Articles on this Page
- 12/18/15--11:52: _Here’s what happens...
- 12/18/15--12:00: _Obama says he won’t...
- 12/18/15--13:18: _Photos: Meet a real...
- 12/18/15--13:47: _UN Security Council...
- 12/18/15--13:59: _Deaths from drug ov...
- 12/18/15--14:23: _Indiana mayor re-el...
- 12/18/15--14:28: _Sanders files suit ...
- 12/18/15--15:20: _This Detroit family...
- 12/18/15--15:25: _One last visit to D...
- 12/18/15--15:30: _People in recovery ...
- 12/18/15--15:35: _Shields and Brooks ...
- 12/18/15--15:40: _Assad future unclea...
- 12/18/15--15:45: _Looking on to 2016,...
- 12/18/15--15:50: _News Wrap: EU leade...
- 12/19/15--09:36: _Obamas return to Ha...
- 12/19/15--09:41: _Pres. Obama meets w...
- 12/19/15--09:47: _Clinton faces quest...
- 12/19/15--11:24: _Q&A: Ralph Nader on...
- 12/19/15--12:36: _In Boston, tracking...
- 12/19/15--12:45: _New ‘Star Wars’ sto...
- 12/18/15--11:52: Here’s what happens when you try to bodypaint at the pyramids
- 12/18/15--12:00: Obama says he won’t fade away in final year
- 12/18/15--13:18: Photos: Meet a real-life Star Wars Snowtrooper
- 12/18/15--13:59: Deaths from drug overdoses reach record-high levels in 2014
- 12/18/15--14:23: Indiana mayor re-elected by 1 vote after ballot challenge
- 12/18/15--14:28: Sanders files suit to regain access to Democratic voter database
- 12/18/15--15:20: This Detroit family’s life just changed
- 12/18/15--15:25: One last visit to Downton Abbey before fans say goodbye
- 12/19/15--09:36: Obamas return to Hawaii for Christmas vacation
- 12/19/15--09:41: Pres. Obama meets with families of San Bernardino victims
- 12/19/15--11:24: Q&A: Ralph Nader on civil litigation, tort reform and his new museum
- 12/19/15--12:36: In Boston, tracking data to score government progress
- 12/19/15--12:45: New ‘Star Wars’ storms box office
The Egyptian guard was staring me down from a camel.
He demanded we hand over our passports and camera, but we weren’t budging. “Fine! You go!” he yelled. And just like that, we’d officially been kicked out of the pyramids.
I had been working on a bodypaint series around the world where I paint models into the surrounding scenery, juxtaposing the hard lines of architectures against the soft flesh of the body. For the series, I traveled to the Wonders of the World to find out what makes these sites places of “wonder.”
After arriving at the pyramids a year ago, I found myself bodypainting as fast as humanly possible in a remote area so I wouldn’t end up in an Egyptian jail. I set my model on top of a pile of rubble and trash and marked where the camera would take the picture.
I ran up and down the mound of trash and rubble, painting my model to blend into the pyramids using only paint and that perspective point. If you walked to the left or to the right or got up close to the model, it would look like a giant mess. But from that single perspective point there was order and near-perfection.
I saved the clouds for very last. Luckily, very little sand had blown into my paint, and the clouds were barely moving. I grabbed two sponges, one covered in white and one covered in grey, and in less then five minutes, I covered my model in “clouds.” I quickly took about 20 pictures and grabbed about 30 seconds of video before the guard caught up to us.
After nearly 10 years working as a bodypainter, I’m amazed when people ask if I can just do this in a studio in front of a printed backdrop or Photoshop it. I suppose I could, but it would look flat. There would be no adventure and no life in my art. Instead I walked away with an amazing education that only comes from spending time in wonder, learning about what the world really looks like instead of reading about it in a classroom.
You can see more of Merry’s work from the series below.
The word “parallax” describes the camera error that occurs when an image looks different through a viewfinder than how it is recorded by a sensor; when one camera gives two perspectives. Parallax is a blog where photographers offer the unexpected sides and stories of their work. Tell us yours or share on Instagram at #PBSParallax.
The post Here’s what happens when you try to bodypaint at the pyramids appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — Closing out a tumultuous year, President Barack Obama laid the groundwork Friday for his last year in office, vowing not to fade into the background but instead use his remaining months to push longstanding goals to fruition.
“In 2016, I’m going to leave it all out on the field,” he said. “Wherever there’s an opportunity, I’m going to take it.”
In his annual year-end news conference, Obama portrayed 2015 as one of significant progress for his agenda, pointing to diplomacy with Iran and Cuba and an Asia-Pacific trade agreement as big wins for his administration. He also praised a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and a congressional rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law as further victories for causes he’s made central to his presidency.
Still, he said, he plans to do much more in 2016.
“I said at the beginning of this year that interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter — and we are only halfway through,” Obama said.
Calling attention to his signature legislative achievement, Obama announced that 6 million people had signed up for health care so far this year under the Affordable Care Act, a surge that officials say illustrates the program’s durability.
After the news conference, Obama was to depart for San Bernardino, California, where he planned to meet with families of the 14 victims of the recent mass shooting. He then will fly to Hawaii where he’ll spend two weeks on vacation with his wife and daughters in what has become a family Christmas tradition.
Hours before his departure, Congress passed a major bipartisan budget package that staved off a potential government shutdown and extended tax cuts for both families and businesses. The White House has indicated Obama will sign it.
Crediting lawmakers with ending the year on a “high note,” Obama offered rare if muted praise for a Congress that more often than not has obstructed his legislative agenda. He said he’d called new House Speaker Paul Ryan to thank him for “orderly negotiations,” describing the Wisconsin Republican as professional and straightforward.
“Kudos to him,” Obama said.
The president noted optimistically that by averting a funding crisis for the next nine months, Congress had cleared a path for cooperation with him next year on areas of common ground. He pointed to a potential criminal justice overhaul and congressional consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact as areas ripe for cooperation.
“Congress and I have a long runway to get some things done for the American people,” he said.
Obama took questions as he closed out a turbulent year marked by successes on restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, clinching a nuclear deal with Iran and finalizing an unprecedented global climate treaty. Those successes have been tempered by a lack of progress on the president’s other priorities, like closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Obama said he’d present a long-delayed plan to close the prison to Congress early next year, then wait for lawmakers’ reaction before determining whether to take action on his own to shut it. He predicted the prison population would dwindle by early next year to less than 100, a threshold his administration has been pushing for to bolster its argument that keeping the facility open isn’t cost effective.
Amid widespread fears about terrorism and extremists, Obama pushed back against critics questioning his strategy for overcoming the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. “There’s only so much bombing you can do,” he said, though he insisted anew, “We’re going to defeat ISIS.”
He also affirmed his longstanding position that Syrian President Bashar Assad must leave power for Syria to resolve its civil war, even though his administration has recently said it could accept an unspecified transition period during which Assad stayed.
Still, Obama contended about Syria, “Five years later, I was right.”
