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

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    English singer and songwriter George Michael performing on stage during the Japanese/Australasian leg of his Faith World Tour, February-March 1988. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

    English singer and songwriter George Michael performing on stage during the Japanese/Australasian leg of his Faith World Tour, February-March 1988. Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

    Singer George Michael, who rocketed to international stardom with a collection of iconic, infectious pop anthems, died Sunday at age 53 in his home in Oxfordshire, England, the Associated Press confirmed.

    A statement from his publicist said he died peacefully in his home.

    “It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” the publicist said in a statement. “The family would ask their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”

    Michael, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in London, partnered with his friend Andrew Ridgeley as a teenager in the early 1980s to form WHAM!, a boy band duo that rose in popularity in Britain and the U.S. The group sold millions of records worldwide with hits such as “Last Christmas.”

    The singer released several popular solo singles in the mid-1980s, gathering steam for a solo career that began after WHAM! disbanded in 1986. In 1987, he released “Faith,” both the name of his first solo album and a single that would become a cornerstone of his early career.

    Michael’s 1987 duet with Aretha Franklin, “I Knew You Were Waiting,” won a Grammy Award in 1988. Michael won another Grammy the following year for “Faith,” which was dubbed Album of the Year.

    The New York Times described his widespread appeal in 1988, as music critic Jon Pareles wrote that “Behind his stubble, his black leather jacket, his dangling-crucifix earring and his pirate-style head scarf, George Michael – or the character he plays in his songs – is the kind of guy most teen-age girls could bring home to meet the folks,” with a “creamy, soul-style tenor.”

    In styles adapted from Motown and Stevie Wonder, Michael was lauded as an expert of romantic pop, becoming the most-played artist on British radio from 1984 to 2004, according to the Radio Academy. His solo work sold more than 100 million records,

    As a public figure who came of age as the AIDS epidemic emerged, Michael has said that he struggled with talking about his sexuality. In 1998, he publicly came out as gay in a CNN interview. He had recently been arrested for “investigation of misdemeanor lewd conduct” in a park bathroom in Beverly Hills, California.

    “I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I’m in a relationship with a man right now,” he told CNN. “I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost 10 years.”

    He said in a 2007 radio interview that he came out to friends and one of his sisters at 19 but refrained from telling his parents, the British newspaper The Independent reported.

    British singers Paul McCartney and George Michael (L) perform at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park in London, July 2, 2005. A galaxy of rock and roll stars will grace stages across the globe on Saturday for what is being billed as the greatest music show ever, in a bid to put pressure on leaders of the Group of Eight major industrialised nations meeting in Scotland next week to do more to alleviate poverty, particularly in Africa. Live8, an expanded version of the Live Aid sensation 20 years ago, will take in 10 cities and four continents, kicking off in [Tokyo in the east and ending in North America] in the west. - RTXNLLT

    British singers Paul McCartney and George Michael, left, perform at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park in London, July 2, 2005. Photo via Reuters

    In 2011, he had suffered from severe pneumonia that resulted in a tracheotomy, and postponed a series of concerts.

    Celebrities and friends paid tribute to Michael on Twitter.

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    The post British pop icon George Michael dies at 53 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Mourners hold portraits of victims of the Tu-154 plane crash in the Black Sea on Dec. 25. Photo by Valery MatytsinTASS via Getty Images

    People hold portraits of victims of the Tu-154 plane crash in the Black Sea on Dec. 25. Photo by Valery MatytsinTASS via Getty Images

    Mourners gathered to lay flowers and light candles on Monday, a national day of mourning in Russia, for the 92 passengers and crew of an airplane that crashed into the Black Sea on Christmas Day.

    The Tu-154 airplane was on its way from the southern Russian city of Sochi to the Hemeimeem air base in the Syrian coastal province of Latakia when it crashed into the sea.

    Russia’s Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said on television that terrorism was not one of the main theories for the cause of the crash, and that authorities were looking into a possible technical problem or pilot error. The plane’s black boxes have not been found, according to the Associated Press.

    Residents of Sochi, Russia, bring flowers and candles to the pier near the airplane crash site. Photo by Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant via Getty Images

    Residents of Sochi, Russia, bring flowers and candles to the pier near the airplane crash site. Photo by Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant via Getty Images

    Russia deployed more than 100 divers on 45 ships, 10 helicopters, two deep-water submersibles and drones to search for bodies and debris, the AP reported.

    Rescuers have so far recovered 11 bodies and have flown them to Moscow for identification. Those aboard included members of the Alexandrov Ensemble of singers, who were scheduled to perform a concert at the Syrian air base. Journalists sent to cover the concert were also on board.

    One of the passengers included Dr. Yelizaveta Glinka — known as “Dr. Liza” — who was delivering a shipment of medical supplies. She headed a charity that helps children in war zones.

    People in Moscow lay flowers in front of a picture of Dr. Yelizaveta Glinka, known as “Dr. Liza,” who was aboard the airplane that crashed into the Black Sea. Photo by Dmitry SerebryakovTASS via Getty Images

    People in Moscow lay flowers in front of a picture of Dr. Yelizaveta Glinka, known as “Dr. Liza,” who was aboard the airplane that crashed into the Black Sea. Photo by Dmitry SerebryakovTASS via Getty Images

    As workers continue the search, parts of the airplane have been recovered about a mile from shore.

    The post Russia mourns victims of Christmas Day airplane crash appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A boy prays during a Christmas eve mass at a Catholic church on the outskirts of Taiyuan, North China's Shanxi province, December 24, 2016. Picture taken on December 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee - RTX2WF8E

    A boy prays during a Christmas Eve mass at a Catholic church in North China’s Shanxi province. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Lee

    Where’s the line between teaching and preaching religion in school? It’s a question that school districts are still litigating, like in a recent battle in a Texas middle school over whether or not a Biblical passage cited in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” could be displayed on the school nurse’s door.

    But while the courts banned schools from preaching about religion decades ago, most school districts in the U.S. require students to learn about the world’s religions, a fact that most Americans don’t know.

    Faith Ed. book cover

    For “Faith Ed.: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance,” Linda K. Wertheimer,  a veteran education and religion journalist, traveled across the country to provide insights into the different ways public schools teach about the world’s religions. Such instruction has not come without some controversy.

    “There likely cannot be a one-size fits all approach given the diversity across the nation, but maybe schools can do more than they do now,” she writes in “Faith Ed.”

    Wertheimer spoke with the NewsHour about some of these models and why she believes teaching about religion in school is more important now than ever.

    Are people surprised when you tell them that most public schools require students to learn about the world’s religions?

    Most Americans don’t even know that it’s legal to teach about the world’s religions. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, in 2010, did a survey on the public’s knowledge of the role of religion in public life. Eighty-nine percent of Americans know that a public school teacher cannot lead a class in prayer. Only 36 percent know that a public school teacher can legally teach a comparative religions class.

    READ MORE: How young is too young to talk to your kids about religion?

    Only 23 percent know that a public school teacher can read from the Bible as an example of literature. The general public, and I see this every time I give a talk, is usually very surprised to hear that kids are learning about the world’s religions in any fashion in a public school.

    How long has teaching about world religions been a part of public school education?

    Schools have had [a world religions elective] for many, many years. What’s different today is that because of state standards passed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most schools across the country are required to teach about the world’s religions as part of social studies and geography. Depending on the state, they may have to begin it in sixth or seventh grade or not until high school.

    “89 percent of Americans know that a public school teacher cannot lead a class in prayer. Only 36 percent know that a public school teacher can legally teach a comparative religions class.”

    There have always been some great world history teachers who’ve taught about the world’s religions in some fashion, but there are many, many generations that went through public school without ever learning about the world’s religions. So when I give talks to audiences, if the average is 50 and up, most of them are really shocked that schools are dealing with anything to do with religion, because they think that violates the separation of church and state. They’re confusing teaching versus preaching about religion in the schools.

    Why did you set out to write this book?

    I set out to write “Faith Ed.” for two reasons. One was a very, very personal reason. When I was 9, my family moved from western New York State to a small town in Ohio, and that very first week of school, this woman came in and she started preaching to us about Jesus. It was clearly a violation of the separation of church and state, but my school system was representing the mores of the community.

    She had us sing “Jesus Loves Me.” And I was Jewish. I went home and I told my parents, and they complained, and the school district said, ‘Fine, Linda can be excused from the class.’ That led to me getting picked on because I was Jewish, and things would happen throughout my schooling there. We sometimes had assemblies on Easter or Christmas where the pastors would give prayers, and that sort of left a question in my head. Was it anti-Semitism? Or was it ignorance? Also what if instead of promoting just one religion, Christianity, in our public schools, our teachers had tried to teach about many religions?

    Fast-forward to 2010, I’m a journalist living in the Boston area, and I hear about Wellesley Middle School in suburban Boston taking a field trip to a mosque. A parent chaperone came and secretly videotaped what had happened. A handful of boys on the trip were asked to join the line of worshipers. So, she videoed the boys praying or seen mimicking prayer in the mosque, and then three or four months later after the field trip, out came a video that said “Wellesley, Mass. public school students learn to pray to Allah.” Then this controversy ensued and the school district was accused of trying to indoctrinate the kids into Islam and there were all kinds of things that happened.

    But what caught my attention was the fact that these sixth graders were spending January to June learning about the world’s religions. I then spent a lot of time investigating what actually happened, what were they learning and what difference was it making. What happens when they do lead to controversy? What are some of the great ways to do it? What should they avoid? How young should you go? So there were a lot of different questions that I wanted to pursue.

    A boy attends the afternoon prayer at the mosque of All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, Virginia, U.S. May 19, 2016. To match Special Report USA-EXTREMISTS/TEEN REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTSG93W

    A boy attends the afternoon prayer at a mosque in Sterling, Virginia. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    You traveled across the country talking with school districts and teachers about their different approaches to teaching about religion. Do incidents like the one you had growing up in Ohio still happen today?

    In the Bible Belt, in particular in this country, there’s still a huge tug and pull over how far can we go with religious activities on campus. It is legal for students to have clubs, but where it can get sort of touchy is if a teacher is the adviser for a religiously Christian club and actively participates and helps lead prayers or things like that.

    In terms of what I experienced growing up in Ohio, that kind of practice was declared illegal in 1948 in the McCollum v. Board of Education case. But then in 1952, there was another case, Zorach v. Clauson, which said it’s okay to have these classes as long as they are offered outside of the school. That practice continues in many places around the country. But that does not violate separation of church and state, according to the Supreme Court, because it’s done away from school grounds. The good news to me is that many teachers are also trying really hard to teach about the world’s religions as a way of reducing ignorance and also reducing religious bigotry.

    What did you mean in an article you wrote for USA Today that Christmas can be taught from an educational standpoint instead of a religious one?

    Let’s talk about what’s in general been common in public schools over the years. Typically, in elementary school, many teachers figure, “let’s use the holiday calendar to do activities. It’s Christmas, so let’s color Christmas trees or have math worksheet that deals with Christmas stockings, and let’s do our holiday concert on Christmas songs and maybe we’ll throw in a Hanukkah song, too.” But the problem with that is that there are many other religions besides Judaism and Christianity, and that’s not very educational. That’s looking at things more from a celebratory viewpoint than from an educational viewpoint.

    In the Core Knowledge curriculum, which stems from the research of E.D. Hirsch Jr., the kids in the first grade learn about Judaism, Christianity and Islam and it’s taught through stories and activities, but it’s not about celebrating these religious holidays. They learn the story of how these religions are created. Who are the key figures in the religion? So if you’re teaching about Christmas, for example, who’s the key figure? It’s Jesus Christ. She wouldn’t show the “Rudolph” movie. She’d be careful to say this is what most Christians believe, and she would not say you should believe it. And this unit might be taught in October because this is when they are teaching their world religion unit.

