonar detected large objects on the ocean floor that could be part of the plane’s fuselage.

    There was no sign of the black box recorders that could shed light on what caused the crash. On shore, the focus was on the victims and their loved ones.

    SUNU WIDYATMOKO, CEO, Indonesia AirAsia (through interpreter): They are truly shocked, looking at the reality that they are now facing. So, what we can now is to try to help with the identification process as soon as possible, so that they can get over this difficult time at the soonest.

    GWEN IFILL: And at a nearby crisis center, family and friends prayed for their lost relatives.

    INDAH WINATA, Relative of AirAsia Passenger (through interpreter): We believe that our life and death are in God’s hands. We must always prepare everything because we never know when we will die.

    GWEN IFILL: In the wake of the tragedy, many Indonesian cities chose to cancel or tone down their New Year’s Eve celebrations.

    So far, seven bodies have been recovered. Some were still fully clothed, suggesting the jetliner was intact when it hit the water. That, in turn, could indicate the plane stalled in midair, and then plunged into the sea.

    A wedding party in Afghanistan ended in a bloodbath today, with 26 dead. A rocket struck the gathering in Helmand Province during a firefight between government forces and Taliban insurgents.

    And, in Yemen, a suicide bombing killed at least 23 people and wounded 48 at a cultural center where Shiites were gathered to celebrate the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.

    The Palestinian Authority moved today to pursue war crimes charges against Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to join the International Criminal Court, setting the stage for both war crimes cases and challenges to Jewish settlements. Abbas acted one day after the U.N. Security Council refused to demand an end to Israeli control in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

    PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian National Authority (through interpreter): We were rejected. This is not the first and not the last time. We are steadfast until we get back our rights. They don’t want to give us our rights. But the Security Council is not the end of the world, and the last session is not the end.

    GWEN IFILL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian move, as did the U.S. State Department.

    Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq launched a large-scale offensive against Islamic State fighters today. The target was an extensive area east of Mosul. The city has been held by the militant group since June. U.S. and coalition planes conducted a series of airstrikes in advance of the Kurdish assault.

    New Year’s celebrations turned deadly this evening in China. State news reports said 35 people were killed in a stampede in downtown Shanghai shortly before midnight. Elsewhere, Sydney, Australia was one of the first major cities to welcome 2015. More than a million spectators turned out for a lavish fireworks display in the city’s famed harbor. And crowds in New York City lined up early and braved the cold to secure a prime viewing spot when the ball drops in Times Square at midnight.

    CHELSEA CHIFICI: I’m really cold already, and I have four jackets on and four pairs of pants. And I have four blankets and leg warmers. So, I’m hoping that I don’t freeze or I get too hungry, but I think I’m good.

    GWEN IFILL: Security in New York was especially tight in the wake of weeks of protests and the killing of two police officers.

    Back in this country, outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced he’s commuting the sentences of the last four inmates on that state’s death row. Instead, they will serve life in prison with no parole. Maryland banned the death penalty in 2012.

    The Centers for Disease Control is warning that this year’s flu season has already reached epidemic levels. Officials say 15 children have died across nine states so far, four within a single week. More than 100 children died in the last flu season.

    U.S. oil companies will be allowed to export crude for the first time in 40 years. The Commerce Department quietly announced Tuesday that it’s begun approving a backlog of requests. That could mean shipments of up to a million barrels a day, but it stopped short of formally ending the export ban.

    Wall Street ended 2014 on a losing note, after oil prices fell again. The Dow Jones industrial average slumped 160 points to 17823. The Nasdaq lost 41 points to close at 4736. And the S&P dropped 21 and finished below 2059. But for the year, the Dow gained 7 percent, the Nasdaq was up 13 percent, and the S&P rose 11 percent.

    The actor Edward Herrmann died today of brain cancer in New York. His career spanned film, TV and theater, including a long-running role on “The Gilmore Girls” in the 2000s. In the 1970s, he earned Emmy nominations for portraying Franklin Roosevelt and went on to play him on five separate occasions, including this year, as the voice of Roosevelt in the Ken Burns series on PBS. Edward Herrmann was 71 years old.

    The post News Wrap: Search for AirAsia victims hindered by weather appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Rona Ikram Putri, Evan Williams and Shayla Brown, who participated in the #MyZeitgeist competition, appeared on the NewsHour with their teacher Mark Eaton from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

    NewsHour Extra, the NewsHour’s educational resource site for teachers, challenged students to tell the story of 2014 using news literacy skills and digital storytelling tools. Now in its second year, the #MyZeitgeist competition drew nearly 1,000 students to create a project inspired by Google’s annual review. They used multimedia platforms Trio and Meograph to combine video, photographs, maps and music in order to share 2014’s most important moments. On Tuesday’s NewsHour, we talked to three students about what events were most notable to them and how young people get their news.

    Now we share our two winning submissions:

    Evan Williams of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, received the first place prize for Meograph submissions. His entry highlighted the courage, talent and strength of individuals who were at the core of some of the year’s big events.

    Parneet Sandhu from Thomas Russell Middle School in Milpitas, California, took the first place prize for Trio submissions. Sandhu’s entry used bold graphics and music to call out events of global importance in 2014.

    Students also discussed the events of 2014 on Twitter with NewsHour Extra and KQED’s Do Now social media conversation. Join in the conversation in the comments or on Twitter using #MyZeitgeist, and check out the second and third-place winners here.

     

     

     

     

    The post Winners revealed for PBS NewsHour Extra’s #MyZeitgeist competition appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Times Square on New Year's Eve 2014. Photo by Flickr user gigi_nyc.

    Times Square on New Year’s Eve celebration in 2013-2014. Photo by Flickr user gigi_nyc.

    We’re officially living in the future

    The future is now. Or at least, it will be here in October.

    In the 1989 sci-fi comedy “Back to the Future Part II,” characters Marty McFly, Doc Brown and Jennifer use the famous outfitted DeLorean time machine to travel from the year 1985 into the future. The date? Oct. 21, 2015.

    The film’s version of the future is complete with technology that has sadly yet to be invented, including flying cars, self-tying shoes and — despite a 2014 hoax that tried to prove otherwise — hoverboards.

