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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, two weeks from tonight, voters in Iowa will gather to caucus and cast the first votes in the race for president.

    Last night, the Democratic candidates debated one last time before voting.

    NewsHour political director Lisa Desjardins reports how the tightening race sparked the Democrats’ most tense debate yet.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The three Democratic candidates entered the stage, and a debate, with substance and swipes, both.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, Democratic Presidential Candidate: This should not be a political issue.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The first topic, guns, was close to home for the Charleston, South Carolina, crowd, where nine black churchgoers were killed by a white gunman in June.

    NBC’s Lester Holt asked Bernie Sanders about his 2005 vote to protect gun makers and gun sellers from lawsuits. Sanders replied he was now for a bill that would roll back some of those protections.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: What we also said, is a small mom and pop gun shop who sells a gun legally to somebody should not be held liable if somebody does something terrible with that gun.

    So what I said is, I would re-look at it. We are going to re-look at it and I will support stronger provisions.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Hillary Clinton pounced at the chance to be to the left of Sanders.

    HILLARY CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate: He has voted with the NRA, with the gun lobby numerous times. He voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted for what we call the Charleston loophole. He voted for immunity from gun makers and sellers.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Third on stage, and a distant third in the polls, Martin O’Malley hit at both rivals.

    FORMER GOV. MARTIN O’MALLEY, Democratic Presidential Candidate: they’ve both been inconsistent when it comes to this issue.


    MARTIN O’MALLEY: I’m the one candidate on this stage that actually brought people together to pass comprehensive gun safety legislation.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Another clash came on health care. Clinton said political reality makes another health care overhaul impossible right now, and, instead, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act must be protected.

    HILLARY CLINTON: There are things we can do to improve it, but to tear it up and start over again, pushing our country back into that kind of a contentious debate, I think, is the wrong direction.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But Sanders insisted the U.S. should strive to cover everyone.

    BERNIE SANDERS: No one is tearing this up. We’re going to go forward. But with the secretary neglected to mention, not just the 29 million still have no health insurance, that even more are underinsured with huge co-payments and deductibles.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The volleying came hours after Sanders released this, an outline of his Medicare-for-all plan. Sanders would replace the current system, private insurers, with a single government-run system. The price tag, $1.4 trillion a year, his campaign says.

    Sanders would pay for that a few ways: Employers and most taxpayers would each pay a percentage of income as a kind of premium. But the biggest chunk comes from a sweeping income tax change. Sanders would raise rates for those making over $250,000. They’d rise to a 52 percent income tax for the very top, multimillionaires.

    That touched off a dispute over whether the middle class would come out ahead or behind from the plan.

    HILLARY CLINTON: I’m the only candidate standing here tonight who has said I will not raise taxes on the middle class.

    BERNIE SANDERS: It’s one thing to say I’m raising taxes. It’s another thing to say that we are doing away with private health insurance premiums.

    LISA DESJARDINS: With each exchange, the candidates were fighting to define themselves and each other. Sanders pushed his anti-Wall Street message and Clinton’s donations from banks.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It’s easy to say, well, I’m going to do this and do that, but I have doubts when people receive huge amounts of money from Wall Street.

    LISA DESJARDINS: In her defense, and through the night, Clinton clung to President Obama more than ever.

    HILLARY CLINTON: He’s criticized President Obama for taking donations from Wall Street, and President Obama has led our country out of the great recession. Senator Sanders called him weak, disappointing.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The candidates did talk foreign policy, but the real divides were domestic and sharper than seen before, a sign of a tightening race, with voting in Iowa just two weeks away.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: With more on last night’s debate and the race among the Republican candidates, for Politics Monday, we turn to Tamara Keith of NPR, and, filling in for Amy Walter, Susan Page of USA Today.

    Welcome to you both.

    TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, they didn’t hold back, Tamara. Did either one of them land any lasting blows?

    TAMARA KEITH: I think that they both came out and they defined themselves the way that they wanted to be defined, which is Hillary Clinton came out, and she really was the pragmatic one, the one who said, you know, I have fought this fight, and this is going to be tough, and tried to paint Senator Sanders of idealistic and out of touch.

    Meanwhile, Senator Sanders did a pretty good job of painting her as willing to settle for less, and why should the U.S. do what it’s done before and sort of settle for what the Washington establishment says is possible?

    I think they both came out and they were themselves.


    SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Such a different tone from the previous three debates.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Really different.

    SUSAN PAGE: Remember that first debate, when Bernie Sanders said, “We’re sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails,” and they shook hands and everybody smiled?

    Days of smiling with each other were over, two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, margin of error races in both Iowa and New Hampshire. So you really saw them really fiercely attacking one another in ways that we haven’t even before.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you think that anything that was said did real damage?

    SUSAN PAGE: Yes, I do. I think that the — that the — Bernie Sanders did some damage to Hillary Clinton by saying, I have an idealistic vision for coverage for all, health care coverage for all. That is going to appeal to voters who are in the Democratic — who vote in Democratic primaries.

    And I thought Hillary Clinton, by embracing Barack Obama in a way that she hasn’t done before, helped her in states like South Carolina, where Barack Obama has a 90 percent approval rating among Democrats in South Carolina, and raising issues about the criticism that Bernie Sanders has made of Obama in the past.

    So, I think, in that way, both of them did some of the damage they came in intending to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why, Tamara, didn’t we see this earlier?

    And I ask because there was a — I think a New York Times story over the weekend that said there are some in the Clinton camp who think maybe they should have gone after Sanders earlier.

    TAMARA KEITH: And it’s not clear to me that those people are really inside the Clinton campaign, as much as maybe friends of the Clintons or people in the orbit.

    This was inevitable. This race has gotten closer. And, also, people are paying attention now. I went to a bunch of events in Iowa last week. And every voter I met said, oh, this is the first campaign event I’m going to this cycle. People are paying attention now and the candidates are making their closing arguments.

    And it can’t be all hugs and kumbaya at the very end. They need to define themselves. An interesting question for Bernie Sanders is, does defining himself, does trying to define Hillary Clinton make him seem more like a politician? People expect Hillary Clinton to be like a politician. It’s not as clear that people expect Bernie Sanders to do the politician thing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Susan, how much is Hillary Clinton being pulled to the left by Sanders, who, as we need remind no one, has called himself a Democratic socialist?

    SUSAN PAGE: You know, I don’t know if Bernie Sanders will get the nomination or not, will win the war, but — will win the battle, but he’s won the war.

    Hillary Clinton already has been pulled significantly to the left on a whole series of issues, including — including saying she wants to change the health care system, even though she hasn’t really laid out any details on how she wants to improve and build on Obamacare.

    On other issues well, she’s including income inequality and treatment of Wall Street. We have seen her pulled to the left because of this challenge from Bernie Sanders.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk for a few minutes about the Republicans.

    If it’s getting tougher, Tamara, on the Democratic side, it’s clearly getting tougher on the Republican side between these two front-runners, at least in Iowa, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. In that case, is it the same dynamic at work, that we’re getting close to voting and it’s just getting nasty as a result?

    TAMARA KEITH: We are getting close to voting.

    And Ted Cruz had said he had sort of predicted this, that he was going to hug Donald Trump until he didn’t anymore. Donald Trump has not fallen as Ted Cruz sort of expected him to. And so he’s starting to go on the attack and say, hey, look, Donald Trump isn’t a real conservative. He used to be a Democrat.

    Meanwhile, Donald Trump, whenever someone is on his heels, turns around and begins attacking. So, this is not a surprise. One interesting thing today that sort of gives a sense of the state of the race, Donald Trump was at Liberty University, the evangelical university, giving a speech, and Ted Cruz is now in New Hampshire, where Donald Trump has a solid lead, on a 17-stop bus tour.

    So, they are going — going for each other’s strengths there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What — Susan, how do you see this race between the two of them? Is it really between the — is it down to the two of them now?

    SUSAN PAGE: Well, it’s down to the two of them to be the front-runner. And who would have thought six months ago, when these people were announcing, that we would get two weeks before the Iowa caucuses and the two leading candidates nationwide and in the first two states would be Donald Trump and Ted Cruz? I don’t think any of us would have predicted that.

    It just shows how remarkable this race has been. There’s a battle between the two of them to be the outsider candidate who has — that have been leading the field from the start. There is a second race going on to be the surviving establishment figure, whether it’s John Kasich or Chris Christie or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, to be the alternative once that battle is won.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That separate lane.

    But are the — do issues matter at this point, Tamara? Are voters — and you have been talking to voters in Iowa. I mean, are they asking about the candidates’ positions, or is it who do they like?

    TAMARA KEITH: I still think that it’s — so much of politics comes down to who do you like and who would you like to have a beer with some day.

    There’s certainly an element of that. I think that issues matter too. But I think that there may not be a really strong cry for details and specifics. It is not clear yet, but it sure seems like this could be a passion election.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Susan, we hear, we read, we understand that Ted Cruz has a pretty good campaign organization in Iowa. How much does that matter in the final…

    SUSAN PAGE: It could really deliver for him in Iowa, because Donald Trump has tried to build an organization, but Ted Cruz has the traditional Iowa organization that can turn people out.

    But I would just say, look at what hasn’t mattered this year. Money hasn’t mattered, or Jeb Bush would be leading. I don’t think that issues have mattered so much. It’s really been, who can channel my anger? Who can shake things up, especially on the Republican side?

    So, it may be a year in which organization matters less. We’re just going to have to find out in two weeks.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And are we seeing, just quickly, Tamara, New Hampshire waiting to see what Iowa does, or is New Hampshire already making up its mind?

    TAMARA KEITH: I don’t think New Hampshire would ever say that they are waiting to see what Iowa does.

    You know, there is, like, a real intense campaign happening there, just as there is in Iowa, and especially in the establishment lane on the Republican side.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it doesn’t get any more exciting than this.

    But it will be even more exciting next week. Tamara Keith, Susan Page, we thank you.

    SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.

    TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

    The post Democrats aim to define themselves, damage opponents in last debate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, January 15, 2016.   REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger - RTX22IVA

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    A panel of Mideast experts spoke of the major steps Iran has taken — from fulfilling its terms of the nuclear agreement to a U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap, which crystalized over the weekend — but came to different conclusions about whether they would lead to more reforms in the Islamic republic.

    Reuel Marc Gerecht, senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff on Monday’s broadcast that the prisoner swap — which freed four Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, and U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati — was “not very astute.” He said trading innocent Americans for Iranians convicted of sanctions violations and technical espionage “isn’t wise. It sets a very, very bad precedent” that he said he predicts Iranians abusing in the future.

    Gerecht also said the nuclear deal would have the opposite effect that President Barack Obama wanted. Iran will become more aggressive in the region, he said, because hardliners and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are feeling “the Western wedge.”

    Robin Wright, journalist, author and foreign policy analyst, said the prisoner swap wasn’t perfect, but the bigger picture was encouraging cooperation with Iran on issues such as the ongoing civil war in Syria.

    Wright also defended the nuclear deal for taking nuclear weapons off the table for at least 25 years. “Iran is still a revolutionary society and it has taken some big steps. The big question is will it take even more,” she said.

    Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Program, said Iran’s internal struggle between hardline forces and those interested in reforms is expected to continue. He added that he didn’t think Iran’s external policies will change in light of the past year’s developments. “And it might become more repressive domestically.”

    Ray Takeyh, senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said fear of Iran’s supreme leader is leading to the moderation of Iran. But Iran cannot be self-sufficient, nor can it reform itself in isolation, he said.

    See below for the full transcript of this segment:

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For what all the weekend’s developments on Iran mean for the future of U.S.-Iran relations and Iran’s role in the region, I’m joined now by Robin Wright. She writes for “The New Yorker.” Her former research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center was one of the Americans released by the Iranians.

    Ray Takeyh, he was a senior adviser on Iran at the State Department during President Obama’s first term. He’s now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Reuel Gerecht, he’s a former case officer at the CIA. He’s now a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. And Karim Sadjadpour, he’s a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    And we welcome all of you to the program.

    So, let me — let’s — let me ask you first about this release — and I will start with you, Karim — of these five Iranian-Americans. Was this inevitable, given the fact that this nuclear deal was being concluded? Was it just going to happen?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: The timing wasn’t inevitable, but I think at some point, after three, four years in prison, it was inevitable that these folks were going to be released.

    And I think it’s important to note that there still is an Iranian-American in Evin prison in Tehran, Siamak Namazi. It is a very important case because is he someone who has been an energy consultant. He is very well-known by international corporations.

    And I think as people see Iran, the sanctions have now been lifted, they are looking to do business with Iran. Siamak’s case is an important one, because I think that is going to continue to deter companies from doing business in Iran.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Reuel Gerecht, how do you see the decision on Iran’s part to release these people?

    REUEL MARC GERECHT, Former CIA Officer: Well, I think the first thing you have to say is, it is a renewable pool. They can release hostages and take more.

    Hostage-taking is as old as the Islamic Republic. So, I don’t think that this exchange is strategically very astute. I think the notion of trading essentially innocent Americans who were seized in Iran and allowing individuals who were convicted of sanctions violations, who were aiding, abetting illicitly the Iranian nuclear program and otherwise engaging in what you might call technical espionage isn’t wise.

    And I think dropping people from Interpol, it sets a very, very bad precedent. And I’m sure the Iranians will abuse it in the future.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Robin, how do you see this swap?

    ROBIN WRIGHT, The New Yorker: Well, I think both the nuclear agreement and the prisoner swap are probably very important developments in what has been a fraught relationship now for four decades.

    It wasn’t perfect, but prisoner swaps, spy swaps have gone on through the ages. It’s not something new or different. Many of those who were released by the United States were convicted of crimes that are no longer technically illegal. So, it wasn’t at a huge cost.

    The bigger picture, I think, is really important when it comes to what kind of cooperation we might have with Iran and others, notably Syria. Peace talks begin this month, and that is the next big challenge we face on whether we can really do business with Iran or not.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you all about that.

    But, Ray Takeyh, what about this decision to swap these Iranian-Americans in prison for the Iranians in the U.S.?

    RAY TAKEYH, Former State Dept. Official: The issue of American hostages always exercises an emotive burden, emotional burden on any U.S. president.

    And it did so with Ronald Reagan when he essentially traded arms for American hostages in Lebanon. I think, as this deal unfolds, you begin to see the humanitarian aspects of it and the possible emotional burden it imposes on the president.

    But as you step back from it, in hindsight, you begin to see the problematic aspects of it, which I think we all alluded to. For one thing, it violates the administration’s own red line. They had suggested that all these prisoners have to be released immediately, which is another way of saying unconditionally. And, essentially, then you see a trade take place.

