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

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    bestof3

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now our series on some of the best work in arts and letters this year.

    Jeffrey Brown looks back at a big year in television and video.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A new golden age of television?

    Well, these days, we talk more of peak television, and some wonder if there’s now simply too much TV, including too much really good and even great programming.

    And it comes at us from all kinds of producers and platforms, over the air, cable, streaming. What’s a consumer to do? What’s a television critic to do?

    We asked two of them to help us look at the best of 2016, Eric Deggans of NPR, and Alan Sepinwall the digital culture site UPROXX.

    Welcome to both of you. Good luck in sorting this out for all of us.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Eric, let me start with you.

    Out of the hundreds of shows, we asked you to pick a few to just run through and tell us about just to kick this off.

    ERIC DEGGANS, NPR: Sure.

    I guess I’m a sucker for new programming. All of my top five are new shows this year, “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” “Daily Show” alum who has a potent new show about politics on TBS.

    “This Is Us” on NBC, a wonderful new family drama that really breaks the boundaries of drama on television.

    “People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” an amazing scripted retelling of the O.J. Simpson trial and verdict.

    “O.J.: Made in America,” a five-part documentary film made by ESPN about O.J. Simpson as well, much more extensive than “American Crime Story.”

    And “Atlanta” on FX, an amazing drama featuring three young men trying to make it in Atlanta’s rap scene.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we’re going to come back to that last one in more depth, but, first, Alan, your pick. Run through it for us.

    ALAN SEPINWALL, UPROXX: All right.

    So, like Eric, I really loved the two O.J. Shows and was kind of stunned that the TV event of the year wasn’t one, but two different retellings of the O.J. Simpson story, each focusing on different and exciting aspects of it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, who would have thought that, huh?

    ALAN SEPINWALL: It’s not even like the 20th anniversary. It just happened. And it was wonderful.

    There’s a great musical/comedy/drama/romance on the CW called “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” co-created by Rachel Bloom that’s delightful.

    “Atlanta,” like Eric, I think Donald Glover did a marvelous entry into television.

    And the best new show of the year and the best show of the year, as far as I was concerned, is “Horace and Pete,” which turned up on Louis C.K.’s Web site, of all places.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we’re going to come back to that one.

    But, first, you both mentioned “Atlanta.” Let’s take a quick look at a clip from that.

    This is the main character, Earn. He is managing his cousin, who is a local rapper.

    Let’s look at that.

    ACTOR: Hello, cousin. How are you today?

    DONALD GLOVER: Listen, man, can you do me a huge favor and put $20 in my account, like for ASAP? Like, you got the help me out, man.

    ACTOR: All right.

    DONALD GLOVER: Really? Thanks, man. You’re saving my ass.

    ACTOR: OK, man. Well, you know, I got to go now.

    DONALD GLOVER: OK. Cool. So, what you guys doing right now? You dudes do that deal?

    ACTOR: I do not know what you mean.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, Eric, that’s the main character, who is played by Donald Glover, who is also the creator and writer of the series. What do you like so much about it?

    ERIC DEGGANS: What I love about “Atlanta” is that it talks about a lot of different things without really talking about those things.

    We see these three young brothers trying to make it in Atlanta. You saw Donald Glover’s Earn Marks, who is an aspiring rap manager. He wants to manage his cousin, who is an up-and-coming rapper. And they have an odd friend who is sort of like a black version of Kramer on “Seinfeld,” and very eccentric, and getting into all kinds of adventures.

    And we see great stories involving race and class and difference told in a way where it’s just kind of presented to you, and, as a viewer, you have to decide how you feel about it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Alan, you told us about the show “Horace and Pete.” It’s set in a dive bar in Brooklyn, I think.

    And we’re going to look at a quick clip here to. This is a scene with Louis C.K. and Steve Buscemi.

    LOUIS C.K.: I’m actually saying it’s because you’re so good at your job. That’s why I’m saying it.

    It’s like a pyramid of rags, like you decided to put a pyramid of rags here. And you’re really good at closing. That’s why — you understand that that’s like a compliment? I’m saying you’re so good. Why is that like that? That’s all.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Alan, it’s part of this new distribution, right, Louis C.K. direct to his fans. Tell us a little bit about that.

    ALAN SEPINWALL: I mean, the show arrived without warning. Just one Saturday at the end of January, Louis C.K. sent out an email saying, here’s my new show, “Horace and Pete.” Watch it here. I hope you like it.

    He had somehow in secret filmed a show with Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Alan Alda, and Jessica Lange. Nobody knew about it. It just appeared out of the ether.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, part of this, what is going on, clearly, is so much great acting talent. And we asked the two of you to pick one performance out of the many.

    Again, I understand how difficult this was.

    But, Eric, you picked Sterling Brown, who appeared in two big series, the O.J. drama and the NBC hit “This Is Us.”

    Let’s take a look at him. Here he is in the latter, “This Is Us,” in a Christmas scene.

    STERLING BROWN: Hey. Did William ever mention Jesse?

    ACTRESS: Not to me.

    ACTRESS: I think it’s a boy at school.

    STERLING BROWN: Whose?

    ACTRESS: The one with two dads.

    STERLING BROWN: What do you mean two dads?

    ACTRESS: Dad, grandpa’s gay, or at least bi.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Eric, tell us about Sterling Brown.

    ERIC DEGGANS: Well, what’s wonderful about Sterling, in “This Is Us,” he plays a character who was adopted into a white family, a black man raised in a white family.

    And he’s been searching for his biological father. And he finds him and welcomes him into his home, to find out that he’s dying. And he had always thought that no one knew where his biological father was. But he found out that his adopted mother did know and had kept that from him for years.

    There is a pivotal scene where they have a holiday dinner. The whole family is there. And he begins to react to this knowledge and starts crying. And that just shows you how real, how creative, how amazing this actor is.

    And the fact that he appeared in both this show, which I think is the best drama on network television right now, and also appeared in “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” story, playing Chris Darden, the prosecutor, that’s an amazing achievement for an actor. And he did a great job in both roles.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Alan, you picked Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the British comedy “Fleabag,” which is about a young woman negotiating love and relationships.

    Let’s take a quick look at a clip from that.

    PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE: You know that feeling when a guy you like sends you a text at 2:00 on a Tuesday night asking if he can come and find you, and then you open to the door to him like you have almost forgotten he’s coming over?

    Oh, hi.

    ACTOR: Hey.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Alan, tell us about this show.

    ALAN SEPINWALL: Phoebe Waller-Bridge created “Fleabag.” She was adapting it from a play she had done.

    She has this remarkably expressive face. And often the best parts of the show are just her turning to the camera and not even saying anything, just like widening her eyes slightly to let you know how her character is reacting to all of these crazy or degrading or downright tragic things that are happening to her.

    And it starts off as mainly sort of a sex farce and becomes something much deeper and much sadder and much more profound. And she — I had never heard of her this. And now I’m going to want to see everything she does. She’s a major talent.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, just both of you, in our last minute here, I started off by talking about the renaissance or the peak television.

    What do you see, broadly speaking, Eric, when you look at the quantity vs. quality? Where are we today?

    ERIC DEGGANS: Well, what’s amazing about this moment is not only do we have a lot of quantity; we do have a lot of quality, because that quantity is coming from media outlets or TV outlets that are trying to build their brand by creating great television.

    So, we have Hulu. We have Amazon. We have Netflix. We even have Crackle, a Web site that has Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars” about coffee, and now they’re doing scripted, original television.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Alan, last question to you. That’s if you can find all those programs, right, and figure out what you want.

    ALAN SEPINWALL: What’s amazing is, UPROXX, we do this television critics poll where we reach out to about 60 TV critics across the country, including Eric, and we ask them to name their 10 favorite shows of the year.

    And I get the ballots back, and I haven’t even heard of some of these shows, and it’s my job to watch television. That’s how much great stuff is out there. It’s ridiculous.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    Alan Sepinwall, go back the watching, from UPROXX, and, Eric Deggans, thank you both very much.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: On our Facebook page, you can find more of our TV critics’ recommendations.

    The post The shows you should have watched in 2016 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video by PBS NewsHour

    What were the best television shows of 2016? TV critics Eric Deggans of NPR and Alan Sepinwall of Uproxx shared their favorites on our show, but they also spoke with Jeffrey Brown about the struggles late-night talk show hosts faced in covering the 2016 election and how Donald Trump managed to sidestep the satire.

    Also, no human could reasonably watch all the great shows on TV these days. Deggans and Sepinwall offer advice on how to navigate “peak TV.”

    WATCH: The best books of 2016, according to 2 best-selling authors

    The post How late-night comedy found its voice this election year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    teach3

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: New York City has many distinctions, but one of its more dubious ones is that it has one of the most segregated school systems in the country.

    Schools with predominantly black and brown students fall way behind majority white schools in achievement levels.

    Tonight, special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault, in her regular series on solutions to racism, talks with a principal in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn who is attempting to defy the odds.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Nadia Lopez, thank you for joining us.

    NADIA LOPEZ, Principal, Mott Hall Bridges Academy: Thank you for having me.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You started a school in one of the poorest and also one of the most violent areas of New York City, Brownsville.

    Why?

    NADIA LOPEZ: Pretty much, the Department of Education decided that the area of need was Brownsville, and my proposal fit the bill.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What kind of proposal was it?

    NADIA LOPEZ: My proposal really was a STEM-focused school at the time, science, technology, engineering and math.

    So I wanted to empower children of color to be represented in industries that are under-represented by people of color.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you described your early days at this school as insane.

    Why? And how insane did it get?

    NADIA LOPEZ: I literally had a child set fire to the bathroom. I would have children choke each other out, to the point that the eyes would start rolling back.

    I had parents come to my office, put down their bags and ready to fight just because they thought I might have said something to their child that was what they considered out of pocket or inappropriate. There was challenges in terms of the academics.

    And so these children were made to feel as though they weren’t going to accomplish much. And, unfortunately, they came from households where parents weren’t as educated.

    So, it started with the children, and then the parents soon feel in line, but that took hard work.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you also talked about teachers that you had to work with because they were not engaged.

    NADIA LOPEZ: One of the things that I had to do with my teachers was to actually walk them around the community for them to see what we’re up against every single day.

    And so, once my teachers were able to see it from the ground, by us actually walking through the housing developments and seeing for themselves the lack of employment, the lack of resources, so many young men who are on the streets at 12:00, 1:00 in the afternoon who are doing nothing, this is drawing our kids every single day.

    So, when they leave us at 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon, that’s all they know, to hang out on the streets and have no other purpose.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So, actually having the teachers see where these young people come from helped them to be more engaged?

    NADIA LOPEZ: Yes.

    We have to start engaging in the solutions to combat what are the problems that exist here in Brownsville. When you sit with a child who’s been misbehaving, and they talk about the anger that they have had since they were 6 because their father left, or you speak to a child who themselves have had children, right, in middle school, or you have a child who’s competing with seven other kids in a household and they live in a two-bedroom apartment, again, the judgment people pass is like, well, their parents could have made better decisions.

    But lack of education, lack of resources can cause history to repeat itself. And so, sometimes, these children just need somebody to listen to them. Sometimes, they just need a safe space where they can be distracted with something good, because all they see in the media is someone like them dying. All they know is that prison is an option.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What, in your experience, is relevant and replicable in other schools in the same situation as your school is?

    NADIA LOPEZ: I literally take all of my sixth-graders. Every single year, we walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.

    I want them to understand that there is a connection between their past, their present and their future. So, their past is fifth grade, their present is while they’re here with us in middle school, but their future is, as we walk across this bridge, seeing what is lying ahead.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And what’s been some of the experiences? Because you have talked about the fact that these kids have never been across a bridge. They grab onto you.

    NADIA LOPEZ: They do. They are fearful. They are fearful that the bridge will collapse. They are fearful that they won’t make it over.

    And these are some of the toughest kids who can be the most challenging, who teachers will say they are disrespectful and will grab onto a teacher and be like, please don’t let me fall.

    We have taken them to the South Street Seaport, and they just sit and watch the water, because they have never just seen boats or had opportunities of just having that experience.

    And so, for hours, when I first started doing it as just a special needs teacher, the kids sat for two or three hours, and it was the most peaceful and serene scene that you have ever seen.

    And shouldn’t every child have that opportunity to not hear gunshots, to not feel that they’re not safe?

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So, what do you think the systemic solutions are to this?

    NADIA LOPEZ: First off, we need to have a conversation.

    There are a lot of people making decisions at the top, and they’re not willing to sit with us in the trenches and look in our classrooms and ask the questions: What is the challenge here? What do you need?

    Our budgets aren’t made for all of the things that they are asking us to do.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What’s at stake?

    NADIA LOPEZ: If we don’t show up, then we lose generations of children, and we’re just repeating what I often say is generational genocide, that when our children aren’t learning here in our classrooms, then they can’t teach the next generation to be better, they can’t teach them to aspire, to want more.

