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

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    For a few fleeting minutes today, Frank Underwood fans were incredulous. That’s because all of “House of Cards” season 3 became available on Netflix — two weeks before its scheduled release.

    But just as mysteriously as it appeared, it was gone. Was it a mistake? Was it a publicity stunt? Was it an Underwood power play?

    According to TV Line, Netflix is blaming the leak on a “technical glitch.”

    We may never know for sure. What we do know from those brief moments is that Underwood, the political drama’s anti-hero played by award-winner Kevin Spacey, was seen urinating on the grave of someone named Calvin Underwood, who died in 1978.

    Feb. 27 can’t come soon enough.

    The post ‘House of Cards’ Season 3 leaked early, then immediately pulled appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama announced today that the U.S. will be bring back nearly all of the 2,800 troops fighting Ebola in West Africa, while calling last year’s outbreak of the disease a wakeup call to the world.

    Jeff is back with that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The president said that the U.S. operation will soon enter a second phase after a dramatic change in the trajectory of the new cases of the disease that has killed more than 9,000 people.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our focus now is getting to zero, because as long as there is even one case of Ebola that’s active out there, risk still exists. Every case is an ember that, if not contained, can light a new fire. So we’re shifting our focus from fighting the epidemic to now extinguishing it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now to discuss the past, present and future of the U.S. Ebola operation in West Africa is Rajiv Shah of USAID.

    And welcome to you.

    Today signals the end of one phase of the fight. What does that mean?  Is it a moment of triumph?  How do you describe it?

    RAJIV SHAH, U.S. Agency for International Development: Well, it’s a moment of transition.

    And I recall when I visited the West African countries with Ebola in October, there were more than 1,000 new cases a week. I met mothers who were holding their children who were literally dying in their arms, putting themselves at huge risk of death themselves. And the destruction was almost unbelievable.

    Then I came home. And, as you recall, there was tremendous panic here in the United States, most of it not based on science. But, nevertheless, there was a deep concern. People wondered whether I should go to my kids’ soccer game the weekend I got back.

    And, today, because of a huge U.S. leadership moment, because we put these troops on the ground to build confidence and build infrastructure, because we have more than 10,000 employees of the humanitarian organizations leading the fight, we have seen tremendous reduction in the disease.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There are even still some recent reports of small spike in cases in Guinea. Is it possible, do we know that it’s on the decline?  Is it possible that the decline has stalled?

    RAJIV SHAH: Well, it’s always possible.

    And we are going to be vigilant until we get to zero. But we have gone — we have seen a reduction of more than 80 percent in the number of cases. We have seen a reduction of more than 90 percent in Liberia. And we’re confident that by continuing to have a strong, aggressive response, frankly rooted in science and innovation and new partnerships, we can get to zero, effectively.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There was this extraordinary ramp-up in response, as you say. And yet so many thousands of people died.

    One wonders, looking back now, is it ever possible to be fast enough?  What have we learned about the ability to ramp up?

    RAJIV SHAH: Well, I think the biggest thing we have learned is that we have to innovate and bring science, technology and business all to the table to join us is in these kinds of big, global ambitions.

    In this case, we have redesigned the protective equipment that health care workers wear so they can get in and out of it safer and be safer as they conduct the response.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For the next time or whatever comes next.

    RAJIV SHAH: And for the reminder of this year, what has to happen to get to zero.

    We have distributed ruggedized Android devices so health care workers can collect data, project it into a central system, and we can get resources out to people who are positive right away. We have put new labs and diagnostics in place. And we’re constantly inventing new ways of monitoring patients without touching them, so that health care workers can be protected and people can do better in terms of survival.

    And that basic focus on business, science and technology has transformed the effectiveness of this response and frankly has transformed a lot of how America projects its development and humanitarian work around the world.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so for this next phase, what kind of presence will still be there?  What kind of infrastructure will remain?

    RAJIV SHAH: Well, USAID will continue to have our disaster assistance response team coordinating the whole of government effort.

    We will have about 100 service personnel after April from the military manning the labs and doing some of the specialized work that they have done so effectively and that I’m so proud of. We will continue to have hundreds of experts from the Centers for Disease Control. And we will continue to have nearly 10,000 humanitarian workers, most of whom are local, most of whom have been trained in protective activity, and most of whom will be the basis of a resilient and strong health system that we will seek to build in the coming year.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You were mentioning the situation in this country, where there was some panic for a while.

    Are you concerned that, from what you saw, that we’re not ready for what may come at some point, the potential for the next epidemic?

    RAJIV SHAH: Well, because the president took a very science-based approach, and didn’t panic, but invested in readiness and preparedness, we are far more prepared today in the United States than we were even a little while ago.

    So, no, I’m not concerned. We will have — you know, there’s always the risk that a health care worker who’s been a hero on the ground in West Africa may contract the disease, and come back with that and get treated, but today the capacity to provide that treatment far exceeds what it did before because we invested in that preparedness.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And quite — and very briefly, on the ground in the West African countries, you also think they’re better prepared now?  They have got past the fear that we saw in the beginning?

    RAJIV SHAH: Well, not only are they better prepared, but we have built a pretty amazing logistics and transportation and training system that allows us to have the confidence to know that, when there are cases of Ebola, we can see it.

    We have modern data systems to identify it, and we can get resources to isolate those patients as quickly as possible and try to save their lives.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Rajiv Shah of the USAID.

    And you are leaving your post this week. So good luck. Thank you for joining us.

    RAJIV SHAH: Thank you.

    The post Ebola efforts shift from keeping up with new cases to eliminating the epidemic appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A cadet on the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A new report suggests that sexual assaults on the campuses of U.S. military acdemies are down. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    A cadet on the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A new report suggests that sexual assaults on the campuses of U.S. military acdemies are down. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Students at the three military service academies reported fewer sexual assaults in the most recent school year, and a Pentagon anonymous survey shows that the number of students saying they experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact also declined.

    The newly released data caps a year that saw the military continue to struggle with high-profile sexual assault cases among leaders and in the schools. But the report suggests there has been some progress in the schools as the Pentagon continues its push to increase training, improve services for victims and encourage students to come forward and report or intervene when bad conduct happens.

    Senior Pentagon leaders said the academies are working on ways to deal with persistent concerns about the role of alcohol use in many assaults as well as bad behavior and disrespect among athletes and alcohol use. But they said there is still much work to be done and that reviews continue.

    The new report found that there were 61 reported sexual assaults at the academies — the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado — in the 2013-14 school year, compared with 70 in 2012-13. The anonymous survey showed a similar decrease in the number of students who say they experienced unwanted sexual contact.

    According to the survey, about 8 percent of female students and 1 percent of men said they experienced unwanted sexual contact, compared to 12.4 percent and 2 percent respectively when the questionnaire was last done, in 2012. That represents a decrease of about 200 assault victims, the Pentagon estimated.

    Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, director of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention program, said those survey results represented the most dramatic decline in the last 10 years. At West Point, the number of those saying they experience unwanted sexual contact was the lowest ever. And the naval academy cut the 2012 number in half.

    The survey also found, however, that more than 40 percent of students who said they experienced unwanted sexual contact said they also perceived that they faced retaliation, either from their leadership or socially from other cadets or midshipmen. The report was released Wednesday.

    This was the first time the academy report looked at potential retaliation, but the findings mirror a recent survey of the U.S. military that said more than 60 percent of the women who said they filed sexual assault complaints also said they perceived some type of retaliation. Those numbers raised concerns among congressional lawmakers, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in December that officials must tackle the retaliation problem head on.

    “The continued prevalence of these crimes and the retaliation that takes place evidences a flawed military culture and underscores the fact that much more needs to be done,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

    The survey also revealed mixed results on sexual harassment.

    Overall, nearly half the women at the academies and 10 percent of the men said they perceived some type of sexual harassment. Two years ago, the numbers were higher for women, but about the same for men.

    But the academies differed widely, with the Navy showing a sharp decline in harassment of women, while the other two schools had increases.

    The differences, said Nate Galbreath, senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention office, underscores the different environments at the academies and the need to make sure leaders are addressing the problems.

    Snow said the military continues to be concerned about the retaliation issue. But he also said that victims more often perceive some type of social backlash from their peers rather than professional retaliation from senior officers or leaders.

    The Pentagon has been under increasing pressure from top leaders and lawmakers to reduce sexual assaults across the military, improve treatment for victims and address some of the underlying problems, such as alcohol use.

    At the academies, officials have specifically pointed to drinking and disrespect and poor leadership among athletes as potential problems.

    According to the data, the number of reported sexual assaults increased at the Naval Academy, from 15 in the 2012-2013 school year to 23 last year. The number went up very slightly at West Point, from 10 to 11, and the total at the Air Force Academy plunged from 45 to 27.

    More than half the women who said in the survey that they experienced unwanted sexual contact also said alcohol was involved in some way. Less than 30 percent of the men said alcohol played a role, said Elizabeth Van Winkle, who oversaw the survey. She said that the rates were higher for seniors, who are usually older and have more access. And she said that alcohol also appeared to be involved more often in incidents that occurred off the academy campus.

    Based on the decline in reports and the survey results showing a drop in unwanted sexual contact, the Pentagon concluded that 1 in every 6 victims came forward in the last year, compared to 1 in 10 the previous year.

    Military officials have been developing programs and training across the services to reduce the stigma and encourage victims to report assaults. And they consistently say that they want to see reporting numbers go up to show that programs are working and victims have confidence in them.

    The post Fewer reported sex assaults at military academies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The topic of energy often fuels political debate.

    But, as our next report shows, water might be putting out some of those fires. The U.S. Department of Energy says hydropower has the potential to generate electricity for more than four million homes.

    Our story comes from Dan Boyce of Inside Energy. That’s a public media collaboration working with the NewsHour.

    DAN BOYCE, Inside Energy: This is what a lot of us think of when we hear the word hydropower, but in a lot of ways, this is the old face of hydro in the U.S., and this is the new face.

    So, Bev, this is all it is.

    BEVERLY RICH, San Juan County Historical Society: This is it.

