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Last updated: Thursday, December 18 2014 01:27 PM

U.S. and Cuba restore diplomatic ties, swap prisoners – Part 1

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:50 PM

US-CUBA-DIPLOMACY-GROSS

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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama calls it the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in more than half-a-century. In a stunning move today, he laid out plans for a diplomatic rapprochement with Havana.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president appeared in the Cabinet Room of the White House to make his momentous announcement. By executive action, he is reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba. He also means to open an embassy in Havana, expand economic ties with the communist island, and ease the ban on travel for family, government business and educational purposes.

BARACK OBAMA: I do not expect the changes I’m announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight, but I am convinced that, through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama finalized the deal after speaking at length with Cuban President Raul Castro yesterday. It was the first significant discussion between presidents of the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.

Today, in his own televised address, Castro welcomed the thaw, while cautioning there is much still to be resolved.

PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO, Cuba (through interpreter): In recognizing that we have profound differences in the areas of national sovereignty, democracy, human rights, and foreign policy, I reaffirm our willingness to discuss all of these matters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The renewal of relations followed a year of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials in Canada and at the Vatican. The first concrete step was a prisoner swap that took place this morning. The U.S. released three Cuban agents convicted in 2001 of spying on military installations.

Cuba freed an unnamed American agent, and Alan Gross, a civilian contractor jailed since 2009 for setting up Internet access that bypassed Cuban censors. Gross was flown, with his wife, to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and spoke to reporters in Washington.

ALAN GROSS, Released American: To all those who tried to visit me, but were unable to, thank you for trying. I’m at your service as soon as I get some new teeth, and I hope that they will be strong and sharp enough to make a difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All of this marks a break with decades of hostility between the U.S. and Cuba. It began in 1959, when Fidel Castro and his brother Raul led a revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro nationalized U.S.-owned companies and allied his communist regime with the Soviet Union.

President Dwight Eisenhower responded by cutting all ties with Cuba in 1961 and imposing the embargo. A few months later came the Bay of Pigs, the failed CIA attempt to overthrow Castro, and then the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when the discovery of nuclear missiles in Cuba almost plunged the U.S. and the Soviet Union into nuclear war. And in 1980, in the Mariel boatlift, Castro freed thousands of prisoners, and put them on boats to Florida.

Looking back today, President Obama said the policy of isolating Cuba has not worked, and he singled out the longstanding U.S. economic embargo.

BARACK OBAMA: And though this policy has been rooted in best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions. And it has had little effect, beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lifting the embargo is subject to action by Congress, and the White House said it hopes lawmakers will agree to go along. Most Democrats praised the president’s moves, but most Republicans decried them, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose parents fled Castro’s rule. He spoke to ABC News.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) Florida: What I’m interested in is freedom and democracy. The Cubans haven’t agreed to any of that. There won’t be elections in Cuba. There won’t be political parties. There won’t be freedom of the press, freedom to organize. None of these things are happening. And they won’t happen just because people can buy Coca-Cola.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And prospective GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida, said he, too, opposes the move to normalize relations with Cuba.

We will talk to supporters and opponents of the president’s new policy right after the news summary.

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News Wrap: USAID chief announces resignation

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:45 PM

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Hours before the Cuba news broke, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that he’s stepping down. Rajiv Shah oversaw the agency’s involvement in secret programs in Cuba, creating a Twitter-like service, and infiltrating the island’s hip-hop community. Shah gave no reason for his departure.

Dozens of Pakistani families buried their loved ones today, as the death toll rose in Tuesday’s Taliban attack on a school. Funerals were held in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Nearly all of those killed were students at the school.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: She was a much-loved head teacher buried today by her grieving husband and son. Tahira Kazi was just one of 148 killed yesterday in an atrocity which has shocked Pakistan into three days of national mourning, and the army vowing revenge for every drop of spilt blood.

WOMAN (through translator): I’m proud of my mother. She had the chance to get out, but she stayed at her post. She didn’t leave the children alone. She gave her life for them.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Inside her school, the roll call of honor still stands amid walls pockmarked with bullet holes and hatred, a bloodied exercise book, an abandoned shoe, students trapped in their seats by gunmen who shot at close range. And the Pakistan emerging from this massacre seems determined to be tougher.

The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said he was reintroducing the death penalty. Sitting alongside him at this political summit, his rival, Imran Khan, who has postponed protests intended to force the prime minister from office. The heads of the army and intelligence flew to Afghanistan, demanding cooperation, the army claiming yesterday’s attack was planned from Afghan soil.

Pakistan’s most wanted is Mullah Fazlullah, though even if this Taliban commander is found and handed over, Pakistanis protesting all over the country today are demanding action first and foremost at home.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Taliban says the attack was retaliation for an ongoing offensive by the Pakistani military.

In Eastern Syria, more than 230 bodies have been found in a mass grave near the border with Iraq. A Syrian human rights group says the victims appear to be from a tribe that fought against the Islamic State group. The militants now control most of the province where the mass grave is located. Other members of the tribe found it when they were allowed to return home.

In Yemen, Shiite rebels who already control key parts of the country have made another big move. They closed a strategic Red Sea port today. The rebels seized the site back in October, a month after sweeping through the capital city, Sanaa.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott today promised a thorough investigation into Monday’s siege in Sydney that left two hostages and the gunman dead. Abbott confirmed that the shooter, Man Haron Monis, had been dropped from a government watch list for reasons that are not clear.

TONY ABBOTT, Prime Minister, Australia: We particularly need to know how someone with such a long record of violence, such a long record of mental instability was out on bail after his involvement in a particularly horrific crime. And we do need to know why he seems to have fallen off our security agencies’ watch list.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Monis was convicted and sentenced last year to community service for sending abusive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Justice Department today announced its largest criminal case ever involving contaminated medicine. Fourteen suspects were charged in a 2012 outbreak of meningitis that killed 64 people. It was traced to tainted injections from a now-defunct pharmaceutical company in Massachusetts.

In Boston, U.S. attorney Carmen Ortiz said the medicine was made in filthy conditions.

CARMEN ORTIZ, U.S. Attorney, District of Massachusetts: They knew that the drugs that eventually killed 64 people and injured hundreds more could not be and shouldn’t have been injected into patients. And yet they continued to make and sell those drugs, labeled them as injectable, which meant that they were sterile, and dispensed them throughout the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The charges range from corruption and racketeering to second-degree murder.

A South Carolina judge has thrown out the conviction of a black teenager who was executed in 1944. Fourteen-year-old George Stinney was charged with the murder of two young white girls. An all-white jury convicted him after a one-day trial, and he died in the state’s electric chair just three months later. The judge ruled today that Stinney was the victim of a great injustice.

