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

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    ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: “New York Times” reporter Anne Barnard the Syrian conflict. She joins me now from Beirut.

    And, Anne, why are the United States and Russia signaling through their behavior that they’re not necessarily confident, let’s say, in a political end to this?

    ANNE BARNARD, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, there isn’t much reason to be optimistic right now. I mean, nothing fundamental has changed in the opposition — in the diametric — diametrically opposed positions of the Syrian government and its Syrian insurgent opponents since Geneva II, two years ago.

    There’s still a disagreement about whether President Assad needs to leave before a politician transition begins and changes on the ground. But there’s still, you know, no sign that all the warring parties believe that they can gain more through a peace settlement than they can by continuing to fight.

    So, I think there’s reason to believe that the fight will continue. At the same time, you have an entire piece of this multi war that’s not really affected by these talks (AUDIO GAP)

    ALISON STEWART: In one of your pieces and from your reporting, that the United States and Russia have a, what you wrote as a, quote, “fundamental disagreement of how to move forward.” What’s at the heart of the disagreement?

    ANNE BARNARD: Yes, you can’t get much more fundamental than this disagreement over to how to defeat ISIS.

    In order, the United States has long said the rise of ISIS is predominantly because of President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on his first peaceful and then armed opponents, and that has opened the space for this radically extremist group to gain a foothold, whereas Russia has long said that they believe pretty much all of the forces fighting President Assad by force are terrorists, as he says, and they don’t make much distinction between the Islamic state and the other spectrum of insurgent groups, that range from nationalist rebels to Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

    The United States sees a meaningful spectrum, whereas Russia basically sees them as all as terrorists and is attacking the other insurgents, in fact, much more than it’s attacking ISIS in its air strikes.

    ALISON STEWART: With a common enemy like ISIS, why isn’t that enough to bring on some sort of collaboration?

    ANNE BARNARD: Well, this is a great question. I mean, you know, all of the parties going from Iran to Russia to the Syrian government to even the al Qaeda-linked insurgents to other insurgents, to the United States — they all profess to be against ISIS. But the issue is that the enmities between and among those groups supposedly arrayed against ISIS are so strong that they’re not able to unite against it.

    ALISON STEWART: Anne Barnard from “The New York Times,” thank you so much for sharing your reporting.

    ANNE BARNARD: Thank you.

    The post Biden: U.S., Turkey committed to defeating ISIS in Syria 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

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Only a week remains before the Iowa caucuses, the first contest in a tumultuous presidential campaign that has challenged long-held political assumptions.

    The Republican race in Iowa is Donald Trump’s or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s to lose on the night of Feb. 1. While some party leaders are coming to grips with the prospect of Trump as the nominee, a group of more mainstream candidates is battling to beat expectations in Iowa, head into the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 with momentum and rise to challenge the front-running billionaire.

    The Democratic race has evolved into a surprisingly heated contest between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who has energized young voters and liberals. Sanders’ late surge has revived memories of Clinton’s surprising loss to then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in Iowa in 2008.

    Even as Iowa lays down the first marker in the 2016 race, more potential uncertainty looms. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had jolted the race yet again by starting to explore a third party run, particularly if Trump and Sanders are the nominees.

    With a week to go, a look at a few of the unknowns that voters in Iowa will answer caucus night.


    Trump has done and said so many things that would have ended the campaign of just about anyone else. Even he’s amazed at his apparent inability to commit a political error.

    “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” Trump said Saturday in Iowa. “It’s, like, incredible.”

    Many professional Republicans distain Trump and worry about his long-term effect on the party’s ability to win over general election voters. Trump has topped most preference polls for months, and the waiting for his star to fade long ago gave way to bafflement.

    Yet Trump’s success so far is based almost entirely on those polls. He has picked up Sarah Palin’s endorsement and has the tacit support of several evangelical leaders in Iowa. Still, not a single voter has weighed in and tested whether Trump actually is unbound by political gravity.

    True to form, Trump isn’t shy about predicting success. His team may heed to a policy of “radio silence” when it comes to discussing the work to get out the vote, but the candidate continues to raise expectations, telling reporters and packed rallies that he will outperform the polls.

    Prescient optimism or the first mistake of an unexpectedly flawless campaign?


    Cruz has perhaps the clearest path to the nomination. As the new year dawned, he appeared poised to unite a fractured conservative base and become the leading force as the campaign focus shifted to South Carolina in mid-February and across the South in March.

    That still might happen. But his momentum has stalled as high-profile conservatives defected to Trump and Cruz’s rise drew stiff opposition from mainstream Republicans. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told supporters at a recent fundraiser that he would vote for Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, over Cruz.

    Iowa ought to be a place where Cruz’s appeal among Christian conservatives gives him a distinct advantage. But Republicans who dislike Trump as much as they distain Cruz – and many find both unacceptable – now wish for a Trump victory in Iowa.

    Cruz has a well-tended network of grassroots conservative supporters across the state. Can it keep him on top?


    For months, Clinton spoke relatively warmly about Sanders. The fear was that any harsh critique of the liberal senator who was pushing a “political revolution” might alienate his supporters, so important to the Democratic nominee in the general election.

    As Sanders’ standing in preference polls has risen, to the point where some show him ahead in Iowa, so has Clinton’s rancor. In the past week, Clinton went after Sanders’ foreign policy credentials, his health care proposal and his plans to crack down on Wall Street. She questioned his electability and cast him as a flip-flopper on gun control.

    Clinton’s allies point out that an ad released by the Sanders campaign, an uplifting montage of Americana set to a Simon and Garfunkel tune, featured mainly white people, and they are casting it as a sign of the senator’s disrespect for minorities.

    Clinton’s campaign says Sanders was overshadowed by the raucous Republican field and subjected to little scrutiny earlier in the race. Now that his views are getting more attention, the Clinton team says, his support will begin to fall. But Sanders has compared Clinton’s efforts to those in the 2008 race, when she knocked Obama’s proposals and experience. “People of Iowa saw through those attacks then and they’re going to see through those attacks again,” he said Saturday.

    If he’s right, will Clinton endure another Iowa backlash, again fueling a rival’s insurgent campaign?


    For months, the Florida senator ran what many observers saw as a national campaign. Now, Rubio is making a late, aggressive push in Iowa. His team argues that more Iowans will have seen him, and many will have met him, than any other candidate.

    In Bettendorf last week, for example, a room set for roughly 300 at a country club was full, with more than 200 people left standing by the time Rubio arrived. He stayed to shake hands with hundreds, which slowed the exit flow and allowed aides to sign up supporters and volunteers.

    Yet only recently has Rubio visited GOP strongholds such as Sioux Center in northwest Iowa. He has not gone to Denison, a GOP hub in Crawford County.

    Rubio’s Iowa staff doesn’t compare with Cruz’s. But Rubio benefits from Conservative Solutions, a super political action committee with no official ties to Rubio’s campaign. The group is identifying voters by phone, online and social media and using the connections to help turn out Rubio supporters.

    Rubio is seen as the favorite in some GOP quarters to emerge as the alternative to Trump and Cruz. He got a boost Saturday night with the endorsement of The Des Moines Register.

    Does he have enough on the ground in Iowa to pull out a strong finish and carry that bounce into New Hampshire?


    Party loyalists tend to dominate the Iowa caucuses, but an influx of independent and young voters can create a winning formula. Sanders and Trump hope to expand the size of the caucus by generating a big turnout among both groups.

    Only Republicans and Democrats can participate in the caucuses, but the state allows same-day registration for independents. In 2008, the last time Democrats had a contested caucus, about 20 percent were independents, and Obama won about 40 percent of those caucus-goers. Young voters accounted for about 20 percent of the caucus that year, and Obama won more than half.

    In 2012, entrance polls showed that nearly one-quarter of Republican caucus-goers were independents, and Ron Paul took more than 40 percent. The then-Texas congressman also succeeded among caucus-goers 29 and under, capturing about half of that group.

    While Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, is in the GOP race this year, Trump has the most riding on these voters.

    “More than any other candidate, Trump’s success will hinge on his ability to expand the Iowa caucus electorate by turning out independents and first-time caucus attendees,” said former Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn.

    Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Jill Colvin, Steve Peoples, Lisa Lerer, Thomas Beaumont and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

    The post Will Trump succeed with voters the way he has in the polls? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Residents clear their street of snow in Union City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan, after the second-biggest winter storm in New York history, Jan. 24, 2016. Photo By Rickey Rogers/Reuters

    Residents clear their street of snow in Union City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan, after the second-biggest winter storm in New York history, Jan. 24, 2016. Photo By Rickey Rogers/Reuters

    Millions of residents on Sunday began digging out a day after a deadly winter storm descended on the east coast, shutting down non-emergency travel in several major cities, trapping hundreds on interstates and setting records along the way with snow accumulations topping three feet in some areas.

    The death toll from the storm also had risen at least 19 on Sunday, even as the weather front causing widespread white-outs and gale-force winds across the region had moved out to sea.

    Travel bans in the New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. were lifted and bus and some subway services resumed as crews cleared roads packed with snow and ice.

    The storm set new records at six locations in three states, according to the Weather Channel, with West Virginia’s 42 inches of snow accumulations leading all totals.

    Josh Butcher clears snow from in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after a major winter storm swept over Washington Jan. 24, 2016. The National Weather Service said 17.8 inches fell in Washington, tying as the fourth-largest snowfall in the city's history.   Photos By Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Josh Butcher clears snow from in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after a major winter storm swept over Washington Jan. 24, 2016. The National Weather Service said 17.8 inches fell in Washington, tying as the fourth-largest snowfall in the city’s history. Photos By Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    In New York, officials said 26.8 inches fell in Central Park, nearly breaking a record set in 1869, while other parts of the city topped 30 inches. The New York Police Department said three people died while shoveling snow.

    On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged residents to “use caution, plan ahead and stay safe.”

    “The travel ban has been lifted, but New Yorkers should still avoid unnecessary travel,” he noted on a Twitter post.

    But as New Yorkers moved back toward a semblance of wintertime normalcy, thousands of others, mainly in the Carolinas, remained without power.

    Officials were also working to reopen the Pennsylvania Turnpike after hundreds of driver became trapped on the roadway for hours during the storm.

    More than 80 million people live in the storm’s path, while blizzard warnings were lifted Sunday for 33 million people.

    The post Digging out: East coasters start to recover from record-setting storm appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A shopper selects a bunch of bananas from the fruit display at the Tesco Basildon Pitsea Extra supermarket, operated by Tesco Plc, in Basildon, U.K., on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. Many European food retailers are coming to terms with persistently low inflation as well as consumers who remain frugal yet purchase food more frequently. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    A shopper selects a bunch of bananas from a display at the Tesco Basildon Pitsea Extra supermarket in Basildon, U.K. Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    One of America’s favorite snacks is facing a crisis.

    The Cavendish banana, consumed more frequently than apples and oranges by Americans, is being threatened by the virulent fungal Panama Disease, also known as Tropical Race 4, which is making its way to South America where more than 80 percent of the world’s bananas are grown.banana

    And with no known way to stop the disease — or even contain it — scientists say that over time, this type of banana may be eliminated from commercial production.

    Not to fear. Scientists in Honduras are working to create a resistant banana before the disease hits Latin America, where the majority of bananas are grown.

    You can watch our full report on that effort here.