    READ MORE: 10 Commandments for talking to your kids about religion

    You write about several controversies that have occurred in public schools around the teaching of religion. Are teachers afraid of getting into trouble?

    I think in general a lot of teachers are nervous about teaching about religion if they’ve had no exposure to any religion except their own. Or if their school district has provided no training or if they’ve no opportunity to get training, they’re more nervous about teaching about religion. What I found in the elementary school was a lot more nervousness about it, particularly around Islam. It was not a religion they were familiar with. Some of them were fearful themselves in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. They wanted to do a good job teaching about it. Some of them were very devout Christians who had been taught that, “my way is the only way,” so how do I teach about it and keep my own biases out of it?

    Middle and high school levels, I found less of that nervousness. If a controversy happened in their school, then yes, they were a little more gun-shy, but not gun-shy about teaching about it; gun-shy about how they would teach about it.

    So what are some of the best ways schools are teaching about the world’s religions?

    What I would say is that there’s no clear cut answer to your question. Wellesley Middle School is a good model for school districts that are willing to push the envelope. Wellesley does take the sixth graders every year on a field trip to a mosque and a Jewish temple. They bring in guest speakers of all sorts, and there can be some issues with how you do that. You really have to think carefully about who you are inviting and how you’re moderating that discussion. Another aspect of what Wellesley does is, they send a letter out to parents letting them know they teach the course and here’s why. They’re very transparent with parents about what they’re doing.

    “Students…would tell me if they were Sikh or Muslim or Hindu that this course made them feel a little more accepted among their peers and a little prouder of who they were.”

    Modesto, California, is the only school system in the country that requires every high school kid to take a world religions course before they graduate. It’s only a nine-week course and it covers six to nine religions. What people can learn from Modesto is, how do you develop a course like this, and how do you engage your community so that you have buy in into the course. One of the things that Modesto did was that teachers took field trips to several houses of worship in the area, so they know that background. They also had religion scholars and First Amendment experts also come and talk to the teachers.

    How have the students reacted to taking a world religion’s class?

    Students in Modesto would tell me if they were Sikh or Muslim or Hindu that this course made them feel a little more accepted among their peers and a little prouder of who they were. At the same time they and some of their Christian peers talked about how the course taught them to stand up for the rights of the smallest minorities. One student told me that he heard someone at a family function say something that he knew was totally wrong about Hinduism, so he stuck up and said this is what I learned in high school class, and he immediately dispelled their stereotype.

    There was a boy in Wellesley, Massachusetts, whose story really stuck with me. His name was Zain Tirmizi, and I met him when he was 12 in the sixth grade. He said, “A kid came up to me and said, ‘Do you have a bomb in your locker?’” Of course that upset him. But what struck me about Zain was that he went home and told his dad, and his dad said, “Try to tell him about your religion or what we do.” So Zain did, and he and the boy actually became friends. I interviewed Zain again in eighth grade and asked him if he thought the class really made a difference and he said yes. He can’t necessarily remember all of the facts, but it whet his appetite for learning more about world religions.

    An ultra-orthodox Jewish family lights a candle on the first night of the holiday of Hanukkah in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood December 24, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen - RTX2WDVL

    An ultra-orthodox Jewish family lights a candle on the first night of the holiday of Hanukkah in Jerusalem. Photo by REUTERS/Amir Cohen

    It seems like teaching about Islam has caused the most negative reactions in people. Is this in response to September 11th?

    There’s no question that lessons on Islam led to the most controversies in school districts around the country and continue to do so. I think there’s a very clear connection to Islamophobia in our society, and from what I can glean from my research, these kinds of things really didn’t happen until after 9/11 in terms of parents or the general public objecting to lessons on Islam. And it’s been building. It comes into the schools through kids who will tease a Muslim boy. It comes into the schools in the form of parents who see their child bring home a worksheet on Islam and freak out. It’s happening all around the country. Often the parents aren’t understanding what’s being taught and why it’s being taught.

    Does this stem from a fear of people losing their view of what they think America should look like or what they experienced growing up?

    I think this is a continuation of the culture wars that have been going on a long time. It kind of ebbs and flows. And I think we’re right back in the middle of a culture war again as religious diversity in our country is growing. At the same time there are certain segments in our country, I think it’s a vocal minority, who believe Christianity and Christmas need to be restored to the schools. When you have the president-elect saying things like it’s time to say “Merry Christmas” again, that adds support to their cause. By the way, I think it’s fine to say “Merry Christmas,” but it’s just when you do that, you forget that our country has a good amount of religious diversity, that it’s not a Christian country, it’s a country for everyone.

    “Religion is a trickier and more controversial topic than many others in education. You are teaching about a topic that is so near and dear to many people. And everyone has an opinion about it.”

    I think there still are teachers wistful for the days of old. [Some of] the Wichita teachers I interviewed in my book were struggling with, “I’m being asked to teach about all these different religions including some I don’t know, and I feel like my own religion is getting a backseat. Or that we can’t do the things that I used to like anymore.” America is changing. And we are. We still are a majority Christian country, but the percentage of non-Christians is growing, as is the percentage of people who don’t affiliate with any religion. A quarter of Americans now don’t affiliate with any faith.

    What do you hope people take away from “Faith Ed.”?  

    “Faith Ed.” doesn’t say don’t take risks when teaching about the world’s religions, but what it does say is you do have to think about how you’re teaching, what methods you’re using when you’re teaching about religions, because religion is a trickier and more controversial topic than many others in education. You are teaching about a topic that is so near and dear to many people. And everyone has an opinion about it.

    Linda K. Wertheimer

    Linda K. Wertheimer, a 30-year journalist, is the former Boston Globe education editor and author of “Faith Ed.: Teaching About Religion In An Age of Intolerance.” Wertheimer was a reporter at The Dallas Morning News and The Orlando Sentinel and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, USA Today and Time. In 2016, “Faith Ed.” won a national book award–second place in the Religion News Association nonfiction religion book contest. She has also appeared on several NPR radio shows, including KERA’s Think in Dallas; Radio Boston; and LA’s Air Talk, as well a nationally televised program on CBS about religion and democracy.

    The post Q&A: Can teaching about religion reduce intolerance? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user kelly.sikkema.

    Photo by Flickr user kelly.sikkema

    In every culture that anthropologists have ever studied, people tell stories.

    Families most frequently tell stories around the time of vacations, family reunions, (sadly) funerals, Thanksgiving and, of course, the family-oriented winter holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

    Stories are told about times past, times present and even times yet to be. These stories mix real people and places with imaginary people and places. For instance, there was never anyone called Sherlock Holmes, but the town he lived in – London – is real. The street he lived on – Baker Street – is also real. But there is no 221B – his house number in the story.

    So, why do we tell these stories?

    For more than two decades, my colleague, Robyn Fivush, and I have been studying the importance of family stories at Emory University’s Family Narratives Project, which conducts research on how people remember and narrate the events of their lives. And we have found that the more children know about their own family history, the healthier and more resilient they are.

    There are a variety of forms that family stories take. It has been our experience that the so-called “bad stories” – in which bad things happen to good people – do more to immunize children and build resilience than happy ones.

    What stories do families tell?

    Most families have stories that parallel the Seven Basic Plots proposed by journalist Christopher Booker.

    Briefly, these plots are: the Quest (think Lord of the Rings), Voyage and Return (Ulysses), Rags to Riches (Cinderella), Tragedy (King Lear), Comedy (Will Ferrell movie), Rebirth (The Ugly duckling, Shrek), and Overcoming the Monster (Star Wars’ Darth Vader).

    Generally, all of the family story plots contribute to a sense of history and resilience in families. But when dealing with difficult times, families tell the “voyage and return” and “overcoming the monster” stories.

    Our interviews with professionals working on rehabilitation, patients and patients’ families show that the narrative plot – “voyage and return” – is arguably the form most commonly taken by family stories to talk about illnesses and recovery.

    For instance, many families use “journey” metaphors when talking about illnesses. One family we interviewed, for example, saw the emergency room, the hospital, the rehabilitation center and the outpatient treatment center as “stations” (ports) along the way back home.

    Another family talked about how long the “trip” had been from injury to recovery. This plot line works because it is so easily understood by people of all ages.

    What plot lines do families use in times of adversity?
    Jessica Lucia, CC BY-NC-ND

    Such “voyage and return” stories provide hope in times of present and future illnesses. They teach that, with time and care, people who have “traveled” into a far-off land of infirmity can and do return.

    Based on my four decades of experience as a licensed clinical psychologist and on the hundreds of interviews we did at the Family Narratives Project over an 10-year period, it’s my belief that knowing such stories helps people get through their own illnesses and those of their loved ones.

    Voyage and return is just one of the seven basic plots that we have found in family stories. An illness or injury from which someone does not recover becomes a “Tragedy story.” Very often, comedic details are added to even the most trying of narratives.

    Generally, it’s been our experience that stories are recounted on an “as needed” basis. And stories may have more than one type of plot. So, if a child is having trouble in math, a grandparent might tell the child about how the same thing happened to the child’s mom or dad and how he or she overcame the challenge.

    Overcoming the monster

    While not entirely separate from the “voyage and return” story, another of the seven basic family story plots that our research shows is important for children to hear is “overcoming the monster”.

    These stories describe how people in the family dealt with hardships, traumatic events or unpredictable challenges. Often, grandparents would describe overcoming the financial challenges of economic downturns, or parents would describe being bullied as children.

    There could be other stories about relatives or friends who experienced horrific events, resulting in injuries or even deaths of loved ones – all of these could be considered stories about overcoming some sort of “monster.”

    The power of such stories rests in their being told long after they have been resolved and the tellers and listeners are safe or have successfully coped with their challenges. These stories teach resilience.

    They teach that ordinary people can rise to heroic levels if they are called upon to do so. They teach us that no matter how scary the “monster” or how intimidated we are, we can prevail.

    What stories should we tell?

    Does this mean we should tell only positive stories?

    Many parent groups that I have spoken with fear telling their children so-called “bad stories” in which bad things happen to good people.

    However, it has been our experience that bad stories do more to immunize children and build resilience than happy ones. We have theorized that this is because hearing about overcoming bad things tells children that they are part of a family that “rises above” and faces problems squarely.

    When similar challenges then face the children themselves, they have role models to turn to.

    To be sure, both good and bad plots are necessary in the set of stories that children know about their families. It helps kids the kids to know that people they are related to are strong enough to have overcome “monsters” in the past.

    This helps them realize that when they come upon their own “monsters,” they will be able to overcome them as well.

    The Conversation

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    The post Column: Why you should tell your kids tragic stories this holiday season appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An aerial view of the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which was revitalized after Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks in 2013, will have only two remaining members early next year. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

    An aerial view of the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which was revitalized after Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks in 2013, will have only two remaining members early next year. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A federal board responsible for protecting Americans against abuses by spy agencies is in disarray just weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

    The five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will have only two remaining members as of Jan. 7 — and zero Democrats, even though it is required to operate as an independent, bipartisan agency. The vacancies mean it will lack the minimum three members required to conduct business and can work only on ongoing projects. Trump would have to nominate new members who would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

    The board was revitalized after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures on the scope of U.S. spying in 2013. It notably concluded that the NSA’s phone surveillance program was illegal.

