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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now a writer of words and planter of trees.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It’s Hawaii, so, yes, you do expect to see a palm tree or two, but you don’t expect this, a whole forest of palms, some 3,000 of them of incredible variety, fans of many sizes, twists and shapes of many kinds, even sharp thorns, more than 400 species from all over the world on 19 acres of land on the northern coast of Maui.

    W.S. MERWIN, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet: I can’t stop them from destroying the Amazon forest, but I can go out and plant a tree, you know?

    JEFFREY BROWN: The tree planter is W.S. Merwin, now 87 years old, better known as one of the nation’s leading poets. And the two pursuits he says comes from exactly the same place. When he began the Maui garden, for example:

    W.S. MERWIN: I was feeling my way and trying — learning — learning all the time from failures, as well as from successes. And I had one thing leading to something else.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And how is that like poetry?

    W.S. MERWIN: Exactly like poetry. I think a real poem always, always, in my experience, takes you by surprise.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There were few trees around when Merwin was raised in New Jersey and Scranton, Pennsylvania, son of a Presbyterian minister.

    He would first cultivate words and become a much-read and much-honored poet, a prolific writer and translator of more than 50 books, winner of most every available award, including two Pulitzers, a two-time poet laureate, most recently in 2011. In the late ’70s, Merwin came to Maui and bought three acres of a pineapple plantation.

    It was then very much a paradise lost, where little would grow after the soil had been ruined by chemicals and deforestation.

    W.S. MERWIN: Somebody wanted to sell it for very little money. And I thought it would be sort of fun to see what you could do with a piece of land like this. Maybe you could save it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One of the only things that would grow was the native Hawaiian palm. And that’s where Merwin and his wife, Paula, started, first building up the soil and then planting, often a tree every day during the rainy season grown from seeds gathered from around the world.

    Merwin didn’t set on out to create a palm preserve, but that, says Chipper Wichman, head of the Kauai-based National Tropical Botanical Garden, is what he did.

    CHIPPER WICHMAN, National Tropical Botanical Garden: This represents, you might say, kind of a genetic safety net of palm germplasm.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that safety net is needed, says Wichman, as palm species around the world face threats, even extinction, from logging, invasive species, climate change and more.

    CHIPPER WICHMAN: What we know today is that 80 to 90 percent of the world’s biodiversity exists in tropical reasons. And today one-third of all tropical plant species is threatened with extinction. This means that in our time, in our generation, we have the potential to lose a major part of the world’s biodiversity. Palms are keystone species. They play a critical role in these ecosystems.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Two years ago, the National Garden organized an effort led by British expert John Grantsfield to identify and catalog every tree, map the entire site and eventually create a database that will be used by botanists and other researchers worldwide.

    In the meantime, as Merwin himself has aged, much of the care and tending has fallen to Olin Erickson, a Minnesota native who studied botany when he first came to Hawaii and began working with Merwin 11 years ago. He says his job is managing, not controlling.

    OLIN ERICKSON, MauiScapes LLC: The distinction is, certain landscapes are designed and everything is in a particular order and it’s meant to be kept that way. But here it’s more organic. Things, the way they grow, we work with it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That means pruning branches which end up on so-called bio-piles that later serve as mulch and sometimes clearing areas of larger trees, like these mango trees, to open up space and sunlight for the palms, which respond in a hurry.

    OLIN ERICKSON: These palms started growing a massive amount of new roots.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Really? These are all — oh, well, I can see they’re new.

    OLIN ERICKSON: Yes, because, look, here’s the older ones. They’re much darker. And they’re going to grow all the way down here into the soil so it can support its new growth that will help it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Wow. That’s amazing.

    OLIN ERICKSON: Isn’t it?

    JEFFREY BROWN: It continues to be an amazement to William Merwin, who still writes, still works and walks in his garden with Paula, even after illnesses have left him nearly blind and certainly slowed.

    W.S. MERWIN: That’s so strange too, you know? How can you describe what age is, because you — part of you feels that you’re still that child who was around when you were 3 or 4 years old.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. You still feel that part?

    W.S. MERWIN: Yes.


    W.S. MERWIN: But I’m not bothered by it. I mean, I feel very happy at this stage of my life. And I see people who are frightened by being older. And I don’t mean I wouldn’t happily now be 20 years old again in certain respects. But I’m not. And it would be silly to waste time daydreaming about, if I were only 20 years old again.

    It’s more interesting to figure out, how do I see the world now? The marvelous thing about a garden that people who haven’t done it don’t know is that between when you first came here this morning and right now, look at the difference.

    The light changes, the wind changes, the time of day changes, and the whole thing is different. It’s moving all the time. It’s not static. If it makes you uneasy to be in a place that’s changing like that, then that tells you something about yourself. It doesn’t tell you much about the garden.


    JEFFREY BROWN: And now the garden will live on beyond the lifetimes of the Merwins, who have created a nonprofit conservancy, with a land deed given permanent protection to the palm collection.

    From the northern coast of Maui, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

    The post How poet W.S. Merwin found paradise by planting palm trees appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: a look at some important stories online that are not trending.

    Gwen Ifill recorded this conversation yesterday.

    GWEN IFILL: The Web can be a vast and confusing place, so occasionally we like to point you to the interesting reports brought to our attention by our partners at the Web site OZY. CEO Carlos Watson joins me now.

    There are such interesting thing which pop up along the way that just don’t trend, that we don’t see, that nobody talks about. And one of them is kind of the counterargument about women who are supposed to lean in. And you discovered that in fact there are reasons why women don’t that have nothing to do with whether they are willing to or not.

    CARLOS WATSON, CEO, OZY: Very interesting.

    So reports both out of the U.S. and out of the U.K. said that commuting has a much larger impact on women than it does on men, even though men often have longer commutes, longer times at work. But they say that many women, maybe sometimes up to four times as much, feel the psychological impact and the burden of commuting, and as a result often that’s one of the reasons that they don’t lean in at work.

    GWEN IFILL: You say psychological impact of commuting. I don’t even understand what that means. Does that mean that they feel like they have to get home sooner, they have to leave earlier, they have to have primary responsibility for kids?

    CARLOS WATSON: All of the above and then some.

    The argument is it’s something calling trip-chaining, that many women on their way home are not just listening to music or watching the latest episode of “House of Cards,” but instead are stopping by the dry cleaner or going by the grocery store, often twice as much, picking up kids, shuttling kids around, and that all of that creates more stress and they end up approaching that travel not as something to kind of de-stress and relax. But instead it’s something that causes more anxiety.

    And it causes some women, according to this study about 15,000 women, many of them, to kind of say, I’m not going to work at certain kinds of job that are going to lengthen my commute even further.

    GWEN IFILL: Why does it work in Iceland?

    CARLOS WATSON: Very interesting. You know I love that story.

    GWEN IFILL: I love that story.

    CARLOS WATSON: So, you’re talking about the story of Iceland, where 70 percent of the kids are born to women who aren’t married. Even one of the leading presidential candidates, recently, that was true. And they’re not having the same kind of stress.

    Well, they say a couple things. One, they say that marriage, while that’s not present, the partnerships are more balanced and that often the men and in some cases the state provides for more child care, for more help with delivery and other services. And so there’s a greater village, if you will, helping take care some of the ride home.

    GWEN IFILL: And there’s no stigma attached to it. So interesting.

    CARLOS WATSON: No stigma attached to it. In fact, it’s been that way for a long time, for over 100 years.

    Remember, this was a fishing community largely. And many men unfortunately died young and died at sea. And so the same kind of stigma attached to whether or not you were married wasn’t there. And so people were leaning in, to use the phrase, to help grow those families.

    GWEN IFILL: Here’s a fun one.


    GWEN IFILL: Now, we spent a lot of time on this program talking about the undiscovered manuscript of Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  We got very excited that it had never existed before.

    But we found another undiscovered manuscript.

    CARLOS WATSON: We got a “Cat in the Hat.”

    GWEN IFILL: A “Cat in the Hat,” Dr. Seuss.

    CARLOS WATSON: Yes, Dr. Seuss, who wrote 46 books, guess what? There are now going to be three more.

    They just found a new book, new manuscript and drawings his widow did in her house in La Jolla, California.

    GWEN IFILL: Theodor Geisel was his actual name.

    CARLOS WATSON: Theodor Geisel was his actual name.

    You know what to know the funny story how he became called Dr. Seuss?

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    CARLOS WATSON: He was involved in a little fun at Dartmouth College, got in trouble, got thrown off the paper, still wanted to write cartoons for it and decided to use his middle name, his mom’s maiden name as kind of his pseudonym, and then later in life added a doctor to it because it sounded a little more professional.

    And although his name was Ted Geisel, and he was a successful Don Draper-like ad executive, what he really wanted to do, this Oxford-trained writer, was write children’s books.

    GWEN IFILL: And he wrote some more that we didn’t even know about.

    CARLOS WATSON: He wrote some more. There will be another one coming out in July. And then on top of that, they say there’s enough material for at least two more.

