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

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    Wal-Mart Announces Wage Increases

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Wal-Mart made news this week by announcing that it is raising the wages for its employees above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Starting pay at the company, the world’s largest private employer, is going up to $9 an hour, and $10 an hour by next February.

    To discuss the broader implications, we are joined now by Shelly Banjo. She has reported the story for Quartz, a business site published by the Atlantic Media Company.

    So, how significant is it? We’re talking about one in a hundred people employed in the United States are employed by Wal-Mart.

    SHELLY BANJO, Quartz: Pretty significant.

    Wal-Mart — as you mentioned, Wal-Mart is the biggest private employer. And so what Wal-Mart does, other people tend to follow.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is that something that Target and other sort of competitors might do as well?

    SHELLY BANJO: A lot of competitors are already paying more, something like Costco or some of the other retailers, but there are definitely competitors like Target, Best Buy, those kinds of companies, that are likely to follow suit, as they fight for workers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, why did Wal-Mart do this at this moment? One of the things you pointed out in your story is that now 29 states around the country already have minimum wages above the federal base.

    SHELLY BANJO: Right.

    And my argument was, what took them so long? Because, basically they had to — they had to do this anyway. The time was coming. As you mentioned, 29 states already had higher state wages than the federal minimum. And there’s a lot of political pressure from workers, from the government, from the states themselves and the economy.

    Wages are raising, especially for unemployed workers, not as fast as other parts of the economy, but jobs are getting — the unemployment rate has been going down and jobs are getting more competitive.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, wage stagnation has been one of those things that economists have been struggling with, because basic economics says, if unemployment decreases, meaning there’s less people without jobs, so the demand for them increases, and they should be getting paid more or they should be able to command more, right?

    But that hasn’t happened in the past years. Why not?

    SHELLY BANJO: I think that is what is confounding economists. They are seeing the unemployment rate going down. They are seeing competition going up.

    But if you talk to any businesses, they are saying, we are having a hard time finding good people. Yet, at the same time, they are keeping their wages low. So, maybe this is now an experiment, saying, maybe if we bring up the wages, maybe we will get better qualified workers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, places like the Chamber of Commerce or other business groups are using this as an opportunity to say, you know what, this is an example of the market at work, that the government shouldn’t be creating a federal mandate to try to ask everybody to say $10.10 is the minimum. Look, Wal-Mart did this on their very own.

    SHELLY BANJO: And I think that is the political gains that you get out of this, because all those business groups are the ones that were coming out against raising the minimum wage.

    The National Retail Federation was saying, no, we shouldn’t raise wages. And then the second Wal-Mart says, we’re going to raise wages, then all those business groups rallied around Wal-Mart and said, you know, good job with your decision.

    So, I guess, if Wal-Mart can head them off before it gets to $10.10 by offering $9 this year, then they set the — they set the conversation. They decide what they want for their business.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And how many people does this actually impact inside Wal-Mart? I mean, is — even if they get $9 this year or $10, are they — does this increase their ability to spend money, comparatively speaking?

    SHELLY BANJO: You have hit on an interesting point, because one of the biggest proponents, say — Wal-Mart employees employs 1.3 million, 1.4 million, depending if you include Sam’s Club in the — in the U.S. So you put extra dollars in their pockets, and a lot of those people are going to spend that money back at Wal-Mart.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Shelly Banjo from Quartz, thanks so much.

    SHELLY BANJO: Thank you.

    The post What will Wal-Mart’s wage hike mean for workers and the economy? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said if Congress fails to agree to a new budget for his department by the end of Friday, inaction by lawmakers would lead to staff furloughs that could harm the U.S. response to terrorist threats. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • The Department of Homeland Security will shut down Friday if nothing is done
    • Republicans are split and would likely get more of the blame
    • Where do each of the most vulnerable 2016 Senate Republicans stand?
    • Scott Walker’s bad couple of weeks continue

    Shutdown showdown week: As some of us have been predicting, funding for the Department of Homeland Security has come down to the final week. Just five days from DHS running out of funding and shutting down, there is STILL no clear off ramp. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson made the rounds on the Sunday shows and called the funding fight “bizarre and absurd” on Meet the Press. Democrats have shown — with three filibusters and a fourth expected today — that they are not going to accept anything that limits President Obama’s ability to implement his immigration executive action legislatively, like in the last three pages of the 107-page Republican DHS funding bill. President Obama has said he would veto any kind of bill that includes those kind of restrictions. Republicans have not backed off and decided for at least a short-term funding measure while the immigration executive action makes its way through the courts. And it has split the GOP with high-profile Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Mark Kirk of Illinois — one of the most vulnerable senators in 2016 — Rob Portman of Ohio, Marco Rubio of Florida and a handful of House members seeming to indicate that, at this point, they would prefer a clean bill.

    Republicans split and pointing fingers: But Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has so far declined to go that route and has instead pointed to the House. “We’re stuck,” he said. “[T]he next move obviously is up to the House.” House Speaker John Boehner blamed Senate Democrats (with some salty language): “The House has done its job,” Boehner said after meeting with his conference. “Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re going to get off their ass and do something other than to vote ‘no’?” A House leadership aide confirmed that Boehner is not planning any action on DHS funding this week. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a likely presidential candidate, posited that Democrats would be blamed if DHS shuts down, but also warned Republicans last fall of going ahead with this strategy. “I told them [leadership] this was not a winning strategy, and they went down this road anyway.”

    And they’d get the blame: Graham said on ABC’s This Week, “Our best bet is to challenge this in court, that if we don’t fund the Department of Homeland Security, we’ll get blamed as a party.” And he has good reason to feel that way — 55 percent of Americans in a CNN/ORC poll said a DHS shutdown of even a few days would be a “major problem” or “crisis,” and 53 percent would blame Republicans while 30 percent would blame President Obama. That’s even higher than when the federal government temporarily shutdown in 2013, when 46 percent in the poll said they would blame Republicans, and 36 percent said they would blame the president.

    Where do the most vulnerable 2016 Republicans stand?

    Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is siding with Democrats: “I generally agree with the Democratic position here. I think we should have never fought this battle on DHS funding.” That is a change in tune, by the way. It came a day after Kirk said that if DHS shuts down, “We should build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office and say, ‘You are responsible for these dead Americans.’”

    Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.): “It really is Democrats that are blocking even bringing a bill on the floor to begin that discussion or debate.”

    Pat Toomey (R-Pa.): “We’ve got a bill that fully funds the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, it’s an increase over last year’s funding. It funds every portion of it. I think the American people are going to demand that the Democrats actually take up the bill.”

    Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.): Supports the Republican version of the bill. “It’s unfortunate that Senate Democrats voted against even allowing debate on this bill,” she said in a statement. “Republicans and Democrats must work together to find a path forward that ensures continued funding for the Department of Homeland Security and addresses the president’s executive actions on immigration.”

    Richard Burr (R-N.C.): In favor of end-year funding bill that held up DHS funding. “This gives us the ability to enter the 114th Congress with a new majority and a greater ability to address the serious concerns Republicans have with the President’s recent executive amnesty. When the Senate returns next year, we will have more Republican votes to end or severely limit what was clearly an overreach by the President. … I want to be clear that I would not support any legislation that I believe would approve or facilitate Obama’s extra-legal actions.”

    Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): He’s also considering a run for president, has voted with the GOP on the DHS funding bill, but he will miss today’s procedural vote on funding, because he will be in New Hampshire testing the waters for 2016. That comes after Rubio irritated some hard-line conservatives when he said in Nevada, “We have to fund Homeland Security. We can’t let Homeland Security shut down.”

    **Rob Portman (R-Ohio): “I don’t think we should shut the place down. We’ve got to continue to do our work and not get distracted.”

    Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): She’s voted for the GOP DHS funding bill, but has not been outspoken about strategy.

    Scott Walker’s problems continue: First, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wouldn’t talk about foreign policy (while in a foreign country) or whether he believed in evolution. Then he wouldn’t say if he thought President Obama loved America, and over the weekend, when asked by the Washington Post if he believed the president was Christian, Walker gave this confounding answer: “I don’t know. I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that. You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian? … To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press. The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”

    Walker’s blowing layups: That was about as bad an answer as a candidate could give. It’s easy to blame the press, and dismiss these as “gotcha” questions as a Walker press aide did in a follow up to the Post. (The aide also said that “of course” Gov. Walker thinks the president is Christian.) The answers he has given to these softballs, intended as litmus tests for rationality, have not shown the depth of a presidential candidate ready for the national spotlight. We’re a week away from March and the Madness that will ensue, so excuse the forthcoming extended basketball metaphor. Walker might try and dismiss this latest dustup as a media creation, but (1) these are layups he’s blowing, and (2) the bigger issue is that conservatives are sizing up who will be best to take on Jeb Bush, or whoever emerges from the “establishment” bracket, in a protracted primary fight. That was looking more and more like Walker, but these kinds of mistakes are going to make some pragmatic conservatives think twice about whether Walker is truly a prime-time player.

    Conservatives, not the media, will be the problem for Walker: To that point, here’s conservative writer Matt Lewis: “[T]here is a sense [Walker] could be the guy to bridge the gap between the Republican establishment and the grassroots conservative base. But campaigns are crucibles, and if the last couple of days are a harbinger of things to come, he’s in trouble. Could it be that the governor who fought so courageously against Wisconsin unions might not be ready for prime time on the national stage?” Here’s a tip for Walker’s team, when a reporter asks the “gotcha” question next of whether President Obama was born in Hawaii, the correct answer for a politician who wants to win, is a version of: “These kinds of questions are why people don’t like the press. You focus on small things. But absolutely, the president was born in Hawaii. He’s a Christian who loves America, and a great family man. I just think his policies are completely wrong for this country. Now, can we move on to more important things, like my plan to get people back to work?”

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1861, Abraham Lincoln arrived secretly in Washington to assume the office of president after an assassination attempt in Baltimore. How many times did assassins try to kill Lincoln before John Wilkes Booth’s successful attempt? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to David Schooler ‏(@GandTMan) for guessing Thursday’s trivia: What event prompted the creation of these internment camps? The answer: the attack on Pearl Harbor.


