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

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    North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory tells supporters that the election results of his contest against Democratic challenger Roy Cooper will be contested, in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. November 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Drake - RTX2SOND - RTSURZG

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    Read the full transcript below.

    ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: One bright spot for Democrats in last month’s elections was winning the governorship of North Carolina. Democrat Roy Cooper ousted incumbent Republican Pat McCrory, but only after a recount confirmed Cooper’s narrow victory.

    North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature is not taking the loss lightly. Yesterday, it passed laws limiting the power of the incoming governor. One strips him of the power to appoint a majority of commissioners to the state’s board of elections. Another cuts by two-thirds the number of government employees the governor can appoint, from 1,500 to fewer than 500.

    Hundreds of protesters chanting “power grab” filled the halls of the state capitol in Raleigh during the legislative sessions yesterday. Thirty-nine of them were arrested.

    Michael Gerhardt is a professor at the University of North Carolina Law School in Chapel Hill, and he joins me now to discuss these developments.

    Professor, let’s start really broad and then we’ll drill down. Why did this happen?

    MICHAEL GERHARDT, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA LAW SCHOOL IN CHAPEL HILL: Well, that’s a very good question. The legislature had initially called it a special session to deal with disaster relief, and then they extended it to consider other bills. There was some concern about where else the legislature would go, and now, we have a sense of where they’ve gone.

    STEWART: And why did they go there?

    GERHARDT: They’ve claimed that they’ve done this in part because they have concerns about the governorship of North Carolina being too powerful a position, and so, they want to constrain it. Historically, those of us who follow these things don’t think of the governorship of North Carolina as being a very powerful office. It’s one of the last states in the country to give the governorship the veto power. It’s been a pretty weak office anyway, but it’s now weaker as a result of the legislature’s actions.

    STEWART: Is that why some supporters of the action, the legislature’s action, said it was a needed realignment of power, while other people are saying it’s an overreach?

    GERHARDT: I think that’s exactly right. So, it depends on where you sit on that divide. If you agree with the outcomes, you would say, yes, we’re just trying to constrain a governor from doing things we don’t agree with. And if you’re on the other side, you would say this is really trying to undermine an incoming governor’s relatively limited discretion by limiting that discretion further.

    STEWART: Some of the criticisms of what has happened was not only that it happened, but how it happened and how it was done.

    How did it happen so quickly?

    GERHARDT: It happened very fast because we have a legislature that is veto proof. It’s got such a strong control by the Republican Party that, that party’s leaders can pretty much do whatever they want in the legislature. And that’s what we saw. I think in part this happens, frankly, because I think the legislature believes it can do this kind of thing and get away with it.

    Keep in mind that many of these people — in fact all of them — were just re-elected in pretty safe seats. So, the majority and super majority of the state legislature feel secure politically.

    STEWART: This move is getting national attention and even international attention, but what I want to know from you is, what’s that local element of it, that North Carolinian element, a dog whistle, that you folks hear that maybe we don’t necessarily key into?

    I think there are a couple of things. One is, of course, I’m at the University of North Carolina. We’re a public university, and we take great pride in that. And one of the things that the state legislature did yesterday was it restricted the governor from making any appointments to the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina.

    So, the governor-elect, Roy Cooper, had made public education a real focus of his campaign. And that’s just one of the limitations now placed on him. So, his ability to influence the future direction of the university has been limited to some extent. And then there are other areas in which the state legislature redesigned things.

    For example, you mentioned the state election system, election board. That realignment is likely to make it harder, if not impossible, for the current — the governor-elect to be able to influence election boards, which means the current people in power will be able to maintain power.

    STEWART: Something else interesting about North Carolina is that it’s not necessarily a reliably red state or a blue state in 2016. It’s really quite purple and we’ve seen that with a lot of the news stories we’ve been covering out of North Carolina, from LGBT rights, to voter ID issues. What’s going on in North Carolina that you think is important for us to pay attention to, in terms of the whole country?

    GERHARDT: North Carolina, maybe to some extent, a microcosm of the divide that we see across the country. The country, obviously, was very divided in so far as the last presidential election was concerned. And North Carolina, I think, is to some extent, a purple state because of the divisions.

    And those divisions are not just party-wide between Republican and Democrat. They’re divisions between urban and rural as well. There’s a division over values. And we see those divisions work themselves out when the legislature acts like this.

    STEWART: The legislature did — what they did was perfectly legal. So, I’m wondering about other states what have this sort of same split within the legislature, between Democrats and Republicans. There are six other states that have this split. Is what happens in North Carolina, could that set a precedent for other states?

    GERHARDT: Well, it could. I think you’re probably right what this would be upheld as legal, but you’re exactly right to sort of call attention to this. What other states do will be important. Is North Carolina going to be an example of something to follow? Or is it going to be an example of something to avoid?

    STEWART: Michael Gerhardt from the University of North Carolina — thank you so much for joining us.

    GERHARDT: Thanks for having me.

    The post In North Carolina, new laws to limit governor’s power appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence (R) introduces U.S. President-elect Donald Trump during a USA Thank You Tour event in Orlando, Florida, U.S., December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RTX2VEOQ

    U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence (R) introduces U.S. President-elect Donald Trump during a USA Thank You Tour event in Orlando, Florida, on Dec. 16, 2016. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    PALM BEACH, Fla. — President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday was wrapping up his postelection victory tour, showing few signs of turning the page from his blustery campaign to focus on uniting a divided nation a month before his inauguration.

    At each stop, the Republican has gloatingly recapped his Election Night triumph, reignited some old political feuds while starting some new ones, and done little to quiet the hate-filled chants of “Lock her up!” directed at Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

    Trump planned the tour’s finale at the same football stadium in Mobile, Alabama, that hosted the biggest rally of his campaign. Also Saturday, he announced the nomination of South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney to be his budget director, choosing a tea partyer and fiscal conservative with no experience assembling a government spending plan.

    The raucous rallies, a hallmark of his campaign, are meant to salute supporters who lifted him to the presidency. But these appearances also have been his primary form of communication since the Nov. 8 election.

    Trump has eschewed the traditional news conference held by a president-elect within days of winning. He’s done few interviews, announced his Cabinet picks via news release and continues to rely on Twitter to broadcast his thoughts and make public pronouncements.

    That continued Saturday morning when Trump turned to social media to weigh in on China’s seizure of a U.S. Navy research drone from international waters, misspelling “unprecedented” when he wrote “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.”

    He later corrected the tweet. China said Saturday it intended to return the drone to the U.S.

    [Watch Video]

    Within days of beating Clinton, Trump suggested to aides that he resume his campaign-style barnstorming. Though he agreed to hold off until he assembled part of his Cabinet, Trump has repeatedly spoken of his fondness for being on the road. Aides are considering more rallies after he takes office, to help press his agenda with the public.

    In Pennsylvania, he launched into a 20-minute recap of his Election Night win. The crowd cheered as the president-elect slowly ticked off his victories state by state. He mixed in rambling criticisms of pundits and politicians from both parties.

    Trump also thanked African-Americans who didn’t vote, saying “They didn’t come out to vote for Hillary. They didn’t come out. And that was a big — so thank you to the African-American community.” Such rhetoric raised new questions about his ability to unify the country.

    In Ohio, he took veiled swipes at fellow Republicans, including the state’s governor John Kasich and independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, whom he solely refers to as “that guy.” McMullin competed chiefly in Utah.

    In Florida, Trump remembered his general election foe by joking, “We had fun fighting Hillary, didn’t we?” He said his supporters were “vicious, violent, screaming, ‘Where’s the wall? We want the wall!’

    But Trump has also sounded some notes of unity on the tour. In North Carolina, he said, “We will heal our divisions and unify our country. When Americans are unified there is nothing we cannot do — nothing!”

    After the Alabama rally, Trump planned to return to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate. Aides said the president-elect probably would spend Christmas week there and could remain at the coastal resort until New Year’s.

    The president-elect’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget — a job requiring Senate confirmation — is a founder of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. In a statement, Trump called him a “very high-energy leader with deep convictions for how to responsibly manage our nation’s finances and save our country from drowning in red ink.”

    Mulvaney is one of the more hard-charging members among House conservatives. Lawmakers in the House Freedom Caucus helped push former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., from power and have caused heartburn for current Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

    Mulvaney has taken a hard line on budget matters, routinely voting against increasing the government’s borrowing cap and pressing for major cuts to benefit programs as the path to balancing the budget.

    Actually balancing the federal budget requires deeper spending cuts than the GOP-controlled Congress can probably deliver on, especially if Trump prevails on revenue-losing tax cuts and a big infrastructure package next year.

    The post On victory lap, few signs Trump focusing on unified nation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York in 2015. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York in 2015. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — One of President-elect Donald Trump’s first, and defining, acts next year could come on Republican legislation to cut off taxpayer money from Planned Parenthood.

    Trump sent mixed signals during the campaign about the 100-year-old organization, which provides birth control, abortions and various women’s health services. He said “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood,” but he also endorsed efforts to defund it.

    Trump once described himself as “very pro-choice.” Now he’s in the anti-abortion camp.

    Still, the Republican has been steadfast in calling for repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law, and the GOP-led Congress is eager to comply. One of the first pieces of legislation will be a repeal measure that’s paired with cutting off money for Planned Parenthood. While the GOP may delay the impact of scuttling the law for almost four years, denying Planned Parenthood roughly $400 million in Medicaid funds would take effect immediately.

    “We’ve already shown what we believe with respect to funding of Planned Parenthood,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters last month. “Our position has not changed.”

    Legislation to both repeal the law and cut Planned Parenthood funds for services to low-income women moved through Congress along party lines last year. Obama vetoed it; Trump’s win removes any obstacle.

    Cutting off Planned Parenthood from taxpayer money is a long-sought dream of social conservatives, but it’s a loser in the minds of some GOP strategists. Planned Parenthood is loathed by anti-abortion activists who are the backbone of the GOP coalition. Polls, however, show that the group is favorably viewed by a sizable majority of Americans — 59 percent in a Gallup survey last year, including more than one-third of Republicans.

    “Defunding Planned Parenthood as one of their first acts in the New Year would be devastating for millions of families and a huge mistake by Republicans,” said incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

    Democrats pledge to defend the group, and they point to the issue of birth control and women’s health as helping them win Senate races in New Hampshire and Nevada this year. They argue that Trump would be leading off with a political loser. But if he were to have second thoughts and if the Planned Parenthood provision were to be dropped from the health law repeal, then social conservatives probably would erupt.

    “They may well be able to succeed, but the women of America are going to know what that means,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., citing reduced access to services Planned Parenthood clinics provide. “And we’re going to call Republicans on the carpet for that.”

    At least one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, may oppose the effort. Collins has defended Planned Parenthood, saying it “provides important family planning, cancer screening, and basic preventive health care services to millions of women across the country.” She voted against the health overhaul repeal last year as a result.