    There will be more bananas. But with the future of the banana industry in flux, here are eight things you didn’t know about them.

    1. Bananas aren’t really a fruit. Well, they are and they aren’t. 

    Bananas are both a fruit and not a fruit. While the banana plant is colloquially called a banana tree, it’s actually an herb distantly related to ginger, since the plant has a succulent tree stem, instead of a wood one.

    The yellow thing you peel and eat is, in fact, a fruit because it contains the seeds of the plant. Although since bananas have been commercially grown, the plants are sterile, and the seeds have gradually been reduced to little specs.

    And to clarify more banana terminology: bananas grow in what are known as “hands,” so-called because of their appearance, which make up the larger stalk, known as a “bunch.”

    2. There are way more varieties than you probably think.

    Cluster of Bananas on a tropical tree

    Cluster of bananas hang from a Blue Java banana tree also known as Ice Cream banana. Photo via Getty Images

    What do Mona Lisa, Ice Cream and Goldfinger all have in common? They’re all varieties of bananas.

    Grown in more than 150 countries, it is widely believed there are more than 1,000 types of bananas in the world, which are subdivided into 50 groups. The most common is the Cavendish, the one most frequently produced for export markets.

    There’s also the Blue Java, aka the Ice Cream banana, so named for its blue skin and creamy, ice cream-like texture; the Macabu, which is black when fully ripe with a sweet pulp; the Niño, which is a mild and finger-sized, and the Burro banana, which has squared sides and a lemon flavor when ripe.

    3. Banana peels can help fix a splinter or a skipping DVD.

    Photo via Getty Images.

    Photo via Getty Images

    A banana’s wholesomeness often pertains to it’s nutritional value (or lack thereof), but less attention is given to its peel, which, thanks to a blend of acids, oils and enzymes, has some powerful off-label uses.

    For instance, you can put one on a splinter to help loosen the foreign fragments in the skin and heal the wound. And, to stop a scratched DVD or CD from skipping, rubbing a banana peel can fill the scratches without damaging the plastic finish.

    And the list goes on.

    You can rub a banana peel on your skin to remove ink stains or soothe insect bites. You can also polish shoes, dust plants and even whiten your teeth with the peel.

    Banana peels have also been used for water purification, ethanol production and as a fertilizer — and they’re often part of feedstock for cattle, goats, pigs and poultry.

    So go forth and use the banana peel for just about anything. Just make sure you don’t slip on it.

    4. There was once an official international club where banana lovers could unite.

    The now-defunct International Banana Club and Museum, not to be confused with the very much in business International Banana Museum in Mecca, California, boasts 17,000 banana-themed artifacts and is listed in Guinness World Records as the “largest collection devoted to any one fruit.” Some highlights include banana lamps, banana bowls, banana jewelry and a decades-old petrified banana that hangs in a frame on the wall.

    Since 1972, 38,000 people in 27 countries became dues-paying members by coughing up $15 with the option to choose their own banana-themed nickname. Famous Banana Club-ers include Jay Leno and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

    The museum was sold in 2010 and the new ownership is no longer associated with the Banana Club.

    Still, just minutes away is the International Banana Museum, which owners say has “so many banana-themed items that [guests] find it hard to absorb it all!!!”

    5. The banana hasn’t always been profitable. 

    Employees of the "Mateo" banana plantation on a normal workday in Chobo, Ecuador, 400 km southwest of Quito, on January 13, 2016. Bananas, Ecuador's second-largest export after oil, are facing a difficult year in 2016 due to a weak Russian market, the delay in reaching a trade agreement with the European Union, and the threat posed by the El Nino climate phenomenon. AFP PHOTO/RODRIGO BUENDIA / AFP / RODRIGO BUENDIA        (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

    Employees of the “Mateo” banana plantation on a normal workday in Chobo, Ecuador, 400 km southwest of Quito, on January 13, 2016. Photo by Rodrigo Buendia/Getty Images

    While the beloved banana has long been popular, it hasn’t always been good business.

    Eli M. Black was the former chairman of United Fruit, which at one time imported about a third of all bananas sold in the U.S. and owned the Chiquita banana brand. After taking helm of the company in the early 1970s, Black discovered the banana carried much less capital than he once believed and the company soon became crippled with debt.

    Then came Hurricane Fifi, which destroyed many of the company’s banana plantations in Honduras, and Black eventually sold the company, seemingly putting an end to all of his banana strife.

    But one a year later, the Securities and Exchange Commission uncovered a $2.5-million bribe that Black offered to Honduran President Oswaldo López Arellano to get reduced taxes on banana exports. Shortly before the scandal broke, Black committed suicide by jumping out the window of his Manhattan office on the 44th floor.

    6. Before the Cavendish, there was Big Mike.

    Employees of the "Mateo" banana plantation on a normal workday in Chobo, Ecuador, 400 km southwest of Quito, on January 13, 2016. Photo by Rodrigo Buendia/Getty Images.

    Employees of the “Mateo” banana plantation on a normal workday in Chobo, Ecuador, 400 km southwest of Quito, on January 13, 2016. Photo by Rodrigo Buendia/Getty Images

    Long before the Cavendish banana became the popular grocery store item Americans know and love, a different type of banana was considered the standard.

    The Gros Michel, often known as Big Mike, was the first type of banana to be cultivated on a large scale and started appearing in North American and European cities in the late 1800s. (It’s rise was all thanks to naturalist Nicolas Baudin, who some might call a French Johnny Appleseed, who deposited the plant stems on islands in the Caribbean.)

    But soon after, the virulent Panama disease descended upon plantations and devastated the crop, disrupting the international supply by the 1940s. And by the 1960s, most commercial operations in the Americas and Caribbean had halted production of Gros Michel.

    If you’d like to try the Gros Michel — which has a sweeter taste and creamier consistency than the Cavendish — you can still find it in parts of Southeast Asia, Africa and islands in the Pacific.

    7. Was the forbidden fruit really a banana?

    The fall of man by Michelangelo, Vatican Museum, Rome, Italy

    The fall of man at Sistine chapel by Michelangelo, Vatican Museum, Rome, Italy. Photo via Getty Images

    Many believe the Forbidden Fruit consumed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was an apple. Others think it may have been a fig or a pomegranate. And then there’s the some speculation that the fruit may have been a banana.

    Carl Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist who was the first person to successfully grow a fully flowered banana tree in the Netherlands, theorized that bananas grow at the right height for someone to longingly reach out and grab it. Also backing up his argument? Banana leaves, larger than fig leaves, might work better to cover nakedness.

    Linnaeus took his penchant for bananas further by speculating other uses for the versatile banana. For example, the botanist recommended boiling bananas with sugar to cure anger, mashing bananas with honey to soothe eye inflammation and crushing banana root soaked in milk to alleviate dizziness.

    8. Nutritionists debate the health value of the banana.

    A volunteer hands out bananas to runners participating in the TCS New York City Marathon on November 2, 2014. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

    A volunteer hands out bananas to runners participating in the TCS New York City Marathon on November 2, 2014. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Despite their popularity, there is debate among nutritionists about the actual health value of the banana.

    While it’s true bananas are generally low in calories (one medium banana has about 100), and they have little to no fat, sodium or cholesterol and are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, fiber and vitamin B6, they also contain about 27 grams of carbohydrates and 14 grams of sugar.

    Many nutritionists argue the problem with carbs is that they turn to sugar once they reach the blood stream, spiking your blood sugar levels, leaving you vulnerable to cravings and eventual weight gain, which is why some nutritionists would recommend snacking on other fruits.

    Still, medical research (which is oft disproved; see: coffee) has shown that eating bananas may lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as decrease the risk of getting some cancers.

    Also, in face of a common belief, bananas are relatively low in potassium compared to other foods, such as beans, milk, apricots, carrots, bell peppers and sweet potatoes.

    The post 8 things you didn’t know about bananas appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    MUSCATINE, Iowa — On the second-to-last Sunday before the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump settled into a fifth row pew for a lesson in humility.

    “I don’t know if that was aimed at me. Perhaps,” Trump said after the hour-long service at the First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine.

    Religious voters are a big factor in the opening contest on the presidential nominating calendar, and Trump is working to build his appeal among them, especially considering his chief challenger in the Republican race is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative preacher’s son who’s made deep inroads with evangelicals.

    Several reporters were invited to observe Trump’s visit to the church for a service that included hymns, readings and a performance by the children’s choir. The cream-colored stained glass window tiles cast a golden glow.

    At one point, Trump shared a prayer book with a woman seated to his right. She put her hand gently around Trump’s waist as the congregation sang Hymn 409, “God is Here!”

    During the passing of the peace, when church-goers give each other wishes, Trump received warm greetings from those around him.

    When it was time to offer tithes, Trump was seen digging into his wallet. Two folded $50 bills were later spotted in a collection plate that was passed down his pew.

    One reading during the service, about the importance of humility, included a reference that caught Trump’s ear.

    “Can you imagine eye telling hand, ‘Get lost, I don’t need you’ or hearing the head telling the foot, ‘You’re fired, your job has been phased out?'” the reader said in a reference to Trump’s signature phrase when he was the star of “The Apprentice.”

    In her sermon, the pastor, Pamela Saturnia, also made several references with resonance.

    “Jesus is teaching us today that he has come for those who are outside of the church,” she said, preaching a message of healing and acceptance for “those who are the most unloved, the most discriminated against, the most forgotten in our community and in our world.”

    Among those she cited were “the Syrian refugees” and “the Mexican migrants.” Trump has advocated barring all Syrian refugees from entering the country and deporting all of the estimated 11 million people living in the United States.

    As a candidate, the thrice-married New Yorker has worked to foster relationships with Christian leaders. He received a glowing introduction last week from Jerry Falwell Jr., president of one of the country’s most prominent evangelical Christian universities, and on Saturday was joined on the campaign trail by the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, a megachurch.

    During her sermon Sunday, the pastor, Pamela Saturnia also made several references with resonance.

    “Jesus is teaching us today that he has come for those who are outside of the church,” she said preaching a message of healing and acceptance for “those who are the most unloved, the most discriminated against, the most forgotten in our community and in our world.”

    Among those she reference: “the Syrian refugees” and ” the Mexican migrants.” Trump had advocated barring all Syrian refugees from entering the country and deporting all of the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.

    At times, Trump has appeared to struggle to affirm his Christian credentials. He often feels compelled to remind Christian audiences that he was raised as a Presbyterian. He has brought to and waved a copy of his childhood Bible and a photo of his confirmation at some events as evidence of his upbringing.

    He has made what have been seen as several minor missteps on religion during the campaign, mistakenly pronouncing Second Corinthians as “two Corinthians” during a speech last week at Liberty University in Virginia, Falwell’s school, and saying in an interview that he had never sought forgiveness from God.

    The post Weeks before Iowa caucuses, Trump goes to church appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    German conservator Christian Eckmann works on the restoration of the golden mask of King Tutankhamun at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, Oct. 20, 2015. The beard on the iconic solid-gold mask was reportedly knocked off by employees in 2014, then crudely reattached. Those involved in the process will now stand trial. Photo By Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

    German conservator Christian Eckmann works on the restoration of the golden mask of King Tutankhamun at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, Oct. 20, 2015. The beard on the iconic solid-gold mask was reportedly knocked off by employees in 2014, then crudely reattached. Photo By Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

    Eight people are being charged with gross negligence and were referred to a disciplinary court on Sunday for allegedly damaging the famed King Tutankhamen mask at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

    The 3,300-year-old solid gold mask was knocked over by curators at the museum in August 2014, an incident that dislodged and scratched the blue-and-gold beard from the famed image of the former Egyptian ruler.

