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

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    WASHINGTON — Call them rebels with a cause. Or two. Or three. Or 10.

    When throngs of women from around the nation converge on Washington for a march on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, they will arrive driven by a multitude of motivations.

    Gay rights, gun control, immigrant rights, equal pay, reproductive freedom, racial justice, worker rights, climate change, support for vaccinations: They all make the list of progressive causes that are attracting people to the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches across the country and the world this coming Saturday.

    “We are not going to give the next president that much focus,” says Linda Sarsour, a national march organizer and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. “What we want from him is to see us in focus.”

    But while Trump’s name may not literally appear in the march’s “mission and vision” statement, the common denominator uniting the marchers appears to be a loathing for the president-elect and dismay that so much of the country voted for him.

    “This march feels like a chance to be part of something that isn’t pity, isn’t powerlessness,” says Leslie Rutkowski, an American living in Norway who plans to fly back for the march. “I hope it is unifying. I hope it flies in the face of Trump’s platform of hate and divisiveness.”

    Adds Kelsey Wadman, a new mom in California who’s helping to organize a parallel march in San Diego: “It’s not just about Donald Trump the person. It’s about what he evoked out of the country.”

    READ NEXT: Trump’s cabinet is mostly white and male. What will that mean for policy?

    The march in Washington is set to start with a program near the Capitol and then move toward the White House. It probably will be the largest of a number of inauguration-related protests.

    Christopher Geldart, the District of Columbia’s homeland security director, said he expected the march to draw more than the 200,000 people organizers are planning for, based on bus registrations and train bookings.

    The focus of the march has been a work in progress since the idea of a Washington mobilization first bubbled up from a number of women’s social media posts in the hours after Trump’s election.

    The group’s November application for a march permit summed up its purpose as to “come together in solidarity to express to the new administration & Congress that women’s rights are human rights and our power cannot be ignored.”

    That phrasing rankled some who thought it was tied too closely to Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democratic nominee, whose famous Beijing speech as first lady declared that “women’s rights are human rights.” The fact that the initial march organizers were mostly white women also generated grumbling, this time from minorities. Gradually, the march’s leadership and its mission statements have become more all-inclusive.

    Recent releases from march organizers state the event “intends to send a bold message to the incoming presidential administration on their first day in office, to leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and to the world, that we stand together in solidarity and expect elected leaders to act to protect the rights of women, their families and their communities.”

    America Ferrera, leading the celebrity contingent for the march, rolled out a long list of concerns in a statement announcing her role.

    “Immigrant rights, worker rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, racial justice and environmental rights are not special interests, they affect us all and should be every American’s concerns,” she wrote.

    Other prominent names involved with the march have put a spotlight on one concern — or another.

    Actress Scarlett Johansson, who plans to participate, put her focus on the incoming administration’s intentions of “reducing the availability of women’s health care and attacking her reproductive rights.” Actress Debra Messing, listed as a supporter of the march, wrote of the need to protect Planned Parenthood.

    Expect thousands of the marchers to turn up wearing hand-knitted pink “pussyhats” — sending a message of female empowerment and pushing back against Trump’s demeaning comments about women.

    Scan #WhyIMarch posts on social media, and you’ll find a wide-ranging list of reasons. A sampling: equal pay for women veterans, fighting chauvinism, empowering daughters, renouncing racism, higher pay for women who are college presidents.

    Wadman, the California mom, tweeted a #WhyIMarch photo with her 4-month-old son and this note: “Because when my son asks me about this era of American history I don’t want to tell him that I did nothing.”

    Rutkowski, the American living in Norway, emailed that she’s “not completely satisfied” with the mixed messages attached to the march.

    “I also don’t like— from what I’ve seen in the news and on Facebook — the proclivity for infighting,” she wrote. “But I believe that a quarter of a million female bodies — hopefully more, hopefully men, as well — will make the incoming administration and new Congress aware that we are watching, we are listening and we will resist.”

    Carmen Perez, one of the march’s national organizers, sees beauty in the many messages attached to the march: “Women don’t live single-issue lives and we are thrilled to be joined by women who understand and reflect the intersecting issues for which we stand.”

    Associated Press reporters Krysta Fauria and Ben Nuckols contributed to this report.

    The post Women’s March organizers plan to ‘send a bold message’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo via Getty Images

    People with arthritis and other conditions have long complained about the weather’s effect on their pain. Photo via Getty Images

    In 1982, at a nursing station in the frozen Canadian town of Davis Inlet, a young medical student made a troubling observation about arthritis.

    “On the north coast of Labrador, let me tell you, the weather is terrible — you could have a snowball fight in the middle of July,” recalled Dr. Donald Redelmeier, who is now a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. “There are days of extreme and severe weather, but there is no epidemic of osteoarthritis. … Yeah, people are suffering, but not much different from what I was used to in downtown Toronto.”

    The absence of an epidemic usually isn’t noteworthy. But in this case, Redelmeier was challenging the deep-seated beliefs of grannies and fishermen everywhere, who rely on their joint pain as a kind of inner Weather Channel.

    That was 35 years ago. The town where Redelmeier was suturing wounds and delivering babies no longer exists: The Canadian government shut it down in 2002, relocating its residents to a mainland community nine miles to the west.

    But the question has persisted, like a weed that just won’t die. “Almost everybody with arthritis does have the conviction that the weather influences their condition,” said Dr. Timothy McAlindon, the chief of the division of rheumatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

    Same goes for patients with broken limbs, back pains, fibromyalgia — you name it — who feel the changes of the weather in their bones. When scientists have examined the claim, though, the results have been all over the place. Now, two Australian studies — one published in December, another this week — are hoping to set the record straight: Osteoarthritis and back pain, they found, are not dependent on the weather.

    READ NEXT: Doctors admonish us to leave earwax alone. Why won’t anyone listen?

    Even when Redelmeier first became intrigued, the question wasn’t new. Around the fifth century B.C., Hippocrates — the “father of modern medicine” — wrote that, in marshy regions, the icy rains of winter give men a troubling thinness about the shoulders and clavicles, not to mention that it makes them “liable to pneumonia and to madness,” and that “their viscera will be very dry and warm and thus require the stronger drugs.”

    Some two millennia later, in 2007, McAlindon decided to look into his patients’ convictions himself, and found intriguing, though uncertain, results. An increase of barometric pressure — which usually means the weather’s getting fairer — was linked to a slight increase in osteoarthritic knee pain. But participants’ pain also worsened as the weather got colder. And it’s unclear how this study fits into the broader picture. “I think it’s all a little conflicting,” said McAlindon.

    He said a change in pressure influencing knee pain could potentially make sense: In osteoarthritis, the cartilage is often worn away, so that the bone is no longer cushioned from pressure in the joint. And because the bone, unlike cartilage, contains nerves, increases of pressure in the atmosphere could also be seen in the joint — which could be picked up by the nerves in the exposed bone and translated into pain.

    In the new study on knee osteoarthritis, the researchers asked 345 patients to log onto a website every time their pain flared up for eight hours or more — and then the team linked those episodes to the temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and precipitation recorded in that patient’s neighborhood around that time by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The researchers also looked at the weather on days when the patients had no flare-ups. They found no significant relationship between pain and any kind of weather change. The same was true for the study on back pain.

    “The good news is that we cannot change the weather, but there are a lot of things that we can change that we know will trigger pain in the back and the knee: stress, your weight,” said Manuela Ferreira, the first author on the knee study, who is a professor at the University of Sydney’s Institute of Bone and Joint Research.

    READ NEXT: Bad news for creaky knees: We can’t regrow cartilage as adults, study finds

    These results are consistent with what Redelmeier found when he was studying this question in rheumatoid arthritis patients during a residency at Stanford University in the mid-1990s. He was working with Israeli psychologist — and devoted sports fan — Amos Tversky, who was famous for studying biases in the way people think.

    The professor had previously applied himself to a courtside conundrum: If a basketball player scores, is that player any more likely to score again? In other words, is a shooter’s hot streak real or merely due to dumb luck? Tversky concluded that the “hot hand” was a fallacy — nothing more than chance.

    “I always criticized Amos for spending way too much for watching professional sports,” said Redelmeier. “Why not look at real human life and individual suffering?”

    So they turned to joint pain and the weather. And as with the shooter’s “hot hand,” they found that people are inclined to see patterns where none exists. If patients think their joint pain is related to the weather, they might pay more attention to the shifting clouds when their knee aches. “Individuals seize on times that support their ideas, neglect the times that are contrary to their ideas, and misinterpret the times that are ambiguous,” Redelmeier said.

    But people didn’t give up their belief about the subject then — and Redelmeier doesn’t think they will now.

