Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
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- 12/31/15--14:23: _Carson staffers qui...
- 12/31/15--14:47: _Obama to act next w...
- 12/31/15--15:35: _Critics share films...
- 12/31/15--15:40: _After Ramadi, bigge...
- 12/31/15--15:45: _Missouri’s flooding...
- 12/31/15--15:50: _News Wrap: Midwest ...
- 01/02/16--12:40: _What’s in store for...
- 01/02/16--14:19: _Islamist militant g...
- 01/02/16--15:33: _More work needed be...
- 01/02/16--16:38: _Bad bargain? Manufa...
- 01/03/16--08:50: _Trump brushes off m...
- 01/03/16--08:57: _U.S. repeals meat l...
- 01/03/16--09:06: _Campaign trail heat...
- 01/03/16--10:48: _How Oregon is inves...
- 01/03/16--12:21: _Financial incentive...
- 01/03/16--12:45: _Armed activists tak...
- 01/03/16--13:21: _Mideast protests ra...
- 01/03/16--13:25: _Before they say far...
- 01/03/16--15:11: _Oregon militiamen w...
- 01/03/16--15:16: _Back from vacation,...
- 12/31/15--14:23: Carson staffers quit, question his readiness for White House
- 12/31/15--14:47: Obama to act next week on gun background checks
- 12/31/15--15:35: Critics share films you shouldn’t miss from 2015
- 12/31/15--15:40: After Ramadi, bigger fights to come in Iraq against ISIS
- 12/31/15--15:50: News Wrap: Midwest deluge wreaks watery destruction
- 01/02/16--12:40: What’s in store for Congress in 2016?
- 01/02/16--15:33: More work needed before any Iran sanctions, White House says
- 01/02/16--16:38: Bad bargain? Manufactured homeowners feel the financial strain
- 01/03/16--08:50: Trump brushes off militant recruiting video that used his words
- 01/03/16--08:57: U.S. repeals meat labeling law after trade rulings against it
- 01/03/16--09:06: Campaign trail heats up as candidates begin sprint to Iowa caucuses
- 01/03/16--12:45: Armed activists take over Oregon federal wildlife refuge
- 01/03/16--13:21: Mideast protests rage after Saudi Arabia executes Shiite cleric
- 01/03/16--15:16: Back from vacation, an energized Obama aims to tackle gun violence
DES MOINES, Iowa — Several top aides to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson resigned on Thursday, citing frustration with the influence of the retired neurosurgeon’s business manager and questioning his readiness for the White House.
Barry Bennett and Doug Watts, both seasoned political operatives, stepped down with less than five weeks before voters in Iowa begin the nominating process with the state’s Feb. 1 caucuses.
Bennett was Carson’s campaign manager. Watts was communications director. But Bennett said Carson’s longtime business manager, Armstrong Williams, is the adviser who has Carson’s ear, even though Williams does not have a formal role in the campaign.
Carson is “one of the smartest men I’ve ever worked for,” Bennett said, but added that he believes Carson has become Williams’ “script reader.”
Bennett said that made it difficult to advise Carson and raised questions in his mind about what kind of president Carson would make if elected.
“You have to surround yourself with good people,” Bennett said. “And he hasn’t demonstrated that he can do that. No one wants Armstrong Williams anywhere near the Oval Office.”
Williams replied Thursday: “Barry and I agree. I will be nowhere near the Oval Office when Dr. Carson is elected president. I will remain in my private practice.”
Williams also disputed Bennett’s characterization that his influence is inappropriate, and said the departures were more firings than resignations. “I’m sure Barry resigned because he wanted total control and he wasn’t going to have that,” Williams said.
Carson’s campaign released a statement Thursday describing staff changes as “enhancements” that “will shift the campaign into higher gear.” Along with Bennett and Watts, deputy campaign manager Lisa Coen also left.
Retired Army Major Gen. Robert Dees, who has been advising Carson on foreign policy and military affairs, will serve as campaign chairman. Ed Brookover, formerly a senior strategist, will serve as campaign manager.
“I don’t think any one person should have the candidate’s ear,” Williams said. “I think he should listen to a multitude of advisers, inside the campaign and outside the campaign.
In Iowa, where Carson is trying to appeal to the large number of evangelical voters who take part in the state’s leadoff caucuses, his state-based staff said the shake-up at campaign headquarters would have little or no impact on their organization.
The staff turmoil at the highest reaches of the Carson campaign is the latest setback for his presidential bid, which displayed significant fundraising power this summer and for a brief time was atop some preference polls.
But as quickly as Carson rose to the top of the GOP field, he began to falter. Bennett says Williams led Carson into multiple mistakes, particularly in the last two months as Carson struggled to establish foreign policy credentials amid increased voter concerns about national security.
Bennett and Watts’ decision to leave the campaign came a week after Carson told The Associated Press in an interview that he was considering a major staff shakeup, only to walk back those comments hours later, declaring that he had “full confidence” in his team.
Williams arranged for that interview without Bennett’s knowledge. Carson’s subsequent statement of support for his team was issued after discussing his initial comments with Bennett and Watts, but Bennett said Thursday that those events were evidence his place in the campaign had become untenable.
Carson “told everybody else ‘nobody wants staff changes,'” Bennett recalled. “Why the hell did you say it then? Armstrong had given him the talking points.”
The interview “was Armstrong’s calculation against us,” Bennett said. “Ben was just the script reader. It was horribly embarrassing to us, the whole campaign staff. One hundred fifty people went home for Christmas with their families wondering whether they would keep their jobs. Excellent timing.”
Bennett described Carson as “surprised” by the resignations. Williams, who says he spoke with Carson after the candidate spoke with Bennett, described Carson as “calm, confident, reassured and ready to move forward.”
“This allows Dr. Carson a fresh start,” Williams said.
Williams said he spoke with Dees, the new campaign chairman, on Thursday and described their relationship as “wonderful.”
“I’ve spoken with the good general, congratulated him,” Williams said. “We’ve been with Dr. Carson since the beginning of this operation.”
Taylor said the campaign turnover was not unexpected and that Carson is actively engaged with the decision making. It helps that Carson’s Iowa campaign director, Ryan Rhodes, will remain in his position and perhaps take on greater responsibilities, Taylor said.
“We’ve been moving forward in Iowa the whole time,” Taylor said.
Barrow reported from Gulf Shores, Alabama.
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HONOLULU — President Barack Obama is expected to take executive action next week to expand background checks on gun sales, according to an individual whose gun control advocacy group has been briefed by administration officials about the timing.
The person was not authorized to discuss details before the announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity. White House officials won’t confirm the timing. Spokesman Eric Schultz said the president would prefer that Congress act, but he knows that prospect is unlikely.
“That is why he has asked his team to scrub existing legal authorities to see if there’s any additional action we can take administratively,” Schultz said Thursday. “The president has made clear he’s not satisfied with where we are, and expects that work to be completed soon.”