    • Marco Rubio is headed to New Hampshire this week, where he’ll be promoting his book.

    • Walker is hardening his position on social issues after winning reelection against a female Democrat last fall.

    • The anti-union law that made Walker famous has hit Wisconsin’s union enrollment hard and could hurt Democrats’ ground operations in the state in 2016.

    • Are you ready for campaign ads? Well the conservative Super PAC American Crossroads has already put together a new ad attacking the Clinton Global Initiative for accepting foreign donations, and it features audio of none other than Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

    • Jeb Bush’s wife, Columba Bush, may not enjoy the spotlight, especially after she was detained in 1999 for lying to customs about how much she’d spent on a Paris shopping-spree, but she gave her blessing for her husband to run for president last Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, scrutiny of her lavish spending continues with the Washington Post reporting today that she regularly took out loans to purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry.

    • Vice President Joe Biden’s recent official visits to Iowa and South Carolina and his upcoming trip to New Hampshire on Wednesday have fueled some speculation about a presidential run.

    • Mike Huckabee is leading one of his 10-day trips to Israel for Americans.

    • National Journal rounded up each of the potential 2016 Republican candidates’ stances on immigration.



    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    The post Congress has no plan to prevent a Homeland Security shutdown this week 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

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, seen here testifying before a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Feb. 4, 2015, convened a war council on Monday to discuss a new strategy of tackling Islamic State militants. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter convened an extraordinary war council Monday on Iraq’s doorstep, six days after taking office, to discuss the nitty-gritty of the administration’s oft-criticized strategy for countering the Islamic State militant group and probe for gaps and weaknesses.

    The Army general commanding the war effort in Iraq and Syria, meanwhile, told reporters that the Islamic State’s fighters are “halted, on the defensive” in Iraq and facing a new counterattack by Iraqi forces in Anbar province to retake a town the militants seized earlier this month. Lt. Gen. James L. Terry said he is confident the Iraqi push, dubbed “Lion’s Revenge,” will succeed in retaking the town of al-Baghdadi.

    While portraying the Iraqis as being on a path to success, Terry said of the Islamic State group, “No doubt, they’re adaptive.”

    Carter said he assembled an array of U.S. generals, diplomats and intelligence officials not just to hear the latest on battlefield progress but also to better understanding the intellectual underpinnings of President Barack Obama’s counter-IS strategy, including the ways military force is supposed to combine with political and economic measures to reverse the Islamic State’s gains and eventually defeat it.

    They were holding a six-hour closed-door session at this sprawling military base that hosts Terry’s headquarters.

    During a brief picture-taking session as the talks began, Carter said he needs a better understanding of the administration’s approach to what he called the “very complicated” problem of an Islamic extremist group “spreading echoes and reflections around the world.” He added, “It is a problem that has an important military dimension, but it’s not a purely military problem — it’s a politico-military problem.”

    Seated around a large T-shaped table were about 25 senior officials, including Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of the military’s Central Command; presidential envoys John Allen and Brett McGurk; the commanders of U.S. forces in Europe and Africa, and U.S. ambassadors summoned from Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab nations with a stake in the outcome of the fight against the Islamic State.

    Carter called the group his “Team America.” The gathering was a highly unusual way for a Pentagon chief to begin his tenure. Rather than go to Iraq and hear from U.S. officials there, Carter said he wanted a wider and deeper look at the Islamic State, in part because he is new in office. Aides said participants were told in advance to leave their usual talking points home and be prepared for a freewheeling discussion.

    Among other key participants were Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata, head of the U.S. program to train and equip a moderate rebel force in Syria. Several of Carter’s top Pentagon aides also attended.

    In remarks to troops at Camp Arifjan before the conference began, Carter said the key to success against IS is ensuring that the countries threatened by the group can preserve the gains achieved by the U.S.-led military campaign.

    “We will deliver lasting defeat, make no doubt,” Carter said, adding, “It needs to be a lasting defeat.”

    The meeting was convened against the backdrop of heavy Republican criticism of Obama’s strategy for countering Islamic extremism and Carter’s preparation for congressional testimony in early March.

    It also coincides with the administration’s request to Congress for a new authorization to use military force against the Islamic State group, and comes on the heels of last week’s White House summit on violent extremism.

    Although Kuwait is next door to Iraq, Carter decided not to visit Baghdad on this trip, which is his first since taking office. He told reporters he needed to limit his time away from Washington at this early stage of his tenure and intends to make an Iraq visit sometime in the future. Carter spent Saturday and Sunday in Afghanistan.

    In Kandahar, Afghanistan on Sunday, Carter told reporters that he believes the U.S. must rethink its approach to countering terrorism, partly in light of the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

    “The reason to rethink the (counterterrorism) mission here in Afghanistan is first of all related to rethinking the ISIL phenomenon” and other ways in which terrorism in general has changed, he said. “That’s different from the very early years when we came into Afghanistan … because of an al-Qaida attack upon our country.”

    “The ways and means of terrorism changed over time and it makes sense to take account of that — that applies here, and it doesn’t apply only here” in Afghanistan, he added. He did not discuss in detail the ways in which he thinks the U.S. should adapt its counterterrorism strategy.

    The post Defense secretary Carter gathers war council on Islamic State group appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Though Israel and Hamas agreed to stop their fighting in late August, in Gaza many Palestinians are struggling to rebuild with little signs of hope or progress. PBS NewsHour Special Correspondent Martin Seemungal traveled there to get a firsthand look at the remaining destruction and to find out why the rebuilding process is nearly stagnant.

    You can watch his full report on tonight’s NewsHour.

    The post Despite war’s end, Gaza is still struggling to rebuild appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker greets supporters at his election night party November 4, 2014 in West Allis, Wisconsin. Walker defeated Democratic challenger Mary Burke. Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images

    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker greets supporters at his election night party November 4, 2014 in West Allis, Wisconsin. Walker defeated Democratic challenger Mary Burke. Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images

    It’s one of those questions. “Is President Obama a Christian?”

    “I don’t know,” is not the right way to answer if you’re a serious presidential candidate.

    But that’s what Republican Scott Walker said this weekend, trying to punt and play media critic on yet another issue. His response was another in a line of answers that have begun to raise questions about his efficacy as a top-tier presidential candidate.

    First, the Wisconsin governor — who had started to look like the most viable conservative alternative to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a 2016 primary – would not talk about foreign policy while in a foreign country. Then, on that same trip to the United Kingdom, he declined to answer whether he believed in evolution.

    Days later, he passed on more than one opportunity to take a stand on Rudy Giuliani’s assertion that President Obama does not love America. Walker was at the event where Giuliani made the charge.

    “I don’t really know what his opinions are on that one way or another,” Walker said of Obama.

    Presidential candidates have to answer all kinds of questions. Sometimes they are relevant or germane to the event they’re at or the campaign at large — and sometimes they’re not. But how they answer, even these “gotcha” questions – designed as a litmus test of rationality – can be revealing of their mindset, their depth and their mettle as a candidate.

    The issue of whether candidates believe President Obama is a Christian is not a new one. It has been coming up for nearly eight years since Barack Obama began running for president.

    The president’s middle name is Hussein, a common Muslim surname. Obama used to joke that it’s pretty remarkable that he was elected at all given his middle name is shared with a dictator at the heart of the most recent American war and whose last name rhymes with America’s most hated terrorist enemy.

    When he lived in Indonesia as a boy, Obama’s stepfather, who was Muslim, marked down “Muslim” to describe his son on a school enrollment form – even though, as David Remnick and others have reported – Obama’s mother was a secularist academic. But the conspiracies have lived on.

    As much as 18 percent of Americans in 2010 described the president’s religion as Muslim, according to a Pew poll. That was actually up from 12 percent in 2008.

    In the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton also flubbed the answer to the “Is Obama a Christian” question on 60 Minutes, adding five words she wishes she could take back: “As far as I know.”

    John McCain, the Republican war hero senator who ran against Obama for the presidency in 2008, dealt with rambunctious crowds, but famously swatted down one questioner. When a woman stood up at a town hall and said she couldn’t “trust” Obama because, “He’s an Arab,” McCain took the microphone back and said, “No ma’am. No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

    He didn’t respond, “I don’t know,” or the rest of the way Walker did when Washington Post reporters asked his view. “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker continued.

    Never? He’s never seen that clip from the McCain event in 2008? Or the cable loop of Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory comments that same year. Wright is controversial and said some things for which Obama had to answer, but he’s Christian.

    Walker continued of the president’s religion: “I’ve never asked him that. You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

    President Obama has brought up his Christian faith on a number of occasions, including just a few weeks ago at the National Prayer Breakfast.

    But if Walker still was unsure, he could have asked the president about it this weekend at the National Governors Association meeting at the White House, hosted by President Obama.

    A spokeswoman for Walker followed up with the Washington Post and said it’s not that Walker doesn’t think the president is Christian, it’s the principle that he doesn’t want to answer silly questions.

    “Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” Jocelyn Webster told the Post by telephone. “He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he’s doing as governor of Wisconsin to make the state better and make life better for people in his state.”

    Walker, himself, made the “blame the media” point to the Post. “To me,” he said, “this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press. The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”

    But there are easy, right ways to handle these questions for potential candidates, and one doesn’t have to search far for them.

    Marco Rubio said, in part, “I believe the President loves America; I think his ideas are bad.”

    Jeb Bush said this through a spokeswoman: “Governor Bush doesn’t question President Obama’s motives. He does question President Obama’s disastrous policies.

    When Walker doesn’t answer in a similar form, he opens himself up to criticism that he is trying to cater to the lowest-common denominator, that, if he doesn’t agree with the people that don’t think the president is Christian, that he at least is okay letting them believe that – as long as they vote for him in a primary.

    The bigger issue for Walker is that conservatives are sizing up who would be best to take on Bush, or whoever emerges from the “establishment” side of the GOP primary, in a possible long-term fight.

    That was looking more and more like Walker, but these kinds of mistakes are going to give some pragmatic conservatives pause and question whether Walker is truly ready for prime time.

