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

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    Kurdish peshmerga forces stand in the street after Yazidi people loot houses in the town of Sinjar, Iraq November 16, 2015. Before it was overrun by Islamic State, Sinjar and the surrounding villages were home to about 200,000 people, mainly Kurdish and Arab Muslims - both Sunni and Shi'ite - as well as Christians and Yazidis, a faith that combines elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Now the town is largely deserted. But in a row of houses used by Islamic State fighters, there were signs of recent occupation: a smell of rotting food, and foam mattresses and pillows laid on the floor. Picture taken November 16 2015. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari - RTS7Y6W

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. strategy against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, came in for some direct questions today before the House Armed Services Committee, as the U.S. announced that more forces will be heading to Iraq to fight the extremist group.

    Pentagon leaders came to the hearing with a response to calls to do more against the Islamic State.

    ASHTON CARTER, Defense Secretary: In full coordination with the government of Iraq, we’re deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the force will be larger than 50, and be authorized to take direct action, including combat.

    ASHTON CARTER: These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders. This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations in Syria.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. already has 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq, supporting that country’s military, and a few dozen special operations troops are assigned to support local fighters in Syria against ISIL.

    Carter said today the U.S. is — quote — “at war,” and the force he announced is a new way of achieving the objective.

    ASHTON CARTER: We’re actually eager to do more, because that will accelerate the defeat of ISIL. But it hinges upon us finding the capable local forces that we can enable in this way.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A number of Republicans have called for sending in far more troops, but, in Paris today, President Obama again rejected that idea.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For some reason, too often in Washington, American leadership is defined by whether or not we’re sending troops somewhere. Where we strengthen our relationships and influence the most is when we are helping to organize the world around a particular problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back at the hearing, the country’s top military officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, acknowledged ISIL has not been contained, but he said stepped-up airstrikes are cutting into the militants’ oil revenues.

    Even so, Ohio Republican Michael Turner challenged Secretary Carter on claims of progress.

    REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R), Ohio: Are we winning, Mr. Secretary?

    ASHTON CARTER: We will win.

    REP. MICHAEL TURNER: Are we winning now?

    ASHTON CARTER: We are going to win.

    REP. MICHAEL TURNER: Well, Mr. Secretary, I admit, you know, most of us, on both sides of the aisle, do not have confidence that you have a strategy, and you do not have a strategy based on an accurate assessment. I think your presentation here today shows a disconnect between what — all the information that we’re receiving, and really what’s being placed into the United States’ effort.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile in Iraq, Shiite Muslim militias warned they will attack any new American force that deploys there.

    For more, we turn to the chairman of the Housed Armed Services Committee, Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas. I spoke with him just a short time ago.

    Welcome, Chairman Mac Thornberry.

    Let me begin by just asking, what is your understanding now of these additional steps the Obama administration is going to be taking in the fight against ISIS?

    REP. MAC THORNBERRY Chairman, House Armed Services Committee: Well, obviously, the Obama administration is trying to respond to Paris and other terrorist attacks, so they label these eight adaptations, because they don’t want to admit what they have been doing so far is not working, so these are adaptations, slight changes to what they have been doing and they hope it’s more successful.

    You know, my fear is that it is too much of a gradual approach that is not really going to change the conditions on the ground or the ideological battle in which ISIS is excelling.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Secretary Carter called it, I believe, a — quote — “specialized expeditionary targeting force.”

    And we’re hearing reporting that it could be as many as 200 troops or more. Why do you think that’s — that could be inadequate?

    REP. MAC THORNBERRY: Well, I do think they’re taking just step-by-step sort of approach.

    So, people have been calling for some time about putting some of our folks on the ground to help make airstrikes more effective, and that sounds like what the secretary talked about today, although he did say that they could carry out raids and so forth.

    But — and if it is 200 people, then it is a small fraction of what we once had, for example, in just Iraq. So that’s the reason I think a number of us are concerned that the president is responding to events, rather than trying to figure out how to actually degrade and destroy ISIS, and then putting the resources behind that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you have talked about the need for the president to put a four-star general in charge of this somewhere in the region. Are you saying that there’s a number of troops who should be on the ground that the administration hasn’t agreed to yet?

    REP. MAC THORNBERRY: No, I don’t get caught up in numbers. What I get caught up in is a strategy to actually succeed.

    And my biggest fear is that what we have seen and what we have seen so far is that there’s been micromanagement from the White House. You heard that testimony today. There are 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq. If they want to add 100, they have got to go all the way to the president to get his approval to add 25 or 100.

    So it’s that micromanagement from the White House that is one of the constraints on our efforts. And so that’s the reason I say there needs to be a four-star in the region in charge, and he needs to have the authority to be successful, rather than run and ask mother may I for every additional 25 troops that he thinks he needs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi said late today that he doesn’t believe there should be any more foreign troops in his country. So, how do you reconcile that? You’re saying if the U.S. believes it should send more troops, it should. What about the will of these sovereign countries and their own leaders?

    REP. MAC THORNBERRY: Well, unfortunately, Iraq has become more and more a proxy for Iran.

    And so the country that is putting lots of troops on the ground, as well as directing the Shiite militias, is their neighbor Iran. And that certainly makes things more complicated. So, if we — that’s the reason, for example, the bill that Congress passed and now the president has signed would allow the president to provide arms directly to the Kurds, directly to the Sunni tribes, rather than go through the Baghdad government, because Iran is increasingly calling the shots there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As you know, the administration, Chairman Mac Thornberry, you know the administration is saying that this needs to be done in coordination with the countries in the region. Are you saying that the U.S. should be calling the shots, no matter what the countries in the region want?

    REP. MAC THORNBERRY: Oh, of course not.

    But I also think it is absolutely, as the former Obama undersecretary of defense for intelligence wrote about a week ago, that the countries in the region are not going to step forward unless the U.S. takes a decisive leadership role. So it’s a chicken and the egg.

    We can’t do it without them, and they’re not going to do it unless they know we’re committed, and they know that we’re going to stay with the mission. See, part of the problem is the countries in the region remember that we abandoned Iraq in 2011 and that has contributed been — that has contributed to this mess.

    So they — we have to earn their trust back. And that’s going to take some time and effort.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in the end, who’s calling the shots?

    REP. MAC THORNBERRY: Well, there is no substitute for U.S. leadership. Now, we need to do it with a coalition. There needs to be Muslims on the ground to help carry this out.

    But nobody can take the place of the United States. And that’s the reason that I believe a four-star on the ground in charge, empowered to call the shots is really needed to help focus these efforts.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you have any sense the administration is prepared to do that?

    REP. MAC THORNBERRY: I don’t know. They — they make good noises about the authority of the guy that they have currently in Kuwait, and he’s a good guy. I don’t take anything away from him.

    What I worry about, again, is the White House aides micromanaging everything that goes on there. We cannot have a successful military operation run from the basement of the White House.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Mac Thornberry, we thank you.

    REP. MAC THORNBERRY: Thanks for having me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And a note: We expect to hear the Obama administration’s perspective later this week.

    The post U.S. ‘step-by-step’ strategy against Islamic State questioned in Congress appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An Israeli soldier secures the scene where Israeli security forces shot dead a Palestinian assailant who tried to stab a man at Gush Etzion junction, near a West Bank settlement on Tuesday, police said, a location that has seen many attacks during two months of violence. December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner - RTX1WLT4

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy today over the killing of a black teenager.

    Video released last week showed Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a white officer in October of 2014. Today, the mayor said the police department needs — quote — “fresh eyes and new leadership.”

    MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, Chicago: Any case of excessive force or abuse of authority undermines the entire force and the trust we must build with every community in the city. Police officers are only effective if they are trusted by all Chicagoans, whoever they are and wherever they live in the city.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Jason Van Dyke, the officer involved in the shooting, has been charged with first-degree murder. And late today, the Illinois state attorney general called for a federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago police. We will examine what led to today’s firing later in the program.

    GWEN IFILL: A federal trial has been delayed again for Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina. A judge postponed it for the third time today, giving the defense more time to review thousands of pages of evidence. Roof faces federal charges of hate crimes and firearms violations. A trial on murder charges, in state court, is set for next July.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: More bloodshed in the Middle East today. The Israeli military says troops shot and killed two more Palestinians in attempted stabbings. Both attacks happened in the West Bank, but hours apart.

    The army didn’t say how close the attackers, a man and a woman, got to their targets. Since mid-September, 19 Israelis and at least 100 Palestinians have died in the ongoing violence.

    GWEN IFILL: The number of refugees fleeing to Europe by sea fell last month for the first time this year. The U.N. Refugee Agency says the number was roughly 140,000, down from 220,000 in October. It cited turbulent seas and Turkish action against smugglers. But thousands have arrived on Greek islands this week alone, many of them among the most vulnerable.

    SARAH CROWE, Spokesperson, UNICEF: The numbers of women and children continue to climb, which is for us, quite honestly, something of a surprise, and we can only assume that this is a sense of the desperation that families are going through. When you take your whole family with you, it means you don’t have schools for your children, you don’t have proper shelter, you have no sense of what lies ahead.

    GWEN IFILL: The U.N. estimates more than one million migrants and refugees will enter Europe this year.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Investigators in Indonesia say they have determined why an AirAsia jetliner crashed last December, killing all 162 on board. They said today that a recurring problem with the rudder control system, and miscommunication among the crew, brought the plane down. Search teams had to recover the wreckage from the Java Sea after the crash. They also found the black box flight recorders that helped explain what happened.

    GWEN IFILL: Back in this country, there’s word the number of Americans with newly diagnosed diabetes is falling after decades of rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports cases fell by about one-fifth from 2008 to 2014 to 1.4 million. Experts say they’re not sure what’s causing the drop, but better eating habits could be a factor.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ceremonies in Montgomery, Alabama, today marked a seminal moment in the civil rights movement. It was 60 years ago that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus and triggered a boycott. The commemorations focused on the Baptist church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the boycott.

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was among the speakers, along with Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell.

    REP. TERRI SEWELL (D), Alabama: We’re here not only to celebrate 60 years, but to know that in order for us to get 60 years further down the way, we must do our part. We must do our part. You know, the price of freedom is never free. It has been paid for by the blood and tears of so many, and all of us know that we get to stand because Rosa refused to sit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Rosa Parks died in 2005, at the age of 92.

    GWEN IFILL: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced the birth of a daughter today and a huge new charity. Zuckerberg said he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will give away nearly all of their Facebook stock, valued at $45 billion. They will focus on fighting disease, improving education and reducing poverty.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In economic news, U.S. auto sales hit a 14-year high last month, thanks to major holiday discounts. That data, plus better economic indicators from Europe and Japan, went down well on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 168 points to close at 17888. The Nasdaq rose 47 points. And the S&P 500 added 22.

    GWEN IFILL: And starting today, menus at chain restaurants in New York City will carry a warning about salt. A salt shaker emblem will note menu items that have more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That’s the daily limit many nutritionists recommend, about one teaspoon of salt. It’s the first such rule in the country.

    The post News Wrap: Federal trial postponed again for Dylann Roof appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama Obama meets with leaders of island nations during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) in Paris, France, December 1, 2015.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  - RTX1WNCY

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    GWEN IFILL: World leaders left Paris today, and negotiators got down to the hard work of finishing a landmark climate change accord.

    President Obama was among those departing after a final call to action.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am convinced that we are going to get big things done here.

    GWEN IFILL: At an afternoon news conference, the president sounded optimistic about the summit’s chances.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you had said to people as recently as two years ago that we’d have 180 countries showing up in Paris with pretty ambitious targets for carbon reduction, most people would have said, you’re crazy, that’s a pipe dream. And yet here we are. That’s already happened.

    GWEN IFILL: Even so, climate scientists warn it will take much larger reductions to stop the Earth’s warming trend. Another sticking point is finding the money to help poor nations adapt.

    Today, Mr. Obama, a native of Hawaii who lived for a time in Indonesia, met with leaders of Pacific island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As weather patterns change, we might deal with tens of millions of climate refugees from the Asian Pacific region, and as I mentioned to my friends around the table, I am an island boy. I grew up on an island, and understand both the beauty, but also the fragility of island ecosystems.

    GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, African leaders talked to French President Francois Hollande about threats their countries face, ranging from the spreading Sahara Desert to dwindling water supplies.

    AKINWUMI ADESINA, President, African Development Bank: Africa, the least emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, now suffers the most from climate change. Others pollute. Africa pays, and pays dearly. Lake Chad is almost gone, and the sand dunes are encroaching the Sahel.

    GWEN IFILL: Hollande announced today that France will send more than $8 billion to Africa for development of renewable energy and electrical access. But the Paris meeting’s success will ultimately be judged by how far a final deal goes and how effective it can be without mandatory enforcement.

    President Obama acknowledged as much at his news conference.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What we seek is an agreement where progress paves the way for countries to update their emissions targets on a regular basis and each nation has the confidence that other nations are meeting their commitments.

    GWEN IFILL: Still, as the president flew back to Washington, House Republicans called for action to reject his Clean Power Plan.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan:

    REP. PAUL RYAN, Speaker of the House: I don’t think we’re out of step with public opinion wanting jobs, wanting economic growth, weighing the costs and the benefits. And I think when you weigh the cost and the benefits against these so-called legally binding obligations, they don’t add up.

    GWEN IFILL: The House votes on a Republican energy bill later this week. The White House has already threatened a veto.

    And this evening, House Republicans did push through resolutions opposing EPA limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

    The post World leaders depart Paris, leaving negotiators to hash out climate accord appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds a news conference at the NATO ministerial meetings at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on Dec. 2. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds a news conference at the NATO ministerial meetings at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on Dec. 2. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    BRUSSELS — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that NATO members stood ready to step up military efforts against the Islamic State and held out hope of broadening cooperation between the West and Russia to end Syria’s protracted civil war.

    After two days of meetings at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Kerry said several alliance members were bringing more to the battle or would do soon. He didn’t outline any fresh commitments specifically, saying plans would be announced only after foreign ministers first consult their governments at home.

    These steps would come on top of Germany’s recent approval for sending forces and materiel for a non-combat support role near the Middle East, and a British vote Wednesday that could authorize expanded airstrikes by that country against IS in Syria.

    Kerry said he called on each of the other 27 members of alliance to do more to strike at the extremist group’s core in Iraq and Syria and strangle its international networks. He said U.S. partners in the region, including NATO member Turkey, should receive defensive assistance.

    Kerry said military assistance wouldn’t mean ground troops or direct fighting for some countries. The effort to expand operations, which has gained steam since last month’s attack in Paris, will require more medical facilities, intelligence gathering, military support structure, refueling operation, greater aerial defenses and other action, he said.

    “There are a number of things countries can do,” Kerry told reporters.

    On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress that the American military will deploy a new special operations force to Iraq to step up the fight against IS militants who hold territory there and in Syria. President Barack Obama previously announced he was sending fewer than 50 special operations forces to Syria.