    Since then, it has been crucial in ensuring members of Congress and the public have a window into the highly secretive and classified world of intelligence agencies. But it’s unclear whether Trump will support robust intelligence oversight. During his campaign, Trump appeared to support strengthened intelligence overall and surveillance of mosques, but he’s more recently expressed distrust of intelligence agencies. The Trump transition team didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Jim Dempsey, a Democrat, will leave the board Jan. 3 because for months the Senate has not confirmed his re-nomination by President Barack Obama. And former U.S. Judge Patricia Wald, the only other Democrat, informed the White House this month that she intends to retire effective Jan. 7. The board also will lose its executive director, Sharon Bradford Franklin, who plans to step down before Trump’s presidency, according to an individual with knowledge of the board’s operations who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

    Already in limbo is a public oversight report on the use of a Reagan-era executive order that since 1981 has authorized sweeping powers by intelligence agencies like the NSA to spy even on innocent Americans abroad and never has been subject to meaningful oversight from Congress or courts. The senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, has said her committee has not been able to sufficiently oversee programs operated under the order.

    The privacy panel’s report on the order is stalled and there’s no work being done on it, according to the individual, who has knowledge about the project’s status. Some individual agency reports related to the order were expected to be completed before the board loses its quorum, the person said.

    Another review, of a 2014 presidential directive that details U.S. signals-intelligence activities for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, is on track to be released before Jan. 20, the individual said. That review was requested by Obama.

    One of the board’s two remaining Republicans, Rachel Brand, whose term officially expires in January, could continue through March. If Trump were to move forward with any board nomination, she may continue through the end of the year. Should Brand leave, Republican Elisebeth Collins would become the last board member; her term ends in January 2020.

    The oversight board was created by statute in 2007. Its members serve part-time and required to be able to maintain a top-secret clearance.

    While lacking enforcement ability to impose its recommendations on the intelligence community, the board does have the “power of persuasion and invoking public concern about issues,” said former board chairman David Medine, a Democrat who resigned a year early, in July, to work for a development organization. That power is significantly diminished without the minimum three members necessary to report findings to the public.

    The board’s review of intelligence agencies’ use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the NSA used to conduct bulk collection of domestic telephone records, concluded their program was illegal and should be shut down. That finding split along party lines with the Democrats in the majority.

    The review also drove passage of the USA Freedom Act, which went into effect in November 2015. It prevents the government’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and requires a request to a phone company first to be vetted by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rather than an internal agency administrator.

    Congress has at various points, including in the 2017 intelligence budget bill, put in provisions to limit the board’s authorities or constrain its spending.

    Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in an emailed statement that the panel’s role as a government watchdog is “absolutely critical now.”

    He said Congress needs to ensure the board functions as intended by defending its authority and making sure its new members are committed to independent oversight.

    The board contributes “important information to the public discourse and debate,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the ACLU. But if it can’t do its job, maybe “we’re in the same lack of oversight that led to the abuses of the past.”

    WATCH: Donald Trump’s fighting words are worrying to some

    The post Weeks before Trump takes office, this U.S. civil liberties board is in disarray appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Good riddance, 2016.

    It was a year defined by political turmoil, heartbreaking losses, monumental disappointments and near-global discord. Our phones exploded, the Zika virus spread and Ryan Lochte may or may not have vandalized a bathroom in Rio.

    Will 2017 offer something better? It’s worth looking back through the debris of the last year to remember that it wasn’t all bad.

    As you prepare for another trip around the Sun, enjoy our list of undeniably good things that happened over the course of this objectively wretched year.

    At times, 2016 may have felt like a black hole was likely to swallow all of humanity, but out of the darkness came a great discovery. Artist's rendering of a supermassive black hole via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    At times, 2016 may have felt like a black hole was likely to swallow all of humanity, but out of the darkness came a great discovery. Artist’s rendering of a supermassive black hole via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Physicists confirm existence of gravitational waves

    Physicists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) did a favor for Albert Einstein by confirming the existence of gravitational waves. Einstein predicted these distortions in the fabric of spacetime in 1916 with his general theory of relativity. But direct evidence had eluded scientists until the $1 billion LIGO experiment caught hints of gravity waves made by the collision of two massive black holes 1.3 billion years ago.

    After 1,000 years, they had a lot to catch up on. Pope Francis embraces Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba, in February. Photo by Gregorio Borgia/Reuters.

    After 1,000 years, they had a lot to catch up on. Pope Francis embraces Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba, in February. Photo by Gregorio Borgia/Reuters.

    Catholic and Orthodox leaders meet for first time in 1,000 years

    For the first time in nearly 1,000 years, Pope Francis met with Patriarch Kirill of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It marks the first encounter between the leaders of Christianity’s two largest churches since 1054, when the Eastern Orthodoxy split with Rome.

    “Finally! We are brothers,” the pope said as he embraced Kirill after their two-hour meeting in Cuba’s Havana airport in February.

    A tiger photographed in Ranthambore National Park in Rajashthan, India. Photo by Aditya Singh/Getty Images)

    A tiger photographed in Ranthambore National Park in Rajashthan, India. Photo by Aditya Singh/Getty Images)

    World tiger count rises for first time in 100 years

    Global tiger numbers are up for the first time in a century, and conservation experts credit this improvement with better coordinated efforts among nations that serve as natural habitats for tigers. An estimated 3,890 tigers are alive today, up from 2010 when the count was about 3,200 worldwide.

    Photo by MPI/Getty Images

    Photo by MPI/Getty Images

    Harriet Tubman will appear on $20 bills

    Harriet Tubman, a former slave and African-American abolitionist who helped hundreds of enslaved people escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad, will replace President Andrew Jackson on the front of $20 bills, the U.S. Treasury Department announced in April. A century ago, first lady Martha Washington’s portrait was the last image of an American woman to appear on U.S. currency.

    Photo by Alfredo Ausina/Getty Images

    Photo by Alfredo Ausina/Getty Images

    Teen birth rate reaches all-time low

    The teenage birth rate hit an all-time low in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And over the last decade, the most significant drops were in non-white communities. Experts attribute these improvements to a decline in teen sexual activity and an increase in contraception use.

    With a moment like this, the year cannot be all bad. Simone Manuel reacted after winning the 100m Freestyle final in Rio. Photo by Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

    With a moment like this, the year cannot be all bad. Simone Manuel reacted after winning the 100m Freestyle final in Rio. Photo by Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

    Team USA brought home the gold from the Rio Olympics

    We feared the games would be a catastrophe in Rio, but Brazil hosted one of the most memorable and exciting Olympics in recent history. And to top if all off, team USA sported several golden Olympic moments this year. Simone Biles led The Final Five to gold in gymnastics. Katie Ledecky broke multiple world records in the pool, including her own, while Michael Phelps broke a 2,000-year-old Olympic record. And don’t forget Simone Manuel’s reaction after her historic win as the first black woman to take gold in an individual swimming event.

    After a year like 2016, it's nice to know we still have national parks to escape to. 1940's era postcard via the Boston Public Library

    After a year like 2016, it’s nice to know we still have national parks to escape to. 1940’s era postcard via the Boston Public Library

    National Park Service turned 100

    The National Park Service turned 100 years old on August 25, 2016. Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming was first and since then 58 have followed expanding upon America’s “best idea.” But the system itself oversees far more than that. All told there are more than 400 parks, battlefields, historic sites, monuments, preserves, parkways and reserves encompassing 84 million acres. More than 275 million people visit them each year.

    Despite outbreaks in 2015 in California, the America's were declared measles-free in 2016. Photo by Getty Images

    Despite outbreaks in 2015 in California, the Americas were declared measles-free in 2016. Photo by Getty Images

    The Americas became measles-free

    Measles were eliminated from the Americas in 2016. The World Health Organization made the proclamation in September after a two decade-long vaccination effort. It’s the first region in the world to completely eliminate the viral disease that can cause severe health problems, including pneumonia, blindness, brain swelling and in some cases, death.

    Emperor penguins gathered in the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Photo by Auscape/Getty Images

    Emperor penguins gathered in the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Photo by Auscape/Getty Images

    World’s largest marine reserve established near Antarctica

    The world’s largest marine zone, a 600,000-square-mile swath of ocean, was established in Antarctica’s Ross Sea this fall. This comes after an agreement was reached by 24 nations and the European Union in late October. Most commercial fishing will be banned in the newly protected zone, with the exclusion of designated research zones, where scientists can catch limited samples of fish and krill.

    “It’s the first time that countries around the world are coming together to agree not to take fish or other species out of the water, but to leave them in, and to leave them in for a good long period of time,” Karen Sack, managing director of the conservation organization Ocean Unite, told the NewsHour’s William Brangham in an Oct. 28 interview.


    Unemployment rate hits pre-recession low

    The nation’s jobless rate sank to 4.6 percent, a level not seen since August 2007 and before the onset of the Great Recession when unemployment picked at 10 percent in October 2010, according to monthly figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Chicago Cubs fans ask: "What do you mean 2016 was a bad year?" Photo by Jerry Lai/USA Today via Reuters

    Chicago Cubs fans ask: “What do you mean 2016 was a bad year?” Photo by Jerry Lai/USA Today via Reuters

    Chicago Cubs win the World Series

    The Chicago Cubs won. No longer lovable losers. No more cursed goat. No more “wait till next year.” We all watched long-suffering fan Bill Murray cry. And yet, even when the famous “W” flags waved in and around Wrigley Field after the historic win, it wasn’t a complete shedding of heartbreak. In fact, ESPN’s Wright Thompson observed a “palpable sadness” amid all the joy. “Nobody could really be sure how’d they’d feel when it all ended, whether they’d be full of joy, or grief, or both,” he wrote. It’s hard being a Cubs fan.

    Peace on Earth—that's worth celebrating. Supporters rallied before the agreement, in Colombia. Photo by John Vizcaino/Reuters.

    Peace on Earth—that’s worth celebrating. Supporters rallied before the agreement, in Colombia. Photo by John Vizcaino/Reuters.

    Colombia, FARC hammer out peace deal after 50 years of war

    When the Colombian government and FARC rebels agreed to end more than 50 years of civil war last summer, people celebrated in the streets. But the public ended up narrowly rejecting the initial deal in an Oct. 2 referendum. So negotiators went back to the drawing board, made some changes to pacify those who thought the rebels weren’t being punished enough for past atrocities. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff that the peace agreement “will open up opportunities that Colombia had never imagined.”

    Graduation rates have been creeping up for years, with 2016 getting the best marks yet. Photo by Getty Images

    Graduation rates have been creeping up for years, with 2016 getting the best marks yet. Photo by Getty Images

    U.S. high school graduation rate reaches record high

    The nation’s high school graduation rate rose to an all-time high this year with 83 percent of students earning their diplomas, according to the Department of Education. That marked a significant improvement since 1999 when high schools reported a 71 percent graduation rate.

    Did we miss any great stories from 2016? Share your suggestions in the comments. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2017 to all.

    Jenny Marder, Joshua Barajas, Mary Jo Brooks, Lorna Baldwin, Molly Finnegan, Nsikan Akpan and Larisa Epatko contributed to this report.

    The post 13 undeniably good things that happened in 2016 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    By John Trumbull - US Capitol, Public Domain

    The central grievance of the colonists was their lack of a voice in the government that ruled them, argue Sebastian Galiani and Gustavo Torrens in a new working paper. Image by John Trumbull – U.S. Capitol, Public Domain

    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.

    “No taxation without representation” — the rallying cry of the American Revolution — gives the impression that taxation was the principal irritant between Britain and its American colonies. But, in fact, taxes in the colonies were much lower than taxes in Britain. The central grievance of the colonists was their lack of a voice in the government that ruled them.

    If a little representation in Parliament could have prevented a war for independence, why did King George III not grant it?

    The political underpinnings of the American Revolution have been discussed and debated for more than 200 years, and there are multiple explanations of the causes and multiple analyses of the revolutionary dynamic. One question about the revolution that has remained difficult to answer is if a little representation in Parliament could have prevented a war for independence, why did King George III not grant it?

