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

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    The grandson of U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, A.J. Belladona, takes a selfie with VP Biden after Shaheen's ceremonial swearing-in at Capitol Hill in Washington

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    GWEN IFILL:  Occasionally, something will catch our eye that we will bet you would want to see too.  We’re calling it “NewsHour” Shares.

    Tonight’s Share comes from Capitol Hill, where members of Congress brought their entire families for the pomp and the circumstance of official and unofficial swearing-in ceremonies.

    The master of those ceremonies was Vice President Joe Biden, who spent the bulk of his day administering oaths, slapping backs, hugging grandmothers, teasing children, and generally being Joe Biden.

    Here’s a bit of it.

    The post Biden emcees swearing-in ceremonies with hugs and selfies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    painkillers

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Each day, 46 people die in this country after overdosing on prescription painkillers.  In 2012 alone, the CDC says 259 million prescriptions were written for painkillers, enough to supply every American adult with a bottle of pills.

    Now many states are pushing back, including New York, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, and Washington State.  Three of those states now require doctors to check a patient database before writing a prescription.  This year, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and Texas are also considering tighter laws.

    But some physicians and patient advocates say this crackdown is creating new problems.

    We get two views now.

    Dr. Andrew Kolodny is the director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.  He’s also chief medical officer for the Phoenix House Foundation.  It’s a national nonprofit addiction agency.  Bob Twillman is the executive director of the American Academy of Pain Management and also a clinical psychologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center.  Mr. Twillman was caught in a traffic jam tonight.  He couldn’t make it to the studio, so he joins us by telephone.

    And we welcome both of you.

    Dr. Kolodny, I’m going to turn to you first.  You believe that it is important to impose more regulations on the use of painkillers.  Why?

    DR. ANDREW KOLODNY, Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing: Well, the United States is in the midst of a severe epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths.  According to the CDC, this is the worst drug epidemic in United States’ history.

    And the CDC has been very clear about what’s causing this epidemic.  The CDC has said that, as prescriptions for opioid painkillers began to skyrocket in the late 1990s, that it’s led to parallel increases in rates of addiction and overdose deaths.  And what this is suggesting is that we may not be able to turn this epidemic around until doctors and dentists begin to prescribe more cautiously.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what — just quickly, what do you mean by that, more cautiously?

    DR. ANDREW KOLODNY: Well, the United States, with about 5 percent of the world’s population, is consuming 80 percent of the world’s entire oxycodone supply and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone supply.

    Opioids are essential medicines for end-of-life care or when used short term for acute pain, but this vast overprescribing of opioids is mainly for conditions where use of opioids are probably not safe or effective, like low back pain with a normal spine, fibromyalgia, chronic headache.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Bob Twillman, let me turn to you now.  And, again, apologies that we’re — you are not able to join us on television, but we can hear you.

    You have told us that you believe some regulations of painkillers makes sense, but you think the regulations have gone too far.  Why do you believe that?

    BOB TWILLMAN, American Academy of Pain Management: Well, I think what we have seen with regulations in this area has been an attempt to find very simple solutions to what is really two complex problems, those two problems being the problems with prescription drug abuse, but also the problem of chronic pain.

    And, you know, just a point on that, if prescription drug abuse is an epidemic, then I think chronic pain may be a pandemic, because the Institute of Medicine tells us that affects over 100 million people in the United States.  So I think what we have to do is to find the kinds of solutions that really address both of these problems and don’t wind up giving us what’s essentially a zero sum game.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Dr. Kolodny, what about his point?  You heard him, that there’s a problem with chronic pain and something has to be done about that.

    DR. ANDREW KOLODNY: Chronic pain is a serious problem, and many Americans do suffer with chronic pain.

    But, unfortunately, we are harming far more people with chronic pain than we’re helping when we treat them with long-term opioid medications.

    When we talk about drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, these are drugs that come from opium, in the same way that heroin comes from opium.  And, in fact, the effects that hydrocodone and oxycodone produce are indistinguishable from heroin.  So these drugs are essential.  We should be using them, but we shouldn’t be treating low back pain, fibromyalgia and chronic headaches with long-term opioids.

    What we heard from Bob Twillman is really the argument that the industry has been making from the very beginning of this epidemic.  They would like policy-makers to think there are these two distinct populations, millions of pain patients who are helped by these medications and drug abusers.

    And what they’re saying is, let’s not penalize the pain patients for the bad behavior of the drug abusers.  The reality is that we don’t have two distinct populations.  There’s a tremendous amount of overlap.  And when you look at who’s dying from painkiller overdose deaths, the majority appear to be patients having these medications prescribed to them for chronic pain.

    In fact, there are more Americans dying from painkiller overdoses who are getting these medications from doctors than young people who we now see switching to heroin.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Bob Twillman, if that’s the case, why shouldn’t there be much more careful regulation of the prescription of these painkillers?

    BOB TWILLMAN: Well, we do think there should be much more careful use of these medications.

    We also agree that they are being overprescribed and prescribed for the wrong kinds of pain.  So, I think we have to do, though, is to find the solutions that will allow to us really use these medications for those patients for whom they do provide benefit, and not get into a situation where what we’re doing is saying, let’s just — let’s just lower the supply across the board, because what we have seen is that the policies that we have put in place in the last few years that have actually done that have caused patients who have legitimate pain and need these medications to be fully functional have trouble getting those medications.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How have you seen that?  Where is the evidence for that?

    BOB TWILLMAN: Well, you know, it’s hard evidence to collect, because, in essence, what you’re doing is asking people to collect evidence about services that have not been delivered to them, as opposed to services that have been delivered.

    But I have talked to patients who call into our offices and tell us they’re having trouble getting their prescriptions filled.  One gentleman I talked to had been to 35 pharmacies trying to get his prescription filled.  And he had been to — going to the same pharmacy year after year, month after month, and one month he shows up and they say, we won’t fill this anymore.  We can’t fill this anymore.

    And so he winds up going to 35 pharmacies trying to get his prescription filled.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are clearly not going to be able to resolve this tonight.

    Dr. Kolodny, just very quickly, what is your answer, in brief, to those individuals who can’t get prescriptions who need them?

    DR. ANDREW KOLODNY: I think that we do all need to worry about access to opioid medications, and we’re beginning to see pharmacies put signs in the window that say, “No oxycodone here.”

    The pharmacists are not doing that because of state or federal interventions or regulations.  They’re doing this because they’re worried about getting robbed or shot.  We have a severe epidemic of opioid addiction.  And if we want to preserve access to opioids so that they’re available for all of us when we need them, we need to bring this epidemic under control.  And that may not happen until doctors and dentists begin to prescribe more cautiously.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Bob Twillman, we thank you both.

    BOB TWILLMAN: Thank you.

    DR. ANDREW KOLODNY: Thank you.

    The post How should U.S. regulate powerful painkillers? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    NASA's Hubble Telescope has snapped a new photo of the iconic Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula 6,500 light years away. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team

    NASA’s Hubble Telescope has snapped a new photo of the iconic Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula 6,500 light years away. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team

    In 1995, the Hubble Telescope snapped a stunning photo in the Eagle Nebula, 6,500 light years from Earth. The photo revealed three gigantic columns of cold gas, illuminated by the ultraviolet light from nearby young stars. The Pillars of Creation became one of the telescope’s most iconic and popular images.

    Paul Scowen of Arizona State University in Tempe led the original Hubble observations of the Eagle Nebula. He recalled what it was like seeing the photo for the first time.

    “We laid the pictures out on the table, and we were just gushing because of all the incredible detail that we were seeing for the very first time,” he said in a press release from NASA.

    To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Hubble this year, the telescope turned its eyes back to the Pillars of Creation. Photos released yesterday from NASA show the gas columns in a wider view with a higher definition. Hubble also snapped photos in near-infrared. The near-infrared photos pierce through the dense gas and dust to see stars being born in the middle of the gas columns.

    The stellar nursery has changed significantly in 19 years, Scowen said. Since the original photo was taken, the Pillars seem to be fading away, he said. The massive nearby young stars have been stripping gas away from the Pillars, something astronomers observed in the original photo. Strong stellar winds and heat from close stars have eroded the tops of the Pillars.

    “I’m impressed by how transitory these structures are. They are actively being ablated away before our very eyes. The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up and evaporating away into space. We have caught these pillars at a very unique and short-lived moment in their evolution,” Scowen told NASA.

    The post Hubble’s new high-definition pic shows Pillars of Creation fading away and stars being born appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    makingthegrade

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    GWEN IFILL: The GED, or General Educational Development diploma, has long been an important high school equivalency credential for those hoping to make up for lost time and lost opportunity.

    In a typical year, about half-a-million people pass the exam. But the GED test is changing to meet new academic standards known as Common Core. As a result, fewer people are taking and passing a test that has become more rigorous and expensive. In states like Wisconsin and Rhode Island, the number of those who passed dropped more than 90 percent. In Florida, the number of test takers fell about half.

    Is this an improvement or a setback?

    We look at that with Randy Trask, president and CEO of the GED Testing Service, and Lecester Johnson, CEO of Academy of Hope, an adult charter school in Washington, D.C.

    Randy Trask, is it that the GED test has gotten harder?

    RANDY TRASK, GED Testing Service: Well, first off, thank you for having me.

    It absolutely is more difficult, but, really, I think your introduction staged it all. It’s a high school equivalency test. And our last test series was tested on high school graduates of 2001. And to the extent that high school graduates have learned a lot in the last 13 years, and they absolutely have, this test is undoubtedly higher — harder.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Lecester Johnson, what effect does that actually have on people who want to take the test?

    LECESTER JOHNSON, Academy of Hope: It’s much harder for people to pass it.

