Ïîïóëÿðíûå ñîîáùåíèÿ


The movie American Sniper is a surprise box-office hit, but it has also become a lightning rod. Some critics say the film, based on the life of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, glorifies war. Others say it doesn't accurately portray the real Kyle. Still others say the movie — and the reactions to it — are an example of the deep disconnect between civilians and the military.

The vitriol has been ugly, the story complicated. There is no one truth. But when it comes to war, the most credible sources are often people who've experienced it firsthand.

Former Marine Jacob Schick is a warrior relations specialist with the Brain Performance Institute in Dallas. He has a small part in the movie as one of the veterans Kyle mentors. When Schick was in Iraq in 2004, the Humvee he was riding in hit a tank mine. "It blew right underneath me and then blew me through the top of the Humvee," he recalls. "Their guesstimation is 30 feet, and [I] stuck the landing on my head."

i i

Former Marine Jacob Schick (at right) has a small part in American Sniper as one of the veterans mentored by Chris Kyle Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

Former Marine Jacob Schick (at right) has a small part in American Sniper as one of the veterans mentored by Chris Kyle

Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

Schick lost part of his hand, part of his arm and part of his leg. But he says his most debilitating issues were post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. "Physical pain lets you know you're alive; mental pain will test your will to stay that way," he says.

And that is one reason Schick believes the movie American Sniper is important. He says it shows the effect combat has on someone who lives through it — in this case, Chris Kyle. Kyle did four tours in Iraq, fighting in some of the war's bloodiest battles.

In his memoir, Kyle wrote about his experiences in Iraq with direct, unvarnished language. The book was a best-seller. It was also condemned by critics for its callous tone: He calls Iraqis "savages" and says he "loved killing bad guys" to protect Marines.

"Chris Kyle's story is an uneasy story," says Nicholas Schmidle, staff writer for The New Yorker. Schmidle wrote an extensive article about Kyle — and the former Marine who killed him while they were at a shooting range near Glen Rose, Texas. He says Kyle wasn't the only soldier to be crass when talking about the enemy. "He did dehumanize the enemy," Schmidle says. "That is something, however, that is part of training. That's part of preparing young men and women to go to war."

Movie Interviews

Bradley Cooper And 'American Sniper' Widow Team Up To Tell SEAL's Story

Another reason for the backlash against American Sniper is the fantastical stories Kyle told about himself after he left the Navy. He said he killed two men who tried to carjack him in Texas. He said he went to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and shot people from the roof of the Superdome. On the radio Opie & Anthony Show, he claimed to have punched former Minnesota governor (and Navy veteran) Jesse Ventura at a bar after Ventura supposedly made disparaging remarks about soldiers.

It never happened, and Ventura won a defamation suit against Kyle. The other stories have also never been proved. Actor and producer Bradley Cooper has said that American Sniper is a "character study," but there's no mention of this part of Kyle's character in the movie.

That's a problem for Alyssa Rosenberg, a cultural columnist for The Washington Post. Rosenberg says omitting Kyle's fabrications — as well as his bragging about things like bar fights — makes the movie incomplete.

"By sort of stripping away a lot of details of Chris Kyle's views, he becomes less the man he was, and less the man he was trained to be, and less the man the American government and populace asked him to be," she says. "And so the movie isn't willing to make the case for Chris Kyle as he was."

But foreign affairs writer Alex Horton says American Sniper is just a movie, "and you can't include everything in the book, and you can't include everything in the universe about Chris Kyle."

Horton is an Army veteran who fought in the Iraq War. He believes the backlash against American Sniper has less to do with the movie than it does with people's feelings about that war. "It shows that we're still not ready to have an adult, clear-eyed conversation about the Iraq War. The wounds are still fresh. It's still heavily politicized," he says.

And, Horton adds, few Americans experienced the Iraq War, either firsthand or through friends or family.

Web Resources

Nicholas Schmidle: 'In the Crosshairs'

Alex Horton: 'American Sniper feeds America's hero complex, and it isn't the truth about war'

Jacob Schick's 'Open Letter to Warriors'

Republican heavyweights Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are already out shaking the money trees for possible 2016 presidential runs, and now Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is putting out the word that he is, too.

His Reclaim America PAC has hired prominent fundraiser Anna Rogers. His major donors are gathering in Miami Beach Friday and Saturday for a "Team Rubio 2016" political update and finance committee meeting. Rubio is featured Sunday at the billionaire Koch brothers' "American Recovery Policy Forum" in Palm Springs, along with fellow senators and presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Then Rubio will spend next week in California attending fundraisers, and a big part of February on a book tour that will take him to all the early voting primary states.