    Our 2015 won’t be entirely removed from Marty’s future, however. Flat screen televisions have existed for a few years, hands-free video games are currently on the market and video conferencing can be utilized through services such as Skype, Google Hangouts and Apple’s Facetime. Not to mention, a major league Miami baseball club, which didn’t exist in 1989, now exists in the form of the Miami Marlins.

    On that note, the movie has the Chicago Cubs winning the 2015 World Series in a sweep against a Miami baseball team. While their 2015 Major League Baseball counterparts can’t face each other in the Fall Classic due to both teams residing in the National League, there is still a chance that the Cubs — who have not won a championship since 1908 or appeared in a World Series since 1945 — can claim the title of World Champions next October.

    -Justin Scuiletti

    2015 is the “year of Pluto”

    For planetary scientists, 2015 is the “year of Pluto”, said Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons Mission. On July 14, 2015, at 7:49 a.m. EST NASA’s New Horizons probe will make its closest approach to Pluto. Nine years after its launch and three billion miles from Earth, New Horizons will be the first spacecraft to get close-up photos of the dwarf planet.

    Scientists know next to nothing about Pluto, Stern said. The only images of Pluto to date are from the Hubble Telescope, which only show a blurry dot. New Horizons will not only photograph Pluto and its moons, it will gather information on its geology and atmosphere before sailing on to study objects from the early solar system in the Kuiper Belt.

    “We’re not going to rewrite textbooks. We’re going to write textbooks for the first time,” he said. “The lesson of my field is that every time we send a spacecraft on reconnaissance missions like this we’re blown away.”

    Pluto will also celebrate its 85th “birthday” on Feb. 18, marking the anniversary of its discovery in 1930.

    -Rebecca Jacobson

    Photo of 2014 blood moon from Denali National Park and Preserve. Photo by Lian Law/NPS

    Photo of 2014 blood moon from Denali National Park and Preserve. Photo by Lian Law/NPS


    While we’re on the topic of space, a blue moon, Jupiter in opposition and a “blood moon” make 2015 a good year for stargazers

    Apart from exploring new planets, 2015 is a good year to watch the night sky. In July, there will be a blue moon, the first in three years. Astronomically speaking, it’s not that interesting, said Lucy Anne Walkowicz, astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. A blue moon is not actually blue, but a second full moon in a month, she explained.

    But 2015 has more spectacular sights for stargazers. On Sept. 27, starting around 8 p.m. EDT, a full lunar eclipse begins. The moon will turn a dark shade of red by 10:45 p.m. This is the third “blood moon” out of four in two years — an unusually high number so close together.

    It’s a good year to see several planets too, she said. After the new moon on Jan. 22, Mars can be seen as a bright orange dot near the moon. In early February, Jupiter will be “in opposition”, meaning it will be fully illuminated by the sun and brightly visible in the night sky. It will be visible again to the naked eye in mid-June, low in the western sky just after sunset next to Venus. And Aug. 12 and 13, the Perseid meteor shower arrives.

    “It’s a good time to get out of the city, find an open field, lay down a picnic blanket and watch the stars go by,” Walkowicz said.

    -Rebecca Jacobson

    The narrator in ‘Fight Club’ gets married

    If you’re familiar with “Fight Club” — a Chuck Palahniuk novel-turned-David Fincher film about an unnamed insomniac and a mysterious Tyler Durden who together start an underground fighting club — then you know about the rules. And the first rule of fight club is: You do not talk about fight club.

    So we’re not going to talk about the fact that the sequel to Palahniuk’s book is expected to come out in May, over a decade after the 1996 original. We won’t even mention that it’s being released as a 10-part comic book series illustrated by artist Cameron Stewart for Dark Horse Comics. Don’t you dare expect us to utter a word about where it picks up — 10 years later, with the unnamed, now middle-aged, narrator married to Marla Singer and father to their nine-year-old son Junior. Is Tyler Durden back, you ask? Absolutely. But we’re not saying.

    -Colleen Shalby

    Queen Elizabeth II will be the longest serving British monarch in 2015

    On Sept. 9, 2015, the queen regnant’s reign will overtake Queen Victoria’s record of 63 years and 217 days on the throne. While this won’t make Queen Elizabeth the longest-serving monarch or even the longest-serving head of state (living or dead), her reign says remarkable things about her endurance. She’s not “schlepping around the world” as much as she used to, she’s healthy, vigorous and carries on a number of royal duties, said former NewsHour foreign affairs editor Michael Mosettig.

    “She’s been the symbol of continuity in a country that has gone vast changes,” said Mosettig. “When she first took the throne, there were still food rations. Now, Britain is one of the most economically stable, best performing countries in Europe.”

    And while she does not have the power to make or pass legislation, the length of her reign is notable because she has consistently filled the role as constitutional monarch as it was envisioned.

    The queen is “a connection to the past, yet, she has modernized the monarchy in incremental ways,” said Sally Bedell Smith, author of “Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch.” She has not meddled in politics, all the while remaining popular. Many in Britain fear that when her son Charles assumes the throne, he will destroy the good will of the monarchy by getting too involved.

    While this is supposition, said Mosettig, Queen Elizabeth could be the last hands-off constitutional monarch that Britain sees.

    -Ruth Tam

    The Large Hadron Collider is back in business

    In July of 2012, particle physicists at the Large Hadron Collider announced they had found the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle”. The Higgs boson explains why everything has mass. It’s the lynch pin of the Standard Model of physics, and finding it was a momentous occasion for physics, a discovery 48 years in the making.

    While finding the Higgs boson was a breakthrough, there are still hundreds more questions to be answered: Are there other kinds of Higgs bosons? What particles make up dark matter?

    After two years of upgrades, the 16-mile long particle smasher will fire up again in March 2015. This time it’s running at higher energies with the goal of producing more Higgs bosons, and hopefully new undiscovered particles, said David Kaplan, theoretical physicist at Johns Hopkins University.

    “More energy means more access to unknown particles,” Kaplan said in an email. “Either new particles or strange Higgs properties will point to new laws of physics beyond the semi-complete Standard Model, and will give us a hint of where to look next.”