    Here’s what conservative writer Matt Lewis wrote:

    “[T]here is a sense [Walker] could be the guy to bridge the gap between the Republican establishment and the grassroots conservative base. But campaigns are crucibles, and if the last couple of days are a harbinger of things to come, he’s in trouble. Could it be that the governor who fought so courageously against Wisconsin unions might not be ready for prime time on the national stage?”

    That kind of sentiment is going to mean more than any number of words written by anyone in the news media. But, here’s a tip for Walker’s team. When a reporter asks the next “gotcha” question — whether the president was born in Hawaii – give a version of: “These kinds of questions are why people don’t like the press. You focus on small things. But absolutely, the president was born in Hawaii. He’s a Christian who loves America, and a great family man. I just think his policies are completely wrong for this country. Now, can we move on to more important things, like my plan to get people back to work?”

    That’s the sort of answer a candidate who wants to win would give, anyway.

    The post If you’re running for president, you’ve got to answer the ‘gotcha’ questions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Jupiterimages

    The Obama administration is putting forth new rules that would toughen the restrictions on U.S. retirement brokers. Photo by Jupiterimages

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is proposing tougher restrictions on brokers who manage Americans’ retirement accounts, reigniting a confrontation with the financial services industry over rules affecting trillions of dollars in 401k and other savings accounts.

    The change would put brokers — who sell stocks, bonds, annuities and other investments — under the stricter requirements for registered financial advisers when they handle clients’ retirement accounts.

    In a long-anticipated move, the Labor Department is making the proposal Monday to the White House Budget Office. After an internal review, it likely will be put out for public comment for several months.

    The rule has been the subject of intense behind-the-scenes lobbying, pitting major Wall Street firms and financial industry groups against a coalition of labor, consumer groups and retiree advocates such as the AARP.

    The administration first proposed a regulation in 2010, but pulled it back following an industry outcry that the proposal would hurt rather than help investors by limiting choices.

    To buttress the new effort, the White House on Monday is releasing a report from its Council of Economic Advisers that concludes investors lose billions of dollars because of brokers’ conflicts of interests. Obama was scheduled to address the AARP later Monday to draw attention to the plan.

    “When you go to a doctor or a lawyer, you expect the advice you get to be in your best interests. But the same doesn’t always hold true in the world of retirement savings,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez said in a conference call with reporters. “Many financial advisers have taken an oath to serve your best interests, but there are other financial advisers and brokers who provide critical financial advice every day and are not obligated to look out for your best interests.”

    Americans increasingly are seeking financial advice to help them navigate an array of options for retirement, college savings and more. Many people provide investment advice, but not all of them are required to disclose potential conflicts of interest.

    Under current rules, brokers are required to recommend only “suitable” investments based on the client’s finances, age and how much risk is appropriate for him or her. The rules would make brokers handling retirement accounts obligated to put their clients’ interests first.

    The chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, pointed to academic studies that conclude investors who receive investment recommendations potentially influenced by conflicts of interest sustain a 1 percentage point lower return on their retirement savings, totaling losses of $17 billion every year to middle-class families.

    Industry officials dispute those studies and say the industry is well governed by financial regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission. They say the Department of Labor is ill suited to write rules best left to agencies more familiar with the financial industry.

    “You have the Department of Labor, which really doesn’t know this area,” said Ira Hammerman, general counsel for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the brokerage industry’s big lobbying group. “Our concern is they are not going to get it right, just like they did not get it right in 2010.”

    Meanwhile, the SEC is studying the broader investment advice industry to determine whether it should come under further regulations. Critics of the Labor Department effort say the Obama administration should leave the regulations to the SEC or it will risk limiting the advice available to investors with relatively small retirement savings.

    “Investors benefit from choice; choice of products, and choice in advice providers,” SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher, a critic of the Labor Department proposal, said in a speech Friday. “This is something the nanny state has a hard time comprehending.”

    Perez and Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, said administration officials have been consulting with SEC Chairman Mary Jo White, financial industry officials and consumer groups.

    Zients said the proposed rule would be “very different” from the restrictions the administration proposed in 2010.

    “Much has been learned since then,” he said.

    Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.

    The post White House pushing tougher rules on retirement account brokers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Michael Keaton as “Riggan” and Edward Norton as “Mike” in "Birdman." Photo by Alison Rosa, Twentieth Century Fox.

    Michael Keaton as “Riggan” and Edward Norton as “Mike” in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” “Birdman” was the big winner at the 87th annual Academy Awards. Photo by Alison Rosa, Twentieth Century Fox.

    At last night’s 87 annual Academy Awards, all eight best picture nominees went home with at least one award.

    “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” were tied with four Oscars each. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s semi-fantastical “Birdman” film about a former superhero actor attempting a comeback was acclaimed for looking like it was shot in one continuous take. His film took home the awards for best film, best directing, best original screenplay and best cinematography. The win by director of photography Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who also won last year for “Gravity,” marks the first time best cinematography was awarded to the same person two years in a row.

    Ralph Fiennes in "The Grand Budapest Hotel." Photo by Fox Searchlight

    Ralph Fiennes in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Photo by Fox Searchlight

    “The Grand Budapest Hotel” won four awards in all technical categories – the most Oscars that a film by director Wes Anderson has ever been awarded. That best picture nominee took home best production design, best score, best costume design and best makeup and styling.

    In all four acting categories, the Oscars were giving to first time winners. The award for best actor went to Eddie Redmayne for his physically-demanding portrayal of Stephen Hawkins in “The Theory of Everything.” Julianne Moore brought home the Oscar for best actress for her portrayal of a story of a 50-year old woman coping with her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.”

    Watch chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Lisa Genova, the author of the “Still Alice,” the book on which the film was based. You can also read the transcript.

    For supporting roles, Particia Arquette won for best actress for her portrayal of a single mother in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” a film that he made over the course of 12 years, and J.K. Simmons won for his portrayal of an abusive jazz band instructor in “Whiplash.”

    Winning three awards, the independent film “Whiplash” took home the most awards after “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” It also won for film editing and sound mixing. On the other hand, “Boyhood,” which had been an early favorite in the award season, only earned a win for one of its six nominations.

    Watch chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with “Boyhood” director Richard Linklater about on creating a film over the course of 12 years. You can also read the transcript.

    The biggest winner at the box office also only received one Oscar win. “American Sniper,” an Iraq war drama directed by Clint Eastwood, was awarded best sound editing.

    Finally, the film that many argue was the biggest snub of this year’s ceremony won for best song. “Selma,” which did not earn a nomination for Ava DeVernay as best director or David Oyelowo as best actor, won for “Glory” – written and performed by Common and John Legend.

    Watch chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with “Selma” director Ava DeVernay about putting her interpretation of history to life. You can also read the transcript.

    “Big Hero 6” won best animated film” and best documentary went to “Citizenfour,” about Edward Snowden.

    Watch chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glen Greenwald about “Citizenfour.” You can also read the transcript.

    Outside of the golden statuettes themselves, the ceremony was filled with an array of musical numbers. Host Neil Patrick Harris opened the show with a song and dance joined by Anna Kendrick and Jack Black, and Lady Gaga performed “The Hills are Alive” and “My Favorite Things” in honor of the 50th anniversary of the classic Julie Andrews musical “The Sound of Music.”

    Also marking the night were a number of political statements. Harris made note of the lack of racial diversity in his opening remarks. Redmayne and Moore brought attention to ALS and Alzheimer’s, the subjects of their respective films. “The Imitation Game” screenwriter Graham Moore gave a moving speech about depression and embracing difference, and Common and John Legend used their best song win to shine a light on racial inequality. And the call to actions were not always connected to the subject of the film. Arquette commented on equal pay for women, and Iñárritu spoke of his home country, Mexico and the millions of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.

    The post Good night for ‘Birdman’ and ‘Budapest,’ but no big winners at last night’s Oscars appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Esfahan uranium conversion facility in Iran.

    Technicians work inside of the Esfahan uranium conversion facility in Iran. The facility turns converts uranium into a hexaflouride gas, which is then enriched in centrifuges. A two-phase U.S.-Iran nuclear deal is taking shape that would see restrictions for at least a decade. Photo by Getty Images.

    GENEVA — The United States and Iran are working on a two-phase deal that clamps down on Tehran’s nuclear program for at least a decade before providing it leeway over the remainder of the agreement to slowly ramp up activities that could be used to make weapons.

    Officials from some of the six-power talks with Iran said details still needed to be agreed on, with U.S. and Iranian negotiators meeting Monday for the third straight day ahead of an end-of-March deadline for a framework agreement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined the negotiations after arriving Sunday.

    A breakthrough was not expected before Kerry returns to Washington later Monday. Still, Western officials familiar with the talks cited long-awaited progress on some elements that would have to go into a comprehensive deal. They described the discussions as a moving target, however, meaning changes in any one area would have repercussions for other parts of the negotiation.

    The idea would be to reward Iran for good behavior over the last years of any agreement, gradually lifting constraints on its uranium enrichment program and slowly easing economic sanctions.

    Iran says it does not want nuclear arms and needs enrichment only for energy, medical and scientific purposes, but the U.S. fears Tehran could re-engineer the program to another potential use — producing the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

    The U.S. initially sought restrictions lasting for up to 20 years; Iran had pushed for less than a decade. The prospective deal appears to be somewhere in the middle.

    One variation being discussed would place at least 10-year regime of strict controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. If Iran complies, the restrictions would be gradually lifted over the last five years of such an agreement.

    Iran could be allowed to operate significantly more centrifuges than the U.S. administration first demanded, though at lower capacity than they currently run. Several officials spoke of 6,500 centrifuges as a potential point of compromise, with the U.S. trying to restrict them to Iran’s mainstay IR-1 model instead of more advanced machines.

    It would also be forced to ship out most of the enriched uranium it produces or change it to a form that is difficult to reconvert for weapons use. It takes about 1 ton of low-enriched uranium to process into a nuclear weapon, and officials said that Tehran could be restricted to an enriched stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (about 700 pounds).