White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said earlier in December that recommendations being submitted to Obama will include measures to expand background checks. The president has consistently expressed frustration after mass shootings, saying it shouldn’t be so easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.
Currently, federally licensed firearms dealers are required to seek background checks on potential firearm purchasers. But advocacy groups say some of the people who sell firearms at gun shows are not federally licensed, increasing the chance of sales to customers prohibited by law from purchasing a gun.
The source familiar with the administration’s efforts said the executive action is expected to set a “reasonable threshold” for when sellers have to seek a background check. That person didn’t know whether it would be based on the number of guns sold or revenue generated through gun sales.
The National Rifle Association opposes expanded background check systems. The organization’s Institute for Legislative Action says studies have shown that people sent to state prison because of gun crimes typically get guns through theft, the black market or family and friends.
Also, many purchases by criminals are made from straw purchasers who pass background checks. “No amount of background checks can stop these criminals,” says the group’s website.
Get Ann Hornaday and Mike Sargent’s lists of films you shouldn’t miss here.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: 2016 will be the last full year of the Obama presidency, and the president’s sixth year in a row working with a Republican Congress.
Already, Republicans say they plan to try again to repeal Obamacare. The president’s handling of the war on Islamic terrorism, the Guantanamo prison, and Syrian refugees are other expected conflict points. Though, there may be more agreement on criminal justice reform and trade treaties.
Joining me now from Washington to look ahead at the agenda on Capitol Hill is NEWSHOUR political director Lisa Desjardins.
So, Lisa, just had your story in the middle of the week about the “do something” Congress. We did get some stuff done on highway transportation funding and making some tax cuts permanent. But as we start the New Year, it looks like the repeal of Obamacare will actually land at the president’s desk.
LISA DESJARDINS, NEWSHOUR POLITICAL DIRECTOR: So, that’s right. They’re starting with some contention on one of the biggest political issues but, of course, we expect a veto on that. Republicans, probably, Hari, will try to pass more repeals. It’s good for them in an election year and it’s obviously something they feel strongly about.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What does it look like in terms of things they do want to get accomplished?
LISA DESJARDINS: Here’s the good news. There are some major pieces of legislation to watch this year.
I think the biggest one by far is criminal justice reform. Two reasons I think that we will see major reform this year or that it’s likely, one is that want way our prison system works right now, Hari, about two million prisoners, as you may know are, in American prisons right now. Of those, the vast majority are in state prisons. That’s red states and blue states. They’re paying $20,000 a prisoner, and that’s been crippling state budgets.
Red states have been trying to look for a way to reform the system. All that at the same time as there’s an increasing recognition that all of these Americans in prison has a long-term devastating effect on families and ultimately on the economy, on education.
So, wrapping all that up, what that gets us to is a place where some staunch Republicans in Congress, like John Cornyn of Texas, and President Obama in the White House, all want to fix the system.
They’ve proposed a bill, Hari, that does a lot of things. Two big points on it: one, it would roll back that three strikes rule where if you get three strikes drug crimes, you’ll have mandatory life sentence. It cancels that. And the other thing it does is that it will review the sentences for most all federal prisoners and allow some of them to spend a quarter of their sentence at home if they’re thought to be nonviolent.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. And this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, as you pointed out. This is an election year. How does that affect the legislative agenda?
LISA DESJARDINS: Well, actually, I’m going to hold up a little tell here — a little show-and-tell. This is the House calendar and that is affected by the election year. There are four months the House will be mostly gone, and that’s to run for reelection, most of July, August, much — almost all of October, and November, lawmakers will not be here. Their primary job this year, as many of them see it, is probably to be re-elected.
I think we will see them raise some issues, especially Republicans, that they think help them, and maybe help their presidential chances. Because, Hari, the Senate is a place that Republicans are a little bit worried. They’re concerned that there’s a chance that if things go Democrats’ way in general, they could lose the Senate.
So, watch House Speaker Paul Ryan, Hari, speaking to him and his staff, I know he’s going to try to put forth a very serious agenda, perhaps on things like education, health care. I don’t know that things will be passed, but he wants to try and show that Republicans have policy ideas which is something he and I think other leaders are now admitting has been a problem in the past few years.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the prospects for a trade deal that we heard so much about this year?
LISA DESJARDINS: It’s going to be fascinating to watch that, Hari. The president needs a majority vote in both the House and Senate, but already Senate leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t think the vote will come before the election. Maybe not until there’s even a new president in office. So, it’s going to be touch and go but we’re going to watch it closely all year.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. The NEWSHOUR’s Lisa Desjardins joining us from Washington — thanks so much.
LISA DESJARDINS: My pleasure. Happy New Year.
As Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to face criticism for calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States less than a month ago, a group with links to the Islamic militant group al-Shabab has released a recruitment video that includes those remarks.
The 51-minute video, released by the Somalia-based Islamist militant group al-Shabab on Twitter shows Trump calling for a ban on Muslims in the U.S. to a cheering crowd of supporters. It also includes footage of recent police shootings and violence against African Americans in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, claiming this is what is in store for Muslims in the U.S.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,” Trump first said to his supporters following the San Bernardino, California, shooting and the attacks on Paris in November.
Al-Shabab is pushing to install sharia law and overthrow Somalia’s western-backed government. The group is also suspected of having ties to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, which has struck several targets in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Trump’s comments were widely criticized by leaders around the world and in the U.S., including by Hillary Clinton during a Democratic presidential debate in late December, during which she accused the billionaire of insulting Islam and stirring up religious fervor that would “recruit more radical jihadists.”
Trump appeared to hit back Saturday on Twitter:
There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.
Trump had previously called for surveillance of mosques and spoke about the possibility of establishing a database for all Muslims in the U.S.
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HONOLULU — The White House says it has more diplomatic and technical work to do before it will announce further sanctions in response to ballistic missile launches by Iran.
The U.S. is considering designating a number of additional targets for sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missile program. Congress has been notified of those deliberations.
Some lawmakers have criticized the administration for what they describe as delayed punitive action in response to Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests.
During a briefing with reporters, a deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said Iran has no say on who the U.S. targets with sanctions designations. He says the U.S. expects protests from Iran, but adds that won’t affect the final decision.
Rhodes spoke in Hawaii as President Barack Obama wraps up his Christmas vacation.
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STEPHEN FEE: In 2006, Carla burr was looking for a new home. At the time, she owned a condominium in Manassas, Virginia, just southwest of Washington, DC.
Initially, she didn’t consider a mobile, or manufactured home, but on a friend’s recommendation, she looked at one in nearby Chantilly, Virginia. The price and convenience won her over.
STEPHEN FEE: “What made you move from a condo to a manufactured?”
CARLA BURR: “Being on one level. My condominium was fifteen stairs to my front door and fifteen stairs inside my house to get to the second level. I had a two-level condo. And all the bedrooms were upstairs. And with my back as bad as it was, I couldn’t go up and down the stairs anymore.”