The Federal Reserve Bank signaled today that it’s getting closer to raising interest rates. At the same time, the Central Bank said that it will be patient in deciding just when to act. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said policy-makers will be guided by the strength of economic data and the level of inflation.

JANET YELLEN, Federal Reserve Chair: A number of committee participants have indicated that, in their view, conditions could be appropriate by the middle of next year, but there is no preset time and there are a range of views as to when the appropriate conditions will likely fall in place. So that’s something we will be watching closely as the year unfolds.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Wall Street, stocks shot higher on the news that the Fed has no immediate plans to raise rates. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 288 points to close near 17,357. The Nasdaq rose 96 points to close at 4,644. And the S&P 500 added 40 to finish just under 2,013. The gains were also fueled by a small increase in the price of oil.

Russia’s Finance Ministry resorted to selling some of its foreign exchange reserves today, in another bid to shore up the ruble. The currency had lost 15 percent of its value just this week, but the ministry’s move triggered a moderate rally today.

The state of New York will soon ban the gas-drilling technique known as fracking. That announcement today followed a long-awaited state review that cited unresolved health risks. Fracking involves injecting chemically treated water at high pressure deep into shale deposits. New York has banned shale gas development since 2008. Now the environmental commissioner plans to make the ban permanent.

And the 2014 midterm elections are now finally over. Republican Martha McSally was declared the winner today of a U.S. House race in Arizona. She edged out Democratic incumbent Ron Barber in a recount by 167 votes. That’s for the seat once held by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011. Republicans will have 247 House seats in the new Congress, the most since Herbert Hoover was president.

The post News Wrap: USAID chief announces resignation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Is it in America’s interest to have closer Cuban connection? – Part 2

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:40 PM

Cuba Marks The 59th Anniversary of Fidel Castro

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We return to the historic shift in U.S.-Cuban relations in two parts.

First, we look at if it’s a good idea to reestablish diplomatic relations with the island nation.

We begin with a member of the Democratic House leadership, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who traveled today from Cuba with Alan Gross. Gross lives in his district.

Congressman Van Hollen, welcome back to the “NewsHour.”

First of all, tell us, why is it in the interest of the United States to have diplomatic relations with the communist neighbor?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) Maryland: Well, it’s in the interest of the United States to create conditions that create more freedom and opportunity for the Cuban people.

And what’s very clear is that our policy of the last 54 years, which was designed to isolate and punish Cuba, has been a total failure, by its own measure. We have not helped open up the island. We have not created more democracy. In fact, it has sustained the Castro brothers for these 54 years. They have survived eight U.S. presidents.

So, when a policy is clearly failing, try something else. And engaging the Cuban people with greater travel, greater communication, with greater trade will help create the conditions and create pressure, I believe, ultimately, on the regime.

So it’s time to try a strategy that works for the Cuban people. This is not in any way a reward for the regime. In fact, the regime has been empowered by the failed policy of the last 54 years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, House Speaker John Boehner is saying this is appeasing, in his words, a brutal dictator. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and others are saying this should never have even been thought about as long as the people of Cuba are not free.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Yes, but here’s the question, Judy.

So I think the burden is on the critics to say how another five years, another 10 years of the current policy changes that condition, because what those critics are describing is the condition that exists under the old policy, the policy before today.

So, if that’s not working, if that’s actually empowering the regime to stay where they are, engagement is the alternative, because what the engagement will do is allow more interaction between the American people and the Cuban people, more trade, more marketplace exchanges, more communications equipment into Cuba to attach.

So, by creating the conditions for more openness, you will create, over time, more opportunities for an open Cuba.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But where is the guarantee that the Cuban leadership is going to open up, is going to create these freedoms that they haven’t granted for the last 50-plus years?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, there’s no absolute guarantee, but this is not something that is for the regime. This is no gift to the regime.

In fact, the people who should be most scared about the president’s policies are the people who want to limit freedom in Cuba, because what we know is that the current policy has been the one that has denied freedom to the Cuban people. And this is an alternative that will help open things up.

So people are trying to create this false premise that somehow this does a favor to the Castro brothers. It doesn’t do any favors. I think, over time, you’re going to find the Cuban regime is the one that is put most at risk by this greater exchange of ideas and goods.

That has been the case in many other countries around the world, and I think it will be the case in Cuba. So no one’s expecting in the next 24 hours or the next year for the regime somehow to change. But what will change is the interaction between the American people and Cuba, between Cuba and the outside world, and that will help create the conditions for change.

Clearly, the current policy has been a miserable failure on its own terms. And you have just mentioned it. The critics keep saying, look at Cuba, what a terrible place it is. That is partly the consequence of our failed 54-year policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Chris Van Hollen, we thank you.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, for a different perspective, we turn to former Ambassador Roger Noriega, who served as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere during the George W. Bush administration. He’s now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and he has his own consulting firm.

Ambassador Noriega, welcome to the program.

You just heard Congressman Van Hollen. You know President Obama today called the current policy a failure. Why isn’t this the right move now?

ROGER NORIEGA, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State: Well, the president’s taken an extraordinarily dangerous bet.

He has made unilateral concessions to the Castro dictatorship, a dictatorship that’s drawing its last breaths. And by normalizing political relationships, diplomatic relationships, he confers a legitimacy on that regime that it doesn’t deserve.

If he’s wrong in that bet — and I note that he didn’t even ask for any changes from the Cuban dictatorship — if he’s wrong in that bet, the people that will pay for it are the 11 million Cubans.

Alan Gross was one hostage. There are 11 million hostages left behind. And it’s extraordinarily important that the president understands that he can’t just make a speech and walk away from this. He owns this now. And he needs to take vigorous steps to engage the Latin American and Caribbean countries in particular to press the regime to respect the fundamental freedoms of the Cuban people that are neglected, that are denied them systematically by the regime in Havana.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the argument, though, we just heard that opening up U.S.-Cuba relations with trade, with travel, with communications is going to put pressure on the Castro regime to change?

ROGER NORIEGA: Well, this is not the new Obama policy. This is the old Canadian policy. They tried it starting 15 years ago, and it was a miserable failure.

The reason that you haven’t seen meaningful change in Cuba is because you have an implacable regime that understands that opening up in the slightest way, they will eventually lose power in a catastrophic way for them. So they will not open up.

It’s — and, unfortunately, the president is betting on some sort of goodwill from that self-same implacable regime. It’s really an unwise policy to resuscitate the people on the island who are the single biggest obstacle to political and economic change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But if the current condition — we just heard Congressman Van Hollen say this — if the current policy isn’t working, why will another four years, five years, another 50 years make a difference of this policy?