    DAN BOYCE: A generator the size of a wheelbarrow pulling in water from a mountain stream, generating enough power for about 10 homes. This little generator has helped change the course of hydro-history.

    BEVERLY RICH: Come on, really?  This little, tiny thing in a 5-foot-by-10-foot building is causing all of this?

    DAN BOYCE: Beverly Rich and other members of the volunteer San Juan County Historical Society started taking care of this old mill site about 15 years ago, a mill with a water pipeline the workers used decades ago to help process precious metals like gold and silver.

    BEVERLY RICH: At that time, we kept thinking, gee, there really ought to be a way we can use that water.

    DAN BOYCE: They started trying to get the federal licensing needed to install a power generator.

    BEVERLY RICH: And had no idea how really onerous it is for really tiny, tiny, little projects. We were having to jump through the same hoops that if you’re going to build Boulder Dam.

    DAN BOYCE: That’s the old name for the Hoover Dam. And she’s not exaggerating. A lot of projects generating electricity from water had to go through the same federal scrutiny as the giant dams of old, that is, until August of 2013.

    REP. ED WHITFIELD (R), Kentucky: The other bill under consideration today is hydropower legislation.

    DAN BOYCE: Advocates of small hydropower projects worked up a pair of bills for Congress. And the mill project in Silverton was on full display as a prime example of their problem.

    KURT JOHNSON, Hydropower Consultant: It’s a long overdue, cost-effective, commonsense measure.

    DAN BOYCE: This legislation streamlined the federal licensing process for small hydropower projects, cutting it down from years to as little as 60 days. And the legislation didn’t just pass.

    BEVERLY RICH: Incredibly enough, in this — in this horrible time of gridlock, it passed unanimously.

    DAN BOYCE: The bills hit this rare bipartisan sweet spot, says energy analyst Cameron Brooks. For Republican lawmakers, the legislation shrank federal bureaucracy.

    CAMERON BROOKS, Energy Analyst: It’s really cutting through red tape and helping push forward something that can create jobs.

    DAN BOYCE: And for Democrats, it meant a win for renewable energy and, most importantly, doing so without putting new dams on America’s rivers.

    The result?  More small projects like the one in Silverton are getting approved more quickly. So, for the small hydropower industry, national lawmakers really did their job. There are still problems for hydro, though. And so advocates are still looking for more still from Capitol Hill.

    KURT JOHNSON: This is a great example of enormous amount of mechanical energy, which is currently completely wasted.

    DAN BOYCE: Hydropower consultant Kurt Johnson testified at the congressional hearing on the 2013 bills. As helpful as he thinks that legislation was, he compares it to gently taking a kitchen knife to the government’s red tape.

    KURT JOHNSON: We need another round of legislation, perhaps to get a machete, and further clear out some of those regulatory barriers.

    DAN BOYCE: For starters, hydropower advocates want bigger production tax credits, like wind power used to enjoy, but those credits came to an end of last year. And many Republicans express reservations in continuing them further.

    Also, as far as Johnson is concerned, for little generators like the mill in Silverton, it shouldn’t just be a matter of reducing the licensing process.

    KURT JOHNSON: If projects are tiny and non-controversial, why is the federal government involved at all?

    DAN BOYCE: Legislation to ease hydropower expansion will likely make a reappearance in the new Congress. Why?  Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has taken over as the new Republican chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

    She’s on record as a hydro-booster, saying it’s an undeveloped resource and could do more to support economic development and job creation.

    As far as the country’s energy needs, there is vast potential. This is Button Rock Dam in Northern Colorado. There’s no generator hooked up here. If there were:

    KURT JOHNSON: It would generate enough electricity to power about 500 average local homes.

    DAN BOYCE: And that project would still be considered small hydropower. Projects more than twice as big are lumped in as small.

    There are some 80,000 dams in this country, small, and medium-sized and giant. Right now, only 3 percent are being used to generate hydropower, so there’s a lot of room for growth, equal to the power generated by about a dozen coal-fired power plants.

    Dan Boyce in Denver for the PBS NewsHour.

    The post Increasing hydropower hits a bipartisan sweet spot appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: He’s a former reporter for The Chicago Tribune who stopped covering politics to advise Democratic candidates. In 2008, David Axelrod was the chief strategist and media adviser for then Senator Barack Obama’s successful presidential bid.

    He spent two years as a White House senior adviser and re-upped for the 2012 reelection campaign, his final as a political operative. Now he’s the director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and the author of the new book “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.”

    David Axelrod, welcome.

    DAVID AXELROD, Author, “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics”: Good to be here, Judy. Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the title says it all, “Believer.”  You believe — of course, you believe in Barack Obama, but you…

    DAVID AXELROD: But it’s more than that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: … believe in American politics.

    DAVID AXELROD: I really do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But my question is why, when so many Americans don’t right now?

    DAVID AXELROD: Well, that’s actually one of the reasons why I wanted to write the book.

    In fact, I wanted the subtitle on the cover to be “How My Idealism Survived 40 Years in Politics.”  And that’s really part of the story. I started — my interest in politics goes back to when I was 5 years old and John F. Kennedy came to my community in New York.

    And, you know, I learned later what he said. But I was struck by the importance of the scene.

    But what he said was, I’m not saying that, if you elect me, everything will be good. This is a hazardous occupation, being an American citizen in the 1960s, filled with hope and challenge. And we will decide which path we take.

    And the message was, through politics and through this process, we can steer the course of history, and that seemed very big to me and it still seems very big to me and very true.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s also a lot harder than you thought it was going to be, than anybody thought it was going to be, including this president.

    Why is it so hard? What is it that — about the system that makes it so hard to get things done?

    DAVID AXELROD: Well, I think it’s a confluence of things.

    And let’s certify that we have the sense that politics is much more difficult now. In some ways, it was. We have had times in our country when a sitting vice president killed a former treasury secretary over politics. We have had canings in the U.S. Senate and civil wars. So we shouldn’t get too carried away.

    But I think the media environment, for one thing, has made politics more difficult, this sort of immediacy of the Twitter, social media age, in which a news cycle or several can get hijacked by stories that ultimately mean nothing. And there’s very little time for reflection. That makes it harder.

    I think the money that you see in politics today and the proliferation of advertising and some of those techniques have made it more difficult, polarization, that — some because of redistricting, some because of demographics. There are a lot of reasons for it.

    That said, that said, Judy, I still think we have the ability to do big things. And we have seen it, when you think about what’s happened in the last six years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something, because you are — you have idealism. You say the system, the idea of what politics can do that’s good is really important.

    DAVID AXELROD: Yes. Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you also are critical of most members of Congress. You say they’re very focused on the next election. You say the president feels that same way, too.

    How can you believe in the process and the idea of what it can accomplish, and not believe in the people who practice…

    DAVID AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think it’s always been thus, that the majority — the world of politics divides into two categories, the more numerous category of people who run for office because they want to be something. And then there’s a smaller and very admirable category of people who run for office because they want to do something. And I have been attracted to those people.

    The one thing you said that I disagree with is, if any — I think the president is someone who’s in that second category, and probably has ignored politics to a fault at times, because he believes that, when you get elected, you’re elected to do things and not just be something. And I admired him for it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you were asked — I saw an interview where you were asked about why he doesn’t reach out to — more naturally to more members of Congress, and you said he’s been disappointed in them.

    DAVID AXELROD: Yes. Well, I think he’s — and I also said that I think he hasn’t related to them in the right way at all times.

    But, on the other hand, I look at this guy, and at the set of decisions that he made when I was in the White House, in those first two very difficult years, where I believe he saved the American economy, or very much helped to save the American economy, the auto industry, made a very difficult decision on health care.

    Some politicians criticize him for it, because they say it was a bad political decision. He knew it was a bad political decision, but he thought it was the right decision for the country. That inspires me and a lot of people who have health care today who wouldn’t otherwise have had it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You talk about a number of things that he’d like to do. Now he is focused on the middle class, you said something that he talked a lot about during the campaign, but he hasn’t been able to focus in a singular way on it.

    And you actually put some of the blame on the American people for not participating.

    DAVID AXELROD: Well, I do.

    I think that there’s a great deal of cynicism. You look at primary elections, where 10 and 15 and 20 percent of the people participate, and they’re essentially taken over by the most extreme voices in the parties. And that’s contributed to some of the problems we have.

    Democracy is a participatory exercise. And if you walk away from it, you’re doing so at your own risk.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You — I have to ask you about Hillary Clinton…


    JUDY WOODRUFF: … of course, his main primary opponent in 2008.

    You write, she was smart, she was able, good in many ways as a candidate. She didn’t win. What’s different about the challenge she faces, assuming she runs in 2016?

    DAVID AXELROD: I think she had the experience of running and learning from that. She’s had experience since then outside of elective politics.

    But the times are different as well. I believe that the outgoing incumbent sets the terms of the election. In 19 — in 2008, people were looking at George Bush and they thought he was a bit bombastic, kind of Manichaean in the way he saw the world, black and white.

    They wanted someone who saw the nuances and who understood the gray, and they picked a guy named Barack Obama. And he did do that, and he was the right man for the times. I think the pendulum swung back a little now.

    They don’t want someone who is going to challenge the system, so much as someone who can manage the system, someone who knows the system.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Because they think the president didn’t do that…

    DAVID AXELROD: I think that there’s a feeling that he didn’t do that.

    I think he’s been incredibly accomplished. I think history will be good to him in that regard. But that is one place where you would say, yes, he hasn’t been a great manager of events in Washington.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The tricky thing about writing a book while…

    DAVID AXELROD: And, by the way, I think Hillary will appeal to people on that basis, because they see her as someone who may have the ability to manage the system a little better.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re not the only one who has written a book while the president’s still in office. Doesn’t that put you, though, in a place where you can’t say everything you want to say?

    I mean, you — for example, you wrote some things about how the president felt one way about same-sex marriage. At the same time, he couldn’t — you said, couldn’t or wasn’t ready to say that publicly. He said in an interview yesterday that you, David Axelrod, were mixing up his personal feelings…

    DAVID AXELROD: Yes, but then, when you saw the quote, I really don’t disagree with what he said. He said: I had my personal view and then I had my public position, and I was frustrated at times about that.