    The curators then haphazardly glued the piece back on with epoxy, prosecutors said.

    “In an attempt to cover up the damage they inflicted, they used sharp instruments such as scalpels and metal tools to remove traces of adhesive on the mask, causing damage and scratches that remain,” prosecutors said in a statement.

    The former head of the museum and members of a conservation team are among those being charged.

    The employees had reportedly been conducting work on the museum’s lighting when the initial incident took place.

    The mask of King Tutankhamun, which was found to have been damaged and glued back together, is seen at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo Jan. 24, 2015. Photo By Shadi Bushra/Reuters

    The mask of King Tutankhamun, which was found to have been damaged and glued back together, is seen at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo Jan. 24, 2015. Photo By Shadi Bushra/Reuters

    A team of conservators recently removed the damaged beard and more properly re-attached it to the iconic mask using beeswax, officials said.

    German restoration expert Christian Eckmann, who led the endeavor, spent two months working on the mask, a tedious job that included warming the beard to remove the epoxy that the museum employees had used in an attempt to fix it.

    “We have some uncertainties now, we don’t know how deep the glue went inside the beard, and so we don’t know how long it will take to remove the beard,” he told the Guardian in October.  “It’s unfortunately epoxy resin which is not soluble.”

    The King Tut relic was removed from the museum’s exhibits during the process but put back on display on Dec. 16.

    The mask was first discovered in 1922 by British archaeologists.

    The post Prosecutors claim cover up as 8 face trial for damaging King Tut mask appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks into the Landmark Hotel upon arrival in Vientiane, Laos, January 24, 2016.   REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool - RTX23SFD

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks into the Landmark Hotel upon arrival in Vientiane, Laos, Jan. 24, 2016 during the beginning of an Asian tour. He hopes to push for en end to simmering maritime disputes and refocus China’s attention on North Korea’s nuclear program. Photo Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters

    VIENTIANE, Laos — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is pressing for peaceful resolutions to increasingly tense maritime disputes in Asia and urging China to take a firmer stand on North Korea’s nuclear program after its recent bomb test.

    Kerry arrived in the Laotian capital Sunday, with later stops planned for Cambodia and China, extending an around-the-world diplomatic mission that began with a heavy emphasis on the Middle East, particularly Iran and efforts to bring an end to Syria’s civil war.

    Laos is the current head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose members are becoming more vocal in complaints about China’s growing assertiveness over competing claims in the South China Sea.

    Next month, President Barack Obama will host the ASEAN leaders in California.

    Before that summit, U.S. officials say, Kerry will make the case to the leader of the 10-nation bloc to present a unified stance in dealing with China on the disputes. They have intensified as China steps up construction of man-made islands and airstrips in contested areas.

    The United States and governments with rival claims with China in the disputed region, including the Philippines and Vietnam, have expressed alarm over the Chinese construction. They say it raises tensions and threatens regional stability and could violate freedom of navigation and overflight.

    But ASEAN unity has not always been possible because China wields great influence among some of its smaller neighbors, such as Cambodia. Cambodia held the ASEAN leadership spot in 2012, blocked the group from reaching consensus on the South China Sea issue and frequently has sided with China on the matter.

    A senior U.S. State Department official accompanying Kerry in Asia said the U.S. had heard from regional leaders that problems related to Cambodia’s chairmanship “left a black mark on ASEAN and are not to be repeated.” The official said the U.S. believed that Laos would do a better job in balancing ASEAN interests with China.

    Recent developments, including China’s movement of an oil rig into a disputed zone and warnings against overflight of what it claims to be its territory, have raised levels of concern in the region to a point where the official said it would be very difficult for an external power like China to manipulate individual ASEAN countries in a way that paralyzes the broader group. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the details of Kerry’s visit publicly.

    Kerry is only the second secretary of state to visit Laos since 1955; Hillary Clinton visited in 2012.

    Obama will become the first U.S. president to visit the landlocked nation later this year. Laos has moved away from a communist system in the past two decades, but like its close ally Vietnam, it retains a one-party political system and its government has been criticized for being intolerant of dissent.

    Laos was targeted heavily by U.S. bombing during the Vietnam War and still has large amounts of unexploded ordnance littering its countryside. The U.S. has stepped up efforts to help clear Laos of those bombs and Kerry is expected to commit to expanding and upgrading such programs with details to be announced when Obama visits later in 2016, the U.S. official said.

    The center portion of the Subi Reef runway is shown in this Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative Jan. 8, 2016 satellite image released to Reuters. China will invite private investment to build infrastructure on islands it controls in the disputed South China Sea and will start regular flights to one of them this year, state media said on Friday, moves likely to anger other claimants. A U.S. research institute, meanwhile, said China appeared to have stepped up construction work on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea and was close to finishing two more military-length airstrips on them.  CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency via Reuters

    China plans to invite private investment to build infrastructure on islands it controls in the disputed South China Sea and will start regular flights to one of them this year.  CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency via Reuters

    In Cambodia, Kerry is expected to note the country’s strong economic growth but also raise concerns with longtime authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen about human rights and political freedoms. Kerry plans to meet representatives of Cambodia’s opposition, led by a man who has been in self-imposed exile since November, when an order for his arrest was issued on an old conviction for defaming Cambodia’s foreign minister.

    Kerry will wrap up his Asia tour in Beijing, where he will renew concerns about China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and call for Chinese leaders to take more steps to press North Korea on its nuclear program.

    Since North Korea’s nuclear test earlier this month, U.S. officials have urged China to use its leverage to demand that the North Korean leadership end its nuclear weapons program and testing and return to six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

    The senior U.S. official said the U.S. believes that the pressure China has exerted on North Korea so far has not been enough to change the calculus of North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jun Un, and that it is important for China to join the U.S., South Korea and Japan in presenting a united front.

    The post Kerry urging China to take firmer stand against North Korea’s nuclear program appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 5.44.41 PM

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    MEGAN THOMPSON: Around the world, there are protected areas for animals in danger.

    For nearly a decade, researchers used motion-triggered cameras in Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia to capture millions of photos of animals in some of these protected areas. Those researchers from the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network have sifted through all those pictures, and they seem to show that efforts to preserve habitats worldwide may be paying off.

    The lead author of that study, Lydia Beaudrot, spoke to the “NewsHour”‘s Stephen Fee.

    STEPHEN FEE: Lydia, tell me a little bit about what you expected from this study and what you actually discovered.

    LYDIA BEAUDROT, Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network: Well, we know that, globally, there are massive declines in biodiversity. And extinction rates are about 1,000 times what they would be right now if there weren’t human activity.

    And so we were expecting, in this first assessment with this pantropical camera trap network, that we would see those large-scale declines. But we’re looking within protected areas, and we’re really surprised to find that, actually, these protected areas, at least for now, seem to be doing a good job of maintaining stable communities of tropical mammals and birds.

    STEPHEN FEE: And how is it that you were able to gather all of these photographs? Explain to me a little bit about the logistics.

    LYDIA BEAUDROT: The infrastructure that the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network has put in is absolutely unprecedented.

    This was visionary work that was put together by Conservation International and the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Smithsonian. And so, together, these organizations have put 60 to 90 cameras each in 17 forests all around the world. And that’s 15 different countries.

    And each of these camera traps and each of these sites is using the same approach. And so we have this systematic way to analyze what’s going on in these forests worldwide.

    STEPHEN FEE: You know, Lydia, some of these photos are pretty incredible. I understand that some of these species, we rarely see in person. Is that right?

    LYDIA BEAUDROT: That’s right. Some of — these are some of the most elusive animals out there that, if we were having people walk through the forest and try to survey what’s there, very unlikely would they see these animals.

    And so that’s why these cameras provide a really special glimpse into what is going on in these forests that is hard to know otherwise.

    STEPHEN FEE: What are some of those species that you were able to capture on camera?

    LYDIA BEAUDROT: Well, any of the charismatic large cats, for instance, like jaguars and leopards, that live in the forests and are incredibly elusive and hard to see.

    We have some nice sightings of rare bush dogs in South America that are just — it’s hard to know if they are in a protected area or not. And so these cameras let us know that they are there, which is great news.

    STEPHEN FEE: What does it tell us generally, though, about how protected areas are maybe doing a good job of protecting wildlife?

    LYDIA BEAUDROT: Well, protected areas, even though they have their weaknesses, generally sustain the habitat that these animals need.

    And so, when you look, for example, on Google Earth, you can often see a protected area, because it’s different from the landscape around it, where a lot of forests have been converted to, for instance, agricultural or other development purposes. So having these areas that maintain the habitat is really important for wildlife.

    STEPHEN FEE: It tells us a lot about what is happening in protected areas, but what about unprotected areas of the world?

    LYDIA BEAUDROT: That’s right.

    So, we’re seeing from this first assessment that these protected areas, at least for now, are showing good news. But that’s not the final word. It’s just the first word for the team network. And what we want to do is, we also want to compare to outside protected areas, where we would anticipate that stability wouldn’t be the case.

    So, there are threats like conversion of forest areas to agriculture, threats from illegal hunting, and other kinds of human influences that we would expect that the wildlife outside of the protected areas is probably not doing as well as the animals inside the protected areas.

    STEPHEN FEE: Lydia Beaudrot from the University of Michigan, thanks so much.

    LYDIA BEAUDROT: Thank you.

    The post Photos reveal that protecting animal habitats is improving biodiversity appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Exercise yard at Camp 6 is pictured at the Camp Delta detention center for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay

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    MEGAN THOMPSON, PBS ANCHOR: During his first week in office, President Obama signed an executive order to close the prison at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within one year. That order was issued seven years ago this past Friday.

    In his State of the Union address earlier this month, the president said he will keep working to close the prison, because, in his words, it’s expensive, unnecessary, and serves as a recruitment tool for America’s enemies.

    President George W. Bush opened Guantanamo in 2002 to hold foreign fighters captured overseas, mainly in Afghanistan, in the war on terror that began immediately after 9/11.

    For the past 14 years, Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg has covered Guantanamo full time, spending more than 1,000 days on site.

    She sat down yesterday with Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the legal and logistical obstacles to President Obama’s goal.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There were at one point 780 men there. Now we have less than 100, I think 91 or so as we talk, and that might change. But why are people still there?

    CAROL ROSENBERG, The Miami Herald: People are still at Guantanamo because, despite President Obama’s desire to close it, Congress won’t let him.

    Congress has decided that Guantanamo should continue to exist. Members of Congress like Guantanamo. And they have systemically thwarted his efforts to close that detention center in Cuba.

    Closing Guantanamo at this stage, in the Obama administration view, is really moving Guantanamo to U.S. soil. The idea is not to open the cages and let everybody go or give them federal trials and put them in federal detention.

    The idea is to pick up the last detainees and move them to military detention in the United States, what we call Guantanamo North, closing the detention center in Cuba and reconstituting it on U.S. soil. Congress so far has systemically blocked that vision.