    And one of our biggest concerns with the exam is that we pushed the bar up on the GED, but we didn’t shore up the system where adults are taking classes to study for that exam.

    GWEN IFILL: What do you mean by that?

    LECESTER JOHNSON: That, for a long time, adult education has been really under-resourced. It’s primarily run by volunteers. Most of the adult ed programs throughout the country have a strong volunteer core, but we don’t have the resources to provide the kinds of quality education that’s needed, particularly with the changes in this new exam.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Randy Trask, tell me what’s changed and why it’s changed. I know what you’re saying, that the standards have changed, and the whole point is that these GED holders be at least as equipped as high school diploma holders.

    But what are they doing? Is it a different kind of approach? Is it a different analytical approach to this?

    RANDY TRASK: Well, first off, I think our new test is a little bit less about what you and know more about how you apply what you know to demonstrate your problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

    And that’s a very different way of approaching testing. The term close reading, for example, comes into play. And I think…

    GWEN IFILL: I’m sorry. You said close reading?

    RANDY TRASK: Correct.

    GWEN IFILL: Close reading, what’s that?

    RANDY TRASK: That’s right, where — where, instead of just looking at a passage and answering questions, you’re required really to read it a couple of times and really be able to understand what you’re reading and begin to demonstrate how you apply it.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, Lecester Johnson, what’s wrong with that?

    LECESTER JOHNSON: I think it’s about why people take the GED.

    Most adults who are coming to take the GED exam are looking to get employment. The two reasons are — there is an economic reason. People can’t get even entry-level jobs without something that says that they have a high school diploma. And we also know that the adults that are entering GED programs also come because they can’t help their children with their homework.

    So the purpose for many adults coming in is to get a job, and generally it’s an entry-level job. Now, once they’re with us, the goal is to really help them to see that there’s something beyond the GED, going on to college. And this new exam is really about preparing people for post-secondary. And that’s not the majority of the learners that are there.

    And it’s now become a barrier to even getting an entry-level job, because it’s going to take a much longer time to do that.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Randy Trask, this is not the first time the GED has changed, but what about the idea that you’re dealing with a different population, a population that wants a job, rather than a college degree?

    RANDY TRASK: Well, I think what we’re dealing with is that research was beginning to show that our graduates, GED graduates, were starting to fare more similar economically to people that had no high school credential than to high school graduates.

    And to extent that we think we can feed families with some of the entry-level jobs that Ms. Johnson is talking about, I think it’s a myth. Our job is to equip these adults with the skills necessary to get into middle-skill jobs, the jobs that are capable of feeding families. And I think our new test is designed to do exactly that.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s an interesting point he makes, Lecester Johnson.

    LECESTER JOHNSON: Right.

    And we’re not saying an entry-level job for a lifetime. For some people, they need to get that job to get money flowing into the household. And coming in to get their GED is a way to do that in the short term.

    Long term, we do know that people need to go on beyond that. We also are ignoring the fact that the population of individuals who are in GED programs are not just, you know, the 18- to, you know, 45-year-old. We do have a fair number of people it’s always been their goal to get a high school credential, and they’re not looking to go to college or to pick up a second career.

    It really is a personal aspiration, and maybe to get an entry-level job to bring in additional income, but without a high school credential, they can’t do that.

    GWEN IFILL: Randy Trask, this also costs more than the previous test. Who does that affect?

    RANDY TRASK: Well, there’s no doubt that many of our students are struggling financially.

    But the way we look at it now, it’s basically about $30 per test. We have four tests. And the average return to our student is about $9,000 per year once they have completed their test. So, it will be one of the best investments they have made. But that’s really a basic way of looking at it, because, in many states, the test is heavily subsidized.

    And in some states, it’s zero. In some states, it’s $10. And so the price is complicated and it varies dramatically.

    GWEN IFILL: Do you find that the people you serve, Lecester Johnson, are impeded by the costs?

    LECESTER JOHNSON: Oh, absolutely.

    Even before the price change, it was a major hardship for adults — for the adults that we’re serving to pay to get — to pay for the GED exam, even at $15. If you’re on a subsidized income, it’s tough to come up with that. And we have always subsidized the subsidy and helped adults to pay for those exams.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, this is something we will be watching to see how it unfolds, especially as Common Core takes fuller effect.

    Lecester Johnson of the Academy of Hope, Randy Trask with the GED company, thank you both very much.

    LECESTER JOHNSON: Thank you.

    RANDY TRASK: Thank you.

    The post Is the new GED test an educational improvement or setback? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    peruruins

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    GWEN IFILL: Drones, we hear more and more about them, in uses that run from the dangerous to the fanciful.

    In the last of his reports from a recent trip to Peru, Jeffrey Brown looks at a new, unlikely use of drone technology. It’s part of his ongoing series Culture at Risk.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Archaeology, the study of human history, the past, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use the latest technology to achieve stunning images like these.

    It’s happening here in Peru, where Deputy Culture Minister Luis Jaime Castillo is overseeing pioneering work, using drones to protect ancient heritage.

    LUIS JAIME CASTILLO, Deputy Culture Minister, Peru: These are only tools, means to an end, you know? The end is to preserve our cultural patrimony and whatever we can deploy to achieve that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, but they’re tools that require a certain, I don’t know, technological know-how, a certain geekiness, right, to get into them?

    LUIS JAIME CASTILLO: But if you’re going to be an archaeologist, and you’re not really a geek, I mean, you are in the wrong field.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Machu Picchu is Peru’s best-known wonder, but the country is home to thousands of sites, large and small, 100,000 by one count, a rich terrain of history and culture long before and well after the arrival of the Spanish.

    Their protection is a major project and problem, especially as cities expand and populations explode. That’s what’s happening here at Pachacamac, a huge complex that for more than 1,000 years served as a religious center, home to an oracle consulted by leaders of several pre-Colombian Indian groups, including the Incas.

    Sitting above the Pacific Ocean, Pachacamac is some 20 miles outside Lima, or at least it used to be.

    LUIS JAIME CASTILLO: This is ground zero for the defense of archaeological patrimony.

    JEFFREY BROWN: When Luis Jaime Castillo was a boy, he says, this was considered way outside the city, but no more.

    LUIS JAIME CASTILLO: Now we have a wave of 10 million people that needs to grow, that needs services, that needs housing. And what used to be, 30 years ago, a shantytown that was pushing and pushing the site now is settling into a very modern, very vibrant, economically very important sector of Lima, and, of course, in need of more space.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That means bumping right up next to and in some cases onto ancient temples and palaces.

    Archaeological work at Pachacamac still requires old-fashioned tools, spades, brushes and dustpans, here to carefully dig up human remains. But on the day of our visit, the ministry was also using something slightly more sophisticated, a new drone called the S1000, an octocopter outfitted with a high-definition swivel camera.

    After takeoff, an operator manned the drone, while another monitored the camera, capturing video and photos of a palace owned by the last ruler of Pachacamac before the Spanish came, and of the nearby town just over the wall.

    LUIS JAIME CASTILLO: We’re finding out that — a funny thing, but the best pilots are not engineers or archaeologists. They’re our drivers. If you can drive in Lima, you can fly a drone.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Boys with toys, there’s certainly an element of that here. But there’s also a very serious side to all this.

    Back in a nondescript office at the Culture Ministry in downtown Lima, the hundreds of photographs shot by the drone are uploaded into advanced imaging software and, just hours after being shot, look like this: a 3-D model and map that show precise boundaries, like a blueprint, incredibly accurate.

    And these can be and are used in court as legal documents to evict developers and squatters who build on protected lands.

    LUIS JAIME CASTILLO: If you’re going to map something that has property around it, you better be precise to the 10th of the inch, because, otherwise, your neighbor is going to come and say, this is my property.

    JEFFREY BROWN: My property. As we showed in a previous report, the Peruvian government dispatched a drone recently to document damage to its famous Nazca Lines, allegedly caused by activists from Greenpeace during a climate change protest.

    Still another use of drones is for conservation. At Chan Chan, once the largest adobe city in the world, the drones’ mission was to document the state of restoration and decay ahead of El Nino storms that have wrought havoc in the past and are anticipated to hit again this winter.

    LUIS JAIME CASTILLO: We have to have the before and the after. If there’s any damage, we need to go — go back. and that — we need to have a record of what was there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The hope now, funds permitting, is to build up this newfangled air force throughout the country, placing at least one large drone in each of Peru’s 24 regions to watch over its archaeological heritage from above.

    It’s part toy, part high-tech research. The very old meets the quite new.

    I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour” here in the Chan Chan archaeological site in Northern Peru.

    The post Archaeologists in Peru add drones to their list of tools appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    penanietoobama

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mexico’s president visited Washington today, meeting with President Obama at the White House.

    Though he campaigned and had an early record as a reformer, corruption scandals and public outcry have sparked a political crisis for the Mexican leader. One recent newspaper poll showed that he has the lowest approval for a head of state there in nearly 20 years.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our first meeting of the year is with one of our closest allies, neighbors and friends.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s no accident, of course. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto arrived at a moment when Mr. Obama most needs his help on two major initiatives, first, his November order to defer deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants.

    BARACK OBAMA: I described to President Pena Nieto our efforts to fix our broken immigration system here in the United States and to strengthen our borders as well. We are going to provide a mechanism so that families are not separated who have been here for a long time.

    But — but we’re also going to be much more aggressive at the border in ensuring that people come through the system legally.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, second, the move toward normalizing relations with Cuba. American isolation of the Castro regime has long been an irritant in broader U.S.-Latin American relations.

    PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PENA NIETO, Mexico (through interpreter): I have acknowledged the very audacious decision that you have made to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, and Mexico will be a tireless supporter of the good relationship between two neighbors.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Mexican leader may also hope today’s visit to snowy Washington grants him respite from an avalanche of crises at home. He took office in December 2012. But just two years later, he is reeling.