    And that’s exactly what I wrote. So I don’t know have any disagreement with him on that. Look, you know, the thing is, Judy, this wasn’t just his story. This is my story. This is my life story. And, so, I couldn’t wait to write my own story.

    I understand the disquiet on the part of some — about some of the books that have been written, but I just wanted to write a story about my own journey to try and make the case that it’s worthwhile to engage in this process. And that’s why I’m running the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago. We need people to believe that we can shape our future and not walk away from this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Axelrod, “Believer,” your forty years in politics.

    It’s great to see you in Washington again.

    DAVID AXELROD: Great to see you. Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you for talking to us.

    DAVID AXELROD: Thanks for having me.

    The post David Axelrod on Obama, Clinton and still believing in the political process after 40 years appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Obama delivers a statement on legislation sent to Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State from the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, President Obama today asked Congress for a war powers resolution, a measure to generally approve the use military force against the Islamic State group.

    Here’s Jeffrey Brown.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The question now, how will Congress respond to the proposal, the first such war powers request from this president?

    We are joined by two senators, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, who’s pushed for a resolution granting war powers to go before Congress, and Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer, who’s just returned from a briefing and discussion on this issue for Senate Republicans.

    And, Senator Fischer, let me start with you. What are you hearing from your colleagues? Some have already said they think this is too narrowly drawn, not giving this president and the next one enough flexibility. What do you think?

    SEN. DEB FISCHER, (R) Nebraska: What I’m looking forward to is a discussion by Congress on the resolution.

    We’re going to have committee hearings. We’re going to be calling witnesses, really get some facts from the administration. What I would like to say is, we’re going to do our jobs, and it’s going to be open, it’s going to be transparent, so that the public understands what the president is asking for, how Congress is responding to his request, and have that open process.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Senator Kaine, we heard you earlier in the program saying that the resolution leaves perhaps too much room for the president. Explain the concerns you have.

    SEN. TIM KAINE, (D) Virginia: Well, first, I’m very glad that the president sent this to Congress, because we shouldn’t be at war without a congressional debate and vote.

    And there’s much in the authorization that I like. We passed one in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, and it’s similar in many instances.

    The provision about ground troops makes me nervous, because it’s kind of vague and broad. It basically says ground troops can’t be used, except — can’t be used for enduring offensive combat operations, but it doesn’t describe what that means.

    And one lesson I think we should have learned from the authorizations that were passed in 2001 and 2002 is, vague, undefined language can lead you into circumstances that you didn’t contemplate. So, as Deb mentioned, we’re going to be having hearings. And those hearings will be to pepper witnesses with questions and put some shape and definition to the authorization based on how the hearings go.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Deb Fischer, what do you think about that language, specifically about ground troops?

    SEN. DEB FISCHER: Well, you know, I’m looking forward to having the administration explain what they mean by that.

    I kind of disagree with my colleague here. I believe the commander in chief needs to have flexibility. I think a commander in chief should be able to listen to his advisers, to the generals, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are going to provide him with facts, with information on what’s happening on the ground.

    And then he needs to have that flexibility in order to make a wise decision on how best our country is going to be served. To put a lot of limits on a commander in chief, to put those into an AUMF, I don’t know if that’s the wise course that we should take.

    I think we’re going to learn more as we go through the committee process. There will be a number of committees that are going to be involved in that process. And I’m hopeful that the administration will put forth a strategy, an endgame that we haven’t seen so far.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You know, Tim Kaine, another key issue here and contentious, the president proposes replacing the 2002 authorization that was for use of force in Iraq, but not the 2001 authorization after 9/11.

    SEN. TIM KAINE: Right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think he should have gone further and dropped the 2001 authorization?

    SEN. TIM KAINE: Jeffrey, I do think that we need to revise the 2001 authorization, absolutely.

    I don’t think we necessarily have to do it within the framework of this ISIL authorization, because I think you can take them up separately, but we should be urgent about it.

    I’ll tell you, one issue in the hearings that I’m going to be really focused on is the extent of our coalition partners. The U.S. can’t police a region that won’t police itself. And that’s one of the reasons I’m worried about the ground troop provision. If it has to rely on U.S. ground troops, it almost certainly means that the region isn’t stepping up to fight its own homegrown terrorist threat.

    And they need to do that. And if they do, we can vigorously assist them. But unless they’re showing the willingness to battle the threat that is its own region’s terrorist threat, it’s going to be very difficult for us to accomplish the mission, at least inside of those countries.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Senator Fischer, you said several times you’re eager for these hearings, you’re eager to learn more. What is your biggest concern at point as you look at the specific language? What worries you the most?

    SEN. DEB FISCHER: Well, as I said earlier, what I’m looking for is an end state. What’s the strategy here?

    We haven’t really seen what the goals are. We hear about degrading and defeating ISIS. Are we at the point right now where we’re just looking at degrading them? We have to look at three things, I think. What’s going to happen with Syria? How are we going to address Assad? How are we going to then look at Iraq? What are we looking for in Iraq?

    It’s a very destabilized country there. Is the goal a unified Iraq? And of course we have to confront Iran and their ambitions in that region. I haven’t heard anything from the president or the administration on where we are with regards to an overall view of what happens in that region of the world.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think, Senator Fischer, about the language of a specific time period, three years?

    SEN. DEB FISCHER: I think it limits the next president of the United States. I don’t believe we have seen that in AUMFs before. To put that three-year time period on is a limitation that doesn’t give the president, either this president or the next president, the flexibility that they need.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Senator Kaine, what do you think about that time period?

    SEN. TIM KAINE: I think we need a sunset, because what we learned in the aftermath of the very brief authorizations that were passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002 is, if you impose no limitation in time, no limitation in geography, and if you put in vague and undefined terms, then you lead to a situation where Pentagon officials today say that they think we will be in the war declared in ’01 AUMF for another 25 or 30 years.

    That’s not what Congress intended when they passed the law. And a sunset doesn’t mean operations finish. It just means that a president has to come back to Congress and says, here’s the status; now we need to move to a next chapter.

    That kind of review is helpful.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so I know it’s just day one here, and there’s a lot to go, but very briefly, where we stand now, Senator Kaine, will it pass? Will you vote for it?

    SEN. TIM KAINE: Something is going to pass because there’s an overwhelming bipartisan consensus that we need to be in this military action against ISIL. There are a lot of questions to ask and there will probably be some amendments. But I think we will get there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Senator Fischer, what do you think?

    SEN. DEB FISCHER: I want to go through the process. I want to have a full understanding. And I want that open and transparent process for the American people. This is a serious issue when we send our young people to war.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Senator Deb Fischer, Senator Tim Kaine, thank you very both much.

    SEN. TIM KAINE: Thanks so much.

    SEN. DEB FISCHER: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We get reaction to this decision and the larger issues here.

    David Westin is the former president of ABC News. He’s now the principal at Witherbee Holdings, which advises and invests in media companies. Max Frankel is the former executive editor of The New York Times. And Kelly McBride is a leading voice on ethical issues at The Poynter Institute.

    And we welcome all three of you.

    Kelly McBride, I’m going to start with you.

    I think some are questioning why NBC made this decision to suspend Brian Williams before they had finished their internal investigation. What do you make of that? What do you make of the punishment?

    KELLY MCBRIDE, Vice President of Academic Programs, Poynter Institute: Well, it was a little bit mysterious, because, normally, a media company would say what they were suspending the individual for, so that there would be some sort of record of it.

    So the fact that they suspended him before their investigation is complete, maybe it was a P.R. move. Maybe it was more about the public relations than the journalism. Maybe they wanted to buy themselves some time in order to figure out what their next strategic move is. And it’s possible that Brian Williams will never come back on the air.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Max Frankel, what do you make of the punishment and how this was done?

    MAX FRANKEL, Former Executive Editor, The New York Times: Well, breach of trust was the accusation, and I think that’s exactly the right charge.

    They are buying time. They are worried about the financial investment in “The Nightly News”, which is an enormous part of the NBC operation. There may be a chance for remorse and rehabilitation, as their announcement suggested, but, frankly, I’m very skeptical. I think the breach of trust — “I saw something with my eyes and what I have reported to you on camera was wrong.”  That’s a very serious distortion of what the job of a news anchor should be, and I agree that he may never get back.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Westin, how do you size this up, as someone who has sat at the head of a news division for a competing network?

    DAVID WESTIN, Former President, ABC News: Well, of course, I don’t know what the thinking was of Steve Burke or the management of NBC News.

    From where I sit, I think what Steve did was just about exactly right. On the one hand, he needed quickly to get out with a statement that the breach of trust that Max refers to is inexcusable and is terribly important to them. He needs to communicate with his own organization, as well as with the public, that they take this extremely seriously.

    And as far as the investigation goes, we don’t know what that will show, but what Brian already admitted to constitutes a breach of trust. At the same time, I think Steve was right in trying to hold out some hope for Brian and saying that they were rooting for him and people deserve a second chance, because at least when I was in situations that were difficult, maybe not this situation, but others, I wanted to only decide the things I needed to decide, and see how it plays out, because right now I don’t think anyone knows all the facts.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead, Max Frankel.

    MAX FRANKEL: The question of the future turns on what he can do in the future.

    Can he sit down and ask Hillary Clinton about what it was like running away from bullets that weren’t there? Can he confront a president who says, I’m not a crook? Can he incredibly interrogate lying politicians, if you will, without them turning the tables on him?

    That’s the future that Brian has to face, and he has to be able to persuade an audience that all of that is in the past and that he can responsibly deal with the tensions of the news in the future. It’s a tall order.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that raises the question, Kelly McBride, I wanted to ask you, and that is, what does determine whether he comes back and what is at stake, truly, here for NBC?

    KELLY MCBRIDE: Well, I think NBC is asking two questions. And one is the credibility question Max is asking right now. Can he ask those tough questions of sources and do it with any amount of integrity and credibility?

    And then the second thing is, is, will the audience trust him? And that’s a gamble. Six months from now, if they decide to put him back on the air, they will be looking at revisiting this whole mess, and, by then, the audience may have attached to another anchor and may be completely willing to move on with somebody else.