    Kerry said Iraq’s government was briefed in advance of the U.S. announcement. He said Washington would work with Baghdad on what types of forces deployed, where they go and what types of missions they conduct. He expressed “full and total respect” for al-Abadi’s leadership, and said plans would go forward “in full consultation and with full consent of the Iraqi government.”

    Kerry repeated Obama’s argument from a day ago that no peace in Syria would be possible while its president, Bashar Assad, remained in power. But he said an international mediation effort that now includes Assad’s backers — Russia and Iran — recognizes the need to maintain the Syrian state and key services such as health and education. Seeing those dismantled, as happened after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, would be “disastrous,” Kerry said.

    He added that Russia and Iran continue to have a different view on Assad.

    But Kerry also said that Russia, if its focus on fighting IS is “genuine,” could have a constructive effect in bringing peace.

    He didn’t address whether the U.S. might be willing to bring Russia into its military effort against IS, as some members such as France have been proposing.

    The post Kerry says NATO members ready to step up anti-Islamic State fight appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Samuel "Sandy" Berger (left), national security adviser to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaks with the president during a peace summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in this file image from Oct. 16, 2000. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Samuel “Sandy” Berger (left), national security adviser to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaks with the president during a peace summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in this file image from Oct. 16, 2000. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Former national security adviser Sandy Berger, who helped craft President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy and got in trouble over destroying classified documents, died Wednesday.

    He was 70. The cause of death was cancer, said a statement by his consulting firm, the Albright Stonebridge Group.

    Berger was White House national security adviser from 1997 to 2001, when the Clinton administration carried out airstrikes in Kosovo and against Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq. Berger, a lawyer, also was deeply involved in the administration’s push for free trade, and in the response to al-Qaida’s bombing of American embassies in East Africa.

    He was deputy national security adviser during Clinton’s first term, and had previously worked in the State Department in President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

    “Today, his legacy can be seen in a peaceful Balkans, our strong alliance with Japan, our deeper relationships with India and China,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

    In 2005, Berger pleaded guilty to illegally removing classified documents from the National Archives by stuffing some papers in his pants leg. He cut up some of the documents with scissors, for reasons that remain unclear. He was sentenced to probation and a $50,000 fine. He expressed regret for his actions.

    Out of government, he helped found an international consulting firm that in 2009 merged with one run by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

    “He cared deeply about where this country was going and what we could do to solve problems,” Albright said in a telephone interview. “That was the basis of his life, was to make a difference.”

    Berger presided over foreign policy during what was a relatively serene period between the fall of the Soviet Union and the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

    The biggest trouble spot was the Balkans, where the breakup of the former Yugoslavia spawned a series of civil wars. The U.S. and its NATO allies took militarily action against what they viewed as Serbian aggression, first in the conflict over Bosnia, and then in Kosovo.

    Berger led White House meetings during NATO’s 11-week bombing of Kosovo in 1999.

    He also played a key role in Operation Desert Fox, the four-day bombing of Iraq in 1998 over Saddam’s failure to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions about weapons inspections.

    Also in 1998, al-Qaida attacked U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Clinton administration responded with a cruise missile barrage against training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. The strikes did little to disrupt al-Qaida and became a thread in a long running criticism that Clinton and his team failed to properly respond to a burgeoning terrorist threat.

    After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Berger was vocal in defending the administration’s counter terrorism record, and it was his passion that may have led to his prosecution.

    In court, Berger admitted to taking and destroying three copies of a classified report about the government’s response to the millennium plot in 2000 by Islamic extremists to attack in Los Angeles and other locations. But a report by House Republicans claimed he may have secretly removed many more documents from the Archives.

    Albright said she and Berger never spoke about the matter, through years of working together.

    “Even the finest people make mistakes,” she said.

    Berger grew up in Millerton, New York, where his father died in 1953 when Berger was 8. His mother ran the family Army-Navy store while raising Berger and his sister.

    He went to Cornell, and then Harvard law school. He met Bill Clinton while the two worked on George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign.

    “There is no one I have relied on more these past eight years,” Clinton wrote Berger in a letter as the pair left office in January 2001. “You never flinched when American’s interests and values demanded that we make unpopular choices.”

    Berger remained an important political and foreign policy figure in Washington. In August, he wrote an opinion piece for Politico in support of the Iran nuclear agreement.

    “It is not without risks, and it does not solve the Iran threat in the region. But it will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years,” he wrote.

    Berger is survived by his wife, Susan, in addition to three children and five grandchildren, Albright said.

    Sandy Berger was most recently on the PBS NewsHour discussing the Iran nuclear agreement.

    The post Sandy Berger, ex-Clinton national security adviser, dies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A man carries a girl through flooded streets in Chennai, India, on Dec. 2. Heavy rains caused people to evacuate their homes and closed the airport and train stations. Photo by Reuters stringer

    A man carries a girl through flooded streets in Chennai, India, on Dec. 2. Heavy rains caused people to evacuate their homes and closed the airport and train stations. Photo by Reuters stringer

    Chennai, on the coast of southeastern India, was inundated with rain this week, causing massive flooding and suspending trains and flights.

    Thousands of people had to be rescued from flooded homes on Wednesday and at least 188 people were reported dead.

    Last month, a week’s worth of rain caused by a depression in the Bay of Bengal brought the city to a standstill.

    In what has become typical of such events, people took to social media including Twitter to offer places to stay and other bits of information.

    Heavy rains caused flooding in and around Chennai, India, on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    Heavy rains caused flooding in and around Chennai, India, on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    People travel by boat to safer places through a flooded road in Chennai, India, on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    People travel by boat to safer places through a flooded road in Chennai, India, on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    A man walks through a flooded residential area in Chennai, India, on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    A man walks through a flooded residential area in Chennai, India, on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    People stand in flooded streets in Chennai, southeastern India, on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    People stand in flooded streets in Chennai, southeastern India, on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    People in Chennai, India, had to be rescued from their flooded homes on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    People in Chennai, India, had to be rescued from their flooded homes on Dec. 2. Photo by Reuters stringer

    The post Flooding in southeastern India disrupts power, flights appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Budget negotiations are hitting snags

    Negotiations to pass a government-wide spending bill are getting held up by discussion over ‘riders’.

    WASHINGTON — Talks on a massive, government-wide spending bill have hit a snag as Republicans press demands for policy provisions on the environment, regulation of the financial services industry and making it more difficult for Syrian and Iraqi refugees to enter the U.S.

    An initial end-stage offer from top Republicans was flatly rejected by Democrats whose votes will be needed to carry the $1.1 trillion measure through the House.

    Lawmakers hope to pass the measure in little more than a week to avert a government shutdown, though it’s becoming more and more apparent that a short-term funding bill will be needed to keep the government open past a Dec. 11 deadline.

    Republicans aides characterized Tuesday night’s offer from House Speaker Paul Ryan and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell as an opening move.

    Many lower-tier items in the massive measure have been worked out, leaving numerous policy provisions, known as “riders” as the main unresolved items.

    The initial offer included provisions to block new Obama administration rules on power plant emissions, weaken the 2010 overhaul of financial regulations known as the Dodd-Frank law, and a contentious House-passed bill requiring greater scrutiny on Syrians seeking refuge in the U.S.

    “They sent us an offer that was anti-worker, anti-labor, anti-education, anti-environment … anti-refugee,” said top House Appropriations Committee Democrat Nita Lowey of New York. Many provisions in the 12 spending bills drafted by House and Senate Republicans have been slapped with White House veto threats.

    Neither Democrats nor Republicans would release the proposal, but a memorandum from House Democratic staff characterized it in broad strokes, citing “poison pill” riders on the environment, labor regulations, financial regulation and refugees — but not efforts to unravel President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which is being targeted in legislation currently being debated by the Senate.