The end of 2015 marks a major transition point for the president, who has one year left to try to finish as many of his projects as possible. He won’t be rolling out sweeping new policy proposals that would be unlikely to get serious consideration amid the focus on electing his successor. The White House is promising Obama will deliver a “non-traditional” State of the Union address in January laying out an agenda that includes further executive steps on climate change and gun control.
Obama plans to return to the White House in early January to begin a final year in office that will be increasingly overshadowed by the 2016 presidential campaign. Predicting success for his party, Obama said he was confident Democrats would nominate a strong candidate to replace him.
“I think I will have a Democratic successor,” Obama said. “And I will campaign very hard to make that happen.”
AP Writer Josh Lederman contributed.
Earlier in her life, Lori Frye discovered how it felt to be someone else.
She was dressed as Zam Wesell, the female bounty hunter in “Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones,” at a movie release party when some members of the international costuming organization 501st Legion spotted her and told her she should sign up. Thirteen years ago, she did.
The 49-year-old mother of two college-aged children designs medical professional liability policies for an insurance firm when she’s not designing costumes. “This is a lot more fun!” she said Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Ashburn, Va., where she and dozens of other costumed enthusiasts attended an early premiere of “Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens.”
Frye coordinates the 501st Legion’s public appearances, which are all voluntary and include movie premieres, parades, science fiction conventions, and charity and museum events. Out of the more than 200 events she has attended during her years as a costumer, her favorite was a Make-a-Wish Foundation visit to a boy who received a playhouse modeled after the Endor bunker in “Return of the Jedi.” “We were all jealous. It was beautiful,” she said.
To be a member of the 501st, adults must have movie-quality costumes, though the rules are a little more relaxed for children. Costumes can cost a few hundred dollars to as much as $2,000 for a full Darth Vader outfit. In addition to dressing as a Snowtrooper, Frye portrays Admiral Ackbar, who first appears in “Return of the Jedi.”
We spoke with her about what it takes to be a “Star Wars” costumer and the role of women in science fiction.
What’s your first “Star Wars” memory?
I went with my family to a theater in upstate New York, in Ithaca, for the original “Star Wars” movie in 1977. There’s a scene where Luke Skywalker is standing on Tatooine looking soulfully at the double suns and my cousin Jodi says at the top of her voice, “Oh, he’s so cute!” and the entire theater started cracking up. She was 5 years old at the time.
What was it about the movie that really spoke to you?
I think that the female in the movie, Princess Leia, wasn’t helpless. She wasn’t sitting around waiting for the men to rescue her. Even when they finally did show up to rescue her, she was bossing them around and telling them what to do. And she was right!
Usually in science fiction movies or any action movies before that, the female was basically a limp rag. So it was good to see a strong female in the lead. You don’t catch that very often and you certainly didn’t back then.
But some critics contend that “Star Wars” doesn’t have enough female characters. (New York Magazine spliced all the non-Princess Leia speaking roles into a 1-minute video.)
People today can look back and say there’s only one female character. But the fact that there was even one who wasn’t basically an ornament was revolutionary back in 1977.
Have subsequent “Star Wars” movies improved on the numbers?
I think they did. Rey, in Episode VII, looks like she’s a strong character from what they’ve shown in the previews. We’re just thrilled to see Captain Phasma (who commands the First Order’s legions of troopers) in her gorgeous chrome armor. There’s going to be a lot of women who will be doing that costume build. And the nice thing is you sometimes see female armor sets with cleavage, and they didn’t go that route.
What’s your favorite line from the movies?
I like quoting the subtle ones. It’s always fun to throw them into casual conversation. I get a lot of use out of, “I got a bad feeling about this” (Han Solo in the trash compactor, among other times in the movies). It’s also useful to put out, “Impressive, most impressive” (Darth Vader). And of course calling people a “scruffy-looking nerf herder.”
Lightning round: Who do you like better Han or Luke?
Han, no question. If you didn’t fall in love with Harrison Ford by the end of “Empire Strikes Back” then get your estrogen levels checked.
Chewbacca or Yoda?
That one’s tough, I love them both.
R2-D2 or C-3PO?
R2-D2, although I’ve become really fond of C-3PO, because there’s a fantastic C-3PO costumer who sometimes makes it to our events in Virginia who just nails it and who’s fun to troop with.
Do you ever speak of Jar Jar Binks, the much-maligned character from the prequel?
I have a Jar Jar Binks target that we made for the Stormtrooper Olympics. We use Nerf darts.
UPDATE on Friday: After seeing the movie, Frye emailed: “The movie was fantastic — it was like hearing a language that I hadn’t heard spoken properly since 1983. J.J. Abrams hit all the right notes in the plot, and John Williams did the same with the soundtrack. It was a very good feeling leaving the theater without any of the lingering doubts that hung around after the prequel trilogy.”
Check out more photos from the premiere below.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Friday that lays out a plan to bring peace to Syria.
But the resolution does not mention what is still an issue: the role Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would play in that process.
As talks progress, the council faces the task of satisfying Assad supporters Russia and Iran along with countries which support opposition forces, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The resolution asks that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon bring together members of the Syrian government and opposition forces “to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process on an urgent basis, with a target of early January 2016 for the initiation of talks.” However, members of the Syrian opposition have said that this deadline is too soon.
It also calls for a ceasefire to begin as soon as those representatives begin “initial steps towards a political transition.”
Its adoption follows a meeting of diplomats at the International Syria Support Group in New York City Friday. The group also met in Saudi Arabia last month.
The meetings come amid a “severe threat posed by international terrorism,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, in particular by the Islamic State group, which has seized land in Iraq and Syria.
Diplomats said early Friday that the issue of how to create a transitional government in Syria, and the question of how Assad would be involved, would be a difficulty in the process. President Barack Obama had previously asserted in November that Assad must leave office before peace could be achieved, but that position shifted recently, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying the U.S. was “not seeking a so-called ‘regime change’ as it is known in Syria.” Meanwhile, Russia, which has veto power in the council, continues to provide military support to Assad.
The post UN Security Council adopts resolution laying out an end to Syrian war appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Nearly 50,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2014, a new record driven by the deaths of heroin addicts and people misusing prescription painkillers, according to new federal statistics.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 47,055 drug overdose deaths, more than any previous year. According to figures the CDC released Friday in its “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” 61 percent of those deaths involved opioids, including prescribed pain relievers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, and heroin. This year, more than six out of 10 of drug overdose deaths were linked to opioids, the CDC reported.
“The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming,” CDC director Thomas Frieden said in the statement. “The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders.”
According to the CDC, nearly half a million Americans have died from drug overdoses the past 15 years. The highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2014 were found in New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, where there were 35.5 deaths per 100,000 people, the CDC reported. These deaths were also on the upswing for both sexes, non-Hispanic whites and blacks, and adults aged 25 to 65.
Opioid painkillers accounted for a nine percent increase of deaths in 2014 to 813 people. According to the CDC, prescriptions for these painkillers have quadrupled since 1999.