    So they’re really looking at a numbers game. What can they reasonably expect the audience to do between now and then, and then what makes sense in six months in terms of putting him back on the air? Is it worth the gamble then or now?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to turn to David, to David Westin.

    How do you see that? And, David, I mean, I have a conflict of interests here, as a news anchor, in asking this, but how much does it matter who a network puts in the anchor seat, when you see the audience gravitating so rapidly to news that’s on demand and not appointment viewing?

    DAVID WESTIN: Well, certainly, the business is going through traumatic changes.

    And that may partly be what underlies the overall movement of television news toward more branding and marketing, which I think is a broader problem than just Brian Williams or NBC News.

    But, at the same time, as you know, Judy, there are still I think roughly 8.5 million, nine million people who tune in to “NBC Nightly News” every night. That is a very large audience compared to anything you’re seeing online, as a practical matter.

    And don’t misunderstand me. I agree that this is a very high hill for Brian to climb. I just am not prepared yet to conclude he hasn’t done it. If I were at NBC News, I would be looking at how the public reacts over the next six months. I would be looking at how Brian conducts himself.

    And most important. I would be looking at how at what else we find out in the investigation. I just wouldn’t be willing to rule it out. And one last point, just to make us think about it. I agree with Max that asking those questions will be difficult for him if he comes back.

    On the other hand, if he comes back, he will be a different and better anchor and journalist than he’s ever been before. He will be truly purer than Caesar’s wife because he will need to prove to everyone every day that he takes the truth extremely seriously.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Max Frankel, I guess I want to ask, what — are standards changing for what anchors need to be and do because of this dramatic move to digital and on demand?

    MAX FRANKEL: Yes. Well, there is another villain in this whole story, and it’s this camera.

    You know, before I left the house, I had to worry about my haircut which I didn’t get. I had to powder my nose to cover up the scar. The diva nature of the anchors, the fact that the networks are selling the reader, the presenter of the news, rather than the news itself, it means that not just Brian, but a lot of us are very envious of Jon Stewart, because he can be the persona, he can be the comedian, he can be the entertainer, he can relate to the audience in a way that those of us who deal in news shouldn’t.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings me finally to a question to Kelly about Jon Stewart and the effect he’s had on so-called real news.

    KELLY MCBRIDE: Well, sure.

    Jon Stewart was a game-changer himself. Seventeen years ago, he invented a form of media criticism that has come to dominate the industry now. And it is the preferred source of news for certain generations. And that’s not new. That was 10 years ago when that information came out.

    We all sort of shook our heads and said, really? Jon Stewart? And now it makes perfect sense. As we have gotten more and more voices into the marketplace of ideas, the funny guy stands out. The guy who can be clever, who can develop a rapport and who can pick and choose what topics he covers, that’s a lot easier of a job than sitting in the nightly news chair and playing it straight.

    And that’s really why — when we go back to Brian Williams, that’s why there was such pressure to develop that personable brand, that guy in the middle of it all. It made him stand apart from his competitors, because he had to not just compete against the other nightly news, but against Jon Stewart.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And very quickly, David Westin, what does that mean for whoever replaces or whether Brian Williams comes back?

    DAVID WESTIN: I hope that there is some good that comes out of all of this. And I feel very badly for Brian and for NBC News.

    I would hope that all the newsrooms, instead of gloating about what has happened over at NBC News, take a hard look at themselves and ask themselves, are their anchors and their correspondents covering the story or are they trying to be part of the story? Because I think that’s the fundamental weakness, even evil that underlies this. And everyone can take a hard look at themselves and learn from that.

    MAX FRANKEL: Amen.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: We heard the amen.

    We want to thank all three of you, David Westin, Max Frankel, Kelly McBride. Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Online, we did collect eight unforgettable moments from “The Daily Show.”  You can find those clips on our home page at PBS.org/NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It was uncharted territory this morning for NBC’s “Today Show” and the rest of the network news division. Overnight came word that “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams is suspended for six months, without pay.

    In a staff memo, NBC News president Deborah Turness said Williams misrepresented an incident from the Iraq war. The judgment of NBC Universal president Steve Burke was harsher still. “By his actions,” said Burke, “Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate.”

    ANNOUNCER: From NBC new world headquarters in New York, this is “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams.”

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Williams ascended to the anchor’s chair more than a decade ago. His remarkably swift fall began January 30, with a report on his war experiences in Iraq back in 2003.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, Anchor, “NBC Nightly News”: When the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armored mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Then, last week, Williams recanted the story to Stars and Stripes after members of the helicopter crew said he’d arrived on the scene an hour after the attack.

    That sparked criticism from media analysts, mockery on social media and an internal NBC investigation.

    It also prompted on-air apology:

    BRIAN WILLIAMS: I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it didn’t end there. New questions arose about Williams’ assertions that, in New Orleans, during Hurricane Katrina, he saw a body floating in the French Quarter and gangs infiltrated his hotel.

    Amid the furor, Williams began a voluntary leave of absence this week, but suggested he’d return. Now it’s unclear if he will ever return, but, in the interim, Lester Holt will anchor “Nightly News.”  Less clear is who will fill another anchor seat.

    JON STEWART, Host, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”: Seventeen years is the longest I have ever in my life held a job, by 16 years and five months.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jon Stewart announced last night he’s retiring later this year from “The Daily Show,” Comedy Central’s highly popular faux news program.

    JON STEWART: I’m going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard, from multiple sources, are lovely people.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: The news of his leaving took social media by storm. On Twitter alone, more than 250,000 posts mentioned The Daily Show.

    During his time at the helm, Stewart has mentored the likes of Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Larry Wilmore, all of whom went on to have their own shows. A date for Stewart’s final show has not been set.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq has done little to stop foreign fighters from joining the Islamic State. U.S. intelligence leaders told a House hearing today that some 20,000 foreign fighters from 90 countries have joined the militants. That includes up to 150 Americans who’ve tried to reach the war zone inside Syria.

    In Yemen, Britain and France joined the U.S. in closing their embassies, as turmoil spread in the capital city. Crowds protested today in Sanaa against Shiite rebels who took over the government last week. The rebels patrolled the streets and there were scattered reports of beatings and even stabbings.

    Rod Nordland of The New York Times is in Sanaa, I and spoke with him a short time ago.

    Rod Nordland, welcome.

    We understand not only did officials at the U.S. Embassy close it down. They have also abandoned cars at the airport in Sanaa, left weapons in the cars. What is the situation on the ground now?

    ROD NORDLAND, The New York Times: Well, they did, but they also left in an orderly way.

    They went into the airport and got on commercial flights. And the Houthis, who are in control of things here, say that they’re just taking those cars for safekeeping and they’re following Yemeni law. And they’re doing their best to try to prevent it from blowing up into any bigger incident than it is actually.

    The surprising thing is, it’s actually really pretty calm on the streets in Sanaa these days.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you say the attitude is of this new Houthi government toward the U.S.?

    ROD NORDLAND: Well, they’re trying to desperately to reach out to the United States and to try to persuade them that they want to be on friendly terms. And they haven’t had much success doing that.

    I think the Americans want to see a government in place and one that the Houthis agreed on with other parties, and not one that is just completely dominated by them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know that the U.S. and the Houthis are on the same side of the fight against al-Qaida. Could that make for cooperation, is it thought?

    ROD NORDLAND: Well, I think it’s already making for cooperation.

    You know, the Houthis have long campaign against American drone strikes, even though they’re against their bitter enemies, al-Qaida. And since taking control, they have done nothing to interfere with those. In fact, they have dialed back anti-drone and anti-American rhetoric.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Rod, with no U.S. Embassy there, how are they trying to reach out to the U.S.?  What is the message?

    ROD NORDLAND: Well, they have been — I interviewed their leader here a couple of days ago and he was very adamant about trying to have better relations with the U.S. And he even went so far as to pretty much repudiate their slogan, which includes “Death to America,” and say that’s just a slogan, we don’t mean it literally. You know, we want to be friends with the United States and with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.

    And he even played down their connection to Iran. It’s widely believed that the Iranians finance them. But he said that wasn’t true and they didn’t want to see the Iranians make way in Yemen either. And so it’s a very reassuring message, but it’s hard for the Americans to take that seriously when, first of all, they don’t have an actual government to deal with here, whether it’s a Houthi or other government including the Houthi. And I think they want to see that before they move forward.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly is some interesting signals.

    Rod Nordland talking to us from Sanaa, thank you.

    ROD NORDLAND: You’re welcome.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And as U.S. diplomats leave Yemen, there’s word the American military exit from Afghanistan may be delayed. The Washington Post reports the administration is considering keeping more troops there for longer than planned. The current plan calls for ending the U.S. military mission entirely by early 2017.

    The leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine gathered this evening for new talks to end the fighting in Eastern Ukraine. The summit took place in Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus. A cease-fire announced there last fall has collapsed in a new surge of combat between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops.

    Another momentous meeting played out in Brussels, as European finance ministers focused on Greece and its debt. When it was over, the two sides disagreed on whether they had made any progress. But, earlier, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said she would consider the Greek government’s ideas for renegotiating a bailout deal.

    CHRISTINE LAGARDE, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (through interpreter): They are absolutely competent, intelligent. They have thought about their issues. We have to listen to them. We have to start working together. And it is a process that is starting. And it is going to last a certain time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Greece’s current bailout ends on February 28.

    The U.N. Refugee Agency reports more than 300 migrants have died this week trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. It is the latest in a string of such disasters. The victims had no food, water, or way to stay warm and their small rubber boats were overwhelmed by heavy winter seas.

    Also today, the captain of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia was found guilty of manslaughter and abandoning his ship. Francesco Schettino now faces 13 — 16 years, that is, in prison for the deaths of 32 people. The cruise ship smashed into rocks off the island of Giglio in January of 2012. The ship filled with water, and rolled onto its side.

    Back in this country, the fight over funding the federal Department of Homeland Security heated up. Though in the minority, Democrats have blocked Senate action on a Republican-backed House bill that funds the department, but undoes the president’s executive orders on immigration.