    -Rebecca Jacobson

    Map of Burkina Faso by Calvin Solomon

    Burkina Faso will hold its presidential election in November. Map of Burkina Faso by Calvin Solomon

    2015 could be a watershed year for the political stability of West Africa

    Next fall, Burkina Faso will hold a presidential election and take its first steps toward a democratic government. The historic move is one of three major elections whose outcomes will determine political stability in West Africa next year. Nigeria is up first with an election in February, Côte d’Ivoire will follow in October and Burkina Faso is last in November. Not only are these elections possible indicators of more stable democracies, they could lead to the cap on regional terrorism if the results are accepted by the people.

    According to John Mukum Mbaku, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Burkina Faso has been an important partner in the U.S.’ war on terrorism. If elections are not found to be fair, credible and free, Burkina Faso and its neighbors could succumb to instability, which attracts regional terrorist groups. The outcomes of Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire’s elections could very well mean the spread of regional terrorist groups like Boko Haram, or it could contribute to their end.

    -Ruth Tam

    2015 is palindrome in binary

    Definitely whip this one out at parties: when written in the binary numeral system (or the mathematical language of two digits, 1 and 0), ’2015′ is 11111011111. The next binary-palindrome year isn’t for another 32 years in 2047.

    -Ruth Tam

    The post 8 things you didn’t know about 2015 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed listen to the verdict inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood on June 23, 2014.

    Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed listen to the verdict inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood on June 23, 2014.

    They say they were just doing their jobs.

    After appealing the charge of spreading false news and conspiring with Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood, three Al Jazeera journalists who have been jailed for more than a year are getting a retrial.

    Egypt’s high court announced the order of a retrial at a Cairo hearing on Thursday, when the journalists’ families expected the journalists would be released.

    While a decision was a disappointment to some,  the wife of jailed journalist Baher Mohammed, Jehan Rashed, said a retrial was a “small but positive step” for her husband’s freedom.

    In June, a judge sentenced journalists Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy to seven years in prison while Baher Mohamed received a 10 years.

    The post Top Egypt court orders retrial of Al Jazeera journalists 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 speaks during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

    If Jeb Bush’s 2016 New Year’s resolution wasn’t abundantly obvious before, it is now.

    On Dec. 31, 2014, the former Florida governor resigned from all his current board memberships at corporate and nonprofit organizations — including one of his own foundations. Bush has also cut his consulting ties with a for-profit education company and Barclay’s.

    The Washington Post reports that the resignations (“effective immediately”) signal Bush’s preparation for a presidential run.

    Earlier in December, Bush announced on Facebook and Twitter that he is “actively exploring the possibility of running for president.

    The post Jeb Bush resigns from board memberships, clearing path for White House run appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Protestors urge a raise in the minimum wage outside the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center April 29 in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    Protestors urge a raise in the minimum wage outside the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center April 29 in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    By the end of 2015, 29 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wages above the federal $7.25 an hour. (Twenty-one states increased their minimum wages for the New Year.)

    Since Congressional Democrats were unable to raise the federal minimum wage to the $10.10 the president called for in his 2014 State of the Union address, states and cities have been the primary battleground for the policy.

    Economists are divided on the topic, each pointing to their own statistics about why raising the minimum wage is a good or bad idea. And many pieces of data can be seen as positive or negative depending on the lens through which they are viewed. But even if they’re spun different ways, there are some known facts about the minimum wage — who minimum wage workers are and what they do, for example.

    On New Year’s Eve, NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan spoke with Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Diana Furchtgott-Roth, of the Manhattan Institute.

    Here, Making Sen$e presents the basic data that proponents and opponents of raising the minimum wage generally accept as coming from nonpartisan sources: namely the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014 report on minimum wage workers, which relies on Census Bureau surveys. Both sides can, and happily do, shape this data to support their own positions, but any conversation about the minimum wage should start here.

    How many minimum wage workers are there?

    In 2013, 3.3 million Americans worked at an hourly rate at or below the federal minimum of $7.25. This data comes from the Current Population Survey (conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Note that the Current Population Survey does not specify whether workers are covered by federal or state minimum wages; their calculations are based only on the wage reported.

    Those 3.3 million Americans represent just 4.3 percent of hourly paid employees. Employees 16 and older who are paid hourly make up nearly 60 percent of the workforce. The denominator here is “wage and salary workers.” (The BLS excludes you from that group if you’re self-employed at an unincorporated business or are a non-paid family worker.)

    How has that changed over time?

    The percentage of hourly workers earning the federal minimum wage or less has decreased from 4.7 percent in 2012 and from 13.4 percent in 1979.

    Who are minimum wage workers?

    We know minimum wage workers tend to be younger, female and white, often working in notoriously low-paying industries like hospitality and service. But characterizing their place in the workforce is a common starting point for disagreement over raising the minimum wage.

    Opponents of raising the minimum wage, like Furchtgott-Roth, argue that these workers are young teens — half are under 25, she says — who are working jobs supplemental to their families’ income; poor families they are not necessarily. That’s no longer the case, disputes Bernstein. In a report he helped prepare for the Economic Policy Institute, Bernstein cited data from the Congressional Budget Office describing the average minimum wage worker as full-time and 35 years old. Those are the people who would be helped if the wage were raised to $10.10, the report states. According to the same report, 88 percent of those who would be affected are at least 20, and half are over 30.

    How old are they?

    Perhaps the easiest data point to cherry pick in this debate is age. First, your percentages will depend on how you slice the population. Second, your narrative can sound very different depending on whether you’re talking about the percent of all minimum wage workers who fall into a certain age group or the percent of your specified age group that is minimum wage. And third, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates percentages for workers who earn the minimum wage exactly, those who earn less than the minimum wage, and the total of those two. That last category — those who earn the minimum wage or less — is what we’re interested in and will be referring to from here on out.

    Let’s start with the young’uns. Eleven percent of 16-to-24 year olds earn $7.25 or less. Looking at working teenagers specifically, about 20 percent of 16-to-19-year-olds earn the minimum wage or less. For workers over 25, that percentage drops to about 3 percent. So it’s safe to say that, proportionally speaking, more young workers are earning the minimum wage or less than older workers.

    But some politicians and economists prefer to cite the distribution of minimum wage workers by age. Presented this way, 16-to-24-year-olds make up slightly more than half of all minimum wage (and below) workers. (The teenage subset of that represents 24 percent.) Workers over the age of 25 represent slightly less than the other half. Looking at sheer numbers, we see that in 2013, there were almost as many at-or-below minimum wage workers over the age of 25 (1,638,000) as there were between the ages of 16 and 24 (1,663,000).

