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

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    measles

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    GWEN IFILL: The measles outbreak in the United States has now infected more than 100 people in just over a month. There have been no deaths, but cases have been reported in 14 states, with the overwhelming number in California, where public health officials believe the current outbreak began, at Disneyland.

    But just over a dozen years ago, measles was considered eradicated. Yet, last year, 600 cases were reported, many of them in unvaccinated Amish communities. Skepticism about the usefulness of vaccines has long been gathering steam in some circles.

    For a look at what started it all, we bring you part of a piece by Retro Report, a nonprofit news organization whose documentaries are distributed by The New York Times.

    The narrator is Zachary Green of NewsHour Weekend.

    SETH MNOOKIN, Author, “The Panic Virus”: The current vaccine scares and controversies that we’re still dealing with today stem from a 1998 paper that appeared in The Lancet, a very respected medical journal published out of the U.K.

    ZACHARY GREEN: The paper, written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, claimed there might be a connection between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism.

    SETH MNOOKIN: In his press conference, Andrew Wakefield stood up and said parents shouldn’t give their children the MMR vaccine, period, until we are able to get to the bottom of this.

    ANDREW WAKEFIELD: The MMR vaccination, in combination, that I think that it should be suspended in favor of the single vaccines.

    SETH MNOOKIN: The notion that you would take a 12-person case study and make claims about a population as a whole is ridiculous. This paper was historically bad, and what the media in the U.K. did was, they ran with that.

    MAN: It’s a dilemma. You know, that’s a sensational story.

    ZACHARY GREEN: Follow-up stories of hundreds of thousands of children could not find evidence that the MMR causes autism. And investigations into Wakefield’s original paper revealed he distorted the data and acted unethically.

    SETH MNOOKIN: He has lost his medical license. The Lancet paper has been retracted.

    But he had very effectively positioned himself as a martyr and, in some odd way, every piece of evident that comes out against Wakefield sort of solidifies his standing in the community that still pays attention to him.

    ZACHARY GREEN: Another reason fears about vaccine safety persisted is that complicated science proved difficult for public health institutions to communicate, case in point, their response when concerns were raised over a vaccine preservative called thimerosal, which contains ethylmercury.

    MAN: Children are getting mercury injected into their bodies with vaccines.

    WOMAN: That’s right, mercury, a known neurotoxin.

    ZACHARY GREEN: But ethylmercury in thimerosal is not the same as the toxic methylmercury, which is found in fish and accumulates in the body.

    Nevertheless, the Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended thimerosal be removed, and their messaging backfired.

    WOMAN: In 1999, health officials denied a link between vaccines and the autism epidemic, yet urged vaccine makers to take out the mercury, just to be safe.

    SETH MNOOKIN: What the American Academy of Pediatrics said is, we are recommending this step so we can make safe vaccines even safer.

    As a parent, if you tell me something is safe, I don’t think that’s on a sliding scale. I assume that if you say it’s safe, it is safe for my child. It’s not safe, safer or safest. There are almost two languages here. There’s the language of science and then there’s English.

    And in the language of science, you have these signifiers, like “to the best of our knowledge, as far as we know.”

    MAN: Based on the available scientific evidence.

    SETH MNOOKIN: Because you can’t say anything with 100 percent — you can’t prove a negative. And so when scientists speak in their language, and the rest of us translate that into English, it sounds like they’re saying something very different than they’re saying.

    GWEN IFILL: Just a clarification: When they talk about the MMR vaccine, they’re talking about muscles — muscles — they’re talking mumps, measles and rubella.

    The post Tracing the origins of the anti-vaccine movement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JEFFREY BROWN: We invited Egypt’s ambassador to the United States to appear on tonight’s program. The embassy didn’t respond to our request.

    Joining us now from Cairo is Borzou Daragahi, Middle East and North Africa correspondent for The Financial Times.

    And, Borzou, welcome.

    There’s been conjecture that the release of Peter Greste was tied to Al-Jazeera’s closing of its Egyptian channel. Make that connection for us. And what’s known at this point about what led to his release?

    BORZOU DARAGAHI, Financial Times: Well, we know that there have been intense negotiations on multiple planes.

    There have been ongoing talks in Doha and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, other cities there, between Egyptian, Qatari, Saudi and Emirate officials for months now in an attempt to work out this conflict that has created this breach between Qatar on the one hand and Turkey to some extent, although Turkey wasn’t involved in the talks, and the other so-called pro-U.S. moderate Arab states, and that these talks have included, for example, lawyers, international lawyers working on various issues, including the billions of dollars now from Qatar that are in the Central Bank of Egypt.

    And we also know that there’s been intense attempts by Canadian, Australian and other Western officials trying to get this issue resolved, to get this — get these journalists freed, and this has been going on for many months now. Every single Western diplomat that’s come here has raised this issue. The Western journalists, as well as many civil liberties NGOs, constantly bring up the matters of these three journalists.

    So there’s been intense pressure on the government here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And what’s the situation for the other two Al-Jazeera journalists at this point? What’s the likelihood of their release?

    BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, based on the indications that I’m getting, it looks very much possible that one of those journalists, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who is a Canadian-Egyptian dual national, may very well be free, on the condition potentially that he would have to renounce his Egyptian citizenship and leave the country as a Canadian, as just a Canadian citizen.

    Now, I happen to know Mohamed Fadel Fahmy. And this must be such a tough decision for him, because he is truly someone who loves this country, loves Egypt, loves being an Egyptian. And this must be such a harsh thing for him to do, to have to renounce that Egyptian citizenship.

    As for the other one, Baher Mohamed, we don’t know what is going to happen to him. He has in many ways the worst situation. He has only an Egyptian passport. He’s been sentenced to 10 years in prison. He has three children, including one that was born while he has been in captivity.

    And he wouldn’t be obviously part of any such extradition deal that Peter Greste got and that Mohamed Fadel Fahmy might get.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, today, we also saw the mass death sentence for Muslim Brotherhood supporters. This is clearly part of the continuing crackdown there. Does President Al-Sisi still have a lot of public support for this?

    BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, I think that he does have a lot of public support.

    I think, in part, the local media here is sort of complicit in whipping up hysteria, in making a lot of incitement on air, in whipping up anger from the public against any kind of dissidents, any kind of leftists or Islamists or secular activists who challenge the current status quo.

    And so I think there is still a lot of support for it publicly, but, interestingly, perhaps less support than there was six months ago, as Egypt’s economy, at least the macroeconomic improvements that we have been seeing, have not really trickled down to street level yet.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And just very briefly, Borzou, we saw the U.S. State Department expressing its concern and anger over this. Does our government — is it being heard? Does it have any influence in these matters?

    BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think it does. And I think there are well-meaning people around Sisi and perhaps Sisi himself who are aware of how bad these sorts of things look, these mass sentencings of scores of people to death, these continued detentions of people, including, for example, one photojournalist — his name is Mahmoud Abu Zied — who has been in prison for 540 days.

    Apparently, his mental health is failing. And he spends most of his days sitting in a corner of the cell basically just suffering and has not yet been formally charged with a crime yet. But I think that there are forces within the security establishment and the judiciary and the Interior Ministry and the intelligence services who have a very hard-line approach to any kind of opposition to the current status quo.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Borzou Daragahi of The Financial Times in Cairo, thanks so much.

    BORZOU DARAGAHI: It’s been a pleasure.

    The post What’s next for two Al Jazeera journalists still imprisoned in Egypt? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    petergreste

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    GWEN IFILL: An Australian journalist released yesterday after being jailed in Egypt for more than a year spoke for the first time today about his ordeal, while, in Cairo, a judge sentenced nearly 200 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death.

    Jeffrey Brown reports.

    PETER GRESTE, Freed Al Jazeera Journalist: I can’t tell you how relieved I am at being free. I really didn’t expect it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It was the first full day of freedom for Peter Greste, the Al-Jazeera journalist released yesterday after 400 days in a Cairo jail. But, in Cyprus today, he said his own joy at being released is mixed with fears for two colleagues who remain imprisoned in Egypt.

    PETER GRESTE: Amidst all of this relief, I still feel a sense of concern, a real sense of worry, because if it’s appropriate for me, if it’s right for me to be free, then it’s right for all of them to be free.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed were arrested in December 2013 over their coverage of a crackdown on Islamist protests.

    The three were accused of providing a platform for President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood after Morsi was overthrown by the military. Separately, in a Cairo courtroom today, supporters of the Brotherhood chanted in protest, as a judge sentenced all 183 of them to death.

    They were convicted of playing a role in killing 16 police officers in the wake of Morsi’s ouster. It was the latest in a series of mass trials and death sentences that have drawn international condemnation, including today at the State Department in Washington.

    JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: It simply seems impossible that a fair review of evidence and testimony could be achieved through mass trials. We continue to call on the government of Egypt to ensure due process for the accused on the merits of individual cases for all Egyptians and discontinue the practice of mass trials.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Egyptian officials also face accusations that, during protests last week, police killed at least 27 people. One of them was 32-year-old activist and mother Shaimaa Sabbagh. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said today he was pained by Sabbagh’s death, and promised an investigation.

    The post For freed Al Jazeera journalist, relief mixed with concern for jailed colleagues appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Director, screenwriter and producer Richard Linklater at the Berlin International Film Festival last February. Photo by Tobias Schwarz/Reuters

    Director, screenwriter and producer Richard Linklater at the Berlin International Film Festival last February. Below are five classic films the director thinks you should watch right now. Photo by Tobias Schwarz/Reuters

    Filmmaker Richard Linklater has been on the awards circuit collecting prizes for his epic tale “Boyhood,” winning critics’ prizes and taking home the best drama Golden Globe. The film, which took 12 years to make, is up for six Oscars this year: best picture, director, supporting actor (Ethan Hawke), supporting actress (Patricia Arquette), original screenplay and editing.

    Chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown spoke with Linklater recently (watch that on tonight’s NewsHour) on the process of making a movie over such a long stretch of time. He also asked the veteran director to name his five favorite movies of all time. Hard to do on the spot. So instead, he came up with these five films that he recommends everyone see right now — five classics, mostly shot in the iconic CinemaScope style.

    1. “Some Came Running” (1958) about a veteran who returns to his hometown from war, along with a woman he drunkenly invited with him.
    2. “Bigger than Life” (1956) is about a school teacher, who, after he’s told he only has months to live from a rare disease, agrees to an experimental treatment that both cures him but drives him to abuse the medicine.
    3. “Andrei Rublev” (1966) a film about the life of the 15th century painter and life in Russia during the turbulent period.
    4. “Zabriskie Point” (1970) about a college dropout on the run from police and a Los Angeles student in late 1960s America.
    5. “Boy” (1969) is a Japanese film about a couple earning money as con artists, sometimes using their son in their scam until he attempts to escape.

    The post Richard Linklater: 5 classic films you should watch now appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    discussionpolitics

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    GWEN IFILL: Now for more on the political side of the budget debate and on the budding presidential campaign, we turn to our new weekly politics discussion, where every Monday, we will hear from Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post.

    This ought to be fun.

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Thank you. I think it will be.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, The Washington Post: Yes.

    GWEN IFILL: Let’s start by asking about this budget issue. Is this a document that the president sent up for negotiation or is he just sending it up to be aspirational to Capitol Hill?

    AMY WALTER: Well, you saw from both — the back and forth there that they would like — the White House says they would like it to be a starting point for negotiations.

    But when you listen to the senator from Iowa, it’s pretty clear that there’s not much room for negotiation in this and that, at the end of the day, yes, this is a stake in the ground for the president and for other Democrats to build on as we go into a 2016 election.

    GWEN IFILL: Nia?

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Right.

    It’s sort of the companion piece of the State of the Union address, where he claimed the title really I think in that address as liberal. One of the common critiques of this president had been that he would give away the store even before he would get to the negotiating table.

    And I think, in this document he’s being a bit bolder. I mean, some of the things are warmed-over, you know, the tax cuts and tax hikes on the rich and trickle down to — or spread it out amongst the middle class. But he also isn’t touching Medicare. He’s not touching Social Security in the way that he did in other budget documents, rankling many in his party.

    GWEN IFILL: Yes. He seems to be being less ambitious in that respect, because it’s not worth the fight, maybe being — by also being in a second term.

    AMY WALTER: Well, it’s not worth the fight. Democrats don’t want that fight.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    AMY WALTER: And let’s face it. Republicans in the Senate, they don’t really want that fight either.

    You have got a lot of them up in 2016 in their own races and then of course a handful of them, Gwen, happen to running for president too.

    GWEN IFILL: I’m so glad you mentioned 2016, how interesting. Perfect segue.

    So, since last we talked, Mitt Romney is out of the race, lots of other moving pieces. First of all, looking at the polling that you have seen and the conversations that you have seen and the positioning that you have seen in the last few days, who, Nia, benefits the most from Romney’s exit?

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: I think, broadly, the entire Republican Party sort of benefits from him dropping out.

    Remember, back in 2012, they had to write a whole document sort of figuring out what went wrong in 2012, and obviously Mitt Romney was a big part of that. If he had run, they would be rerunning what happened in 2012.

    Broadly, I think the entire party benefits. But specifically I think you have got to look at that governor’s lane, people like Chris Christie, people like Scott Walker, sort of the moderate establishment lane. They are going to get some of that money that Mitt Romney would have locked up if he had run.

    GWEN IFILL: Relief or opportunity? We saw today Chris Christie in London, getting his foreign policy chops together, and immediately stumbling into a domestic debate over vaccination.

    AMY WALTER: Right. You kind of — you can’t win when you — even when you go overseas, you have to ask questions that are happening here, the question, of course, about whether or not vaccines should be considered something that parents can do on their own.

    GWEN IFILL: Should do.

    AMY WALTER: They can make their own — should do, or should they be able to make their own decision?

    Listen, Chris Christie has a very big problem. And that is, Chris Christie has a base problem. Beyond he has to expand his horizons to bring in international experience or clean up whatever comments he made today, if you look at his numbers nationally and in some of these very important states, his disapproval ratings among Republicans are in the 40s.

    So, people know him in the Republican Party. And they’re saying…

    GWEN IFILL: Just don’t like what they see.

    AMY WALTER: … we don’t like what we see.

    So I don’t know how much he benefits from any of this if people at the end of the day, Republicans, are saying we just don’t think he’s the right guy.

    GWEN IFILL: The person who looked like they did the best in this polling at least — and it’s just snapshots — we always say that — is Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Very early.

    GWEN IFILL: Not Jeb Bush immediately, but Scott Walker, who for a lot of people, it is a brand-new name.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Yes.

    And he gave that barn-burner of a speech in Iowa and really I think rocketed to the top of this and that is why he was very much top of mind to a lot of these Iowa voters. He’s someone who straddles really this establishment wing, because he’s the sitting governor now, but he’s also seen as a Tea Party guy as well, has done very well in that state, done well this terms of conservative — conservative grassroot folks, also does well in Iowa because it’s a neighboring state, right, a neighboring state to Wisconsin, so he benefits in that way.

    AMY WALTER: And, Gwen, you know I love polls, right. I have taken polls every day. And they make me so happy.

    (LAUGHTER)

    AMY WALTER: This is — it’s a year out. I’m not going to take this, where people stand in terms of the…

    GWEN IFILL: OK, so let’s look at another gauge, donors, eyeballs, credibility, who is shifting…

    AMY WALTER: Right. I was going to even say both — I can do both of those things, which is the front top-line number I don’t care so much about in this new Iowa poll.

    What I do care about is looking at the perceptions of these candidates in terms of, are they liked? Do voters think they’re too moderate, too conservative? And this is where Christie, as I said, in a lot of trouble, but Jeb Bush, too.

    His approval ratings were only 46 percent, with 43 percent of Republicans saying they don’t like him and 18 percent have a very unfavorable rating. That’s not good for somebody who has been designed right now — or designated — I’m sorry — as the front-runner. Big problems in that state.

    For donors, I think a lot of donors, what we’re hearing is they are going to be sitting a little bit on the sidelines, giving some money here, giving some money there, but not going all in for Jeb Bush.

    AMY WALTER: Exactly.

    GWEN IFILL: And that’s not necessarily great news.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Right. That’s not great news.

    But it also is probably I think a little early to be putting so much focus on Iowa, too. Some of the conventional wisdom out of Iowa is that you don’t necessarily need to win, particularly if you’re somebody like Jeb Bush. There are really three tickets, winning tickets out of Iowa. And you saw that in 2012.

    GWEN IFILL: One more. One of them was Rick Santorum, but didn’t know it at the time.

    OK, one more question about the Affordable Care Act. There is going to be another vote, perhaps like the 60th attempt to roll back all or part of the health care law. Is that mostly dissatisfied new members who want a chance to put their handprint on it, or is this setting the Republican Party on a path that is going to affect it in 2016, not only in congressional elections, but also in presidential elections?

    AMY WALTER: Well, this is a party that thus far they can’t even come to consensus internally about how they want to deal with immigration, tax reform.

    I don’t think they are going to be able to come to consensus on having an alternative to Obamacare.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: And they haven’t needed one so far.

    AMY WALTER: They haven’t needed one so far.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Provided a lot of energy for the party without even having any.

    AMY WALTER: That’s right. That’s right.

    Now, the Supreme Court may make that — yes, make that happen because if they come out and decide that states that have not set up their own exchange, but set up a federal exchange, they can’t give subsidies, that’s going to put a lot of pressure though on the states themselves, the Republican governors there, the Republican legislatures, there to figure out what they do with that.

    Congress will have a role in it and the president will have a role in it, but a lot of that focus is going to be on the states.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: And you have seen some of that.

    You take somebody like Mike Pence in Indiana. He has been creative in terms of how do you figure out this Medicaid subsidy and do your own thing in the state, somebody like Scott Walker, the same thing. I think the eyes are on other people, like what does somebody like Bobby Jindal do? What does Chris Christie do?

    GWEN IFILL: It’s all positioning and trying to put themselves in a place to be seen a certain way on certain issues for now.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Exactly.

    GWEN IFILL: OK, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, thank you both.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Thank you.

    AMY WALTER: Thank you.

     

     

    The post How will Republicans act on Obama’s budget proposals? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    churckgrassley

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    GWEN IFILL: For the Republican view from Capitol Hill, I’m joined now by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. He serves on the Senate Budget and Finance Committees, as well as the Joint Committee on Taxation.

    Welcome, Senator.

    The president said today that he welcomes GOP ideas, but that the numbers have to add up. What is your reaction to his budget?

    SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, (R) Iowa: Well, first of all, I think you have to look at not only this budget, but past budgets that have been put before the Congress for a specific vote.

    And, in most instances, maybe every instance over the last five or six years, there hasn’t been one Republican or one Democrat vote to approve of the president’s budget. So I think you have to look at it that this budget put forth by the president isn’t serious, but even if it were a serious budget, the president proposes and Congress disposes.

    There’s obviously going to be some areas where the president and the Congress would agree, like, for instance, not having sequestration because of national defense because of — for national defense, because national defense is the number one responsibility of the federal government.

    So I think you’re going to find more spending on defense. That area, we agree with the president of the United States. But in other areas of domestic spending, I think that you’re going to find sequestration, if it isn’t followed, it surely isn’t going to be modified to the extent that the president wants to modify it.

    And I will stop with this, by saying you can’t consider a budget, as the OMB director said, reducing spending by $1.8 trillion, when it actually increases the deficit from $18 billion to $26 billion over a period of these 10 years.

    That’s an $8 trillion increase in the debt, and the president has already increased the national debt since he’s been president by at least $6 trillion.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, the director of Office of Management and Budget just said that he not only sees areas — broader areas of agreement that you seem to, but he believes that Republicans ought to be putting their priorities on the table.