    That’s why we plant their feet in the places we want them to go. We take them to high schools. We take them to colleges. We bring people in from the outside who have various careers in industries that they’re not represented, because when do those people ever come to Brownsville and tell them their stories?

    And that’s the other thing that we fail to do. We fail to share our stories. I think what was significant about mine is that people were like, here’s this principal who was about to quit because she said she felt broken.

    And it got to a point where I felt like I couldn’t be the superhero. I can’t act like I’m going to show up to work every single day and this is easy and I can do it.

    No. I’m tired. And it’s OK, because all of us hit that wall, right? And what was resounding is that the world, the world said, education is important and was willing to step up and say, we want to help these children.

    And I’m so grateful to that.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You said in the book that you were moved by the power of education to transform even the most hardened students.

    There’s a lesson there. There’s a solution.

    NADIA LOPEZ: This community has heard the negative for so long.

    What my team and I are doing is combating that. And every day, we’re telling them that they are Brownsville’s brilliance, that they are those diamonds and they can shine bright, that they are scholars, they are lifelong learners.

    We’re pouring into them the positive that they so deserve, so that they can thrive.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Nadia Lopez, thank you very much.

    NADIA LOPEZ: Well, thank you for having me.

    The post This inner city school is a bridge to empowerment for children of color appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 12/28/16--15:30: The science that shaped 2016
  • People watch and take pictures of the solar eclipse at the beach on Ternate island, Indonesia, March 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Beawiharta      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTS9XDW

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: But first: 2016 has been a wild ride, one that we’re not likely to forget anytime soon, much of it focused on politics, but many things happened in the world of science and technology as well.

    William Brangham starts our review for our weekly segment, the Leading Edge.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Indeed, we wanted to look at some of the more remarkable discoveries and innovations, and setbacks that we saw in the scientific world this year.

    And so we welcome back our very own science correspondent, Miles O’Brien.

    Welcome.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Good to be here, William.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, everyone is doing their year-end best-of list for 2016. Let’s do ours.

    Scientifically, what’s top of your list?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Let’s start with basic research, shall we, the real hard-core science.

    The biggest one by far was a historic find announced in February, the detection of gravity waves. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, confirmed one of Einstein’s major predictions about the nature of gravity, namely, that the merging of two black holes should send subtle gravity waves rippling across space.

    DAVID REITZE, Executive Director, LIGO: Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    MILES O’BRIEN: Excited scientists there.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yes.

    MILES O’BRIEN: LIGO scientists managed to find those waves measuring tiny contractions and expansions of space itself.

    They did this with two massive laser facilities, one in Louisiana, one in Washington state, a pair of the most precise rulers ever built, if you will.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So why is this scientific discovery, why is this so high on everyone’s list?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, it’s as the scientists discovered a new language and then learned it. And they can now directly observe much more precise, much more fundamental forces of nature, which opens up a whole new realm of experiments in precision.

    It’s like they used to be able to see the puddles, and now they can see the whole rainstorm. So, it adds fidelity to their quest.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, let’s stay in space. What other big discoveries, innovations, what else did we see out there?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, I’m always watching for the possibility that there might be life out there. I assume you are too.

    NASA’s Kepler space telescope added over 1,500 new exoplanets to the registry in 2016, the most…

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Exoplanets.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Exoplanets, these are planets that would be around another solar system.

    And right around a dozen of them are in a so-called habitable zone, the Goldilocks site, where there might in fact potentially be the conditions for life.

    The total catalog now is 3,500 planets, a smaller handful in the habitable zone. No one has checked in yet, no aliens so far.

    A little closer to home, NASA’s Juno spacecraft also entered orbit around Jupiter. Juno sensors will collect data on the gas giant up close in hopes of understanding how Jupiter formed and evolved.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, these are all unmanned missions that you have been describing.

    I know there has been a lot of effort in putting us humans out into space. How has that been going?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, the road to Mars is long and winding, to say the least, William.

    Private companies are running resupply missions to the space station while testing technology. The results have been mixed, frankly. Among the thrill of victory highlights, in April, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster landed upright on a remote barge at sea. It was a spectacular picture, and they stuck it.

    But there were some agony in defeat moments as well. SpaceX, most notably in September, an explosion occurred during an engine test on the launchpad. It destroyed the rocket, its satellite payload, and a lot of launch facilities.

    It was the second Falcon 9 failure in 15 months. So, whether SpaceX can deliver on its promise of providing cheaper access to space without compromising safety, that remains an open question at the end of this year.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s talk a little bit about human health. And we have seen this year scientists talking ever so cautiously about ending epidemics like the HIV epidemic.

    But insect-born diseases certainly came roaring back with a vengeance this year.

    MILES O’BRIEN: They certainly became in the realm of household lexicons, when you start talking about things like Zika. It actually became a household term because of the global outbreak that occurred.

    And scientists in Brazil linked this mosquito-borne virus to a rise in microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. More than 90,000 Zika infections reported in Brazil in the first few months of 2016. The U.S. has seen relatively fewer cases, about 5,000 known infections.

    The numbers on birth defects are still rolling in, but so far in the U.S., 11 percent of the Zika cases during pregnancy have resulted in birth defects, while Brazil’s rate is closer to 40 percent. Now, scientists are trying to find some solutions to all this.

    A vaccine, of course, would be great, but they’re also in Brazil using genetically modified mosquitoes, deploying these insects that are tweaked in such a way that they have a fatal gene that would spread in the wild, sort of a suicide gene. We will see if that works.

    KARLA TEPEDINO, Zika Researcher: The beauty about this technique is that it can reach the mosquitoes, where no other technique can find it. We’re using mosquitoes to fight themselves.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: On the subject of genetic modification, where are we with the technique known as CRISPR? This has been heralded for a year or so as one of the greatest potential discoveries.

    MILES O’BRIEN: As you know, William, CRISPR a breakthrough gene editing technique using proteins extracted from a type of bacteria.

    Researchers are able to easily target specific DNA sequences, snip them and replace them with whatever they want. This year, scientists in China used CRISPR for the first time to modify a human cell. They moved immune cells from a cancer patient, disabled the gene which makes them less effective against cancer and then reinjected them back into the patient.

    Now, that’s an exciting prospect, to have these kind of super-duper immune cells going after cancer. We don’t know yet if it’s working, though. The results aren’t in. So we will watch that in 2017.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s talk a little bit about technology.

    Computers are getting faster. They’re getting smarter. There’s a lot of talk about A.I. and artificial intelligence. If anywhere, are we seeing this play out in the world today?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Right in front of us on the road, William.

    We’re seeing self-driving cars appear much faster than I think we are probably ready for. In parts of Pittsburgh now, you can order up a self-driving Uber. The human being is there to grab the wheel just in case, but, basically, we are well on our way to a world where we’re not necessarily driving our cars anymore.

    This past year, though, we did have the first death of a person using a self-driving component of the Tesla Models. So, that’s a little piece of history and a reminder. What Tesla will tell you is, it’s still, on a per-mile basis, much safer than human beings driving.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Miles, before you go, the world of astronomy this week lost one of its luminaries, Vera Rubin. Can you tell us a little bit about her?

    MILES O’BRIEN: You know, William, Vera Rubin was an astronomer who changed the way we think about the universe and forced the scientific community to change the way it treated women.

    In the 1970s, she realized that galaxies are spinning too fast, that they would really fly apart if they relied simply on the gravity of the things we can see around them. She knew there had to be something else there, a lot of something.

    And this is what led to the discovery of what we now call dark matter. We don’t know exactly what it is yet. There is a lot of ideas about it, but we haven’t seen it just yet.

    But Vera Rubin was right there at the beginning, among the first female astronomers, blazed a trail for many others. And many great astronomers today really just stand on her shoulders.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Miles O’Brien, thanks so much for being here.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Pleasure, William.

    The post The science that shaped 2016 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 12/28/16--15:35: Can Trump change Washington?
  • A man holds up a "Drain the Swamp in Washington DC" sign as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event on the tarmac of the airport in Kinston, North Carolina, U.S., October 26 2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTX2QMMZ

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We turn now to domestic politics and potential changes ahead under President Trump, specifically changes in Washington, where Mr. Trump has pledged to — quote — “drain the swamp.”

    Lisa Desjardins reports.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: America deserve a government that can work.

    LISA DESJARDINS: He repeatedly rallied supporters with the promise, as candidate and as president-elect.

    DONALD TRUMP: My contract with the American voter begins with a plan to end government corruption and to take our country back from the special interests. I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear and heed the words. We’re going to drain the swamp of corruption in Washington, D.C.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    LISA DESJARDINS: And, as president-elect, Donald Trump has laid out some specifics. Consider Trump’s Contract With the American voter, the blueprint for his first 100 days as president.

    The very first item? Amending the Constitution to put term limits on members of Congress, six years tops for House members, 12 years for senators. A little farther down, there’s a five-year ban on White House and congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government, and just under that, a lifetime ban on his White House officials from ever lobbying for foreign governments.

    Mr. Trump is not the first to make with this cry. Consider then-candidate Obama in 2008.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The key is whether or not we have got priorities that are working for you, as opposed to those who have been dictating the policy in Washington lately. And that’s mostly lobbyists and special interests. We have got to put an end to that.

    LISA DESJARDINS: President Obama banned former lobbyists from serving in his White House, but he also gave some waivers. As for Mr. Trump, some of those he’s picked to help him drain the swamp also happen to be longtime Washington hands.

    Mick Mulvaney, his pick for budget director, is a three-term congressman. And his health secretary choice, Tom Price, has been in Congress for more than a decade.

    Meantime, some question if Mr. Trump is serious, especially after former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said this to NPR last week about the drain the swamp motto:

    NEWT GINGRICH, Former Speaker of the House: I’m told he now disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Gingrich issued a full reversal the next day, saying he was wrong and the President-elect Trump is indeed serious about — quote — “draining the swamp.”

    I’m joined by two guests with careers focused on how Washington works.

    Paul Miller is founder and president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics. And Sheila Krumholz is executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

    Thanks to you both.

    Paul Miller, let’s start with you.

    Clearly, voters have a message for Washington. They feel that those in power may not be enriching themselves or may not be connected to the rest of the country. Donald Trump is responding to that with some of these ideas, like a lobbying ban.

    Do lobbyists understand that argument, and how do you react to what Mr. Trump is proposing?

    PAUL MILLER, President, The National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics: We understand it. I’m not sure the rest of Washington gets it, i.e., Congress.

    This election wasn’t about banning lobbyists. This was about gridlock in Washington. And members of Congress have the ability to vet on or to pass legislation. We do not. So, yes, we do get that.

    The things Mr. Trump is talking about, one, I would deem several of them unconstitutional, and the others just unworkable based on the system that we have in place today.

    LISA DESJARDINS: First, lobbyists aren’t without influence. To put all of Washington’s problems on the elected, is that completely fair?

    PAUL MILLER: I would say yes.

    I mean, I don’t have a voter card, unless I missed it that day that it was handed out when I became a lobbyist that said, you get to go to the House or Senate floor and vote on legislation, or you get to go to the White House and take that magic pen and sign legislation into law.

    I’m not the one sending myself fund-raising notices asking for money. So, members of Congress and the administration could just do their thing, and they don’t have to say, hey, it’s the lobbyists’ fault. It’s their fault.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Well, what is the problem with saying, if you choose to work for government, you must for five years after that not become a lobbyist for government? Why is that — what problem is there with that?

    PAUL MILLER: Because the way some of the — again, we haven’t seen all the details of what Mr. Trump is proposing. It’s always the devil is in those details, but some of the legislation that is being proposed by members of the House that are out, this five-year ban is for executive — members of the executive branch.

    It doesn’t now say a member of Congress who leaves, that you have to now have a five-year ban on what you do. There’s only a two-year cooling-off period for current members of Congress and staff.

    So, now you’re going to say, for executive branch officials, it’s five years.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But do you have a problem with that on its own?

    PAUL MILLER: I do on the five-year, yes. The two-year is fine by my standard.

    This is an honor system program anyway. My issue with this whole thing is that, one, where else in America, what profession do you tell them that they cannot practice their craft after they leave a job? You talk about the voters today. They don’t want career politicians.

    So you should want people coming in and out of government, and today this ban prohibits that.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Sheila Krumholz, what do you think about what Donald Trump is doing here? Is it time to restrict lobbying activities for those people who work for us? Is it time for this conversation? What do you make of this?

    SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics: Well, we’re overdue for the conversation.

    And actually it’s one that we had in the last — the first term of the Obama administration, when he campaigned in 2008 in particular. But it’s easy to score points on bashing Washington. That’s just a perennial on any presidential campaign.

    And lobbyists come in for most of the slugs.

    LISA DESJARDINS: I see Paul…

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

    SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: And it is an industry that I think bears more scrutiny, because their whole job, their mission is to buy and trade influence.

