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

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    GWEN IFILL: Three dozen states have moved to legalize same-sex marriage, but in some quarters, a backlash is under way. One example is Colorado, where one bakery owner says the state shouldn’t force him to cater gay weddings.

    Hari Sreenivasan takes a look at the ongoing legal battle between religious expression and equal rights.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Colorado baker Jack Phillips estimates he’s made 5,000 wedding cakes since he opened his shop, Masterpiece Cakes, 20 years ago.

    JACK PHILLIPS, Owner, Masterpiece Cakeshop: I just like everything about the baking business. With a wedding, I get to know the bride, I get to know the groom, if I can, you know, as much of the personalities and things that I can.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And while his portfolio of wedding cakes is vast, there’s one cake the baker refuses to bake. Phillips will not make a cake for a same-sex marriage.

    JACK PHILLIPS: It’s a cake that I just don’t do because of my Christian faith.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: A deeply religious man, Jack Phillips says he will bake birthday cakes, cupcakes, and a variety of other sweets for same-sex couples, not just a wedding cake.

    JACK PHILLIPS: I actually feel like I’m taking part in the wedding. Part of me goes to the reception. And in this case, that part of me doesn’t want to be represented in a ceremony that I believe is unbiblical.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But that line of reasoning doesn’t work for Colorado’s Civil Rights Division. The state says Phillips must comply with a Colorado statute requiring business owners to offer the same services to all customers regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

    And an administrative judge ordered Phillips to cease and desist his wedding cake policy. As the number of states allowing same-sex marriages increases, so, too, have the number of business owners refusing to provide wedding services, cases like a florist in Washington State, a bed and breakfast in Hawaii, a printer in Kentucky, and a photographer in New Mexico.

    NICOLE MARTIN, Lawyer, Alliance Defending Freedom: We’re on a collision course with homosexual rights vs. rights of conscience.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Lawyer Nicole Martin is representing Jack Phillips in a case now before the Colorado Court of Appeals. It began when Phillips refused to make a wedding cake in 2013.

    NICOLE MARTIN: Jack declined because of his religious beliefs about marriage, not because of who the complainants are.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The complainants are Colorado couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

    CHARLIE CRAIG: My mom and your dad came and gave me a giant hug.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: After dating for four years, Craig and Mullins decided to make it official by getting married in 2012. At the time, same-sex marriage was illegal in Colorado, so the couple traveled to Massachusetts, where they married surrounded by friends and family who made the trip with them.

    DAVID MULLINS: It celebrated us and the people who had come together for us. And I feel like those are the fundamental things that everyone wants in their wedding.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The couple then planned their reception in Colorado and went to Masterpiece Cakeshop to look at cakes.

    DAVID MULLINS: We sat down with the owner, Jack Phillips, opened the book of ideas and almost instantly he asked us if the cake was for us. We said it was. And he told us that he wouldn’t make a cake, a wedding cake for a gay couple. And what followed was an incredibly awkward pregnant pause before we got up and left.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Jack Phillips describes the meeting in much the same way.

    JACK PHILLIPS: I said, I’m sorry, guys, I don’t do cakes for a same-sex wedding, at which point they both stormed out. I have two doors, one out, each door.

    DAVID MULLINS: We were mortified and embarrassed. And the fact that Charlie’s mother was there, like, you don’t want your mother to have to see that.

    CHARLIE CRAIG: It hurt me. It made me feel like I wasn’t worthy.

    DAVID MULLINS: Being told and treated unequally, it makes you feel like a second-class citizen. It makes you feel like you matter less than the person standing next to you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Craig and Mullins filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

    Amanda Goad, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, represents Craig and Mullins. Goad says Jack Phillips’ faith doesn’t allow him to refuse services to thank some customers.

    AMANDA GOAD: It’s always been the case in America that you have the right to believe whatever you would like to believe and to practice that faith. That doesn’t go so far as to mean that you can practice your faith in ways that exclude other people from public life and cause harm to other people.

    JACK PHILLIPS: I don’t see not baking a cake as causing anybody harm. There’s a bakery across the street that would make it for them.

    AMANDA GOAD: It’s not just about the cake. What we’re talking about here is access to public life. And the same law that says a bakery as a retail business can’t discriminate also applies to all sorts of other establishments open to the public, everything from banks to hospitals to parks to hotels and motels.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Nicole Martin agrees the debate is about something bigger. She says it’s a First Amendment issue.

    NICOLE MARTIN: This case is about the government forcing Jack to express a message that is deeply at odds with his convictions.

    JACK PHILLIPS: I feel like I’m discriminated against. The U.S. Constitution, First Amendment clearly says that Congress shall pass no law that says that — for an establishment of religion or restricting the free exercise of it.

    AMANDA GOAD: Filling an order for a customer is just that, filling an order for a customer. There are all sorts of ways that he could communicate if he doesn’t personally agree with the messages involved in completing a particular order.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For their part, Craig and Mullins say the experience has led them to speak out in a way they wouldn’t have before.

    DAVID MULLINS: We strongly support the right for people to believe whatever they believe in their hearts, but a bakery is not a church. It is a place of business open to the public. And if you are in a business open to the public, that is governed by civil laws, and not religious laws.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Jack Phillips has stopped taking all wedding cake orders until the Colorado Court of Appeals weighs in on his case. meanwhile, cases like Phillips have prompted controversial legislation in several states to let businesses refuse services based on an owner’s religious beliefs.

    I’m Hari Sreenivasan for the PBS NewsHour.

    The post Why some wedding businesses say ‘I don’t’ to gay couples appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Supreme Court Blocks Virginia Gay Marriages

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: To the Supreme Court now, where arguments were heard today on a housing discrimination case that could have sweeping effects across the country.

    To walk us through what happened is NewsHour contributor Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal.

    Welcome back. We saw you just last night.

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Yes, you did. Happy to be back, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot going on at the court.

    So, Marcia, this is a case being closely watched in many places, including the civil rights community. Tell us what it’s about.

    MARCIA COYLE: The Texas Housing Agency administers a system of federal tax credits to developers who will build housing for low-income families.

    The Inclusive Communities Project in Texas is an organization that advocates integration of predominantly white suburbs of Dallas, Texas. The project sued the Texas Housing Agency, claiming it had violated the federal Fair Housing Act because most of the development that was receiving federal tax credits was being done in poor minority communities.

    The lower federal courts said that the project could bring the kind of claim that it has brought under the federal law, something we call disparate impact claim. That claim says Texas Housing Agency seems to have a policy for these tax credits, neutral on its face, but it has a discriminatory effect when it’s actually applied.

    The question before the Supreme Court, which was brought by the state of Texas, is whether you can bring this type of claim, which has been available for 40-some years, under the Fair Housing Act.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, at the core — some of what’s at the core of this is whether it discriminates — even though there wasn’t intention, the effect is to discriminate.

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And these are the kinds of cases that haven’t come to the court in recent years.

    MARCIA COYLE: This particular question has not reached the court, although 10 federal courts of appeals have addressed it and have found that this type of claim is available under the Housing Act.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, tell us about the arguments made and how the justices reacted.

    MARCIA COYLE: You know, Judy, any time this particular court deals with a race-related question, it seems to almost always divide them ideologically.

    And that played out a bit during the arguments today. You had Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan having — steering their toughest questions to the Texas Housing Agency’s lawyer.

    Justice Breyer, for example, said, why should the Supreme Court now, after this claim has been available for 40 years, and federal appellate courts have said it’s OK, why should we say that it’s not available under this particular law?

    And the Texas lawyer made two arguments. He said the plain language of the federal law doesn’t say that it’s available. It only addresses intentional discrimination, not impact discrimination. And also, he said, if governments and zoning officers, the banks, lenders are faced with disparate impact liability, they’re going to be forced to make race-conscious decisions.

    On the other side, we heard arguments. The solicitor general of the United States and the lawyer for the project that sued defended the use of these claims. Then Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito and Justice Scalia, they had some problems with the availability of the claim.

    Chief Justice Roberts said, how do you tell what is a good impact and a bad impact?  Maybe there’s a community that wants development because the neighborhood is blighted and this is a community that’s predominantly minority, or there’s a community that wants to be integrated?  So how do you tell?

    And the solicitor general of the United States said, this is the disparate impact process. It’s played out in court. The agency has to come forward to justify the policy that’s being questioned, and if it does have a discriminatory effect, it has to come up with another race-neutral alternative.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sounds like a lively discussion.

    MARCIA COYLE: It was very lively.

    And civil rights groups have been very concerned because several justices have criticized the availability of disparate impact claims.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Marcia, we said earlier the — whatever is decided could have repercussions beyond housing.

    MARCIA COYLE: That’s right, because this type of claim, it really addresses what we call second-generation discrimination.

    Just about everybody knows that intentional discrimination on the basis of race or another protected characteristic is illegal, but discrimination today is much more subtle, and civil rights groups say this is an extremely effective tool for rooting out that type of discrimination.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Separately and very quickly, a little excitement at the court this morning before all these arguments got under way.

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes, very unusual.

    Today was the fifth anniversary of court’s still controversial Citizens United campaign finance decision. Right after the justices took their seats on the bench, before they issued decisions today, someone popped up in the back of the public audience and started shouting something to the effect, “I arise on — because of democracy.”

    The guards immediately moved to take that person out of the courtroom. And then, one after another, almost seven total, I believe, popped up at different points to make comments, like “One person, one vote,” “Money is not speech,” “We are the 99 percent.”

    They were later charged under a law that prohibits haranguing, loud orations in the Supreme Court building and also charged with conspiracy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I should say the president of the United States had something in common. The White House issued a statement from the president today talking about Citizens United doing real harm in the five years…

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes. In fact, if I recall correctly, Judy, he also mentioned it during a State of the Union address not too long ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re right.