    This question is the motivation for Sebastian Galiani and Gustavo Torrens‘s study “Why Not Taxation and Representation? A Note on the American Revolution.” In drawing attention to the role of representation as a spark for revolution, they note that the average British citizen who resided in Britain paid 26 shillings per year in taxes compared to only 1 shilling per year in New England, even though the living standard of the colonists was arguably higher than that of the British.

    Most accounts of the events that led to the American Revolution depict a conflict between the colonies and a unified British government. In fact, the researchers argue, the reality was subtler. They draw on a variety of historical accounts to describe the tension between two rival British interest groups, the landed gentry and the democratically inclined opposition, and explain the failure to reach a compromise that would have granted representation to the colonies. In particular, they focus on how extending representation would have affected the relative influence of these two groups.


    The researchers consider events a century before the American Revolution to have set the stage for the domestic tensions in Britain at the time of the colonial protests. In 1649, during the English Civil War, a rebellion of Parliamentarians overthrew — and beheaded — King Charles I. Oliver Cromwell, who ruled for most of the subsequent decade, supported expanding representation in government beyond landowners, and his government was sympathetic to grievances like those raised by the American colonies many decades later. However, following Cromwell’s death in 1658, Royalists returned to power and sought to restore the historical ruling class.

    The average British citizen who resided in Britain paid 26 shillings per year in taxes compared to only 1 shilling per year in New England.

    When the colonies asked for representation in the middle of the 18th century, the monarchy was still recovering from its dethroning, and the landed gentry, now returned to primary power, still felt vulnerable. The researchers point out that the Royalists were contending with factions that sought to bring democracy to Britain. While these opposition groups did not hold significant power, if representatives from the American colonies were invited to join Parliament, they likely would have sympathized with the opposition and expanded their influence. The researchers see this tension as critical to understanding why Britain was so reluctant to enfranchise the colonists.

    There were proposals to settle the colonial crisis peacefully, most notably by Thomas Pownall and Adam Smith. Smith, for example, proposed “a system in which the political representation of Great Britain and America would be proportional to the contribution that each polity was making to the public treasury of the empire.” Such proposals were rejected by the ruling coalition in Britain. “The landed gentry, who controlled the incumbent government, feared that making concessions to the American colonies would intensify the pressure for democratic reforms, thus jeopardizing their economic and political position,” the researchers find.

    Ultimately, the opposition of the landed gentry to the demands for representation by the American colonies pushed the colonies to rebellion and independence, but helped to delay the development of the incipient democratic movement in Britain.

    — Jen Deaderick, National Bureau of Economic Research

    The post What we get wrong about taxes and the American Revolution appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A man releases a paper lantern in front of fireworks ahead of the new year in China. Photo by REUTERS/Stringer

    “I have always felt that part of my job in this world is to pay attention,” says poet Shelley Girdner. Her great-grandmother used to say that it was important to “find the one miracle in every day.” Girdner considers her work a continuation of that family tradition.

    Shelley Girdner's debut collection is titled "You Were That White Bird." Photo by David Ramsay.

    Shelley Girdner’s debut collection is titled “You Were That White Bird.” Photo by David Ramsay.

    “You Were That White Bird,” a recently published collection, is filled with poems that capture the details in the natural world around her and the small miracles of her life. Miracles, she is quick to point out, aren’t always joyous.

    “Sometimes miracles are terrible coincidences, weird alignments of things.” She said her poem “Shore” is about a walk she took years ago along the New Hampshire coastline where she lives. It begins:

    Before God made the shore
    he divined a woman walking there,
    her sorrow a deep hurt she could not name.

    “At the time I was struggling with depression. Depression in and of itself is so painful to live through. But if you can keep yourself moving through that difficult time, you reach a deep appreciation of coming back to a place of consolation.”

    Similarly, she says her poem “New Years Day” was a very literal poem that came to her as she was running errands.

    “It was the end of a very rough year. My husband had been ill for awhile and there were a lot of other negative things that had happened. It was an unusually warm day which caused some weird fog formations. And the poem just wrote itself as I was driving away from town, driving away from that terrible year with the idea of having a fresh start.”

    READ MORE: A poet’s history lesson on Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood

    Girdner says she loves it when poems just unfold that way, more an act of translation than crafting a piece of work. But she says more often she has to work hard to get the language just right. She has been writing little stories since she was a very young child, but didn’t become a poet until college. Finding the time to write between duties as a mother and professor of writing at the University of New Hampshire is always a challenge; each year she makes a New Year’s resolution to set aside time for writing as soon as she wakes up. That resolution only lasts a few weeks, she says with a laugh.

    “I learn that I just have to be patient with the ebbs and flows of writing. It will always come if I’m patient.”

    New Year’s Day

    It’s warm after a cold night, and fog
    rises into the air like all the badness
    of that old year leaving, makes
    licking white peaks of the roofs in town,
    covers the fields with steeples.

    When I drive home, the air won’t be the same;
    the sense of fleeing upward will be gone,
    so I drive through, one eye on the stream
    of every sad thing farewelling.

    I let my grief leave too, and what lies down after that
    is like faith, a blank sheet, what this year will be.

    Reprinted from “You Were That White Bird” published by Bauhan Publishing.

    Shelley Girdner’s poems have been published in several journals including “Hunger Mountain” and “Painted Review.” She’s been a finalist for the Slapering Hol chapbook prize and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. She teaches at the University of New Hampshire.

    The post Get a fresh start in the new year with this poem appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Video by Associated Press

    KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii — For eight years, Barack Obama has led a military fighting in multiple theaters overseas, becoming the only president in U.S. history to serve full two terms with the nation at war. On Sunday, he sought to pay tribute to the men and women who sacrificed along the way in battles that will continue even after his presidency comes to a close.

    There was a tinge of nostalgia as Obama visited U.S. troops on Christmas for the last time, and some solemnity, too. The president, who spent Christmas Eve calling troops serving overseas, pointed out that as Americans celebrate the holidays, U.S. troops are serving in dangerous, remote places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

    He said some were carrying out missions against the Islamic State group even on Christmas Day.

    “As tough as it is to be deployed, the people here in America, back home, understand that every single day you serve, you’re fighting for our freedom,” the president said, with first lady Michelle Obama at his side.

    Obama has made it a tradition to spend some time on Christmas at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, not far from the rented house that he and his family have made their winter home away from home. As Obama spoke, a few hundred troops sat around tables in uniforms, many with their families, in a mess hall hosting their Christmas meal.

    “I just want all of you to know that it has been the privilege of my life to serve as your commander in chief,” Obama said.

    He said even though he wouldn’t be addressing them again as president, he wanted to convey that as a private citizen, “my gratitude to you will remain.” He said his wife felt the same way.

    “Our commitment to standing by you every step of the way — that won’t stop,” Obama said.

    Obama ran for president eight years ago as an opponent of the war in Iraq, then inherited conflicts there and in Afghanistan. Though he declared the end of the U.S. combat missions in both countries and drastically ramped down U.S. involvement in those conflicts, some 8,400 troops remain in Afghanistan and 5,000 in Iraq.

    He leaves office in January with the U.S. military also fighting in Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya. The brutal civil war in Syria shows no signs of ebbing.

    Yet as he bid farewell to troops in Hawaii, Obama ended on a lighter note, pointing out that it might not be his final goodbye.

    “I understand that I still have a little bit of rank as ex-president,” Obama said. “So I still get to use the gym on base and, of course, the golf course.”

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

    The post Obama’s final troop tribute as commander-in-chief: ‘My gratitude to you will remain’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Finally tonight, another in our music series.

    Jazz musician Charles Lloyd plays the tenor saxophone, and he recently caught up with “NewsHour” producer Frank Carlson.

    CHARLES LLOYD: In my mind’s ear, I have always heard a beautiful sound. And I keep, all my life, practicing and playing, trying to get close to it.

    And, sometimes, the creator will let me get just so close, but it’s like the carrot-on-the-stick phase, you know, not yet, Charles.

    I’m Charles Lloyd. I have been drunk with music all my life. I was born in Memphis, and I heard this beautiful music. I would walk down the street in my neighborhood, and coming out of every house, I could hear Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Count Basie, you know, Charlie Parker, on and on.

    So, the music is fueling the atmosphere. Why jazz? It’s the music of wonder, freedom and wonder. And played by the great players, the individual truth, the personal truth becomes the universal truth.

    What I have been doing all my life is making a parallel between the beauties of the eternal verities that come through the music and spiritual life.

    I think what we do is that we come through here, we sing our song, nobody knows us, and we’re gone. But in the music, I can get up there and find this paradise that I’m trying to describe.

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    Israeli Flag in the Sky

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Now to the “NewsHour” Bookshelf for a novel about Israel by its internationally renowned writer, Amos Oz.

    He joined Jeffrey Brown at the Center for Jewish History in New York, in a conversation recorded before the recent U.N. vote on Israeli settlements.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The 1950s, the early years of the state of Israel, a time of hope for Jews who’d seen a dream come true, and fear about what the future might bring.

    AMOS OZ, Author, “Judas”: This is the period of my own youth. And these were, in terms of Israeli history, the years of the morning after.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So the country’s still young, but the question is, what now or what next?

    AMOS OZ: The question is what now, but the question is also, have we gone wrong somewhere? Have we taken the wrong turn someplace?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Amos Oz was born in Jerusalem in 1939. He spent many years living on a kibbutz, served in the Israeli army, and eventually became his country’s best known writer.

    His new novel, “Judas,” his first in more than a decade, is set in Jerusalem in those early years, the story of three people at very different stages in their lives and attitudes toward the new state.

    AMOS OZ: I wanted to explore, first and foremost, how three totally different human beings lived for three months in the same room, change and almost reshape one another.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Do you start with the notion of going back to this period of what might come next, or do you start with the characters? How does it happen?

    AMOS OZ: Always characters first.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Always?

    AMOS OZ: And I walk around pregnant with the characters for a long time before I write a single sentence.

    And when, inside my head or inside my guts, the characters begin to do things to each other, what they do to each other is the plot. And then I can start writing.

    What do we do to one another? It’s the one and only subject of literature, if you really have to squeeze it in a nutshell.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Betrayal is a key theme in this book, in the ancient sense, through one of the character’s studies of the biblical story of Jesus and Judas, and in modern Israel’s founding.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The title is “Judas,” right?

    AMOS OZ: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And this all begins, I gather, out of an interest of yours in the life of Jesus.

    AMOS OZ: Yes, but also out of huge, growing resentment to the ugly story about Judas, about the 30 pieces of silver, about the most notorious case in history about the God killing.

    In some point in the novel, the protagonist, Shmuel Ash, who is obsessed with his story, he writes about Judas hanging himself. Thus died the first Christian and last Christian, the only Christian.

    It’s a very provocative sentence. It doesn’t come from me. It comes from the protagonist. But it’s trying to reconsider the worst story ever told by anyone in human history.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Amos Oz has been a strong critic of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and a longtime advocate for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. That’s made him a traitor in the eyes of some of his countrymen.

    AMOS OZ: I wear these as a badge of honor, because it puts me in wonderful company. Many, many great men and women in history, prophets, statesmen, intellectuals, artists, were accused of treason by many of their own contemporaries.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What is the job or role of a writer in a country like Israel?

    AMOS OZ: I resent the very term “role of writers” or “role of literature.” I’m sorry.

    I think the right term should be the “gift of literature,” not the “role of literature.”

    JEFFREY BROWN: The gift?

    AMOS OZ: Yes.

    Makes us look one more time at some things which we have seen a million times, and we see them afresh. Or, sometimes, it makes us reconsider things that we were sure we knew or we were sure we were convinced of.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But is it different in a country such as Israel?