STEPHEN FEE: She bought this three-bedroom manufactured home for $113,000 dollars in a town where the median home value is $500,000.
CARLA BURR: “I chose to move here because it was a beautiful house. And I thought, man I could retire here.”
STEPHEN FEE: Now 61 years old, Burr – and her home – may need to move. While she owns the home — she made the purchase in cash — she doesn’t own the land underneath.
Every month, Burr pays rent to a property manager. Over the past ten years, that lot rent has gone up 30 percent, from $740 a month to $1,022 a month.
CARLA BURR: “I had no clue that the rent was going to go up the way it did. I mean, it’s to the point now where it’s more than half my Social Security. I would love to stay. And I would love to keep it right where it is. Because everything I have is here. All my church is here, my family’s here, everybody’s here.”
STEPHEN FEE: Burr is one of about 20 million Americans who live in manufactured homes — buildings made in factories and then towed to communities or private land. While they’re “mobile,” most never move once they’re placed on a property.
Wheels and trailer hitches are removed. Driving by, a manufactured home community can look just like a conventional neighborhood.
The average price of a new manufactured home: $64,000, a fifth of the $325,000 average price of a new conventional home.
JULIA GORDON, NATIONAL COMMUNITY STABILIZATION TRUST: “Manufactured homes are not trailers — they’re actually meant to stay in one place.”
STEPHEN FEE: Julia Gordon is executive vice president of the National Community Stabilization Trust, which advocates for affordable housing.
JULIA GORDON, NATIONAL COMMUNITY STABILIZATION TRUST: “Manufactured housing is a very important source of affordable housing for many people, especially those who live in more rural areas.”
STEPHEN FEE: In fact, in 112 rural counties in the south and west, more than a third of houses are manufactured.
But only 48 percent of households who live in manufactured homes own both the house and the land; 30 percent own the house and rent the land; and 18 percent rent both.
JULIA GORDON, NATIONAL COMMUNITY STABILIZATION TRUST: “This is a unique problem of manufactured housing — that the ownership of the actual dwelling is separate from the ownership of the land under it.”
STEPHEN FEE: It’s a problem for 80-year-old Bob Thompson. He and his wife bought this manufactured home in Winchester, Virginia, for $90,000 in 2003.
BOB THOMPSON: “No more mowing lawns, no more having to take care of the snow and those kind of things that as you get older, you’re wanting to downsize your house size.”
STEPHEN FEE: Like Carla Burr, they own the home but not the land underneath.
BOB THOMPSON: “When we come here in 2003, the lot rent was $260 a month. And now it will be $508 or $509 a month.”
STEPHEN FEE: “Has your income changed over that period of time?”
BOB THOMPSON: “No not very much, because we’re on fixed income, and on Social Security, and you know, they might get a one or two percent raise per year, but that’s about it.”
STEPHEN FEE: Thompson says that if the lot rent continues to rise, he, his wife, and their teenage grandson who lives with them will have to sell — or pay to have the house lifted up, placed back on wheels, and moved to a new location, which can cost up to $15,000.
BOB THOMPSON: “But if you can’t afford the lot rent, how are you going to spend that kind of money to move it off site?”
STEPHEN FEE: “If you had to sell tomorrow, would you be able to recoup the investment you made in this house?”
BOB THOMPSON: “No. These houses were brand new, so it was three years old when we bought it and paid that kind of money for it. And some of the, on here, I would say that normally $35,000 to $40,000 would be a high end for this house at this point.”
STEPHEN FEE: “So that would mean basically a drop in 50-percent from your purchase price.”
BOB THOMPSON: “Yes.”
STEPHEN FEE: Like cars, manufactured homes often depreciate, losing value the longer they’re owned.
Carla Burr believes the value of her manufactured home has plummeted since she purchased a decade ago. She thinks if she sold it today, she’d get $40,000 less than she paid.
CARLA BURR: “If you’re in an apartment, you can move. At the end of your lease you can say, I’m outta here, it’s too high. I can’t. I don’t have that luxury. This house can’t move. I mean unless you go through major hoops to do it.”
STEPHEN FEE: Dick Ernst chairs the financial services division of the Manufactured Housing Institute, which represents builders, community owners, and lenders. I asked him about the dilemma Bob Thompson and Carla Burr are facing.
STEPHEN FEE: “They feel locked in. Is that a common problem?”
DICK ERNST, MANUFACTURED HOUSING INSTITUTE: “Well I mean, it’s a customer’s choice. If they choose a lifestyle in a land-lease community, for example versus on a piece of property that they can buy or purchase someplace in rural America or wherever, that’s a choice that consumer is making. You do remove that appreciating portion of the transaction if you have no real estate with it.”
STEPHEN FEE: Manufactured homes on rented land are often considered personal property – not real estate – and as a result, banks sometimes won’t grant buyers typical mortgages, which leads to higher interest rates.
The best financing Carla Burr could get for her manufactured home was twice as expensive as her old condominium, so she paid cash.
CARLA BURR: “I had a 4.875 mortgage in 2006 on my condo. And the best I could get was 10 percent.”
STEPHEN FEE: According to the latest figures, manufactured home loans have interest rates nearly three percent higher than conventional mortgages.
One reason rates are higher: limited choice. Some manufactured home lenders are owned by the same companies that make manufactured homes.
JULIA GORDON, NATIONAL COMMUNITY STABILIZATION TRUST: “Often you have very few financing options. There are only a handful of lenders who work in this space, and because there’s a lot of vertical integration in the industry often when you purchase the home, the manufacturer of the home is going to refer you to a lender.”
STEPHEN FEE: Another factor driving up borrowing costs for manufactured homes – the default rate is much higher than on conventional mortgages. Industry analysts say it’s as high as 25 percent, a figure manufactured home lenders dispute.
JULIA GORDON: “The reason for the very high default rates in manufactured housing, frankly, is because many of the loans are so predatory. And a very high-rate loan actually carries with it extra risk of default than the same loan to the same person that’s a lower rate, because of course it’s more expensive, and it’s taking up more of their income.”
STEPHEN FEE: “What does that say to you when people are out there calling your industry, saying that you’re preying on people who are low-income and vulnerable?”
DICK ERNST, MANUFACTURED HOUSING INSTITUTE: “It’s not a good feeling to hear that, because we think that they’re misguided.”
STEPHEN FEE: Ernst says his industry’s loan rates are higher than conventional home loans, in part, because the buyers do have worse credit and because there is no market for lenders to package the debt as Wall Street securities.
DICK ERNST, MANUFACTURED HOUSING INSTITUTE: “You’re also going to have to build something in there for the credit risk. You have to cover your cost for origination, cover your cost of servicing. So if you, if you were to break an interest rate down, you would absolutely see very clearly that they’re doing it because they have to.”
STEPHEN FEE: The Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed by congress and signed by President Obama in 2010 provided consumer protections for borrowers of high-cost loans, barring things like balloon payments – oversized payments due at the end of a loan – and requiring credit counseling.
