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Lantagne says comparison of the Haitian cholera strain with one circulating in Nepal, around the same time, shows the two differed in only one out 4 million genetic elements.

"That's considered an exact match – that they're the same strain of cholera," she tells Shots.

Most scientists now think Nepalese soldiers unwittingly brought cholera to Haiti when they joined a U.N. peacekeeping force there in 2010. The outbreak started just downstream from their camp. Sewage from the camp spilled into a nearby river.

Lantagne was one of four scientists appointed by the U.N. to look into the matter. Their report, issued in May 2011, implicated the U.N. camp as a likely origin, but it concluded that the outbreak was caused by "a confluence of circumstances."

She tells Shots that the report would come out different today.

"If we had had the additional scientific evidence that's available now, we definitely would have written the report in 2011 differently, to state the most likely source of introduction was someone associated with the peacekeeping camp," Lantagne says.

That's important because the U.N. insists that whatever way cholera got to Haiti, terrible sanitary conditions and lack of clean water were responsible for its remarkably fast spread.

But lawyer Brian Concannon doesn't buy that.

"It's like lighting a fire in a dry field on a windy day, and then blaming the wind or the drought for the fire," says Concannon, who directs a Boston-based group called the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

More than a year ago, the group filed a legal claim against the U.N. demanding that it accept responsibility.

“ Haiti has done some great things with vaccination. They've eliminated measles, rubella and polio, and you can't say that in many countries in Europe.


Fears, however, that cholera would spread rapidly through the overcrowded settlements never materialized. Aid workers say this was probably because of the treated water distributed in the camps.

When the earthquake struck in January 2010, Jacqueline Syra was nine months pregnant with her third child. Her house near the sprawling slum of Cite Soleil collapsed, she says, killing her husband.

Syra, along with tens of thousands of other people, moved on to an abandoned military airport known as La Piste.

Syra never expected that three years later, she'd still be living on the runway.

"We are not living well in the tents," she says. "Sometimes men get in here and attack me or rob my things."

Her shack is a patchwork of fraying tarps that are tied together with blankets and strung over a skeleton of mismatched sticks. Two motorcycle tires on the roof keep the cloth from flapping in the wind. She uses the front of an old portable toilet as the door to her shelter. There's no electricity, and she cooks on the dirt floor.

Syra shares this shelter with her three children.

"I don't sleep well, I don't eat well," says the rail-thin, 49-year-old mother. "I was a fat woman, and look at me now. I lost a lot of weight because I cannot sleep or eat well here."

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Father Kevin Mullins steers his old Chevy pickup up a steep road to a hilltop dominated by a large statue of the virgin. She has a commanding view of this troubled corner of Christendom.

Here, the states of Texas, New Mexico and and Chihuahua, Mexico, intersect amid barren hills freckled with ocotillo plants and greasewood.

Getting out of the truck, the graying Catholic priest with the kind, ruddy face squints north. "From up here you can see across the I-10 there into El Paso. Also, you see the border fence down there. And then, further to the south, you have Ciudad Juarez."

Australian-born Mullins is a member of the Columban Fathers, who are committed to social justice. His Corpus Christi church is in Rancho Anapra, a hardscrabble barrio on the west side of Juarez that stares at El Paso across the sluggish Rio Grande.

It's been a tough four years in Ciudad Juarez, once the epicenter of Mexico's cartel war. Massacres, beheadings and disappearances became as commonplace as dust storms in the Chihuahua Desert. As the cartels took over and security vanished, packs of freelance thugs roamed the city, extorting at will. No one was spared.

"I heard on one occasion that a priest was threatened," Mullins says. "His parents would be shot, if the priest didn't pay up with the Sunday collection."

Giving last rites to bleeding bodies became as common as reciting the rosary. Father Mullins grew afraid, but he stayed. He says he wanted to be a witness to the suffering in his parish.

"On average, we'd have one or two murder funerals a week for ... at least three years," he says. "Mainly young people — males between the ages of 15 and 25."

New Life In The 'Murder City'

But Ciudad Juarez has gotten a reprieve. Violence is down sharply across the city: Children are playing outside again, shops and cafes have reopened, and some residents are moving back.

In 2010, there were more than 3,000 murders in Juarez — about one every three hours. It came to be called "Murder City."

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British TV personality Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011, was a sexual predator who abused hundreds of victims on a scale that is "unprecedented" in Britain, according to a comprehensive police report on the disgraced celebrity. The report by a team that included 30 detectives found that Savile exploited "the vulnerable or star-struck for his sexual gratification."

The case received widespread attention on Oct. 4, 2012, when British broadcaster ITV aired a program in which five women said they had been abused by Savile in the 1970s. Three of them said the abuse occurred at BBC facilities.

The accusations led to the creation of a task force, named Operation Yewtree, the day after the program aired. It also sparked tumult at the BBC, where Savile worked between 1965 and 2006.

The arrival of the report three months after the ITV broadcast in which the women made their accusations against Savile. The report is titled "Giving Victims A Voice." Here are some of its findings:

450 people came forward with information related to Jimmy Savile.

214 crimes were formally recorded, spanning 28 jurisdictions.

The reported abuses occurred between 1955 and 2009, most of them in Leeds and London.

82 percent of those who came forward are female.

73 percent of Savile's victims were under age 18; 27 percent were adults.