    What would you say are the Republicans’ — Republican priorities for spending, for taxes, for just priorities in general?

    SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Well, we would disagree with the president on taxes, because when you have a lot of people have left in the labor force and you’re talking about helping the middle class, the way you’re going to — the only way you’re going to help the middle class is not by these envy politics and redistributing wealth.

    You’re going to help the middle class by growth. And you don’t get economic growth by increasing taxes, by taking capital out of the economy. You have got to put more capital into the economy. So we would disagree that you should have tax increases. We’re going to agree with the president on national defense and probably disagree with the president on expenditures for domestic programs.

    And you have got to remember that he doesn’t have any idea whatsoever what to do with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which is about 40 percent of all the expenditure right now.

    GWEN IFILL: So, let me try to figure this out. Infrastructure proposals he’s making are off the table, in your opinion, as well as spending for what he calls middle-class economics?

    SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: First of all, on the infrastructure, no.

    By May, we have to pass an infrastructure bill. And it will be very high on the agenda of the Republican Congress. In regard to helping the middle class, yes, we’re going to help the middle class by having economic growth. Our program is going to be one that gets economic growth among — above the six-year or seven-year average of 2.6 percent.

    We have to have economic growth of 3 percent if you’re really going to really increase jobs and get more wealth into the middle class.

    GWEN IFILL: And I have to — and I have to ask you, Senator, about the homeland security issue, in which those sequesters — those — I hate to use that term even — those across-the-board budget cuts, the president would like you to lift them when it comes to homeland security, not tied to immigration reform. What do you say about that? What is going to happen?

    SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Well, we’re going to pass — we’re going to attempt to pass in the United States Senate undoing the president’s immigration reform because we feel he has acted unconstitutionally, that he doesn’t have the power to do what he did for undocumented workers. Only Congress has that power.

    GWEN IFILL: And so what does that mean about what’s going to happen next with that vote?

    SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Well, I won’t know until we find out if we can get a bill to the president. If we can’t get a bill to the president, then we’re going to go to plan B, and plan B hasn’t been figured out yet because we’re going to try to deliver to the American people what we promised to in the last election, that we were going to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions on immigration.

    GWEN IFILL: Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, thank you very much.

    SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Thank you.

    The post Budget priorities and nonstarters according to the GOP appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    SHOW ME THE MONEY monitor capitol dome White house money

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    GWEN IFILL: President Obama formally unveiled his $4 trillion spending plan today in Washington. The arrival of box loads of budgets triggered what is sure to be months of wrangling with Republican majorities in the House and the Senate.

    The boxes rolled down congressional halls this morning, while across, town, the man who sent them there appealed for a fair hearing.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have got to put politics aside, pass a budget that funds our national security priorities at home and abroad and gives middle-class families the security they need to get ahead in the new economy.

    GWEN IFILL: The centerpiece of the president’s plan is a six-year, $478 billion public works program to repair highways, bridges and transit systems. Half of the money would come from a one-time tax on U.S. companies’ overseas profits.

    The budget also calls for raising the capital gains tax rate to 28 percent for wealthier Americans and using the revenue for $320 billion in low and middle-class tax breaks. There’s also $60 billion for free community college.

    All told, Mr. Obama wants to increase defense and domestic spending by 7 percent. That would break mandatory caps imposed in 2011 under the so-called sequestration.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward. It would be bad for our security and bad for our growth.

    GWEN IFILL: The president rejected Republicans’ calls to lift the caps for defense spending only. And they immediately accused him of reverting to tax-and-spend policies that endanger the economy.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: Rhetorically, at least, we hear the White House echo Republican calls for policies aimed at helping the middle class, but then we see the White House push more of the same stale top-down policies favored by political bosses over on the left.

    GWEN IFILL: House Speaker John Boehner said there’s no provision for ever balancing the budget. Republican leaders promise to offer their own plan in the spring.

    We dig a little deeper now into the budget, beginning at the White House.

    I spoke with Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, a short time ago.

    Director Donovan, welcome.

    Much of the advance discussion about the president’s budget, including what we see in the actual document today, focuses on the plight or the concerns of the middle class. Why is your approach better than any other approach on that?

    SHAUN DONOVAN, Director, Office of Management and Budget: Well, because I think what we have really done is look at, what are the core things that are eating away at the fortunes of the middle class in this country?

    And, first of all, we have to make sure that paychecks go farther. We know that families are struggling to afford child care, struggling to afford to send their kids to college. And so what we have is a comprehensive proposal that will make paychecks go farther today.

    At the same time, we have got to look to the future and say, what are the ways we’re going to grow the good middle-class jobs of the future? That means we have got to invest in manufacturing, our infrastructure. We have got to make sure that we remain the best in the world at inventing new things, and that means research and development.

    And then we also have to make sure that as we create those jobs in the future that Americans are ready to take them, and so in this budget we double the number of slots for job training, we double the number of apprenticeships and we make sure that community college is going to be like high school is today.

    In the future, everyone should be able to go to community college and that is why free community college is a key part of the budget.

    GWEN IFILL: But when you use the word invest, Republicans hear the word spend and they hear the word tax.

    How do you hope to make any progress with your priorities if that’s the translation of your word invest?

    SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, first of all, let’s look at the facts on what the budget does.

    Over 10 years, we achieve with this budget $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction. And that’s undeniable if you look at the numbers. But, second, what we’re doing is taking a bipartisan example, the so-called Murray-Ryan deal that was reached two years ago, we’re taking that and building on it.

    What we’re saying is, let’s get rid of these harmful cuts called sequestration, let’s do them dollar for dollar on the defense and the non-defense side, and let’s pay for it by savings on the mandatory and the revenue side over the long term. That is what was done and allowed us to make progress two years ago on our budget. And that is the model that we’re building on.

    GWEN IFILL: When you talk about the revenue side, you’re talking about raising taxes on corporate profits. You’re talking about raising taxes on financial firms and inheritance taxes.

    Why isn’t that, as some Republicans are describing it — I think Paul Ryan called it yesterday envy economics or class war.

    SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, let’s take an example on capital gains, for example.

    Right now a family that is forced to sell, whether it’s their home or a business, before they die, they’re taxed at regular rates. If a family is wealthy enough to be able to hold on to that asset and pass it on to their kids, they’re taxed at a much, much lower rate on that asset.

    And so, what we’re really trying to achieve here is fairness, and as the president said consistently, we’re asking the wealthiest in the country to pay a little bit more; 99 percent of the cost of that capital gains proposal would come from the wealthiest 1 percent in this country.

    We think that that is a very reasonable proposal. And so we’re proposing that. At the same time, we’re proposing hundreds of billions of dollars of savings on the spending side as well, so we’re proposing a balanced plan that we think has a real chance of getting done this year.

    GWEN IFILL: Do you have any reason to believe that there is any consensus or any willingness on the part of the people who are going to receive this budget on Capitol Hill for middle ground on things like infrastructure, transportation spending? Do you see any room there?

    SHAUN DONOVAN: Absolutely.

    And I do think, first of all, the structure that we’re following is based on Murray-Ryan. It’s established bipartisan precedent that we’re building on. Second, there are lots of areas if you look more closely where we’re building on bipartisan ideas.

    Community college is something that’s been pursued at the federal level and at the state level, like in Tennessee, on a bipartisan basis. The proposal that we have for a second-earner tax credit has actually been sponsored by one of the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives.

    Infrastructure has traditionally been a bipartisan area. And we’re linking it to international tax reform that has both Democratic and Republican sponsors, and I could go on. There’s a long list of areas where there’s the potential for bipartisan agreement.

    GWEN IFILL: How about on Pentagon spending or even on homeland security spending, rolling back these across-the-board budget cuts you talked about?

    SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, look, you don’t need to take my word for it, Gwen. If you listened to the testimony that the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave this past week, they said one of the most dangerous threats that we’re facing around the world is sequestration.

    If we can’t reverse these cuts, we’re not going to be able to invest in the critical things that we need to, to keep folks safe overseas and keep them safe at home. You know, right now, we’re having a fight about whether we’re going to fund the Department of Homeland Security for a full year. We need to do that and we need to increase investments in things like cyber-security and many other things, the technology of the future, where the wars of the future are going to be fought.

    GWEN IFILL: And so the battle is joined, this time on the budget front.

    Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan, thank you for joining us.

    SHAUN DONOVAN: Great to be with you, Gwen.

    The post Dissecting Obama’s 2016 budget proposal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap_ebola

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    GWEN IFILL: The latest winter storm dumped fresh misery across New England today, after pounding on the Plains and Midwest. Well over a foot of snow fell in the Chicago area and around the Great Lakes region. A number of schools canceled Monday classes.

    As the storm pushed east, New York State and New England braced for the blow, with more than a foot forecast for Boston.

    Mayor Marty Walsh said plows are still clearing last week’s big snow.

    MAYOR MARTY WALSH, Boston: This weekend, Michael Dennehy and his team removed about 6,000 truckloads of snow off the streets of Boston.

    And as you can see, there still was a lot. Before the storm today, there was a lot of snow out there. So, it shows you how much we actually got during the blizzard. So we’re going to continue that effort. After this snowstorm is cleared up, we’re going to continue to try and get as much snow off the street as possible, particularly with the very cold weather.

    GWEN IFILL: The storm also disrupted air travel, with a combined 6,600 flights canceled since Sunday. Many of those were supposed to bring Super Bowl fans back from Arizona.

    Wall Street started the month on a high note. A gain in oil prices outweighed the news that manufacturing grew in December at its slowest pace in a year. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 196 points to close at 17361; the Nasdaq rose 41 to close at 4676; and the S&P 500 added nearly 26 points to finish near 2121.

    There was no sign of a break today in the standoff over a Jordanian pilot held by Islamic State militants in Syria. The government of Jordan has agreed to the group’s demand to release a convicted terrorist, but it said again today it needs reassurance.