    The officials represent different countries among the six world powers negotiating with Iran — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the negotiations.

    The U.N. nuclear agency would have responsibility for monitoring, and any deal would depend more on technical safeguards than Iranian goodwill to ensure compliance.

    But the accord will have to receive some sort of acceptance from the U.S. Congress to be fully implemented. That is a tough sell given the hostility to any Iranian enrichment from most Republican and many Democratic lawmakers.

    For the United States, the goal is to extend to at least a year the period that Iran would need to surreptitiously “break out” toward nuclear weapons development.

    In exchange, Iran wants relief from the various layers of trade, financial and petroleum sanctions crippling its economy and the Americans are talking about phasing in such measures.

    Several steps would come immediately through executive action by President Barack Obama, the officials said. Other penalties would be suspended, but not lifted, as Iran demonstrates its compliance with its obligations. A lesser amount of restrictions would stay in place until Congress acts to remove them permanently.

    Progress also is being made on the status of Iran’s underground enrichment facility at Fordo and heavy water reactor at Arak, which potentially could produce enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year. Fordo could be turned into a research lab and Arak, which is close to completion, could be reconfigured to produce much less plutonium, officials said.

    More rounds of negotiations are needed for a framework, officials said, with Kerry likely to return to Geneva as soon as next week.

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    Photo by U.S. DEA/Handout via Reuters

    Eleven Wesleyan University students were hospitalized this weekend after believing to have ingested “Molly,” a street drug considered a pure form of ecstasy. Increased use of the drug has been worrying college campuses across the U.S. Photo by U.S. DEA/Handout via Reuters

    Eleven Wesleyan University students were hospitalized this weekend with symptoms consistent with use of the club drug known as “Molly.” One sophomore is in critical condition.

    The increased use of Molly has been of concern to campus health officials since around 2013, when colleges started to see increased usage and several overdoses. Users consider Molly a pure form of ecstasy. Molly’s active ingredient is MDMA, a stimulant that produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria and empathy and creates distortions in sensory and time perception. Symptoms of MDMA use include confusion, a racing pulse, muscle spasms and seizures. Health experts have expressed fears that a single use of Molly could have devastating health consequences.

    A fact sheet on Molly from the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that Molly is frequently mixed (not always visibly to users) with other dangerous drugs, adding to the potential health risks.

    Wesleyan sent an e-mail to students Sunday morning, noting three student hospitalizations — but the number would during the course of the day. The university said that it was investigating what happened, but would not have more details on Sunday.

    In 2013, a vice president of the University of New Hampshire wrote to the students there after overdoses of one student at the university and another at Plymouth State University. “This is serious. Two New Hampshire college students have died in the last week,” the letter said.

    Also that year, the University of Virginia sent warning videos to students after a U.Va. student used Molly while at a concert in Washington and died. The parents of a student at Texas State University at San Marcos also spoke out after their daughter died from taking the drug. While these tragedies have attracted attention, the number of Wesleyan students hospitalized stands out in comparison to previous reports.

    The Monitoring the Future report on student drug use, a national study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, found last year that about 5 percent of college students reported ecstasy use in the prior 12 months. A summary of the report states that this represents increased usage, following a period of decline.

    “Ecstasy use, after declining considerably between 2002 and 2007, from 9.2 percent annual prevalence to 2.2 percent, has made somewhat of a comeback on campus,” said the summary.

    Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education.

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

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    Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York has just 1,500 students but President Margaret Drugovich estimates the schools spends $297,800  and 7,200 staff work hours to comply with what critics call onerous government regulation and reporting requirements. Photo: Hartwick College

    Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, has just 1,500 students but President Margaret Drugovich estimates the schools spends $297,800 and 7,200 staff work hours to comply with what critics call onerous government regulation and reporting requirements. Photo by Hartwick College

    When letters of admission go out soon from colleges and universities to hopeful applicants, they’ll be quickly followed by offers of financial aid some advocates for students say require a college degree to understand.

    Among other problems, the letters often fail to distinguish between grants that don’t have to be repaid and loans, which do. They’re also “laden with jargon,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and “make it unnecessarily difficult to compare different financial aid awards side-by-side.”

    But a two-year-old U.S. Department of Education effort to fix that problem by presenting this information on a simple, consistent form called the “Shopping Sheet” is “extremely confusing for students,” according to a new report by a Senate task force on higher-education regulation.

    Debbie Cochrane is confused, too. Research director at an advocacy organization called The Institute for College Access and Success, she wonders “how comparing six or 10 totally different award letters could be less confusing than reading one standardized one” — especially when “a lot of schools will hide information” such as how much financial aid is in the form of loans.

    This point of view is not included in the report of a task force that the Senate appointed to study regulations on colleges and universities, which consists entirely of past and present university and college presidents and chancellors and representatives of higher education associations. The report itself was produced by the principal lobbying organization for universities and colleges, the American Council on Education, or ACE.

    At a time of calls for greater public accountability about high costs and low success rates, it urges watering down or eliminating many regulations governing a sector that gets nearly $200 billion a year in federal taxpayer money in the form of financial aid, tax breaks and grants for research and development. Senate hearings on the findings are scheduled for Tuesday.

    “This is a propaganda report,” said Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander, who takes strong issue with the recommendations.

    Alexander said following the report’s suggestions would reduce the government’s ability to monitor not only the performance of conventional universities and colleges—which, he said, “don’t like regulation, but they love federal money”—but also of private, for-profit institutions that get almost all of their revenue from taxpayers through federal student grants, loans and GI Bill benefits, and some of which have very low graduation rates, very high numbers of student-loan defaults and questionable recruiting practices.

    “The for-profits love what’s going on,” he said. “They want the federal government to put money on the stump and leave.”

    The cochairs of the task force, University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Britt” Kirwan and Vanderbilt University President Nicholas Zeppos, both declined to be interviewed until after the hearings are over.

    As for whether it was a conflict of interest for universities and colleges to draw up a Senate report recommending easing regulations on themselves, Terry Hartle, senior vice president of ACE, said it was “only logical” to ask people closest to the issue to participate in the process.

    “Washington policymakers frequently call on a trade groups to help them better understand how federal policies impact their industry or place of work,” said Hartle.

    A spokeswoman for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which appointed the task force, said, “It’s silly to imagine that anyone other than a college leader would understand the time and effort involved in satisfying each regulation and its effect on student learning and safety.”

    But critics said they found it inconceivable that no advocates for students, parents or federal taxpayers were involved.

    “I don’t think it’s surprising that a report written by industry for industry would say, ‘Thanks for the money now leave us alone,’” said Amy Laitinen, a former assistant secretary of education who now serves as deputy director for higher education at the nonpartisan think tank the New America Foundation. “They didn’t even try to include a token student-protection voice. This is just so slanted.”

    Instead, the “one-sided report” would “strip valuable student protections,” said Jennifer Wang, policy director of the group Young Invincibles, which represents students.

    Policymakers should collect and publish better, not less, data about graduation rates and other measures of success, letting competition help improve results, the conservative American Enterprise Institute said.

    The report contends that some of the information universities are required to disclose to consumers is not only confusing, but excessive and “of marginal value.” This includes the federal definition of graduation rates, which takes into account only full-time freshmen who start and finish at the same institutions, even though increasing numbers of students transfer and finish somewhere else.

    Yet it was the higher education lobby that in 2008 blocked letting the government track individual students, which would have provided a much more accurate picture of how many graduate.

    Efforts by the Obama administration to expand some of these reporting requirements are also under fire in the House, where education subcommittee chair and former community college president Representative Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., has introduced a bill to block a White House plan to rate universities based on cost, graduation rates and other measures.

    The task force report also wants to do away with a time-consuming requirement that students be given counseling about the repayment options on their college loans, which now include the chance to tie repayment to income. It proposes having the Education Department instead create a website to provide such information. (The separate Shopping Sheet is a voluntary program, not required.)

    “They seem to be arguing against basic consumer disclosures people need to know,” said Cochrane. “It’s out of step with the record levels of concern about student loan, delinquency and default.”

    The report also says the Education Department uses outdated accounting methods to determine whether a university or college is financially healthy enough to continue receiving federal student aid, and urges that colleges judged to be in trouble be allowed to review and appeal their scores before they’re publicly released.

    And at a time when administrative staffing is rising and the proportion of faculty who work full time is falling, it suggests suspending the requirement that universities report information about how many employees they have, and in what jobs.

    Even critics of the report agreed there are higher-education regulations that seem useless or are confusing or repetitive, or don’t seem as if they should be colleges’ responsibilities.

    For example, institutions are responsible for confirming that students who apply for financial aid have registered for the Selective Service and have never been convicted of drug offenses. They’re also required to distribute voter-registration forms and to have policies to prevent illegal file sharing.

    Universities and colleges have long argued that complying with what the report calls “inordinately costly” rules — the task force report says the Department of Education alone has 2,000 pages of them, and produces an average of one additional document per day—is among the reasons they’ve been forced to raise tuition, though the report also says that calculating the precise cost “is both difficult and time-consuming.” (The department wouldn’t comment, other than to say it is reviewing the recommendations and is “always interested in finding ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our regulations and reporting requirements.”)

    The report cites a 1997 study at Stanford estimating that the university spent 7.5 cents of every tuition dollar to comply with regulations. A more recent review last year by Vanderbilt reportedly found that more than one-tenth of the university’s expenses, or $150 million a year, went to complying with federal regulations alone. Vanderbilt declined to provide details or answer questions about this figure.

    The report also makes reference to a study by the right-leaning American Action Forum that the number of university and college employees with the title “compliance officer” has grown by 33 percent in the past decade; this includes loan and credit counselors who help students navigate the complex process of borrowing to pay tuition. It quotes the same study as saying that institutions collectively spend 26.1 million hours a year completing U.S. Department of Education forms, although the study actually says that’s the number of hours not only institutions put into this task, but also students and their parents.

    Hartwick College, which has about 1,500 students, spends $297,800 and more than 7,200 hours annually collecting information and filing required reports and forms to 60 federal, state and local government agencies, its president, Margaret Drugovich, said.

