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

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    newswrap

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama announced fresh sanctions on North Korea today, in response to its cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The executive order names three companies, plus 10 North Korean government officials, some who work in Iran, Syria, China, Russia, and Namibia.

    The U.S. has had sanctions on North Korea since the 1950s, most recently for its nuclear programs. These mark the first sanctions punishing the regime for its alleged hacking of Sony executives’ e-mails.

    Twenty-one more bodies from the AirAsia plane disaster were recovered from the Java Sea today. At least 30 victims have been found so far, and some were still trapped to their seats — strapped to their seats. Their remains were flown to Surabaya, Indonesia, for identification.

    Aircraft and ships painstakingly searched the waters off Borneo for more bodies. They’re also still looking for the plane’s fuselage and black box flight recorders to help determine exactly what caused the crash.

    YOSY HERMAWAN, Helicopter Pilot (through interpreter): It’s about a 30-mile area that we are searching. The first priority is to evacuate survivors if any are found or to recover bodies and, second, to find debris or objects that can help the National Commission of Safety Transportation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Four of the victims have now been identified, including a flight attendant and an 11-year-old boy. Their remains have been returned to their families.

    U.S. and coalition warplanes went after the Islamic State group’s de facto capital in Syria today, hitting them with more than a dozen airstrikes. The air raids on Raqqa, in Northeastern Syria, were the heaviest since the militants captured a Jordanian pilot last week.

    Meanwhile, Iraqi troops took back ground from Islamic State fighters in Iraq’s Anbar province. They targeted a complex known to be used for bomb-making.

    A record number of rhinos were killed in South Africa last year, where more than 90 percent of the world’s rhinos live. South African government figures showed at least 1,020 of the animals were illegally slaughtered in 2014. That amounts to more than three rhinos poached each day. The animals are killed to meet a growing demand for horn and ivory in Asia, particularly ahead of the Chinese new year in February.

    Stocks on Wall Street began the year on a flat note, with very little movement. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 10 points to close at 17833. The Nasdaq fell nine points to close above 4726. The S&P 500 dropped less than a point to close at 2058. For the week, the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P each lost more than 1 percent.

    The post News Wrap: Obama announces new sanctions on North Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HONOLULU — President Barack Obama is aiming to set the agenda for the new year on his terms despite emboldened Republicans who feel their victory in November’s elections given them a mandate to rein him in.

    Obama, who returns to the White House this weekend after closing out 2014 with a Hawaiian vacation, was energized by a series of high-profile end-of-the-year moves, most notably on immigration and Cuba. Following deep Democratic losses on Election Day, those actions suggested he retained some relevance, and he wants to carry that momentum into 2015.

    But barely 48 hours after Obama’s arrival in Washington, Republicans will take power in the new Congress, ready to fulfill their pledge to confront the president from both the House and Senate.

    Without a Democratic majority in the Senate to stop them, GOP lawmakers convening Tuesday intend to start chipping away on health care, immigration and the environment, flashing their power as Obama enters his final two years in office.

    Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said the House would start right away with jobs bills that have won the support of both parties before but never advanced in the Senate.

    “If the president is willing to work with us, we’ll have a real chance to address our nation’s most pressing challenges,” he said in the weekly Republican address.

    After the election, Obama and Republicans identified a few modest areas for potential cooperation, including trade, taxes and public works. The question is whether Obama will try to reach out to find ground for compromise or come out swinging for a progressive agenda, as he has in years past.

    Obama’s clearest opportunity to set the tone for 2015 will come Jan. 20, when he delivers the State of the Union address. It will be his seventh since taking office, but his first before a Congress entirely under Republican control.

    A year ago, the president urged Congress, without success, to increase the minimum wage and act on climate change. The year before he promoted liberal priorities such as gun control and universal preschool, and both proved nonstarters.

    The White House has reached out to Democratic groups for their input on the speech, without making commitments.

    Neera Tanden, president for the Center for American Progress and former White House aide, said the address will be an important moment for Obama to make his case on the budget and immigration.

    “I think the president needs to find a balance between reaching out to Republicans and having Washington address the country’s problems without forfeiting the principles that had him elected and re-elected just a few years ago,” she said.

    Obama was expected to arrive back in Washington on Sunday morning after more than two weeks in Hawaii with his wife and daughters on their winter vacation. The president spent long afternoons on Oahu’s beaches and golf courses and ate at Waikiki restaurants.

    The post Despite Republican Congress, Obama aims to start new year his way appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — The 114th Congress that convenes Tuesday will count more minorities and women than ever, although lawmakers remain overwhelmingly white and male in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

    A record 104 women will serve in Congress, and for the first time, African-American members of both genders and representing both parties will be among the ranks on Capitol Hill.

    The number of female lawmakers is up slightly from 100 at the close of the last Congress, but represents about 20 percent of the total in Congress. It’s far less than the nearly 51 percent of the U.S. population. A total of 94 racial minorities will serve in Congress, about 18 percent.

    There are 100 senators and 435 seats in the House.

    The House will have 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats. One seat is vacant following the resignation on Monday of Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., who pleaded guilty to a felony tax evasion charge.

    The Senate will have 54 Republicans and 44 Democrats, plus two independents – Maine’s Angus King and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. Both caucus with Democrats.

    House

    A total of 84 women will serve in the House, compared with 80 in the last Congress. The new lawmakers include Elise Stefanik, a 30-year-old New York Republican who is the youngest woman ever elected to the House. Also making history is Mia Love, 38, whose election to a suburban Salt Lake City district made her the first black female Republican to win a seat in Congress.

    Forty-four African-Americans will serve in the House, including Love and another black Republican freshman, Will Hurd of Texas. Hurd made news last month as he was named chairman of an Information Technology subcommittee on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, an unusual distinction for a freshman.

    There are 34 Hispanic lawmakers, including 10 Republicans, as well as 10 Asian-Americans and two Native Americans, both Oklahoma Republicans.

    Senate

    The number of women in the Senate remains at 20, following the election of Republicans Joni Ernst of Iowa and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, and the defeats of Democrats Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. (Re-elected were Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.)

    Two African-Americans serve as senators – Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey. There are three Hispanic senators: Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas and Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

    Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is the only Asian-American in the Senate.

    Freshman

    Fifty-eight House freshmen will be sworn in on Tuesday – 43 Republicans and 15 Democrats. Three other members are new to Congress but are considered veterans of a few weeks. Reps. Dave Brat, R-Va., Donald Norcross, D-N.J., and Alma Adams, D-N.C., took the oath shortly after November’s elections to fill the seats of lawmakers who had left Congress.

    The Senate will welcome 13 new members – 12 Republicans and one Democrat, Gary Peters of Michigan.

    The post New Congress includes more minorities, women than ever before appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    pot

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    Editor’s note: This piece is an update to a report that originally aired in September of 2014.

    RICK KARR: Marijuana grower and retailer Andy Williams can barely keep up with the demand for his product these days. He says he can’t imagine a more exciting and lucrative industry to be in right now. But the buzz is all coming from capitalism. He doesn’t even like cannabis.

    ANDY WILLIAMS: I tried every few years just to prove to myself I still don’t like it. You know, it just affects me very poorly.

    RICK KARR: When he started his business a few years ago, Williams could only sell medical marijuana. That put him in position to be one of the first to sell recreational cannabis when it became legal last year.

    Business has been so good that Williams now employs 75 people and expects to hire more. And this past August he opened a new state-of-the art facility that will produce 7 thousand pound of cannabis a year.

    ANDY WILLIAMS: It’s manufacturing is what it is as far as I’m concerned. You are manufacturing marijuana. This is an industrial manufacturing plant that grows marijuana.

    RICK KARR: Stores like these can now sell up to an ounce of marijuana to customers who are 21 and over. The products come in all kinds of forms: cannabis buds from a range of varieties bred to treat particular ailments, provide a mellow buzz, or deliver a powerful rush.

    Pre-rolled joints, pot-laced brownies, hard candy, and chocolate bars, marijuana infused beverages and massage oil. Consumers spend tens of millions of dollars a month on those products, but Williams is sure there’s a lot more money to be made in his business.

    ANDY WILLIAMS: You know I did this so that my family can be set up for their rest of their lives. Right now, I already know of some blue chip companies that are on the, on the start line. They’re gonna come and buy people up, and quite honestly, I wanna be one of those guys.

    RICK KARR: One of the benefits attached to legalization was that it would eliminate the black market. But that market is still thriving, according to a 39 year old marijuana grower who asked us to call him John Doe and to conceal his identity because he sells on the underground market.

    The illegal trade is doing especially well in black and Latino communities, and he says it works the same way it did when pot was illegal.

    JOHN DOE: You have that one guy, that guy that shines, that’s the Robin Hood of the neighborhood. This man supplies a little ghetto area. Simple as that. Breaks his own pound into little ounces and helps everybody in his community.

    So they can afford it with him. That’s how it’s happened.

    RICK KARR: Yeah. And that’s how it happened before, too.

    JOHN DOE: Yeah. Yeah. Nothing’s changed.