    And, also, money changed hands. So the components of a deal are problematic, but the humanitarian aspect of it are quite American.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You are saying money changed hands over these prisoners?

    RAY TAKEYH: Well, there is a report of $1.7 billion going into some accounts that Iran had going back to shah’s time because of the disputed — because of the military sales and contracts and so forth.

    So, that could be another aspect of this deal. But even if you just look at it from a prisoner-to-citizen hostage swap, it has problematic aspects to it, but you have to juxtapose that to the humanitarian aspects of it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it say, Karim, about the balance of power in Tehran, about — you know, we are told there is the very conservative faction and the more moderate faction. Whatever — however it is described, what does it say about the power balance there?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: Well, I think we can’t underestimate the Iranian civil society and the vast majority of Iran’s 80 million population that is very eager for change and reconciliation with the outside world.

    At the same time, we shouldn’t underestimate the forces of darkness in Iran, the supreme leader of the Revolutionary Guards, who are deeply entrenched. They haven’t gone anywhere. And they actually thrive in isolation. Rapprochement with the United States, international economic integration would be more of a threat to them than continued hostilities.

    So, I think that fight will continue in Iran.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Regardless of this new deal.

    Well, let me pick up on that, because, Reuel Gerecht, some people were surprised that this nuclear deal was implemented as quickly as it was. How do you read that? Why did Iran move as relatively quickly as they did? Or do you not see it as a relatively quick implementation?

    REUEL MARC GERECHT: No, I think they moved quickly. I think people expected implementation day to be later, even as late, say, as July. They want the money. I mean, I think that’s pretty clear.

    The price of oil keeps dropping. They need the money desperately. They have — I mean, they have to afford Syria, the war in Syria. They have to — they spend a lot of money in Iraq. They spend some money in Yemen.

    I think you have seen an accentuation of what you might call Iranian imperialism and sectarian warfare, and they have to support that. And then there are also the domestic needs. I think one needs to be very careful about paring moderates and hard-liners in Iran. I think, on this issue, they are marching more or less in synch.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Robin Wright, how do you see that divide or split as it exists in Tehran?

    ROBIN WRIGHT: Well, it’s a very profound split, and it’s really over the future course of the revolution. Is the country, first and foremost, an Islamic State, or is it a modern republic?

    That has been the issue that has been debated since the very beginning of the revolution. And it will play out again next month when Iranians go to the polls. And I think one of the reasons in terms of the timing of when the nuclear deal and the prisoners were released has a lot to do with public perception at home, momentum to show that President Rouhani has been more effective than some of the hard-liners.

    But we have to remember this is an opening to the outside world, but it is not an opening inside the country. Today, the Iranian government, Guardian Council, which vets all candidates, disqualified over 60 percent of the candidates who want to run for Parliament next month. This is still a very closed society.

    So, we shouldn’t have any illusions that these very two important steps are going to change the political dynamics significantly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I mean, that gets me to the question I wanted to ask next, Ray Takeyh. Do we expect Iran to change as a result of this, a nuclear deal, the release of these prisoners, and the rest of it?

    RAY TAKEYH: I think that certainly, as Karim was saying, the fear of the supreme leader and those around him, that this particular opening can presage a moderation of Iran and modernization of its politics.

    this is why they are disqualifying the people that they are. This is why you have an extraordinary degree of repression inside the country today, because the fear that they have is an opening will essentially subvert the revolution, because they understand as well as anyone the dynamics of their society and the demographics of their society. And they essentially want to close off those paths.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Karim, what do we look for next? I mean, does Iran change its position on Syria? I mean, Robin mentioned Syria. I mean, they are involved in so many different pieces of the very messy puzzle in the Middle East right now. What do we expect to change, if anything?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: I don’t think Iran’s external policies are going to change. And at least in the near term, I think there is a valid concern that they will become even more repressive domestically to send a signal to their population, don’t confuse our external flexibility for internal weakness.

    But I think that these momentous peace deals in the Middle East, the momentous events in the Middle East really have to be judged over a period of many years. And I think that trying to crack open Iran, the fact that it’s Iranian civil society and modern forces who are happy about this nuclear deal and the hard-liners who are concerned, I think it increases the chances, even if small, about the prospects for change in Iran.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the prospects for change, Reuel Gerecht?

    REUEL MARC GERECHT: I think it is going to get worse.

    I think this nuclear deal is likely to do the opposite of what President Obama hopes it will do. I think the Iranians will become more aggressive in the region. And I think, domestically, they will hit very hard.


    REUEL MARC GERECHT: Because, as Karim and Ray, said, I think the supreme leader, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and many others really do feel the penetration of a Western wedge, that the Western businessmen come, et cetera, et cetera. They are bringing the plague of Western culture and the whole regime will start to unravel.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are you saying, on balance, the nuclear deal and the prisoner release were a bad idea?

    REUEL MARC GERECHT: Yes. I think, on balance, if your objective is to stop them from developing a nuclear weapon permanently, the nuclear deal is certainly not going to do that.

    What it does at best is kick down the road eight to 10 years this question of the nuclear — development of a nuclear weapon, at best.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the future Iran?

    ROBIN WRIGHT: Well, I actually think the nuclear deal was a very important step and that it takes the danger of a nuclear weapon off the table for a lot longer than eight to 10 years, 25 years, in some cases, on some of the most important issues, and longer, because Iran has to sign an agreement.

    And if it violates that agreement any time, even after 25 years, it’s liable for military action. The military option is not off the table. It is off the table for now. But this is still a revolutionary society. And — but it does have interests.

    And when it comes to interests, self-interests, Iran has taken some practical steps over the last week. The big question is, is it willing to take more? And it will face a lot of tests in — particularly across the region. Can it — is it willing to walk away from President Assad in the name of peace and stopping the Islamic State, which has gotten as close as 25 miles from the Iranian border?

    They are afraid of it too. Can they solve — are they willing to tolerate some kind of peace arrangement in Yemen? What is going to happen in Iraq? There are places that we actually have common interests with the Iranians these days, which is a far cry from the way it’s been for most of the last 40 years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray Takeyh, do you anything positive coming out of this?

    RAY TAKEYH: Well, there is a contest playing itself out in Iran, two visions. They are both impractical.

    One is a vision of Ali Khamenei, namely, Iran can shield itself from external influences, can develop its local economy and regional economy as a means of economic growth, trade with Iraq, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and it doesn’t require the Western commerce.

    And there is Hassan Rouhani’s vision, namely, that we can do a sort of a China model, have commerce without democracy. They both are impractical visions and neither one can succeed. Iran cannot be self-sufficient, nor can it essentially insulate itself from outside influence.

    The Islamic Republic today feels like the Soviet Union of the 1970s, a stagnant bureaucratic state incapable of reforming itself and presaging its probable implosion at some point.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re saying that is going to change?

    RAY TAKEYH: I think that’s a good thing. It’s probably…


    RAY TAKEYH: Now, I don’t know when that is going to happen, but Islamic Republic cannot reform itself. It’s too wedded to its ideology verities to do so.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On balance, Karim, a good move over the weekend, what the Iranians did, or not?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR: I think so.

    You know, when you are in this business, if are you opposed to something, you have to propose a better alternative. And I think that we’re hard-pressed to come up with a better alternative, and we have to see what happens.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will all be watching. And I know the four of you, nobody watching closer than you, Ray Takeyh, Karim Sadjadpour, Robin Wright, Reuel Gerecht, we thank you.


    KARIM SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Judy.

    The post Do breakthroughs mean the U.S. can do business with Iran? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Iran at the White House in Washington, January 17, 2016. Obama signed an executive order on Saturday lifting sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear program after Tehran fulfilled requirements under a nuclear agreement with world powers, the White House said. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas       TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX22RFG

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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now we get the perspective from one of the Iranian-Americans released by the United States as part of this deal.

    For that, I am joined by attorney Joel Androphy, the attorney for Bahram Mechanic, a dual U.S.-Iranian national who co-owns companies in Houston and in Iran. Mechanic was accused of selling millions of dollars of electronics to Iran that aided the country’s nuclear program. He was granted a full pardon and released from prison yesterday.

    Attorney Androphy is in Houston.

    Thank you so much for joining us.

    It has been reported that you were contacted even months ago by an Iranian official to ask about the possibility of this kind of deal for your client. Is that correct? And what was said?

    JOEL ANDROPHY, Bahram Mechanic’s Attorney: Yes.

    For the last four or five months, my associate and I have been trying to get a visa to go to Iran and investigate our case. And we were told to deal with the Iranian consul in Washington, D.C., and we have been pursuing that with them. And about two months ago, the head of legal affairs contacted Rachael Thompson and myself and told us that there was a possibility, only at that time a possibility, that we were involved in a prisoner exchange that had been advertised throughout the press.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, so that means Mr. Mechanic knew that this deal was in the works. What was his reaction over the weekend?

    JOEL ANDROPHY: Well, this was a couple of months ago that this happened. Things transpired after that that gave us more convincing thought that we were part of the deal.

    Two months ago, it was a possibility. It was like a lottery ticket. About 10 days ago, the same council people, the head of legal affairs came down and told us that it was going to become more of a reality. He didn’t know the timing of it. He thought it could be within the next 60 days, but he gave us pretty good assurances that we were on the list and that we would be exchanged for Americans held in Iran.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Mechanic has…

    JOEL ANDROPHY: It wasn’t until…

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. I’m sorry. Go ahead.

    JOEL ANDROPHY: It wasn’t until last Wednesday that we got confirmation that it was going to happen right away.

    The U.S. attorney’s office in Houston got confirmation from the attorney general and the president of the United States. And they were told to contact us to communicate to our client the fact that the president was giving him a pardon.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you. Mr. Mechanic has maintained his innocence all along. Is his claim that none of the technology he sold to Iran was used for military purposes, or that it didn’t defy any of the sanctions? What exactly?

    JOEL ANDROPHY: Well, first of all, we didn’t sell any — his company has never sold anything to Iran.

    His company is on the black list. His company is not allowed to do business in Iran with the Iranian government or the Iranian police. So any allegations made like that were basically false. And allegations were made to what’s called the International FISA Court.

    There’s a court called the FISA Court. It’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. And they go make application to that court to get a warrant to do surveillance on somebody. And in order to get that warrant, they lied. They lied to the secret judge who gave them a secret warrant to get secret information. And it was all built on lies, because he doesn’t do business with the Iranian government.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Is he planning — what are his plans now? Will he stay in the United States? Will he continue to run the Iranian company?

    JOEL ANDROPHY: Well, he plans to stay in the United States and run his business here.

    He has a very successful business here that sells similar products to his Iranian company. The business here sells to businesses in the United States. The Iranian company sells to consumers in Iran. It has a storefront. And they’re two different businesses. But they market similar products.

    And they’re all legal products. And they have nothing to do with national security or anything like that. These are surge protectors that everybody has on their computers that you could buy at Wal-Mart, you could buy at any store. You can go online and buy these type of apparatus.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Joel Androphy, attorney for Bahram Mechanic, thank you so much.

    JOEL ANDROPHY: Thank you.

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    Amir Hekmati (3rd from L) poses with (L to R) family members Ramy Kurdi, Sarah Hekmati, U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee and Leila Hekmati after meeting for the first time since his release at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany January 18, 2016. Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine from Flint, Michigan was released by Tehran with Jason Rezaian and Saeed Adedini and flown to Geneva on Sunday before leaving for Landstuhl military base.  REUTERS/The Hekmati Family/Handout via Reuters  ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE - RTX22Y62

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    Over the weekend, four Americans were freed from Evin Prison in Iran as part of a prisoner swap for seven Iranians.

    One of them, Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran Jason Rezaian, had been held since July 2014. His colleagues cheered his return Sunday.

    Another, Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in Iran in 2012 for allegedly spying and was sentenced to death. Like Rezaian, he had been held in solitary confinement.

    Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said he met Hekmati for the first time Monday but felt like he knew him for how long he had been working on his case. “I gave him a great big hug and told him how proud I was of him,” Kildee told PBS NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown from Germany, where the Americans were given medical evaluations.

    Kildee said Hekmati looked thinner than his photos but appeared strong and excited to be heading home to Flint, Michigan, where a whole community is waiting to help him restart his life.

    To critics of the swap, Kildee said, “We don’t live in a perfect world. … I understand that we had to do a lot; we had to fight to get him home.”

    The other two Americans freed as part of the prisoner swap were Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Idaho, and Iranian-American Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. In exchange, seven Iranians were released from U.S. jails.

    See below for the full transcript of this segment:

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As we have reported, the former Iranian-American prisoners returning to the United States are now at a military base in Landstuhl, Germany.

    My colleague Jeffrey Brown picks up the story from there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I’m joined by U.S. Representative Dan Kildee, who is in Landstuhl, Germany, tonight, after meeting with Amir Hekmati. He is the former U.S. Marine who was released by from Iran on Saturday after four-plus years of imprisonment. Congressman Kildee represents Hekmati’s home district in Michigan and has long worked for his release.

    And thanks so much for joining us.

    So, you met with Amir Hekmati today. Tell us about the meeting. What was his condition?

    REP. DAN KILDEE (D), Michigan: Well, first of all, it was a great day.

    It was the first time I had actually ever met Amir Hekmati, despite the fact that I have been working on his case for so long and feel like I have come to know him. I gave him a great big hug, told him how proud I was of him.

    And really we spent time together just talking and chatting. He told me a little bit about the time he was in prison. But, mostly, we just talked about how great it is for him to be free. We had dinner together tonight with his two sisters and his brother-in-law. He looks pretty good, for a guy who has spent the last four-and-a-half years in one of the worst prisons in the world.

    You would expect him to not look so strong. He’s lost some weight, at least according to what we can tell from the pictures. I hadn’t met him before. He looks thinner. But he looks good. And he sounds strong. It will take time for him to come back home and be fully reintegrated, but I think is he in good shape.

    JEFFREY BROWN: We have a photograph Amir Hekmati in the prison in Iran. It was provided to us by Maziar Bahari, a journalist and former prisoner there.

    And there were reports even in recent days of Amir being treated for a medical condition. What did he tell you about his treatment there and his medical condition?

    REP. DAN KILDEE: Yes, it was tough. Any time you are not able to move around — and he is a young, athletic guy — it has a — it takes a physical toll.

    And not being able to exercise, as he had become accustomed, I think, had an effect on his health. It has been a tough four-and-a-half years. He was in solitary confinement for a part of it. For a number of months, he was facing a death sentence. So, the physical strain, but also the psychological impact of that kind of an experience obviously is tough.