Of course, actively jumping into fundraising doesn't necessarily improve Rubio's odds — or even the likelihood that he will ultimately run.

He's still in his first term in the Senate after serving two years as Florida House speaker. He faces a crowded field of rivals, led at the moment by 2012 nominee Romney and former Florida Gov. Bush. Romney has proven he can raise $1 billion for a presidential run, and Bush has set upon an aggressive fundraising push that will include 60 finance events by the end of March.

Given those challenges, the obvious question arises: Why would Rubio run? In reality, though, a better question might be: Why wouldn't Rubio run?

A full year before the first voters are set to cast ballots, there are a number of good reasons for Rubio to go ahead with a presidential bid right now, at least for the coming months.

Here are five:

Practice makes perfect

Running for president isn't easy. It's a big country, and even when focusing on the early voting states for campaigning and the big money states for fundraising, a presidential bid is a costly, time-consuming, difficult production – which help explains why many of those who have won their party's nomination have only done so after trying and failing in previous attempts. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Al Gore and Mitt Romney all come to mind. Running now, even in the likely event that Rubio falls short, still adds to his email and fundraising lists – way more than just running for re-election does.

The money is just as green for a Senate run

Money raised by Rubio's leadership PAC can be used by Rubio as he explores a presidential run – or it can be used as he contemplates a run for re-election in 2016. If Rubio gets to the point where he creates an actual presidential campaign account and then winds up not running, Federal Election Commission rules allow any money left over to be transferred to Rubio's Senate account (subject to individual contributor limits). Similarly, if Rubio's allies were to create a superPAC that's not technically under his control, presumably they would be in sync with his goals and switch over to support his run for re-election, should he ultimately do that. As to his statements that he will not pursue both offices at once – he wouldn't have to. He could run for president now, decide later this year to give up on that goal...and then some months later announce that an outpouring of support from Floridians has persuaded him to seek re-election, after all. Florida's filing deadline for federal candidates is not until May 2016. Rubio would have plenty of time for a graceful transition.

David Rivera

The former Florida congressman is facing a federal investigation into his 2012 re-election bid. A friend of Rivera has already been convicted of steering money to a sham candidate in the Democratic primary that year, and that friend has been talking to prosecutors about Rivera's role. Unfortunately for Rubio, Rivera was his closest confidante and top lieutenant during Rubio's years in the Florida House. The two even co-owned a home in Tallahassee, on which a bank started foreclosure proceedings after they missed a number of payments over a dispute over the mortgage terms. Rubio has not been implicated at all in Rivera's 2012 problem, but their association will no doubt be an issue Rubio's opponents will use in a presidential run. But on a subsequent presidential run, Rubio could shrug off queries about Rivera as old news – as a topic that's been thoroughly vetted previously.

Sell, sell, sell

Rubio is out with his new book, American Dreams. And while someone like Romney, whose net worth is in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion dollars, may not need the money, Rubio probably could. He's only 43, and has spent most of his years since leaving law school in elective office. The $174,000 salary for members of Congress is more than triple the median household income, but it must pay for running two households, one in pricey Washington, D.C., and one in almost-as-pricey Miami. Which book is more marketable: one by a senator who's already settled on seeking a second term? Or one by a presidential aspirant? (Granted, most books don't make a ton of money. But $4 a book selling, say, 20,000 copies? That's not so shabby.)

The Naval Observatory isn't so bad

Running to be the chief executive of the United States when still in your first term in the Senate might be a stretch – particularly when your party has made President Obama's similar inexperience a major critique. But the number two job on the ticket? Some of the features that make Rubio so attractive as a presidential candidate – his Cuban-American ethnicity, his youth, his presumed strength in a key swing state – might be just as attractive as a running mate. (That is, if the nominee is anyone other than Bush. Bush has a Mexican-born wife, is fluent in Spanish and is arguably a stronger statewide candidate in Florida than Rubio.) And then, win or lose, Rubio would be considered a top contender either 4 or 8 years later. So if 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is out of reach this time, the house a couple of miles to the northwest maybe isn't a bad second choice.

2016 Republican presidential nomination

Sen. Marco Rubio


"Making aliyah," or returning to Israel, is usually a cause for celebration among Jews. But recently fear has pushed many Jews to leave France – a record 7,000 departed last year.

And that was before the recent Paris attacks that included the killing of four Jews at a kosher grocery store.

Jean Marc Illouz, a former senior correspondent for French television, who is also Jewish, says he's been pushing back against what he calls ridiculous comments on the Internet about anti-Semitism in France. He says Americans seem to think it's a resurgence of Nazism.

"You see people are thinking of anti-Semitism in terms of World War II and coming from the French," says Illouz. "It has nothing to do with the French. It has nothing to do with the mainstream Muslim French thinking. It has to do with imported terrorism."