But the manufactured housing institute is lobbying for new legislation to change the definition of a high-cost loan, boosting the interest rate threshold so that fewer manufactured home loans will be classified that way.
STEPHEN FEE: “Isn’t that what got us into trouble in the first place with the site built market? That we were extending loans that weren’t underwritten very well. That the securitization was out of control. And that drove us into the largest housing crisis in decades.”
DICK ERNST, MANUFACTURED HOUSING INSTITUTE: “Sure, but make no mistake, what we’re asking for retains all of those protections for the consumers so that more, so the consumers can stay in their homes. We’re not asking that any of those consumer protections be taken away. We’re just asking that we have the opportunity to make loans and customers living in manufactured homes that want to sell them have financing available.”
STEPHEN FEE: Ernst says the legislative change he advocates would free up credit for borrowers, and it’s already passed the House of Representatives.
But housing advocates like Julia Gordon say changing the law would be a mistake.
JULIA GORDON, NATIONAL COMMUNITY STABILIZATION TRUST: “What concerns me is that people who buy manufactured homes often are lower income, perhaps less financially sophisticated, maybe have fewer options available to them. These are the very vulnerable consumers who need those protections the most.”
STEPHEN FEE: President Obama has vowed to veto any bill that would weaken the homeowner protections in Dodd Frank.
Meanwhile, manufactured homes are re-gaining popularity. As of October 2015, new manufactured home shipments are up nearly eight percent from the previous year.
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WASHINGTON — Donald Trump won’t be dissuaded from saying what he thinks simply because Islamic extremists use his words to recruit Muslims to their cause.
The Republican presidential contender brushed off the appearance of an African militant group’s video to recruit Americans that shows him calling for Muslims to be banned from coming to the U.S. On Sunday news shows, Trump said it’s no surprise America’s enemies would exploit comments of a presidential front-runner like himself.
“The world is talking about what I’ve said,” Trump told CBS’ “Face the Nation” in an interview taped Friday. “And now, big parts of the world are saying, Trump is really right, at least identifying what’s going on. And we have to solve it. But you’re not going to solve the problem unless you identify it.”
The 51-minute video is by al-Shabab, al-Qaida’s East Africa affiliate, and showed up Friday on Twitter.
Hillary Clinton claimed in the last Democratic presidential debate that another extremist group, the Islamic State, has been using video of Trump in its propaganda. But she had no evidence that that group, also known as ISIS, had done so. Trump told “Fox & Friends” the emergence since then of the al-Shabab video doesn’t change the fact she was wrong: “It wasn’t ISIS and it wasn’t made at the time, and she lied.”
Trump told CBS that Democrats don’t want to talk about Islamic radicalism, but he won’t shy away from it for the sake of depriving extremists of fodder for their recruitment. “What am I going to do?” he asked. “I have to say what I have to say. And you know what I have to say? There’s a problem. We have to find out what is the problem. And we have to solve that problem.”
The video, broadly seeking the support of blacks and Muslims in the U.S., contains a clip of Trump proposing the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” an idea rebuffed by his rivals in both parties. Al-Shabab is fighting the internationally backed Somali government and has carried out many guerrilla attacks there and in countries contributing troops to the effort to stabilize security.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, said the U.S. is at war with terrorists, not Islam. “The terrorists want us to act like we’re at war with Islam,” he said. “That’s how they recruit people. That’s how they stir up grievances.”
Asked about the video on CNN’s “State of the Union,” GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina criticized its content and misidentified the source of the propaganda as the Islamic State group. “I find it pretty rich that this ISIS propaganda tape talks about the cruelty of the West,” she said, given that group’s brutality.
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WASHINGTON — It’s now harder to find out where your beef or pork was born, raised and slaughtered.
After more than a decade of wrangling, Congress repealed a labeling law last month that required retailers to include the animal’s country of origin on packages of red meat. It’s a major victory for the meat industry, which had fought the law in Congress and the courts since the early 2000s.
Lawmakers said they had no choice but to get rid of the labels after the World Trade Organization repeatedly ruled against them. The WTO recently authorized Canada and Mexico, which had challenged the law, to begin more than $1 billion in economic retaliation against the United States.
“U.S. exporters can now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. The longtime opponent of the labels helped add the repeal to a massive year-end spending bill. After the law was passed, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the government immediately would stop requiring the labels.
Consumer groups say the repeal is a disappointment just as consumers are asking for more information on their food packages. Advocates say the labels help people make more informed buying decisions and encourage purchases of American meat.
Before repeal, the labels told shoppers that a particular cut of meat was “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.” Congress first required the labels in 2002 amid fears of mad cow disease from imported cattle. The labels weren’t on most packages until 2009, though, due to delays pushed by the meat industry.
Repeal became inevitable once the United States lost all its WTO appeals and the retaliation became a possibility. But the consumer groups criticized Congress for repealing the law for ground meat and pork in addition to the fresh cuts of meat that were the subject of WTO concerns.
The bill was “a holiday gift to the meatpacking industry from Congress,” complained the advocacy group Food and Water Watch. Meatpackers who buy Mexican cattle were some of the law’s most aggressive opponents.
The repeal also was a big defeat for lawmakers from northern border states where U.S. ranchers directly compete with Canadian ranchers. Those lawmakers insisted on including the labeling in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills and this year fought to replace it with a voluntary program once the WTO rulings came down. But after years of success, this time they were not able to find enough support.
Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union, which has heavy membership in those states, said the group was “furious” about the repeal.
“Packers will be able to once again deliberately deceive consumers,” Johnson said.
Still, there was some good news for food labeling advocates in the spending bill. Despite an aggressive push by the food industry, lawmakers decided not to add language that would have blocked mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients. Also, a provision by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would require labeling of genetically modified salmon recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The issue is expected to come up again in 2016, with Vermont set to require labeling on genetically modified food this summer.
The day the spending bill passed, Vilsack said he would try to help Congress come up with a middle ground on labeling of engineered foods “in a way that doesn’t create significant market disruption, while at the same time recognizing consumers’ need to know and right to know basic information.”
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DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s been a year of town halls and weekend forums and lunchtime meet-and-greets for those who would be president, with nights spent sparring in televised debates and endless days fundraising to pay for TV ads, direct-mail fliers and organizers to get out the vote.
All of it is aimed at people like Jocelyn Beyer, a Republican from the small town of Sully in rural central Iowa, who says despite the many months of political clamor, she’s only just now starting to think about her vote for the White House.
“I can’t say I’ve paid much attention,” Beyer said. “The moral issues are what I focus on. If I had to vote today, I’d vote for Ted Cruz.”
While that’s not a solid “yes” for the Texas senator, at least he’s doing better with Beyer than he is with Brian Metcalf, a Republican from nearby Pella. Metcalf is thinking about Cruz, but also former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
That is, when he’s spending any time thinking about the race.
“Until now, it’s just been noise,” he said. “But I’d like to see someone with a Reagan-esque approach.”
