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

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    Ghani attends a commemoration of the first death anniversary of Fahim in Kabul

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to the revelation reported by The New York Times: At least a million dollars from the CIA evidently wound up in the coffers of al Qaeda in 2010.

    I’m joined by New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg in Washington, D.C.

    So, that million was part of a larger sum. Where did this money come from, and where did it go?

    MATTHEW ROSENBERG, The New York Times: The CIA, for years, starting in 2003, provided what amounted to basically a slush fund for President Karzai of Afghanistan and his office.

    And they used this money to pay off various warlords and other people they needed to keep onside and things they didn’t really need — want to do on the books.

    And so, a few years earlier, in 2008, an Afghan diplomat had been kidnapped.

    The Afghans were negotiating a ransom to get him back. Finally, a price was settled at $5 million.

    And they needed to find $5 million in cash. So they went to the slush fund they had.

    And they had about a million there they had put aside. They took that.

    The rest of the four — there was another $4 million they got from Iran and Pakistan and some of the Gulf states that also helped them out with cash. And it all ended up with al Qaeda.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And, when you say cash, you mean actual dollar bills in bags dropped off at the palace?

    MATTHEW ROSENBERG: Yes.

    Every month, they would go there with suitcases, backpacks, sometimes even plastic shopping bags, like they were coming from Safeway, and would just drop off the cash.

    It tended to range from a few hundred thousand dollars to over a million, maybe a few million at times.

    And it went to a variety of purposes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so how do we know that al Qaeda actually got some of those dollars?

    MATTHEW ROSENBERG: We know because, when the Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, they seized a tremendous amount of computers and documents from his compound.

    And a series of letters between bin Laden and one of his chief lieutenants was introduced at trial last week — trial last month in New York. And we took a look at these letters.

    And in these letters, bin Laden and one of his lieutenants are discussing getting the ransom. They’re going to buy weapons with it.

    And then there’s all kinds of weird concerns. You know, bin Laden is warning him to be careful. The Americans could be tracking this.

    They have maybe put radiation or some substance on it. And he actually seems much more concerned and seems to give American officials a lot more credit for being able to track their own spending than was actually the case or has ever been in the case in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so those letters also point out that these funds were going to be used to buy weapons for their fight.

    MATTHEW ROSENBERG: Yes.

    That — they were going to help support people whose families were — fighters who were in prison, help support their families.

    Some was going to be put aside for a rainy day.

    Also, we have to understand, this cash delivery came, this infusion of cash to al Qaeda came at a very crucial moment, in the — kind of in 2010, the drone strikes in Pakistan on their hideouts in Pakistan had decimated the ranks of the organization.

    They were having trouble raising money. They were not in good shape.

    I don’t want to say that this helped reinvigorate them solely, but it certainly helped get them back on their feet.

    It was certainly part of a bigger picture that has helped them survive.

    And even past bin Laden, al Qaeda remains a threat today. It is not coming after us, but they are there, and they have not been defeated or completely dissipated.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And when these dollars from the CIA made it into the hands of al Qaeda, other groups heard about this and kind of stuck their hand out as well.

    MATTHEW ROSENBERG: Yes.

    You know, I want to be careful not to be too glib about this, but there is a sense in the letters of, you know, some guy from the neighborhood makes it rich, and suddenly everybody else has the hand out to kind of help them out.

    I think one of the lieutenants is quoted as saying, you know, all the other groups have heard about this, and they all want money. “May God help us,” I think was the exact quote.

    A certain kind of people seemed a little exasperated by it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Matthew Rosenberg of The New York Times joining us from Washington, D.C., thanks so much.

    MATTHEW ROSENBERG: Thank you.

    The post Covert cash: How did CIA money end up in al-Qaeda coffers? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    SenateIranLetters

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Secretary Kerry also said today he hopes to reach the framework of a nuclear deal with Iran by the end of March.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s — quote — “alarmed” about the current plan.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Majority Leader: The president is about to make what we believe will be a very bad deal.

    He clearly doesn’t want Congress involved in it at all. And we’re worried about it. We don’t think he ought to make a bad deal with one of the worst regimes in the world.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The Wall Street Journal’s Carol Lee joins us now from Washington.

    So let’s start talking first about the 47 senators who wrote a letter to Iran and what that did to this negotiation process.

    CAROL LEE, The Wall Street Journal: Well, if anything, it created a political firestorm in the U.S. I think we don’t yet know exactly the impact that it is going to have on negotiations this week, which starts Sunday night.

    But it certainly really angered the White House, which felt like the letter was designed for no other intention than to undercut the president on his chief foreign policy initiative of his second term.

    And the — there’s two tracks that it could go down in terms of outcome or fallout from it, and one could benefit the White House.

    And that is that, it seemed to make Democrats who were aligning with Republicans in some legislation that the White House opposes regarding Iran, it seemed to give them pause in terms of whether or not they were going to — or continue to support that legislation, or, at the very least, there are bills that the president has said he would veto.

    And one of the things Republicans are trying to do is get a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

    And this letter, because the Democrats interpreted it as so partisan, may have the benefit for the White House of not — the Republicans not being able to achieve that veto-proof majority.

    The second thing that this did is, it creates a situation where the White House — and raised concern in the White House that, if Iran walks away from the talks, their view is, it’s very important that Iran be to blame for that, that, if talks fail, that Iran owns that.

    And if the talks fail and Iran can blame the U.S., then that is a real concern.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

    So the White House sent a letter of its own back last night. What did that say?

    CAROL LEE: Yes.

    That — this is a letter from the president’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, to Senator Bob Corker, who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And it basically said, look, I don’t — we don’t support your bill, which is widely known.

    Senator Corker has a bill that would essentially give Congress an up-or-down vote or where it could approve or reject any final deal.

    And the White House has said, the president would veto that. They don’t like it. They don’t think that this is the kind of an agreement that requires Senate ratification.

    And so Denis McDonough had sent a letter to Senator Corker in saying that they don’t oppose this.

    And, in fact, he started to make the argument, which I think you are likely to hear more of, is — his argument was that Congress will get a vote on this.

    It’s — they don’t get a vote on whether or not to approve a deal or deny a deal, but they will get a vote in terms of and they will have their say in terms of having to lift sanctions, because they can’t — the U.S. cannot — the president cannot unilaterally lift all of the sanctions, particularly some of the most intense ones.

    And that requires an act of Congress.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so how does this play out over the next week?

    CAROL LEE: Well, as they get closer — and the administration feels that they are closer than they have ever been to a deal — there is pretty much a broad belief that they will meet this deadline by the end of March.

    But, at the same time, the political theater and outcry in the U.S. is really stepping up.

    And so it — it remains to be seen how exactly this will play out. But I think, you know, and it also — also remains to be seen how Iran responds to the letter.

    And I think you will see that in the next — in the coming days, you know, what their posture is in the latest round of negotiations.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

    CAROL LEE: Thank you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You can read the letter sent by the 47 Republican senators and the letter the White House sent to Senator Corker online at PBS.org/NewsHour.

    The post What’s the state of Kerry’s nuclear deal with Iran? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Three British male teenagers suspected of planning to join Islamic State militants in Syria have been arrested in Turkey and flown back to the United Kingdom, officials said Sunday.

    The three teens were detained Friday in Istanbul by Turkish authorities who were alerted by British officials after police in London reported that two 17-year-old boys had gone missing and were thought to be traveling to Syria, Reuters reported.

    The three, whose names have not been released, arrived back in London Saturday evening and were arrested “on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts,” London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

    They are currently being held at London’s central police station.

    As many as 700 British citizens, including three London schoolgirls last month, have gone to Syria or Iraq to join militant groups, made easier, officials say by the pervasive social media presence of Islamic extremists, the Associated Press reported.

    Turkey has issued travel bans to 12,519 people suspected of wanting to go to Syria and 1,154 more have been deported, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday.

    Turkish police have also increased measures to stop foreign nationals from crossing the border into Syria, the Guardian reported.

    The post Three British teens suspected of planning to join ISIS arrested in Turkey appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) in flight with coniferous seed in its mouth, North America.

    Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) in flight with coniferous seed in its mouth, North America. Credit: Getty Images

    Scientists hope a new mapping model published this week that pinpoints where the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel lives will help conservationists better focus efforts to protect it and its equally threatened habitat, the Appalachians’ red spruce forests.

    “The strength of our modeling is that it allows resource managers and other researchers to account for Carolina northern flying squirrels without having to catch them in traps or artificial nest-boxes, activities that are time-consuming and logistically difficult to undertake,” said W. Mark Ford, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist and lead author of the study published in the Endangered Species Research journal.

    “Our findings can be used by resource managers to prioritize forest areas that are habitat for this sub-species,” said Ford.

    Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) gliding

    Northern Flying Squirrel is seen gliding. Credit: Getty Images

    By studying almost two decades worth of information on nesting behaviors, scientists were able to put together a clearer picture of where the endangered nocturnal rodent resides.

    The destruction of Southern Appalachian red spruce-Fraser fir forests due to logging, fires, exotic insects and home construction for decades, has been a main contributor to the classification of the bulging-eyed species as endangered. The squirrels have been forced to live on isolated mountaintops or “sky-islands” at heights of 4,500 feet, mostly in the Great Smoky Mountains.

    The Carolina northern flying squirrel does not actually fly, but rather glides thanks to extra flaps of skin that stretch from its wrists to ankles. According to the National Wildlife Federation, it can travel nearly 150 feet in a single bound.

    Skydivers and basejumpers enamored with the glide ability of the squirrels have developed special suits mimicking the squirrel’s flying flaps. The suits allow jumpers to slow their descent, as well as perform additional mid-air maneuvers.