    They have access. So, if you want to sell a product and you need to navigate the halls of power and you’re not familiar with Washington or how legislation gets passed or how regulations get stopped, it is immensely helpful to be able to afford a lobbyist to help you navigate.

    LISA DESJARDINS: So, what you’re saying, they play an important role in Washington.

    SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Lobbyists absolutely play an important role, and they provide information. And information is always good. More information is better.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But then my question to you both, though, is clearly do you also place all the blame with Washington on only our elected officials? Or what else in Washington culturally needs to change?

    You know, Donald Trump says draining the swamp, but he’s tapping into something here about how voters feel toward all of Washington. From your point of view, Sheila, what needs to change culturally in Washington?

    SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Well, I think we need to have a conversation about how things really work in our democracy.

    And from our perspective, of course, we study campaign finance. So, from our perspective, a major part of the problem and the role is money in politics, so how money is raised, the role of lobbyists in raising it, and how the system is kind of mutually beneficial between candidates, members of Congress, and lobbyists who help them, both with legislation, crafting legislation, as well as with raising funds for their reelection.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Paul, one other idea that Donald Trump says he will launch on day one is a constitutional amendment to term-limit politicians. You say that elected officials are the problem.

    And I did some research and looked over the past years. It turns out if you look at the data that members of the House and Senate generally 87 to 89 percent of them return each year. That’s not a lot of turnover. That’s not a lot of fresh views necessarily in Congress.

    What do you think of this idea for term limits? You’re critical of elected officials. Is this a way to solve that problem?

    PAUL MILLER: Well, let me start first by saying — correct something. Lobbyists aren’t hired to buy people or buy members of Congress. We provide a valuable role in the system of government.

    We provide information. You go to any House or Senate office today and look at the staff that they have there, you’re talking about 20-something folks who don’t have expertise in all areas that they’re responsible. They may handle four or five different issues, and yet to say we’re buying them is just again one of those…

    LISA DESJARDINS: You’re saying you have expertise that these young staffers do not.

    PAUL MILLER: We do, and that they need.

    And so to your other question about term limits, we already have term limits. If people voted in larger numbers, you could take people and say, OK, we want them out. But you know what? Since 2010, the turnover rate has been higher. We have, I think, three-quarters of the Congress has turned over since 2010, if my numbers are correct.

    So we do have the ability to vote people out. There’s your term limits. You just have to get more people to want to vote.

    LISA DESJARDINS: All right, a conversation about term limits and lobbying and government that will continue.

    Paul Miller, thank you so much.

    Sheila Krumholz, thank you for joining us.

    SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Thank you.

    The post Can Trump change Washington? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 23, 2016.  REUTERS/Darren Ornitz/File Picture - RTX2WQWZ

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more on Kerry’s speech, the U.N. Security Council vote and the state of U.S.-Israel relations, we get the views of two people with extensive diplomatic experience in the Middle East.

    Retired Ambassador James Jeffrey was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and was U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012. He’s now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ilan Goldenberg was part of Secretary Kerry’s negotiating team during the 2013-2014 final status talks. He’s now at the Center for a New American Security.

    Gentlemen, I want to ask you both.

    Ilan Goldenberg, I want to start with you. What’s your reaction to Kerry’s speech today?

    ILAN GOLDENBERG, Former State Department Official: Well, the speech, it would have been, I think, a more meaningful speech perhaps two years ago.

    And at the end of the day, it’s sort of a swan song at the very end, but there are still some very valuable things in it. I think Kerry led really what was only the third time ever that we have had final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over the entire course of the history of the conflict.

    So I think he had things the add. I think it was also important in the context of the incoming administration that, you know, openly questioning whether or not we will continue to actually support the two-state solution, given who they have at least nominated to be the next ambassador to Israel.

    And in this context, I think more than anything what shown through, and as somebody who worked for Kerry on these issues both in the Senate and at the State Department, was the man clearly deeply cares about the issue. He clearly cares about the future of the Jewish state. And he was really willing to go out there, despite a lot of criticism, and say this.

    And I also thought the other thing I would say about the speech was it really — it was much more balanced, I would argue, than the U.N. Security Council resolution, really did address both the question of Palestinian incitement and support for violence, which is a key problem and a key obstacle in the future of the two-state solution, but it also gave, I think, the most eloquent explanation we have seen of what the problem with the settlement enterprise is.

    You can’t have a situation where you have 90,000 Israeli settlers now living outside areas that even Israel acknowledges will be part of a future Palestinian state, and you try the remove just a few hundred of them, as Israel did a couple months ago, and is still debating, in this deep settlement Dimona, and it causes this huge political crisis.

    How are you ever going to get to a situation where you can actually get to a two-state solution or move the types of — do the types of population movements you’re going to have to do to get to that agreement?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: James Jeffrey, your reactions?

    JAMES JEFFREY, Former State Department Official: Well, let me start with the good.

    Kerry finished off by a six-point way forward which reflects longstanding U.S. policy, but it basically was done in a balanced and comprehensive way. So that’s on the good side.

    Less good is the language of his explanation of what the United States was doing in the U.N. and what our basic policies are. Ilan is right. Kerry was much more temperate than that frankly crazy U.N. resolution, but he still made the same error, which is to blame the entire problem in the peace process on Israel and these settlements, and that isn’t the only problem, and, secondly, to elevate this Israeli-Palestinian dispute to one of the key threats to security in the Middle East.

    Good grief. We just saw what happened in Syria with Aleppo. We have ISIS still on the road. We have Russia intervening in the region. This is not on anybody’s top-level priority list in the Middle East. Why the administration at this late hour went into this thing the way it did, totally exasperating the Israelis, is beyond me.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: James Jeffrey, there have been U.N. Security Council resolutions that have come and gone for years and years. Why did this one have the type of diplomatic ripple effect that it’s having?

    JAMES JEFFREY: Good question.

    And I have been back all the way to 1947 and U.N. Resolution 181. Never have I seen language like this that the U.S. let go through, illegal acts by the Israelis, flagrant violation of international law and on and on and on, imperiling peace.

    I went back to Resolution 660, which was what the U.N. did when Saddam marched into Kuwait. That resolution is not as strong as this one. It’s that kind of blaming Israel for everything thing that is emotional, has launched this reaction in Israel, and it will not help the cause of peace.

    When Palestinian leader Abbas gave his reaction to Kerry’s speech, he gave the usual boilerplate about how, if Israel stops the settlements, we will continue to work together under international law.

    Now that resolution is international law, and it basically condemns the major Israeli negotiating point, trading land for peace, into the category of illegal occupation totally.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ilan Goldenberg, is there a significant change in the relationship between the United States and Israel? As Margaret pointed out in her tape, we just approved $38 billion in military aid.

    ILAN GOLDENBERG: Well, first, I want to just go back to the last point Jim made. And I agreed with a lot of what he has to say.

    But I don’t actually think that this resolution fundamentally changes international law or international standing. I think actually the language in it comes directly from the U.N. Security Council Resolution 465, which used the exact same language when discussing settlements.

    Obviously, there’s problems with the language and the fact that, you know, the resolution doesn’t differentiate between East Jerusalem and settlements that are deep in the West Bank. And I think ideally it would be good to have that kind of language.

    But it’s just not true that language doesn’t exist in any U.N. Security Council resolution. So, you can’t get the Security Council to agree to it. So, that’s why you have Kerry alternatively coming through and laying out the American position afterward, which very clearly talks about swaps that are agreed upon between the parties and addresses that concern.

    And actually even the resolution itself, to some extent, addresses that concern, when it has — when it says that swaps will be part of — will have to be agreed to between the parties.

    So, I really question the notion that this resolution fundamentally reorients overall the negotiating terms of the two-state solution. But I agree that the U.N. Security Council is ultimately and has been quite anti-Israel in its various positions over the years.

    The reason to abstain is because the language wasn’t American policy and because the venue is not as credible as it could be if it was more balanced in its approach and actually dealt more seriously with other issues that Jim mentioned, like Syria and didn’t single out the Israelis.

    So I would argue that the language doesn’t fundamentally change anything. Settlements are still a huge problem. But, at the same time, you know, yes, but settlements are still a huge problem, but still this is better than any of the alternatives I saw out there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: James Jeffrey, this is the strongest alliance that’s existed in the world for decades. And how does what happened in literally one — couple of sentences at the U.N. Security Council with only about three or four weeks left in an administration change that alliance?

    JAMES JEFFREY: It won’t change the alliance fundamentally, because we’ll have a new administration that gets to start from zero.

    But it will start with a new international status. Here’s where I would disagree with Ilan. He’s right about 465. He forgot to add that that was passed 36 years ago. Since then, we haven’t seen any language like this. And that language does have an impact at the international level, as Israel tries to form formal and informal alliances on things like the fight against ISIS in the Sinai with Egypt, one of the countries that sponsored the resolution, and deconflict our operations in Syria and Lebanon with Russia.

    These things do count in international relations. And this is a very bad step.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: James Jeffrey, Ilan Goldenberg, thank you both.

    ILAN GOLDENBERG: Thank you.

    The post What does Kerry’s speech mean for U.S.-Israel relations? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry exits after delivering remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State in Washington December 28, 2016. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan - RTX2WRJ9

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Tensions flared again today between the Obama administration and the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The verbal fireworks came after the United States abstained from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution which condemned the continued construction of settlements on the West Bank.

    Today, Secretary of State John Kerry joined the fray.

    Margaret Warner begins.

    MARGARET WARNER: It was a parting warning shot that pulled no punches:

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.

    MARGARET WARNER: Secretary of State John Kerry today blamed Israel’s — quote — “most right-wing government ever” for expanding Jewish settlements into Palestinian areas in a way that will make a two-state solution impossible to achieve.

    JOHN KERRY: Here is a fundamental reality: If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both. And it won’t ever really be at peace.

    MARGARET WARNER: That, he said, is why the Obama administration chose not to veto last Friday’s U.N. Security Council condemning settlement building.

    JOHN KERRY: The vote in the United Nations was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors.

    MARGARET WARNER: Kerry, who spent years trying to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, firmly denied Israel’s charges that the U.S. helped draft the resolution.

    Kerry pointed to the relentless growth of Jewish settlements east of the 1967 border into formerly Palestinian territory of the West Bank captured by Israel in the Six-Day War. There are 270,000 more Jewish settlers in the West Bank today than in the early 1990s, he noted, 100,000 more than when President Obama took office.

    JOHN KERRY: It’s not just a question of the overall amount of land available in the West Bank; it’s whether the land can be connected or is broken up into small parcels like Swiss cheese that could never constitute a real state.

    MARGARET WARNER: Israel’s prime minister fired back, saying the speech focused obsessively on settlements.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel: I must express my deep disappointment with the speech today of John Kerry, a speech that was almost as unbalanced as the anti-Israel resolution passed at the U.N. last week.

    MARGARET WARNER: Earlier, a Jerusalem committee did delay approving nearly 500 new Israeli homes in its disputed eastern area.

    Today’s exchange closes out a rocky eight years between the Obama administration and Netanyahu. This White House has given Israel more military aid than any other. Yet last year Netanyahu went around the White House to try to get Congress to undercut the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu is now counting on the next U.S. president.

    Last week, President-elect Trump called for the U.S. to veto the U.N. resolution. And before Kerry’s speech today, he tweeted: “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. Stay strong Israel. January 20 is fast approaching.”

    DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: I love Israel. I love Israel.

    MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Trump has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And he plans to nominate David Friedman, a firm supporter of expanding settlements, as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner.

    The post Kerry on Israel: Friends need to tell each other hard truths appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A staffer poses with 2015 edition of the 100 renminbi notes at the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, China November 12, 2015. Photo by Bobby Yip/REUTERS

    A staffer poses with 2015 edition of the 100 renminbi notes at the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, China November 12, 2015. Photo by Bobby Yip/REUTERS

    President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to name China a currency manipulator on his first day in the White House.

    There’s only one problem – it’s not true anymore. China, the world’s second-biggest economy behind the United States, hasn’t been pushing down its currency to benefit Chinese exporters in years. And even if it were, the law targeting manipulators requires the U.S. spend a year negotiating a solution before it can retaliate.

    Trump spent much of the campaign blaming China for America’s economic woes. And it’s true that the U.S-China trade relationship is lopsided. China sells a lot more to the United States than it buys. The resulting trade deficit in goods amounted to a staggering $289 billion through the first 10 months of 2016.

    But in fact, for the past couple of years China has been intervening in markets to prop up its currency, the yuan, not push it lower.

    It went a step further on Thursday, watering down the significance of the dollar and adding 11 additional currencies in a foreign-exchange basket, according to a document released by the China Foreign Exchange Trading System.

    WHAT DOES CURRENCY HAVE TO DO WITH THE TRADE GAP?

    When China’s yuan falls against the U.S. dollar, Chinese products become cheaper in the U.S. market and American products become more costly in China.