    “Twenty years have passed, the belief has not been extinguished,” said Redelmeier. “Why would it be? Science only moves the needle so much … myths die hard.”

    People still tell him that their arthritis is affected by changes in barometric pressure. Redelmeier doesn’t buy it. After all, we take elevators all the time, and in skyscrapers that means undergoing a drastic shift in pressure. Yet there is no more a joint-pain epidemic in lobbies and penthouses than there is on the northern coast of Labrador.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Jan. 13, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post Why patients blame the weather for their aching joints appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East in Vandenberg Air Force Base, California Photo: Reuters/Gene Blevins

    A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East in Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Photo by Gene Blevins/Reuters

    SpaceX returned to the cosmos Saturday, launching its first mission since one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets exploded on Sept. 1.

    After the explosion, SpaceX halted its launch schedule until the company could determine its root cause. A final assessment released on Jan. 2 stated that the protective lining likely failed in a pressurized vessel for one of the rocket’s liquid oxygen fuel tanks. Helium containers within the tank, used to maintain pressure balance, buckled. The friction between the liquid oxygen and the broken container caused a spark, which blew up the Falcon 9 booster.

    “There were just 93 milliseconds from the first sign of anomalous data to the loss of the second stage, followed by loss of the vehicle,” according to the mission assessment. Investigators used 3,000 sources of data to ascertain the nature of the accident, and they determined the Falcon 9 is once again go for launch.

    Saturday’s launch marks SpaceX’s third attempt to deliver 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites. Both prior attempts were scrubbed due to poor weather. Iridium runs the largest constellation of communications satellites, consisting of 66 individual spacecraft over six different orbits. Iridium’s new series of satellites, currently undergoing testing, are planned to increase data capability for satellite phones, allowing them to have faster internet access. A secondary payload on the NEXT satellites will be used to improve Air Traffic Control communications.

    SpaceX is planning six more launches for this year, which will replace all satellites in the current Iridium constellation network by early 2018.

    Vandenberg Air Force Base is one of three launch facilities that SpaceX uses and the only one on the West Coast. Its location is prime for the polar orbits used by communications and spy satellites.

    The post Watch: SpaceX successfully returns to flight appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy who was fatally shot by police last month while carrying what turned out to be a replica toy gun, speaks during a news conference at the Olivet Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio December 8, 2014.  The mother of a 12-year-old Cleveland boy fatally shot by police last month broke her silence on Monday, saying the officers involved should be criminally convicted.   REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk  (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST) - RTR4H5MP

    Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy who was fatally shot by police while carrying a replica toy gun, speaks during a news conference at the Olivet Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, on Dec. 8, 2014. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters

    More than a year after a grand jury declined to criminally charge Cleveland police officers for the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was carrying a toy gun at the time, the police chief announced Friday that they are facing internal disciplinary charges.

    Three officers — Frank Garmback, Timothy Loehmann and William Cunningham — have hearings at the end of the month, according to local media.

    Loehmann, who shot Rice, faces six charges for falsifying previous employment history on his application for the Cleveland Police Department. Loehmann did not disclose that he “was allowed to resign” from his prior job at the Independence, Ohio, Police Department, local media reported.

    He may have also failed to mention he had been insubordinate and dishonest to a superior, and that the department had concluded that he had, “an inability to emotionally function.”

    Garmback, who drove Loehmann to the scene, faces two charges stemming from allegations that he drove too close to Rice while responding and did not let the dispatcher know when he arrived. The third officer, Cunningham, is alleged to have been off-duty and working an unpermitted second job at the Cudell Recreation Center at the time of the shooting, and is accused of completing and signing a false report.

    Al Sharpton, center, leads a march with family members of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin to Capitol Hill in a protest against police violence organized by the National Action Network in Washington December 13, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Washington on Saturday for a march to protest the killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement officers and to urge Congress to do more to protect African-Americans from unjustified police violence. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST) - RTR4HW67

    Al Sharpton (C) leads a march with family members of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin to Capitol Hill in a protest against police violence organized by the National Action Network in Washington December 13, 2014. Photo by Lawler Duggan/Reuters

    If found guilty, they can be suspended without pay or their jobs could be terminated.

    The Cleveland Police Association President Stephen Loomis issued a statement defending the officers.

    “There is no question, and there has never been, that the death of Tamir Rice was tragic,” Loomis said in the statement. “Nevertheless, all agree that Officer Loehmann was not wrong in reacting the way he did.”

    He added that it was disappointing that Garmback was being charged for driving too close to Rice, “when it is apparent that the car slid in the ice and mud well beyond what he had intended.”

    Loehmann and Garmback, who are white, had responded to a report of a “guy with a pistol” at the Cudell Recreation Center on Nov. 22, 2014, where Rice, who was black, had been playing. While the person who called police had mentioned the gun was “probably fake,” that description was not mentioned to the responding officers, according to local media.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    Within a second of exiting the car, Loehmann shot Rice, who at that point had an airsoft pellet gun in his waistband. The shooting triggered a national uproar, resurfacing a history of black boys and men dying at the hands of police and spurring several investigations.

    The next month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released an unrelated report that Cleveland police had consistently exhibited unnecessary and excessive use of force – even in cases where police were simply called for a mental health check.

    “Accountability and legitimacy are essential for communities to trust their police departments,” Holder said in a statement at the time, “and for there to be genuine collaboration between police and the citizens they serve.”

    Details of Loehmann’s previous employment history also emerged in local media outlets.

    One year later, a Cuyahoga County grand jury decided that Loehmann and Garmback should not be charged, a decision that the county prosecutor upheld.

    [Watch Video]

    Since then, an internal police committee has spent a year focusing on the two officers, which led to the charges police announced on Friday.

    The Justice Department is also reviewing the case to see whether they violated any federal civil rights laws.

    Rice’s mother told the Associated Press after the announcement on Friday that she was upset that Loehmann is avoiding charges for a second time for his use of force, and that both officers should be fired.

    “I think this process has taken entirely too long,” Samaria Rice said.

    The post Cleveland officers in Tamir Rice shooting face disciplinary charges appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    MITCHELL RILEY: It’s a cool morning late October, people in these tents begin to rise. A passing train their wake up call. This is Camp Bravo. Next to Santa Rita Park on Tucson’s south side. A place where homeless vets and others can find comfort, food, and shelter. The camp is run by Veterans on Patrol, a program of Walking For the Forgotten Ministries. Leaders of this effort seek out homeless vets and offer safe haven, camaraderie, and a path to support services. Bravo is patrolled around the clock in shifts. Manny was on night watch.

    This is Calamity. She came in during the night in need of help.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: I was 101st Airborne. I actually went in as a voice radio operator, but when they found out that I had some pretty extensive medical background, they made me an expert field medic. I jumped out of perfectly good aircraft with a medical bag and tried to attend to folks who needed help.

    This is for your immune system. It has magnesium and seed coming out.

    My name is Martin Marszalek. Everybody here calls me “Doc.” I am the Base Commander and Chief Medical Officer. I kind of keep things rolling along here.

    This is vitamin C, keep you from catching cold.

    Our mission is to go out and find as many homeless veterans that we can possibly locate and bring them in. Try to transition them from homelessness to housing, get them medical care, things that they’ve been doing without for so many years.

    I’ll have to get the make and model of this thing, give the VA a call. Have them get you another mirror.

    TAZE BEN-ATON: We have something here that I’ve never found anywhere else. We have a VA navigator. Somebody who knows the system, knows who to talk to, knows who to call if you don’t get what you need. And he does it for us and he’s just the best there is.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: I’ll call a couple of the mobility places here and see if we can get some spare parts for that one.

    TAZE BEN-ATON: At least I can get around.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: Scramble eggs and bacon. They should be happy.

    MITCHELL RILEY: Camp Bravo, officially known as Bravo Base, is one of several in Arizona including Camp Alpha in Phoenix, Charlie in Nogales, and Delta South of Prescott. The portable toilets are donated and maintained by Diggins Environmental Services. The land, Water, and electricity by HMS Fasteners. Both are local companies sympathetic to their cause. Food clothing and other supplies are donated by the public.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: We’ve got a lot of really good people out there that are helping us out and keeping us going here.

    MITCHELL RILEY: There are around twenty residents on base. Mostly vets and a few civilians. Some move on and others take their place.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: You can’t turn them away. I can’t turn them away.

    MITCHELL RILEY: Manny Jimenez is 66 years old and has been homeless for more than a year.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: Somebody needs to take a picture of that.

    MITCHELL RILEY: He’s been here at Bravo for several months.

    MANNY JIMENEZ: Four years on the USS Pawcatuck. An attack oiler. That’s a tanker with pom pom guns, great against jets. Three more years Merchant Marines. I’m an old merchant seaman drying up in Arizona.