Opioid painkillers like oxycodone, which is prescribed for relief from injuries, arthritis, lower back pain, etc., have a high potential for abuse. The CDC reported that about two million Americans abused opioid painkillers in 2013.
Meanwhile, 10,574 people died from heroin use in 2014, a 26 percent increase for the year. The CDC report said heroin overdoses more than tripled in four years.
“Oxycodone is very, very similar. Almost identical to heroin,” he said. “The problem is that there is a black market in these pills now, because they have been so widely prescribed … So we had this kind of rising sea level of pills all across the country. A very deep black market developed in which these pills now cost a dollar a milligram. Most of these pills come in 30, 40, 80 milligram doses. That means you are having to pay 30, 40, 80 bucks a pill, and a lot of people getting addicted.”
Quinones said he met people who had a $400-a-day addictions, but “heroin comes in, and it is a fifth to a 10th cheaper than that. A lot of these folks, getting addicted to the pills, have already begun injecting,” he said. “And injecting heroin isn’t much different from injecting these pills. It just happens to be far cheaper.”
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INDIANAPOLIS — The mayor of an Indiana town has been re-elected by one vote after an election panel threw out a ballot.
Jasper held a recount this week after the November election between Republican Mayor Terry Seitz and Democratic rival Wayne Schuetter ended in a tie.
On Friday, a local election panel determined one ballot cast for Schuetter was invalid.
City attorney Renee Kabrick said the absentee ballot was tossed out because it lacked a signature.
Seitz says the close race underscores the fact that every vote counts.
Indiana law required the recount to be completed by Dec. 20. If the results had remained tied, the City Council would have voted on whether Seitz or Schuetter would be mayor of the city of 15,000 people.
Schuetter couldn’t be reached for comment.
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WASHINGTON — The presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to regain access to a Democratic National Committee voter database.
The DNC temporarily barred the campaign this week from the massive trove of voter information after Sanders’ staff improperly accessed data compiled by the campaign of rival Hillary Clinton.
The lawsuit says the campaign is now “sustaining irreparable injury and financial losses.”
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said earlier Friday the DNC was “taking our campaign hostage” by preventing it from accessing the data.
He threatened the lawsuit if the party didn’t back down.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, a bit of good news as we update our recent story on how stress may be causing asthma among some kids.
Last week, in a joint reporting project with the Detroit News, we profiled Siretha Lattimore and Dwayne Cole, Detroit parents who had been homeless for more than a year, often sleeping in the car with their four youngest children. Nine-year-old’s Malik’s asthma often is so severe, he’ll vomit or pass out especially on stressful days.
MALIK COLE: I feel like I’m hurting, I’m dying.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As the weather turned colder in late October, Malik’s condition became unmanageable. His parents reluctantly decided to turn the children over to Child Protective Services until they could find stable housing. Malik and his siblings were divided among four separate foster homes.
Today, much of that changed. The nonprofit Detroit Rescue Mission ministry responded to the story by handing the family keys to a fully-furnished, five-bedroom home. They will be able to live there rent-free for two years. They will then have the option to buy the house.
The deal also comes with financial and educational training for the parents, tutoring for the kids, and a fully-stocked kitchen just in time for Christmas.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: As we just reported, late this afternoon, the 15 nations on the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to endorse a framework for a peace process in Syria, after nearly five years of brutal civil war that’s left more than 250,000 dead and millions displaced.
For more, we go to Hari Sreenivasan.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And with me to explore the details of this deal, what’s at stake, and the long road to this point is chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner.
So, we’ve seen the headline during the day. How significant is this?
MARGARET WARNER: This is a very deal, Hari. You’ve got all the members of the Security Council, not just the members to have the region who have been involved in this, but all the members of the Security Council, some of who vehemently disagreed about the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to agree on resolutions setting up the process that will set up not only a cease-fire between Assad and many of his opposition groups on the ground but direct talks between the two of them. And it now has the imprimatur of the U.N. Security Council, and Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, committed to help implement it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, there’d been a lot of countries working toward this, but there are four major players and smack-dab in the middle of all this is Bashar al-Assad.
MARGARET WARNER: That’s right. The major division among many concerns his future. On one side, you’ve got the United States and the Gulf states who began all this wanting Assad gone as soon as possible, and both have supported opposition groups on the ground in different ways. But on the other side you’ve got Russia and Iran, both of them regard Syria, and Syria is a client state for different reasons. Both of them have sent military assistance weapons advisors, even fighters, and in Russia’s case bombs, to try to shore him up.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And there’s tensions between the United States and Russia.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, that’s very true. Then you have another cross-cutting tension between the U.S. and Russia, which would be for influence in this process. For a long time, Russia wasn’t very involved and then it inserted itself in September by beginning this bombing, and won itself a place at the table, because they want influence over the outcome.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And Saudi Arabia and Iran have their tensions.
MARGARET WARNER: They certainly do. And, in fact, that’s part of the knob of all of this. Saudi Arabia, leader of the Sunni states in this region, and Iran, of course, Shiite state, huge historical rivalry for primacy in this region.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. So, what did peace players all actually get over their disagreements and agree to?
MARGARET WARNER: Which really is incredible. I think it’s two things, Hari. One is threat of international terrorism. Even the Chinese foreign minister this to reporters today, we’ve got to get the process going because of threat of international terrorism.
They have come to the conclusion that they can never take on ISIS until the boil of the Syrian conflict, until they launch that boil. That remember was the original, not only attracter but incubator of all of the thousands of foreign fighters coming in, helping beef up this al-Qaida in Iraq that became ISIS, helping them establish them this caliphate in the ungoverned portion of eastern Syria and roll on into Iraq and they recognize there’s no way to take them on.
The second thing that they’ve agreed on is that, militarily, it can’t be solved. Every one of them, these four countries, has supported different groups on the ground and they now all realize they have been sucked into a quagmire. There is no military resolution, has to be political.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. So, one thing at the dead center of all this is Assad. The next steps here, this agreement doesn’t mention him by name, which is one of those central tensions you mentioned.
MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely, and they had to do it that way because the differences remain and so they had to finesse it. They talk about a political transition. The United States believes if you have a transition to an inclusive nonsectarian government which is its language they’ve agreed on, there is no way an autocrat for minority Alawites can be head of that government, so they think you’ll eventually get to that point and the Russians have signaled the United States they’re not so much wedded to Assad as the idea of a unitary state.
So the steps are a very, very tall order, which is to set up both the cease-fire in January and these direct talks. I think it’s going to be very hard. There are other disagreements, including who gets to sit in for the opposition. This is just one step in other words of trying to maintain the momentum to get to the political resolution.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And getting to the cease-fire, you have to know who’s on which side of the table.
MARGARET WARNER: Right.
HARI SREENIVASAN: I mean, who exactly is the enemy of Assad, which countries think should be at the table.
MARGARET WARNER: Very important point.
The opposition, which have never agreed on anything, finally had a meeting in Riyadh a week ago and they actually chose the group that then will choose the group to sit at the table, OK? It’s very indirect.