    The post Can a new mapping model save this endangered flying squirrel? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Two young men try out Samsung Galaxy phones at the Samsung Electronics' headquarters in Seoul January 23, 2014. South Korea's education ministry announced a new smartphone app Friday in an effort to prevent student suicides. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    Two young men try out Samsung Galaxy phones at the Samsung Electronics’ headquarters in Seoul January 23, 2014. South Korea’s education ministry announced a new smartphone app Friday in an effort to prevent student suicides. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates of any developed country. Suicide is the fourth-most-common cause of death among South Koreans, and the numbers are especially high among young people.

    In response to the public health crisis, South Korea’s education ministry announced plans for a smartphone app designed to screen students’ social media posts, messages and web searches for words related to suicide, AFP reported Friday.

    The app will send an alert to the parents of students are determined to be at risk.

    South Korean students report high levels of depression, stress anxiety, much of it caused by the demands of the country’s hypercompetitive education system.

    Student suicides tend to increase around November, when high school students take college entrance exams. Students often study intensely for years to prepare for the College Scholastic Ability Test, which can determine their career trajectory and even affect future prospects for marriage.

    In addition to attending school full time, many students spend several hours every day preparing for the exam, often seeking extra help from so-called cram schools.

    Though many welcomed the education ministry’s announcement of the suicide-prevention app, the ministry also faced criticism for not addressing the roost of the country’s suicide problem, including academic pressures and the stigma of mental health treatment.

    “Instead of a stop-gap policy, we must work out a fundamental and eventual solution, because various factors lead to the suicide of students,” the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations said in a statement, according to AFP.

    The post South Korea announces app to combat student suicide appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    As the civil war in Syria enters its fifth year, there’s a sense of great loss that’s settled over Syrian Americans — many of whom still have family in the country, most of whom have been impacted in some way by the violence and chaos of the last four years.

    On Sunday, hundreds of Syrian Americans from around the country gathered for a fourth year in front of the White House to commemorate the beginning of the revolution, and to honor the 220,000 people who have been killed since it began and renew their calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

    This year, the attendees were also protesting against the Islamic State group, chanting “ISIS and Assad are the same, the only difference is the name.”

    In fact, according to one of the demonstration’s organizers, this was the first time an anti-Islamic State group protest had been held in the United States. Even amid a sense of fatigue many people feel after years of unrest, those who rallied outside the White House said their aim was to re-energize the Syrian community to hold onto hope.

    The protest showed both Syrian and American identities, as people chanted hurriyeh, the Arabic word for freedom, to the banging of a tableh, a Syrian drum. First and second generation Syrian Americans waved Syrian and American flags — a mix of red, white, blue and green on the windy day.

    Despite feelings of anger, fear, frustration and grief, those who attended Sunday’s rally said they have not lost faith. “The revolution continues,” they cried.

    The rally came on the same day that Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS news that the United States would have to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad’s government to end the conflict. Speakers at the protest expressed their frustration with the move, saying that negotiations with Assad would be akin to negotiating with terrorists. The State Department later tried to clarify that Kerry was not specifically referring to Assad, and that Washington would never negotiate with the Syrian president.

    The humanitarian situation in Syria has grown dire, with more than 2.5 million displaced from their homes and a 30 percent increase in demand for international aid. A recent report drafted by numerous aid organizations sharply criticized the UN Security Council for not doing enough to respond to the crisis and allowing for conditions in the country to get worse.

    For more on the state of the Syrian Civil War four years in, watch PBS NewsHour tonight. Judy Woodruff will speak with Former Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, Washington Bureau Chief for the Al-Arabiya News Channel, Hisham Melhem, and Steve Heydemann, who has worked extensively with the Syrian opposition.

    The post Four years into war, Syrian Americans renew their calls against Assad, IS appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Bonnie Schupp/E+ via Getty Images.

    Military veterans may be eligible for special extra earnings from Social Security. Photo by Bonnie Schupp/E+ via Getty Images.

    Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff has spent every week, for over two years, answering questions about what is likely your largest financial asset — your Social Security benefits. His Social Security original 34 “secrets”, his additional secrets, his Social Security “mistakes” and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we feature “Ask Larry” every Monday. Find a complete list of his columns here. And keep sending us your Social Security questions.

    Kotlikoff’s state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its “basic” version. His new book, “Get What’s Yours — the Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security Benefits,” (co-authored with Paul Solman and Making Sen$e Medicare columnist Phil Moeller) was published in February by Simon & Schuster.

    Below, Larry explains the file-and-suspend and spousal benefit strategy to Paul, which got Paul and his wife an extra $50,000 in benefits.


    Anonymous — Sante Fe, N.M.: A retired military friend of mine brought to my attention that I may be due “special extra earnings” for active duty for training and inactive duty service in the armed forces reserves. I served in both of those capacities from March 1980 through July 1984 then went to inactive reserve status until Nov. 1986 when I received an honorable discharge.

    I found some information on the Social Security Administration website but wanted to know if you are familiar with this. I have all of my military pay vouchers and W-2s and have compared them to my SSA earnings records and they are in agreement with the W-2s.

    GOT SOCIAL SECURITY QUESTIONS?

    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    However, I do not see any extra added income to those years to apply any “extra credit.” The SSA webpage indicates that for every $300 of military pay earned, you will be credited with an additional $100 in earnings up to $1,200 a year. What I don’t know is how to tell if I have been given these “extra credits” in my current benefit. The SSA website states that “From 1968 through 2001, you don’t need to do anything to receive these extra credits. The credits were automatically added to your record.” I’d like to be sure of this as I don’t see evidence in my SSA earnings record that shows me how this has been added to my benefit.

    Another thing that makes me think that I have not been given this credit is that when I applied for Social Security online, I was never given the opportunity to insert any of my military service info. I called the SSA and spoke to someone about this. Unfortunately, it was after I started receiving my Social Security benefit, which was also after my retired military friend told me about the extra credits. The SSA representative told me the reason I didn’t get prompted by the online application for military service is because it is invoked based on the person’s age. He said I am too young to have served in Korea or WWII. This, to me, appears to be a flaw in the application process because that doesn’t account then for armed forces reserves for the period from 1968 through 2001 talked about on their website.

    I started receiving my Social Security benefit last October after I turned 62. I do have an appointment with a local Social Security office to discuss this issue. I plan to take my W-2s and military records to this meeting but want to be prepared and ask the right questions to insure I get the extra credits that the SSA says I am eligible to receive.

    Larry Kotlikoff: I have heard of this. What you need to do is go over your earnings record with the folks at the Social Security Administration. If they haven’t credited you for the extra earnings and should have, they will. In that case, they will make up the lost benefits and pay benefits at a higher rate going forward.

    Just to clarify, SSA retirement applications ask if the applicant had active military service prior to 1968 because deemed military wage credits are automatically added after that. For service prior to 1968, people need to provide proof of their active duty (e.g. form DD-214) to get the credits. Mistakes can occur, but I’d be very surprised if you aren’t already receiving full credit for ​your​ service.


    Amy — Boulder, Colo.: Can I fix a Social Security filing mistake that I made? I’m assuming not, but want to double check. I filed under my own name at full retirement age (FRA). When my husband, the bigger earner, reached FRA, he filed and suspended. And then I filed for my share of his Social Security. Now, eight months later, we realize that the best configuration would be for him to take his share of my Social Security until he reaches age 70, rather than taking no Social Security money until he reaches age 70. However, I am currently getting half of his suspended Social Security and not my own. Is there any way I can switch back to taking my own Social Security, so that he can then file to get his share of my Social Security until age 70?

    You fell smack dab into one of Social Security’s worst gotchas. Filing for your retirement benefit lands you in excess benefit hell in which you can’t collect a spousal, divorcee spousal, widow(er), or divorcee widow(er) benefit by itself. Only one of you should have filed at full retirement age to let the other file, at his or her full retirement age, just ​for a spousal benefit. You have one year to withdraw (not suspend) your retirement benefit and start from scratch. Hence, your husband can repay and replay if I’m interpreting the eight months correctly. He’d have to repay all of his own retirement benefits PLUS the excess​ spousal benefit you received on his work record. So there is, indeed, a way in which you can do what you want. But it will be a hit in terms of your short-run cash flows.

    Under this scenario, your husband will, as you indicate, file a restricted application for spousal benefits only. He’ll be able to collect six months of ​spousal benefits​ retroactively. These retroactive spousal benefits may ​well offset the excess spousal benefits that ​you​ would have to repay, so I would encourage ​you ​to contact the Social Security Administration right away.


    Lesley — Forest Park, Ill: I may have already made one mistake, but even though I was aware of the spousal benefit, our situation does not fit most profiles. I am 66 and retired in Dec. 2014. My husband, the higher wage-earner, is only 60 and doesn’t plan to retire until 67 (health permitting). I did not choose the spousal benefit because half of his was less than mine. My thinking was that I won’t touch my rollover 401(k) or other investment savings until I am 70, which by my thought process, would grow bigger than Social Security. Did I blow it and what is the best move now?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Spouse A (you) can’t collect a spousal benefit (either a full or excess spousal benefit) until Spouse B (your husband) files for a retirement benefit. But no one can file for a retirement benefit before age 62. So in December, you were not able ​to file for a spousal benefit. Since you are within a year of having filed for your own retirement benefit, you have the option of withdrawing (not suspending) your retirement benefit by repaying all the benefits you’ve received, gross of any Medicare Part B premiums that were subtracted from your check, and starting over with a clean slate. You can only withdraw within a year of filing for your retirement benefit. You are within the year. So let’s consider what’s optimal for you to do in terms of maxing out your lifetime benefits knowing that you have this option.