    “This is a story of something that was intended to make sure there’s a certain standard of quality, which has turned into a huge burden on colleges of all sizes,” said Drugovich, who served on the task force.

    LSU’s Alexander said he’s all for trimming seemingly pointless busywork. “I’m fine with getting rid of the nuisance requirements,” he said.

    “But higher education needs real accountability — not less of it,” Alexander said. “The more that we can demonstrate to the consumer, to the students and parents, which institutions have greater value and which institutions put students into massive debt with a worthless piece of paper, I think we owe them that.”

    This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about higher education.

    Related stories:
    Obama ratings would divide colleges into high and low performing
    College-rating proposal shines spotlight on powerful lobby
    Colleges that pledged to help poor families have been doing the opposite
    Ranks of nonacademic staffs at colleges continues to outpace enrollment, faculty

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

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    Afaa Michael Weaver has received numerous awards for his poetry, including a Fulbright scholarship, a Pen Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and an NEA fellowship.

    Afaa Michael Weaver has received numerous awards for his poetry, including a Fulbright scholarship, a Pen Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and an NEA fellowship.

    Twenty-one Chinese characters mark the start of “City of Eternal Spring,” poet Afaa Michael Weaver’s newest book.

    “So that I might hear the quiet voice of the union of heart and mind,” the inscription reads, “help me forget the past and the future.”

    Weaver wrote the epigraph, inspired by a chapter of the foundational Doaist text Dao De Jing, to guide him through writing “City of Eternal Spring.” The book concludes a trilogy that deals with a painful childhood that included sexual abuse.

    The first book, “Plum Flower Dance,” was a way of understanding how trauma had impacted his writing for years. The second, “Government of Nature,” brought Weaver into what he described as the “valley” of his trauma.

    “Once I was down there in the valley, struggling with those … primal elements inside the trauma itself, I knew I had to come out of it,” he told Art Beat.

    “City of Eternal Spring” presented him with a space in which to heal. But first, he had to be present, he said, neither dwelling “in the actual space of the pain,” nor fretting over what his pen might yield.

    “I was exploring the interior of healing itself,” he said. “To be a survivor of incest is to have to work through deep issues of betrayal. In the process of healing and recovery, you have to reconstitute those bonds and renegotiate those boundaries that are both internal and external and try to hold on the best you can to the love of family.”

    The poems in “City of Eternal Spring” span hemispheres. Many take place in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China, where Weaver has traveled extensively, first as a Fulbright scholar in 2002, then again on sabbatical from Simmons College, where he teaches. But, often, there is a pull back to the United States. In his poem “Archaeology of Time: Gambling”, the speaker’s experience on a boat in the South China Sea evokes memories of his time working in Baltimore factories, of the men who raised him and the women he loved. In his poem “The Long Walk Up to Mao Zedong’s Retreat,” a visit to the Chairman’s mountain hideaway sparks a dream of Virginia poplars.

    Listen to Afaa Michael Weaver read his poem “The Long Walk Up to Mao Zedong’s Retreat” from his new collection “City of Eternal Spring.”

    The Long Walk Up to Mao Zedong’s Retreat

    In the museum that was his house, his books
    are on the bed where a woman should be, except
    he is not here either, we walk up the steep hill
    to the courtyard, the gate looks down to Beijing.

    I see the places the fires of the foreigners
    did not burn, the stone left from buildings that stood
    up to the invasion, and I lean against the gate,
    my stomach upside down and full of the unfamiliar.

    It is a cold chill over the harmony of mountain
    and river, and we take tea against the shivers, old
    and young poets, my American tongue now naming
    the things it knows, cup, tea, cigarette, sky.

    Chinese is the long drive here from the city,
    standing next to Sun Wenbo, waiting to start his car,
    listening to Zang Di speak of what it is to lead
    poets along the riverbanks of metaphor, and I am

    the one whistle in poplars in a state far away,
    Virginia, where a tall young man finds his baby brother
    sleeping in the grass, hiding from school, wakes him
    so they can dream of families and sons that go searching.

    Long before he had ever traveled to Asia, though, Eastern philosophy offered Weaver a way to work through hardship or pain. He was 21 when his infant son died, and a coworker at the factory where he worked offered him a copy of the Dao De Jing. Some years later, also at the recommendation of a coworker, he began practicing Tai Chi. He then started publishing his work regularly in local literary magazines and regional presses.

    “The Dao de Jing and Tai Chi became a way for me to create a space inside myself where I could begin to accept my contradictions, and gave me an intuitive method for grounding myself,” he said. “Tai Chi and Daoism became the vehicle for my way of dealing with the troubles in my life.”

    Weaver’s poems are not merely personal meditations, though. When he writes of his experiences as a stranger in a strange land, for example, he is also reflecting on some of the political and social experiences of African Americans. In “Tea Plantations and Women in Black,” the speaker recognizes that, though the Chinese women who stare at him see him as exotic and foreign, their context for him does not include America’s troubled racial history.

    Listen to Afaa Michael Weaver read his poem “Tea Plantations and Women in Black” from his new collection “City of Eternal Spring.”

    Tea Plantations and Women in Black

    It is dusk in the city and here in the mountains,
    inside the thick green way of a place where rain
    is breath, and summer mist the gas that lets
    you dream of being lost, cast away in a paradise

    that is not a paradise for those who live here.
    I am too familiar to nightmares that pushed me
    here to hide from them, but they sit on the edge
    of the sun’s light pushing down into morning

    in the middle of the Atlantic. The tea comes
    with a young woman who stares at me, the black
    she has heard of, the black she cannot see, and
    we light the fire in the table, hear it puff up.

    I am full of reasons, strings of hurt I cannot let
    loose here where no one knows the sirens on corners
    of black homes, hard hands on the grips of guns,
    bullets made for Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser,

    or for me, black man daring to live, black man
    following the trance of women tipping on loose
    stone tablets of sidewalks in thin, black dresses
    under parasols to hide them from the sun.

    Whether he’s reflecting on his own personal experiences or on large social contexts, Weaver uses poetry and language to contemplate the process of crossing between cultures and identity.

    The journey from one half of the world to the other, Weaver said, is like a translation, which he describes as the process which “reveals to you the foreign element that exists inside you.” It’s what happens when he, as a Westerner, travels to Asia, but it is also a part of his lived experience as an African-American man. His transcontinental journey, in other words, helped him understand his home, too.

    “You come face to face with yourself in many ways,” he said.

    As he maneuvered through these different landscapes and worked towards healing, the idea behind his epigraph served as a reminder to remain open to those confrontations, a constant struggle while writing “City of Eternal Spring” and the books leading up to it.

    “Being in the present means being present for myself emotionally, and being in the present creatively for the audience,” Weaver said. “It’s something that I hope comes to another kind of closure in this book.”

    Then, he reconsidered. “I hesitate to say closure,” he added. “You can’t really say this kind of work is ever done.

    “The Long Walk Up to Mao Zedong’s Retreat” and “Tea Plantations and Women in Black” from “City of Eternal Spring,” by Afaa Michael Weaver, © 2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

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    GWEN IFILL: The week to come is already chock full of politics, with the promise of a presidential veto, new tests for presidential candidates, and a standoff over the Department of Homeland Security.

    President Obama weighed into that last fight today, as he met with governors at the White House.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Unless Congress acts, one week from now, more than 100,000 DHS Employees, Border Patrol, port inspectors, TSA agents, will show up to work without getting paid.

    Now, they all work in your states. These are folks who, if they don’t have a paycheck, are not going to be able to spend that money in your states. It will have a direct impact on your economy and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security because their hard work helps to keep us safe.

    GWEN IFILL: But the politics didn’t stop at the Potomac’s edge, as we will see in our weekly chat with Nia-Malika Henderson of “The Washington Post” and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Nia, let’s start with what the president was just talking about, this standoff which we have seen this before. We have seen this movie before.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, The Washington Post: Yes, we have.

    GWEN IFILL: Over the Department of Homeland Security — the White House seems to be and the department seems to be pushing back.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Yes, they’re pushing back. President Obama is pushing back. Democrats are very much united.

    We saw just now that for the fourth time they have filibustered the bill because they don’t want to see this funding stripped out.

    GWEN IFILL: In the Senate, yes.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: In the Senate, that just happened.

    And you also have Republicans already starting to break ranks and saying maybe this isn’t such a good idea, that this is the way we stand up and sort of speak out against the immigration. This is what it’s about.  It’s about Obama’s executive order on immigration reform. And is this the right way that we send a protest or should we wait and see what happens with the Supreme Court and this Texas decision around immigration executive order as well?

    GWEN IFILL: Amy?

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: And that’s what is so fascinating about watching this.

    Once again, it’s the split within the Republican Party, not just in terms of ideology, but in terms of the House and the Senate. And we always have to remember that in the Senate, they’re looking at 2016, where the map is very different than the map looks like for the House.

    In the Senate, there are a lot of blue state Republicans that are up, including Mark Kirk from Illinois, who is one of the people who are starting to break ranks, Rob Portman from Ohio, you have Marco Rubio from Florida, a lot of places where they know they will have a tough fight in November. They don’t want to give their opponents any ammunition to make the case that they were part of a government shutdown.

    House Republicans don’t have as much to worry about. They are in much safer districts and they don’t think about what is going to in November.

    GWEN IFILL: The White House is writing on the wall as broadly as they can that the president plans later this week to veto the bill that the Congress has passed, both houses have passed, trying to force him to move ahead on the Keystone pipeline. Is that part of the new aggressiveness, second term new aggressiveness as well?


    I think you could open up — this seems to be an opening up of the veto era of this president.

    GWEN IFILL: Which never began, I don’t think.


    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Right. Yes. Yes.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: And what you have seen from this president, I think, over the last many months is this very aggressive president, and you have seen his poll numbers go up as a result in some ways. And Democrats like this fighting version of Obama.

    The thing is, he’s got the numbers on his side with this Keystone pipeline. It doesn’t look like the Senate can actually override a veto. They’d need I think five others to override the veto.