    But I was impressed by his spirit. He’s anxious to get back home and restart his life. He’s a young man. He’s got a long future ahead of him. You know, and, again, he’s got a whole community that loves him, and is looking forward to help him — welcoming him back home and helping him restart his life.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Was he aware and, for that matter, Congressman, were you aware of the negotiations? Did he know how close he was to a release or that this might be in the works?

    REP. DAN KILDEE: Well, he had heard that it might happen a few days before. But he had heard that before. So I think he put it in that same context.

    And what he told me, it wasn’t until he was actually taken to the airport that he knew that this time it was going to be different. I had been in contact, of course, with the State Department and the White House for the last few years working on this. And we had a sense that things were getting close through the discussions that we had.

    But these situations are always delicate until they happen. And so obviously we were just absolutely thrilled when we discovered that, yes, this time, he’s actually coming home.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And let may ask you finally, you know there are critics of the swap aspect of the deal, people who think that the U.S. should have demanded unconditional release of the prisoners in Iran. What is your response?

    REP. DAN KILDEE: Well, in a perfect world, we would get everything we want. We would have our way and we would hold everybody else to the standards that we would like to hold ourselves to. But we don’t live in a perfect world.

    And I look at Amir Hekmati coming home, and I understand that we had to do a lot. We had to fight to get him home. When I sat with Amir Hekmati and had dinner with him tonight, it was absolutely clear to me that it was consistent with our American principles to get him home.

    And I think any critic of this really has to ask themselves whether or not they’re living in the world that we live in or the one they would like to live in. The people who are in positions of authority actually have to get things done. And I commend the president, the secretary of state and others who worked on this.

    It’s a happy day, and I’m thrilled about it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan from Landstuhl, Germany, thank you so much.

    REP. DAN KILDEE: Thank you.


    The post After years in Iranian jail, Americans ready to restart life appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

    Photo by by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff has spent every week, for over three years, answering questions about what is likely your largest financial asset — your Social Security benefits.

    Since the 2015 Budget Act changed a number of Social Security rules, we’ve been keeping readers updated on what the changes mean for your Social Security benefits. If you haven’t yet read Larry’s comprehensive coverage of the changing Social Security rules, check out his columns, “This is not how you fix Social Security” and “Congress is pulling the rug out from people’s retirement decisions.” And if you haven’t read his 12 secrets to maximizing your Social Security benefits under the new rules, now is the time to do so.

    Today, we have an extremely technical article about the budget act’s language regarding the lump sum option. It’s a bit abstruse, but important and could mean a lot of money for a number of beneficiaries and their families. We feel obliged to publish this conversation, so we can get to the bottom of what the new law’s language means for the lump sum option. Does it live on or not?

    We’ll continue publishing updates on what this new law means for your Social Security benefits. Stay tuned.

    — Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor

    Alan Skupp is an attorney who lives in Livingston, New Jersey. He and his wife run a market intelligence company. Alan wrote me about one of the provisions in the new Social Security law, which I and perhaps everyone else in the country take to mean that if you suspend your retirement benefit after April 29, 2016 (in order to let it accumulate delayed retirement credits), you lose the opportunity to change your mind and request that Social Security pay you all suspended benefits in a lump sum. As Alan’s email indicates, the sections of the old law, which this particular provision in the new law references, suggest a very different interpretation.

    The best way to see what’s involved is via an example. Suppose Joe, now 66 and a half, has never filed for retirement benefits. Since he never married, he realizes that if he continues to wait until 70 to collect his retirement benefit at its highest possible value, as is his plan, he won’t get much of anything for himself or anyone else if he develops a brain tumor at say 69 and is given three months to live. So he heads down to Social Security and files for and also immediately suspends his benefit. Sure enough, at 69, Joe develops a brain tumor and is given three months to live. He rushes over to Social Security and requests all his suspended benefits retroactive to when he first turned 66 (full retirement age).


    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    My belief has been that Social Security, due to the new law, would tell him to get lost. But Alan thinks they would pay him all his suspended benefits in a lump sum, but only from the time he first filed for benefits — that is, they would give him back benefits from 66 and a half and not from age 66; they would not include benefits that were retroactive to when he first filed.

    Alan makes a compelling argument that he’s got it right and all the rest of us have gotten it wrong. And I’ve changed my own opinion on this accordingly. However, if someone else convinces me otherwise, you’ll be reading another column saying I reverted back to my original opinion. One thing that is perhaps telling that runs in support of Alan’s view is that Social Security has not altered its website on this issue. I say “perhaps,” because it could just be that the Social Security Administration hasn’t updated their website yet.

    We reached out to Social Security for some clarification. Dorothy J. Clark of the Social Security Press Office responded:

    At this time, our legislative and policy staffs are diligently working with Congress to analyze the intent of the legislation and update our instructions.

    I do not have a date, but I will respond when new information is available.

    We’ll keep you updated on what we find out.

    Alan Skupp: New Year’s greeting from a Boston University alumnus and a fan of your work, particularly on the looming federal debt crisis. I am writing to you, because I believe that the view that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 ended the ability to suspend Social Security benefits, but then resume benefits and request a lump sum payment (rather than higher monthly benefits) is incorrect. Admittedly, the other “loophole closers” in that legislation were much more significant, but regardless of that fact, I think the record ought to be set straight, as there are people for whom the lump sum strategy will be important. I hope you will take the time to read my analysis and let me know your reaction.

    Whether or not the drafters of the budget bill intended to prohibit the lump sum option (I don’t think they did), the language they used does not do so. As a matter of fact, rather than ending the lump sum option, the language of the budget bill codifies this option as part of the Social Security Act. Previously, it was permitted by the Social Security Administration’s practice, but it was not set forth in the language of the Social Security Act itself.

    The budget bill adds a new subsection (z) “Voluntary Suspension” to Section 202 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 402). Other than in situations where an individual’s entitlement to benefits would be ended by other provisions of the Social Security Act (for example, prisoners in jail, deportation, making false statements to obtain benefits, etc.), this new subsection now explicitly grants the right to suspend benefits to an individual who has attained retirement age. The suspension begins the month after the month in which the request is received and ends the month after the month in which a request for resumption is received (or attainment of age 70).

    The new language relevant to the lump sum option reads:

    (3) In the case of an individual who requests that such benefits be suspended under this subsection, for any month during the period in which the suspension is in effect (A) no retroactive benefits (as defined in sub-section (j)(4)(B)(iii)) shall be payable to such individual…

    Importantly, that subsection – Section 202 (j)(4)(B)(iii) – reads: “the term ‘retroactive benefits’ means benefits to which an individual becomes entitled for a month prior to the month in which the application for such benefits is filed.” Part of Section 202(j) of the Social Security Act is the provision relating to situations when someone is inadvertently late in filing or otherwise files after entitlement began and asks for the filing to be treated as if made earlier. It relates to periods prior to the filing of an application for benefits.

    In order to request that “payment of such benefits be suspended” under the new subsection (z), an individual must first (or at the same time) have filed an application for benefits. Otherwise, how could benefits be suspended? The reference to “retroactive benefits” in the new subsection (z) cannot be referring to benefits that would have been payable during the suspension period since these benefit payments cannot relate to months prior to filing an application for benefits. Therefore, while commentators have interpreted the recent amendments to the contrary, there is no new prohibition on a request for a lump sum payment of previously suspended benefit payments in the new amendments to the Social Security Act.

    Apparently, the Social Security Administration does not disagree. I could find nothing issued by the Social Security Administration after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act to indicate that Social Security Administration itself believes that the amendments end the lump sum option. For example, the Social Security Administration Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs December 2015 publication “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 Closes Social Security Loophole” says nothing about ending the lump sum option. The Social Security Administration’s webpage titled “Retirement Planner: Suspending Retirement Benefit Payments” as of today not only does not mention an end to the lump sum strategy, but rather still permits it:

    If your benefit payments are suspended, they will start automatically the month you reach age 70. If you change your mind and want the payments to start before age 70, just tell us when you want your benefits reinstated (orally or in writing). Your request may include benefits for any months when your payments were suspended.

    Similarly, as of today, the Program Operations Manual GN 02409.130 “Voluntary Suspension Reinstatement” remains unchanged, reading: “The RIB beneficiary who requested suspension may at any time request benefit reinstatement as of any month in the suspension period.” Program Operations Manual GN 02409.100 “Voluntary Suspensions” also remains unchanged since Nov. 4, 2014. I do note that the Social Security Legislative Bulletin Number: 114-8, dated Nov. 3, 2015, does say that the new amendments prohibit “any individual from receiving retroactive benefits for a period of voluntary suspension.” While this may imply that the lump sum option is dead to the casual reader who might understand “retroactive benefits” to mean benefits payable but unpaid during a period of voluntary suspension, the actual statute says otherwise: “retroactive benefits” has a specific statutory meaning. Finally, the Congressional Summary of the amendments is vague, saying:

    (Sec. 831) Provisions in the Social Security Act related to deemed filing, dual entitlement, and benefit suspension are amended to prevent individuals from obtaining larger benefits than Congress intended.

    As you undoubtedly know, a sound argument can be made that the lump sum option does not provide larger benefits than Congress intended, because the monthly payment is the lower amount calculated as of the earlier date and given a positive discount rate.

    The above analysis does raise the question of what this language actually achieves. I find it hard to believe that the draftsmen would have mistakenly selected the very clear definition of “retroactive benefits” in Section 202 (j)(4)(B)(iii) by mistake. I think it simply is designed to make clear that if an individual suspends benefits, the few months (generally up to six, but in some cases 12 months) of retroactive benefits he could also be claiming if he files and then suspends will have to be suspended too. I suspect that it was just to avoid administrative burden. For example, if someone files, but also requests retroactive benefits and then quickly suspends, under the new language the suspension cannot take effect until the month after receipt, and the retroactive benefits would have to be paid now, not suspended (the language in 202 (z)(3)(A) avoids this situation).

    So there you have it. In my view, the lump sum option lives on.

    Avram Sacks, one of our country’s foremost Social Security attorneys, agrees, on balance, with Alan’s reading of the law on this point.

    Avram Sacks: Attorney Alan Skupp’s analysis points to what I see as an ambiguity in the wording of the text of the provision in question, new subsection (z) of Social Security Act §202, added by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (PubL 114-74).

    In particular, our focus is on paragraph (3) of the new subsection, which reads as follows:

    (3)     In the case of an individual who requests that such benefits be suspended under this subsection, for any month during the period in which the suspension is in effect

    (A)    no retroactive benefits (as defined in subsection (j)(4)(B)(iii)) shall be payable to such individual;

    (B)    no monthly benefit shall be payable to any other individual on the basis of such individual’s wages and self-employment income; and,

    (C)    no monthly benefit shall be payable to such individual on the basis of another individual’s wages and self-employment income.

    So, what is the meaning of the highlighted text, “for any month during the period in which the suspension is in effect?”

    It could mean:

    A) One may not seek a retroactive payment of benefits for any month (that is, with respect to any month) during the period in which the suspension is in effect. In other words, so long as the suspension is in effect and once an individual requests that benefits be resumed, any payment of benefits may not include a retroactive payment of a benefit that would have otherwise been paid for that month, but for the suspension.

    This is a reasonable and plausible interpretation of the provision, particularly because of the wording, “for any month during the period in which the suspension is in effect.”  In other words, the retroactive payments can only be referring to payments that would have been accrued for the months of suspense. But, there is, indeed, a problem with this interpretation that Mr. Skupp carefully lays out. “Retroactive benefits” is a term of art. That new subsection directs us to understand that “retroactive benefits” is to be understood in light of its definition in the Social Security Administration §202(j)(4)(B)(iii). There, it unambiguously states: “As used in this subparagraph, the term ‘retroactive benefits’ means benefits to which an individual becomes entitled for a month prior to the month in which application for such benefits is filed.” Since one may not suspend a benefit until one has applied for it, the teaching of §202(j)(4)(B)(iii) is that only months prior to the claim for benefits and thus prior to the period of suspension may be treated as months for which a retroactive payment may or may not be made. In other words, retroactive benefits can only refer to the months prior to the period of suspense.

    This leads to the second possibility:

    B) During the period of suspense, one may not seek retroactive payment for months that preceded the claim for benefits. This is the interpretation that Mr. Skupp is advancing. On its face, this would have to be the meaning of the provision since “retroactive payments” is unambiguously defined as payments for a period that precedes the claim.

    But why? Mr. Skupp surmises that it in order to relieve the “administrative burden” of paying a retroactive benefit during a period of suspense.

    Realistically, this is not a burden and has never been claimed to be one. The provision appears in Section 831 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, a section that is titled, “Closure of Unintended Loopholes.” How is payment of a retroactive benefit during a period of suspense a loophole? In the run up to this legislation, such payments were never identified as a loophole. After exhaustive review, I could find no reference in the Congressional Record to any discussion of this provision. Indeed, what appears to be the primary driver of this legislation is an article by Alicia Munnell, Director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, in which she claims that file and suspend and the non-deeming of spousal benefits after full retirement age are loopholes that could cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion and $9.5 billion, respectively. She says nothing, however, about lump sum payment of retroactive benefits — neither does the Congressional Record and neither do official legislation summaries.

    I believe either interpretation is equally plausible.

    It makes more sense that the intention was to prevent lump sum payments of suspended benefits. Could it be that there is an actuarial advantage to the trust fund by banning the payment of such lump sums? On its face, the provision bars retroactive payment for any month, not during any month, during the suspension period. But the definition that same provision forces us to use, the one provided by the Social Security Act §202(j)(4)(B)(iii), bars consideration of suspension months as months for which benefits are retroactively paid. Thus, on its face, one has to accept that “retroactive benefit” can only have one meaning here — the meaning ascribed to it by the Social Security Act §202(j)(4)(B)(iii) — although I do not believe that this was the intended meaning.

    Some mention was made that the absence of any change to the voluntary suspension provisions of the POMS substantiates the assertion that retroactive benefits can only refer to the meanings ascribed to it by the Social Security Act §202(j)(4)(B)(iii). I would not assign too much weight to this. The voluntary suspension provisions in the POMS §GN 02409.100 and what follows has yet to be revised since enactment of the legislation. All but one dates from November 2014.

    The bottom line is that while the drafters may have intended to bar lump sum payments of benefits that might have accrued during a period of benefit suspension, what was actually barred are payments during a suspension period of benefits for months that preceded the date of application and then only during the suspension period.

    Alan Skupp: I am glad to have your concurrence with my conclusion that the lump sum option was not prohibited by the budget act. A few additional comments, if you don’t mind chatting a bit more on the subject.