    So the U.S. Treasury Department monitors China for signs it is manipulating the yuan lower. Treasury has guidelines for putting countries on its currency blacklist. They must, for example, have spent the equivalent of 2 percent of their economic output over a year buying foreign currencies in an attempt to drive those currencies up and their own currencies down.

    Treasury hasn’t declared China a currency manipulator since 1994.

    WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE US DECLARED CHINA A CURRENCY MANIPULATOR?

    Probably not much, at least initially.

    If Treasury designates China a currency manipulator under a 2015 law, it is supposed to spend a year trying to resolve the problem through negotiations.

    Should those talks fail, the U.S. can take a number of small steps in retaliation, including stopping the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp., a government development agency, from financing any programs in China. Trouble is, the United States already suspended OPIC operations in China years ago — to punish Beijing in the aftermath of the bloody 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

    So naming China a currency manipulator is mostly “just a jaw-boning exercise,” said Amanda DeBusk, chair of the international trade department at the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed and a former Commerce Department official. “There’s no immediate consequence.”

    IS CHINA GUILITY OF USING CURRENCY TO HELP ITS EXPORTERS?

    For years, China pretty clearly manipulated its currency to gain an advantage over global competitors. It bought foreign currencies, the U.S. dollar in particular, to push them higher against the yuan. As it did, it accumulated vast foreign currency reserves — nearly $4 trillion worth by mid-2014.

    But now the Chinese economy is slowing, and Chinese companies and individuals have begun to invest more heavily outside the country. As their money leaves China, it puts downward pressure on the yuan.

    The yuan has dropped nearly 7 percent against the dollar so far this year. The Chinese government has responded by draining its foreign exchange reserves to buy yuan, hoping to slow the currency’s fall. China’s reserves have dropped by $279 billion this year to $3.05 trillion.

    If Beijing stepped back and let market forces determine the yuan’s level, it likely would fall even faster, giving Chinese exporters even more of a competitive edge.

    So Beijing is doing the opposite of what Trump says it’s doing. Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad earlier this month called Trump’s plans to name China a currency manipulator “unmoored from reality.”

    “The whole discussion is ironic,” said David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former official at the World Bank and U.S. Treasury Department. “It’s out of date.”

    COULD TRUMP DO ANYTHING ON HIS OWN?

    Gary Hufbauer, an expert on trade law at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, notes that as president, Trump could nonetheless escalate any dispute over the currency on his own. Over the years, Congress has ceded the president broad authority to impose trade sanctions. Trump has threatened to slap a 45 percent tax, or tariff, on Chinese imports to punish it for unfair trade practices, including alleged currency manipulation.

    Brookings’ Dollar said China likely would bring a case to the World Trade Organization “against any protectionist measures that are a violation of U.S. commitments to the WTO,” which oversees the rules of global commerce and rules on trade disputes.

    Some trade analysts wonder if Trump is using the tariff threat as a negotiating tool to win concessions from China.

    Whatever the U.S. motive, China has a consistent record of retaliating against trade sanctions. When the Obama administration slapped tariffs on Chinese tire imports in 2009, for instance, China lashed back by imposing a tax on U.S. chicken parts.

    China’s Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, has already speculated that “China will take a tit-for-tat approach” if Trump’s tariffs are enacted. The paper suggested that Beijing might limit sales of Apple iPhones and Boeing jetliners in China.

    “The Chinese are predictable and reliable,” DeBusk said. “If they get punched, they punch back.”

    The post Fact check: Does China manipulate its currency? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A general view of the damage in the Umayyad Mosque in Old Aleppo on Dec. 15, 2013. Photo by Molhem Barakat/Reuters

    A general view of the damage in the Umayyad Mosque in Old Aleppo on Dec. 15, 2013. Photo by Molhem Barakat/Reuters

    The Syrian regime reached a ceasefire agreement with rebel forces on Thursday. The deal is to proceed negotiations between both sides on a unspecified date.

    The first hints of a pending deal came around midday, when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a televised interview that his officials were holding discussions with Russian counterparts to negotiate. Partial details leaked throughout the day, but the final terms call on the two nations to serve as insurance. Turkey would guarantee cooperation by the rebels, while Russia would monitor the compliance of government forces under Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    The conditions apply to all rebel-held areas, The Guardian reported, including areas held by al-Qaida’s branch in Syria. Peace negotiators had omitted this latter territory from previous deals — all of which failed.

    As the day progressed, President Vladimir Putin announced a scale-down of Russia’s military presence in Syria. Negotiations between the rebels and Syrian government officials are slated to occur within a month of when the ceasefire goes into effect at midnight Thursday.

    Officials from Russia, Turkey, Egypt and Iran will likely attend the first round of meetings. Cavusoglu has called for Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters to leave Syria. Other third parties, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and incoming U.S. president Donald Trump — may receive invitations for subsequent negotiations.

    The post Syrian government and rebels agree to nationwide ceasefire appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Singer, actress and Hollywood star Debbie Reynolds died Wednesday at age 84, just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

    Reynolds, perhaps best known for her role in the 1952 movie musical “Singin’ in the Rain,” was rushed to the hospital Wednesday, her son Todd Fisher confirmed, calling the stress of his sister’s death “too much” for their mother. Carrie Fisher suffered a heart attack last Friday at age 60.

    “Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter,” Reynolds had written Tuesday on her Facebook page. “I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”

    Initially reported by TMZ, Reynolds was discussing funeral plans for Carrie at her son’s Beverly Hills home when she suffered a stroke.

    “She held it together beautifully, obviously, for the last couple of days but she was under a lot of emotion and stress from the loss [of Carrie,] and it’s pretty much what triggered this event,” Todd told E! News. Reynolds died at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

    Mary Frances “Debbie” Reynolds was born in 1932 in El Paso, Texas. Her first breakout role was the 1950 film, “Three Little Words,” a part she earned shortly after high school. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer for her work in the MGM musical.

    But it was “Singin’ in the Rain” that made Reynolds famous at 19, when she starred alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in the classic movie. Although she had little dance training, Reynolds tapped flawlessly with her co-stars through routines like “Good Morning.”

    Video by YouTube user ozabbavo77

    “The two hardest things I ever did in my life are childbirth and “Singin’ in the Rain,” Reynolds famously said, years after making the film.

    Another highlight of her film career came when she starred in the musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964). She received an Oscar nomination for the role.

    Video by YouTube user Grover Dale

    Reynolds also earned a Golden Globe for her supporting role in the Albert Brooks-directed 1996 movie “Mother.” She acted on Broadway and then, later in life, on television, most notably as the mother of Debra Messing’s character in the TV show “Will & Grace.”

    Video by Movieclips

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the actress a humanitarian award earlier this year for her philanthropy and work with mental health issues.

    Daughter Carrie Fisher was also known as a mental health advocate, who openly discussed her own struggles with the disease. An HBO documentary will air in 2017 on the lives of the mother and daughter, “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.”

    Fans, friends and family have expressed their grief at the passing of these “bright lights,” who died only a day apart from each other.

    Reynolds is survived by her son, Todd, and granddaughter Billie Lourd.

    The post Debbie Reynolds, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ star, dead at 84 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The National Eating Disorders Association predicts that 10 million American men alive today will be affected by eating disorders. Illustration by Eros Dervishi for STAT

    The National Eating Disorders Association predicts that 10 million American men alive today will be affected by eating disorders. Illustration by Eros Dervishi for STAT

    Justin Shamoun began to hate his body a few weeks into seventh grade. He was a year younger than his suburban Detroit classmates, having skipped a grade. Many of his peers were entering puberty, their bodies solidifying into sleek young men. Justin still had the doughy build of a boy. After gym class one day, someone told Justin he could probably run faster if he weren’t so fat.

    The remark crushed him. Ashamed, he started hiding his body under ever-baggier clothes and making excuses to skip P.E., the pool, anywhere required to expose bare skin. Finally, he decided to fix himself. He dove headlong into sports and cut back on food. Before long, he was tossing his lunch into the garbage and picking at his dinner. He ate just enough to blunt his hunger, until the time came when he ate barely at all. The thought that he had an eating disorder never occurred to him.

    Long considered an affliction of women, eating disorders — the most deadly of all mental illnesses — are increasingly affecting men. The National Eating Disorders Association predicts that 10 million American men alive today will be affected, but that number is only an estimate based on the limited research available. The official criteria for diagnosing eating disorders were updated to be more inclusive of men only in 2013. And last year, Australian researchers writing in the Journal of Eating Disorders noted that “the prevalence of extreme weight control behaviors, such as extreme dietary restriction and purging” may be increasing at a faster rate in men than women.

    I could never be as successful as or look as good as ‘insert celebrity name here

    A generation ago, photos of half-naked, perfectly sculpted male bodies were largely confined to Calvin Klein underwear ads. Guys now have plenty of images to make them feel inadequate, as they are ever more exposed to a pop culture that celebrates athletes and superheroes with astoundingly chiseled physiques.

    “The people you see on billboards and magazines and TV — it gave me something to compare myself to,” Shamoun said. “Every movie I watched, every singer. I could never be as successful as or look as good as ‘insert celebrity name here.’ ”

    But many young men like Shamoun — bearing the double stigma of having a mental illness, and one classically categorized as female — insist they’re fine, not recognizing they’re sick or in need of help. Making matters worse, the medical profession itself has been slow to respond to the problem, too.

    “Why do we not think that this is a male disease? Because even the academics aren’t bothering to put the time and effort into it,” said Andrew Walen, who became a therapist in Columbia, Md., after a 20-year battle with eating disorders. He pointed out that it took decades for women with eating disorders to emerge from shame and secrecy. Since men are only starting to come forward, “it could be 20 years before we see anybody really starting to speak up and say this is a problem that is epidemic.”

    Women, of course, have been inundated with body pressures for decades — Twiggy debuted in the 1960s — but only recently have advocates succeeded in persuading at least some modeling agencies and magazines to feature a fuller range of the female form, and ban cover phrases like “bikini body” and “drop two sizes.” The objectification of men is newer and less pervasive, and less subject to soul searching, at least so far.

    Consider that in late March, American Eagle released an ad featuring “real men” wearing the brand’s underwear. On April 1, the company announced that the whole thing had just been an April Fool’s joke to emphasize its pledge to stop retouching underwear ads.

    Here’s another example: A version of this article was scheduled, and later dropped, by a men’s magazine.

    Men are increasingly exposed to images of astoundingly chiseled physiques that make them feel inadequate. Photo by Laurent Fievet/AFP/GettyImages

    Men are increasingly exposed to images of astoundingly chiseled physiques that make them feel inadequate. Photo by Laurent Fievet/AFP/GettyImages

    A vastly underestimated problem

    Women have long belittled their natural shapes, forced to come of age in a society where thinness reigns. While still an issue, an analysis of 250 studies presented last August at the American Psychological Association meeting found that body dissatisfaction is falling among women, but not men, who are persistently feeling pressured to build muscle.

    “We’ve set up a physical ideal that a lot of men can’t reach, and then told them they can reach it,” said Drew Anderson of the University of Albany. “And if they don’t, it’s somehow their fault.”

    The most common statistic maintains that 10 percent of those who suffer from eating disorders are male, a number that has been used to push men to the margins, says Leigh Cohn, the editor of Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention. But he’s traced that passed-around figure to its source: an unscientific sampling at one clinic during the 1980s. Only now are mental health professionals starting to realize the degree to which they have vastly underestimated the problem, he said.

    READ MORE: Plastic surgeons, fearing violence, turn to psychiatry to screen patients

    More than a decade ago, Cohn asked an auditorium full of eating-disorder specialists how many of them had male patients. He saw a scattering of hands. When he conducted the same informal poll in 2013 at the International Conference of Eating Disorders, he said, nearly every one of the 900 attendees raised a palm: “It was quite clear that over the period of about 10 years, clinicians went from a handful of people seeing males to almost everyone seeing males.”

    One study, published in January 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics, reported that almost one boy in five from a national sample said he was “extremely” concerned about his weight, and not necessarily because he had any reason to be. Among teenagers and college-age men, 8 percent were engaging in unhealthy behaviors, even using steroids, to pack on muscle and lose fat.

    Yet for the most part, treatment remains inherently female-focused. One example: An adult inpatient program in Dallas — established 22 years ago at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital — was until 2015 housed in a women’s building and could not take male patients at all.

    This is not unusual. The Journal of Eating Disorders report noted that most programs are skewed toward women, and implored for change, saying, “it is vital that barriers to help-seeking, such as stigma, ignorance more generally, and female-centric services, are addressed.”

    ‘I wasn’t a stick-thin supermodel’

    Despite the fact that they are marked by extremes in calorie consumption, eating disorders concern far more than food. They can arise from a need to take charge of circumstances that otherwise feel uncontrollable, and often develop as a means to try to heal from abuse, trauma or bullying. The fellow in the mirror is never attractive enough, or smart enough, or worthy enough to have a meal and work out at a normal level.