The victims' ages at the time of the abuse ranged from 8 to 47.

"It is now clear that Savile was hiding in plain sight and using his celebrity status and fundraising activity to gain uncontrolled access to vulnerable people across six decades," the report's authors wrote. Police say "the locations where victims report being abused include 14 medical establishments (hospitals, mental care establishments and a hospice)."

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On the criticism Girls has received about a lack of diversity

"I take that criticism very seriously. ... This show isn't supposed to feel exclusionary. It's supposed to feel honest, and it's supposed to feel true to many aspects of my experience. But for me to ignore that criticism and not to take it in would really go against my beliefs and my education in so many things. And I think the liberal-arts student in me really wants to engage in a dialogue about it, but as I learn about engaging with the media, I realize it's not the same as sitting in a seminar talking things through at Oberlin. Every quote is sort of used and misused and placed and misplaced, and I really wanted to make sure I spoke sensitively to this issue. ...

"I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn't able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me. And only later did I realize that it was four white girls. As much as I can say it was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, 'I hear this and I want to respond to it.' And this is a hard issue to speak to because all I want to do is sound sensitive and not say anything that will horrify anyone or make them feel more isolated, but I did write something that was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I can't speak to accurately."

“ I've been taking this long, stuttering period of moving out. ... I feel like I'm constantly asking them to please stay out of my work life but also to please bring me soup.

The second season of HBO's critically acclaimed series Girls begins Sunday night, but the show about 20-something girls navigating their social and work lives in New York has itself been criticized for not being diverse enough.

By now, most of you have heard the buzz about Girls: It's written by 26-year-old Lena Dunham, and stars a quartet of young women whose plans sometimes crash face-first into life's nasty realities.

The show's smart dialogue attracted writer Allison Samuels, a cultural critic for Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

"I love the writing," she says. "I think it's really well done."

But she doesn't watch Girls regularly.

"At the end of the day, if you don't have someone that represents my reality as well, I don't feel like that's an invitation to come in and watch," she says.


Lena Dunham Addresses Criticism Aimed At 'Girls'

Florida and several other states are wrestling with a decision: whether to expand Medicaid.

When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act last year, the court said states could opt out of that part of the law. But it's key. It would provide coverage to millions of low-income Americans who currently have no health insurance.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he's concerned about how much expanding Medicaid would cost. But others charge the governor is exaggerating.

No governor fought harder against the Affordable Care Act than Scott. With President Obama's re-election, Scott says he now accepts that it is "the law of the land."

But in an interview this week with a Jacksonville TV station, Scott talked about the area that still troubles him: Medicaid expansion.

"Once you put somebody in a program, you can't undo it," he said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, more than 21 million people across the country currently without insurance could be covered by Medicaid. They "could" because the Supreme Court ruled that for states, expanding Medicaid is optional.

The Obama administration worked to make it an attractive option. Under the law, the federal government would pick up the entire cost of insuring new Medicaid recipients for the first three years and 90 percent of the costs after that.

Despite that, some states, like Texas, say they have no plans to expand Medicaid. That's also been Scott's position in Florida. He says that's because of its potential impact on the state's budget.

"The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration put out a report that said it's going to cost $26 billion over 10 years. There's going to be other studies. It's all tied to what assumptions you have," he says. "But here's what we know: It's not free."

But that estimate appears to be greatly inflated. Since the Scott administration first released those numbers last month, they have been panned by health care analysts and economists for ignoring the new, larger share of Medicaid costs being picked up under the Affordable Care Act by the federal government.

The governor's numbers are at least four times higher than estimates compiled by independent health care analysts and the Florida Legislature.

Karen Woodall, who heads the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, says that rather than costing the state $26 billion, some independent estimates show Medicaid expansion may actually help Florida save money.

"And that's because they are calculating the cost benefit of expansion of Medicaid in that we would be saving money that wouldn't have to be spent taking care of people who don't have insurance," she says.

According to a report this week in Health News Florida, Republicans in the state Legislature last month alerted Scott's staff that his Medicaid expansion numbers were faulty. But Scott continued to use them, even in a meeting this week with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

That's troubling to Rep. Mark Pafford, a Democrat who helps oversee health care spending in the Statehouse.

"To me, it suggests that the governor's not having an honest conversation — not only with the folks who are going to depend on the Affordable Care Act, but also with major officials in Washington, D.C.," he says.

At first, Scott's office stood by his numbers, saying they were one of a set of different cost estimates he would consider going forward. But on Wednesday, the Republican chairman of Florida's House Appropriations Committee joined the criticism. A few hours later, the Scott administration released a new study that downgraded the cost of expanding Medicaid to $3 billion over 10 years — only about one-tenth of his original estimate.

Ultimately, the decision about expanding Medicaid may be made, not by Scott, but the state Legislature. Florida's House and Senate have set up special committees to begin working on the issue.

Woodall says Medicaid expansion would bring $20 billion in federal health care funds to Florida over the next decade — a cash infusion that would help the economy, especially small businesses that rely on low-wage workers.

"So I think, ultimately, the Legislature is going to see that this is a benefit to Florida and they'll move forward with it," she says.

Scott's decision then would be whether to sign it.

British TV personality Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011, was a sexual predator who abused hundreds of victims on a scale that is "unprecedented" in Britain, according to a comprehensive police report on the disgraced celebrity. The report by a team that included 30 detectives found that Savile exploited "the vulnerable or star-struck for his sexual gratification."