ROGER NORIEGA: Well, I understand that argument.

The issue for us today is not whether we are going to break relationships with Havana. It’s whether — how you go about reestablishing those things. And the policy of the United States is predicated on the principle that we will normalize relations as a regime there demonstrates its will to change in a meaningful way.

And we use it as leverage to make sure that those political and economic changes are profound, deep, and irreversible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about — just finally, the United States has diplomatic relations with other commentator nations where people are not free, China, Vietnam. Why not with Cuba?

ROGER NORIEGA: Well, because, at this point, as I said, we have predicated our policy on expecting a transitional government there to make meaningful change.

The Castro regime will not do so. And we have tried new things. We have tried to reach out to the Cuban people. We sent a man like Alan Gross to reach out to the Cuban people, to give them access to the Internet, something as simple as that, and he went to jail for two years by the same regime that we’re betting is somehow now going to change its stripes. And, unfortunately, the Cuban people will pay the price for this unwise move.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Roger Noriega, we thank you.

ROGER NORIEGA: Thank you.

The post Is it in America’s interest to have closer Cuban connection? – Part 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

How does diplomatic reconciliation affect Cuban-Americans? – Part 3

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:35 PM

Cuba Releases Alan Gross, Held In Prison For 5 Years

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, today’s momentous developments toward Cuba touches deep emotional cores, especially within the Cuban-American community, which includes some two million people. It’s the third largest Hispanic group in the U.S.

Joining us now to discuss these issues, Ana Carbonell. She’s a Cuban-American political strategist and activist. She joins us from Miami. And Maria de los Angeles Torres, she’s a Cuban-born American and a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She’s also executive director of its program on Latino research.

We welcome both of you.

To Maria de los Angeles Torres first.

What do you think this change is going to mean for the American people, especially for the Cuban-American community in this country?

MARIA DE LOS ANGELES TORRES, University of Illinois at Chicago: Well, I think that there is — first of all, I think that this is a step in the right direction.

I think that it will mean that there is a glimmer of hope that a transition in Cuba can be peaceful. I think for many Cuban-Americans, we’re really in tune with what is going on in Cuba. It is a very precarious situation. It is economically precarious and politically precarious.

And because of the world economic situation, it is worse. That doesn’t necessarily translate into peaceful transitions. What it translates into is a potential for repression. I think that this policy recognizes that it is a situation that can be very dangerous.

And, so from my perspective, I think many Cuban-Americans understand that and see that there is a need to make some kind of move that at least provides a glimmer of hope.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ana Carbonell, a glimmer of hope here?

ANA CARBONELL, Cuban-American Activist: Look, what the Cuban-American community understands and, more importantly, the Cubans on the island, is that the president today equated the Cuban people with the regime.

And that’s most unfortunate, because it’s a profound divorce from a history of bipartisan support with the Cuban people’s aspiration to be free. And it’s critical that, at this moment in Cuba’s history, when we see countless pro-democracy leaders on the island, they’re risking their lives daily for freedom and democracy, for the U.S. government, especially for the White House, to stand with the Cuban people.

And, today, by the president’s actions, unilateral concessions with that regime, he basically told the international community that the United States is willing to recognize the legitimacy of a regime that has oppressed the Cuban people for over 50 years. And that is profoundly sad, because we’re at a critical moment in Cuba’s transition for democracy, and legitimizing that regime undermines the efforts of those who are fighting for change on the island.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask both of you about what this means for families, Cuban-American families in this country, families that have been divided over what’s happened between the U.S. and Cuba.

Maria Torres, how do you see that from your own perspective?

MARIA DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: I think that people are tired of the family divisions. People travel. They vote with their feet. They actually travel. They send money to their relatives.

I think that this policy says it’s important to engage family to family. So I think that it does recognize that, despite the rhetoric of many of the elected officials, what is actually happening on the ground here is people are helping their families. They are building small businesses. Those small businesses will be part of the support, if you will, for transition in Cuba.

And, by the way, most dissidents in Cuba want this to happen, because they understand that as long as the United States is — can be used as the excuse for the Cuban government to stay in power, that is — that can be very dangerous. And so they actually support the lifting of an embargo. They support diplomatic relations because it puts the ball in their court.

ANA CARBONELL: That is that is completely not correct, and I couldn’t disagree with you more.

I could rattle off a list of countless pro-democracy leaders on the island, from the Ladies in White, to Jose Daniel Ferrer, to  Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez, who have told this administration, have told Congress now is not the time, because we need to remind the international community that Cuba is not a democracy.

And no one here is arguing as to divisions of Cuban families. Cubans in exile and Cubans on the island are united. The only division in Cuba is the Castro regime that uses oppression and violence and harassment to maintain control. And that’s what’s at stake here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me…

ANA CARBONELL: The Castro brothers are not going to be a permanent fixture in Cuba’s reality. And U.S. policy reminds the world that Cuba needs to transition towards democracy. And, today, the president’s measures undermines that effort.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me — I do want to try to get to this family question with each of you, if I could.

If I could just ask each one of you, starting with you, Maria Torres, in your own family’s case, what has this meant to your family, the division that’s been taking place over the last more than 50 years?

MARIA DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Well, I’m a product of a policy from this end, by the way, that brought children over and divided families.

I was also a product from the other end of a government that didn’t allow us to reunite with our families. We have had families spread out through both sides of the Florida Straits, and we still have families. And it has been at times very difficult to help them. It has gotten easier in the last few years. Their lives are better.

It has not made them pro-regime. It has made them more pro-U.S., and it has been able — it has allowed for families to actually come together. The animosity that used to exist before the Carter administration is an animosity — animosity that’s gone. It’s gone. I mean, people realize that they need to work together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ana Carbonell, what about in your case, in your own family? How is it dealt with, the division? Did your — did your — tell me about your parents and your grandparents.

ANA CARBONELL: My parents came in the 1960s. My father was part of the Bay of Pigs. I have had political prisoners in my family. I have seen the repression on the island until today. I maintain contact with those that are advocating peacefully for pro-democracy.

And what’s sad about this is the effort to try to propagate this misnomer about divisions among Cubans. The reality is that there is a total consensus. And no measure of American tourism or investment on the part of American businesses is — will encourage or convince the Cuban people that the regime is bad.

The Cuban people are the victims of that regime. They have seen firsthand. They don’t need anyone telling them, because they have lived it through the 55 years of this totalitarian system. What’s at stake here is, what do we want for the future of Cuba? Do we want a China model that perpetuates the slavery of the Cuban people, or do we want to leverage U.S. foreign policy, leverage the strength of American solidarity to insist that the future of Cuba deserves to be in a multiparty system, where the Cuban people on the island are free to self — to have the right to self-determination?