    Last June, 22 gang members were killed by Mexican soldiers outside Mexico City. Mounting evidence now suggests it was a massacre. Then, in September, the kidnapping and presumed murders of 43 college students in Guerrero state, allegedly by a drug cartel working with a corrupt mayor and police.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): I want something done, concrete actions, and not just words.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Massive protests over the crime and the government’s apparently casual response have filled streets throughout Mexico.

    And now it’s alleged that private contractors bankrolled lavish homes for the president and his wife, as well as Finance Minister Luis Videgaray, who met with Vice President Biden this morning.

    But Pena Nieto has also pushed reforms, taking on the powerful teachers union and seeking to change Mexico’s outmoded state-run oil company, Pemex, and implement reforms in the country’s telecommunications sector. The president can also point to notable arrests last year in Mexico’s long-running drug war, including perhaps the most wanted man on Earth, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel.

    For more on the Mexican president’s leadership and challenges, I’m joined by Carlos Bravo Regidor. He’s a political analyst at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics. It’s a Mexican think tank.

    Professor Bravo Regidor, thank you for talking with us.

    I gather the agenda on the Mexican side and the U.S. side were alike in some ways, but different in some ways. What do you know about that?

    CARLOS BRAVO REGIDOR, Center for Research and Teaching in Economics: In terms of the agenda, I think one of the most interesting aspects of this meeting is the fact that, on the one hand, President Obama was facing significant pressures to put human rights and security on the table, particularly the disappearance and probable killing of 43 students from the rural school of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero.

    And President Pena Nieto, well, he was interested in talking about other things, about the border, about tightening commercial relationships, even about Cuba, but really not very interested in talking about human rights and security.

    So I think we’re going to see some very interesting phrasing of the subject, you know, as a result of the meeting.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think President Pena Nieto gets something from this meeting that he can take home?

    CARLOS BRAVO REGIDOR: Well, to be honest, I think that, in terms of his domestic agenda, the most important thing that he will bring home is the photo-op, so to speak.

    President Pena Nieto is facing a really hard time in Mexico due to, well, an alleged extrajudicial execution of 22 citizens in the town of Tlatlaya in the state of Mexico, the Ayotzinapa situation that I just mentioned, and also the conflict of interests regarding his dealings, his wife and his minister of finance, regarding their dealings with a government contractor who built and financed their private homes.

    So, in the context of that — of that — of those scandals and of that crisis, I think it’s good for President Pena Nieto — or I think he expects him — he expects for his image with President Obama to give him some sort of boost, because, well, his popularity right now is really, really low.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is it — has it been so hard for him, do you think, to have a successful presidency?  Why is he having these difficulties?  And do you see a prospect that he has to make things better for himself?  What are his — what are expectations right now for him?

    CARLOS BRAVO REGIDOR: Well, he’s having a very hard time because he arrived to the presidency with very high expectations. There was an expectation that he was going to be an effective leader, a leader who produced results.

    And in the first months, even the first year, year-and-a-half of his presidential term, President Pena Nieto really lived up to those expectations. He was able to push through congress a very ambitious agenda of reforms in education, telecommunications, fiscal reform and energy reform, which really put the expectations even higher.

    But, for the last six months, the implementation of the — of some of these reforms has stagnated or has faced some difficulties in terms of the regulations or of the federal system that Mexico has and the distribution of competencies between different levels of government.

    On the other hand, economic performance has been very mediocre, which is — is a structural problem of Mexico’s for the last at least three decades. And, on the other hand, President Pena Nieto very deliberately tried to take violence and insecurity off his presidential discourse and his presidential agenda.

    And, well, the Ayotzinapa situation, alongside with problems that have arised in the state of Michoacan, has forced him to bring back the agenda of violence and insecurity and human rights violations.

    So, all of these, you know, issues have combined to produce a sort of perfect storm for President Pena Nieto.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Professor Carlos Bravo Regidor, we thank you.

    CARLOS BRAVO REGIDOR: Thank you for having me.

    The post Mexico’s President Peña Nieto faces ‘perfect storm’ of problems, derailed reform agenda appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Updated Jan. 6 at 9:25 EST.

    A gunman opened fire at the El Paso Veterans Affairs Health Care System Tuesday night, killing one, according to officials, who also reported that the suspect was dead.

    The Associated Press reported that Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Twitty did not specify how the gunman died or provide details about the victim.

    Updated Jan. 6 at 8:18 EST.

    Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, is on lockdown after reports of an “active shooter” at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center. The Associated Press is reporting that the Army is searching for a suspect.

    The news agency reports that there is no information yet on casualties or arrests. The incident was reported shortly before 4 p.m. Mountain Time Tuesday.

    We will update this post as information becomes available.


    A doctor at the El Paso VA Health Care System at Fort Bliss was shot by a gunman, who later died of a self-inflicted wound, CNN has reported. The motive behind the shooting is currently unknown.

    The post Update: Gunman who killed one at Texas VA clinic is dead appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ebola

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    GWEN IFILL: With the death toll in West Africa now over 8,000, government and humanitarian organizations are reassessing the most effective way to tackle the deadly Ebola virus.

    From launching new drug trials to building new clinics, the United Nations, the United States and nongovernmental agencies around the world are ramping up, scaling back and searching for new approaches to curb the epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

    Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa Affairs, has just returned from Monrovia. And Anthony Banbury has just completed a 90-day term as head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

    Welcome to you both, gentlemen.

    Senator Coons, you just came back here. You’re the first and only member of Congress to actually have gone to the Ebola zone, as it were. What did you see?

    SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) Delaware: Well, I was really impressed by the impact that America’s troops have had in the country of Liberia. Let’s just go back for a second to September, when President Obama took the decisive, the brave action of deploying the entire 101st Airborne Division, 2,400 U.S. troops, to Monrovia, Liberia.

    At that point, the Ebola epidemic in Liberia was raging out of control, and there were predictions by the CDC that, by now, in January, there would be at least half-a-million people infected by Ebola if it continued at the rate it was on at that point.

    What I saw when I visited was that our troops all over the country have made a dramatic difference. They have built Ebola treatment units. They have deployed military-grade high-quality labs and testing facilities. They have provided the logistics and support to reinforce and reassure volunteer doctors and nurses and missionaries from around the world, and the rate of new infections in Liberia has dropped dramatically.

    There’s also been real changes in social practices. Every place I went, folks were being checked for their temperature, washing their hands in a bleach solution. Nobody was shaking hands, and, most importantly, both safe and dignified burial practices were being put in place around the country.

    So I’m optimistic about the impact that we have been able to make in Liberia, and eager to talk tonight about how we might apply those lessons learned to Sierra Leone and Guinea, where it still is largely out of control.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Anthony Banbury.

    After 90 days as the head of the U.N. effort, where does the global response stand?

    ANTHONY BANBURY, Former Head, UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response: The global response is actually in very good shape.

    I think, just as Senator Coons described the progress that’s being made in Liberia, we’re starting to see similar progress in Sierra Leone. We’re a few weeks behind where we were in Liberia, but the response capabilities are being put in place in Sierra Leone, particularly the main hot spots around Freetown and in an area called Port Loko.

    We’re also seeing the response grow in Guinea. So I think we’re going to see the numbers go down, the total numbers go way down in all three countries in the weeks ahead. But what’s going to happen, what’s already happening is, the disease is spreading geographically. It’s becoming more dispersed, and that means we need a lot of capability spread across the three countries. And that’s going to be a big challenge going forward.

    GWEN IFILL: Senator Coons, does the U.S. military effort that you described, does it have to remain open-ended for now?

    SEN. CHRIS COONS: Well, I have called on the Pentagon to change strategy, to reduce the total number of our troops that are there, but to extend the amount of time that they will be there and to make sure that we are transitioning, the big investment that we have made in new Ebola treatment units and mobile labs and in the infrastructure to support the sort of grassroots outreach across the whole country that Tony is talking about, to do that in a way that would empower and strengthen Liberian efforts that will make sure that this epidemic gets to zero.

    We shouldn’t leave Liberia in a significant way until we have gotten to zero, because I’m very concerned that this Ebola epidemic could just come roaring back if the international community that has made such a difference in this region withdraws too early.

    GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Mr. Banbury about that, because you — you too have said that not getting to zero would constitute failure in this case. What happens if the U.N. does pull back?  What happens if the U.S. does pull back, as Senator Coons is suggesting, to that effort?

    ANTHONY BANBURY: The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, was just in the region a couple weeks ago, and he made very clear to the presidents of the country, to the people, and to the U.N. family that we will be there side by side with the governments and people of the countries until there are zero cases.

    That’s the only option. It’s the only way to go. It’s going to be hard getting there. I think everything Senator Coons just said is absolutely right about working with the communities, building and strengthening the national health care system, so they can have good disease surveillance in place, so we can have early detection of small outbreaks, and a quick response to snuff them out, so two cases become zero, rather than 20 or 200.

    We all recognize now what we have to do as the disease evolves and we move from the first phase to the current phase. The challenge will be execution, but we can’t let up, by any means, until we’re at zero.

    GWEN IFILL: Part of the execution — and I want to direct this to both of you today — we have heard pharmaceutical companies talking about clinical drug trials.

    Starting with you, Anthony Banbury, how practical, how hopeful is that?

    ANTHONY BANBURY: Well, we’re all hoping that we’re going to have a vaccine, improved treatments, so fewer people die who do contract it.

    But in terms of the current operation and what we’re doing day to day, we can’t rely on the arrival of a vaccine or improved treatment. We have to deal with the realities that are on the ground now, the tools that we have at our disposal. And they’re what Senator Coons said. They’re the treatment centers that do isolation.