    Your own earnings record, while lower than your husband’s, ​seems to ​have been high enough such that your excess spousal benefit is zero. Your excess spousal benefit is the difference between half of your husband’s full retirement benefit and 100 percent of your own retirement benefit, reduced if you took it early (which you didn’t) and augmented by delayed retirement credits, if you take it after full retirement age. (You can’t accrue delayed retirement credits beyond age 70.)

    If this difference is negative, your excess spousal benefit is zero. If your excess spousal benefit is zero it will likely be best for you to wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit and have your husband wait until 70 to collect his retirement benefit. At full retirement age your husband would file just for his spousal benefit based on your work record.​ Again, since ​you filed ​for your own retirement benefit in Dec. 2014, you​’ll​ need to withdraw ​and​ repay in order to receive the highest possible age-70 benefit.

    Yes, this is crazy complex. Extremely, and I mean extremely, accurate software can tell you right away what’s optimal.But my little brain and your bigger brain can’t go through the potentially tens of thousands of collection strategies in the course of a year, let alone a half second, to figure out what’s optimal. But you can’t trust software unless you have a general understanding of what the right answer might be and are able to check, using the software, why the other options aren’t optimal. This is why I wrote my just released book with Paul and Making Sen$e Medicare columnist Phil Moeller, “Get What’s Yours.”

    We want everyone to have a very good handle on what might be best. In some cases, but not yours, it’s immediately clear. In others, knowing what might be best is important before using any software because the software you use may not be accurate or accurate enough to give you the right answer. Asking Social Security what’s best is another option, but one that’s terribly dangerous given that they have no software that optimizes family benefits and given the limitations of many of their staff’s training.


    Robin — Springfield, Ore.: I’m 63 and a half, still working but wanting to retire. My husband is turning 60 this May and is unemployed. According to our Social Security statements, his estimated retirement benefits will be several hundred dollars more per month than mine, whether he begins collecting them at 62 or full retirement age. If I stop working prior to age 66 and before he turns 62, am I eligible to collect on his earnings record before collecting on my own or must he be collecting first? What are the implications and/or benefits of collecting on his record rather than my own?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your husband needs to file for his retirement benefit in order for you to file for a spousal benefit on his record. If he files when you reach full retirement age, you can file just for a full spousal benefit (it will equal half of his full retirement benefit) and then wait until 70 to collect your own retirement benefit, which will start at a level that’s 32 percent above your full retirement benefit after taking account of increases due to inflation. When he reaches full retirement age, your husband can suspend his own retirement benefit and start it up again at age 70, also at a 32 percent higher level after inflation.

    But here’s the rub. Because your husband will, under this scenario, have filed before reaching full retirement age, he will, up to full retirement age, receive a reduced retirement benefit.

    But here’s the rub. Because your husband will, under this scenario, have filed before reaching full retirement age, he will, up to full retirement age, receive a reduced retirement benefit. And the 32 percent increase will be applied to his reduced retirement benefit, not to his full retirement benefit. I call this strategy “Start-Stop-Start” because your husband starts his benefit, stops (suspends) it, and starts it up again.

    This may be your best strategy in terms of maximizing lifetime benefits. Or it may be better for you to file for your benefit when your husband reaches full retirement age, immediately suspend its collection, and then start taking it at 70. This will allow your husband to collect a full spousal benefit starting at full retirement age. At 70 he would then file for his own retirement benefit. Both the start-stop-start and file-and-suspend strategies entail your waiting until 70 to collect your own retirement benefit.

    This second file-and-suspend strategy would also provide your husband with the ability to take just his widower benefit before reaching 70 were you to pass away before he reached 70. In short, what’s best for you to do just in terms of maxing out your joint lifetime benefits is complicated for feeble brains like mine (and even Paul’s!). But the right software program can decide in a half second what strategy will max out your lifetime benefits. You’ll also be able to see the annual benefits under each strategy and decide whether you can handle (in terms of having other means of support) the pattern of cash flows that each entails.


    M.J. — Conn.: We are quite concerned as we will need to rely so heavily on Social Security in our retirement years. I just turned 62 and my husband recently turned 60. He has been the breadwinner and I have (for the most part) been at home taking care of kids and grandkids. I have a Social Security statement that reflects a tiny sum that I could collect. Think bare minimum!

    I understand that I can expect to get half of his much larger Social Security amount at some point. My husband ideally (I think) would wait until he is 66 to file and suspend and then collect at 70. Since I am two years older than he is, when should I apply? I imagine I shouldn’t do anything until he turns 66 and I am 68? Still, I wonder, even if my Social Security check on my own account amounts to peanuts, I would hate to leave it on the table unless it made sense to. Every penny counts. Thanks so much for being a great resource.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You will likely do better with the start-stop-start strategy that I just outlined for Robin, depending on whether your husband is still working. (However, if he is still working, his early retirement benefit and your own spousal benefit could be zapped by the earnings test, which would be applied to both of your benefits in a proportional manner.)​

    Two couples, A and B, can have the same gaps separating the spouse’s ages, but what’s best will differ depending on differences in work records between the two spouses in each couple.

    In contrast, my guess is that Robin will likely do better following the file-and-suspend strategy I mentioned. This is the maddening thing about Social Security’s awful complexity. What will max out one household’s lifetime benefits won’t necessarily max out another’s. Two couples, A and B, can have the same gaps separating the spouse’s ages, but what’s best will differ depending on differences in work records between the two spouses in each couple. This is where a computer is needed.

    But cash flow considerations also come into play. Can you actually get by, in terms of having some spending power, if you follow the strategy that maximizes lifetime benefits? Maybe you can continue to work full time or part time? Maybe you can tap retirement accounts. Maybe you can borrow at a low rate on your home. Maybe you can get a loan from your kids or siblings? Or maybe not. There are other higher detailed and extremely accurate consumption-smoothing software programs that can show you the cash flow (feasible spending) implications of any given Social Security collection strategy you enter into the program.

    You said, ​“I imagine I shouldn’t do anything until he turns 66 and I am 68?” Since ​waiting to collect your own retirement benefit beyond full retirement age​ ​won’t produce a higher benefit once you start collecting your spousal benefit, ​you ​should ​definitely ​file ​for your own retirement benefit when you reach full retirement age.

    The post Am I receiving extra Social Security credit for my military service? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Since the 1950s, productivity is down in biomedical and pharmaceutical development, according to healthcare industry experts. The Brookings Institution recently explored possible causes for this decline and ways to remedy it. Photo by Reuters

    Since the 1950s, productivity is down in biomedical and pharmaceutical development, according to healthcare industry experts. The Brookings Institution recently explored possible causes for this decline and ways to remedy it. Photo by Reuters

    Jonathan Leff recently stood before a room full of biomedical policy and industry experts who gathered to explore obstacles for innovation in medicine during the Brookings Institution’s State of Biomedical Innovation conference.

    Leff, chairman at the healthcare analysis group Deerfield Institute, clicked to a slide that illustrated a dramatic decline in overall productivity for biomedical and pharmaceutical research and development.

    Starting in the mid-1950s, Leff pointed out that the number of drugs approved per $1 billion spent has consistently gone down over the course of six decades.

    “We’re spending more and more, and it’s not clear that we’re getting more for it if you just look at the output of new medicines being approved each year,” said Leff.

    Limited data exists to measure the cause of this stifled innovation. Sometimes, Leff said, data is not collected regularly or is incomplete. After that, he asked one simple question.

    “How can we fix it if we can’t measure it?”

    Deerfield Institute recently partnered with Brookings to build a database that tracks drugs that the Food and Drug Administration approved over the last 20 years in order to better understand the success and failure of drug therapy innovation. According to Leff, this has not previously existed.

    Broader discussions during the conference also focused on how to make biomedical research and development processes more efficient and cost-effective, not only through better use of metrics but also more targeted clinical trials, which present huge costs in preparing a drug for approval. All of these ideas would help to pave the way for more innovation.

    Considering how much people rely on drug therapies and medical devices, biomedical innovation is an area that bears “tremendous impact on the lives of Americans and people all around the world,” said Mark B. McClellan, director of Health Care Innovation and Value Initiative at Brookings.

    “The potential for longer and better lives in the future is great, but the process of translating good ideas from basic science into safe and effective treatments that can improve people’s lives can be long, difficult and uncertain.”

    The post How data may make better medicine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user Austin Marshall https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxtopus/

    Can’t help but share the latest photo of your baby on Facebook? You’re not the only one. Photo by Flickr user Austin Marshall.


    You’ve seen them in your Facebook feed. Maybe you’re one yourself — a parent who shares. A lot.

    A “sharent.”

    Of course, you’re not alone. A new poll from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan found that many parents of young children (in this sample, ages 0-4) use social media like Facebook to talk about parenting topics like childhood health, nutrition and discipline.

    The issues most commonly discussed among the 56 percent of moms and 34 percent of dads polled include:

    • Sleeping tips (28 percent)
    • Nutrition and eating tips (26 percent)
    • Discipline (19 percent)
    • Daycare and preschool (17 percent)
    • And behavior problems (13 percent)

    But when does this discussion cross the line? Most parents who use social media — 74 percent — said they know of other parents that overshare. Fifty-six percent said that some parents post embarrassing information about their child, 51 percent said they’ve seen information that could identify a child’s location and 27 percent said that other parents share inappropriate photos of their children.

    We’re asking: What do you think is too far when it comes to sharing stories, photos and information about your child? Leave your answer in the comments section below.