For all the attention showered on early-state voters in the past year by candidates, their unpaid volunteers and high-dollar admakers – and, yes, journalists, too – the truth is that what happened in 2015 was only the pregame show.
The race for the White House starts in earnest this week as voters such as Beyer and Metcalf begin to tune in and the candidates try to win them over during a four-week sprint to the leadoff Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. It’s then that voters have their first say and push pundits, predictions and polls aside.
“The race is still fluid,” said Beth Myers, who managed 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign and supports Bush in 2016. “There’s still a twist or two in this primary story that we don’t know yet.”
Where to begin?
It’s easier to start with the Democrats.
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont hopes an upset in Iowa and a victory in the New Hampshire primary a week later will dent the apparent inevitability of front-runner Hillary Clinton. Wins in the first two states for the former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state would all but cement her place atop her party’s ticket.
There is no such clarity in the Republican race.
Despite shedding five candidates before New Year’s Day, the GOP contest is an unpredictable mix of a dozen hopefuls with vastly different visions for the party and the country.
Ahead now in Iowa is Cruz, who spent 2015 quietly building a traditional campaign apparatus and will kick off his month with a bus tour – six days, 28 cities – covering the state’s most fertile ground for Republicans.
Candidates often try to recruit a political leader to stand for them in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Cruz has also sought a pastor in each to do the same, hoping to corner the market on the evangelical voters who make up a significant part of the GOP caucuses.
“For Cruz, it’s about the complete consolidation of the evangelical wing to snuff the life from the others,” said Phil Musser, a Republican consultant who is not affiliated with a campaign.
While Cruz has edged ahead in preference polls of Iowa voters in recent weeks, nationally, he still trails the unquestioned political star of 2015: Donald Trump.
The billionaire real-estate mogul has so far forgone the grind-it-out approach in favor of free media exposure and a few rallies a week in front of largely adoring crowds. “He says what everybody’s thinking and he’s not afraid to say it,” said Trump supporter Bill Kullander of Des Moines.
The unknown for Trump: Are Kullander and the thousands of others who pack the bleachers at Trump’s rallies likely voters or merely fans entertained by his show? “Can he expand turnout and turn these massive crowds into results?” Musser said.
Voters are not likely to find Trump dropping in at one of Iowa’s many Pizza Ranch restaurants to ask for their support, as Cruz will do on his bus tour. But Trump’s top adviser in Iowa is a veteran organizer who ran former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s winning 2012 caucus campaign.
Also, it’s notable that after almost no paid advertising in 2015, Trump said last week he plans to start spending at least $2 million a week on TV ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which holds the South’s first primary on Feb. 20.
“Honestly, I don’t want to take any chances,” Trump said last week.
Neither Cruz nor Trump will win the nomination with a victory in Iowa, but caucus-goers probably will deliver a verdict on whether several GOP candidates continue on to New Hampshire. Count Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the caucuses in 2008, in that group, and maybe retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, too.
Carson was an early favorite in Iowa among evangelical and tea party conservatives, but he enters January without several members of his senior staff. They quit last week and questioned his readiness for the White House on their way out.
Candidates with more traditional political experience will spend the month trying to bridge the gap between the anger and frustration that’s powered Trump’s rise and the Republican establishment, which desperately wants to win after eight years out of the White House.
For Rubio and Bush, as well as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, that likely means lighting the match with a strong finish in Iowa, then igniting their bid with a win in New Hampshire.
“The most important thing to watch is what happens in New Hampshire,” said GOP presidential adviser Charlie Black. “That’s going to set the field in terms of a mainstream candidate.”
New Hampshire is where Rubio was spending Sunday, hosting four town hall meetings and a football-watching party with voters.
After falling far enough late in 2015 to get relegated to an “undercard” debate, Christie has rebounded and is getting a second look in New Hampshire, where he has spent more time than any candidate. Bush, too, has reshuffled his so-far lackluster bid and focused since November on New Hampshire.
His closing message, having tried several since entering the race in June as the early front-runner, is a direct challenge to Trump.
“He’ll do damage to the conservative cause and we’ve got to take a stand,” Bush said. “And for some odd reason I’m the only guy willing to do it.”
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CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: With their coveralls and safety shields, these students could be mistaken for extras in a post-world war two industrial film, rather than digital age teenagers.
The sights, sounds, and smells coming from this high school metals class in Sherwood, Oregon, look and feel like a 20th century factory.
In some ways, this scene is a relic, because in Oregon, this metals class and other career education courses offered at the school have become rare.
Terrel Smith has been teaching career training classes for 37 years.
TERREL SMITH: Those kind of courses are not available to most high schools in oregon. Many students don’t have the opportunities to experience this career focus, and get them on that career training train, if you will.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Smith says this lack of career training, not only puts students at a disadvantage, but helps contribute to the skills gap between workers and employers in the Oregon economy.
TERREL SMITH: We’re sitting in a metal manufacturing lab where these kids that learn the welding and the working with the metal and manufacturing concepts here are going to be able to walk out and get family wage jobs right out of high school.
And we have a woods program where they’re learning the building trades. So we’re doing it here, but I don’t, we don’t see it in the high school in general. So I think that gap’s going get worse.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Smith’s concern comes at a time when Oregon needs more workers in manufacturing and also growing industries here like healthcare and professional business services.
Overall, the state’s job growth rate is three percent a year — one percent above the national average. Oregon is also creating twice as many jobs needed to keep up with its population growth.
Andrew McGough runs worksystems, a non-profit organization trying to improve the quality of the Portland area workforce.
ANDREW MCGOUGH: We have no problem on the upper end. City of portland itself is above 50 percent of our residents have a bachelor’s degree or above and high school and the middle skills are really where we’re predominantly challenged.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: By “middle skills,” McGough means Oregon’s blue collar industries like advanced manufacturing, production and metal fabrication.
ANDREW MCGOUGH: We have tens of thousands of jobs in very traditional manufacturing areas. The challenge is that new workers don’t appear to be all that interested in those kinds of jobs. We’re projecting about 30 thousand growth and replacement jobs over the course of the next ten years. And there is no way that we’re going to fill that through our traditional means.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: That’s just metal?
ANDREW MCGOUGH: That’s just metals, yeah. But the real dearth for employers is on the production side. They just can’t find people who are suited for the kinds of production work that we have available today, and that we see in the near future.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Last summer, two-thirds of Oregon employers reported to the Oregon employment department difficulty filling job vacancies, saying they weren’t receiving enough applicants or too many applicants lacked the necessary skills.
This mismatch is nationwide. The National Skills Coalition, a Washington, D.C. group that advocates for worker training, says while 15 percent of U.S. jobs are low skilled, and 31 percent are high skilled, 54 percent are middle skilled.
But only 44 percent of the country’s workers are trained in those middle skills, a 10 percent gap.
Oregon’s skills gap is better than the national average, only four percent. But some states have a much greater gap. For example, Alabama, 13 percent, and New Jersey, 15 percent.