    Continued opposition from Collins, which appears likely, would put the repeal measure on a knife’s edge in the Senate, where Republicans will have a 52-48 majority next year. Senate GOP leaders could afford to lose just one other Republican.

    Anti-abortion conservatives have long tried to cut Planned Parenthood funds, arguing that reimbursements for nonabortion services such as gynecological exams help subsidize abortions. Though Planned Parenthood says it performed 324,000 abortions in 2014, the most recent year tallied, the vast majority of women seek out contraception, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and other services including cancer screenings.

    The drive against Planned Parenthood picked up steam in 2015 after an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress released secretly-recorded videos that it claimed showed Planned Parenthood officials profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research. The measure, however, would strip Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding for only a year, a step taken to give time for continued investigations of Planned Parenthood’s activities. A House panel is still active, but investigations by 13 states have been concluded without charges of wrongdoing.

    Planned Parenthood strongly denied the allegations and no wrongdoing was proved, but the group announced in October that it will no longer accept reimbursement for the costs involved in providing fetal tissue to researchers.

    The defunding measure would take away roughly $400 million in Medicaid money from the group in the year after enactment, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and would result in roughly 400,000 women losing access to care. One factor is that being enrolled in Medicaid doesn’t guarantee access to a doctor, so women denied Medicaid services from Planned Parenthood may not be able to find replacement care.

    Planned Parenthood says private contributions are way up since the election, but that they are not a permanent replacement for federal reimbursements. “We’re going to fight like hell to make sure our doors stay open,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Erica Sackin.

    Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

    The post Trump action on health care could cost Planned Parenthood appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wears a "Make America Great Again" cap before his speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wears a “Make America Great Again” cap before his speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    ATLANTA — As members of the Electoral College prepare to choose Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, some Republican electors say they are defending rural and small-town America against big-state liberalism and its support for national popular vote leader Hillary Clinton.

    But the picture is more complicated.

    “Our Founding Fathers established the Electoral College because those larger states, those larger areas, don’t necessarily need to be the ones that rule,” said Mary Sue McClurkin, a Republican elector from Alabama.

    In Trump’s hometown of New York City, which Clinton won easily, Democratic elector Stuart Appelbaum countered that “we’re electing the president of the entire country,” so “the will of the entire country should be reflected in the results.”

    READ NEXT: Electoral College is ‘vestige’ of slavery, say some Constitutional scholars

    It’s an expected argument given the unusual circumstances of the 2016 election. Clinton won some 2.6 million more votes than Trump in the nationwide tally. But Trump is line to get 306 of the 538 electoral votes under the state-by-state distribution of electors used to choose presidents since 1789.

    Trump won rural areas, small towns and many small cities, including in states Clinton carried. Clinton won in the largest urban areas, including in Trump states.

    Former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, a GOP elector, said Democrats’ strength on the coasts is enough to justify the Electoral College. “A presidential election decided each time by either California or New York,” he said, would leave voters in Alaska and many other places “with no voice” in presidential politics.

    It’s worth noting that Trump didn’t just win small states and Clinton didn’t just take large ones.

    Trump and Clinton split the six most populous states, each winning three, but Trump won seven of the top 10. Of the 10 smallest states plus the District of Columbia, Trump edged Clinton 6-5. Trump actually ran up his national advantage in midsize states.

    But the dynamics highlight the delicate balance in a political structure that defines itself simultaneously as a democracy and a republic.

    When the U.S. was founded, some wanted direct election of the president. Others wanted state legislatures or Congress to choose the executive. The Electoral College was the end result: Each state got a slate of electors numbering the same as its delegation in Congress. Electors vote, with rare exception, for whichever candidate won the most votes in their state — effectively meaning the presidential election is 51 separate popular votes.

    “It’s such an interesting compromise that gave us the Electoral College, unique to our American system,” said elections law expert Will Sellers from Alabama, who will serve as a Republican elector for the fourth time.

    The system gives smaller states an advantage: The number of electors is based on each state’s number of U.S. representatives plus two, for each member of the U.S. Senate — itself a compromise favoring small states.

    So California’s 55 electoral votes reflect 53 House members and two senators. For seven states, including Wyoming, Delaware and the Dakotas, those extra two electoral votes bring their total to the minimum of three.

    Put another way, Alaska’s three electors will cast 0.56 percent of the 538 electoral votes despite casting just 0.23 percent of the national popular vote. But the advantage doesn’t just favor Republicans. Democratic Nevada makes up 1.12 percent of the Electoral College but cast less than 1 of a 100 national ballots.

    The Electoral College-popular vote split, along with Trump’s larger-than-life personality and lack of elective experience, has fueled a vocal, but almost certainly futile, movement to deny him the presidency by pressuring electors to vote against him when they convene Monday in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

    The Associated Press tried to reach all 538 electors and was able to interview more than 330 of them. Many reported getting tens of thousands of emails, calls and letters asking them to vote against Trump.

    But the canvass found overwhelming support for the system, and the nominee, among Republican electors. The AP found only one pledged to Trump who will refuse to vote for him.

    “I feel like the Electoral College gives a very fair perspective, so that those who are in the rural areas are able to have an equal voice with those who are in the urban areas,” said Oklahoma elector Lauree Elizabeth Marshall.

    If anything, when Republican electors talk about large states, they actually mean New York and California. Clinton’s lead in California, the most populous state, is more than her national lead. She won New York by about 1.7 million votes.

    McClurkin, the Alabama elector, says many of the letters and emails she’s received have come from those two states. “I’ve not gotten any from a Southern state,” she said.

    But Democratic elector Eric Herde from Washington state argued that the country should scrap electoral votes in favor of the national ballot count. All Electoral College defenses, whether citing population or the genius of the founders, amount to “states mattering more than people,” Herde said. “The argument that the person who got the most votes should win is still the better argument.”

    Associated Press writers Becky Bohrer in Alaska, Deepti Hajela in New York and David Lieb in Missouri contributed to this report.

    The post GOP electors cite rural voice in Electoral College appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A woman and her daughter their respects at statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang October 11, 2015.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSU3V6

    A woman and her daughter their respects at statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, left, and late leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Oct. 11, 2015. Photo by Damir Sagolj/File Photo/Reuters

    Since the mid-20th century, tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled their country amid food shortages and a tight government rule, risking death if they are caught.

    In recent years, some of these defectors, who now live in South Korea, have sought to undermine the grip of the Kim regime on North Korean citizens. They transfer media, including American movies and TV shows, to USB drives and smuggle them to North Korea, where they are passed around to citizens who have no access to the internet or any information outside the country.

    Jieun Baek, a Ph.D candidate at Oxford University who has conducted research on North Korea, spoke with NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Karla Murthy about the effects of this information inside North Korea’s borders. An excerpt of their conversation is below.

    How did outside information first start spreading in North Korea?

    The North Korean information landscape as it stands today is sort of a longtime evolution of what has been happening since the ’90s. And the mid-’90s is a really important marker for North Korean modern history because that’s when the big famine hit. The government called it the Arduous March, but it’s essentially the biggest tragedy that happened in North Korea, resulting in the deaths of 1 to 2 million people.

    With this incredibly awful period, market activity, mostly illegal, sprang up naturally because people had to depend on themselves and each other to survive [instead of] the public distribution system implemented by the government. And so with that increase in market activity and the proliferation of goods being sent in from outside, mainly China, information naturally flowed in from the outside world.“There’s a very strong tension between the reality that the government is trying to impose on its citizens and the reality that actually does exist among its citizens today.”

    Increasingly, people inside North Korea started to realize that there is a world outside of their country that was very different from what they were taught by the government. And so this demand for foreign information — initially having to do with media, dramas, movies – -grew very rapidly.

    And it’s been evolving since then. What’s been evolving is the type of media being in demand, the methods of how it’s been smuggled in, [the] methods of information being smuggled out of North Korea, as well as who is involved, how money’s exchanged in this very demand-based phenomenon, and mostly important in my opinion: the irreversible changes that are taking place in this country due to this unprecedented access to foreign information that the citizens been exposed to thus far.

    [Watch Video]

    How much control has the government had over information inside the country?

    So the government, like most former dictatorships, attempted to have complete control over its citizens. Attempted to seal off its population from the outside world in order to propagate their fabricated history and their version of current events.

    But inevitably, like any other government, the people are smarter than the government. And they started to realize that there are ways to access information that the government did not permit. And so there’s a very strong tension between the reality that the government is trying to impose on its citizens and the reality that actually does exist among its citizens today. It’s quite clear that the monopolization of information that the government is attempting to have over its citizens is quickly eroding.

    Why is that erosion threatening to the regime?

    This is probably the biggest weakness that the government has. And that’s evident because of the way they react to foreign information coming in, versus other threats like economic sanctions or verbal condemnations by other countries.

    The government has been able to sustain their regime over the past seven decades based on the history of their government, their country, and [the] world that they created and were able to distribute. Their cult and personality-based country, their religion-like political system surrounding the Kim family — all of that is predicated on this history that they have created.

    And so the fact that the citizens are now exposed to these lies is very threatening to the North Korean regime. Because without the citizens believing in the state’s history and reality that they have fabricated, they don’t have anything to base their internal system on. And so basically an informed citizenry is fundamentally antithetical to the foundation that the North Korean regime would like to maintain in order to keep power in the Kim family’s hands.

    In general, what are the controls that the North Korean government tries to exercise on information in the country? And how do they do that?

    So there’s extreme forms of deterrents and punishment. And there are very clear laws that the North Korean government has imposed on its citizens since the inception of the state, having to do with the forbidden nature of people consuming information that the government does not sanction.

    And so legally, that’s very clear. And if you talk to North Korean defectors, people ranging from 10 years old and older, they’ll say, “Oh yeah. Everybody knows that you’re not supposed to watch…” It’s a reality.

    And so what happens if you don’t abide by those laws? It ranges from inordinate fines to confiscation of goods in your house. Those are definitely the weaker forms of punishment. [Or] detention in detention facilities. In the worst cases, political prison camp. There’s five different types of labor camps and detention facilities. The political prison camps are one form of punishment that people can face.

    Worst case scenario is death by execution. Usually executions in public arenas are reserved for scapegoats. Public executions are less prevalent only because more and more people are accessing information and they can’t really execute everybody. And so that form of worst punishment is relegated to scapegoats. People essentially who are making copies of materials, distributing, and especially distributing the worst forms of information such as things that are very political in nature.

    So those forms of punishments are used to deter people. That’s how the government tries to exercise its control, trying to prevent people from watching it. But even execution is not sufficient in trying to prevent people from watching information.

    If you don’t have access to the black market or if you’re not willing to take those risks, do you know anything outside of what the government is telling you?“The North Korean people — they’re just people. And they’re incredibly smart. And they’re trying to figure out how they could meet their needs while not getting in trouble.”

    So North Korea is divided into nine different provinces. And it’s important to know that close to 75% of defectors who have settled in South Korea come from two provinces that border China and North Korea.