    CAROL ROSENBERG: I think that part of it is that there is fear that, for some reason, these alleged terrorists are scarier than all the alleged terrorists — or, actually, the convicted terrorists in U.S. prisons.

    I think part of is that members of Congress really like the message of Guantanamo. And the message of Guantanamo to the world is, mess with us and you end up in a cage at Guantanamo Bay.

    In addition, there are — there is ambition by some people in Congress to grow Guantanamo. They like the idea that this could be an interrogation center. And, mostly, nobody wants Guantanamo in their backyard.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What have the outcomes been? You made an interesting distinction. You said the people who have been federally convicted in the United States of acts of terror vs. what has happened to these people who have been there possibly as long as 14 years.

    CAROL ROSENBERG: So, with the most rarest of exception, these are not convicts. They’re not criminals. They’re war prisoners.

    They would be, in a more traditional war what we would consider to be a POW, someone who is considered the enemy, taken off of the battlefield and held until the end of that war. The Bush administration never conferred on al-Qaida POW status. They created this war prisoner status.

    With a few exceptions, of the 91 men down there today, 10 are in criminal proceedings. The idea is just to hold them, and to systemically decide when they can go. You know, people don’t necessarily understand that they’re not all terrorists in the classic understanding of it. They’re foot soldiers.

    They were people who were picked up by the Northern Alliance in and around Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan and ultimately handed over to the U.S. The U.S. troops didn’t march into Afghanistan and take prisoners. People gave the Americans these prisoners.

    And in some instances at Gitmo, these people weren’t in Afghanistan at all. There was somebody who was picked up in Thailand. There were people who — many people who were picked in Pakistan. This is not a battlefield roundup of prisoners of war.

    But they are war prisoners. They are not accused, with some exceptions, of being criminals. And that is very different from terrorists who are convicted and sitting in federal detention here.

    And so that is why the idea is to bring them to this country for military detention, not federal lockup.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Several of them have also been cleared for release, but they’re still there. And we have heard — in the past few months, we have seen one country takes a couple here and a few there, and, at some point, there were 15 that went in one direction.

    But these are people that have been cleared maybe five or six years ago to be released.

    CAROL ROSENBERG: That’s right.

    Twenty-six countries have taken in people who couldn’t go home. And that’s — what you have been hearing about lately is, recently, two men were sent to the Balkans. The vast majority of those we wouldn’t send back were from Yemen.

    The Bush administration — the Obama administration, and the Bush administration before them, made a policy decision that Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo wouldn’t go home.

    They feared that they would be entering this destabilized country with a powerful al-Qaida franchise, and that there would be what they would — what they call re-engagement, that they wouldn’t go back to normal lives and settle down, as is the hope, that they wouldn’t go and have families and get on with their lives, that, in Yemen, the odds were they would be drawn back to al-Qaida and they would be attacking American targets.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Tell me about Mohammed Bwazir.

    CAROL ROSENBERG: Mohammed Bwazir knew where he was going. We don’t know where he was going. Mohammed Bwazir was offered sanctuary in a third country that his lawyer thought was a great country for resettlement, that was a great chance for him.

    But he said, Mohammed Bwazir is afraid. He has been there so long, he fears the unknown. And he had been insisting that he only wanted to go to a country where his mom was, his brothers were or his aunts and uncles were.

    And that’s the UAE, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. And the country that agreed to take him in was none of those. And he couldn’t bring himself to get on the plane and start his new life somewhere else.


    CAROL ROSENBERG: It happened before, but this is such a strange thing, because we have been hearing from the lawyer for these men that the Yemenis in particular will go anywhere. They are so desperate to get off Guantanamo, they will go anywhere.

    This man wouldn’t get on the plane.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is their life like after they go somewhere? Can’t they just decide to leave those countries and try to make their way back to wherever their home is?

    CAROL ROSENBERG: The deal that the U.S. makes is a diplomatic arrangement. And they are not exactly public, but we know that they are not entitled to travel papers, at least for a year, in some instances for two years.

    They’re supposed to go to a rehabilitation center, something that’s going to get them back into society, a new society. In some instances, you know, they give them language.

    There are some in Uruguay. There are some who just arrived in Oman. There are some Chinese — citizens of China Muslim Uighurs who were sent to Palau. They are all over the world. And different countries offer different packages.

    But, no, it’s — the design of this program is for them not to be able to jump on the first plane and go to Yemen.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Part of the reason you go down so regularly is to cover the trials. One of them is the 9/11 trial that is still going.

    CAROL ROSENBERG: There are hearings. There are pretrial hearings. They are still trying to establish how there will be a trial of five men who were captured in 2002 and 2003 and taken off to the black sites of the CIA, where they were not given lawyers, where they were not given access to the Red Cross, where they were subjected to what is now considered to be torture, and then dropped at Guantanamo in 2006 for trial.

    This war court that was created for those circumstances after 9/11 is still trying to work on how it will hold that trial. They’re still trying to figure out what constitutes legitimate evidence. It’s a death penalty trial. And so they have learned counsel, civilian defense attorneys paid for by the Pentagon to provide them with the most robust death penalty defenses.

    And those lawyers are doing everything they can to attack the integrity of this court that was created after 9/11 by George Bush, and then reformed by Barack Obama.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Carol Rosenberg from The Miami Herald McClatchy, thanks so much for joining us.

    CAROL ROSENBERG: Thank you.

    The post Why hasn’t the Guantánamo Bay prison closed? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Snow covers a wall near the U.S. Capitol after a blizzard pummeled the east coast from Washington, D.C. to New York City Saturday. An AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found more than 6 in 10 respondents expressed only slight confidence -- or none at all -- that the federal government can make progress on the problems facing the nation in 2016. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Snow covers a wall near the U.S. Capitol after a blizzard pummeled the east coast from Washington, D.C. to New York City Saturday. An AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found more than 6 in 10 respondents expressed only slight confidence — or none at all — that the federal government can make progress on the problems facing the nation in 2016. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — As the first voting nears in the presidential race, most Americans have little or no confidence in the federal government to confront what they see as the country’s most important priorities, according to a national survey.

    The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, conducted in December, found more than 6 in 10 respondents expressed only slight confidence — or none at all — that the federal government can make progress on the problems facing the nation in 2016.

    Terrorism edged health care as the issue most often mentioned — each by about one-third of those questioned — when people were asked to volunteer the issues they believe Washington should address this election year.

    The polling suggests an electorate more focused on the economy and domestic affairs than on foreign policy. Two-thirds of respondents included an economic issue on their priority list, and about 4 in 5 named a domestic policy other than the economy.

    In addition to those who mentioned terrorism, nearly half added another foreign policy matter, and immigration was the next most frequent topic raised.

    Perhaps most vexing for the dozen or so candidates vying to succeed President Barack Obama, the poll indicates widespread skepticism about the government’s ability to solve problems, with no significant difference in the outlook between Republicans and Democrats.

    “They can’t even seem to get together and pass anything that’s of any importance,” said Doris Wagner, an 81-year-old Republican from Alabama who said she’s “not at all confident” about seeing solutions in 2016. “It’s so self-serving what they do,” said Wagner, who called herself a small-government conservative.

    In Texas, Democrat Lee Cato comes from a different political perspective but reached a similar conclusion. She allowed for “slight” confidence, but no more. The 71-year-old bemoaned a system of “lobbyists paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to get Congress to do what they want” for favored industry. “They aren’t doing anything for you and me,” she said.

    Joe Flood, a GOP-leaning independent, said he sees government’s inner-workings in his job as a federal contractor. A 49-year-old resident of the District of Columbia, Flood described the executive branch as a bureaucratic behemoth and the legislative branch as an endlessly partisan wrangle. “That’s why government can’t get anything done,” he said.

    Along with terrorism and health care, respondents were most likely to cite immigration (29 percent), education (25 percent) and unemployment (24 percent) as priorities.

    Democrats and Republicans were about equally likely to mention unemployment, though there was a racial disparity. Almost half of black respondents mentioned the issue, compared with only a one-fifth of whites.

    A predictable partisan divide was apparent in other issues.

    Republicans were more likely than Democrats to cite terrorism as a priority, 42 percent to 30 percent. Immigration was mentioned by 43 percent of Republicans and 21 percent of Democrats.

    The poll was taken after the Paris attacks that were attributed to the Islamic State group and a shooting in San Bernardino, California, blamed on IS sympathizers.

    One-fifth of Republicans mentioned the federal budget deficit, compared with less than a one-tenth of Democrats, with a similar divide on the importance of taxes.

    Democrats were more likely to consider guns as public policy priority, along with education, crime, racial problems, the environment and climate change.

    Many of those breakdowns reflect the separate debates now playing out in the presidential race.

    The GOP field, led by boisterous candidates such as Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, characterizes the Obama administration as an irresponsible, profligate manager of taxpayer resources, and unable to ensure national security and protect U.S. interests amid international threats and strife.

    The leading Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, are focused more directly on economic matters, both framing themselves as defenders of the middle class. Sanders rails against the disproportionate economic and political power of the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.

    While the candidates may reflect the priorities of their respective bases, several poll respondents said they haven’t necessarily heard anything that improves their outlook.

    Flood said Trump or Sanders would offer “the most radical change” from the status quo. “But I don’t like what either of them is saying, really,” he explained, adding that “95 percent of Congress will get re-elected anyway.”

    Even among optimists there is a caution.

    “America is a resilient nation,” said Kentucky independent Waylon Cain, who says he’s “slightly optimistic” in government’s ability to solve problems. “You’ve got every kind of walk of life here. We all have experiences in different areas. I don’t think at any point in time we’re headed down a hole we can’t get ourselves out of.”

    Yet when the 27-year-old looks to the presidential field, “there’s not anyone I see that makes me say, ‘He is the man. He is going to lead our nation in the right direction.'”

    The AP-NORC Poll of 1,042 adults was conducted Dec. 10-13, 2015, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

    Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

    Barrow reported from Atlanta.

    The post AP Poll: Public has little faith in government’s problem-solving ability appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    "In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted," Jeb Bush said at a debate in South Carolina earlier this month. Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters

    Earlier this month, Jeb Bush said at a debate in South Carolina that “every weapon system has been gutted,” during the Obama administration. Reports show that total spending for the modernization for major weapons systems actually has remained stable since Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, left office in January 2009. Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters

    Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional look at the 2016 candidates’ public statements and how well they adhere to the facts.

    WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush says the Obama administration has “gutted” every weapons system in the U.S. military’s inventory. GOP rival Donald Trump says the military is a “disaster.” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio maintains that President Barack Obama is more interested in providing money to Planned Parenthood than for the nation’s armed forces.

    Gutted? Disaster?

    Trashing Obama and arguing that he has failed to spend enough on defense has become a staple for Republican presidential hopefuls. At the debates and campaign stops, they’ve cast him as a feckless commander in chief, standing idly by while the world’s finest military withers away.

    What’s lost in the din: Money spent on weapons modernization is on par with the George W. Bush administration. The military cuts that GOP contenders are complaining about were approved by Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. The military budget is being squeezed by the insistence of lawmakers in both parties that money be spent on bases and equipment that the Pentagon says it doesn’t need.

    And the government spends roughly 1,000 times more on the armed forces than on Planned Parenthood.