    RICK KARR: John Doe says low-income buyers turn to the black market because prices are higher at legal retail stores. There’s conflicting information, but an ounce of pot on the black market can cost as little as 180 dollars.

    At the store Andy Williams owns, you have to pay around 240 dollars for an ounce. That’s partly because the price includes a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent marijuana tax, the state sales tax, and Denver’s marijuana sales tax.

    LARISA BOLIVAR: The taxes are an overreach and excessive. And it’s a regressive tax and it impacts the poor most.

    RICK KARR: Larisa Bolivar was involved in the fight to make marijuana legal for medical purposes. She uses it herself to treat stress. She campaigned for legalization but she doesn’t like how it’s working out.

    She believes all those taxes guarantee a black market. But taxes have been beneficial, according to Mason Tvert, who also campaigned for legalization and helped draft the state’s regulations.

    In the first 10 months, those taxes have generated nearly 41 million dollars. A chunk of that is slated for public school construction. Besides he says the legal market offers some things that consumers find more important than the lowest price.

    MASON TVERT: Variety, convenience, safety. That’s what drives every product in the entire world. You know, that’s what’s going to drive this market. If someone is lower income or a higher income, chances are they’re going to go to a store and purchase it because it’ll be safe. It’ll be convenient. There’ll be variety. These are what drive people’s decisions.

    RICK KARR: How has that worked out so far? I mean, is the black market gone? Is the black market going away?

    MASON TVERT: I think it’s absurd for anyone to assume that we can eliminate a black market that grew over 80 plus years within the course of eight, nine months. But we’ve seen this industry take a huge bite out of the underground market.

    RICK KARR: To enter the legal marijuana industry, you have to be a Colorado resident in good legal standing. You also need the capital to get licensed, and that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

    LARISA BOLIVAR: It’s classist. The regulations support those that have access to wealth. And middle and lower classes don’t have access to wealth.

    I can’t just go and ask my dad, “Hey, can I have $20,000 for licensing and application fees?” You know? And then “Can I get a million dollars to get a property?”

    RICK KARR: To start the legal recreational marijuana business, an entrepreneur needs a lot of capital: to fund an indoor grow facility, hire employees who’ll cultivate the product, install security systems – all while complying with state regulations.

    Tvert acknowledges the expenses limit the abilities of minorities to enter the industry.

    MASON TVERT: This is a symptom of race relations and economic justice in our nation. This is not exclusive to marijuana.

    You know, right now people in lower income areas or communities of color are facing discrimination and bearing the brunt of social policies across the board, not just for marijuana.

    RICK KARR: But Tvert says since legalization there have been fewer arrests of minorities for marijuana possession.

    MASON TVERT: People of color were being disproportionately impacted when it came to marijuana possession, and now whether you’re white, whether you’re black, whether you’re a Latino, you are no longer going to be booked and convicted and treated like a criminal the rest of your life simply for possessing marijuana.

    RICK KARR: But for anyone who was caught and convicted of a drug-related felony before legalization, state law makes it virtually impossible to join the industry now that marijuana is legal.

    John Doe says that keeps a lot of people working on the black market.

    JOHN DOE: There’s a lot of people that have broken the law that are great entrepreneurs, work very hard, have good work ethics, family values, good communication skills. I mean, I definitely believe that they should be given a chance.

    The rules and regulations should allow a good grower that’s been in trouble to do this. They’re not hurting anybody. They’re not out there you know, stealing and robbing. Most of these people probably got caught up trying to make a living. Trying to make money.

    RICK KARR: The counterargument, though, is it also shows that they are willing to break the law, because it was illegal. So maybe if we give them a license and they open up a grow facility, licensed, maybe they won’t pay the taxes.

    JOHN DOE: Maybe they’re more prone to breaking laws. Well, you know, they say that about many people, but you have to see their track record.

    RICK KARR: John Doe says his family has been growing marijuana for many generations in Latin America. He believes the legal industry should benefit from his experience and passion for the plant.

    JOHN DOE: It’s the end result is this little flower that’s growing up and all full of joy. When this comes out, that’s when you say, “Okay, I am proud of my work.”

    RICK KARR: This past November, voters in Oregon and Alaska approved initiatives legalizing the possession and sale of recreational marijuana.

    Last month, the Department of Justice responded to inquiries from Native American tribes by announcing that it would allow tribal governments to make their own decisions on the cultivation and sale of marijuana — even in states where it’s still outlawed.

    Legalization in Colorado is still a work in progress. But the state’s a pioneer and as other states consider — or implement — new marijuana laws, they’ll be watching to see how Colorado does.

    The post Pot pioneer: More states, Native American tribes mimic Colorado’s marijuana laws appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Indonesian soldiers carry coffins containing bodies of the AirAsia flight QZ8501 crash to be taken to Bhayangkara Police Hospital for identification procedure on Jan. 03 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Authorities said on Saturday they were narrowing in on the wreckage site as sonar equipment detected four large objects on the ocean floor. Credit: Alex Widojo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Sonar equipment used by search teams looking for the crash site of AirAsia Flight 8501 has detected four large objects on the ocean floor, Indonesian officials said Saturday.

    The largest piece measured 59 by 18 feet and appeared to be from the jet’s body, chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency Henry Bambang Soelistyo told the Associated Press.

    “We’ve found four big parts from the plane we’re looking for,” Soelistyo said.

    Amid developments in the search for the wreckage, Indonesia’s transportation ministry said on Friday that AirAsia was not authorized to fly the route from Surabaya to Singapore on Sunday, the day the plane crashed.

    The jet had 162 people on board when it disappeared from radar en route from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore early on Dec. 28.

    Authorities have recovered 30 bodies from the Java Sea, AirAsia said in a statement posted on Facebook.

    “Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and friends of our passengers and colleagues on board QZ 8501,” the airline said.

    Some of the bodies found were still belted in their seats, the New York Times reported, citing an Indonesian official’s interview with a local television station.

    While no official cause for the crash has been identified, a 14-page report released by Indonesia’s weather bureau said bad weather was likely a contributing factor.

    “Based on the available data on the last received location of the aircraft, the weather was a factor in causing the accident,” the report said.

    The pilot of the downed jetliner had requested “deviation due to en-route weather” before air traffic control lost contact with the plane, the airline said. Air traffic control denied the pilot’s request to climb to a higher altitude to avoid storm clouds because of heavy air traffic.

    The plane’s black boxes, which hold the jet’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders, have yet to be found.

    The post Four large objects spotted on ocean floor in AirAsia jet search appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    viewerslikeyou

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to Viewers Like You: Your feedback about some of our recent work.

    Many of you commented about our updated signature segment last Sunday describing how some struggling towns have used for-profit companies to collect fines and that some poor people are being jailed when they can’t pay. This, even if the’ve been acquitted of the charges they faced.

    Overwhelmingly, you thought the practice was wrong.

    Angela Erichsen wrote us: Debtor’s prison — we’ve regressed 200 years.

    From Linda Rummel Devendorf: Purely Dickensian times we’re entering.

    Janice Friedman said: Ridiculous! Let them work it off with community service! 

    And Patricia Evans added this: Due process requires an impartial decision maker; anytime a privatized system is used, by definition due process is gone.

    Jeff Goldman wrote: Besides being obviously unconstitutional, what ever happened to fair play and treating people who are otherwise good people with respect and rational penalties for very minor offenses. Particularly since they were found innocent of the original charges. This is just another case of the poor or working poor getting the shaft, so to speak. This story makes me sick to my stomach. 

    And Steven Mitchell had this to say: Our system is no longer based on justice. It is based on revenue… No longer is it protect and serve, it’s harass and extort.

    Judith Harlan said: Prisons are very expensive and funds are provided by local and national government…taxpayers…self-defeating.

    Finally, a few of you praised our reporting: Greg Childre wrote: Shining light on a system that is so broken.

    As always, visit us online at newsour.pbs.org or Tweet us at @NewsHour or leave a comment on the NewsHour Facebook page.

    The post Viewers respond to report on jail time for people unable to pay fines appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — Republican senators poised to lead major committees when the GOP takes charge are intent on pushing back many of President Barack Obama’s policies, setting up potential showdowns over environmental rules, financial regulations and national security.

    The all-GOP Congress – Republicans also have a commanding majority in the House – gives the powerful Senate committee heads a newfound opportunity to steer legislation and help shape the national debate.

    With Republicans winning control of the Senate in the November election, all the committees will get new leaders, though all have been around for years.

    The heads of the 13 major committees and Veterans’ Affairs are some of the most senior members of the Senate. Three are octogenarians and four are in their late 70s. Only one new leader will be a woman; Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is in line to take over the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

    A look at the powerful senators and their issues:

    Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin back Senator Pat Roberts, a longtime incumbent Rebublican from Kansas, who is fighting to keep his Senate seat. Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg and Getty Images

    Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas will consider renewal of child nutrition programs that will expire next year. Credit: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg and Getty Images

    AGRICULTURE

    Kansas’ Pat Roberts, 78, will consider renewal of child nutrition programs that have been pushed by the White House and expire next year. Roberts has criticized efforts to make school lunches healthier, calling for studies on the costs of the program and economic impact on schools.