    MITCHELL RILEY: Three times a week Manny travels to a VA Hospital for treatment.

    MANNY JIMENEZ: My liver and kidneys are not doing what they’re supposed to to. They hook up the dialysis to it and clean out my blood and return it to me and that’s about it. This I got infected, so I had to move it to that side.

    MITCHELL RILEY: To live here there are 8 rules they must follow, including no drugs, no alcohol, and no smoking in tents.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: The third rule is residents need to help around the base on a daily basis.

    MITCHELL RILEY: One way they’re helping is by maintaining nearby property. Here they remove trash and debris from a trackside ravine.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: I haven’t found any needless or anything yet so that’s a good thing.

    They work to stay here, they all have various job tasks assigned to them.

    MITCHELL RILEY: Through donations from the public, they have enough supplies to share with folks outside the camp, and they do everyday.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: Little snack food in there, some peanut butter, some ravioli, good stuff like that.

    MAN: We love that stuff. Thank you.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: You’re very welcome. You guys take care out there. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.

    Anybody that needs food can come here and get it. Right now we’re preparing roughly 200 food boxes a week.

    That’s hot be careful. Thank you for bringing him over.

    MITCHELL RILEY: What began with just a few tents more than a year ago has grown both in size and organization. Camp Bravo has become a refuge for many, but memories of life without shelter or protection are close.

    MARTIN MARSZALEK: For me it was daily uncertainty. Not knowing where you’re going to get your next meal. Not knowing where you’re going to spend the night the next night. Where it’s gonna be safe. Not knowing if somebody is going to come up and plug you in the head while you’re sleeping and steal what little bit of belongings you have.

    MANNY JIMENEZ: I had to eat out of dumpsters. I can’t talk about it.

    TAZE BEN-ATON: The biggest challenge is the guy who yells get a job. The people who just don’t see you. You feel invisible, and that’s the most horrid thing in the world. Not to be recognized, not be acknowledged. People don’t want to see it. They want to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

    This report originally appeared on Arizona Public Media’s website.

    The post Homeless veterans take refuge at Arizona encampment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference at the Museum of Modern Art Grand Duke Jean during an official visit to Luxembourg, January 12, 2017. On Saturday, she spoke of cooperation to address international issues as President-elect Donald Trump readies for inauguration next week. Photo By Francois Lenoir/Reuters

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference at the Museum of Modern Art Grand Duke Jean during an official visit to Luxembourg, January 12, 2017. On Saturday, she backed a multilateral approach in the international community to address the world’s issues, as President-elect Donald Trump readies for inauguration next week. Photo By Francois Lenoir/Reuters

    BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel is stressing as she awaits Donald Trump’s inauguration that the world’s problems need solving in cooperation, rather than by each country individually.

    Asked at a news conference Saturday about protectionist tendencies in the U.S., Merkel said she will seek a dialogue with the new president.

    “I don’t want to get ahead of that, but I am very much convinced that we as partners benefit more if we act together than if everyone solves problems for themselves, and that is a constant fundamental attitude on my part,” she said.

    Underlining the importance of the Group of 20 industrial powers, which Germany chairs this year, she said that the international response to the financial crisis “was not a response based on isolation, but a response based on cooperation, on common rules for regulating financial markets, and I think that is the promising path.”

    Merkel has made clear that she’s unhappy about the possible demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as a result of Trump’s desire to withdraw the United States. Trump has criticized Merkel’s decision to allow large numbers of migrants into Germany.

    READ NEXT: Germany may spend $106 billion on refugees in next five years

    Merkel said there are contacts “at adviser level” with Trump’s team, though there was no immediate word on any plans for a meeting beyond the summits of the Group of Seven and G-20 in May and July respectively. Merkel will host the latter summit in the German city of Hamburg.

    “We’ll wait for the inauguration and then we will talk about this,” she said at a news conference. Trump will be inaugurated on Friday.

    Merkel is seeking a fourth term in an election expected in September. Leaders of her conservative Christian Democratic Union met Friday and Saturday in Perl, in western Saarland state, to kick off the election year — which also features three state elections, the first in Saarland in March.

    Merkel has said she expects her most difficult election yet, though she was confident Saturday that a simmering dispute with her allies in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, won’t get in the way of a joint conservative campaign.

    The CSU has demanded for the past year an annual cap of 200,000 on the number of refugees Germany accepts, an idea Merkel rejects. Germany saw 890,000 asylum-seekers arrive in 2015 and 280,000 last year.

    Merkel said leaders of her party agreed “that we can live with such a disagreement.”

    She renewed her pledge of improved security following last month’s deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market. “We are making clear that every person has a right to security, and only those who are secure can live in freedom,” she said.

    Germany’s 16 states must have the same security standards, Merkel said, arguing that it’s not sensible for regions to have different rules on matters such as video surveillance.

    The post Merkel supports international cooperation in advance of Trump presidency appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the "Oversight of the State Department" in Washington, D.C. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the “Oversight of the State Department” in Washington, D.C. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — House Democrats still seething over FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the election-year inquiry of Hillary Clinton confronted the law enforcement officer over his refusal to say whether the FBI is investigating possible links between President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

    The contentious, closed-door session Friday reflected the frustration of Democrats who blame Comey’s statements and actions in part for Clinton’s loss to Trump. In July, Comey announced the findings of the FBI investigation that found Clinton’s use of a private email server was “extremely careless” but not criminal. Then, days before the Nov. 8 election, he sent two letters to Congress, one announcing a review of newly found emails and then another saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

    The Justice Department inspector general announced this week that he is investigating Comey and the department.

    Democrats and Republicans who attended the all-member briefing on Friday with Comey and senior intelligence officials said several lawmakers pressed him in a tense session about his refusal to say whether there is an examination of alleged contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.

    Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the meeting was contentious but said Comey handled himself well under difficult circumstances.

    Clearly frustrated with Comey was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who was forced to resign as head of the Democratic National Committee after hacked emails surfaced that suggested the party operation favored Clinton over her primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

    She confronted Comey, according to a Democrat who attended the briefing. Lawmakers and other congressional officials spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the private meeting.

    A declassified intelligence report released last week said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hidden campaign to influence the election to favor Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton, revelations that have roiled Washington.

    Trump and his supporters have staunchly resisted the findings and Trump has leveled a series of broadsides at U.S. intelligence agencies, even though he’ll have to rely on their expertise to help him make major national security decisions once he takes over at the White House next week. He will be sworn in Jan. 20.

    After the closed-door session, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters: “The American people are owed the truth.”

    “There is a great deal of evidence to say that this is a high – an issue of high interest to the American people,” Pelosi said. “The strength, the integrity of our own democracy. And that for that reason, the FBI should let us know whether they’re making – doing that investigation or not. They’re usually inscrutable, as you saw in the public testimony in the Senate.”

    In testimony to the Senate on Tuesday, Comey refused to say whether the FBI was investigating any possible ties between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign, citing policy not to comment on what the FBI might or might not be doing.

    “I would never comment on investigations — whether we have one or not — in an open forum like this so I can’t answer one way or another,” Comey told the panel.

    Late Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it would investigate possible contacts between Russia and the people associated with U.S. political campaigns as part of a broader investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

    In a statement, Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the committee’s chairman, and Mark Warner, D-Va., the panel’s top Democrat, said the panel “will follow the intelligence where it leads.”

    Burr and Warner said that as part of the investigation they will interview senior officials from the Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration. They said subpoenas would be issued “if necessary to compel testimony.”

    According to the committee’s statement, the inquiry will include:

    — A review of the intelligence that informed the declassified report about Russia’s interference in the election.

    — “Counterintelligence concerns” related to Russia and the election, “including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.”

    — Russian cyber activity and other “active measures” against the United States during the election and more broadly.

    The post House Dems press FBI on Russia, possible link to Trump camp appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A soldier stands guard in a tower overlooking Camp Delta  at Guantanamo Bay naval base in a December 31, 2009 file photo provided by the US Navy. President Barack Obama urged lawmakers on Tuesday to give his plan to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a "fair hearing" and said he did not want to pass the issue to his successor when he leaves the White House next year. REUTERS/US Navy/Spc. Cody Black/Handout via Reuters  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTX2886S

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    ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  In his 2008 run for the White House, Barack Obama promised to shut down the prison for suspected foreign terrorists opened by President George W. Bush at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    On his second full day in the White House, President Obama issued an executive order to close Guantanamo within a year.

    Eight years later, that has not happened.  Mr. Obama’s ambition was largely thwarted by congressional restrictions, but also by the difficulty in reducing the 242 prisoners he inherited to zero.  Today, 55 remain, including five accused of organizing the September 11th attacks on America.