The case received widespread attention on Oct. 4, 2012, when British broadcaster ITV aired a program in which five women said they had been abused by Savile in the 1970s. Three of them said the abuse occurred at BBC facilities.

The accusations led to the creation of a task force, named Operation Yewtree, the day after the program aired. It also sparked tumult at the BBC, where Savile worked between 1965 and 2006.

The arrival of the report three months after the ITV broadcast in which the women made their accusations against Savile. The report is titled "Giving Victims A Voice." Here are some of its findings:

450 people came forward with information related to Jimmy Savile.

214 crimes were formally recorded, spanning 28 jurisdictions.

The reported abuses occurred between 1955 and 2009, most of them in Leeds and London.

82 percent of those who came forward are female.

73 percent of Savile's victims were under age 18; 27 percent were adults.

The victims' ages at the time of the abuse ranged from 8 to 47.

"It is now clear that Savile was hiding in plain sight and using his celebrity status and fundraising activity to gain uncontrolled access to vulnerable people across six decades," the report's authors wrote. Police say "the locations where victims report being abused include 14 medical establishments (hospitals, mental care establishments and a hospice)."

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Three Latin American presidents turned up, as did foreign diplomats. And thousands of President Hugo Chavez's supporters flooded the streets Thursday outside the presidential palace in Venezuela's capital, Caracas.

But Chavez himself didn't show — he remained in Cuba, incapacitated after his latest round of cancer surgery.

Still, the carefully choreographed show did go on, and Chavez's aides said he remains in charge.

There was guitar-laden music. And the salsa that's much beloved in Venezuela. On a huge stage were Venezuela's top leaders, along with the presidents of Uruguay, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

There were also countless people like Florencio Rondon, 67, who came carrying a sign like so many others: "I Am Chavez," it read.

"He's not here, but we're all here as if he were with us," Rondon said.
"He is the greatest thing we have. He may not be here, but he lives in our hearts."

The level of support on the streets reflected the strong backing Chavez's government still maintains after 14 years and three terms in office.

On inauguration day, as on other big days in Venezuela's political calendar, Chavez usually gives a booming, revolutionary speech from the balcony of the Miraflores palace.

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Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is resigning, opening up one more slot in President Obama's second-term administration. A former member of Congress, Solis was the first Hispanic woman to head a Cabinet-level agency.

"This afternoon, I submitted my resignation to President Obama," she wrote in a letter to her agency's employees. "Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in La Puente, California, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to serve in a president's Cabinet, let alone in the service of such an incredible leader."

Solis said that in the future, she plans to return to California.

Prior to becoming Labor Secretary, Solis was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2000, she became the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, for her work on environmental justice while serving in the California state Senate.

In October, Solis was moved to defend her agency's work, after a closely watched indicator — the U.S. jobless rate — fell to 7.8 percent. The news, which came one month before the presidential election, was greeted with suspicion by critics of President Obama.

Wednesday afternoon, the president released a statement in which he called Solis "a tireless champion for working families."

The statement continued, "Over the last four years, Secretary Solis has been a critical member of my economic team as we have worked to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and strengthen the economy for the middle class."

Solis' resignation comes on the same day the president is said to be poised to nominate Jacob Lew for the post of Treasury Secretary. This afternoon, a CNN writer pondered what a second Obama administration will look like, in a piece titled "Obama's Cabinet shaping up to be a boys club."

From Superstorm Sandy to gun laws to the fiscal cliff, national issues are on the minds and the lips of the nation's governors setting their state agendas this week.

Some want Congress and President Obama to act; others urged state legislators to do what Congress hasn't.

"No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness now," an impassioned New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday in calling for the state to enact the "toughest assault weapon ban in the nation, period."

"Gun violence has been on a rampage," Cuomo, a Democrat, said in his annual State of the State address in Albany. "We must stop the madness, my friends, and in one word, it's just enough. It has been enough."

In neighboring Connecticut, scene of last month's massacre in the town of Newtown, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy pointedly rejected the National Rifle Association's proposal to arm school personnel.

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Some kids can't get enough of online games where they can pretend to run a candy factory or decorate cakes. But children who play with these games may eat more, and eat more junk food, even if the game features fruit or other healthful choices, according to new research.

Food industry critics have long bemoaned the fact that many popular food games for computers and other devices are actually "advergames", created by food manufacturers to market their products. Some argue marketing junk food to kids is unethical, even if it's through tiny bits of entertainment software.

To find out if advergames affect how children eat, Dutch researchers had 8- to 10-year-olds play either a game that featured a popular brand of candy, or one that featured fruit. Another group of children played an online game involving a toy. All the games tested the children's memory skills. Afterwards, the children were offered bowls of jelly candy, chocolate, sliced bananas, and apples.

The researchers say they assumed that the children who played the fruit game would choose fruit. But boy, were they wrong. All the children who played a food-themed game ate more, and ate more candy, even if they played the fruit game.

"We were very surprised," Frans Folkford, a graduate student in communications at the University of Amsterdam who led the study, tells The Salt. The children who played food-themed games took in about twice as many calories as children who played a non-food game, or played no game at all. The work was published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Just looking at pictures of food is enough to make people want to eat, as any dieter can tell you. But food-themed games may be more persuasive, Folkford says, because children are actively engaged with them, and less likely to realize that the game is actually an advertisement.