    Roberts has been a recent dissenter on the normally bipartisan panel, voting against the five-year farm bill that Congress passed in May. Roberts supported the bill’s boost in crop insurance for farmers but said other subsidies needed more changes. He called the entire bill “a look in the rear-view mirror.”

    Like his Republican counterparts in the House, Roberts has championed cutting back spending for food stamps, saying the farm bill’s estimated cut of $8 billion over 10 years was insufficient.

    Roberts held the gavel of the House Agriculture Committee 20 years ago and during his tenure he helped write the 1996 farm bill.

    In a tight runoff primary, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., spoke to supporters during his victory party after a narrow victory over tea party candidate Chris McDaniel. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is shown speaking to supporters during his victory party after a narrow victory over tea party candidate Chris McDaniel. Cochran was just re-elected to a seventh term and will oversee the panel responsible for drafting approximately one-third of the federal budget. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    APPROPRIATIONS

    The gavel of the powerful panel responsible for drafting approximately one-third of the federal budget will return to Mississippi’s Thad Cochran, who turned 77 in December and was just re-elected to a seventh term.

    Cochran was in charge during the last two years of the previous GOP majority and was a driving force behind more than $100 billion in funding to help Gulf Coast states recover from Hurricane Katrina. He was also a big practitioner of earmarks, those home-state goodies such as highway projects, economic development grants and university research dollars.

    GOP leaders have banned earmarking, but Cochran is sure to back Navy shipbuilding efforts. Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, which makes a variety of Navy ships such as modern destroyers, is Mississippi’s largest private employer.

    Republicans are expected to use the 12 spending bills to challenge Obama on policy issues, such as health care, financial services, immigration and the environment.

    ARMED SERVICES

    Leading the committee has been a long-sought goal for 78-year-old John McCain of Arizona, the former Navy pilot, Vietnam prisoner of war and two-time presidential candidate who lost to Obama in 2008.

    McCain, who has hinted he might seek a sixth term in 2016, stands as one of Obama’s fiercest critics on national security, casting the administration as weak and ineffective in countering threats overseas. He has repeatedly called for arming and training moderate Syrian rebels and favors more U.S. forces in Iraq to battle Islamic State militants.

    McCain has been critical of Pentagon contracting. Increased examination of defense manufacturers and acquisition policy is certain. The Pentagon can largely forget about scrapping the A-10 Warthog aircraft, which McCain heavily favors, and can expect close scrutiny of the costly F-35 fighter jet.

    BANKING, HOUSING AND URBAN AFFAIRS

    The wily Richard Shelby, 80, makes a return tour as head of the committee. High on his agenda will be changes to the financial overhaul law enacted in response to the 2008 crisis, known as Dodd-Frank. The 2010 law that brought stricter regulation of banks and Wall Street has been a burr in the side of Republican lawmakers, and the GOP-controlled House has passed numerous bills to unwind it.

    Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the next majority leader, put it plainly at his day-after-the-election news conference: “The Banking Committee is certainly going to look at Dodd-Frank.” The big banks, he said, “are doing just fine under Dodd-Frank. The community bankers are struggling.”

    Besides bank rules, the committee under the Alabama senator also may focus on curbing the authority of the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau over auto lenders and credit card companies. The bureau was created by the financial law.

    Also likely to get committee attention is legislation to reshape the housing finance system and wind down mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    Shelby succeeded as head of the panel from 2003 to 2007 in blocking bank regulation proposals.

    BUDGET

    In a surprise, Wyoming’s Mike Enzi will become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee after Jeff Sessions of Alabama stepped aside. Sessions had been the top Republican on the committee the past four years.

    Enzi, 70, said he will work to craft a budget “that cuts spending, targets executive overreach and reduces the size of government.”

    He will be called upon to craft a budget framework that could serve as a template for follow-up legislation to repeal Obama’s health care law and, perhaps, tackle expensive benefit programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.

    COMMERCE, SCIENCE AND TRANSPORTATION

    South Dakota’s John Thune, 53, faces a heavy workload – reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and Amtrak, net neutrality and transportation.

    The committee will have to address the auto safety portions of the highway bill in the aftermath of General Motors faulty ignition switch recalls, now linked to more than two dozen deaths, and the Takata air bag recalls, also linked to several deaths. Proposals to toughen federal oversight of the auto industry are likely. Some lawmakers have called for eliminating the $35 million cap on how much the government can fine automakers in such cases.

    Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) Discusses Oil Legislation

    Murkowski has argued for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, as well as Alaska’s offshore, and has opposed regulations that block energy production.

    ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

    An energy policy expert from an energy-producing state, the 57-year-old Murkowski wants to unlock as much of America’s energy as safely possible.

    Murkowski has argued for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, as well as Alaska’s offshore, and has opposed regulations that block energy production. She believes EPA regulations to curb coal-fired power plant pollution to deal with global warming will threaten the reliability and raise the costs of electricity.

    She supports exporting U.S. natural gas and has led the charge on pressuring the administration to lift restrictions on exports of crude oil. She has backed the immediate approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which McConnell has said will be first on the new agenda.

    Murkowski, unlike others in the GOP, believes global warming is happening and that Alaskans are already experiencing the effects of rising water temperatures and thinning ice.

    ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS

    The likely ascent of Oklahoma’s James Inhofe, 79, represents one of the biggest sea changes on a Senate committee with Republicans in charge.

    Inhofe, one of Congress’ most vocal deniers of the scientific consensus of climate change, wrote in a 2012 book that global warming was “a hoax.” He will replace Californian Barbara Boxer, who introduced climate change legislation in 2009 and was an ally of the environmental community and Obama.

    Inhofe, by contrast, is a thorn in the side of the Environmental Protection Agency and has argued that more regulation will kill the economy and jobs. Inhofe has called on the EPA to abandon stricter rules on refinery air pollution and to reject their own scientists’ recommendation to tighten a standard for the main ingredient in smog. Inhofe is likely to boost oversight of the agency and try to thwart its agenda at a time when Obama wants to shore up his climate legacy.

    Orrin Hatch

    The 2010 health care law is in the GOP’s crosshairs, and Utah’s Orrin Hatch, 80, is likely to use his position to take the first step at chipping away at it.

    FINANCE

    The 2010 health care law is in the GOP’s crosshairs, and Utah’s Orrin Hatch, 80, is likely to use his position to take the first step at chipping away at it.

    Hatch has called the law’s tax on medical devices “stupid” and is determined to roll it back. He is likely to gain some Democratic support for the effort.

    Hatch could be a free-trade ally for Obama if the president pushes more trade agreements.

    Overhauling the nation’s complicated tax laws also is a priority for Hatch. But it’s a heavy lift.

    Administration officials say Obama will offer new specifics in the coming year on how he would like to reshape corporate taxes, which now feature the highest rate in the industrialized world. But bridging the divide between Republicans and Democrats on major tax legislation would require a level of bipartisanship that has largely been absent during Obama’s first six years as president.

    Hatch has worked with Democrats in the past; his friendship with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts is legendary. Hatch will need to work with Democrats again if he is to advance an overhaul of the tax code.

    FOREIGN RELATIONS

    Tennessee’s Bob Corker, 62, has criticized Obama’s foreign policy as tepid in dealing with Russia, Libya and Syria. Like several other Republicans on the committee, Corker has deep reservations about the administration’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Some Republicans have said the GOP will push new penalties this month that target Tehran.

    Secretary of State John Kerry has asked Congress for new war powers in the fight against the Islamic State group. Corker has raised the possibility that he could work with the administration on the issue.

    Obama’s ambassadorial picks and other nominees would face a rough outing before the committee.

    HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS

    Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, 74, is a former education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, governor and president of the University of Tennessee.

    A lawyer by trade, he helped form a corporate childcare company in the private sector. Alexander said he wants to fix President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law that’s been due to be renewed since 2007 and update the Higher Education Act.

    He’s called the health care law a “historic mistake” and supports repealing it. He’s also said modernizing the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration is a necessity, and he is seeking to examine the FDA’s process for drug and device review. On workers’ issues, he’s sought to turn the National Labor Relations Board into what he says is more of an umpire role.

    WASHINGTON, DC - Sept. 16: Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Baskerville, Va., farmer John W. Boyd Jr. talk after Boyd arrived on Capitol Hill on a borrowed tractor to urge the U.S. Senate and President Obama to pass $1.15 billion in funding for a settlement in a 1997 case against the Agriculture Department. The case, Pigford v. Glickman, settled out of court 11 years ago; it held that black farmers were being denied government farm loans and support from federal programs because of their race. Boyd is also founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. He plans to make the ride across the Roosevelt Bridge from Arlington each weekday until Congress recesses in October. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

    Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa (R) is shown on Capitol Hill. Grassley is expected to continue his long-running interest in protecting whistle-blowers who reveal details of alleged fraud by government contractors as chair of the Judiciary Committee. Credit: by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

    JUDICIARY

    A farmer, not an attorney, Iowa’s Charles Grassley, 81, has been on the Judiciary Committee since his 1980 election to the Senate. But this will be his first stint as its chairman.