    They can coexist with other conditions such as drug and alcohol addiction or depression. Eating disorders occur at any age, but tend to emerge in adolescence and young adulthood. The most common forms are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, and for men, they are often accompanied by obsessive amounts of exercise to build muscle or burn calories.

    “I was a guy who was super-athletic,” said Shamoun, who is now 23 and working at a New York City analytics firm. “I played soccer every day. I was running track and cross country,” he said. “I wasn’t a stick-thin supermodel.”

    I’d have this goal I’d want to weigh X amount, but in order to make sure that I didn’t break that goal and go the wrong way, I needed to kind of overshoot it a little bit

    Many men diagnosed with eating disorders were once obese, and can’t stop fleeing from their former selves. Brian Cuban, a Dallas lawyer who battled bulimia for 25 years, grew up as a chunky kid who was chided and fat shamed. The problem began as a freshman desperate to fit in at Penn State.

    “I would restrict, I would lose weight, and the affirmations came: ‘You’re looking great, Brian!’ I’m like, ‘Wow, okay, I’m accepted. I’m finally accepted.’ So I would restrict more,” he said. “No matter how thin I got, I still saw this fat, bullied little boy in the mirror. It wasn’t making me feel any better about myself.”

    While girls still enter adolescence with greater appearance pressures, boys are increasingly presented with their own versions of Barbie. Far from the days of GI Joe, Justin Shamoun’s generation grew up playing with impossibly ripped action figures — even Luke and Han have the biceps of body builders — and wearing Halloween costumes that come padded with fake muscle.

    The University of Albany’s Anderson said that traditionally, popular culture conveyed status and power in men through their possessions and the company of beautiful women. “At some point, we shifted that discussion from men of ‘Nice car, nice suit’ and that kind of stuff to, ‘You’ve got to have 5 percent body fat and a 45-inch chest.’ ”

    G.I. Joe toys, for sale on a store shelf, have evolved into muscular action figures. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

    G.I. Joe toys, for sale on a store shelf, have evolved into muscular action figures. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

    Most men can take a mental inventory of everything they would like to improve without getting obsessed. Also, eating less and exercising more is an undoubtedly healthy way to grow stronger or lose a few pounds. In some men, though, probably owing to genetics, psychological distress or other reasons that aren’t understood, that desire for perfection becomes a fixation that dominates all else.

    It starts to interfere with normal life: The guy who skips a best friend’s wedding because he doesn’t want to eat the banquet. Or who turns down a promotion because it might interfere with daily two-hour gym sessions.

    Sometimes a man with an eating disorder will get up in the middle of the night to work out. A study presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting in 2015 reported that about one-third of regular male gym-goers studied admitted to taking worrisome levels of bodybuilding supplements, some continuing even though they had developed kidney problems and their doctors advised them to stop.

    When men do seek treatment, they have usually been in denial for so long “they are much, much sicker” than women

    “If you find yourself wanting to cut down, and not able to, that’s a sign that it’s problematic,” Anderson said. “You either can’t stop or are deathly afraid of what will happen to your body if you do stop: ‘I’ll lose all my muscle mass. I’ll get flabby. I’ll get soft. I’ll get scrawny again.’ ”

    When Walen, the Maryland therapist, was trying to compensate for the uncontrollable urge to binge eat, he took up running. He ran so much he ground up the cartilage in his hips. “So I said, ‘Well, fine. Instead of being the smallest person, I’m going to be the most ripped person,’” Walen said.

    He lifted weights compulsively and tore both rotator cuffs, requiring surgery to reconstruct both his shoulders. “And I continued to lift despite the intense pain. That’s the craziness of this disorder.”

    Losing a grasp on logic

    Growing up in Tulsa, Nate Nahmias plumped up in middle school, the inevitable consequence of a sedentary video-gaming life and side effects of a doctor’s prescription. He finally decided to do something about it, and restricted calories. By age 16, he was anorexic.

    “I’d have this goal I’d want to weigh X amount, but in order to make sure that I didn’t break that goal and go the wrong way, I needed to kind of overshoot it a little bit,” he said. “And then overshooting just went to more and more and more and more, so I just kept dropping and dropping and dropping.”

    A starving brain loses a grasp on logic. One now famous study took place at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s among 36 men who were conscientious objectors during World War II. For six months, they ate fewer than 1,800 calories a day, a level that reflected conditions in parts of war-torn Europe. They walked 22 miles each week.

    Even though the calorie restriction was voluntary, the men developed symptoms often seen with eating disorders, such as depression and flirtations with suicide. Some lost the ability to think rationally; two were hospitalized for psychiatric concerns. One man cut off three of his fingers.

    As with the men in the starvation experiment, Nahmias lost the ability to reason. His mom took him to a nutritionist who warned them that his amount of body fat was dangerously low, and gave him a number. “She said that to me and I’m thinking in my head, ‘I want to be lower than that,’” he recalled.

    Yet when Nahmias eventually tried to find help, “It was extremely, ridiculously hard,” he said, to find programs that would accept, much less had experience, treating men. Nahmias eventually traveled from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, where he spent two months in intensive treatment. Now 26, he’s a chemical engineer in Houston. “I still struggle every day to one degree or another,” he said, “but it’s manageable.”

    When men do seek treatment, they have usually been in denial for so long “they are much, much sicker” than women, said Dr. Carrie McAdams, a psychiatrist at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and a physician at the Presbyterian treatment program. Some are transferred directly from the intensive care unit. They’ve often cycled through five or six doctors — one of McAdams’ patients had seen 12 — who because of their own misconceptions didn’t recognize their patients had an eating disorder.

    One sad benefit of more men falling ill is that medical professionals are tuning in to the special considerations of men. The unit in Dallas, for instance, has treated about a half-dozen men since moving from the women’s hospital last year. The medical director, psychiatrist Jennifer Giampaolo, acknowledges that it can be hard for men, when even the flowers on the walls remind them that their disease is seen as feminine. She’s sympathetic, pointing out that femininity itself is often culturally equated with weakness, which might make treatment that much more complex.

    Making peace with his flaws

    Justin Shamoun suffered until his freshman year at Cornell University, when he was making himself throw up several times a day and his grades were plummeting from physical and mental exhaustion. Finally, his friends confronted him.

    “I had for so long been able to keep up this façade that everything in my life was great, that to admit to them that it wasn’t was the last thing I ever wanted to do,” he said. At first he dismissed their concerns. “I was like, “I don’t have that.”

    A doctor at the campus health clinic laid out the facts: The lining of Shamoun’s esophagus was deteriorating from the stomach acid. His teeth were rotting. He was in danger of a heart attack. Finally, the denial ended, and he entered treatment.

    Today, he eats and exercises, but neither to extremes. He just completed his first New York City marathon. “I could never have done it when I was in high school, because I just did not have enough energy to run a full marathon,” he said. He has regained a strength he hasn’t known since childhood.

    For seven years, he told himself that he needed to be perfect to be happy. By making peace with his flaws, he discovered the joy of being fully human.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Dec. 28, 2016. Find the original story here.

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    German Chancellor Angela Merkel will run again in 2017, after 11 years as Germany's leader. Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel will run again in 2017, after 11 years as Germany’s leader. Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

    Millions of people around the world went to the polls this year. The results provided plenty of surprises. British voters defied the pollstersand voted to leave the European Union. Colombians did much the same in rejecting their government’s peace deal with FARC, though Colombia’s president found a way to complete the deal a few months later without a vote. The biggest electoral surprise of all might have been in the United States, where Donald Trump defied the political expertsand defeated Hillary Clinton. Perhaps 2017 will produce similarly surprising results. Here are ten elections to watch.

    The Netherlands’s General Election, March 15.
    Is a “Nexit” in the cards? Controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders has vowed to withdraw the Netherlands from the European Union should his far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) win the March elections. Wilders just might get the chance to make good on his promise. The PVV has surged in the polls recently and is now running ahead of the party of the current Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte. The PVV is gaining because Wilders adroitly used his just-concluded trial for hate speech—he was convicted but not punished on the lesser charge of inciting discrimination for saying he wanted to see fewer Moroccan immigrants—to portray himself as a defender of free speech and a victim of political correctness run amok. (Wilders made his name in Dutch politics with anti-Islam, anti-immigration stances. He has proposed outlawing the Quran, placing a tax on headscarves, and banning the construction of mosques.) But the race has been neck-and-neck, with the lead changing frequently. Should the PVV maintain its lead, other Dutch parties will likely try to form a coalition government that shuts Wilders out of power. That could leave the Netherlands with a shaky and immobilized political leadership at a time when the EU faces major challenges.

    Demonstrators tried to protect themselves from being pepper-sprayed during a protest against what they call Beijing's interference over local politics and the rule of law, in November. Photo by Tyrone Siu/Reuters

    Demonstrators tried to protect themselves from being pepper-sprayed during a protest against what they call Beijing’s interference over local politics and the rule of law, in November. Photo by Tyrone Siu/Reuters

    Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Election, March 26. Hong Kong and China have co-existed for the past two decades in relative harmony under the “one country, two systems” framework. That harmony looks to be fraying. In 2014, Hong Kong students led the Umbrella Revolution protests after Beijing moved to change the city’s electoral system to give it more say over who runs Hong Kong. The city is headed by a Chief Executive who has wide-ranging powers. An Electoral Committee of 1,200 individuals appointed by Beijing decides who gets the post, and as you might guess, they pick the candidate Beijing prefers. The protestors want Hong Kong voters to elect the Chief Executive directly. The issue has split Hong Kong politics ever since. The incumbent, Leung Chun-ying, who has sided with Beijing since he took up the post in 2012, just announced he will not seek re-election. With Leung out of the race, the new favorite is Regina Ip, Hong Kong’s former secretary for security and the current leader of the pro-Beijing New People’s Party. She might not be the person that people in Hong Kong want, though, if they had their way. Finance Secretary John Tsang, who called the protests a potentially “strong and constructive force,” leads in the most recent poll with 28 percent support. Ip, by contrast, stood at 8 percent. But Beijing could block Tsang from running because it fears where the protest movement might be headed. Just last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Leung that he was “very worried” about Hong Kong and explicitly warned against the possibility of Hong Kong’s independence.

    France’s Presidential Election, First Round on April 23, Second Round on May 7. 
    Is France next? Three days after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency on a populist platform skeptical of elites and experts, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right Nationalist Front, boasted that she will be France’s next president. The polls suggest that is unlikely. However, most French political experts think she is a virtual lock to be one of the two candidates to make it to the election’s runoff round. If she makes it that far, anything could happen. Le Pen has been helped by having enthusiastic supporters and divided opponents. Incumbent President François Hollande looked at his 4 percent approval rating and decided against running for reelection. The French Socialists now need to find a candidate. Members of the center-right party, Les Républicains, have chosen former prime minister François Fillon to be their nominee. A Le Pen victory would upend French politics, energize far-right parties elsewhere in Europe, and leave Chancellor Angela Merkel as the only European leader forcefully advocating for a unified EU. But even in a loss, Le Pen could pull France further to the right as her opponents look to defang her tough talk on immigrants, terrorists, and the EU by talking tougher themselves.

    The World Health Organization’s Director-General Election, May. 
    National elections aren’t the only ones that matter. So too do elections at international organizations. Take the case of the World Health Organization, which needs to select a new director-general. Outgoing Director-General Margaret Chan has come under sharp criticismfor her leadership of the WHO and its slow and ineffective response to the Ebola crisis. Stung by the criticism, the WHO has changed the way it selects its leader. In the past, the WHO’s executive board put forth a single candidate for an up-down vote by member states. But this time around, there is real competition. Six countries have submitted candidates to compete in the first ever election for the role. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the former Ethiopian health and foreign minister, has attracted the most attention because of his support among African members. His main rival is former French health minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who is campaigning on proposals like universal health care and lower drug prices.  Each of the more than 190 members of the WHO has a single vote, regardless of size or financial contribution to the organization. As with elections at most international organizations, regional solidarity and political horse-trading will play a big role in the final vote.

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is favored to win a second term, even after his first election was considered a surprise win. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is favored to win a second term, even after his first election was considered a surprise win.
    Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    Iran’s Presidential Election, May 19. 
    Can Hassan Rouhani shock the world a second time? He first surprised the world back in 2013, winning the Iranian presidency in a landslide, defeating a slate of hard-line candidates along the way. Critical of his controversial and combative predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he promised to improve ties with the West, revitalize the economy, and implement a civil rights charter. He soon learned that governing is tougher than campaigning. He negotiated a nuclear deal with the West, freeing Iran of many of the sanctions that it faced. But with Donald Trump’s victory that success now looks precarious. At the same time, the Iranian economy continues to limp along, the relaxation of sanctions has yet to generate tangible results, and the civil rights charter has received mixed reviews. Fortunately for Rouhani, Iran’s hard-line faction has yet to coalesce around a popular alternative. Ahmadinejad hinted at another run for the presidency, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei tacitly disqualified him from running. So for now, Rouhani is favored to win a second term.