Why do they not deserve that?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it may be a newly announced policy, but it clearly has not slowed down the debate at all.

We want to thank both of you for talking to us, Ana Carbonell, Maria de los Angeles Torres, we thank you.

MARIA DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Thank you.

ANA CARBONELL: Thank you.

The post How does diplomatic reconciliation affect Cuban-Americans? – Part 3 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Sony cancels release of movie at the center of security worries

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:30 PM

Premiere Of Columbia Pictures'

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: not showing at a theater near you. That’s the latest fallout from one of the biggest and most public corporate hackings in history.

Just a short time ago, Sony Pictures announced it’s canceling the Christmas Day release of a movie that’s been at the center of all of this, and the subject of security worries.

Jeffrey Brown tell us more.

JEFFREY BROWN: It began as a comedy, a Hollywood comedy called “The Interview,” though one with a rather twisted premise.

SETH ROGEN, Actor: You want us to kill the leader of North Korea?

ACTRESS:  Yes.

JAMES FRANCO, Actor: What?

JEFFREY BROWN: Now the film, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, has sparked a much darker tale of cyber-crime, artistic license, film industry intrigue, geopolitics, and even threats of terrorism.

Sony Pictures, the studio that made the film, has been the target of a large-scale hack of its computer data, with a group calling itself the Guardians of Peace claiming responsibility for near-daily leaks of internal documents, e-mails, and other information.

One question, who done it? From the outset, suspicions have fallen on North Korea, which early on made clear its anger that a film that portrays a plot to assassinate its leader, Kim Jong-un, calling it — quote — “an act of war.”

Earlier this month, North Korean state-run TV said the studio got what it deserved.

WOMAN (through interpreter): This hack attack towards the U.S. film producer Sony Pictures is clearly the righteous act of our sympathizers and supporters who came forward following our appeal. Thus, the misfortune that Sony Pictures experienced can only be seen as a just punishment for its evil doings and unjustified actions.

JEFFREY BROWN: Former U.S. Envoy to North Korea Jack Pritchard told us the totalitarian regime has both the means and determination to carry this out.

JACK PRITCHARD, Former U.S. Special Envoy for Negotiations with North Korea: I have been to Kim Il-Sung University. I have seen some of their computer labs. They have got the equipment and they clearly have got the focus and the intention of doing this.

The North Koreans are capable of holding on to a grudge and playing it out. In this particular case, there’s no smoking gun, so they can continue to do what they want.

JEFFREY BROWN: Still, uncertainty remains. There’s also been conjecture about disgruntled employees, past or present.

In the meantime, the flood of leaked corporate documents has continued.

Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz:

BEN FRITZ, The Wall Street Journal: These e-mails are an amazing insight into how a major film studio works, because you just have someone’s pure inbox, and sent mailbox, I should say, with tens of thousands of messages. It’s damaging in all sorts of ways, from the embarrassing, all the way up to the actually proprietary information that now their competitors have on the way they do business.

JEFFREY BROWN: Among the sensitive material released, private correspondences among Sony executives, including discussions on whether and how to alter the film’s content, inside information on salaries, some showing wide disparities in the pay of men and women, scripts and even high-quality copies of movies yet to be released, and old-fashioned gossip, replete with disparaging remarks about stars such as Angelina Jolie and racially tinged comments about President Obama’s taste in movies.

All in all, says Ben Fritz, it’s badly shaken the company and the industry as a whole.

BEN FRITZ: Well, for Sony Pictures, this has been really damaging. It’s made it difficult for the company just to engage in its day-to-day work. All the other studios in Hollywood are frightened that they could be next. They’re trying to beef up their security and be more careful about the information that they share in e-mails and in documents on their computers.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yesterday, the company got hit with a lawsuit from two former employees for not protecting Social Security numbers, salary details and other personal records.

Sony has fought back in one way, hiring high-profile lawyer David Boies, who, in a letter on Sunday, warned news organizations not to publish details from the leaked files, as they contain — quote — “stolen information.”

In a Sunday New York Times op-ed, prominent screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, whose movies and name came up in the documents, also criticized the media, writing, “Every news outlet that did the bidding of the Guardians of Peace is morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable.”

But the last 48 hours have taken on a new urgency, and even a darker threat for movie theaters this holiday season, as the Guardians of Peace issued a new message, saying people who plan to see the movie — quote — “seek fun in terror, and should be doomed to a bitter fate.”  The message also included a reference to September 11.

The Department of Homeland Security said it had not yet seen credible intelligence of an active plot, but is investigating the threat.

Last night, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had this to say:

CHARLIE BECK, Los Angeles, California, Police Chief: Well, we take those threats very seriously. And we will take extra precautions during the holidays at theaters. We’re very aware of the controversy surrounding Sony studios, so we will take that into account.

JEFFREY BROWN: Moviegoers in Los Angeles had mixed responses.

REM SCOVELL: I don’t even know why they made it. Like, it just seems like a bunch of comedians trying to be creative. And I definitely won’t go see it, though. Now that they say there’s some sort of danger involved, I’m definitely not seeing it.

TARIQ COLLINS: The way homeland security is set up, it’s virtually impossible. And, no, I’m not scared. Why would I be scared?

JEFFREY BROWN: But, today, events spiraled ever further, and late this afternoon, Sony announced it was canceling the release of the film, which had been scheduled for Christmas Day.

That came after the nation’s largest theater chains had said they wouldn’t play the movie pending results of law enforcement investigations. As late as Monday, Seth Rogen, who also co-directed “The Interview,” was defending his film like this on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

SETH ROGEN: We just wanted to make a really funny, entertaining movie. And the movie itself is very silly, and it wasn’t meant to be controversial in any way. It was really just meant to be entertaining.

JEFFREY BROWN: A silly movie, perhaps, but one that has brought an unprecedented firestorm to Hollywood and beyond.

I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: And late-breaking news tonight:  There are reports that the U.S. government is confirming that North Korea is indeed behind the hacking at Sony.

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What a lapse in terrorism insurance by Congress means for businesses

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:25 PM

terrorinsurance

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Since 9/11, American businesses have been able to buy insurance policies covering a terrorist attack through a public/private partnership known as the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.

But, for the first time, Congress left this week without funding it because of objections by one senator. It could have an effect on businesses coast to coast, as they wonder what happens in case of the worst.

Joining us now is Leigh Ann Pusey. She’s president and CEO of the American Insurance Association.

And we welcome you to the program.