    A few of the GOP candidates’ claims and how they compare with the facts:

    “In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted.” — Jeb Bush

    THE FACTS: Total spending for the modernization for major weapons systems actually has remained stable since Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, left office in January 2009. The department’s “selected acquisition reports,” which detail past, current and future investments in dozens of weapons programs, show the value of the military services’ modernization portfolio in November 2008 was $1.64 trillion. The latest reports, from March 2015, show a value of $1.62 trillion.

    The armed forces are undergoing a transformation, according to the Defense Department’s budget strategy. The military services will no longer be sized for large, prolonged operations — a reference to the lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which involved massive reconstruction and humanitarian relief components. The focus now is on building a high-tech force that is nimble enough to defeat Islamic State militants and much more sophisticated adversaries.

    For example, the Air Force is pushing ahead with the development and acquisition of an advanced bomber, known as Long-Range Strike, to replace the aging fleet of B-1 and B-52 bombers. The B-52s were first deployed when Dwight Eisenhower was president. The B-1s, which were fielded in the 1980s, are no longer certified for nuclear missions.

    The new bomber is a highly classified, $80 billion project designed to build an information-age aircraft that eventually may be capable of flying without a pilot aboard. The Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman Corp. the bomber contract in October. The contract is part of the Pentagon’s broader plan to modernize the entire nuclear force — missile-toting submarines, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers.

    The nagging question for any major weapons program is how to keep them from becoming budget busters. On Obama’s watch, the Joint Strike Fighter — the single most expensive military project ever — has experienced significant cost, schedule, and performance setbacks that have driven up the price tag. The Government Accountability Office estimated last year that nearly $400 billion will be needed to buy the planned 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

    Obama is “more interested in funding Planned Parenthood than he is in funding the military.” — Marco Rubio

    THE FACTS: While the defense budget has dropped in recent years, the cuts were approved by Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress, then signed into law by Obama. But even with the reductions, the size of the special operations forces, which include Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, has grown.

    For 2016, the current budget year, the Defense Department’s budget is roughly $581 billion. That includes $59 billion for fighting IS, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other missions. There’s $111 billion for new equipment and upgrades, ranging from jet fighters, helicopters, ships and submarines. Another $70 billion is for the research and development of new technologies.

    The Budget Control Act set limits on how much could be spent on defense through 2021. Between 2011 and 2014, the Pentagon’s budget fell by more than $100 billion. And in 2013 automatic budget cuts known as sequestration kicked in, forcing across-the-board reductions that led to widespread concern the military services would be unprepared to fight the nation’s wars.

    Yet Congress and the Obama administration still haven’t been able agree on a way out of the constraints both sides were responsible for setting.

    Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have resisted money-saving measures proposed by the Pentagon, such as closing excess military bases. Congress also has prohibited the retirement of the A-10 aircraft that provides close air support for ground troops. And for more than a decade, both Congress and the White House didn’t offset the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They just wrote a check, adding to an already massive deficit.

    Mike McCord, the Pentagon comptroller, said in a recent presentation, that the defense budget request for 2017 will be $584 billion.

    Planned Parenthood affiliates received $524.8 million in federal health services grants and reimbursements, according to the organization’s annual report.

    “Our military is a disaster.” — Donald Trump

    THE FACTS: The bombastic GOP front-runner typically avoids specifics, so it’s unclear what he meant exactly.

    There is, however, concern among congressional Republicans and Democrats that too many active-duty troops are being cut from the force.

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an advocate for bigger defense budgets, said Thursday that the force-reduction decisions were made before the growth of IS or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If the sequestration process isn’t reversed, McCain said, the Army could drop to 420,000 troops from a wartime peak of 570,000.

    “Readiness suffers as our Army shrinks,” McCain said, adding that only a little more than one third of the Army’s brigade combat teams are ready for deployment and decisive operations.

    But McCain, the leading Republican voice in Congress on national security issues, acknowledged the difficulty of seeking more money for defense when so much is being wasted on weapons programs that exceed their expected costs.

    “It’s hard for us to go back to our constituents when we have a $2 billion cost overrun on an aircraft carrier,” McCain said. “If we’re going to have credibility with the American people, we cannot have these horror stories.”

    Associated Press reporter Richard Lardner wrote this report.

    The post Fact-checking GOP candidate claims on Obama’s military spending appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Two members of a second  generation of monkeys that inherited an autism-related trait from genetically modified parents. Photo by Liu et al. Nature (2015).

    Two members of a second generation of monkeys that inherited an autism-related trait from genetically modified parents. Photo by Liu et al. Nature (2015).

    A new batch of genetically modified monkeys can reproduce features of autism, according to a study released today from researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. By recreating elements of the disorder in lab primates, the scientists hope to generate an animal model that closely resembles the human condition. The team’s results only apply to one variety of autism, but such mutant monkeys could fill a major gap in the quest to understand autism spectrum disorders. Moreover, these GMO primates could serve as an unprecedented arena for testing new therapeutics.

    One current barrier to cracking autism is a lack of animal models that precisely recreate what happens in humans. Most research has involved genetically altering rodents so they carry mutations linked to autism in people. But mice aren’t humans, so there are many limits to what these critters can teach about a complicated disorder like autism.

    “Given that Autism Spectrum Disorder is [a] uniquely human disorder characterized by deficits in complex behaviors, there are limitations in relying solely on mouse models,” said University of California neuroscientist Melissa Bauman, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “Many pharmacological [drug] interventions developed in mice to treat human disease ultimately fail.”

    Given monkeys are more closely related to humans, our primate cousins could offer a more faithful home for unpacking the brain circuits, behaviors and genetic traits responsible for human autism. Over the past four years, there have been whispers of scientists trying to create mutant monkeys by editing single genes. But genetic research in monkeys is notoriously difficult. For instance, monkeys typically produce one offspring at a time, so it can take years to rear large enough numbers for a study. Plus if a maturing fetus doesn’t like a scientifically introduced mutation, then it might spontaneously abort. Such events have hampered early attempts at creating mutant monkeys with autism traits.

    In their new study, neuroscientist Zilong Qiu and his colleagues have not only tackled the tricky genetics associated with creating a primate model of autism, they’ve also accelerated the reproduction process, so it takes less time to create new generations of these autistic monkeys.

    The team started by using a non-lethal virus to transport copies of a human gene — MECP2 — into the eggs of crab-eating macaques (Macaca fascicularis). Many different mutations in MECP2 have been linked to autism spectrum disorders in humans. One severe example is MECP2 duplication syndrome, wherein a person ends up with two copies of the gene. The condition is marked by speech problems, severe intellectual disability, developmental delays, seizures and muscle spasms and stiffness that become worse as a child tries to move.

    Five years ago, Qiu and his team took these eggs with extra copies of MECP2, artificially inseminated them and then implanted the embryos in 19 surrogate monkey mothers. Half became pregnant, and in the spring of 2011, they birthed eight babies carrying the human version of MECP2. Most carried more than one copy of the introduced gene — one babe had seven copies.

    The team tracked the behaviors of these mutant or “transgenic” monkeys as they grew up.

    “The first cohort shows severe behavior related to human autism patients, including increased anxiety and most importantly a defect in social interactions,”said Qiu, who led the study from the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai.

    At 1.5 years of age, the mutant monkeys avoided sitting in the same space as normal, age-matched monkeys. By three years of age, when puberty set in, mutant females struggled to share the same space as other mutant females, even if they had been reared together. The mutant monkeys also exhibited increased levels of repetitive motor behaviors, wherein they would endlessly circle their cage.

    However, for the most part, the transgenic monkeys’ other cognitive functions were largely normal.

    “Currently, we’re carrying out brain imaging studies to figure out which deficiencies in the brain circuits are responsible for this autism-like behavior,” Qiu said.

    The team also found that their engineered MECP2 mutations could be inherited. Normally, it would take five or six years for a monkey to reach sexual maturity and breed a second generation, but the team accelerated the reproduction process. They extracted sperm from juvenile mutant monkeys and implanted it under the skin of mice to speed the maturation of the reproductive cells. Ten months later, mature sperm were extracted and used to artificially inseminate a new batch of surrogate mothers, producing a second generation of monkeys with autism-like social disorders.

    “We’ve shortened the one-generation time from five to six years down to 2.5 years. That’s actually a great improvement in terms of generation time, potentially making monkey models more useful in the long run,” said Mu-ming Poo, director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    So should scientists toss out years of rodent-related autism research and make a fresh start in mutant primates? Nope. The findings from this investigation only provide clues to one rare variety of autism.

    “Autism is an incredibly complex disease, and it does not have a single underlying biological cause. While it certainly has a genetic component to it, a full understanding of the genetics is still a long way away. Mutations in MECP2 and the duplication of MECP2 are only one of these myriad causes,” said University of Mississippi Medical Center evolutionary geneticist Eric Vallender, who wasn’t involved in the study.

    However, the new study does offer a proof-of-concept that autism-related mutations can be successfully introduced to non-human primates. Future studies might ply other mutations linked to autism, yielding a haberdashery of mutant monkeys that express the broad spectrum of autism. Qiu says the researchers could use such animal models to identify autism-related brain circuits and test new therapeutics, such as gene editing tools like CRISPR, to tweak these nerve circuits. The world’s first customized monkeys using the breakthrough CRISPR system were reported nearly a year ago by a different Chinese group.

    “That’s why we need to find out the genetic mutations that all kinds of autism patients have. For some particular mutations, we might be able to use gene editing to repair [the disorder],” said Qiu, whose findings are available in the journal Nature.

    The post New mutant monkeys model the inheritance of autism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to extend a ruling from 2012 that struck down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for teenage killers. Photo by Molly Riley/Reuters

    The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to extend a ruling from 2012 that struck down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for teenage killers. Photo by Molly Riley/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that people serving life terms for murders they committed as teenagers must have a chance to seek their freedom, a decision that could affect more than 1,000 inmates.

    The justices voted 6-3 to extend a ruling from 2012 that struck down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for teenage killers. Now, even those who were convicted long ago must be considered for parole or given a new sentence.

    The court ruled in the case of Henry Montgomery, who has been in prison more than 50 years, since he killed a sheriff’s deputy as a 17-year-old in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1963.

    Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, said that “prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”

    Kennedy said states do not have to go so far as to resentence people serving life terms. Instead, the states can offer parole hearings with no guarantee of release.

    Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania have more than 1,000 people serving life sentences for murders they committed before their 18th birthday, according to Michigan’s Supreme Court filing in Montgomery’s case. They are among the few states that have refused to extend the Supreme Court’s ruling from 2012.

    Monday’s decision does not expressly foreclose judges from sentencing teenagers to a lifetime in prison. But the Supreme Court has previously said such sentences should be rare, and only for the most heinous crimes.

    In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling “is just a devious way of eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders.” Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas joined Scalia’s dissent.

    Four years ago, the justices struck down automatic life sentences with no chance of release for teenage killers, but did not answer then whether the ruling in Miller v. Alabama should be extended retroactively to Montgomery and hundreds of other inmates whose convictions are final.

    In the 5-4 decision in 2012, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority that judges weighing prison terms for young offenders must take into account “the mitigating qualities of youth,” among them immaturity and the failure to understand fully the consequences of their actions.

    Chief Justice John Roberts dissented from the 2012 decision barring automatic life sentences for young killers, but he joined the majority on Monday along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Kagan.