    Rwanda’s General Election, August. 
    Should presidents observe term limits, even if they are not legally obligated to do so? George Washington certainly thought so. But not Paul Kagame. In 1994, Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which overthrew the government that launched the Rwandan genocide. He then exchanged his military uniform for a suit and began running the country. At first he did so from his positions as vice president, minister of defense, and commander-in-chief of the army. In 2000 he became president when the incumbent resigned because he had so little authority. Kagame then ran for the post for the first time in 2003. He apparently likes the job. He recently declared that he will run for a third five-year term. He certainly is allowed to do so. Last year, Rwandans voted overwhelmingly to approve a constitutional referendum that allows him to remain in power until 2034. An ally of the United States, Kagame has been criticized for an array of human rights abusesNo other political party has nominated a candidate, and Kagame is expected to win the election in a landslide. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, has said that Kagame should step down when his term ends in 2017 to set an example for other African rulers. He doesn’t appear to be listening.

    Germany’s Federal Election, September or October. 
    Angela Merkel apparently likes being the German Chancellor. She just announced she will run for a fourth term. She has held the post since 2005. In her eleven years on the job, she has put her personal stamp on European politics and economics. She has pushed austerity measures to deal with the eurozone’s debt crisis, welcomed more than one million refugees to Germany, and led Europe’s effort to present a unified front against an aggressive Russia. The betting money says that Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Party will win, though it will likely lose seats in the BundestagSigmar Gabriel of the center-left Social Democratic Party has failed to gain traction among German voters and trails Merkel by ten percentage points in recent polls (34 percent to 24 percent). The wild card in the election is the Alternative for Germany Party, the upstart, right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, Eurosceptic party. It has done surprisingly well in Germany’s state and local elections—it upset the Christian Democrats in Merkel’s home state back in September—and it is up to 13 percent support. It could gain more support if opposition to Merkel’s migrant policy grows. If the unthinkable happens and Merkel loses, the EU could be in big trouble.

    China’s Politburo Selection at the 19th National Congress, October or November. 
    Some critical elections have no secret ballots, very few voters, and decisions shrouded in secrecy. Case in point, next fall’s decisions on who gets to sit on the Chinese Politburo and the even more important Politburo Standing Committee. Chinese President Xi Jinpingemerged from this year’s plenum of the Communist Party with his power enhanced. His colleagues named him a “core leader,” a designation denied to his immediate predecessor Hu Jintao but bestowed on previous leaders Mao ZedongDeng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin. That’s good news for Xi heading into next fall’s National Congress meeting. It will determine the twenty-four members of the Politburo and the nine members of the Standing Committee. Both bodies should undergo considerable change because many of their current members are hitting mandatory retirement age. Xi is a shoe-in to be nominated for a second term. The big question is whether the National Congress will follow tradition and designate the person who will succeed him in the top job. Speculation has been rampantthat the sixty-three-year-old Xi is angling to stop that from happening, either so he will have more time to place his allies in positions of authority and thereby guarantee he gets a successor he likes, or so he can arrange to serve a third term. Should the National Congress go smoothly, no one outside of China will notice. If it reveals deep divisions at the top of the Chinese government, it could roil the global economy.

    South Korea’s Presidential Election, December 20 (or maybe sooner).
    For many South Koreans, a new presidential election cannot come soon enough. The South Korean National Assembly just voted overwhelmingly to impeach current President Park Geun-hye. She has been under fire since October for her part in a corruption scandal involving her friend of four decades, Choi Soon-sil, who has been called a Korean Rasputin. Soon-sil is the daughter of the leader of a religious cult who was close to Park’s father, President Park Chung-hee, and who befriended the younger Park after her mother was assassinated in 1974. Park is accused of allowing Soon-sil to act as a sort of shadow president, making decisions on government matters and extorting contributions to two foundations she controls. Park is now suspended as president while South Korea’s Constitutional Court reviews the National Assembly’s vote. Even if the court overturns the impeachment, South Korea’s constitution bars her from running for reelection. And if the court does affirm the impeachment, a new election must be held within sixty days of the court’s decision. Not surprisingly, the scandal has thrown South Korea’s presidential election into turmoil. Outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has considered running for president on the ticket of Park’s Saenuri party, but his popularity has plummeted in polls since the scandal erupted. The charismatic leader of the main opposition party, Moon Jae-in, currently leads in the polls. However, support for Lee Jae-myung, who has been nicknamed “the Korean Trump,” has been rising. With twelve months to go until Election Day, South Korea’s presidential race could still see plenty of more ups and downs. Meanwhile, the threat posed by a nuclear North Korea continues to grow.

    Thailand’s General Election, late 2017. 
    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That could be the motto for Thailand’s democracy. The Thai military has overthrown the country’s government twelve times since 1932. The last time was in May 2014, when the military tossed out Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The junta claimed it was acting to protect the country and restore order after Shinawatra’s December 2013 decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament triggered months of political infighting and violence. The junta, led by General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, declared it would restore democratic rule only after it had enacted much needed political reforms. In August 2016, Thais voted by a margin of 61 to 39 percent to approve the constitution the military drafted. The victory was largely guaranteed; the military barred anyone from campaigning against their handiwork. The new constitution is Thailand’s twentieth since the 1930s. It cements the military’s privileged role in Thai politics. It gets to name all 250 of Thailand’s senators and it can impose martial law at any time without parliamentary consent. The October 2016 death of the beloved Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who blessed the coup, added fresh complexity to Thailand’s politics. While new Thai elections may produce an ostensibly civilian government, it likely won’t solve the country’s fundamental problem: a deep split between the urban middle class and the far more numerous rural poor.

    Bardia Vaseghi and Jonathan Levitt assisted in the preparation of this post.

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    BY TAMI ABDOLLAH AND JOSH LEDERMAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video link, dedicated to the start of natural gas supplying from mainland Russia to Crimea, in Moscow, Russia, on Dec. 27, 2016. Photo by Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters

    Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video link, dedicated to the start of natural gas supplying from mainland Russia to Crimea, in Moscow, Russia, on Dec. 27, 2016. Photo by Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters

    HONOLULU — In a sweeping response to election hacking and other meddlesome behavior, President Barack Obama on Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence services and their top officials, kicked out 35 Russian officials and closed down two Russian-owned compounds in the U.S. It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack.

    “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Obama said. He added: “Such activities have consequences.”

    But President-elect Donald Trump said it was “time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.” The Republican has refused to accept U.S. spy agencies’ determination that Russia hacked to try to help his campaign, arguing Democrats are merely trying to delegitimize his election.

    Yet in the face of newly public evidence, Trump suggested he was keeping an open mind.

    “In the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation,” Trump said.

    In a bid to expose Moscow’s cyber aggression, the U.S. also released a detailed report about Russia’s hacking infrastructure that it said was designed to help computer specialists prevent more hacking. And Obama said more action was coming.

    “These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” Obama said in a statement released while he was vacationing in Hawaii. The U.S. has previously left open the possibility it could mount a retaliatory strike.

    The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new sanctions were a sign of Obama’s “unpredictable and, if I may say, aggressive foreign policy” and were aimed at undermining President-elect Donald Trump.

    “We think that such steps by a U.S. administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, to deal a blow to the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

    Ahead of the announcement, Russia’s foreign ministry had threatened to retaliate against American diplomats if the U.S. took action against Russian officials.

    The White House has promised to release a report before Obama leaves office detailing Russia’s cyber interference in U.S. elections, a move that could address Russia’s complaints that the U.S. hasn’t shown proof of its involvement. But the U.S. moved forward with the response Thursday even as the report has yet to be released.

    Still, Obama administration officials said the list of entities Obama was sanctioning made clear who exactly the U.S. believes was behind hacking of Democratic groups and the theft of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

    Obama ordered sanctions against two Russian intelligence services, the GRU and the FSB, plus companies which the U.S. says support the GRU. The cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate theft of its emails determined earlier this year the hacking came from the Fancy Bear group, believed to be affiliated with the GRU.

    The sanctions freeze any assets the entities or individuals have in the United States, and also block Americans from doing business with them. It wasn’t immediately clear what impact they would have on the intelligence services’ operations.

    The FSB is Russia’s main domestic and counter-terrorism intelligence agency. It was formed following the Soviet collapse when the KGB was split into the FSB and the foreign intelligence agency SVR. The GRU is the Russian military intelligence agency.

    The president also sanctioned Lt. Gen. Korobov, the head of the GRU, and three of his deputies. Other individuals sanctioned include Alexei Belan and Yevgeny Bogachev, two Russian nationals who have been wanted by the FBI for cyber crimes for years.

    Obama’s move puts Trump in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office, and U.S. officials acknowledged that Trump could use his executive authorities to do so.

    U.S. allegations of hacking during the campaign have ignited a heated debate over Trump’s approach to Russia and his refusal to accept the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia’s government was responsible and wanted to help him win. Though U.S. lawmakers have long called for Obama to be tougher on Russia, some Republicans have found that position less tenable now that Trump is floating the possibility of closer ties to Moscow.

    “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

    Obama said the hacking “could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” a contention the U.S. has used to suggest Putin was personally involved.

    [Watch Video]

    U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russia was behind the hack of the DNC and others, but haven’t made the evidence public. The private cyber security company that uncovered the hack has unveiled new details it says confirms Russian military intelligence service was behind the breach. Judy Woodruff speaks with Dmitri Alperovitch of Crowdstrike and Thomas Rid of King’s College, London.

    Although the White House announced at the same time it was kicking out Russian officials and closing facilities, it said those were responses to other troubling Russian behavior: harassment of U.S. diplomats by Russian personnel and police.

    The 35 Russian diplomats being kicked out are intelligence operatives, Obama said. They were declared “persona non grata,” and they were given 72 hours to leave the country. The State Department declined to identify them.

    The two compounds being closed down are recreational facilities owned by Russia’s government, one in Maryland and one in New York, the U.S. said. The White House said Russia had been notified that Russia would be denied access to the sites starting noon on Friday.

    Russian officials have denied the Obama administration’s accusation that the Russian government was involved at the highest levels in trying to influence the U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.

    Abdollah reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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    People walk past the old customs buildings (L) and Peoria restaurant (R) near Aleppo's historic citadel, in the government controlled area of the city, Syria, on Dec. 17. Photo by Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

    People walk past the old customs buildings (L) and Peoria restaurant (R) near Aleppo’s historic citadel, in the government controlled area of the city, Syria, on Dec. 17. Photo by Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

    BEIRUT — The cease-fire agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey and approved by the Syrian government and some of its most powerful rebel opponents is a potential turning point in the Syrian civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and laid waste to huge parts of the country over the past six years.

    Thursday’s announcement comes days after government forces recaptured the northern city of Aleppo, scoring its most symbolic and strategic victory in the conflict.

    If it sticks, the cease-fire will lead to the convening of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition to be held in mid-January in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, the first such talks since U.N.-sponsored peace talks collapsed in April this year.

    Here’s a look at the cease-fire agreement:

    WHO ARE THE MAIN PLAYERS?

    Russia and Turkey are the main sponsors of the agreement and say they will be the guarantors of the truce. The two countries support opposing sides of the civil war and earlier this month negotiated a cease-fire in rebel-held Aleppo that allowed opposition fighters and civilians to evacuate. The Syrian government has confirmed the cease-fire and its main regional ally, Iran, welcomed the agreement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said other key nations with influence in Syria, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, may join at a later stage.

    Conspicuously missing from the equation is the United States. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been heavily invested along with Lavrov in past efforts to bring about a cease-fire, but all previous attempts have been unsuccessful. The U.S. has in recent months all but handed over the Syria file to Russia, and it is unclear what incoming President Donald Trump will bring to the table. He has, however, suggested he would be more focused on the fight against IS than the removal of Assad from power.

    WHICH OPPOSITION GROUPS ARE INCLUDED?

    Most of the major mainstream rebel groups have signed on to the cease-fire agreement.

    Osama Abo Zayd, a Turkey-based legal adviser for an umbrella group of rebel factions known as the Free Syrian Army, said 13 rebel groups have signed the agreement and that more are on board but were unable to make the signing in Ankara because of bad weather. He did not list them.

    The Russian Defense Ministry listed seven groups, including the powerful, ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham, the Army of Islam, which is particularly active around the Syrian capital, and the Army of Conquest, which is led by the al-Qaida affiliate and controls the northern province of Idlib.

    Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said opposition units totaling 62,000 fighters have agreed to adhere to the truce, saying they “control most of the territory in central and northern Syria outside Damascus’ control.”

    WHICH GROUPS ARE NOT INCLUDED?

    According to Russia and the Syrian government, the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, the Fatah al-Sham group, are excluded. That’s in line with previous cease-fire agreements, which eventually crumbled largely because of the blurred lines between the al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel factions that cooperate with it.