    Republicans aides characterized Tuesday night’s offer from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as an opening move. Democrats said they would prepare a counter-offer.

    The ill-will followed a story in Politico that quoted anonymous Republicans characterizing Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as an obstacle to the talks and blaming her for slow progress on dozens of unresolved issues.

    “We haven’t been talking to the press, we’ve been respectful, we’ve been open, understanding that we have to compromise and the rest — and then all of a sudden, they announce, ‘We’re telling the Democrats time is running out,'” Pelosi told her colleagues Wednesday morning. “Everything that we thought would have movement or that was still an open question, they just negated.”

    Despite Wednesday’s blow-up, both sides remain committed to working out an agreement. The measure follows an October pact that awarded both the Pentagon and domestic Cabinet agencies about $33 billion above tight budget “caps” that many Republicans and virtually every Democrat opposed.

    “We patiently await their offer,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.

    The post Budget talks hit snag over environmental issues, refugees appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    NEW YORK - MAY 15:  Two people walk inside a Medicare Services office on the last day for enrollment in the Medicare Part D program May 15, 2006 in New York City. According to official reports, approximately thirty seven million Americans, as of last week, had signed up for Medicare Part D, leaving an estimated seven million eligible seniors without drug coverage as they have yet to enroll in the drug plan.  Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Medicare’s annual open enrollment period ends on Dec. 7. Have you signed up? Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on health and retirement, is here to provide the Medicare answers you need in “Ask Phil, the Medicare Maven.” Send your questions to Phil.

    This is the last week of Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which began Oct. 15 and will end on Dec. 7. Several past Ask Phil columns have dealt with various aspects of open enrollment. Here’s the CliffsNotes summary:


    People with Original Medicare have the option during open enrollment of buying a Medicare Advantage plan, which must cover at least what Original Medicare covers. They cannot be denied coverage or required to pay more because of pre-existing conditions. (An exception to this rule is that people with end-stage renal disease are not eligible for a Medicare Advantage plans.)

    Likewise, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you are free to pick a different a Medicare Advantage plan, or you can drop Medicare Advantage and switch to Original Medicare.

    Everyone with Medicare — the roughly 70 percent with Original Medicare and the 30 percent with Medicare Advantage — has the option during open enrollment of purchasing a private Part D prescription drug plan or changing to a different Part D insurance plan.


    People with Original Medicare (Parts A and B of Medicare) can also choose whether they want to buy a Medigap policy, also known as a Medicare supplement policy. And people who already have a Medigap policy can buy a different Medigap policy.

    Medigap policies fill, to varying degrees, the holes in Original Medicare. The biggest hole is that Original Medicare pays only 80 percent of covered expenses, leaving beneficiaries on the hook for the other 20 percent. As anyone who’s stayed in a hospital or had major surgery knows, that can be 20 percent of a very, very big number.

    If you don’t have Medigap or even if you do, you can select a Medigap plan during open enrollment. There are 10 different Medigap “letter” plans. Coverage within each type of plan must be identical. This means that all letter A plans are the same, all letter B plans and so on. But premiums can and do vary a lot. So shopping around for the best rate is a must. Specific coverage requirements of the various plans have not changed much since I wrote about them a year ago. You can find them on page 101 of “Medicare & You 2016.”

    People with Original Medicare who switch to Medicare Advantage cannot keep their Medigap plan should they have one. Medigap plans do not provide any coverage to people with Medicare Advantage.


    Which Medigap plan should you get?

    People have guaranteed rights to Medigap policies on favorable terms when they’re first eligible for Medigap. But later on, these rights are not available in many states, possibly adding to Medigap policy costs and perhaps even restricting their availability.

    So if you’re thinking of changing Medigap policies, check with your state insurance department or call a counselor with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to learn about rules where you live. And if you drop Medigap as part of a switch to a Medicare Advantage plan, you should consider these consequences should you wish to return to Original Medicare with a Medigap policy in the future.


    For 2016, active plan shopping will yield big benefits in Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. Premiums will be 13 percent higher in 2016 than in 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported, and will average more than $41 a month. However, there will be an enormous range of plan costs with bare-bones plans costing little and others charging $100 monthly premiums. Many insurers also will be raising less visible expenses, such as annual deductibles (which can go as high as $360 in 2016) and drug coinsurance payments.

    Many Part D beneficiaries qualify for low-income subsidy (also known as LIS) or benchmark plans that charge zero monthly premiums. The numbers of such plans offered by insurers will decrease in 2016, and some low-income subsidy beneficiaries will need to choose different plans.

    More than 40 million people have Part D drug coverage, either through a stand-alone plan (usually abbreviated as a PDP) or wrapped in with a Medicare Advantage plan (known as a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan or MA-PD). With drug prices forecast to continue rising next year, this year’s open enrollment season presents a terrific opportunity to review your drug coverage and see if there is a better plan for you.

    Here are seven questions to ask:

    1. How will your overall costs change next year?
    2. Are all your prescription drugs still included in your plan formulary (the list of prescription medicines covered by the plan)?
    3. If you take any expensive medications, how will they be treated?
    4. Can you still get your prescriptions filled at your local pharmacy, and at what price?
    5. Are your prescriptions written by a Medicare-enrolled provider?
    6. What does the coverage gap (also known as the donut hole) look like in 2016?
    7. Is your income low enough to qualify for Medicare’s Extra Help program?

    If you need help figuring out how to get answers to any of these questions — and who wouldn’t — you can find details here.


    Medicare Advantage plans must cover everything that Original Medicare covers. Many plans actually cover more, including hearing, vision, dental and even gym memberships. They combine these features in a single insurance policy, usually including Part D drug coverage, and it often costs less than Original Medicare, Medigap and a stand-alone Part D drug plan.

    The plans can afford to offer these additional features because most of them require people to get their health care needs from a provider network created and managed by the plan. These networks can create big savings for insurers, but can also sharply restrict health care provider choices for Medicare beneficiaries.

    Here are four shopping tips for Medicare Advantage plans:

    Pay attention to plan ratings.

    Check out the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’s (CMS) five-star rating system for Medicare Advantage plans, which is based on more than 30 variables (there are additional measures used when rating Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans).

    Look at total out-of-pocket costs.

    Low Medicare Advantage premiums and zero premium plans may be appealing at first glance. However, as I’ve been stressing and stressing about, premiums are just one cost component of Medicare coverage. You also need to look at plan deductibles, coinsurance and copays.

    The largest out-of-pocket exposure that Medicare allows for these plans is $6,700 this year for health coverage, and most Medicare Advantage plans have lower ceilings. There can be a separate ceiling for out-of-network health costs, which apply to Medicare Advantage “PPO” or preferred provider organization plans. Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans include yet a third out-of-pocket number for drug costs.

    Find out who’s in your Medicare Advantage plan provider network.

    Medicare Advantage insurers have online search tools to let you know if your preferred physicians, hospitals and other care providers are in their provider networks. You don’t want to sign up for a new Medicare Advantage plan only to learn that your doctor is not in it.

    Here are the pathways to Medicare Advantage plan provider networks from leading insurers:

    The post A procrastinator’s guide to navigating Medicare open enrollment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Astronaut Scott Kelly

    Two-thirds of the way through his year in space, astronaut Scott Kelly today testified before Congress about his experiences so far.

    WASHINGTON — On his 249th consecutive day in space, astronaut Scott Kelly told Congress that what he misses most is his friends and family on Earth and the chance to experience nature.