    Through legislative action or court rulings, 18 states have allowed inmates like Montgomery to be given new prison sentences or to ask for their release, according to The Sentencing Project. Louisiana is among seven states that had declined to apply the Supreme Court ruling retroactively.

    The outcome in Montgomery’s case is the latest in a line of Supreme Court decisions that have limited states in the way they punish juveniles. Kennedy also wrote the 2005 decision that outlawed the death penalty for juveniles. The justices also have barred life without parole sentences for people convicted of crimes other than murder that were committed before they turned 18.

    The court often applies groundbreaking decisions in criminal law retroactively. Kennedy rejected Louisiana’s argument that the Alabama case should not be viewed as quite that important because the court only declared unconstitutional such sentences where judges lack discretion, and specifically did not bar judges from sentencing juveniles to life in prison after considering individual circumstances.

    Montgomery’s case highlights some of the problems that inmate advocates say plague the criminal justice system generally. Montgomery is African-American, and he was tried for killing the white deputy in a time of racial tension and reported cross burnings in Baton Rouge.

    The State Times newspaper of Baton Rouge ran a front-page headline after Montgomery’s arrest: “Negro Held in Deputy’s Murder Here.” The story noted that “more than 60 Negroes were detained” in a parish-wide manhunt.

    The Louisiana Supreme Court threw out Montgomery’s first conviction because he did not get a fair trial. He was convicted and sentenced to life after a second trial.

    The case is Montgomery v. Louisiana, 14-280.

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    The Supreme Court is rejecting a Pennsylvania inmate's appeal to consider banning the death penalty across the United States. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    The Supreme Court rejected a Pennsylvania inmate’s appeal to consider banning the death penalty across the United States. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is rejecting a Pennsylvania inmate’s appeal to consider banning the death penalty across the United States.

    The justices did not comment Monday in turning away a challenge from death row inmate Shonda Walter.

    Walter’s appeal plays off Justice Stephen Breyer’s call in an impassioned dissent in June to re-evaluate the death penalty in light of problems involving its imposition and use.

    Breyer renewed his plea last week when he was the lone justice willing to give a last-minute reprieve to an Alabama death row inmate who was later put to death.

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    Matt Kreutz, founder of Firebrand Artisan Breads in Oakland, California, prepares loaves for the brick oven. Photo courtesy of Inner City Advisors

    Matt Kreutz, founder of Firebrand Artisan Breads in Oakland, California, prepares loaves for the brick oven. Photo courtesy of Inner City Advisors

    Matt Kreutz got the baking bug early. As a teen, he went to a vocational school in Chantilly, Virginia, and encountered a teacher-chef who nurtured his “ragamuffin” students.

    “I fell in love with working in kitchens, with food and with people who were passionate about food,” Kreutz said. He attended a culinary school in New York, then worked for several bakeries in California and decided that would be his home.

    In Oakland, where he founded and co-owns Firebrand Artisan Breads with Colleen Orlando, he discovered a “diverse, vibrant community” filled with artists and music and people who supported each other.

    “There are a lot of people who care about the city and are invested in its future,” he said.

    One of the organizations investing in its growth is Inner City Advisors, or ICA, which recently merged with Fund Good Jobs and made its founder, Sean Murphy, the CEO.

    In Silicon Valley, home to hundreds of start-up and global technology firms, “there’s a lot of energy and resources going into the tech arena. That is great, and there’s a lot to learn from it,” Murphy said. But “there are a lot of folks who are just overlooked” by banks and investors.

    ICA, founded 20 years ago, focuses on those businesses. It offers education, mentorship and investment programs.

    The education program for entrepreneurs is taught at Mills College in Oakland by Michael Bush, founder of The 8 Factors Business Framework. He teaches on a volunteer basis, and students pay a small fee to cover other costs.

    The established businesspeople who act as advisers to the struggling companies also volunteer their time, because they want to give back to the community, said Murphy.

    “Individuals that have been very successful in the entrepreneurship world … really roll up their sleeves and provide practical advice to ultimately help a business grow and create more good jobs.”

    The funding arm of ICA provides direct investments from $250,000 to $1 million to businesses “that are unable to get the access they need, let alone what they want, from local small business banks and community banks,” Murphy said. “That’s where we’ve landed as our secret sauce of connecting those people and capital together.”

    Kreutz and Orlando approached ICA twice. The first time, they didn’t have enough of a strategy to embark on the programs. They tried again the following year, this time with the kernel of a game plan and a little more clarity.

    The Firebrand owners now are getting advice on anything from their finances to negotiating with contractors. “ICA has a huge pool of socially minded entrepreneurs,” which matches Firebrand’s mindset, Kreutz said.

    The bread-maker has since moved from solely wholesale operations to opening a retail store at the end of 2015 and has doubled production, churning out 700 loaves of bread and 2,000 rolls a day. He’s gone from three employees in the beginning to a workforce of 51.

    Kreutz said he still emulates his high school teacher by maintaining a diverse and respectful workplace. “Whether or not you’re gay, straight, whatever your race, religion, creed, that’s fine. We have people who were formerly incarcerated. You know what? No one cares. It’s about who you are right now, and about growth and pushing forward.”

    View more of our Social Entrepreneurship profiles and tweet us your suggestions for more groups to cover.

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    Poet and body positive activist Rachel Wiley wants to change the way we look at fatness.

    For years as a performer and poet, Wiley did not address this topic, she said. “I shied away from writing about my body for a long time because I didn’t want to be the fat poet,” she said. “I think I subconsciously thought, ‘Oh, if I don’t talk about my fat, nobody else will notice my fat.'”

    But in 2010, she was spurred to write in response to two incidents that highlighted negative treatment of fat people in the U.S.

    In October 2009, designer Karl Lagerfeld drew bad press for telling a German news magazine that “No one wants to see curvy women” on the runway. Several months later, the director Kevin Smith live-tweeted his experience getting kicked off a Southwest flight after being told his size was a “safety risk.”

    Wiley said she wrote “Gorgon,” her first piece about fatness, “out of anger” at these incidents. She continued to write about herself and fat positivity, in part to examine the damaging effect of unrealistic body expectations that permeate mass media in the U.S., she said.

    “The more I dove into body positivity, I think the sort of core of it has been wanting to undo the damage that made me anxious about somebody noticing or calling out my fat,” Wiley said.

    Her poems were bold, bombastic and inspired emails from fans who asked how to achieve her confidence. But she also wanted to write about how she arrived at that confidence, she said.

    The result was “For Fat Girls Who Considered Starvation When Bulimia Wasn’t Enough,” a piece that looks at the physical and emotional effects of bulimia.

    “A lot of people in the body positivity movement, and more specifically in the fat positivity movement, we tried all those things. We tried dieting. We tried bulimia. We tried the eating disorders. We submitted to this idea of what we’re supposed to be and nearly ruined ourselves,” she said. “I wanted to show people that I had been there too, that I wasn’t always confident.”

    The act of writing about fat bodies as attractive and worthy is still a radical act in a literary environment that often treats fatness as shorthand for a person’s negative qualities, she said.

    “They’re talked about these grotesque things. it’s often used as a way for you to dislike a character before they tell you anything about the character. That, to me, is incredibly lazy,” she said. “I hope to build refuge in my work for people who feel targeted by body shame in that hopes that enough of us can rally and push back.”

    You can watch Wiley perform the poem above or read it below.

    For Fat Girls Who Considered Starvation When Bulimia Wasn’t Enough

    Mom says that my teeth are perfect
    Perfect brother has just gotten braces on his top four front teeth
    A tiny railroad bridge connecting nothing
    And mom says that my teeth are perfect.
    At last my quiet mouth, the overlook, the swallowed feelings have all paid off
    and cultured something perfect and mine.
    My mouth is a music box
    stuffed with pearls.

    Perfect brother is tall
    And lean eats whatever he wants
    One time a whole box of oatmeal cream pies.
    but it is more clear each day that my baby fat is no longer baby fat
    but just fat
    It is more clear each day that I will not be a ballerina
    I had wanted to be a ballerina.
    My mouth is a music box
    A small girl spins gracefully at the back of my throat
    On point
    I am sure if I can just reach far enough back I could still have her grace
    I reach for her every night after dinner while the bathtub fills.

    Until one day the health teacher shows us a photo
    of a mouth crammed full of broken, yellowed dishes
    says that a side effect of Bulimia
    is ruined teeth
    but Mom said that my teeth were perfect
    And my perfect is a ransom I cannot bring myself to pay for the spinning girl
    SoI swallow her
    and then nothing more for 4 whole days
    My mouth is a music box, plays a low gear grinding that puts me to sleep.

    When I do not wake up any closer to the spinning girl encircled in pink tulle
    but rather still a ravenous hollow encircled in overgrowth
    I sneak down to the pantry and devour an entire box of oatmeal cream pies in the dark
    before going upstairs to brush my perfect teeth 1 at a time.

    Rachel Wiley is a performer, poet, and body positive activist from Columbus, Ohio. She has a BA in Theatre Studies from Capital University. Rachel has represented Columbus in multiple National Poetry Slam Competitions and was a finalist twice in 2011. She has toured nationally performing at slam venues, colleges and festivals (notably the 2014 Geraldine R Dodge Poetry Festival). She is the author of “Fat Girl Finishing School” (Timber Mouse Publishing 2014). Her work has appeared on Upworthy, The Huffington Post and Everyday Feminism. This poem was previously published in “Drunk in a Midnight Choir.”

    The post The problem with how we look at fatness, in one poem appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Libbi Stovall, 52, of Carrollton, Texas, has a history of back problems, including an outpatient surgery in 2014. She was shocked to find that her employer's 2016 health plan provides no coverage for outpatient surgery. Photo by Kim Leeson/Kaiser Health News

    Libbi Stovall, 52, of Carrollton, Texas, has a history of back problems, including an outpatient surgery in 2014. She was shocked to find that her employer’s 2016 health plan provides no coverage for outpatient surgery. Photo by Kim Leeson/Kaiser Health News

    Libbi Stovall couldn’t believe it last month when she looked at the fine print in her company’s 2016 health plan, which supposedly meets the strictest standard for employer obligations under federal rules.

    The insurance paid for inpatient hospital care, office visits and diagnostic imaging. But it provided no coverage for outpatient surgery, which accounts for two out of every three operations in the nation, according to hospital industry data.

    After reviewing the plan, she realized “their policy would not give my family the coverage we need,” said Stovall, 52, who lives in Carrollton, Texas, and has a history of back problems, including outpatient surgery in 2014 to remove a cyst. Her doctor, she added, said that “I absolutely have to be on an insurance plan that covers both outpatient and inpatient hospitalization.”

    Worse for her, being offered such a plan through her workplace, an international staffing firm called Open Systems Technologies, barred Stovall from federal subsidies to buy more comprehensive coverage in the online insurance marketplaces.

    Her experience illustrates the latest chapter in the story of employers and insurance designers pushing the limits of the Affordable Care Act.

    Last year regulators blocked companies with millions of lower-wage workers from claiming that coverage with no inpatient hospital benefits met Obamacare’s strictest standard for large employers.

    Now that those so-called “skinny plans” aren’t allowed, insurance administrators and many cost-conscious employers are purporting to meet the rules with a new version that excludes another major category: outpatient surgery. The new plans may not survive regulatory scrutiny any more than the old ones did, some experts believe.