    MOHAMMED AL-MOMANI, Jordanian Government Spokesman (through interpreter): We demand and emphasize our demand for proof of life of the pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh. Then we can speak about further steps. We follow up around the clock, and our security organizations are following up on this case.

    GWEN IFILL: Fears for the pilot’s safety ran even higher after a second Japanese hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, was beheaded over the weekend.

    In Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels pressed their offensive across multiple fronts today. Civilians ran for cover as rockets streaked across towns in the embattled province of Donetsk. Many scavenged the rubble for belongings as they prepared to evacuate from their homes.

    Meanwhile, rebel leaders announced plans to swell their ranks to 100,000 fighters.

    ALEKSANDR ZAKHARCHENKO, Prime Minister, Donetsk People’s Republic (through interpreter): We will mobilize enough people to the army, because considering the situation on the fronts and what Ukraine does, we will have to mobilize people who are able to carry weapons. After today’s events, it has become urgent.

    GWEN IFILL: Almost 2,000 people have fled the fighting in the last few days.

    The first large-scale Ebola vaccine trials began today in Liberia. About 600 volunteers are taking part in the effort, which ultimately may involve 27,000 people. They’re testing two potential vaccines, one developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the other by Canadian health officials.

    It’s been 800 years since rebellious barons forced an English king to accept essential rights under law. They were enshrined in the Magna Carta. And, today, the surviving copies from that summer of 1215 went on display in London.

    Sally Biddulph of Independent Television News reports.

    SALLY BIDDULPH: The founding document behind our rule of law and citizens’ rights, these four remaining original copies have been brought together for the first time in eight centuries, two from the British Library and one from each of the cathedrals in Salisbury and Lincoln.

    VERY REV. JUNE OSBORNE, Dean, Salisbury Cathedral: It’s unprecedented for Salisbury to move its Magna Carta out of the cathedral. We did it for just a little while just during the Second World War, when we put it in a quarry in Wiltshire, but you can guarantee that our copy has never left Wiltshire in 800 years.

    SALLY BIDDULPH: When King John stamped the Magna Carta in Runnymede with his royal seal in 1215, little did he know it would herald parliamentary democracy.

    JULIAN HARRISON, Curator of Medieval Manuscripts, British Library: Well, the Magna Carta has this global resonance. It established for the first time that everybody was subject to the law. Nobody, not even the king, was above the law. And that’s a principle which has stood the — stood time and is still valid today.

    SALLY BIDDULPH: The Magna Carta manuscripts are only together on display for three days, with tickets to the event drawn from a ballot. Translated from the Latin, it means “Great Charter,” and great it was, its impact still resonating down the ages.

    GWEN IFILL: Weeks after King John accepted the Magna Carta, the pope voided it, but its fundamental tenets were reaffirmed in succeeding documents.

    Back in this country, union workers at nine oil refineries and chemical plants were out on strike for a second day. Those are the first such walkouts since 1980, and they’re affecting plants that account for about 10 percent of the nation’s refining capacity. The workers are demanding higher pay, better benefits, and safer work conditions.

    And the New England Patriots celebrated their dramatic win in Super Bowl XLIX, which set a new television record with 114 million viewers. The Patriots edged the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 last night in Glendale, Arizona. It’s their fourth championship in six tries since 2000. A victory parade in Boston has been delayed, though, until Wednesday, as the city digs out from its record snowfall.

    The post News Wrap: First large-scale Ebola vaccine trials begin in Liberia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user D Sharon Pruitt

    Don’t sleep like this. Photo by Flickr user D Sharon Pruitt.

    When was the last time you woke up bright-eyed after a solid night’s rest?

    The National Sleep Foundation came out with sleep recommendation numbers Monday, suggesting that adults should get an average of seven to nine hours of shut-eye.

    The recommendations don’t vary too widely from past years’– people need less sleep as they get older. And the biggest takeaways are those that you’re probably already familiar with — that too little sleep and too much sleep can hurt a person’s health.

    Here’s a breakdown of those numbers:

    • Newborns, 0-3 months: 14-17 hours
    • Infants, 4-11 months: 12-15 hours
    • Toddlers, 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
    • Preschoolers, 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
    • School-age, 6-13 years: 9-11 hours
    • Teenagers, 14-17 years: 8-10 hours
    • Young adults, 18-25 years: 7-9 hours
    • Adults, 26-64 years: 7-9 hours
    • Older adults, 65 and older: 7-8 hours

    If only nap time was implemented in the workforce. George Costanza was onto something.

    The post Are you getting enough sleep? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Obama, responding to reporters on a video released by the Islamic State militant group purported to show captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh being burnt alive, said on Tuesday the video if authenticated, would be another sign of the "viciousness and barbarity" of the group. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Obama, responding to reporters on a video released by the Islamic State militant group purported to show captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh being burnt alive, said on Tuesday the video if authenticated, would be another sign of the “viciousness and barbarity” of the group. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama offered condolences to the people of Jordan and King Abdullah II of Jordan for the killing of a Jordanian pilot by Islamic State militants and declared that the U.S. and its allies are determined to see the militants and their “hateful ideology banished to the recesses of history.”

    Vice President Joe Biden, who lunched with the king in Washington Tuesday, also condemned the killings and called for the release of all prisoners held by Islamic State.

    The reactions from the president and the vice president came after the Jordanian military confirmed the death of Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, 26, who fell into the hands of the militants in December when his Jordanian F-16 crashed in Syria. He is the only pilot from the U.S.-led coalition to have been captured to date.

    A video released online Tuesday purportedly showed Al-Kaseasbeh being burned to death by his captors following a weeklong drama over a possible prisoner exchange.

    “Lieutenant Al-Kaseasbeh’s dedication, courage, and service to his country and family represent universal human values that stand in opposition to the cowardice and depravity of ISIL, which has been so broadly rejected around the globe,” Obama said.

    Earlier, Obama had said that if the video was authentic it was yet further evidence of the Islamic State group’s “viciousness and barbarity.”

    Obama said the death would “redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of our global coalition to make sure they are degraded and ultimately defeated.”

    Abdullah, who was in Washington for meetings with Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, was to attend Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, which Obama is also scheduled to attend. While there were no plans for Obama to hold a formal session with the king, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there was a chance they could see each other at the prayer event.

    Abdullah met privately Tuesday with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., offered condolences at the start of the meeting. Abdullah had no comments to reporters who shouted questions as he arrived for the meeting.

    The post Obama condemns Islamic State militants for ‘viciousness and barbarity’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    A bill that aims to reduce suicide among military veterans passed both the House and Senate and will make its way to the White House for President Obama to sign. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — A bill aimed at reducing a suicide epidemic among military veterans is on its way to the president for his signature.

    The Senate unanimously approved a bill Tuesday named for Clay Hunt, a 26-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who killed himself in 2011. The bill comes in response to suicides that on average claim the lives of 22 military veterans every day.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama strongly supports the bill and will sign it.

    The Senate vote on the bill was 99-0. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., missed the vote because of a winter storm that delayed flights from Chicago. Kirk is a co-sponsor of the bill and would have voted yes, a spokeswoman said.

    The House passed the bill unanimously last month.

    The measure would require the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department to submit to independent reviews of their suicide prevention programs and offers financial incentives to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who agree to work for the VA. It also would help military members as they transition from active duty to veteran status.

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was proud the Senate voted “to enhance the care we provide our men and women in uniform who continue to battle the lasting wounds of war.”

    “Our nation has much work still to do to fulfill its responsibilities for our veterans, and this bill is an important step in improving life-saving mental health care services for the men and women who have served and sacrificed,” McCain said.

    Clay Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke of Houston, said Hunt’s family was grateful for the Senate’s vote to approve the bill and for the work by lawmakers from both parties and both chambers to ensure its passage.

    “While we are a little bittersweet, because it is too late for our son Clay, we are thankful knowing that this bill will save many lives,” Selke said in a statement. “No veteran should have to wait or go through bureaucratic red tape to get the mental health care they earned during their selfless service to our country. While this legislation is not a 100 percent solution, it is a huge step in the right direction.”

    Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group that pushed for the bill, called Senate passage “a tremendous day” for veterans and their families.

    “For too long the crisis of veteran suicide has been hidden in the shadows. This bill gives many veterans the new hope they so desperately need and demonstrates that our leaders are willing to give veterans the care they deserve,” Rieckhoff said.

    John Stroud, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, said the bill strengthens and expands the mental health programs and services available to service members and veterans.

    Even so, the VFW is concerned that some service members are being kicked out of the military for pre-existing mental health problems without first being properly diagnosed or treated, “meaning they could easily be denied critical VA care and benefits after they are discharged,” Stroud said.

    Stroud and other veterans groups urged Congress to continue to work on the issue.

    Despite the unanimous votes in support of the bill in the House and Senate, the measure has faced resistance from some lawmakers. Supporters of the bill were frustrated late last year when the measure was blocked by then-Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

    Coburn, who retired in January, said the bill duplicated existing programs. He also objected to the $22 million price tag. The latest version of the bill orders the Veterans Affairs Department to find money for suicide-prevention programs within its $160 billion budget.

    The post Bill aiming to reduce veteran suicide makes way to White House appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user Becky Stern

    Photo by Flickr user Becky Stern

    Amazon has entered into talks with the struggling RadioShack Corporation concerning the purchase of several of the electronic retailer’s store locations, pending the company’s expected bankruptcy filing.

    If the deal goes through, the brick-and-mortar stores could be used by Amazon to display products, or as pickup and drop-off centers for items purchased and sold through the company’s online marketplace.

    As explained by Bloomberg Business, the move represents Amazon’s push to enter the traditional retail sector and compete with Apple, which has more than 400 locations worldwide.

    However, Amazon is not the only company eyeing RadioShack. Sprint has discussed moving into some of the 4,000 RadioShack stores and even co-branding the locations, while the investment group behind Brookstone has been identified as another potential bidder.