    And so all the anecdotes, the stories and surveys that outsiders have access to based on defector interviews and surveys come from essentially a couple towns that produce defectors who are leaving. So a lot of the information that I know about what’s happening inside North Korea comes from very specific towns and locations in North Korea.

    Given that caveat, even if someone does not have access to the black market, which is quite rare because the majority of citizens now depend on the black market just for survival. Food, clothing, other basic necessities all come from street markets. Even if someone were not to have access, I think word of mouth is consistently, and has been through human history, the biggest source of information that people rely on.

    And so even if I as a hypothetical North Korean citizen who’s too poor to watch movies because I don’t have enough money to bribe and basically take the risk, I hear what other people are saying around me when they talk about movies or the latest show that they’re watching. I can see different behaviors that young people are trying to mimic based on what they’ve seen in films.

    And more importantly, I could see where the goods that people are using are coming from. And so jeans, for example, are not a North Korean-made fabric. But if I see people wearing that, and even if I can’t afford that, I see people are wearing things that are coming from a different country. If it’s coming from a different country, I can then extrapolate why is that the case.

    What can you get on the black market?

    Essentially, you can get anything on the black market. There are different layers of the street markets. And so what is semi-legal now are things that are very basic to human survival. [You can get] food, non-political clothing, non-branded clothing. Maybe women’s cosmetics, hygiene products, things like this. So that’s what people can openly sell on the street markets. But then there are different layers of goods that people can get.

    If you want very specific cosmetics from South Korea, for example, that’s a little bit more political because those are goods coming from the enemy country. American medicine actually is something that is very expensive on the market in North Korea, but it’s available. Which is crazy because we have all these economic sanctions against them.

    Going back to media available — nowadays, a lot of the smugglers are usually men, who are involved in getting the goods from South Korean sources and then pushing it into the North Korean market. These people basically have a ear to the ground of what is in demand on the North Korea side. It’s quite common to see South Korean shows that came out last week, for example, to be available on the North Korean black market just a week later. And so it’s a very, very quickly moving, demand-driven network. It’s a profit-driven network. And so it’s not all out of goodwill.

    It sounds like there may be a large demand for movies, TV shows, other entertainment inside North Korea.

    Yes. I spoke with a lot of South Korean government officials whose job is to interview every defector who comes into South Korea. Basically to triage who is a spy and who’s not. And there are quite a few spies who are caught in this interrogation process.

    But the South Korean officials, who are interviewing [defectors], see trends where almost everyone has exposure or has watched shows on a regular basis. And everyone, from citizens who don’t have any political jobs to local authorities whose job is it to inspect and catch people, they themselves are watching these illegal materials.

    Have there been crackdowns on smuggling?

    Yes, absolutely. It’s a regular phenomenon. It’s just I think the variation lies in the extent of the punishment and what types of alleged crimes are being cracked on at what given point. And so if there is some edict that comes down from Pyongyang and says, “Everyone go after this particular movie, or this particular show,” then there will be very specific crackdowns on that.

    Or if people are being a little more brazen or a little bit more barefaced in their activity, the local authorities will start cracking down. There are known to have been small-scale riots.

    I mean, not the Western-style riots where people are, like, throwing things around and, going after police officers. But there have been instances where when the local authorities are trying to close down markets ’cause they get too big — and some markets range from 400 to 1,100 stalls.

    When they’re trying to crack down, [officers will] say, “Everyone, go home, or I’m gonna shut this down,” you’ll see women–these marketeers going after police officers and saying, “Are you gonna provide for me? Where is the money gonna come from?”

    And that’s the type of behavior that we could not even imagine taking place in North Korea 20 years ago. Again, it depends on what alleged crime they’re going after. And some people are sentenced to camps. These camps do exist. And it’s one of the worst things that are taking place in North Korea.

    Has technology impacted the way that the information has spread over the years?

    Yeah. The North Korean people — they’re just people. And they’re incredibly smart. And they’re trying to figure out how they could meet their needs while not getting in trouble. And so North Korean citizens will try to outsmart the local authorities. And [authorities] will try to change their policies to try to clamp down on behavior that was previously not even known. This kind of cat-and-mouse game between residents and authorities has very inadvertently changed various storage devices and technologies that are being pushed into North Korea.

    One example of that is, back in the early 2000’s, DVDs and CD-ROMs were in vogue in North Korea. And so these really cheap secondhand DVD players were being pushed in from China into North Korea for for quite cheap. And so North Koreans would go in the market, buy a DVD player from China, and then find all these various DVDs to play at home. They’ll turn off the lights and do all the things they need to do to not be seen by their neighbors. Keep the volume real low. Basically block out all the windows and watch a DVD.

    Authorities were catching onto this. So they would go around and shut off the electricity in various small villages or one apartment building at a time. Shut off the electricity and then go knocking door to door. And they would bring with them an electrician, ask for their DVD player. And the electrician would unscrew the device. Beause without electricity, the resident can’t press the eject button to hide the DVD.

    Residents became very privy to this, talked to their contacts on the black market, people inside South Korea. And that’s partly how USBs started to become popular. USBs became the replacement storage device for DVDs because you can take that out even if electricity is gone.

    Why are taking these risks so important to some people?

    Yes, there’s a lot of risk involved. Oftentimes, it’s a fatal risk. But the people who know that risk the best are the North Korean citizens who are watching it, consuming it, buying it, lending it, loaning it. They know very well, from a very young age, the risks that are involved. Yet they still do that. I don’t think there’s some big, grand political strategy, or some big intention behind watching a chick flick or some, you know, a rom-com. But it’s just sheer curiosity. We all as people, wherever we are in the world, want to know what we don’t know. And I think that fundamental element of human curiosity is what drives North Korean citizens to take such extreme risk to engage in an activity that seems very innocuous and mundane to outsiders but to them is such a big revelation to them.

    Because they’re being exposed to things that are antithetical to what the government has told them their entire lives. And so I think that the fact the North Korean citizens of all ages and all backgrounds are taking such risk in and of itself is so telling that it’s just a very basic human trait, curiosity, that’s driving them to take that that risk.

    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    The post How media smuggling took hold in North Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Research scientist Dan Galperin holds vials marked "Zika" during his work on Purified Recombinant Zika Enveloped Protein at the research laboratory where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus based on production of recombinant variations of the E protein from the Zika virus at the Protein Sciences Inc. headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, U.S., June 20, 2016. Picture taken June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSQMJG

    Research scientist Dan Galperin holds vials marked “Zika” during his work on Purified Recombinant Zika Enveloped Protein at the research laboratory where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus based on production of recombinant variations of the E protein from the Zika virus at the Protein Sciences Inc. headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, on June 20, 2016. Picture taken June 20, 2016. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    Are you starting to think the Zika epidemic is the most confusing outbreak ever?

    Join the club.

    Since Zika surfaced on the global radar about a year ago, scientists have been trying to figure out if what seemed like a pretty paltry virus could cause serious birth defects if it infected a fetus in the womb and, if so, how often?

    There is really no doubt now that the answer to the first question is yes. Over the course of 2016 a lot of science has been published showing that the Zika virus wreaks havoc on a developing brain if it gets into a fetus.

    But the “how often?” question — well, that remains a mystery. And two new reports this week — from top-flight research teams in top-drawer medical journals — not only failed to arrive at a consensus, they may have sown more confusion.

    A word of warning: Scores of studies like these are in the works and will hit the medical literature in coming months. That could mean the picture will become blurrier before it starts to come into focus.

    Still, Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist with the Pasteur Institute in Paris, is delighted so many studies are underway.

    “But as a scientist and as someone who has to communicate this, it’s a mess. Because all of these [studies] are at different stages, they’ve all been using different methodologies, so that’s confusing,” Van Kerkhove said.

    Van Kerkhove has studied Zika, but she was not involved in the two articles that came out this week. Let’s head back to them.

    One looked at a group of 125 pregnant Brazilian women from Rio de Janeiro who were known to have been infected with Zika. Scientists found the pregnancies of 46 percent were affected in some way — the pregnancy was lost or the baby had some signs of brain problems. When they looked only at the babies born, 42 percent showed some issues that might have been related to Zika.

    The other study, conducted by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at pregnancy outcomes in 442 women in the US who tested positive for Zika. The research team calculated the rate of bad outcomes — birth defects — at 6 percent.

    There’s a whole lot of daylight between those figures. And yet, interestingly, neither group is challenging the other’s findings.

    And they found some things that are similar. For instance, the rate of cases of microcephaly, in which an infant is born with an abnormally small head, was very similar in the two studies — 3 or 4 percent in total, 10 or 11 percent if infection occurred in the first trimester of pregnancy.

    But what about the differences?

    Before we answer that question, we need to provide some important context.

    A fetus infected today during the first trimester won’t be born for months. And in many cases it may take weeks or months after birth to realize that a baby can’t hear or can’t see or isn’t developing cognitively at the rate other babies are.

    As a result, the scientists who reported the high number of bad outcomes, the 42 percent, cast a very wide net when they were looking for problems Zika may have caused.

    That team, made up of researchers from Brazil and the US, included pregnancy losses (miscarriages and stillbirths), obvious birth defects linked to Zika, and even signs of possible brain changes seen using imaging technologies. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    READ NEXT: A Zika vaccine is being developed at warp speed, but will there be a market for it?

    Some of those anomalies — for instance, cerebral palsy-like limb stiffness — will have an impact on the lives of these babies. But it won’t be known for a while if, or to what degree, some of the more subtle differences this group included will affect a child’s ability to function and develop, said Margaret Honein, the lead author of the second study, the one suggesting the rate of Zika-related birth defects might be lower.

    Honein, who heads the CDC’s birth defects branch, said the Brazilian study’s findings highlight why it will be critical to follow babies infected in the womb over time.

    It’s also crucial to get more data — and data that can be more easily compared.

    Van Kerkhove and other experts worked with the World Health Organization earlier this year to devise standardized protocols for studying Zika in pregnancy. The hope, she said, was that if lots of different research groups used the same template for their studies, the ensuing results would be an apple-to-apple comparison.

    Groups in a number of different countries appear to be using the protocols, she said. But not all are. So results that come out will look at slightly different groups of pregnant women or include more or fewer problems in the list of birth anomalies they count. And that will likely mean Zika risk estimates don’t cluster neatly around a tight range of numbers, at least not for a while.

    To complicate matters even further, there isn’t one accepted definition of microcephaly. That means the same baby could be counted as microcephalic in one country, and not in another.

    “This outbreak has been plagued by problems of definition and it’s hard when we’re using different surveillance definitions to compare data across locations,” Honein said.

    READ NEXT: 4 in 10 babies born after Zika infection may have brain defects, researchers say

    So, about those two studies …

    STAT consulted a number of experts in epidemiology about these studies and there appears to be no single answer that explains the huge gap between the CDC number (6 percent) and the Rio number (42 percent). But here are some things that may be at play.