    For those of you who love “Green Eggs and Ham,” for those of you who knows what places you will go, you now get something more.

    GWEN IFILL: You have figured me out, Carlos.

    CARLOS WATSON: Finally. Finally, long last.


    GWEN IFILL: Carlos Watson from OZY, thank you very much.

    CARLOS WATSON: Always good to be with you.

    The post Not Trending: More stress for female commuters, rediscovering Dr. Seuss appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies stand near the scene where a pedestrian was killed in a hit-and-run crash reportedly involving rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight, in Compton, California

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The issue of how police use force is again making headlines, this time outside the lens of black and white. The Hispanic and Indian-American communities are in the spotlight after separate encounters with police left one man dead and another partially paralyzed.

    A warning: This report contains graphic images.

    The two confrontations making headlines happened in opposite corners of the country, Alabama and Washington State, first, Pasco, Washington, early last week. This cell phone video captured 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes seeming to throw something at police and then run away, before turning around with open arms. That’s when three officers shot and killed him.

    The police involved say the man was throwing rocks. The community in the majority Hispanic town quickly reacted with protests and a call for a federal investigation. The officers involved are on paid leave. In a news conference yesterday, local police said they want their officers to defuse community tension.

    SGT. KEN LATTIN, Kennewick Police Department: And regardless of what anybody might say to you, do the right thing and now, more than ever, show everybody who we are, and that we are — we can be fair, we can be just.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: From the Pacific Northwest to the Southeastern U.S. and Madison, Alabama, on February 6. Police car video shows officers confronting 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel. A neighbor had called 911 concerned about a — quote — “skinny black man” walking down the street.

    Patel is from India, visiting his son and grandchild and doesn’t speak English. Officers ask him not to move.  Video from a second police car shows a slight movement and then one officer forcefully knocks him to the ground. That action injured Patel’s spine, leaving him partially paralyzed and in the hospital. The family is suing the police department.

    The officer, Eric Parker, was arrested for assault and the police chief has recommended he be fired. The incident gained international attention, with the government of India expressing sharp concern. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley personally reached out to the Indian Consulate, writing — quote — “I deeply regret the unfortunate use of excessive force by the Madison Police Department. Please accept our sincere apology.”

    Joining me now to talk about the issues raised here are Suman Raghunathan. She’s executive director of SAALT, or South Asian Americans Leading Together. And David Klinger, he’s a former police officer and professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri, Saint Louis.

    We welcome you both to the program.

    Mr. Raghunathan, let me start with you. What is it about the incident in Alabama that has you and others in the Indian-American community concerned?

    SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN, South Asian Americans Leading Together: Well, Judy, again, thank you for so much for the opportunity to join you tonight to discuss this important and troubling incident.

    I think we can all agree that what happened to Mr. Sureshbhai Patel at the hands of law enforcement officers, who are indeed tasked with keeping us all safe, should never have happened. Part of what we have seen in the South Asian community nationwide has been an outpouring of concern for Mr. Patel, as well as his family, in the wake of an incident with the Madison Police Department two weeks ago today that has left Mr. Patel partially paralyzed and facing a long recovery.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me just stop you there. Is it your concern that his ethnicity, the color of his skin was a factor here?

    SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN: Absolutely.

    I think it’s very clear, based on the reports of the 911 caller who — quote, unquote — reported a “skinny black guy” in the neighborhood who was reportedly acting suspiciously, set up a troubling set of dynamics that played into the Madison Police Department’s conduct when dealing with a limited-English-proficient grandfather who very clearly was not able to communicate with the law enforcement officers who were interacting with him.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let me pick — let me just pick up on that because I want to show both of you a short clip.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: This is a little bit more of a video, a different clip of video on what exactly happened there in Alabama.

    David Klinger, I’m going to come to you next, but let’s watch.

    DAVID KLINGER, University of Missouri-Saint Louis: Sure.

    MAN: Do not jerk away from me again. If you do, I’m going to put you on this ground. Do not jerk away from me one more time. Do you understand? Do you understand what I’m saying to you? Do not jerk away from me again. Wait a second.

    MAN: Relax. Relax. Stop.

    MAN: I don’t know.

    MAN: He don’t speak a lick of English.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Klinger, clearly, this is a — this video is from a distance, but you can hear some of the conversation.

    What’s your assessment of how the police were dealing with Mr. Patel?

    DAVID KLINGER: The end point, in terms of the takedown, leaves me scratching my head.

    I don’t understand what was going on and why the officer felt the need to take him to the ground. But if we back up a little bit, my understanding is that a 911 call comes in dispatched, a suspicious looking person. A police officer under those circumstances has lawful warrant to go ahead and stop an individual that is in the area that meets the general description and then talk to the individual.

    And an important issue, however, is officers do not have lawful warrant to do a pat-down search unless they have an articulable reason why they believe the individual might be carrying some type of dangerous weapon. And that calls out of a 1964 case, Terry vs. Ohio.

    And so I’m curious why was the pat-down was done. And then the other thing is, obviously, at least from the officer’s perception, Mr. — the gentleman was attempting to pull away a little bit, but if you look at the video, he’s not aggressively pulling away. He’s not trying to break away and run and there’s two officers there.

    So, I just don’t understand why it is that if the lead officer, the one who took him to the ground, felt they needed to get better control over him in order to conduct this pat-down, he just didn’t do one of a myriad of things that he could have done other than taking him to the ground.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Klinger, staying with you just quickly, is there a protocol for police officers when they’re dealing with somebody who doesn’t speak English?


    And part of the problem is that we don’t know what the communication barrier is. It takes a little while for a police officer to figure out this individual doesn’t speak English, does he have a speech impediment, does he have a hearing problem, whatever the case might be, but officers should be trained that when you’re dealing with someone and you are having trouble communicating with them, that you have got to figure out some other way to reach out to them, other than verbally, to explain what it is that you wanted.

    And something as simple in that situation where, instead of repeatedly telling him don’t pull away, just grab him more firmly, so he gets the message.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ms. Raghunathan, how frequently do you in the Indian-American community see incidents like this, and is there an effort under way to work with law enforcement about how to address it?

    SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN: Absolutely.

    I think we see the incident that occurred in Madison echo of what happened to not only many Indian-Americans, but also many individuals of color across the country. One in 10 Madison residents speak a language other than English at home.

    And so that points to us to not only the need to reform police practices to better and effectively interact with limited-English-proficient and immigrant residents. But, at the same time, we continue to make sure that we are engaging in efforts to reform the ways that law enforcement interacts with individuals.

    We see echoes here, though certainly not on the same scale, of course, of many of the incidents that we have seen in Ferguson, as well as in Staten Island with respect to both racial profiling, as well as police brutality.

    We know that there’s an ongoing investigation on the part of the Department of Justice into Madison police practices. We will see what that looks like, but what we do know is that we need lasting change to reform police practices that ban racial profiling and move us toward community safety.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me turn to David Klinger.

    Given this incident in Alabama and given the incident in Washington State, where it’s less clear about exactly what the circumstances were — there’s still a dispute — what kind of work is going on right now, would you say, in the law enforcement community to make sure that these kinds of incidents don’t happen where an individual is not armed and doesn’t pose a threat?

    DAVID KLINGER: I think the most important thing is that officers need to be reminded that their office is one of the great deal of responsibility when it comes to using force and to remind officers that there are all sorts of things they can do besides using force to take care of whatever it is that they are confronted with.

    And, in this situation, I personally don’t see anything that’s racial about it. I see a situation where a police officer did something that makes no sense to me. There may be some logical explanation, but I think it’s a situation where an officer simply overreacted to an individual who was doing something that the officer perceived as resistant.

    It could have been an old white guy. Could have been an old Mexican guy. Could have been an old black guy. Could have been old anything. And I think when we run to race, as opposed to talking about simple mistakes that police officers sometimes make, we overlook the opportunity to remind officers, go back to your training. You don’t always need to get physical.

    There’s other things that we can do to talk to people and to manage space, so on and so forth. We don’t always have to run to race, because we’re going to miss some very important things.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s a very, very big subject. And I know we’re going to be coming back to it.

    Suman Raghunathan, we thank you.

    And, David Klinger, we thank you.

    DAVID KLINGER: Thank you for having me.

    SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN: Thank you, Judy.



    The post Police use of force not always black and white appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Greece's Finance Minister Varoufakis gives a news conference after an extraordinary euro zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: European countries struck a crucial deal today that will extend a bailout for Greece. It would buy four more months of aid after tense negotiations over austerity measures, and, for now, it eases some worries for the global economy about a rift in the Eurozone. But, in turn, the Greek government faces tough questions.

    David Wessel of the Brookings Institution and a contributing correspondent for The Wall Street Journal fills us in.

    Welcome back to the program, David.

    So explain in terms we will understand what happened today.

    DAVID WESSEL, Brookings Institution: If you think of Greece and the Germans and the other Europeans, they’re like cars in an Indianapolis 500 race. And they were headed towards a collision.