    Testifying from space before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Wednesday, Kelly said it has been helpful to be able to grow things in the International Space Station, where he is stationed for a full year. In August, the astronauts in the station ate red romaine lettuce they grew there. Kelly says they are now growing flowers.

    “There’s the nutritional aspect of it, but also there’s the psychological aspect about having something else green up here that’s living, that we can take care of, that we can see grow,” Kelly told the committee.

    Kelly and fellow astronaut Kjell Lindgren testified for 20 minutes before the panel via live feed on Wednesday. Members asked them about space debris, their relationship with the Russian cosmonauts accompanying them on their mission and even their dental health.

    The two astronauts talked about their current mission in terms of preparing for an eventual trip to Mars. Kelly said he thinks it’s doable but it rests on support from the government, including Congress.

    “It’s expensive and we have different priorities,” Kelly said. “But I think it’s a trip that is worth the investment

    The post Astronauts testify before Congress from space appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    PBS NewsHour will live stream updates from San Bernardino, including press conferences. Because this is a breaking news event, this stream may be interrupted.

    UPDATED 4:34 p.m. EST | The San Bernardino Police Department tweeted they will hold a news conference at 1:45 PST. PBS NewsHour will live stream it in the player above.

    UPDATED 4:07 p.m. EST | According to the Associated Press, San Bernardino Police Sgt. Vicki Cervantes says “there are multiple casualties and there are some confirmed fatalities.”

    The Associated Press spoke to relatives of loved who were inside the building where the San Bernardino, California, shooting took place Wednesday.

    UPDATED 3:56 p.m. EST | Marybeth Feild, president and CEO of the Inland Regional Center, told the Associated Press that the shooting took place in a building that contained a library, conference center and usually housed at least 25 employees. She added that an unidentified, outside group rented the conference room Wednesday where the shooting took place.

    Police are still searching for one or more gunmen, the AP reports.

    UPDATED 3:33 p.m. EST | The Associated Press confirms that gunfire erupted at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California.

    According to the Inland Regional Center Facebook page, the organization’s 670 staff members “provide services to more than 30,200 people with developmental disabilities and their families in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.”

    The AP reports that people were being “wheeled away on gurneys” while others “walked quickly from a building with their hands in the air and were searched by officers before being reunited with loved ones.”

    Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Los Angeles Field Division have been dispatched to the scene.

    President Barack Obama has been briefed on the shooting by his homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, “and has asked to be kept informed as the situation develops,” the AP reports.

    UPDATED 3:14 p.m. EST | A Sheriff’s official told a local TV news station that one shooter was reportedly wearing body armor.

    A spokeswoman from Loma Linda Medical Center told CNN the hospital is expecting “an unknown number of patients.” The hospital is 2.6 miles away and has a trauma center.

    UPDATED 3:08 p.m. EST | The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department tweeted that there are one to three possible suspects in an active shooting situation taking place in San Bernardino, California.

    As many as 20 people have been wounded, according to a tweet by the San Bernardino Fire Department Wednesday afternoon.

    San Bernardino Police Department Sgt. Vicki Cervantes told ABC7 that officers were responding to an “active shooter” at a social services facility.

    A local law enforcement spokesman told a local radio station that a bomb squad was being brought in to detonate “suspicious” packages.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the shootings took place at a social services office on the 1300 block of Waterman Avenue, near Orange Show Road.

    Cindy Bachman of the San Bernardino Sherriff’s Dept said they received a call about an “active shooter” around 11 a.m. PST.

    San Bernardino is a city of 214,000 people about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

    This is a developing story. The NewsHour will update as more info becomes available.

    Stephen Fee and William Brangham contributed to this report.

    The post UPDATING: Police confirm fatalities in San Bernardino shooting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An American

    A U.S. official says an American is being held by the Haqqani network, a Taliban-linked militant group in Afghanistan.

    WASHINGTON — A U.S. official says an American civilian is being held by a Taliban-linked militant group in Afghanistan.

    The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the man is being held by the Haqqani network, a family-run militant group that operates along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

    The official would not discuss the man’s identity or the circumstances of his capture. It was first reported Wednesday by the Daily Beast web site.

    The official said the FBI, the White House and the man’s wife have urged public officials and media organizations not to discuss the matter publicly.

    On Monday, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), wrote a letter to President Obama urging that he appoint a federal hostage recovery coordinator.

    The post American held by Taliban allies in Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Less than a week after the mass shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood facility, gun politics is again at the center of the presidential campaign. Candidates on both sides took to Twitter today to weigh in on the ongoing situation in San Bernardino, Calif.

    Senators, current and former governor and Dr. Ben Carson all tweeted their support and prayers for the victims.

    READ NEXT: Officials confirm ‘active shooter’ in San Bernardino, California

    Meanwhile, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders used the shooting as an opportunity to speak out against gun violence.

    And Donald Trump sent along his support for the law enforcement officials.

    We will continue to update this story, as more candidates weigh in on the San Bernardino shooting.

    For more on how the politics of guns are playing out on the campaign trail, check out Politics Monday this week:

    The post What the presidential candidates are saying about the San Bernardino shooting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Five San Francisco police officers fatally shot a man Wednesday in the city’s Bayview District, a scene that was apparently captured by an eyewitness and uploaded to Instagram, the San Francisco Examiner reported.

    San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said the man, who appeared to be carrying a kitchen knife, matched the description of a suspect who had stabbed someone in the area 45 minutes before the police shooting.

    Suhr said police had recovered eyewitness footage of the shooting that showed the officers surrounding the suspect, adding that it also showed “the suspect moving toward the officer before the shots were fired.”

    Suhr did not confirm if this was the same video that appeared on Instagram later Wednesday, which showed the officers encircling the man at gunpoint. The video was shot aboard a bus by a bystander, while an off-screen voice shouts, “Just drop it!” More than five officers can be seen in the video.

    Shortly after, the man staggers alongside the wall of a building before the camera pulls away while at least 15 gunshots can be heard on the recording.

    A video posted by HotRod (@daniggahot) on

    WARNING: Video contains graphic content.

    Before the fatal shooting, police had shot the man several times with lead-filled beanbags, the chief said, adding that he was uncertain how many shots rang out.

    The suspect “had already demonstrated, by committing a felony aggravated assault, that he was a danger to others, so he could not be allowed to move away from the scene,” Suhr told reporters.

    After watching the eyewitness footage, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi told SFGate that the man “was not posing a direct threat” and didn’t require deadly force.

    The man, who was not identified, was shot at 4:35 p.m., the chief said. Paramedics that arrived at the scene could not resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

    The post VIDEO: San Francisco police shoot and kill stabbing suspect appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    PBS NewsHour will live stream updates from San Bernardino, California in the player above. Editor’s note: this stream occasionally will feature live news unrelated to Wednesday’s shooting.

    UPDATE Dec. 3, 4 p.m. EST | San Bernardino spokesman Kevin Lacy has tweeted that the San Bernardino police and coroner’s office will release the names of the 14 people killed in Wednesday’s shooting in the next few hours. All victims have been positively identified, and families are being notified.

    Two assailants shot and killed 14 people and wounded 21 others at a holiday party for county employees in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday. Reaction the next day included commentary on gun laws and words of comfort for the suffering.

    WATCH: President Barack Obama addresses San Bernardino shooting

    Police said they found 12 pipe bombs, more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition and hundreds of bomb-making tools in the garage of a California home that was searched after the shooting. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said there was “some degree of planning.”

    Authorities do not know the motive for the shooting, but have not ruled out terrorism or possibly a workplace dispute.

    Speaking from the Oval Office on Thursday, President Barack Obama said the nation needed to take basic steps to make it harder, not impossible, for people to get access to guns.