    While RadioShack has not officially declared bankruptcy yet, the company has posted losses for the past two years and lost 90 percent of its value in the last year. On Monday, the New York Stock Exchange halted trading of RadioShack stocks due to the company’s financial decline.

    The post Amazon, (maybe) coming to a RadioShack near you appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Guardalavaca Beach in southeastern Cuba is far enough off the beaten path to be a hidden treasure of the island. Photo by Getty Images

    Guardalavaca Beach in southeastern Cuba is far enough off the beaten path to be a hidden treasure of the island. Photo by Getty Images

    Congress is debating a bill that would allow Americans unfettered access to Cuba for the first time in 50 years. While Cuba has been closed to American tourists since the U.S. imposed an embargo on the communist island during the Cold War, a recent survey indicates that 64 percent of Americans would support the bill, according to the Latin Times Herald Tribune. You can now even search Kayak for hotels and flights.

    To help you plan your Cuban vacation, we decided to ask some former locals to recommend their favorite spots and hidden treasures on the island. Consider them your personal insiders.

    Will Weissert is an Associated Press reporter who was stationed in Havana from from January 2007 until October 2010. Before that he reported from Mexico City, and before that Guatemala City, so he’s not afraid of an adventure. Here are his three must-do’s:

    1. Guardalavaca Beach: This pristine beach is often overlooked by foreigners who head past it to eastern parts of the Island. “They’re missing out,” said Weissert. “It’s a rustic beach featuring very little infrastructure — hence a name that literally translates to ‘corral the cow.’ But then, you don’t need a whole lot of frills when you’ve got white sand, gentle and clear Caribbean waves and seemingly endless sunshine.”

    Interior of the Finca Vigia, Havana, Cuba, Photo by Getty Images

    Ernest Hemingway wrote two of his most celebrated novels at his home in Cuba: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” Finca Vigía, which is now a museum, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Photo by Getty Images

    2. Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban Hideaway: Finca Vigía is just outside Havana in the run-down enclave of San Francisco de Paula. The home and grounds, including a cavernous swimming pool and the author’s yacht, Pilar, have been carefully restored. The site features furniture and trinkets — even contemporary copies of Life Magazine that make it feel like Hemingway still lives there. You can’t access the inside, but you can see it all from large windows, including the bar stools Papa pilfered from El Floridita, his favorite Havana watering hole.

    Photo by Flickr user Erik Cleves Kristensen

    Photo by Flickr user Erik Cleves Kristensen

    3. Bucanero beer: OK this isn’t a place. But what kind of vacation would be complete without a taste of the local brew. There are mostly two kinds of beer in Cuba, Bucanero and Cristal. But, Weissert said, do yourself a favor and pick Bucanero every time. “It has a touch more body and flavor and is slightly more filling without being too heavy. Also, its red bottles and cans feature a bearded and beaming pirate that’s totally campy,” he said.

    Ruth Medina studied in Cuba in 2012 and said the best thing about the island is the locals. “Cuban people are honestly so nice and hospitable and make the best tour guides! Befriending one is the best suggestion I can give anyone going to Cuba.” Here are three things she wouldn’t miss:

    4. Wild Zoos: If you decide to cross over to Santa Clara, be sure to stop by the often overlooked Jardín Zoológico Camilo Cienfuegos de Santa Clara, a short drive away from the Che Guevara Mausoleum. Animals are not confined to metal cages, rather, they roam free.

    The shrimps served in La Ceiba paladar are prepared with a flavor to the famous cocktail Canchanchara served in the place of the same name. Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

    The shrimps served in La Ceiba paladar are prepared with a flavor to the famous cocktail Canchanchara served in the place of the same name. Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

    5. Secret restaurants: Cuban paladares — independent restaurants, run out of apartments in Havana — house delicious, authentic Cuban food. But finding paladares is no easy task. There is no sign indicating where they are, and often they have no name. But don’t let this scavenger hunt scare you off, as most of the locals can point you in the right direction. An especially delicious one, Medina said, is in the city of Santa Clara by the Che Guevara memorial.

    Almacenes de San José market in Havana, Cuba. Photo by the City of Havana

    Almacenes de San José market in Havana, Cuba. Photo by the City of Havana

    6. Hidden market of Almacenes de San José: Rather than buy a plastic souvenir from a tourist trap shop, look for hand-made art in Havana’s hidden market behind a long row of arched window at the end of the Malecon, Havana’s broad seawall. Shop for handmade crafts by local artisans, bright paintings and wooden statues to bring home with you.

    Maria Estera Gomez moved to the United States from Cuba almost 20 years ago, but the island’s annual festivals draw her back nearly every year. Schedule your trip around these two events for an encounter with the region’s renowned filmmakers and authors:

    The Karl Marx Theatre is seen before the start of the opening ceremony of the 29th Latin-American Film Festival in 2007 in Havana. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

    The Karl Marx Theatre is seen before the start of the opening ceremony of the 29th Latin-American Film Festival in 2007 in Havana. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

    7. Havana Film Festival: Every December, Havana’s streets bustle with Latin America’s most celebrated filmmakers at the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, which premiered in 1979 and draws in hundreds of Latin America’s most celebrated filmmakers. Check out their website for more information.

    8. Feria Internacional del Libro: In the second week of February, Cuba hosts the International Book Fair, where some of its most celebrated authors, like Leonardo Acosta, give speeches and present awards. But it is not all about books. This year, the fair will host 18 performances by local musicians and seven art exhibitions. For more, visit their website.

    The post 8 places to see in Cuba if Congress lifts the travel ban appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    - UNDATED FILE PHOTO - A tourist swims on the Great Barrier Reef in this undated file picture. Fishi..

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: new hope for how to restore dying coral reefs. It involves what could be a new and groundbreaking kind of undersea transplant.

    Hari Sreenivasan has our story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Half a mile off the Florida Keys, a small boat of scientists is confronting a vast underwater crisis.

    Biologists David Vaughan, Christopher Page, and Rudiger Bieler are attempting lifesaving transplants for Florida’s coral reefs, which are dying at alarming rates.

    BILL CAUSEY, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries: This is America’s only living barrier coral reef here in the Florida Keys, and it is in a perilous state at this point in time.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Billy Causey, the Southeast regional director of Marine sanctuaries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says the problem is even bigger than Florida. One-quarter of the world’s corals have died in recent decades, a consequence of pollution, overfishing and climate change.

    BILL CAUSEY: There’s a global crisis right now occurring with coral reefs and their decline. Our corals are already at the very edge of their existence. Coral reefs provide the structure, the home and the food for all the reef fish that are important both commercially and recreationally.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Trying to reverse that decline, the scuba diving scientists are grafting new corals onto decimated reefs.

    Dave Vaughan leads the transplant team at Mote Tropical Research Lab in Summerland Key, Florida.

    What are we looking at here in all these tanks?

    DAVID VAUGHAN, Director, Mote Tropical Research Laboratory: Well, these tanks are growing corals, which are part animal, part plant, part mineral. They’re basically a little understood organism.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: While other biologists have tried transplanting new corals to dead reefs in recent years, the Mote team’s experiment is seen as groundbreaking. That’s because the hard coral species grown in Dave Vaughan’s tanks form the reef’s critical structure that, until recently, took centuries to grow.

    DAVID VAUGHAN: Most of these corals, the size of a good boulder, the size of a small car, would be 500 to 1,000 years old. But now, since we have lost 25 to 40 percent of the world’s corals, we can’t wait 100 years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In fact, Vaughan and his team aren’t waiting. They discovered that, when cut into small strips, the slow-growing living corals quickly try to heal themselves.

    Biologist Christopher Page compares it to human skin, which will heal quickly after an injury.

    CHRISTOPHER PAGE, Biologist: By cutting it, you’re actually stimulating it to grow.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now these reef-building corals will grow at a rate 25 times faster.

    How long do these tiny ones that look like little mini-cupcakes, how much — how long do those take?

    DAVID VAUGHAN: We can grow that size in about four months. In four months, we can get what would have taken two years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And then what about these? These are bigger now?

    DAVID VAUGHAN: This is a brain coral.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

    DAVID VAUGHAN: And this would have taken 10 to 15 years to grow.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And it took how long in the lab?

    DAVID VAUGHAN: About one year. Now we’re trying some plants where we take about 20 of these. We put them all in a circle about the size of a dinner plate. And we think that, in one year, it will grow a coral this big, which would have taken 25 to 50 years in the wild.

    BILL CAUSEY: What he’s getting with this microfragmentation is growth spurts unlike anything we have ever seen.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Once the corals are successfully grown in the nursery, the team searches for a transplant match, dead corals of the same species.

    RUDIGER BIELER, The Field Museum of Natural History: A big coral boulder, it is essentially just a rock. It’s the material that the living tissues have deposited over dozens or a hundred years, but the only thing that’s alive is that little veneer of tissue on the outside, which is essentially what we are bring back.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But before the transplant, the corals are left in a cage for 30 days.

    DAVID VAUGHAN: There are so little new corals out there that if we put these bright little nuggets out there, things like parrot fish and other predators haven’t seen that in such a long time, they say, boy, that looks like a chocolate-covered strawberry.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: When the corals lose some of their color and attraction to fish, Vaughan and Bieler punch holes in the dead structures and epoxy the new corals, hoping they will eventually fuse together.

    Rudiger Bieler likens the process to human hair plugs. Bieler is a curator from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, one of the partners in the project. And he is documenting the marine life the project may attract.

    RUDIGER BIELER: To see what lives in that area before we do the restoration, what happens during the restoration, and what kind of species are coming in afterwards.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But the question remains, will these new corals, subject to same ocean stressors as their predecessors, survive in the wild? For that, the team is recreating current ocean conditions.

    DAVID VAUGHAN: We change the pH in each tank and we look to see which ones are going to tolerate those conditions.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, essentially predicting, kind of creating the future environment here for you?