    They’re the safe burial practices. They are social mobilization. We have to break the transmission. And that’s working. Where we put those response capabilities in place, we see dramatic drops in the numbers. The challenge will be to have that capability across these three countries that have really poor roads. They’re very isolated villages. Sometimes, they take two days, three days to drive to.

    So we have a challenge on our hand, but we know what we need to do.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, as you talk about the improvements on the ground, Senator Coons, how much of that is sustainable?  How — it’s nice to talk about hope, but is hope sustainable in this case?

    SEN. CHRIS COONS: Well, one of the things I heard all across Liberia was that when the message went out from President Obama that he had made the decision September 16 to deploy U.S. troops, it lifted the spirits of all Liberians, who were feeling abandoned by the world community at the time, who were concerned that lots of airlines and shipping lines and expatriate groups and nonprofit groups had withdrawn from the country.

    Our intervention there, I think, significantly lifted the spirits of people of Liberia and brought them hope. But, to your point, I’m calling on the Pentagon to change to a strategy that’s more sustainable. And that requires investing in skills, in making sure that Liberians have the skills, the equipment, the resources to sustain the sort of grassroots testing labs, treatment capability, clinics, the social mobilization and contact tracing that you have just heard discussed by Dr. Banbury.

    We know how to get to zero in Ebola, but it is going to take a different sort of strategy. We have brought some hope with a big footprint, expensive emergency intervention by the United States military. We need to now sustain that hope in a more practical and cost-effective way by using the great human resources of the Liberian nation and Guinea and Sierra Leone, and the remarkable resources of the missionaries and volunteers who are there to ensure that we make a lasting difference, not just for this epidemic and this outbreak, but to strengthen the public health infrastructure and the social infrastructure of these three West African countries.

    GWEN IFILL: Senator Chris Coons and Anthony Banbury of the U.N., thank you both very much.

    ANTHONY BANBURY: Thank you.

    SEN. CHRIS COONS: Thank you.

    The post What’s next in the global response to Ebola? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: For the first time in eight years, Republicans took charge today in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Last November’s sweeping victories powered the party to full control, as the 114th Congress convened.

    Snow blanketed the Capitol this day, but Republican spirits burned bright just the same.

    JOSEPH BIDEN, Vice President of the United States: The Senate will come to order.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Vice President Biden gaveled in a new Senate, with 54 Republicans to 44 Democrats and two independents, and a new majority leader.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: Today is an important day for our country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the ascension to the top spot came after 30 years in the Senate.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: We recognize the enormity of the task before us. We know a lot of hard work awaits. We know many important opportunities await as well. I’m really optimistic.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The new minority leader, Harry Reid, was forced to work from home after an exercising accident last week. In his place, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin spoke for Democrats.

    SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, (D) Illinois
    : We can’t solve America’s challenges with the same old thinking. We have to address the problems with mutual respect and with a positive attitude.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite the warm words, confrontation loomed over the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans pushed a new bill to begin construction, and the White House issued a new warning.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The president would have vetoed had that bill passed the previous Congress. And I can confirm for you that if this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it either.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, on the House side, Republican Speaker John Boehner won a third term in that post, but only after surviving a Tea Party attempt to unseat him. Twenty-five Republicans voted against Boehner, a record for a sitting speaker.

    Afterward, he grew emotional as he addressed the House.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: Every day, you and I come here, try to plant good seeds, cultivate the ground and take care of the pests. And then, with patience and some sacrifice and God’s grace, there will be a harvest.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Boehner will command 246 Republicans to 188 Democrats, the biggest GOP majority in nearly 70 years. One seat is currently vacant.

    The new congressional leadership will meet with President Obama at the White House early next week.

    GWEN IFILL: Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was sentenced today to two years in federal prison. He is scheduled to report to prison next month, after a federal judge in Richmond sentenced him for taking bribes in office. He could have gotten 10 years. McDonnell was once a Republican rising star. He insisted again today that he never violated his oath of office, but he offered this apology.

    FORMER GOV. BOB MCDONNELL, (R) Virginia: I have made mistakes in my life. I always tried to put the best interests of the people first as governor. But I have failed at times and some of the judgments that I have made during the course of my governorship have hurt myself, my family, and my beloved people of Virginia. And for that, I am deeply, deeply sorry.

    GWEN IFILL: McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted of accepting cash and gifts in exchange for promoting a dietary supplement. She will be sentenced separately. He said he plans to appeal the verdict.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Gay marriage was officially legal in Florida as of today, and scores of couples took advantage. Mass weddings were planned in some places after Florida’s ban on same-sex unions ended at midnight. In all, 36 states now permit gay marriages, covering 70 percent of the national population.

    GWEN IFILL: This was a day of final farewell for the late Mario Cuomo. Hundreds of family, friends and dignitaries turned out in New York for the funeral of the former three-term governor. State police stood at attention as the coffin was carried into St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan. Cuomo’s son Andrew, the state’s current governor, eulogized his father’s liberal ideals and oratorical power.

    GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, (D) New York: At his core, at his best, he was a philosopher, and he was a poet, and he was an advocate, and he was a crusader. Mario Cuomo was the keynote speaker for our better angels.

    GWEN IFILL: Mario Cuomo was 82 when he passed away last Thursday, just hours after his son was inaugurated for a second term in office.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Cross-border fighting between India and Pakistan flared again today, with word that at least 10,000 villagers have been forced from their homes. They have fled from the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, a disputed region where two wars have been fought since 1947.

    Indian officials have set up about 20 relief camps for escaping families. Many say they had no time to grab any belongings as mortar shells rained down.

    GWEN IFILL: And, in Iraq, 23 government troops and Sunni militia fighters were killed in clashes and suicide bombings by Islamic State forces. It was the latest flare-up in Anbar province, where the militants are largely in control. At the same time, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pledged in Baghdad to take back all of the territory now in Islamic State hands.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog concluded today that drones are too costly and inefficient to patrol the Mexican border. The inspector general’s report found the unmanned aircraft don’t fly as much as the government says they do, and they don’t help catch as many people crossing the border illegally.

    GWEN IFILL:
    And Wall Street skidded again for the fifth session in a row. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 130 points to close at 17371. The Nasdaq fell nearly 60 points to close at 4592, and the S&P 500 slipped 18 to 2002. The market was weighed down again by oil. It finished below $48 a barrel in New York trading.

    The post News Wrap: Keystone XL fight looms as 114th Congress convenes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    grads

    The Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice issued a letter to school districts on how offer an equal access public education.

    For the first time this year, non-white children make up a larger portion of the country’s public school students than white children. Within that growing racial diversity is an increasing linguistic diversity. There are about 5 million public school students who are not proficient English speakers. Since 2004, 19 states have seen the number of these students enrolled in public schools grow more than 40 percent, according to the Department of Education.

    Today, the department’s Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice released a letter to school districts on how to comply with their obligation to provide equal access to a public education for this growing group of learners.

    There is no shortage of signs that school districts across the country are struggling with serving an increasingly diverse student body. The country’s teaching pool doesn’t reflect growing classroom diversity; graduation rates and test scores of black and Latino students continue to trail those of their white and Asian peers; and black and Latino students often face harsher discipline for minor offenses at school.

    When it comes to English learners, data from the Office of Civil Rights shows, they make up about 9 percent of public school students but account for about 12 percent of those held back a grade and less than 2 percent of those who take at least one AP class.

    The guidance school districts are receiving today outlines their obligations that include to assess students’ English proficiency when they enroll, sufficiently staff and support programs for English learners, assess English learners for special education services, monitor their progress so they can move into mainstream programs and to assess the efficacy of the district’s programs for English learners.

    Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education, told reporters during a conference call that since 2009 her office has received more than 475 complaints about school districts failing to meet their federal obligation to take “affirmative action” to support students with limited English proficiency. That includes integrating them as much as possible into mainstream classrooms and providing access to the full range of educational programs offered to other students.

    Earlier this month, the office closed one of those complaints against the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which was not advertising high-quality math and science programs to Spanish-speaking families.

    PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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    Congress convenes its first session of the 114th Congress on Tuesday with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    The House passed legislation renewing a federal program that insures against terror attacks. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The House passed long-sought legislation Wednesday to renew the federal program that props up the private market for insurance against terrorist attacks.

    The 416-5 vote revives the government’s terrorism risk insurance program, which provides a backstop in which the government steps in to cover the bulk of losses in the event of a major terrorist attack. The guarantee has made private companies more willing to underwrite policies against terrorist attacks.

    The legislation had passed the House last month after extensive delays but became snagged in the Senate in the final days of Congress. The Senate is likely to take up the measure shortly.

    The legislation would decrease the government’s exposure by gradually increasing the “trigger” at which the program starts to cover terrorist attacks to $200 million in losses, up from $100 million previously. The government’s share of catastrophic losses would be gradually lowered from 85 percent to 80 percent.

    The program was enacted in 2002 after the market for terrorism insurance collapsed in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. It was originally designed to be a temporary program but the hoped-for revival of the private market for terrorism insurance has failed to flourish. The government has never paid out under the law.

    The legislation is important to economic sectors such as construction, real estate, hospitality and major sports leagues, which fear crippling insurance costs if the program expires and rates skyrocket — or the market for terrorism insurance collapses altogether.

    The measure also includes unrelated legislation that seeks to protect businesses that use financial instruments called derivatives to hedge risk from being subjected to costly margin requirements under Dodd-Frank regulations. Those businesses — including farmers and ranchers, airlines and manufacturers — are already protected under the terms of the law and follow-up regulations, but such “end users” of derivatives are concerned that they could get snared by future regulations.

    Another add-on would establish a National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers that would license insurance agents and brokers to operate in multiple states. Insurance is regulated by the states. That provision tripped up the measure in the Senate in December after former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., objected.