    What do they look like?

    Women make up about 62 percent of at-or-below minimum wage workers. And 5.4 percent of women earn the minimum wage or less, compared to 3.3 percent of men 16 years and older.

    What about race? At-or-below minimum wage workers are overwhelmingly (77 percent) white. The next largest demographic distribution is Hispanics, followed by African-Americans. This distribution closely mirrors that of hourly paid workers. But what about the percentage of each ethnicity that earns the minimum wage? Nearly 5 percent of African-Americans earn the minimum wage or less — that’s higher than for any other race or ethnicity, but not by much.

    The majority (72 percent) of at-or-below minimum wage workers have at least a high school degree. That may sound surprising to some, but it reflects a larger pattern in the workforce: 88 percent of hourly paid workers are at least high school grads. That doesn’t mean that most workers with at least high school degrees earn $7.25 an hour. Only 3.6 percent of workers with at least high school degrees earn the minimum wage or less, compared to nearly 10 percent of those with less than a high school degree.

    What do they do?

    About 64 percent of at-or-below minimum wage workers are part-timers. That means, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they work less than 35 hours a week.

    Most minimum wage workers toil in service occupations, specifically food prep and serving. And according to the BLS’s industry-level data (as opposed to their occupation-level data), leisure and hospitality workers make up the largest chunk (55 percent) of wage and salary workers earning the minimum wage or less.

    You can look up average hourly earnings by industry from the BLS, and average hourly earnings specifically for production and non-supervisory workers.

    What would the effect of raising the federal minimum wage be?

    Opponents often claim that raising the minimum wage would keep low-skilled workers (like teenagers) out of the labor market. In other words, raising the wage would make them compete with higher-skilled (and presumably older) workers since, they argue, employers would want skills commensurate with the higher rate. And, they argue, employers would hire fewer workers, in general, since they won’t be able to pay them all more.

    See Paul Solman’s conversation with two small business owners making this argument:

    Proponents tend to argue that minimum wage workers are breadwinners, for whom a higher wage is a matter of sustenance and survival, and giving them more purchasing power would help the economy. They see increased family earnings far outweighing any potential job loss.

    David Rolf, president of the local SEIU chapter near SeaTac, Washington, made the case to Paul Solman last year, arguing that it’s actually better for businesses if low-wage workers have more money in their pockets:

    The definitive source in this debate is the 2014 Congressional Budget Office report, generally accepted (although less so by some Capitol Hill Republicans) to be a nonpartisan authority. The CBO estimated the effects of raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour and $10.10 an hour (we’ll stick with the latter example), and arrived at two central conclusions, one touted by opponents and one touted by proponents of raising the wage.

    First, what conservatives like to repeat: Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would reduce employment by about 500,000 jobs by the second half of 2016. This is what the Manhattan Institute’s Furchtgott-Roth has in mind when she says that low-skilled workers won’t be able to find jobs. That’s because, one, it becomes more expensive for employers to hire them, and two, if employers spend more on wages, they have to raise prices, theoretically creating less demand for their product, and thus less demand for employees to produce that product.

    What makes liberals happy? The CBO estimates that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would lift 900,000 people out of poverty. And wages wouldn’t just rise for minimum wage workers only: families with income up to six times the poverty threshold would see increases in real income. In all, the left points out, the CBO report estimates some 25 million Americans would benefit from a minimum wage increase.

    Judy Woodruff got two perspectives on that CBO report back in February from Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO and David Neumark of University of California, Irvine.

    The post Undisputed facts about the minimum wage appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sure the NIH can transform one of its labs into a bar -- for science -- but can they come close to replicating the dive bar bathroom? Photo by Flickr user Ben Newell

    The NIH transforms one of its labs into a bar — for science — but how close can they come to replicating the ultimate dive bar bathroom? Photo by Flickr user Ben Newell

    WASHINGTON — The tequila sure looks real, so do the beer taps. Inside the hospital at the National Institutes of Health, researchers are testing a possible new treatment to help heavy drinkers cut back — using a replica of a fully stocked bar.

    The idea: Sitting in the dimly lit bar-laboratory should cue the volunteers’ brains to crave a drink, and help determine if the experimental pill counters that urge.

    True, there’s no skunky bar odor; these bottles are filled with colored water. The real alcohol is locked in the hospital pharmacy, ready to send over for the extra temptation of smell — and to test how safe the drug is if people drink anyway.

    “The goal is to create almost a real-world environment, but to control it very strictly,” said lead researcher Dr. Lorenzo Leggio, who is testing how a hormone named ghrelin that sparks people’s appetite for food also affects their desire for alcohol, and if blocking it helps.

    Amid all the yearly resolutions to quit, alcohol use disorders affect about 17 million Americans, and only a small fraction receives treatment. There’s no one-size-fits-all therapy, and the NIH is spurring a hunt for new medications that target the brain’s addiction cycle in different ways — and to find out which options work best in which drinkers.

    “Alcoholics come in many forms,” explained Dr. George Koob, director of NIH’s National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which has published new online guides, at www.niaaa.nih.gov, explaining who’s at risk and what can help.

    What’s the limit? NIAAA says “low-risk” drinking means no more than four drinks in any single day and no more than 14 in a week for men, and no more than three drinks a day and seven a week for women.

    Genes play a role in who’s vulnerable to crossing the line into alcohol abuse. So do environmental factors, such as getting used to drinking a certain amount, not to mention how your own brain’s circuitry adapts.

    Treatment can range from inpatient rehab and 12-step programs to behavioral therapy and the few medications available today. Koob, who specializes in the neurobiology of alcohol, says it usually takes a combination and ultimately, “you have to change your life.”

    Yet a recent review for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimated that less than a third of people who need treatment get it, and of those, less than 10 percent receive medications.

    Three drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat alcohol abuse. One, naltrexone, blocks alcohol’s feel-good sensation by targeting receptors in the brain’s reward system — if people harbor a particular gene. The anti-craving pill acamprosate appears to calm stress-related brain chemicals in certain people. The older Antabuse works differently, triggering nausea and other aversive symptoms if people drink while taking it.