    That prompted this today from House Speaker John Boehner:

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (Speaker of the House:
    You know, in the gift shop out here, they have got these little booklets on how a bill becomes a law, right?  The House has done its job. Now, why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they are going to get off their ass and do something, other than to vote no?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A Senate Democrat spokesman responded that — quote — “Cursing is not going to resolve the issue.”

    Senate Republicans have said it’s up to the House. Without further action, the Homeland Security Department runs out of money February 27.

    The House gave final approval this afternoon to a bill approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. It now heads to a certain veto at the hands of President Obama. He has said he wants the federal review process to play out. The pipeline would allow oil from Canada’s tar sands to flow to Gulf Coast refineries.

    And on Wall Street, stocks marked time, as investors watched the European meetings on Greece. The Dow Jones industrial average lost six points to close near 17860; the Nasdaq rose 13 points on the day; and the S&P 500 was virtually unchange

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    President Barack Obama will sign a bill Thursday that aims to reduce suicide among military veterans. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    President Barack Obama will sign a bill Thursday that aims to reduce suicide among military veterans. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is joining with lawmakers and government leaders to cast a spotlight on the issue of suicide among veterans.

    Obama on Thursday will sign the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act into law. First lady Michelle Obama, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald and veterans are expected to attend the White House ceremony.

    The measure is named for a Marine who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hunt killed himself in 2011 in Texas.

    The bill creates a pilot program to help veterans transition out of active duty, and it creates a website to provide veterans with information about available mental health services.

    The bill also requires the VA’s suicide prevention programs to be evaluated annually by a third party.

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    Ashton Carter, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee to be secretary of defense, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 4, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Ashton Carter, U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 4, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Senate is on track to confirm President Barack Obama’s pick to run the Pentagon.

    A vote is scheduled for Thursday afternoon on Ashton Carter’s nomination. If confirmed, Carter will be Obama’s fourth defense secretary in six years.

    He will replace Chuck Hagel, the Vietnam War veteran and former Republican senator who struggled with Obama’s tight-knit group of national security advisers.

    The 60-year-old Carter — a physicist by training — served as the Pentagon’s second-ranking official from 2011 to 2013.

    As defense secretary, he will face the unenviable task of steering the nation’s military as the United States tries to defeat Islamic State militants, stop Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and wind down the war in Afghanistan. He also will face smaller Pentagon budgets.

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    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Detroit Economic Club in Michigan on Feb. 4. Bush, the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush, is considering becoming a Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 election. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke at the Detroit Economic Club in Michigan on Feb. 4, in what could have been a tone setter for a presidential campaign. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • Behind Bush’s rollout strategy
    • The advantages of trying to frame thorny issues
    • Scott Walker struggles with question about evolution
    • The one Republican who voted against Keystone

    Jeb’s strategy: For someone who is supposedly not running yet for president, Jeb Bush is running what is pretty close to a full-on presidential campaign. There have been bumps on the road — his digital chief who quit before barely starting because of misogynistic (and more) tweets. And his email dump — meant to pre-butt criticism — that was unredacted and included some sensitive constituent information. But when you step back, you can see his campaign is trying to orchestrate a careful message rollout, complete with a string of policy speeches meant to frame thorny issues — as well as media pushback and outreach through his PAC, Right to Rise, that looks more like the rapid response during a presidential than any other campaign yet.

    Choosing the framework: Bush laid out his overarching theme for his candidacy with his speech in Detroit — a campaign against liberal economic theory as a way to thread the needle in a conservative primary. Whether that will work or not in a GOP primary is an open question. That was followed by a policy speech on the subject he knows best — education. That policy speech rollout continues Wednesday in Chicago. That speech will be on foreign policy, which will be followed by his talk at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in Washington the following week. This is a way for Bush to address early on and frame two of his potential potential shortcomings — Common Core and how he would conduct a foreign policy different from his brother, George W. Bush. With these “major addresses,” he will get lots of media attention, and later in the campaign, when reporters ask questions on these issues, (1) he would have already articulated the message the way he wants, and (2) he can point back to that speech. It’s a good warm up, but the real tests will come in the throes of the campaign when the attacks will come from his rivals.

    There’s something about those foreign trips: Speaking of thorny issues … Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — the man of the moment on the GOP side — is in the U.K., but, like Chris Christie before him, he’s landed in some unforeseen controversy. New Jersey’s Christie stumbled overseas when talking about vaccines. Walker is now facing a tempest of his own — on evolution. Asked Wednesday if he believes in it, he said it wasn’t his place to say. “I’m going to punt on that one as well. That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other.” In a statement released later in the day, Walker said, “Both science and my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God. I believe faith and science are compatible, and go hand in hand.” He also took to Twitter and blasted “the media”: “It’s unfortunate the media chose to politicize this issue during our trade mission to foster investment in WI.”

    If you can’t handle the (lukewarm) heat…: These early portions of campaigns really can be a revealing test of candidates. Asking whether Walker believes in evolution is no hardball question. Voters are going to want to know MUCH more than that. Walker is going to have to show he can take the scrutiny with clearer answers than what he gave. There are a lot of headstones in the graveyard of presidential campaigns with candidates who let it get under the skin. Blaming the media is a tried and true strategy, especially in Republican primaries. It can work for a while and to fire up the base, but, remember, the candidate blaming the media, is usually the one on the losing side.

    A quick word on the Keystone XL Pipeline: A bill approving the pipeline is now in President Obama’s hands after the House gave it final passage yesterday 270-152. The president has promised to veto the measure, setting up the first of what could be many veto battles to come. Twenty-nine Democrats voted yes, but what we find interesting this morning is the single Republican who voted no. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., tweeted that he could not support the bill because it combines the “the cronyism of previous bills—specially exempting one private company from the laws and regulations that apply to all other companies—with new, unrelated sections empowering the EPA and the federal government with respect to local energy efficiency.”

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge made the first presidential political speech over the radio. Which president installed a radio in the White House? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Joni Johnson ‏(@celeste1958) and Claire M. Steen (@BearLoves14) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: Who was the first woman to hold a cabinet-level position? The answer: Frances Perkins, who served as FDR’s Secretary of Labor.




    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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

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    Photo by Tom Merton via Getty Images.

    Photo by Tom Merton via Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: OkCupid co-founder and president Christian Rudder speaks to Paul Solman on Making Sen$e Thursday tonight about online dating. He’s the author of “Dataclysm,” filled with observations about human behavior gleaned from data people share — consciously or not — through social media profiles, “likes” and “shares” and Google searches.

    OkCupid’s database hosts a treasure trove of data about what works and what doesn’t in online dating. But digging into that data first requires knowing which matches turned into real relationships. Below, Rudder explains to Paul what he’s learned about the couples who report their romantic success to OkCupid.

    CR: We don’t have that much information about the successful couples we’ve created, but there are a few that come back. Maybe 500 a day come back and say, “You know, look, I found my long term partner from OkCupid. Thank you – here’s my user name; here’s his user name.” So we do have some data on these people.

    And I went back and I looked at the questions that those people had in common, and I wanted to find the questions you could ask on a first date, so not the super heavy stuff, not like: Do you want to have kids? Do you believe in God? Is abortion a sin? Obviously those are very important questions to agree on, but you can’t sit there across the table from someone you’ve just met and rock them out at them.

    So I looked at the more frivolous stuff. And I found some amazing things like the question, “Do you like scary movies?” These successful couples agree on that question about 75 percent of the time. So it seems predictive, or at least reflective.

    PS: So there’s a high correlation between people who feel the same way about scary movies and their eventual success as a couple.

    CR: Exactly. Disproportionately high percentage there. And the same with, “Have you ever traveled to another country alone?” And, “Would you like to ditch it all and go live on a sail boat?”

    All three questions, now that I say them out loud, are kind of indicative of being an adventurous person – even horror movies, I think. They’re more subtle, less awkward ways to ask if someone’s adventurous. If I ever became single again, those would be the questions I would ask on a first date.

    PS: How important is it that you agree about politics and/or religion?

    CR: One summer, we got an intern, a stats PhD at Columbia, to look through our entire database for the most important single question asked. It wasn’t, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” Or, “Do you believe in God or not?” Or, “Do you want to have kids?” It was how important politics are to you, regardless of the particulars of your belief. So if you’re passionate about politics, Democrat or Republican, or if you’re ambivalent about politics – that is what matters in terms of your compatibility as far as we’re able to measure it.

    PS: So it’s the James Carville/Mary Matalin example?

    CR: Exactly. They both care a lot.

    PS: Even though they disagree.

    The post The 3 first date questions that will predict your romantic compatibility appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Discarded toys are seen amongst trash, on a beach near the high-income Costa del Este neighbourhood in Panama City September 10, 2013. Photo by Carlos Jasso/Reuters

    Discarded toys are seen amongst trash, on a beach near the high-income Costa del Este neighbourhood in Panama City September 10, 2013. Photo by Carlos Jasso/Reuters

    About 8 million metric tons of plastic waste makes its way into the oceans each year, according to a study published today by a group of scientists at the UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. The number is expected to increase unless countries are able to “turn off the faucet,” Kara Lavender Law, one author of the study, said.

    Researchers found that in 2010, there was more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste going into the ocean every year, and the number could be as high as 12.7 million metric tons, making it an average of about 8 million metric tons, one to three times the amount previously thought.

    A total of 192 countries that border the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans and Mediterranean and Black seas were examined, and results show that combined, the countries contributed 2.5 billion metric tons of solid waste, 275 million metric tons of which are plastic. Of that 275 million, about 99.5 million metric tons is on the coast with about 8 million making its way from the coast to the ocean.

    The team of researchers also ranked countries: China made the top of the list of the 192 countries included in the research, with 28 percent of the total, and the U.S. was ranked number 10 in terms of plastic waste contributions annually. Canada, the country with the largest coastline in the world, was in the bottom half.