    No reporter has spent more time on the base than the “Miami Herald’s” Carol Rosenberg, covering its detainees issues and military court proceedings.  She was there this week and returns again next week, and joins me today from Boston.

    Carol, thanks so much for being with us.

    CAROL ROSENBERG, MIAMI HERALD:  Thank you for the invitation.

    ALISON STEWART:  You have been following the story and been at Guantanamo since the very beginning.  When Obama took office, there was some bipartisan support for closing Guantanamo Bay.  When did that change and, ultimately, why did he fail to close it?

    CAROL ROSENBERG:  I think it changed right around the time there was discussion of talking some men from China, Muslims, Uyghur descent, to Virginia.  It became understood fairly soon into the administration that closing Guantanamo meant moving some of the detainees there to the United States, and that really turned the tide.  As much as his opponent, John McCain, wanted it closed as well, there was an understanding, I think, that the original idea was not to bring detainees to the United States.

    ALISON STEWART:  Over the past 15 years, there have been at least 780 men detained at Guantanamo Bay.  Nine died while in custody.  Most were transferred out overseas, only a handful were convicted of crimes and now, 55 remain.

    Who is still there?

    CAROL ROSENBERG:  So, the 55 break down to 10 men who are actually accused and charged with war crimes, and men who are in pretrial or have had trials through the military commissions, the war court.  Six of those 10 men are on trial for their lives.  They’re accused of the September 11th and USS Cole attacks and the prosecutor seeks to execute them if they’re convicted.

    The rest split between 19 men who are cleared for release, meaning the Obama administration boards have decided that if they can find places to rehabilitate them, reintegrate them, resettle them, they will send them there.  And, you know, the weak — this is the week when we’ll find out how many of those 19 can go because when Obama leaves, Donald Trump has made it clear that he’s opposed to transfers.

    And then the remaining 26 men are what we at the “Miami Herald” call the “forever prisoners,” indefinite detainees in the war on terror, men who aren’t accused of war crimes.  More like what we would think of as POWs, but irregular POWs, prisoners of war, because they are thought to have fought for al Qaeda, which isn’t a nation but a movement.

    ALISON STEWART: Carol, as we look back at the history of Guantanamo base, the military justice — for lack of a better word — has gone at a glacial pace.  I mean, there have been terrorists convicted in our courts here.  Why it does military justice take so long?  Why has this taken so long?

    CAROL ROSENBERG:  Military commission justice takes so long essentially because the men who are on trial for their lives were not taken straight to the courts.  They were not taken straight to either a military court or a U.S., you know, civilian federal court and accused of terrorism crimes.  They were carried off to the black sites of the CIA for three and four years.  They were disappeared into the dark sites, and then they emerged in Guantanamo in 2006, by order of President Bush, who wanted them charged with crimes.

    And those men have lawyers who are challenging every aspect of that disappearance.  It just doesn’t happen in, you know, traditional American justice that someone is essentially arrested and disappeared with no access to attorney, and as we now know, incredibly aggressive, abusive mistreatment that their lawyers and they call torture.

    ALISON STEWART:  You were there last week.  What is the sense of what’s going to happen at Guantanamo with the incoming Trump administration?  What are people saying on the ground?

    CAROL ROSENBERG: Well, for the most part, they’re saying that they will — certainly the military would say that they’re follow whatever the next commander in chief tells them to do.  But I do think there is a fair amount of, you know, free-floating anxiety about what will come.

    Donald Trump said that, you know, he — during his campaign, that he intended to load the prison up with some bad dudes.  He’s not closing that prison.  He wants to add more prisoners to it.

    So, there’s a real question about where they’re coming from, who they are, what will be the authority to detain them?  And, you know, bringing in new prisoners from the global battlefield, from, let’s say, perhaps, Iraq, or Syria, they’ll be completely different people than the men who are there now.

    Remember, these men have been detained for at least a decade, and some of them for, you know, 15-plus years.  And when they were captured, and when they got to Guantanamo for the most part, there was no ISIS.  There was no al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula.

    So, the idea that you’re going to bring in, you know, perhaps the bad stepchildren of the original al Qaeda and put them in the detention center raises a whole bunch of questions.  If Donald Trump makes good on his plan to bring more prisoners in, where will they go?  And, you know, in many ways, it’s like it was when it first opened — lots of questions, and very few answers.

    ALISON STEWART:  Carol Rosenberg from the “Miami Herald” — thanks so much.

    CAROL ROSENBERG:  Thank you.

    The post Why Obama failed to close Guantanamo appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch stands during the announcement of law enforcement action against the state of North Carolina in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

    Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch stands during the announcement of law enforcement action against the state of North Carolina in Washington, D.C., on May 9, 2016. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    BALTIMORE — As a younger lawyer, Loretta Lynch prosecuted New York police officers who sodomized a Haitian immigrant in a precinct bathroom. As attorney general, she’s broadened her focus to go after entire police departments for unconstitutional practices.

    In an interview as her tenure ends, Lynch strongly defended the Justice Department’s aggressive intervention in local law enforcement during the Obama administration, including the decision to repeatedly seek court-enforceable improvement plans with troubled police agencies. One such consent decree came Thursday in Baltimore, and the Justice Department a day later issued a scathing report on the Chicago Police Department.

    “That is a role that the federal government absolutely has to play,” Lynch told The Associated Press. “Frankly, it is our role to defend the constitutional rights of the citizens of our cities in this great country.” “Frankly, it is our role to defend the constitutional rights of the citizens of our cities in this great country.” — Loretta Lynch

    That approach seems likely to change in the next administration.

    Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, said at his confirmation hearing this past week that while consent decrees “are not necessarily a bad thing,” enforcement actions against entire police departments can lower an agency’s morale and unfairly malign all officers for the actions of some.

    He would not commit that “there would never be any changes” in the agreements, which are overseen by a judge and require police departments to overhaul their practices.

    READ NEXT: Attorney General Loretta Lynch asks U.S. to reject violence

    Lynch leaves office following a nearly two-year tenure marked by massacres carried out by violent extremists, including the shootings at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida; persistent hacking from overseas, including Russian government efforts to meddle in the U.S. presidential election; and an election-season investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server that entangled the Justice Department in presidential politics and led to criticism for her ill-timed meeting on an airport tarmac with former President Bill Clinton.

    She was sworn in as attorney general in April 2015 amid riots in Baltimore over the death of a black man in police custody. She visited Baltimore the following month, and later launched a tour of 12 cities to repair police-community relations, a cause she championed as attorney general.

    In the interview, she said she believed that relationships between the Justice Department and local law enforcement were less adversarial than they once were, and that her agency has given police departments federal support and resources while also forcing troubled ones to make systemic changes.

    “You’ve got to hold police accountable, you’ve got to help them hold themselves accountable, and you’ve got to build in community accountability,” she said.

    Lynch said her biggest disappointment is that Congress failed to pass legislation to overhaul how criminals are sentenced despite seeming bipartisan support for it.

    “It would have helped people rebuild their lives, it would have unclogged the criminal justice system and allowed us to devote our resources to those people who truly deserve long terms of incarceration,” Lynch said.

    Lynch won praise from civil liberties advocates for suing North Carolina over a bill the Justice Department said discriminated against transgender individuals, and for an emotional speech linking the prejudice there to bias against blacks in the Jim Crow era.

    She attracted global attention early in her tenure for the corruption prosecution of high-level officials at FIFA, international soccer’s governing body. That criminal case jolted the world’s most popular sport and burst into view with early morning arrests at a hotel in Europe.

    “When you have an organization that has so much power, so many resources — yes, they have to run a sport, but they also have a responsibility to that sport. And to have them just abdicate that responsibility for personal gain to me was, and is, particularly galling,” Lynch said.

    Her tenure is also shadowed by the Hillary Clinton email investigation. She has expressed regret that an unscheduled meeting in Phoenix with Bill Clinton caused the public to doubt the independence of the investigation.

    She announced after the encounter that she would accept the recommendations of the FBI. On Thursday, the Justice Department’s inspector general announced an investigation into whether the FBI and Justice Department had violated policies in their handling of the case.

    Lynch declined to discuss internal talks between the FBI and Justice Department just before FBI Director James Comey’s much-criticized decision to send a letter to Congress days ahead of the Nov. 8 election that said the bureau would be revisiting the email investigation.

    The Justice Department opposed sending the letter, and Lynch said “the director was well aware of my views on it.”

    “There will be a lot of analysis about the impact of all of these things,” she said. “I’ll let the pundits deal with that.”

    Sessions is expected to easily win Senate confirmation and may revamp Justice Department priorities, not only on policing but on immigration and national security policy.