    Recent research suggests a handful of drugs used for other disorders also show promise:

    - Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute found the epilepsy drug gabapentin reduced relapses in drinkers who’d recently quit, and improved cravings, mood and sleep by targeting an emotion-related brain chemical.

    - A study by NIAAA and five medical centers found the anti-smoking drug Chantix may help alcohol addiction, too, by reducing heavy drinkers’ cravings.

    - And University of Pennsylvania researchers found the epilepsy drug topiramate helped heavy drinkers cut back, if they have a particular gene variation mostly found in people of European descent.

    Back in NIH’s bar lab, one of about a dozen versions around the country, the focus is on ghrelin, the hormone produced in the stomach that controls appetite via receptors in the brain. It turns out there’s overlap between receptors that fuel overeating and alcohol craving in the brain’s reward system, explained NIAAA’s Leggio.

    In a study published this fall, his team gave 45 heavy-drinking volunteers different doses of ghrelin, and their urge to drink rose along with the extra hormone.

    Now Leggio is testing whether blocking ghrelin’s action also blocks those cravings, using an experimental Pfizer drug originally developed for diabetes but never sold. The main goal of this first-step study is to ensure mixing alcohol with the drug is safe. But researchers also measure cravings as volunteers, hooked to a blood pressure monitor in the tiny bar-lab, smell a favorite drink. Initial safety results are expected this spring.

    “Our hope is that down the line, we might be able to do a simple blood test that tells if you will be a naltrexone person, an acamprosate person, a ghrelin person,” Koob said.

    Lauren Neergard is a Medical writer for the Associated Press.

    The post Mimicking real-life experience for alcoholics, NIH transforms lab into a bar to test treatment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A young girl holds up signs during a rally to show support for Walmart workers on Black Friday outside the Walmart store in Lakewood, Colorado, in November. The signs refer to the strikers' demand to have a $15 minimum wage for Walmart employees. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    A young girl holds up signs during a rally to show support for Walmart workers on Black Friday outside the Walmart store in Lakewood, Colorado, in November. The signs refer to the strikers’ demand to have a $15 minimum wage for Walmart employees. Today, Colorado’s minimum wage rose to $8.23 an hour, up 23 cents from last year. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    In the course of just the past two days, the minimum wage jumped up in 21 states — and odds are, you’ve got an opinion about that.

    So does the academic world, which has studied — and argued over — the minimum wage’s impact within the labor market for more than 70 years.

    Supporters and opponents of the minimum wage have clashed since the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938. Advocates argue that a wage hike improves the quality of life for low-wage workers, who then funnel higher earnings back into the economy through consumption. Opponents say forcing employers to pay workers more deters hiring, slows business growth and ultimately leads to job loss.

    On the state level, many voters have recently sided with the advocates. Twelve of the 21 minimum wage increases come because of legislation passed in the past two years. That includes four states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — whose voters passed minimum wage ballot initiatives in November. Nine other states’ minimum wages will increase automatically according to the inflation rate.

    The 21 states which raised their minimum wages over New Year’s bumped up pay by different amounts, but this shows they generally were two kinds: incremental increases less than a quarter and large increases around a dollar an hour.

    The 21 states which raised their minimum wages over New Year’s bumped up pay by different amounts, but this shows they generally were two kinds: incremental increases less than a quarter and large increases around a dollar an hour. Graphic by Laura Santhanam

    After Delaware and Minnesota raise their minimum wages this summer, a majority of states, 29 in all, will have pay rates above the federal minimum.

    The debate swirling around the change in pay doesn’t just boil down to whether increasing the minimum wage will be, on balance, positive or negative. Economists disagree on nearly every aspect of the policy: how many people will be affected, who those people are, how much they will be affected and what the minimum wage does in the U.S. economy.

    Poverty vs. Jobs

    The public debate here centers around a wage floor’s impact on employment and income rates. Does it raise the circumstances of the working poor by increasing paychecks or does the higher wage rate choke employers and trigger unemployment?

    If employers are forced to pay more to their lowest-paid workers, opponents argue, they will have to cut jobs overall to make ends meet.

    “They’ll lay off less skilled workers, and place a more intense focus on reducing labor costs through automation and technology,” said James Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation.

    Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and former White House economic advisor in three Republican administrations, added that a higher minimum wage discourages future hiring.

    “If you’re an employer hiring at $15 an hour, you’d hire a different person, someone with more skills, a different type of worker and maybe use different types of technology,” she said. “The people most impacted are those who want to work but can’t.”

    And “when you don’t get your first job, you can’t work up and get your second,” she added.

    Advocates believe that a pay increase will boost the standard of living for workers and even pull some out of poverty.

    “People understand that the lowest wage workers have the least [social] bargaining power, and the issue of income inequality and most growth accumulated at top is well known and understood,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former economic advisor to the Obama administration. “Increases in minimum wage are pretty a simple, direct way to do something about that.”

    The benefits to the workers then extend into the greater economy, added David Cooper, an analyst with the Economic Policy Institute. “When you raise the minimum wage, you put more money into the hands of low income folks, they’re more likely to go out and spend, so it leads to a boost in consumer spending.”

    Supporters of the minimum wage argue that risks to employment are overstated.

    Because turnover in low-wage jobs tends to be high, businesses may actually save in the long run “from not having to recruit, hire and train new workers all the time,” said Cooper. Or they can cut into their profit margins. Or raise prices.

    “Those price increases tend to be small, just because the share of labor costs from low-wage workers tend to be small,” the EPI economist added.

    Bernstein and others argue the quality of the jobs is a key component of the policy. “I think it’s wrong to say no one ever loses their job,” he said, but “if you do lose your job, the next one will be better because the wages will be higher.”

    For years, both sides have had a wealth of studies to back up their respective claims. Proponents quote surveys that found no adverse effects on employment, and positive impacts on poverty levels. Opponents have their own literature. But earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office published a widely-accepted report whose conclusions back up parts of each argument.

    According to CBO, hiking the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would increase wages for some 24.5 million workers, lifting some 900,000 people out of poverty. But the agency also found that a $10.10 minimum wage would eliminate the equivalent of 500,000 jobs.

    Instead of changing the debate, the report has further fueled the cases proponents and opponents make.