    And, today, they diverted just shy of a collision, but they’re going to keep going around the track. So what happened today was, the Greek finance minister called it constructive ambiguity. They agreed on some terms that give the Greeks four more months to figure out what they’re going to do, provided the Greeks by Monday can come up with a list of belt-tightening measures that the European Union, the Germans and the IMF agree to.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does this represent some kind of, on the part of the Eurozone, easing up of austerity, which is what the Greek people were complaining about in this recent election?

    DAVID WESSEL: It looks like it’s a slight easing up of austerity, that they can run a smaller budget surplus. That’s what the Greek finance minister told us. That’s what the wordings say.

    But in return for that, the Greek government, the new Greek government has to come up with a list of spending cuts or tax increases that they will stick to that add up to enough money to make good the promises that the last government made to the European Union.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So now with this four-month deadline, does one side or another have leverage here?

    DAVID WESSEL: I think the European Unions and the Germans have leverage here. The reason they picked four months — you know the Greeks wanted six months — was because they have a big bill due on some loans over the summer.

    And this keeps the pressure on the Greeks: You have to behave for the next four months. Otherwise, we will be right back to the confrontation again.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we may need some more explaining of all this next week as they continue to work through it.

    DAVID WESSEL: Well, I have a feeling the story’s not going to end by Monday, so there will be plenty of time to talk later.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Wessel of the Brookings Institute, thank you.

    DAVID WESSEL: You’re welcome.



    The post EU deal averts Greek economic crisis for now appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People walk during low temperatures through the Brooklyn bridge in New York

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The deep freeze of the winter of 2015 tightened its grip today across much of the Eastern U.S. In the process, it left a legacy inscribed in ice across rivers and record books alike.

    Morning commuters in Washington faced a bone-chilling walk to work.

    WOMAN: It’s freezing. It’s like freezing-freezing.

    WOMAN: Have you ever seen it this cold in D.C.?

    WOMAN: No, never. I was born and raised here. I have never, ever seen it this cold.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: No one else had either. The official low in the nation’s capital dropped to six degrees, breaking a record set in 1896, and even icing over the tidal basin around the Jefferson Memorial.

    The story was the same up and down the East Coast. It was two degrees in New York City’s Central Park, breaking a 1950 mark of seven degrees. Trenton, New Jersey, hit zero, surpassing the low of six degrees set in 1936. And in Baltimore, the reading was two degrees, erasing the record set in 1979.

    The arctic air made for spectacular sights. The Delaware River in Pennsylvania was frozen as far as the eye could see. And windchills around Philadelphia plunged to minus-25.

    JESUS GONZALEZ: I have like four to five layers under this, a sweater, a fleece, a hoodie.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But the subzero cold also took its toll in burst water pipes. Fire department and public works crews along the Jersey Shore had a flurry of calls for help.

    JOHN HAZLETT, Chief, Ventnor City Fire Department, New Jersey: Our main concern is to get out there, evaluate the structure, and see if we can gain control of the utilities, shut them down.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The deep freeze is expected to last through the weekend, with yet another round of snow, sleet and freezing rain across the Midwest, South and Northeast.

    In another part of the world, the Middle East had its own taste of winter today with a rare snowstorm. Jerusalem got up to 10 inches of snow, leaving the Western Wall and other holy sites decked out in white. And there were snowball fights in Bethlehem in the West Bank.

    The president’s health care law hit a new setback today. The administration announced that 800,000 people got the wrong tax information when they signed up for coverage on healthcare.gov. They’re being asked to delay filing their 2014 returns. Another 50,000 people who already filed, may have to resubmit their returns.

    Wall Street rallied late after the deal between Greece and its creditors. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 154 points to close above 18100, a new high. The Nasdaq rose 31 points on the day and the S&P 500 added 13.

    There’s word that hackers still have access to the State Department’s unclassified e-mail system, three months after the breach was first discovered. The Wall Street Journal reported today that scans show continued signs of the hackers’ presence on department computers.

    But at a briefing today, spokeswoman Jen Psaki played down any security concerns.

    JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: There are thousands of attacks from many sources that we deal with every single day. And the reason why there’s been a focus I think on this particular incident is because of the extent and how broad it was, and obviously we took steps to combat that. But it’s something that we work on every day.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s been no official confirmation as to who is behind the hacking, but The Journal reports the Russian government is a main suspect.

    In Libya, militants allied with the Islamic State group killed more than 40 people in a series of revenge car bombings. The attacks came in the eastern city of Qubbah. The militants said it was retaliation for Egyptian air raids in the city of Derna on Monday. Egypt launched the strikes after 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded.

    The conflict in Ukraine showed few signs of cooling today. Ukraine’s government accused Russia of sending more tanks and troops over the border to aid rebels. If true, it could means the rebels will go beyond their seizure of Debaltseve yesterday.

    Residents there today surveyed the battle damage left by weeks of fighting.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): What do we hope for? That they kick the Ukrainians out, so we can live peacefully. We will build all this back up together. We survived the Second World War, and we will survive this. People are no different now to what they were then.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington, the State Department warned Russia of — quote — “additional costs” unless it reins in the rebels.

    Back in this country, talks on the labor disputes at West Coast ports went down to the deadline in San Francisco. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said the sessions will move to Washington if there’s no deal by day’s end. The dispute has backed up billions of dollars of cargo.

    And former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell was sentenced today to a year and a day in prison in a public corruption case. Her husband, former Governor Bob McDonnell, had already been sentenced to two years. They were convicted of doing favors for a nutritional supplements company in exchange for gifts and loans.

    The post News Wrap: Bone-chilling cold breaks records for East Coast appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ashton Carter, U.S. Secretary of Defense, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 4, 2015. Saturday Carter said the United States is considering slowing its military exit from Afghanistan by keeping a larger-than-planned troop presence. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Ashton Carter, U.S. Secretary of Defense, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 4, 2015. Saturday Carter said the United States is considering slowing its military exit from Afghanistan by keeping a larger-than-planned troop presence. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States is considering slowing its military exit from Afghanistan by keeping a larger-than-planned troop presence this year and next because the new Afghan government is proving to be a more reliable partner, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Saturday.

    Carter, on his first overseas trip since starting the Pentagon job Tuesday, also said the Obama administration is “rethinking” the counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan, although he did not elaborate.

    No decisions have been made, but President Barack Obama will discuss a range of options for slowing the U.S. military withdrawal when Afghan president Ashraf Ghani visits the White House next month, Carter said at a news conference with Ghani. The presidents also plan to talk about the future of the counterterrorism fight in Afghanistan, he said.

    Carter did not say Obama was considering keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016, only that the president was rethinking the pace of troop withdrawals for 2015 and 2016.

    There are about 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of 100,000 as recently as 2010-11.

    While the White House recently acknowledged it was reconsidering the exit plan, Carter’s remarks were the most direct explanation by a Pentagon official amid criticism from opposition Republicans that the Democratic commander in chief is beating a hasty and risky retreat.

    On Feb. 11, the White House said Ghani had requested “some flexibility in the troop drawdown timeline” and that the administration was “actively considering” that. A day later, Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that he had presented U.S. leaders with several options that would allow him to better continue training and advising Afghan forces, particularly through this summer’s peak fighting season.

    The “common denominator” in the new thinking about the U.S. military mission is a belief in Washington that the formation of a unity government in Kabul last year has opened new possibilities for progress on both the political and security fronts, Carter said.

    The unity government of Ashraf and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah offers new promise for a more effective partnership in stabilizing the country, Carter said.

    U.S. officials had grown grew impatient with former President Hamid Karzai, who sometimes publicly criticized the U.S. military and took a dimmer view of partnering with the Americans.

    “That’s a major change,” Carter said, something “that just a few months ago we couldn’t have planned on.”

    Obama’s current plan calls for troop levels to drop by half from 10,000 by the end of this year and be at nearly zero by the end of 2016. The U.S. would maintain a security cooperation office in Kabul. Ghani has made it known he thinks that should be slowed down in order to better support Afghan forces battling a resilient Taliban insurgency.

    Carter did not describe in detail what changes Obama is considering in the U.S. military presence. But he said could include slowing the withdrawal pace and changing the timing and sequencing of U.S. base closures.

    He said Obama also was “rethinking the details” of the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan, where there are remnants of al-Qaida as well as signs that the Islamic State militant group is seeking to make inroads here in addition to Iraq and Syria.

    In his remarks to reporters, Ghani thanked Obama for being flexible and showing a willingness to consider “the realities on the ground.” Using similar phrasing, Carter said that when he returns to Washington he will work up recommendations to Obama, in advance of the March talks, that “reflect reality on the ground.”

    Carter lauded the progress that Afghanistan has made during the 13 years since U.S. forces invaded and toppled the Taliban rule. Obama’s goal, he said, is to “make sure this progress sticks” so that Afghanistan does not again become a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the U.S.

    Carter also met in the Afghan capital with Campbell and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and across the Middle East.