    Abu Zayd, speaking at a press conference in Ankara, said the main Kurdish militia in Syria, known as the YPG, was also excluded. The U.S.-backed group has been the most effective force in fighting the Islamic State group in northern and eastern Syria, but is considered by Ankara to be a terrorist organization.

    IS THIS A BREAKTHROUGH?

    The deal is a potential turning point in the six-year civil war. The balance of power has shifted greatly in President Bashar Assad’s favor over the past year, capped by the recapture of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former industrial capital, a few days ago. The loss of Aleppo has been a humiliating defeat for the opposition, which has been largely abandoned by its allies in the fight for its most important stronghold. The U.S. administration has been noticeably absent from negotiations in Moscow that involved Russia, Iran and Turkey last week. The warming of ties between Moscow and Ankara and their joint work on Syria now offers the best chance for a political settlement to the war.

    WHAT ARE THE MAIN POINTS OF AGREEMENT?

    Abu Zayd said the agreement is made up of five points, including political negotiations to be held within a month of the cease-fire. He said the sides agreed to work together to forge a settlement for the Syrian conflict based on the Geneva communique and U.N. Security Council resolution 2254, which envisions an 18-month timetable for a political transition in Syria, including the drafting of a new constitution and elections.

    Both documents however, do not clearly address Assad’s role in any political transition and chances for a breakthrough remain slim as distrust and continuing disagreements between rival factions still run deep.

    CAN VIOLENCE DERAIL THE DEAL?

    Yes. There are dozens of rebel factions in Syria including extremist groups that have not signed up for the deal. Maintaining the cease-fire will be highly challenging also because it excludes powerful groups such as IS and the Fatah al-Sham group.

    Assad has repeatedly said in recent weeks that he is intent on retaking every inch of Syria, suggesting he still believes in the military option and may not be enthusiastic about holding up his end of the deal.

    Putin on Thursday described the agreements reached as “quite fragile,” requiring “special attention and patience.”

    READ MORE: Syrian government and rebels agree to nationwide ceasefire

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    Here's a look at our best of 2016 lists in art.  Now we want to hear yours. Photo by Getty Images

    Here’s a look at our best of 2016 lists in books, film and television. Now we want to hear yours. Photo by Getty Images

    What outstanding works of literature, television, art, and film captured your attention in 2016? Our arts correspondent, Jeffrey Brown, spoke this week with leading voices in the arts about some of the most compelling contributions in these fields.

    Now we need your help finding what we’ve overlooked. Share your suggestions below for your picks on must-read books and must-watch films and TV shows.

    Earlier in the week, we spoke to best-selling authors Jacqueline Woodson and Daniel Pink about the best books of 2016, watch the video here:

    Jeffrey Brown also sat down with UPROXX’s Alan Sepinwall and NPR’s Eric Deggans, and asked them to choose the best of the best in 2016 television shows.  You can watch that discussion here:  

    And our anchors, correspondents, producers and other members of our staff shared their favorite books of 2016 here.

    If we’ve missed any books, television shows, or movies that you think deserve a spot on top of the best of 2016 podium, share them with us in the comments below. And stay tuned for the best of in music on Friday’s PBS NewsHour.

    The post What were your favorite books, films and TV shows of 2016? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Getty Images

    Each year, approximately 71,500 women in the United States are diagnosed with some type of gynecologic cancer. Join PBS NewsHour at 1 p.m. of Friday December 30 for a Q&A with Dr. Angela Marshall and Dr. Shannon Westin. (Photo by Getty Images)

    Each year, approximately 71,500 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with some type of gynecologic cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Gynecologic cancers affect women’s reproductive organs and include cervical, ovarian and endometrial cancers, among others. Last month, our colleague and friend Gwen Ifill died at the age of 61, after complications with uterine cancer.

    There are many barriers to raising awareness of gynecologic cancers, and the disease is often shrouded in stigma. Health officials have said that women may not seek a doctor’s opinion because they’re unaware of early symptoms or are embarrassed to have conversations about the signs of the disease.

    What are the warning signs of potential gynecological cancers? How can women approach their care so they can detect gynecologic cancers early? For a deeper look at symptoms, benefits of early detection and treatment options, PBS NewsHour will host a Twitter chat with Dr. Angela Marshall (@DrMarshall_CWH) of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, and Dr. Shannon Westin (@ShannonWestin) of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

    At 1 p.m. EST on Friday, the doctors will take YOUR questions about gynecologic cancers. You can send in your questions now on Twitter using the hashtag #NewsHourChats. Then, join us Friday for the live discussion.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now we continue our series on the best of the year in arts — tonight, what stood out in the world of movies.

    Jeffrey Brown is back with our conversation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And for that, we are joined again by two of our steadfast and stalwart film critics, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post and Mike Sargent of Pacifica Radio.

    Welcome back to both of you.

    ANN HORNADAY, The Washington Post: Thank you.

    MIKE SARGENT, Pacifica Radio: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, let’s start with a quick roundup, a top five. Then we will go into a little bit more detail.

    Ann.

    ANN HORNADAY: OK, top five.

    Number one, “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’ coming of age story, “Manchester by the Sea,” wonderful domestic drama by Kenneth Lonergan, “Hell or High Water,” a terrific contemporary Western, a little father-son serial comic drama called “The Confirmation” Clive Owen, and then finally “O.J.: Made in America,” the amazing O.J. Simpson documentary.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Which also made our television list, but that had a film release.

    ANN HORNADAY: Indeed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Mike Sargent, your top five.

    MIKE SARGENT: Well, my top five.

    The top one is a film called “Arrival,” which is a science fiction about aliens landing and us trying to communicate. Then there’s Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” which is about Desmond Doss, who won the Medal of Honor without ever having to fire one bullet.

    Then I have “Purge: Election Year,” which is the third film in the series. But the Purge is something that happens once a year in this future dystopian America where once a year you get to purge, and violence is legal for 24 hours. And this film actually does what the premise should have done in the first two films, and I really like it.

    Then I have “Moonlight,” which I love just probably as much as Ann did.

    And then a film that I almost forgot called “Eye in the Sky” with Helen Mirren, which is the final performance of Alan Rickman, but it’s a film not to be missed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let’s watch a little clip from “Moonlight.” Then we will talk a little bit more about it.

    ACTRESS: What’s wrong?

    ACTOR: Nothing. I’m good.

    ACTRESS: No. I have seen good. And you ain’t it. Stop putting your head down in my house. You know my rule. It’s all love and all pride in this house. You feel me?

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, Ann, an unusual film in many ways, episodic, takes one man through three different actors.

    ANN HORNADAY: Yes. Indeed, exactly.

    It’s a young boy’s story, as you said, told in three distinct chapters, first when he is a young boy, then as a teenager and then as a young man.

    And it’s about a person coming of age in poverty, in this case in Liberty City, Miami. That scene that we just saw features Janelle Monae in an absolute breakout performance. And she’s also in another movie that is out right now called “Hidden Figures.”

    JEFFREY BROWN: Known, first of all, as a singer, a musician, and now suddenly a great actress.

    ANN HORNADAY: Exactly. She’s just a great actress.

    And it’s just — it’s a very tender, observant — as Mike said, it takes all the kind of tropes of a coming of age story and turns them inside out and makes them so intimate.

    And Jenkins’ kind of — his point of view is just a little askance, it’s a little askew, so that you’re not getting the conventional beats of a person’s life. You’re getting the in-between times, which are sometimes even more meaningful.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mike, you singled out “Arrival.” So, let’s take a look at a scene from that.

    ACTRESS: I need to see me.

    ACTOR: She’s walking toward the screen.

    ACTRESS: Now, that’s a proper introduction.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, what do you love about “Arrival,” Mike?

    MIKE SARGENT: I love pretty much about pretty much everything about this film.

    It’s a film that does what science fiction and good science fiction should be, where it says a lot about the human condition. This is a film that deals with the issues of communication, how and why we communicate, what the nature of that is, what the issues are between nations, how we don’t get along and are on the verge of war throughout the story.

    And it deals with time and just how we — what our relationship is to time. The movie is in many ways like a large “Twilight Zone” episode.

    But it’s beautifully shot. It’s beautifully acted. The aliens are very powerful and meaningful. And I don’t want to give too much away, but the way in which the aliens communicate is such in an imaginative — and it’s just a beautiful film that to me works on every level.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so we asked both of you also to pick an acting performance that stood out for you this year.

    And, Ann, you chose Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea.” Let’s take a quick look.

    CASEY AFFLECK: I don’t understand.

    ACTOR: Which part are you having trouble with?

    CASEY AFFLECK: Well, I can’t be the guardian.

    ACTOR: Well…

    CASEY AFFLECK: I mean, I can’t.

    ACTOR: Well, naturally, I assumed Joe had discussed all of this with you.

    CASEY AFFLECK: No, he didn’t. No.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What about it? What stood out there?

    ANN HORNADAY: It’s a very interior performance.

    The thing about Lonergan’s movies is that they’re really about subtext. And when a movie is really about subtext, the actor has to bring it. The actor has to provide for the audience all the things, the subterranean emotions and feelings that are going on underneath the dialogue, as we just saw in that scene. And Affleck does it just brilliantly.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mike, and you picked Viola Davis in “Fences,” which is the Denzel Washington-directed film of the August Wilson play. Let’s look at a clip from that.

    DENZEL WASHINGTON: It’s not easy for me to admit that I have been standing in the same place for 18 years.

    VIOLA DAVIS: Well, I have been standing with you. I have been right here with you, Troy. I got a life, too. I got 18 years of my life just standing in the same spot as you. Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me?

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mike, Viola Davis.

    MIKE SARGENT: Well, Viola Davis, I have to say, is just one of those actresses who is transformative.

    She becomes the character who she is in this. This is based on the play by August Wilson, and it’s first in a series, a series of plays that he’s done about black life in America during a specific period.

    And Viola Davis is, though she’s probably going to be nominated as best supporting actress for this, she really, whenever she’s on screen, she just takes it. She’s won an Emmy. She’s won a Tony. And I think she may be one of those few actors who is going win all three and win an Oscar. She is just — she is not just someone who just you watch you act.

    She moves you. And she really does in this film.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, how just quickly, before we go, give us something that maybe we just missed altogether that you want to recommend to us.

    MIKE SARGENT: Well, I would recommend a film called “Tanna.” That’S T-A-N-N-A.

    “Tanna” is essentially a Romeo and Juliet story, but it’s told by an indigenous people, indigenous actors. It’s actually Australia’s entry for the Oscars and it made the short list for best foreign film this year. It’s a beautifully shot film.

    It’s in another language, but so much of it is about the dialogue and what goes on. They’re star-crossed lovers in a tribe where you can’t get together. And I have to say it’s just — it’s an amazing film.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Ann Hornaday.

    ANN HORNADAY: This is a tough one because there were a lot this year.

    But one that I really loved watching was called “A Bigger Splash.” It’s from the Italian director Luca Guadagnino. I think that’s how you pronounce his name.

    (LAUGHTER)

    ANN HORNADAY: It stars Tilda Swinton as a rock star who is rusticating in Italy with her boyfriend/husband, I think, who is a filmmaker. She has laryngitis.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Sound horrible, right, a horrible life, right?

    (CROSSTALK)

    ANN HORNADAY: No, it is just so luxurious.

    And the scenery is beautiful.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That’s what I meant.

    The clothes are beautiful, and she’s beautiful. And then Ralph Fiennes shows up as the mischief-maker of the bunch. And he delivers, I think, one of the best performances, the most sort of playful.

    And just watching him dance to a Rolling Stones song is worth the price of admission alone.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK, some of the films of 2016.

    Ann Hornaday, Mike Sargent, thank you both very much.

    ANN HORNADAY: Thank you.

    MIKE SARGENT: Thank you.

    The post The most spellbinding movies of 2016 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: In November, four more states voted to legalize recreational marijuana, bringing the total number to seven.

    With more states loosening restrictions, cities and counties are seeking ways to regulate cannabis farming, including a county in California piloting a project to keep pot off the black market.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Nearly 300 miles north of San Francisco, thick redwoods reach to the sky. In this land of giants, the buzz of sawmills and the splash of fishing nets once signaled a booming economy.

    Today, there’s another industry in Humboldt County that is thriving and driving up demand for goods and services.

    MAN: And your total will be $3,023.99 after tax.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: From leaf trimming machines to water storage services and specialty soils, marijuana, or cannabis, as it’s also known, is big business in Humboldt County.

    PATRICK MURPHY, Emerald Family Farms: Humboldt County is the Napa of cannabis. It is by far and away the largest production zone of high-quality cannabis in the world.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: And for the first time in nearly 50 years, it’s coming out of the shadows through a bold new experiment that allows people to legally grow medical cannabis for profit.