Games may get children to eat more healthfully, but it's tricky, says Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. She found in a study she did last year that children who played an online game from the Dole fruit company did eat more fruit – but they also ate more overall. "A lot depends on the game and the actual messages in there," Harris says. "It's very complicated."

Over the past decade hundreds of food companies have launched online advergames aimed at children, Harris says, and millions of kids are playing them. Many mobile apps aimed at kids are also designed to market junk food to them. "Pay attention to what your kids are downloading," Harris says. "A lot of parents figure as long as it's free and it's listed as for children, they assume it's safe and not harmful. You really can't assume that."

It's harder to track children's use of advergame apps for mobile phones or tablets, she notes, but ones like "Cookie Dough Bites Factory" or "Candy Sports" often show up on lists of favorite downloads.

"The apps are made very appealing to deeply engage young users," says Jeffrey Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which lobbies on digital privacy. "They can be helpful, but they're also tiny spies lurking on your cellphone or other devices to market to you."

Food and beverage marketers have dramatically increased their spending on online and mobile marketing to kids and teens, according to a Federal Trade Commission report released last month.


Weeks before President Obama officially nominated Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, the lobbying battle was well under way. The fight might be bigger than any other Cabinet nomination in history as the former Republican senator's friends and foes prepare for modern combat on TV and the Internet.

As important as confirming a defense secretary might be, this Senate vote will come wrapped in all sorts of other issues, too. A win is critically important for President Obama; in December, a conservative campaign demolished the chances of his apparent choice for secretary of state, Susan Rice.

"It may be stormy, it may be a difficult fight, but the president has to win on this one," says Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "On the other side, I think the criticism is heightened by several factors."

Opposing Hagel

For one thing, Republicans want to forge a more openly assertive foreign policy than the Obama administration has employed. Another thing is that many pro-Israel groups don't trust the president's instincts on Israel, which led to an anti-Hagel campaign, which led to ads funded by conservative groups.

Michael Goldfarb, an adviser to the Emergency Committee for Israel, a group organized by conservative leader William Kristol, says it's not worried about financing more messages.

"You know, honestly, I expect people are going to be coming to us, looking to support our activities on this front," Goldfarb says. "But right now I think we have enough money in the bank to get started."

A more surprising attack came from a small, national gay organization — the Log Cabin Republicans, which ran two full-page ads in The New York Times and The Washington Post. The group attacked Hagel, not only on gay rights — which he opposed as a senator 15 years ago — but also over things he has said about U.S. policy toward Israel and Iran.

Gregory Angelo, the group's interim director, says it's not unreasonable for the Log Cabin Republicans to branch out from its core issues.

"The fact is there are some Log Cabin Republicans who put equality issues first and foremost, and there are some who put other issues first," Angelo says — issues such as small government, low taxes and a strong national defense.

"Log Cabin Republicans have forever been these two types of gay Republicans that are co-existing," he says.

Angelo declined to discuss how the group raised money for the ads.

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Obama Nominates Hagel For Defense, Brennan For CIA

Businesses complained that the uncertainty surrounding the "fiscal cliff" froze their decisions about hiring and expanding, which hurt the economy. Washington has now managed half a deal, which settles tax issues, at least for the time being. But has that removed enough uncertainty to boost some business hiring and investment?

Vickers Engineering in New Troy, Mich., makes parts for auto companies, agriculture equipment manufacturers and the oil and gas industry. Scott Dawson, the company's chief financial officer, says the fiscal cliff deal on taxes helped his company move forward, by extending a provision that allows firms to rapidly deduct the value of new equipment from their tax bill.

"Now we can invest in more equipment, which allows us to take on more projects, which allows us to hire more people," he says. "That was one of the things that really we were waiting until they came to this agreement on how we were going to pursue our capital plans for 2013."

However, Vickers Engineering was already in an expansion mode, riding the revival of the auto industry. It has almost doubled its annual revenues to $30 million in the past two years. The fiscal cliff agreement will help the company complete a near doubling of its workforce by the end of this year.

But Dawson says another part the deal, the tax hike for people making over $450,000 a year, could be a drag. That's because Vickers' owners will pay more in taxes and have less money to invest in new equipment.

Dyke Messinger runs a small company called Power Curbers in Salisbury, N.C., which builds machines used to construct curbs and gutters for streets and highways. Messinger says he is ready to hire three or four workers.

But the reason Messinger is hiring is not the fiscal cliff deal but rather that the construction industry is getting back on its feet. "The economy has strengthened enough in the construction sector that we can foresee increased business, which will allow us to bump up hiring, bump up our spending on a variety of things that we were holding back on before," Messinger says.

Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says the situation at Power Curbers underscores that what is most important to small businesses is what is happening in their sector of the economy.

"You know, if demand is strong and the economy is growing and people are demanding products and services, then they feel confident on expanding and when that's not happening they don't feel confident," he says.

Shane says if you're not confident in the underlying economy, removing a little uncertainty about the government's fiscal situation may not be the answer to your problems.

Government contractors, especially in defense, may have the greatest uncertainty right now, says Stan Soloway of the Professional Services Council, an association of government contractors. "For the most part, I think what we're seeing are companies being very, very conservative and very, very disciplined in terms of their investments in people and in technology and so forth," he says.