    “We see the prevalence of these kinds of mass shootings in this country,” the president said. “And I think so many Americans sometimes feel as if there’s nothing they can do about it.”

    He added that the FBI was taking over the investigation.

    The incident took place over four hours. Two assailants with guns stormed the Inland Regional Center in the city of about 200,000, directly east of Los Angeles, at about 11 a.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday.

    READ MORE: Here’s a map of all the mass shootings in 2015

    The San Bernardino County Department of Public Health had rented the space for a banquet.

    The suspects were identified as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his partner Tashfeen Malik, 27. Authorities said they had assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns, and were dressed in “assault-style clothing,” reported the Associated Press.

    All four guns recovered from the scene were legally purchased, police said, adding that two of the weapons belonged to Farook. Police said the suspects sprayed the room with bullets, although it’s unclear whether they were targeting anyone in particular.

    Farook, who was born in Illinois and grew up in Southern California, was an environmental inspector for the county’s health department, where he worked for five years. A witness said he attended the banquet with his colleagues, stepped out briefly, and the shooting began.

    Farook and Malik, who relatives said were married, fled the scene in a dark-colored SUV. After a tip led police to an SUV that matched the description, authorities pursued the vehicle in a car chase that ended when the suspects were killed in a confrontation with police on a suburban street.

    One body laid in the street. Another was removed from the back seat of the SUV. Two officers sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the crossfire. The suspects had fired between 65 and 75 rounds at the center, the police said.

    Police caught a third person running from the scene of the shootout, but authorities said he was no longer a person of interest.

    Police also detonated three explosive devices left at the center. All three bombs were attached to a remote control car that was found in a bag at the scene that didn’t set off.

    Farook and Malik dropped off their 6-month-old daughter with Farook’s mother Wednesday morning, saying they were going to a doctor’s appointment, according to Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

    “Why would he do something like this? I have absolutely no idea,” said Farhan Khan, who identified himself as married to the sister of one of the suspects, at a press conference.

    Reaction on Twitter included commentary on the shootings and a reminder of Fred Rogers’ reassuring words:

    The post Everything we know about the San Bernardino shooting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A group in Oregon says one solution to controlling invasive species is to eat them. Major predators like the bullfrog can become less of an ecological threat if people literally brought them to the table. While the group says this really wouldn't solve the problem of invasive species, it would bring more attention to the issue. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    A group in Oregon says one solution to controlling invasive species is to eat them. Major predators like the bullfrog can become less of an ecological threat if people literally brought them to the table. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    Armed with a flashlight and a spear under the cover of night, Tom Kaye creeps toward his targets on the edge of a pond near Corvallis, Oregon.

    “There’s the one we’re going to go after first,” he said. “I can see some twinkling eyes and then there’s several all the way up the shore.”

    Invasive American bullfrogs have taken over the pond, and that’s bad news for native species.

    “Bullfrogs are a major predator in aquatic systems,” Kaye said. “They eat basically everything they can stuff into their mouths: fish, other frogs, small birds, ducklings, goslings. They’ll eat rodents.”

    Kaye wants to turn the tables on these hungry predators – by putting them on the dinner table. But he has to catch them first. His plan is to fry up a big batch of frog legs.

    Tom Kaye hunts for invasive frogs in a pond near Corvallis, Oregon. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    Tom Kaye hunts for invasive frogs in a pond near Corvallis, Oregon. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    “The way I prepare them is you take the frog leg and you coat it in egg yolk and dip it in cornmeal and fry it in cornmeal and then lightly fry it in peanut oil and it makes a really nice, easy to eat and delicious meal,” he said.

    ‘Eradication by Mastication’

    Kaye directs the Institute for Applied Ecology in Corvallis, Oregon. The group restores native habitats, and that means facing the daunting task of controlling invasive species. They draw people to their cause by showcasing invasives you can eat in an annual feast and cooking competition called “Eradication by Mastication.” They even put out a cookbook of invasive species recipes called “They’re Cooked: Recipes to Combat Invasive Species”.

    A child tries some Cajun-fried bullfrog legs. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    A child tries some Cajun-fried bullfrog legs. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    Instead of pulled pork, Kaye says, you can have pulled nutria – using the meat from an invasive rodent. Rather than popcorn shrimp, their cookbook has a recipe for popcorn starling – an invasive bird.

    “Many invasive species are quite edible – and delicious even,” Kaye said. “There’s an interesting ‘eew’ factor around eating invasive species like nutria or frog legs. It really seems odd to a lot of people, so they’re at the same time repulsed and fascinated.”

    Invasive crayfish dip

    The institute’s ecologist, Ben Axt, has a great recipe for invasive crayfish dip.

    Step one: Head to the nearest river or lake. He traps red swamp crayfish in local ponds near his office.

    Ben Axt, an ecologist with the Institute for Applied Ecology, traps invasive crayfish in a pond near Corvallis, Oregon. He steams them and adds the tail meat to a cream cheese dip. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    Ben Axt, an ecologist with the Institute for Applied Ecology, traps invasive crayfish in a pond near Corvallis, Oregon. He steams them and adds the tail meat to a cream cheese dip. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    “They’re in most of our major waterways and they’re pushing further and further out all the time,” Axt said. “You can tell it’s red swamp crayfish from the native one because it has these bumps on the claws.”

    Invasive crayfish eat fish eggs and edge out native crayfish, Axt said.

    They also burrow into the mud and stir up sediment that makes it harder for other species to survive. The good news is they taste like little lobsters.

    A bowl of invasive crayfish cream cheese dip. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    A bowl of invasive crayfish cream cheese dip. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    “These are tasty,” he said, holding up one of the crayfish that he trapped. “I’m going to steam them up and make them into a kind of a crab dip. Should be pretty good.”

    Thistle dandelion quiche

    If you’re a vegetarian, there are plenty of problem plants you can eat. Jennie Cramer is a botanist with the Institute. She has a way of cooking invasive Canada thistle — a hostile-looking plant with thorny leaves — into a quiche that won’t puncture people’s mouths. It’s easy to find, she says, because it’s such a ubiquitous invader.

    “It’s all over the state. It’s all over the country. It’s pretty much all over the Northern hemisphere,” Cramer said. “You’ll find it in places that have been disturbed. Usually there’s been either some development or logging of some kind, maybe a landslide or erosion or grazing.”

    Believe it or not, she says thistle can actually be tasty – with the proper cooking method.

    Jennie Cramer cuts bull thistle, a thorny plant, near Corvallis, Oregon. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    Jennie Cramer cuts bull thistle, a thorny plant, near Corvallis, Oregon. Photo by Nick Fisher/OPB

    “It does have thorns, but when you boil the leaves the thorns will kind of fade away and then you can cook it in butter, and it will taste really good,” she said. “If you take the stems and peel back the outer layer, the inside is actually pretty tender on the younger parts of the plants. You can eat it like asparagus – raw or cooked.”

    At home, she mixes the thistles with dandelion greens, herbs and veggies from her garden to make a quiche.

    “I’m masking the wild flavors a little bit on purpose because they are pretty potent, and we want it to taste good as well as be eradicating our invasive species,” she said.

    Not really the solution

    Even with lots of fun and tasty options, Kaye says eating invasive species isn’t really the solution – but it does get people’s attention.

    “We don’t really think we’re going to eat our way out of this problem,” he said. “It’s really an awareness method to bring to the fore the fact that we have these invasive species. Because let’s face it: some of the impacts they’re having are pretty devastating and depressing.”

    He’s found sharing a recipe or a meal can make facing the challenge of invasive species a bit more palatable.