Oregon has sometimes gotten creative in its response.
With a nearly 500-thousand dollar grant, Sherwood high school teacher John Niebergall drives around the state in a motorhome. Delivering scanners, laser cutters, and 3D printers, Niebergall works with teachers looking to develop or expand career curriculum for their schools.
JOHN NIEBERGALL: Industry’s realizing those baby boomers are retiring, and we have to fill the pipeline. I want 23, 24-year-olds that can buy a house, because they have a living-wage career, and i think this field of advanced manufacturing has those opportunities.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Niebergall’s grant came from a state fund established for career
and technical education revitalization. Known as the CTE grant, the fund was established in 2011, and has so far distributed about 22 million dollars.
But according to an analysis by the The Oregonian newspaper, statewide “about 61 percent of grant applications were not funded and more than half of all oregon middle and high school students had no access to programs last year.”
Oregon governor Kate Brown wants to change that.
GOV. KATE BROWN: I’m out traveling and meeting with oregon business people, the first question that I ask them is, ‘what is the biggest challenge that you face?’ And inevitably, they tell me that the biggest challenge is having a talented, diverse work pool to hire from.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: In July, governor Brown signed a bill authorizing $35 million in spending for career and technical education, nearly doubling the state’s investment.
When we spent our day with Sherwood high school, one of the teachers said to us that he actually views this, this need and this push as a social justice issue. Do you agree?
GOV. KATE BROWN: Oh, totally, absolutely. It provides career options for students who don’t necessarily have them right now. We want our students to graduate from high school, but we want them to graduate with a plan, whether it’s college or career. And career and technical ed opens all numerous possibilities for our students.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: While governor Brown says she plans to press the state legislature for permanent CTE funding, the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Union is preparing for baby boomer retirement. Estimating that 40-percent of its carpenters will retire in the next decade, the union has been recruiting young people to shore up its ranks.
Jennifer yost has been a carpenter apprentice for three years.
When she finishes her apprenticeship next year, she will be a pile driver working in marine construction.
JENNIFER YOST: Full scale for pile drivers in our area is $35.77 an hour, plus you get vacation pay, you have health insurance, which is something for me was huge, and you have a pension. Once you’re vested after five years, you draw into a pension.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Yost followed a circuitous route to the profession, taking a handful of college courses after high school, then working in customer service, before her uncle encouraged her to think about pursuing a trade.
JENNIFER YOST: I came into the apprenticeship when I was 33. And I wish I would have known about it right out of school, you know? Just so I could have taken advantage of it then and had all these years reinvested.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: As one of 842 area apprentices, Yost says, unlike many of her friends, the union apprenticeship program provided a path to a debt-free education.
JENNIFER YOST: This is the first time that I feel like I’ve been able to work a job where I can help others instead of having to ask for help. Like, I’m self-sustaining.”
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: This 60 acre facility along the Willamette river, is where one of Oregon’s long-time employers, Vigor Industrial, has over a thousand skilled workers, from pipe fitters to welders, Vigor builds ships and repairs some of the largest vessels in the world. Frank foti is the CEO.
FRANK FOTI: The industrial worker of today that sort of looks nearly extinct in the U.S. may be one of the most prized assets we have in a very short period of time.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Vigor says the average age of the Portland workforce is 42, and the company says its is perpetually recruiting, offering after school programs for high school students and partnerships with community colleges.
Recent high school graduate Zac Clayville works on Vigor’s Portland yard as a tool room attendant.
ZAC CLAYVILLE: I didn’t know what I wanted to do or I just didn’t wanna sit around, like in an office job.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Zac learned about vigor through an after school program called pathways to manufacturing.
ZAC CLAYVILLE: Everyone’s thoughts at least in high school is, ‘I’m going to go out there. I’m going to work my ass off. And I’m going to make nothing doing it. I might as well go flip a burger instead of swing a hammer; much easier, for the same price.’ But not many people
realize that there are really well-paying jobs down here.”
Foti says it is this very narrative that will ultimately need to change if the state and the businesses working in the state, hope to entice the next generation of workers to the trades.
FRANK FOTI: I mean, these are huge earning jobs. This is people that you are seeing here with their hard hats and safety vests on are in the $50,000 to $100,000 a year range. The jobs are interesting. They’re safe. And you walk away saying, “I made this.” And there are so few things that we get to say that about in our country today.
The post How Oregon is investing in the next generation of blue collar workers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The growing popularity of critical access hospitals, small hospitals in mostly rural areas, is posing a dilemma for people needing or wanting surgery.
For many in those areas, these hospitals may be more convenient, but a Wall Street Journal investigation has found the risk of serious or fatal complications during major orthopedic surgery is greater there than at a general hospital.
Christopher Weaver is one of the reporters on that story. He joins me now to discuss it.
So, what’s the problem that’s happening at these hospitals?
CHRISTOPHER WEAVER, The Wall Street Journal: So, the hospitals are doing more and more of a procedure that is lucrative for almost any kind of hospital, hip and knee replacements for in-patients.
The problem is, they’re not doing it enough more to be as good as it as bigger hospitals that have much lower rates of people dying after the surgeries.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. So, usually, you would think that, the more you do, the better you get at it, the lower complications, right?
CHRISTOPHER WEAVER: Sure.
So, the average in 2013, right, the average critical access hospital was doing about 26 of these procedures a year. It’s about 130, I think, for general hospitals. The experts say that the safest hospitals do about 100.
And even as they are growing, right, you would think that would lead to better outcomes. But some of them are growing from two, three, five a year to like 13 or 12. And experts say that’s just not enough to do them well.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And what are we talking about in terms of outcomes? How much more dangerous is it?
CHRISTOPHER WEAVER: Yes.
So, we asked some researchers at Harvard to help us figure that out, because you need to adjust for things, like whether patients might be sicker in rural areas or older and so forth.
And what they found, right — and it complements our own findings — I think it was about nine in 1,000 people die within 30 days of getting one of these procedures at a critical access hospital. That is almost 80 percent more than at a typical general hospital, where the rates are about five per 1,000.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.
So, why are these hospitals in these critical access or these rural areas doing this and specializing in this? I mean, I think of a rural hospital, saying, OK, maybe I’m just the nuts and bolts, making sure that you are OK from a heart attack or a cold, not specifically a hip or knee replacement.
CHRISTOPHER WEAVER: Sure.
So, in the late ’90s, Congress set up a totally different way to pay these critical access hospitals, compared to your typical — your town memorial, right. The critical access hospitals get paid based on their costs, 101 percent of their costs by Medicare.
The result is that doing lucrative procedures like hip replacement results in bigger — a bigger amount of money to them than it might to a typical general hospital that gets paid a flat rate for doing each case.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is the recourse here? Is there a way to undo this?
CHRISTOPHER WEAVER: You know, it’s tough, because these places are often sort of the only hospital in a local service area.