    “I really wonder whether they can do that,” said Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia who is an authority on the health law. “Refusing to cover any outpatient physician surgical services is arguably a violation.”

    Leaving outpatient surgery benefits out of a plan can save money for employers but leave workers with crippling bills. Outpatient surgeries — those without an overnight hospital stay — happen in a hospital or a freestanding surgery center. Hernia repairs, knee arthroscopies and repairing bone fractures are typical. They generally cost less than an inpatient operation but can still come to tens of thousands of dollars.

    Leaving such procedures out of a plan can save money for employers but leave workers with crippling bills.

    Unlike insurance sold to individuals and small businesses through online marketplaces, large employers are not required to offer a list of “essential health benefits.” Instead, they must offer minimum value — roughly comparable to that of a high-deductible, “bronze” marketplace plan — as determined by an online calculator and regulatory guidance, or face a penalty. There is also a lesser standard for large employers — “minimum essential coverage” — that triggers different fines for noncompliance. But nearly all workplace-based plans that offer some types of preventive care meet this requirement.

    “It was clear that hospitalization had to be covered” by large employers after regulators ruled in February that skinny plans lacking inpatient benefits did not meet minimum value, said Anne Lennan, president of the Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, a trade group for claims processors. “But then the question was, ‘How much?’”

    Depending on how regulators respond, new skinny plans lacking outpatient surgery benefits will help answer that question.

    For 2016, such insurance has been marketed primarily to staffing companies, home health agencies, hoteliers and other lower-wage employers that had historically never provided major medical coverage. Those are the same firms that were sponsoring skinny coverage a year ago, industry consultants say.

    It’s unclear how many companies said yes for this year, although last year about half the 1,600 corporate members of the American Staffing Association were interested in the plans with no inpatient coverage. The trade group didn’t conduct a similar study for the latest skinny plans, said senior counsel Edward Lenz.

    More than 30 employers working with EBSO Inc., a Minnesota-based benefits company, have implemented 2016 minimum-value plans that cover inpatient hospitalization but not outpatient surgery, said EBSO’s president Bruce Flunker. He did not identify them.

    JFC Staffing, based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, offered a skinny plan lacking outpatient surgery benefits to nearly 700 eligible employees this year, said Cathy Reichelderfer, the company’s chief financial officer.

    JFC struggled with simultaneously conforming to Obamacare rules, offering coverage that wouldn’t break the budget and giving workers insurance they wanted, she said.

    “As an employer, we want to do the right thing,” she said. On one hand, offering a minimum-value plan means “potentially somebody losing their subsidy” to buy alternative coverage in the marketplaces, she said. On the other hand, overpaying for insurance or offering no insurance — and subjecting JFC to expensive Obamacare fines — could wipe out hundreds of jobs “because we can’t stay in business,” she said.

    Because workers offered minimum-value coverage are presumed to have adequate insurance, they’re not eligible for tax credits to buy marketplace policies.

    This is the second year under the health law in which large employers must offer affordable, minimum-value coverage or face penalties of up to $3,000 per worker.

    Temp companies, restaurants and other businesses that never offered major medical coverage before are “certainly keen to minimize this cost,” said Kevin Schlotman, vice president of employee benefits at Benovation, an Ohio consulting firm.

    For many workers at such employers, even plans lacking inpatient benefits or outpatient surgery — but paying for office visits, emergency room care and prescriptions — are a significant improvement, say consultants selling those plans and companies offering them.

    “We’re not trying to provide a program that doesn’t have good coverage,” Flunker said. “We’re trying to provide a program that is meeting the current regulation and is affordable” for employers as well as workers.

    OST, Stovall’s employer, offered a minimum-value plan for 2016 without outpatient surgery benefits that is designed and administered by Key Benefit Administrators, one of the country’s largest independent claims-processing firms. KBA was one of the leading promoters of last year’s minimum-value coverage with no inpatient benefits.

    After Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post wrote about those policies in 2014, federal regulators issued clarifying rules saying that large-employer plans must provide “substantial coverage of inpatient hospital and physician services” to qualify as minimum value. The debate now is whether “substantial coverage” of “physician services” should include outpatient surgery.

    Not surprisingly, the American Hospital Association “is deeply concerned” about plans that exclude it, a spokeswoman said.

    New York-based OST, which says it is one of the largest privately held staffing firms in the world, declined to comment, as did KBA’s general counsel Wallace Gray. Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, referred a reporter to the regulatory language requiring “substantial coverage,” without referring to specific plans.

    Libbi Stovall turned down OST’s minimum-value plan. Even without tax credits to help pay for it, she bought insurance on healthcare.gov for 2016 that covers both inpatient care and outpatient surgery.

    “I fear that other contracting companies are giving their employees the same substandard insurance coverage and figure that these employees are too afraid to say anything for fear of retaliation,” she said. “I am standing up for these people because I don’t want to see anyone go bankrupt” from uncovered medical bills.

    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. You can view the original report on its website.

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    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is joined by singer Demi Lovato at a campaign event in Iowa City, Iowa. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is joined by singer Demi Lovato at a campaign event in Iowa City, Iowa. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    IOWA CITY, Iowa — Hillary Clinton has a lot of celebrity pals on her side, like actress Lena Dunham and singers Katy Perry or Demi Lovato, the latter of whom belted out hits at a campaign concert at the University of Iowa.

    It’s a play to help the former secretary of state connect with younger voters. But so far, the star power isn’t swaying the college set. Many say they prefer her rumpled 74-year-old rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, regardless of whether he got star power behind him or not.

    “Bernie appeals more to my cool,” said Alex Bare, 19, a University of Iowa student who plans to caucus for Sanders, but said he likes Clinton and came for the free concert in Iowa City Thursday. “He refuses to take money from super PACs. That’s a really bold move and for me, that makes him cool.”

    The push for younger voters comes amid an intensifying battle for the Democratic nomination. While Clinton and Sanders are locked in a tight race in Iowa, and Clinton has held the lead nationally, Sanders has a clear advantage among younger voters. A recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa poll forecast that Sanders will have 59 percent of Democratic caucus-goers 45 and under, compared to the 27 percent expected to back Clinton. And in the latest CBS News/New York Times poll Sanders led 60 percent to 31 percent among Democratic primary voters under 45.

    “He has the hipster vote,” said Erin Kelleher, 26, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, who said she was deciding between Clinton and Sanders. But she said the Lovato show wouldn’t sway her because “I don’t care about the celebrities.”

    Sanders has collected some celebrity buddies too. Actress Susan Sarandon and actor Justin Long are appearing at Sanders rallies in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 1 caucus. The campaign also has a number of celebrities doing media outreach on Sanders’ behalf, including hip hop artist Killer Mike and musicians from the bands Foster the People and Vampire Weekend. But Sanders is drawing big student crowds without them on the bill.

    It’s not that the students were negative about Clinton — they simply like what Sanders has to offer more. They are packing his rallies by the thousands because they like his push for free tuition at public universities and his long record on liberal issues. They like that he doesn’t take money from political action committees. They even dig his rolled-up shirt-sleeves and his grumpy grandpa demeanor.

    Most of all, they love the slogan: “Feel the Bern.”

    “Bernie gets me stoked,” said Ian Wold, 20, a junior at the University of Iowa who plans to vote for Sanders in the state’s kick-off caucus.

    It’s not that the students were negative about Clinton — they simply like what Sanders has to offer more. The fight for younger voters harkens back to the 2008 race, when Clinton lost the youth vote to President Barack Obama. While younger voters tend to be less reliable participants, they can make all the difference in a close race. In addition, young enthusiasm helps a candidate project momentum.

    About 1,700 students came to hear Lovato and Clinton Thursday. Backed by a small band, Lovato performed several songs, including her hit “Confident,” after which she said “I don’t think there’s a woman more confident than Hillary Clinton.”

    Clinton then came on stage and spoke for about five minutes, calling Lovato an “extraordinary young woman” and urging the students to caucus. She drew enthusiastic applause pledging to fight for equal rights and to “take on those big special interests.”

    Earlier in the day, Clinton held an event at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. The room packed with more than 500 people was largely older. Hannah Friesen, a 20-year-old student who said she was undecided, said that when Sanders came to campus, “a ton” of students attended and some “made their own shirts.”

    Some students at the University of Iowa and at the concert were Clinton fans. Austin Graber, 22, said he thought Clinton was “the most qualified.” And Lauren Ellbogen, 18, said she’d be working at the caucuses for Clinton and said she didn’t think Sanders was “realistic.”

    Huge numbers of young people turned out to rallies for Sanders on college campuses in eastern Iowa over the weekend. Over 2,000 people came to hear Sanders at Luther College in Decorah Sunday morning. Decked out in “Feel the Bern” shirts, students screamed and cheered when Sanders touted his lack of a super PAC and pledged to provide free tuition at public universities. The crowds chanted: “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie,” and frequently yelled “We love you Bernie.”

    Celebrities have been campaigning for Hillary for months. Wearing an American flag cape and a Clinton campaign pin, pop starlet Katy Perry performed at a Clinton rally in Des Moines in October. Actress Lena Dunham toured Iowa and New Hampshire and did events in Boston and Chicago for Clinton this month.

    Many students said the Lovato concert was a good move for Clinton, but they weren’t all convinced. Jen Moulton, 18, who leans to Sanders, said the concert was “kind of cool, but it comes off like she’s trying really hard.”

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

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    Security forces stand guard in Alexandria during the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt, January 25, 2016.  REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih   - RTX23Y7W

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio


    Five years ago, Egyptians didn’t stop protesting the three-decade-long rule of President Hosni Mubarak until he agreed to resign.

    Today, Egyptians don’t feel safe enough to protest what they consider the tightening grip of current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

    “We saw an absolute crackdown in what usually is one of the world’s busiest cities,” said PBS NewsHour special correspondent Nick Schifrin, who was reporting Monday from Egypt’s capital Cairo.

    Police were guarding Tahrir Square, the city center that served as the base for its Arab Spring. The only people allowed in the square were a few hundred pro-Sissi demonstrators, who said only the former military commander could defend the country against terrorism, Schifrin told Hari Sreenivasan. “The opposition was too scared to come out on the streets,” Schifrin said.

    Law enforcement authorities have conducted thousands of raids and about 40,000 political prisoners are in Egyptian jails, which “sends a very direct signal” to activists, he said. El-Sissi contends the practices are necessary to defend the country against an insurgency, including the Islamic State militants.

    Read the full transcript of this segment below:

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Five years ago today, Egyptians took to the streets in protest against the government of Hosni Mubarak. Eighteen days later, Mubarak was gone, a landmark of what became known as the Arab Spring.

    But these five years on have been tumultuous and difficult in Egypt, with a presidential election in 2012 that brought Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and the military-led removal and imprisonment of Morsi in 2013, and the subsequent election of the general who unseated Morsi, the current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

    Egyptians today are marking a somber and tense anniversary.

    For more, we turn to Hari Sreenivasan.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me now is NewsHour special correspondent Nick Schifrin in Cairo.

    Nick, you have reported from the region multiple times over the past few years. Here are you on this anniversary. What did you see today?

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, Hari, we saw an absolute crackdown in what usually is one of the world’s busiest cities, an extraordinary amount of police guarding stations, guarding government buildings, but also guarding anywhere where demonstrators might actually come together.