    DAVID VAUGHAN: That’s right, seeing which ones will be the winners and which ones will be the losers, so we’re always using the winners.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So you basically are assuming that ocean acidification continues at this rate, this is what the ocean will be like, so if you can figure out which ones survive, put those in the ocean?

    DAVID VAUGHAN: Absolutely. You are right on target. That’s exactly what we’re doing.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: While it may not be the solution to saving the world’s coral reefs, NOAA Director Bill Causey says it is buying time.

    BILL CAUSEY: And giving us time for our reefs to hang on as long as they can just by having stock that we can eventually put back out there, but it’s going to take our global leaders to address climate change. And we have to have the time for those actions to take place.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In the Florida Keys, I’m Hari Sreenivasan for the PBS NewsHour.

     

    The post Scientists try to regrow a dying coral reef 25 times faster than nature appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    To Kill A Mockingbird

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    GWEN IFILL: Now to a hugely surprising story from the world of popular fiction and literature.

    The reclusive author Harper Lee, whose novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” riveted readers 50 years ago and later moviegoers, will publish another novel.

    Jeffrey Brown tells the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Word of Harper Lee’s plans generated buzz throughout the literary world and for avid readers alike.

    The new book, “Go Set a Watchman,” is actually an old one. Lee wrote it in the 1950s, but on the advice of an editor, set it aside and turned to writing “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  Published in 1960, that treasured classic about race and coming of age in Alabama in the 1930s won a Pulitzer Prize and would go on to sell some 40 million copies.

    GREGORY PECK, Actor: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It became an Oscar-winning film in 1962 starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. The earlier manuscript was largely forgotten until, according to a statement released today, Lee’s lawyer discovered it last fall.

    Set in the 1950s, it features Scout, a girl in “Mockingbird,” but now a grown woman, returning home to Alabama to visit her father, Atticus.

    In today’s statement, Lee, now 88, said of the new book: “I thought it a pretty decent effort. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

    The famously reclusive author did attend a White House ceremony in 2007 to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But her publisher says she is unlikely to do any publicity for her second novel when it’s released in July.

    Some reaction now to this news.

    Wally Lamb is the author of four bestselling novels, including “She’s Come Undone.”  His latest is “We Are Water.”  And Mary Murphy is an independent director whose documentary about Harper Lee and “To Kill a Mockingbird” was featured on PBS’ “American Masters.”  She’s also the author of an accompanying book, “Scout, Atticus, and Boo.”

    And, Wally, let me start with you.

    The interest in this must start with the phenomenon of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” right? What explains that? Why has it endured?

    WALLY LAMB, Author, “We Are Water”: Well, I think, first of all, it’s the voice of the character Scout Finch, the adorably feisty child, and also the fact that it evokes emotions from us, not only laughter at some of Scout’s hijinks, but also anger at injustice.

    And I think the combination of what is sweet and funny and what is really socially relevant is the — you know, that’s the cocktail mix that makes people love this book.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mary Murphy, you looked at Harper Lee’s life. How much of a surprise is this announcement?

    MARY MURPHY, Director, “Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird”: Well, it’s fantastic.

    And it’s a little surprising, although when you look at how the novel came to be, there is discussion of an earlier submission, and this is clearly what this is, is the first submission. And then Harper Lee and her editor, Tay Hohoff, went on to work for several years together on what would become “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

    JEFFREY BROWN: There are some questions about, why now? You talked to some people around her when you were making your film. Her sister, who she was very close to, has now passed away. What do we know about the circumstances of why now?

    MARY MURPHY: Well, what I know from talking to her sister, Ms. Alice, who was frequently called Atticus in a skirt around town in Monroeville, Alabama, is that the original manuscript of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was kept in Ms. Alice’s bank deposit box.

    And that’s where it was. And what I suspect is that when Ms. Alice died several months ago at 103, somebody — her papers and getting them in order, someone went to the deposit box and found, astonishingly, attached or appended or beneath the original manuscript this original submission that I have been told that Ms. Alice may not have known she was in possession of.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Wally Lamb, you know, there has long been this mystery around Harper Lee about the one book and that was it before this.

    What — as a writer yourself, did you always think there was more? What did you make of this?

    WALLY LAMB: Well, I had a fantasy that, apparently, now joyously, seems to be a reality.

    I think that these — I noticed this afternoon social media buzzing with a lot of speculation about the validity of this book. But, you know, I hold my skepticism in reserve. And I choose to celebrate and savor, and I can’t wait to study this new novel to see if it is a hybrid of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” if it is a first draft, whatever it is. I think that’s really reason to celebrate.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Wally Lamb, what kind of influence did “Mockingbird” have for you?

    WALLY LAMB: Well, I started out as a high school English teacher, had no plans to become a writer, but it was teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird” year after year that I began to really get interested in her gift for the voice and also in the architecture of the novel.

    And so, little by little, that novel, probably more than any other, sort of lured me into the forest of fiction writing myself.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mary Murphy, why — what did you conclude about why she never wrote another novel after “Mockingbird”?

    MARY MURPHY: Well, without being able to ask her directly, I took what her sister, Ms. Alice, said to me, which was, she said that she couldn’t top what she had already done.

    And Ms. Alice said she — Harper Lee went on to live her life, but not to put herself under the burden that she did when she was writing “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  So, I leave — without talking to Harper Lee myself, I take what Ms. Alice said about that.

    I just think it’s so fantastic that we get to see — I mean, it’s fantastic for a scholar, a reader, a writer that we get to see what preceded this.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, it’s interesting. Yes, go ahead, Wally.

    WALLY LAMB: Excuse me.

    I also think that it’s unfair if people are gearing up to judge it against “To Kill a Mockingbird,” because, you know, I think that’s inappropriate. And I would — I have several drafts of my work, too. And you know, it might be interesting for people to see what the final product is, as opposed to, you know, an earlier effort. But, you know, I just think this is such valuable material that we have waiting for us.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, just very briefly, Mary Murphy, I saw the publisher is planning a big run of a couple million copies, so there is a big audience out there waiting. Right?

    MARY MURPHY: Yes, I think so.

    And I want to echo what Wally said, too. I mean, I just think, in any form, we get to see — we get to see the parallels between Atticus and Scout in a different way. And all of that is great news. So whether it’s two million or four million people that read it, come July, it’s all cause for celebration.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mary Murphy and Wally Lamb on “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee, thanks so much.

    WALLY LAMB: Thank you.

    MARY MURPHY: Thanks for having me.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, we head out to the country for a look at the challenges facing rural schools, which educate about a fifth of all American students.

    Special correspondent for education John Tulenko of Learning Matters has the first of two reports from West Virginia.

    JOHN TULENKO: Day and night, coal trains still rumble through McDowell County, West Virginia.

    The mines in this southernmost part of the state once employed some 20,000 workers. And back then, the county seat of Welch was called Little New York. Today, most of those jobs and most of those people are gone. McDowell County is the poorest in the state, with the highest rates of heart disease, suicide and drug overdose in all of West Virginia.

    For public schools here, finding a way to keep the county’s roughly 3,500 students from becoming any one of those statistics is the number one priority.

    Flo McGuire is principal at Southside Elementary.

    FLORISHA MCGUIRE, Principal, Southside K-8 School: I grew up here. Obviously, we’re a very rural area. So I really understand what it means to be a kid bored out of your mind because there is nothing to do here.

    JOHN TULENKO: Having little to do has affected children and teenagers in many ways.

    FLORISHA MCGUIRE: We are the highest ranking in terms of type 2 diabetes, weight. I mean, we are the poster child for bad health.

    JOHN TULENKO: For McGuire, the solution is for schools to fill the void with new programs that reach kids in class, after school, and even in the home.

    FLORISHA MCGUIRE: Statistics tell us and research tells us, when we have students that are involved in activities, they’re less likely to get involved in drugs, and less likely to get involved in those negative personal habits.

    JOHN TULENKO: While schools do offer team sports, participation is limited.

    The after-school program offers mostly homework help. And weekends are void of any organized activities. All that could change through a new effort called Reconnecting McDowell, a partnership among state agencies, community organizations, the teachers union and others, groups that once worked separately, all coming together to improve opportunities for students.

    FLORISHA MCGUIRE: Our vision is to be the hub, I guess, of the community. I want to offer dance class, tae kwon do, music, art. Anything that we can get in here to enrich, I guess, their educational experience, we want to.

    JOHN TULENKO: One early accomplishment?  A West Virginia University-led effort to revamp phys-ed classes across the district. And schools are encouraging more parents to exercise, through countywide celebrations like this one.

    FLORISHA MCGUIRE: Again, if you look at our area, there is nowhere to go to begin those habits. Those habits will begin with the kids that we have here.

    GREG CRUEY, Teacher, Southside K-8 School: And if we get the community center open, if we get the exercise equipment that is there, the chances are life gets better for everyone in ways that we don’t expect.

    JOHN TULENKO: Greg Cruey heads the local teachers union, part of the larger American Federation of Teachers. It spearheaded the partnership here and wants it to also provide social services, like a school-based health clinic and counseling for students.

    GREG CRUEY: When a kid comes to school and the main thing they think about is the instability that they have at home, they come to school to eat, they come to school to feel safe, but learning arithmetic is not a big priority for them.

    JOHN TULENKO: Academic performance that’s at the bottom of West Virginia is another major challenge the partnership faces. And it’s not happening just because students are distracted by bigger things. Another likely cause is a shortage of qualified teachers.

    Two months into the school year, Mount View High School still had eight vacancies to fill.

    Debra Hall is the principal.

    DEBRA HALL, Principal, Mount View High School: And they’re not just in fine arts or P.E. or something like that. They’re in math, they’re in science, they’re in English, and it’s every year.

    JOHN TULENKO: To fill the gaps, the district relies on long-term substitutes like Elvis Blankenship, whose offer to teach eighth grade honors biology came the night before school started in September.

    Are you certified to teach science?