    In that post, many expect him to continue his long-running interest in protecting whistle-blowers who reveal details of alleged fraud by government contractors and others. He’s also expected to continue oversight of programs like the Justice Department’s bungled “Fast and Furious” operation, under which federal agents lost control of guns they were tracing to Mexican drug lords. Many also expect him to work on legislation easing federal regulations on businesses.

    Grassley opposed last year’s Senate-approved bipartisan immigration bill, arguing that it needed to do more to secure the country’s borders before granting legal status to people in the U.S. illegally. He’s also pressed for more information about the National Security Agency’s ability to gather information on Americans, though he’s cautioned that the agency must be able to protect national security.

    A decade ago, Grassley spent time as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and played a role in winning approval of President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts and the 2003 addition of prescription drug benefits to Medicare.

    HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS

    Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, 59, has been a tough questioner of administration officials about the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The question will be whether the panel’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation opens another Benghazi inquiry in Congress as well as other reviews of the Democratic administration.

    Under the leadership of Delaware Democrat Tom Carper, the committee focused primarily on the internal workings of the sprawling Homeland Security Department, including low morale ratings from rank-and-file employees and contracting issues.

    Johnson has focused on those rankings in the past and led an investigation of complaints from whistle-blowers about the department’s former acting inspector general. His report, co-authored with Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, prompted DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to suspend the former top internal investigator.

    While the committee has addressed immigration issues in the past, senators on this panel have not taken as prominent a role as their counterparts on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the coming months, however, any administrative changes put in place by Obama are almost certain to be reviewed.

    VETERANS’ AFFAIRS:

    Georgia’s Johnny Isakson, 70, has stressed mental health needs of veterans and voted in favor a bill to provide two-year funding for veterans’ benefits, so veterans would continue to receive benefits even in a government shutdown.

    Aides say Isakson’s priorities as chairman would include oversight of the new Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which was approved this past summer in response to a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking health care and falsification of records to cover up delays.

    Isakson strongly supports a provision in the law that makes it easier for veterans to seek Department of Veterans Affairs-paid care from local doctors. Bringing competition into the VA health care system will improve services, he says. Isakson also said the new law provides an opportunity for the VA to assess the quality of it leadership and management, and said underperforming executives and managers should be fired.

    —-

    Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Kimberly Hefling, Joan Lowy, Alan Fram, Marcy Gordon, Matthew Daly and Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.

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    Fifth grade science and math teacher Stephen Pham helps a student at Rocketship SI Se Puede, a charter, public elementary school, on February 18, 2014 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Congress returns to work Tuesday, and Republicans will have substantial majorities in both the House and the Senate.

    Republican leaders have promised they will initiate legislation, and one of their first efforts may be to roll back parts of No Child Left Behind, the education law passed under President George W. Bush.

    Stephanie Simon is the senior education reporter for “Politico” and joins us now from Boston.

    So, this was approved in a bipartisan manner. What’s wrong now, 10, 12, years later?

    STEPHANIE SIMON, POLITICO: Well, it was a very bipartisan bill as you said, had huge support. I mean, to give you some idea, Ted Kennedy and John Boehner were coauthors of it, so that gives you a hint of how widely it was approved.

    And now, 12 years later, people are looking back and thinking that there’s huge problems with this bill. It mandated annual testing in reading and math for students in grades 3-8, and again in high school, and there’s a huge backlash now against so much standardized testing.

    And it also set out strict sanctions for schools that did not continually improve their students’ performance on those tests and that also has created a huge backlash and kind of an idea that there’s too much federal interference in local schools.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And one of the critiques in between periods were that schools were trying to teach to the test just to get those numbers up, right?

    STEPHANIE SIMON: Exactly, right. There were sort of two strategies. A number of states actually reduced the rigor of their test, sort of a race to the bottom to try to make the test easier so that more kids would pass them and you would look better as a state or school and want other strategy was to teach to the test and that created a narrowing of the curriculum where there was so much focus on getting those math and reading scores up that subjects like civics and social studies and science and electives like art and P.E., kind of fell by the wayside.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what are some of the possible legislative solutions to try to roll back elements of No Child Left Behind or start from scratch?

    STEPHANIE SIMON: Well, this is a gargantuan bill. It’s about 600 pages. It covers about $25 billion in annual federal funding. So, it’s not a small task to rewrite it.

    And really, the key question will be: how far the Republicans want to pull back from federal involvement in education policy? And, you know, the answer might seem way back, you know? It might seem obvious that they want to go as far — pull the federal government as far away as possible.

    But there’s a strong appeal to many Republicans, to the Chamber of Commerce, and to many Democrats as well, to continuing to have some federal role so that states are held to account and schools are held to account for actually teaching kids and making sure that they’re learning.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The annual testing that’s become so contentious, it seems, though, that was one of the ways that the administration or any member of Congress could measure the disparities in outcomes that are happening throughout the United States.

    STEPHANIE SIMON: Right, and that remains probably the most popular part of the bill was that not that the testing part isn’t popular, but the requirement that states and schools report the results by subgroups so that you could see exactly how well or how poorly children with disabilities, children who are still learning English, children of low-income families are doing on those tests.

    And having that requirement in place was really the first time that we were able to see as a nation how poorly some of those subgroups were doing, because if you report in the aggregate, you know, it might look like you have an 80 percent pass rate and that might seem great, but that might be because 99 percent of the kids of high-income families are doing great and only 30 percent of the kids of low-income families are doing OK and that’s clearly a disparity that has to be addressed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And heading into this Congress is also making for some very strange alliances. The teachers unions are coming out really against the administration, which is not usually a position that you see.

    STEPHANIE SIMON: Exactly. There’s a lot of tension and strange bedfellows. The National Education Association, the biggest teachers union, has been on a campaign for over a year now against what they call toxic testing, too much testing.

    And they might find themselves aligned with Republicans who want to roll back the testing, where the administration has vowed not to do that. So, that’s one strange alliance.

    The administration is also aligned with Republicans on wanting more of a roll for charter schools, and that’s something that the teachers union opposes. So, there’s kind of shifting alliances and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Stephanie Simon, senior education reporter for “Politico” — thanks so much.

    STEPHANIE SIMON: Thank you.

    The post Why a GOP-controlled Congress may abandon No Child Left Behind law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    missingschoolgirls

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: It was last April, more than eight month, since more than 200 school girls were captured by Islamic militants in Nigeria. And though there have been periodic reports about their imminent release, not one of them has been found or freed.

    For the latest on the search and the increasing tensions between Nigeria and the United States, we are joined once again by Drew Hinshaw of “The Wall Street Journal.” He’s reporting tonight from Accra in nearby Ghana.

    So, I think the question on most Americans’ minds is why haven’t we found these girls and why are we hearing about more kidnappings throughout the year by Boko Haram?

    DREW HINSHAW, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: The short answer is that Boko Haram is doing something very much like winning in the northeast of Nigeria. The girls, there are 270 — I’m sorry, 276 at first. Now, it’s down to 219 after a number of them escaped. And that’s just a small segment of the total number of people Boko Haram has kidnapped. It’s a sect that controls a very large section of northeastern Nigeria, that includes mountains, caves, forests, small towns, even small cities at this point. It’s kind of a really hard thing to find individual girls who have all been split up at this point.

    Early on, in May, the U.S. sent drones and manned surveillance flights, and they did spot large groups of girls twice in June and July. They have no idea if those are the girls or if those are a separate group of girls that Boko Haram kidnapped. But they did find large groups of girls kind of camped out the field.

    Since then, the U.S. has scaled back. They sent drones elsewhere where they’re need elsewhere. They were flying just a few manned flights a week last time I checked in. The Nigerian government by itself says it knows the location of the girls but can’t get them out.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s happened to them?

    DREW HINSHAW: Boko Haram, they don’t see– they don’t see the girls as having any value to them. They kind of aren’t cut out for life in the militant group. But, frankly, they’re not going to get rid of them, either. It seems like there’s sort of an impasse. There’s not a lot of trust between Nigeria’s government and Boko Haram to come to some sort of negotiated settlement either.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, sort of two relationships I want to explore very briefly. One, the tensions in those negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government but there’s also seems an increased amount of tension between the Nigerian government and U.S. government.

    DREW HINSHAW: So, the fact that when it comes to communication between Boko Haram and Nigeria’s government, it’s a lot of speculation.

    In February, President Goodluck Jonathan basically said he doesn’t talk to them. He said that journalists talk to him more than he does. And when he said that, I kind of furrowed my brow because frankly I don’t know a single journalist who has been able to have a confirmed, verifiable conversation with Boko Haram in the past couple of years.

    Since then, in October, Nigeria’s government said, hey, look, we’ve got this breakthrough, we’ve been talking to them, they’re going to release these girls. In fact, they said they’re going to release all the captives Boko Haram has ever taken, which is, you know, hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of men, boys, women, and children.