    PATRICK MURPHY: I believe that, instead of complaining about the smell of cannabis, the people of Humboldt County will realize that that’s the smell of cultivating local prosperity.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Patrick Murphy is the co-owner of Emerald Family Farms, a collective of cannabis farmers.

    PATRICK MURPHY: We would like to create an industry that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.

    The first time I cultivated cannabis was when I was 16 years old. And I have been cultivating cannabis ever since.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Farmers like Murphy are now required to register with the county so they can get permits to legally grow medical cannabis, just as they would for other agricultural crops.

    Size limits apply, depending on how the crop is grown, and whether it’s new or existing cultivation.

    STEVE LAZAR, Planning and Building Dept, Humboldt County: The limit for new cultivation is 10,000 square feet, or about a quarter of an acre. Existing operations, we have allowed all the way up to one acre in size, if they can meet requirements.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Steve Lazar is a senior planner at the Planning and Building Department in Eureka. He helped write the county’s new rules as a green rush has been taking off in the forested hills of Humboldt.

    STEVE LAZAR: So, here, we’re looking at a photograph from 2006. The photograph shows a forested area. But, by 2015, this area is now host to 20 to 30 different cultivation operations. So, here we can see every of greenhouse construction, water storage. One could easily estimate that there’s over 10,000 cultivation sites in the county at this point.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: People from all over the world are rushing to Humboldt to cultivate cannabis. But the lure of pot profits is straining local watersheds and threatening endangered salmon.

    SCOTT BAUER, California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Marijuana cultivation is probably the biggest issue facing the recovery of our salmon and steelhead.

    We put a million dollars into a watershed to restore fish there. And I go out on a site and I see a million dollars in habitat damage.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Scott Bauer is a scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    SCOTT BAUER: Typically, on an enforcement activity, we see illegal road-grading, bulldozers pushing dirt into streams. We see people diverting water, and, in fact, taking most of the water out of the stream to cultivate marijuana.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Bauer and his team not only fine growers for breaking environmental laws. They also give permits to legally take water from rivers and streams.

    SCOTT BAUER: We would like every marijuana cultivator to get a permit from the department to divert water. We condition our permit to say, you can’t have any water in the summertime. You need to take water in the wintertime, and store it for use later.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Cannabis has been legal to use in California for medical purposes since 1996.

    WOMAN: It’s got a great look, got a great smell.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Patients could also grow cannabis and supply it to dispensaries as long as they didn’t profit from it.

    But all that will change in 2018. That’s when California will begin issuing licenses for commercial medical cannabis activities. Until then, counties and cities are trying to regulate the cannabis industry at the local level.

    STEVE LAZAR: Now we can call a spade a spade. Profit is part of being a farmer, whether you’re growing cannabis or tomatoes.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: Maybe so, but it’s still illegal at the federal level to grow or sell cannabis.

    PATRICK MURPHY: Every cannabis cultivator lives with the fear of having their children taken away from them, having financial ruin.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: But in late August, 2,300 people, most of them existing growers, came forward to register under Humboldt’s new program. But, according to the local sheriff, only a fraction of the county’s pot ends up legally in the hands of patients.

    SHERIFF MICHAEL DOWNEY, Humboldt County, California: I would say 95 percent of the marijuana growing in Humboldt County, and possibly higher, is actually going to the black market.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: The sheriff’s office conducts roughly 100 raids a year, targeting massive illegal marijuana grows.

    WILLIAM HONSAL, Undersheriff, Humboldt County: What we have here is typically evidence that has been found in a marijuana grow that’s been seized by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.

    These right here are processed marijuana in one-pound bags. And we have the typical firearms that are seized in a marijuana grow, AK-47 assault weapons, M-14 rifles. This is what they use to protect their marijuana.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: The county is now trying to keep cannabis out of the black market with a new track-and-trace program that gives each farmer a set of stamps bearing codes that are unique to them.

    In this demo, a bag of processed cannabis is sealed with a stamp and verified online as it moves through the supply chain.

    MAN: OK, now we can also check the proof of origin with the mobile application.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: For the first time, a patient at a California dispensary will be able to quickly check that a product was grown in Humboldt and be able to see its lab results.

    From farmers to dispensary owners, 15 people are taking part in this pilot program. But now that California has voted yes on the recreational use of pot, legalization could spell tough times ahead for farmers here in Humboldt County.

    WILLIAM HONSAL: I believe that it will be grown all over the West Coast. And I believe the price per pound is going to become so low that the industry is going to be driven out of Humboldt County

    PATRICK MURPHY: The fear is that the people that were a part of this, that started this movement will not have a place in the future. And it will only happen if we do not take part, if we do not stand up and make our voices heard as the heart and soul of the cannabis industry.

    SHERAZ SADIQ: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Sheraz Sadiq in Humboldt County, California.

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    A boy, evacuee from a rebel-held area of Aleppo, carries blankets he received as aid in al-Kamouneh camp, Idlib province, Syria December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah - RTX2WV6E

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The Russians and Turks announced a cease-fire deal among some of the warring parties in Syria. It went into effect at midnight in Damascus.

    Margaret Warner has the story.

    MARGARET WARNER: Confirmation came from the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin:

    PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through translator): The agreements reached are, of course, fragile and need special attention. But this is a notable result of our joint work and efforts by our partners in the region.

    MARGARET WARNER: One of those partners, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called it an historic chance.

    PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey (through translator): We have an opportunity to stop the bloodshed in Syria with a political solution. We must not squander this chance.

    MARGARET WARNER: Russia has been a critical backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey had pressed for his ouster. But they joined to work out this cease-fire and plans for future peace talks in Kazakstan.

    The Russians say rebel groups numbering more than 60,000 fighters are taking part. They include the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

    OSAMA ABU ZAID, Spokesman, Free Syrian Army (through translator): During the talks, the Russian government guaranteed to us that they will keep the Syrian regime forces and their allies under control.

    MARGARET WARNER: Other groups are excluded, the Islamic State, which controls a swathe of Syria, the al-Qaida offshoot Jabhat Al-Fateh Al-Sham in the northwest, and the Kurdish militia YPG battling Islamic State’s forces in cooperation with the U.S.

    Iran is also a major ally of the Assad government, and is expected to be involved in peace talks. Absent entirely from the negotiations, the United States. Three years of talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, produced a number of cease-fires, but they didn’t hold.

    Instead, 15 months ago, Russia launched a fierce bombing campaign to bolster the Syrian regime. Earlier this month, the rebel stronghold in Eastern Aleppo finally fell.

    Nonetheless, the State Department voiced support for the truce today, saying: “:Any effort that stops the violence, saves lives, and creates the conditions for political negotiations would be welcome.”

    Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said today the incoming Trump administration would be welcome to join the peace talks in Kazakstan.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: William Brangham takes it from here.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, will this cease-fire last, where so many others in the past have failed?

    For that, I’m joined now via Skype from Tucson by Andrew Tabler, who’s a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Joshua Landis, who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

    Welcome to you both.

    Joshua Landis, I would like to start with you first.

    We have seen cease-fires come and we have seen cease-fires go. Are you at all confident that this one is going to last?

    JOSHUA LANDIS, University of Oklahoma: No, I’m not confident. This is really not about the cease-fire holding. It’s about Turkey being involved with Russia and Iran and essentially letting the rebels know that a new page has been turned, that Turkey cannot keep its — cannot keep its door open to the rebels, that it’s closing the door, and that they’re going to have to fend for themselves in negotiations with the Assad regime.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Andrew Tabler, take that up. Is it your sense that this is going to hold? Is this, as some have posited, that this might be the beginning of the end of the war in Syria?

    ANDREW TABLER, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: I’m also skeptical. I think it’s impossible to tell.

    I think it’s very interesting that, after the capture of Aleppo, suddenly, we’re in this situation. I agree it’s important that Turkey is involved and on this kind of level with the Russians and with the U.S. out of the room. That’s essentially new territory.

    But what’s also interesting is by pausing now and going into diplomacy, I think it shows that the Russians are setting the table for President-elect Trump to become involved in some sort of diplomatic process.

    And the diplomatic process is with Assad remaining, but large parts of the country being outside of his control and potentially, depending on how the talks go, in the hands of the rebels.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: There is obviously a lot to unpack in there.

    Joshua Landis, help us understand, for people who haven’t been following this all along, let’s just talk about, what’s Turkey’s role, its very complicated role in this fight, what has their role been so far?

    JOSHUA LANDIS: Well, Turkey has been the crossroads.

    The territory has a 500-mile border with Syria. And across that border has traveled almost all the arms, the money, the help, the fighters that are going into Syria to sustain this revolt against Assad. The Russians, the Syrians, the Iranians have been pressuring Turkey to shut the door on that cross-border traffic.

    Turkey is beginning to turn away from support for the rebels. And that is partially because of Trump’s election, in which he said he would work with the Russians, and he turned his nose up at the rebels, saying, we don’t know who they are, and suggesting they’re worse than Assad.

    And so this is an about-face. The fact that the United States is not at the table is very important, because it has allowed these talks to go forward without the U.S. And, in a sense, the U.S. has signaled to the rebels it’s not got their back, it’s not going to continue to shuttle and help arms get through to the rebels.

    So this is a new day for the rebels, who have to think hard about what their future strategy is.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Andrew Tabler, let’s just continue with that. A certain number of rebel groups are part of the cease-fire agreement. Some of them, many others are not. What happens to those who are not at the peace talks now?

    ANDREW TABLER: Those that are left out of the agreement would be subject to Russian aviation strikes, as well as regime airstrikes and also other kinds of operations.

    So, those that sign on to it essentially go into the cease-fire, and Turkey guarantees the rebel factions will not attack from their side, and the Russians say that they will, as part of the agreement, get the regime to stop their attacks.

    Of course, these things are harder to implement. It’s a potential way to tamp down the violence, at least in part of the country, but it will also allow Russia, the regime and also the United States to more fully target groups like ISIS and Jabhat Al-Fateh Al-Sham, the al-Qaida affiliate.

    So, in that way, it could focus fire on extremist groups.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, Joshua, back to you. What happens now with — it looks like Assad is not going to be dislodged from power. He is going to have control of some substantial majority of his country going forward, barring some unforeseen development. What kind of a country does he inherit? What is his — what’s happening with him going forward?

    JOSHUA LANDIS: Well, I think he’s determined to conquer all of the country.

    And the United States is busy destroying ISIS, which owns, perhaps, 30 percent, 35 percent of the Syrian territory. And that will largely — that will most likely be inherited by Assad, who is standing by, waiting for the continued collapse of ISIS.

    He will continue to go after the al-Qaida-dominated areas with Russian help and hope to scoop those up as well. Turkey has made a statement with Iran and Russia just the other day that everyone is to respect Syria’s sovereignty. Now, that is codeword for not dividing up Syria.

    And that means that Assad will take back his country, I believe. There are people who believe this means the dividing up of Syria, that there will be a rebel territory, a Turkish territory, an Assad territory. I don’t believe that’s the case.

    I think Russia is squarely on the side of Assad and is muscling Turkey to fall into line.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Andrew, what do you make of that? Are we looking at a divided Turkey or not — a divided Syria? Excuse me.

    ANDREW TABLER: Well, I think, in that sense, Assad might be able to come back over his territory, but the timeline on that, I think, is near, due to manpower issues.

    So, what we could have is the Russians saying, OK, Assad stays on, because there is not an alternative. Meanwhile, I think they are going to look for opportunities with the Turks. In the northern part of Syria, the Turks have carved out a de facto safe zone, they call it. That could be the base for support, rebel support from Turkey.

    We will have to see if President-elect Donald Trump wants to jump on that. Last week, President-elect Trump said that he was going to build beautiful stations inside of Syria paid for by Gulf countries. It’s a big statement, but if you’re going to build them anywhere, it could be there. And that could be the basis for some kind of operation, ground operation against ISIS in the Eastern part of Syria.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Joshua, what do you make about that? The Trump administration is on its way into power. What do you think he will do once he’s handed stories morass?

    JOSHUA LANDIS: Well, he said he will be on the side of — he will talk with Putin and he wants to destroy ISIS. Those are both things that help Assad.

    I don’t believe that he is going to want to get into guaranteeing hunks of Syria under American control or Turkish control. I think that Syria is trying to rebuild its country after the economy has gone into a tailspin, a failed coup, tons of terrorist attacks, an incipient war with the Kurds.

    Turkey is trying to get back to normal. And that means finding a way out of the Syrian quagmire. It wants one thing guaranteed, and that is that the Kurds do not hive off and create their own state.

    Russia and Bashar al-Assad can offer him those guarantees. And they will ask him to withdraw from Syria in order to give him those guarantees. And I think that is the basis for future talks between Turkey, Russia and Assad.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Joshua Landis, Andrew Tabler, thank you both very much.

    JOSHUA LANDIS: Pleasure.

    ANDREW TABLER: Pleasure.

    The post What it means that the U.S. is not part of the Syria cease-fire appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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