    The women being studied were different: The Rio study enrolled women who had a rash and fever, then tested them for Zika. That means they didn’t look at women without symptoms. Despite the fact the CDC study didn’t find a difference in the pregnancy outcomes between symptomatic and asymptomatic women, it’s a theory that experts haven’t given up yet and it needs further investigation.

    The CDC study, on the other hand, enrolled women who had been to places where Zika was spreading and who tested positive for the virus. But Zika testing is notoriously difficult. If it’s not done during or very soon after the infection, you cannot be sure a positive test is a true positive. The test may be picking up antibodies to related viruses like dengue.

    That means the CDC study may actually include some women who didn’t really have Zika, which would make the virus’s impact appear to be less than it was. Preben Aavitsland, Norway’s former chief epidemiologist, said that’s a possibility, but it can’t go all the way to explain the big gap between the findings.

    Another way in which the two sets of women may have been different: geography.

    Scientists have been wondering if some unidentified condition or conditions in Brazil — which has had the highest numbers of microcephalic babies due to Zika — is making Zika’s impact there worse.

    An obvious thought is that dengue, a closely related virus, circulates there commonly. Some scientists have wondered if previous bouts of dengue would raise the risk for pregnant women infected with Zika, because it’s known prior infection with one type of dengue (there are four) can make a subsequent infection with another type worse. Still other scientists have theorized that dengue antibodies might actually protect pregnant women from Zika’s worst damage.

    The Rio study compared women who had previously had dengue to women who had not and saw no difference.

    But they did see an unusually high rate of birth defects and pregnancy losses — 11.5 percent — in the women they were following who did not contract Zika, their so-called control group.

    You wouldn’t see that high a rate of abnormal outcomes in pregnancies in the US, which suggests there are differences between the Brazilian women and the US women that haven’t been accounted for, Maia Majumder, a research fellow at HealthMap, noted on Twitter.

    The upshot is that, for now, even the experts cannot quantify for a pregnant woman what the chances are that her fetus will be affected if she contracts Zika. But they do know this: Pregnant women should try as hard as is humanly possible not to get infected with this virus.

    “We’re finding pretty high levels of abnormalities in [pregnant] women who are infected with Zika,” said Van Kerkhove. “The exact numbers are not completely clear at the moment. But the studies are being done and we’re hoping to get a clearer picture in the coming months or years. I hope it’s not years, but certainly months.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Dec. 16, 2016. Find the original story here.

    The post With latest Zika research, our picture of the virus gets cloudier appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a “Thank You USA” tour rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff says the president-elect isn’t ready to accept the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election by hacking the Democratic Party’s private communications.

    The rebuff from Reince Priebus comes a day before Electoral College members cast their official votes on behalf of Trump.

    Democrats are suggesting Trump’s win is tainted by Russian meddling. The CIA says U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Moscow was behind the cyber break-in of the Democratic National Committee.

    Priebus tells “Fox News Sunday” that intelligence officials “haven’t been totally upfront and transparent in their opinion as to who, what, when and how this all happened.”

    He says even if Moscow did interfere, Democrats still lost because they’re out of touch with voters.

    The post Trump aides push back on suggestions of Russian interference appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An anti-North Korean protester steps on a North Korean flag and a portrait of the North's leader Kim Jong-Un during a rally denouncing the North's plan for rocket launch in Seoul December 6, 2012. NATO on Wednesday called on North Korea to cancel plans for its second rocket launch of 2012, saying it would violate U.N. resolutions and could further destabilise the Korean peninsula. North Korea on Monday notified the U.N. shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization, about the launch, which was scheduled to take place between December 10 and 22.  REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3B9FW

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    By Mori Rothman and Karla Murthy

    KARLA MURTHY: North Korea has been ruled by the totalitarian regime of the Kim family dynasty for the last seven decades, handing power down from grandfather to father, and now son Kim Jong-Un.

    The Kim regime has maintained its grip on North Korea by imprisoning its enemies and by controlling and censoring the mass media — newspapers, TV, radio, with only a privileged few getting access to the internet.

    TV shows on state-run media tout the achievements of North Koreans and their leader. Even at the border, anthems praising the Kim regime are blasted into South Korea, as we saw and heard on our recent trip there. But in the last few years, North Korean defectors based in in South Korea have been undermining the country’s information blackout.

    Just a few miles from here, nearly 25 million North Koreans are living under total government censorship. Activists have been smuggling in foreign TV shows, movies, e-books to give North Koreans a view of the world outside their tightly controlled borders.”

    One of those activists is Kang Chol-Hwan, a North Korean defector.

    In 1992, Kang says he bribed a border guard and fled across the border into China — the route most defectors use to escape.

    KANG CHOL-HWAN: We are people who lived in absence of freedom. We know how precious it is. I want to give all these people their freedom, and the opportunity to live has humans. These are my friends, my family, and my fellow North Koreans.

    Today, he’s the director of a non-profit called the North Korea Strategy Center based in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Formed in 2007, his group pays Chinese smugglers to send USB drives filled with prohibited, outside media into North Korea.

    He says, even though North Koreans lack internet connections, they can watch smuggled movies and TV shows on their computers or on Chinese video players with USB ports, like these, called “Notels.”

    KANG CHOL-HWAN: We send various content from stories on human rights, general information on South Korea, to images depicting the average American.

    KARLA MURTHY: Or a fictional version of the average American: TV shows like “The Mentalist” and “Desperate Housewives.” Kang says scenes like this one from “NCIS” that show police officers reading suspects their rights are especially useful.

    KANG CHOL-HWAN: It helps them to realize that in the outside world, even the criminals have rights.

    KARLA MURTHY: There are a handful of groups like Kang’s operating under the belief that exposing North Koreans to outside media weakens the regime.

    KANG CHOL-HWAN: What North Korea really fears, is their people becoming aware of their suppression.

    KARLA MURTHY: Your strategy of sending these USB sticks over there, how do you know that strategy is working?

    KANG CHOL-HWAN: We regularly monitor the response through those who are able to move across the China-North Korea border more easily. If we find that a television drama that we sent has been banned, we know that it has been impactful.

    KARLA MURTHY: In fact, government interviews with defectors entering the country reveal that most were exposed to some outside media in recent years.

    Kang Chol-Hwan also knows from personal experience how outside media can dramatically alter one’s world view. As a young man in North Korea, he got a hold of a smuggled radio that picked up “Voice of America” and other broadcasts from South Korea.

    He says that was how he learned the truth about the Korean War — that North Korea had instigated it- a fact the regime kept from its citizens.

    KANG CHOL-HWAN: In North Korea, we’re taught that it was the U.S. and South Korea, who attacked the North. I never had any doubts about this information before. But after listening to the radio, I learned what the North Korean government had been telling us about the war was not true. This myth allowed the North to hold the South responsible for the war.

    KARLA MURTHY: Would have happened if you were caught listening to foreign broadcasts?

    KANG CHOL-HWAN: You would have been branded as an anti-revolutionary. Then, you would be sent to an internment camp, but if you were repeatedly caught, you would be executed.

    KARLA MURTHY: Kim Heung-Kwang knows that risk well. He’s also a defector living in South Korea. But in the North, he actually worked for a government task force that went door to door confiscating smuggled outside media.

    KIM HEUNG-KWANG: When we caught these perpetrators, I felt a sense of protecting our nation’s morals, and making the nation safer.

    KARLA MURTHY: He says many people he caught spent months or years in prison camps, which he now regrets.

    KIM HEUNG-KWANG: Once, we received a call that three university-aged kids were watching a movie on a CD. When we got to the house, they didn’t open door for us. So we broke down the door to get inside. These kids were not criminals; they didn’t steal, or murder anyone. It was done just to prove that they were in possession a foreign movie. And it was done in such brutal fashion. When I think about it now, I am very ashamed.

    Over time, Kim began to take a huge risk, keeping and sharing the media he’d confiscated. He also started reading banned books- like All the Shah’s Men about the 1953 coup in Iran- that made him question the regime. Then in 2003, Kim was caught by the government for lending movies to a friend. He was sentenced to a year of hard labor.

    KIM HEUNG-KWANG: At first, I thought that I had made a mistake. I thought that as a government official who was in charge of protecting North Korea’s laws, I had done a poor job. But time on the farm was strenuous, and unrelenting. I began to question why I was suffering so much.

    KARLA MURTHY: When he was released in 2004, Kim says, he decided to defect, taking another risk by bribing a North Korean border guard to let him cross into China. Today, Kim runs “North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity,” another group that traffics outside media into North Korea.

    Kim takes a different approach by making his own videos recording of South Korean homes and markets to show North Koreans how well other people live. Also a computer science professor, he’s developed a stealth USB drive that can avoid detection by appearing empty when initially connected to a computer.

    KIM HEUNG-KWANG: But the North Korean government became aware of this stealth drive and created a program that was able to detect this USB. In retaliation, I created software that would block the program, and it eventually became game of cat and mouse.

    KARLA MURTHY: Do you worry that you’re putting North Korean’s lives in danger if they get caught with some of these materials?

    KIM HEUNG-KWANG: All North Koreans know the risk of all their actions. Despite the potential punishment they know they will receive, there are many people who actively search for these materials.

    Yeonmi Park grew up in North Korea and says watching outside videos changed her perspective of the world. She says, as a child, all she learned from watching state-run media was love for the Kim regime and North Korea.

    YEONMI PARK: They don’t show us if our team loses. We win the Olympics. We win the, you know, World Cups. We win everything.

    Park says North Korean school children are fed a steady diet of anti-American propaganda and are taught to refer to Americans as “bastards.”

    YEONMI PARK: In math book says, you know, there are four American bastards. You kill two of them. Then how many American bastards left to kill. a And as a child I had to say, “Two American bastards.” And that was my education.

    KARLA MURTHY: But Park saw a different view of the outside world through DVDs her parents were able to buy on the black market, Hollywood movies like “Pretty Woman,” and “Titanic.” She says watching these movies were more than entertainment; they made her think differently about her life in North Korea.

    YEONMI PARK: I never heard my father was telling my mother that I love you. But in the movie man tells woman I love you. Right? And those things were never allowed for us to express to each other than the dear leader. So of course watching this information helped me to understand the outside world a little bit, that I realized there was some humanity out there.

    KARLA MURTHY: That understanding gave her hope for a better life. After her father was imprisoned by the government for smuggling industrial metals, her family fell into poverty and faced starvation. In 2003, when she was 13, Park’s family paid a smuggler to sneak them across the border into china.

    YEONMI PARK: I think that was the most horrifying part in my journey — the uncertainty, that you don’t know when you will be safe again in your lifetime. So we were just running and hoping somehow things might work out.

    KARLA MURTHY: It took two years travelling through China, sometimes on foot, but eventually, they made it to South Korea.

    Today, Park is studying at Columbia University in New York City, with access to a world of information.

    YEONMI PARK: Every story was propaganda to brainwash us about the Kim dictators.

    KARLA MURTHY: And she’s become a human rights activist, speaking out against the North Korean regime. She also wrote a memoir about her escape.