    I would take some issue with your view that each of the two interpretations is plausible. It is not as if the drafters simply used an ambiguous term (“retroactive benefits”); rather, they went to the trouble of selecting a specifically-defined term. Maybe my faith in our government brethren of the bar is too high, but I find it hard to believe that they opted to use a term that was not merely ambiguous, but rather a term that unambiguously negated their intent. Since the statute must be read as a whole, not first with plain meaning of text and then with application of defined terms, in my view there really is only a single plausible reading, which is what prompted my email to Larry. I didn’t have a problem with “for any month” language because what makes the benefit a “retroactive benefit” is that the claimant “becomes entitled” (Social Security Act 202 (j)(4)(B)(iii)) to it in the month in question (and it must be the benefit for a pre-application month).

    I also wonder whether it does, as you say, make more sense that their intension was to prevent lump sum payments. It seems to me that the economics of the lump sum are as follows: If we assume that the Social Security Administration’s adjustment factor accurately adjusts delayed retirement credits to equalize the expected value to the claimant and corresponding cost to the system over the three to four year period from retirement age to age 70, at first we would say the system should be indifferent to a claimant who a) retires at retirement age, b) retires at 70 or c) suspends at retirement age and then elects a lump sum prior to age 70. However, I see two other factors at work.

    If a positive discount rate and upward sloping yield curve exist, then any election to suspend and then take a lump sum would be a net benefit to the system (the system holds and invests payments that would have been paid out earlier, with no delayed retirement credit adjustment to payments made after the lump sum is paid). The bigger factor I think is the moral hazard that arises as a result of the option given to the claimant. That is, claimants in the aggregate will be more likely to exercise the option they hold in situations where its exercise benefits them and hurts the system. Put more starkly, there will be more exercises of the lump sum option in situations where the claimant expects to die early, depriving the system of the lower cost of fewer monthly payments before death (albeit at a higher monthly rate). Another example would be increased exercises of the option if benefit changes that would hurt claimants but help the system were in the offing. I will leave it to others to ponder whether the Social Security Administration had this in mind, but I tend to doubt it given the choice of the defined term. Of course, I readily admit that I am a complete amateur when it comes to the Social Security Administration and its thinking.

    Avram Sacks: The ambiguity is in the use of the preposition “for.”

    As to the economics involved, I am no economist, but the other factors you mention support my argument that there may have been an economic reason to bar lump-sum payouts.

    I do think you give the drafters of the legislation too much credit. This was hastily drafted with zero legislative discussion. As legislative summaries go, the one provided is pretty thin. Mistakes do happen all the time and often get fixed in a technical corrections bill. Some escape notice for years. I continue to maintain that drafters intended to bar a large lump sum encompassing the period in suspense, rather than for the six months that preceded the benefit application date (assuming the application was submitted six or more months following the month in which full retirement age was attained). Let’s take another look at the language:

    (3)     In the case of an individual who requests that such benefits be suspended under this subsection, for any month during the period in which the suspension is in effect —

    (A)        no retroactive benefits (as defined in subsection (j)(4)(B)(iii)) shall be payable to such individual;
    (B)        no monthly benefit shall be payable to any other individual on the basis of such individual’s wages and self-employment income; and,
    (C)        no monthly benefit shall be payable to such individual on the basis of another individual’s wages and self-employment income.

    Looking closely at this language, I have just discovered another problem with your interpretation.

    Under the old rules, retroactive benefits could be paid after the period of suspension is over. (See POMS §GN 02409.110B.2.) Assume full retirement age is attained in July 2016. Let’s say a claimant, who we’ll call Charlie Claimant, claims and suspends in January 2017. By law, his claim in January can be made retroactive for up to six months (12-month retroactive claims are only allowed in disability cases) as according to Social Security Act §202(j)(1). So his claim is retroactive to July 2016.

    The question to ask is: “For what month is the suspension effective?” Under 20 CFR 404.313, Charlie could suspend for any month for which he had not yet received payments, including prior months, so long as they were no earlier than the month he attained full retirement age. POMS §GN 02409.130 confirms this. However, under the new law, the suspension can only be effective with respect to the month following the month the request is received, according to Social Security Act §202(z)(1)(A)(i). If Charlie claims and suspends in January 2017, he can claim retroactively as of July 2016, and he will get paid in February 2017 for July 2016 through January 2017. Per the new Social Security Act §202(z)(1)(A)(i), the suspension begins in February 2017. Alternatively, he can claim and suspend in January 2017 beginning with the benefit payable for February 2017. In June 2020, Charlie learns he has an inoperable brain tumor and is given a prognosis of less than one month. He has no spouse who might be eligible for a widow’s benefit, but he has children. So he now wants to retroactively collect a lump sum for all the months his benefit was in suspension. According to your interpretation, he could not get paid benefits for the months that preceded the month of suspension. But he couldn’t get paid those benefits anyway because had he retroactively filed at the time he filed his claim in January 2017, he would have been paid those benefits in February since Social Security Act §202(z)(1)(A)(i) barred him from retroactively suspending. And if he hadn’t retroactively filed, it is now too late to do so, since one can only retroactively file for six months, unless a disability claim is involved. That leaves the other plausible interpretation, which is that benefits accrued during the months of suspense may not be retroactively paid.

    The point is, due to unartful legislative drafting, there is a huge ambiguity. There are problems with each of the two alternatives. It makes more sense that Congress would seek to bar a 4-year lump sum payment rather than a six month lump sum payment. Because there are so many difficulties with either interpretation, I believe either is plausible. The courts will likely have to sort it out if Congress doesn’t fix it.

    Alan Skupp: Let me begin by repeating that my basic point is that the language, as drafted and passed, does not prohibit a lump sum. My suppositions about what might have been intended and my comments on the economics are irrelevant to how the statute ought to be construed given the clear and explicit definition of “retroactive benefits.” It does not require a tortured reading to make sense of the statute while giving effect to the definition of “retroactive benefits.” Similarly, even if, as you say, it makes more sense that Congress wanted to bar the four years rather than the six months, that too ought to be irrelevant to interpretation of a statute that is not ambiguous on its face. I say “ought” in both cases, because after what the Supreme Court did with an unambiguous statute in King v. Burwell, maybe I should instead fold my tent right now. So it is entirely possible that the Social Security Administration will say that Congress obviously intended to end the lump sum, but that doesn’t change my original point to Larry that it should not be taken as certain that the lump sum was prohibited by the budget act — at least not without a fight.

    In your example, I am confused as to the problem. Charlie files and requests payment of retroactive benefits (back to July 2016) in January 2017. He either simultaneously suspends or suspends shortly thereafter such that the month of receipt of the suspension request by the Social Security Administration occurs soon enough that the retroactive benefits have not yet been paid. If not received soon enough, the retroactive benefits (presumably along with a monthly benefit payment) are paid and the suspension goes into effect the next month, or if timely, then payment of both retroactive benefits and monthly benefits are suspended. At the time of resumption or if a lump sum is requested, benefits are calculated at the rate as of the first retroactive month (July 2016) or first suspension month, as the case may be. I don’t see how 202(z)(1)(A)(i) bars the suspension of payment of the retroactive benefits and requires them to be paid in February. So my answer to the question of “for what month is the suspension effective?” would be to rephrase it to mirror the language of the statute, that is: “for what month is the suspension in effect?” And the answer would be starting in early 2017, not July 2016.

    Editor’s Note: Emphasis added to the highlighted portions of quotes from the Social Security Act and Social Security Administration.

    The post Does the new Social Security law stop you from reclaiming your suspended benefits? Maybe not appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Iraqi security forces man a checkpoint on the main road from Baghdad's central Jaderiyah district to Dora on the southern outskirts of the Iraqi capital on January 18, 2016. 
US and Iraqi authorities were searching for three missing Americans said to have been kidnapped in southern Baghdad, the latest group of foreign nationals abducted in recent months.
 / AFP / SABAH ARAR        (Photo credit should read SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images)

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I’m Judy Woodruff. Gwen Ifill is away.

    On the “NewsHour” tonight: major breakthroughs in Iran’s relationships with the United States. We examine the prisoner release, new missile sanctions, and implementation of the nuclear deal.

    Then: reviewing the final Democratic primary debate before Iowa, and more news from the trail with only two weeks left until voting begins.

    And methane gas from a leaking pipe overtakes a Southern Californian town, forcing residents to flee.

    PAULA CRACIUM, Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council: There’s this enormous stain on the community right now caused by this leak, and a stain that’s not going to go away the day after the leak’s fixed, unfortunately.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.”



    JUDY WOODRUFF: Two Iranian poets who faced heavy prison terms have fled the country. Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi told the Associated Press that they escaped, but declined to say where. The pair had been convicted of anti-government propaganda and — quote — “insulting sanctities.” In addition to prison terms, they’d been sentenced to 99 lashes for shaking hands with the opposite sex.

    Security forces in Iraq fanned out across part of Baghdad today, after three Americans disappeared over the weekend. Iraqi officials said they were kidnapped on Friday and taken to the heavily Shiite neighborhood known as Sadr City.

    A key Sunni figure strongly condemned the growing wave of abductions.

    ABDUL-LATIF AL-HIMAIM, Head of Sunni Endowment, Iraq (through interpreter): We reject any kidnap operation. We fully support the government, stability and security. We absolutely condemn and reject anyone who violates the law and disturbs security and stability. We denounce outlawed acts and kidnappings. Such acts are rejected from any party.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: An Iraqi lawmaker said the missing Americans worked for a private company. The U.S. Embassy didn’t identify them or say what they were doing in Iraq.

    In Afghanistan, a second round of talks unfolded in Kabul, aimed at ending the war with the Taliban. Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States gathered to lay the groundwork for future negotiations, and called for the Taliban to step up.

    SALAHUDDIN RABBANI, Foreign Minister, Afghanistan (through interpreter): Any delay by the Taliban at the negotiating table will isolate them more in the eyes of the Afghan people. Those who missed the chance to join the peace process clearly proved that they do not want an Afghanistan with sovereignty, independence, stability and welfare and their aim is insurgency and destruction.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: An earlier attempt at negotiations collapsed last summer.

    In Great Britain, lawmakers debated today whether Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump should be banned from their country. The House of Commons took up the topic after more than 500,000 people signed a petition to bar Trump. It’s a response to his call to stop Muslims from entering the United States.

    Back in this country, an Arctic air mass brought bitter cold to parts of the Upper Midwest, and pushed east. Temperatures sat in the single digits or below zero in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois. Much of Minnesota, meanwhile, saw windchills today between minus-20 and minus-40. Streets in Minneapolis were left nearly bare, except for a heavily bundled-up few who braved the cold.

    This Martin Luther King holiday brought an air of change, especially in Columbia, South Carolina. Crowds marked the day for the first time since the Confederate Flag was removed from the state capitol grounds.

    In Washington, FBI Director James Comey laid a wreath at the King Memorial, and called for both police and minorities to put aside distrust.

    JAMES COMEY, FBI Director: We have to also understand that all of us, law enforcement and non-law enforcement, carry with us implicit biases. We react differently to a face that looks different than our own. We have to stare at that and own that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For their part, President and Mrs. Obama visited an elementary school in Washington, where they planted gardens and gave books and supplies to needy students.

    Wall Street was closed for the holiday, but oil prices slipped below $29 as Iran increased its output. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande declared a state of economic and social emergency. He announced a $2.2 billion plan to jump-start jobs and growth.

    PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): In a country capable of facing the most horrible challenges such as terrorism, a country plagued by high levels of unemployment, it must be capable of reforming itself, creating a solid and demanding economic and social system and belief in progress.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, the value of the Russian ruble fell again, this time to an all-time low.

    And a passing of note. Rock musician Glenn Frey died today in New York, after a long illness. The guitarist co-founded the Eagles with drummer Don Henley in the early 1970s, and together, they wrote such hits as “Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane.” Glenn Frey was 67 years old.

    Still to come on the “NewsHour”: what could be a new era in Iranian relations and prisoners freed with Iran’s sanctions lifted; Democrats battle it out just two weeks before Iowa; California’s methane leak that’s gone on for nearly three months; and much more.

    The post News Wrap: Security forces search for Americans missing in Iraq appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A plane (L) carrying three Iranian-Americans, who left Tehran under a prisoner swap, lands at Cointrin airport in Geneva, Switzerland January 17, 2016.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX22RMQ

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Washington and Tehran faced each other in a new light today, but it was clear that decades of division will not disappear overnight.

    The latest point of dispute: new sanctions that appeared, even as old ones melted away.

    Hari Sreenivasan begins our coverage.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The new sanctions aimed at Iran’s ballistic missile program sparked fresh criticism from Tehran, after a weekend of milder words.

    HOSSEIN JABERI ANSARI, Spokesman, Iranian Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): The Islamic republic of Iran, as it has made clear in the past, will respond to such acts of propaganda and harassment by following its legitimate missile program more seriously and boosting its defensive and national security capabilities.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The limited sanctions announced Sunday followed a missile test in October that violated a United Nations ban. Far more sweeping sanctions are ending, after Saturday’s announcement that Iran’s nuclear program has complied with a landmark agreement.

    President Obama hailed the accord’s formal implementation in a Sunday appearance at the White House.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Under the agreement, Iranian technicians removed the reactor core at the Arak nuclear site, effectively ending its production of plutonium for a possible weapon. The regime also cut the number of centrifuges at its Fordow and Natanz sites for enriching uranium. And it shipped tons of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia.

    As the nuclear deal came to full power, Iran released four imprisoned Iranian-Americans. They include Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and Pastor Saeed Abedini. Rezaian, Hekmati and Abedini are now undergoing physical and psychological evaluations at the U.S. military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Family members gathered there today to be reunited.

    Rezaian’s brother was among them.

    ALI REZAIAN, Brother of Released Prisoner, Jason Rezaian: Jason is in good spirits. He obviously is concerned to make sure that he works hard to get better. But he is also the same guy. He is not too depressed. He really seems to be in a good state of mind.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Also released in the deal, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, who opted to remain in Iran, and, separately, a detained student, Matthew Trevithick, who returned home Sunday to Boston.

    In exchange, the U.S. Justice Department is releasing seven Iranians being held in the U.S. and dismissing charges against 14 fugitives. The swap went through despite last week’s seizure of 10 American sailors by Iran in the Persian Gulf.

    Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged today he’d been angry and frustrated by Iran’s action. But both he and President Obama say the new improved relations with Iran helped resolve it quickly.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Some folks here in Washington rushed to declare that it was the start of another hostage crisis. Instead, we worked directly with the Iranian government and secured the release of our sailors in less than 24 hours.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now the focus turns back to the nuclear deal and inspections to ensure Iran’s compliance. The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog met today with President Hassan Rouhani to discuss a way forward.