    The post House passes bill to renew terror insurance program appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Long walled off from world trade and modern technology, Cuba has developed a robust culture of DIY engineers who turn household items into useful inventions. Water pump motors propel bicycles, clothes dryers are repurposed into coconut shredders. Cuban artist Ernesto Orza has spent the last decade photographing and collecting many of these creations. Read more about Cuban inventions in our Science Wednesday piece, How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    The rikimbili, prohibited, but widely used in Cuba, is made of a bicycle with a motor attached. This bicycle has a soda bottle for a fuel tank. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

    The rikimbili, prohibited, but widely used in Cuba, is made of a bicycle with a motor attached. This bicycle has a soda bottle for a fuel tank. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    Lamps made from household items like glass jars and toothpaste tubes. Photo by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi

    Lamps made from household items like glass jars and toothpaste tubes. Photo by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi

    A charger for non-rechargable hearing aid batteries. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

    A charger for non-rechargable hearing aid batteries. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    LEFT: Cuban inventor Yolando Perez Baez demonstrates his engine-starting device that can work in the place of a starter motor -- a component that frequently fails.  A large weight is hoisted up and dropped to spin a flywheel to start motors around the farm. Photo by Desmond Boylan/Reuters RIGHT: Farmer Carlos Frachi invented a crop irrigation system using soda bottles. Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters

    LEFT: Cuban inventor Yolando Perez Baez demonstrates his engine-starting device which can work in the place of a starter motor-a component that frequently fails. A large weight is hoisted up and dropped to spin a flywheel to start motors around the farm. Photo by Desmond Boylan/Reuters RIGHT: Farmer Carlos Frachi invented a crop irrigation system using soda bottles. Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    A small laptop mounted to the dashboard of a 1955 Ford Mercury. Photo by Edel Rodriguez.

    A small laptop mounted in a 1955 Ford Mercury. Photo by Edel Rodriguez.Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    The electric motor from the widely-owned Soviet Aurika clothes dryer is a popular device for Cuban inventors. Clockwise from left, in the photos above, the motors have been repurposed as coconut shredder, a key duplicator, a grinding wheel, and a shoe repair tool. Photos by Ernesto Oroza

    The electric engine from the widely-owned Soviet Aurika washing machine is commonly repurposed. Clockwise from left, in the photos above, the motors have been repurposed as coconut shredder, a key duplicator, a grinding wheel, and a shoe repair tool. Photos by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    Cubans wait for the departure of a public bus built from a repurposed semi truck, commonly called "El Camello" (The Camel). Photo by Rafael Perez/Reuters

    Cubans wait for the departure of a public bus built from a repurposed semi truck, commonly called “El
    Camello” (The Camel). Photo by Rafael Perez/Reuters. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    Metal meal trays repurposed as television antennas are visible on rooftops across Cuba. Photo by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi

    Standardized metal meal trays repurposed as television antennas are visible on rooftops across Cuba. Photo by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    Government glassware used to distribute food was often reused to store and trade illegal food and medicine, Oroza says. Photo by  Ernesto Oroza

    Government glassware used to distribute food was often reused to store and trade illegal food and medicine, Oroza says. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    Children's toys built from glue bottles and plastic bottle caps. Photos by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi

    Childrens’ toys built from glue bottles and plastic bottle caps. “Unfortunately, all of this creativity is motivated by profound poverty and desperation. For this reason is it hardly enjoyable for anyone involved,” Oroza says. Photos by Ernesto Oroza & Penelope de Bozzi. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    House fans built from parts from widely-owned Soviet appliances. Photos by  Ernesto Oroza

    House fans built from telephone components and an LP vinyl disc as blades.. Photos by Ernesto Oroza. Read more about Cuban inventions in How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers.

    The post Photo essay: The bizarre, brilliant and useful inventions of Cuban DIY engineers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A fan made from a boat propeller, an old washing machine motor and welded steel rods in El Gabriel, Cuba.  Photo by Edel Rodriguez

    A fan made from a boat propeller, an old washing machine motor and welded steel rods in El Gabriel, Cuba. Photo by Edel Rodriguez. See more photos of Cuban inventions here.

    Just outside Havana, in the childhood bedroom of illustrator Edel Rodriguez, a washing machine engine welded to a boat propeller has become a makeshift fan. This kind of cobbled-together contraption is common in Cuba. So are stoves that run on diesel from trucks, satellite dishes made of garbage can lids and lunch trays, and taxi signs consisting of old fuel canisters.

    Cubans are masters of invention. They have to be. In 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower slapped the first trade embargo on the country, and in 1961, just before leaving office, he broke off diplomatic relations. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the loss of oil imports, shortages got worse. The country lost about 80 percent of its imports, and the economy shrank by 34 percent.

    “The Cuban home became a laboratory for inventions and survival.”So Cubans learned to make do. When something breaks, they patch it up. When something doesn’t work, they fix it. And when something is altogether lost, they invent it. They grill meat on metal chairs. They seal the bottoms of cars, transforming them into boats. From the suffering of 30 years of isolation has sprung a generation of amateur engineers, inventors and welders.

    “A market started with people who can rig things up,” said Rodriguez, who was born and raised in the small Cuban farm town, El Gabriel. In 1980, at age 9, he fled to Miami with his family on the Mariel boatlift, and he now lives in New Jersey. “It’s what Cubans have been in the last 60 years – just really inventive with things.”

    A truck with a box and seats mounted on the chassis, in La Salud, Cuba. Photo by Edel Rodriguez

    A truck with a box and seats mounted on the chassis, in La Salud, Cuba. Photo by Edel Rodriguez. See more photos of Cuban inventions here.

    Ernesto Oroza, a Cuban-born designer who now lives in Miami, said several factors played a role in the DIY phenomenon. A high percentage of Cubans had engineering degrees, thanks to a system of free education. Many became intimately familiar with the mechanics of the standardized socialist products found in most homes — the Soviet-designed Aurika washing machine, for example, and the Orbita fan. Plus, no one was untouched by the crisis.

    “Musicians, medical doctors, workers, homemakers, athletes and architects all had to dedicate themselves to making their own things and meeting the emerging needs of the family,” Oroza wrote over email in Spanish. “The Cuban home became a laboratory for inventions and survival.”

    Oroza, who has spent decades collecting, studying and writing about these objects, has a name for the phenomenon: “technological disobedience.” Cubans, he said, weren’t deterred by complexity or scale, and they learned to disrespect the “authority” of objects. That meant rethinking their original purpose and life cycle.

    cuba2

    People scoured the city for plastic objects and industrial discards and swiped garbage from city dumpsters, which they’d grind up and inject into molds to make toys, dishes, electrical switches and footwear. The magazine Popular Mechanics was a hot commodity on the island.

    science-wednesday

    “Industrial products were tinkered with and examined by hand,” Oroza said. “Cubans dissected the industrial culture, opening everything up, repairing and altering every type of object.”

    Washing machine motors were especially sought after. With the warm weather in Cuba, people could do without the dryers. So they found other uses. These motors powered fans, lawnmowers, shoe repair tools and key copiers.

    A washing machine motor is used to power a key copier. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

    A washing machine motor is used to power a key copier. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. See more photos of Cuban inventions here.

    They were used to chop vegetables and, below, to shred coconut.

    With the warm weather in Cuba, people could do without washing machine dryers.  So they found other uses.  These motors powered fans, lawnmowers, shoe repair tools and key copiers.  They were used to chop vegetables and shred coconut. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

    With the warm weather in Cuba, people could do without washing machine dryers. So they found other uses. These motors powered fans, lawnmowers, shoe repair tools and key copiers. They were used to chop vegetables and shred coconut. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. See more photos of Cuban inventions here.

    In 1992, The Cuban military issued a book called “Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos” (With Our Own Efforts) that detailed crowdsourced ideas on manipulating, repairing or reusing everyday objects. Among them was a recipe to turn grapefruit rind into a “steak” by marinating it with lemon juice, onion and garlic and frying it up on a pan.

    With rations so scarce, much of the average Cuban day is spent hunting for the basics, said Rodriguez, who has returned several times since he left to visit family in Cuba.

    “You get up at 7 in the morning, and say, ‘Where is there bread? Where do you get milk? Do you know anyone who has this?’ There’s no food in the government stores. Everything has to be hustled by connection, by someone you know or farmers. And most of it can’t be had by legal means.”

    Cars, buses and other transportation vehicles are also scarce, and many Cubans illegally convert bicycles into makeshift motorcycles called rikimbilis by attaching small motors. The bikes make a “deafening noise,” Oroza said, and riders seek alternative routes through cities to avoid traffic police. Large boxes welded to trucks become buses and the bottoms of old cars are sealed shut and refashioned as boats, used by defectors.

    The rikimbili, prohibited, but widely used in Cuba, is made of a bicycle with a motor attached. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

    The rikimbili, prohibited, but widely used in Cuba, is made of a bicycle with a motor attached. Photo by Ernesto Oroza. See more photos of Cuban inventions here.

    Parents also reinvent old plastic containers as toys like helicopters, cars and puppets.

    “These are people that live with objects that are always disemboweled, the electronic guts exposed, while others keep things as if they were palimpsests, scraped clean of their prior functions,” Oroza said. “And both of these practices essentially lead to a dismantling of the object’s identity.”

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    Last month, Museum of Fine Arts conservator Pam Hatchfield excavated a 219-year-old time capsule that Paul Revere and then-Governor Samuel Adams buried under the Massachusetts State House in 1795.

    Rumors circulated about what exactly was inside that box — which had last been discovered in 1855 — but the items remained unknown until yesterday.

    The reveal took place at the Museum of Fine Arts in front of a large portrait of George Washington where Hatchfield carefully removed each delicate item.