But meanwhile, all these other countries, all of them, have different candidates that they want to nominate for too much of the terrorist to be at the table. So, they include some groups that have been clients of Iran, some of them clients of Saudi Arabia. All of that is still unresolved. Jordan is supposed to be coordinating this, poor Jordan, so that all remains to be resolved.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, big first step today.
But thank you very much, Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: My pleasure.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Back now to President Obama’s final news conference of 2015. Today’s session in the White House briefing room was a combination year-in-review and year-to-come.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As I look back on this year, the one thing I see is that so much of our steady, persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big, tangible ways.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It was an upbeat assessment from a president soon to enter his final year in office. He claimed a list of successes — among them, job growth and a surge of sign-ups for health care coverage — and he promised more to come.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For all the very real progress America’s made over the past seven years, we still have some unfinished business. And I plan on doing everything I can with every minute of every day that I have left as president, to deliver on behalf of the American people. Since taking this office, I have never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. And in 2016, I’m going to leave it out all on the field.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, Mr. Obama acknowledged the growing challenge of confronting terrorism at home and abroad, after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
Even so, he vowed to defeat the Islamic State group.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And we’re going to do so by systematically squeezing them, cutting off their supply lines, cutting off their financing, taking out their leadership, taking out their forces, taking out their infrastructure.
Now, in order for us to stamp them out thoroughly, we have to eliminate lawless areas in which they cannot still roam. So, we can disable them, we can dismantle much of their infrastructure and greatly reduce the threat that they pose to the United States our allies and our neighbors. Our long term goal has to be to stabilize areas so that they don’t have any safe haven. And in order for us to do that in Syria, there has to be an end to the civil war.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, in fact, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution that outlines a process for a limited cease-fire in Syria, and peace talks. The U.S. wants the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Russia supports him.
But President Obama made clear Assad is still a central problem.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Assad is going to have to leave in order for the country to stop the bloodletting and for all the parties involved to be able to move forward in a nonsectarian way. And I do think that you’ve seen from the Russians a recognition that after a couple of months, they’re not really moving the needle that much, despite sizable deployment inside of Syria. And, of course, that’s what I suggested would happen, because there is only so much bombing you can do when an entire country is outraged and believes that its ruler doesn’t represent them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The news conference also came just days after more than 190 nations reached a landmark deal on arresting climate change.
The president brushed aside Republican opposition to the deal.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, the American Republican Party is the only major party that I can think of in the advanced world that effectively denies climate change. I mean, it’s an outlier. So, my sense is, is this is something that may be an advantage in terms of short term politics in the Republican primary; it’s not something that is going to be a winner for Republicans long term.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On the other hand, the president praised Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s work on crafting the 2016 budget compromise.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It was a good win. And there are some things in there that I don’t like, but that’s the nature of legislation and compromise. And I think the system worked. That gives me some optimism that next year, on a narrow set of issues, we can get some more work done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, the president and his family left Washington, en route to California and a meeting with families of the San Bernardino attack victims. From there, it’s on to Hawaii for the holidays.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: From President Obama today, a year-end promise to target terror in the year to come. He spoke at a White House news conference, and sought again to allay public fears of potential attacks. At home, he called for Americans to stay vigilant, and overseas, he promised to pound away at the Islamic State group.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: ISIL’s already lost about 40 percent of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq, and it’s losing territory in Syria. Now, squeezing ISIL’s heart, its core in Syria and Iraq, will make it harder for them to pump their terror and propaganda to the rest of the world.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We’ll have an extended report on the president’s remarks on terrorism and a number of other subjects after the news summary.
In the day’s other news, Wall Street went down hard. The sell-off was driven by falling oil prices, the Chinese economy and foreign reaction to the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike. and, losses accelerated late as a variety of option contracts expired.
In the end, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly 370 points, to close below 17,130, the NASDAQ fell almost 80 points, and the S&P 500 dropped 36. For the week, the Dow lost nearly 1 percent. The NASDAQ and the S&P lost a fraction of a percent.
Congress finished work today on sweeping tax cut and government funding bills, and headed home for the holidays. The Senate gave final approval to a package that includes more than a trillion dollars in new federal spending for 2016, plus $680 billion in tax cuts over the next decade.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: We’re proving you can actually enact significant long-term reforms, achieve conservative policy goals, and get them signed into law. So, I’m proud of what the new Senate has accomplished. I’d like to thank the many friends across the aisle who joined us in passing so many bipartisan reforms for the American people.
SEN. HARRY REID, Minority Leader: Months ago, Democrats called on Republicans to work with us to craft a budget agreement. We outlined three goals. We wanted to get rid of sequestration. We were able to do that. We wanted to make sure there was parity between defense and the middle class. We wanted to make sure we kept these poison pill riders off the legislation. All three goals we had, we accomplished.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The budget deal already passed in the House in separate votes yesterday and today. And later, President Obama signed the legislation into law.
European Union leaders vowed today to wage an “uncompromising fight” against terror. Their summit in Brussels was the first time the 28 leaders have met since the November attacks in Paris, claimed by the Islamic State group. The group agreed to beef up immigration controls, to crack down on gun-running and to freeze financial assets of extremist groups.
More than 990,000 migrants have entered Europe this year from Africa or the Middle East, and there is still no end in sight. The International Organization for Migration put out the new estimate today, and said more than half are from Syria. In Geneva, a spokesman said people keep coming, despite temperatures getting colder and sea conditions growing more dangerous.
JOEL MILLMAN, Spokesman, International Organization for Migration: The flows are so strong, even now, this late in the year, that perhaps by Tuesday, or even before then, IOM estimates that the million person mark will pass. This is almost five times last year’s level, which is extraordinary.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The agency also reports at least 760 migrants have died so far this year, with more than half of those in just the last two months alone.
Prospects for peace in Yemen hit a new stumbling block today. Talks in Switzerland were halted after Shiite Houthi rebels suspended all meetings with Yemen’s government. The Houthis blamed repeated violations of a cease-fire in Yemen. Both sides have ignored the truce, and troops loyal to the government captured a provincial capital today, after two days of fighting.
In Iraq, the U.S. military says Kurdish forces backed by heavy coalition air strikes beat back two major Islamic State attacks this week. In the north, 500 fighters tried to breach Kurdish positions, and at least 180 were killed. In the west, others attacked government lines outside Ramadi.
The briefer spoke on a video link from Baghdad:
COL. STEVEN WARREN, Spokesman, Combined Joint Task Force: In each place, ISIL was able to muster an offensive effort, which tells us that they’ve still got some fight left in them. However, and much more importantly, in each fight Iraqi forces were able to rebuff ISIL’s efforts.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Ash Carter spent the day in Afghanistan, promising U.S. support in the face of a growing Islamic State presence there. Carter’s one-day visit came after the U.S. commander in Afghanistan warned that ISIS militants from Syria and Iraq are gathering in the east. They’re joining like-minded Afghans to gain a foothold there.