And Medicare needs to balance the fact that they want people to be able to have access to emergency treatment for things like heart attacks, with their concerns, which they seem to share, right, about the kinds of patterns that we’re seeing and the quality and the kinds of surgeries that the hospitals are performing.
You know, some experts that we have been speaking with suggest that maybe they should get this special payment only for those kinds of emergency procedures that the public would want to have there, right, and then not for perhaps elective procedures that patients might be better served to get at bigger hospitals somewhere else.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Christopher Weaver of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much for joining us.
CHRISTOPHER WEAVER: Sure.
The post Financial incentives prompt rural hospitals to perform more surgeries—but at a greater risk appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
A group of armed activists and militiamen stormed the empty headquarters of a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon late Saturday to protest the impending imprisonment of two ranchers convicted of arson on federal land.
About 150 supporters converged on the premises of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, roughly 30 miles south of Burns, Oregon, where they had protested earlier, the Oregonian reported. Police said no employees were inside at the time of the occupation.
LaVoy Finicum, AZ rancher says he’ll stay “until the constitution is upheld.” pic.twitter.com/NB758n7d7F
— Amanda Peacher (@amandapeacher) January 3, 2016
Two area ranchers, Dwight L. Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46, were convicted in 2012 of arson for setting fire to federal land in an area they had been leasing from the government to graze their livestock.
Prosecutors said the Hammonds ignited a series of fires between 2001 and 2006 that burned nearly 140 acres on lands overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The ranchers argued they had started the fires to protect their own nearby property from wildfires and invasive species.
Dwight Hammond was sentenced to three months in prison and Steven Hammond to one year for starting the fires.
But after the duo had served their terms, a federal appeals court ruled in February 2014 that the father and son should have spent at least five years in prison, based on a 1996 law that effectively categorized their actions as terrorism, the Oregonian reported.
A federal court ruled in October the Hammonds were released prematurely from prison and ordered them to a lengthier sentence set to begin on Monday.
The Oregonian reported that the militiamen hailed from several states and demanded the federal land be returned to local residents and that the Hammonds be spared additional prison time.
Among the occupiers were Ammon and Ryan Bundy, whose father, Cliven Bundy, made headlines in 2014 for his contention over the use of federal land near his Nevada ranch that involved a standoff with federal agents, an issue that also attracted anti-government activists.
“The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds,” said Ammon Bundy, to the Oregonian, in a telephone interview. “We’re planning on staying here for years.”
Law enforcement officials have so far been quiet about their plan to address the militiamen, though a statement released Sunday afternoon by Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward indicated the effort would include members of “several organizations,” who would push to end the standoff “as quickly and peaceful as possible.”
The Oregonian reported the Oregon State police and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations are involved.
“These men came to Harney County claiming to be a part of militia groups supporting local ranchers when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Ward, the sheriff, said. “We ask that people stay away from the refuge for their safety.”
Amelia Templeton, a reporter with Oregon Public Broadcasting, said Sunday in an interview with the PBS NewsHour, that she met briefly with militia members outside of the federal building, where they were gathered at a bonfire with no sign of police at the remote site surrounded by fields.
“Generally they said that they are showing support for a pair of ranchers here,” she said in a telephone interview. “They’ve also said that they essentially want to take back federal land and that that land should belong to the people. That it’s been taken from ranchers and loggers and they want to see it returned.”
Watch the full interview below.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Suicide bombers from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have killed 15 Iraqi security forces and wounded 22 others at an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad.
Today’s attack happened at Camp Speicher, a former U.S. base outside Tikrit, where Iraq is training police and soldiers. Five suicide bombers were involved. Two detonated car bombs at a camp gate, while three others entered the camp and blew themselves up inside.
In an online statement, ISIS said it targeted trainers from what it called the rejectionist army. Iraq’s Defense Ministry said ISIS has stepped up suicide attacks since losing control of the Iraqi city of Ramadi last week.
The U.S. State Department is calling on Iran to protect the Saudi embassy in Tehran after protesters set fire to it last night and stormed a Saudi consulate in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said those actions were not justifiable, and Iranian police have arrested 40 people.
The protests were in response to Saudi Arabia’s mass execution yesterday of 47 people, including a leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Nimr’s execution a crime carried out by tyrants who will face a — quote — “divine revenge.”
AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, Supreme Leader of Iran (through translator): The politicians, executives and policy-makers of the Saudi government should have no doubt that this blood will catch up with them, and it will give them hell. Almighty God will not ignore blood of the innocent.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In response to the heated rhetoric and ransacking of its embassy, Saudi Arabia late Sunday announced it is severing diplomatic ties with Iran.
It says it will expel Iranian diplomats for undermining Saudi security and withdraw its own personnel from Iran.
Joining me now to discuss the reaction to the mass executions in Saudi Arabia and also the ongoing conflict in Iraq is Washington Post reporter Liz Sly. She joins me now via Skype from Beirut.
Let’s talk first about the Saudi Arabian executions that we talked about yesterday, we reported about. The reaction in Iran has been a very, very strong one.
What is to make of this?
LIZ SLY, The Washington Post: Iran had warned Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions not to execute Sheik Nimr.
So, it was really quite predictable that they would respond in this way when they did carry out that execution. And I think, today, we’re seeing things calm down just a little bit. They have ordered the police into action around the Saudi Embassy. They have rounded up and arrested some of the protesters.
And it could be that, after this outburst of rage that we have seen, things will tamp down a little bit.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And what is the U.S. State Department’s role there?
LIZ SLY: Well, it’s a bit unclear what role they have been playing in the background.
They have never actually called on Saudi Arabia not to execute this man. And they didn’t specifically condemn the execution yesterday. They urged Saudi Arabia to respect due process. They also urged Saudi Arabia to allow the peaceful expression of dissent, which is the reference to the likely demonstrations of support for Nimr that we’re likely to see among Shia in Saudi Arabia.
But they didn’t go so far as to condemn the execution. And, in the past, when they have been questioned at the State Department by reporters on what they think about the threat of this execution, they have avoided calling for Saudi Arabia not to do it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let’s also talk about the other story that you have been working on and covering.
We talked about attacks in Tikrit today. Yesterday, they were attacks in Ramadi, this after Iraqi forces have just taken — retaken control of the city.
LIZ SLY: Yes, we saw a lot of attacks on Friday, a lot of attacks yesterday and today by the Islamic State, seemingly trying to make a pushback against this defeat they have suffered in Ramadi.
Now, at the moment, the Iraqi military are telling us that they have managed to turn back those attacks, that they are holding their ground. But for awhile there, it did look a little wobbly. And I think this is a reminder that, although they did take most of Ramadi about a week ago now, that the city is still not fully secured, and it’s all a bit dicey over there in Anbar still.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And this still means that the biggest city, Mosul, is in ISIS control, I mean, much, much bigger than Ramadi, right?
LIZ SLY: Yes.