    All in all, the brass box contained:

    • 5 newspapers, including a copy a two-cent priced “Boston Traveller.”
    • One paper impression of the Seal of the Commonwealth.
    • 24 coins, including a silver three-cent that, according to Executive Director of Massachusetts Archives Michael Comeau, was hoarded during the Civil War.
    • A silver Paul Revere-inscribed plaque.

    The time capsule will be on display before it’s reburied under the State House.

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    Eden Rogers, 13, uses a stick to try and scoop algae off the shoreline of lake Erie near Oregon, Ohio on August 3, 2014. Photo by Ty Wright/ The Washington Post

    Eden Rogers, 13, uses a stick to try and scoop algae off the shoreline of lake Erie near Oregon, Ohio on August 3, 2014. Photo by Ty Wright/ The Washington Post

    It’s been a rough four years for Lake Erie. In 2011, there was a record-setting algae bloom on the lake. The following year Lake Erie experienced its largest ever “dead zone,” an area of oxygen-depleted water that chokes fish and plants. Then in August 2014 a toxic algal bloom near Toledo, Ohio forced the town to shut off its water.

    A study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that these events weren’t bad luck. They were a result of weather patterns altered by climate change.

    “Those three events put together tells a bigger story than any event individually,” said Anna Michalak, a researcher with the Carnegie Institution for Science and lead author of the study. “The last few years have been strangely consistent in how negative things have been.”

    Algae blooms are a regular occurrence, fed by fertilizer runoff from lawns and farms. When the algae dies, it consumes a lot of oxygen, creating dead zones where fish and plants can’t survive. Until now, scientists believed these cycles were strictly a result of agricultural practices. But going over the past 28 years of data from the lake, Michalak and her colleague Yuntao Zhou found that the severity of these cycles is affected by how rivers fed the lake that year.

    Heavy spring rainstorms dumped more water, and agriculture runoff, into the lake in 2011, which accounted for the massive algae bloom that year. But to her surprise, Michalak found the algae bloom of 2011 produced a very small dead zone. In 2012, the drought exacerbated the dead zone, with little water entering the lake from rivers and streams.

    Historically, Lake Erie has been received the brunt of the negative impacts of changing land use and changing climate, Michalak said. Studying how Lake Erie responds to changes will help lake management protect the Great Lakes in the future.

    The post Climate change and fertilizer runoff spell bad news for Lake Erie appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    gateswastewater

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    In our NewsHour Shares series, we show you things that caught our eye recently on the web. What about you? Leave your suggestions in the comments below, or tweet to @NewsHour using #NewsHourShares. We might share it on air.

     JUDY WOODRUFF:  Finally tonight, our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, something that caught our eye that might be of interest to you, too.

    In this case, it’s a new treatment plant designed to help the developing world turn human waste into, believe it or not, drinkable water.  It sounds unappealing, to say the least, but sewage and water are huge problems.  So the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a new kind of treatment plant in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, about 70 miles north of Seattle.

    Here’s some of that video that is getting attention on YouTube showing how it works.

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    drones

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: If you feel like you’re hearing a lot about drones these days, well, that’s because interest in them is booming.

    Last night, we showed you how they’re being used to further protect the cultural heritage in Peru. In the U.S., they’re starting to be used for all kinds of purposes. And while the prospect of ever more drones may be concerning to some, the question is rapidly becoming, are they safe and how should they be regulated?

    Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has our report.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The sky may be big and blue, but it is getting more crowded every day, as makers of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, test their limits.

    MICHAEL SHABUN, DJI Innovations: The thing is very fast. It can fly about 70 miles an hour.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Oh, geez.

    The man at the controls is Michael Shabun. He works for a company that is growing faster than he can flick a joystick, China-based DJI Innovations, the market leader in the personal drone industry.

    MICHAEL SHABUN: We have gone from 50 employees to 3,000 employees in just under three years, so the industry is booming.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Americans are likely to spend $130 million on 400,000 drones this year. The Consumer Electronics Association predicts annual sales will approach one million units in the next four years.

    And the FAA says private drones will be a $90 billion industry in the next decade. DJI flew on to the scene in a big way with this little craft, the Phantom, which comes equipped with a gyroscopically stabilized camera for about $1,300. The DJI model Shabun flew for us, the Inspire 1, sells for $3,000 and is aimed at professionals.

    MICHAEL SHABUN: A lot of the time, when you are trying to be versatile on set, this is the perfect product to use.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Filmmakers and journalists seeking stunning shots like these may be the most obvious commercial users of this technology. But farmers are also interested, hoping to spot diseased crops and reduce the use of chemicals in water.

    Contractors want them for surveys, and firefighters and coaches see drones as a way to better strategize. But here’s the rub. Right now, widespread commercial use of drones is essentially prohibited by the FAA. Congress told the agency to write some rules of the sky for drone flight by may. But the agency is struggling with an unprecedented challenge.

    Michael Huerta is the FAA administrator.

    MICHAEL HUERTA, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration: A bedrock principle of aviation is see and avoid. And if you don’t have a pilot on board the aircraft, you need something that will substitute for that, which will sense other aircraft, and we can ensure appropriate levels of safety.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But drones are leading the FAA into uncharted territory, far from the conventional aviation players.

    So the agency is moving slowly, unsure how to catch this flying tiger by the tail. The FAA recently started granting exemptions for farmers, real estate agents, surveyors and even some video production companies that want to use drones for Hollywood movies and music videos.

    They have also created six drone test sites across the country to experiment with new types of aircraft.

    WOMAN: But the first launch today didn’t go exactly as planned.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Earning some unwelcome local news notoriety.

    MICHAEL HUERTA: We have the opportunity to do it quickly, or we have the opportunity to do it right. We’re very focused on doing it right, so that we don’t in any way compromise safety.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Meanwhile, there is nothing stopping individuals from flying drones, so long as they are not doing it for hire. And while they are supposed to keep their flights below 400 feet and at least five miles from major airports, YouTube has become a repository of proof that people are ignoring or ignorant of those rules, or just being plain stupid. Someone is definitely going to poke an eye out.

    Chris Anderson is working on some solutions. He is the founder and CEO of Berkeley-based 3D Robotics. The company sells drones in the vanguard of technology.

    CHRIS ANDERSON, 3D Robotics: I tell it to do a 3-D model of that smokestack.

    MILES O’BRIEN: His drones can be controlled with smartphones and will fly a preordained route that the user simply draws out on a map.

    Drone on a mission here, huh?

    CHRIS ANDERSON: If you want to fly, it comes with a joystick. Knock yourself out. Me, I want the video. I want the data. I want the photo. I didn’t want to push a button on my phone and have it do the work.

    Right now, you can take a drone out of the box and fly it in Manhattan. You shouldn’t. It is not allowed. You know, it’s somewhere between regulatory infringement and reckless endangerment.

    Maybe the drone should just — you know, it says, hey, ready to fly? Oh, I happen to notice you are on a balcony in Manhattan. That’s not appropriate.

    (LAUGHTER)

    CHRIS ANDERSON: Let’s not fly here.

    So we can do — we can do more as an industry to help people behave responsibly.

    MILES O’BRIEN: For Anderson, the biggest drone payoff is this, a stunning photorealistic 3-D image.

    CHRIS ANDERSON: So that is reality capture. This is how we digitize the world. We don’t get satellites to do it three months ago at low resolution, and we don’t pay planes to do it. We get drones to be sky view, to go along with Google’s Street View.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Google has joined Amazon in developing drones that might one day deliver packages from warehouse to doorstep. But pulling this off without hitting a kid in the sandbox or terrorizing the dog requires drones to sense and avoid autonomously.

    This would make the FAA happy and, in fact, is the Holy Grail of dronedom.

    Mechanical engineer Vijay Kumar is hoping to find it in his lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

    VIJAY KUMAR, University of Pennsylvania: The thing that machines don’t do is really bring so — humanlike intelligence to the picture, which is really looking at the scene, interpreting the scene, reasoning about the physical world, and then figuring out what actions to take.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Kumar is designing drones to do just that, although he prefers to call them robots. In late 2013, he gave me a fascinating demonstration of a flying robot designed to navigate, sense and avoid even inside, where GPS is useless.

    The robot was able to map out the walls of the building, avoid hitting them, and also me when I walked into harm away. It is equipped with stereo, wide-angle cameras, a laser range scanner, a GPS receiver, a magnetometer, and an inertial measurement unit.

    How many of these sensors do you need to be safe?

    VIJAY KUMAR: So, this entire sensor sweep is actually required for it to navigate in most environments, because, generally, one or the other thing will always fail.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Kumar is also working on ways for unmanned flying vehicles to avoid each other. Check out this dizzying swarm.

    VIJAY KUMAR: Essentially, what is happening is, every vehicle is responsible for itself, but they all have radios and they talk to each other. They can also negotiate safe paths by just communication.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Without the human being necessarily being a part of that?

    VIJAY KUMAR: And the human being is not a part of this. In fact, it would be very hard for you and me to remote pilot these and control them the way you are seeing them fly.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But maybe the answer is not as hard as making drones smarter. What about simply smaller?

    CHRIS ANDERSON: As the sensors get better and smaller and cheaper, then the drones around them will get smaller as well and lighter. And at a certain point, you know, it won’t be much larger than this, something that gives you the same video quality as today’s larger drones.

    And, at that point, I don’t think we worry as much. There might be privacy concerns, but they’re probably not going to be hit-you-on-the-head concerns.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Privacy remains a persistent concern. The potential consequences of drones as airborne Peeping Toms inspired a recent skewering on “South Park.”

    ACTOR: We can spy on everyone.

    ACTOR: My dad said it is not for spying on people.