    They never did. Boko Haram, they came out with a tape a few days later saying: joke’s on you. We have no intention the negotiating with you. You are an infidel government and we will continue waging jihad.

    The Nigerians are frustrated by this. And I think some of that anger is being deflected against the United States. There’s been a lot of statements lately like, well, we could deal with Boko Haram, but the fact is there’s big neocolonial power, America, won’t let us buy helicopters because they say we’re abusing human rights, right conditions (ph).

    I think some of that is political posturing. There is an election in February, and Nigeria is looking for — the government is looking for a reason why they haven’t wrapped up now a five-yearlong conflict with Boko Haram.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Drew Hinshaw of “The Wall Street Journal”, joining us tonight from Accra, Ghana — thanks so much.

    DREW HINSHAW: Thank you, too.

    The post Can US drones find the missing Nigerian schoolgirls? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Thousands of Sodexo college cafeteria workers will regain their health benefits. Archive photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    This year’s dietary guidelines issued by the government may also consider what is healthy for the environment. Archive photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The government issues dietary guidelines every five years to encourage Americans to eat healthier. This year’s version may look at what is healthy for the environment, too.

    A new focus on the environment would mean asking people to choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other plant-based foods — possibly at the expense of meat.

    The beef and agriculture industries are crying foul, saying an environmental agenda has no place in what has always been a practical blueprint for a healthy lifestyle.

    An advisory panel to the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments has been discussing the idea of sustainability in public meetings, indicating that its recommendations, expected this month, may address the environment. The two departments will take those recommendations into account as they craft the final dietary guidelines, expected by the end of the year.

    The guidelines are the basis for USDA’s “My Plate” icon that replaced the well-known food pyramid in 2010 and is designed to help Americans with healthy eating. The guidelines will also be integrated into school lunch meal patterns and other federal eating programs.

    A draft recommendation circulated by the advisory committee in December said a sustainable diet helps ensure food access for both the current population and future generations. A dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is “more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” the draft said.

    That appears to take at least partial aim at the beef industry. A study by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year said raising beef for the American dinner table is more harmful to the environment than other meat industries such as pork and chicken.

    The study said that compared with other popular animal proteins, beef produces more heat-trapping gases per calorie, puts out more water-polluting nitrogen, takes more water for irrigation and uses more land.

    As the advisory committee has discussed the idea, doctors and academics on the panel have framed sustainability in terms of conserving food resources and also what are the healthiest foods. There is “compatibility and overlap” between what’s good for health and good for the environment, the panel has said.

    The meat industry has fought for years to ensure that the dietary guidelines do not call for eating less meat. The guidelines now recommend eating lean meats instead of reducing meat altogether, advice that the current advisory committee has debated. A draft discussed at the panel’s Dec. 15 meeting says a healthy dietary pattern includes fewer “red and processed meats” than are currently consumed.

    After that meeting, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sent out a statement by doctor and cattle producer Richard Thorpe calling the committee biased and the draft meat recommendations absurd. He said lean beef has a role in healthy diets.

    The American Meat Institute issued comments calling any attempt to take lean meat out of a healthy dietary pattern “stunning” and “arbitrary.”

    Objections are coming from Congress, too.

    A massive year-end spending bill enacted last month noted the advisory committee’s interest in the environment and directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “to only include nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors” in final guidelines. Congress often uses such non-binding directions to put a department on notice that lawmakers will push back if the executive branch moves forward.

    Environmentalists are pushing the committee and the government to go the route being considered.

    “We need to make sure our diets are in alignment with our natural resources and the need to reduce climate change,” said Kari Hamerschlag of the advocacy group Friends of the Earth.

    Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the idea of broader guidelines isn’t unprecedented. They have already been shaped to address physical activity and food safety, he said.

    “You don’t want to recommend a diet that is going to poison the planet,” he said.

    ___

    Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

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    US-VOTE-2012-REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

    TV host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee addresses the audience at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, on August 29, 2012 during the Republican National Convention (RNC). Huckabee left his Fox News television show as he considers a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Credit: STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages

    WASHINGTON — TV host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says he is leaving his Fox News talk show as he considers whether to seek the Republican nomination for president, a decision he expects to reach in the spring.

    Huckabee said Saturday night’s edition of “Huckabee” would be his last as he ponders his political future. The weekly show, which is taped with a live audience and features political commentary as well as interviews with guests and musical entertainment, has been on the air for more than six years.

    “There’s been a great deal of speculation as to whether I would run for president. And if I were willing to absolutely rule that out, I could keep doing this show. But I can’t make such a declaration,” he said at the end of Saturday’s program.

    “Now, I’m not going to make a decision about running until late in the spring of 2015, but the continued chatter has put Fox News into a position that just isn’t fair to them — nor is it possible for me to openly determine political and financial support to justify a race. The honorable thing to do at this point is to end my tenure here at Fox. Now, as much as I have loved doing the show, I cannot bring myself to rule out another presidential run.”

    The former Baptist preacher and Arkansas chief executive — he led the state from 1996 to 2007 — is a favorite among social conservatives. While hosting the TV show he has published books, appeared at conservative conferences around the country and offered harsh criticism of President Barack Obama’s policies.

    Huckabee has been particularly critical of the nation’s swing toward accepting gay marriage. In October, after the Supreme Court rejected appeals from five states that sought to prohibit marriage by same-sex couples, he said: “It is shocking that many elected officials, attorneys and judges think that a court ruling is the ‘final word.’ It most certainly is not.”

    He campaigned last fall for several Republican office-seekers — among them Senate candidates Joni Ernst in Iowa, David Perdue in Georgia, Tom Cotton in Arkansas and Mike Rounds in South Dakota. Rounds was national chairman of Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.

    Huckabee, 59, won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, finishing ahead of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain and Ron Paul. He came in third, however, in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, behind McCain and Romney. McCain emerged as the leader in the primaries that followed and Huckabee ended his campaign that March.

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    WASHINGTON — The incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee says raising the federal fuel taxes is among the options under consideration to replenish the dwindling Highway Trust Fund.

    Sen. John Thune of South Dakota says all options must be looked at to fill an enormous shortfall when the existing highway legislation expires in May.

    Gas and diesel taxes haven’t risen since 1993, resulting in perennial shortfalls in the fund that pays for most road projects.

    Several commissions have called for raising the taxes, but Congress has been reluctant. Instead lawmakers have dipped repeatedly into the general treasury to keep the trust fund solvent.

    The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon and the diesel tax is 24.4 cents per gallon.

    Thune spoke on “Fox News Sunday.”

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    TV personality Stuart Scott accepts the 2014 Jimmy V Perseverance Award onstage during the 2014 ESPYS at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

    TV personality Stuart Scott accepts the 2014 Jimmy V Perseverance Award onstage during the 2014 ESPYS at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

    Longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott died Sunday after a seven-year battle with cancer. He was 49 years old.

    Scott began his career at ESPN when the network launched in 1993. He hosted shows “SportsNight” and “SportsCenter” and regularly anchored NBA and NFL programming. He later hosted other shows for the channel, including “NFL Matchup,” “NFL Live,” “NFL PrimeTime” and “NFL Countdown.” He also hosted the NBA Finals and “NBA Fastbreak.”

    Scott became known for his writing and delivery style on the network, expanding the lexicon of sports broadcasting. His unique catch phrases such as “Call him butter, he’s on a roll,” “Boo yah!” and “as cool as the other side of the pillow” made him a standout among sportscasters of the time.

    “Well, that’s who Stuart is. He is ‘the other side of pillow,’ the man who made sportscasting cool,” “SportsCenter” anchor Jay Harris told ESPN. “God bless whoever it was who thought to rearrange the bedding at ESPN.”

    Scott’s work also appeared in each issue of ESPN the Magazine in his ‘Holla’ column, where he scored interviews with top athletes and newsmakers such as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, former President Bill Clinton and then-Senator Barack Obama.

    “He didn’t just push the envelope,” former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick told ESPN. “He bulldozed it.”

    In a statement, ESPN President John Skipper called Scott a “true friend and a uniquely inspirational figure,” adding that his “energetic and unwavering devotion to his family and to his work while fighting the battle of his life left us in awe, and he leaves a void that can never be replaced.”

    Scott was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, the network said, after he had an emergency appendectomy. Doctors were able to remove the cancerous tissue and he continued working on-air while undergoing preventive chemotherapy. The cancer returned in 2010, and he went into remission in 2012. He was diagnosed again with cancer in January 2013.

    For his ongoing fight against cancer, Scott received the Jim Valvano Award for Perserverance at the ESPYS in July 2014, where he shared he was suffering from liver complications and kidney failure.

    Scott was born in Chicago, Ill., and he attended the University of North Carolina where he graduated in 1987. He later worked as a reporter in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.