    Read the full report from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

    The post Are you guilty of ‘oversharenting’? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with laser guided munitions and Hellfire missiles, flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt

    An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with laser guided munitions and Hellfire missiles, flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. The ACLU is suing the federal government over drone missile strikes. Photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt/U.S. Air Force

    WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the federal government, seeking to force a response to its request for documents about drone missile strikes against terror suspects.

    The complaint, filed in New York’s southern district, says the Justice and Defense Departments and the CIA have failed to respond to the ACLU’s year-old request for records relating to drone strikes under the Freedom of Information Act. While many details of the strikes are classified, President Barack Obama has acknowledged that the U.S. engages in the practice.

    The lawsuit says the government failed to make a reasonable effort to search for records responsive to the request.

    The ACLU says Obama in May 2013 promised greater transparency about drone strikes, but has failed to deliver.

    The government had no immediate comment.

    The post ACLU sues federal government for records of U.S. drone killings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Listen to Thomas Dooley read “Aunt Peggy” from his debut collection, “Trespass.” When Dooley was writing this poem, he was preoccupied with understanding forgiveness. “What is a therapeutic response to something? It’s such a personal thing,” Dooley told Art Beat in December. The poem is “trying to figure out, how does one go on when something has happened? And maybe a way to go on is to not go on with a certain person. Maybe that is how you can save your life.”

    Aunt Peggy

    Afternoon sun on metals, hubcaps
    flash on Second Avenue, I’ve been
    seesawing my feet on the edge of the curb
    for almost an hour on the phone
    with my mother, It just doesn’t make
    sense
    , the subject always comes up,
    I mean she’s had years
    of therapy
    , she says years with such
    exhalation her breath gets
    reedy, I pick threads from my scarf,
    Why can’t Peggy forgive your father? The city is
    bright, winter is quiet, a pause
    on motion, Mom, look at all she’s been through, Pop
    then Dad, I mean, good god
    , her voice
    tenders, But Tom, she ticks her throat,
    don’t you think after all that therapy
    she would be able to forgive?
    I can feel
    a draft in my sleeve, it hits
    the sweat at the bend of my arm, Maybe this is
    her therapy. Treat Dad like he’s dead.

    There is a shallow dent in the chrome
    fender of an old car my image runs over
    and warps, my mother is quiet,
    I’ve handed her something new, she might
    stand for a while in her kitchen and wait
    for the dishwasher to end its cycle.

    Thomas Dooley“Trespass” is Thomas Dooley‘s debut collection of poetry. The book was selected by poet and novelist Charlie Smith for the 2013 National Poetry Series. Dooley is the founder and artistic director of Emotive Fruition, an experimental theater collective where actors and poets work together to perform written poetry. He earned an MFA from New York University, has received fellowships from New York University and the Jentel and Starlight Foundations, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

    From the book Trespass: Poems by Thomas Dooley. Copyright © 2014 by Thomas Dooley. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

    The post A poet looks to his own family to understand forgiveness appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Wikimedia user Moritz Wickendorf

    A government report released on Monday revealed that Federal agencies made $125 billion worth of improper payments last year. Photo by Wikimedia user Moritz Wickendorf

    WASHINGTON — Federal agencies made $125 billion in improper payments last year, including tax credits to people who didn’t qualify, Medicare payments for treatments that might not be necessary and unemployment benefits for people who were actually working, said a government report released Monday.

    The level of improper payments was a new high after several years of declines. In addition to fraud, the errors included overpayments and underpayments, as well payments made without proper documentation.

    While the errors were spread among 22 federal agencies, three programs stood out: Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

    Together, the three programs accounted for more than $93 billion in improper payments, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

    “This taxpayer money was not spent securing our borders, it was not spent on national defense, and it was not spent contributing to a safety net for those in need,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “This is a problem that is going to get worse year after year if we do not get a handle on it now.”

    Johnson’s committee held a hearing Monday on reducing improper payments by improving death records maintained by the Social Security Administration. Social Security has no death record for 6.5 million people who would be at least 112 years old, according to a report by the agency’s inspector general.

    In reality, only a few could possibly be alive. As of last fall, there were only 42 people known to be that old in the entire world.

    Only 13 of the people are still getting Social Security benefits, the report said. But for others, their Social Security numbers are still active, so a number could be used to report wages, open bank accounts, obtain credit cards or claim fraudulent tax refunds.

    Social Security maintains a database of people who have died called the Death Master File, or DMF. It helps public agencies and private companies know when Social Security numbers are no longer valid for use.

    “Their absence from the DMF could result in erroneous payments made by federal benefit-paying agencies that rely on the DMF to verify recipient eligibility,” said Patrick P. O’Carroll Jr., the Social Security inspector general. “It could also hinder state and local government and private industry — banks, insurance companies, and others — from identifying identity theft and other types of fraud.”

    The federal government’s increase in improper payments comes after three years of steady declines. The level previously peaked at $121 billion in 2010 before dropping to $106 billion for the 2013 budget year.

    The Obama administration says reducing improper payments is a priority.

    “While progress has been made over the years, the time has come for a more aggressive strategy to reduce the levels of improper payments we currently are seeing,” said David Mader, the controller at President Barack Obama’s budget office.

    Mader outlined several proposals in Obama’s proposed budget for next year. They include programs to reduce fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid, as well as budget increases at the IRS to combat tax fraud.

    The post Government agencies responsible for $125 billion worth of improper payments last year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The nine-second video featuring members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma singing a racist chant has sparked anger and confusion for many millennials across the country. Students held protests on campuses and took to social media to share their disappointment, outrage and concern.

    According to a survey from the Pew Research Center in 2010 and another from MTV and David Binder Research in 2014, millennials are supposed to be more tolerant, and more racially progressive than older generations. So how did this happen?

    Youth journalists with the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs program interviewed their peers about their initial reactions to the video and ask what social responsibilities, if any, young people have after such an incident.

    The interviews are provided by: Ryan Pavey and Mielle Pena of Austin High School in Austin, Texas; Ayeisha Priester and Wilfredo Rivera of CPBN Media Lab in Hartford, Connecticut; James Hoang, Damari Lawrence and Ja’Lenn Polar of Media Enterprise Alliance in Oakland, California; Grace Burns, Erika Cervantes, Ronald Elliott, Mercedes Ezeji, Jessica Hernandez and Ashley White of Pflugerville High School in Pflugerville, Texas; and SRL Alumni Andrew Sokolowski of Blueband Films in Fraser, Michigan.

    We want to hear from you. Is the next generation really more tolerant? Or are older generations continuing to pass down hurtful attitudes toward marginalized groups? Join the discussion on Twitter at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday. Use the hashtag #NewsHourchats.

    The post Millennials ‘confused, appalled’ by racist fraternity video appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Do you know what you’re agreeing to when you click “I agree” on a website’s terms of service form?

    In all likelihood, the answer is no. To read just the privacy statement from every different website they visit in a year, Americans would have to dedicate more than 30 eight-hour work days to the mind-numbing task, according to one study. And the privacy policy is only one part of a website’s terms of service.

    Yet by signing terms of service, users may cede control of their intellectual property, agree to be used as research subjects and allow companies to collect and distribute their personal information, including, perhaps, medical information.

    NewsHour Weekend Anchor and Senior Correspondent Hari Sreenivasan was troubled recently when he received an email from ZocDoc, a popular medical care scheduling service, describing the company’s updated terms of use.

    In section seven, ZocDoc specifies that it, and others working on the company’s behalf, may use or disclose users’ names, addresses, social security numbers, medical histories, current medical needs and insurance information, as long doing so is in line with ZocDoc’s privacy policy.

    The privacy policy states that ZocDoc may transfer users’ personal information to another company in connection with a sale, acquisition or other change of ownership, meaning ZocDoc could transfer user information to separate companies with different terms of use.

    Theoretically, if users users want to keep their information private, they can delete their ZocDoc accounts. In that case, ZocDoc promises to delete the account and the information it contains as soon as reasonably possible.

    But the company also reserves the right to store all information indefinitely, including information from closed accounts, raising the question of whether a user can expect personal information to disappear entirely.

    We’d like to hear from you: Have you found anything in a user agreement that gave you pause or raised privacy concerns? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

    The post App’s terms of service give away your SSN, medical history appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, March Madness has arrived once again, and, this year, there’s a twist: The University of Kentucky is making a run for a historic and undefeated season.

    The men’s basketball team is 34-0, and fresh off winning the SEC Championship on Sunday night, Kentucky comes in as a favorite in a tournament that often showcases Cinderella stories. In an era of parity for the game, where more and more teams are closely competitive, Kentucky’s become known for their talent, for their coach, John Calipari, and whether his players leave school far too easily and too quickly.

    John Feinstein of The Washington Post is the author of several books on college basketball. And he joins me now.

    Welcome back to the program, John.

    JOHN FEINSTEIN, The Washington Post: Thanks, Judy. Good to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how rare is it for a school to go into the Final Four undefeated?

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Into the Final Four?  Rare.

    The last team to do that was Nevada Las Vegas in 1991. And you might remember they lost to Duke in that national semifinal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I remember.

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: However, people seem to forget that, last year, Wichita State was 34-0 going into the tournament. But because they aren’t Kentucky, all capital letters, they didn’t get as much attention or glamour for being undefeated, and they were beaten in the second round, ironically enough, by Kentucky.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how does Kentucky do it?  How do you explain their success this year?

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, John has — didn’t invent the so-called one-and-done rule.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The coach, yes.

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: John Calipari. But he’s perfected it.