LEIGH ANN PUSEY, American Insurance Association: Thanks for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, why is this terrorism risk insurance so important? Why do businesses need it?

LEIGH ANN PUSEY: Well, terrorism is a very unique risk for insurance.

It’s very hard to conceive of the kinds of losses that can be associated with a terrorist attack. They’re well beyond the capacity of the insurance market right now to provide that. So, what we learned after 9/11 was that insurance had been basically a natural part of coverage, but, after 9/11, the market retreated because, all of a sudden, it realized that this was a huge potential risk.

And it took a TRIA-like partnership to really entice the private market back into providing this coverage, which is, in essence, an economic security matched up with the government’s national security efforts, because it really helps us have an orderly recover after an innocent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what would trigger insurance like this? What would have to happen for this trigger — for this to happen, where the U.S. government would have to come in and, frankly, back up what the insurance companies are saying?

LEIGH ANN PUSEY: Well, right now, the TRIA program anticipates a fairly substantial participation by the private market. So, you would have to see an event probably the size of 9/11 before the government would have to be tabbed to backstop insurers.

Insurers are sitting on 20 percent deductibles of their premiums. What that really translates to is, for some companies, as much as $1 billion, $2 billion of insured losses they would pay before they tapped that backstop. And they’re paying a percentage of that backstop even after they have met the deductible.

They are going to pay 15, 20 percent as envisioned under the new law going up. There’s a lot of skin in the game by the industry. It’s grown over the years since 9/11. So, it would have to be a catastrophic-level event for the private — for the government to have to step in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me read you what one — one comment that Senator Tom Coburn, the senator from Oklahoma, the one who is responsible for holding this up, this week said.

He said, “This program has made the insurance industry $40 billion in the last 12 years.”  He said, “American taxpayers take all the risk, except for 35 percent, and the insurance industry takes the money.”

LEIGH ANN PUSEY: Well, what the insurance industry is doing is stepping in and providing for an orderly economic recovery that otherwise the taxpayer would be on the hook for the first dollar of.

So, have we charged a premium for that risk? Sure. That’s a market force I would think Senator Coburn and other Republicans and pro-market voices would like to see happen. And the more we get can comfortable with this risk over time, the more we can learn about it, we can take on more of it. It will never be a risk that can be totally borne by the private market. And it shouldn’t be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why not? Why can’t it be borne by the private…

LEIGH ANN PUSEY: Well, because it associated — it’s national security. Terrorism is a national security issue. It’s the responsibility of the federal government, who has the data, the knowledge, the know-how.

You just ran a piece about them confirming what they may or may not know about these threats related to Sony. Well, that — they have that knowledge. Nobody insuring Sony has that knowledge. They have that knowledge. We don’t want that knowledge, by the way, but what it means is that insurers are limited in how much they can try to underwrite this and how much exposure they can take on.

This current TRIA program covers — provides $100 billion. There’s not $100 billion of private market capacity. If you want to provide economic stability and economic growth, then you need a partnership.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it mean, Leigh Ann Pusey, that this insurance was not extended, that this doesn’t exist right now?

LEIGH ANN PUSEY: Well, it means that, after December 31, there is no TRIA backstop, and insurance companies and CEOs — I spoke to one as I was driving over here this evening — are employing their contingency events.

They’re having to put their contingency plans into place. They’re going to look at their exposures. And I believe over the coming weeks we are going to see more and more market reaction to this. What that might mean is capacity will shrink over time, and the price of this might go up in certain markets. This isn’t just about tall buildings in New York. It’s about properties and businesses all around the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re saying they won’t get built?

LEIGH ANN PUSEY: They won’t get — some projects could be delayed. Loans require this sort of financing to be backstopped by insurance coverage and protection on this.

Think about the small business dry cleaner who is in the shadow of a trophy property in New York. They’re going to have a hard time finding capacity just by sheer virtue of where they’re located.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Leigh Ann Pusey, who is the president and CEO of the American Insurance Association, we thank you.

LEIGH ANN PUSEY: Thank you.

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Sony Pictures pulls the plug on release of ‘The Interview’

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:25 PM

HACKED SONY PICTURES  MONITOR

Updated at 6:25 p.m. EST

According to the New York Times, American intelligence officials have confirmed that North Korea is connected to the Sony Pictures’ hack. Until now, North Korea’s involvement has only been speculation.


Sony Pictures canceled their planned Dec. 25 release of the film “The Interview” Wednesday, after four major theaters — AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike — pulled scheduled screenings following threats of attacks on movie-goers and theaters that showed the film.

Initially, Sony refused to delay the movie’s debut, but said it would not penalize theaters who chose to cancel screenings.

In a statement released today, Sony said:

We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

Threats to movie-goers and theaters showing the “The Interview” were issued Monday, alongside another set of hacked emails. Homeland Security responded, saying there is no evidence of a legitimate threat. “We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements,” an official said, “but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.”

Some have voiced disappointment in Sony’s decision, including actor Rob Lowe, who appears in the film and its trailer.

The PBS NewsHour examined the Sony Pictures Entertainment email hack on December 7.

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Watch clips from the 25 films inducted into the National Registry of Film

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:23 PM

Twenty-five films will be archived as the most culturally, historically or aesthetically significant works in cinema and join the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced the list of films Wednesday, highlighting a diverse range of art.

“The National Film Registry showcases the extraordinary diversity of America’s film heritage and the disparate strands making it so vibrant,” said Billington. “By preserving these films, we protect a crucial element of American creativity, culture and history.”

The films range from short animations to full-length films and date from 1913 to 2004. To be considered, a film must be at least 10 years old.

Here is a complete list of this year’s inductees:

  • The Big Lebowski (1998)
  • Down Argentine Way (1940)
  • The Dragon Painter (1919)
  • Felicia (1965)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
  • The Gang’s All Here (1943)
  • House of Wax (1953)
  • Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000)
  • Little Big Man (1970)
  • Luxo Jr. (1986)
  • Moon Breath Beat (1980)
  • Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)
  • The Power and the Glory (1933)
  • Rio Bravo (1959)
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  • Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • Shoes (1916)
  • State Fair (1933)
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913)
  • Unmasked (1917)
  • V-E + 1 (1945)
  • The Way of Peace (1947)
  • 13 Lakes (2004)

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Making body cameras part of a police officer’s uniform

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:20 PM

bodycam

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JUDY WOODRUFF: In the aftermath of the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death of a man in New York City, civil rights groups and even the president have called for an increase in the use of body cameras by police departments.

Hari Sreenivasan takes us to one town where they recently began using them.