    Meanwhile, as sanctions end, it’s been widely reported the Islamic republic will see a windfall of up to $150 billion. Secretary Kerry said today it’s actually closer to half or a third of that amount. The end of sanctions also means Iran will pump more oil. The government announced today it’s ramping up production by 500,000 barrels a day.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We will have a full analysis of all of this after the news summary.

    The post New Iran sanctions appear as old sanctions lift for nuclear deal compliance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Michigan National Guard members arrived in Flint last week to join door-to-door efforts to distribute bottled water and other supplies to residents coping with the city's crisis over lead-contaminated drinking water. Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

    Michigan National Guard members arrived in Flint last week to join door-to-door efforts to distribute bottled water and other supplies to residents coping with the city’s crisis over lead-contaminated drinking water. Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

    FLINT, Mich.– Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder responded Monday to criticism from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the Democratic debates for his handling of Flint’s water emergency, saying Clinton is making it a political issue.

    During Sunday’s debate, Clinton said “every single American should be outraged” by the water crisis, adding that “if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would have been action.”

    Following a speaking engagement at a Martin Luther King Day event in Flint, the Republican governor said her tactic doesn’t help solve the problem.

    “We’re going to keep working on putting solutions in place,” Snyder told The Detroit News. “And what I would say is: Politicizing the issue doesn’t help matters. Let’s focus in on the solution and how to deal with the damage that was done and help the citizens of Flint and make Flint a stronger community.”

    U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, has called for Snyder’s resignation.

    The crisis began in 2014 when a state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint from Detroit water to Flint River water to save money. The corrosive water caused lead to leach from old pipes. Flint returned to the Detroit system in October after elevated lead levels were discovered in children.

    But officials remain concerned that damaged pipes could continue to leach lead, which can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in children as well as kidney ailments in adults.

    Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint earlier this month. On Saturday, President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration but denied Snyder’s request for a disaster declaration based on the legal requirement that such relief is intended for natural events, fires, floods or explosions.

    Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Monday that she will travel Tuesday to Washington in hopes of securing a disaster declaration anyway, The Flint Journal reported. That declaration would provide more money and resources than the emergency declaration.

    Dozens of people protested outside Snyder’s residence in downtown Ann Arbor on Monday afternoon, marching there from the nearby University of Michigan campus. They said he didn’t act swiftly enough to help Flint residents and held signs calling for his dismissal and arrest.

    Members of Michigan’s National Guard have been called in to help volunteers pass out drinking water, testing kits, filters and other supplies to city residents, and the state said more Guard members arrived Monday to bring the total to 70.

    Nearly 5,000 homes were visited Sunday.

    The post Michigan Gov. says Clinton politicizing Flint’s water crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Don't withdraw your outstanding job applications until two weeks into the job you've accepted, says headhunter Nick Cordcodilos. Photo by Flickr user marsmet473a.

    The employer should have cautioned not to take any actions on the new job until they delivered a written offer. It’s just not smart to risk it all without one. Photo by Flickr user marsmet473a.

    Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

    In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

    Question: A few weeks ago my husband applied for a new job at a company where he is already working. It took weeks just to go through the process. They ran a background check, had him take a drug test, gave him a start date and told him when he would be flying out of state for training.

    He passed the drug test and he was cleared on the background check. Now, my husband is a felon, but his conviction was 15 years ago and he has had no other problems since then. The company only went back seven years on the background check, so he saw no reason to discuss a problem 15 years old. Technically he did not lie. When they asked him about his past, he was honest and told them everything. Everything was going great. He had his dream job. I moved all of our belongings into storage and we were going to move in with family until we got the relocation fee from his new company to get a house.

    The night before we were leaving, my husband got a call and saying he might not get hired because of the old conviction. Still, HR told him not to worry because he should be fine. So I drove my children to the new town. Later that evening my husband gets an email saying, “Upon further review of your background…we have to deny you the position due to the severity of your crime.”

    Are you kidding me? They gave him a start date, a date and time of his flight, how long he would be gone for training, etc. The hiring process took weeks and he passed everything. Then they tell him last minute that they changed their mind? Can they do that?

    I’ve been going through so much stress doing all the moving by myself because my husband is out of town. I’ve gotten so sick from the stress. I can hardly eat, I’m breaking out in hives, my husband is depressed, my girls are crying because we were told he had the job, when he was going to start and when he was going to catch a flight to go to California for training. And now — nothing. Now I have to worry about getting evicted from my home and worry about having to go through this all over again. Is there anything we can do?

    Nick Corcodilos: I’m very sorry to hear about this. A 15-year-old conviction is a lifetime away — but your husband’s good performance is current and in my opinion that should have held sway with this company. But I don’t run the company.

    In a column about a related problem — a reader’s DUI history — I discussed some ways to deal with adverse background-check results: “Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?

    I see two problems. First, it appears (correct me if I’m wrong) the company did not actually give your husband a written offer. They merely encouraged him to believe there would be a written offer so that he’d get started on his transition immediately. That’s unethical. They should have cautioned him that he should take no actions on the new job until they delivered a written offer. (This is another reason why I believe “HR should get out of the hiring business.”)

    Second — and this is a mistake lots of people make in their excitement about a new job — your husband should not have taken any action, including moving the family, until he had a real offer in hand in writing. I know that’s hard to swallow. But it’s just not smart to risk it all without a written offer.

    What really troubles me is the number of stories readers are submitting to me about job offers being extended — then the employer pulls the plug with no consideration for what this means to the applicant. It really stinks. Please see last week’s column: “How to handle an employer giving you the job offer runaround.”

    The problem is that if this job is in a state where employment is “at will,” there’s probably nothing you can do. An employer can fire you at any time, for any reason or no reason — even on day one of the job.

    However, you still might want to consult an attorney about this. It depends on the laws in the state where the job is and on the exact details of the case. A lawyer might be able to make the case that even an oral offer is bona fide. I think it’s important that the employer told him “not to worry.” It would probably not cost a lot to consult with a good employment lawyer. No matter what you learn, you may at least feel better knowing what your options are.

    The one other thing I’d suggest is that your husband reach out directly to the hiring manager who wanted to hire him. I don’t like the fact that merely HR is handling all this. See “Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.”

    I wish I could be more helpful, other than telling you to be more careful next time. Since this is affecting your health and your girls, please try to find some good counseling. Do not let a lousy employer ruin your health and your family’s peace of mind. It’s important to be able to talk it through and deal with it. Bad stuff happens, and sometimes dishonest employers cause it.

    The people at the company did not behave with integrity. The best thing your husband can do is immediately move on to the next good opportunity, with a better employer. I wish you the best — I really do.

    Dear Readers: This is the second “rescinded offer” we’ve seen in two consecutive columns. I received these stories one right after the other — and today I received yet another one. Do you see a trend? Why do you think this is happening?

    Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

    Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

    Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

    The post Ask the Headhunter: Are disappearing job offers a new trend? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Spanish-language TV giant Univision announced it acquired a controlling stake of The Onion, the humor site whose fictitious headlines have fooled many a politician.

    Onion Inc. CEO Mike McAvoy confirmed the deal “with what might at first seem like an unusual partner,” in a staff memo Tuesday, adding that Univision Communications Inc. will have the option to purchase the company in full in the future. The Onion includes pop-culture site The A.V. Club, celebrity parody site StarWipe, and Clickhole, a satirical riff on viral Buzzfeed content.

    Although McAvoy didn’t elaborate on the details of the deal, media outlets, including the Financial Times, have reported that Univision has bought a 40 percent stake in The Onion.

    The Onion, founded in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1988, stopped publishing a print edition in late 2013. The Chicago-based website has continued online operations since.

    Isaac Lee, Univision’s chief new and digital officer, said The Onion’s humor was a way to reach and inform young audiences. Maybe the company’s yearslong fascination of Vice President Joe Biden as a shirtless, ponytailed, buffalo wing lover proved too enticing to pass up.

    “Comedy is playing an expanding role in our culture as a vehicle for audiences to explore, debate and understand the important ideas of our time,” Lee said.

    “It has also proven to be an incredibly engaging format for millennial audiences and is expected to play a key part in the 2016 presidential election process via our robust content offerings in Spanish and English,” he said.

    Tuesday’s announcement is the next in a line of attempts for Univision to reach younger audiences. In 2013, Univision partnered with ABC to launch Fusion, a cable TV channel aimed at reaching young Latinos who have increasingly consumed media in English.

    Last year, Univision acquired The Root, a African-American news and commentary site that was founded by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

    The post Univision slices into ‘Onion’ ownership appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Anthony Fordham picks up bottled water from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to deliver to a school after elevated lead levels were found in the city's water in Flint, Michigan. Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

    Anthony Fordham picks up bottled water from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to deliver to a school after elevated lead levels were found in the city’s water in Flint, Michigan. Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The White House is appointing a Health and Human Services Department official to lead federal efforts to help the city of Flint, Michigan, deal with its water crisis.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest says he anticipates that President Barack Obama will meet with the city’s mayor on Tuesday.

    Mayor Karen Weaver had already visited with the president’s senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, earlier in the day.

    Earnest says state and local officials are responsible for managing the response. He says an assistant secretary at the department, Nicole Lurie, will coordinate federal help.

    The crisis began in 2014 when a state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint from Detroit water to Flint River water to save money. Flint returned to the Detroit system after elevated lead levels were discovered in children.

    The post White House appoints official to lead Flint water response appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and DEA agent, who disappeared in Iran in 2007, is shown in this undated handout photo released by the Levinson family. Levinson was not on the list of U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange. Photo from Levinson family/Handout via Reuters

    Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and DEA agent, who disappeared in Iran in 2007, is shown in this undated handout photo released by the Levinson family. Levinson was not on the list of U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange. Photo from Levinson family/Handout via Reuters

    Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent who vanished in Iran in 2007, was not included in the weekend’s prisoner swap because he is not believed to be in Iran, said Brett McGurk, the administration’s point person on the swap.

    “As we said in 2011, we have reason to believe he’s not being held in Iran so it’s a different case,” he said Tuesday. McGurk said he brought up Levinson’s case during “every single round” of the talks with Iranians and would continue to do so with the newly opened channels.

    “This was the first substantial engagement we’ve really ever had with that element of the (Iranian) system,” he said. “I think my Iranian counterparts, safe to say, I may have been the first American they’d really ever met.”

    McGurk, officially the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State militant group, was speaking to PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff in an interview airing on Tuesday’s broadcast.

    PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State militant group, spoke about the U.S.-Iranian prisoner exchange on Jan. 19. Photo by Daniel Sagalyn

    PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State militant group, spoke about the U.S.-Iranian prisoner exchange on Jan. 19. Photo by Daniel Sagalyn

    Four Americans — Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini and Iranian-American Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari — were freed in exchange for seven Iranians.

    McGurk described the last-minute scramble to locate Rezaian’s mother and wife the night before his release. “We finally located Mary Rezaian, Jason’s mother, at about 4 a.m. Geneva time … I spoke with her on the phone.”

    He said seeing the Americans land in Geneva was “overwhelming.”

    “We’d been working on this in secret for 14 months, and I’d been in regular contact with the families,” he said. “It was an incredibly difficult process. Until the last moment that the plane took off from Tehran and actually left Iranian airspace you never really knew.”

    He defended the deal against critics by saying the Iranians released were non-violent individuals, “some of them quite elderly,” and some with sentences that would have ended in a year anyway.

    On Sunday in a statement from the White House, President Barack Obama called the prisoner exchange a “one-time gesture to Iran” forged on the sidelines of the nuclear negotiations.

    The nuclear deal helped accelerate the release process, which was difficult until the end, McGurk said. “This was so tough, and even in the last 72 hours, I mean it was literally some real shouting matches.”

    The post Why was Robert Levinson not included in Iran prisoner swap? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Video from washingtonpost.com

    The Washington Post published Tuesday the first video of Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian after his release from Iranian custody. The video, filmed at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, shows Rezaian laughing with his wife Yeganeh Salehi as she shows him a Farsi language video mocking the notion that he could be a spy.

    READ MORE: Why was Robert Levinson not included in Iran prisoner swap?

    Rezaian, who is a dual citizen of Iran and the U.S., was imprisoned for 545 days in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, long used to house political prisoners and intellectual dissidents. He had been arrested for espionage and spreading anti-Iranian propaganda in July 2014, though he was not convicted of a crime until October 2015. The length of his prison sentence was not publically disclosed, according to the Washington Post. He was released along with three other Americans Saturday, in exchange for seven Iranians held in American custody.

    The post Washington Post releases first video of Jason Rezaian after his release from Iran appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorses him at a rally at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016. Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorses him at a rally at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016. Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

    AMES, Iowa — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump received the endorsement Tuesday of conservative firebrand Sarah Palin, giving the billionaire businessman a potential boost less than two weeks before Iowa’s kick-off caucuses.

    “Media heads are spinning,” the former vice presidential candidate said after taking the stage at a Trump rally at Iowa State University. “This is going to be so much fun.”

    Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 GOP vice presidential pick, said that, with Trump as president, America would no longer apologize.

    “No more pussy-footing around,” Palin said.

    Video by Associated Press

    The endorsement comes as Trump is locked in a dead heat with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa. The two have been ramping up their attacks against one another as the election has neared.

    In the statement announcing the endorsement, Trump’s campaign described Palin as a conservative who “helped launch the careers of several key future leaders of the Republican Party and conservative movement.” The statement also quoted Cruz as once saying he “would not be in the United States Senate were it not for Gov. Sarah Palin. … She can pick winners.”

    Campaigning in New Hampshire, Cruz said, “Regardless of what Sarah intends to do in 2016, I will remain a big, big fan of Sarah Palin.”

    Palin endorsed Cruz in his 2012 Senate race and said as recently as last month that he and Trump were both in her top tier of candidates, making the endorsement a symbolic blow to Cruz.

    Palin’s remarks in Ames, Iowa, were signature Palin, combining the folksy charm and everywoman appeal that initially made her a GOP superstar with defiant taunting of a “busted” GOP establishment that she slammed for counting both Trump and herself out.

    Palin offered her full-throated support for Trump and slammed President Barack Obama as the “capitulator in chief.” Trump, she said, would be a commander in chief who would “let our warriors do their job and go kick ISIS’ ass!”

    She also took aim at the Republican establishment for “attacking their own front-runner” and offered a challenge to those who have suggested that Trump, whose positions on issues like gun control and abortion rights have shifted over the years, isn’t conservative enough.

    “Oh my goodness gracious. What the heck would the establishment know about conservativism?” she said. “Who are they to tell us that we’re not conservative enough? … Give me a break.”