    The key to fixing the problem is not by focusing on removing the plastic from the ocean, but by preventing plastic from leaving the coasts and entering the water in the first place, three of the study’s researchers — Dr. Jenna Jambeck from the University of Georgia, Dr. Kara Lavender Law from the Sea Education Association and Dr. Roland Geyer from the University of California, Santa Barbara –explained at a press briefing today.

    “Large-scale removal of plastic marine debris is not going to be cost-effective and quite likely simply unfeasible,” Roland Geyer, one of the authors, said in a press release. “This means that we need to prevent plastic from entering the oceans in the first place through better waste management, more reuse and recycling, better product design and material substitution.”

    For developed countries at the top of the list, mismanaged waste systems is one of the major reasons behind the large-scale contribution. With mitigation and economic incentives, countries can reduce their plastic waste contribution, which some Asian countries have already adopted. Additionally, product redesign, or using materials besides plastic, can also prevent the amount of plastic waste from entering the oceans.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a look at enterprise reporting we have done online that we thought would be of interest to you.

    It’s about the proliferation of scientific and academic research being done online and whether those methods may be leading to flawed or unreliable data. Much of the work was done once by students, but, these days, there is an informal work force of people who participate in studies through an online job forum known as Mechanical Turk.

    The name was inspired which an 18th century fake chess-playing robot decorated in Turkish robes. It defeated almost every opponent it faced for years, but it turned out there was a hidden human chess master behind the machine.

    Well, the NewsHour’s Jenny Marder reported our story. And she fills us in now.

    Jenny, it’s great to have you here to talk about it.

    So, first of all, tell us more about who these people are who are answering these surveys and what exactly do they do.


    Well, this is a portion of the 500,000 workers on Mechanical Turk that we were looking at. And the workers do all sorts of jobs. The jobs have been — work has been called microlabor because the pay is often very, very low. You see a lot of jobs for 25 cents, 5 cents, even a penny.

    So they’re really working for pennies on Mechanical Turk. The reason we got interested is it’s been, over the past five years, increasingly used by academic researchers as a way of getting data and finding study subjects for their research.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what kind of research is being done?  What are these surveys about?  I know it’s a broad array of subjects. What kind of questions are they trying to answer?

    JENNY MARDER: Yes. Yes.

    And the research spans all sorts of disciplines. There’s — you have a lot of psychology, social science research, but also political scientists are using it. You even see it in medical research.

    And we looked at a lot of the studies that are using Mechanical Turk, and a lot of them are asking really big questions. There’s a lot of research on human behavior, but also on teen alcohol abuse, a lot of research on decision-making, how people perceive scientists and climate scientists. So these aren’t obscure studies. And they’re asking some pretty big questions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That go on to maybe make a difference in terms of how policy is made.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we have a short clip of one of the people you profile. This is a young mother.

    Let’s take a look at that.

    SARAH MARSHALL: Done a lot of academic research just put out by different universities. I have done a lot of surveys in general, but, for just colleges, probably about 20,000.

    Ah, consumer attitudes towards advertising.

    Surveys usually pay better, at least in my experience, because they pay a lump sum of money. It’s, like, oh, for your five minutes, you can have a dollar.

    Mommy just earned a dollar.

    It becomes like kind of robotic. It’s, like, I am filling out a survey, so I’m going to do it the same way I did it yesterday.

    How much formal schooling have you had?

    And it’s like, if I see the same block of questions twice on the same day, I even know the pattern for my answers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that is a woman named Sarah Marshall. And she does how many of these a week?


    So, Sarah Marshall does maybe hundreds of studies a week. She has done 20,000 studies altogether in the past five years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were telling me there are a lot of other people like her. So, that — that’s what raises some questions about whether these surveys — the validity of these surveys, these projects.

    JENNY MARDER: Right. Right.

    There’s a question of environmental control. You don’t know — these people could be at home and distracted while they’re doing these surveys. But they’re also seeing the same questions repeated again and again.

    Researchers — it’s common for researchers to test intuition, to test a person’s gut instinct. And you can see how, if somebody’s answered a question a hundred times or even three times, they’re no longer getting the intuitive response. They’re getting a much more trained response.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, doing it over and over again, you’re not getting that — you’re not — also not getting that real cross-section that you’re looking for of the public.

    JENNY MARDER: That’s right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Jenny Marder, again, this is just a glimpse of the reporting you have done.

    You can see the entire story, find out a whole lot more by going online to our Web site. That’s PBS.org/NewsHour.

    Jenny, thank you.

    JENNY MARDER: Thank you.

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    GWEN IFILL: Next: the tale of a reclusive Chicago woman who some people are now calling one of the great undiscovered artists of the 20th century.

    Her story and the tale of how her street photography eventually came to light are the subject of the Oscar Award-nominated documentary “Finding Vivian Maier.”

    Jeffrey Brown has our look, the latest installment of NewsHour Goes to the Movies.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Stunning photographs of Chicago street scenes from the 1950s on, they were never exhibited, never even known of until the last few years, when they became a sensation.

    WOMAN: Vivian Maier.

    MAN: Vivian Maier.

    WOMAN: Vivian Maier.

    MAN: Exhibitions in New York and L.A. and London and Chicago.

    MAN: We have had more interest in this work than any other photographer.

    MAN: There’s one in particular that I bought which I love. The composition is slightly off to me, and I think that’s why I like it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The photographer, too, was largely unknown. Vivian Maier worked much of her life as a nanny and kept her own past and her photography secret.

    WOMAN: She was so awesomely unique.

    WOMAN: She not an open person. She was a closed person.

    WOMAN: Vivian was my nanny.

    MAN: She was our nanny.

    MAN: We certainly had no idea she took photographs.

    WOMAN: We didn’t know there was this creative person there.

    MAN: She took so many photos.

    MAN: Around 100,000 negatives, 700 rolls of undeveloped color film.

    MAN: Eight-millimeter and .16-millimeter movies.

    WOMAN: She would take us and we would just walk in the worst parts of town.

    WOMAN: And I think she liked that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Unraveling this story is the focus of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Finding Vivian Maier.”

    Its co-directors are Charlie Siskel and John Maloof, who first came upon and bought tens of thousands of Maier’s negatives at an auction in 2007 and have spent the years since researching her life and promoting the work.

    I spoke to the two recently, and asked John Maloof if there was a moment when he first realized he was onto something big.

    JOHN MALOOF, Co-Director, “Finding Vivian Maier”: No, there was no moment. A lot of people think that there was like a eureka moment or something when I discovered that the work was great.

    You have to think about it this way. If you have a box of tens of thousands of negatives, and you pick up one of the packs of negatives and look at it into light, you’re not going to immediately know that the whole body of work is good. It takes a long time to kind of go through it all, understand how deep the good work goes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Charlie Siskel, in the film, what is it about her that drew you to want to tell the story, and what did you want to bring about her and her work?

    CHARLIE SISKEL, Co-Director, “Finding Vivian Maier”: Well, Vivian Maier is a fascinating character.

    She’s larger than life, almost a character out of fiction, but even better than that, she — it’s true. The story is true. Vivian led a double life. And that’s a bit of the puzzle about her and her story that we set out to solve, to try to understand how a brilliant photographer was able to lead this sort of secret life while masquerading really daily as a nanny for over five decades, taking over 150,000 photographs, never sharing them with anyone.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The filmmakers took Maier’s work to one of today’s leading photographers, Mary Ellen Mark.

    MARY ELLEN MARK, Photographer: Beautiful. Those photographs with children are beautiful. Beautiful sense of light, environment. I mean, she had it all.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Charlie Siskel, it raises a number of questions, among them, sort of, who is an artist, who decides what makes somebody an artist if they’re unrecognized in their own lifetime?

    CHARLIE SISKEL: That’s right.

    And if you look at Vivian’s work, I think, you know, you don’t need to be an expert in art and the history of photography to just take one look at her work and see that this is the work of a master. John has done a wonderful job in curating her work and choosing which photographs we’re seeing, along with, you know, the help of others, other experts in the field.

    And so he’s doing the work that Vivian really never had a chance to do during her own lifetime. And so the portrait that emerges is a portrait of a brilliant artist. You take one look at her self-portraits, for example, and you see the way Vivian saw herself. She knew that her work was good. Those portraits, those self-portraits, they are almost like the self-portraits of a van Gogh or a Rembrandt. This is how Vivian saw herself. She saw herself as a photographer and an artist.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, but, John Maloof, it also raises some other interesting questions, questions of ethics, of discovery and filmmaking, right? This was an intensely private woman. It’s not clear — in fact, it looks as though she didn’t want her work or her life to be out there. And that’s what you have done is put it out there.

    JOHN MALOOF: Vivian was doing the same thing that we’re doing in a sense. She’s documenting people. She’s documenting the not-so-pretty lives of people that are kind of on the margins of society.

    So she’s doing the same type of job that we’re doing by documenting other people’s lives.

    CHARLIE SISKEL: We’re dealing with a story of a person’s life and all its complexity. This notion that Vivian wouldn’t have wanted her work to be seen and that she was private, and that included her art, that she was creating art for art’s sake, and that she was somehow too pure to have her work seen by the world, I think that that’s overstating it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Another challenge has now arisen with a recent lawsuit filed in Chicago calling the ownership of these photos and Maloof’s right to show or profit from them into question, while the claims of a potential legal heir to the Maier estate are being looked into. That could keep the public from seeing the fuller archive for years.

    JOHN MALOOF: Is there a chance? Sure.

    Where we’re at right now with this is, we’re negotiating a proposal with Cook County. I’m optimistic that we’re going to work something out.

    CHARLIE SISKEL: I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that it would be a tragedy if Vivian Maier’s work were withdrawn from view, if the public were to lose out, so that a handful of lawyers win.

    It is a bit tragic that Vivian didn’t get to experience the acclaim and the notoriety that she is receiving now, but ultimately the story is not a tragic one. It has a redemptive ending. And that’s because her work has been discovered and shared, and millions of people around the world are seeing it, learning from her work and her story what it is to be a true artist.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Charlie Siskel and John Maloof, thank you both very much.

    JOHN MALOOF: Thank you.

    CHARLIE SISKEL: Thanks for having us.