In the U.S. presidential race, the Bernie Sanders campaign accused the Democratic National Committee today of actively aiding frontrunner Hillary Clinton. The dispute began with an accidental breach of the DNC’s database for voters. For half an hour, Sanders staffers then allegedly used it to access some of Clinton’s voter data and the DNC has now cut off the Sanders access to all of its records.
JEFF WEAVER, Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Manager: The leadership of the DNC is now actively attempting to undermine our campaign. This is unacceptable. Clearly in this case, it looks like they are trying to help the Clinton campaign.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Sanders campaign fired its data director for misusing the Clinton voter information. And later, it filed suit to regain access to the Democratic voter data. For its part, the DNC rejected the accusation that it’s playing favorites.
The Chicago policeman who fatally shot a black teenager last year had his first court appearance today since being indicted. Jason Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder and official misconduct. Police video released last month shows him shooting Laquan McDonald sixteen times. It triggered protests, it forced the police chief to quit, and prompted federal investigations.
And China’s capital city is now under its second smog red alert this month. The wave of airborne pollution is forecast to hit Beijing from Saturday into Tuesday. Today, signs warned people of the risk and ordered half the city’s cars off the road.
Officials said particle levels will be more than 20 times what is considered safe by the World Health Organization.
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PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — After a somber start to his vacation, President Barack Obama arrived in Hawaii on Saturday to celebrate Christmas and ring in his final year as president.
Air Force One carrying Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia and Sasha landed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in the wee hours of the first day of his annual two-week holiday getaway from Washington.
On the way to Hawaii, Obama stopped in Southern California to carry out what has become one of the grimmest rituals of his presidency: consoling the grieving relatives of victims of gun violence.
Obama and his wife spent nearly three hours late Friday hearing from the loved ones of the nine men and five women killed Dec. 2 when a married couple opened fire on the husband’s co-workers at a workplace holiday party in San Bernardino, east of Los Angeles. The FBI is investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism.
Obama said the meetings in a high school library were “so moving” because the families were so representative of the country.
“You had people from every background, every faith. Some described loved ones who had come to this country as immigrants, others who had lived in the area all their lives, all of them extraordinarily proud of the work they were doing to keep people healthy and safe” as employees of the San Bernardino County health department, he said. “As difficult as this time is for them and for the entire community, they’re also representative of the strength and the unity and the love that exists in this community and in this country.”
Authorities say the attack was planned and carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29. About 15 minutes after the attack began a post on a Facebook page associated with Malik appeared and said “we pledge allegiance” to the leader of the Islamic State group.
So far, authorities have said they have no evidence that the American-born Farook and his Pakistani wife were carrying out orders from an overseas terrorist group or that they were part of a domestic terrorist network.
IS has claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated assaults in Paris on Nov. 13 that left 130 people dead.
Obama flew to San Bernardino after taking questions from reporters at his annual year-end news conference at the White House.
The president usually spends his vacation time in Hawaii, the island state where he was born, frequenting the island’s golf courses, dining out, hiking, going to the beach and treating himself and his kids to shave ice, a frozen dessert that looks like a snow cone.
He planned to return to the White House just after the new year to begin focusing on what he can get done with the Republican-controlled Congress in his final year in office.
At the news conference, Obama cited an Asia-Pacific trade deal and overhauling the criminal justice system as areas where progress is possible. But Obama is also likely to spend much of his final year in office focused on the U.S.-led campaign to defeat IS.
“Since taking this office, I’ve never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now,” he said before leaving Washington. “And in 2016, I’m going to leave it out all on the field.”
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Opening Christmas vacation on a somber note, President Barack Obama said meeting with the loved ones of 14 holiday revelers who were fatally shot two weeks ago in Southern California was a reminder “of what’s good in this country.”
“As difficult as this time is for them and for the entire community, they’re also representative of the strength and the unity and the love that exists in this community and in this country,” Obama said late Friday after nearly three hours of meetings with family members.
He was accompanied by his wife, first lady Michelle Obama. He described the meetings as “so moving” for both of them.
Obama stopped in California en route to Hawaii for his annual holiday getaway.
He said the family members were “inspiring” as they spoke with pride about their loved ones
“As we go into the holiday season, even as we are vigilant about preventing terrorist attacks from happening, even as we insist we can’t accept the notion of mass shootings in public places, in places of work and worship, we have to remind ourselves of the overwhelming good that exists out there,” he said.
Authorities identified the shooters in the Dec. 2 attack on a San Bernardino county government facility as American-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, of Pakistan. Both were killed in a shootout with police.
The FBI is investigating the case as an act of terrorism. The couple pledged allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State group on Facebook, moments before the shooting, authorities said. But they have found no evidence that the Farook and Malik were carrying out instructions from an overseas terrorist group or that they were part of a U.S.-based conspiracy.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attack in Paris that killed 130 people. Both attacks, happening so close to the holidays, heightened public fears about terrorism on U.S. soil.
Obama has tried to allay those concerns with a rare Oval Office address, days after the San Bernardino attack, on the administration’s strategy to counter the threat from IS, as well as through public appearances this week with members of his national security team following separate briefings he received on the Islamic State and potential threats to the homeland.
Most of the 14 people killed at the holiday banquet Dec. 2 worked with Farook in the San Bernardino County public health department. Nine men and five women, ranging in age from 26 to 60, were killed.
Obama met with members of each of the 14 families. The meetings took place in the library of Indian Springs High School, with the president and first lady taking nearly three hours to speak individually with each group of relatives.
Such meetings have become a grim ritual of Obama’s presidency. Most recently, he met privately in October with families of the victims of a student gunman who killed eight classmates and a teacher at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, before turning the gun on himself.
Obama flew to California after holding his annual year-end news conference at the White House. After meeting with the families, he continued to Hawaii to begin two weeks of vacation with his wife and daughters in the island state where he was born.
He is scheduled to return to the White House in early January to begin his final year in office.
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WASHINGTON — In the first debate of the Democratic presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders dismissed concerns about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account and server while she served as secretary of state, saying Americans were tired of talking about her “damn emails.”
As the candidates take the stage for their last match-up of the year, will Clinton return the favor?
Friday’s revelations that four members of Sanders’ campaign staff improperly accessed voter information compiled by Clinton’s campaign shook up what had been a relatively civil race. It is a development that has the potential to transform a sleepy Saturday night debate into something far livelier.
The question facing Clinton is how forcefully to confront Sanders about the actions of his campaign staff and whether to defend the reaction of the Democratic National Committee, which cut off Sanders’ access to the party’s voter database after learning of the breach. The DNC said it would restore access Saturday.
At the center of the dispute is an extensive trove of voter information maintained by the DNC. The campaigns are able to add their own information to that database, information they use to target voters and anticipate what issues might motivate them to cast ballots.
In Clinton’s case, campaign manager Robby Mook said the information stored in the database and illicitly reviewed by Sanders’ team included “fundamental parts of our strategy.” Experts said the Sanders campaign employees who accessed the Clinton voter information without authorization appear to have broken the law.
“Our data was stolen,” Mook said. “The data that they reached in and took from our campaign is effectively the strategic road map in those states.”