    Marcia Coyle, we thank you.

    MARCIA COYLE: Oh, my pleasure, Judy.

    The post Housing discrimination case could have broad implications appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    CUBA-US-DIPLOMACY-HISTORIC-TALKS

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    GWEN IFILL: For more on this turning point in U.S.-Cuban relations, we turn to Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News. She’s in Havana tonight, and I spoke with her a short time ago.

    Indira, thanks for joining us.

    Between the expectations for these talks and the Cuban expectations of these talks, is there a middle ground here somewhere?

    INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, Bloomberg News: I think that there definitely has been a sort of lowering of expectations on both sides, from initially a month ago, we heard both President Obama and Castro talking about the normalization of relations.

    And what we have heard since yesterday from the Cuban side, as well as from the American side, is a new vocabulary. Instead of talking about normalization, they’re now talking the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, which I think is in its own way a way to sort of reset the thought of how long this is going to take.

    You could certainly put a flag up at each intersection, turn it into an embassy, set up ambassadors, but it is going to take longer to have normal trade and relations between the two countries, who have been under an embargo 53 years, the U.S. against Cuba. So it’s really going to take a lot of redoing on this relationship. It won’t happen in one day.

    GWEN IFILL: Today’s conversation was about migration. Describe what you were talking — what they were talking about.

    INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Yes.

    So, we’re talking about is, ever since the Clinton administration in 1994, the U.S. and Cuba got together and had a migration accord, saying that the United States would legally allow in about 20,000 Cubans a year as a way to try to discourage Cubans from coming on rafts, the so-called balseros, which is a very dangerous way of coming, and so to decrease human trafficking and illegal migration.

    Now, these talks happen every six months. But this is the first time that these talks have happened in such an atmosphere, on the eve of attempts to reestablish diplomatic relations. And what we saw was a bit of a clash today between the U.S. side saying that despite all of these announcements that they are going to continue the so-called wet foot/dry foot policy, which is a special preferential treatment for Cuban immigrants that allows anybody who gets to the United States from Cuba to have legal residency right away, as opposed to people from any other country.

    They’re going to keep that going. And the Cubans came right back and said, we’re not happy with this, this is a policy that encourages people to come over here illegally — to the United States illegally, rather — and they also said that the United States was encouraging their doctors and medical workers to effectively defect from third countries, and that this was unethical and depriving people in poor countries of treatment by Cuban doctors.

    So, clearly, they have some issues that still need to be ironed out.

    GWEN IFILL: Cuba would also like to iron out this matter of whether it’s on the U.S. state sponsor list of terrorism. Is that something which is at least on the table?

    INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Absolutely.

    This is something we didn’t know at the time, but President Obama had instructed his State Department on December 17 to undertake a six-month review. So, by June, we will know whether the United States intelligence and evidence still considers Cuba to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

    Now, here’s the thing. The American officials have said that regardless of the outcome of that review, whether Cuba still is or is not state sponsor of terrorism, they plan to go ahead with reestablishing diplomatic relations. The Cubans have said, hey, wait a minute, we fully expect to be taken off that list. We don’t want to be on the list with Iran and Syria and Sudan and we’re not going to go forward with normalization unless we get taken off that list.

    So, that is going to be a point of contention if the U.S. review doesn’t turn out the way the Cubans want it.

    GWEN IFILL: Does the Obama administration have kind of broader bilateral goals in mind and is it threatened at all by the resistance we’re seeing on Capitol Hill from people like Senator Marco Rubio and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and others?

    INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: I don’t know if threatened is the right word so much as resigned to.

    They knew that they were going to get resistance from Cuban Americans in Congress. And Bob Menendez, who is a Democrat himself, has been one of the strongest opponents of the president trying to normalize relations. I think they know that is going to be a slow uphill battle.

    But I think we also saw from the president’s State of the Union last night that he is making this a priority and that he’s willing to act aggressively, unilaterally, using executive power, to the extent that he can.

    Now, he has so far said that he thinks it’s up to Congress to lift the embargo, that he can’t do it alone, even though there are some legal analysts who believe he has more power than he’s actually letting on.

    I mean, I think that Congress is going to be an impediment for the president, but we also see in polling that younger Cuban Americans in the United States, those under the age of 40, are very much in favor of reestablishing relations with the United States and Cuba, as opposed to older Cuban Americans. So we are seeing a generational shift here, too.

    GWEN IFILL: And we’re assuming that this is the beginning of the conversation, not the end.

    INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Absolutely.

    I think that we’re talking, I would say, a matter of months, you know, before we see flags flying in each capital over embassies and ambassadors named, or at least in the case of the United States trying to name an ambassador without it being blocked by Congress.

    But I think the longer process of regularizing relations and having trade and everything else that goes with that, not to mention trust, that is going to be a longer process. So, I have asked U.S. officials about this, and we don’t really know yet how long that’s going to take. I think on the U.S. side they’re hopeful that it will be sooner, rather than later, but those talks will be happening tomorrow, and along with other bilateral conversations about cooperation on global health, against Ebola, environment, Coast Guard.

    So, we will see a variety of talks, and we will see how far they can get.

    GWEN IFILL: Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, thank you very much for joining us from Havana.

    INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Thanks.

    The post Facing resistance from Capitol Hill, U.S. opens Cuba talks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    In his seventh State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama made what may be his strongest case yet for combating global climate change.

    “No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” Mr. Obama said. “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”

    He cited a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that ranked 2014 the warmest year on record, and he called out climate change deniers.

    I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

    The president’s speech follows on a recent study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which found that the 2013 extreme heat waves in Asia, Europe and Australia were caused by man-made climate change. Last week, a study published in Nature found that damage from climate change slows GDP growth in poor and wealthy countries.

    Addressing climate change doubters was important, said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. While in office, Mr. Obama has had no luck getting Congress to pass climate change legislation. A poll by Politifact recently found of the 278 Republicans currently in Congress, only eight believed that climate change was happening and that humans were the cause. Mr. Obama has instead relied on the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency to make changes.

    “I was pleased by how strong his statements were,” Gerrard said. “It was a stronger statement on using his powers to block negative moves by Congress.”

    Using the EPA to make changes has been productive, although that avenue wasn’t the president’s preferred choice, said Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard University.

    Last week the Obama administration announced new regulations that would reduce the amount of methane produced by natural gas drilling 45 percent by 2025.

    This followed regulations announced by the EPA in June 2014 that would cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants 30 percent by 2030.

    Regulations that went into effect May 21, 2010 required car manufacturers to improve their fuel efficiency standards and reduce fuel consumption. (Gerrard called that “far and away” the president’s most effective policy for reducing climate change.)

    Joni Ernst, the freshman senator who gave the GOP response to the State of the Union, has said she opposes the Clean Water Act and wants to abolish the EPA.

    “Let’s shut down the EPA,” Ernst said in a primary debate in April 2014, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times. “The state knows best how to protect resources.”

    science-wednesday

    Congress has introduced bills that would limit the power of the EPA. Last night the president made it clear that those bills will not get past him without a veto, Gerrard said.

    President Obama also touched on advances the country has made in energy production, including the growth of green jobs in the United States. Solar power added 31,000 jobs in 2014, according to the Solar Foundation. From Tuesday’s speech:

    We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.

    Mr. Obama’s speech made a small mention of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would move oil from tar sands in Canada to refineries in the U.S. Congress has passed the bill to the Senate, and the president has vowed that he would veto the pipeline.

    “President Obama will soon have a decision to make: will he sign the bill, or block good American jobs?” Ernst said on Tuesday.

    Climate leaders will meet in Paris in December for the UN Climate Change conference, in hopes of reaching an international, legally-binding climate agreement.

    The post President calls climate change the “greatest threat to future generations” in State of the Union appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A day after the president’s State of the Union address, both Republicans and Democrats predict most of his proposals won’t go very far.

    The gridlock in Washington has left the heavy lifting of government to more local levels, the cities and towns across the country.

    We wanted to find out what some local leaders think about the issues raised last night, among others, what the economy and infrastructure look like to those managing it.

    For perspective on that, we are joined now by two mayors. They are Democrat Stephen Benjamin. He is the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina. He’s had the job since 2010. And Richard Berry is mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has been at his city’s helm since 2009. He was that city’s first Republican mayor in three decades.

    And we welcome you both to the program.

    MAYOR STEPHEN BENJAMIN, Columbia, South Carolina: Good evening.

    MAYOR RICHARD BERRY, Albuquerque, New Mexico: Glad to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mayor Berry, let’s start first with a question about the president’s speech last night. What did you hear that you think you could support that sounded good to you?  What did you think that you couldn’t support?

    RICHARD BERRY: Well, as a Republican leader that actually takes pride in being able to work with the White House, there were some things that I heard that are really exciting to me, because we’re working on those in our city.

    Women’s pay equity, for example, I think is an important issue nationally. We were the first city in the country really to put forward an incentive for our local companies to really make that a priority.

    From the standpoint of taxing the capital gains, certainly can support a middle-class tax cut, but as a small business person myself, with my wife and I having really worked hard for 20 years to build a business, I think he’s off-base with the capital gains tax increase, because I think that’s really going to hurt Main Street and it’s going to hurt those that are really trying to invest to create jobs in our country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though the purpose of it would be to put money in the pockets of the middle class?

    RICHARD BERRY: Right, but you can do that in any number of ways.

    So, once again, I think we’re all heading towards some similar goals, but just maybe some different philosophies on how we get here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mayor Benjamin, what about you?  What did you hear that you liked, that you could support, and what gave you pause?

    STEPHEN BENJAMIN: Well, certainly, heard a great deal in the president’s speech that we could support, pay equity, obviously making child care more affordable, making access to higher education, community college being potentially free, a focus on apprenticeships and getting more people into the work force and starting earlier directing children towards some real opportunities in the 21st century economy.