    Lynch, the former top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, said she had been through political transitions before and understands how they work. But she said she expected some of the priorities she established to remain intact through career lawyers at the Justice Department.

    “You come in and you work as hard as you can, as long as you can, for the American people,” she said. “The value of that lives on.”

    The post Lynch says U.S. must hold police accountable appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by Molly Riley/Reuters

    On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will consider whether a law that bans disparaging trademarks violates a band’s free-speech rights. by Molly Riley/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Slants aren’t exactly a household name when it comes to music, but the Asian-American rock band has certainly made its mark in the legal world.

    The Oregon-based group has spent years locked in a First Amendment battle with the government, which refuses to register a trademark for the band’s name because it’s considered offensive to Asians.

    That fight will play out Wednesday in the nation’s highest court as the justices consider whether a law barring disparaging trademarks violates the band’s free-speech rights.

    The case has drawn attention because it could affect the Washington Redskins in a similar fight to keep the football team’s lucrative trademark protection. The government canceled the team’s trademarks last year after finding they are disparaging to Native Americans.

    READ NEXT: Supreme Court rejects Redskins challenge in offensive trademark case

    For Slants founder Simon Tam, the name was chosen not to offend, but to take on stereotypes about Asian culture. He says the band is reclaiming a term once used as an insult and transforming it into a statement of cultural pride.

    “Words aren’t equipped with venomous impact on their own,” he said in an interview.” They have to be tied to motive and rooted in context.”

    But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office didn’t see it that way. It refused to register the name in 2011, saying a trademark can be disparaging even if it’s meant to be used in a positive light.

    A divided federal appeals court handed the band a victory four years later, ruling that the law prohibiting offensive trademarks is unconstitutional.

    “Whatever our personal feelings about the mark at issue here, or other disparaging marks, the First Amendment forbids government regulators to deny registration because they find the speech likely to offend others,” Judge Kimberly Moore said for the majority.

    The Obama administration has urged the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling. In legal briefs, the Justice Department argues that the law does not restrict speech, but declines to associate the federal government with “racial epithets, religious insults and profanity as trademarks.”

    If the decision is upheld, the government warns it will be forced “to register, publish and transmit to foreign countries marks containing crude references to women based on parts of their anatomy; the most repellent racial slurs and white supremacist slogans; and demeaning illustrations of the prophet Mohammed and other religious figures.”

    Yet the trademark office has approved plenty of crude and offensive trademarks in the past. Those include: Afro Saxons and Dago Swagg clothing, Baked By A Negro bakery products, Retardipedia and Celebretards entertainment services, and the hip-hop band N.W.A., an acronym that includes a racial slur against African-Americans.

    “If their intent is to curtail hate speech, it’s not working,” Tam says. “Trademark registration is not the mechanism to address those types of things.”

    The government is relying in part on a 2015 ruling in which the Supreme Court said the state of Texas could ban specialty license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag. The high court ruled 5-4 that the ban was allowed since state-issued license plates were a form of government speech.

    But Megan Carpenter, a professor at Texas A&M University School of Law specializing in intellectual property law, said the Texas case may not extend to trademarks.

    “The trademark office has said time and again that issuance of a trademark registration is not an endorsement of the underlying content,” Carpenter said.

    The Washington Redskins had hoped to piggyback on the Slants case and have the Supreme Court hear their dispute at the same time — even before the case finishes working its way through lower courts. But the justices declined to take up the unusual request and a Virginia federal appeals court has put the Redskins case on hold pending the outcome of the Slants case.

    A loss of the team’s trademark would strip the Redskins of certain legal protections, but would not force it to change the name. The Redskins have said their name honors Native Americans, but the team has faced years of legal challenges from groups that say it’s a racial slur.

    Several American Indian groups that oppose the use of the Redskins name filed a brief in the Slants case calling the adoption of “racial names” by sports teams “an especially derogatory trademark than warrants regulation.”

    As for the Slants, the band just released a new song called “From the Heart” about the upcoming case. Tam says it’s “like an open letter to the trademark office saying we’re not going to give up, we’re going to continue fighting for what’s ours.”

    The song is on the band’s latest album “The Band Who Must Not Be Named.”

    The post Justices to hear free speech clash over offensive trademarks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump listens to questions from reporters while appearing with Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma after their meeting at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., January 9, 2017.   REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTX2Y6ON

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump listens to questions from reporters while appearing with Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma after their meeting at Trump Tower in New York City on Jan. 9, 2017. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    BEIJING — China’s foreign ministry on Sunday again rejected President-elect Donald Trump’s suggestion that he might use American policy on Taiwan as a bargaining chip between the two sides.

    Spokesman Lu Kang said Sunday that the “one China” policy is “non-negotiable.” Since recognizing Beijing in 1979, Washington has maintained only unofficial ties with Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing considers its territory — a status quo that Trump has repeatedly threatened to upend since winning the November election.

    “The government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing China,” Lu said in a statement. “That is the fact acknowledged by the international community and no one can change.”

    Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Friday that “everything is under negotiation, including ‘one China.'”

    The interview is the latest indication Trump that he will shake up the U.S.-China relationship, particularly on Taiwan, which China considers a core national interest.

    China was already angered by Trump’s Dec. 2 phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the first time an American president or president-elect has publicly spoken to Taiwan’s leader in nearly four decades. Beijing considers any reference to a separate Taiwanese head of state to be a grave insult.

    Trump then said in a television interview that he didn’t feel “bound by a one-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”

    After attacking China repeatedly during his campaign, Trump has continued to disparage China on his Twitter account over its military build-up in disputed areas of the South China Sea, allegedly manipulating its currency to put American companies at a disadvantage, and not doing enough to curb North Korea’s nuclear program. He has also announced that a new White House trade council will be led by economist Peter Navarro, a sharp critic of Chinese economic policy who wrote a book titled “Death By China.”

    Trump told the Journal that he would not label China a currency manipulator as soon as he takes office, though he repeated his contention that China is manipulating the yuan.

    So far, Beijing has reiterated its refusal to negotiate on Taiwan and to push for positive cooperation between the two sides, though state-run media have run several strongly worded editorials attacking Trump.

    Chinese political observers on Sunday said they expected Beijing’s response to change once Trump is inaugurated next week.

    “Trump has not taken office yet, so he is an ordinary person now,” said Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University. “Therefore, there’s no need for China to take his remarks seriously or further respond to what he said.”

    Tang Yonghong, a professor at Xiamen University, said that China needed to convince Trump that “if he wants to make money from the Chinese mainland, he must be a friend of China instead of being an enemy.”

    “I think Trump is handling international relations, including Sino-U.S. relations, with a businessman’s logic,” Tang said. “He wants to see how China will respond to such provocation.”

    Associated Press researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.

    The post China again rejects Trump’s suggestion to negotiate Taiwan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    One of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' performing elephants enters the arena for it's final show in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. The company that owns the circus announced on Saturday that performances would end in May 2017, after 146 years in operation. Photo By Andrew Kelly/Reuters

    One of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ performing elephants enters the arena for it’s final show in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. The company that owns the circus announced on Saturday that performances would end in May 2017, after 146 years in operation. Photo By Andrew Kelly/Reuters

    Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will shut down in May after 146 years in operation, the company that runs the show said late Saturday.

    Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns the Ringling Bros., said Saturday in a statement that slumping ticket sales, high operating costs and the company’s decision last year to eliminate elephants from performances made continuing the circus “unsustainable.”

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    Feld, whose family acquired the Ringling Bros. in 1967, said closing the circus was a difficult decision.

    “It’s been through world wars, and it’s been through every kind of economic cycle and it’s been through a lot of change,” Feld told the Associated Press of the circus’s storied history. “In the past decade there’s been more change in the world than in the 50 or 75 years prior to that. And I think it isn’t relevant to people in the same way.”

    Last year, the Ringling Bros. ended the use of elephants in its performances after animal rights’ groups and others campaigned against the practice, transferring 11 animals to a 200-acre facility in Florida.

    The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will hold its final performances on May 7 in Providence, Rhode Island, and on May 21 in Uniondale, New York.

    “Nearly 50 years ago, my father founded our company with the acquisition of Ringling Bros.,” Feld said. “The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me, which is why this was such a tough business decision to make.”

    The post Ringling Bros. circus to shutter in May after 146 years appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan participates in a session at the third annual Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, U.S., September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron - RTX2OPCM

    Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan participates in a session at the third annual Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2016. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Outgoing CIA Director John Brennan ripped into Donald Trump on Sunday for “talking and tweeting” about possibly easing sanctions against Russia, saying the president-elect lacks a full understanding of the threat Moscow poses to the United States.

    “I think he has to be mindful that he does not have a full appreciation and understanding of what the implications are of going down that road,” Brennan said on “Fox News Sunday,” a show Trump routinely watches.