    The way he recruits is, he goes out and he says, look, you must go to college by rule for at least a year. I will prepare you better than anybody for the NBA to be a first-round draft pick. And when he recruits those players, he can tell the guys ahead of them are going to be gone to the NBA, so there are going to be spots open for you to play right away.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, and just remind us, what’s the argument about supporting student athletes vs. one-and-dones?

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, student athlete to me is both a redundancy — by rule, you have to be a student in order to be a college athlete — and also there’s a lot of hypocrisy in it, because so many of the players at the big-time schools aren’t going to come close to ever graduating.

    The one-and-done rule is a pox on college basketball. And I say that as someone who supported it when it first came in eight years ago, because I believed one year of college was better for a young man than no years of college.

    But now I feel completely the opposite. If you don’t want to go, and you’re good enough, the way Kobe Bryant was, the way LeBron James was, the way Kevin Garnett was, to go straight to the NBA, you should be allowed to do that. That’s going to be your profession. You’re trained and ready to do it. And you will be paid millions of dollars for that.

    To go to college and pretend to be a student for a year — because that’s what they’re doing. They go to couple classes for a semester. They stay eligible. And when they play their last game, they go prepare for the NBA draft. They don’t even finish their freshman years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, coach Calipari has said, well, this year, he thinks that staying for a year is a good idea. What is going on there?

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, his best player, Willie Cauley-Stein, is in fact a junior. And the reason he’s still there is because he was injured.

    And he wasn’t going to go as high in the draft as he initially thought he would. He has got two sophomore guards who again weren’t going to go as high in the draft as they thought they were. So, John, who is very good at manipulating words — he’s a very smart guy — is now saying, well, I think it’s OK if they come back for another year, because he doesn’t want them, the players, to feel humiliated by the fact that they were — quote — “forced to stay in college” an extra year or two.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, OK, going into this tournament — I called it the Final Four — I meant the whole tournament.

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What shape is Kentucky in?  Are they a shoo-in?  Where — I mean, what do you…

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: No one is a shoo-in in one-and-done. If it was best four of seven, like in the NBA, I don’t think anybody could beat Kentucky.

    But, for one night, somebody could get in foul trouble, somebody could turn an ankle, an opponent could get really hot from the three-point line. You can lose. That’s what happened in ’91, when everybody thought Nevada Las Vegas was unbeatable, and Duke beat them.

    So they’re not a shoo-in. They are certainly the favorite. They are the best team. They are undefeated. They go 10 players deep. They’re huge. Their guards are 6’6” and 6’6”. That’s almost unheard of.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: So, they will be very difficult for anybody to beat.

    They certainly — I think people expect them to finish 40-0, be the first team to finish undefeated since Indiana did it in 1976. But if they lose, it won’t be completely shocking.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So — OK, so just a little over a minute left. Who else do you like, these other Cinderella teams?

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, if you’re talking about beating Kentucky, it’s not going to be a Cinderella team. It’s not going to be one of those low seeds that wins a game or two and gets to the Sweet 16 that make the first weekend so exciting.

    I think Arizona is the second best team. They would both Kentucky if they both advanced in the national semifinals. I think they have the best-built team to perhaps beat Kentucky. Your alma mater, my alma mater, Duke, if they had a great shooting night, could have a chance. I don’t think they play enough defense to do it.

    Wisconsin is a very experienced team. Those are the ones that come to mind right away.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do you see — let me just back off.

    Do you see this as a wide-open tournament?  Because there are a lot of people out there trying to decide where they’re going to place their non-monetary bets right now.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Yes. The first two — recreational purposes only.

    The first two weekends are always wide open. There will be upsets by low seeds. When we get to the Final Four in three weekends, it’s going to be big-time teams playing there. Very rarely, you get a VCU or a George Mason or a Butler there, but most of the time, it’s the big-time schools the last weekend. And I expect Kentucky to be there and Indianapolis.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do you — are you picking somebody?

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Oh, I always try to pick an underdog. I have already gone on record picking Maryland to beat Kentucky in the Sweet 16. And I’m sure that will make me very popular in the state of Kentucky.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: But you have got to pick somebody that is not obvious. So, I always try to pick somebody who is not as obvious.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You have always been a man of courage.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Or silliness.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John Feinstein, thank you very much.

    JOHN FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Judy.

     

    The post Will undefeated Kentucky be unseated by an underdog team? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Loretta Lynch testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington

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    GWEN IFILL: How many hot buttons can they push at one time?  The Senate turns a confirmation debate into a standoff over human trafficking and abortion. And, in New Hampshire, two likely Republican presidential candidates test the waters.

    For more on the week, this politics Monday, we turn to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Let’s start on Capitol Hill, Amy, in which the attorney general’s nomination, Loretta Lynch, the designate’s nomination, is being held up not because of immigration fights, which we have had before, not because of other things, but in this case because of a human trafficking bill that Democrats and Republicans actually agree about?

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: This is one of those rare instances, right, where you get Democrats and Republicans agreeing on bipartisan legislation.

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    AMY WALTER: It looked like it was going to sail through the Senate.

    And then Democrats came out, what was it, a week ago or so and said, it seems that there’s an abortion provision that was snuck in here by Republicans. Republicans say, it wasn’t snuck in here. It’s been here all along. You all didn’t read the bill.

    And we’re back to where we always are on Capitol Hill, which is Democrats saying Republicans are doing bad things. Republicans say, Democrats are doing bad things. And now we have a stalemate, Democrats saying, we’re not going to vote on this, Republicans saying, fine, then we’re going to hold up Loretta Lynch.

    GWEN IFILL: And I have noticed that the pushback coming from Hillary Clinton and others in Planned Parenthood is that this is now a triple attack on women, and that is by attaching the Hyde amendment language, anti-abortion language, to this, by holding up a human trafficking bill, which affects women, and by holding up the nomination of the — only the first African-American woman ever nominated to be attorney general, that this is the war again.

    TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Yes, the old war on women narrative.

    But I think that what Republicans would say is, Democrats should just let us vote on this human trafficking bill. They voted it out of committee unanimously. Let’s just get this over with, and we will move right on to Loretta Lynch. That’s what they’re saying.

    Now, truth be told, there is no technical reason why they couldn’t do both things at the same time.

    GWEN IFILL: Wait, wait, wait. That’s a concept, doing two things at once?

    TAMARA KEITH: I know, walking, chewing gum. They could actually — actually, today, the Senate voted on a couple of nominations, and voted them out.

    So, it’s not like they can’t technically do it. It basically is now Mitch McConnell saying, I do not want to move on to Loretta Lynch unless…

    GWEN IFILL: It’s his leverage?

    TAMARA KEITH: It’s his leverage?  But, also, there is some thought out there that the vote could be pretty close on Loretta Lynch. Republicans especially are concerned about her stance on the president’s immigration action, other things and some other smaller things.

    And so there is some concern that it could be really close, and that wouldn’t look good for Senate Republicans and Mitch McConnell. Actually, Mitch McConnell himself has not yet said how he plans to vote on the Lynch nomination.

    AMY WALTER: And it goes back to, this is all about both sides now playing to their base, right?

    Democrats seizing this as an opportunity to say to their base, look, we’re — whether it’s on women and whether it’s on abortion, we’re standing up for you. Republicans, the Loretta Lynch has been about immigration more than anything else, using her vote as an opportunity to say to their base that doesn’t like immigration reform, see, and doesn’t like what the president did on immigration, see, we’re going to stand up for you by voting against Loretta Lynch.

    We’re back to this Kabuki theater, right, where we’re just constantly playing around. It seems we’re voting on one thing, but really this is a debate about something completely different.

    GWEN IFILL: OK. Let’s go to something completely different, the 2016 campaign.

    This weekend marked the maiden visit to New Hampshire, at least in 15 years, for Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, who is the governor of Wisconsin, both of them, to the extent that polls matter, kind of burbling up there at the top of a big field. What are we thinking about Jeb Bush now in New Hampshire?  What was he going there for?

    TAMARA KEITH: He was going to New Hampshire in some way to say, I’m not going to act like I’m inevitable. Maybe I have all the money and all the people lined up, but I’m not going to campaign here.

    He was basically going to say, I am going to be more like John McCain than I’m going to be like my brother. He went to a house party at a former New Hampshire Republican Party chair’s house and took questions forever from small children, from adults. Then he went out in the driveway and took questions from reporters.

    He made himself very open, very accessible. Now, of course, this also plays to his strengths, because he doesn’t do big speeches as well as he does Q&As. But he went to New Hampshire and said, I’m going to do New Hampshire the New Hampshire way.

    GWEN IFILL: And how about Scott Walker?

    AMY WALTER: And Scott Walker has a challenge here, too, which is, he’s doing very well in Iowa, in part because the electorate in Iowa is very much like the kind of electorate that Scott Walker would do well with.

    They’re more conservative. It’s obviously a Midwestern state. He’s from Wisconsin. The question is, can he do something after Iowa?  And we know that New Hampshire is the next state. A little more moderate. Independents are there, play a big role in the primary process. If there is a place to stop Jeb Bush, it would be in New Hampshire. If he can win Iowa and New Hampshire, that would be a big, big blow to the Bush campaign.

    GWEN IFILL: OK.

    Let’s go to the Democratic side of the ledger here and back to the Hillary Clinton e-mails, which we have now seen. Grain of salt, but we have seen a poll this afternoon from CNN that shows that she’s taking something of a hit. I don’t know if it’s about the e-mails or about just the general idea of transparency. How do you read this?