    All of those were very appealing. What I wanted to hear more of — and we will certainly wait for the president’s budget — and I think Richard would agree with me here — is hear more talk about infrastructure and the way in which we finance infrastructure.

    As you know, over 90 percent of America’s gross domestic product is created in cities and metropolitan economies. And our ability to invest in infrastructure, water, sewer or roads using the tax-exempt municipal bonds is essential to America’s prosperity and our ability to compete globally.

    So, we want to make sure that our message, that we protect that 100-year-old tax exemption on municipal bonds. Local governments don’t tax federal debt, and we’re asking the federal government not to tax municipal debt.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And infrastructure, it’s interesting you raise that. I know that is an issue for you in Columbia.

    What about in Albuquerque, Mayor Berry?  How much is that an issue is that?  Tell us about your economy.

    RICHARD BERRY: It’s a big issue, infrastructure.

    And we just had a great example of our community about — understood that you can’t do just it by yourself anymore. We can’t just rely on dollars coming from Washington. We just did a major infrastructure project where the taxpayers of my city and the state, people in the legislature and our governor teamed with the federal government to get things done.

    We need to do more of that. Yesterday, our governor outlined a great infrastructure proposal for the state. But we have an aging infrastructure in New Mexico and in the country, and we need to do more. And mayors are really at the center of that. And I agree with the mayor wholeheartedly. We need to protect those tax-free municipal bonds that the cities can put out and we need to do more in our country to rebuild the infrastructure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is federal help on infrastructure going to be important to…

    RICHARD BERRY: It’s vitally important, but we have to have a target that’s set.

    And the problem we have had in the last couple of years is, with continuing resolutions and not having things solidified in Washington, we have some uncertainty and it’s difficult to finance the projects that we need to do. And this is where I think mayors have some really important lessons for Washington in general, for our friends in Congress and for the president and others.

    Let’s work together and maybe take some of the bipartisanship out of some of the discussions and get some of that common sense from Main Street going up here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that?

    STEPHEN BENJAMIN: Oh, I couldn’t agree with Richard more.

    The reality is, is that there’s no Republican way to pick up the trash or Democratic way to pick up the trash. It’s got to be picked up. And in America’s cities, we have got to get it done. Columbia, South Carolina, is experiencing some significant economic growth right now, over $1 billion investment in our downtown just in the past four years.

    Our unemployment rate’s been cut by 40 percent over the last four years. We’re — Columbia is on fire, and I don’t mean it in the General Sherman sense, although…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

    STEPHEN BENJAMIN: … although next month, we celebrate 100 — we commemorate 150 years since the burning of Columbia.

    The city has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. And it’s because we don’t allow partisan gridlock to shut us down. We realize that we have to get things done and at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, we work across the aisles on a regular basis to get things done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know — I know you, Mayor Benjamin. I have been reading about what has been going on in Columbia. You have put some emphasis on job training. We know the employment rate has — employment story has picked up in Columbia.

    STEPHEN BENJAMIN: Sure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there federal assistance that’s helped you that you are looking for or that you don’t need?

    STEPHEN BENJAMIN: Absolutely.

    You know, we have worked well with the administration on the transportation piece you mentioned earlier. We received an $11 million infrastructure grant, a TIGER grant that’s helped us, that’s going to help us complete a $40 million project to redevelop our city.

    There are some really exciting apprenticeship opportunities that Secretary Perez at the Department of Labor, a $100 million grant opportunity that he’s sharing with mayors all around the country. And, really, you know, a four-year college is not for every young person. I know some young people who go get a certificate from a community college in a particular discipline, and they will make more money than someone graduating from one of our universities with a four-year degree.

    Making sure that we create opportunities for everyone, regardless of backgrounds, regardless of strikes they may have against them, give them a chance to participate in this wonderful country’s economic prosperity is our goal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to Albuquerque, because, again, I’m reading that you’re looking at job training as something you want to expand.

    RICHARD BERRY: Sure.

    We’re a city that needs to diversify our economy. We were overly relying on federal government spending. Some of the gridlock that happens in Washington has, frankly hurt our city. So we’re trying to bring more entrepreneurship to the forefront.

    And Mayor Benjamin and myself and others, really, this is an area where we can really agree with the White House, job training, skills training, taking our work force and helping them work through, whether it’s the minimum wage band and move up economically, be more economically mobile.

    This is what mayors, Democrats and Republicans, around the country are on, so that we can set the basis for this 21st century economy and give people the skills that they need to succeed, rather than just putting another program in place.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it matter for your cities whether Democrats and Republicans cooperate more in Washington?

    RICHARD BERRY: It’s absolutely vital. I couldn’t — it cannot be overemphasized.

    And I think, once again, this is where mayors have an important lesson for Washington. We’re getting it done in our cities. Mayor Benjamin and I work together. Democrat majors have to balance budget. Republican mayors are working on homeless initiatives. We are not allowing ourselves to be pigeonholed. And this is something that I think is much needed in our country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you say that to your legislators?

    STEPHEN BENJAMIN: Oh, absolutely. Working together, working across the aisle is essential.

    There are no quick fixes for any issues we face. These are real complex issues, some that took years to create, and they’re going to take years to fix. So, long-term solutions are key.

    We have been able to in our city. We are required by law to balance our budgets. I know that Mayor Berry is as well. So, we balanced our budgets. For five years, we have had a budget surplus in Columbia, eight years without a tax increase.

    That comes with some planning. The ability to be able to do that, along with a state government that is being a participant, and certainly with the ability to plan according to a long-term federal budget would be an incredible blessing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re glad to have both of you here to tell some of the story of what’s happening.

    Mayor Steve Benjamin from Columbia, Mayor Richard Berry from Albuquerque, we thank you both.

    STEPHEN BENJAMIN: Thank you.

    RICHARD BERRY: Thank you.

    The post How Obama’s State of the Union ideas are playing at City Hall appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president faced new challenges on Iran today from here in Washington and from both sides of the Capitol. Senators pressed a bipartisan bill that imposes new sanctions unless Iran accepts curbs on its nuclear program by July 6.

    New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez helped draft the bill. At a hearing, he said Iran is dragging out negotiations.

    SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, (D) New Jersey: After 18 months of stalling, Iran needs to know that there will be consequences for failure. Now, some of us believe those consequences should be additional sanctions. While we are playing nice, however, Iran is playing an asymmetrical game, violating, in my view, the spirit and intent of sanctions.

    GWEN IFILL: The president warned again last night that he would veto a sanctions bill. And at today’s hearing, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken warned, Iran would simply walk away from the talks.

    TONY BLINKEN, Deputy Security of State: Iran is well aware that a sword of Damocles hangs over its head. It needs no further motivation. So the sanctions, new sanctions at this point are not necessary, but we also believe their passage now would put at risk getting to a final deal over the next several months.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on Iran, and Netanyahu accepted. The White House wasn’t consulted in advance. It said the invitation goes against diplomatic protocol.

    GWEN IFILL: Shiite rebels in Yemen took the pro-American president captive in his own home today. Hours later, the state news agency reported that president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi reached a deal with the rebels. The agreement calls for the gunmen to pull away from the Hadi residence, and to give the Shiites more say in Yemen’s affairs. That includes more representation in parliament.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: France has announced nearly half-a-billion dollars in new spending, over three years, to fight terror. The measures include hiring more than 2,500 new officers and expanding surveillance of some 3,000 Islamist radicals in France and abroad.

    Prime Minister Manuel Valls says the Paris attacks show the need to act.

    MANUEL VALLS, Prime Minister, France (through interpreter): One should never underestimate the magnitude and the difficulty of the tasks of the intelligence services. That’s why the first urgency, the first requirement is to further reinforce the human and technical means of our intelligence services. I say further because we need to go further than our commitments since 2012.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, police in Belgium arrested a fifth suspect in an alleged terror cell that was raided last week.

    GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, in Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appealed for more help against Islamic State forces. He said the U.S. coalition isn’t moving fast enough to deliver weapons and train Iraqi troops.

    HAIDER AL-ABADI, Prime Minister, Iraq: There’s a lot of things being said and being spoken, and very little on the ground. We are very thankful for the air campaign to support our military. But I think you cannot achieve victory without a real fight on the ground. And we are doing this fight. And we are expecting other countries to match our fight.

    GWEN IFILL: And, in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived home from the Middle East, saying time is running short to save two Japanese hostages. Islamic State militants are demanding $200 million to let them live.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Nigeria, Boko Haram militants claimed responsibility today for recent mass killings. Amnesty International says up to 2,000 people died in the northeastern town of Baga. In a YouTube video, the Boko Haram leader showed off a stockpile of weapons. He warned that Baga was just — quote — “the tip of the iceberg.”

    GWEN IFILL: There’s been another Palestinian attack on Israelis in Tel Aviv. A man stabbed 11 people on and near a bus during morning rush hour. Soon after, ambulances and medical workers rushed to the scene. The attacker was a 23-year-old man from the West Bank. Police shot him, then took him into custody.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And fighting escalated today in Eastern Ukraine, amid charges that Russia has sent more tanks and troops across the border. Associated Press video showed an armored convoy of pro-Russian forces near Luhansk. Ukrainian officials said, in fact, the Russians are supplying the fighters and weapons. Later in the day, Russia and Ukraine agreed on pulling back heavy weapons.

    GWEN IFILL: Back in this country, House Republicans pushed through a bill to set one-year limits on approving natural gas pipelines. Democrats said there is no need to short circuit the established process. The bill goes now to the Senate. President Obama has threatened a veto.