    Cooper believes the CBO report demonstrates that the benefits of raising wages would outweigh the costs. He points to the broad figures: millions of workers receiving higher earnings, versus a few hundred thousand lost jobs.

    “You’re saying that 97 percent of people would benefit and maybe 3 percent would be worse off,“ he told NewsHour, “If all policies had 97 percent success, we’d be happy with that.”

    The lost jobs figure is the central problem for the Heritage Institute’s Sherk, who worries about the long-term impacts of lost opportunity.

    “There’s tremendous value in developing labor market skills. Experience makes you more productive,” he said. “That forgone experience, the productivity you’re not getting, that can hurt [workers] on into the future.”

    Why The Disagreement?

    What causes similarly qualified and credentialed researchers to interpret similar data so differently?

    Part of it stems from academic complaints. Economists critique each others’ survey methodologies, the structure or timing or size of their studies and their chosen data points. A single piece of research could be praised as well-conducted and significant by those who support its conclusions, while those who don’t may point to flaws in data or method.

    “It’s a bit of an indictment against economists,” said Bernstein. “You can hold the graphs up whichever way you want.”

    In a larger sense, the dispute comes down to a simple, fundamental difference in philosophy: what role should government play in the labor market?

    “People who like the minimum wage like it because they like other forms of government interventions into the marketplace,” said Richard Burkhauser, a professor of policy analysis at Cornell. “Some of us are more skeptical of those interventions. We think they do more harm than good.”

    These skeptics say that wages will rise naturally when workers are able to increase their value in the marketplace through education or training.

    “Our labor is not all worth the same,” said Sherk. “People have different levels of productivity. The best thing to do is helping people be more productive in the working place, [so they can] be more valuable.”

    Low-wage jobs, he added, “are entry-level jobs. They provide skills and productivity to command more than minimum wage in the future.”

    But Cooper, the progressive economist, believes that such government fiat is necessary to address problems in the marketplace.

    “Any time you have an environment of high unemployment,” of the like that accompanied the Great Recession, “that puts downward pressure on wages, because employers know they don’t need to raise wages to attract or retain workers, which causes wages to stagnate or decline,” he said. “In that environment, one of the only ways to raise wages is to increase the minimum.”

    There are also important principles at stake, he added.

    “Poverty alleviation is part of it. Everyone recognizes that a job is the best anti-poverty tool,” he said. “At the same time, the minimum wage isn’t really designed as an anti-poverty tool. It’s a basic labor standard, the same as saying you don’t have to breathe asbestos on the job.”

    “You can argue over where that standard should be set,” Bernstein agreed, “but it’s pretty radical to say there shouldn’t be a standard at all.”

    Some Agreement

    This is one area of broad consensus. Economists generally agree that moderate increases in the minimum wage — such as those that have gone into effect this week — are likely to have moderate impacts overall. Neither side would sniff at those impacts on individuals — a few extra dollars a week in either a paycheck or in employee payroll can make a significant difference to either workers or employers struggling to make ends meet. But both sides tend to recognize that incremental minimum wage increases are neither an all-encompassing economic solution nor an all-destroying economic disaster.

    “You get into this mess, where one side says this will fix everything, and the other side says this will ruin everything,” said Bernstein, “and the truth is never so extreme.”

    Cornell’s Burkhauser went further, calling the minimum wage “relatively small potatoes.”

    “This isn’t a major issue like some of what we have before us, like how can we increase economic growth, how do we pay for Social Security.These are much bigger and more encompassing,” he said. “It’s odd to spend so much time on the minimum wage.”

    Whether time spent on the debate is too much or too little, both sides hope to gain one thing from the stream of minimum wage increases going into effect: data. With 29 states requiring a minimum wage higher than the federal $7.25 rate and 21 states staying at $7.25, economists will have a laboratory for their next sets of arguments.

    The post Want to watch economists fight? Bring up the minimum wage appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Last year, the U.S. confronted new kinds of conflicts and challenges overseas. In a shifting political and economic landscape, new actors entered the world stage, while longtime powers tried surprising strategies.

    Gwen Ifill recorded this look back at what 2014 means for the new year.

    GWEN IFILL: Global upheaval was the hallmark of the year just ending. A pro-Russian leader was toppled in Ukraine. A new government and civil war followed, and Russia seized Crimea. The Islamic State and Boko Haram became household names in foreign policy circles. U.S.-led Middle East negotiations derailed. And a war broke out between Israel and Hamas. Ebola killed thousands in West Africa. American forces returned to Iraq.

    And that’s just the beginning of an eventful year that is already spilling over into the year to come.

    So what were the biggest game-changers? And what comes next?

    For that, we turn to Indira Lakshmanan, foreign policy correspondent for Bloomberg News, Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius, and former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, now CEO of the International Rescue Committee.

    Welcome to you all.

    David Ignatius, I want to start by asking you, just from the United States’ point of view, what was the biggest foreign policy challenge that this administration had to deal with?

    DAVID IGNATIUS, The Washington Post: I would have to say — and it’s a big list — that the most consequential was the breakout of ISIS, the Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria, drawing the United States back into war in Iraq.

    And I say that because I fear that this conflict and the consequences for America will be generational. This is going to take a long time. The resilience of these Islamic fighters, their ability to just rip through Northern Syria and Northwestern Iraq was astonishing, forcing Obama to do the thing he least wanted to do in 2014, which is to reenter this conflict.

    GWEN IFILL: David Miliband, from a global perspective — and perhaps the answer is the same — what would you say is the biggest challenge?

    DAVID MILIBAND, International Rescue Committee: I think that this was a year of disorder.

    It’s striking that, at the beginning of the year, people were talking about tensions in the South China Seas. No one was talking about tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border. By the end of the year, obviously, Russia had emerged as the biggest geopolitical spoiler, and in the agreement that President Obama struck with the Chinese over climate change, perhaps an indication of the kind of geopolitical cooperation that could take place for the final two years of his presidency.

    However, from the humanitarian sector’s point of view, the fact that old wars in Somalia, Congo, et cetera, continued and new wars started, as David says, back into Iraq, the South Sudanese civil war, suggest that the international system is not doing a good job of keeping a lid on conflicts that are just bubbling over.

    GWEN IFILL: I want to circle back to that question of the humanitarian impact, because there are places we haven’t even touched on where that was a big issue.