    AMOS OZ: I don’t think so, no. I don’t think so.

    I think literature is based on the deep human need to hear stories and to tell stories. It doesn’t have to serve any other purpose.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Oz’s most famous story may be his own, the 2004 autobiographical novel “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” which has now been made into a film by the actress Natalie Portman.

    It’s a tragic family story of a mother who commits suicide, leaving behind her young son, and also a story of a country in its early years of statehood.

    You have advocated a two-state idea long before it was a diplomatic solution, right? Is that two-state solution dead?

    AMOS OZ: I don’t think so.

    I don’t see any alternative to the two-state solution. It is 50 years now since I and a few of my colleagues first advocated the two-state solution. Fifty years is a long time in my life, but it’s a very short time in history.

    Look, it’s very simple. There are two nations rightly claiming the same tiny land. They just don’t trust the other. There is a lack of courageous leadership on both sides.

    You know, it’s like a patient knowing that he has to undergo a surgery, wanting to postpone it because it’s painful. But the doctors are cowards. They don’t have the guts to tell the patient, let’s do it now. The sooner, the better.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You still have hope for it?

    AMOS OZ: Of course, because I see no alternative.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Amos Oz, the new novel is “Judas.”

    Thank you very much.

    AMOS OZ: Thank you for having me. Thank you very much.

    The post A prominent Israeli author reflects on the country’s founding — and future appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Singer George Michael performs during the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 12, 2012.     REUTERS/David Gray (BRITAIN  - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS ENTERTAINMENT)   - RTR36SHR

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of Michael’s important legacies over time was how he eventually came out and dealt with his sexuality and identity.

    Tim Teeman wrote about that and more on The Daily Beast. He joins me now from New York.

    Tim, before we get into that issue of his sexuality, I wonder if we could just talk a little bit about George Michael as a musician.

    TIM TEEMAN, The Daily Beast: Yes.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: When you look back at his career, where do you put him in the pantheon of pop stars?

    TIM TEEMAN: Oh, I put him — personally, I put him right up there.

    I mean, if you grew up in England — and I’m sure he was very famous over here as well with Wham! and later on as a solo singer — but if you grew up in England in the ’70s and ’80s, as I did, he, along with Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet and Culture Club, Boy George, these were big, totemic cultural figures.

    And Wham!, as Angus Walker described in his report there, were — they were almost the harbingers, the heralds of Thatcherism himself. The group was very anti-Thatcher, famously anti-Thatcher, but their brand of pop and the kind of aspiration and the brightness of that pop was radical and revolutionary.

    And Britain, at that point in the early ’80s, emerging from a period of sort of late ’70s gray industrial decline, this was the kind of pop that heralded the big, brash ’80s.

    And look at George’s hair, look at his clothes in that time. And those songs, you either — as I say in my article for The Daily Beast, you either hit the dance floor, and you just flailed like a windmill dancing crazily at them, and then for the slower songs, those slower songs still are the songs that are at weddings, the last song of the night, people weeping on each others’ shoulder.

    They are slow dances. And they have remained. And they have transcended. If they were considered cheesy — and they were considered slightly cheesy back in the day — they have stood the test of time.

    Look at “Last Christmas.” “Last Christmas” is right up there with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as a Christmas cultural classic.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As we heard in that report, George Michael was rather rudely forced out of the closet by this arrest back in the ’90s.

    And up until that point, he had been rather quiet about his sexuality. I wonder if you have a sense of why he wanted to keep that to himself.

    TIM TEEMAN: I think, sometimes, especially now, with the acceleration of cultural change and acceptance, as it’s known, I think we sometimes forget what those times were like back in the ’80s and even into the ’90s, before he was forced out of the closet.

    These were not times of large numbers of celebrities of any kind out of the closet at all. You might remember, in the very late ’90s, Ellen’s coming out over here was a big, big cultural moment.

    And so I sometimes think we forget how, in those days, coming out of the closet, if you were famous, and, in fact, coming out of the closet if you were anybody was a very brave, wonderful act.

    Harvey Milk, the wonderful Harvey Milk, had it exactly right when he said the most important and wonderful thing an LGBT person could do was come out. It was the most powerful statement they could make.

    So, the interesting thing about George Michael is that, yes, he kept it quiet, though it always — I remember growing up in the era of tabloid bait and insinuation around stars like George Michael and his sexuality. He did play equality concerts. He donated and sang at HIV and AIDS benefits.

    While he was in the closet, he fell in love for the first time. And his first lover died in 1993 of an AIDS-related brain hemorrhage. So he had a gay life, and he was coming to terms with something himself in that period.

    And he talked later on about the complexity of his own sexuality. Maybe he wasn’t ready. Maybe there were commercial concerns. But then, in 1998, as you say, and as Angus Walker said in his report that you just played, came this arrest in Los Angeles.

    And George Michael’s completely fantastic, wonderfully defiant, mischievous response to that, which wasn’t the usual contrite, yes, I have been bad, I have a few personal issues — it was to release a pop song which proudly celebrated sexuality and also…

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This was “Outside.”

    TIM TEEMAN: Sorry. This was “Outside,” absolutely. You’re right, yes.

    It was a song that not only proudly celebrated sexuality, but also proudly and defiantly aimed itself squarely at law enforcement, which famously for years and years in your country and in Britain as well would entrap gay men in public lavatories just to arrest them, the use of pretty policemen, we called it in Britain.

    And in this video, George skewers it all and also, if you listen to the lyrics, celebrates defiantly his own sexuality, which he spoke about in later years. He liked having public sex. He spoke about it openly. He had lovers. He fell in love. He had commitment issues. He was horny. He talked about all these things in his song, and occasionally in wonderful public interviews, which I talk about in my article.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You said that the culture has changed quite a bit since that notorious arrest.

    Do you think, if the next George Michael is coming along and knows his sexuality, that he could be more comfortable today being who he is?

    TIM TEEMAN: That’s a very interesting question. And I have been talking about that with colleagues today.

    I think we like to think things have moved on. And I think, for a certain level of celebrity, I think things have moved on, and I think careers are continuing. You look at Neil Patrick Harris, you look at Ellen, there are some people who are excelling. And it’s wonderful, and it’s a demonstration of how far we have come and how far we like to think we have come.

    And then you look at the top tier maybe of the music industry and you look at the top tier of Hollywood, and there it remains, at that very top tier, fear, prejudice, a self-patrolling closet on the part of celebrities and their representation.

    And I think we have yet to really breach that sort of top, top, A-list film star, music star moment. It’s happening. There are more stars out than ever before. And we should be happy about that.

    I would hope, in the future, that the example of George Michael and the openness and fierceness and the defiance and the mischief and the big smile and the joy he took in some parts of his life and what he tried to convey to us in music and how he spoke about it all in interviews, I hope that younger stars and even established stars who haven’t felt able to come out will look at that and think, he did it, and he did it with such style, and such fierceness and with such grace, let’s do it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Tim Teeman of The Daily Beast, thanks for this lovely remembrance.

    TIM TEEMAN: Thank you so much.

    The post What George Michael’s career meant for music and sexuality appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A woman who was shot is taken to an ambulance by members of the Fire Department at the scene where at least six people were shot, one fatally, on the 8600 block of South Maryland Avenue Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016 in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But first: It was yet another bloody holiday weekend in Chicago. Five more people were shot this morning, bringing the toll since Friday afternoon to nearly 50. Eleven people were killed, and Chicago is now set to pass 700 homicides this year. That’s a level not seen there since the late ’90s.

    Police said much of the violence was clustered in areas with historical gang problems on the South and West Sides. And police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference today that the nature of those disputes is changing.

    EDDIE JOHNSON, Superintendent, Chicago Police Department: Here’s the bottom line. Now, with the technology we have in place, social media drives a lot of our gang disputes. They’re on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter disrespecting each other. They will live-stream disrespects. And when they do that, they go out there and look for them, and they get them. So it’s not just drugs anymore. It’s petty disputes.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That problem was one of several big challenges that the “NewsHour”‘s John Yang heard about when he reported there earlier this summer. He also examined what is being done to combat it.

    For some context, back then, there were roughly 200 fewer homicides in Chicago at that time.

    Here’s a second look at his report.

    JOHN YANG: On this busy street corner in Englewood, one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods on the city’s troubled South Side, it looks like a party. Kids are playing. The grill is fired up. In the past, though, 75th and Stewart felt like a war zone.

    TAMAR MANASSEH, Founder, Mothers Against Senseless Killings: This corner is a corner where a man was killed — well, several men, a woman was killed, and a child was killed. A 9-year-old girl was killed right across the street over there washing her dog in broad daylight.

    JOHN YANG: But for two summers, a group called Mothers Against Senseless Killings, or MASK, led by Tamar Manasseh, has been out on this corner, and there hasn’t been a single shooting.

    Volunteer Laura Lambert comes from nearby Hyde Park. And 91-year-old Edwina Knight crosses the street every day from the house she’s lived in for 57 years.

    TAMAR MANASSEH: Just show up. That’s all you have to do. Show up, grab a lawn chair and a pair of sunglasses, and you can do this. You can change the world with that.

    JOHN YANG: But the moms of MASK are only on one corner in a city of 2.7 million people. Killings have spiked this summer. Chicago has already recorded more homicides this year than it did in all of last year.

    DR. GARY SLUTKIN, CEO, Cure Violence: This is also very typical of all epidemics. You can see the high density of shootings.

    JOHN YANG: University of Illinois at Chicago physician Gary Slutkin says epidemic is exactly the right word. He argues that violence is a contagious disease.

    DR. GARY SLUTKIN: For example, you’re exposed to flu, you’re more likely to get flu. You don’t actually get flu without being exposed. Same thing for T.B., cholera and violence.

    I mean, why does someone who was exposed to child abuse, abuse their own kids? That would be the person who you would think would be least likely to do it, because he knows how bad it was. But, in fact, he’s picked up this contagious set of behaviors.

    JOHN YANG: So Dr. Slutkin treats gun violence as a contagious disease. He founded Cure Violence, now an international effort that trains former gang members and felons to stop violence in its tracks, violence interrupters.

    DR. GARY SLUTKIN: They are always in the community, aware of what’s going on, and asking families and people, you know, who’s upset? You know, who is — somebody slept with someone’s girlfriend, someone was disrespected, someone owes somebody money. And we can reach those people with these health workers.

    They may not look like health workers to everybody. They know how to cool people down, know how to buy time,

    JOHN YANG: Chicago violence interrupter Chico Tillmon knows how to cool people down. He drove us around the South Side last week, where much of the violence happens.

    CHICO TILLMON, Ceasefire Illinois: In early January, two cliques were arguing. So one clique went into another clique’s neighborhood and got on Facebook Live and was like: F. you all. We’re in your all neighbor. We’re in your all gas station.

    Within 30 minutes, on that walk from the gas station back to the house, two were dead, one was wounded.

    JOHN YANG: It’s not like this is a gang war over turf. This is just sort of…

    CHICO TILLMON: Interpersonal. I said something you didn’t agree with, you responded negatively, it ended up in gun violence.

    JOHN YANG: Violence interrupter Ulysses “U.S.” Floyd was a leader in one of Chicago’s most notorious gangs, the Gangster Disciples.

    ULYSSES “U.S.” FLOYD, Ceasefire Illinois: I know I helped start this mess, so I wanted to help clean it up.

    JOHN YANG: He told us that gangs are very different now than they were in his day.

    ULYSSES “U.S.” FLOYD: One or two men control everything. Now you have got a lot of different little gangs split all over. They are offsprings of the major gangs, what they call cliques. And they just do what they want to do. Ain’t nobody really in control, no structure, no rules.