    GWEN IFILL: But aren’t there Democrats who also want him to sign the Keystone pipeline?

    AMY WALTER: There are. There are some that want to do it.

    But, remember, Republicans got their Senate majority in part by defeating a lot of those Democrats who wanted to see the Keystone pipeline, including Mary Landrieu, who was the chair of the Energy Committee, from Louisiana.

    Democrats know that it doesn’t do them much good to fight up with the president on this issue. And, quite frankly, I think for a lot of voters who are already seeing lower gas prices today, there’s not an immediate benefit.

    GWEN IFILL: So, there’s no demand. That’s what is simmering.

    Let’s go to what is bubbling on the other side of the aisle, and that’s the 2016 candidates. This week, the Republicans are going to meet, two different cattle calls, as we call them, groups, the Conservative Political Action Committee and the Club for Growth, which is kind of the business-oriented conservative group, and try to make their case.

    What are you watching for there?

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: I am watching for Jeb Bush at CPAC.

    And this will be really the first time he is going to be talking to actual voters. This time, you could either do a speech or you could do a Q&A. And he has decided to do a Q&A. All of those issues that are his Achilles’ heels, really, Common Core, immigration reform, even in some ways his foreign policy, this is going to be up for debate. And we haven’t yet heard how he is going to handle that in terms of this very conservative…

    AMY WALTER: Being directly…

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Directly confronted in that way, rather than just getting up and giving a speech.

    This is a crowd that had liked Mitt Romney for a couple — when they do the straw poll, Mitt Romney has won a few. Rand Paul, I think, won last year. It’s not a Bush crowd at all. So, we will have to see how he does.

    GWEN IFILL: That’s at CPAC.

    But Club for Growth is a different — is a whole different group. Who are these people in either of these groups?  Are they representative of anything?

    AMY WALTER: That’s right.

    Well, these are representative two branches, you could say, of the Republican Party, both on the conservative end. For CPAC, these are more social conservatives. And Club for Growth is more fiscal conservatives. Now, Club for Growth was known from the beginning of taking out the establishment, people they thought weren’t strong enough on fiscal issues.

    Either they had voted for too much government spending or they weren’t strong enough on tax cuts. That’s — you’re right — more of the community you would think that Jeb Bush would do well in.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    AMY WALTER: But they also supported people like Marco Rubio very early on, when he was running against the establishment.

    GWEN IFILL: She’s watching for Jeb Bush. Who are you watching for?

    AMY WALTER: Jeb is certainly the person to watch for, but Rand Paul, too.

    Since 2007, two people, the same two names, actually, have won the straw poll at CPAC. This is where all the people who attend vote to say who they would like to see as president, some guy named Mitt Romney and then somebody with the last name Paul, either Ron Paul or Rand Paul.

    This is the kind of group that they love the libertarian, outside-the-box kind of candidate. And that’s supposed to be Rand Paul’s strength is his ability to organize. Does he still have that sort of spark that he once had?

    GWEN IFILL: And between those two groups and just in general in 2016, aren’t we at this stage watching just to see who can stay on their feet, who’s lightest on their feet, no matter what questions are thrown at them?

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Scott Walker, right?  That certainly comes to mind, because he’s had a difficult week. And we will see what he does. He will be down at the Club for Growth.

    And he’s in this situation where he’s sort of playing cutesy with the press, not quite wanting to answer questions about the president’s faith, about the president’s patriotism. So it is a test to see how you do.

    GWEN IFILL: It should be said that he was at the White House today.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Yes, he was at the White House.

    GWEN IFILL: And so was Bobby Jindal.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Bobby Jindal, who came out…Yes, that’s right, and came really strong, Bobby Jindal did, against the president, I think at some point called him — said that he had disqualified himself from being commander in chief.

    These are folks who really have some tough rhetoric against this president and are trying to make their identity around that.

    GWEN IFILL: OK, let’s talk about the Oscars. Why not?

    Because I’m very curious, watching them last night. It wasn’t just that there was an occasional bit of politics. It was a lot of politics. We have seen it before when Marlon Brando came out on stage with Sacheen Littlefeather and she accepted an award for him and then didn’t accept it. And it was a speech about Native American rights. This is eons ago.

    But it’s not the first time. But it was very interesting the issues which came up. Pay equity came up. Civil rights came up. Immigrant rights came up. And we kept seeing it and it unfolded. Why did we see this last night?  Was it because of the nature of the films or the nature of Hollywood?

    AMY WALTER: Maybe there a little bit of both, but I felt like at times I was sitting not necessarily just watching an award show, but watching the Democratic National Convention.

    I mean, this was, like, going through every one of their planks. It did fulfill a stereotype that many people have about Hollywood, which is they just fall on the liberal end of the spectrum on all of these issues. It’s also interesting to note, as The Wall Street Journal did a Facebook — they looked through Facebook and noticed that when you look at the people that were clicking on or talking about stories that they were following on movies, in red counties, it overwhelmingly was “American Sniper” and in blue counties overwhelmingly “Birdman.”

    This also was done on “Meet the Press” the other day. Just goes to show, even in our movies, we’re polarized.

    GWEN IFILL: … polarized.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: That’s right.

    And I think a lot of people in red state America are upset that “American Sniper” didn’t win. “Birdman,” of course, did. I think seeing that last night, I think if you are Hillary Clinton, you had to be glad, right, that you saw Meryl Streep, for instance, cheering on — she was cheering on Patricia Arquette, preach, sister, preach. It was kind of a moment like that.

    GWEN IFILL: When she talked about unequal pay for women.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Equal pay, equal pay, right.

    GWEN IFILL: Even in Hollywood, it turns out.

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Exactly. Right.

    And I do think Hollywood and sort of culture in general does often operate as a kind of cheering section and a sixth man in a campaign. You saw that I think very much in the Democratic primary, where Obama had culture and cultural figures on his side, in a way that Hillary didn’t.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, in that case, were they cheering on Edward Snowden by giving “Citizenfour” the best documentary award?

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: I think yes. And we talked about this before.

    He is a bit of a folk hero. And this is a movie that criticizes, I think, the Obama administration, as well as the Bush administration. And you saw him there really being celebrated and that movie being celebrated.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s go ahead.

    AMY WALTER: Of course, ironic coming at a time when you had hacking of Sony, right, and a lot of the issues about pay equity, even in Hollywood…

    NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: And diversity, right?  That’s the other thing. It was one of the widest Oscars we have seen in some time.

    AMY WALTER: And diversity, yes.

    GWEN IFILL: But lots of attention, however, paid to black presenters. And we saw the song “Glory” won and very strong statements made by the songwriters.

    So this was — this may have not — apparently got record low viewing, but it was interesting politically.


    GWEN IFILL: We watched. And that’s what counts.

    AMY WALTER, Nia-Malika Henderson, good to see you again. See you next Monday.




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    HIGH PRICE OF HIGHER ED monitor college money

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Even as the U.S. economy is picking up steam, there’s new research finding student loan debt is growing, and its burden lingers even longer than we realized.

    Data from the New York Federal Reserve shows student loan balances climbed to almost $1.2 trillion at the end of last year. In fact, delinquencies are rising on student loans, even as they fall for most other types of debt, including mortgages and credit cards.

    New research also finds that it is borrowers with the lowest balances, of $5,000 dollars or less, who are most likely to default.

    Two experts join me now.

    Megan McClean is director of public policy and advocacy at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. And William Elliott is an associate professor at the University of Kansas, where he studies asset building and education.

    And we welcome you both.

    MEGAN MCCLEAN, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Megan McClean, first of all, why is this happening?

    MEGAN MCCLEAN: Thanks so much for having us this evening.

    I think, generally speaking, what we’re seeing with the default situation is the aftermath of the economic downturn in 2008. There are a couple of things there from a broad standpoint. First and foremost, we always see more students going back to school during an economic downturn. So the borrower pool to begin with is broader.

    And then you’re seeing I think folks still struggling in a job market, which can also contribute to defaults, and certainly a very troubling problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, William Elliott, give us a profile of the individual with this debt burden.

    WILLIAM ELLIOTT, University of Kansas: Well, it’s not really that surprising now, Judy.

    It’s black students, minority students tend to be more likely to default. I think the most interesting thing is what you brought up earlier, is that even amounts of $5,000 or less, students still ended up in delinquency or default. And that’s the most revealing part of the study is that small amounts of debt can lead to financial hardship in the long run.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And why do you believe that is?

    WILLIAM ELLIOTT: Well, I think because really it’s the whole idea or premise of debt in the first place is, if we finance education using student debt and we limit the money that kids have available to them as they graduate and enter the job market, it’s not surprising that they would have less money and so fall behind on their debt.

    It’s one extra thing. They have car loans, house loans, and student debt. And so it’s the extra burden that it places on them. And it’s really just kind of a failed system in the beginning, thinking that we can finance college with debt.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Megan McClean, what would you add to that? Because it’s counterintuitive that even people with the smallest balances would be the most in default.

    MEGAN MCCLEAN: It is, and I think that’s the general perception, that most people in default have tens and thousands of dollars in student loans, but we know it’s about $10,000 or less where we see most of the defaults.

    And I think what we’re seeing is, in a lot of cases, those are probably students who go to school, and then stop out or drop out for some reason and either aren’t aware that they had a loan, or that the loan needs to be repaid back or aren’t aware of the options that are available to them, because there are several safeguards that are available to them to keep them from going into delinquency and default. So I think it is partly an educational issue as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  What are some of the safeguards?


    One of the biggest things is the federal government offers several versions of income-driven repayment plans, meaning that students who are eligible can enter into these plans and be assured that they won’t pay more than a certain percentage of their discretionary income. And what that does is help them ensure that their loan payment won’t be a burden to them and that they will be able to do other things, like pay their rent, and save a little bit of money, things like William was talking about.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: William, what would you add to this question of why is it that students with the lowest amount of debt seem to be having the biggest problem here?

    WILLIAM ELLIOTT: I want to go back to the income-based repayment plan.