    The post US may slow military exit from Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Cigarettes are arranged for a photograph in New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 14, 2011. In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the nation's largest cigarette makers to publicly admit that they had lied for decades about the dangers of smoking. The tobacco companies have recently plunged into another courtroom battle in an effort to stave off the humiliation of having to underwrite an ad campaign in which they brand themselves as liars. Photographer: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Cigarettes are arranged for a photograph in New York, U.S., on April 14, 2011. In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the nation’s largest cigarette makers to publicly admit that they had lied for decades about the dangers of smoking. The tobacco companies have recently plunged into another courtroom battle in an effort to stave off the humiliation of having to underwrite an ad campaign in which they brand themselves as liars. Photo by Chris Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Never underestimate the staying power of big tobacco.

    In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the nation’s largest cigarette makers to publicly admit that they had lied for decades about the dangers of smoking.

    The basis for the punishment: Testimony from 162 witnesses, a nine-month bench trial and thousands of findings by the judge that defendants engaged in what the largest public health organizations in the country have called a massive campaign of fraud.

    Bloodied but unbeaten, the tobacco companies have plunged into another courtroom battle in an effort to stave off the humiliation of having to underwrite an ad campaign in which they brand themselves as liars. Oral arguments are scheduled for Monday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

    The ads would appear in newspapers, on TV, websites and cigarette pack inserts. The ads, called “corrective statements,” stem from a civil case the government brought in 1999 under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

    The companies say they stand ready and willing to disseminate factual public health information about cigarettes. But they argue that these ads are designed to ensure that the public “does not believe anything the companies say on any topic.”

    The companies are asking the appeals court to set aside the corrective statements and craft new ones.

    The preamble to the ads says a “federal court has ruled that Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA deliberately deceived the American public.”

    The companies say the statement is overbroad and misleading.

    Their reasoning is that the findings cited by the judge pertain to the alleged inaccuracy of the companies’ public statements about smoking and health, not to whether anyone in the public was actually deceived by the defendants.

    The question of whether the companies deceived the public is a disputed factual issue in every fraud case brought against the defendants by an individual smoker, the companies said in a recent court filing.

    They say that if the corrective statements are not modified, the question of whether the companies deceived the public will be decided by jurors exposed on countless occasions to the erroneous assertion that the companies engaged in deception.

    The companies in the case include Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group Inc., owner of the biggest U.S. tobacco company, Philip Morris USA; No. 2 cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., owned by Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc.; and No. 3 cigarette maker Lorillard Inc., based in Greensboro, North Carolina.

    Kessler required the companies to publicly address smoking’s adverse health effects, nicotine manipulation and the health impact of secondhand smoke. The judge also required that the companies address the truth about “light” and low tar” brands and the nature of cigarette addiction.

    The judge said the corrective statements would be in all cigarette packs sold for 12 weeks over the course of two years, in TV spots once per week for a year, in a separate newspaper ad by each company, on company websites indefinitely and at certain retail outlets.

    In 2009, the appeals court directed Kessler to craft corrective statements confined to purely factual and uncontroversial information that would reveal previously hidden truths about the tobacco industry’s products.

    But the companies said in a recent filing that Kessler went beyond those instructions and ordered inflammatory statements that require the defendants to denigrate themselves.

    The post Tobacco companies resist corrective statement about harms of smoking appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    MEGAN THOMPSON: The French are proud of their great cultural traditions. Lingering at cafes, celebrating their architecture and fine art. And then there’s the French love of books. This is the nation of Voltaire … Victor Hugo … Emile Zola… Jules Verne.

    PIERRE ASSOULINE: Books are very important in France. France is a very old literary nation.

    Pierre Assouline is a well-known French author who’s written 30 books.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: So they talk about books and literature the way we Americans might talk about sports or something like that,

    PIERRE ASSOULINE: About baseball.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: About baseball.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Books have a special status in France. A concept called the “cultural exception,” means customers buying books pay the same low sales tax rate as they do on things like food and electricity – because they’re all considered essential goods. And, it turns out, the French love their bookstores as much as their books.

    PIERRE ASSOULINE: Readers are faithful and loyal to the writer. It’s obvious. But mainly, to a book seller. To the owner of a bookstore.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: So it’s personal. It’s a personal relationship.

    PIERRE ASSOULINE: Yes, it’s very personal.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But now some here fear the future of France’s 2,500 or so bookstores may be threatened as more and more customers buy their books online. And they’re buying from one online giant in particular: Amazon.

    Amazon now accounts for around 10 percent of all new book sales in France, and is on track to become the biggest bookseller here soon. But some critics think Amazon’s gotten there in part by not playing fairly.

    RENNY AUPETIT: It is, I would say, a thug. It’s a thug: someone who doesn’t respect the laws in place within a country and a country’s ecosystem.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Renny Aupetit owns a bookstore in eastern Paris. He says he has a problem with the way Amazon tries to maximize profits, including its interpretation of a law that’s helped small bookstores compete with big chains for decades.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: In 1981, the French government passed what’s known as the Lang Law, which essentially fixed the price of books. The publisher prints the price on the back and no one can sell it for more than a five percent discount. So no matter where you go — to a small independent store, a large chain — the price is going to be pretty much the same.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But what the authors of the law didn’t necessarily foresee in the early 80’s was the coming of the Internet … and Amazon. When the company launched in France 15 years ago, like everyone else, it could offer a discount of five percent. But Amazon offered free shipping.

    The French said that amounted to an unfair advantage over independent bookstores… especially when coupled with the convenience of shopping from home. So the French assembly passed a bill in 2013 forbidding any online retailer from offering both a discount and free shipping.

    In an email to NewsHour, a representative for Amazon declined comment on the law. But when it first passed, the company was quoted in news reports saying: “All measures that aim to raise the price of books sold online will curb the ability of French people to buy cultural works and discriminates against those who buy online.”

    When the law went into effect last year, Amazon agreed to charge for shipping, sort of. It imposed shipping charge of one cent. Some of Amazon’s other business tactics have also prompted criticism.

    RENNY AUPETIT: As a citizen, I have an issue with Amazon because of the way it optimizes its taxes – the majority of its revenues are declared in Luxembourg.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: EU regulators recently announced the deal Amazon struck to locate its European headquarters in Luxembourg may be illegal – a deal that’s minimized the company’s tax bill in France and other countries by millions of dollars.

    Separately, in 2012, France slapped Amazon with a $252 million dollar bill for back taxes. Renny Aupetit says, if Amazon’s going to sell books in France, it should pay taxes at the same rate here that he does.

    RENNY AUPETIT: Every time you choose to buy a book, you contribute to the place where you buy it. So if you buy it on Amazon, it makes Amazon stronger. But if you want to buy a book from someone who contributes to the economy of its country, so that there are hospitals, roads and so on, then you should buy it from someone who pays its taxes in France. It’s simple.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: An Amazon representative told NewsHour, that as for the French demand for back taxes, “We dispute and will always contest this request” … AND, “Amazon pays all applicable taxes in every jurisdiction in which we operate and always will.”

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But doesn’t Amazon have a positive role to play? People all over the world can buy French books.

    RENNY AUPETIT: When Amazon arrived, it revolutionized the logistics of the book business, and I think that’s been beneficial. But as a citizen, I have a problem with Amazon. It doesn’t behave with a sense of civic spirit), and in France we care about this.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Despite Amazon’s problems in France, not everyone sees it as all bad. Author Pierre Assouline’s many books are sold on Amazon.

    PIERRE ASSOULINE: I know– a lot of– a lot of people in a few places in France where you do not have any bookstores. And– thanks to Amazon they can read all the books. Even me, I have– very often I– I have ordered books on Amazon. // The ideal world, it’s world where you have Amazon, and the bookstores, like in France today.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: And Bernard Terrades – who owns a used-book store in Paris’s latin quarter – says selling books on Amazon has helped him gain more customers.

    BERNARD TERRADES: It’s had the benefit of increasing our popularity a little. Many people have discovered us thanks the internet. So it’s not all negative. They are also positive points. I have customers who live far away who have met me online and they now come to see me whenever they come to Paris.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Even still, Terrades says his feelings are mixed, because he feels he didn’t really have a choice. He says he had to sell on a big site like Amazon, because there was no way he could compete with a web site of his own.

    BERNARD TERRADES: I will show up on the 20th page of search results. Nobody will ever come to my site so it’s mission impossible. I don’t have Amazon’s money to achieve this so I don’t have a choice: I have to be hosted by them. The system is not fair. It’s just business.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Back in east Paris, Renny Aupetit has made it his mission to help brick-and-mortar booksellers compete online. Five years ago he launched a web site, lalibrairie.com or, “the bookstore” dot-com. It’s a union of about 1800 booksellers across France that all sell their books on one site.

    But there’s a catch: customers order books online, but must go to their local bookstore to pick them up. And that, Aupetit says, is where customers will find an experience they can never find online.

    RENNY AUPETIT: We’ve noticed when people make an online purchase they stay an average of 2 minutes on the site, while when people come in a bookstore, they stay 1 hour, 2 hours or longer. We have armchairs, couches.