    ELVIS BLANKENSHIP, Teacher, Mount View High School: I do not have my science part of — as far a teacher. But I have worked in hospital settings. My wife is a nurse, so what I don’t understand about it, she will actually fill me in with what I need to know about it.

    JOHN TULENKO: We were in your class. And I noticed that the students seemed to be spending a lot of time with the textbook. How much do you rely on the textbook?

    ELVIS BLANKENSHIP: Actually, I get my outline from the textbook. I’m always afraid that I’m going to be saying something wrong. I don’t want to be — get them so messed up than what they could be.

    DEBRA HALL: You know, these long-term subs that we have, they’re dedicated. They know that students need them. They work really hard. But I think that our students deserve qualified, certified, content area teachers.

    JOHN TULENKO: But getting them to come here won’t be easy.

    DEBRA HALL: It’s a county wide concern. Part of that problem is the roads, the housing. I drive on Route 52. It’s curvy. It’s dangerous. You ride on it with big coal trucks.

    JOHN TULENKO: And nearly everyone commutes, because, here, there are few good places to live.

    Solutions to deep-seated problems like this one are hard to come by, but the Reconnecting McDowell partnership is trying. It recently purchased this abandoned building, which it plans to turn into badly needed high-quality housing for teachers, another example of its strategy to improve schools from the outside in.

    GREG CRUEY: And unless we can change the environment so that teachers want to stay, unless we can change the environment so parents have a higher level of education and can help their kids, unless we can change the environment so that kids that show up are more ready and able to learn, no amount of good pedagogy is going to, by itself, fix our problem with test scores.

    JOHN TULENKO: The challenge is immense, but vital to face. Education may be the best route students have to escape the dismal statistics here.

    In McDowell County, West Virginia, I’m John Tulenko, reporting for the NewsHour.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will have John’s second report tomorrow night.

     

     

     

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    BUYER BEWARE monitor  supplement vitamin store

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    GWEN IFILL: Health officials have long worried about the safety and quality of herbal supplements, a multibillion-dollar business.

    At least one major retailer pulled products from the shelves today after New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said GNC, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens sell store brand supplements that do not contain the ingredients they advertise. The investigation found that four out of every five products tested didn’t include the ingredients mentioned on the label.

    The attorney general joins me now.

    Mr. Schneiderman, tell us about how you reached these conclusions about this investigation, something called DNA coding?

    ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General, New York: DNA bar-coding.

    Yes, we have been aware for some time and there have been other studies about this that there were issues with herbal supplements. Unfortunately, the state of law and regulations is that the FDA can’t require the herbal supplement industry to register when they manufacture or sell their products.

    This is essentially an honor system. So we decided to test the store brands of some major chains that sell in cities and towns all over our state and all over the country, and we were surprised to see that only 21 percent of the products had any trace at all of what they were supposed to be selling.

    So we tested things like echinacea, ginseng, things that are popular herbal supplements. And in the overwhelming majority of cases, there was no trace of the product that was purportedly being sold. So we have written cease-and-desist letters to these four chains. Some of them are pulling the products, just the lot numbers we tested off the shelves. They are going to explain their system for quality control.

    And I think that a lot of stores are going to follow this example and do the right thing.

    GWEN IFILL: This raises…

    ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: But there really are no standards for manufacturing in this area, and a lot of people consume this stuff.

    GWEN IFILL: But this raises so many questions. There are some experts who don’t actually trust this DNA bar-coding very much, and it’s hard for those of us who have jars of this stuff probably in our medicine cabinets to believe that there’s actually nothing on the label involved, engaged — contained in these jars of supplements.

    ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: Well, DNA bar-coding is a widely respected technique to find specifically what a plant species is.

    It uses small genetic markers that are specific to identifying species. Actually, most of the complaints are not that the technique doesn’t work. Some people say, well, if something is processed, overprocessed, you can hide the DNA.

    The view of most scientists is, if you can’t tell that there’s any DNA at all, it’s probably been denatured, and the benefit you’re looking for may not be there. But we’re going to give these companies a chance to show what their tests are. We have demanded that they provide us with their own explanation for how they do quality control.

    The key thing is this. It’s illegal in New York and in most places to sell something that is not what the label says it is. You just can’t do it.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, what…

    ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: In addition to finding — we also found that there were a lot of fillers and other products and other plant species that were identified by the bar-coding that weren’t on the label.

    So it’s a combination of not selling what you’re supposed to be selling and selling people things that are fillers or other plant species that could cause public health issues.

    GWEN IFILL: That’s what I was going to ask you. What was in it? Powdered rice is something — one of the things I saw mentioned.

    But I guess my question then is, who — what averse health impacts might there be if you were to take these supplements which were not as advertised?

    ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: Well, there have been some instances where very serious outbreaks of disease were caused by contaminated probiotics or other herbal supplements.

    But it’s really something that we’re challenging these store chains to deal with. They are not the manufacturers. But we’re trying to impose control through our own consumer protection laws, because that’s what I have access to as the New York state attorney general, to put the burden on them to say, hey, you have to have quality control.

    Manufacturers may not have to register with the FDA, but you’re not allowed to sell this stuff and label it in ways that are improper.

    GWEN IFILL: This is one of the questions I think everybody would have, which is, doesn’t the Food and Drug Administration have some oversight over this sort of thing?

    ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: No.

    Unfortunately, a law was passed in 1994 that severely restricts what the Food and Drug Administration is able to do. There was an effort to amend it in 2012, and that was beaten back. It’s been noted that Senator Orrin Hatch is a leading proponent of deregulating this industry. And there are others who support that.

    I think that consumer safety really does have to come first. And this is not the situation it was in 1994. We’re talking about more than $60 billion a year of these products in the economy. It is time to impose some tighter standards of safety.

    In the meantime, in New York State, I’m going to use my consumer protection powers to make sure that nothing is sold to New York consumers that’s not what it says on the label.

    GWEN IFILL: So, if you are a consumer tonight and you’re walking into your neighborhood health food store, what kind of precautions should you be taking to make sure you’re getting what you’re buying?

    ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: Well, what we have examined are the store brands for four big chains.

    We’re not saying this is true of all the supplement industry. We think this is going to begin a process of these stores coming forward. And the sellers of the product really do have a responsibility under consumer protection and labeling laws. And we’re really holding them accountable to go back and make sure that they have quality control and the manufacturers they choose to buy from people producing good product.

    GWEN IFILL: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, thank you very much.

    ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: Thank you.

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    MORTGAGE MELTDOWN  housing monitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: More than six years after the financial crisis hit the economy with full force, the government has finally closed one of its major cases against a key player.

    The Justice Department’s settlement with Standard & Poor’s centered on credit ratings the company awarded during the lead-up to the housing bust. Some observers and experts have long argued that rosy ratings of troubled mortgage securities helped inflate the market.

    For its part, S&P didn’t admit to criminal wrongdoing in the settlement.

    But, at a press conference, Attorney General Eric Holder laid out part of what the company conceded.

    ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General: On more than one occasion, the company’s leadership ignored senior analysts who warned that the company had given top ratings to financial products that were failing to perform as advertised.

    As S&P admits under this settlement, company executives complained that the company declined to downgrade underperforming assets because it was worried that doing so would hurt the company’s business. Now, while the strategy may have helped S&P avoid disappointing its clients, it did major harm, major harm to the larger economy, contributing to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The settlement included attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia.

    Jim Hood, the attorney general of Mississippi, was there today. He joins me now, along with Lynn Stout. She is a professor of corporate and business law at Cornell Law School.

    We welcome you both.

    Attorney General Hood, what are some examples of what Standard & Poor’s did that they shouldn’t have done? 

    JIM HOOD, Attorney General, Mississippi: Well, they made misrepresentations.

    They portrayed themselves as if they were pure as the driven snow and that they were making independent evaluations of these mortgage-backed securities that the banks were running through. They were making three the four times as much for these evaluations, and they kept, you know, repeating over and over that they were independent in their evaluations.

    And they weren’t. And what we found out, that that was a violation of the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Our consumer protection laws came into play. And so Connecticut initially filed first. Richard Blumenthal, who is senator now, was the attorney general then, called me and encouraged me to file in the — we filed second.

    We had a long, drugged-out battle. But when the federal government and other states joined in, we moved pretty quickly toward settlement.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Lynn Stout, how much were these companies getting out of this, not just Standard & Poor’s, but the companies that were producing these mortgage-backed securities?

    LYNN STOUT, Cornell University: Well, it was, in fact, a relatively new line of business for the ratings agencies, rating these mortgage-backed securities.

    And it wasn’t necessarily the majority of their business, but it was a very profitable sector. And, obviously, they were trying to grow it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But money was being made is the point.

    LYNN STOUT: Oh, yes. Yes. No, they were definitely making money, especially in the short term.

    In the long term, it look like it’s going to cost them far more. The settlement, depending on how you calculate it, is going to amount to either one or twice the annual profits of McGraw-Hill Financial, which is the parent company of S&P.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you both about that in just a minute.

    But at the time, what was the connection, Jim Hood, between what S&P did to the financial collapse?

    JIM HOOD: Well, they made it easy for the banks to package these bogus instruments.

    Warren Buffett said he didn’t understand these instruments. And if he didn’t, many didn’t. And they didn’t have the capability really to properly analyze these instruments, yet they were being paid three to four times as much. In fact, I think Standard & Poor’s was making 40 percent of what they were making at a rate of about $1 billion a year — 40 percent of that was coming from these evaluations.

    Moody’s was even higher. The state of Mississippi and Connecticut sued Moody’s as well. They were not part of this settlement. But they were making about 50 percent of their income from these evaluations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lynn Stout, we know that Standard & Poor’s came back and said, no, this is not true, we are not guilty. The Department of Justice took — first brought this case two years ago. Why has it taken so long?

    LYNN STOUT: These big cases against financial institutions always take a long time.

    The reality is, these big banks and financial institutions, including ratings agencies, they’re very big, they’re very profitable. They can afford to spend a lot of money on lawyers. And, as a rule, government authorities are generally pretty outgunned, or at least outlawyered, in these cases.