And, really, any campaign to take Mosul back is still really a long way away, that Ramadi, we have seen like a five-, six-, seven-month battle just take back the small portion that they lost last summer. They’re not even talking about turning to Mosul next. They’re talking about turning on deeper into Anbar and trying to push out the Islamic State from other parts of Anbar that it holds.
We’re a long way from Mosul.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Liz of The Washington Post, joining us from Beirut via Skype, thanks so much.
LIZ SLY: Thank you.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The British period drama “Downton Abbey” begins its sixth and final season tonight on PBS.
The most highly watched drama ever shown on the network, it’s been nominated for outstanding drama series in the prime-time Emmy Awards each of the past four seasons.
The “NewsHour” recently caught up with some of the cast.
HUGH BONNEVILLE, Actor: I’m Hugh Bonneville. I play Robert Crawley in “Downton Abbey.” I’m a Scorpio.
PHYLLIS LOGAN, Actress: Hi there. I’m Phyllis Logan. And I play Mrs. Hughes in “Downton Abbey.”
ALLEN LEECH, Actor: Hi. My name is Allen Leech. And I play Tom Branson.
KEVIN DOYLE, Actor: Hello. I’m Kevin Doyle. I play Joseph Molesley.
PHYLLIS LOGAN: The single word that describes my character, that’s a tricky one, actually.
ALLEN LEECH: Honesty.
KEVIN DOYLE: Fragile.
HUGH BONNEVILLE: Daddy.
PHYLLIS LOGAN: I think it would probably have to be sincere.
ALLEN LEECH: Tom has grown massively as a character. He’s gone from being a very strong socialist, with very strong and hard views against the aristocracy, to a person who has been able to break down those barriers and see them as people, rather than just a stereotype.
HUGH BONNEVILLE: The character of Robert Crawley has grown by about three inches around the waste.
KEVIN DOYLE: He’s developed from being, I would say, comic relief, a figure of fun, to a more rounded, recognizable human being.
PHYLLIS LOGAN: Well, she has certainly grown, in as much as she seems to have attracted the eye of Mr. Carson, the butler. So, she certainly developed a romantic life throughout the seasons. So, that is nice for her.
HUGH BONNEVILLE: The character of Robert Crawley has grown incrementally at the pace of a glacier over six seasons to become a more tolerant and more compassionate human being.
PHYLLIS LOGAN: I think she has — she’s a very fair person and has a warm heart and — but she can — she is her own woman. Let’s say that. She definitely doesn’t take any mmm-mmm from other people. She is her own woman.
The post Before they say farewell, ‘Downton Abbey’ cast dishes on their characters appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
HARI SREENIVASAN: For more on the occupation of a federal building in Southeastern Oregon, we’re joined now by Amelia Templeton, a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting’s news division. She is in Burns, Oregon, now.
What can you tell us about what is happening there?
AMELIA TEMPLETON, Oregon Public Broadcasting: I met briefly with some of the militiamen who are occupying the site.
It was dark, and I couldn’t actually tell if they had made it inside the building or were just gathered outside at a small bonfire.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. What has been happening this morning?
AMELIA TEMPLETON: Well, this morning, Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, has — has held a press conference. He’s the group’s spokesperson.
We have heard that, so far, there really hasn’t been any law enforcement presence at the site. Last night, I saw Oregon State Police cars actually driving away from the area.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Have you heard from local authorities on why they’re not present at the site?
AMELIA TEMPLETON: Well, it’s a very remote site.
It’s about half-an-hour south of Burns in the middle of bunch of fields in the wildlife refuge. It was occupied over a weekend. There was actually nobody there at the time. And it seems like the local authorities are trying to avoid a confrontation, although they haven’t said that directly.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. In that press conference, were there a list of demands? Is there something that Ammon Bundy wanted?
AMELIA TEMPLETON: Generally, they said that they are suing support for a pair of ranchers here who are due to turn themselves in to serve a federal prison sentence Monday for arson.
They have also said that they essentially want to take back federal land, and that that land should belong to the people, that it’s been taken from ranchers and loggers, and they want to see it returned.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Amelia Templeton from Oregon Public Broadcasting, thanks so much for joining us from Burns, Oregon.
AMELIA TEMPLETON: You’re welcome.
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WASHINGTON — Hawaiian vacation over, President Barack Obama says he is energized for his final year in office and ready to tackle unfinished business, turning immediate attention to the issue of gun violence.
Obama scheduled a meeting Monday with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to discuss a three-month review of what steps he could take to help reduce gun violence. The president is expected to use executive action to strengthen background checks required for gun purchases.
Republicans strongly oppose any moves Obama may make, and legal fights seem likely over what critics would view as infringing on their Second Amendment rights. But Obama is committed to an aggressive agenda in 2016 even as public attention shifts to the presidential election.
Obama spent much of his winter vacation out of the public eye, playing golf with friends and dining out with his family. He returned to the White House about noon Sunday.
“I am fired up for the year that stretches out before us. That’s because of what we’ve accomplished together over the past seven,” Obama said his weekly radio and Internet address.
While in Hawaii, he also worked on his final State of the Union address, scheduled for Jan. 12. The prime-time speech will give the president another chance to try to reassure the public about his national security stewardship after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
Congressional Republicans have outlined a competing agenda for January, saying they will spend the first days of 2016 taking another crack at eliminating keys parts of the president’s health insurance law and ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The legislation is unlikely to become law, but it is popular with the GOP base in an election year.
The debate about what Obama may do on gun violence already has spilled over into the presidential campaign.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has called for more aggressive executive actions on guns, and rival Bernie Sanders said he would support Obama’s expected move.
The Vermont senator told ABC’s “This Week” that he believes “there is a wide consensus” that “we should expand and strengthen the instant background check.” He added: “I think that’s what the president is trying to do and I think that will be the right thing to do.”
Republican candidates largely oppose efforts to expand background checks or take other steps that curb access to guns.
“This president wants to act as if he is a king, as if he is a dictator,” unable to persuade Congress and forcing an “illegal executive action” on the country, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told “Fox News Sunday.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also on Fox, said Obama’s “first impulse is always to take rights away from law-abiding citizens, and it’s wrong.”
In the radio address, Obama said tens of thousands of people have died from gun violence since background check legislation stalled three years ago.
“Each time, we’re told that commonsense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, so we shouldn’t do anything,” Obama said. “We know that we can’t stop every act of violence. But what if we tried to stop even one?”
Federally licensed gun sellers are required by law to seek criminal background checks before completing a sale. But gun control advocacy groups say some of the people who sell firearms at gun shows are not federally licensed, increasing the chance of sales to customers prohibited by law from purchasing guns.
Obama plans to participate in a town hall Thursday night at George Mason University in Virginia on reducing gun violence. The president will take questions from the audience at the event moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Despite his deep differences with Republicans, Obama has cited two agenda items for 2016 that have bipartisan support: a free trade agreement with 11 other nations called the Trans-Pacific Partnership and changes in the criminal justice system that would reduce incarceration rates for nonviolent offenders. He often points out that the U.S. accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its inmates.
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