It was an allegation rejected out of hand by Sanders’ campaign, which filed a federal lawsuit against the DNC seeking to regain access to the voter records. The lawsuit argued the DNC’s actions have caused Sanders’ campaign “injury and financial losses.”
“It’s outrageous to suggest that our campaign ‘stole’ any data,” said Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs. “What is true is the data we collected and need to run a winning campaign is now being stolen from us by a DNC dominated by Clinton people.”
Early Saturday, the DNC said the Sanders campaign had complied with its request for information about the incident. “Based on this information, we are restoring the Sanders campaign’s access to the voter file, but will continue to investigate to ensure that the data that was inappropriately accessed has been deleted and is no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign,” DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
Still, Sanders’ team had worked to turn what seemed like a clear breach of ethics – and potentially the law – into a political advantage. Even before the lawsuit was filed, the Sanders campaign sent a fundraising email to supporters that said the DNC has placed “its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
Notably, the email made no mention of the campaign’s decision to fire a staffer involved in the data breach and the admission of campaign manager Jeff Weaver that the staffer’s actions were “unacceptable.”
The controversy over the data breach comes as Sanders was already struggling to draw attention to his economically-focused campaign message after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, shifted the focus of the 2016 campaign to national security.
“He’s got to refocus Democrats onto his issue ground,” said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster unaffiliated with either campaign. “It’s been usurped by events.”
Throughout his insurgent bid for the White House, Sanders has cast himself as being above politics as usual. The independent senator from Vermont has vowed to avoid personal attacks and other kinds of political dirty tricks.
Clinton aides argued Friday that message is undermined by the newly revealed actions of his staff. They said the information the four Sanders staffers reviewed in 25 separate searches included details on voter turnout and candidate preferences, revealing their campaign’s approach in early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
“This was an egregious breach of data and ethics,” said campaign spokesman Brian Fallon.
But for all the bluster Friday, Clinton could choose to downplay the issue entirely once on the debate stage – as Sanders did with his dismissal of questions about her use of email. By doing so, she would likely avoid alienating Sanders supporters – the passionate liberal voters she’ll need to win the general election should she capture the Democratic nomination.
And there were already signs of détente.
Only hours after hosting a conference call for reporters with Mook, during which the Clinton campaign forcefully accused Sanders team of theft, Fallon said in a statement the campaign hoped the issue would be resolved and the Sanders campaign team would regain access “to their voter files right away.”
A few more hours later, they did.
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Political activist, author, and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader can now add museum founder to his biography.
The American Museum of Tort Law, which recently opened in his hometown of Winsted, Connecticut, features exhibits on groundbreaking civil cases including auto safety, tobacco and asbestos.
PBS NewsHour’s Phil Hirschkorn visited the museum to speak with Nader about his legacy and the how the American legal landscape has evolved. Here is an excerpt of that conversation.
This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.
PBS NewsHour: Was this museum your idea?
Ralph Nader: Yes. It represents a system of defense for people who are wrongfully injured. The three purposes of the law of wrongful injury law, called tort law, is not just compensation of the wrongfully injured person by the perpetrator, not just disclosing defects that help educate and alert people, but it’s also deterrence. It deters unsafe practices around the country.
No one can stop you from going to a lawyer and filing a case in court to hold the perpetrator of your wrongful injuries accountable.
In that sense, it’s the most direct democracy instrument that people in this country have, and it’s all an open court with transcripts, with the media, with cross examination.
NH: The Corvair — what was wrong with that car?
RN: There were three things wrong. One, on the cornering, the maneuvers, it would fishtail and go out of control—more often than should have been the case, because it didn’t have a proper suspension system. G.M. wanted to cut corners and make a few extra bucks per car.
Second is the steering column that starts from the leading surfaces, of front tires, and it can jam right back into the driver in a left-front collision.
And third, G.M. had recall most of the Corvairs, because of carbon monoxide leakage in the heater exchange system. Otherwise, a beautiful car.
NH: Are cars across the board safer or is it better to say, certain safety procedures and oversight was put into effect?
RN: In 1966, September, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Laws regulating the auto industry, mandating safety standards like better brakes, better tires, seatbelts, eventually airbags, padded dash panels — all the things we now take for granted. And it’s been a great success.
NH: Had you not done what you did with Corvair and the movement that started, we probably wouldn’t have seatbelts, airbags, and far fewer auto fatalities that we do today.
RN: It might have come sooner or later, but too late for hundreds of thousands of people. And the important thing is that it lifted up automobile manufacturing all over the world. The companies in Japan, Germany, and elsewhere had to sell into the U.S. market, so they had to raise their crash-worthy standards.
NH: Lately, we’ve had the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal, which the Environmental Protection Agency revealed. We’ve had the Toyota sticky pedal crisis, where lives were lost. And then more seriously the General Motors ignition switch defect, which caused more than 100 deaths. Is the system working?
RN: Now the National Highway Safety Administration has woken up. It’s got a new director; it’s being supported by Secretary of Transportation [Anthony] Foxx. Partly because of all these massive recalls getting huge publicity about the deaths, the injuries, the costs, and I think, we’re going to see a renaissance of NHTSA in the next few years.
NH: Do you think the civil justice system is adequate to provide the accountability that we need when it comes to regulating companies that are engaged in either misconduct or cover-up of misconduct?
RN: The history of successful cases, some of which are in this museum, illustrates that often the regulators and legislatures don’t wake up until some plaintiff gets a lawyers and digs out the cover-ups and the incriminating information about a safety defect in an automobile or another product. And the media picks it up and that leads to more broad-based upgrades in safety standards to protect the people.
NH: Is the civil system enough? Should there be criminal prosecutions in some of these cases?
RN: The civil system offers up the evidence that would induce criminal prosecution, but criminal prosecution by prosecutors is subject to political influence. The civil justice system is a backup system when the criminal justice system fails. Our political system right down to the prosecutor level is soft on corporate crime. They don’t adequate budgets, they get politically interfered with, it’s a tough haul coming up against a big corporation with a huge law firm defending it.
NH: A cost of doing business?
RN: It’s not a cost of doing business when the corporation executives go to jail, and that’s why they fight so hard to make sure the prosecutors’ budget are very limited and that the campaign cash-greased lawmakers keep defending them against being held accountable. When they get exposed for selling people dangerous or shoddy products they lose sales and the signal goes back to the company.
NH: In addition to civil court, when you talk about empowering the citizenry, there’s other tools. There’s, for example, social media, crowd sourcing, mass communication on so many levels how about that as tools for the citizens’ movement?
RN: The corporations are worried about their reputational damage and a lot of the social media inflicts that, but it’s hard to measure it.
NH: A lawsuit is more powerful than a tweet?
RN: Oh yeah. There’s no doubt about it. You see, one thing that tort law does, it gives the plaintiff’s lawyer, representing the wrongfully injured individual, the right to subpoena information from the inner files of these corporations.
NH: Give us an example of a case that had a wide impact that’s come through the tort system.