    One of those things about that is, one of the findings in the study is that in the long run these students are buying homes less often and everything else. And so if we understand the income-based repayment plan, all that really does is extend the time period that students are paying on loans. If we extend the time period that students are paying on loans, and we understand that even small amounts of money can produce problems, we’re really hurting their overall chances of accumulating assets in the long run.

    And so I really question, even though this is a good temporary solution to kind of reducing default rates and delinquency, are we setting ourselves up with bigger problems by not enabling these children to accumulate assets over the long run, particularly if small amounts of money actually can cause negative effects, small amounts of debt actually can cause negative effects.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Megan McClean, he actually brings up something I wanted to ask both of you about, and that is the long-term implications of this, because it’s not just these young people owe money, have debt while they’re young. You see this goes on for years, even decades into their lives.

    MEGAN MCCLEAN: Yes. And I think there are very serious long-term consequences. And we have heard a lot about student borrowers delaying home ownership or starting families because of having serious debt burden.

    And I don’t disagree with William, in that there are long-term consequences. But I still do think that the income-based programs are a good option for students right now that can allow them to have a reasonable payment. And what we need to work on is making sure that we get more students get into those programs and making more students who are being delinquent and getting into default status go into those programs instead of getting into that type of dire financial hardship.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re not concerned about the point he made about it takes such a long time for them to pay the loans back?

    MEGAN MCCLEAN: I think that is a concern for some students, but what I will say about the income-based repayment programs is they do sort of assume that some borrowers, when they’re first starting out, don’t have jobs that pay a lot, but they are income-based.

    So, as you continue to work and if you make more money, you can make higher payments on your loan amount. And you can always pay more as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: William Elliott, what else needs to be done to reform the system?

    WILLIAM ELLIOTT: I think, in the long run, we have to think about what are the income-based repayment plans doing? Yes, they are a temporary solution to stopping defaults and delinquencies, but if we don’t understand fully how much debt is — can be harmful, if it’s smaller amounts than we originally thought, then there’s really serious concerns about these long-term — for the long-term consequences for these kids.

    I think we need to turn to asset-building programs early on, try to help children build assets. Think about Pell Grants differently, maybe put those into their accounts, into these saving accounts early on, so they can accumulate and build wealth, so they don’t end up in as much debt.

    So, my point is, is that we have to find solutions that help us stop kids from getting into debt in the first place.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are these the kinds of things, Megan McClean, that you think will bring some relief to these young people with these enormous debts?


    I completely agree. Income-based repayment is just one piece of the puzzle, but certainly looking at ways that we can encourage students and families to save earlier and to save often, that is all a big piece of the puzzle. But we also need to call on better partnerships for who is responsible for funding higher education.

    We need to make sure that, yes, students and families have a role, but so do institutions, so do states and so does the federal government, and really kind of taking a better partnership approach to making sure that college is affordable.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Megan McClean and William Elliott, we thank you both.

    MEGAN MCCLEAN: Thank you.

    WILLIAM ELLIOTT: Thank you, Judy.

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

    The post Why American students are struggling with – and defaulting on – small debts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Now we turn to a story about life after war.

    Six months ago, Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce to stop the fighting which dominated much of last summer’s headlines. The fighting stopped, the spotlight dimmed, and Palestinians in Gaza have spent the time since struggling to rebuild their lives.

    Special correspondent Martin Seemungal traveled to Gaza, and found reconstruction efforts have barely begun.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: In parts of Gaza, what were once whole towns are now piles of rubble. It looks like an enormous earthquake ripped through here. But this is all the result of the ferocious summer war between Israel and Hamas, seven brutal weeks, Hamas militants launching thousands of rockets at Israel, Israeli jets and drones retaliating with bombs and missiles.

    In some places, Israel sent in its tanks. Months later, and it still looks like the day after. This is Shejaiya in Gaza. The Israeli border just two kilometers from here. So, this area was hit very hard during the war. It’s estimated hundreds of people were killed. Thousands of families are still homeless.

    Uma al-Kasi lives in a tent in the ruins of the home that had been in her family for generations.

    “We came back just after the fighting stopped,” she says. “There is still no electricity, nothing to have a normal life.”

    In Southern Gaza, Marwan Abu Jamas’ house is now a crater full of wreckage. There is no electricity here either. His family of eight lives in this makeshift shelter. It is cold at night and he says one of his sons is very sick.

    “I can’t make much money,” he says. “I need the money to rebuild, but I have to buy medicine for my son. It’s more important than rebuilding my home.”

    Yaya Khyali works for an Arab relief organization trying to ease the suffering of Gazans. An expatriate Palestinian from Oman, he arrived determined to help.

    YAYA KHYALI, Relief Worker: Because I heard too much about destruction. But when I came and visit here, we visit Beit Hanoun, and we visit this area, Shejaiya, actually, until now, I am getting bad dreams every night about these places that no words can explain destruction.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: For the people actually living like this for so many months, the situation is intolerable, and they are getting angry.

    “I blame the government,” she says. “I asked one of the government members to come stay with us to see how we live.”

    When people talk about the government here, they mean the government of national unity between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It’s an interim arrangement agreed to in June of last year.

    Mofid al-Hasayna is the minister of public works. And like other members of the consensus cabinet, he doesn’t belong to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. He has a daunting task, supervising the rebuilding of Gaza. He is frustrated and surprisingly candid about it.

    MOFID AL-HASAYNA, Palestinian Minister of Public Works and Housing: As a minister in this, in Gaza, for this consensus government, we’re going to fail. We’re going to fail as a government.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: So, how does it make you feel when you hear the people of Gaza, your own people, blame the government?

    MOFID AL-HASAYNA: It makes a pain inside of me, to be honest. I feel very ashamed about that. As a minister, I wish that the earth to open and take me.

    ROBERT SERRY, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process: Everybody knows that this unity government, unfortunately, so far is something of a — more of a make-believe government. It doesn’t have any authority.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Robert Serry is a U.N. peace envoy to the Middle East. He says Hamas remains the real power in Gaza, but he isn’t blaming Hamas for the slow pace of reconstruction.

    Several weeks after the fighting stopped, the world’s donor nations gathered in Cairo to talk about rebuilding Gaza. There were big promises in Cairo, pledges worth $5.4 billion, but just a fraction of that has showed up in Gaza. It’s estimated that only between $150 million and $200 million has actually reached Gaza so far, and it’s been over six months.

    ROBERT SERRY: One of the reasons why we see so little movement is that donors have actually not been translating these pledges into projects, into really putting the money there where it is most needed now in Gaza.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Elena Naja also blames the Palestinian government and is furious with those Arab countries that made promises, but have failed to deliver.

    There is some reconstruction, but mostly minor road repairs. Israel is partially opened the tightly controlled border crossings. Food and fuel supplies have been flowing in for many weeks, a significant turnaround since the days before the war. The biggest supermarket in Gaza City gets regular shipments. Owner Hazim Ashi says things are much better than they were four months ago.

    HAZIM ASHI, Gaza supermarket owner: Yesterday, I brought product from Israel and from West Bank.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Moti Stolovich is a major with the Israeli Defense Force. He is stationed at a border post just outside Gaza and is part of the IDF team monitoring the crossings into Gaza.

    You just got a message. What did that message say?

    MAJ. MOTI STOLOVICH, Israeli Defense Forces: I got a message from my office. We’re going to be actually inside Gaza tomorrow. So, we have 582 trucks planned for tomorrow, which includes construction materials and other civilian going to Gaza.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Serry is often a harsh critic of Israel, but he says there are encouraging signs.

    ROBERT SERRY: I have seen a change in the Israeli attitude after the war. I think the war made at least some in Israel realize that continuing a blockade, continuing to squeeze Gaza is leading to — from bad to worse.

    MAJ. MOTI STOLOVICH: We believe that there is a big difference between civilians and the militants in Gaza Strip. We understand there is some risk in this process, but the idea is to allow civilians to have a normal as possible a life in Gaza Strip.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: The U.N. and others continue to press Israel to lift its blockade entirely, allow Gazans to use the port and let civilians travel outside. Both Israel and Egypt have closed the crossings to civilian traffic. It is seen by many as an attempt to weaken Hamas.

    Those restrictions and the slow pace of reconstruction are raising serious concerns.

    Adnan Abu Hasna, is with the U.N. based in Gaza.

    ADNAN ABU HASNA, UN Relief and Works Agency Spokesman: We have noticed that the anger is rising and rising. And we are afraid that the calmness will end and we are heading towards a new round of violence is coming.

    ROBERT SERRY: Like the cease-fire itself, which is still very fragile, with Hamas shooting daily rockets not into Israel, but now into the sea, as proof of — that Hamas is also rearming itself. All these things are not helping.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: So you would really like to see Hamas guarantee some kind of short-term, long-term stability?

    ROBERT SERRY: I’m calling on Hamas actually to make a choice in the interest of the people. Commit yourself to a real, stable cease-fire, and that we need at least three years to reconstruct Gaza.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Three years, and that’s if work starts tomorrow. There is no sign that’s happening. For now, they can only do their best to make life amid the rubble a little more bearable.

    For the NewsHour, I’m Martin Seemungal in Gaza.

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    newswrap 02 23 2015

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    GWEN IFILL: Winter’s latest icy blast took aim at the South today, disrupting travel again. By this afternoon, more than 1,900 flights had been canceled. The ice storm hit Texas and neighboring states in force, causing hundreds of accidents and leaving cars abandoned on highways in Dallas and elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, a new arctic chill spread from the Midwest to New England, with windchills diving to minus-40 around parts of the Great Lakes.

    Congress opened a crucial week today, facing a Friday deadline to approve a budget for the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans say they will only agree to pass a funding bill if President Obama’s immigration plan is rolled back. Senate Democrats have resisted, insisting that domestic security concerns come first.

    Secretary Jeh Johnson appealed today for an end to the stalemate.

    JEH JOHNSON, Secretary of Homeland Security:
    A shutdown of Homeland Security would have serious consequences and amount to a serious disruption in our ability to protect the homeland. I am urging in the four or so working days they have this week to figure out a way to break the impasse, so that we get a fully funded budget for Homeland Security.