    AMY WALTER: Well, I read this as, this is the problem about being the Democratic nominee for president when you’re not the Democratic nominee for president, right, that she is essentially a candidate for president without all the things that go along with that, like a campaign that can help you to respond to a lot of this.

    There is a big vacuum around Hillary Clinton. And what’s filling it is a lot of negative information. That’s what voters are getting. At the same time, when you look at the sort of guts of this poll, what you find is, how people feel about Hillary Clinton and whether or not the e-mails are relevant is exactly the same way that people felt back in 1994 about whether the Whitewater documents were relevant to whether Bill Clinton could do his job.

    So, really, we’re back to this polarized America that we have been in for quite some time, which is, if you like the Clintons, you think that this is not a big deal. If you don’t like them, it is a big deal.

    GWEN IFILL: And even if she took a hit, she still is doing better in the popularity polls than, say, the president of the United States.

    AMY WALTER: That’s right.

    TAMARA KEITH: Certainly.

    And I have talked to a lot of people on the ground in Iowa and in New Hampshire. And in talking to Democrats, they feel like they would love for her to have a primary; they would love for her to have a little fight. There’s this idea that…

    GWEN IFILL: It toughens you up.

    TAMARA KEITH: Well, yes, and it’s hard to run really fast unless someone or something is chasing you.

    (LAUGHTER)

    TAMARA KEITH: And so I think that they would like her to have a little something, but they just aren’t worried about this e-mail thing. I think that it is a much bigger deal in this bubble where we exist here in the Washington, D.C., area.

    GWEN IFILL: I’m shocked to hear you say that we may not be in touch with what’s happening in the early primary…

    AMY WALTER: That’s right.

    But what do we know about when you’re around a toddler?  The most dangerous time when they get in trouble is when they’re hungry, or tired or bored. Same goes with reporters.

    (LAUGHTER)

    AMY WALTER: And they’re very bored now. Reporters are bored. There’s no primary around Hillary Clinton. There’s nothing there. So…

    GWEN IFILL: But, that said, there has been so much scrutiny now and so much a connection made between what she did and what they have done that there has to be some pressure.

    TAMARA KEITH: Absolutely.

    And I think there is — yes, I just — I think that coming from her people, there’s this feeling like she’s held to a different standard than everyone else, that Jeb Bush has e-mail issues. Members of Congress don’t even have to save their e-mails. And yet we’re talking about Hillary Clinton and we will — forever, we’re going to be talking about Hillary Clinton.

    GWEN IFILL: Oh, thank you. That’s something to look forward to for the next year or so.

    (LAUGHTER)

    GWEN IFILL: Tamara Keith from NPR, Amy Walter from The Cook Political Report, thank you both.

    AMY WALTER: Thanks, Gwen.

    TAMARA KEITH: Thank you.

    The post Senate standoff over human trafficking bill stalls Loretta Lynch confirmation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    athomecare

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    GWEN IFILL: We now turn to another in our occasional series on long-term care.

    As Americans age, most prefer to stay in their own homes and get help when needed with the basics of daily living. A nationwide campaign kicked off last week calling attention to the jobs and the wages of home care workers.

    Special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports.

    OLA MAE JONES: Good morning.

    THERESA KING: Good morning.

    It’s a passion job, so it takes a lot of patience, a lot of kindness.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: In Long Beach, California, Theresa King cares for 88-year-old Ola Mae Jones, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

    THERESA KING: I’m cooking you some fish.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: From cooking, to cleaning, to comfort.

    THERESA KING: Don’t you love me, huh?

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: The job is physically demanding and emotionally draining. King makes $9.70 cents an hour, almost exactly the average for the nation’s two million home care workers.

    THERESA KING (singing): I want to shout about it.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: About 90 percent are women. Half are people of color. Like King, many don’t work full-time and don’t get benefits. She qualifies for food stamps and says, on her income, she can’t afford some basic necessities.

    THERESA KING: It’s not enough to have your own apartment. You know, it’s not enough to have your own transportation without a struggle. You don’t really get to live a good life on the income of a home care worker.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: King’s employer, Cambrian Homecare, charges between $18 and $22 an hour for its caregivers. Rhiannon Acree, the company’s founder and president, says her costs go far beyond the workers’ wages.

    RHIANNON ACREE, Founder and President, Cambrian Homecare: Your workers’ comp alone will add you $3. So, then you have got your unemployment, and you have got your taxes to match, and you have got your liability insurances on top of that.

    The other next big cost is the background check. Then you want to staff, get the coordinators to place the right caregiver at the right house, and you need to make some profit.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, the need for caregivers like Louasa Grant-Morrow in Philadelphia is skyrocketing. Home care work is one of the nation’s fastest growing industries.

    But, unlike most other jobs, there’s no federal guarantee these workers get minimum wage or overtime. That’s because the Fair Labor Standards Act, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938, exempted domestic service workers. The reason given?  They performed companionship jobs similar to baby-sitters.

    In 2013, the Department of Labor issued new rules narrowing the companionship exemption and extending federal minimum wage and overtime protection to home care workers. But, before the rules took effect, a federal judge overturned them, saying only Congress can change the law. The Department of Labor appealed, and a decision is expected later this year.

    Over the years, caregivers’ responsibilities have grown. Grant-Morrow keeps track of medications and helps 85-year-old Elsie Wise transfer from one wheelchair to another. She’s worked for Home Care Associates in Philadelphia for four years. That tenure is unusual for an industry where turnover rates are 50 percent each year.

    HCA believes it can retain workers by offering them a better deal. Though Grant-Morrow’s pay is low, just $8.20 an hour, she’s guaranteed full-time work, and she gets a transit pass to use any time she needs transportation. That’s just part of the company’s benefits package, says HCA’s president, Karen Kulp.

    KAREN KULP, President, Home Care Associates: They get paid time off, health insurance, dental insurance, a life insurance policy, a 401(k) plan, disability insurance, and the ability to become worker-owners.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: That’s right, ownership in the company and a chance to serve on the board of directors.

    KAREN KULP: One share is $500. And the way we do it is that we loan you $465 of that $500, so you, from your first paycheck, we take out $35, and then you can pay that back over as many months as it takes to do that, paying $3 a week.

    LOUASA GRANT-MORROW: I’m a part of the company. I have a part to the company.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Grant-Morrow bought in, and her investment has paid off.

    LOUASA GRANT-MORROW: And if we’re having a very excellent year, of many clientele and so on, a lot of us get nice — we get a nice prize as far as bonuses, gifts, and so on by the end of the year, so it pays off. It really does.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: So you have — you have gotten your $500 back?

    LOUASA GRANT-MORROW: Oh, I have got my $500 back.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: In California, Theresa King would like benefits, but, right now, she’s focused on getting a hike in pay.

    THERESA KING: We’re supporting everyone that’s wanting increased wages in America.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: She’s spoken at rallies, part of a national effort by a group called Fight for 15 backed by unions to boost wages to $15 an hour for a variety of workers.

    THERESA KING: Fifteen an hour would change my life. You know, it would change my life. When you’re making more money, it takes away worry and stress, when you’re making more money. So, of course, releasing me of worry and stress would help me in a whole lot of ways.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Labor unions argue that increasing wages by 50 percent would put billions of new dollars in the hands of workers and would ripple through the economy, creating thousands of jobs.

    RHIANNON ACREE: Everybody would like caregivers to make more money.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Rhiannon Acree says agencies like hers have to strike a balance between what families can pay and what caregivers need to make.

    RHIANNON ACREE: And, like everything else, if you have to pay more to produce something, and in this, we produce a service, then somebody has to pay for it, and what happens when they can’t afford it?  I think that’s our worry, is, when clients can’t afford home care anymore, what happens?

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Karen Kulp in Philadelphia echoes that concern.

    KAREN KULP: It would be great to be able to pay folks that. Again, it’s like, where is that going to come from?  Is it going to come from private payers?  You know, are people who employ somebody privately willing to pay that much?  Is it going to come from the government?  Is it going to come from Medicare or Medicaid?

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Bridging the gap between livable wages and reasonably priced care is the challenge facing policy-makers and families who need caregivers.

    I’m Kathleen McCleery, reporting from Philadelphia for the PBS NewsHour.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have more reporting from our series, including options on how to pay for long-term care. That’s on our home page, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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    20 killed by Syrian regime vacuum bombs

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: On Israel’s border, a morbid anniversary passes this week for a raging war which has claimed more than 200,000 lives, and has left millions homeless.

    Four years in, and there’s no end in sight to the killing in Syria. Just today, new government airstrikes hit a suburb of Damascus. And Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insisted again he’s staying until his own countrymen decide otherwise.

    PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, Syria (through interpreter): Whether they say I remain or not, the Syrian people have the final say on this particular matter. Anything that came from outside the borders was only words and interference that disappears after a while.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That last was aimed at Secretary of State John Kerry. Sunday, on CBS, he suggested any effort toward a transition in Syria would include Assad after all.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: I am convinced that, with the efforts of our allies and others, there will be increased pressure on Assad.

    QUESTION: And you would be willing to negotiate with him?

    JOHN KERRY: Well, we have to negotiate in the end.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Kerry’s words raised eyebrows, but U.S. officials quickly insisted President Obama’s policy has not changed from this in 2012:

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: President al-Assad has lost legitimacy. He needs to step down.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The push to oust Assad began as peaceful protests in March 2011, amid the Arab spring. But the regime launched a brutal crackdown against demonstrators that have, in turn, triggered a violent uprising across the country. Moderate rebels initially made some headway, but were hurt by internal divisions and a lack of Western support, and the intrusion of extremist groups like the al-Nusra Front.