    YEONMI PARK: Now I am free. And I have to learn all about freedom. What does it mean, actually?

    KARLA MURTHY: Park says although the Hollywood movies she watched as a child didn’t fully prepare her for life outside the country, they can be a spark for her fellow North Koreans.

    YEONMI PARK: Other lives can be possible on this Earth. But they just don’t have information right now. They don’t know who they are. And they don’t know what they are capable of. So we just have to show them what they can be.

    The post Defectors lift curtain on North Korea’s information blackout appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Prisoners from all over the vast Texas prison system come to the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas to be processed for release at the completion of their sentences. Every afternoon hundreds of former prisoners walk out the front gate and head for the Greyhound bus station two blocks away. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

    Prisoners appear at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas, where prisoners are processed for release at the completion of their sentences. Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

    Prisons in some states are withholding newspapers from inmates and attempting to shut down social media accounts operated for them by friends and relatives amid a strike against prison conditions and billions of dollars worth of prison labor.

    The passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865 formally abolished slavery, but with a stipulation that enabled plantation owners to use prisoners as a replacement for the lost labor. In recent decades, Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Revlon, AT&T, Target and many other major corporations have made use of prison labor that often pays pennies to the hour, a business plan enabled by the Amendment’s exception. Prisoner duties can also include cleaning laundry, serving food and producing license plates, which reduce government costs.

    As a group called the Free Alabama Movement rallied for a Sept. 9 labor strike in spring, prison authorities across the country began clamping down on news and information in ways that the American Civil Liberties Union says may be in violation of the First Amendment.

    Amid strike, prisons curtail media access

    Texas and Pennsylvania have established statewide bans in their prisons of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, a 40-year publication largely consisting of articles by inmates, saying that the content could be construed as provocation for disruption. The editor has also received letters from inmates in California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana and other states that they say are also denying the paper’s delivery, sometimes without giving a reason at all.

    Texas earlier this year also started asking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms to shut down profiles that are maintained by friends and family in an inmate’s name. Texas prisoners do not have access to the internet.

    “The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been seeking to silence my voice,” Keith “Malik” Washington wrote in a letter to the PBS NewsHour Weekend in early December after being asked about aftermath of the strike. “[It] has been trying to find a way to punish me for exposing their misdeeds.” He said he was in solitary confinement at Eastham Unit correctional facility in eastern Texas.

    Washington wrote that a day before the beginning of what turned into the country’s largest-ever prison strike, including thousands of inmates across dozens of state prisons, two officers asked him to step out of his cell, handcuffed him and put him in solitary confinement. He had been vocal about his support for the strike and is also a frequent contributor to the Bay View newspaper, which he said provides “much needed light on the midst of darkness.”

    When he found out Texas imposed a statewide prison block on the publication — because, as officials said, the paper contained information about the work stoppage — he pointed out that the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the strike had been allowed to enter the prison.

    Drawing of Keith "Malik" Washington by  Kevin "Rashid" Johnson, both contributors to the San Francisco Bay View.

    Drawing of Keith “Malik” Washington by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, both contributors to the San Francisco Bay View. Photo courtesy of Justin Adkins

    Texas correctional facilities confirmed that the Bay View newspaper was withheld because it contained information about the work stoppage, but did not respond to a request for comment about the discrepancy.

    The paper’s editor, Mary Ratcliff, has been publishing letters from prisoners for more than 20 years, choosing from about 1,000 submissions from across the country every month. She said that she thinks that correctional facilities are retaliating out of fear, calling it a “censorship epidemic.”

    “What they’re ultimately afraid of is that the movement for abolition of prisons altogether will be much more successful than it’s been, particularly with the impotence of no free labor,” she said. “They’re terrified.”

    The director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project David Fathi said two of the union’s lawsuits reversed similar censoring in the past and charged that it infringed on the First Amendment rights of inmates and publishers. Inmates are allowed to read and write what they want, unless it threatens security, and people who are not in jail have the right to publish what they want and communicate with inmates, he said.

    “It’s important to recognize that when we’re talking about speech between people on the inside and outside, it also burdens the rights of free people who have not been convicted of anything,” he said.

    In 2003, a federal judge banned a law in Arizona that had prohibited a coalition from posting online on behalf of inmates on death row, saying the law posed irreparable harm to the First Amendment.

    “It was before the era of Facebook,” Fathi said. “It was declared unconstitutional.”

    Then in 2012, the ACLU won a lawsuit on behalf of the law journal Prison Legal News that forced South Carolina to lift a ban on its publication at a detention center. Authorities had said the ban was “protecting health and safety.”

    Decisions to censor, he said, don’t often serve the purpose the facilities say they do.

    The growth of the prison labor force

    The Free Alabama Movement has been working for several years to raise awareness about their premise — that prison labor is modern-day slavery. In 1865, the 13th Amendment, which is known as the formal abolition of slavery borne out of the Civil War, had one exception: it didn’t apply to people convicted of crimes.

    At the time, former Confederate states feared the loss of their workforce and started passing laws that either targeted newly freed slaves or selectively enforced laws on them.

    One racist law included that “All free negroes and mulattoes … found on the second Monday in January, 1866, or thereafter, with no lawful employment or business,” could be sent to jail.

    Then prisons would rent convicts to plantation owners, who had to make less capital investment than slave owners, with even less incentive to treat workers well.

    “And ever since that time, the criminal justice system has been a key mechanism for controlling the African-American population,” Fathi said last October during a presentation on mass incarceration at Central Washington University.

    In recent decades, laws have continued to incriminate black people while prisons and corporations make money off their labor. The War on Drugs led to sentencing laws that disproportionately affected black people, including a mandatory five-year sentence for possessing 5 grams of crack cocaine. Meanwhile, someone carrying powder cocaine, which bears no major pharmaceutical difference, needed to be carrying 500 grams for the same sentence.

    Drawn by Kevin "Rashid" Johnson, frequent contributor to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper.

    Drawn by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, frequent contributor to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper

    By some estimates, 25 percent of crack users were black, but they constituted 81 percent of those convicted on crack possession charges, while white people received lesser sentences for cocaine offenses.

    Then, “three-strikes” laws gave people automatic life sentences upon their third felony conviction in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement bill, signed by former President Bill Clinton. The bill has been tied to the largest increase in prison population in U.S. history.

    Today, the incarcerated population is 4.5 times larger than in 1980, with approximately 2.2 million people behind bars, according to the White House. And black men continue to have the highest imprisonment rate in every age group – at the end of 2014 they were up to 10.5 times more likely to be behind bars than white men.

    ‘Don’t come. They’re locking us down’

    Any convicted prisoners can be required to work. By some estimates, prisoners’ industrial output generates billions in profits a year for private companies. In Michigan, inmates at the Kinross Correctional Facility work for the prison and make $1 or $2 a day for serving hot meals, sweeping floors, raising dogs and other jobs that keep operations running.

    A spokesman for the state’s facilities said that the daily rate that Michigan pays its inmates is on the higher end, and that inmates do not need a lot of money because they do not have to pay for accommodations or healthcare.

    But hundreds of the 1,300 inmates there participated in the strike, the spokesman said, using the national movement as a flash point while making other demands.

    In an interview with Newshour Weekend Evelyn Williams said she could hear sirens when her fiancé, an inmate at the Kinross Correctional Facility who delivers laundry, called her on Sept. 10 as she was getting ready to make the five-hour drive from Farmington Hills, Michigan, to visit.

    “He was like, “Don’t come. They’re locking us down’,” Williams said. “I could hear the panic in his voice.”

    Williams said she started hearing reports of pepper spray, tear gas, zip-ties, fires being set, broken appliances and assault. In the following days, more than 100 people were transferred. Williams says she waited for a week to hear from her fiancé — he was not hurt.

    “They just did a peaceful demonstration,” she said. “It’s difficult for me to watch.”

    The facility spokesman said that inmates had bullied others into participating in the strike, and that the act of demonstrating is against the state’s policy because it is dangerous. The facility’s reaction, he said, was for the safety and benefit of everyone involved.

    Williams saw it as a successful attempt to further suppress them.

    “A lot of the people I talked to, they were saying they regret they had anything to do with it because of the consequences,” she said.

    While state facilities maintain their actions are for the safety of inmates, spokesman Pastor Kenneth Glasgow for the Free Alabama Movement said prisoners expected push-back, no matter the justification. Glasgow said they are planning the next phases of their efforts, including protests against some of the companies benefiting from prison labor.

    “You can’t sit up here and say slavery should be abolished and then have an exception,” Glasgow said. “Either you have slavery or you don’t. There should be no exceptions.”

    The post From media cutoffs to lockdown, tracing the fallout from the U.S. prison strike appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump claps at the USA Thank You Tour event at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSVBMX

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump claps at the USA Thank You Tour event at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., December 8, 2016. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Americans’ enduring confidence that their elections are unimpeachably fair is teetering. Welcome to what much of the world calls reality, especially Russia’s neighbors.

    While the United States cites its popular votes and peaceful transitions of power as examples of its democratic vigor, elections results elsewhere can entail a hint or heavy dose of suspicion. Ballots are rigged regularly, level playing fields are rare and bigger powers often meddle in the sovereign political processes of smaller nations.

    Russia, accused by the CIA of helping Donald Trump in last month’s presidential election, is no stranger to accusations of interference with other countries’ elections. Nor is the United States.

    Whether the full extent of the accusations of Russian interference turns out to be true, they already are damaging the legitimacy of the U.S. democratic process. When many citizens distrust their government, the media and other institutions of American life, doubts about the freeness and fairness of the elections cause consternation.

    The outgoing Obama administration is reviewing the evidence of Russian hacking of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta, and if such activity was designed to tilt the outcome toward Trump. Republican-led investigations are taking place in Congress.

    Trump has denounced the claims as partisanship. “Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!” he tweeted this past week.

    [Watch Video]

    The broader, systemic fear for the U.S. is that what was an anomaly in 2000 could start becoming the norm: elections that don’t produce presidents recognized by one and all.

    Sixteen years ago, it was the disputed recount and incredibly close contest in Florida between Republican George W. Bush, the eventual winner, and Democrat Al Gore. Now, it is the question of whether Trump, who like Bush didn’t receive the majority of votes nationwide, would have prevailed in a race that didn’t include daily email revelations from the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

    Trump may have contributed to the distrust. Before the Nov. 8 vote, he repeatedly suggested the election was “rigged” against him. A Pew Research Center survey shortly before Election Day showed 56 percent of Trump supporters having little to no trust in the fairness of the process. Only 11 percent of Clinton backers felt that way.

    While the numbers may appear an anomaly in America, elections are hardly beyond reproach in much of the world.

    Most of the world’s governments include some form of voting on national leaders. But most nations don’t qualify as “free,” according to the nongovernmental organization Freedom House.