    Trump, whose team had been touting a major, surprise announcement, praised Palin as “a friend, and a high-quality person whom I have great respect for” in a statement.

    “We’re going to give’ em hell,” he said after her speech.

    Palin will also be joining Trump at two events Wednesday, including a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

    Palin was a virtual newcomer to the national political arena when McCain named her as his running mate. She has since risen to prominence as one of the most outspoken conservatives in the party. She signed on as a Fox News commentator after resigning as Alaska’s governor in 2010, a job she held until last year.

    Trump and Palin did not discuss how the endorsement had come about, but Trump’s national political director Michael Glassner previously worked for her. Trump said earlier Tuesday that he doesn’t typically put much stock in endorsements, but said of this one, “I think it could very well result in votes.”

    GOP consultant Kevin Madden said the timing will likely help Trump crowd out Cruz’s message as the Iowa caucuses approach.

    “I think it helps Trump overwhelm the news cycle with Trump coverage at a critical time,” he said.

    Madden also said Palin’s support could help shield Trump from charges that his past positions make him too liberal to be the GOP nominee, “giving Trump some rhetorical cover from a conservative validator in the eyes of many grassroots conservatives.”

    But some rally-goers at Trump’s event Tuesday evening said they weren’t sure whether Palin’s support would help Trump win over voters. Several referenced what they saw as her poor performance as a vice presidential candidate.

    “I don’t think it’s going to be a detriment, but I don’t think it’s going to be a huge asset,” said Stephen Freese, 56, of Burlington, Iowa, who works in construction.

    “I don’t think she’s really credible anymore,” said Bruce Dodge, 66, a retiree who lives in Ankeny, Iowa.

    The event came a day after Palin’s oldest son, Track, was arrested in a domestic violence case in which his girlfriend told police she was afraid he would shoot himself with a rifle. Track Palin was charged with assault, interfering with the report of a domestic violence crime and possessing a weapon while intoxicated in connection with the incident.

    Earlier Tuesday, Trump received an endorsement from the daughter of movie star John Wayne.

    Standing in front of a life-size, rifle-toting model of the actor in full cowboy gear, Trump accepted the endorsement of Aissa Wayne at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset, Iowa.

    “America needs help and we need a strong leader and we need someone like Mr. Trump with leadership qualities, someone with courage, someone that’s strong, like John Wayne,” she said.

    Associated Press reporters Scott Bauer in Center Barnstead, New Hampshire, and Rachel D’oro in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.

    SUBSCRIBE: Get the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks delivered to your inbox every week.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: a look at a political rarity: an expanding health program supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

    Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

    KIMBERLY HIRST, Registered Nurse: I have a book for you guys today.

    CAT WISE: In Aurora, Colorado, registered nurse Kimberly Hirst is checking in on 19-year-old Sinai Herrera and her 2-year-old son, Caleb.

    SINAI HERRERA: One, two, buckle my shoe.

    CAT WISE: The visits are part of a rapidly expanding program called the Nurse Family Partnership. The partnership combines old-fashioned social services with the latest brain science, all to help low-income first-time mothers and their children.

    KIMBERLY HIRST: Time and time again, I see these young girls drop out of school, so they’re at risk for that and living in poverty forever.

    CAT WISE: The regular visits begin in pregnancy and continue until the children are 2 years old. Nurses offer advice on health, parenting, and self-sufficiency.

    KIMBERLY HIRST: It’s really so much more educational, rather than clinical. And so I feel like sometimes I’m, like, a life coach.

    CAT WISE: Improved outcomes, like a 48 percent reduction in child abuse and an 82 percent increased employment for mothers, have been so significant that Congress recently voted to infuse home-visit programs with $800 million in new funding.

    But while the Nurse Family Partnership is focused on health and poverty, another outcome is catching the attention of early learning experts. Kids from the program are showing up at school better prepared.

    David Olds, the project’s founder and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, says the educational benefits are no surprise.

    DAVID OLDS, University of Colorado Medical School: Nurse-visited mothers are spending more time talking to their babies, guiding them.

    WOMAN: Where does the A go?

    CHILD: A go right there.

    DAVID OLDS: All of that earliest process that gets set in motion sets in motion a positive cycle of interaction that leads to significant reductions in children’s behavioral problems when they enter school, significant improvements in their language development.

    CAT WISE: On this day, Hirst uses simple props to explain the importance of talking to Caleb long before he can talk back.

    KIMBERLY HIRST: So, way before Caleb could talk, he was learning how to talk by hearing you talk. All of these things were adding to him having language. When you read to him every night, when you told him what things were, it bubbled over into language.

    CHILD: Baseball.

    KIMBERLY HIRST: A baseball?

    CHILD: Yes, baseball.

    KIMBERLY HIRST: Yes, baseball.

    CHILD: Go — it.

    KIMBERLY HIRST: Go get it? Go get the baseball?

    CHILD: Yes, get ball.

    KIMBERLY HIRST: It seems so simple, but if he only hears 500 words an hour verses 3,000 words an hour, it makes a huge difference and it’s a lasting difference.

    CAT WISE: Clinical trials show a 50 percent reduction in language delays by age 2 and a 67 percent reduction in intellectual problems by age 6. Such results bolster a growing area of brain science that looks at a baby’s early environment.

    Here at the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, researchers are studying how a child’s early learning experiences can shape their developing brain and impact early learning.

    CHARLES NELSON, Harvard Medical School: What many of us are starting to argue is that, to foster success as children make the transition to school, you need to invest in what’s going on in those first few years.

    CAT WISE: Charles Nelson is a professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School.

    CHARLES NELSON: Over those first few years, basically, the general architecture of the brain forms in a way that sets it up for the rest of your life.

    CAT WISE: At the Nelson Lab, researchers use noninvasive sensors to pick up communication between brain cells.

    CHARLES NELSON: Millions and millions and millions of brain connections are being built. And so as we build the scaffolding for subsequent learning in those first few years, that scaffolding enables learning that occurs over the lifespan.

    CAT WISE: Tell me what we’re seeing here.

    CHARLES NELSON: So, we’re doing is, we’re presenting babies with images of different facial expressions. We want to determine at what age are they able to discriminate different emotions? So the baby sees the different emotions by different people, and as they do that, each time the picture comes up, we’re recording the brain activity,

    CAT WISE: Nelson believes emotions play a big role in brain development. When parents are depressed, afraid, or stressed, their babies’ brain development can suffer.

    CHARLES NELSON: If you look here, she’s clearly happy, and she’s clearly angry, and she’s afraid. Infants who are brought up in environments where they do not see happy, mom is depressed or there’s something else going on the environment, respond very differently to facial emotion.

    Development is seriously impacted. And, more importantly, if they don’t get them in the first two or three years, development probably is derailed permanently.

    CAT WISE: Nelson says high-poverty homes, like the kind targeted in Nurse Family Partnership, are vulnerable to stress, depression, and abuse.

    In these homes, he says, early intervention can make a big difference in brain development. When Sinai Herrera discovered her junior year of high school that she was pregnant, it was a tough time for her.

    KIMBERLY HIRST: She was struggling with some depression and trying to figure out what her life was going to look like.

    CAT WISE: Hirst directed Herrera into mental health counseling, and ultimately back to school.

    WOMAN: With that counseling, I know I’m a good mom now. And I know that I can do everything that he needs me to do.

    CAT WISE: For Stormee Duran, who went through the program with her first child, Sophia, the issue was an abusive relationship. Duran says her nurse gave her the strength to move on.

    STORMEE DURAN, Nurse-Family Partnership Participant: She was really there to help me through that deep, dark place that I was in. I have always had low self-esteem issues, and so I didn’t want my daughter to grow up like that.

    CAT WISE: The home visits are not cheap. Each family-nurse two-year partnership costs on average $10,000. But a RAND Corporation analysis found the investment actually saves money. Every dollar spent today prevents another $5 of social welfare spending in the future.

    DAVID OLDS: This is work that is not just somebody’s good idea, but has been developed and tested and retested using rigorous approaches.

    CAT WISE: The nurse-family home visits have expanded to 43 states and recently became part of the Obama administration’s push for early learning initiatives.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Cat Wise.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the first of two looks we’re taking at the history of autism.

    There seems to be more and more instances of it, but in this edition of the “NewsHour” Bookshelf, science writer Steve Silberman argues that the rise of autism is not some mysterious byproduct of the modern world, but instead a result of our growing understanding of the full range of the disorder.

    William Brangham spoke with him recently in New York.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The most recent federal data shows one in every 68 American children is diagnosed with autism. Fifteen years ago, it was one in every 150 children.

    In his book “NeuroTribes,” Steve Silberman explores the history behind that dramatic increase. “NeuroTribes” has been lauded as one of the best scientific books of the past year. It won the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and made the best-of lists for over half-a-dozen newspapers and magazines.

    Silberman says the genesis of the book came more than 15 years ago, after he wrote this story for “Wired” magazine about autistic kids in Silicon Valley. After it ran, Silberman was swamped with e-mails from others who were struggling with the disease.

    STEVE SILBERMAN, Author, “NeuroTribes”: People were wrestling with very profound day-to-day problems with finding health care, finding employment, finding schools for their kids.

    Meanwhile, the entire world was having a conversation about autism, but it was a completely different conversation. It was about whether or not vaccines caused autism. And that dominated virtually every mention of autism in the media. Certainly, if there was an article about autism that didn’t mention vaccines, the comment thread on the Internet would be about vaccines.

    And so I started to think that there was a disjunction between the problems that autistic people and their families were dealing with every day of their lives and what the whole world was talking about.

    I learned that what happened has less to do with the slow and cautious progress of science than it does with the seductive power of storytelling.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Silberman’s deep dive into the world of autism took him back to the very first researchers who tried to define and diagnose the condition.

    STEVE SILBERMAN: The true discover of autism was a guy named Hans Asperger in Vienna in the mid-1930s, and he and his colleagues discovered what we would now call the autism spectrum. It was a very, very broad condition with many different manifestations ranging from kids who couldn’t talk at all and would need help every day of their lives to one of his former patients became an astronomy professor, actually, but he was still autistic.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And Asperger saw those people at this end and at that end, and said they all share something similar.

    STEVE SILBERMAN: They all share a very distinctive constellation of traits. And he had no illusions about that he would cure them.
    He just wanted for them to take on the challenge of living in a world that wasn’t built for them.

    So, one of the things about Hans Asperger was that he believed that autism was very, very common, that once you recognize the distinctive traits of autism, you would see them everywhere.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Asperger and his colleagues documented the range of patients they classified as having autism, but as Adolf Hitler came to power and invaded Austria, the work ceased and several of Asperger’s colleagues fled to the United States.

    STEVE SILBERMAN: They had to leave. Otherwise, they would have been sent to a concentration camp.

    They were rescued by a guy named Leo Kanner in Baltimore. Leo Kanner was one of the first child psychiatrists in America. Kanner framed autism very, very differently than Asperger had done. Whereas Asperger saw that it was common and a lifelong condition, Leo Kanner saw it as a very, very rare form of childhood psychosis.

    He was quoted in “TIME” magazine as saying that parents caused autism by being too caught up in their own careers and too unloving. And he called them refrigerator parents, basically. And by blaming parents, that opened the door for psychologists to come in and say, well, actually, we know what to do with these children.

    And the recommended course of treatment for autism for most of the 20th century was institutionalization.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Take the kids away from their families?

    STEVE SILBERMAN: Exactly, because the families were considered toxic, in a sense. And so they were put in mental institutions, psych wards, state schools, where they were subjected to very, very brutal treatments.

    You know, kids were subjected to shock treatments, lobotomies, kept in straitjackets. They were also put in wards with people who were not like them. They were often put in wards with adult psychotics. Those children didn’t thrive.

    Leo Kanner eventually had to admit that — A, that parents didn’t cause autism, which created a terrible nightmare for families for decades.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Sure. I mean, imagine being a parent who is obviously, one, struggling with the difficulty of having a child struggling with this condition…


    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: … and then let alone having the world think that you were to blame because you were cold-hearted.


    And I spoke to older parents who had been told by their psychiatrists to quietly remove the pictures of their children from the family album and never speak of them again.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Silberman reports that it wasn’t until the early 1980s that Asperger’s contributions were rediscovered.

    That’s when a British psychiatrist named Lorna Wing, herself the mother of an autistic child, began taking a census of autistic kids in a particular suburb of London.

    STEVE SILBERMAN: She and a research assistant named Judith Gould went to special schools. They went to clinics. They were digging through medical records.

    And what they found was, yes, a bunch of autistic kids who met Kanner’s strict criteria, but they found a bunch of other kids who clearly had autistic traits, but didn’t quite meet Kanner’s criteria for diagnosis.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The strict criteria.

    STEVE SILBERMAN: The strict criteria.

    So, she was like, who are these kids? Like, why has no one noticed these children before? She didn’t know what to make of her data, until she came across a reference to Hans Asperger’s 1944 paper. She read it. She said, yes, this is it. This is exactly what I’m seeing.

    And so she worked behind the scenes for several years with the people who were developing the definition of autism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatry, to broaden the criteria for diagnosis to include what we would now call the autism spectrum.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Silberman argues it was this broadened definition of autism, that coupled with better diagnostic tools and better public education, that explains the dramatic rise in the number of diagnosed cases, not the repeatedly debunked theory that vaccines cause autism.

    In your book, you argue that we should think of autism as a disability, but don’t we already think of it in that way?

    STEVE SILBERMAN: I think we tend to think of autism as not only a disease, but as a historical aberration.

    So, if it’s not vaccines, it’s Wi-Fi or it’s pesticides or it’s antidepressants in the water supply. It’s some factor in the toxic modern world. But once we realize that autism and autistic people have always been part of the human community, that there were always autistic people there, but they were hidden away, either behind the walls of institutions or behind other diagnostic labels, not getting the help that they need, we understand that autism is a very, very common disability, as Hans Asperger believed.

    It’s not some rare form of childhood psychosis caused by parenting, as Leo Kanner believed. Because we have thought of it as the toxic byproduct of our modern world, we haven’t thought about making accommodations for, for instance, the many autistic adults that are out there.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: OK. Steve Silberman, thank you very much.

    STEVE SILBERMAN: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will continue our Understanding Autism series tomorrow with a conversation with two reporters about the challenges facing adults with autism.

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    An investor walks past an electronic screen showing stock information at a brokerage house in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, January 19, 2016. China stocks rebounded roughly 3 percent on Tuesday, as weak quarterly economic data strengthened market expectations the government will unveil more stimulus moves. REUTERS/China Daily ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA. - RTX23088

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, worries over global economic growth, falling markets, and China’s connection to what’s happening.