    “Now that he’s going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting, he’s going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that U.S. and national security interests are protected,” Brennan added.

    The extraordinary televised lecture to the incoming president highlighted the bitter state of Trump’s relationship with the American intelligence community just days before he is inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president. Trump has repeatedly shrugged off intelligence that’s convinced Republicans and Democrats that Russia tried to help him win election.

    He’s publicly called for a better relationship between the U.S. and President Vladimir Putin’s government, and suggested in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday that he’d consider easing sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama as payback for the alleged election hacking.

    Trump also has suggested that the intelligence community is out to get him — including by the leak of a document containing potentially damaging, but unverified, financial and personal information on Trump. Trump has likened the situation to “Nazi Germany.”

    But an array of revelations has shed more light on the Trump-Putin relationship. Ret. Gen. Michael Flynn, who is set to become Trump’s national security adviser, and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. have been in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for the alleged election hacking, a senior U.S. official says.

    After initially denying that Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak spoke Dec. 29, a Trump official said late Friday that the transition team was aware of one call on the day the Obama administration imposed the sanctions.

    Vice President-elect Mike Pence, also in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed anything relating to the sanctions.

    Pence said he talked to Flynn about this on Saturday. “The conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to the new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats.”

    Repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Trump’s team discussed — or even helped shape — Russia’s response. Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the U.S. for the sanctions or the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, a decision Trump quickly praised.

    Pence on Sunday also denied that anyone from the Trump campaign contacted Russian officials before the election.

    Brennan on Sunday roundly denounced Trump’s approach to Russia and other national security threats, suggesting the president-elect has much to understand before he can make informed decisions on such matters. Trump’s impulsivity could be dangerous, Brennan suggested.

    “Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests,” Brennan said, saying twice that the matter is “more than being about him.”

    “I think Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions it has taken in the past number of years is a road that he needs to be very, very careful about moving down.”

    There are costs to casting doubts on the credibility of the national intelligence community, Brennan added.

    “The world is watching now what Trump says and listening very carefully. If he doesn’t have confidence in the intelligence community, what signal does that send to our partners and allies as well as our adversaries?” Brennan said.

    “It’s more than just about Mr. Trump,” he said.

    The post Brennan denounces Trump’s approach to Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A Thai Malay Muslim drug user breaks up the kratom leaf into a pan to form part of a popular cheap narcotic drink called 4 x 100 on September 1, 2011i n Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

    A Thai Malay Muslim drug user breaks up the kratom leaf into a pan to form part of a popular cheap narcotic drink called 4 x 100 on September 1, 2011, in Narwathiwat, southern Thailand. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

    The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has received thousands of comments on whether it should make a psychoactive painkiller called kratom illegal because some say it could be key to battling the country’s opioid epidemic.

    The DEA announced in August that it would list kratom, which is typically sold as a powder in capsules or for tea and can produce both a narcotic and a stimulant effect, as a Schedule 1 drug — along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Schedule 1 drugs are illegal because they have a “high potential for abuse” and there is no existing research that would make it acceptable for medical use. ”[With kratom] we’re basically running a huge unconsented medical experiment on the whole population.”

    But some researchers studying kratom are pointing to several laboratory studies on mice that suggest it could help wean users off opioids – an overly prescribed, highly addictive class of drugs that killed 28,000 people in 2014. Other critics also say that making it illegal will only spur demand on the black market, instead of getting rid of it.

    Responding to pushback, the DEA in October withdrew its decision and opened a public comment period. It garnered 23,000 comments and 140,000 petition signatures urging the government to keep it legal.

    Mark Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management and at NYU Wagner, unpacked the debate for the PBS NewsHour Weekend.

    What is kratom and where did it come from?

    Kratom is the leaves of a plant native to Thailand. It’s a psychoactive drug. One of the things it does it have some of the same effects that opiates have — that is to say, it binds to the same receptor. So it is a pain reliever. It makes some people cheerful. Has some other effects that are like the effects of the opiates. People can get some pain relief from it and get some cheerfulness from it, but it seems to have a ceiling; they can’t keep taking more and more of it. We know that some people who use it for a while, when they stop using it, get withdrawal effects. Apparently not as strong as people tend to get from the opiates.

    What can we say for sure?

    We know very little about it. The problem that the DEA just faced was that if it’s not a controlled substance than it’s essentially a food substance, basically unregulated. Twenty years ago, Congress basically gave in to the nutraceutical industry and freed them from all of the restrictions that real pharmaceutical companies are under. So they’re not, in principle, allowed to make health claims, though they can imply them pretty strongly, but they can sell stuff that’s never been tested in humans in as much quantity as they want. And the Food and Drug Administration has to prove it’s harmful in order to get it off the market. While for a pharmaceutical drug, the sponsoring manufacturer has to prove it’s safe and effective before they can sell it.

    So [with kratom] we’re basically running a huge unconsented medical experiment on the whole population.

    You advise the state of Washington in aspects of its drug policy. What would you advise the DEA to do?

    You’ve got two choices. You can schedule it, which has all the consequences you’d expect. You’ll probably get some illicit market in it. People be using substitutes. Some of the people using kratom now will now go on to use the opiates because they don’t have their kratom. That’s not something you want. And you may be frustrating research into what could turn out to be a very beneficial drug, including for drug treatment.

    READ NEXT: If DEA blocks kratom, promising research on opioid alternative may suffer

    So do you want to ban it? Well, I’d be reluctant to ban it. But I’d like to put some kind of control on it. So what I’d say to the DEA is, ‘Let’s put on some lesser measure of control.’ And they would come back to me and say, ‘We don’t have that power.’ So either DEA can make it illegal and you go to jail for having it, or they can sit on their hands. They do not have a third option.

    There’s no wiggle room?

    The policy does not exist. So the Controlled Substances Act … desperately needs revision.

    People make fun of DEA about cannabis all the time. They say, well you’ve got cannabis in schedule 1 with heroin? Seriously? And that misunderstands the way the law works. Because what the law says is, if a drug has abuse potential…

    And if there is no proven or known medical benefit or treatment benefit…

    Then it’s illegal, and it’s got to be in Schedule 1. Schedules 2 through 5 are for [drugs] with demonstrated medical benefit to a fairly high standard of demonstration. The DEA could have decided 30 years ago, ‘Lots of oncologists think that cannabis helps their patients with nausea. That’s accepted medical use. We’re going to treat it as accepted medical use.’ But they decided the other way, so that’s the current definition of the law that the courts have upheld. And that leaves no place in the law for a drug of moderate abuse potential and no [proven] medical use.

    Now all we need is Congress to rewrite the Controlled Substances Act to allow room for drugs that have moderate abuse potential and no accepted use, and drugs that may have medical use but it hasn’t been proven yet.

    The current act does not give us a good way to deal with drugs [like] kratom, of which there are many. Congress could also pass a law creating a class of drugs that can be sold only behind the counter. If such a category existed and the kratom question came along, I think my advice to DEA is, ‘Let’s put it behind the counter while we find out whether it’s a big problem or not.’

    If the DEA decides to schedule it, what are the consequences for people who use it?

    It’ll become more expensive; it’ll become less available. People will counterfeit it. People will adulterate it. People will get arrested for using it. People who can’t get it will move on to other drugs.

    The problem is, let’s imagine that you decided that kratom has medical value, and you’d like to set up a company to do that medical research and, once it’s approved, sell it. You can’t even start using it in humans experimentally until you’ve run a lot of mice through it. So that’s a few million dollars’ worth of work and a couple years at least. Then if you’re lucky you’ll be able to start phase 1 human trials just to see if it’s safe. Then if that works then you get to start to phase 2, small-scale studies to see if it’s effective in various populations for various indications. And if that works we’re now seven years into the process, you might get approval to start full phase 3 clinical trials, which means you can spend $5-10 million.

    If it’s scheduled, everything will get more expensive because then you’re going to need special DEA permission to do the experiment. But whether it’s scheduled or not, you can put it through all these trials, and at the end of the day, the FDA has to decide whether it’s safe and effective to treat disease x in population y.

    How long does something like that take?

    Decade would be optimistic for a new drug like this. You’ve spent millions of dollars along the way. If the indication, the beneficial use is pain relief, a ferociously hard endpoint to measure. There’s no objective correlative.

    And you have the additional problem that it’s a plant. So you’d either have to prepare a standardized version of the plant or do an extract, or find the active molecules, all of which is complicated. Once you’d done all of that [the FDA could say], ‘Hey, it’s just a plant, it’s just a couple molecules, there’s nothing there to patent.’ So now you’ve spent $10 million plus the interest on all that money in all those years and won your lottery ticket. Anybody else can get in right next to you. So not only is our drug control mechanism broken, our drug approval mechanism is broken.