     

    But, Indira, think about it, Ukraine, something that certainly is not resolved yet. There are so many of these issues which we have named and some we haven’t which still spill over.

    INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, Bloomberg News: That’s right.

    And, to me, the other huge challenge that we need to talk more about is Russia and Ukraine. And that is a problem that is not going away. I don’t think there is anyone who could have predicted at the beginning of 2014 that we were going to see a shelved trade pact by the Ukrainian leader Yanukovych leading to massive popular protests, the fall of his government, the rise of a Western-oriented government, and finally Putin being, you know, worried to the point that he felt he needed to invade, annex Crimea and go down this path of destabilizing Eastern Ukraine.

    I think nobody saw that coming. And it’s going to have huge, huge consequences. Not only do we have the biggest East-West struggle since the end of the Cold War, but we have this cycle now of sanctions from the United States and Europe which have not stopped Putin’s behavior. And combine that with the other huge story, I think, from 2014, which is the drop in the price of oil, 45 percent down for crude in this calendar year, and that has really hit Russia and other petro states, like Venezuela, Iran.

    So I think that’s a big thing that is going to push Putin in the coming year.

    GWEN IFILL: David Ignatius, she mentions Vladimir Putin by name. Is there any other single leader who we should be the most concerned about, worried about, planning our foreign policy around?

    DAVID IGNATIUS: I think we should pay special attention to the leader of China, President Xi Jinping, who would be on my list as the most skilled and successful political leader of the year.

    Xi identified the biggest threats to the Communist Party’s rule in China as corruption and environmental pollution that Chinese are frightened about. And he went after both aggressively in 2014. He went after top party officials for corruption. And he signed a climate pact with President Obama in November.

    GWEN IFILL: That nobody saw coming.

    DAVID IGNATIUS: That nobody saw coming, but they should have because it was clear that Xi had made the decision, I have to show my people that I am acting on this issue that they fear is going to make China unsafe for them in the future.

    So I am impressed by his skill and his aggressiveness, his boldness as a leader. We’re going to have to deal with him, maybe in good ways, cooperatively, maybe in more difficult ways.

    GWEN IFILL: And, David, what do you think about Bashar al-Assad in Syria? To what degree is he a major figure that we still have to be worried about in 2015?

    DAVID MILIBAND: Well, sad to say, President Assad certainly strengthened his position in Syria.

    But the country imploded underneath him. It is actually extraordinary to think of 12 million people, half the population, uprooted from their homes, three to four million in neighboring countries. And, of course, ISIS has emerged into vacuum that was created in Central and Eastern Syria.

    One thing that I think is very, very important that people keep an eye on in 2015 is how the Iranians decide to play their cards, not just on the nuclear file, but also on the wider regional conflagration that is engulfing significant parts of the Middle East.

    Obviously, they have been a significant destabilizing force over the years. But partly because of the oil price change, but not only because of that, also because of popular pressure inside Iran, I think it’s very important to see them as having an absolutely pivotal set of decisions to make in 2015.

    GWEN IFILL: Indira, do we have to worry now in this post-Snowden era as much about cyber-warfare as we do about old-fashioned warfare?

    INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Look, cyber-warfare, as we see at the close of this year, with the hack of Sony, which may or may not have been the result of the North Korean state, depending on whose intelligence you believe, has turned out to be the cheapest form of warfare since the bow and arrow.

    You know, I do think that there is a lot of potential for spoilers to come in, just — we have seen major attacks on major U.S. banks, major U.S. retailers. And now this attack on Sony shows the ability to do things quite cheaply and easily with sort of off-the-shelf malware.

    So, yes, I think that is a really important thing to watch. I also agree that Iran really bears watching, because that could potentially be a game-changer. If there is a possibility — and I think that’s a very big if — of getting a nuclear deal with Iran, that could lead to some agreement on normalization, just like we have seen at the end of this year with Cuba. I’m not saying it will happen, but it’s a big thing to watch.

    GWEN IFILL: David Ignatius, I wonder if we shouldn’t be redefining or reshaping how we define foreign policy in general, when you think about things like cyber-warfare, where, with the push of a button, you can completely change what we are all focused on, or whether we are overstating it or overreaching a little bit.

    DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, I — the cyber-dimension pushes warfare into a new space. It’s like the nuclear weapons, which changed the nature of foreign policy.

    I was struck this year by the way in which foreign policy played with President Obama and his presidency and his legacy.

    GWEN IFILL: For good or for ill?

    DAVID IGNATIUS: For both.

    At the middle of this year, it was a common place — at least in Washington — that this turbulence around a world explosion of Putin in Ukraine, the explosion of ISIS, was a sign of Obama’s weakness, that he was weak and feckless — I’m quoting Republican critics now — and that this disordered world was a consequence.

    But, at the end of the year, I’m struck by all the things Obama must be glad he didn’t do that critics were urging him to do. He must be glad that he didn’t take military action to check the Russians and Ukraine, which the U.S. really couldn’t have followed up on.

    He must be glad that he didn’t take more extreme action early in Iraq, which might have blown the opportunity to get a more united government there. So, I think the year ends for Obama with this attempt to engage Cuba, with the Iran talks going, the Obama of 2009 talking about engagement, and probably just as happy not to be seen as the tough guy, as his critics have been urging him to be.

    GWEN IFILL: And, David Miliband, there are the foreign policy challenges which nobody can prepare for. And I’m thinking about Ebola, kind of health crises, things which affect people, catch people’s attention, take our eye off other balls, and — and isn’t done yet.

    DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that the fact that one refugee occurred every four seconds in 2014 tells you the scale of crisis and disorder that exists around the world.

    One thing that strikes me is how the political and economic and humanitarian pillars of societies intersect so closely. Many of the places that are being struck by political disorder are also great markets, where businesses are trying to invest.

    In the case of Ebola, this health emergency has upended, not just politics, but obviously also economics. And I think there are some very important lessons there about how not just governments, but also aid agencies, frankly, how we think about helping people build stronger societies.

    I mean, the Liberia-Sierra Leone case that you raise is one that I think very few people would have put at the top of the flashing red lights list at this time last year. They were seen as countries that had come through a terrible conflict, were in a post-conflict phase, were building systems of governance and services that could survive.