    Jeffrey Brown zeros in on the China piece of the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Six-point-nine percent annual growth, it doesn’t sound so bad, but context and direction are everything. And China’s latest quarterly GDP numbers were lower than expected, and the year showed the slowest pace of growth there in 25 years, all of course with huge implications for the rest of the world, the U.S. very much included.

    We get perspective from two who watch this closely, Ken Lieberthal, a political scientist with the Brookings Institution, and Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad.

    Welcome back to both of you.

    Ken Lieberthal, let me start with you.

    How much of a slowdown, downturn is it? How do you characterize China’s economy today?

    KENNETH LIEBERTHAL, Brookings Institution: Well, it’s a significant slowdown, but let’s keep in mind they wanted the GDP rate to slow down.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They wanted it?

    KENNETH LIEBERTHAL: They wanted it. The question is, can they use this slowdown to transition to a different economic model?

    And they’re having a rocky time doing that. That is in progress, but it’s a tough balancing act, and I think it’s not going quite as smoothly as they had hoped.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will get to the larger model change.

    But, Eswar Prasad, first, this big question: How much of a slowdown? What do you see?

    ESWAR PRASAD, Cornell University: China’s economy has been powered by the manufacturing sector. There has been a lot of investment in the economy, not all of it very good investment.

    China has to some extent relied on exports. And they’re trying to shift towards a model of growth that is largely driven by the services sector, which is much better at generating employment. They’d like more consumption in the economy, with private consumption taking the lead.

    And they’re making very gradual progress. Right now, it turns out that in 2015 private consumption did contribute a little more than half of GDP growth. The services sector now accounts for more than half of GDP.

    So, this is a big ocean liner. It’s very difficult to turn around, but they’re very gradually turning it around in the right direction. The problem is that slowing growth makes it harder to put in place the reforms to get the ship staying on the right road.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The numbers themselves, though, first, how accurate are they, right? Do we believe the numbers that come from China on their GDP?

    KENNETH LIEBERTHAL: It’s very hard to tell.

    Keep in mind that their statistical system was really quite good at capturing the — what’s now the old economy, the industrial economy, the export economy that Eswar was just talking about. That economy is not doing well. They’re now trying to grow, as he mentioned, the service economy and consumption economy.

    The statistics are not collected as effectively on that part of the economy. So there’s a fudge factor here that, frankly, makes it hard to be very precise.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So this is the model that you’re both talking about, this change, right, from a manufacturing to a more consumer-oriented, a service economy.

    KENNETH LIEBERTHAL: And also more of an innovative economy, where they end up not being the assemblers of high-tech things produced elsewhere, where they bolt them together in China for export or domestic consumption.

    They want to become an innovative, higher value-added kind of economy. And that’s a difficult transition.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And would you agree that part of that is inevitable, as the economy becomes — well, as Ken was saying, that they want to, in part — some of this has to happen, right?

    ESWAR PRASAD: It has to.

    And if it doesn’t, there is going to be a huge cost on China, because the model that has been in place so far, investment-driven, industrial-led growth, it’s led to a lot of very inefficient investment, and China is living with the consequences to this day. There are lots of loans taken by state-owned enterprises that are not going to be paid back, and somebody is going to have to pay the bill.

    Although this isn’t likely to lead to a financial crisis, it’s still a big bill for Chinese citizens. Plus, the environmental consequences of this industrial-led growth have not been great, and it’s not been that great at generating employment.

    So, in terms of GDP growth, it’s been a great model, but in terms of the environmental, human consequences and consequences in terms of the benefits for the average Chinese citizen, not so great.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Part of those human consequences, of course, an aging population as well, right, a work force?

    KENNETH LIEBERTHAL: Yes. That’s a result in part of their one-child policy. And they’re really now paying the price for that, because they have had a large number of people entering the work force for years, and a large number of working age.

    Now the number of people of working age in China is actually beginning to decline every year, and it isn’t being made up by kids too young to work. Rather, they have an explosion in the number of people who are now retiring and, you know, getting much older, and therefore have a lot more demands for health care and all kinds of other things that are going to tax their system.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, to the extent that you are both saying this is about managing this change — Eswar, you can start with this — where do you see the country, the government doing well? Where do you see it doing poorly?

    ESWAR PRASAD: Over the last year, there have been some reforms put in place, but largely in terms of the financial system. They started getting some changes instituted in the banking system.

    They’re trying to make the currency float more freely. But the real side reform, the reforms to liberalize the services sector so it can grow faster, generate more employment, take on the burden of growth, the reform of the state-owned enterprises, all of those are real side, supply-side reform, including the reforms to increase innovation, as Ken mentioned, those are not going so fast.

    And if those reforms don’t supplement the financial sector reforms, this economy is not going to go in the right direction.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What would you add to that? And bring in — and, of course, we’re talking about the — inevitably about the political system’s impact on the economy, right?


    And in China, local levels of the political system, you know, province — most provinces are as big as countries are in Europe, for example — province on down, really have a huge role to play in this system. They have been generators of the kind of GDP growth that we have seen over the years.

    The way this is being approached now has the heads of these local political systems running very scared, unclear what will be rewarded and what will be punished, afraid of being tagged with corruption, not getting the kinds of rewards they used to get.

    And so the way they’re pursuing this is in some ways making it very difficult to implement some of these headline programs that you see announced at the top. It’s a kind of hidden story that, in fact, I think it’s having — is slowing down the real economy reforms quite a bit.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Eswar, we just have about 30 seconds.

    But we have been talking on this program, of course, and everywhere, talking about the impact of all this on the rest of the word, right, markets and all kinds of things. That will continue.

    ESWAR PRASAD: There’s a lot of bad news coming out of China. The stock market hasn’t been doing well, the currency is plunging, but all of this doesn’t mean that the real economy is really collapsing or even stalling.

    I think there is decent momentum in the underlying economy. And what we should all be looking for is not how fast China grows, but how it grows. And I think it’s slowly moving in the right direction, but there’s a lot of work to be done still.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A lot of changes to come that will impact us.

    ESWAR PRASAD: Indeed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Eswar Prasad, Ken Lieberthal, thank you both very much.


    ESWAR PRASAD: Thank you.

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    Jason Rezaian (L) is pictured with his wife Yeganeh Salehi (2nd R), mother Mary Rezaian and brother Ali Rezaian (R) in this January 18, 2016 handout photo taken in Landstuhl, Germany. Rezaian was one of four American prisoners released by Iran ahead of the lifting of international sanctions on Iran January 16, 2016 as part of a deal between major powers and Iran to curb Tehran's nuclear program. Photo by Martin Baron/The Washington Post/Handout via Reuters

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    After more than a year of negotiating with the Iranians, seeing the Americans freed from Evin Prison in Tehran and safe on Swiss soil was “overwhelming,” said Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s point person on the recent U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap in an interview with PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff on Tuesday.

    Four Americans — Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini and Iranian-American Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari — were freed in exchange for seven Iranians.

    “We’d been working on this in secret for 14 months, and I’d been in regular contact with the families,” he said. “Until the last moment that the plane took off from Tehran and actually left Iranian airspace you never really knew.”

    READ MORE: Why was Robert Levinson not included in Iran prisoner swap?

    McGurk described the last-minute scramble to locate Rezaian’s mother and wife the night before his release. “We finally located Mary Rezaian, Jason’s mother, at about 4 a.m. Geneva time.”

    The negotiations with Iran, which took place with the help of the Swiss government, were “incredibly difficult,” McGurk said. “This was so tough, and even in the last 72 hours, I mean it was literally some real shouting matches.”

    He defended the deal against critics by saying the Iranians released were non-violent individuals, “some of them quite elderly,” and some with sentences that would have ended in a year anyway.

    Read the full transcript of this segment below:

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For the past 14 months, a small team of Americans from the State Department and other agencies met in secret with Iranian negotiators. And the two sides eventually worked out a deal to release prisoners Iran was holding and grant a pardon to individuals charged in the U.S.

    Today, we heard for the first time from one of five Americans released.

    Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati emerged today in Landstuhl, Germany, and said he feels born again.

    AMIR HEKMATI, Former U.S. Marine Released from Iran: I was at the point where I had just sort of accepted the fact that I was going to be spending 10 years in prison. So, this was a surprise, and I just feel extremely blessed to see my government do so much for me and the other Americans.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hekmati is being evaluated at a U.S. military hospital, along with a Christian minister, Saeed Abedini, and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was seen for the first time today with his wife in video from The Post.

    It was reported their release was delayed Sunday, when Iranian officials blocked Rezaian’s wife and mother from boarding a plane in Tehran. The New York Times said Secretary of State John Kerry had to make a phone call to put the exchange back on course.

    AMIR HEKMATI: As soon as we got out of Iranian airspace, the champagne bottles were popped. And the Swiss are amazing, their hospitality, chocolates. Veal was served.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Still to be resolved, the fate of American Robert
    Levinson, who disappeared from a resort in Iran nearly nine years ago.

    Meanwhile, Iranians, too, are celebrating, as international economic sanctions end under the terms of the nuclear deal. But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made clear today he remains suspicious of U.S. intentions.

    In a letter to President Hassan Rouhani, he said: “I reiterate the need to be vigilant about the deceit and treachery of arrogant countries, especially the United States, in this nuclear issue and other issues.”

    At the same time, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed to the nuclear deal and the prisoner release as examples of principled diplomacy. It’s now clear that the prisoner swap negotiations proceeded on a secret and separate track from the nuclear talks.

    The effort was led by Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy on fighting the Islamic State group since 2015.

    I sat down with McGurk earlier today, and began by asking him what it was like to be the first to see the released Iranian-Americans on the plane when they landed in Geneva.

    BRETT MCGURK, Special Presidential Envoy: It was just overwhelming. That’s really the only word that I can use.

    We have been working on this in secret for 14 months, and I have been in regular contact with the families. It was an incredibly difficult process. Until the last moment that the plane took off from Tehran and actually left Iranian airspace, you never really knew.

    The night before, we had an episode in which Jason Rezaian’s mother and his wife could not be located. We finally located Mary Rezaian, Jason’s mother, at about 4:00 a.m. Geneva time, very early morning in Tehran time. I spoke with her on the phone and told her to stay where she was. We worked with the Swiss to pick her up.

    But until they were on the plane and actually left Iranian airspace, nothing was really certain. So, in Geneva, when they landed, I — they were greeted by the Swiss state secretary, because Switzerland, the Swiss government was critical for this entire thing. But I got on the plane and welcomed them out of Iran, told them that your country, the United States, is going to do everything we possibly can for you and can’t wait to get you home.

    And it was just an incredibly emotional moment. I honestly will never forget it. And to see them all together, it’s hard to even put it into words.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How difficult was this process? I mean, some people have looked at this and said, well, the Iranians really were planning to release them all along, but they just weren’t going to say so.

    BRETT MCGURK: Well, not quite.

    Hekmati was sentenced to death in 2011. And Amir Hekmati’s sentence was later reduced, but he was going to be in prison through about 2022. Saeed Abedini was sentenced in 2012 and he was serving a prison term until 2021.

    Jason Rezaian had not been sentenced yet, but he had been imprisoned for 18 months, and the sentence that he was facing — his trial had already been over — was going to be in a period of decades at least.

    And so I completely disagree. It’s contrary to all the information that we have. And I think, had we not been able to find a way forward here, I think these Americans were looking at a very substantial, many, many years in Evin prison.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you think you were successful? What were the forces inside Iran that made this work, working with you?

    BRETT MCGURK: This process came out of the nuclear negotiation, but in the nuclear negotiations, primarily, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some other elements of the Iranian system that don’t have the decision-making authority over the security apparatus and the people that actually hold the keys to the prison cells.

    So we had to open up a parallel track and begin negotiations with those elements of the Iranian system, who we have really not had any engagement with. And so one reason it took a long time is that this was the first substantial engagement we really ever had with that element of the system.

    I think my Iranian counterpart, it’s safe to say I may have been first American they have really ever met. And for many months, it was just a lot of back and forth about historical narratives and competing visions of what has actually happened between our two countries. And, of course, we didn’t give any ground about their history of hostage-taking and support for terrorism, and they would go through their narrative.

    Eventually, I said, look, we could do this for months, or we can decide whether there is a way to actually get something done. We wanted our American citizens home, period. That’s why we were there. And if there was no way to talk about practicalities of how to do that, there was no reason to have a discussion.

    And, eventually, really after the nuclear agreement came to fruition, things started to accelerate a little bit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Who were these people you were dealing with, and are they the people who the U.S. can do business with in the future and get productive things done with in the future?

    BRETT MCGURK: I mean, we will have to see.

    This was so tough. And even in the last 72 hours, it was literally some real shouting matches. And we did this all bilaterally, but the Swiss were always there, and sometimes we would bring the Swiss in to mediate, because it’s just incredibly difficult.

    We have agreed to have a process, a channel, a consular channel to continue discussions, should that be necessary. The case of Robert Levinson, of course, was the topic of conversation every single round. As we said in 2011, we have to reason to believe he’s not being held in Iran, so it’s a different case.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There is another American — Iranian-American still being held, Mr. Namazi. How cruel is it to leave them behind and let these others — other five out?

    BRETT MCGURK: Any other cases, I can’t really discuss in detail, for privacy reasons and things, but I would just say we’re going to continue to work, work this every day.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In terms of what happened, there are critics in this country who are saying this swap should never have happened, that these people were — should never have been held in the first place and the U.S. shouldn’t have done anything in return to win their release.

    BRETT MCGURK: I think the reality is, if you take that position, then Jason Rezaian should have stayed in Evin prison for decades. Amir Hekmati would have been in prison through 2022, and Saeed Abedini until about the same time.

    So that was the reality that you face. There was no way to simply say, they have to be released, release them. Of course, they’re wrongfully detained, and we have made that clear consistently, particularly with the Iranians. These were totally unjust detentions, imprisonments.

    However, to get them out, you can’t get them out by just saying, hey, get them out. And so we had to figure out a formula. And I think if you really look at it, in terms of, on the Iranian side, you’re looking at nonviolent individuals, all — some of them quite elderly, people who in some cases their sentences were about the run in less than a year anyway.

    Most of them would have been out of prison before even the first of the Americans were to be out of prison. Given the category of cases we’re talking about, of sanctions violations, three of them had been convicted, three of them were pending trial, and one was about to plead his case. So, only three were actually in prison.

    I think if you look at that and you consider what the stakes were if we could not find a way forward here for these Americans in Evin prison, at the end of the day, I think the president made the right call here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You said that there is no way to know whether this deal, these deals will lead to something productive in the future between the U.S. and Iran. But, specifically, do you see something, some movement on their part when it comes to Syria?