DANIELLE TORRES, Evesham Township Police Department: It’s green. I’m ready to go out on a shift. I pick it up. I put it on. I flick it so that it’s like that. Once it turns green, then it’s ready for me to start recording.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For the last five months, police officer Danielle Torres has been wearing a small body camera when she’s out policing the streets of Evesham, New Jersey, a commuter town just 20 miles southeast of Philadelphia.

DANIELLE TORRES: The body camera sees everything from me out, almost as if it’s my eyes, whereas in-car cameras only see a stationary view of what’s in front of my patrol car.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Her department is one of dozens across the country that have adopted this surveillance equipment.

And Chief Christopher Chew, who himself wears one, says his officers have all embraced the new policing tool.

CHRISTOPHER CHEW, Evesham Township Police Department: They see the benefits, not only short term, but long term, because it’s there to protect them. It’s there not only to protect against the frivolous lawsuits or complaints, but also it’s capturing what they’re doing, because they’re doing great work each and every day.

And now they have the ability to capture it, go to court and show that they were doing the right thing. Our officers, they want everything recorded and audio to protect them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The equipment is expensive. Cameras can cost up to $1,000 a piece, with data storage costs far exceeding that.

Earlier this month, President Obama asked that $75 million be spent to purchase such cameras for departments all across the country.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m going to be proposing some new community policing initiatives that will significantly expand funding and training for local law enforcement, including up to 50,000 additional body-worn cameras for law enforcement agencies.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The move comes in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, an incident that wasn’t captured on video.

DAVID HARRIS, Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Law: As soon as that event happened, the immediate reaction was, where’s the video? How come they don’t have video?

HARI SREENIVASAN: David Harris is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. He predicts body cameras will soon be widely used by departments everywhere.

DAVID HARRIS: Police need to take this on, on their own terms, to have their own ways of looking at this. They have to put these on police officers. The public will be served because there can be greater accountability, there can be a much better, more nuanced record.

And the police, I think, have begun to realize, just like they did years ago with dash-cams, that their interests will be served as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Still, even Harris concedes that body cameras don’t necessarily mean police will be held more accountable.

ERIC GARNER: I was minding by business, officer.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Earlier this month, a New York City grand jury decided not to indict an officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, in spite of the fact that the incident was videotaped by bystanders.

DAVID HARRIS: We know that, even if you see it on camera, there can still be biases. You don’t have more than one camera angle, or the particular one you have only shows one part of the action, or you have situations in which there has been editing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jay Stanley, a policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, agrees the jury is still out on the effectiveness of these cameras. His organization has given qualified support of their use if strict, consistent privacy policies are adopted.

JAY STANLEY, American Civil Liberties Union: There need to be very good policies to ensure that video footage that police take — and a large proportion of calls are domestic violence. Police are entering people’s homes. They’re seeing people at the worst moments of their lives — is not going to end up on YouTube or be passed around among police officers for laughs or what have you.

So there need to be very, very tight controls over the video data that is collected, who has access to it, how long it is retained, what it is used for.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And Stanley says officers cannot be allowed to alter the footage.

JAY STANLEY: The crucial thing is that police officers not be able to edit on the fly by turning the cameras off and on at will, or if they get involved in a dubious incident, finding a way to make sure that the footage disappear, all of which we have seen happen around the country.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Although body cam rules vary widely from city to city, the Evesham Police Department says it has taken precautions against those abuses. The cameras are recording all the time, although footage is only saved starting 30 seconds prior to an officer hitting the button. That footage is then automatically uploaded to the cloud at the end of every shift. And a digital record is kept of anyone who tries to access it.

DANIELLE TORRES: After a shift, you take the camera off, turn it off, and put it right in one of these ports as you see the other ones. And it will go through the process of downloading all the videos on the cloud.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, that means you can’t edit the video, you can’t delete the video?

DANIELLE TORRES: Not at all.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Advocates of the cameras say widespread use could lead to better behavior by everyone involved. They point to several studies.

The Rialto, California, Police Department found there was a 59 percent reduction in the use of force by officers and an 88 percent reduction in complaints after body cameras were used.

And in a controlled study in Mesa, Arizona, where only half the force was given cameras, there were three times more complaints lodged against officers without cameras than officers who wore them.

So, how do you expect body cameras to change how an officer behaves?

CHRISTOPHER CHEW: Well, the officer now knows that everything they do when they have a contact with a citizen is now audio- and video-recorded. It puts them on another level. They now know that we have the ability as an organization to go back with checks and balances to ensure that they’re following proper protocols.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does it change the behavior of citizens once they know they’re on camera by the police?

CHRISTOPHER CHEW: I would say, naturally, it would.

HARI SREENIVASAN: If authorized by Congress, the federal money for new body cameras would nearly double the number of cameras that are currently in use.

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Exiting lawmakers yield the floor, but not before saying farewell

Wednesday, December 17 2014 11:15 PM

capitol_scaffolding

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JUDY WOODRUFF: At 11:25 p.m. Eastern time last night, the gavel came down on the U.S. Senate, ending the 113th Congress, the least productive in terms of bills passed in the modern era.

Tonight, we look at the many longtime members of Congress who have just left office in their own words.

Politics editor Lisa Desjardins brings us what we can learn when politicians say farewell.

LISA DESJARDINS: The building that is seen by many as a symbol of dysfunction, but, in the past month, those leaving the Capitol behind have made final arguments for its strength.

WOMAN: Madam President, it is with great honor and gratitude.

MAN: It has been a true honor.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, (R) Georgia: To represent almost 10 million Georgians, who are the most wonderful people God ever put on this earth.

SEN. TOM HARKIN, (D) Iowa: Now, now the leaving becomes hard, and wrenching, and emotional. And that’s because I love the United States Senate.

MAN: I love the intensity of the work, the gravity of the issues. I love fighting for West Virginia here.

LISA DESJARDINS: Many, most, in fact, defended the institution.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) Michigan: Now, I have been asked many times if I am leaving the Senate out of frustration with gridlock. The answer is no.

SEN. TOM HARKIN: The Senate’s not broken, oh, maybe a few dents, a couple scraps here and there.

LISA DESJARDINS: But a few went out railing against one thing: the influence of money.

MAN: The cruelty of perpetual campaigns destroys our ability to fulfill our oath of office.

SEN. TIM JOHNSON, (D) South Dakota: Days after the 2014 election, you could walk into the call center for either party and find members dialing for dollars for 2016. Tonight, there will be fund-raisers across D.C. where members will discuss policy not with their constituents, but with organizations that contribute to their campaigns.

Mr. President, we have lost our way.

SEN. MARK PRYOR, (D) Arkansas: The Republicans have a great opportunity in 2015 and 2016. They convinced the voters that they are the party that can govern. Now it’s time for them to turn off the rhetoric and turn on the governing.