What these companies want, Soloway says, is for policymakers to proceed with the second step in the fiscal cliff, cutting government spending — even if it means some pain for them.

"Rip the Band-Aid off and let's deal with this," he says. "If there's going to be substantially reduced spending, which we all expect, at least let's get it on the table, know what's coming so we can plan against it. That's when you'll start to see normalcy and investment decisions start to move forward."

But most analysts expect negotiations over spending cuts and the debt ceiling will once again go right down to the wire.

After the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Obama asked Vice President Biden to lead a group tasked with drafting policies to reduce gun violence. One of the issues sure to come up in the Biden group's discussions is the role of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The ATF is the primary enforcer of the nation's gun laws, but advocates and former ATF officials say the agency has been underfunded, understaffed and handcuffed in its abilities to go after gun crimes.

In an ad campaign launched Tuesday by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Roxanna Green, whose child was killed two years ago, appeals directly to the camera: "My 9-year-old daughter was murdered in the Tucson shooting. I have one question for our political leaders: When will you find the courage to stand up to the gun lobby?"

Standing up to the gun lobby is seen by gun control advocates to mean not only banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, but restoring some teeth to the ATF.

"The restrictions on ATF are absurd," says Jon Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "They're not allowed to use computers in doing their trace work. They're not allowed to do more than one spot inspection on a gun dealer."

When looking at the problems facing the ATF, it's instructive to start at the top. The current acting director of the Washington agency is B. Todd Jones, who is juggling the ATF post with his other job, that of U.S. attorney in Minneapolis.

There hasn't been a permanent ATF director for six years, since back in the Bush administration.

Michael Bouchard, a former ATF assistant director, says that lack of leadership has handicapped the agency.

"You need somebody there who has ownership and is going to be there for the long haul and can start projecting a couple years out, versus people who are just brought in for a temporary fix," Bouchard says.

Obama has nominated a permanent director, but there hasn't even been a hearing on the nomination because of opposition from the gun lobby.

There are other administrative issues: Funding has been relatively flat, and the agency has roughly the same number of agents today as it did a decade ago.

Then there are the issues ATF agents face with gun laws. Congress refuses to allow a centralized gun database, so tracing a weapon used in a crime means a lot of legwork, says former ATF agent William Vizzard.

"They have to contact the manufacturer or importer, who tells them, 'Oh, on July 14, 2009, we shipped that gun to Buckeye Sporting Goods, a wholesaler.' Then you contact Buckeye Sporting Goods, and they say, 'Oh, yeah, we received that gun four days later and we shipped it out to Billy Bob's Bait and Tackle Shop.' Then you go to Billy Bob and you say, 'OK, what do your records say?' "

Another frustration, says Bouchard, is the lack of gun-trafficking statutes to charge those suspected of supplying guns to criminals.

"It's very frustrating when you see people that you know are criminals and buying guns for the criminal element, and you don't have ... a statute to prosecute them under," he says. "You have to be creative and try to make other statutes fit."

Advocates also say the ATF should be allowed to inspect firearms dealers more than once a year, and that dealers should be required to keep track of their inventory.

The Brady Center's Lowy says that more than 100,000 guns are missing from dealers' shelves.

"There's a great likelihood that most of those guns were sold off the books to criminals," he says. "Easy way to fix that is to simply require dealers to do an inventory every year of their stock. ATF is prevented from even requiring dealers to do that. That makes absolutely no sense."

Gun rights advocates say they are defending law-abiding dealers from overzealous government agents.

Former ATF officials have written Biden with suggestions to correct what they see as the agency's problems. Lowy and other gun control advocates will be meeting with the vice president Wednesday to make their case for changes at the ATF.


After nearly a month of health problems that culminated with a stay in a New York City hospital for treatment of a blood clot in a vein between her brain and her skull, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was back in her office Monday morning.

The State Department released a photo of the 65-year-old, soon-to-be-retired Clinton chairing a weekly meeting of assistant secretaries.

Clinton should be able to make a long-planned departure from her post in coming weeks. President Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to succeed Clinton and he's expected to be quickly confirmed by the Senate.

Update at 12:45 p.m. ET. A Helmet And A Jersey:

According to a spokeswoman, Clinton's staff gave her a warm welcome and two gifts — a football helmet with the department's seal and a football jersey with the number 112, for each of the countries she visited while secretary.

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Huell Howser, a fixture of public television in California, has died at 67. Howser hosted several public television programs, the most popular being California's Gold, which celebrated the state's unique stories and natural beauty.

Howser died Sunday night of natural causes, reports the Long Beach Press Telegram, citing a KCET representative who also says his death was "a complete surprise."

A native of Gallatin, Tenn., who moved to Los Angeles in 1981, Howser never discarded his Southern drawl — and he never lost his enthusiasm for finding the stories hidden in dimestores, historical sites, and state parks that many of his viewers found infectious.

Here's how Greg Braxton of The Los Angeles Times describes him:

"His upbeat boosterism accompanied an appearance that was simultaneously off-kilter and yet somehow cool with a hint of retro — a thick, square mane of white hair, sunglasses, shirts that showed off a drill sergeant's build and huge biceps, and expressions that ranged from pleasantness to jaw-dropping wonder with some of his discoveries. Often, he wore shorts."