    At the same time, Iran and Russia bolstered Damascus with weapons, money and expertise. And Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, sent thousands of fighters into Syria. Then, adding to the chaos, the Islamic State group seized large sections of Northern Syria last summer.

    Outside the White House yesterday, hundreds of expatriate Syrians, and Syrian-Americans, appealed for new action.

    HADI AL-BAHRA, Former President, Syrian National Coalition: We need to treat the root cause of extremism and terrorism in the area, which is dictatorship and Assad regime itself.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But two rounds of peace talks have already failed, and many of the protesters say it’s crushing to watch helplessly.

    HASNA KAZMOUZ, Syria: I always feel like, I hope it’s a dream, I hope it’s a dream. But — and I’m afraid even to come and connect with the people, because I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to think about its reality. But, unfortunately, it’s a reality.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And for now, the reality is that much of Syria has been blasted to ruins, as the war enters its fifth year.

    So, when, if ever, will this conflict finally end?  And how it will happen?

    We hear from former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and current senior fellow at the Middle East institute Robert Ford. Hisham Melhem, he’s Washington bureau chief for the Al-Arabiya news channel, and an individual who has had extensive experience working with the Syrian opposition, Steve Heydemann. He’s a vice president at the United States Institute of Peace.

    Welcome, all of you, to the NewsHour.

    Robert Ford, to you first. Where does this conflict stand today?  Does either side or any side have the upper hand?

    ROBERT FORD, Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria: It’s a long, grueling war of attrition. Iran is sending in more forces.

    Iran is sending in more arms. The opposition is receiving help from other outside states, and the war just grinds on. I don’t see any end in sight, at least in the near term.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hisham Melhem, do you agree?

    HISHAM MELHEM, Al-Arabiya Television: Absolutely. This could grind on for a number of years, short of a decisive move on the part of the United States and its regional allies.

    This could last for a long time, precisely because you don’t have two opposing sides, as if we had in the American Civil War or in the Spanish Civil War in the 20th century. This is — it’s becoming almost a war of all against all, as Thomas Hobbes used to say.

    And that is why it is extremely difficult to allow it to continue like that, because this is going to touch the whole region. What happens in Syria is not going to stay in Syria. Syria is close to Southern Europe and Syria is not Afghanistan. And the five countries around Syria, all of them are friendly to the United States, and all of them are paying a tremendous price.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Heydemann, what’s your assessment?

    STEVEN HEYDEMANN, United States Institute of Peace: I tend to share the view that we are locked into a war of attrition. I think we do have opportunities to try to shorten this conflict through much more active, much more proactive diplomatic efforts, in particular on the part of the United States.

    And I think we have to recognize that in the absence of those efforts, we are likely to see the conflict unfold for many, many years to come. It was very important that Secretary Kerry really indicated that he felt it is a priority to reignite a diplomatic process to try and bring the Syrian conflict to a negotiated settlement.

    The real question is whether the U.S. has a strategy to act on the priority that Secretary Kerry expressed. So far, we haven’t seen that, but it is a very important priority.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask each one of you, starting with you, Ambassador Ford.

    What would an outside diplomatic intervention look like at this point?

    ROBERT FORD: Couple of things.

    First, the key regional states on all sides, because there are many states pumping in weapons and money to the opposing side’s government and opposition, those states are going to need to agree on sort of the broad outline of what a settlement should be.

    And it actually — I say broad outline, but it may have to be a bit more detailed. We thought we had such an agreement in the summer of 2012, in June 2012, what then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to an agreement with the Russians, with Arab countries, with European countries, with the United Nations on what such a settlement should look like. But the countries were unable to agree at the Geneva conference.

    So I think we have got to go back and make sure that everybody agrees on the international framework. And the second part — and nobody has been able to achieve this yet — is, there is going to have to be an agreement among the regional states that are pumping in the weaponry that they will sanction the sides that break the agreed international framework, so that there is a price for not paying attention to what the international community wants to see happen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Steve Heydemann, does that sound like the right approach to try to break through the stalemate?

    STEVEN HEYDEMANN: I think we should also focus on what some of the opportunities might be to try and revive a process right now.

    There’s indications that the internal support for the regime is eroding. We have seen very little success on the battlefield on the part of regime forces. We know that the proxy states, Russia in particular, which has been an active supporter of Iran, is beginning to show signs of fatigue in sustaining that relationship.

    So, while I do agree that the general approach that Ambassador Ford spelled out is the correct one, I wouldn’t underestimate the extent to which the time that has passed since the first Geneva process may in fact leave us in a stronger position to move forward on a negotiation track than we were in January 2014.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Hisham Melhem, who should be at the negotiating table?  Who is negotiating with whom?

    HISHAM MELHEM: Well, before I answer that directly, this is predicated on the United States playing a decisive leading role.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the U.S. has to be there?

    HISHAM MELHEM: Absolutely the United States has to be there, and the United States has to push the regional powers that contributed to the mess in the first place, allowing armaments and volunteers to go to Syria unchecked, especially through the Turkey-Syrian border.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    HISHAM MELHEM: What characterized American policy from the beginning was dithering, indecision, weakness, and confusion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying that has to change.

    HISHAM MELHEM: That has to change. The United States can still help the opposition, the non-jihadi opposition. OK?

    Any group we can deal with, short of supporting al-Qaida or ISIS, and any group that is going to — even Islamists, if they are not going to impose Islamic Sharia by force, these people will be at the table. Remnants of the regime will be at the table. Even if Assad is at the table at the beginning, in the end, there has to be a clear American position, from the opposition, from the Arab side, and from Turkey that Assad will have no future in Syria.

    Then we can talk about serious transition. But the United States has to put the parts together. There’s no leadership so far, and that’s part of the problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Ford, does that sound like the way you get from here to some kind of a productive conversation?

    ROBERT FORD: It’s an element. It’s not the only element.

    There has to be a great deal more pressure on the Syrian government itself. Thirteen months ago in Geneva, when Secretary Kerry was there, big international conference, the Syrian regime point-blank refused to negotiate any kind of political deal, point-blank refused.

    So there is going to have to be a lot more pressure on the Syrian government to get them not only to go to the table, but to actual negotiate and be prepared to make some compromises, which is why it’s important, even as the United States and our friends confront, fight the Islamic State in Iraq, confront, fight the Islamic State in Syria, ignoring the root cause of the Islamic State problem in Syria, ignoring the brutality of the outside regime and ignoring the need to get to a negotiated deal actually will lead us nowhere.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    And let me turn to Steve Heydemann, because many people are looking and saying who does the U.S. — who does anybody sit down with to represent the opposition anymore, because it’s so fractured?

    STEVEN HEYDEMANN: Well, there have been very, very interesting developments on the opposition side that, again, I think suggest some possibilities that the opposition, having taken far, far too long, wrapped up in internal struggles, is beginning to get its act together.

    We have seen a couple of meetings take place in Cairo that have brought together a number of different factions within the opposition. The Russians, who are now more proactive on the diplomatic front than the United States is, has also brought together a number of different groups within the opposition, very limited, but nonetheless brought them together in Moscow with regime representatives to try to lay the foundations for what could be another round of a Geneva process.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see something tangible happening in the next year?

    HISHAM MELHEM: If the United States says, we’re going to increase the training of the opposition, accelerate this process, and at the same time make it politically clear this man and his junta have no place in the future of Syria.

    You have to give that clear message to the Syrians. And then you can appeal the non-jihadists to your case — to the cause, because there are jihadists who are going to be alienated, and we stand up with the United States and others and the regional powers. But then you have to work again on those moderate opposition, who will believe that Syria is a country that should maintain pluralism, that all the minorities will be respected, there will be no persecution, and all that.

    This is the political element that the United States should push, and the United States actually has been pushing, but not very forcefully.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as we enter the fifth year, a lot of that has not happened yet, and we look to see how it unfolds.

    Hisham Melhem, Steve Heydemann, and Ambassador Robert Ford, gentlemen, thank you.

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    ISRAEL-POLITICS-VOTE-NETANYAHU

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    GWEN IFILL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the final throes of a political fight, as he fades in the polls, ahead of tomorrow’s election.

    Late this afternoon, in an attempt to secure more right-wing votes, he announced that there will be no Palestinian state if he’s reelected.

    NewsHour special correspondent Martin Seemungal reports from Israel.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking his campaign to the Jewish settlement of Har Homa, the heart of right-wing territory. Netanyahu needs them to vote Likud, warning settlers about the dangers of a center-left government led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

    PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel (through interpreter): The truth is simple. If they form the next government, here on these hills, we will have a second Hamastan. But we prevented it. We develop here great neighborhoods for tens of thousands of Israelis. And we are committed to it.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGA: In an interview later in the day, Netanyahu stated plainly that if he is reelected, there would be no Palestinian state, a reversal of his support for two states for two peoples. It is a significant turnaround, a clear sign that Netanyahu knows he is fighting for his political survival.

    Amos Harel is a columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

    AMOS HAREL, Haaretz: Netanyahu is much more active than we have been used to. For instance, he avoided any kinds of interview with Israeli media for years. In the last two weeks, he’s been interviewed everywhere including local radio stations. He’s calling in everybody to go and vote and he’s working for his base, going back to the right-wing voters and hoping that the polls that actually show that the Zionist camp leading are going to help him, because it’s sort of a panic attack or a call for arms for the Likudniks, for the old voters of Likud.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: When the election was announced back in December, few believed much would change. Everyone felt Bibi Netanyahu would be reelected. But it has changed.

    During the last election, you could walk into a market like this in Tel Aviv and pretty much everyone would be voting for Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s a Likud stronghold. People here still support Likud, but it’s not the same as it was before.