    The post Bringing a portrait of private artist Vivian Maier to the big screen appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    online dating social media love

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The era of online dating has transformed the world of romance, courtship and marriage, and it’s led to what you might call a very different kind of marketplace.

    With Valentine’s Day approaching, we wanted to look at it through the unique lens of our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, part of our ongoing reporting, Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Facebook software engineer Mike O’Beirne, 23, AKA cirrussly online, had been looking for a date since moving to New York four months ago.

    MIKE O’BEIRNE: It was really at my brother’s urgings. He told me I need to start going out and dating people.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Ad agency art director Priyanka Pulijal, 25, also new to New York, her love handle, brbeatingcupcake. The BRB is Webspeak for “be right back.”

    PRIYANKA PULIJAL: I think you have to meet a lot of different people to first understand what you want. And I think, once you understand what you want, you have a lot of different options.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So what did they want?  Each other?

    PRIYANKA PULIJAL: Hi. Nice to meet you.

    PAUL SOLMAN: The other day, they agreed to let us record their very first date.

    MIKE O’BEIRNE: Do you guys mind leaving now?

    PAUL SOLMAN: OK, we will BRB.

    But while we give our daters some alone time, let’s check in with their online matchmaker, OkCupid. Founded a decade ago by four Harvard math majors, the site is now owned by IAC, the same media conglomerate that runs Match.com, which charges a monthly fee, and the mobile app Tinder.

    CHRISTIAN RUDDER, President, OkCupid: Between OkCupid, Tinder or Match, we will sign up easily over 30 million people this year alone.

    PAUL SOLMAN: OkCupid co-founder and president Christian Rudder has plenty of competition outside the IAC tent as well; eHarmony is big. But niche sites are trending, for Jews, Christians, farmers, sea captains, mimes, the gluten-free, the incarcerated, the unhappily married, and, of course, accompanied by Mozart…

    WOMAN: Welcome to Purrsonals.com. As a fellow cat owner, I know how finicky we are.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But no matter how finicky, you’re better off with more than less.

    CHRISTIAN RUDDER: Imagine a mixer with three people. That would be a pretty rough, pretty rough hour if you lasted even that long there. But OkCupid, metaphorically speaking, is a mixer with four million people.

    PAUL SOLMAN: In the language of economics, the study of maximizing human welfare, this is what’s known as a thick market.

    PAUL OYER, Author, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating.”  Where would you rather buy a pair of pants, at the Mall of America or on the streets of a small town in Oklahoma?

    PAUL SOLMAN: Economist Paul Oyer has actually written a book, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating,” based on his own adventures looking for love.

    PAUL OYER: So, I found myself back in the dating market in the fall of 2010, and, immediately, as an economist, I saw that this was a market like so many others.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Well, not any old market, like the one for pants. This is a market for what economists call differentiated goods.

    PAUL OYER: No two potential life partners are the same. Every single one of them is different. From an economics perspective, searching for a partner is just cost-benefit analysis.


    PAUL OYER: This isn’t funny.


    PAUL OYER: This is economics.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And that analysis includes, in the lingo of economics, search costs.

    PAUL OYER: It takes time and effort to find your mate. You have to set up your dating profile. You have to go on a lot of dates that don’t go anywhere. These frictions, the time spent looking for a mate, lead to loneliness or, as I like to say, romantic unemployment.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Oyer found himself romantically unemployed when he first took the online dating plunge, as it happens, on OkCupid, and had written “separated” on his profile. But at least he didn’t say he was actually unemployed or drug-happy or a glutton, even bigger turnoffs.

    Those are among the tidbits gleaned from the millions of responses in OkCupid’s database, shared by Christian Rudder in his book “Dataclysm,” not that all are exactly shockers.

    CHRISTIAN RUDDER: When people come to a dating site, all they look at is the pictures, for the most part.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Beneath the sidewalks of New York, Erika Christensen hawks an arguably more discriminating approach.

    ERIKA CHRISTENSEN, Trainspottings.com: You are very handsome. Are you single, by any chance?  If you find yourself single, I’m a matchmaker.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Yes, a real live matchmaker whose turf happens to be the subway.

    ERIKA CHRISTENSEN: You are very handsome.

    PAUL SOLMAN: The days leading up to Valentine’s Day are the busiest of the year for this Hello Dolly of the L Train, at the moment, looking for lasting love on behalf of two 30-something female professionals.

    ERIKA CHRISTENSEN: What we’re dealing with is the biological clock, and these women want the 35-to-45-year old man quick. They want him yesterday.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So you mean that you’re sizing up these guys as…

    ERIKA CHRISTENSEN: Potential baby daddies, that’s right.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Since time is money, clients are willing to pay a couple of grand or more, sometimes much more. OkCupid, by contrast, is free. But, to Christensen, you get what you pay for.

    ERIKA CHRISTENSEN: I think online dating is great, but it’s basically humans as commodities.

    PAUL SOLMAN: There’s another objection to online dating as well.

    R.D. ROSEN, Author: OkCupid, by making a huge universe of people available to you at any minute, doesn’t that work against a rational decision about whether to invest in the relationship you have?

    PAUL SOLMAN: Writer R.D. Rosen, who’s used online dating, is working on a book about how courtship is evolving.

    R.D. ROSEN: There’s an enormously addictive quality to online dating that has never existed before in the culture. You want to keep going back, because you think you’re going to hit the jackpot eventually.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Rudder doesn’t deny it.

    CHRISTIAN RUDDER: Whether you’re gay or straight, we’re constantly showing you people. There might be someone better looking or who has a cooler profile or whatever it is just right around the corner always.

    PAUL SOLMAN: To Paul Oyer, though, a surfeit of choice is just another search cost, for which economists have a fairly simple solution:

    PAUL OYER: What you need to do is you need to settle, to say, I have somebody who’s good enough. People hate it when we say that. But it’s the way — it’s the way a rational economist would think about it.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But wait a minute. After my first date with my now wife, I knew she was the one for me. We have now been married for 30 years.

    PAUL OYER: The perfect one for you doesn’t exist. But there’s a very important idea in labor economics called firm-specific human capital. And that is, as you work at a company for a longer time, you have certain skills that are valuable at that company and not elsewhere.

    Well, you have built up something we will call marriage-specific human capital. You have developed your life around your wife, such that she probably is the best match for you at this point.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Meanwhile, our daters have to get back to their jobs.

    So, how’d it go?

    MIKE O’BEIRNE: So, we both found out that we had like way more in common than we expected.

    PRIYANKA PULIJAL: I felt we really connected about a lot of different things.

    MIKE O’BEIRNE: I will probably e-mail her later.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And so, for the PBS NewsHour, this is economics correspondent Paul Solman, wishing cirrussly, brbeatingcupcake, and all of you, online and off, a welfare-maximizing Valentine’s Day.

    The post Using rational economics to simplify the search for romance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Miles O’Brien operating the modular prosthetic limb at the Johns Hopkins Applied physics laboratory.  Funded by the Pentagon research enterprise DARPA, it is the most sophisticated prosthetic limb in the world. Photo by the Applied Physics Laboratory

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    GWEN IFILL: Next: a report on the possibilities and limits of robotic arms and prosthetic technology.

    It’s also a story with a real and personal connection for us through the experiences of our science correspondent, Miles O’Brien. One year ago, he was involved in an unlikely accident that led to the amputation of much of his left arm. Since then, he’s been reporting and exploring what might be available to help him and others.

    Here’s the first of two reports.

    Lots of people wonder why I don’t wear a high-tech bionic arm. It’s a fair question for an arm amputee who happens to be a reporter with more than 20 years on the science and technology beat. People expect a professional nerd like me would have an arm that approaches what Luke Skywalker or Colonel Steve Austin wore.

    ACTOR: We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Not yet, but maybe soon, as I discovered not far from my home in Washington at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

    Here, they’re using knowledge gained, building compact, complex systems like spacecraft and missile warheads to push the envelope in upper limb prosthetics.

    MICHAEL MCLOUGHLIN, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory: This is the modular prosthetic limb. This has been designed to have most of the functionality of the human limb.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Chief engineer Mike McLoughlin introduced me to the Modular Prosthetic Limb, the MPL. It’s the mostly sophisticated artificial limb in the world.

    MICHAEL MCLOUGHLIN: So, the arm has 26 joints controlled by 17 different motors. So it can do just about everything that you can do with a natural limb. One of the few things it can’t do, if you’re a “Star Trek” fan, you won’t be able to do this. But, other than that, we can pretty much do everything.

    MILES O’BRIEN: “Star Trek” isn’t my thing anyway, even though many people think I stole my name from Chief Miles O’Brien on “Deep Space Nine.”

    Like nearly other advancement in prosthetic technology, the impetus for innovation was war. Better body armor meant soldiers who would have died on the battlefield a generation ago were coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan alive, but often more seriously maimed.

    Meanwhile, upper limb prosthetic technology was several wars behind. Wounded soldiers were and still are routinely fitted with a body-powered prosthetic, the design first developed during the Civil War. The split hook is, relatively speaking, a modern marvel, patented in 1912.

    Here’s how a body-powered upper limb prosthetic works. There’s a strap tied across my chest. It is attached to a cable, just like a bike brake cable. When I move forward, it bends the elbow or, if I spread my shoulders out, same thing. If I stop and lock the elbow, those same motions will open the hook, which closes on the force of some rubber bands.

    It’s confining and clunky, really not much more than a hook on a stick. It’s better than nothing sometimes, but not always. The technology had stagnated because it’s such a tall order to replace a human arm and hand with its complex, varied mission, and there just aren’t many of us, only about 100,000 upper limb amputees in the U.S., compared to a million who have lost legs, big challenge, tiny demand.

    So, in 2006, the Pentagon’s research and development enterprise, DARPA, launched its $48 million Revolutionizing Prosthetics program. The Modular Prosthetic Limb is one of the outcomes of that effort. The arm has 22 degrees of freedom and is designed to be almost as intuitive and functional as the one I lost.

    Right now, it is still in the testing phase. It won’t be available for widespread use for years. But the research team was kind enough to offer me a test drive, if you will.