    In an obituary on ESPN’s website, Steve Wulf, a former executive editor at ESPN The Magazine wrote:

    So while the grief is deep at ESPN over the death of Stuart Scott, so is our gratitude. He was as popular on campus as he was in the airports he passed through and on the sidelines he worked over the last 22 years. He brought so much to the party, and he will continue to do so, through the people he inspired, and the language that he liberated, and the audience that will remember him.

    Scott is survived by his two daughters, Taelor and Sydni, with whom he lived in Avon, Conn.

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    Wake Held For Second NY Police Officer Assassinated By Gunman

    Officers arrive for the viewing for Police Officer Wenjian Liu at Aievoli Funeral Home in southern Brooklyn on Jan. 3. Liu was killed with his partner Rafael Ramos on Dec. 20 by a man targeting the police. Credit: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

    Tens of thousands of mourners convened on Sunday for the funeral of New York City Police Department officer Wenjian Liu, who was killed alongside his partner last month by a man who claimed to be acting in retribution for police killings of black men.

    Liu, 32, is believed to be the first Chinese-American NYPD officer killed in the line of duty.

    He married his wife, Pei Xia Chen, just two months before he was fatally shot. At the service, Chen said Liu was her hero. “He is my soul mate,” she said.

    Pei Xia Chen (C) widow of New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Wenjian Liu cries holding a picture of her husband during a funeral in New York's borough of Brooklyn on January 4, 2015. A sea of blue uniformed officers crowded around a Brooklyn funeral home to honor Wenjian Liu, 32, shot in the head with partner Rafael Ramos, 40, on December 20, 2014 as the pair sat in their patrol car. The brutal double-slaying at the hands of a black gunman claiming to be avenging the deaths of African-Americans during confrontations with police shocked the nation's largest city. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

    Pei Xia Chen, the widow of NYPD officer Wenjian Liu cries while holding a picture of her husband during his funeral in Brooklyn on Jan. 4. Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

    At Aievoli Funeral Home in southern Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was in mourning for both Liu and his partner, Rafael Ramos, and was starting a new year with “hearts that are double heavy.”

    “Let us move forward by strengthening the bonds that unite us and let us work together to attain peace,” he said.

    As de Blasio spoke, scores of police officers standing outside the funeral home symbolically turned their backs on the mayor — the third such public display by officers since Liu and Ramos were killed last month.

    Tension has been growing between police officers and the mayor since the police union’s president, Patrick Lynch, said the mayor had fostered a climate of anti-police sentiment that contributed to the execution-style shooting.

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

    Police Commissioner Bill Bratton had asked officers in a memo on Friday to do nothing during the services that might distract from mourning officer Liu, Reuters reported. “A hero’s funeral is about grieving, not grievance,” the memo said.

    Liu and Ramos were shot and killed on Dec. 20 while sitting in their parked patrol car in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

    At a press conference held that same day, Bratton said the two were ambushed and executed by a man looking to hurt the police.

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

    Bratton identified the gunman as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who later fatally shot himself in a nearby subway station.

    The post Mourners gather in Brooklyn to honor life of slain NYPD officer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — Rand Paul may only yet be a candidate for re-election to the Senate in 2016, but the first-term Kentucky Republican already is sprinting toward the race for president.

    The libertarian-minded lawmaker is set to visit several Western states this month before reintroducing himself to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and his team is working to strengthen his political network in nearly every state.

    At the same time, he is readying for a leading role in the GOP’s new Senate majority while pushing to improve a Republican brand he says is “tattered.”

    Aides insist that Paul has not finalized his decision about the White House, but his aggressive steps leave little doubt about his ambitions.

    “Everything’s being prepared as if it’s happening, with the knowledge that the final trigger hasn’t been pulled yet,” said Paul senior aide Doug Stafford.

    Some see the son of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a two-time presidential candidate, as a transformational figure capable of expanding the GOP’s appeal beyond its traditional base of older, white men.

    While calling for a dramatic reduction in the size and scope of the federal government, the 51-year-old Paul plays down social issues such as gay marriage, criticizes a criminal justice system that overwhelmingly incarcerates blacks, and favors a smaller U.S. footprint in the world.

    Rand Paul should expect challenges every step of the way.

    About his father’s legacy. About contradictions between his past comments and today’s words. About his willingness to take on the status quo. About a Kentucky law that says he cannot run for president and re-election to the Senate at the same time.

    “I just don’t see him getting too far with an isolationist foreign policy and a pro-gay marriage agenda,” said Hogan Gidley, a GOP operative who previously worked for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who have run for president before and may again in 2016.

    While Paul largely opposes a forceful foreign policy and plays down social issues, aides insist he is not an isolationist or a supporter of same-sex marriage.

    Still, Paul’s unorthodox views rub some Republicans the wrong way. But it’s his family ties that may represent his greatest challenge.

    His father was largely dismissed by the Republican mainstream as quirky and extreme, particularly on foreign policy. But the elder Paul won a loyal following of libertarian-minded Republicans who ensured that he was a bigger factor in the last presidential contest than many realized.

    Rand Paul inherits many of those supporters, and the baggage that his father’s unconventional views bring.

    “The very thing that makes Rand Paul significant is the very thing that hurts him: his last name,” Gidley said. “It presents a huge challenge.”

    Rand Paul has spent much of the past year trying to distance himself from his father’s positions, which include dissolving the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, and closing U.S. military bases abroad. The senator’s aides suggest that Rand Paul is not likely to discuss his father should the lawmaker join the 2016 presidential contest.

    In a recent interview, Paul acknowledged advising his father’s campaigns, but said his dad plays a limited role in his own political plans.

    “We don’t really talk about specifics about what I should do or what I am doing. He’s very much hands off on all of that,” Paul said. “My challenge is just to present who I am and what I stand for.”

    What he stands for, however, has changed in some cases.

    Campaigning in Iowa over the summer, Paul said he never had proposed cutting off U.S. aid payments to Israel. It did not take long for him to be confronted by his own statements from 2011, when he offered a budget plan that called for ending such aid to all countries, including Israel.

    He has faced tough questions about his position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul initially suggested that the federal government should not have the right to force business owners to serve blacks, an important part of the act. Paul later said he would have voted for the bill in its entirety.

    “The comments he made about Civil Rights Act just a few years ago still ring loudly in ears of black voters. He’s going to have to go a bit further to walk his talk,” said Benjamin Jealous, a former president of the NAACP.

    Still, Jealous says Paul has done more to court black voters than have most of the prospective GOP candidates. For one, Paul was the only 2016 hopeful to meet with black leaders in Ferguson, Missouri, after an unarmed black man was shot and killed by police.

    “Rand has a chance to build a new coalition for Republicans,” Jealous said.

    But first, Paul will have to navigate a Kentucky law that bars candidates from appearing on the ballot for more than one office in the same election. He has said he plans to seek a second Senate term. His team has expressed confidence that he could run for both offices with little trouble.

    Paul says he will announce his presidential plans this spring.

    Until then, he will stack his schedule with speeches, fundraisers and political appearances as his paid staff in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere courts Republican officials and conservative activists. In addition to boosting his profile, he said he is eager to help his party.

    “I’m trying to give the Republican Party a new image,” Paul said, “because the old one’s a bit tattered.”

    The post Challenges loom for Rand Paul as he sprints toward 2016 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    theater

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    ZACHARY GREEN: Come to Times Square in New York City, and this is a site you’re likely to see: people lined up at the TKTS booth to buy discount tickets to popular Broadway shows. There’s a reason this line is so long. Going to see a play in the theater-mecca of New York is an expensive proposition.

    The average cost of a Broadway ticket is now over $100. You can chalk that price up to the high demand to see certain shows, but also to high production costs. And in New York, one of the biggest line-items in a play’s budget can be summed up in one word.

    JOHN GOULD RUBIN: Space. I think space is the toughest one.

    ZACHARY GREEN: John Gould Rubin is a theater director and producer who has been producing theater in New York for almost 15 years. He says that—even working off-Broadway—the actual performance space often makes up the biggest cost in any production’s budget.

    JOHN GOULD RUBIN: Getting a theater is the most expensive expense. That’ll be $4, $3, $4, or $5,000 a week.

    ZACHARY GREEN: A week?

    JOHN GOULD RUBIN: Yeah. A week. For the– for the theater that you’re performing in.

    ZACHARY GREEN: The cost of space isn’t just driving up ticket prices. It’s also driving artists and performers to some unlikely locations in the search to find cheaper or even free spaces to perform in.

    The EPA added the Gowanus Canal to its list of Superfund clean-up sites in 2010, and it says the Canal is one of the nation’s most seriously contaminated bodies of water. So it’s not the first place you might think of for recreation, let alone putting on a play. But that’s exactly what a group of local performance artists did in October.

    For three weeks this past fall, the Gowanus Canal was transformed by night into the Styx—the river that runs through the underworld in Greek mythology—as part of a new play called “The Dreary Coast”.

    JEFF STARK: I tend to work with sites. And I tend to look for sites that will on their own engage an audience.

    ZACHARY GREEN: Jeff Stark is a New York-based artist who devised “The Dreary Coast”. The play follows Charon—the boatman in Greek mythology who ferries souls through the afterlife—as he encounters demons, gods, and the dead on his trip down the river.