    The State Department also chronicles the shortcomings of countries in its annual reports, detailing which governments and leaders restrict freedom of expression, the press and open dissent before and during elections. Africa, Asia and the Middle East score particularly poorly, and the world’s most populous nation, China, remains a one-party state. Yet even some of Europe’s established democracies are appearing increasingly flawed.

    Some fault may reside in foreign interference. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, officials are preoccupied with what they see as Russian moves to influence their elections through support for nationalist and populist parties, and efforts to delegitimize governments that haven’t done Moscow’s bidding.

    German officials charge Russia with engineering hacks of Germany’s parliament. Elsewhere, the perceived meddling has come in the form of false news stories designed to sway voter sentiments. It was only 12 years ago that Ukraine’s eventual president became disfigured after he mysteriously ingested a lethal poison while campaigning against a pro-Moscow candidate.

    Many countries in Central and Eastern Europe live with the memories of Soviet-manipulated votes ushering in communist dictatorships.

    For them, cyberattacks may be only the newest weapon.

    Russia denies that it interferes or plays favorites in foreign elections.

    The United States has a dodgy record itself.

    Its Cold War history includes cases when it ensured the victory of pro-capitalist and pro-democracy parties against communists, as in Italy after World War II. In other instances, Washington’s response to unfavorable results was coup d’etat, as in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s or Chile two decades later.

    These days, the U.S. stresses level playing fields in foreign elections, a message that less-than-free governments often conflate with interference.

    Washington says it remains strictly impartial as other nations make their democratic choices.

    Yet top U.S. officials still play favorites, meeting opposition figures in some countries but not others. In rare cases they even take sides, as when President Barack Obama publicly urged Britain’s voters not to leave the European Union. He failed.

    These efforts, however, differ from what Russia is accused of doing because they are out in the open. They do not involve claims of ballot tampering, illegal funding for parties or cyberhacking.

    The post Election questions leave U.S. distrustful, like other nations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Police secured the site where a truck drove through a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin on Dec. 19. Photo by Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

    Police secured the site where a truck drove through a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin on Dec. 19. Photo by Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

    A truck plowed into a Christmas market in Germany’s capital Berlin on Monday, killing at least nine people and wounding dozens more.

    The police say they arrested the suspected driver near the scene, the Associated Press reported. Police say they believe it was a deliberate attack.

    Police cars and ambulances gathered at the market near Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the western part of central Berlin.

    The truck that drove through a Christmas market in Berlin is seen with a shattered windshield. Photo by Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

    The truck that drove through a Christmas market in Berlin is seen with a shattered windshield. Photo by Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

    Witnesses said the truck did not appear to slow down as it drove through the crowded pedestrian area.

    Television footage of the aftermath showed the truck with a smashed windshield.

    The incident appeared similar to one that took place in Nice, France, in July, when a Tunisian man drove a truck through a crowded waterfront where people had gathered to watch fireworks. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for that attack.

    This is a developing story. We will update the post as more details become available.

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    Hillary Clinton speaks about the FBI inquiry into her emails during a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Florida, in late October. Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Hillary Clinton speaks about the FBI inquiry into her emails during a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Florida, in late October. Brian Snyder/Reuters

    NEW YORK — A federal judge on Monday ordered the public release of the search warrant that FBI agents used to reopen their investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server just weeks before the presidential election.

    U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel ruled Monday that the public had a right to see the warrant, which he said was secretly filed with the court on Oct. 30.

    Agents used the warrant to get access to emails stored on a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

    FBI Director James Comey upended the presidential race on Oct. 28 when he informed Congress that agents would be digging through the cache of emails between Abedin and Clinton for any new evidence related to Clinton’s handling of sensitive State Department information.

    Two days before the Nov. 8 election, Comey announced that the inquiry had uncovered no new evidence of wrongdoing. Historians will long debate whether the revelations factored into Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump.

    The court documents will be unsealed at noon Tuesday, with portions blacked out to conceal the names of the agents. The judge also ordered the redaction of any information about an open investigation of Weiner’s online correspondence with a teenage girl.

    Agents initially seized the computer in connection with that investigation.

    Weiner, a Democrat, resigned his seat in Congress after sexually explicit texts and social media posts to various women. He tried for a political comeback two years later by running for mayor of New York, but his campaign was undone when evidence emerged that he hadn’t given up his sexting habit.

    Federal authorities began investigating him in late September after an online news outlet, the Daily Mail, published an interview with a North Carolina girl who said she had exchanged sexually explicit messages with him over several months.

    Randol Schoenberg, a Los Angeles lawyer who specializes in recovering works of art stolen by the Nazis, petitioned the court to make the search warrant and supporting documents public.

    In his order, Castel said public interest in the case overrode any privacy considerations.

    “Ordinarily, a person whose conduct is the subject of a criminal investigation but is not charged with a crime should not have his or her reputation sullied by the mere circumstance of an investigation,” he wrote. But in this instance, he said, the fact that the FBI investigated Clinton is hardly secret. “She has little remaining privacy interest in the release of the documents identifying her as the subject of this investigation.”

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

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    Employees and visitors use the main entrance of Putnam Investments headquarters in Boston, October 24, 2003. The SEC and Massachusetts regulators are reportedly investigating the firm after four portfolio managers were forced to leave after allegedly reaping profits by engaging in "market timing" trades, a practice the fifth largest mutual fund company says it prohibits. - RTXM9JM

    In a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, researchers find that mutual fund managers from poor families consistently achieve better investment results than fund managers from wealthier backgrounds. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    Making Sense/NBER logo

    Each month, the NBER Digest summarizes several recent NBER working papers. These papers have not been peer-reviewed, but are circulated by their authors for comment and discussion. With the NBER’s blessing, Making Sen$e is pleased to feature these summaries regularly on our page.

    The following summary was written by the NBER and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Making Sen$e.

    In “Family Descent as a Signal of Managerial Quality: Evidence from Mutual Funds,”  Oleg Chuprinin and Denis Sosyura find that mutual fund managers from poor families consistently achieve better investment results than fund managers from wealthier backgrounds. The researchers also find significant differences in promotion patterns and trading styles between these two types of fund managers.

    The researchers find that mutual fund managers from wealthier backgrounds delivered “significantly weaker performance than managers descending from less wealthy families.”

    Previous studies about the relationship between managers’ upbringing and their performance have focused on educational differences, including whether the managers attended elite universities or had access to education-related networks of influential people who could later help boost their careers. Such studies tend to find that managers with a stronger educational background tend to deliver better performance.

    This study relies on hand-collected data from individual U.S. census records on the wealth and income of managers’ parents. The researchers also identified and verified fund managers via Morningstar, Nelson’s Directory of Investment Managers and LexisNexis Public Records. They ultimately identified hundreds of fund managers, most born in the mid-1940s, whose parents’ census records were in the public domain. They then examined the performance of hundreds of actively managed mutual funds focused on U.S. equities between the years 1975 and 2012.


    The researchers find that mutual fund managers from wealthier backgrounds delivered “significantly weaker performance than managers descending from less wealthy families.” Managers from families in the top quintile of wealth underperformed managers in the bottom quintile by over 1 percent per year on a risk-adjusted basis.

    The researchers emphasize that these findings do not imply that those from poor families are in general better at their jobs than those with a more fortunate background. Rather, because individuals from less-privileged backgrounds have higher barriers to entry into prestigious positions, they argue, only the most skilled advance and succeed.

    Indeed, in tracking career trajectories of mutual fund managers, they find that the promotions of managers from well-to-do families are less sensitive to their performance. In other words, managers who are born rich are more likely to be promoted for reasons unrelated to performance. In contrast, those born into poor families are fewer in number and are promoted only if they outperform. They also find that fund managers from less-affluent families who do make it into top ranks are more active on their job: they are more likely to trade and deviate from the market, whereas those born rich are more likely to follow benchmark indexes.

    READ MORE: How ‘ban the box’ policies unintentionally cause discrimination against these workers

    The researchers note that they chose to study mutual fund managers, because they often work independently and because funds’ performances can easily be measured for comparison purposes. But they say their findings about family background and job performance may have implications that extend beyond asset management. “Our evidence suggests that an individual’s social status at birth may serve as an important signal of quality in other industries with high barriers to entry, such as corporate management or professional services,” they conclude.

    — Jay Fitzgerald, National Bureau of Economic Research

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    After sitting down with Jeffrey Brown for a two-part PBS NewsHour interview, Bruce Springsteen read us an excerpt from his new autobiography, “Born to Run.” The passage tells the story of the night he left his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey. At 19 years old, Springsteen describes loading a couch onto the back of a flatbed and reliving his childhood as the truck slowly rolled out of town. “I was slipping over the streets of my childhood,” Springsteen reads. “No longer a painful player in my, or my town’s history, but a passing and impassive observer.”

    Watch the PBS NewsHour tonight and tomorrow (Dec. 19 and 20) for our two-part interview with Springsteen.

    The post Bruce Springsteen tells the story of the night he left home at 19 years old appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President-elect Donald Trump speaks as part of his "Thank You" tour in Mobile, Alabama, in December. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    President-elect Donald Trump speaks as part of his “Thank You” tour in Mobile, Alabama, in December. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has cruised to victory in the Electoral College despite thousands of anti-Trump protesters who converged on state capitols across the country.

    Monday’s vote ensures that the billionaire will become America’s 45th president.

    Texas put the Republican president-elect over the 270-vote threshold. Electors had been deluged with emails, phone calls and letters urging them not to support Trump. Two Texas electors cast protest votes against Trump, but in the end he had more than he needed.

    The Electoral College has 538 members, with the number allocated to each state based on how many representatives it has in the House plus one for each senator. The District of Columbia gets three, despite the fact that the home to Congress has no vote in Congress.

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

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    From the PBS NewsHour staff: our favorite books of 2016. Photo by Getty Images

    From the PBS NewsHour staff: our favorite books of 2016. Photo by Getty Images

    Hello viewers and book lovers — you know who you are — and welcome to our holiday book picks. We asked members of our staff to recommend books that moved them this past year, newly published works but also oldies they’ve gone back to or just discovered. I’m grateful to all my colleagues who participated and hope the list and brief descriptions will suggest readings for our book-hungry audience, stimulate a bit of discussion, and help with holiday gifts.

    Consider this a small taste of what is to come. It’s our intention to greatly expand our online book coverage. We have many ideas brewing, including regular reading recommendations from authors and, I hope, a NewsHour Book Club. Stay tuned, we’ll have more on all this soon.

    One personal note to kick things off: I like to think of the author conversations I present on the PBS NewsHour as a kind of recommendation to you, our audience. I don’t mean it’s necessarily the “best” new book out there on a given subject or in a given genre (though sometimes it is.) Rather, something about the book or author interested me and made me think others might be interested as well. In that sense, my “recommendations” are on the record and available. But I read a lot for my personal enjoyment (and psychological well-being), including new books that for one reason or another don’t result in NewsHour segments. Let me share five in that category — two novels, one memoir, and two books of poetry, that stood out for me this year:


    “The Little Red Chairs”, By Edna O’Brien

    “The Sympathizer”, By Viet Thanh Nguyen

    “The Return”, By Hisham Matar

    “At the Foundling Hospital” By Robert Pinsky

    “House of Lords and Commons” By Ishion Hutchinson

    And now to our staff picks.