    The bookstore is a place where people come and wander, get suggestions, talk about books. It’s not a place where you come with a very defined idea of what you want. So it’s a cultural venue in a way.

    The concept I’m defending is, you can use modern communication tools but if everything is ordered from your home and delivered at your home and nobody talks to each other anymore, that’s not a society I want to live in.

    The post Praise for the printed page: Will Amazon leave French bookstores in peril? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Britain's Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) deliver a statement at a press conference in London, February 21, 2015. The U.S. and Great Britain discussed imposing new further sanctions on Russia as the rebel attacks in Ukraine continue despite a cease-fire agreement Photo by Neil Hall/Reuters

    Britain’s Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) deliver a statement at a press conference in London on Feb. 21. The U.S. and Great Britain discussed imposing new sanctions on Russia as Ukraine’s military and Russia-backed separatists blamed each other for the continued attacks despite a cease-fire agreement. Photo by Neil Hall/Reuters

    LONDON — The U.S. and Britain on Saturday discussed new sanctions against Russia as Ukraine’s week-old cease-fire unravels, though it was unclear if the allies were on the same page about increasing pressure on an economy that means far more to Europe.

    As Ukraine’s military and Russia-backed separatists blamed each other for the continued attacks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond held Moscow responsible. Kerry accused the Russians of “land-grabbing” in Ukraine while cynically speaking of peace.

    The top American diplomat pointed specifically to the strategic port of Mariupol, which Ukrainian forces say is threatened by a buildup of rebel military equipment. If the rebels seize the city, they would establish a land corridor between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

    “What’s happening with respect to Mariupol even now is just simply unacceptable, so we are talking about additional sanctions, additional efforts,” Kerry told reporters.

    The message to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, he said, would be: “We’re not going to play this game. We’re not going to sit there and be part of this kind of extraordinarily craven behavior at the expense of the sovereignty and integrity of a nation.”

    Ukrainian forces on Saturday reported attacks over the past day that killed a serviceman and wounded 40, with mortars reaching the fringes of Mariupol, among other places. The rebels said Ukrainian forces shelled 15 locations overnight, including parts of Donetsk, the largest separatist-controlled city.

    An agreement reached by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France last week called for the guns to go quiet Sunday, followed by a retreat of heavy weaponry from the front lines. International monitors have reported no such activity.

    The U.S. has warily backed the diplomatic effort despite little faith in the Kremlin changing course. Washington repeatedly has invoked the threat of new sanctions if Russia doesn’t cut off the separatists.

    Economic measures against Russia in the past year has severely damaged the country’s economy, but done little to change the calculus of Putin’s government in Ukraine.

    It’s unclear whether the U.S. has sufficient support among its partners in Europe for a new round of trade or financial restrictions. Europe’s participation is seen as necessary, given its far deeper economic relationships with Russia.

    Hammond criticized what he termed Russia’s “continued aggression” and systematic violations of the cease-fire agreement. But he did not explicitly mention sanctions.

    “We will talk about how we maintain European Union unity and U.S.-European alignment in response to those breaches,” Hammond said.

    The post U.S. and Britain consider new sanctions against Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Arctic Cold Weather Chills New York City

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    STEPHEN FEE: Asheville, North Carolina — a city of 87 thousand, nestled in the Appalachian mountains. It’s perhaps best known for farm-to-table dining…funky boutiques…art house cinemas.

    But behind palatial vacation homes and craft beer halls, 20 percent of people here live below the poverty line, outpacing state and national figures.

    And during the wintertime — when the average January low is 27 degrees — low-income families some living in older or mobile homes often struggle to keep warm.

    Nine years ago, after Betty and Mike Lanning’s daughter fell on hard times, they took custody of their infant granddaughter. Mike was a mechanic, Betty worked in home healthcare.

    BETTY LANNING: “I took care or people, and I enjoyed my work very much.”

    STEPHEN FEE: In 2007, Mike died in an accident, and Betty was left to raise her granddaughter Rhianna on her own.

    BETTY LANNING: “After he passed away, it was a real struggle for me. I had to decide to buy medicines or feed my granddaughter or pay my utility bills.”

    STEPHEN FEE: A series of debilitating medical conditions left Lanning, now 76, unable to work. Her only income, $1100 dollars a month in Social Security.

    She started going to food pantries — even stopped taking two medications to save cash. But as the weather got colder, Lanning knew she wouldn’t have the money to heat her home.

    BETTY LANNING: “I heat my home with fuel oil. And it’s very expensive. It’s like $3 dollars and something a gallon. So if you get 100 gallons of fuel oil, it’s over $300 dollars.”

    STEPHEN FEE: “And then you bring in the income from Social Security which is $1100. So that’s a big chunk of your monthly income.”

    BETTY LANNING: “Yeah.”

    BILL MURDOCK, CEO, EBLEN CHARITIES: “Well certainly this time of year, you know, heating is always at the top of the list.”

    STEPHEN FEE: That’s Bill Murdock, executive director and CEO of Eblen Charities. Each year, Eblen helps thousands of Asheville families pay bills, put food on the table, and in wintertime, stay warm.

    STEPHEN FEE: “You turn on the TV, and you hear that the economy is getting better and that gas prices are lower. Is that having an impact here for low-income families in Asheville?”

    BILL MURDOCK, CEO, EBLEN CHARITIES: “So many of our families have been struggling for a long, long time. Even before the economy turned. And a lot of them are the first ones hit when something happens, and the last ones to recover if they ever do because they’re dealing with so much more than what a lot of us deal with.”

    STEPHEN FEE: On a recent January morning, the waiting room at Eblen Charities was full by 9 o’clock. And most of the folks we met needed help paying heating bills.

    STEPHEN FEE: “And how much are you looking at?”

    JORGE LONDONO: “It’s $500 a month right now because of the space heaters.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Forty year old Jorge Londono has four kids. He switched on electric heaters this winter, and now has overdue power bills totalling more than a thousand bucks.

    Cecilia Lordman gets paid the minimum wage working at Burger King. On her salary, she and boyfriend Mike Roberts can’t afford their $300 energy bill.

    JACKIE HENRY: “Her husband lost his one job.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Jackie Henry brought her 36 year old daughter Debra Wolf to Eblen Charities. Wolf has four kids and owes $417 this month. The power company says it’s ready to switch off her electricity.

    STEPHEN FEE: “We met some clients just now, some people it looks like their heating bills are almost half of what they pay for rent. You know, what kind of burden is that putting on families here?”

    BILL MURDOCK, CEO, EBLEN CHARITIES: “Well it’s a tremendous burden, considering economic times and some were maybe not working, some maybe on social security, some maybe have two or three jobs.”

    STEPHEN FEE: “In North Carolina, low-income families are eligible for a range of government programs to help stay warm in the winter. Generally they’re administered by the state and paid for by the federal government. But in recent years, federal spending on programs for the poor has been cut. For example, the federal utility bill subsidy only pays up to $400 a year in North Carolina — we met families who owe more than that each month. So increasingly, local governments are partnering with private nonprofit organizations to try to find new ways to help poor families cope with cool temperatures.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Phillip Hardin is economic services director for the Buncombe County health and human services department, which includes Asheville. Instead of directly doling out federal heating dollars, his department contracts with nonprofits like Eblen Charities to do it instead. He says those nonprofits often have more latitude in distributing government aid.

    PHILLIP HARDIN, BUNCOMBE COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: “So they can combine funds in a lot of ways you know that if they’re administering three or four different pots of funds from us that could help with heating costs, then you may be able to pull from more than one funding source.”

    STEPHEN FEE: “So they can basically stitch together state, federal resources, also use a little bit of private funds, and hopefully give people enough to pay a bill.”

    PHILLIP HARDIN, BUNCOMBE COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: “That’s absolutely right. Yeah. I mean they — and then they have their own funding, as you mentioned. You know that’s something that from a county government agency we don’t go out and recruit or solicit donations.”

    STEPHEN FEE: After Betty Lanning came looking for help, Eblen worked out a deal to cover her regular heating bills. Government dollars cover a little more than half the cost — Eblen’s private funds and other donations, including funds from the local energy company, make up the rest.

    STEPHEN FEE: “So does that basically mean that government isn’t doing enough?”[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]BILL MURDOCK, CEO, EBLEN CHARITIES: “You know, I don’t know if I could say that. I’m certainly not one to point a finger and say you know ‘You’re not doing enough.’ But I think there’s a great opportunity to do more. Needs are always going to outdistance resources. I think since the beginning of time that’s always going to happen.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Phillip Hardin though says a public-private model might not work everywhere, especially in communities that don’t have charitable organizations.

    PHILLIP HARDIN, BUNCOMBE COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: “When you get into the smaller communities, those partners don’t exist. You know, there may not be but one nonprofit in some of these smaller counties if — maybe none.”

    STEPHEN FEE: What’s more, just paying heating bills doesn’t solve the whole problem in western North Carolina, where many low-income families live in drafty older houses or poorly insulated mobile homes.