    And so it’s very easy to drag them out to, to send up a lot of smoke to make it hard to figure out what is going on. And they do tend to fight them tooth and nail, honestly, in the hopes they can just tire the government out.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, Attorney General Jim Hood, originally, what S&P was saying was that the Department of Justice was coming after them, the government was coming after them because S&P had downgraded U.S. government debt back in 2011.

    What happened to that argument?

    JIM HOOD: They had to detract that. That was very important to both attorneys general and the federal government, because it made it look like government was that petty to take that type of action.

    In fact, the state of Mississippi had filed suits. We filed in 2011 against Standard & Poor’s on this theory of consumer protection. Initially, we had sued the banks on securities and the credit rating agencies. They were dismissed on First Amendment grounds.

    They said, well, we can puff. We can just say things. But when we began to shift to this theory of violation of our consumer protection acts, unfair, deceptive trade statements, then that theory, they couldn’t get that one dismissed. And that’s when they paid $1.375 billion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lynn Stout, you were just saying that, for Standard & Poor’s, that’s a significant penalty?

    LYNN STOUT: I think it is. This is going to really hurt them. A couple years’ profits is a big loss.

    And that’s actually I think in the long run the only effective way to try and prevent these sorts of fraudulent cases in the future, is you have to hit the institution in its pocketbook. That’s what really is the area where it can feel the pain. So, even though there was no agreement of criminal activity, I think this is going to be a pretty effective penalty.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Jim Hood, what about the people who were originally harmed by this?

    JIM HOOD: Those people who lost their homes as a result of this, they don’t really gain anything from this. This is — this will go back to our states to help pay for some of the programs that we have implemented to try to keep people in their homes.

    But, you know, this was just sent to send a message. This was a penalty. And it hurt bad enough that it will affect — hopefully, in the future, deter this type of conduct. Now, under regulations passed in August, the SEC has a duty to regulate and not let this occur in the future.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Attorney General Jim Hood from Mississippi, Lynn Stout at Cornell, we thank you both.

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    newswrap_acas

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: There was major news on the financial front as well. Standard & Poor’s settled federal allegations that it deliberately hyped risky mortgage securities before the 2008 meltdown. The credit rating agency agreed to pay almost $1.4 billion, and admitted it knew many of the investments were likely to collapse. We will detail implications of this deal after the news summary.

    GWEN IFILL: Wall Street tops the day’s other news. Energy stocks led the market sharply higher, as oil prices surged back above $53 a barrel. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 305 points, to close well over 17600. The Nasdaq rose 41 on the day and the Standard & Poor’s index added 29.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president’s health care law was back before the House of Representatives today, and the result was the same. By 239-186, Republicans pushed through a measure to strike the statute from the books.

    The vote on HR-596 represented the 56th time that House Republicans have tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    MAN: The bill is passed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican Steve King of Iowa said it’s about making clear where everyone stands.

    REP. STEVE KING, (R)  Iowa: Every Republican up until this point has voted to repeal Obamacare. Every member of the House, with the exception of those that were sworn in for the first time for this Congress, has had that chance. Now we give everyone that chance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michigan Republican John Moolenaar is one of those newly sworn-in members.

    REP. JOHN MOOLENAAR, (R) Michigan: It’s time to permanently repeal the excessive spending, the economic pain and the continuing uncertainty caused by this law and replace it with patient-centered alternatives with lower premiums that allow individuals to choose the coverage they want.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But Democrats said the exercise is pointless, since the president has vowed a veto.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: They’re baying at the moon, something that is not going to work. And instead of proposing any, which we would be welcome to hear good suggestions they may have to approve the Affordable Care Act, they’re baying at the moon 56 times.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: At the White House, the president dismissed the House vote as he met with Americans who say they have benefited from the law.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In every respect, this is working, not just as intended, but better than intended. And so the notion that we would play politics with the lives of folks who are out there working hard every single day trying to make ends meet, trying to look after their families makes absolutely no sense.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The bill goes to the Senate now, but Republicans won’t have the votes it would take to override a veto.

    A group of Republican committee chairmen now say they’re working on their own plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. They expect to release it on Thursday.

    GWEN IFILL: New England bundled up today as frigid cold moved in, on the heels of the latest winter storm. In some places, windchills hit 20-below, prompting flash freeze warnings. In the Boston area, crews braved the cold to move another 18 inches of snow, after more than two feet fell last week.

    Mayor Marty Walsh said, together, the two storms made history.

    MAYOR MARTY WALSH, Boston: We have set a record in the seven-day period here in the city of Boston. We received over 40.1 inches of snow. We have broken the old record and we’re looking at possible another six inches of snow on Thursday.

    GWEN IFILL:
    The snow forced the city to put off its Super Bowl victory parade for the New England Patriots until tomorrow.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: New research out today portrays an ever-growing college gap between the haves and have-nots. Two advocacy groups for higher education reported that, in 2013, some 77 percent of students from wealthier families received bachelor degrees. That’s compared to only 9 percent of those from the lowest-income bracket. The difference is more than double what it was in 1970.

    GWEN IFILL: Fidel Castro has been seen for the first time in five months. Cuban state media released nearly two dozen new photos today. They show the former president, now 88 years old, meeting with a student leader. The student says it happened January 23, and they discussed everything from Castro’s exercise routines to international politics. The ailing Castro stepped down as president in 2006.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Britain moved today to become the first country to allow so-called three-parent babies. The cutting-edge fertility method uses genetic material from three people. It’s designed to prevent inherited diseases caused by defective mitochondria, the energy-producing bodies inside cells.

    Rachel Younger of Independent Television News reports.

    RACHEL YOUNGER: Jessica Newell is just 13 months old, but for her today’s vote comes too late. Science can’t keep her alive, but it might just mean her parents now get to introduce their daughter to a little brother or sister who won’t have to suffer like she has.

    VICKY HOLLIDAY, Mother of Jessica: She struggles with swallowing. She struggles with her muscle tone as well. So, as you can see, she’s very floppy. She can’t really hold her own head up. She doesn’t have the energy to do that. And also, effectively, her brain is dying.

    RACHEL YOUNGER: Scientists in Newcastle haven’t managed to cure mitochondrial disease like Jessica’s, but they have worked out a way to prevent it before an embryo is even formed.

    It involves a healthy egg being taken from a donor. Doctors will then remove the nucleus containing her DNA and replace it with the mother’s, but without the 40 mitochondria genes. The newly repaired egg is then fertilized and implanted into the mother’s womb

    But it’s unchartered territory that has to be approved first by M.P.s in the Commons.

    FIONA BRUCE, MP, Conservative, Congleton: Once we approve this procedure, where will it lead? The answer has to be that we stop here. This answer has to be that we say this is a red line in our country, as in every other country in the world, that we will not cross.

    FRANK DOBSON, MP, Labour, Holborn and St. Pancras: We can’t guarantee that it will work, but the people most involved think that it will work, and all the scientific advisory bodies in this country think that it will work. And we should take note of what they say.

    RACHEL YOUNGER: And in the end, most of them did.

    MAN: The ayes to the right 382, the nos to the left 128.

    RACHEL YOUNGER: It means up in Newcastle the work goes on toward a world first that could change the lives of thousands.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The proposal still needs approval in the House of Lords.

    The post News Wrap: House GOP votes again to repeal the ACA appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    First Special Service Force veterans Eugene Gutierrez  and Charles Mann, of Canada, receive the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony honoring them and their fellow members of the First Special Service Force. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    First Special Service Force veterans Eugene Gutierrez and Charles Mann, of Canada, receive the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony honoring them and their fellow members of the First Special Service Force. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON (AP) — In 1942, they were lumberjacks, miners, hunters and farmers from the United States and Canada, who came together at a U.S. Army base in Montana.

    Within a few months, they were well-trained warriors who went on to become one of deadliest commando units in World War II. Nicknamed the Devil’s Brigade for their fierce tactics and practice of wearing black boot polish on their faces, the unit excelled during nighttime raids that featured mountain climbing, amphibious landings and parachute jumps.

    On Tuesday, Congress awarded surviving members of the Devil’s Brigade the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest civilian award. A crowd of about 700, including about 40 living members of the brigade, attended the hour-long ceremony at the Capitol Visitors Center.

    The 1,800-member unit, officially known as the First Special Service Force, included 900 Americans and an equal number of Canadians who specialized in hand-to-hand combat and mountain warfare.

    By the time the war ended, the brigade had captured more than 30,000 prisoners, won five U.S. campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors — and played a key role in the 1944 liberation of Rome from German forces

    “These men saved the free world,” said a tearful House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

    The group’s achievements were all the more remarkable for how quickly they came together, Boehner said, noting that the unit was activated in July 1942, completed its first mission in 1943 and disbanded in December 1944.

    The brigade is the precursor of modern special forces such as the Green Berets.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said members of the Devil’s Brigade excelled in rock climbing and amphibious assault.

    “They advanced on skis and through the air. They survived by stealth and trained in demolitions. Some of their more daring mission plans would have made James Bond blush,” McConnell said.

    “But this isn’t just some Hollywood script,” he said. “It’s a true story about a fearless group of young Canadians and Americans…who were willing to put their lives on the line in the truest sense of the term. Through it all, they helped save a continent in chaos.”

    Eugene Gutierrez Jr. of Texas, who enlisted in the Army in 1941, joined the Devil’s Brigade a year later. He fought in the coastal city of Anzio, Italy, in 1944 and later helped liberate Rome.

    Gutierrez accepted the gold medal, specially made by the U.S. Mint, on behalf of his fellow brigade members living and dead. “Guess what? They delivered,” Gutierrez said.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the brigade members “heroes” who “helped free the world of tyranny.”

    The group also stands as a “shining example” of the abiding friendship between Canada and the United States, two countries that “stand as one,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

    The post Congress awards First Special Service Force with gold medal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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