    GWEN IFILL: Late this afternoon, Republicans tried and failed again to bring up their bill in the Senate. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso charged Democrats must bear the blame if the impasse continues.

    SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, (R) Wyoming: Why are Democrats being obstructive in the way that they are?  Why are the Democrats so eager to cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security?  Well, the answer is, this is a disagreement not about funding Homeland Security. It’s about our nation’s immigration policy and the president’s executive amnesty, an action which I believe is illegal.

    GWEN IFILL: A short-term funding extension may yet be possible. But if the department does run out of money, about 30,000 workers would be furloughed. Another 200,000 are considered essential, and would keep working, but without pay.

    A federal jury in New York today found the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable in a series of terror attacks in Israel. The jury awarded $218 million in damages to relatives of 10 Americans killed or wounded in the attacks. They took place between 2002 and 2004. Palestinian officials said they will appeal.

    The Center for Responsive Politics reports that last year’s elections were the most expensive midterms ever. Altogether, Republicans and Democrats and their allied groups spent almost $3.8 billion. But that record-setting sum came from a smaller pool of donors. That had not happened since 1990.

    President Obama called today for tougher rules on financial brokers who manage retirement accounts. The proposal would make advisers disclose all fees received for recommending investments. The president told an AARP gathering the goal is to make sure clients’ interests come first.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are a lot of very fine financial advisers out there, but there are also financial advisers who receive backdoor payments or hidden fees for steering people into bad retirement investments that have high fees and low returns.

    GWEN IFILL: The financial services industry opposes the draft rule. It argues brokers are already well-regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    Sales of new homes across the country fell nearly 5 percent in January. That’s the slowest pace in nine months. The National Association of Realtors said winter weather was partly to blame.

    That news, plus a drop in oil prices, sent Wall Street mostly lower. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 23 points to close near 18100. The Nasdaq rose five points. And the S&P 500 lost less than a point.

    And Hollywood handed out new hardware last night, but the Oscars show fell flat with viewers. The audience was down 16 percent from a year ago. The dark comedy “Birdman” won four awards, including best picture and best director. Britain’s Eddie Redmayne won best actor as afflicted scientist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”  And Julianne Moore won best actress as a woman with Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.”

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    Clouds hang over the U.S. Capitol dome on Feb. 6. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    Come Friday, Congress will decide whether to let DHS funding run out, fund the agency for the rest of the year, or keep the agency funded for a few weeks or months. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • Two exit ramps and a DHS shutdown
    • Possibly closer to a short-term fix?
    • Obama could issue Keystone veto as early as today
    • Kerry testifies on the Hill, as support for ground troops to fight IS increases

    DHS funding showdown — four days, three possibilities: With four days left until the Department of Homeland Security runs out of funding (Friday at midnight), the politics remain complicated but the options for Congress are simple: (1) Let DHS funding run out, (2) Fund the agency for the rest of the year, or (3) Punt — keep the agency funded for a few weeks or months. By the way, this funding crisis probably isn’t the last one we’ll see this year. There are more within view — in coming months, the U.S. will again hit its debt ceiling and the Highway Trust Fund will go into the red if Congress doesn’t act. To the latest on this DHS fight …

    Short-term deal rising? For now, option 2 — full-year funding — seems to be out as the GOP debates whether and how to express its opposition to the president’s immigration policies. But there is some movement among Senate Republicans toward what Congress does best — option 3, punt with a potential short-term funding deal. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell flexed his fiscal-crisis-avoidance muscles Monday, with a bill that would separate the immigration issue from the DHS funding vote. The McConnell plan would allow Republicans to vote on the President Obama’s expanded immigration waivers from November, but detach that vote from a funding bill. And, the leader hopes, this will allow Congress to get unstuck. Meanwhile, as Morning Line reported yesterday, a few GOP senators in swing states are starting to indicate they want a simple or “clean” funding fix now.

    Consistent aisle crosser: A sidenote: while the votes on this logjam have split mostly along party lines, one senator to watch has consistently voted against his party. Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller has repeatedly voted with Democrats to block Republican bills that attach Homeland Security funding to repeals of the president’s immigration policy. It must be that he’s up for re-election in a purple state, right, you may be thinking? No. Heller’s next on the ballot in 2018. There is a larger bipartisan theme with Heller, including a series of bills he has sponsored recently with Democrats. But it’s potentially politically problematic for Heller to be against issues important to Latinos in Nevada when they make up three-in-10 people in the state.

    What will the House do?: The wild card here is the House. We don’t know what it will do. McConnell has pointed to the House, but while the House Republican conference appears split, Speaker Boehner continues to hold the line that Senate Democrats need to fix it. Members begin arriving back in Washington today, with their key meeting set for tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. EST at the Capitol. And how exactly does that Texas court case factor into all this? As they discuss strategy, Republicans in both chambers continue to buzz about the ruling, which froze the November immigration action. Some in the GOP fold argue for funding DHS long enough to let the court case work to its next level (or beyond). But that is likely months. And others believe Congress must act separately from the court ruling.

    Obama expected to veto Keystone as early as today: Keystone XL Pipeline legislation will head to the president’s desk today and will be vetoed by the president as early as today. Don’t expect a public event surrounding it. “I wouldn’t anticipate a lengthy delay,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday. “Everybody is acutely aware of the administration’s position on this, so I wouldn’t anticipate a lot of fanfare or drama.” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell penned an op-ed in USA Today accusing the president of playing “politics” with the pipeline and catering to “liberal extremists.” “A veto now would be the ultimate sop to these extremists at the expense of the greater good,” the write. The White House insists the president’s veto is about the “process” not the merit of the project itself, which continues to go through an executive approval process. At one point, years ago, it looked as if the president was moving toward approving the pipeline, but most would be surprised, at this point, if he does so.

    Kerry testifies before Senate as U.S. support for ground troops to fight IS increases: Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before two Senate committees today at 10 a.m. EST and 2:30 p.m. EST. Expect him to get questions on the administration’s response to the Islamic State militant group and the situation in Ukraine. It’s worth pointing out that with the highly public IS killings, support among the American people for U.S. engagement has increased. A CBS poll from last week showed that 57 percent of Americans now support using ground troops to fight IS, a reverse from September. Even a majority of Democrats — 50 percent — say they are in favor, as do 53 percent of independents and 72 percent of Republicans.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1868, the House of Representatives impeached President Andrew Johnson. The Senate later acquitted him, but why was Johnson impeached? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to MAY 6 ‏(@luis_juniorr) for guessing Monday’s trivia: How many times did assassins try to kill Lincoln before John Wilkes Booth’s successful attempt? The answer: 2.


    • During a visit to first primary state New Hampshire, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio responded to a question about his immigration stance, saying that the deportation of 12 million people is “not a realistic proposal.”

    • In his annual budget address Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to announce that he and the teachers’ union have agreed upon a “roadmap to reform” to help close the deficit. On Monday, a state Superior Court judge ruled in the unions’ favor, saying Christie violated the constitution when he did not make full payments into their pension fund.

    • And after a series of campaign swings for the midterms (and his own possible presidential bid), Christie’s giving the New Jersey town-hall another shot Wednesday in Moorestown.

    • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s potential candidacy is a large shadow looming over Rubio’s possible White House bid, particularly when it comes to his donor pool.

    • For team Hillary the 2016 strategy will be to show the softer side of Clinton, and let her surrogates go on the attack, unlike in 2008.

    • At least nine possible GOP candidates will be speaking at the American Enterprise Institute’s World Forum in Georgia in early March.

    • As the economy improves, Republican presidential hopefuls are turning to foreign policy to separate themselves from Democrats.



    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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    The post The 3 possibilities in the shutdown showdown over Homeland Security appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald at a Brookings Institution panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 15, 2013. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Now Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald at a Brookings Institution panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 15, 2013. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has apologized for saying he was in the military special forces while being filmed by a CBS News crew.

    In the segment that aired Jan. 30, McDonald was walking through Los Angeles during a count of homeless veterans, and one man told him he had served in special operations. McDonald said, “Special forces? What years? I was in special forces.”

    The Huffington Post picked up on the comments this week. McDonald responded in a statement: “While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military. He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.”

    McDonald is a veteran who served with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

    The White House issued a statement Monday: “We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.”

    The post VA secretary apologizes for misstating military record appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette in this Aug. 30, 2014, file photo. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette in this Aug. 30, 2014, file photo. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Alaska became the third U.S. state, along with Washington and Colorado, to legalize recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday, but it still is illegal to smoke marijuana in public.

    People who do smoke in public will be fined $100. But the initiative didn’t define what being in public means, so the alcohol regulatory board planned to meet early Tuesday to discuss an emergency response, according to the Associated Press.

    State regulators also are drafting rules to cover the taxation and sale of marijuana by Nov. 24. The first business licenses will be accepted starting in February 2016.

    The post It’s now legal to take a toke in Alaska appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch video of more than a dozen manatees being saved from a drain pipe in Florida.

    Nineteen manatees seeking the warm waters of a Florida beach were rescued after they became trapped in a drainage pipe.

    Animal specialists and local authorities used earth-moving equipment to free the marine mammals, which can be up to 13 feet long and weigh up to 1,300 pounds, from Satellite Beach on Florida’s east coast.

    Rescuers had to cut the pipe to remove all of the manatees. Onlookers cheered as they were lifted one-by-one from the pipe in large stretchers.

    The mostly plant-eating creatures were scraped and bruised from their temporary captivity, but overall seemed no worse for wear.

    The post Video: Rescuers free manatees from Florida drain pipe appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — Congress is sending President Barack Obama legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday, and a quick veto was expected.

    The White House indicated Obama will veto the bill in private. It would be the third veto of Obama’s presidency.

    Republicans may try to override Obama’s veto, but have yet to show they can muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers that would be needed.

    First proposed in 2008, the pipeline would connect Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

    The White House has said repeatedly it will wait to make its decision about whether to let the project go forward until after a State Department review.

    The post Congress sends Keystone bill to Obama, who plans to veto it appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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