As Braxton notes, Howser's perpetually buoyant spirit and folksy manner stretched beyond his public TV work; he inspired several caricatures of himself, including at least one that appeared on The Simpsons.

After a series of short segments called Videolog premiered in which Howser told the stories of everyday Californians, the idea matured into the longer-format California's Gold — and it endured for more than 19 years of production, according to his website.

One noteworthy early segment was titled "Elephant Man" — in which he told the story of an 80-year-old elephant trainer's reunion with Nita, an elephant that he had first acquired in 1955.

It's become an annual tradition: bidding up an outrageous price for a Pacific bluefin tuna during the first auction of the new year at Toyko's Tsukiji fish market.

And on Saturday, a bluefin tuna big enough to serve up about 10,000 pieces of sushi fetched a mind-boggling price: $1.76 million. That's about three times as much as last year's tuna and equates to about $3,600 per pound for the 489-pound fish.

The winning bidder, sushi chain owner Kiyoshi Kimura, is likely well aware that the market value of this fish is much lower. According to a BBC report, Kimura said he wanted to "encourage Japan" with his purchase.

So, what's the problem? As my colleague Eliza Barclay reported last year, this extravagant sale — and the publicity around it — may be just one more way to push demand for this fish, at a time when the species is vulnerable due to overfishing.

An international scientific committee is expected to release its latest assessment of Pacific bluefin tuna stocks any day now. And environmentalists say they're concerned about the imperiled state of this fish population, given that there are few regulatory measures in place to effectively manage its stocks.

"The No. 1 thing that needs to happen is catch limits" to regulate the number and the size of fish caught, says Amanda Nickson of the Pew Environment Group. "That's the critical thing."

The standout of Tenth of December, though, is "The Semplica Girl Diaries," a story that's remarkable for its originality and unrelenting sadness. Written as a series of journal entries, it follows a middle-class striver who feels bad that he can't provide the rich, stylish lifestyle that his daughter craves. After winning the lottery, the narrator is able to buy the latest status symbol: a lawn installation of "Semplica girls," young immigrant women who are strung together by a surgical cable that runs through their heads. He's not sure why he needs it, he just knows that he does: "Lord, give us more. Give us enough. Help us not fall behind peers. Help us, that is, not fall further behind peers. For kids' sake. Do not want them scarred by how far behind we are."

It's possibly Saunders' strangest short story to date, but it's also one of his most realistic, and that's what makes it so horrifying. To anyone paying attention to contemporary American culture — with its objectification of women, obsession with consumerism and widespread desensitization to violence — the plot hits home.

It would be tempting to believe that Saunders' fiction portrays society the way a fun-house mirror does, reflecting images that look familiar but are, finally, exaggerated and unreal. Tenth of December suggests that's not the case — that what we assumed was a nightmare is, in fact, our new reality. It also proves that Saunders is one of America's best writers of fiction, and that his stories are as weird, scary and devastating as America itself.

Read an excerpt of Tenth of December


Now that we're done with all that fiscal cliff wrangling (sort of), it's time to move on to priority No. 2: the next year in poetry. Just kidding. But, with the whole year stretching out before us, it is a good time to get excited about what literature has in store.

2012 was the year of colossal books of collected poems (from Jack Gilbert, who passed away shortly after his book's publication; Louise Glck; Lucille Clifton and one or two others). While 2013 doesn't promise so many monumental doorstoppers, it's packed with powerful, important and comfortably slim volumes of new poems by famous poets, as well as some books poetry lovers will love from poets whose names might be new to them. Here's a look at the eight you won't want to miss.

On the power that maps hold in shaping our realities

"It's a bit like another phrase, that history is written by the winners, by the victors. And it's the same with mapmakers. If you have the power to commission a map or make your own map, you're going to make it, you know, reflect your world and reflect your views. So, that could be — if you had a strong Christian worldview, you would put Jerusalem in the middle of the map.

"In ancient Greece, you would go right back and it would be Rhodes, the island of Rhodes off Greece — which is now what you would regard mostly as a kind of holiday island; and it absolutely relies on tourism and not much else. But, you know, in ancient Greece it was the center of world maps because it was such a big economic center of trade and port. It tells you a lot about world history — how we saw ourselves. That's the wonderful thing really about old maps; well, obviously, you realize how the world has changed, but you realize how we place ourselves upon it when the map is drawn."

On the impact of the digital revolution

"Well, I fall into two camps here. I use, you know, my maps on my phone. And it's far easier to put my GPS on than to have to consult a map. But gosh, I mean, do we lose a lot. We lose the beauty of maps; we lose the romance of maps; we lose that terrible feeling that we'll never be able to fold up a map again.

"And I think the other thing, you know, we lose, is a sense of how big the world is. Because now we look at our map, there's a real sense of, 'Get me to where I want to go.' Now you get the feeling, actually, 'It's all about me' ... It's a terribly egocentric way of looking at the world. So I think the view of where we are in the world, in the history of the world, is changing. And I think in a way it's one of the biggest, if not the biggest impacts of the digital and technological revolution — is how we see ourselves in the world."

Read an excerpt of On The Map


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"You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours," is an old and cherished maxim of our republic. In politics, that's called an earmark, aka pork. One member of Congress gets a road or a monument for his or her state in exchange for a vote on the bill in question.