    And on Wall Street managed — Wall Street managed small gains on hopes that the European Union Central Bank will announce new stimulus measures tomorrow. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 39 points to close at 17554; the Nasdaq rose 12 points to close at 4667; and the S&P 500 added nine to finish at 2032.

    The post News Wrap: Congress challenges White House on Iran appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    US-POLITICS-OBAMA-ECONOMY

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    GWEN IFILL: On this day after the State of the Union, President Obama took the next steps toward trying to make his agenda a reality. He sought a new setting and a new audience far from Washington.

    With the big speech behind him, the president journeyed deep into Republican territory to sell his economic program to Boise, Idaho.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. These policies will keep on working, as long as politics in Washington doesn’t get in the way of our progress.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let’s make sure all our people have the tools and the support that they need to go as far as their dreams and their effort will take them.

    GWEN IFILL: The road trip is designed to build on last night’s address to Congress and the nation and on the president’s declaration that years of recession and war are finally over.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It has been, and still is, a hard time for many, but, tonight, we turn the page.

    GWEN IFILL: And, for Mr. Obama, turning that page means pushing a newly assertive agenda, despite last fall’s Democratic losses. The agenda includes first-time proposals, such as making community college free for many Americans, requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees, and bolstering efforts to prevent cyber-attacks.

    Overseas, he’s calling for new authority to use force against the Islamic State, plus lifting the decades-long embargo on Cuba.

    But it was clear last night what the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate think of the president’s calls for new taxes.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But, for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing.

    GWEN IFILL: And of his plan to raise the minimum wage.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, try it.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    GWEN IFILL: Today, House Speaker John Boehner drove home the criticism.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: All the president really offered last night was more taxes, more government, more of the same approach that has failed the middle class for decades. These just aren’t the wrong policies. They’re the wrong priorities.

    GWEN IFILL: Top Republicans also criticized the president’s pledge to veto bills that could roll back health care and immigration policies.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: Now, we know the president may not be wild about the people’s choice of a Congress, but he owes it to the American people to find a serious way to work with the representatives that they elected.

    And if the president is willing to put the veto threats away and the designed-to-fail talking points aside, we can still cooperate to get some smart things done for the people we represent.

    GWEN IFILL: But, as the president said last night, with no more campaigns to run, he will put all his energy into pushing his ideas.

    Today, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and other Democrats said they’re invigorated by that approach.

    SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) Minnesota: that the president is not going to be spending his next year-and-a-half slouched in his armchair planning his presidential library. And I think what we saw last night is a president that wants to get things done in his remaining time in office. And I think that we see an energized country that is — also wants to get through the gridlock and move forward.

    GWEN IFILL: President Obama plans to move forward again tomorrow with an event in another heavily Republican state, Kansas.

    The post Obama takes State of the Union agenda on the road appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A boy walks through an empty classroom in Monrovia, Liberia, on July 31, 2014. The school, like others throughout the country, was closed to protect students from contracting Ebola. Photo by stringer/AFP/Getty Images

    A boy walks through an empty classroom in Monrovia, Liberia, on July 31, 2014. The school, like others throughout the country, was closed to protect students from contracting Ebola. Photo by stringer/AFP/Getty Images

    Schools in Liberia are reopening next month now that the Ebola outbreak, which has killed thousands, appears to be under control.

    The students are more than ready to return, said Iris Martor, a 32-year-old school nurse in the capital Monrovia. “They were getting bored, just sitting around,” she said. “They have been coming in to try on their uniforms. Even the parents are excited.”

    When the largest documented outbreak of Ebola hit West Africa last year, and new cases were climbing, the Liberian government banned large public gatherings, including closing all schools last summer, to try to keep the disease from spreading.

    Normally, when the school year ends in June, the students know they’ll be back in September. But this time, they didn’t know when it would be safe to return, Martor said.

    Liberia has more than 8,400 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola out of a total 21,700 cases in all of West Africa, according to the World Health Organization. More than 8,600 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

    But the picture is improving. Twelve of Liberia’s 15 counties reported no new cases of Ebola in the past week, cited the United Nations’ Ebola response team.

    With new Ebola cases declining, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf directed schools to reopen across the country on Feb. 2.

    The announcement came suddenly with less than a month’s notice, said Martor, who works at a school run by More Than Me, a nonprofit that helps educate girls in the crowded shanty town of West Point. (Read how she and other More Than Me staff members used the time off to help educate the community about Ebola.)

    Her school, which had planned to reopen in March, had to accelerate repairs to the buildings and hand out uniforms, shoes and books to the returning students. They now plan to open their doors on Feb. 9.

    The students were given study materials before they left last year, and teachers followed up with them through home visits, she said.

    Luckily, no students or staff contracted the virus, which Martor attributes to the community-based Ebola awareness campaigns.

    But those in the community who did survive are still treated like they have the disease, she said. They are rejected by their families and friends, and some even lost their jobs.

    It will take time to remove the stigma, said Martor. “It took us three to four months for people to accept that Ebola was here (initially). We are still trying to change the mindset that these people can no longer transmit Ebola and they are virus-free.”

    The post It’s back-to-school time in Liberia, where Ebola forced an unwanted break appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    US President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One  on March 28, 2014. Image by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

    US President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One on March 28, 2014. Image by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

    Today in the Morning Line:

  • Obama hitting the road
  • Today, he’s in Kansas (before talking to YouTube stars)
  • House abortion bill falls apart
  • Boehner invites Netanyahu; doesn’t tell White House
  • Just one senator (and it’s not the one you might think) doesn’t believe climate change is real
  • President Obama’s travel tells us something: For three weeks, President Obama has been on tour, first previewing his State of the Union speech and now amplifying it. Take a look at the itinerary:

  • Jan. 7 – Wayne, Mich., to talk jobs.
  • Jan. 8 – Phoenix, Ariz., for a speech about housing.
  • Jan. 9 – Knoxville, Tenn., to discuss higher education.
  • Jan. 12 and 13 – two speeches in the Washington, D.C. area to talk cybersecurity.
  • Jan. 14 – Cedar Falls, Iowa, to focus on the internet and net neutrality.
  • Jan. 15 – Baltimore, Md., where the president highlighted sick leave at a roundtable with women.
  • Wednesday – Boise, Idaho, for a speech on the middle class and tour of a tech facility.
  • Thursday – University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan.
  • Now look at the political map: You might see the general trend already. Morning Line pinned down the politics of each of these places and the result – a map that started in deep blue territory (Wayne, Mich. voted 73 percent for Obama in 2012) but then quickly jumped to red spots and then the bluest spots in red territory. Here’s a look at Air Force One’s path in terms of past votes for Obama.

  • Wayne County, Mich. – 2012: 73 percent Obama.
  • Maricopa County, Ariz. – Arizona voted 53 percent for both McCain and Romney. Obama also lost Maricopa County (Phoenix) both times, but it was one of the closest large counties he lost.
  • Knox County, Tenn. – Another bright red state and a particularly bright red spot. Knox County voted just 37 percent for Obama in 2008 and 34 percent in 2012.
  • Black Hawk County, Iowa – Now we get to a bright blue spot in a purple state. Iowa vote for Obama by slim margins in both 2008 and 2012. But Black Hawk County (home of University of Northern Iowa and Cedar Falls) was one of his top counties in both years, with over 60 percent for Obama in 2008 and nearly 59 percent in 2008.
  • Ada County, Idaho – Similar to what you see in Arizona, by visiting Boise and Ada County, Obama flew to a blue spot in a red state. The president lost Idaho by wide margins but won the area around Boise State University with 57 percent of the vote.
  • Douglas County, Kan. – In deep red Kansas in 2008, only three counties voted for Barack Obama. One was Douglas County, home to the University of Kansas and Lawrence. Obama lost narrowly to Romney there in 2012.
  • What this tells us: With one nod to his base (Wayne, Indiana), the president is jumping deep into generally Republican territory and into states that notably do not have particularly large numbers of electoral votes. But these are places where Democrats have some small potential footholds, particularly university towns, where the president seems to be sending a message to Republicans and perhaps to his own party as well. That message: I’m going on offense.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1973, former President Lyndon Johnson died. Where did Johnson die and where was he born? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to seansmorris (@seansmorris) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: Which presidents have been accused of dodging the draft? The answer: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

    2016

    • Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are expected to meet in Utah, at the request of Bush. The meeting was reportedly planned before Romney announced two weeks ago he was weighing another bid.

    • Hillary Clinton leads Bush, Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Chris Christie by double digits in hypothetical matchups in the latest Washington Post/ABC News Poll.

    • Rick Santorum held a strategy meeting in Virginia Wednesday to discuss mistakes from 2012 and how to avoid them.

    • Former New York Gov. George Pataki is announcing Thursday that he’ll chair a new super PAC called “We the People, Not Washington.” It’s meant to give him a platform (and a bank account) to explore a presidential bid.

    • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s supporters are launching a Super PAC called “Believe Again”.

    • While some conservatives are calling for a non-Washington option in 2016, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is trying to make the case against having a governor as the nominee.

    LINE ITEMS

    TOP TWEETS

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

    Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Rachel Wellford at rwellford-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    The post Obama goes on offense post-State of the Union appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    US CUBA FLAGS monitor

    HAVANA — The United States and Cuba are trying to eliminate obstacles to normalized ties as the highest-level U.S. delegation to the communist island in more than three decades holds a second day of talks with Cuban officials.

    U.S. objectives during Thursday’s session include the lifting of restrictions on American diplomats in Cuba and assurances that Cubans will have unfettered access to a future U.S. Embassy in Havana. The Americans say the resumption in full diplomatic relations depends on how quickly its requests are met. Cuba is demanding its removal from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which Washington says it is considering.