    COURTNEY MORAN, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory: I’m going to kind of generate an array around your arm, which is to say that I’m going to position these kind of staggered like this all the way around your arm.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Courtney Moran is a prosthetist here. She stuck an array of electrodes to my stump and connected them to the arm bolted on a stand. She then helped me teach it to do my bidding using pattern recognition. The electrodes detect the faint electrical impulses generated when I contract my muscles.

    COURTNEY MORAN: Now I want you to take a moment to kind of envision what you’re going to do, and I’m going to say, and go.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Every distinct movement that I try to make fires a different array of muscles, creating a unique pattern. It’s not unlike training voice recognition software.


    A word of explanation. Like most amputees, I feel my missing limb as if it was still there. It’s an omnipresent phantom. In my case, it feels as if my arm is bound up in a sling, partially asleep and often painful. Paresthesia is the medical term. If I focus carefully, I can move my missing hand and fingers partially and slowly.

    COURTNEY MORAN: And go. And rest.

    MILES O’BRIEN: After only a few minutes of training the arm to understand the language of my muscles came a magical moment for me.

    COURTNEY MORAN: All right, so now we’re going to do elbow extend. So, ready, and go. And rest. So you did that.

    MILES O’BRIEN: I expected there to be some kind of lag, you know, but that’s amazing.

    COURTNEY MORAN: You are in control right…

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes. That is incredible.

    It was nothing short of thrilling. For the first time since I lost my arm, it occurred to me that technology might one day restore nearly all the function I lost.

    COURTNEY MORAN: And ready, and go. And rest. And open again. Ready, and go. And rest. And open again. Ready, and go. There it is. OK. And now we’re going to close. Ready, and go.

    Let’s just see if we have enough here. See if you can open up.

    MILES O’BRIEN: And close.

    COURTNEY MORAN: All right. You are ready to throw out the first pitch.


    COURTNEY MORAN: Try again. See if you can open up.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Pretty cool.

    COURTNEY MORAN: Great job.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But I was erratic, and soon found the limits of my ability to move my missing hand, and thus the artificial one.

    COURTNEY MORAN: Go ahead and open the hand, if possible. It’s going to be — you have a lot…

    COURTNEY MORAN: Yes. All right, now I want you to close your eyes. I want you to fully rest, yoga breaths here. And then there we go.

    That happens all the time.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Really?

    COURTNEY MORAN: Again, all of this down at the wrist and hand is controls that you theoretically should not have intuitively that you do. So, awesome.

    MILES O’BRIEN: To control it better, I would need to undergo targeted muscle reinnovation surgery.

    JOHNNY MATHENY, Modular prosthetic limb test subject: I will tell you what I’m doing with my phantom limb.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Johnny Matheny had the surgery in 2011.

    JOHNNY MATHENY: It’s like, right now, I’m opening my hand up.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The nerves that transmitted commands…

    JOHNNY MATHENY: Closing my hand.

    MILES O’BRIEN: … to his missing arm are now implanted…

    JOHNNY MATHENY: Flexing my wrist back.

    MILES O’BRIEN: … in muscles that remain.

    JOHNNY MATHENY: Bringing it forward.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Johnny’s surgeon is Dr. Albert Chi of Johns Hopkins.

    DR. ALBERT CHI, Johns Hopkins University: It’s essentially rewiring electrical information that wasn’t previously accessible to a way that we can now record it from, not only record from, but have a natural amplifier to those muscles and then record from it in a noninvasive means.

    JOHNNY MATHENY: Putting on the prosthetic arm, in the beginning, it was basically the same as with any prosthetic arm.

    COURTNEY MORAN: So, these are our battery packs right here. And they’re rechargeable.

    JOHNNY MATHENY: If after that — the sensors starts, you know, picking up this, and then you start seeing, you know, how the hand moves in fluid motion and all this kind of stuff, that’s when the world really starts separating itself. You go into operating a prosthetic just by thinking. I’m doing the moves.

    COURTNEY MORAN: Stretch again. Ready, and go.

    JOHNNY MATHENY: That was just truly amazing. It’s just an all-natural control, just like your normal hand and stuff.

    It’s A-OK, Joe.

    DR. ALBERT CHI: We have had actually patients, after targeted muscle reinnovation, have individual finger control. We have interfaced with gaming programs such as “Guitar Hero.”  And patients have been able to not only play the guitar and play the guitar accurately through the gaming console.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But it’s hard to play the guitar without a sense of touch. The arm has sensors in its fingertips that are able to offer sensory feedback. Making that information available and useful to an amputee is the next big challenge in the world of advanced prosthetics.

    More on that next time.

    Miles O’Brien, the PBS NewsHour, Laurel, Maryland.

    GWEN IFILL: That is just amazing.

    Tune in tomorrow night for that next report, when Miles explores the science of touch.

    Online, Miles shows us how he has adapted to doing daily activities with one arm. His blog is on our home page.


    The post Will a robotic arm ever have the full functionality of a human limb? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A man walks along Lake Travis after water receded during a drought  in Austin, Texas September 10, 2011. Drier than normal weather in Texas with no precipitation for several months has caused lakes and rivers to run dry along with wildfire outbreaks across the state including the Bastrop fire that has destroyed more than 1,300 homes near Austin. Photo by Joshua Lott/Reuters

    A man walks along Lake Travis after water receded during a drought in Austin, Texas September 10, 2011. Drier than normal weather in Texas with no precipitation for several months has caused lakes and rivers to run dry along with wildfire outbreaks across the state including the Bastrop fire that has destroyed more than 1,300 homes near Austin. Photo by Joshua Lott/Reuters

    New research published in the journal Science Advances finds that the American Southwest and Great Plains in the 21st century risk the worst drought conditions in more than 1,000 years. By 2050, the U.S. could surpass the “mega-drought” conditions of the 12th and 13th centuries, with severe droughts lasting multiple decades.

    “We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak,” said Jason E. Smerdon, climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and one of the authors on the paper in a press release. “Even when selecting for the worst megadrought-dominated period, the 21st century projections make the megadroughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden.”

    In other words, imagine that the worst droughts of the 20th century — the Dust Bowl of the 1930s or the drought during the 1950s — persisted for 30 years, said Toby Ault, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric scientists at Cornell University.

    PBS NewsHour has reported on the drought raging through the American Southwest, California and the Great Plains. The ongoing drought has already strained agriculture and forced municipalities to restrict their water usage.

    According the U.S. Drought Monitor, much of the American West has been in a drought for 11 of the past 14 years. NASA estimates that 64 million people are directly affected by drought conditions in the Southwest and Southern Plains.

    Scientists attribute the decline of the Pueblo and Anasazi to the last mega-drought in North America in the 13th century.

    Authors Smerdon, Ault and Benjamin I. Cook from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies studied the frequency of mega-droughts in North America’s past and the possibility of such dry spells in the future, using climate data from the North American Drought Atlas and climate models. The North American Drought Atlas catalogues drought conditions across the continent from the past 2,005 years based on tree ring data.

    In the past, mega-droughts were a result of natural variability, Cook said. Researchers ran 17 different climate models. The models showed “business as usual,” a continued rise in emissions of the greenhouse gases, and a second scenario in which emissions are moderated.

    Their results found that human-induced climate change, not natural variability, will be the primary driving force behind these droughts in the future.

    “The surprising thing to us was really how consistent the response was over these regions, nearly regardless of what model we used or what soil moisture metric we looked at,” Cook said in press release. “It all showed this really, really significant drying.” The finding is consistent with previous studies, he added.

    Ault said these future droughts could be minimized, but carbon emissions need to be lowered immediately.

    “The time to act is now. The time to start planning for adaptation is now,” he said. “We need to assess what the rest of this century will look like for our children and grandchildren.”

    The post U.S. headed for a ‘mega-drought’ in 21st century, scientists warn appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Washington, DC (February 12, 2015) — James Blue, an award winning journalist who most recently served as the Washington bureau chief of the UK-based news channel ARISE, will join the PBS NewsHour as senior content and special projects producer. In this role, he will liaise with the broadcast and online production teams, coordinating upcoming tape packages and reports from the field as well as special projects. Blue will report to executive producer Sara Just, who joined the PBS NewsHour in September 2014.

    “I’m thrilled to have James joining the NewsHour team,” said Just. “As we grow and revitalize the NewsHour, James’ creative energy and depth of experience will help us further expand the reach and impact of our journalism, both on air and online.”

    “Joining NewsHour as it draws larger audiences both online and on broadcast is exciting,” added Blue. “I look forward to working with the entire team to produce the daily journalism and news specials that will continue to make NewsHour distinctive.”

    Prior to joining ARISE, Blue served as executive producer of BET’s 2012 presidential coverage, which earned his team an USC Annenberg School’s 2013 Walter Cronkite Award for excellence in political television journalism. In addition to founding his own media production firm, Public Affairs Media Group, Blue spent nearly two decades producing for Discovery, NBC News and ABC News, including extensive coverage overseas and throughout the Middle East, with datelines from Yemen, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

    Blue is the recipient of every major broadcast journalism award, including eight national Emmy Awards, two Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards, two Overseas Press Club Awards, and an NABJ Award for Overall Excellence. He currently serves on the board of trustees of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the Baltimore School for the Arts and the Princeton University Alumni Council. He is a member of the Overseas Press Club, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

    About PBS NewsHour
    PBS NewsHour is seen by over four million weekly viewers and is also available online, via public radio in select markets, and via podcast. PBS NewsHour is a production of NewsHour Productions LLC, a wholly-owned non-profit subsidiary of WETA Washington, D.C., in association with WNET in New York. Major funding for PBS NewsHour is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and public television viewers. Major corporate funding is provided by BAE Systems, BNSF, IBEW, and Lincoln Financial Group with additional support from Carnegie Corporation of New York, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Lemelson Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Science Foundation, the Scan Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Friends of the NewsHour and others. More information on PBS NewsHour is available at www.pbs.org/newshour. On social media, visit www.facebook.com/newshour on Facebook or follow @NewsHour on Twitter.

    The post Award Winning Journalist James Blue to Join PBS NewsHour as Senior Content and Special Projects Producer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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