RN: Asbestos is a deadly material and it has caused the death of over a half of million Americans. It was heavily used in the shipyards in World War II and then used in a lot of other products, and it wasn’t until 30 years after World War II that the first case was brought in Tyler, Texas, and hundreds of thousands of workers or their next of kin, if the workers died, have been compensated because of the civil justice system. It was an injured worker finding a lawyer on a contingent fee in a little town in Texas that blew the top off one of the greatest industrial disasters in American history. And now, asbestos is almost entirely prohibited in this country.
NH: What do you say to critics who would look back over these 50 years, these cases which you celebrate, and say, “You know what, Mr. Nader, you have a point, but it’s also turned us– the United States into a much more litigious society, where everyone’s first reflex is to sue somebody if they’re unhappy or injured.”
RN: Just the opposite. That’s insurance company propaganda. The center for state courts and studies by law professors at the University of Wisconsin show that we do not file more civil lawsuits per capita than Western countries, and stunningly that we file fewer civil suits per capita today than we did in the 1840s. There’s no better policy in a society then pursuing a health and safety of its people, and the tort system has proved that again and again.
NH: There have been lawsuits for wrongful death in tobacco, waves of civil litigation, but it’s not like they really made cigarettes safer. Did they? What was the goal?
RN: The goal was to publicize the connection between tobacco smoking, cancer, heart disease, and get people voluntarily to stop, number one. The second was to get– the tobacco industry regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and that’s occurred. And the third was to tone down some of this vicious cigarette advertising beamed to kids – Joe Camel and so on, and that’s pretty much by the wayside. And you know, it all started with these lawyers who often lost and lost in the courts until they started winning and divulging all the internal documents of Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.
NH: If it weren’t for those civil law suits, we never would have learned all of this?
RN: No, because the tobacco industry shut up the Congress, the Congress didn’t allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate. It was a nice, comfortable circle lubricated by campaign cash.
NH: Even if you’re demonstrably damaged or injured or have a good grievance, the message is often it takes a really long time to get your case to trial in civil court, right?
RN: That’s right.
NH: You’re better off settling or now let’s go to arbitration.
RN: The corporations don’t like open courts of law, trials by jury. They want to privatize by pushing people into compulsory arbitration where they win most of the time and the whole process is pretty secret. And by so rigging the civil justice system with obstacles that the lawyers throw up their hands to too many wrongfully injured people and say, “I can’t afford to take this case.” And that’s what we want to turn around.
NH: An arbitration undermines that right, because the hearings are behind closed door, because the decisions are not appealable, or because the deck is stacked against the little guy?
RN: All of the above. Arbitration is private. It doesn’t have the tools to dig into the corporate files. It’s usually controlled by arbitrators who want repeat business from corporations not from the injured person. So there’s a bias there.
NH: Do citizens and consumers not have a choice to go to arbitration. I thought it was maybe something you might choose instead of going to civil court and which takes more time.
RN: In some cases, they may have choice. But in most cases, if they sign those fine print contracts with hospitals or with credit card companies, or with installment loan companies. They give up the right to go to court.
NH: You’re seeing that now in the workplace as well between employers and employees?
RN: That’s right. It’s epidemic of privatization of the law by corporate power to make sure that people don’t take them on in open courts of law where there’s a fairer process and trial by jury.
NH: What about campaign reform? Particularly, following Citizens United and the opening of the spigot to even more donations from corporations or, more likely, the leaders of the corporations that actually have the money and write the checks.
RN: If politics and elections are for sale, guess who’s going to be the highest bidder? The powerful and wealthy, and they will in effect rent our political system and our government– to service them between elections. And I keep saying, one percent or less of this people pushing for change on an issue supported by a majority of the people can defeat the most powerful corporations and their political cohorts any day of the week.
NH: You’re long past the time of having any political ambition yourself, that sort of ship sailed?
RN: It did in 2008, because you know, trying to mount a third-party candidacy against a two-party tyranny that has all the laws rigged to keep you off the ballot, to harass you, to keep you off the debate is like climbing a cliff with a slippery rope. Our country places more obstacles in the way of voters going to the polls and more obstacles in the place of third party or independent candidates getting on the ballot, than any other Western country by far.
NH: Is this museum done, or might it expand in the future?
RN: We have a stage two expansion for a full-sized courtroom where we can stream all kinds of activities, and mock trials to all over the country and the world.
NH: Will you play the judge?
RN: Maybe. We’ll all play our roles.
NH: A different kind of People’s Court.
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MEGAN THOMPSON: It’s 6 a.m. on a Thursday morning at the headquarters of Boston’s public works department. Danny Nee – who’s in charge of making sure Boston’s streets and sidewalks stay clean and in good repair starts the day by logging onto a computer application called “Clean.”
DANNY NEE: This is what I’m responsible for on a weekday, Monday through Friday. I have kind of from Mass. Ave. through the North End.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Just a few years ago, Nee’s garbage truck drivers had to look inside each trash can to see if it needed emptying. Not anymore. About one-third of Boston’s trash cans are now equipped with solar panels and sensors – green means empty, red means full.
DANNY NEE: Out of 416 components, 64 are ready for collection. It just makes for a much more productive day, it’s just you’re going right to the specific units, and you’re done.
MEGAN THOMPSON: This is one of many ways the city of Boston is using data and technology to operate more efficiently and better serve its residents.
MAYOR MARTIN WALSH: I find data is an opportunity for us to bring better services to the people of this city and to deliver on a whole bunch of different areas of the city government.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Since taking office two years ago, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has made using data and analytics a central part of his administration. Some of these projects started during the 20-year administration of Walsh’s predecessor Thomas Menino … but Walsh and his Chief of Staff, Daniel Koh, wanted to take it further.
MAYOR MARTIN WALSH: Boston as a city does a good job, of creating services and in different areas. but we’ve never measured how we do. And we look at year end, and we compare year to year, but what we’ve done with data is taken it from year-to-year to literally day-to-day.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Walsh has a large data dashboard in his office displaying real time information from across the city — like the number of potholes filled and the number of community center visits. A map shows each neighborhood Walsh has visited this month and how often.
MAYOR MARTIN WALSH: I’m constantly looking at the screen. I’m constantly looking at the measurements of where we were in a day, where we were in a year and looking at it. And it gives me the opportunity to call a department head or a manager or a cabinet chief and ask them why is something so low, why is something so high?
MEGAN THOMPSON: So, from your office, here at city hall, you basically have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on?
MAYOR MARTIN WALSH: Every single department, every single day.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Every city commissioner has a data dashboard, too, showing even more detailed information. They were created by the new Citywide Analytics Team – software engineers and data analysts – with $1.3 million in funding for building data analytics tools.
NEIL KLEIMAN: Cities are accelerating at a fast pace to put data to use. Not just to understand what’s happening at the street- on the street level, but also to improve service delivery systems.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Neil Kleiman directs New York University’s Innovation Labs and studies city government. He says Boston’s use of data and technology is part of a nationwide trend.