LISA DESJARDINS: Not just farewells, but think of these words as perhaps the most unfiltered look at each lawmaker’s top priorities.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, (D) Louisiana: There has never been a time when America has been closer to energy independence, and what that means to our country is just beyond description.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: It is imperative that the issue of the debt of this country be addressed. Just last week, our total debt surpassed $18 trillion. Hard and tough votes will have to be taken, but that’s why we get elected to the United States Senate.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: This growing gulf between a fortunate few and a struggling many is a threat to the dream that has animated this nation since its founding.

REP. HOWARD “BUCK” MCKEON, (R) California: Remember the great sacrifice that our troops and their families and loved ones at home are making around the world.

SEN. TOM COBURN, (R) Oklahoma: Your whole goal is to protect the United States of America, its Constitution and its liberties. It is not to provide benefits for your state. That is where we differ. That is where my conflict with my colleagues has come.

LISA DESJARDINS: One bipartisan theme, gratitude.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU: I’m not the least bit sad and I’m not the least bit afraid, because it’s just been a remarkable opportunity to serve with all of you.

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) Michigan: This is my chance to really say thank you. And I had a heck of a good ride.

MAN: I think, first and foremost, of course, God.

REP. HOWARD “BUCK” MCKEON: My family.

People say, boy, we love you, your Christmas card.

SEN. TOM COBURN: A great thank you to the wonderful staff I have had.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: My mentor, my big brother, Sandy. Congress is keeping the better half of team Levin.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU: Senator Ted Stevens, who was as grumpy as can be, but really did take me under his wing.

WOMAN: God bless you. God bless our fabulous country. Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.

MAN: President, I yield the floor.

MAN: Thank you, Madam President, I yield the floor.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Mr. President, I yield the floor.

SEN. TOM COBURN: Yield the floor.

SEN. TOM HARKIN: For the last time, I yield the floor.

(APPLAUSE)

LISA DESJARDINS: Lisa Desjardins, “PBS NewsHour.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some words worth listening to and worth remembering from departing members.

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12 Days of NewsHour: Let’s play BINGO

Wednesday, December 17 2014 10:31 PM

12DaysBanner_FinalAre you worried about missing out on time with friends and family during the hour you set aside each night to watch PBS NewsHour? Then today’s gift is for you. Invite your relatives, neighbors, roommates and friends to join you for a rousing game of NewsHour BINGO. Break out this five card set at your annual holiday party, or save it for a rainy day in the New Year. Let us know how the game turns out on social media using #12DaysofNewsHour.

This gift marks Day 10 in our 12 Days of NewsHour. So far, we challenged you to solve this crossword, and this word jumble. We invited you to download a new voicemail message and cell phone ringtone. We offered up several recipes to satisfy your cravings for baked goods both sweet and savory. We also presented you with two NewsHour-themed crafts, seen here and here. And don’t forget our very first gift, the first ad-free, longplay 4K video of a crackling fireplace on Youtube.

12 Days Bingo: Card 1

12 Days Bingo Card 5

12 Days Bingo Card 2

12 Days Bingo Card 3

12 Days Card 4

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Why the middle class is not feeling a recovery

Wednesday, December 17 2014 10:29 PM

The wealth gap between upper and middle-income Americans is at a 30-year high. Photo by Flickr user Noël.

The wealth gap between upper and middle-income Americans is at a 30-year high. Photo by Flickr user Noël.

An unemployment rate that’s the lowest since 2008 and 321,000 jobs added in Novemberwith wage growth? On top of average monthly job gains of 224,000 for the past 12 months? Sounds like an economy on the mend.

But for whom? Middle class incomes have been essentially flat during the so-called recovery, while the wealth gap between middle-income and upper-income families in 2013 was the largest it’s been in 30 years of consumer finance surveys. That’s according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data released by the Pew Research Center Wednesday.

Upper-income families enjoyed a median wealth in 2013 of $639,400 — seven times the median wealth of middle-income families, which has remained at about $96,500 since 2010 — and 70 times the median wealth of America’s lower-income families.

Although more Americans than in the recent past admit to hearing good news about the job market, according to a Pew report released earlier this week, it’s no secret that there’s a disconnect between the headlines and a middle class that’s feeling squeezed. Voters this fall overwhelmingly reported being worried about the economy, and even in red states, they backed liberal ballot initiatives (like a higher minimum wage) that might expand their pocketbooks.

Perhaps that’s because although all wealth groups saw a decline in their net worth during the 2007-2009 recession, only the richest have made up many of their losses in this recovery. Plus, their wealth didn’t decline by nearly as much to begin with. That’s made for an economic recovery with a widening wealth gap.

Pew - wealth gains

As a result, Pew reports, the recovery “has yet to be felt” by Americans on the lower end of that gap. But just who exactly are those Americans?

Americans, especially politicians, throw around the term “middle class” fairly loosely these days, but Wednesday’s Pew analysis provides a helpful breakdown of America’s classes.

Their methodology relies on income to stratify Americans, but remember that what they (and the Federal Reserve) are looking at is wealth. Often used interchangeably, the two are not the same. Wealth, sometimes called net worth, is the difference between a family’s assets and debts. Assets could be financial or more tangible, like a house or car. Household income refers to earnings, income and wages. So a house you just own — that’s wealth. A house you collect rent on — that’s income.

Just 21 percent of us are upper-income families. Middle-income families made up the largest proportion of American families at 46 percent. That’s actually slightly higher than the 44 percent of Americans who self-identified as middle class in the beginning of 2014. Thirty-three percent of American families were lower-income in 2013.

Pew - class

So where does your family fit? If your family of three makes $114,300 or more a year, you’re part of the upper-income distribution. That’s significantly higher than the $38,100 a family of three needs to be considered middle-income. Keep in mind that the federal poverty line for a family of three is $19,970. And as the University of Washington’s Diana Pearce told Paul Solman last year (watch below), it takes more than that — much more — to even get by in most American cities.

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School attack drives Pakistan protests on extremism

Wednesday, December 17 2014 09:50 PM

A Shiite student of the Imamia Students Organization in Karachi, Pakistan holds a poster decrying the extremist group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan during a protest on Dec. 17 against an attack by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar the previous day. Photo by Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

A Shiite student of the Imamia Students Organization in Karachi, Pakistan holds a poster decrying the extremist group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan during a protest on Dec. 17 against an attack by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar the previous day. Photo by Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

A day after the Taliban in Pakistan brutally attacked a school, protesters raised their voices Wednesday against the extremist violence and held candlelight vigils to show their solidarity.