    GRACIA O’NEILL, COMMUNITY ACTION OPPORTUNITIES: “We try to do work that you can’t really see from the inside.”

    STEPHEN FEE: That’s where groups like Community Action Opportunities come in. The nonprofit has seven full-time weatherization professionals on staff who serve four counties in western North Carolina. They seal ducts, insulate doors and windows, and install energy-efficient lightbulbs to help families stretch their energy dollars — at no cost to the homeowner.

    Technician Jack Heuer says those simple measures will save nearly $300 a year for the family living in this single-wide mobile home.

    JACK HEUER, COMMUNITY ACTION OPPORTUNITIES: “We’re estimating to spend, labor and materials, close to $3500 dollars.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Their work is also financed with federal funds, and the government requires any improvements to basically pay for themselves after 15 years. In this case, the project will be paid for in about 12 years.

    But federal resources for weatherization have been trimmed as well. At the height of the federal stimulus program, Community Action Opportunities had an annual budget of $3.9 million dollars to weatherize 200 homes a year.

    But today, the budget’s down to a million and the group can only work on a hundred homes annually. And while there are no firm figures on how many homes need insulating, the group says its wait list has only grown.

    In a time of belt-tightening, Bill Murdock at Eblen Charities says there will always come a point when government assistance dollars just dry up. And private nonprofits have to fill in the gaps.

    BILL MURDOCK, CEO, EBLEN CHARITIES: “We don’t feel we have that opportunity — that luxury for the lack of a better word — to say, ‘We can’t do anything. Sorry. We’ve helped you all we could,’ when we know we’re gonna go home and be warm tonight and they’re not.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Betty Lanning credits Bill Murdock and Eblen Charities for keeping her and her granddaughter together. What would she do without them?

    BETTY LANNING: “I don’t know. I would have to move my granddaughter in with somebody or — I don’t know how I would do it.”

    The post Heat or hunger? Low-income families struggle to cope with winter weather appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua (L) holds her baby Gammy, born with Down Syndrome, at the Samitivej hospital, Sriracha district in Chonburi province on August 4, 2014. Thailand passed a new law Thursday, February 19, 2015, banning foreigners from seeking surrogacy in Thailand. Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images

    Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua (L) holds her baby Gammy, born with Down Syndrome, at the Samitivej hospital, Sriracha district in Chonburi province on August 4, 2014. Thailand passed a new law on Feb. 19 banning foreigners from seeking surrogacy in Thailand. Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images

    Thailand is cracking down on commercial surrogacy, including enacting a measure that would ban foreign couples from seeking a surrogate in the country.

    First drafted five years ago, the law was unanimously passed by the Thai parliament on Thursday, spurred by a series of recent high-profile scandals that roiled the profitable but often controversial industry.

    In one case last year, a Thai surrogate mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, said an Australian couple had abandoned one child in a set of twin infants after learning the boy, Gammy, had Down syndrome.

    The couple, David and Wendy Farnell, has strongly denied the allegation and told Australia’s Channel Nine in August that the surrogate mother would not give them the infant, the BBC reported.

    In another case, Mitsutoki Shigeta, a Japanese man who fathered at least 16 babies using Thai surrogates, was investigated by Interpol, the Guardian reported.

    Police found nine surrogate babies with nannies and another pregnant surrogate mother in his Bangkok apartment.

    “Surrogacy business leaves too much long-term trouble for Thailand, so we are banning foreign couples from seeking surrogacy in our country to avoid being a hub and prevent what we saw last year,” National Legislative Assembly member Wanlop Tangkananurak told the Associated Press.

    But the new measures will go beyond restrictions on foreigners seeking surrogates in Thailand.

    The new law also imposes tighter restrictions on Thai couples who seek surrogates in the country. Only couples who prove they are unable to bear children and have no relatives who could act as surrogates on their behalf are eligible to seek services. Couples comprised of only one Thai spouse must be married for at least three years.

    Whether the new law will be sufficiently enforced is under debate.

    “Just like drinking and driving. We have the law. But they never enforce it,” Dr. Somsak Lolekha of the Thai Medical Council told the BBC. “That is a weak point of Thailand.”

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    A T-34 Soviet-made tank and Russian servicemen take part in a rehearsal for a military parade at the Red Square in Moscow November 1, 2014. The parade will be held on November 7 to mark the anniversary of a historical parade in 1941, when Soviet soldiers marched through the Red Square towards the front lines of World War Two. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA - Tags: MILITARY ANNIVERSARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY TRAVEL CITYSCAPE) - RTR4CFJE

    A T-34 Soviet-made tank and Russian servicemen take part in a rehearsal for a military parade at the Red Square in Moscow on Nov. 1, 2014. Moscow says it will move ahead with a planned decade-long upgrade of the Russian military, despite facing an economy in decline. Credit: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    In the face of a moribund economy and growing tensions with the west, Moscow will move ahead with a planned decade-long upgrade of the Russian military, raising 2015 defense spending to 3.3 trillion rubles ($50 billion), a 30 percent nominal increase over last year.

    Despite predictions that the Russian economy will shrink in 2015 and calls for reductions in defense spending by some members of his government, Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed the overhaul on Thursday.

    “We are successfully carrying out an ambitious program to modernize the army and navy, including active modernization of our air and space defenses and nuclear forces. This is the guarantee of global parity,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin translation.

    The plans include upgraded communications and missile systems as well as new tanks, aircraft and nuclear-powered submarines.

    The spending increase is part of Putin’s State Armaments Plan for 2011-2020.

    The goal of the 20.7 trillion-ruble plan is to replace 70 percent of the Russian military’s outmoded equipment with modern technology by 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

    The defense improvements were announced in 2011, after Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia revealed deficiencies in the country’s aging military hardware.

    Some have since expressed doubts about whether the Kremlin can afford the costly upgrades, which were planned based on predictions of six percent annual gross domestic product growth through the end of the decade.

    Last month, Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said the country’s GDP is expected to fall three percent this year, according to Russian news agencies.

    In October, Reuters reported that Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov had acknowledged the budget crunch.

    “When we were adopting the defense program, the forecasts for the economy and budget revenues were completely different. Right now, we just cannot afford it,” Siluanov said.

    The post Despite faltering economy, Russia will continue defense upgrade appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: At a briefing this week, a U.S. official announced plans to take back Iraq’s second biggest city, Mosul, from ISIS fighters who captured it last June. What are the operations chances for success?

    For more, we are joined now from Washington by Douglas Ollivant. He was a military planner in Iraq and served on the National Security Council under both President Obama and, before that, President Bush. He is now a senior national security fellow at the New America Foundation and a partner at Mantid International. He was recently in Iraq.

    So, what are the plans to try to tackle ISIS in Mosul?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT, PARTNER, MANTID INTERNATIONAL: Well, according to this briefing, which we can back to in a minute, evidently a number of reporters got on background, the plan is to seven six or seven Iraqi brigades forward, along with the counterterrorism brigade, along with some tribal forces and have the Kurds essentially isolated, keep anyone from either fleeing the city or reinforcing it from the north.

    According to this briefing, or the report from this briefing, they believe there are only 1,000 to 2,000 Islamic State fighters in the industry, and, therefore, this force of about 10,000 to 20,000, depending on how you count, should have a really chance of pushing them out. And they’re talking about perhaps doing this as article as late spring, April, May.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. And considering that there were all those details that even we are talking about, there’s been push-backs of from Senator McCain and Senator Graham, saying we just telegraphed our plans to the enemy.

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: That’s right. There’s a lot of interesting dispute why did this happen? Why was CentCom talk about it? Why are the Iraqis not talking about it rather than the Americans?

    Senator Graham and Senator McCain are clearly are clearly little bit upset about tipping our hand. And there’s a lot of bafflement in the national security establishment. You know, was this some military officer freelancing? Did the White House want this to happen? Just exactly how and why did this happen or is this part of some grand information plan? “The Washington Post” is reporting to downgrade the moral of the fighters in Mosul and you will try to make it less of a spectacular battle than it might otherwise be.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But how difficult is it to fight with 10,000 to 20,000 people against a population of 1,000 or 2,000 in a large city, or a city that of maybe a million, 2 million people?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: It could be very difficult. And here’s the issue with the battle of Mosul that’s going to come. It could be so very, very different. You know, again, “The Washington Post” story says we want it to be more like the liberation of Paris than like Stalingrad. And that is a distinct possibility.

    Again, if there’s only 1,000 or 2,000 Islamic state fighters in Mosul and a population of one million, it’s entirely possible that as the Iraqi forces close, that there could be a lot of guerillas inside the city who assassinate key leaders, who break down defenses, who destroy their supplies and that, therefore, the battle of Mosul is less a bang and a whimper.