    “Upstream” By Mary Oliver

    One little book I discovered late this year is “Upstream” by Mary Oliver, a collection of essays. At a time when I’ve been consumed with political news, the “indoors” of life, Oliver pulls me outdoors with her reflections on nature and the great writers who transported her to faraway places. She uses simple descriptive language that reminds me to look up and around. A favorite sentence: “The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves — we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.”
    Recommended by Judy Woodruff, Anchor and Managing editor.


    “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife” By Meg Elison

    Originally published in 2014 and re-released this past October to a wider audience, Meg Elison’s “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife” imagines a world in which disease has decimated the population — unevenly. The majority of survivors are men, leaving the few surviving women at their mercy. Elison creates a riveting story through journal entries, following the experiences of a woman trying to pass as a man in order to help as many other women as possible. There are echoes of other famous dystopian tales examining gender, but Elison offers an original and terrifying view of the apocalypse. Her sequel, “The Book of Etta”, comes out this spring.
    Recommended by Adelyn Baxter, Associate web producer



    “Ragtime” By E.L. Doctorow

    I found “Ragtime” punishingly boring as a kid, but when Doctorow died last year and so many sang his praises, I dove into an old copy and was just blown away. Doctorow’s writing is lyrical and heartbreaking and funny. The book also feels 100 percent relevant today, with its woven stories of turn-of-the-century American immigrants, radicals, celebrities, and millionaires. Don’t believe the “genre-fiction” label! This is a powerful, moving piece of work.
    Recommended by William Brangham, Correspondent.


    “News of the World” By Paulette Jiles

    “Commonwealth” By Anne Patchett

    “When Breath Becomes Air” By Paul Kalanthi

    “News of the World takes place in the post-Civil War Southwest. Captain Jefferson Kidd, an itinerant newsreader (going from town to town to read items of interest from newspapers to locals), is asked to return a white girl “rescued” from the Kiowa Indians to what remains of her family near San Antonio. An unlikely pairing but a journey of discovery for both the grizzled veteran and the 10-year-old girl.

    “Commonwealth” paints a family portrait about how one encounter changes the lives of two couples and their children. Patchett explores what binds people together, pulls them apart and the family stories that define our relations to one another.

    “When Breath Becomes Air” is a beautiful memoir by a neurosurgeon who comes to grips with dying after a diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. Kalanthi explores what makes life matter as one approaches a certain death surrounded by loved ones and family.
    Recommended by Peggy Robinson, Senior producer.


    “Switched On” By John Elder Robison
    “Getting to Green” By Frederic C. Rich

    “Switched On” stuck with me quite a while because of the dynamism of the author. John Elder Robison describes how his life changed after Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Elder is on the the autism spectrum and has written extensively about his life, but the idea of an awakening of sorts where you realize that even some of the people you thought closest to you were laughing at you, not with you… was just a devastating thought to ponder. (You can watch my discussion with John Elder Robinson here).

    “Getting to Green” is a book by Frederic C. Rich that looks at the bipartisan roots of environmentalism and forces that seem to pull the conservation conversation over to one side of the aisle. Clear air and clean water weren’t always partisan tools, and he outlines the areas of overlap that still exist and that must be nurtured. Rich is a banker and a conservationist who doles out advice to both sides. (You can see my conversation with Fred Rich here)
    Recommended by Hari Sreenivasan, Correspondent and PBS NewsHour Weekend anchor.

    zero at the bone

    “Zero at the Bone” By Stacie Cassarino

    Every year there’s a book that settles into my life, almost by accident — it lives in my bag, near my desk or bed, always occupying a corner. This year, that book is “Zero at the Bone.” Stacie Cassarino’s first book of poems, published in 2009, is arresting. Each piece addresses a different part of her emotional landscape, where grief and longing have sharpened the senses. The speaker, both empowered and vulnerable, is willing to ask difficult questions of herself and her environment. Her poem “Summer Solstice” begins: “I wanted to see where beauty comes from / without you in the world, hauling my heart / across sixty acres of northeast meadow, / my pockets filling with flowers.” We’re lucky to join her on that journey.
    Recommended by Corinne Segal, Senior multimedia web editor, PBS NewsHour Weekend


    “The Girl Who Slept With God” By Val Brelinski
    “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel” By Rachel Joyce

    I have to admit, I sometimes like novels about dysfunctional families. The Girl Who Slept With God has a doozy of a dysfunctional family. Set in rural Idaho, an evangelical Christian family is upended when one of their daughters reveals she is pregnant, and the father, she claims, is God. I found the characters engaging and endearing. The storyline, told through the eyes of the younger adolescent sister, is compelling, if a bit painful.

    I’ve always agreed with the saying, “Nobody’s life is ordinary.” And that is the case with Harold Fry, the main character in Rachel Joyce’s novel “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.” When Harold sets off to mail a letter across England – then suddenly decides to make the journey on foot to deliver the letter by hand – the reader is taken on a trip that unravels questions about life, death, and the extraordinary journey of love.
    Recommended by Merrill Schwerin, Producer.

    “The Death of Great American Cities” By Jane Jacobs.

    Death Of Great American Cities

    This year, I read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” by Jane Jacobs. This 1961 classic challenged accepted thinking on urban planning and promoted ideas such as mixed-use development, which have since become popular. I love that Jane didn’t pull any punches. Here is the first sentence: “This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.” Jane would have been 100 years old in 2016. Her birthday was celebrated all over the world through the Jane Jacobs Walk.
    Recommended by Maura Shannon, Grant writer.


    “Eligible: A Retelling of Pride and Prejudice” By Curtis Sittenfeld
    “Our Mathematical Universe” By Max Tegmark
    “Cold Barrel Zero” By Matthew Quirk

    It’s hard to remain modern when retelling a classic, especially if the story is Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” but Curtis Sittenfeld hits the mark in “Eligible.” The chronicle of the trials of love and family are given the backdrop of reality TV. Yes, there is a Darcy. He’s a neurosurgeon. (Watch Curtis Sittenfeld discuss “Eligible” with Jeffrey Brown.)

    Given the discovery of gravitational waves, I picked up “Our Mathematical Universe,” by Max Tegmark. The cosmologist from MIT explores the idea that math is not only the best way to understand the universe, but that everything is actually math.

    If you like page-turning suspense, my final recommendation is Matthew Quirk’s “Cold Barrel Zero.” It follows John Hayes, a former Special Operations all-star who returns to the United States to win back his wife and daughter, while seeking revenge on the powerful government forces out to destroy him.(Watch Matthew Quirk talk to Jeffrey Brown about his previous thriller “The Directive,” centered on stealing from the Federal Reserve Bank)
    Recommended by Michael Melia, Senior broadcast producer.


    “What is Not Yours is Not Yours” By Helen Oyeyemi
    “Settle for More” By Megyn Kelly

    “What is Not Yours is Not Yours”, a collection of short stories, captivated me this spring. The book is heartfelt and full of mesmerizing characters that jump off the page. I really enjoyed the interwoven themes and visuals that tied many of the stories together. Unlike some other short story collections that can appear disjointed, I really felt like “What is Not Yours Is Not Yours” was a complete work, because all the stories are thematically linked, making the collection read like a novel. The prose by Oyeyemi is sophisticated and filled with intricate descriptions of people and places, almost Dickensian at moments. Even though many of the stories touch on familiar topics like desire or coming of age, they are both brilliantly realistic and hilariously fantastical at the same time.

    As a young female journalist I have found “Settle for More” to be extremely inspiring, and harrowing at the same time. Kelly’s unorthodox journey into the world of broadcast news is fascinating. Having worked as a high power lawyer for nearly a decade before switching careers, her success and personal mantra of “settling for more” is very much attributed to her sheer willpower and ability to persuade people to create opportunities for her. It taught me a lot about how to handle the imposter syndrome that many young women feel in the workplace, and also encouraged me to keep my head up in sexist situations out of my control. Her year of dealing with President-elect Trump was complex and bizarre, and after finishing the book I feel as though I gained a much better sense of both the current American political landscape as well as the character of our next president.
    Recommended by Jordan Vesey, Associate producer.

    Hillbilly Elegy

    “Hillbilly Elegy” By J.D. Vance
    J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and his story of growing up in Appalachia captured characters and places that echoed memories from my own childhood in northeast Mississippi.

    Much like Vance’s grandparents, my people left behind chicken houses and cotton fields in the countryside to pull paychecks at textile mills and furniture factories in town, working themselves down to nothing to earn a better life for their kids.

    Again and again, I found myself comparing his Mamaw, with her spitfire quips, raw truth and a heart bigger than the sky, to women in my family. Let me just say — she’d fit right in at our family reunions.

    But his own poignant tale of defying the odds in working-class America is a literary voice I rarely hear. I felt like I was catching up with an old friend who also got out. He shirked the legacy of generational poverty, thanks in huge part to helpful hands along the way, for a chance to prove himself.

    In many ways, Vance’s story made me homesick, telling a story that drew parallels to my own. We both know why we up and left our people, but we hope we’ll never be truly gone.
    Recommended by Laura Santhanam, Data producer

    Vinegar Girl

    “Vinegar Girl” By Anne Tyler

    I thoroughly enjoyed Anne Tyler’s “Vinegar Girl,” a hilarious retelling of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” In this modern version, Kate Battista is accustomed to taking care of her scientist father, so he assumes she’ll go along with his cockamamie plan to have her marry his lab assistant.
    Recommended by Larisa Epatko, Reporter & producer.




    “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” By Arlie Russell Hochschild

    If you’re intrigued by the growing divide between the American right and left, “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” will take you to the homeland of conservative attitudes. Arlie Hochschild, a University of California at Berkeley professor and sociologist, intensely profiles the Tea Party in Louisiana for the liberal mind. The attitudes toward politics, religion and the environment will surprise you. The novel documents fierce disappointment in agencies — from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dismissing low-wage workers health to distrusted top corporate executives – and conservative criticism toward every level of government. Traveling back and forth from Berkeley, California to Lake Charles, Louisiana for five years, much of the narrative focuses on the devastation brought to the bayou by the oil and gas industry.
    Recommended by Courtney Norris, News Assistant.

    Life Everlasting

    “Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death” By Bernd Heinrich.

    I consider Bernd Heinrich the most underrated of science writers. Heinrich is a biologist, ecologist, and insect and bird enthusiast who lives in the woods of Maine and writes deep, personal and scientific books about the lives of plants and animals. The first book of his that I read, “Racing the Antelope,” awakened my interest in science by patiently and beautifully explaining the biology behind some of my favorite things (running and animals.) This year, I read one of Heinrich’s most recent books: “Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death.” This book is a relaxed walk through nature, filled with fascinating observations and explanations of animal death, decay, recycling, and rebirth. It’s the perfect cabin read. You’ll never look at a carcass the same way again.
    Recommended by Kristin Hugo, Science and Social Media News Assistant.