    JOHN YANG: The number of neighborhoods where Chicago’s branch of Cure Violence operates varies based on funding. But a Justice Department study found that, at one point, the group helped reduce violence by 40 percent to 70 percent in some of the areas where they were operating.

    Today, they are in only five of the city’s 77 neighborhoods. On our drive through the South Side, we saw children walking home from school.

    What do you think when you look at kids that age?

    CHICO TILLMON: I’m praying that they survive through this — through this epidemic that’s going on in the city. It’s not a Woodlawn problem. It’s not a South Shore problem. It’s everybody’s problem. And we don’t understand that until the disease hits home, until one of our loved ones is killed by gun violence. Then we want to get involved.

    JOHN YANG: Police have seized 6,000 illegal guns this year. That’s one every hour, many from nearby Indiana, where laws aren’t as tough.

    Chicago cops are feeling the heat, a federal probe of the use of deadly force and public trust at a breaking point after last year’s release of a dash-cam video showing a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times.

    After another deadly weekend, Superintendent Eddie Johnson virtually threw up his hands.

    EDDIE JOHNSON: It’s not a police issue. It’s a society issue. Impoverished neighborhoods, people without hope do these kinds of things. You show me a man that doesn’t have hope, I show you one that is willing to pick up a gun and do anything with it.

    LANCE WILLIAMS, Associate Professor, Northeastern Illinois University: I really see this problem as a cultural problem.

    JOHN YANG: Lance Williams is an associate professor of urban affairs at Northeastern Illinois University and an inner-city youth advocate.

    LANCE WILLIAMS: This is not a law enforcement problem. I mean, you can hire all of the police that you want. You’re not going to solve this problem, because these young men are acting in alignment with their cultural value system. They need a cultural retooling process.

    JOHN YANG: Williams says it’s a culture that’s developed in the absence of working institutions and in the midst of crushing poverty.

    One big cause of much frustration? Nearly half of black men in Chicago aged 20 to 24 are not in school and out of work, far higher than the national rate of 32 percent.

    LANCE WILLIAMS: There’s a lot of rage. There’s a lot of anger. They just see their lives, you know, just passing them by. They don’t — they haven’t been to school. They’re not qualified for jobs. There are no viable businesses in their neighborhood, so they’re really depressed. And then they’re self-medicating through drinking and drugging. And the only individuals around them are other young African-American males like themselves who have these — these same forms of depression.

    JOHN YANG: Another structural factor playing into the violence, Chicago is one of the nation’s most segregated cities.

    LANCE WILLIAMS: All of the poor blacks live way, way, way, way away from affluent people, from the business district, from the tourist district. You know, you have some kids in these neighborhoods far south that have never been downtown. Right?

    And you have folks in the white communities who have never been to the South Side. So, what happens is, you have an out-of-sight, out-of-minute kind of deal.

    CHICO TILLMON: I was 23 when I went to prison.

    JOHN YANG: For Chico Tillmon, who spent 16 years and three months in federal prison, violence is never out of sight or mind, turning other people’s lives around after turning his own around.

    CHICO TILLMON: Being able to see all the violence and chaos in the community that I once was a part of, and that I once helped produce, pushed me or gave me an obligation to make a change.

    JOHN YANG: Since you got out of prison…


    JOHN YANG: … you got your bachelor’s degree.

    CHICO TILLMON: Yes, sir.

    JOHN YANG: You got your master’s degree.

    CHICO TILLMON: Yes, sir.

    JOHN YANG: You’re working on your Ph.D.

    CHICO TILLMON: Yes, sir.

    JOHN YANG: How long, how many years are we talking about here?

    CHICO TILLMON: Five years.

    JOHN YANG: Pretty determined.


    JOHN YANG: Pretty motivated.

    CHICO TILLMON: Yes, sir. I got out with a purpose, and I got out trying to not only do something that was beyond what I believed I could do, but to inspire hope within all the people that I left behind in prison.

    JOHN YANG: Back on the corner of 75th and Stewart, Tamar Manasseh is also determined that change will happen.

    TAMAR MANASSEH: It’s going to take a lot of people all doing something, not saying something, but doing something to fix that problem. And the doing something is the sitting here. It’s the sitting here, having a conversation.

    I live on this block with you. I live in this city with you. I live in this country with you. And we’re all affected by the same things. And, sometimes, when we don’t talk to each other, when we don’t interact, we miss that.

    JOHN YANG: On one corner, a small effort in response to a big problem.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m John Yang in Chicago.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As a postscript to John’s story, there are some more unfortunate numbers to report.

    This weekend’s shootings brings the overall total to more than 4,000 people shot in 2016. Also, there have been an additional 2,000 guns confiscated by the police since John’s report. The rate is about the same. It averages a little less than one gun confiscated every hour this year.

    The post After another bloody weekend in Chicago, a look at the city’s violence epidemic appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 7.08.39 PM

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Eighteen months into Europe’s refugee crisis, tensions have surfaced on the Greek island of Lesbos.

    It wasn’t so long ago that the islanders there were being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize for their welcoming of refugees. But income from tourism, on which many islanders depend, has plummeted this year, and hostility towards refugees, and to the volunteers helping them, has only grown.

    From Lesbos, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Skala Sikaminia, a small fishing village in northern Lesbos. A tranquil dawn is about to get busy.

    The first raft of the day has been spotted about five miles away. Volunteers from Refugee Rescue, an Irish charity, are scrambling to help. The raft is intercepted by a coast guard cutter after leaving Turkey’s shore and entering Greek waters.

    FATHER CHRISTOFOROS, Orthodox Priest: When it comes to the fact that many of these people arriving are Muslims, we are supposed to love everyone.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Waiting for them is Californian orthodox priest father Christoforos, who has lived in Lesbos for 15 years.

    At a time when Europe is becoming increasingly anxious about the influx of Muslim refugees and economic migrants, Christoforos doesn’t waver from his creed.

    FATHER CHRISTOFOROS: Theologically, we are supposed to see every human being as God. And how we treat that person is how we treat God. This a sacred ideal to love the foreigner. It is the exact opposite of xenophobia. This is something which is sacred.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Mission accomplished, 55 souls saved, including 15 women and seven children, most from sub-Saharan Africa.

    MAN: I thank God I’m here. I’m so afraid.

    MAN: We spent like four hours to reach Greece territory. Right now, I’m feeling cold.

    MAN: Right now, I’m feeling cold. I’m not feeling right now.

    WOMAN: I’m feeling proud of the people I meet. I’m proud of them. Thank you plenty, plenty.

    MAN: My life is in danger. That’s why I come here. My life is at risk. I’m running for my life.

    MAN: You warming up now? We will get you in 10 minutes. We will get you into the camp and you will get some dry clothes.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Where are you from?

    MAN: Comoros.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The Comoros Islands?

    MAN: Yes, Comoros Island.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: But that’s a paradise.

    MAN: Yes.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Why have you left a paradise?

    MAN: It is a paradise, but it’s very poor. It’s very poor.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Like most other Greek communities, Skala Sikaminia has endured seven years of economic hardship, but the selflessness of the Nobel-nominated villagers is one of the reasons why Refugee Rescue is based here.

    Coordinator Baz Fischer.

    BAZ FISCHER, Coordinator: There have been tensions in other places, definitely. And if we can, we’d always like to bring them here. If every village down the coast was like here, it would make things a lot easier.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: This footage was shot by activists at the nearby port of Petra in the summer, as local people blockaded the jetty in an attempt to stop the coast guard from transferring refugees in front of their tourist beaches.

    As a result of alleged intimidation, including vandalism of their vehicles, volunteer groups avoid Petra and Molyvos five miles away. With its magnificent 15th century citadel, Molyvos is the architectural jewel of Lesbos and is almost entirely dependent on tourism.

    But according to Mayor Athanasios Andriotis, income was down by 70 percent this year, as vacationers stayed away because of the refugee crisis. He acknowledged there was some tension.

    ATHANASIOS ANDRIOTIS, Mayor of Molyvos (through translator): The people are annoyed and worried about the future because this situation seems to be becoming permanent. And it’s one which is no good for the people of Molyvos, nor, unfortunately, for the refugee migrants who come here.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: There are some people who say that the coast guard has not been allowed to drop people in Molyvos because there is such hostility.

    ATHANASIOS ANDRIOTIS (through translator): The figures here for tourism have dropped to almost zero because of the refugee issue. This can’t go on. They have to understand that, OK, they have arrived here, but they have to go somewhere else more secluded to disembark.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The consequence is that it takes longer for the coast guard or volunteers to take migrants to ports where they will be accepted.

    This angers British volunteer and Lesbos resident Eric Kempson, who we first met 18 months ago and have since encountered on several occasions. He and his family have repeatedly been threatened because of his outspoken pro-refugee stance.

    ERIC KEMPSON, Volunteer: This is very dangerous. We are going to lose people. You could see, it took so long to come here, and they’re sitting on the boat, they’re soaking wet, they’re freezing cold. The temperature is close to zero.

    When you have a few people holding two towns to ransom because they don’t want refugees in there, this is absolutely disgusting, absolutely disgusting. People are going to die here this winter because of these few people.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Dimitris Drakolias has been on the receiving end of anti-migrant hostility. He runs a hotel in the small resort of Petra. Local hard-liners blockaded the village and whipped up an Internet campaign after he agreed to provide temporary accommodation for 22 refugee children.

    DIMITRIS DRAKOLIAS, Clara Hotel Petra: People got afraid that we were supposed to bring refugees here and stay for three — two, three, four months. It’s a very uncomfortable situation. Nobody came up to me and do anything, but I can understand that they didn’t like that that I hosted 20 kids inside the hotel.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Did you feel intimidated?

    DIMITRIS DRAKOLIAS: A little bit. A little bit.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The hotelier says the Internet campaign was orchestrated by a tourist organization called The Other Aegean.

    We arranged an interview with The Other Aegean’s chairman, Nikos Molvalis, who only wanted to discuss the tourist industry’s 70 percent losses and other problems.

    We have been talking to the owner of the Clara Hotel, who says that your organization was responsible for blockading the place to make sure that refugees didn’t turn up there. Can you explain that, please?

    WOMAN: He doesn’t want to talk about that.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Why don’t you want to talk about that?

    WOMAN: Because he’s already answered the question.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Off-camera, Molvalis claimed to have intervened on behalf of the refugee children. Otherwise, he said there would have been bloodshed.

    FATHER CHRISTOFOROS: This is not true.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The tension troubles Father Christoforos, who believes some of the volunteers don’t fully understand the plight of the islanders.

    FATHER CHRISTOFOROS: I see people are affected. And I understand why they are affected. Their pocketbooks hurting and they want to find somewhere to put the blame.

    But at the same time, a lot of these same people will not only blame the refugees or the organizations, but they also blame the government just as much for not doing more.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The numbers of people arriving on the islands are just a fraction of the thousands that were landing daily when the crisis was at its peak.

    But there is a steady trickle, and, slowly, slowly, the islands are filling up again. There’s a serious shortage of accommodation for these people. And there’s genuine concern here that Europe’s deal with Turkey will break down, and once again the islands will be inundated with refugees and migrants.

    The influx increases the pressure in Moria, the overcrowded and tense camp in the south of the island visited by the pope earlier in the year. Frustrated migrants, angry at conditions and the time it takes to process asylum claims, have, on occasions, set fires inside the camp.

    A Muslim charity has established a feeding station just outside Moria, claiming the camp caterers are cheating the residents.

    MAN: Food in Moria, they recook it three times, two to three times. This is what they say. It’s not eatable. And they say it’s dirty.

    MAN: Moria, no good. Here, good. We want freedom. Here, the food delicious, and Moria not delicious.