    On Wednesday, the U.S. said it dispatched additional ships to the Florida Straits to halt Cuban rafters but rebuffed demands for broader changes to U.S. migration rules that grant virtually automatic legal residency to any Cuban who touches U.S. soil.

    Cuba’s government blames the Cold War policy for luring tens of thousands of Cubans a year to make perilous journeys by land and sea to try to reach the United States. Still, many Cubans are worried the elimination of the rules would take away their chance to have a better life in the U.S.

    In Washington, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said America’s “wet foot, dry foot” approach, which generally shields Cubans from deportation if they reach U.S. territory, remains in effect. But he stressed that those trying to come illegally would most likely be interdicted and returned.

    U.S. officials reported a spike in the number of rafters attempting to reach Florida after the Dec. 17 announcement that the countries would move to normalize ties. Those numbers appear to have slowed in recent days.

    “Cuba wants a normal relationship with the U.S., in the broadest sense but also in the area of migration,” said Cuba’s head of North American affairs, Josefina Vidal. She called for the U.S. to end “exceptional treatment that no other citizens in the world receive, causing an irregular situation in the flow of migrants.”

    American officials instead pressed Cuba to take back tens of thousands of its nationals whom U.S. authorities want to deport because they have been convicted of crimes. No progress was made on that issue, according to an official present in the meeting. The official wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter and demanded anonymity.

    The talks Thursday are expected to focus on the broader question of how the U.S. and Cuba can end a half-century of enmity — as promised by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro last month. The nations hope to re-establish embassies and post ambassadors to each other’s capitals in the coming months.

    After meeting with the Cubans for more than three hours, the State Department’s Alex Lee said the “discussions prove that despite clear differences that remain between our countries, the United States and Cuba can find opportunities to advance our mutual, shared interests as well as engage in respectful and thoughtful dialogue.”

    Lee led the U.S. delegation ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s arrival of Roberta Jacobson, the top American diplomat for Latin America and most senior U.S. official to visit Cuba since 1980.

    Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 7th District in Miami, said “aggressively” stepped-up patrols have eased the increase in rafters seen immediately after the twin announcements last month by Castro and Obama.

    “We have seen a slowdown in the last two weeks,” he said.

    The post U.S., Cuba look to clear roadblocks to diplomatic relations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Medicare. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Performances have qualified 1,700 hospitals for Medicare bonuses, yet government penalties may wipe them out. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Medicare is giving bonuses to a majority of hospitals that it graded on quality, but many of those rewards will be wiped out by penalties the government has issued for other shortcomings, federal data show.

    As required by the 2010 health law, the government is taking performance into account when paying hospitals, one of the biggest changes in Medicare’s 50-year-history. This year 1,700 hospitals – 55 percent of those graded – earned higher payments for providing comparatively good care in the federal government’s most comprehensive review of quality. The government measured criteria such as patient satisfaction, lower death rates and how much patients cost Medicare. This incentive program, known as value-based purchasing, led to penalties for 1,360 hospitals.

    However, fewer than 800 of the 1,700 hospitals that earned bonuses from this one program will actually receive extra money, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis. That’s because the others are being penalized through two other Medicare quality programs: one punishes hospitals for having too many patients readmitted for follow-up care and the other lowers payments to hospitals where too many patients developed infections during their stays or got hurt in other ways.

    When all these incentive programs are combined, the average bonus for large hospitals — those with more than 400 beds — will be nearly $213,000, while the average penalty will be about $1.2 million, according to estimates by Eric Fontana, an analyst at The Advisory Board Company, a consulting company based in Washington. For hospitals with 200 or fewer beds, the average bonus will be about $32,000 and the average penalty will be about $131,000, Fontana estimated. Twenty-eight percent of hospitals will break even or get extra money.

    On top of that, Medicare this year also began docking about 200 hospitals for not making enough progress in switching over to electronic medical records. Together, more than 6 percent of Medicare payments are contingent on performance.

    “You’re starting to talk about real money,” said Josh Seidman, a hospital adviser at Avalere Health, another consulting firm in Washington. “That becomes a really big driver; it really gets the attention of the chief financial officer as well as everybody else in the executive suite of the hospital.”

    Among these programs, the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing initiative, now in its third year, is the only one that offers bonuses as well as penalties. It is also the only one that recognizes hospital improvement even if a hospital’s quality metrics are still subpar. The value-based purchasing bonuses and penalties were based on 26 different measures, including how consistently hospitals followed a dozen recommended medical guidelines, such as giving patients antibiotics within an hour of surgery, and how patients rated their experiences while in the hospital. Medicare also examined death rates for congestive heart failure, heart attack and pneumonia patients, as well as bloodstream infections from catheters and serious complications from surgery such as blood clots.

    Adding An Efficiency Measure

    Medicare this year added a measure intended to encourage hospitals to deliver care in the most efficient manner possible. Federal officials calculated what it cost to care for each hospital’s average patient, not only during the patient’s stay but also in the three days before and a month after. Often the biggest differences in medical costs between hospitals are due to what happens to patients after they leave. For instance, Medicare pays more to inpatient rehabilitation facilities than it does to skilled nursing homes, even though both treat similar kinds of patients.

    “It’s your one opportunity either to make money on pay-for-performance or at least recoup some of the potential losses you have from the other programs,” said Paul Matsui, who directs data research at The Advisory Board Company.

    This year, Medicare judged hospitals based on how they performed in comparison to others in the second half of 2012 and all of 2013, and how much they had improved from two years before. Medicare adds a hospital’s bonus or penalty to every Medicare reimbursement for a patient stay from last October through the end of September.

    Nearly 500 more hospitals earned bonuses in the value-based purchasing program compared to last year. The biggest is going to Black River Community Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, Mo., which is getting a 2.09 percent increase, the analysis found. The largest penalty this year is assigned to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, in Boston. It is losing 1.24 percent of its Medicare payments.

    The Massachusetts infirmary said in a statement that it was losing only about $60,000 because most of its patients do not remain overnight in the hospital, and the penalties only apply to inpatient stays. The infirmary had so few of those cases that Medicare could not assess its performance on more than half the measures the government uses. Medicare’s program “is a poor match for what” the infirmary does, it said.

    Nationally, the average bonus for hospitals under value-based purchasing was a 0.44 percent increase, while the average penalty — not including the other penalty programs — was a 0.30 percent reduction, the KHN analysis found. The actual dollar amount will depend on the mix of Medicare patients that hospitals treat through September and how much they bill Medicare. Medicare set aside 1.5 percent of its payments for the incentives, totaling about $1.4 billion.

    States Most Impacted

    Medicare awarded bonuses to at least three-fourths of the hospitals it evaluated in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota and Wisconsin, the KHN analysis found. Medicare penalized more than half the hospitals it evaluated in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wyoming.

    More than 1,600 hospitals were exempted from the incentives, either because they specialize in narrow types of patients, such as children or veterans, or because they are paid differently by Medicare, such as all hospitals in Maryland and “critical access hospitals” that are mostly in rural areas.

    Hospitals awarded bonuses in one year of the value-based purchasing program do not necessarily do as well the next year. Out of 2,672 hospitals that have been evaluated in all three years of the program, roughly a quarter got bonuses all three years and a quarter lost money in all three years. The rest had a mix of bonuses and penalties, the KHN analysis found.

    Matsui said swings were not surprising given that hospitals are getting acclimated to the programs and Medicare has added new measurements each year. “In the grand scheme of things,” he said, “we’re still in the embryonic stage of the pay for performance programs.”


    Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit national health policy news service.

    The post Many of the hospitals awarded Medicare bonuses won’t be able to collect appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Health workers carry the body of a suspected Ebola victim for burial at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone on Dec. 21, 2014. Photo by Baz Ratner

    With fewer than 150 cases reported in the last week, the Ebola outbreak seems to be slowing in the hardest hit West African countries, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

    “Case incidence continues to fall in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” WHO said in a statement, adding that 117 of the 145 new confirmed cases appeared in Sierra Leone, where it saw 184 the previous week and 248 the week before that.

    To date, Ebola has claimed 8,641 lives out of 21,724 cases reported in nine countries since the disease was discovered last year in Guinea, the U.N. agency said.

    Joining Nigeria and Senegal, Mali was recently declared free of the virus, while the number of cases among healthcare workers has fallen as well, WHO said. Among foreign healthcare workers, a British nurse that tested positive for the disease in December remains hospitalized in London.

    West African nations, including Sierra Leone, have also announced that their schools will reopen in March after being shuttered temporarily at the peak of Ebola infections.

    Dr. Pranav Shetty, global emergency health coordinator for International Medical Corps, told the NewsHour on Tuesday that although “tremendous strides” were made in controlling the disease, the global response should continue to pour its resources into stamping out the disease.

    “We really need to put the resources and the financial human resources infrastructure behind us to really get to the point that we have zero cases,” he said, “because this outbreak was started by one case and it can start again, unless we put all of our focus and attention on stamping it our now.”

    The post Ebola epidemic in West Africa appears to be ebbing, WHO reports appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Traders watch the news conference held by European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi, during a trading session at the Frankfurt stock exchange Jan. 22, 2015. The European Central Bank agreed on Thursday to embark on a quantitative easing (QE) program. Photo by REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski.

    Traders watch the news conference held by European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi, during a trading session at the Frankfurt stock exchange Jan. 22, 2015. The European Central Bank agreed on Thursday to embark on a quantitative easing (QE) program. Photo by REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski.

    The European Central Bank announced on Thursday that starting in March it will purchase 60 billion euros a month until at least September 2016, and that purchases of sovereign debt will be based on national shares of ECB capital.

    European Central Bank President Mario Draghi announced the measure, which is intended to boost growth and inflation, at a press conference in Frankfurt.