    CHARON: You are not my friend, Hermes.

    ZACHARY GREEN: For just $35, audience members could not only watch from the boat, but also take part in the performance itself, dressed as dead souls being shepherded through the underworld. The play is part of a growing art form called “site-specific theater”—audience-immersive productions that are built around the space they’re performed in.

    We spoke with Stark during the run of his show, and he said the reason for this is partly about economics.

    JEFF STARK: One of the things that’s great about our show is that we actually don’t have to spend any money on a theatre. We are out working in public space.

    ZACHARY GREEN: This isn’t the first time Stark has done this kind of work. His first site-specific play—“I.R.T.”—was performed in 2009 on the New York City subway. He followed it up with “The Sweet Cheat”, a play about a post-apocalyptic New York that was performed in an abandoned warehouse north of the city.

    And he’s not the only one making site-specific theater. In fact one of New York’s more popular long-running shows is “Sleep No More”—an avant-garde retelling of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, performed in three adjoining warehouses in Manhattan designed to look like an old hotel. John Gould Rubin has also used the site-specific format in his own work.

    JOHN GOULD RUBIN: I did it because it was much less expensive and because it would endow the audience, which– with an entirely different experience. You’re in an experience if you go to the theater which is one that you’re accustomed to.

    But if you go to– a place, the address of which you’ve been given that morning by a telephone or an email, you’re already primed for an unusual experience. And so, it is economics. But it’s also– it’s also a way of endowing the audience with an unusual experience.

    HADES: We are not here for you. We are here for them.

    DEMON: Mazel Tov!

    The post Theater on a canal? Avant-garde productions immerse audiences, cut costs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    As NewsHour Weekend wraps the first weekend of 2015, here’s a look back at some of what you may have missed from the program’s first full calendar year on air.

    What can the Dutch teach the U.S. about selling pot?
    March 22, 2014

    In 2014, as Colorado began selling legal recreational marijuana, NewsHour Weekend traveled to the Netherlands — the one nation that’s been openly selling pot for over 40 years — to see what might be in store for the United States as marijuana policies shift across the nation. Correspondent William Brangham reports.

     

    ‘Breaking Bad’ star Bryan Cranston steps into LBJ’s shoes on Broadway
    May 3, 2014

    Actor Bryan Cranston is best known for his role on the award-winning AMC drama, “Breaking Bad.” But in 2014 he played President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Broadway show, “All the Way.” In a candid interview, NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown sat down with Cranston to discuss the actor’s transition from portraying the chemistry teacher turned drug lord, Walter White, to an American president in his first year in office.

     

    Are generic drugs being delayed to market?
    June 28, 2014

    Are generic drugs being delayed to market by so-called “pay for delay” deals between drug companies? The deals happen after generic drug companies challenge the patents on brand-name drugs. The settlements include a date that the generic drug can enter the market, and in some cases, a payment from brand company to the generic company. NewsHour Weekend’s Megan Thompson reports.

     

    The right to be handsome’: Clothing for gender non-conforming people on the rise
    Aug. 2, 2014

    Companies that offer custom-made clothing for transgender and gender non-conforming people are coming to the forefront, as more diverse models gain visibility in the fashion industry – and redefine the parameters of gender identity. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano reports. 

     

    A new anti-Semitism? Why thousands of Jewish citizens are leaving France
    Sept. 14, 2014

    Some Jewish citizens in France say there is a rising tide of a new, more dangerous anti-Semitism in the country. In turn, thousands are leaving for Israel and other countries. In an effort to reassure Jewish people in France that they are safe, the government has taken strict measures against anti-Semitic demonstrations. Special correspondent Martin Seemungal reports.

     

    Tactic of terror: What’s behind the gruesome strategy of the Islamic State?
    Sept. 14, 2014

    The global community was shocked in 2014 as the Islamic State released several videos online depicting the group beheading foreign hostages. What’s behind this gruesome strategy? Tom Sanderson from the Center for Strategic and International Studies joined Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the issue.

     

    Is soccer safe for kids? Amid concussion fears, a parent searches for answers
    Oct. 25, 2014

    Youth soccer has become one of the leading causes of concussions for kids in America, sending an estimated 10,000 kids to the E.R. every year. NewsHour Weekend correspondent William Brangham, whose three kids all play soccer, weighs the risks and the benefits of the sport. Brangham also reports on a fledgling movement led by a prominent neurosurgeon and World Cup champion Brandi Chastain advocating taking headers out of youth soccer.

     

    What’s in a name? Political family ties may nudge wins in battleground states
    Nov. 1, 2014
    How much does having a popular family name matter in politics? At least three dozen members of Congress have had family members who’ve held office before them. And as numerous incumbents see their political futures in jeopardy, NewsHour’s Jeff Greenfield explores whether the family business of American politics — especially in key battleground states — helps candidates today.

     

    Beyond Oregon: Should terminally ill patients be allowed to choose death? 
    Nov. 2, 2014

    While assisted suicide is legal in only three states, the story of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer moved to Oregon so she could legally end her own life, brought the issue back into the national spotlight in 2014. NewsHour Weekend’s Stephen Fee reports on how this renewed debate may affect end-of-life care and the momentum for the assisted suicide movement.

     

    Who’s to blame for El Salvador’s gang violence?
    Nov. 8, 2014

    During El Salvador’s brutal civil war 30 years ago, hundreds of thousands of people fled to the United States, where some joined dangerous Latino gangs for protection and a livelihood. Soon after, many of these gang members were deported back to El Salvador, establishing a new and threatening presence in their home country. NewsHour Special Correspondent John Carlos Frey reports from El Salvador.

     

    ‘A long way from zero’: NYC takes on traffic fatalities
    Nov. 23, 2014

    Although New York City streets over the past few years have been the safest in decades, traffic accidents and pedestrian fatalities have recently started to tick back up. Now, city officials are looking to “Vision Zero,” an initiative based on a model from Sweden. The plan hinges on expanded enforcement, new street designs and legislation to increase penalties for dangerous drivers. NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan reports.

     

    Two years after Sandy Hook, how have gun laws changed?
    Dec. 14, 2014

    In the two years since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the state of Connecticut adopted some of the most restrictive gun policies in the country, including a controversial law enacted last year to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. NewsHour’s John Carlos Frey reports.

     

    For more of our reporting from across the country and around the world, tune into PBS NewsHour Weekend every Saturday and Sunday (check local listings) or visit us here on the PBS NewsHour website.

    The post Here’s what you may have missed from NewsHour Weekend in 2014 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    blacklivesmatter

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: As we already reported, thousands of police officers turned out today for the funeral of slain New York City policeman Wenjian Liu. The murder of officer Liu and officer Rafael Ramos came after weeks of nationwide protests against police.

    Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has said those demonstrators created an anti-police environment.

    RUDY GIULIANI (R), Former Mayor of New York: I don’t think it goes too far to say that the mayor did not properly police the protests. He allowed the protesters to take over the streets. He allowed them to hurt police officers, to commit crimes, and he didn’t arrest them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The psychologically troubled gunman who murdered the two New York City officers had mentioned the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in a social media posting before he ambushed and killed Liu and Ramos.

    Here to take a deeper look at relations between police and minority communities are L. Joy Williams, president of the Brooklyn chapter of the NAACP, and Julian Harper. He’s a retired New York City police lieutenant and with the organization 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.

    So, throughout this, we saw demonstrations, not just in New York City, but around the nation. And you saw protesters holding up the sign that said “Black Lives Matter.”

    Why do you think that is?

    L. JOY WILLIAMS, President, NAACP Brooklyn Chapter: The “black lives matter” focus and the young people that are doing that are trying to raise attention that this is happening to us more frequently than anyone, any other communities, and then why is it that, in other communities, they can have policing that does not result in the killing of unarmed people?

    Let me say also, in — you know — I know, from general perspective, everyone is making the connection between the protests and the tragic deaths of the police officers, but there is no direct connection, right, that it is not protesters that went out and sort of committed this crime. We already know who committed the crime.

    And we certainly want to mourn all death. And that’s certainly what we’re doing, both from the officers and from the unarmed men who are being killed by police officers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, the NYPD will say, listen, we have one of the most diverse police departments in the country in one of the most diverse cities on the planet.

    Is it different for African-American police officers and how they treat young black man, or, regardless of whether you’re white, black, brown, you become blue once you put the uniform on?

    JULIAN HARPER, Former New York City Police Lieutenant: Well, I think it depends on the individual, because there are many officers that are of color that still have that same mind-set of us against them.

    So, when they respond to certain jobs, when they respond in certain communities, they still have this very heavy-handed way of enforcing. So, when you start trying to determine whether it’s an officer that is white or an officer that is black or Hispanic, sometimes, that is not the problem.

    The problem is that there’s a mind-set, and that’s why these problems occur.

    L. JOY WILLIAMS: We know that communities of color are overpoliced. We know that men of color are overarrested, overcharged. We know all of these things to be true.