    Ruth Moses voted for Netanyahu the last election, but this time?

    RUTH MOSES: I hope not Netanyahu. I hope not Netanyahu, because he don’t do nothing for the people. He do only for himself. He like to live in luxury.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Who did you vote for the last time?

    MAN: The right.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: So you voted for Likud last time?

    MAN: Right.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: And this time?

    MAN: I’m not sure.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Yachil Deloya has always voted Likud, always supported Netanyahu, and says he will again. But he’s worried.

    Are you afraid he might lose this time?

    YACHIL DELOYA: Yes I am afraid a little bit, because it’s a time that you feel like he might lose. But we hope. We hope for good news.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: The voices against Netanyahu are growing increasingly loud. Two hundred former top-ranking military and security officials made a very public statement denouncing him.

    Former General Asher Levy is one of them.

    BRIG GEN. ASHER LEVY (RET.), Israel Defense Forces: So, we are not leftists. We think that he is damaging our security situation, and because of that, we think he should be changed. We are not telling anybody who to vote for, but we are definitely against Bibi Netanyahu. We think there should be change.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Herzog faced Netanyahu in a TV debate on Saturday. Herzog’s lack of security credentials has led to a caricature here that he is weak, but he launched a very strong attack.

    ISAAC HERZOG, Labor Party candidate for Prime Minister (through interpreter): The international community knows that you are weak and doesn’t accept your position.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: It is estimated that at least 10 percent of Israelis have yet to decide. And in a close race like this, those votes are critical. Campaigning will continue until the polls close tomorrow night.

    For the NewsHour, I’m Martin Seemungal in Tel Aviv.

    GWEN IFILL: I spoke with Martin a short time ago.

    Martin, thank you so much for joining us.

    The big news today, of course, is Bibi’s statement about changing his mind or whatever on the two-state solution, saying that if he were reelected he wouldn’t support it. How big a switch this for him, especially since 2009, when he gave that big speech saying he was for it?

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: It’s a very big switch.

    He gave that speech at the Bar Ilan University and everyone was touting this as a very significant moment, Likud — actually, a Likud leader and Israeli prime minister coming out and committing himself openly, especially Benjamin Netanyahu, who’d been seen as such a hard-liner, saying he believes in the two-state solution, two states for two peoples.

    Obviously, he’s — over the last six years, not moved much on that front. His critics have been saying that, even though he said that, quoting that speech, he’s never really done much to deliver. Negotiations have been off and on, and mostly off. People say he’s paid lip service to that statement and that — and because of that, the Palestinians have broken off negotiations.

    They have been frozen for so long. The Americans have been trying to get Netanyahu to commit to go to the table, bring the Palestinians along as well, obviously. But the key is that this statement, it’s no coincidence it’s coming out on the eve of this election, because, basically, he’s making a statement to the right wing that he — if there was any doubt as to where he stands, he is standing with them, and that is there will be no Palestinian state.

    GWEN IFILL: So, how much is this, surprisingly for us who have been watching casually, close election, how much of it is being driven by domestic concerns and how much of it by international concerns, as we have seen in past Israeli elections?

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Well, it’s a bit of both in some cases, in one sense, because, basically, the way you look at it is, Netanyahu has been pushing the international threat, the fact that Iran is this existential threat to Israel, and only he can defend the country. And, of course, many people, especially in the right wing, see Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu as Mr. Security.

    So that is the card he plays, so he plays that international card. Now, underneath all that are Israelis who say, yes, we believe he’s a strong prime minister, but on the other hand, you know, we don’t really want to talk about that. The polls show that, as far as Israelis are concerned, they’re not really that concerned about security.

    And so what they’re really concerned about are the domestic issues, the fact that housing prices are sky-high, the fact that the cost of living is so expensive for Israelis. That’s a thing that you hear people want to talk about, but that really hasn’t evolved in the election campaign in the debate.

    And so, as a result, a lot of people are saying that Benjamin Netanyahu has made a mistake in not addressing those concerns, and that’s why he’s been dipping in the polls.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, the biggest threat to him is Isaac Herzog, who has been running in kind of — in tandem with Tzipi Livni, who said today that she won’t be — they had worked out a deal where they would be rotating the premiership. And that will not happen now.

    How much of this is about post-election positioning?

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Well, it’s all about that, because many are saying that Isaac Herzog has been weak, he’s not charismatic.

    And so in many ways, they brought in Tzipi Livni because she has more, let’s say, right-wing credentials. She’s seen as a center — center-right almost. The fact that she’s now withdrawing at this point, some people are saying, it’s a bit late to be doing that, it could harm them. But obviously they’re calculating that they want to see — they want to sell themselves as one party.

    GWEN IFILL: It’s going to be a fascinating outcome to watch.

    Martin Seemungal for us in Tel Aviv tonight, thank you.

     

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    newswrap

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wall Street got its week off to a running start today, after last week’s losses. Stocks rose in part because dollar eased some from a rally that’s made American goods pricier overseas. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 230 points to close back near 18000. The Nasdaq rose nearly 60 points, and the S&P 500 added almost 30.

    GWEN IFILL: Competing new estimates surfaced today on exactly how many Americans have gotten health care coverage since the Affordable Care Act became law. The Department of Health and Human Services estimated the figure at more than 16 million. That’s based partly on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Officials at Gallup put the increase at 9.7 million. They said they used a different method to make their calculation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States and Iran have spent another five hours in nuclear talks, with an end-of-the-month deadline bearing down. Secretary of State John Kerry met today with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

    There was word the Iranians asked about a Senate Republican letter that warned President Obama’s successor could revoke any deal. The Iranian delegation also met with European ministers in Brussels.

    LAURENT FABIUS, Foreign Minister, France (through interpreter):
    We hope for an agreement, but only if the agreement is very solid. There has been progress, but important points remain which are not resolved and we will see if we can make progress.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Afterward, there was word that the session in Brussels failed to bridge any differences.

    GWEN IFILL: In Iraq, a government offensive against Islamic State fighters in Tikrit was put on hold today. The Iraqi military and Shiite militias have already made big gains. But the interior minister said they expect bitter fighting ahead.

    MOHAMMED SALEM AL-GHABBAN, Interior Minister, Iraq (through translator): More than 90 percent of our objectives are going according to plans and timings. What has remained is a very small part, which is the center of Tikrit. The militants planted bombs in our government offices and buildings. By halting military operations, we also aim to give an opportunity to civilians and families to get away from the battlefield.

    GWEN IFILL: Tikrit is Saddam Hussein’s hometown and his once lavish tomb has been wrecked by the fighting. What’s left are mostly piles of concrete rubble.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Russian President Vladimir Putin resurfaced today, after 10 days out of public view. The unexplained absence had fueled media rumors about his health. Putin dismissed those concerns as he met with the president of Kyrgyzstan in St. Petersburg, Russia. He quipped to reporters, “It could be dull — it would be dull without gossip.”

    Also today, the Russian military launched exercises across the country. In the Arctic alone, 40,000 troops were involved.

    GWEN IFILL: Officials in Vanuatu labored today to assess the scope of devastation from a powerful weekend storm. Cyclone Pam blasted the South Pacific island chain with winds of 185 miles per hour. It killed at least 24 people and left 3,300 homeless.

    Lucy Watson of Independent Television News reports from the scene.

    LUCY WATSON: They are the unseen outlying islands that little is known about in this disaster, where those with no protection from the strong winds are struggling. They have lost shelter and contact.

    JOEL KALATITI: This cyclone here is — something that we have never had before.

    LUCY WATSON: Joel Kalatiti explained the difficulties facing his village.

    JOEL KALATITI:
    We have a big shortage of food at the moment, because on this island, we rely on local food.

    LUCY WATSON: The food you grow here.

    JOEL KALATITI: Yes, the food we grow. But at this time, every food — the wind has torn every food.

    LUCY WATSON: We met also Maria, who is eight-and-a-half months pregnant.

    She’s worried about her unborn child, because the island has run out of medicine, and it takes too long to reach the nearest hospital. There are 65 inhabited islands in this area. Few have been visited. This is the sight and sound that many are waiting for. Aid is coming to some whose lives and livelihoods have been torn apart by Cyclone Pam.

    The red eyes of Rose, single mother of four, tell her tale. “As the cyclone raged,” she said, “I convinced myself I was already dead. I have lost my home. Looking at it, I don’t know how to move on. My life is over.”

    This was one of 1,000 homes in this village completely flattened. The community, though, has already started to rebuild with whatever materials they can find. It’s testament to the resilience of the people of Vanuatu. This place is more exposed to natural disasters than anywhere else in the world. Its people are still learning how to protect what they love.

    GWEN IFILL: Vanuatu has 270,000 people scattered across more than 60 islands.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, the man accused of shooting and wounding two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, last week appeared in court today for the first time. Jeffrey Williams didn’t make a statement or enter a plea. The prosecutor said Williams admitted to the shootings, but told investigators he’d been aiming at someone else.

    GWEN IFILL: Boston has finally set a dubious new record: Most snow in a single winter. The city got nearly three more inches on Sunday, pushing the seasonal total to 108.6 inches. That’s more than nine feet of snow, and the most since Boston began keeping records in 1872.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Curtis Gans, a longtime expert on voter turnout in the U.S. died last night. He’d been hospitalized in Frederick, Maryland. Gans’ Center for the Study of the American Electorate was widely recognized for his turnout data and analysis. He also led opposition to a second term for President Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War in 1968. Johnson opted not to run again.

    The post News Wrap: Thousands homeless in Vanuatu after devastating cyclone appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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