    MAN: Moria is like a jail. Not good. And the situation is really bad, really a lot of problems, calls — every day fight, every night fight.

    MAN: Fire. Fight.

    MAN: Fire. A lot of problems.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Not everyone is enduring spartan conditions. Along with 200 other vulnerable people, five members of the Nikzad family are living in a holiday hotel run by the Catholic charity Caritas. Sahil is desperately missing regular school. But in three months, he has made good progress with English.

    SAHIL NIKZAD, Afghan Refugee: In Afghanistan, the Taliban, I can’t go to school because explosions, a bomb. We want to go to some good place, good country, because,there, we learned — we go to school. We have a good home.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Every new arrival who survives the perilous crossing shares the same ambition. As the numbers mount, their chances of success diminish.

    The warm welcome of Skala Sikaminia goes cold as soon as they leave the village. The buzzword in Europe is deportation, especially after an Islamist terrorist used a truck to kill 12 people in Berlin.

    This year, more migrants than ever before died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Yet still they come. Father Christoforos may be a lighthouse, but much of Europe wishes that his beam would be extinguished.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant in Lesbos.

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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX2W2EC

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It seems politics didn’t take much of a holiday break.

    From the ongoing turf war between outgoing President Obama and soon-to-be President Trump, to a new pledge this weekend to dissolve the Trump Foundation over possible conflicts of interest, there is plenty to talk about this Politics Monday.

    Joining me are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.

    Welcome to you both.

    We have seen, over this weekend, and in the past week or so, President-elect Trump inserting himself very overtly into American policy on Israel, on Taiwan and China. He’s negotiating government contracts.

    I’m curious, Amy, is this as unprecedented as it seems?

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: It is unprecedented.

    But we, of course, have never had a president-elect coming in the age of Twitter either. So there’s that piece of it. And I feel like a broken record, but every time we’re together, I say the same thing, which is we have to expect that this is going to be an unprecedented presidency.

    He ran an unprecedented kind of campaign. He’s been showing no signs of being a different president-elect than he was as a candidate. But I think he’s also showing us the kind of president that he’s going to be, especially on an issue like Israel, where he’s going to move much closer to where the hard-liners, especially Benjamin Netanyahu, want the U.S. to be than where Obama was.

    This is a relationship between Israel and the U.S. during the Obama years that hasn’t exactly been the nicest and friendliest.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Stu, is that your take as well, that this is just the way it’s going to be?

    STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report: Yes, it’s a man with huge personality and a huge ego with lots of opinions.

    And unlike traditional politicians, all of our previous presidents, he has a different kind of filter or no filter. And he thinks that, when he has an opinion, he should offer it and people would be interested. And they are interested.

    And I agree with Amy entirely. I would expect this throughout the presidency, at least over the next couple of years, where he likes to interject himself, solve problems, make points, and he will continue to do that.

    AMY WALTER: And, look, there is not really a distinctive line between foreign policy and other policies, right, that when you’re negotiating trade, you can also negotiate foreign policy and defense contracts and where our warships are positioned. That’s all part of a big package.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: And in terms of the language — just want to point, just in terms of the language, while politicians use diplomatic language and they are very concerned about the words they use and the phrases, Donald Trump is never concerned about a particular word or phrase. He wants to get a point across and he says it bluntly if he wants to, and he usually wants to.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you think in the end, though, any of this really affects policy? I understand the appearance of having an armchair president in waiting. Does it change policy in any substantive way?

    AMY WALTER: It will when he’s no longer the president-elect.

    And so that’s really the question that we’re all waiting to see. Right now, he sends out his opinions, his tweets. We see sometimes there is a reaction, but nothing that has been particularly substantive, in part because we have one president right now.

    When he becomes the president and he sends a tweet out, and let’s say warships move based on that tweet, then we will have a very different conversation. Unless and until that happens, though, we have to just sort of expect that this is the way he’s going to conduct himself.

    And we’re going to learn a lot more once the people he has hired, secretary of defense, secretary of state, how they perform and whether they have a greater influence on policy, but also on his behavior.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: I would say, for the near term, those of us who read the tweets and hear his opinions take a deep breath, whether we’re journalists or political analysts or you run Boeing or whatever, or international leader, but there is a sense of let’s wait until after January 20 to see where the policies are.

    AMY WALTER: Right.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: We know where the opinions are. Maybe the policies will or will not follow that.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s talk a little bit now about the whole conflict of interest issue. We saw over the weekend the Trump administration-to-be is announcing that they’re going to close the Trump family foundation.

    Do you think that is going to start to put to rest some of the questions about his potential conflicts?

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, it’s a start, but I don’t think it will be the finish or is the finish, and I don’t think he will be able to deal with all the potential conflicts of interests that he now has and I think will continue to have.

    He’s not going to sell all his properties. His properties are in many countries. That raises questions about foreign policy, and relationships, and economic issues. I just don’t see it. So, is this a first step, a significant first step? I guess so.

    He didn’t indicate during the campaign that he was willing to do this, but I don’t think it solves the fundamental problem, which is he’s got a lot of interests around the world.

    AMY WALTER: Yes, I absolutely agree with that.

    And it also takes another political headache off the table. Remember throughout the campaign, The Washington Post had been reporting on a lot of issues with that foundation, where it was getting its money, what it was and wasn’t doing with it. There is an actual open investigation by the New York state attorney general.

    So it takes, at least in the short-term, this political headache, right, well, only just giving me bad problems. It’s not a particularly large foundation. So, it takes that off the table. Also gives him the opportunity to say, hey, look, unlike the Clintons, when it looks like something could be pay for play or there is a problem with my foundation, I will just close it down, rather than making it — or raising these questions about conflicts.

    But to Stu’s point, there are still too many other conflicts that are out there. And the question is, ultimately, we know that reporters are going to be interested in this and tracking this down consistently. How focused will voters be on this and how long will they see each and every one of his decisions impacting his business?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That always does seem to be the ongoing question. The AP, Lisa Lerer, had a really interesting piece looking at several of the things that Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for during the campaign that he is now himself doing, things like having a lot of members of Goldman Sachs in his inner circle, not having press conferences, things like that.

    Do you think that those matter to voters, to his constituency at all?

    STUART ROTHENBERG: I don’t think they matter to Trump voters, Trump supporters. No, because I think they can explain that away, it’s the media, it’s misstatements by opponents, it’s liberal Democrats.

    So I don’t think that’s a problem. With the media, members of the media will continue to be interested in that, and will continue to ask, when are you going to have a press conference? But to Trump supporters, no, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

    AMY WALTER: Yes.

    And I was sitting in a focus group with voters last week in Ohio who had all supported Donald Trump. Now, they weren’t all hard, solid Republicans. Many of them had voted for Obama or Bill Clinton in the past.

    But when you asked the question about conflict of interest, their answer, the way that they helped to process this is they said, look, he comes in already very rich, so he can’t be bought off.

    And you heard that a lot on the campaign trail, too. What they were frustrated about with Hillary Clinton and other traditional politicians was that they came to Washington and then got rich, as opposed to they are already rich when they came to Washington, so of course you can’t be corrupted.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He’s inoculated from it.

    AMY WALTER: Right. You can’t be corrupted if you already have all this money and you are not looking for the money.

    We will see. We will see how long it lasts. Again, it’s great in theory, but to Stu’s point, once it’s January 20, and you’re president of the United States and you’re making decisions, the lines are going to get much darker and much clearer.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Amy Walter, Stu Rothenberg, thank you both very much.


    AMY WALTER: You’re very welcome.

    The post Will Trump’s unconventional interjections translate to policy? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on December 25, 2016.
Israel was defiant over a UN vote demanding it halt settlements in Palestinian territory, after lashing out at US President Barack Obama over the "shameful" resolution. / AFP / AP AND POOL / Dan Balilty        (Photo credit should read DAN BALILTY/AFP/Getty Images)

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  There is more fallout tonight from that U.N. Security Council vote on Friday which condemned Israel’s building of settlements.

    The Israelis confirmed today that they have suspended working ties with 12 of the nations that backed the resolution. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not meet with their foreign ministers, and the Israeli foreign minister will not receive their ambassadors.

    Meanwhile, President-elect Trump again tweeted his own criticism of the United Nations this evening.  He said, it has great potential, but for now it’s — quote — “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”  And he added, “So sad.”

    Mr. Trump had urged the Obama administration to veto the Israel resolution, instead of abstaining.

    This has been a day of mourning in Russia for the victims of a military plane crash that killed 92 people.  The plane went down Sunday morning, just minutes after taking off from the southern city of Sochi, en route to Syria.  Today, divers pulled fragments of the plane out of the Black Sea, and a massive search operation continued as investigators searched for a cause.

    MAXIM SOKOLOV, Transport Minister, Russia (through translator):  As we know, the main causes so far do not include an act of terrorism.  So we think that the reason for the crash could be a technical fault or a pilot error, but I repeat it will be clarified by the investigation of a Ministry of Defense special technical commission.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Russian intelligence agency FSB said today it has found no signs pointing to sabotage or terror in the crash.

    In Syria, Russian troops say they have uncovered mass graves in eastern Aleppo since its recapture from rebels.  The Defense Ministry said today that several dozen bodies were found, victims of torture and mutilation.  The Russians sent military police into eastern Aleppo after helping the Syrian government retake the city.

    And there’s word that China’s 1st Aircraft Carrier Group has sailed past Taiwan and into the contested South China Sea. The Chinese warships passed islands controlled by Taiwan in a show of force. Beijing says it’s a routine exercise, but it comes amid rising tensions over Taiwan’s status.

    The Philippines faced widespread power outages and evacuations today, after a powerful Christmas typhoon.  Typhoon Nock-ten made landfall overnight, killing six people and forced nearly 400,000 to flee. Five provinces lost power completely as winds of more than 100 miles an hour tore through power lines and damaged homes.

    WOMAN (through translator):  The water from the streets became so strong, it came into our house.

    MAN (through translator):  I told my family to evacuate and leave our belongings behind. We needed to save our lives first.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The typhoon disrupted Christmas celebrations in Asia’s largest Catholic nation, and stranded some 12,000 holiday travelers.

    Blizzard conditions in the Dakotas kept major highways closed today and knocked out power through Nebraska and Iowa. Heavy snow, ice and winds moved in over the Christmas weekend, forcing authorities to post several no-travel warnings.  Forecasters expect the storm to move into the Northeast later in the week.

    The post News Wrap: Israel suspends ties with 12 countries that supported UN condemnation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Dr. Vera Rubin, seen here with the Andromeda Galaxy, was the pioneer of studying the orbital rotations of galaxies. Her discovery of what is known as flat rotation curves is the most direct and robust evidence of dark matter. Portrait by Peter Ginter

    Dr. Vera Rubin, seen here with the Andromeda Galaxy, was the pioneer of studying the orbital rotations of galaxies. Her discovery of what is known as flat rotation curves is the most direct and robust evidence of dark matter. Portrait by Peter Ginter

    Vera Rubin, a pioneer astrophysicist who discovered the first evidence for dark matter, passed away Sunday night at the age of 88.

    Born in Philadelphia on July 23, 1928, Rubin was drawn to watching the stars at an early age. Her passion would lead her to become the sole astronomy major in her graduating class at Vassar in 1948. After Princeton denied her admittance to graduate school due to her being a woman — a policy that stood until 1975 — Rubin pursued her advanced training at Cornell and then Georgetown, where she completed a Ph.D. thesis on galaxy clumping in 1954.

    Her fascination with galaxies and their movements would lead to her groundbreaking discoveries at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D.C. In the 1970s, Rubin and her colleague Kent Ford noticed spiral galaxies, namely objects furthest from the center, orbit faster than people had predicted.