    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    The post What happens if kratom becomes illegal? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Capsules of the drug Kratom are seen on May 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida. The herbal supplement is a psychoactive drug derived from the leaves of the kratom plant and it's been reported that people are using the supplement to get high and some states are banning the supplement.  Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    By Saskia de Melker and Melanie Saltzman

    MIKE TAIBBI: If you haven’t heard of kratom — sometimes called kray-tom — you will. It’s a coffee-like plant native to Southeast Asia whose leaves can be ground up into capsules or to used make tea or mix with juice or other liquids. For centuries kratom has been used as a replacement for opium or to wean users off it.

    In the U.S., kratom is currently very easy to buy on the internet, in specialty bars as tea or some other liquid mixture, or in pill form in shops like Grateful J’s in Delray Beach, Florida, which also sells tobacco and smoking paraphernalia.

    SALES PERSON: We got this last week. And we’re already almost gone. We get new stock once a week. It sells.

    MIKE TAIBBI: So it comes and it goes.

    SALES PERSON: It comes and it goes.

    MIKE TAIBBI: A small packet of capsules or crushed kratom leaf sells here for between 20 and 30 dollars. While many use it medicinally, others also say they simply enjoy its slight euphoric effect, similar to drinking a cup of coffee or having a beer.

    University of Florida Medicinal Chemistry Professor Christopher McCurdy has been collecting samples and studying kratom for more than a decade.

    CHRISTOPHER MCCURDY: I receive emails at least on every other day basis from users or other researchers that are interested in this material, saying, you know, “this stuff’s been incredible for my patients,” or “it’s been incredible for me personally. Looking back at what we’ve found in the laboratory with the animals, we think it has profound potential.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Whether people say they use it to curb an addiction, to self-medicate for pain, or just to feel good, the sale of kratom and kratom products is now largely unregulated and widely available without a doctor’s prescription

    Florida State Representative Kristen Jacobs has fought to have kratom banned in her state as it is now in 6 other states and 15 countries.

    REP. KRISTEN JACOBS: The problem is, because it’s completely unregulated you don’t know when you buy one of those cute, decorated packages, or you buy it in a juice, or in a tea, you don’t know how much of it has been mixed in. You don’t even know if there’s any kratom in it at all, it could be some other substances.

    MIKE TAIBBI: You’re convinced it’s every bit as dangerous as other opioids?


    MIKE TAIBBI: The Drug Enforcement Administration may agree with her. Last August, the DEA announced it was ready to list kratom as a Schedule 1 drug meaning it has a “high potential for abuse” and has “no currently accepted medical use,” listed under federal law alongside heroin, LSD, ecstasy and marijuana.

    REP. KRISTEN JACOBS: I do think that this is a bad drug, and it needs to be regulated. It needs to be, in my opinion, to be scheduled as a Schedule 1 drug.

    MIKE TAIBBI: But there’s another side to the kratom story.  In laboratory experiments on mice, McCurdy and his colleagues say they have shown how kratom can wean users off opioids. They took mice, like these, addicted to morphine and then deprived them of the drug, thrusting them into withdrawal. Then, they replaced their morphine with kratom.

    CHRISTOPHER MCCURDY: We would look at low doses, medium doses, high doses.  We even went to doses that were off the chart for what a human would use, and this is a mouse! And we didn’t ever see any toxicity with the plant material itself.

    MIKE TAIBBI: And none of them died?

    CHRISTOPHER MCCURDY: None of them died.  And we never saw any seizure, we never saw any side effect essentially.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Those side effects include respiratory distress — breathing slowing and sometimes stopping — that causes most fatal overdoses from opioids.

    CHRISTOPHER MCCURDY: We haven’t published the withdrawal studies on the mice, but what we’ve seen is a clear medical potential for this to treat opiate addiction and withdrawal.

    MIKE TAIBBI: No question in your mind?

    CHRISTOPHER MCCURDY: No question in my mind. None at all.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Because of widespread protests and appeals from 51 members of the House of Representatives and 9 Senators to reconsider, last October, the DEA walked back its plan to immediately list kratom on its Schedule 1 roster, and opened a public comment period.

    After 23-thousand public comments submitted to the DEA and 140-thousand petition signatures to keep it legal, kratom’s fate now remains up in the air.

    Gina Rivera was one of the people who submitted a pro-kratom comment. Several years ago, she began taking prescription painkillers to manage chronic back pain.

    GINA RIVERA: I got in a car wreck seven days after my 21st birthday.

    MIKE TAIBBI: After three surgeries, she was prescribed opioids and became addicted, even through the birth of her child.

    GINA RIVERA: When I got pregnant with my daughter, I was taking,four 30mg oxycodone a day, and then two 10mg methadones a day. So 20 milligrams of methadone, 120 milligrams of oxycodone.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Every day?

    GINA RIVERA: Every day, if not more than that. Sometimes I would take more if I was in more pain.

    It’s probably about 12:30, which means  I’m going to take a green kratom.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Rivera says it was a doctor who cast her a lifeline.

    GINA RIVERA: He leans in close to me and, after tears running down my face, he says ‘have you heard of kratom?’ And I said ‘no I haven’t.’ And he looks at me and he goes, ‘Well, I can’t tell you about it, I might lose my job… so I urge you to go search the internet, seek help on the internet and search up kratom.’

    MIKE TAIBBI: She did… and since then she has mixed kratom into her morning juice.

    GINA RIVERA: I use it every day, because I use it in place of medications that I would already be on anyway. I would be on opiates if it weren’t for kratom.

    MIKE TAIBBI: A Florida realtor we’ll call ‘Steve,’ who agreed to speak to us if we didn’t use his real name, is another kratom believer. He says he drinks kratom tea everyday and says it helped him kick his addiction to the opioid painkiller Percocet.

    STEVE:  I knew I was losing my marriage. I knew I was losing my career, and when it got to the point where I was possibly going to lose my kids, I realized that I just had to stop. I can’t tell you like the research behind kratom. I can just tell you how I feel: that I have energy. I’m in great shape. I work out. I’ve developed another career that is going very well.

    SCOTT HEMBY:  Mitragyna speciosa is just the latin name for the plant.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Scott Hemby, a professor of pharmaceutical science at North Carolina’s High Point University, is now partnering in kratom research with Chris McCurdy.  In his lab, Hemby is looking more closely at kratom’s two psychoactive compounds to determine the extent to which kratom is addictive.

    One of those compounds is called 7-hydroxy. And Hemby’s initial results show that lab rats will continue to take 7-hydroxy again and again when they’re presented with it.

    SCOTT HEMBY: It may have addictive properties like morphine does.

    MIKE TAIBBI: And that’s a red flag — the potential addictive or abusive use.

    SCOTT HEMBY: What we find is that it has the potential to be abused, that’s correct.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Despite kratom’s potential to be “addictive,” Hemby says he appreciates the anecdotes by users who praise kratom, and believes research on kratom must be allowed to continue.

    SCOTT HEMBY: In terms of pain relief management, in terms of addiction medicine.  The potential there is huge, and I think it would be, we would not be serving the public interest if we completely pushed these off the shelf for investigation in the future.

    MIKE TAIBBI: The DEA does cite 15 deaths in the U-S since 2014 as kratom-related, but 14 of those people had other drugs in their system at the time of death.

    Addiction treatment specialists like Ryan Johnston of Fort Lauderdale’s Cornerstone Recovery Center oppose the use of kratom for those struggling with substance abuse, because they’re substituting one drug for another.

    RYAN JOHNSTON:  It’s a minor mood-altering substance. So our clients are not permitted to use it.  What we find, is that it leads them back to the behaviors of what surrounds them when they’re using, let’s say, opiates, and oftentimes leads them then further down back to their drug of choice.

    SALESPERSON: So right now we only have the red horn capsules.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Without any regulations for kratom, what exactly is in these capsules is a mystery.

    CHRIS MCCURDY: Right now, it’s a ‘buyer beware’ marketplace for any of the supplements that are out there.

    MIKE TAIBBI: That is one of the “Kratom Concerns” listed by epidemiologist Jim Hall, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee on drug safety and risk management. His unpublished 2015 background paper for the Florida legislature also cited respiratory depression, delusions, and aggression as negative side effects.

    JIM HALL: If it’s to be used medically, as many users claim they are self-medicating with it, self-medicating with their opiate withdrawal syndrome, that then proceed as we do with any other medical product in this country: apply for a new drug application and work through rigorous clinical trials and supervision of the food and drug administration.

    MIKE TAIBBI: But you know that that takes five to 10 years minimally?

    JIM HALL: It can, yes.