NEIL KLEIMAN: I mean, when you think about data and technology, you don’t often think about city governments. This is really something that’s been more the domain of the private sector. But cities are learning fast. So, just in the last five years, you’ve gone from probably zero to about 20 chief data analytic officers that are within city governments and working directly with their mayors.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Boston was one of the first cities to partner with Waze, a mapping app that collects data from drivers about conditions on the streets, like traffic jams or road blocks. The data helps Boston’s traffic control center determine whether to change the timing of traffic lights.
MEGAN THOMPSON: And last summer, Mayor Walsh launched Boston 311 an improved version of the city’s constituent services program, modeled after similar programs in Baltimore and New York.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Residents can call in to this 311 call center or report issues via the 311 app on their smartphones — anything from missed trash pick-ups to potholes.
DANNY NEE: Potholes are dangerous, they can do damage to your car and everything.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Another app called City Worker assigns a deadline to each job. The goal is to fill potholes within 24 hours. They meet it 80 percent of the time. Danny Nee gets all kinds of requests.
DANNY NEE: The person says, “there doesn’t seem to be any public trash cans on Bunker Hill Street. A trash can near the bus stop would be nice.”
MEGAN THOMPSON: On the street, nee carries a smartphone and a tablet to keep track of the workload. When his crew finishes installing the can on Bunker Hill Street, Nee snaps a photo, which can be sent to the constituent.
ERICA MATTISON: I’ve noticed a real improvement in terms of response time from the city, I’d say in the last year and a half or so.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Community activist Erica Mattison lives in Dorchester, in south Boston, and is a frequent user of the 311 app. Even though the city can’t fill every single 311 request … her request for this recycling can outside the local Y-M-C-A was fulfilled within a couple of days.
ERICA MATTISON: I’ve encountered a lot of people who feel distrust toward government at a number of levels – whether it’s local, state, federal, you name it. So, I think, you know, using data and having responsiveness and accountability, using technology is a great way to build the trust between residents and their governments.
MIKE DENNEHY: It shows that government’s listening and government is- is engaged.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Mike Dennehy is Boston’s commissioner of public works. The technology helps him see where multiple problems exist – so he can plan better and his crews can work more efficiently, tackling several jobs at once. The city hasn’t calculated how much money the increased efficiency saves it each year, but officials say the number of sidewalks repaired increased by 52 percent between 2013 and 2014…and in the last two years, the time it takes to fix street lights dropped from 35 days to 15 days. It’s all a far cry from a few years ago when Dennehy’s department kept track of jobs on paper, and there was no system to track them.
MIKE DENNEHY: I wouldn’t even call it data. It was just, it was just today. It was today’s work, and tomorrow’s work was tomorrow’s work. Now, we’re looking back at yesterday’s work and hopefully that’ll help us do tomorrow’s work better.
MEGAN THOMPSON: With such a large amount of data available, Mayor Walsh’s chief of staff Daniel Koh began thinking about how to distill it all down to one number – a daily “pass/fail” grade for government performance.
DAN KOH: Our first thought was, “How do we create a government batting average?”
MEGAN THOMPSON: Koh and the mayor were inspired by baseball – and Billy Beane, the main character in the book and movie, “Moneyball.” As general manager of the Oakland A’s, Beane used statistics in a new way to make better hiring decisions.
DAN KOH: We realized that we had a number of different variables that any city tracks – arts grants dollars, wi-fi availability…crime rates. And we realized that we could measure how that’s trending to our target in each of those areas. And we could take it a step further, we can roll all of that up into a single number that tells us how well we’re doing in a given day.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Koh calls the program “CityScore.”
DAN KOH: This is the first time we’ve ever debuted CityScore.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Koh gave NewsHour the first look at CityScore – which is scheduled to go live in January.
MEGAN THOMPSON: When we visited, the prototype was crunching data from 18 performance metrics, showing how the city was meeting its goals for each one. Everything from graffiti removal to 311 call center performance to emergency response time.
DAN KOH: And this all rolls up to a single score. Anything above 1 means that we’re exceeding, anything below 1 means that we need improvement.
MEGAN THOMPSON: So, today, CityScore is 1.17.
DAN KOH: Yeah, so we’re- we’re doing well today.
DAN KOH: But you can see that there are some areas that we’re not doing as well in a given day or week that we need to- we need to focus on.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Today those includes signal and sidewalk repairs. The top performing metrics are library users, tree maintenance, and fire department response time. CityScore also displays metrics for the week, month, and quarter.
DAN KOH: So, one day may not be a big concern. But if it continues over a week, over a month, or over a quarter, you know that that’s a bad trend, right. So what the mayor can do is tackle these trends when they’re signaling that they’re going bad before they actually go bad. And that’s a real sea change, in our opinion, because I think most municipalities are looking at data maybe in an annual report and not on such a real time basis.
MEGAN THOMPSON: How is it that a single number can possibly tell the mayor what’s going on in such a big city?
DAN KOH: The reality is, just given the mindshare of most public officials, they don’t have the time to be sitting there really digging through the data every day. So, what this does is it gives him a sense or an indication of where, how we’re doing on a given day or quarter, and allows him to delegate to people below him why we’re on a course.
MEGAN THOMPSON: As the technology develops, Koh plans to add dozens more metrics. Boston residents will be able to check CityScore on the web and access the raw data behind it. NYU public policy professor Neil Kleiman says no other city is issuing a daily report card like Boston.
NEIL KLEIMAN: And it’s not surprising that they would be cautious about data, right? Because data can really open you up to a higher demand for services.
MEGAN THOMPSON: Mayor Walsh admits that at first, he was cautious.
MAYOR MARTIN WALSH: If the scores aren’t as high as they need to be, you know, we’re going to get criticism for it. But CityScore, after thinking about it a little bit, it’s okay to get marked, it’s okay to be underperforming in certain areas because that gives us the ability to focus on those areas and improve the quality of service that we provide to the public.
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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — the seventh installment in the wildly popular film and merchandise phenomenon — topped box office records Friday night.
Walt Disney Company projected the film could earn $215 million before the weekend ends, eclipsing the record-setting domestic premiere of “Jurassic World” in June.
The J.J Abrams written and directed film — which picks up where the 1983 classic “Return of the Jedi” left off — took in $120.5 million in its first day in North American theaters, including $57 million in sales for previews Thursday night.
The numbers surpassed a previous record set by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” which amassed $43.5 million in preview ticket sales in 2011.
Devoted fans across the country waited for hours — many in costume — to catch a glimpse of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher reprising their roles from the original trilogy, which first hit theaters in May of 1977.
Others planned in advance, purchasing tickets days or even months beforehand — theaters sold $100 million worth of advance sale tickets in the days leading up to Thursday’s premiere.
NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown reviewed the hype around this week’s premiere:
Walt Disney — which acquired the franchise’s original producer Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012 — spent $200 million producing the latest installment.
The film is expected for gross $1.5 to $2 billion globally, according to the LA Times.
Another four franchise films are expected to follow “The Force Awakens” over the next four years.
The film opened in dozens of countries this week, but won’t hit the world’s second-largest film consuming market — China — until Jan. 9.