    Heart-Healthy Crockpot Nutria
    Makes 4 servings.

    The Institute for Applied Ecology shared their recipe for “heart-healthy crockpot nutria” below. As explained by the institute, compared to turkey, chicken and beef, nutria meat “has the highest protein and the lowest fat and cholesterol.” You just need to catch one of these “river rats” first.

    2 hind saddle portions of nutria meat
    1 small onion, finely chopped
    1 tomato, cut into large wedges
    2 potatoes, sliced thin
    2 carrots, sliced thin
    8 Brussels sprouts
    1/2 cup white wine
    1 cup water
    2 Tbsps. chopped garlic
    salt and pepper to taste

    Optional additions

    1 cup demi-glace

    1. Layer onion, tomato, potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts in crockpot.
    2. Season nutria with salt, pepper and garlic and then place nutria over vegetables.
    3. Add wine and water.
    4. Set crockpot on low and let cook until meat is tender (approximately 1 1/2 hours).
    5. Garnish with vegetables and demi-glace.

    This report first appeared on EarthFix’s website. EarthFix is a public media project of Oregon Public Broadcasting and Boise State Public Radio, Idaho Public Television, KCTS 9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Southern Oregon Public Television and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post Want to help control invasive species? Eat a bullfrog. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says it’s possible the mass shooting in California was related to terrorism but that authorities still don’t know. He says it’s possible it was workplace-related or that there were mixed motives.

    READ MORE: Everything we know about the San Bernardino shooting

    Speaking in the Oval Office, Obama assured Americans that authorities will get to the bottom of what happened. The president also is calling for people to wait for facts before making judgments. He said the nation must make it harder to carry out violence but acknowledged that the threat can’t be eliminated completely.

    READ MORE: Here’s a map of all the mass shootings in 2015

    The post Obama: U.S. must make it harder to carry out violence appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    All combat roles in each branch of the U.S. military will be open to women, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced today at the Pentagon.

    Carter said that the military would be opening all “remaining occupations and positions to women. there will be no exceptions.” The implementation will take place 30 days from today.

    A Jan. 1 deadline was in place for the branches to open combat positions to women. The Air Force and Navy have relatively few jobs that currently exclude women, mainly in Special Forces units. But the U.S. Army and Marine Corps bar women from nearly 220,000 jobs in what are known as combat arms. These include positions in the infantry, artillery and armored divisions.

    READ MORE: Ash Carter calls homegrown terrorists ‘losers with a keyboard’

    Women will “be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat,” he said. They will also be able to compete for spots on elite Special Operations units, such as the Army’s Delta force and the Navy SEALs.

    In 2013 then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the services to lift the ban on women serving in combat jobs in the military. The services were ordered to study the issue and develop an implementation plan. They were given until Jan. 2016 to either implement the policy or ask for special exemptions. At the time, women had been serving in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade.

    In September, then Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford recommended that women be excluded from competing for some front-line combat jobs in the Marines.

    Carter addressed that exemption request directly today.

    “We are a joint force and I have decided to make a decision that applies to the entire force.”

    Gwen Ifill will interview Secretary Carter today, and you can watch that on tonight’s PBS NewsHour.

    The post Defense Secretary Carter opens all combat jobs to women appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 12/03/15--10:53: House passes highway bill
  • Congress asked for an extension to continue working on a highway and transit bill, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    The House has passed a highway bill, ensuring that the federal Highway Trust Fund will stay solvent. Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a 5-year, $305 billion bill that boosts highway and transit spending and assures states that federal help will be available for major projects. Senate approval was expected to follow later in the day.

    The bill, approved by 359 to 65 vote, doesn’t include as much money or last quite as long as many lawmakers and the Obama administration would have liked. Nor does it resolve how to pay for transportation programs in the long term.

    Despite that, the 1,300-page bill was hailed by industry and public officials as a major accomplishment that will halt the cycle of last-minute short-term fixes that have kept the trust fund teetering on the edge of insolvency for much of the past eight years.

    Republicans leaders can point to the bill’s passage as evidence of their ability to govern, and President Barack Obama can claim to have made progress on addressing the nation’s aging and congested infrastructure, a major goal since the early days of his administration. Lawmakers in both parties effusively praised the bill as a model of bipartisan cooperation that didn’t give everyone everything they wanted, but overall is an important step forward.

    The bill “proves to the American people that we can get big things done,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, called the measure “historic,” but cautioned that “it is a starting point, not the end.”

    A hallmark of the bill is the creation of new programs to focus federal aid on eliminating bottlenecks and increasing the capacity of highways designated as major freight corridors. The Department of Transportation estimates the volume of freight traffic will increase 45 percent over the next 30 years.

    A big shortcoming in the bill, though, is how it’s all financed. The main source of revenue for transportation is the federal Highway Trust Fund, which comes mostly from the 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax. That tax hasn’t been raised since 1993 even though transportation spending has increased. But raising the gas tax is viewed by many lawmakers as too politically risky.

    To make up the shortfall, the bill uses $70 billion in mostly budget gimmicks, including one that would move $53 billion from the Federal Reserve Bank’s capital account to the general treasury. It’s counted as new money on paper, but is actually just a transfer of funds from one government account to another, federal budget experts said.

    Other items in the bill also don’t include the means to pay for them, including more than $10 billion over five years for Amtrak and other rail programs, $12 billion for mass transit and $1 billion for vehicle safety programs. The money for those programs remains subject to annual spending decisions by Congress.

    Among the bill’s losers are large banks, which would receive lower dividends from the Federal Reserve, with the savings used for transportation programs. Banking officials complained that banks shouldn’t be asked to foot the bill for highways and bridges.

    The airline and cruise ship industries complained that their passengers are also being asked to pay for improvements unrelated to their travel. The bill ties customs fees to inflation and uses the increased revenue to offset the bill’s cost. It also raises money by selling tens of millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, likely a money-losing move because the government paid more for the oil than it would receive at today’s low prices.

    The trucking industry was able to persuade lawmakers to order the government to remove trucking company safety scores from a public website despite opposition from safety advocates. Industry officials say the government’s methodology is unfair. But safety advocates won inclusion of a long-sought provision requiring rental car agencies to repair recalled cars and trucks before renting them.

    The bill also addresses several concerns raised a deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia in May. It provides $200 bill to help passenger railroads install positive train control technology that accident investigators say could have prevent the derailment had it been in operation. It also raises the liability cap on total damages that can awarded in such crashes from $200 million to $295. The derailment killed eight people and injured nearly 200 others.

    The post House passes highway bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Technicians stand above the 140-ton aluminium sphere covered with metal plates, measuring 10 metres in diameter and is 10 centimetres thick, at the Megajoule Laser project, currently under construction at the CESTA (Centre d'Etudes Scientifiques et Techniques d'Aquitaine) in Le Barp southwestern France, July 27, 2010. Scientists will be able to simulate nuclear tests using amplified energy from 176 lasers which is directed at a target located inside the sphere, thus reproducing nuclear fusion under temperature conditions some 100 times higher than those found at the centre of the sun.   REUTERS/Regis Duvignau   (FRANCE - Tags: ENERGY SCI TECH) - RTR2GRWY

    Scientists will be able to simulate nuclear tests using amplified energy from 176 lasers that is directed at a target located inside the sphere, thus reproducing nuclear fusion under temperature conditions some 100 times higher than those found at the center of the sun. Photo by REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

    This week, world leaders are gathering in Paris to discuss climate change. In concert, a group of wealthy investors, including Bill Gates, launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which will fund risky, early-stage technologies that offer the promise of clean energy.