    The Right Stuff

    “The Right Stuff” By Tom Wolfe

    Because this has been the year of making America “great again,” I decided to reread a book that I think captures the spirit many Americans most closely associate with some definition of former greatness. I first read “The Right Stuff” more than a decade ago, and I was intoxicated by the story of early aviation, the test pilots who pushed every envelope in the face of almost certain death and the primeval state of aviation technology in the 1950s. But on second read, what stands out in the text is the now-mythical narrative that paints an America united with a sense of purpose and achievement around a singular goal. Of course, to build that myth, “The Right Stuff” conveniently sidesteps the era’s civil rights clashes, the terrifying politics of 1950’s crackdowns on anyone deemed “un-American,” and the widespread institutional mechanisms designed to lock out anyone who didn’t fit the “correct” profile. The nostalgia has gone a bit sour. But maybe what’s left of the book could offer a rough roadmap for the kind achievement America needs in the 21st century. We need a more inclusive definition of what it means to have “The Right Stuff.” America could use a fresh cast of heroes, willing to hurtle themselves at our problems at the speed of sound. Maintaining peace and prosperity in a time as tumultuous as we now inhabit is a task riddled with unknown hazards, and will take a sense of unity greater than was required to put people in space. And we’ll have to do it this time without John Glenn.
    Recommended by Travis Daub, Digital director.


    “My Brilliant Friend” By Elena Ferrante
    “The Story of a New Name” By Elena Ferrante
    “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” By Elena Ferrante
    “The Story of the Lost Child” By Elena Ferrante

    Like many, I fell into the rabbit hole of the four Elena Ferrante “Neapolitan Novels” this year and spent many weeks living in her world. While I preferred the first three books to the more sober and painful finale, I devoured them all. There are so many interesting things to point to in these novels: The clear, unsentimental writing style, the vivid painting of the poverty and crime of inner-city Naples and the rich history of postwar Italy. But mostly it’s the complex friendship of two young girls, who over a 60-year period grow into young women and then mothers, and how that friendship (and sometimes rivalry) defines each of them, how everything they do is reflected and refracted in the other. The first novel is called “My Brilliant Friend,” and one of my favorite confounders of the book is which of the two is meant to be the “brilliant friend.”
    Recommended by Jenny Marder, Managing editor, Digital


    The post 31 books you should add to your holiday reading list appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    NewsHour shares web small logoIn our NewsHour Shares series, we show you things that caught our eye recently on the web. What about you? Leave your suggestions in the comments below, or tweet to @NewsHour using #NewsHourShares. We might share it on air.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to our “NewsHour” Shares, something that caught our eye that might be of interest to you, too.

    Every December, hundreds of tuba and euphonium players gather in cities around the world to perform holiday tunes.

    We recently spoke with Chris Quade, one of the organizers of TubaChristmas at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, about what makes the events so special.

    CHRIS QUADE, TubaChristmas: My name is Chris Quade. I’m one of the coordinators of TubaChristmas. I’m also the emcee.

    The original TubaChristmas was in New York City, and that was 1973. In 1974, they started D.C. TubaChristmas.

    People thought of the tuba as a back-row instrument, shouldn’t play too soft, because it can’t, shouldn’t play too fast, because it can’t. To me, TubaChristmas represents breaking out of the tuba stereotype.

    It’s been the same music for 43 years. The arrangements work. They are interesting enough to hold the attention of the players. They are simple enough to put together in one rehearsal. They lay in a good range, and they have the right amount of fast and slow.

    I think the magic of those arrangements is really what makes this work. It’s great because it is timeless. We can’t play top 40. We’d have to change the book every year. And it’s tubas. Top 40 doesn’t really work.

    It’s a kind part concert, part educational experience, part reunion. I think every year, I imagine, come on, they are going to traipse in from miles and miles away into the city and come up just to do this? It’s a pain, right?

    And they come all the time. And there are so many young players. That’s the thing that gets me every year. They’re excited by it. This is fun. If you have children come here, and they have got a book of music in front of them, and everyone is very somber, they are going to be much more nervous about what they are doing.

    If you have lights on this tuba, and garland on this tuba, and this guy’s got reindeer antlers, it creates an atmosphere where you are just trying to have fun.

    TubaChristmas, 300 tuba players, and it’s a beautiful sound.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tubas at Christmas, Bruce Springsteen. You have got to love tonight’s show.

    The post The Christmas concert where tuba players don’t take a back seat appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. musician Bruce Springsteen performs on his "River Tour" at the Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian, northern Spain, May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent West  - RTSEQMG

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: He was proclaimed rock’s next big thing in 1975, and he became the real thing with albums like “Born to Run,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Born in the USA,” and many more.

    Now Bruce Springsteen tells his own story in a memoir.

    Jeffrey Brown paid him a visit to hear first-hand.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In his new memoir, Bruce Springsteen looks back at his young, struggling and then little known self and writes: “I wasn’t modest in the assessment of my abilities. Of course, I thought I was a phony. That is the way of the artist. But I also thought I was the realest thing you had ever seen.”

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: That’s right. Most artists I know consider themselves to be phonies, along with the feeling that there’s something that you’re doing is essential, essential to communicate, and deeply, deeply real.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Springsteen has been rocking his way through marathon, arena-sized concerts for decades, a kind of working-class rock ‘n’ roll hero to millions of devoted fans.

    In the recording studio he built at this rural New Jersey home, we talked about becoming Bruce Springsteen, the story he tells in his book, “Born to Run.”

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: It was a very different type of writing from songwriting.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In what way?

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: A pop song is a condensed version of a life in three minutes, whereas, when you go to write your prose, you have to find the rhythm in your words, and you have to find the rhythm in the voice that you have found and the way you’re speaking.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What about that voice, though? Because in songs — I think of writers I have talked to, or poets, and there’s always the question of, how much of that is you?

    READ MORE: Watch Bruce Springsteen read from his memoir

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I would say, in your memoir, it’s you.

    I think that, when you’re writing your songs, there’s always a debate about whether, is that you in the song? Is it not you in the song?

    JEFFREY BROWN: What’s the answer?

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: So, every song has a piece of you in it, because just general regret, love. You have to basically zero in on the truth of those particular emotions.

    And then you can fill it out in any character and in any circumstance that you want. If you have written really well, people will swear that it happened to you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Springsteen grew up in the working-class town of Freehold, New Jersey, of Italian and Irish stock, adored and spoiled by his mother and grandparents, ignored and denigrated by a brooding, drinking, distant father, a figure who would obsess him personally and musically.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Initially, I had my conversations with him through my music. And that was the most effective, not the greatest way to do it, but it was certainly — it was the most effective for us.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, but you write early on, “When my dad looked at me, he didn’t see what he needed to see.”


    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you’re going, yes, now, but I mean, that’s hard when you’re a young boy.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: It is hard. It is hard.

    I think that it’s a natural thing for parents to look for reflections of themselves in their children and feel a certain pride there. So if your child is very, very different, or perhaps if he’s very, very similar, it makes you uncomfortable.

    So, there was a lot of that when I was young, and it took a long time to get through.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Reconciliation would come later, along with an understanding of the role of depression in his father’s and his own.

    From the beginning, though, the young Springsteen showed a ferocious drive and sense of his own mission, first as a king of the bar bands in Central and South Jersey.

    I started to make a list of the clubs you played early on. These are not high-rent places, right? The Angle Inn Trailer Park, Cavatelli’s Pizza, the I.B. Club, Surf and the Sea Beach Club, Long Branch Italian American Club, the Pandemonium Club.

    You probably remember each and every one of them.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yes, I remember those a lot more than some of the Madison Square Garden and other things.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Is that right?

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Of course. They were all so distinctive in their own way, and they all drew their own little clique of kids.

    And it was such a formative moment in your life that, you know, you were just coming into being.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You write about your voice. You say, about my voice, “First of all, I don’t have much of one.”


    JEFFREY BROWN: Right? But you worked at it.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Initially just sounded awful, just so terribly awful, but there was nothing I could do about it. So, I just kept singing and kept singing and kept singing.

    And I studied other singers, so I would learn how to phrase, and learn how to breathe. And the main thing was, I learned how to inhabit my song.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Which means what?

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: What you were singing about was believable and convincing, that’s the key to a great singer. A great singer has to learn how to inhabit a song. You may not be able to hit all the notes. That’s OK. You may not have the clearest tone. You may not have the greatest range. But if you can inhabit your song, you can communicate.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The early songs, though, are what I would call, like, word drunk. They’re so many words in there that you’re barely catching your breath as you’re singing them.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Well, I was influenced by Dylan very intensely. And I had a rhyming dictionary. A man armed with a rhyming dictionary is a dangerous man.


    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: So, yes, the words came fast and furious.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A dictionary and, more important, a great band, the E Street Band, which includes singer Patti Scialfa, his wife since 1991.

    Springsteen never liked his nickname, the Boss.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I had no credit cards. I had no checks. I was cash only until I was probably 30 years old.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But the Boss is what he became, deciding early on that, to endure, he would have to treat music like a business.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Well, that has to happen. If you’re a band leader, you need that type of discipline and dedication in the guys you’re playing with.

    We came from where professionalism wasn’t a dirty word, as I say. And so we worked like the old soul bands worked, very intensely, and very methodically, in great detail.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You even call it a benevolent dictatorship.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: That’s what it is.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That’s what it is.


    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Small unit democracy, I found early on, didn’t work for me. And the band contributes enormously. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near where I was without them. But it’s basically the buck stops here sort of situation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But are you a control freak? That’s sort of the what — I think you say that.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yes, I am, probably less now than I used to be. I think, when I was young, I was — because you’re insecure, you really — you’re very controlling.

    Now I’m moderately controlling, I would say.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But you use that word insecure, because, frankly, I’m reading this thing, and it’s such a mix of sort of insecurities and sense of self.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: That’s the artist’s way.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That’s the artist’s way. Explain that to me.


    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Most artists I know had one person in their life who told them they were the second coming of the baby Jesus, and another person that told them they weren’t worth anything, and they believed them both, you know?

    And so you go through the rest of your life in pursuit of both of those things, proving that both of those things are true. And you feel like the burden of proof is on you. It doesn’t matter what happened last night or the night — or tomorrow night. It’s all about what you’re doing with this audience right now.

    And insecurity, natural part of being an artist.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It is always there.

    BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Along with a driving, driving, driving ego, a vanity, and the self-confidence.

    So you have got to have both of those things. That’s what makes it interesting. That’s what makes someone — that’s what makes you want to watch someone, or want to listen to someone, are those particular complexities.

    JEFFREY BROWN: My conversation with Bruce Springsteen continues tomorrow night with a look at his lifelong bouts of depression, his love of reading, and the election of Donald Trump.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown.

    The post Part 1 — How Bruce Springsteen tackles truth, in song and memoir appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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