    MIKE TAIBBI: In the meantime, 30-thousand people are dying a year from opiate overdoses.

    JIM HALL: But I don’t know if this will save their lives.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Right

    JIM HALL: The vital question is what is a safe and effective potential product as a medicine or even as just a food supplement.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Hall’s paper echoes the FDA’s negative warnings on kratom. But the FDA has not yet conducted a full analysis of the drug to back up those claims.

    The FDA and DEA declined our interview requests.  In a written statement to NewsHour Weekend, the DEA did say it “still considers kratom to be harmful and dangerous” and that kratom “has not undergone the scientific rigor to prove that it’s both safe and effective.”

    The DEA, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have approved other drugs with addiction potential — like methadone and a medication called suboxone — for opioid addiction and withdrawal.

    Both “Steve” and Gina Rivera tried each of them for a long period, and say they didn’t work for them the way kratom did.

    STEVE:  When I started drinking kratom as a way to not go and use opiates or painkillers.  I got to the point I haven’t used drugs in a year.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Now Rivera fears losing access to kratom.

    GINA RIVERA: That would pretty much tear my life apart right now.

    MIKE TAIBBI: For now, kratom is in limbo. The DEA has vexing choices ranging from classifying it as an illegal drug which could restrict its sale and research, to leaving it essentially unregulated, a potentially dangerous drug that proponents call a life-saver.

    The post Could kratom help treat opioid addiction? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters as Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (2nd R) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (R) stand with him following their meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on congressional Republicans' effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX2XJ58

    Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters as Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (2nd R) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (R) stand with him following their meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on congressional Republicans’ effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WARREN, Mich. — Thousands of people showed up in freezing temperatures on Sunday in Michigan where Sen. Bernie Sanders called on Americans to resist Republican efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, one of a number of rallies Democrats staged across the country to highlight opposition.

    People lined up four abreast to get to the rally in the parking lot of Macomb County Community College in the Detroit suburb of Warren. Labor unions were a strong presence and people also carried signs including “Save our Health Care,” and “Michigan Stands.”

    Lisa Bible, 45, of Bancroft, Michigan, came to show support for the law. She said that she has an auto immune disease and high cholesterol. She says the existing law has been an answer to her and her husband’s prayers, but she worries that if it’s repealed her family may get stuck with her medical bills.

    “I’m going to get really sick and my life will be at risk,” she said.

    President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to overturn and replace the Affordable Care Act and majority Republicans in Congress this week began the process of repealing it using a budget maneuver that requires a bare majority in the Senate.

    “This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. It is time we got our national priorities right,” Sanders told the rally.

    He has been one of the strongest advocates for the law, which has delivered health coverage to about 20 million people but is saddled with problems such as rapidly rising premiums and large co-payments.

    Sanders made several visits to the state last year during the Michigan primary and defeated Hillary Clinton in the state. But in a major surprise, Michigan narrowly voted for Trump on Nov. 8, the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state since 1988.

    Mark Heller, 45, a civil rights, immigration and labor attorney who drove to the rally from Toledo, Ohio, said that stopping Republicans from repealing the law may take more than attending rallies.

    “I think that it’s going to take civil disobedience to turn this around because they have the votes in both the Senate and the House, and the president,” he said.

    The health law has provided subsidies and Medicaid coverage for millions who don’t get insurance at work. It has required insurers to cover certain services such as family planning and people who are already ill, and has placed limits on the amount that the sick and elderly can be billed for health care.

    Republicans want to end the fines that enforce the requirement that many individuals buy coverage and that larger companies provide it to workers. They’d like to expand health savings accounts, erase the taxes Obama’s law imposed on higher-income people and the health care industry, eliminate the subsidies that help people buy policies and pare back its Medicaid expansion.

    But they face internal disagreements on how to pay for any replacement and how to protect consumers and insurers during a long phase-in of an alternative.

    The post Thousands attend Sanders health care rally in Michigan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- FEAT IMG ONLY

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    JEFF GREENFIELD: On October 22nd last year, Donald Trump went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to define his Presidential priorities. The key was not just what he said he’d do, but when.

    DONALD TRUMP, GETTYSBURG, PA, OCTOBER 22, 2016: What follows is my 100 day action plan to make America great again.

    JEFF GREENFIELD: Why 100 days? Because Trump, like every newly elected President for eight decades, has come to power in the shadow of this President’s first 100 days.

    FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, INAUGURATION DAY, MARCH 4, 1933: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

    JEFF GREENFIELD: Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March of 1933 with the nation in the grips of The Great Depression.

    ADAM COHEN, AUTHOR OF ‘ NOTHING TO FEAR’: People could literally not pay their bills when they were checking out of their hotels, who came down for the inauguration.
    The banking system had collapsed. Unemployment was at 25 percent. The stock market had plunged. So everyone agreed that there had to be bold action.

    JEFF GREENFIELD: And that’s what FDR delivered. Within a week, he declared a “bank holiday,” which closed all banks for four days, and ordered others reforms that bolstered the financial system. He flooded Congress — then dominated by Democrats and liberal Republicans— with bills saving farmers from insolvency and putting thousands of jobless to work building infrastructure and parks.

    NEWSREEL: Hundreds of dams will make lakes in regions where large bodies of water are unknown…”

    JEFF GREENFIELD: By early summer, Congress had passed 15 major bills, and “the 100 days” became shorthand for decisive presidential action.

    ADAM COHEN: It was really was as much for Congress the clock was ticking as it was Roosevelt. When people look back they saw that he had done a lot in 100 days, but it was never the plan. The plan was just to do a lot.

    JEFF GREENFIELD: And that has posed a challenge for every President since, including the incoming one: how much can you do in 100 days?

    ROBERT DALLEK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Since this new president, Trump, has promised to ‘Make America Great Again,’ there’s particular pressure on him to deliver something in the first 100 days to demonstrate he’s moving the country forward.

    JOHN F. KENNEDY, INAUGURATION DAY, JANUARY 20, 1961: The torch has passed to a new generation of Americans.

    JEFF GREENFIELD: This pressure is often unwelcome; John F. Kennedy was so exasperated by it that he made sure to disavow it in his speech.

    JOHN F. KENNEDY: All this will not be accomplished in the first hundred days, nor will it be finished in the first thousand…

    JEFF GREENFIELD: Moreover, Presidents rarely have the massive Congressional majorities FDR had.

    Ronald Reagan got his tax cuts through a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, in part because of the goodwill after he was nearly assassinated. Bill Clinton got his first budget through Congress with one vote to spare in the House and one in the Senate – the tiebreaker cast by his vice president. Barack Obama’s stimulus package escaped a Senate filibuster by just three votes.

    More importantly, apart from Roosevelt, does a President’s first 100 days give us a very good measure of a chief executive?

    ROBERT DALLEK: Historians look back not only on the first 100 days but on the whole presidential term and if they end up being there for 8 years, it dwarfs those first 100 days.

    JEFF GREENFIELD: As for Mister Trump, he’ll have Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and he can use his executive powers to change some policies within days. But he also lost the national popular vote and is entering the White House with the lowest approval ratings of any incoming president in modern history. These will be significant challenges for a President who promises bold, swift action.

    The post Why 100 days is a benchmark for presidential performance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with the media after attending the Mideast peace conference in Paris, France, January 15, 2017 .  REUTERS/Alex Brandon/Pool - RTSVMUU

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with the media after attending the Mideast peace conference in Paris, France, January 15, 2017. Photo by Alex Brandon/Pool/Reuters

    PARIS — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged the incoming Trump administration to accept an invitation from Russia to attend Syria peace talks next week.

    Speaking to reporters after a Mideast peace conference in Paris, Kerry said he supports the meeting that Russia, Turkey and Iran are co-sponsoring in Kazakhstan on Jan. 23 and that it “would be good” for the U.S. to be represented there.

    “My hope is the next administration will decide to go,” he said. “I think it would be good for them to go.”

    [Watch Video]

    He said he hoped the meeting would make some progress and lead to a resumption of the Geneva talks, which are aimed at producing a transitional government and an eventual election in Syria. Kerry said the discussions in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, should not be a substitute for the process that got under way in Geneva in 2012.

    After taking an active role in efforts to forge peace in Syria, the Obama administration has been watching latest developments largely from the sidelines, as Russia and Turkey have taken the lead. Kerry said he remained in touch with Russian, Turkish and other officials about the situation, but noted that his time as secretary of state was winding down with less than a week to go before the end of his term.

    Russia conveyed an invitation to the meeting to Trump’s choice for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in a phone call in late December, according to the transition team.

    This report was written by Matthew Lee of the Associated Pres.

    The post Kerry urges Trump administration to attend Syria peace talks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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