    The ECB is adding 1 trillion euros to its balance sheet, in a process known as quantitative easing, just after the Federal Reserve wound down six years of bond buying in the United States. England and Japan have experimented with versions of QE in the past, too. But the ECB isn’t entirely new to the bond buying scene. The bank has already been buying up private securities. The difference is that now the ECB is going after sovereign (i.e. government) debt, and they’re printing money to do it.

    What Is QE?

    QE works, in theory, like a chain intended to pass on reduced borrowing costs: Central banks print money to buy other institutions’ debt. That cash infusion cheapens the cost of credit for those institutions, allowing them to lend to businesses and consumers, who hopefully will invest, produce and hire more. It’s all in the name of stimulation; get the economy going by passing a (newly minted) buck (or euro) on to other lenders. QE also further weakens the euro, making European businesses more competitive outside the eurozone. Already Thursday, the euro had fallen 0.6 percent to $1.1543.

    For the ECB, QE is a measure of last resort. It has already tried the other instrument in the standard-issue central bank toolbox: cutting interest rates. The ECB slashed rates to below zero, lower even than the Fed Funds rate. But whereas the Federal Reserve has a dual mandate to stabilize prices and maximize employment, the European Central Bank has only one mandate. And on that, they’re failing.

    The Threat of Deflation

    The bank’s sole job is to keep inflation at slightly below 2 percent — about the same as the Fed’s target in the U.S. In December 2014, inflation in the eurozone was -0.2 percent. Cue deflationary worries.

    Deflation is bad for businesses because falling prices don’t incentivize companies to produce. It’s bad for banks, too, because borrowers with falling incomes are more likely to default.

    Deflation may be even worse than it seems because, as Benn Steil, director of International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations explained, falling prices seep into consumers’ psyches. In other words, if consumers are so accustomed to sinking prices that they expect prices to drop even more, they’re going to hold off on buying. “This is why Draghi has a real sense of urgency to act,” said Steil, “before deflationary psychology sets in.”

    Getting to this point has been a slow road for Draghi. In 2012, his comments that he would “do whatever it takes to preserve the euro” — without actually ever acting — were enough to buoy markets. Although he hinted last June that he was interested in expanding purchases beyond private assets, he’s had to be careful, said Steil, to placate the Germans, whose cooperation is essential to the sustainability of the eurozone.

    A Delicate Political Balance

    The Germans have reason to be concerned for the simple reason that, unlike the Federal Reserve, the eurozone does not issue its own bonds. Instead, it must deal in the sovereign debt of 19 different national banks. That means that when the ECB takes on government debt, especially from countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal, there’s a risk of default. Germany wants nothing to do with other countries’ debt, Steil said.

    Therefore, under the compromise approved by the ECB governing council, the national central banks of the eurozone countries will undertake 80 percent of the risk of the bonds that they and the ECB buy.

    While that decentralized approach to QE may send mixed signals about eurozone unity, Steil said, it’s worth it if it precludes Germany from mounting some bigger challenge to QE. “It’s the best Draghi could do,” he added.

    Will It Work?

    The best won’t necessarily work, however. In fact, Steil predicted QE may be less effective in Europe than in the U.S. Selling bonds to the market, Steil said, is how U.S. companies borrow. But in Europe, traditional bank lending is a much bigger source of commercial financing, and given all that the banks have endured during the financial crisis, they’re not all eager to expand their balance sheets.

    So even with lower borrowing costs, banks and companies — if they don’t feel the demand — might not lend. “You can lead a horse to water,” he added, “but you can’t make it drink.”

    But suppose the banks do drink. Because some of the investments resulting from reduced borrowing costs will end up in the stock market, QE will be accused, especially in the Piketty era, Steil said, of exacerbating inequality. That’s the reality of a stimulatory tool that works through capital markets, he said. In the long-run, though, the hope is that everyone — the rich and the poor — will be better off if deflation is averted.

    Just how much it can be averted is up for debate, though. “If people believe prices will be lower in the future, then the ECB has a real problem,” Steil said.

    “What the ECB would really like to do,” he added, “is encourage banks to make loans to companies and for companies to borrow more money and hire more people.” An indirect way of doing that — cutting interest rates on loans to commercials banks that promise to lend to companies and individuals — is included in Thursday’s policy announcement.

    But getting companies to borrow and hire is easier said than done within the confines of the ECB’s toolbox, especially now that rates are already at the zero lower bound and inflation is so low. “We’re all experimenting,” Steil added, “in unfamiliar territory.”

    The post ECB begins QE: Digesting the alphabet soup of European easy money appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick denied any knowledge concerning the use of underinflated footballs during the team’s blowout victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Belichick, addressing the media Thursday morning about the controversy, said he didn’t learn about the accusations until the next day.

    “When I came in Monday morning, I was shocked to learn of the news reports about the footballs,” Belichick said. “I had no knowledge of the situation until Monday morning. I’ll say I’ve learned a lot more about this process in the last three days.”

    “In my entire coaching career,” he added, “I have never talked to any player or staff member about football air pressure.”

    Belichick stated that the team was cooperating with the NFL’s investigation, but would turn their attention to the Seattle Seahawks, their competition in the upcoming Feb. 1 Super Bowl. When asked several followup questions by reporters about attacks on his character and internal team investigations, the head coach would only answer with variations of “I’ve told you everything I know.”

    The NFL is investigating the Patriots concerning the discovery that 11 out of 12 game balls in Sunday’s matchup were inflated two pounds per square inch below the league’s regulations. Hari Sreenivasan talked to Ben Volin of The Boston Globe on Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour about past cheating allegations against Belichick and why referees didn’t catch the violation before the game.

    The post Patriots head coach Belichick: ‘I had no knowledge whatsoever’ about deflated footballs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Thousands participate in the anti-abortion March for Life past the U.S. Supreme Court building in WashingtonThe House of Representatives approved new abortion restrictions today on the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court verdict in Roe v. Wade that legalized the procedure.

    The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, which passed 242-179, bars the use of federal money for abortions or for insurance plans that cover abortions. It would have codified the Hyde Amendment, which has acted as a rider to other existing bills since 1976. The vote came as anti-abortion advocates demonstrated outside the Capitol on Thursday for the annual March for Life.

    Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) criticized the bill’s focus on federal funds, saying it was an unnecessary focus of debate:

    “Give me one example where federal taxpayer dollars have been used to pay for abortions. I haven’t heard that example, and it’s because it’s not happening. This is a false issue that’s being raised. So I would submit to everybody here, let’s stop talking about this false issue just because there are a whole bunch of people in town who want us to pass some legislation. Let’s talk about some real issues.”

    The new measure replaces a bill that the House dropped last night after it fell short of votes. That bill would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and mandated that rape survivors report their assault to the police in order to receive an exception.

    Female GOP leaders opposed the bill, saying the exception clause was too limited (according to RAINN, 68 percent of sexual assaults go unreported), and Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) withdrew their co-sponsorship of the bill last week.

    The White House had released a statement saying the legislation “disregarded women’s health and rights.” It also would have prevented abortion for some high-risk pregnancies, since doctors normally test for fetal abnormalities at between 14 and 20 weeks.

    House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told The Hill that House Republicans would continue to pursue the post-20-week ban on abortion.

    The Senate has not yet voted on the measure, and the White House has said Obama would veto it.

    The post House passes new abortion restrictions after last-minute changes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    This undated handout photo provided by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline (NIAID/GSK) shows a vaccine candidate, in a vial, that will be used in the upcoming human Ebola trials. Photo from GlaxoSmithKline

    This undated handout photo provided by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline (NIAID/GSK) shows a vaccine candidate, in a vial, that will be used in the upcoming human Ebola trials. Photo from GlaxoSmithKline

    WASHINGTON — Long-awaited studies of two possible Ebola vaccines are set to begin in West Africa in a couple of weeks, starting in Liberia, U.S. officials said Thursday.

    The first study will compare the two experimental vaccines with dummy shots in hopes of proving whether either really protects against the Ebola virus, which has devastated Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone over the past year.

    A second study of one of the vaccines is being planned for Sierra Leone.

    New infections are falling, which can make it harder to tell if a vaccine is effective. But clusters of cases continue and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said the vaccines still could be useful if there’s a rebound, as well as for what he called inevitable future outbreaks of Ebola.

    “Unless you extinguish the very last case, it’s not over ’til it’s over,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

    Fauci said up to 27,000 people could ultimately be enrolled in the larger Liberian study, starting with about 600 in the first phase. The study could last as long as a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with the government of Sierra Leone to design the second study, which officials said could enroll about 6,000 people.

    “Everybody’s been racing to get trials launched as quickly as we could and as carefully as we could,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

    In addition to the vaccines, Fauci said scientists also will test the Ebola drug ZMapp in the U.S. and Liberia. The experimental treatment made headlines when it was given to several Ebola patients last summer, before manufacturer Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. ran out of doses. But it has not been formally tested for safety and effectiveness in people, and U.S. officials said there now is enough supply to begin doing so.

    The World Health Organization says the Ebola epidemic has infected more than 21,000 people and claimed more than 8,600 lives. Without a vaccine, officials have fought the outbreak with old-fashioned public health measures, including isolating the sick, tracking and quarantining those who had contact with them, and setting up teams to safely bury bodies.

    Fauci said both experimental vaccines showed promise in first-stage human safety tests. One was developed by the NIH and is being manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. The other was developed by Canadian health officials and is licensed to two U.S. companies, NewLink Genetics and Merck. Each uses a different virus to carry non-infectious Ebola genetic material into the body and spark an immune response.

    The study in Liberia will randomly assign people to get either one of the vaccines or a dummy shot, considered the best way to prove if there’s really an effect. Fauci said even if the current outbreak continues to wane — “which would be a good thing for all” — that it would be possible to get some idea of how effective the vaccines are. Some of the participants will undergo special testing to see how their immune systems respond to the shots.