    ACTOR: Butters, that is all drones are for.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But privacy is the purview of local governments, which are all over the map on whether or how to regulate small drone flights. Don’t expect the FAA to solve this.

    MICHAEL HUERTA: The FAA has one focus. We don’t regulate anything that flies in our airspace for its use. What we regulate for is its safety. And with this technology, that’s where our focus needs to be as well.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Here we go.

    And along with the potentially useful applications, drone technology has taken selfies to a whole new level. We posed with Chris Anderson for our first dronie.

    I mean, a selfie is really primitive, right?

    CHRIS ANDERSON: I know.

    MILES O’BRIEN: I mean, really. The sky isn’t falling or is?

    CHRIS ANDERSON: The sky is not falling. The sky is opening.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Smile and say, Chicken Little.

    Miles O’Brien, the PBS NewsHour, Berkeley, California.

    The post While the drone industry grows faster than the flick of a joystick, regulation lags appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    mcconnell

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    JUDY WOODRUFF:  With the seating of the new Congress this week, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has become the leader of his chamber and one of the most powerful people in the country.

    But even to some who cover him closely, McConnell can seem like an enigma.

    We asked our political editor and reporter, Lisa Desjardins, to bring us a closer look at the man now under more of the spotlight.

    LISA DESJARDINS: When Mitch McConnell took the podium as Senate leader this week…

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: Today is an important day for our country.

    LISA DESJARDINS: … it was also a day that he had worked for, for over half-a-century.

    AL CROSS, University of Kentucky: Apparently, from the beginning of his adult life, he wanted to be the majority leader of the United States Senate.

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s Al Cross, longtime Kentucky reporter now at the University of Kentucky. We will talk to him more, but, first, some background.

    McConnell’s childhood is a map of the South. Born in Alabama, he contracted polio and his mother took him to Warm Springs, Georgia, made famous by FDR, for treatment. The family later settled in Louisville, Kentucky, where McConnell would go to college and write his thesis on Henry Clay, one of the great Senate leaders, who McConnell studied diligently.

    AL CROSS: He is one of the best students of politics this country has ever had. I mean, he reads extensively about politicians. He cannot just read a poll. He can write a poll.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And that may help explain how McConnell has survived sometimes open mocking, including this just last night on “The Daily Show.”

    JON STEWART, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”: He’s wearing his festive swearing-in shell.

    (LAUGHTER)

    AL CROSS: He’s not your typical politician. He’s not much to look at. He doesn’t have much charisma. He started out being called Howdy Doody, and now they call him Yertle the Turtle.

    But he knows how to win elections and he takes his business very seriously.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And one of young McConnell’s first moves in the business of politics was a turn to the right.

    ALEC MACGILLIS, Former Washington Post Reporter: It’s interesting. As a young man, he was actually a quite moderate and even somewhat liberal Republican.

    LISA DESJARDINS: McConnell biographer and journalist Alec MacGillis says McConnell, who once courted the AFL-CIO as an ally, started shifting in 1984, after Ronald Reagan carried Kentucky by hundreds of thousands of votes, while McConnell barely won his Senate race.

    ALEC MACGILLIS: So Mitch McConnell looked at this — at this contrast between his narrow election and Ronald Reagan’s very big election, and he thought to himself, you know what? I never want it to be this close again for me. I need to sort of — I need to get on this train, I need to get on this bus of a Republican Party that is moving in a more conservative direction.

    LISA DESJARDINS: MacGillis argues that McConnell puts winning above all. And that has driven his push against campaign finance reform and for big-dollar fund-raising.

    ALEC MACGILLIS: He wasn’t the most natural politician. He is not a very natural candidate, by any stretch of the imagination. And he recognized how important having a lot of money to outspend his opposition would be.

    McConnell, more than just about anyone in Washington today, embodies the permanent campaign mind-set that has kind of taken over Washington these last — last few decades.

    LISA DESJARDINS: An example that many cite, these words:

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.

    LISA DESJARDINS: This goes to who McConnell is at the core. Those who know him say, yes, he is driven to win, but they insist his focus is to govern.

    Example? Deals over the fiscal cliff that McConnell made with Vice President Biden.

    TRENT LOTT, Former Senate Majority Leader: If you go back and look over the last three years, there have been only two major, really big agreements that were reached and done. Both of them were done with the leadership of Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden, not the president, not anybody else but Mitch McConnell.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Trent Lott is himself a former GOP Senate majority leader, and he worked with McConnell for years. We wanted to talk to Lott especially to get past McConnell’s public enigma, to talk about who he is as a person.

    TRENT LOTT: I’m much more garrulous, and backslapping and that — like to have a good laugh, like to sing, love a good joke. I’m just much more of an outward sort of personality, for better or for worse. And, sometimes, it can get you in trouble.

    He is more reserved. He is very thoughtful. And he has a unique a ability to listen. I think, if you go back and study leadership and the history of leaders, some of the greatest leaders were somewhat stoic.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And, of course, McConnell is a student of the past, not just of the great compromiser, Henry Clay, he also talks about Alben Barkley, who pushed back against Franklin Roosevelt and presidential power, and Democrat Mike Mansfield, known for crafting a professional, active Senate.

    Speaking recently to public television affiliate KET in Kentucky, McConnell explained what he takes from these men: Get things done.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: If you can’t figure a way to bring people together and to reach some kind of compromise to advance the interests of country, you can’t accomplish anything at all.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Let’s stop there a second. We hear that word a lot, but compromise is mostly a theory right now. What exactly is McConnell’s plan to get there?

    Today, in his first address as leader, McConnell said he wants to reopen vigorous Senate debate.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: We need to open up, open up the legislative process in a way that allows more amendments from both sides. Sometimes, it’s going to be meaning — it will mean working late. But restoring the Senate is the right thing to do.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Lott says the keys to McConnell are determination and tenacity.

    TRENT LOTT: Mitch has a really good sense for timing. And he will wait until hell freezes over to make the right move, waiting for the right moment. And he has the ability to sense that.

    LISA DESJARDINS: One more factor, how long McConnell has waited for and strategized for this moment.

    AL CROSS: Mitch McConnell has finally grabbed the brass ring. This is what he’s looked for all his life. And now he’s going to prove that he ain’t the dog that caught the car, that he knows what to do with this job.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  And Lisa joins us now.

    So, Yertle the Turtle, what he’s nicknamed.

    (LAUGHTER)

    LISA DESJARDINS: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  But he is seriously successful. So what does he want to do with this power?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Incredible.

    He wants to change how the Senate operates. In the last couple of years, the Senate has not operated under what is called regular order. Instead, Harry Reid used rules to ensure that you couldn’t really propose amendments if you were a single senator. That’s one thing that McConnell wants to change. He wants to open up debate, so if you were — you and I were a senator, we could bring up any proposal we wanted if it was germane to a bill.

    McConnell argues that that allows the Senate to hash it out and come up with good legislation. Now, it’s messy. It means Democrats will take votes that they might not want to take, Republicans the same. McConnell says that is how the Senate should operate best. We will see.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  So do people think it can happen?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Glad you asked, because there has already been a speed bump just in the first two days of the Senate.

    The Democrats have blocked the ability of Republicans to hold a committee hearing on the Keystone pipeline. It’s just going to delay things it. But already, what’s happened then is, McConnell has sped up the process on the Keystone pipeline. He says, ultimately, they won’t come to that.

    But it is signs, Judy, of the fact that, in theory, sure, it would be great if the Senate hashed everything out, but the politics are so tight right now, it’s not clear that they can.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  We heard Trent Lott say that he is reserved. But you were telling me you have covered Senator McConnell, and that he has a sense of humor.

    LISA DESJARDINS: I was fortunate to meet in small groups with Senator McConnell for — several times as a radio reporter.

    He has a great sense of humor. But it’s very dry, as I think people would expect. But he does have a very good sense of humor. My husband is constantly surprised when I say that. But it’s true. He does.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, we will be looking for that in the months to come.

    LISA DESJARDINS: OK.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  Lisa Desjardins, we thank you.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Sure.

     

    The post What does Mitch McConnell’s political past mean for the Senate’s future? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    dangerousjob

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The attacks in Paris were focused on a very different kind of newspaper, as we just heard.

    But, every day, traditional journalists are facing real dangers and threats. In fact, the past three years have seen the highest number of journalists killed or imprisoned in recent times.

    Jeffrey Brown has our look.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   On the one hand, information is everywhere and more people around the world have access to it. On the other, for journalists, those who have traditionally gathered and disseminated so much of that information, the times are more dangerous than ever.

    JOEL SIMON, Committee to Protect Journalists: Absolutely. That’s the paradox. We live in an age defined by information. And yet the people who bring us this information are dying, being imprisoned, being killed in record numbers. If you look at the data, it is shocking, but press freedom, freedom of expression is actually in decline around the world.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   In his role as executive director of the advocacy group the Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon watches all of this unfold on a daily basis.

    In a new book, “The New Censorship,” he’s looked at case studies and some of the causes behind growing dangers for journalists.

    We talked yesterday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.,

    JOEL SIMON: One of the fundamental things that has happened is, the relationship between journalists and the people they cover, the power relationship, has changed.

    Journalists were — once had a sort of information monopoly. If you wanted to talk to the public, the global public, you needed to go through the media. That is no longer the case. So the value of individual journalists, whether they’re professional journalists or citizen journalists, is diminished. And they are more vulnerable as a result.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   Explain that more. It is no longer the case, because if you are — whether you are a terrorist group or a government, you can tell your own story.

    JOEL SIMON: That’s right.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   Or an average citizen, you can tell your own story.

    JOEL SIMON: That’s right.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   So the most glaring example would be war, terrorism, Syria, ISIS, where we see very public violence, public beheadings against journalists.