    The prime suspects for a sustainable future continue to be solar, wind and nuclear fission. But as the public and private sectors collaborate on energy and climate matters to help slow carbon emissions, it is worth pondering other technologies and how they may affect the future of energy. After all, what’s considered fringy today may prove to be mainstream tomorrow. The two areas I’m watching are nuclear fusion and methane hydrates.


    Could lithium become the new oil?

    For a sustainable, almost Utopian option, nuclear fusion has long been touted as a panacea to our energy problems. For decades, scientists have claimed we were on the cusp of a fusion revolution. It hasn’t panned out (yet). The world’s most ambitious fusion project, the $14 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), is attempting to effectively put a star in a bottle. Originally begun in 1985 as a Reagan-Gorbachev initiative, ITER is today funded by many nations and has endured frequent delays. It’s still under construction. Fusion would provide abundant clean energy, but many fear proponents are restoking the same false hopes of the past.

    Just because something hasn’t ever worked doesn’t mean it never will. There’s a new wave of optimism surrounding fusion, and startups such as General Fusion, Tri Alpha Energy and Helion Energy are trying to locate this holy grail of energy production. They’re also getting noticed by some of tech’s most innovative thinkers; billionaires Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen and Peter Thiel are investing in fusion. Can Silicon Valley crack the energy and climate change nuts in one effort?

    Just think about the fact that a mere 15 years ago, few professionals paid meaningful attention to energy’s fringy folks fiddling with hydraulic fracking technologies. It’s too bad more of us didn’t, because the U.S. energy renaissance unleashed by the fracking revolution has had global ramifications as low oil prices disrupt government budgets from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to Russia. It’s probably also hurt the commercial viability of many alternative energy projects, as cheap fossil fuels are economically addicting to developed and developing nations alike.

    Methane hydrates is another fringy technology that should we watch today and that may change our energy future tomorrow. This flammable ice is effectively gas trapped by water crystals under the seabed. The magnitude of the hydrocarbons contained in these resources is enormous; methane hydrates are believed to contain between 100 and 3 million times the energy America consumes annually. It’s also global with deposits near some of the world’s largest energy importers. Harvesting flammable ice is no trivial undertaking and has yet to be perfected, but then again, neither was fracking 15 years ago.


    Column: Water wars are coming

    The global distribution of flammable ice also offers the prospect of significant geopolitical disruption. Meaningful volumes are believed to be near China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey. Some have speculated that China’s aggression in the South China Sea has been motivated by a desire to secure the energy resources contained in the flammable ice underneath. Perhaps unsurprisingly, China has plans to bring methane hydrates to market by 2030. How might energy independence embolden currently energy-dependent countries? It’s not surprising to me that energy-deficient Japan has been a leader in developing methane hydrate production capabilities.

    But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is a realistic energy source anytime soon. The technical hurdles are daunting. As soon as samples are brought to the surface, the ice melts and releases methane into the atmosphere, creating large climate impacts over time. It’s believed by some that a pound of methane can trap 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. And while burning methane will lessen this impact, let’s not forget that it is just another hydrocarbon and will have an environmental impact — something that leaders in Paris should address before the energy source is developed. Just as with fusion, it’s worth watching methane hydrates, because they might meaningfully impact the lives of every human being on this planet. But unlike fusion, an energy future dominated by flammable ice will most likely be harmful to our planet.

    Ultimately, navigating uncertainty is difficult. There’s no way around that. But paying attention to today’s fringy ideas may help you identify tomorrow’s needle-moving developments. And when it comes to energy and its environmental impact, fusion and methane hydrates may make the shale revolution look like a warm-up act for the two main events — putting a star in a bottle and lighting ice on fire.

    The post Will these fringe technologies become the future of clean energy? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 21:  U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks after a weekly Senate Republican caucus meeting May 21, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. McConnell spoke on various topics including the powerful tornado that hit Oklahoma.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks after a weekly Senate Republican caucus meeting May 21, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Openly welcoming a preordained veto, Senate Republicans on Thursday drove toward passage legislation aimed at crippling two of their favorite targets: President Barack Obama’s health care law and Planned Parenthood.

    Senate approval, which the House is expected to rubber stamp soon, would for the first time put legislation on Obama’s desk demolishing his 2010 health care overhaul, one of his proudest domestic achievements. Congress has voted dozens of times to repeal or weaken the law, but until now Democrats have thwarted them from shipping the legislation to the White House.

    Republicans said an Obama veto would underscore that a GOP triumph in next year’s presidential and congressional elections would mean repeal of a statute they blame for surging medical costs and insurers abandoning some markets. They lack the two-thirds House and Senate majorities they would need to override a veto, assuring that the bill’s chief purpose will be for campaign talking points.

    “They can keep trying to talk past the middle class,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of Democrats, who he said were ignoring complaints about the law. “They can keep trying to deny reality. But they have to realize that no one is buying the spin but them.”

    Government officials said this week that health care spending grew at 5.3 percent in 2014, the steepest climb since Obama took office.

    Democrats noted that under the law, millions of people have become insured and said their coverage has improved, with policies now required to insure a wide range of medical services.

    “Do they talk to their constituents? Do they meet with them?” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of Republicans.

    With just a 54-46 edge, Republicans had until now been unable to push such legislation through the Senate. This time, they used a special budget procedure that prevents filibusters — delays that take 60 votes to halt — and lets them prevail with 51 votes.

    Party leaders initially encountered objections from some more moderate Republicans leery of cutting Planned Parenthood’s funds and presidential contenders, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, who threatened to oppose the measure if it wasn’t strong enough. By the time the vote approached, top Republicans expressed confidence that they would prevail.

    The Senate bill would all but erase the health care overhaul by dismantling some of its key pillars, such as requirements that most people obtain coverage and larger employers offer it to workers.

    Also eliminated would be its expansion of Medicaid coverage to additional lower-income people and the government’s subsidies for many who buy policies on newly created insurance marketplaces, such as HealthCare.gov. And it would end taxes the law imposed to cover its costs, including levies on higher-income people, expensive insurance policies, medical devices and indoor tanning salons.

    The bill would also terminate the roughly $450 million yearly in federal dollars that go to Planned Parenthood, about a third of its budget.

    A perennial target of conservatives, the group has been under intensified GOP pressure this year for its role in giving fetal tissue to scientists. Citing secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing such sales, some abortion foes have accused the organization of illegally providing the tissue for profit. The group says the videos were deceptively doctored and say it’s done nothing illegal.

    As they worked through the bill, senators voted on a pile of amendments — all symbolic, since the measure was destined to never become law.

    Senators rejected a pair of similar amendments that would have restored the Planned Parenthood money. They also faced Democratic proposals aimed at tightening gun restrictions, a response to the prior evening’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, last week’s fatal attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and last month’s terrorist massacre in Paris.

    GOP lawmakers said their bill could serve as a bridge to a future Republican health care law. Though Obama’s overhaul was enacted five years ago and gets tepid support in public opinion polls, GOP members of Congress have yet to produce a detailed proposal to replace it.

    “They’ve never been in a position where they want to change it and fix the law, it’s either repeal or nothing,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who heads the Senate Democratic campaign committee, said of the GOP’s failure to propose an alternative health law. “I’ll take that to the polls and we’ll talk about it until the cows come home.”

    Republicans argued the voters were on their side.

    “We’ve reached a pretty scary time in our nation’s history where we have Americans writing and calling their elected representatives saying they need relief from their own government,” said No. 2 Senate Leader John Cornyn of Texas. “We have a mandate, I believe, to repeal this terrible law.”

    The post Senate set to OK Republican bill unraveling health care law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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