The hours-long siege on the Army Public School and Degree College in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan ended with the death of 148 people, most of them students. Some of the pupils were in classes and others were attending a seminar on first aid when the attackers burst into their rooms.

According to witnesses, the gunmen asked the students if they were the children of army officers, said Aneela Khalid, a reporter at Khyber News in Peshawar. The children who said yes were shot in the head to make sure they were dead, she said. “They were especially after kids and teachers who belonged to military families.”

At first the gunmen shot the students, said Khalid. But when they ran out of bullets, they used knives. And they terrorized the students by killing a teacher and lighting her body on fire in front of them.

A view of the debris of the army-run school that was attacked by Taliban militants on Dec. 16 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A view of the debris of the army-run school that was attacked by Taliban militants on Dec. 16 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

While walking around the streets on Wednesday, Khalid observed that many shops and schools were closed. “Everybody was sad. I saw many people crying,” she said by phone. Funerals for the dozens of students and school staff already had begun.

The battered school remains closed and it’s unknown when it will reopen, said Khalid. People are “scared and disappointed” with how the perpetrators could have entered the school unnoticed, she said.

The terrorist act, however, is serving as a unifying force for political leaders and people in Pakistan, who are holding protests in several cities demanding an end to the violence, according to Khalid.

“People are confused when it comes to the Taliban. They don’t understand who these people are. But they know one thing — that these are people who want to destroy innocent people and are against humanity and against Pakistan,” she said.

Children and their parents in Noida, India, light candles for the victims of the Taliban attack on the school in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Dec. 17. Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Children and their parents in Noida, India, light candles for the victims of the Taliban attack on the school in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Dec. 17. Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Over the summer, the Pakistani government launched a military operation to uproot extremists in the North Waziristan tribal region. Since then, people in nearby Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its provincial capital Peshawar have been bracing for revenge attacks, said Khalid.

But nothing happened for awhile, she said, so people began moving around freely. The school that came under attack on Tuesday didn’t have extra security.

“Ultimately, the people from this area face trouble with the insurgency,” so they are the ones who want peace the most, she said. And they don’t want terrorists living among them, whether they agree with the extremist agenda or not.

Federal Reserve expresses patience on rate raises

Wednesday, December 17 2014 09:13 PM

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, seen in this February file photo,  said . Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, seen in this February file photo, held her final news conference of the year Wednesday. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Federal Reserve turned financial commentators into would-be linguists Wednesday. The Open Market Committee did not raise interest rates, but it did alter the language used to describe its willingness to wait to raise interest rates.

Most notably, the FOMC said “it can be patient in beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy.” It’s the word “patient” that’s new here. Their previous statement, released in October, had simply said the Fed expected to keep the Federal Funds rate low “for a considerable time following the end of its asset purchase program.”

Wednesday’s statement, released at the end of the FOMC’s last meeting of the year, did not remove the “considerable time” language; it just shifted its placement. And while the inclusion of the word “patient” — a rare in change in usually very formulaic FOMC statements — provoked confusion among commentators and the market, Chairwoman Janet Yellen emphasized in her press conference that a change in language did not signify a change in policy.

The reason they changed the language, Yellen said, is because the asset purchase program to which they referred in October is now over. The Fed ended quantitative easing at its October meeting. “It seemed less helpful,” Yellen said Wednesday, “to continue to communicate about the possible timing of our first rate increase with reference to an event that is receding into the past.” Instead, she said, they adopted the word “patient” as a way of looking ahead to the labor market conditions and inflation measures that might cause them to raise rates in the future.

But the FOMC doesn’t expect that normalization of rates — what Yellen repeatedly called “liftoff” — to happen for at least “a couple” of FOMC meetings. Most committee participants, Yellen said, expect to raise rates sometime in 2015.

The Wall Street Journal’s Fed Statement Tracker highlights all of the changes between October’s and Wednesday’s FOMC releases.

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Celebrate 12 days of NewsHour with 12 unique gifts

Wednesday, December 17 2014 09:00 PM

12DaysBanner_FinalTo show our appreciation for our audience, PBS NewsHour will be unveiling 12 gifts over the next 12 days. Check back here each day, from Dec. 8-19, for a new gift that you can easily download or print out right from our site. Each day’s gift will also be posted on our Facebook page.

Share photos of yourself, your family and your friends enjoying the gifts on social media using the hashtag #12DaysofNewsHour. Who knows, your photo might be selected to be shown on air during on of our evening broadcasts!

Dec. 8: First up, the first longplay 4K video of a crackling fireplace on Youtube. Despite its realism, our 4K video doesn’t actually generate heat, so it won’t dry your mittens. But it will give you cred if you hook it up at your holiday office party.

Dec. 9: Snowed-in? Curl up by the fire and fight-off cabin fever while creating your very own NewsHour logo cross stitch. The pattern we’ve provided was created by former NewsHour staffer Justin Myers. Make one yourself and share a picture of it on social media using #12DaysofNewsHour.

Dec. 10: The holidays are a busy time of year. But don’t be that guy who brings store-bought baked goods to your holiday party. Instead bake these! From a recipe enjoyed by our very own Judy Woodruff.

Dec. 11: While there is no way to prevent the disappointment of those nearest and dearest to you when they call and you are not there to answer the phone, their feelings of disappointment may be assuaged ever so slightly by this unexpected and delightful voicemail greeting from Gwen and Judy.

Dec. 12: Happy Friday! Not only have you made it to the end of another work week, you’ve arrived at Day 5 of our 12 Days of NewsHour. We hope today’s gift will keep you busy in the kitchen all weekend and satisfy your sweet tooth all week long.

Dec. 13: Looking for a gift that is both personal and economical? Look no further. Use this stencil of the PBS NewsHour logo to create custom t-shirts, tote bags and more for everyone on your holiday shopping list.

Dec. 14: What’s better than a Sunday crossword puzzle? A NewsHour-themed Sunday crossword puzzle. We hope you’ll find some time this Sunday to kick back and solve this 15-clue puzzle, perhaps while tuning in to NewsHour Weekend.

Dec. 15: Imagine reliving that exciting moment when PBS NewsHour’s nightly broadcast begins to play on your television, computer or mobile screen every time the phone rings. Now you can.

Dec. 16: You’ll need to look backwards and forwards, up, down and diagonally to find the names of your favorite NewsHour anchors, guests, recurring segments and more hidden in this word jumble.

Dec. 17: Invite your relatives, neighbors, roommates and friends to join you for a rousing game of NewsHour bingo. Break out this five card set at your annual holiday party, or save it for a rainy day in the New Year.

Dec. 18:

Dec. 19:

The post Celebrate 12 days of NewsHour with 12 unique gifts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.