    JOEL SIMON: I think one way to think about this is, when journalists went into conflict zones, it wasn’t that long ago that they would identify themselves as journalists. They would put TV on the car. They would write “Press” on their flak jackets. They wanted people to know that they were journalists, because that was an insurance policy.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   That was insurance of safety.

    JOEL SIMON: Right.

    Now you are just a target. If you identify yourself as a journalist, certainly in Syria, there are almost — there are no journalists operating in the present Syria controlled by ISIS, but if you — you certainly don’t want to identify yourself. You would just make yourself a target.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   The Committee to Protect Journalists just issued its annual report for 2014 on conditions around the world. The most glaring numbers for last year? Sixty-one journalists killed, 221 imprisoned.

    JOEL SIMON: First of all, world’s leading jailer of journalists, China. There’s a tremendous crackdown going on in China, 44 journalists in prison in China. That is the highest number we have ever recorded.

    Iran is another country where the president, Rouhani, came to power promising reforms. We haven’t seen that play out in terms it of the media environment. So those are some terrible offenders.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   Two places, in fact, that people thought had some hope as new leaders came in.

    JOEL SIMON: Exactly.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   But we haven’t seen that.

    JOEL SIMON: We haven’t seen that reform that they — that has been promised in either country manifest in terms of press freedom or the rights of journalists, in fact, the opposite.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   Yes.

    JOEL SIMON: And let me mention one special category, which is Egypt.

    Egypt has become both violent — journalists are facing levels of violence — and repressive, with the jailing of journalists, including the Al-Jazeera journalists. Their cases are well-known. But there are about a dozen journalists, all told, in prison in Egypt. So, that situation is very alarming.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   Simon meets often with world leaders to raise concerns. But many, he says, make it clear that they too feel they can tell and control their own story and no longer need journalists as they once did.

    JOEL SIMON: Examples include President Erdogan in Turkey, or Vladimir Putin in Russia, or the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

    And I recently had a meeting with President Erdogan want in Turkey, a CPJ delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists. And we sat down. And he started out the meeting by really attacking the press, lashing out at the press, including the international media. Turkey, for the last several years, has been one of the world’s leading jailer of journalists.

    He basically feels he can govern without the press, he can win popular support without the press. And he is locked in an antagonistic relationship with the media.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   And he is very up front about it.

    JOEL SIMON: Very up front.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   In other words, he tells you to your face.

    JOEL SIMON: Very up front. I mean, that is very unusual. Usually, when you meet with leaders to talk about press freedom, they talk that it’s important, it’s critical to democracy.

    He made no concession. He basically said journalists are operating as enemies. We have to ensure that they — that I am not insulted. Journalists cannot insult me. This is the limit that we have in Turkey.

    He was very up front about this.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   At the same time, of course, citizens in Turkey and around the world have more access to information than they have ever had before. And that gives people, as Simon acknowledges, a new kind of power.

    JOEL SIMON: I don’t think it’s an either/or. We — it’s better in many ways. And my vision of the information world in which we live is not entirely negative.

    I would just say that the abundance of information, the unprecedented amount of information, blinds us to the gaps in our knowledge that is achieved by this new censorship. And that’s what I’m arguing. So we live in an age defined by information, and we’re so enveloped in this information, that we don’t know what we don’t know.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   We don’t know what we don’t know.

    JOEL SIMON: That’s right. That’s right.

    And that’s — that’s the paradox that we have to resolve. We have to make sure — we have to recognize that the information, it doesn’t come from technology. It comes from people. There are people on the front lines who are reporting this news. And there are systems, the Internet itself, that delivers us this information.

    And we need to make sure that the people who are providing this information are safe and able to do the work, and the systems that deliver this information are able to function without control.

    JEFFREY BROWN:   All right. The new book is “The New Censorship.”

    Joel Simon, thanks very much.

    JOEL SIMON: Thank you so much.

    The post Why journalists face greater harm in an age of abundant and accessible media appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    parisattacks

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we get a wider perspective now with two people, longtime Radio France journalist and current senior editor there Bertrand Vannier, and former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. He’s Michael Leiter. He’s now executive vice president of Leidos. It is an applied technology company.

    And, Michael, I hope I pronounced that correctly.

    Let me turn to you, Bertrand Vannier.

    We just heard from Mark Austin about the people in Paris coming out into the streets feeling offended. And yet these three men were able to pull off this terrible act, killing 12 people, wounding a number of others. Is there a — is it a surprise that something like this could happen in Paris?

    BERTRAND VANNIER, Radio France: No, I think we can’t say it is a surprise.

    No one knew that it was going to happen this morning. And two of the dead are — were a very good friend of mine. But it was not really a surprise, because, from days and days and days, the prime minister and the president were telling us every day, every two days that the risk was very high, the level of security was very high.

    You had policemen, soldiers in the railway stations in Paris, for example. So, I think that, mainly, the Parisians were used to that kind of level of security. They were surprised that there was an attack on Charlie Hebdo, but they were not surpassed that there was something, something somewhere in France and mainly in Paris.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Leiter, what we know about these — these men is that they — one of them said something about al-Qaida in Yemen. And we know that two of them, they are described as being linked, at least by a French official, to a Yemeni terrorist network.

    What more is known about a Yemeni terrorist network?

    MICHAEL LEITER, National Counterterrorism Center: Well, there are several possible groups that are sort of behind this, either by direction or inspiration.

    The group in Yemen is al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, known to most Americans because it was behind the Christmas Day underwear bomber, and has been very, very active targeting Western interests. But I think there are several other possibilities still here, certainly that these were three individuals who were simply inspired by the mass of al-Qaida-associated rhetoric and propaganda.

    That might have come from al-Qaida in Yemen, and certainly they have been pushing Westerners to do so, but also, of course, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And from a French perspective, really, one of the principal concerns in France has been al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Northern Africa.

    And the French have been quite engaged there, and at least the early reports are that two of these gentlemen — or two of these terrorists, I really should say, are of Algerian descent. So I think there are really a number of organizations that might have had some association. And, ultimately, we may find out this was nothing more than inspiration for these three.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying, literally, it could have been just something they decided on their own that wasn’t organized outside?

    MICHAEL LEITER: I think that’s possible, although there are certainly some factors which weigh against that.

    This was a level of organization, of planning, of targeting this magazine at a time where many what be there, the getaway car — the fact that they have alluded arrest for several hours now suggests that this group really thought this out, which I think is different from some of the inspired terrorists we have seen recently in Sydney, in Ottawa and also in France.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Bertrand Vannier, tell us about Charlie Hebdo. We are told it is a provocative publication. What does that mean? How provocative?

    BERTRAND VANNIER: Oh, a lot.

    I mean, the basis of the work of Charlie Hebdo, their philosophy was to attack everything which looked like an institution, politics, religions, even the press, if they thought that it was needed to be done. I mean, it was satirical, but it was very, very political.

    They were journalists more or less engaged on the left part of the political spectrum. And they were attacking everything that the French saying, which is everything which was moving. And they were attacking every week the Vatican, the pope, Muslims, Jews, politicians, institutions, companies.

    The provocation was the basis of their acts and mainly with cartoons. They are very good cartoonists, the best cartoonists in France, I think.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How — staying with you, Bertrand Vannier, how widely read is Charlie Hebdo?

    BERTRAND VANNIER: Not that much.

    I think the last figure, the figure I can remember was 130,000 copies a week. And Charlie Hebdo was in financial difficulties these days. They were asking their readers to send them money. There is no ads in Charlie Hebdo. So the only money they get is the money they get by selling the paper every week.

    So they were asking their reader to send money, because they were in a very, very good — bad shape, these monthlies. But it wasn’t the first time that Charlie Hebdo has encountered that kind of difficulties. And every time, people were sending money to help them survive. It was — it was an institution. It’s maybe funny to say that, because they were attacking every institution.

    But, in a way, they were — they were and they are, because I think they will — they are not dead. The newspaper is not dead. I think it was a kind of institution in France.

    Charlie Hebdo was the son of an old satirical newspaper called Hara-Kiri, which was clothed by the government in the end of the ’60s, after a cover very, very rude against President de Gaulle at the time. And then some of the cartoonists from Hara-Kiri in the beginning of the ’90s regrouped to create Charlie Hebdo.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you — would you describe it as popular, or was there a debate in France about whether it went too far?

    BERTRAND VANNIER: No, there was certainly a debate. And they were going too far.

    But it was their own mark. You know the French philosopher Voltaire, which used — who used to say, I hate what you think, but I’m going to fight to the death so that you can say it or think it.

    And I think that the French people were in that kind of ideal. So, they didn’t like every week what Charlie Hebdo was writing or showing in the cartoon, but, at the same time, they were proud that Charlie Hebdo was — that it did exist.

    And you had tens of thousands of people in the streets tonight in France, in Marseille, in all the main cities in France, saying, “Je suis Charlie,” “I am Charlie.”

    And even if they didn’t agree with Charlie Hebdo, they did agree with the fact that Charlie Hebdo — Charlie Hebdo did exist and had to exist.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Leiter, very quick final question. How much of a threat is it believed still exists from either this group or these individuals or others who share their views in France?

    MICHAEL LEITER: I think these three will be found relatively quickly, and not a significant risk.

    But what they represent is a real risk. It’s a real risk in Western Europe, and to a less extent here in the United States. There is real traction in this extremist message right now. And these things can snowball. So, we have a real challenge, and we have to do real risk-mitigation strategies, not just to try to stop this, but try to minimize the effect, engage these communities, and try to minimize the likelihood that this can occur again at a range of targets across Western Europe and the U.S.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Leiter, Bertrand Vannier in Paris, we thank you both.

    MICHAEL LEITER: Thank you.

    The post Understanding the threat of Islamic extremism in Europe – Part 3 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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