    On the other hand, it could look like Stalingrad and it could look like anything in between. And so, it’s just very difficult ton exactly how this battle will unfold.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, does this create an incentive for the different ISIL factions in the region to band together and defend Mosul, or possibly for these people, these 1,000 to 2,000, to say, “Here’s my ticket out, let me go now to ISIL in Syria”?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: That’s great question. That’s the problem with war, it’s multi-variant and things can go either way. So, you can see either of those outcomes happening. This could work in the sense of making the fighters in Mosul, particularly as they are becoming more isolated. The Kurds are putting in this perimeter around the north and northwest of Mosul, starting to cut them off from Syria and making them more isolated. And they may start to feel that and decide it’s better to live and fight another day someplace else.

    On the other hand, it could go the opposite way and they could dig in and decide to fight. We just don’t know. That’s the problem before.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, do we have greater confidence now in the Iraqi forces that they’re up to this task?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: We seem to. It seems that there are more reliable units that have been pushed up from the south that are getting extra training from the American trainers who have been in country for about six months now and that there is a level of confidence that these forces may be ready to do the type of hard, in-the-city fighting that’s required.

    Now, of course, there are doubters. There are people who would say that’s not case. But I think mainstream opinion is that they’re going to be ready.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Douglas Ollivant, thanks so much.

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: Thank you.

    The post In tackling the Islamic State, what are the Mosul mission’s chances for success? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: A government advisory committee made a series of recommendations Thursday about what Americans should, and shouldn’t eat and drink. The group’s findings will help shape the official guidelines being drawn by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

    For more about this, we are joined now from Boston by Alice Lichtenstein. She is a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University and helped draft the guidelines.

    So, I know it was a 500-plus-page report, but in broad strokes, what were the major areas of focus in this report?

    ALICE LICHTENSTEIN, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Well, the major area of focus was that we should really be thinking about the whole diet, a dietary pattern and not just individual components, because we know when one component of the diet goes up, another component of the diet goes down.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how different is that from the recommendations that came out, say, five years ago?

    ALICE LICHTENSTEIN: There are subtle tweaks. So, first of all, these aren’t recommendations. Remember, this is just a summary of the evidence, a report.

    And I would say some of the differences are that we put less emphasis on restricting dietary cholesterol because the evidence didn’t support it. We addressed issues related to sodium, which has been quite controversial, indicating that the important thing to focus on is reducing sodium intake.

    We recommended putting a limit on the amount of added sugar that anyone consumes at one time. And then also addressed issues related to coffee, indicating that coffee consumption, per se, does not have adverse effects. It may actually have beneficial effects, although you have to be concerned about the amount of cream and sugar that’s added.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You’ve also already gotten push-back from the beef industry, and possibly the sugar lobby, the beverage industry because this is the one of the first times that I remember you are saying consume less of something, like less red meat.

    ALICE LICHTENSTEIN: In terms of the red meat, from the meat industry, I think there is somewhat of a misunderstanding. We do say that diets high in red and processed meats are associated with increased adverse health outcomes. However, we also clearly state that consuming a limited amount of lean red meat is — can fit into a healthy dietary pattern.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And you also added a sustainability component to this, saying that certain foods like plant-based foods are more sustainable and perhaps we should choose in that direction. And that’s gotten some push-backs from folks saying, you know what, that’s a political and ideological distinction. It has no bearing on what type of food we should be eating.

    ALICE LICHTENSTEIN: Well, I think there’s more nuance there, that if the federal government makes certain recommendations about eating more of something, then we have to make sure that it’s going to be available and that there’s not going to be any adverse effect on the environment.

    And I think we saw that with fish when we — there was a recommendation quite a few years ago to increase fish consumption. There was a lot of concern about depleting the stocks of wild-caught fish.

    So, the industry really stepped in and developed some really sustainable and environmentally responsible ways of farming fish, and I think we can use that as a model for some of the other concerns that have been raised.

    I don’t think it should be viewed, necessarily, as negative or trying to impede any one industry. I think it’s just — we should view it as an opportunity to be creative.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So help me understand how this report impacts the budget decisions that are made on, say, school lunches or nutrition programs?

    ALICE LICHTENSTEIN: According to the federal legislation, any feeding program that is supported by federal dollars has to adhere to the dietary guideline. So, if the dietary guidelines that are going to come out at the end of this year indicate that less than 10 percent of calories should come from sugar, that means feeding programs, whether it be military or the school lunch, would have to limit the amount of sugar that’s actually in those meals.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Alice Lichtenstein, thanks so much for your time.

    ALICE LICHTENSTEIN: You’re very welcome. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    The post What you should know about the government’s new nutritional guidelines appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to Viewers Like You: Your chance to comment on our work. Tonight, your largely one-sided responses to last Saturday’s signature segment. In it, we reported on the state of Nebraska suing the state of Colorado over the legalization of marijuana — and how that has increased the costs of law enforcement in the Cornhusker State.

    There was this from ReadMore: These states need to stop whining and move into the 21st century with the rest of us. “have suffered direct and significant harm arising from the increased presence of Colorado-sourced marijuana.” LMAO, riiiight.

    And this from Lorelei Lee87: While I agree that marijuana should be legal in all 50 states, I have to say that those people trying to transport it from Colorado are not the brightest bulbs. Of course they are watching the border, you should have realized that the moment it became legal there.

    MikeParent commented on the local police authority: It’s his choice to ramp up enforcement, then he complains about increased work load. We’d all be better off if the police would focus on crimes that have actual victims.

    Mirko Sansan said: Really. Just stop fishing for the pot when you pull people over for “speeding.”

    And from dave_slc: I find it hypocritical that these same red states where conservatives continually clamor about states rights are now wanting federal intervention in Colorado.

    Anthony J Costa added: Are they seizing and confiscating these harmless people’s Doritos too?? :)

    Javier Alicea noted: If it’s illegal in your state don’t smoke pot. It sucks but wait till your state legalizes it.

    And there was this from  Barbara Reedy: Get over it Nebraska.

    And K.a. Berry said simply: No one saw this coming?

    As always, we welcome your comments at pbs.org/newshour, on our Facebook page, or tweet us at @NewsHour.

    The post Viewers respond to report on lawsuits aimed at Colorado’s marijuana legalization appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Clark Terry during Marian McPartland 85th Birthday Celebration at Birdland in New York City, NY, United States. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic)

    Clark Terry plays the trumpet during Marian McPartland’s 85th Birthday Celebration at Birdland in New York City. Terry, who played alongside jazz greats such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington, died on Saturday at 94 years old. Credit: Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic

    Legendary jazz trumpeter and composer Clark Terry, who played alongside jazz greats such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington over a 70-plus year career, died on Saturday. He was 94.

    His wife, Gwen, confirmed his death on his Facebook page saying her husband “joined the big band in heaven where he’ll be singing and playing with the angels.”

    Terry rose to international fame in the 1960s when he became the first African-American staff musician at NBC, where he spent 12 years as one of the featured horn players on the Tonight Show.

    According to his official online biography, the St. Louis-native is “one of the most recorded musicians in the history of jazz, with more than 900 recordings.”

    Terry also enjoyed a long career in jazz education, organizing jazz camps, youth bands and teaching in educational institutions.

    “Teaching jazz allows me play a part in making dreams come true for aspiring musicians,”  he wrote on his website.

    Terry received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

    The post Jazz legend Clark Terry dies at 94 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter addresses a new conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Kabul February 21, 2015 on his first trip since taking over the job. Carter called Afghanistan's army "a powerful force" but declined to comment on plans for scaling back on U.S. military presence. Photo by Johnathon Ernst/Reuters

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter addresses a new conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Kabul February 21, 2015 on his first trip since taking over the job. Carter called Afghanistan’s army “a powerful force” but declined to comment on plans for scaling back on U.S. military presence. Photo by Johnathon Ernst/Reuters

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Sunday called Afghanistan’s army “a powerful force in their own right” but declined to say whether he thinks the U.S. can scale back military training and advising this year as planned.

    Carter wrapped up two days in the war zone by consulting with U.S. and Afghan commanders at Kandahar air field, an important hub in the network of U.S. advisory posts that are due to close before year’s end.

    In a question-and-answer session with reporters at this base in southern Afghanistan, Carter declined to say whether his visit had convinced him that the Kandahar operation should stay open longer.

    The advisory work here will wind up this summer unless President Barack Obama alters his plan for ending the U.S. military presence.

    “I’m not prepared to share conclusions except with him, when I reach them,” Carter said. He said he was impressed by progress in professionalizing the Afghan army and police.

    “The Afghan security forces have become a powerful force in their own right, and good partners in their own way,” he said.

    Carter, who started as Pentagon chief just last week, is preparing recommendations to Obama about the future of the American military presence in Afghanistan. On Saturday, Carter met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and said afterward that Obama is considering whether to slow the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals this year and next.

    The U.S. now has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, including about 2,000 training and advising in Kandahar.

    On Monday, Carter was convening a meeting in Kuwait of U.S. military commanders, intelligence officials and diplomats for what his aides billed as a free-wheeling discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the Obama administration’s strategy for countering the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

    Carter intends to examine the intellectual underpinnings of the strategy against IS, including the bombing campaigns and their connection to broader political and regional goals, a senior defense official said.