    BRETT MCGURK: We have this Vienna process in which the Iranians are at the table and the Saudis are at the table for the first time since the Iranian — Syrian civil war broke out about five years ago.

    And that’s encouraging, but that’s a very difficult process. I think, look, Iran is a country that’s going — undergoing some fundamental questions about its future. It has elections coming up here in about a month. For the first time in the history since the Iranian Revolution, they have parliamentary elections the same day as they’re electing their assembly of experts, which will select the next supreme leader.

    So, you will have a very high turnout. And, already, you can see what’s happening with the supreme leader trying to ban a number of reformist candidates. So, within Iran, there is this big competition for the reins of power. And how that plays out I think will say a lot about what’s possible.

    But that’s something the Iranians have to figure out. The United States will continue to protect our interests in the region. We define our interest based upon our own national security interests. And when it comes to Americans sitting in Evin prison, I think that’s something that we have taken with the utmost seriousness.

    And, obviously, other than the families, we didn’t tell anybody about this channel, because, had it not been secret, it would have been impossible to make any progress.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk, thank you very much.

    BRETT MCGURK: Judy, thank you.

    The post U.S. envoy: Seeing Americans freed from Iran ‘overwhelming’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration in Washington, November 20, 2015. The Obama administration on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revive President Barack Obama's executive action to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, saying Republican-led states had no legal basis to challenge it. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTS85Q6

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s official: The Supreme Court will hear a case this term that could decide the fate of one of President Obama’s major immigration moves. It would defer deportation for more than four million undocumented immigrants and permit them to work legally in the U.S.

    Lower courts have sided with the 26 states that sued the federal government over the program, and those courts have put the program on ice for now.

    But the White House said today the administration is confident the high court will rule in its favor.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The kinds of executive actions that the president took a little over a year ago now to try to bring some much-needed reforms and greater accountability to our broken immigration system were clearly consistent with the precedent that was established by other presidents, and clearly within the confines of his authority as president of the United States.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But that is the issue that 26 states dispute. Texas is one of those states, and its attorney general, Ken Paxton, said today in a statement — quote — “There are limits to the president’s authority, and those limits enacted by Congress were exceeded when the president unilaterally sought to grant lawful presence to more than four million unauthorized aliens who are in this country unlawfully.”

    For more on the case, we turn to our regular, Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal.”

    And, Marcia, welcome.

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Judy, thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, some background first. This order the president made has been challenged almost from the very beginning, hasn’t it?

    MARCIA COYLE: It was.

    The executive action came in November of 2014. Less than a month later, 26 Republican-led states challenged it in federal district court.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what was the basis?

    MARCIA COYLE: The states are making a number of claims here. One, they claim that the action violates the take care clause of the federal Constitution. That’s in Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution. And it says the president must enforce — I’m sorry — must faithfully enforce the laws.

    They also claim that his action is arbitrary and capricious, his action violates the notice and public comment requirement of the Administrative Procedure Act. That’s a law that governs how agencies go about making rules and regulations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know the justices don’t ever, I guess, give a reason for taking up a case, but why is it thought that they’re doing this?

    MARCIA COYLE: Well, I think it was understood that they probably would take this case. You have a federal court, a federal appellate court blocking a major federal government program.

    The top lawyer for the administration in the Supreme Court, the solicitor general of the United States, went to the Supreme Court after the injunction was issued and said, please take this case and resolve these legal questions.

    And I think it was a given that the court would step into it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you mentioned that this is — they’re looking at the take care clause, which I read today hasn’t — is something the court hasn’t done in 70 years. So, this has historic consequences, presumably.

    MARCIA COYLE: It has potentially major consequences.

    The take care clause really will go to the relationship between the executive branch and Congress. So, what the court says, if it deals with it, and it doesn’t have to — even though it has asked the parties to address it, it could rule narrowly or address the take care clause.

    But whatever the court says could affect all kinds of executive actions that the White House would take beyond immigration. So, that’s a potentially very broad question. Also, there’s a very important threshold issue, and that is whether Texas even had the right to sue the United States.

    The Obama administration claims it didn’t have the kind of concrete injury this — that is required for standing to sue. This action, the government says, doesn’t require Texas to do anything or not do anything. However, the lower court said Texas would have the cost of issuing driver’s license, which is under Texas law, and that was the injury to Texas.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marcia, it’s also clear from the reading of this that the court added the threshold of constitutionality to what they’re looking at. What’s the significance of that?

    MARCIA COYLE: The take care clause question was in the lawsuit to begin with. Texas had raised that.

    It may be that the justices want to get all of the issues out on the table when they sit down to finally make a decision. It may be that certain justices were interested in the take care clause issue. Or it may be that certain justices had read a “Harvard Law Journal” article by a former clerk and current presidential candidate, guess who, who wrote all about the take care clause and talked in that article about the egregious overreaching by the Obama administration on immigration and other issues.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were telling me this is Senator Ted Cruz…

    MARCIA COYLE: That’s correct.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: … who has, of course, a legal background.

    MARCIA COYLE: I do think it’s the least — that’s the least likely reason they took the case, but since this is becoming a very political kind of case, he did write about it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And presumably not a coincidence.

    But on the timing of it, it is an election year.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the timetable for the court deciding?

    MARCIA COYLE: The court will probably hear the arguments in April, and there would probably be a decision by the end of June. That’s the regular schedule at the court.

    If there is a decision in June, as you well know and we all know, that’s in the middle of the election cycle, and immigration is already a huge, contentious issue. The court itself now becomes a player in that very contentious debate.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marcia Coyle, we thank you.

    MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now, for two opposing perspectives on this case, Marielena is the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. And Josh Blackman is associate professor of law at the South Texas College of Law. Both of them have followed this case closely as it moved up through the federal courts.

    And we welcome both of you back to the program.

    Marielena Hincapie, let me start with you. Is this something you welcome or you worry about, that the court is finally taking this up?

    MARIELENA HINCAPIE, Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center: Thanks, Judy.

    We definitely welcome this decision. We’re very delighted that the court decided to hear this case, because it has the potential life-changing impact on over four million parents of U.S. citizen children. And, most importantly, it really has the ability to bring much-needed stability to five million U.S. citizen children whose parents would benefit from these programs. So, definitely, this is a welcome day.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Josh Blackman, posing the same question to you, is this something you look forward to or are you concerned?

    JOSH BLACKMAN, South Texas College of Law: Well, the separation of power dispute between the president and Congress is fairly rare.

    But I think it’s quite significant, as my good friend Marcia mentioned a moment ago, that the court chose to address the take care clause issue. She mentioned this hasn’t been reversed in 70 years. I actually went back to look at the briefs for this — the seizure case, the Youngstown case from 1954. It barely mentioned the take care clause there either.

    So, by my cursory research, this may be first time the court has ever asked for briefings on the take care clause. And to make the point a little bit more clearly, they didn’t add this case — this question just to tie up loose ends. Even if the court rules in favor of the Obama administration on administrative grounds, that still leaves the constitutional issue lingering.

    So they really need to resolve this question once and for all, so that Texas doesn’t just sue right back in the same court once the president goes through the proper administrative channels.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marielena Hincapie, is — how strong is the argument from the administration that the president was acting within the constitutional — his constitutional role when he issued this order saying that these four million-plus immigrants may not be deported?

    MARIELENA HINCAPIE: Yes, Judy, the legal precedent is pretty well-established, and the majority of legal scholars agree with the administration, as do we at the National Immigration Law Center.

    And, as Marcia mentioned, there’s historical precedent as well. Both Republican and Democratic administrations, every single administration since President Eisenhower, has exercised very similar executive actions.

    So, I think the administration knew what it was doing. It took its time. And it acted both on historical and strong solid legal ground.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In that case, Josh Blackman, then what is it that the states — what is the strongest argument that these 26 states have in saying the president overstepped his bounds?

    JOSH BLACKMAN: Well, with respect to my good friend Marielena, we have done this a few times before, I don’t think the precedents going back to Eisenhower are that clear.

    To give you an example, deferred action has often been used as a bring to get a person from one status to another. So, for example, if you were a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina hits, you’re a foreign student, you just lost your status.

    President Bush used deferred action to bridge you from when you had a status and you lost it, and said, if you get another degree and you enroll at another university in a few months, you can keep your status.

    Deferred action has been used on a case-by-case basis. What’s frankly unprecedented about the president’s action is the size and scale that has been done. On a scale of five million people, you have a standard that’s very, very vague that basically everyone who applies will be granted for it.

    There is no precedent to justify this scope of executive power and granting deferred access to so many aliens.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marielena Hincapie, you’re shaking your head.

    MARIELENA HINCAPIE: Yes, absolutely not.

    I mean, Josh — Josh knows this. Deferred action is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. There is nothing that the administration is saying that there is absolutely categorical eligibility and approval for. Individuals will have to come forward voluntarily. A parent of a U.S. citizen will need to make that risk and benefit — cost-benefit analysis of coming forward to the federal government, paying a fine, going through a national security and criminal background check, and then providing the evidence that they meet the criteria.

    An individual agent from the U.S. Citizenship and — Citizenship and Immigration Services will determine whether that individual is eligible or not or deny them. So, this isn’t — this is exactly what the president did in 2012 with the deferred action for childhood arrivals, for example. Interestingly, Texas and 25 states didn’t sue the president over DACA.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Josh Blackman?

    JOSH BLACKMAN: So, the grant rate for the 2012 program was over 97 percent.

    The government has not been able to find a single instance where a person was denied for discretionary reasons, not one (INAUDIBLE) two years. They could not find a single instance where a person was denied DACA, the 2012 program, for discretionary reasons.

    If the government wants to hedge its case on how discretionary DACA was, I think they’re going to lose. The broader issue is that this is not really a case about Texas vs. the United States. As Marcia mentioned, this is a case about Congress vs. the United States. The president has decided he didn’t like the law Congress gave him. Congress didn’t vote for the law he wanted, so he decided to achieve as much as possible that he could.

    And one point I would like to stress is, even if this decision is rendered in July of 2016, President Obama cannot possibly execute this on his watch. This will fall to the next president to actually implement. So, in many respects, it doesn’t matter what the court does here, right?

    If the court rules for Texas, then the issue is over. If the court rules for the president, then the next presidential election will continue it, because a Republican president will not continue this policy, and a Democratic president will, and maybe achieve legislative reform.

    So, no matter what happens in July, this will be a matter for the American people to vote on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marielena Hincapie, do you agree that either way it’s something that is going to be up to the public?


    I think I disagree with Josh in terms of the implementation of it. The administration was ready to start implementing the expansion of DACA the day after Judge Hanen issued his decision and it was blocked, so they will be able to start implementing that very quickly.

    And then with DACA, it will probably take, I don’t know, weeks, maybe a couple of months. But I do think that this is going to be part of the thinking of U.S. citizens who have immigrant family members. U.S. citizens will go to the ballot and they will vote for their family’s interest. They will vote for a president that will continue President Obama’s executive actions, especially if they are given the green light by the Supreme Court.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Watching it closely. We thank both of you, Josh Blackman, Marielena Hincapie. Thank you.

    MARIELENA HINCAPIE: Thank you, Judy.

    JOSH BLACKMAN: Thank you.

    The post Fate of Obama’s immigration actions goes to Supreme Court appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Iraqi security forces help wounded civilians as they flee the violence in the city of Ramadi, Iraq, January 16, 2016. Picture taken January 16, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani - RTX22X4T

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I’m Judy Woodruff. Gwen Ifill is away.

    On the “NewsHour” tonight: The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a challenge to President Obama’s immigration orders, which shield more than four million immigrants from deportation.

    Then, we will get a behind-the-scenes look at the Iran prisoner swap from Brett McGurk, the lead American negotiator.

    And the first in our series on Understanding Autism, a history of how it was discovered, and why it may be more prevalent today.

    STEVE SILBERMAN, Author, “NeuroTribes”: I spoke to older parents who had been told by their psychiatrists to quietly remove the pictures of their children from the family album and never speak of them again.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.”


    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Supreme Court has set the stage for a major election-year decision on immigration policy. The justices announced today they will consider whether President Obama overstepped his authority when he allowed millions of people to avoid deportation. We will explore this in full right after the news summary.

    There’s word that three Americans who disappeared in Baghdad last week were kidnapped by a Shiite militia. Reuters reported that today, citing Iraqi and U.S. sources. It said the group is backed by Iran, but that U.S. officials don’t think Iran’s government was involved in the abduction.

    Iraqi civilians are being killed at a — quote — “staggering rate” since the rise of the Islamic State group. A U.N. report now says that at least 18,800 Iraqis died from violence between the start of 2014 and last October.

    And, in Geneva, the U.N. human rights office said today the toll is even higher when you count other factors.

    RAVINA SHAMSADANI, Spokeswoman, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: It doesn’t include those people who have died as a result of malnutrition, as a result of lack of access to medical care, and as a result of lack of access to the basic facilities that they need for the vulnerable population, for people with disabilities, for the elderly. So, this is really the tip of the iceberg.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.N. agency also said that Islamic State militants are holding some 3,500 Iraqis as slaves, many of them women and children.

    In economic news, China announced today that its economy met fourth-quarter projections, but, for the year, it grew at the lowest rate since 1990, 6.9 percent. In turn, the International Monetary Fund announced in London that it’s revising its global forecast down again.

    MAURICE OBSTFELD, International Monetary Fund: Turbulence in financial markets has returned amid renewed concern about risks to global economic growth. China’s slower growth and rising financial market risks, the fall in commodity prices, notably the price of oil, and asynchronous trends in monetary policy mainly between the U.S. and most other advanced economies.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We will take a closer look at the Chinese economy later in the program.

    New estimates have growth in the U.S. slowing, too, as federal deficits start rising again. The Congressional Budget Office said today that it expects this year’s deficit will top $540 billion, $100 billion more than last year. The main cause is Congress’ recent decision to make a number of tax cuts permanent and to increase spending. At the same time, the economy will grow 2.7 percent, down from an earlier estimate.

    In the presidential race, Republican Donald Trump has won the backing of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She was the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2008, and has since become a major voice in the Tea Party movement.

    And Wall Street struggled today. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 28 points to close at 16016. The Nasdaq was down 11 points, and the S&P 500 added just one point.

    Still to come on the “NewsHour”: the Supreme Court to review President Obama’s actions to block deportations; the lead U.S. negotiator on the Iranian prisoner swap; dark clouds on the horizon for the global economy; and much more.

    The post News Wrap: Iraqis killed at ‘staggering’ rate since rise of ISIS, says UN appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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