    When you then find out that there were only 15 ambulances in the whole of Monrovia at the beginning of the Ebola crisis, you see how far we have got to go to tackle some of the causes of extreme poverty and instability around the world.

    And the fact that now 50 percent of the world’s poor, living on less than $1.25 a day, are in conflict or fragile states tells you a lot about the changing geography of poverty and possibly also the changing geography and instability around the world.

    GWEN IFILL: INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, David Ignatius, David Miliband, thank you all very much.

    DAVID IGNATIUS: Thanks.

    The post What 2014 global conflicts and challenges will carry over into the new year? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Al Jazeera journalists Mohammed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed stand behind bars at a court in Cairo

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: For 369 days, a trio of Al-Jazeera journalists has been held in an Egyptian jail. But, today, with the latest ruling from Egypt’s highest appeals court, their case took a hopeful turn.

    Outside the Cairo courthouse, a crowd dominated by police and media waited for news on the Al-Jazeera journalists’ appeals. In June, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were handed  seven-to-10-year sentences on charges of publishing false Egyptian news and aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

    But outside Egypt, the trial was widely viewed as a sham and the verdicts sparked an international outcry. Supporters organized protests and social media campaigns, claiming the journalists were unfairly caught up in tensions between Egypt and Qatar, the owners of Al-Jazeera.

    But the two countries have recently begun a public reconciliation. And in December, Greste thanked his supporters in a letter written from his Cairo cell, saying — quote — “We have created a huge global awareness of not just our cause, but the far wider and more vital issues of press freedom, the persecution of journalists, and of justice in Egypt.”

    Today, Egypt’s highest court granted the three retrials. Lawyers for the journalists welcomed the decision, saying the initial verdicts were based on flawed evidence.

    NAGAD AL-BORAI, Lawyer For Mohammed Fahmy: They assume that if you work for Al-Jazeera, automatically, you are a member in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not true and is illegal.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Still, family members expressed disappointment that the three wouldn’t be released on bail.

    JAZEERA ADEL FAHMY, Mohammed Fahmy’s Brother: I was expecting, yes, a retrial, but I was expecting, with that, a release today. We were really hoping for that. We wanted Mohamed to come with us home today.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And in Doha, Al-Jazeera’s managing director pushed for an expedited retrial.

    MUSTAFA SOUAG, Managing Director, Al Jazeera (through interpreter): We welcome this initial verdict and we request their immediate release without any conditions. Leaving them in jail, regardless of how long they are there, is another indication to the global media, Al-Jazeera and all the journalists that the press is still oppressed in Egypt.

    The post Will a retrial in Egypt free three jailed journalists? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Earlier today, I spoke with Borzou Daragahi. He’s been covering the journalists’ detention for The Financial Times in Cairo.

    Borzou, start by telling us what happened in court today.

    BORZOU DARAGAHI, Financial Times: First of all, I should just give a caveat.

    The journalists were not allowed into the courtroom. This is based on speaking to defense attorneys, as well as to members of the families of the defendants who were allowed into court. They were — you know, apparently, it was a very short session, less than half-an-hour, in which the defense lawyers were allowed to plea for their clients, to argue on behalf of their clients and give various arguments as to why the case didn’t stand up to legal scrutiny.

    This is a court of cassation. In the Egyptian legal system, its sole role is to scrutinize court decisions to see if they measure up to legal standards. And then the case gets referred to a court of appeals. At the end of session, there was about an hour where the judge was deliberating. And he came back.

    We were told by court decisions — we never actually saw the judge — that the case had been vacated, so to speak, the verdict had been canceled, and a retrial ordered.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Was there any explanation on why these individuals were not let out on bail?

    BORZOU DARAGAHI: There was no explanation of anything. There was no explanation as to the court’s reasoning for vacating the previous June court decision, and there was no explanation to why they weren’t released on bail.

    There was no real communication between the court officials and the public, or with the defendants, who were not in the court session, or to the defense lawyers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, when does the retrial start?

    BORZOU DARAGAHI: We’re not sure of that exactly.

    From my understanding, in speaking to the defense attorneys, within a week, the court of appeals will announce a trial date, which should start within a month. So that means that there’s no chance for these guys to be released from prison on bail until that first court hearing, which should begin within a month.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How much of this is political vs. legal?  There’s a lot of speculation that this trial or the retrial hangs on the fate of the relationship between Egypt and Qatar, who owns Al-Jazeera.

    BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, if you talk to Egyptian officials, they’re very strident about the integrity of the Egyptian judicial system and the independence of that judiciary.

    Many people are very skeptical about those claims. They see a lot of politics in the prosecution of this and other cases. And, you know, based on the comments of certain officials, yes, this diplomatic spat between Egypt and Qatar is part of the problem in getting these guys freed and getting them out of jail and ending this whole charade.

    I don’t know what else to call it, because these guys are clearly not guilty of anything, other than being ordinary journalists. So, you know, I mean, it seems like that will be a big actor. But it’s not just a diplomatic dispute. There’s also billions of dollars at stake here, because the Qatari government, when the Muslim Brotherhood was dominant here, invested billions of dollars in the Egyptian Central Bank, and now wants that money back.

    In addition, the Qatari government has sued the — or, rather, Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatari government, has sued Egypt for $140 million for damages pertaining to this particular case and other matters. And so there’s this big financial dispute, as well as a political dispute.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right.

    So, the Egyptian president could have gotten involved, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. He said that this is a court that should retain its independence. How independent is this particular court that this retrial was granted under?

    BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, many people that I have spoken to, legal professionals in Egypt, say that the court of cassation is known for being relatively free of politics, relatively independent, has a rather high relative degree of integrity compared to other parts of the Egyptian judiciary and legal system.

    So it has a very good reputation. But, in recent months, recent weeks, actually, we have had leaks of audiotapes, rather credible leaks, showing high-level members of the generals around Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi openly discussing with each other how they would manipulate this court case or this legal matter or that.

    And these have been — these have been aired on various Internet stations and so on. And these have really raised questions about just how much and how the Egyptian judiciary system is an independent or not.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Borzou Daragahi, thank you so much for joining us.

    The post How three ‘ordinary journalists’ were caught between Egypt and Qatar appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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