    The post West Africa studies for two possible Ebola vaccines just weeks away appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GWEN IFILL: As Congress begins to tackle a new federal education law that would succeed No Child Left Behind, one of the major dividing lines is already clear. What is the proper role and use of testing?

    It’s a question that has long touched a raw nerve among parents and educators.

    A new book explores that controversy and testing’s possible future.

    Hari Sreenivasan has our conversation from our New York studios.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: On the one hand, parents know their children’s talents can’t be quantified by multiple choice tests. At the same time, they often want their children to do well on high-stakes exams.

    A new book explores those issues and a growing backlash against testing in many circles. It’s called “The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing, But You Don’t Have to Be.”

    The author and NPR’s lead education blogger, Anya Kamenetz, joins us now.

    So, it’s been, what, a dozen years since No Child Left Behind, several years since the Race to the Top. Now we’re starting to roll out Common Core. And as soon as I say these phrases, there are parents that are just already bracing themselves. But our kids are not at the competencies that were the goal. And your book really says, in part, testing is contributing to the problem.

    ANYA KAMENETZ, Author, The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing, But You Don’t Have to Be: Yes, you know, it really is a case of big unintended consequences because tests were imposed to have some kind of system of equity and objective measures of how students were doing.

    But because of the high stakes attached to them, districts and schools are increasingly spending more and more time prepping for the tests and also giving benchmark and interim exams up to a high of about 113 by the time students graduate.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, 113 tests just seems mind-boggling.

    But we have done several stories about testing on the program. What is it in your research that you have found that most surprised you? Is it about the — sort of the industry that’s grown up around it? Is the variance in different states?

    ANYA KAMENETZ: I think it’s — you know, considering the stakes, again, that we attach to these tests and the amount of stock that people seem to put in them, when we talk about data-driven decision-making and outcomes, as though this were some measure.

    But, in fact, the psychometricians will tell you that the tests are being used in ways that they were never designed for, and that proficiency, which is dictated in the law, No Child Left Behind, doesn’t really have a single scientific definition.

    And so there’s a real gap there, I think, between the level of science that we’re working with and then the decisions we’re making based on those measurements.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It seems the intention was noble, to try to figure out a way to measure the problem. You know, one of — the advocates for testings will say, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Right?

    So how do you know which schools are failing if you don’t know how the students are doing inside those classrooms?

    ANYA KAMENETZ: Right.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what happened from that noble goal to where we are now?

    ANYA KAMENETZ: Well, the problem is exactly that.

     

    There is so much that we don’t measure within schools, starting with subjects that aren’t math and reading. Right? These tests are math- and reading-based only. They don’t even test writing very much. So, there’s all this — besides all the other school subjects, science, social studies, there’s also 21st century skills, creativity, collaboration.

    You can’t show those with an individual putting marks on a piece of paper. So the argument from many educators is that they’re being forced to take attention away from what might be seen as the most important goals of school in order to focus on producing certain results on tests.

    And as for the argument that we’re trying to establish equity by identifying failing schools, in fact, what you see is that the same schools fail over and over again. Income is the strongest predictive factor in the outcome of these tests. And merely measuring schools doesn’t necessarily improve the outcomes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mm-hmm.

    So, I mean, are some of the critics kind of throwing the baby out with the bath water, in the sense there’s testing, there’s measurement, there’s standards, and we’re kind of lumping it all together? Is there not a role for the federal government in getting all this information together in a way that state governments aren’t incentivized to do?

    ANYA KAMENETZ: I think absolutely.

    And I think that you’re right. It’s a nuanced argument being made now to say that the mistake perhaps was attaching stakes to the tests, because when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. That’s kind of an adage in social science.

    And so perhaps the federal government’s role should be in data collecting, but without attempting to make decisions about what schools are failing or whether teachers should get assessed a factory rating based on the outcome of a test that we can all agree is questionable in its results.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And you even go back into the history of what some of these tests were designed to do, and you’re saying sometimes they weren’t actually designed to measure the individual student, but really the sort of collective, and now they’re being used almost as political weapons depending on where you fall.

    ANYA KAMENETZ: Well, that’s exactly right.

    I mean, this proficiency target idea, whether someone gets a 181 or a 182, who — like a girl in Florida that I profiled, you know, she’s being held back in the third grade because she’s missed her reading score by one point, and the test that the state was using at that time was never designed to make a specific determination that — that specific about one single student.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s also this philosophical question on, is testing a good indicator of future outcomes, right?

    So colleges are basing their entrance of certain applicants on two things, usually, a grade-point average and an SAT or ACT test score, maybe some other extracurricular activities. But they’re saying based on that, I kind of have an idea of whether you will do well here and then on in the working world.

    ANYA KAMENETZ: Right.

    Well, one of the most interesting kind of emerging factors in the realm of assessment is the idea that half or more of what we need for success is not determined by academic measures at all. It’s these noncognitive measures, right, grit, perseverance, right?

    And these things actually can be — they can be assessed through surveys, low-stakes surveys. And the types of surveys that these organizations are doing, in fact, are quite predictive of people’s success later on in life, even more so than GPA alone.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you framed your book a little bit of — in a way of a parent’s guide. There are a lot of people who are just getting their kids into the system, realizing how stressful it can be. So, what is a parent to do?

    ANYA KAMENETZ: Well, I give, like you said, a menu of options.

    And the first one is, don’t panic. These tests are there, but they weren’t handed down from the mountain. They are able to be thought through critically. I give step-by-step instructions for parents who are interested in sitting their kids out or opting out of the tests, which is increasingly kind of a movement.

    And I talk to parents of kids who want to get through the tests and survive, but not have it overtake the child’s experience of school, to avoid test anxiety with methods like mindfulness and health and different kinds of things that can help you not only on the test, but also in life.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Anya Kamenetz of NPR, thanks so much.

    ANYA KAMENETZ: Thank you.

    The post Is ‘The Test’ failing American schools? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we take a broader look at digital political strategies now with William Powers. He is a research scientist at the Laboratory for Social Machines at the MIT Media lab. Brian Donahue, he’s a veteran of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, and a former official at the Republican National Committee. He’s a founder and partner at CRAFT Media/Digital. And Hank Green, who was one of the YouTube stars to interview the president today, he has more than two million subscribers to his YouTube channel.

    We welcome all of you to the program.

    Hank Green, you just did a first-of-a-kind sit-down discussion with the president. How did it go?

    HANK GREEN, YouTube Entrepreneur: It went pretty well, I think, though, to be honest, I don’t remember very much of it because I was a little bit scared.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Did anything stand out?  Can you remember anything of it?

    HANK GREEN: Yes, I have not had a lot of time to debrief because they have been shuffling me around. And I get to talk to lots of really cool — to cool people like you.

    I’m getting a delay in my ear, so if you could go to someone else.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: OK.

    HANK GREEN: It’s making it very difficult to talk.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: OK, well, we will come back to you.

    Let me — and we were just looking at a little video of you talking to the president.

    Brian Donahue, who is here with me, as a Republican, you look at the White House doing this. Does it look like something that’s a good idea?  Should they be doing this?

    BRIAN DONAHUE, Founder, CRAFT Media/Digital: Absolutely.

    I mean, first of all, it’s no longer the State of the Union. It’s really #SOTU. That’s what everybody refers to it now. People following this online through Twitter, through Facebook are doing this through hashtags. And the president and his team does this extraordinarily well.

    They’re absolute pros in social media and the new ways in communication. You know, similar to Tom Brady marching down the field on his way to the Super Bowl, they know these plays. They know it well. And — but I would also say, Judy, that the Republicans, they deserve credit as well.

    From 2014 and to now, it seems like they have got their speed together and they’re really executing well on social media. So we saw a lot of activity there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It sounds like you’re playing catch — you mentioned Tom Brady. I’m thinking of him running down the field with a deflated football.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But we’re not going to — we’re not going to go there.

    But you’re saying Republicans are playing catchup. Do I hear you saying that?

    BRIAN DONAHUE: Well, they did from 2012.

    But what we saw in 2014 with a lot of victories — and there was a lot less Democrats in the chamber on Tuesday night during the State of the Union because Republicans were executing very well in all communications mediums, including social media.

    I think Republicans did an excellent job on Tuesday night, and Joni Ernst deserves a lot of credit as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Who gave the Republican response.

    Bill Powers at MIT, how do you measure effectiveness of something like this?

    WILLIAM POWERS, Laboratory for Social Machines at MIT Media Lab: Right, Judy.

    Well, it was amazing to see Obama being shown the Google Analytics about his speech. And, in fact, that’s how you show reach and effectiveness and exactly what happens when this stuff is sent out into social media. There’s a whole science of social media analytics that does the analysis and shows the trends.

    And it’s actually exploding, and there’s all kinds of things we’re learning. We’re going deeper and deeper into sort of the meaning and seeing the public in a new way. This is the new public sphere, and we’re just beginning to understand it, and it’s a very, very rich future for science.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Bill Powers, staying with you, what does it bring the White House?  What does it bring a politician to engage with this new audience out there through social media, through YouTube?

    WILLIAM POWERS: Right.

    Well, as Ms. Schulman from the White House pointed out, this is an opportunity to speak directly to the people. And presidents in the past have always embraced such opportunities. Think of FDR with the fireside chats. This is a new version of that, you might say.

    In addition, It’s a rich medium. You know it’s an interactive medium. It’s a medium where people can do things and sort of feel part of the conversation, in a way that they — they really can’t with traditional media. And, finally, it’s a new style of conversation that’s the conversation of our moment.

    And a president really has to be able to speak that language and reach those people. And speaking to Hank, there was this wonderful informality that made it feel like a whole different interview from traditional media, which I really enjoyed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Hank, I’m going to come back to you now. I hope that delay has gone away.