    The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Carter’s internal planning.

    Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said among those expected to attend the conference are U.S. ambassadors from Jordan and elsewhere in the Mideast, the top U.S. commanders from Europe, Africa and the Mideast and special operations force leaders.

    U.S. commanders are known to prefer to keep the Kandahar operation open at least through the peak fighting season this summer. Current plans call for it to wind down before summer’s end in order to have the entire U.S. presence at Kandahar out by December.

    Earlier, Carter addressed a gathering of about 100 U.S. soldiers at Kandahar and thanked them for their work with the Afghan army. He said their advisory effort “is now becoming the heart of” the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, which also includes hunting down remnants of al-Qaida.

    Carter made clear that whatever course of action he recommends to Obama, it will be based on the goal of preserving the security gains that have been achieved during 13 years of costly combat.

    “When our presence here is reduced to something much smaller than today, we want to make sure that the Afghans themselves are able to preserve the environment which our forces have created over the last few years – one of relative security and stability,” he said. “They can’t do that without you.”

    In exchange with reporters, Carter was asked for his view of criticism by U.S. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and others about a Pentagon briefing in which a U.S. Central Command official discussed planning for an Iraqi counteroffensive to regain control of the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.

    McCain, R-Ariz., demanded that the administration explain why the official disclosed that the counteroffensive is scheduled to begin in April or May, and offered details such as the approximate makeup of the Iraqi forces.

    Carter did not say whether he was bothered by the briefing. He said the key point was that the operation in Mosul should not begin until the Iraqi forces are prepared to succeed, with the U.S. military playing an unspecified support role.

    He said “no one knows the date” the operation will start because the Iraqis are still making preparations. “That isn’t the kind of thing you would reveal anyway in advance,” he said.

    The post US defense secretary calls Afghan army ‘powerful force’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People are seen walking through Roosevelt Field shopping mall in Garden City, New York February 22, 2015. The U.S. homeland security chief said on Sunday he takes seriously an apparent threat by Somali-based Islamist militants against prominent shopping sites in the West including the Mall of America in Minnesota and urged people there to be careful.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTR4QMUO

    People are seen walking through Roosevelt Field shopping mall in Garden City, New York on Feb. 22, 2015. The U.S. homeland security chief said Sunday he takes seriously an apparent threat by Somali-based Islamist militants against prominent shopping sites in the West. Credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

    A video purportedly released by the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab late Saturday urged Muslims to attack shopping malls in Western countries, specifically naming the Mall of America in Minnesota, the Associated Press reports.

    The video mentioned several malls as potential targets, including the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and London’s Oxford Street, Reuters reports.

    News agencies were not able to immediately verify the video’s authenticity, but it proved sufficiently credible to raise concerns for U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

    Speaking in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Johnson said shoppers planning to shop at the Mall of America should be “particularly careful.”

    “There will be enhanced security there, but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important, and it’s the environment we’re in, frankly,” he said.

    Johnson said the call for attacks on Western malls by independent actors represented a “new phase” in global terrorism and that the U.S. had to take such threats seriously.

    “I am very concerned about serious potential threats of independent actors here in the United States. We’ve seen this now in Europe, we’ve seen this in Canada,” he said.

    Mall of America said in a statement that the mall was aware of the video and had implemented “extra security precautions.”

    Mall of America is aware of a threatening video that was released which included a mention and images of the Mall. We take any potential threat seriously and respond appropriately. We have implemented extra security precautions. Some may be noticeable to guests, and others won’t be. We will continue to follow the situation, along with the federal, state and local law enforcement and will remain vigilant as we always do in similar situations.

    The Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab previously claimed responsibility for the 2013 assault on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left more than 60 people dead.

    The post Al-Shabab urges attacks on malls in Western countries appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Pedestrians walk along snow covered, MBTA subway rails on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Of course, millions of poor people across the country face similar challenges paying their heating bills.

    How widespread is the problem, and what’s behind it?

    Yesterday, we spoke to Mark Wolfe in Washington. He’s the executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.

    Mark Wolfe, how significant is fuel insecurity in these winter months?

    MARK WOLFE, Executive Director, National Energy Assistance Directors Association: Well, it’s very significant.

    The average family spends about 2 to 3 percent of their income on home heating. For a low-income family, though, they spend maybe 10 to 15 percent of their income on home heating. And the reason is simple. They just have less money, so that, if you are’s poor, it doesn’t mean you use less energy. You still have a house to heat.

    And, if anything, your house might be older, might be leaky. So your bill is very high relative to income, where, for a middle-income family, it’s much lower. So when we think about home energy, you have to think about just the burden it places on poor families to stay connected to the grid, to be able to continue to buy home heating oil.

    And the problem is that the energy assistance program, LIHEAP, has been cut from $5.1 billion in 2010 to about $3.3 billion now. So, we have lost close to $2 billion in assistance to help families.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Besides the Northeast or the Midwest, I mean, are places, say, for example, in the Deep South worse off because they don’t necessarily have the infrastructure, they don’t prepare for it like the Northeast does?

    MARK WOLFE: Well, it’s a little bit different.

    Here’s what happens. You know, there’s federal funding that is sort of base funding that we call it. And then states utilities add money to that. Most of the extra money that is added to energy assistance is in the Northeast and the West states.

    Also in those states, they have very strong shutoff protections. So, you fall behind in your bill, say, in Massachusetts, you can’t be shut off. It’s a public health concern. As you go South, especially in the Southern states and many of the Western states, there really are no shutoff protections, or they are much weaker.

    So, if you are a low-income family, say, in North Carolina, it’s much harder. You fall behind in your bill, the state has less money to work with. There’s fewer utility supports. And they’re more likely to get into a shutoff situation or fall further behind in their bill because there’s just less money to help them with.

    I mean, this is not like curing cancer. This is a very, very straightforward problem. It’s a bill. And in the Northeast and the West states, they have more money to work than, say, in the South or Western states.


    This gets to a little bit of the philosophical question of, what is the role of government and what is the role of assistance in poverty, right?

    MARK WOLFE: Well, exactly.

    I mean, in a sense, there’s a broad agreement that programs like SNAP, or food stamps, Medicaid, they are entitlement programs, in the sense that, if you are eligible based on income, there will always be money to help you.

    Energy assistance is a discretionary grant program, which means that, when the appropriation runs out, the program ends, so that there is a real difference. There’s a societal agreement to help people with food, to help old age — elderly people with Social Security. There’s not a broad societal agreement to help people with energy. And that’s the real key difference.

    One of the other differences in energy, though — and this is where I think we get into this situation of families getting to unaffordable cases — it’s not just the price of energy. It’s also how much you use.

    So, if this turns out — this winter turns out to continue to be as cold as it is, then families will just need more money to pay their energy bill, and there’s nothing to help them. That’s the problem. So, they have to substitute. And low-income families will buy less medicine, less food because they have to pay their energy bill.

    So it is a complicated question. But we have answered it in the area of food. We have answered it with, in cases, if you are low-income, getting housing assistance. We haven’t really answered it with energy.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Mark Wolfe, the executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, thanks so much.

    MARK WOLFE: Thank you.

    The post Millions of low-income households burdened by fuel insecurity appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Final preparations were underway in downtown Los Angeles Sunday afternoon for the 87th Academy Awards just hours before the toast of the town was set to arrive.

    Although the height of the event will last only a few hours at LA’s Dolby Theatre, preparation for the Oscars venue began weeks ago when an entire block of Hollywood Boulevard was shut down.

    And as workers meticulously comb every last fiber of the red carpet (literally) and polish the statuettes, the rest of Hollywood also prepares for its biggest night of the year.

    An Oscar statue is surrounded with roses during preparations ahead of the 87th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California February 21, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    An Oscar statue is surrounded with roses during preparations ahead of the 87th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California February 21, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    A man makes final preparations along the red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, hours before arrivals for the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 22, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Adrees Latif

    A man makes final preparations along the red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, hours before arrivals for the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 22, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Adrees Latif

    An Oscar statue is uncovered outside the Dolby Theater during preparations leading up to the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 21, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

    An Oscar statue is uncovered outside the Dolby Theater during preparations leading up to the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 21, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

    Opera singer Carol Froehlich of New York sings on the red carpet at the Dolby Theater during preparations leading up to the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 21, 2015. Photo by  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

    Opera singer Carol Froehlich of New York sings on the red carpet at the Dolby Theater during preparations leading up to the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 21, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

    Rehearsal actors stand on the red carpet at the Dolby Theater during preparations leading up to the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 21, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

    Rehearsal actors stand on the red carpet at the Dolby Theater during preparations leading up to the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 21, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

    A woman walks up the stairs to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, hours before arrivals for the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 22, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Adrees Latif

    A woman walks up the stairs to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, hours before arrivals for the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 22, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Adrees Latif

    The post Photos: Oscar gets red carpet-ready for the Academy Awards appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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