    And so it’s going to take a long road and a lot of policy changes and a lot of mind-set changes. And that’s really the hard work, is changing people’s mind-set. And I have no doubt that the majority of officers who are going to their job every day are going — they have a commitment to the community, to the city, to their job, and to their uniform, and they want to go and do the best job and make it home safely to their families.

    I have no doubt that that is the truth. However, these small biases, these small prejudices, the things that people believe, actually has an impact on how they serve the community.

    And so what we’re saying is that we want the police department to be able to police all communities, including communities of color, with the same level of respect, with the same even hand that they do every — other communities. And that’s not anti-police.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what you might call overpolicing, the NYPD would say is effective policing. They will pull out the crime statistics and say, look, we are getting safer and safer as a city, and isn’t that actually better for communities of color who might be disproportionately affected by these same crime numbers?

    L. JOY WILLIAMS: Definitely we have seen a decline in murders.

    But to be an effective law enforcement, you have to have the trust and the commitment and cooperation of a community. And so, if you can’t do that effectively, if the community does not have trust in you — listen, I have had instances, just in this past year, where I have had a grandmother call a NAACP office with her young grandson that she takes care of at 14 years old, and that a local gang is making him keep guns in her house.

    She does not feel comfortable calling the police department, because she doesn’t trust them. And she’s also afraid of the gangs that are in the street. What kind of predicament does that put her in to be able to not only save her grandson, but also protect her life?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this bring up the conversation, right? What was very interesting, the day that the grand jury refused to press charges against the officer who had the chokehold on Eric Garner was a part of the press conference that the mayor had, and where he basically mentioned a conversation that he had at some point with his biracial son.

    BILL DE BLASIO (D), Mayor of New York: We have had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers, who are there to protect him.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: When you were a police officer even now, did you have to have that conversation in your family?

    JULIAN HARPER: Yes, absolutely.

    After the Eric Garner incident, my son calls me and he says, “Dad,” he says, “I’m afraid.” He said, “It’s against the law to be a large black man.” And my son is a rather large man.

    And, I mean, that really, really bothered me. I mean, I have to be concerned about my son’s safety, and I have to be concerned about his perception of him being a large black man. And we have to have these conversations.

    Now I have a younger son who is 13 years old that is a pretty big 13-year-old. And he’s a very innocent child. So, he wouldn’t even understand an interaction between him and the police. He understands that his father was a policeman. He understands that he’s taken photos as a child in his father’s uniform and he was proud of that.

    But, unfortunately, the way that police respond and interact with our young black youth is problematic. Our children are afraid. And it’s totally against anything relative to policing that our youth should be afraid of law enforcement.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You realize someone is going to watch the program and say, how is it that a police officer has to have a conversation with his son warning that son about interactions with his fellow police officers?

    JULIAN HARPER: Because those police officers, including myself, we see how the interactions go between the community, young black males, and the police department.

    I mean, I remember me recently going to a police officer. I wanted to ask him a question. And this guy gave me a look that was so stern. Like, I mean, he gave me a real strong, hard look. And I had to identify myself. Before anything goes wrong, the first thing I do is, listen, I’m a retired lieutenant from the job. This is what is happening. This is what I wanted to tell you.

    And then he still was a listen distant, but it came down a little bit. He felt a little bit bad, because I had to explain to him, listen, I’m a part of the community. I’m coming to you for help.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, L. Joy, I mean, we have about these conversations that mothers have with their teens, even post-Ferguson, post-Garner.

    What was different about this? Was there an added legitimacy because it was a white mayor standing at a podium saying that he had to have this conversation…

    L. JOY WILLIAMS: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: … whereas African-American families said, well, that’s not news to us?

    L. JOY WILLIAMS: Yes, absolutely, definitely.

    This conversation that we have is not new. But the difference here was, there is a white man who is standing behind all of the power that comes with being mayor and saying that he had this same conversation. And so it somehow legitimizes to certain communities and to certain people that this happens or at least brings it to the forefront that something like this has to be addressed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, L. Joy Williams and Julian Harper, thanks so much for your time.

    JULIAN HARPER: Thank you.

    L. JOY WILLIAMS: Thank you.

    The post What’s the state of relations between the police and communities of color? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Congress Returns To Work As Fiscal Cliff Deadline Looms

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  As we mentioned, Congress returns to work Tuesday with Republicans in charge of both the House and now the Senate.

    What’s in store?

    For more, we are joined now from Washington by Niels Lesniewski.  He’s a staff writer with Roll Call.

    So, different power players now, as all the committee heads shift.  What’s likely to happen?

    NIELS LESNIEWSKI, Roll Call:  Well, what we’re going to see in the Senate, where these big changes are happening, obviously, with the party control switch most particularly, is, we’re going to see the Republicans get right down to one of the agenda items that they have had online for a long time, and that’s approving that Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

    The pipeline project is going to come up for committee consideration Wednesday and Thursday of this week.  And so, by the end of the week, that bill should be out of the committee and be well on its way to the floor.  Now, of course, as you noted with the — all the chairmanships switching, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is the Republican who going to be the chairwoman of that panel.

    And we’re going to see that all over the place.  And we will see it not just on legislative issues, but we will start to see a lot more oversight hearings as well in ways that maybe the administration would not like to see.  If you’re the White House, you’re going to have people up on the Hill all the time to consider things.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, does this set up a veto test for the president, whether it’s Keystone or other pieces of legislation, where it’s almost a kind of a strategic trap, if, let’s say, Republicans can get lots of legislation passed, get it to the White House’s door, and say, look, here’s the guy that is the obstructionist, here’s the guy that is using his veto power and not getting anything done in Washington?

    NIELS LESNIEWSKI:  Absolutely.

    The test — Keystone will be the first test.  I think everyone is sort of expecting that the president would in fact veto that item.  The test really will be, how far can the Republicans go down the road of sending things to the president that he’s going to veto, given the fact that there is still the 60-vote requirement to overcome a potential filibuster in the Senate?

    And you know if you do things that are too against what — the wishes of the president, that you’re not going to get the handful of Democrats that would be needed to overcome those procedural barriers.  So, there sort of is this balancing act.  What is the sweet spot where you can find five or 10 Democrats in the Senate to go along with something that the House Republicans and Senate Republicans want to do, and cause a tough decision for the president?

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Well, what about things like immigration or the Affordable Care Act?  Is there some give-and-take that could be happening?

    NIELS LESNIEWSKI:  Well, I think, particularly on the health care law, that’s a perfect example of what I was just referring to, because what you will see is votes that everyone knows are doomed on repealing the ACA outright.

    But then you will also see what some people have termed little rifle shot-type measures where there are provisions of the health care law that have broad opposition, like an excise tax on medical device manufacturers, that probably, if you put it up for a vote in the Senate, could get maybe 70 votes.

    I don’t know exactly the numbers.  I haven’t counted with the new Senate.  But it would get an overwhelming majority.  And that’s the kind of thing that could actually cause a tough test for the president, because it would actually get down to the White House.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And this doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  This is still kind of in the looming prospects of 2016.  There are senators and members of the House perhaps that are posturing and positioning themselves to make a run for it.

    So, this is really the Republicans’ opportunity to show off what they can do and how they can govern when they do have Congress, right?

    NIELS LESNIEWSKI:  Right.

    And so what we will see, which will be a bit of a test as well, if you’re the Republican leadership in the Senate particularly, is dealing with the number of your members who might be posturing or thinking about seriously running for president.

    And there are times when political interests and the need to get attention will not align with trying to get actual legislation to the president’s desk.  You could see situations where a senator who is running for president sort of seizes the Senate floor and sort of tries to attract attention in a way that is not what Senator McConnell, the Republican leadership would want.

    And that will be another balancing act that we will — we will see going into the next year or so, before people start really heading in earnest — I know they have already gone, some — but before heading in earnest to Iowa and New Hampshire.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Niels Lesniewski from Roll Call, thanks so much.

    NIELS LESNIEWSKI:  Thank you.

    The post What can we expect from Congress in 2015? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Thirteen fourth-year male dentistry students were suspended from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia after a Facebook group, called “DDS Gentlemen’s Club,” filled with violent sexual comments about their female peers was discovered.

    Facebook

    Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The group included a Facebook poll asking members who they would want to have “hate” sex with, and plastered on its wall were photos of their female contemporaries.

    The group was discovered in early December, but it wasn’t until today, after four professors called upon the university to take action, that officials made a statement. According to CBC News, though the announcement was made today, the decision to suspend the students was made on Dec. 22.

    Dr. Thomas Boran, dean of the faculty of dentistry, said the scandal has “rocked the administration.”

    “The committee will assess the situation of each individual and ensure that any individual recommended for graduation will have complied with the professionalism requirements of the academic program. No student will be permitted to graduate unless they have done so.”

    The delay in action led to the hashtag, #DalhousieHatesWomen on Twitter. And a change.org petition asking for the expulsion of the members of the group has garnered nearly 50,000 signatures.

    The post Canadian university suspends 13 dentistry students for misogynistic Facebook group appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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