Congress has lived on this since the era of stovepipe hats. The political vogue lately, however, has been to repudiate those earmarks. But with the recent gridlock in Washington, the feeling is that perhaps some of that grease might help ease things.

Long before President Clinton, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and President Obama, to name just a few, opposed earmarks, former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., remembers hearing about them in the 1960s, when his father Milward Simpson was in the Senate.

"[Lyndon Johnson] came up to Pop one time and said, 'Milward, what can I do for you? I need your vote ... surely you must have a dam or something out there you need in Wyoming,'" Simpson tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered. "I'm not talking about purity; I'm just talking about reality."

“ We cannot handle too much more of the situation we currently face where ... legislation can only get through when it is done at the last hour.

The latest figures show December was another month of steady, moderate job growth. But for many people still struggling with long-term unemployment, the situation hasn't actually changed much at all.

For Alecia Warthen, the last eight months have been painfully stagnant.

She was the first person in her family to finish college, after growing up in one of the roughest sections of Brooklyn. She had earned an accounting degree and worked as a bookkeeper for most of the last decade.

Then she lost her job with the City of New York last April, and she's now telling local grocery stores she'll do anything for a job — mop floors, stock shelves, bag groceries.

One morning she stopped by a Foodtown grocery store in the Bronx. She put in an application a few weeks before, but hadn't heard back. The man she spoke with immediately shook his head at her inquiry.

"They just closed one of my other Foodtown stores, and we're absorbing their help right now. So I have nothing open," he said.

"This is sad. This is so sad." Warthen said as she made her way back through the doors. "I'm going back home. Enough."

Warthen says she's applied for more than 100 jobs since her layoff and has had only four interviews so far. She's tried making clothes and curtains to sell — until her sewing machine broke. She even peddled homemade body lotions and home-cooked meals. But nothing's helped.

One Of Millions

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Warthen, 43, is used to taking care of her own problems. She raised six kids in the Bronx as a single mom and always had a job. Now, she and the three children who are still in the house are living on food stamps and $400 a week in unemployment insurance.

"I've always tried to aim high for myself," says Warthen, perched on her 11-year-old daughter's small, pink bed. "Instill the same values in my kids and stuff, and — just to think that everything has come down to this makes you feel like you just went to school for nothing. For nothing."

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As 2013 Begins, A 'Pretty Positive' Job Outlook

The last thing Washington policymakers need is another obstacle to reaching agreements in the next two months on mandatory spending cuts and raising the nation's debt limit.

But the start of the new 113th Congress brought word that House Speaker John Boehner had sworn off future one-on-one negotiations with President Obama.

The vow to fellow Republicans came just days before Boehner faced re-election to the speakership, for which he needed to minimize GOP opposition. But taking Boehner at his word, some observers think the nation's capital could reach a new level of dysfunction.

"You know, we avoided the fiscal cliff but we left it in a way that leaves the town even more paralyzed," says Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and one of Washington's top lobbyists. "If it was possible for Republicans and Democrats to be even more at odds with each other — or for the Republican Congress to be more at odds with the president than they were the last couple of years — that's happened."

Weber, a partner at Mercury/Clark & Weinstock, adds: "It worries everybody I've talked to a great deal about how we're going to meet some of these problems going forward. ... For the first time, I've thought it's possible we might actually go into default."

A Strained Relationship

Masters of ambiguity that they were, the framers of the Constitution didn't exactly spell out all the responsibilities of the speaker of the House. But in practice, one of those duties has been engaging in one-on-one negotiations with a president on important policy issues.

Matthew Green, a Catholic University scholar who studied speakers closely and has written a book about them, said he has never heard of a modern-day speaker refusing to participate in such talks.

"I certainly raised my eyebrows when I heard about it," Green said. "It's very unusual. I honestly can't think of a speaker in recent memory who ever made that kind of a pledge."

Granted, Boehner's stance against future negotiations with the president doesn't come out of nowhere.

On at least two occasions now — the summer 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations and the recent fiscal-cliff discussions — Boehner has held talks with Obama only to come away empty-handed and reportedly feeling that the president wasn't negotiating in good faith.

Not only that. All he's had to show for his trouble is the anger of many of his House Republican colleagues and outside conservatives who view such negotiations with the Democratic president as compromising their principles.

The 'Regular Order'

So from a Republican perspective, it makes a certain degree of partisan sense that the speaker would rather skip the gridlock of White House negotiations entirely and proceed directly to the gridlock of what's known as the "regular order": The GOP-run House passes legislation with little to no Democratic support that then gets ignored or voted down by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

One way of looking at what's happened regularly is that Boehner's negotiations with Obama have just delayed the inevitable congressional standoff as talks freeze discussions on Capitol Hill.

"Regular order has been hamstrung by these negotiations with the president. People have just been like waiting for Godot," said John Feehery, who was a top aide to former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert and now is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications. "They wait and wait and wait and, all of a sudden, they can't get anything done through the regular order.

"I think part of this is setting expectations," Feehery continued. "If you traipse down to the White House ... the expectation is you're going to come up with a deal. If you refuse to traipse down to the White House, and say, 'Pass our bill or pass your own bill and let's get going on it,' that's another set of expectations. Boehner can't be criticized if he goes through the regular order."