    Based on Newtonian physics, stars at the edge of galaxy should orbit slower than those near the galaxy core, but Rubin and Ford found the speeds matched between the two places in the Andromeda galaxy.

    Astronomer Vera Rubin working with a telescope at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, 1965. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Institution

    Astronomer Vera Rubin working with a telescope at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, 1965. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Institution

    After observing this phenomenon in other galaxies, Rubin concluded that the gravity from an invisible mass — or dark matter — must alter the motions of these stars. Though the concept of dark matter had been proposed by Fritz Zwicky in 1933, Rubin and Ford’s work provided the first convincing evidence of its existence.

    The research showed there is 10 times as much dark matter as visible material in a galaxy. Thanks to the discovery, physicists now know 90 percent of the universe is made of dark material.

    “Vera Rubin was a national treasure as an accomplished astronomer and a wonderful role model for young scientists,” Carnegie president Matthew Scott said in a statement. “We are very saddened by this loss.”

    As an ardent feminist, Rubin demanded for improved gender equality in science. She pushed for the renowned Palomar Observatory to admit women. (Rubin became its first female observer in 1965.) She also pushed for the pope to allow more women on his committee. (Pope John Paul II appointed her to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996.)

    Though she earned several accolades in her 50-plus-year career — second female astronomer elected to the National Academy of Sciences and National Medal of Science in 1993 — many lamented her passing because it eliminates her contention for a Nobel Prize.

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    Rubin’s husband, Robert, was a mathematician and physicist who died in 2008. Her four children — David Rubin, Judy Young (died 2014), Karl Rubin and Allan Rubin — earned doctorates in math and science, respectively.

    The post Vera Rubin, who spotted the first evidence of dark matter, dies at 88 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Dec. 21, 2016. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Dec. 21, 2016. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Donald Trump cannot move ahead with his plan to dismantle his charitable foundation because state prosecutors are probing whether the president-elect personally benefited from its spending, the New York attorney general’s office said Tuesday.

    “The Trump foundation is still under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete,” said Amy Spitalnick, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

    The statement came after Trump announced that he wanted to dissolve the Donald J. Trump Foundation, part of what his presidential transition team says is an effort to erase any potential conflicts of interest before he takes office Jan. 20.

    But the foundation’s inner workings have been the subject of Schneiderman’s investigation for months and could remain a thorny issue for Trump’s incoming administration. Democrats nationally have said they are ready to raise any legal or ethical issues from Trump’s global business empire during his presidency.

    Trump’s charity has admitted that it violated IRS regulations barring it from using its money or assets to benefit Trump, his family, his companies or substantial contributors to the foundation.

    The admissions by the Donald J. Trump Foundation were in a 2015 tax filing made public after a presidential election in which it was revealed that Trump has used the charity to settle lawsuits, make a $25,000 political contribution and purchase items, such as a painting of himself, that was displayed at one of his properties.

    The 2015 tax filing was posted on the nonprofit monitoring website GuideStar on Nov. 18 by someone using an email address from the foundation’s law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said GuideStar spokeswoman Jackie Enterline Fekeci.

    In the tax filing, the foundation acknowledged that it used money or assets in violation of the regulations not only during 2015, but in prior years. But the tax filing doesn’t provide details on the violations.

    Schneiderman, a Democrat, launched his investigation into the charity after reporting by The Washington Post drew attention to some of the foundation’s purchases.

    President-elect Donald Trump had promised to address how he would resolve his business conflicts of interests, but his planned news conference has been canceled, instead promising an announcement in January. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith join Judy Woodruff to discuss that, plus CIA revelations on Russia and potential confirmation hearing drama.

    Trump asserted on Twitter late Monday that his foundation was run efficiently.

    “The DJT Foundation, unlike most foundations, never paid fees, rent, salaries or any expenses,” the president-elect tweeted. “100% of the money goes to wonderful charities.”

    It was the latest of several tweets from Trump, who is spending the holiday week at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

    Earlier Monday, Trump questioned the effectiveness of the United Nations, saying it’s just a club for people to “have a good time,” after the U.N. Security Council voted last week to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem,

    And on Friday, Trump warned, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” referring to the day he takes office.

    The decision by the Obama administration to abstain from Friday’s U.N. vote brushed aside Trump’s demands that the U.S. exercise its veto and provided a climax to years of icy relations with Israel’s leadership.

    That was only one subject Trump tackled on Twitter on Monday. In an evening post, he wrote that he believes his election as president has boosted the economy.

    “The world was gloomy before I won — there was no hope,” he tweeted. “Now, the market is up nearly 10 percent and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars.”

    Markets are up since Trump won the general election, although not by that much. The Standard & Poor’s 500 is up about 6 percent since Election Day, while the Dow has risen more than 8 percent.

    As for holiday spending, auditing and accounting firm Deloitte projected in September that total 2016 holiday sales were expected to exceed $1 trillion, representing a 3.6 percent to 4.0 percent increase in holiday sales from November through January. But that can’t be credited to Trump because the projection came before the election.

    Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Edith Lederer in New York contributed to this report.

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

    The post Trump can’t dissolve his foundation during investigation, NY attorney general says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Instead of risking the job offer by negotiating over a higher salary, accept the offer first (if you'd take it regardless), then ask for a raise. Photo by Image Source/Getty Images.

    The next time an employer hides the salary, decline to interview until the salary range is disclosed. Save yourself some grief. Photo by Image Source/Getty Images.

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

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

    Question: After several interviews that went very well, when it came down to talking salary, everyone involved was very disappointed.

    My low end of expected salary was much higher than the high end of what they could offer. The hiring manager emailed me a couple of weeks later wondering if I could come down in my salary expectations. After I turned him down again, he emailed me a few days later telling me how much he was disappointed that we couldn’t work things out. I asked him to keep me in mind for other opportunities.

    It would save job applicants countless hours of wasted time if employers were not so secretive about their salary ranges. If I had known the salary range ahead of time, or at least at the end of the first interview, we could have saved each other so much time and disappointment. How do you suggest handling this?

    Nick Corcodilos: Does it seem to you that, as the economy improves, employers are taking advantage of job seekers by hiding the money?

    The other explanation is that it’s a cultural problem. “Oh, we never talk about money… it’s so declassee…” Yeah, and it’s also ridiculous.

    Would you visit an Aston Martin salesroom to buy a $200,000 car if all you can afford is $25,000? Of course not, unless you’re just out for entertainment. Imagine if there were no way to find out the ballpark price of cars in advance. Would you visit a dealership twice, hoping the price might turn out to be right on the third visit? Of course not.

    It’s all about a double standard. Employers want you to disclose your salary while they hide the salary for a job. They want you to negotiate downwards, but they won’t negotiate up. That manager was trying to get you to keep coming back even though the money was all wrong.

    Ask about money up front

    In one of my books I discuss how to respond to your boss when he offers you a promotion but fails to mention a raise in salary. Will there be a raise? How much? The same method works before you agree to interview for a new job. Ask about money early in the process.

    This excerpt is from “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games:

    You should have asked about money first. Some might consider that presumptuous, but I don’t. It’s business. Setting expectations early is usually the best way to accomplish your goals. The psychology of this situation can be more complex than you might realize. If you embark on this meeting… without setting an expectation about money up front, you will wind up like a puppy waiting for a treat after you’ve jumped the stick 20 times.

    How to say it: Keep it short and sweet. “What’s the pay like?”

    Those are the only words I’d respond with. It’s not a demand, or even an expectation. It’s a top-of-the-head, disarmingly honest, enthusiastic question that must be answered before any further discussion. Note that you’re not even asking for a specific number… I think the best way to ensure that compensation will be a part of negotiations is to put it on the table from the start.

    It’s an old sales trick. Employers don’t like to disclose a salary range — like the manager who kept challenging you to lower your salary expectation — because they want to hook you early, expecting you’ll compromise. Once you’ve gone to multiple interviews, you’ll be more likely to compromise your negotiating position to justify all the time you’ve already invested. Don’t fall for it.

    Or ask about money any time

    The manager you interviewed with is just astonishing. He asked you to lower your salary requirement — twice! Why don’t you send him an email now, and explain that you’ve thought about it and you’d love to work on his team. Is there any way he could come up to your required salary?

    It sounds kind of awkward and presumptuous for you to do that — right? Yet he did it with no problem. I think it’s worth trying. Maybe he’ll realize he can’t find who he needs for the money he wants to spend.

    This is the salary double standard. The manager wasted your time twice and keeps asking you to give up even more, but he won’t budge.

    Employers like this one need to do a reality check, because they’re a more than a bit unreasonable. The next time an employer hides the salary, decline to interview until the salary range is disclosed. Save yourself some grief.

    For more about how to handle the tough salary questions employers ask, see “The Salary Questions.” This article includes “How to say it” and “How to do it” tips to help you break the double standard.

    This is 2016’s last column, so I’ll wish you all the best for the holiday season and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! Thanks for reading!

    Dear Readers: Have you interviewed for jobs where you didn’t know the salary? Were you surprised later? What do you think would happen if you insisted on knowing the salary range in advance?

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

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

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

    The post Ask the Headhunter: The sales trick that helps employers keep job offers low appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A group of vocalists gathered to share their love of music on a recent Friday in downtown San Diego.“There will be no love dyin’ here,” belted out the 16 singers, aspiring choir members who came from all walks of life, in harmonies that amplified off the metal walls and ceiling.

    “I’m blind and I’m homeless right now,” said Janet Bolden, her hair swept back in long braids that hung over her gray sweatshirt. Like Bolden, half of the choir members are homeless.

    The woman behind the Voices of our City Choir is Steph Johnson, a jazz singer and recording artist who wanted to raise awareness of homelessness.

    “I thought, well, what a wonderful way to have a really wonderful, beautiful choir singing and sounding excellent and to be like, ‘Yes, and all of these people happen to not have a home,’” Johnson said.

    “They know that they’re accepted and they’re welcome and they’re in a space where they can close their eyes and sing and enjoy that.”

    Johnson said she got the idea for the choir three years ago when she began volunteering to help the homeless.

    “I met so many people that played music and sang,” Johnson said. “They’d sing me their songs and sing for me on the street, and I wanted to have a place where we could all go and make music.”

    Johnson and her accompanist and co-director, Nina Leilani Deering, carefully select songs with lyrics of love and hope.

    “He broke his wings, I helped him heal and then he flew away,” sang Leilani Deering, as she plucked the notes on a keyboard.

    The singers enthusiastically repeated the song line-by-line from their rows of red chairs. Some read along to the words printed in their music packets, while others closed their eyes and used their hands to express their emotions. A few chose to sit off to the side, observing and listening more than moving their mouths.

    “It gives me hope. It really touched my soul, it uplifted my spirit,” choir member Bolden said. “I haven’t sang in a long time. I really had nothing to sing about, but I like to listen. I love music and I love singing.”

    Choir members are encouraged to set aside their personal struggles — and their bags and carts that overflow with belongings accumulated from months of living on the streets.

    “I see them let go,” Johnson said. “They know that they’re accepted and they’re welcome, and they’re in a space where they can close their eyes and sing and enjoy that.”

    READ NEXT: ‘Sad Asian Girls’ collective takes on stereotypes of Asian women

    Bolden smiled as the choir started singing Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” despite her desperate situation.

    “The world is wonderful,” Bolden said. “People need to reach out more and help people and make it a better place.”

    This video originally appeared on public television station KPBS. “Local Beat” features art stories from local PBS stations every Tuesday.
    Video Credits:
    Reporter – Susan Murphy
    Photographer – Nicholas McVicker
    Editor – Natalie Walsh

    The post The choir where homeless singers find hope and acceptance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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