    HANK GREEN: Yes. Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you, how different do you think your conversation with the president is from, say, when he sits down with a television news anchor, and why is this something you want to do?

    HANK GREEN: Well, it’s not the sort of thing you say no to.

    (LAUGHTER)

    HANK GREEN: Even if I didn’t want to do it, I think that you still would, you know?

    But I — you know, I want to do it because I have an audience that I feel like sometimes aren’t, you know, connected. And they don’t necessarily feel like they’re part of the country. They feel more like citizens of the Internet, citizen of their Internet communities.

    And I want them to feel like they’re part of America because I want them to be involved with the political process, because I think that, without that, democracy doesn’t work anymore.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it feel different, though, do you think, from other media interviews the president…

    HANK GREEN: Oh, yes. Yes.

    I think that it feels different, but I think that the goal remains the same, which is to inform the American people in the ways that, you know, they — that they connect with media and the ways that they get information.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Brian Donahue, I want to come back to you.

    So, I’m just going to be very crass about it. What does the White House get out of this?  How does it help the president?  We have pointed out he’s not running for reelection. How does it help his agenda to be doing this?

    BRIAN DONAHUE: Sure.

    Well, the new media offers opportunity for the president to extend his message. Twitter, Facebook, online digital engagement increases that echo chamber, so that the president can engage with his base, to push his agenda and his policies, but also reach towards new audiences as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, I mean, does that mean that, for example, on immigration — he wants a certain kind of immigration policy to be passed by Congress. Is this going to make it more possible to get immigration or child care legislation or anything else that he’s pushing for?

    BRIAN DONAHUE: Any time that a political leader, including the president, is engaging audiences and helping them to carry his message forward into new networks, into new places, that’s effective. That is the way that new media works these days.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Bill Powers, how do you see that?  I mean, is it — does this translate into something that has tangible benefit for this president or future presidents?

    WILLIAM POWERS: Absolutely.

    I mean, here we are talking about it, Judy. I think it’s resounding around the country, around the world. The president has to go where the people are. And, increasingly, the people are in this medium. You can see the numbers, the TV viewership going down, the social attendance and sharing and so forth going way up, through the roof.

    I mean, there are billions of tweets every week. This is the place where our leaders really have to be, not just the president. He’s the one who mastered it first, both in elections, and now I think in pushing his policies. And it is going to extend to everybody else. It just has to happen. This is the future.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are so glad for the three of you to be joining us.

    Hank Green, fresh off your interview with President Obama, Bill Powers joining us from Boston, Brian Donahue here in Washington, thank you.

    BRIAN DONAHUE: Thank you.

    The post From fireside chats to YouTube: Interactive media helps Obama connect with the country appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    PAUL SOLMAN:  Teacher Michelle Alcoser was back in the classroom only five-and-a-half weeks after having son Sebastian. That’s all the time she could afford.

    MICHELLE ALCOSER:  When I first came back, he was still only sleeping about 90 minutes at a time, and having the time to sleep and handle all of the additional workload that comes with that was a logistical challenge.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  And when her new baby, Declan, arrived, Claire Prestwood was counting on sick or vacation pay for at least some of her maternity leave. But her 3-year-old’s illnesses had wiped them out. So Prestwood went to providers of last resort.

    CLAIRE PRESTWOOD:  We can solicit leave donations, and colleagues or work friends will donate. So far, I have received two donations.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  They covered two days of paid leave, for which the Prestwoods are eternally grateful.

    Such stresses are the norm in America, but nowhere else. According to the United Nations, we and Papua New Guinea are the only countries in the world that do not provide any paid time off for new mothers.

    And only since 1993 have we had the Family and Medical Leave act, or FMLA, which grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for full-time workers at firms with 50 or more employees. But the law fails to cover fully 40 percent of American workers, like part-timer Kimberly Lewis.

    WOMAN:  I don’t actually get time off.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  Lewis, a graduate assistant, won’t be eligible for even unpaid leave when she gives birth in February.

    WOMAN:  I have been working during this semester break to kind of bank hours in order so that when the baby does come, I won’t have to report to work the next day.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  The next day. As for paid family leave, you get 16 weeks in the Netherlands, 52 weeks in Denmark after the birth of a bouncing baby or even a dancing baby, almost 70 weeks in Sweden, 12 weeks in Burundi. But it’s just a pipe dream for Americans like Lewis. Here, only one in eight receive paid family leave.

    President Obama pushed paid leave in his State of the Union. And his Department of Labor has urged businesses to lead on leave. But Claire Prestwood points out, the government itself doesn’t offer paid leave. She knows because she’s a federal employee.

    CLAIRE PRESTWOOD:  It’s slightly hypocritical to tell the private sector they need to pay maternity and paternity leave, but the federal government itself doesn’t offer that.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  The president has now directed federal agencies to advance employees sick leave, to be repaid later, after the birth of a baby. He is also pressing Congress to grant six weeks of actual paid family leave, though passage is unlikely.

    But nothing’s changed for private sector workers like Vanessa Hause. Just to get approval for her FMLA-mandated unpaid leave, it took multiple calls to human resources, doctor’s notices, a passel of paperwork.

    VANESSA HAUSE:  It changed my opinion of wanting to be employed while being a new mom. It’s just so difficult to deal with your employer.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  Now, your heart might go out to these women, but maybe your mind should as well. Paid leave not only bolsters families, says economist Chris Ruhm, but boasts broad economic benefits as well.

    CHRISTOPHER RUHM, University of Virginia:  It leads to higher overall employment rates of women.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  Ruhm has found that new moms are more likely to return to work if they get paid leave.

    CHRISTOPHER RUHM:  It’s going to preserve human capital, which leads to higher productivity. I think we would be willing to actually pay some costs to support a family value, but, in fact, in this case, we actually might get a benefit. So — so, it’s a double gain.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  Take Google, one of several tech firms that entice top talent with family-friendly perks. When Google extended paid maternity leave to 18 weeks, the rate at which new moms left the company fell by 50 percent.

    YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, a longtime Google employee, herself on her fifth maternity leave, corroborates economist Ruhm. Paid leave works to — quote — “avoid costly turnover and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers.”

    PAUL SOLMAN:  OK, so then the obvious question:  Why hasn’t the U.S. joined the rest of the world, Papua aside, in offering paid family leave?

    TRICIA BALDWIN, Reliable Contracting:  It can be a — quite a hardship for a company.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  Tricia Baldwin is the secretary treasurer of Reliable Contracting, where workers get 12 unpaid weeks off, per the FMLA, plus short-term disability payments of $200 a week.

    But even that’s a burden for firms like hers, she says, that aren’t quite as rich as Google.

    TRICIA BALDWIN:  If we have someone in a position, that job is important. So, it means that job has to be replaced, and done by somebody else. That means paying somebody. I can’t imagine having to pay then also for their salary while they’re out as well.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  This is no minority view. A survey of businesses found 98 percent opposed to mandated paid family leave.

    JEFFREY MIRON, Harvard University:  If it’s good business, businesses will do it.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  Libertarian economist Jeffrey Miron disputes the data on the benefits of paid leave, but, regardless, he thinks, business policy should be left to consenting adults.

    JEFFREY MIRON:  The government shouldn’t be interfering in the labor market. It shouldn’t be dictating any terms that are arranged between employers and employees.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  But are you then saying that labor markets should decide the wages and benefits regardless of any legislation at all? That is, there should be no minimum wage, say?

    JEFFREY MIRON:  That is what I would say.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  Miron’s may be an extreme view, but it contains a key question about paid leave:  Who’s going to do the paying?

    JEFFREY MIRON:  Either the owner of the business is going to pay for it in lower profits, or the customer’s going to pay higher prices because we have raised the cost for that business, or it’s going to come from the salaries of other workers, because someone has to pay for the paid leave of those people who take advantage of such a policy.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  But Ruhm notes that after California became the first state to mandate the benefit, more than 90 percent of the companies there reported either positive or, at worst, neutral effects.

    CHRISTOPHER RUHM:  Businesses seem to just make it work. And the polling data we have, when we survey them, most of them say it’s just not a big deal.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  And, supporters ask, is it really good for our economy that mothers like Michelle Alcoser return to work while her son still sleeps in 90-minute blocks and nurses constantly, while she shoulders a teaching load that’s heavier than ever?

    MICHELLE ALCOSER:  If I think about how hard it’s going to be, then I won’t do it.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  Do we want a new dad like Nick McAuliffe to be back on the job so soon after his daughter is born?

    MAN:  Believe it or not, kids actually need their dad. I do what I can, but I’m gone for 10 hours a day. I’m getting four hours of sleep a night, and still have to put in 40, 45, 50 hours a week.

    PAUL SOLMAN:  And, in fact, most Americans say they support paid family leave. But no one wants to pay for it.

    So, for the time being, it’s still just us and Papua New Guinea going it alone.

    Paul Solman, reporting for the PBS NewsHour.

    The post In U.S., support for paid family leave but no one to pay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 01/22/15--15:29: Saudi King Abdullah dies
  • The Saudi Press Agency confirmed on Twitter that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died. According to the Associated Press, Abdullah was 90.

    Abdullah ruled Saudi Arabia for a decade before officially becoming King in 2006. Then-King Fahn suffered a debilitating stroke and was unable to lead.

    King Abdullah’s brother, Crown Prince Salman has taken the throne. Salman was the crown prince and defense minister since 2012. In the five decades prior to that, he was the governor of Riyadh. He is thought to be 79.

    Salman’s appointment as king is still pending the approval of a family Allegiance Council, but the move was made immediately in order to avoid the presumed speculation about royal succession for the world’s largest exporter of oil.

    The post Saudi King Abdullah dies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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