Of course, just because you say you won't negotiate doesn't mean you're not up for a chat. If the president requests that the speaker come down to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to discuss a few important matters, Boehner would be up for that, says his spokesman, Michael Steel.

"The speaker is always willing to talk to the president, but we're going to address these challenges through the legislative process," he said. Leaving open the possibility of discussions between Obama and Boehner obviously leaves the door open for negotiations between the two men that aren't exactly identified as such.

'Somebody Else Is Cutting The Deals'

Still, Green, the expert on the speakership, saw Boehner's pronouncement as potentially counterproductive:

"If by making that commitment, Boehner meant that he would consult more closely with his colleagues in the House before agreeing to any deal with the White House, it makes some degree of sense. Even speakers as powerful as Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich have sometimes been pushed back by their rank-and-file members for making deals they didn't care for. But to refuse any negotiations with the White House means keeping the House out of the policymaking process altogether. Republicans would be cutting off their nose to spite their face."

Among the new members of Congress sworn in this week was Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And within days, the Massachusetts Democrat could become her state's senior senator.

That's because 28-year incumbent Sen. John Kerry is expected to be confirmed soon as secretary of state.

And replacing him later this year after a special election could be the very senator whom Warren unseated: Republican Scott Brown. For Brown, it would be an unusual second chance.

"Do-overs in the space of a couple of months are rare," said Jeff Berry, a political scientist at Tufts University, which is also where Brown attended college.

Berry says it's clear that Brown is well aware of his unique opportunity.

Just two months ago, Brown lost a contentious race to Warren, the most expensive Senate race in American history. But Brown was extremely gracious and almost shrugged off the loss as a bump in the road.

"There are no obstacles you can't overcome, and defeat is only temporary," Brown said during his election night concession speech.

Brown repeated that refrain in his farewell speech from the Senate floor last month. Fare-thee-well? Not really. The speech sounded more like: Goodbye-for-now.

"You know, depending on what happens and where we go — all of us — we may obviously meet again," Brown said.

Those senators in the audience do have some say over whether they meet again. If they confirm Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state as expected, Kerry's vacant Senate seat would be filled in a special election, likely to happen this summer.

Berry says Brown still has an organization and campaign money left over from the recent campaign, and is an automatic front-runner among Massachusetts Republicans, one who likely won't have to worry about winning a party primary.

"The Republican Party in Massachusetts has no one else. Literally no one else that can run a competitive race against whoever the Democrats nominate. So it's Scott Brown or bust," Berry said.

Massachusetts Democrats want to make it a bust. They were caught by surprise three years ago when Brown came from nowhere to win the seat of the late Ted Kennedy in a special election. State party Chairman John Walsh says Democrats won't be embarrassed again.

"We spent about a year and a half trying to make sure Scott Brown didn't continue in the Senate. Nobody's interested in sending him down there to negate Elizabeth Warren's votes right now," said Walsh. "We'll be ready."

The first Democrat to say he's running is veteran Rep. Ed Markey, and key Massachusetts Democrats, including Kerry, are lining up behind him. They want to avoid a bruising primary, when the winner would have only six weeks after that to wage a general election campaign.

But Democratic Reps. Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch are also seriously considering running. Rep. Jim McGovern is not, but says an open Senate seat is a rare opportunity for ambitious Democrats, and he expects Markey won't be alone.

"Look, in a perfect world, it'd be nice if there was one candidate. But the notion that someone's going to clear the field — I'm not sure that's realistic," McGovern said.

While the Democratic field takes shape, Brown can just sit back and watch how things play out. He hasn't said whether he's running, but Berry says Brown would have to have a compelling reason not to take another crack.

"Scott Brown's going to have as much money as he needs," Berry said. "This is an opportunity for the national Republican Party to bloody the nose of Barack Obama. And they're not going to let this opportunity pass by. And it's all the sweeter if it comes from Massachusetts, which is a very, very blue state."

If Brown does run, it would be his third Senate campaign within four years.

When President Obama finally announced a fiscal cliff agreement late Tuesday night, he thanked several people who had worked to get a deal.

The first one he mentioned by name was the man standing next to him at the podium: "my extraordinary vice president, Joe Biden."

In the final hours of the standoff, Republican Mitch McConnell asked Biden to help push a deal over the finish line. It was far from the first time the vice president has played that role.

In 2009, Biden's chief economist, Jared Bernstein, was in an Oval Office meeting with the president. In the middle of the meeting, Bernstein remembers, the phone rang.

"And it's Arlen Specter announcing that he's going to become a Democrat and give the Democrats the majority in the Senate," Bernstein recalls. "And the president took the call and was extremely pleased. And when he got off the phone, he said something to the effect of, 'That was Joe Biden's work.' "

The White House has an entire legislative affairs office whose only job is to keep in touch with Congress. But often, this vice president acts as a one-man shop, doing the job on his own.

Bernstein says everyone in the White House acknowledges this.

"Not only is it recognized as one of his strengths, but it's one of the reasons he's there," Bernstein says. "I mean, you're talking about a president who was in Washington and in the Senate for all of two years, and a vice president who was there for 36."

Obama has a reputation for being aloof, especially with members of Congress. He doesn't take lawmakers golfing. He doesn't invite them over for movie night. He doesn't schmooze.

Biden is just the opposite. This week, he greeted incoming senators and their families at the start of the new Congress. He gave bear hugs, workout advice and facial caresses.

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