    And we saw that especially in Tahrir Square this afternoon. We were there for a little while, met a few hundred people. The only people allowed in Tahrir Square today were pro-Sissi demonstrators. And we spoke to them. And a few of them told me that they believe only President Sissi could defend this country against terrorism.

    And where was the opposition? Well, take a look at this. This is 21-year-old Sanaa Seif. She’s a prominent activist. And, today, she walked alone, just her. Her jacket says “The Revolution Continues.”

    But, Hari, the revolution didn’t continue today. The opposition was too scared to come out on the streets. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has officially been called a terrorist organization, has really been — cracked down. And so, today, at least on the streets, there was zero opposition to President Sissi.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, you point out that there’s two different factions that oppose Sissi, the young people that were calling for a revolution five years ago and the Muslim Brotherhood. What’s happened to them over the years?

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Well, Hari, what is amazing about the revolution from five years ago is that those two groups were together. There was so much hope and such a feeling that a cross-current of Egypt were going to come together and really depose Mubarak.

    It was secular activists. It was more conservative religious Muslim Brotherhood. It was even members of the government. And what has happened is that this crackdown that this government has really undergone has taken away not only that hope, but also the feeling that all of those groups are combined.

    And just to give you a sense of how big the crackdown is, there are now 40,000 prisoners, political prisoners, in Egyptian jails. And just in the last 10 days, there were 5,000 raids in Cairo. These are raids that lead to arrests or perhaps just some pointed questions. But that is a raid every two minutes in Cairo. That sends a very direct signal.

    And that is why we saw no opposition on the street. And that is why one opposition activist put it this way. There might be freedom of speech in Egypt, but there is no freedom after speech. And many activists right now are saying that this government is the same kind of government they risked their lives to escape five years ago.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so besides that indirect message through those crackdowns, what is the government saying?

    NICK SCHIFRIN: It is important to know that President Sissi came out yesterday and praised the revolution of five years ago, but he praised even more what he called the fix to that revolution, namely the military coup that brought him to power. And he defends a lot of these security crackdowns as the only way to defend Egypt against the insurgency, especially groups that are affiliated with ISIS right now.

    But the crackdown in the last couple weeks was in the very neighborhoods where the opposition is used to using as their real base, and that is downtown Cairo. And that’s why we see an opposition that is so demoralized and wary.

    And those are feelings that you really see across this country. Hari, there have been eight elections here in the last four-and-a-half years. The turnout of the last one was 28 percent. There is a tiredness. There is a real fraction among the opposition. And that means that, even if there were protests right now in Egypt, there is simply no organized alternative to this government.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, NewsHour special correspondent Nick Schifrin joining us from Cairo tonight, thanks so much.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Thanks, Hari.

    The post 5 years since uprising, Egyptian opposition demoralized by crackdown appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Politics Monday

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    We’re now just one week away from a new phase in the presidential campaign: when people actually start to vote. That means we’re seeing the candidates settle on their final pitches, and commit to certain lines of attack. This Monday, NPR’s Tamara Keith and The Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter cut through all of the barbs and all of the noise.

    Can Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders find the right message or the right attacks in these closing days, and turn all of the excitement behind them into caucus success? Can Sanders and Donald Trump turn out Iowans who haven’t been to a caucus before?

    And as newspapers make their picks and high-profile politicians lend their help on the campaign trail, we ask: Will any of that move the needle for any of the candidates? It’s Politic Monday at the NewsHour, so all of that is just one click away.

    Read the full transcript of this segment below:

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the race for the White House, we’re just one week away now from a new phase in the campaign, when actually people start to decide.

    And that means the candidates are all over the map, working to garner support in those early voting states. Republican front-runner Donald Trump told an Iowa crowd he was confident that his supporters would stick with him.

    DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate: My people are so smart. And you know what else they say about my people, the polls? They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that, where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in Iowa today, Trump’s closest rival, Ted Cruz, tried to pull voters away, pushing back at the Republican front-runner’s recent attacks on immigration and other topics.

    SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: He is now insulting me everyday. He can do that. That is his prerogative. I do not intend to respond in kind.

    And, indeed, that’s exactly the way I have responded to every candidate in the field. When others have engaged in attacks and insults, I will not respond in kind, because I think the people of Iowa, the people of New Hampshire, the people of South Carolina, the people of this country deserve better.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s another question in Iowa, though, and that is, whose supporters will actually show up to caucus? Both Trump’s campaign and the team behind Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders have been reaching out to their Iowa supporters with online videos on just how caucusing works.

    WOMAN: The caucuses are a secret ballot. If you can write T-R-U-M-P, you have just caucused for Donald Trump.

    MAN: It’s 6:59, let’s get off the boards. I got to make the point. If you’re not here by 7:00, you won’t get in.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And the Sanders camp isn’t just focusing on getting out the vote. It’s also trying to dent Hillary Clinton’s liberal credentials. In the last few weeks, Sanders has focused his attacks on the speaking fees she has collected from Wall Street.

    Yesterday, Clinton responded.

    HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: You know, first of all, I was a senator from New York. I took them on when I was senator. I took on the carried-interest loophole. I took on what was happening in the mortgage markets. I was talking about that in 2006. They know exactly where I stand.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings us to Politics Monday with Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Can you believe it? It’s just one week away.

    TAMARA KEITH, NPR: I can’t believe it at all.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: How long have we been waiting for this?

    So, Tamara, you were in Iowa toward the end of last week. You spent several days there. Let’s talk about the Democratic race first, where it is — seems to be tighter than the Republican race, although we don’t know. We will find out.

    But what are you hearing voters say about Clinton and Sanders?

    TAMARA KEITH: Well, they are certainly engaged. They’re showing up to their events.

    And the candidates are trading barbs now. This is for real. It’s getting close, and the candidates are painting each other — Hillary Clinton is painting Bernie Sanders as an idealist, as someone who has ideas that can’t really get done. She, while I was there, rolled out some new attack lines on that. Bernie Sanders is saying, why should we go with establishment politics?

    And I think that it is in some ways breaking through to voters. As you talk to them, you start to hear those lines echoed back in the interviews with voters at these events.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, what works at a time like this?

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Well, that is what we’re all wondering, right, is, can you translate that enthusiasm into people showing up?

    And as you saw in that video, caucusing is not easy to do. You don’t just walk in and spend five minutes and put your vote out for the person that you like. You have to commit yourself to a significant amount of time. The Democratic caucus is much more complicated and much more labor-intensive than the Republican side.

    So, getting people to show up, getting people, as Bernie Sanders more likely to do, to register — you can register on the day of the caucus as a Democrat — that all takes a great deal of time and a great deal of effort.

    And, remember, this is for just a tiny, tiny slice of all the people who are registered to vote in Iowa, too.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And is there more pressure, Tamara, on Sanders and on Trump to get these — their supporters out? Because it appears they have more first time caucus-goers. If these people actually show up, they have more than the others do.

    TAMARA KEITH: Absolutely. They are counting on people who are these first-time caucus-goers to show up and caucus for them.

    Bernie Sanders is actually — his campaign has created a Web site. I think it’s something like provethemwrongandcaucus.com. And it is designed to get those first-time caucus-goers, people who the establishment would say won’t show up, to get them to show up.

    Donald Trump is very much pushing to get his people to show up. Their line is, if someone is going to stand outside in the cold and snow for seven hours, then why wouldn’t they show up for two hours on a Monday night?

    But life gets in the way. And I think that everybody is talking a good game on their ground game right now, their effort to get people to the polls. I think we really, truly will not know until a week from tonight.

    AMY WALTER: And that’s what we’re — that’s really what we will be looking for while we’re out there on caucus night is what the lines look like to get into these caucus places, not just, are a bunch of people showing up?

    But when I talked to somebody who was there in 2008 on the Obama campaign, they said, we felt really confident in our chances when we saw the line to register. That means people who had never showed up before, who weren’t even registered to vote. That line was snaking around the block.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, we remember the lines from 2008. And, by the way, I’m going to be out there with both of you next Monday night.

    But, in the meantime, Amy, this comment from Donald Trump about, “I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and it wouldn’t affect my support,” does something like that have a bearing on people’s thinking at this…

    AMY WALTER: About how we get — right, how we get to this next point?

    The question to me about Donald Trump is not do his supporters leave him, because he is correct that he has a core group of people who say they support him in polls. The one is, do they show up? The second is, just how big is that core?

    And so the question is not, where do his voters go? It is, where does everybody else go once the race starts to winnow down? Does he have enough support that if it is a two- person or a three-person race, he can still win?

    Now, there are some polls that have come out that show that he is still ahead, but, remember, this is a delegate race, not a popularity race, and so how those states break out will be critical.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Good to be reminded of that. It’s delegates, and not the popularity.

    But, Tamara, endorsements, I want to ask you both about that, because you had, significantly, the major newspaper in the state, The Des Moines Register, endorsing Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio on the Republican side.

    And then you had a few other notables, the senator, Republican Senator Joni Ernst, endorsing Rubio as well. What — do these endorsements matter at a stage like this?

    TAMARA KEITH: Well, and I’m not sure that she actually endorsed him. She appeared at an event with him. But I don’t believe…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: She said something like, the country would be in good hands with his leadership.

    AMY WALTER: Yes, but she — I think that both she and Chuck Grassley are not officially endorsing.

    You know, it’s an open question about how much these endorsements matter. I’m sure there are some people open up their Des Moines Register and say, all right, I guess that is the person I will go caucus for.

    But there is not a great record. On the Democratic side, The Des Moines Register has never picked an Iowa winner, at least not in many, many, many, many years. And on the Republican side, they have somewhat of a better record. But, based on the polls — and, obviously, things can change, and they can change quickly in Iowa, and there can be surprises.

    But, based on the polls as they are right now, Marco Rubio is not number one, or number two or even number three in a lot of them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this endorsement thing? We talk about it every four years.

    AMY WALTER: Yes, I know, and wonder what it matters.

    A lot of it is how this impacts the people doing the endorsing. Chuck Grassley, for example, he is up for reelection this year. He doesn’t have a serious race, but if you were at all concerned about a primary challenge, you have got to make sure that you are touching every single Republican voter out there, especially those who might not have been engaged before.

    Joni Ernst, she is not up this next year, but she was elected on Tea Party enthusiasm. She can’t afford to alienate any part of it. So it is as much about covering their own political tail as it is about showing support for somebody else.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And in these last few seconds, Tamara, as we have heard, the Republican race — the Democratic race, it’s tough, but the Republican race has gotten really nasty, with lying — they’re calling each other liars.

    Does that go over well in a place like Iowa?

    TAMARA KEITH: I mean, people say they don’t like negative politics, and yet every time there are negative ads, and they are pretty effective.

    AMY WALTER: Well, and that goes to show. Does Marco Rubio get a bump out of this, that the two front-runners, Cruz and Trump, going after each other so hard that someone comes up the middle, a little like John Edwards did and John Kerry did in 2004, when Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt went toe to toe?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We remember those names.

    AMY WALTER: You remember those names from that long, long ago? It feels like…


    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, the next time I see the two of you, it may be in — somewhere in Iowa.

    AMY WALTER: It will probably be warmer there than here.

    TAMARA KEITH: I think so. Less snow.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

    TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

    The post Can candidates translate Iowa enthusiasm into caucus support? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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