Illouz believes today's anti-Semitism stems from radical Islam brought to France by imams and jihadists espousing a hardline doctrine from places like Saudi Arabia.

He says the vast majority of French Muslims want to be integrate into French society, and many are. But, he says the radicals' message is corrupting a small, angry minority.

"You have a number of poor young people who have a problem much bigger than money," he says. "It's a problem of identity. Because they're neither Algerian, nor do they feel they are full fledged Frenchmen. So in that gap, the jihadis found the way to put their lever."

Illouz, whose family comes from Algeria, says Jewish families like his lived there peacefully with Muslims for centuries. His family came to France in the late 1950s, among the nearly 1 million Europeans who fled the violence of the Algerian war of independence.

Related NPR Stories


French Immigrants To Israel Bring Part Of Home With Them


In A Paris Suburb, Jews And Muslims Live In A Fragile Harmony


Many French Jews Choose To Leave France Because Of Anti-Semitism

Today, these Sephardic Jews from Algeria and other North African countries, make up 70 percent of the Jewish population in France.

American Rabbi Tom Cohen has been in France nearly 25 years. His synagogue helps to bridge what he calls the cultural gap between French and American Jews, who are 95 percent Ashkenazi, meaning their origins are in eastern Europe.

Today there are soldiers guarding Cohen's synagogue around the clock. They even sleep there. He says his congregation feels confident the French government wants to protect them.

After the Paris attacks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged French Jews not to leave, saying France would not be France without them. Cohen agrees.

"There's some inherent anti-Semitism that's been in France, just like in the United States. And there are inherent philo-Semites, people who love Jews," he says. "This is, after all, the first country that enfranchised Jews with citizenship."

That was in 1791, during the French Revolution. Cohen says since then there has been good and bad, but Jews have always been part of the fabric of French society. France has the world's largest Jewish population after Israel and the U.S. He says today's threat is something completely different.

"We're dealing with a part of the Muslim community, and it's a small percentage," he says. "But it's a very large community, so even a small percentage is a large number of people, who have been radicalized, and this is the new anti-Semitism that has infested some of the Muslim world unfortunately."

Back at his apartment, Jean Marc Illouz plays a video of his son's recent bar mitzvah on his cell phone.

"I do not see why a few people with an imported ideology inside of France, inside of Islam, French Islam itself, would push us out," he says. "I think this is ridiculous."

Illouz says he understands why some Jews may be feeling anxious, but he sees no reason to leave France.



When the U.S. Olympic hockey team upset the Soviet Union in 1980's "miracle on ice," President Jimmy Carter called coach Herb Brooks to congratulate him on the win: "Tell the whole team that we're extremely proud of them. ... " Carter said. "I think it just proves that our way of life is the proper way to continue on."

The other way of life, the Soviet way — which produced some of the best hockey players in the world — only went on for another decade or so.

In his new documentary Red Army, Gabe Polsky profiles the Soviet athletes and political turmoil surrounding them. "They were incredible," Polsky tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "They, basically — for almost two decades — were almost unbeatable."

Interview Highlights

On Anatoli Tarasov, "the godfather" of Soviet hockey

He took a very creative approach to the game and studied chess and ballet and applied these principles to hockey. And he really made it a very fun, creative, artistic game to watch with a lot of puck possession and weaving and just beautiful playmaking.

On hockey being a source of pride in a society that was in other ways very dysfunctional

Josef Stalin in the '40s ... wanted the Soviet Union to be number one in sports in the world. And he wanted that to be because, one, it creates a sense of national pride — and when a team is doing well, people unify inside the Soviet Union. And it also makes other countries think, "What are they doing there in the Soviet Union? It must be a more superior culture in certain ways." And it was a propaganda tool for the Soviet Union to show how dominant and superior their society was.

More On 'Red Army'

Movie Reviews

The Tale Of The Hockey Players For Whom 1980 Was No Miracle On Ice

'Leviathan' And 'Red Army' Deliver A Peek Inside Russia, Now And Then

5 min 50 sec

Add to Playlist



On Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov, who is at the center of the film

He is a defenseman and he was captain of the Soviet National team for many years and was considered one of the greatest defenseman ever to play the game, and one of the most decorated athletes in Soviet history. As a person, he's a lot the same way he is on the ice. He's always keeping you on your toes. He's unpredictable. He's a little bit aggressive, but he's an intelligent guy. And that's how he was on the ice.

On Soviet players being "sold" to NHL clubs at the end of the Cold War

During the Perestroika times in the late '80s, the Soviet Union was changing and they were feeling a lot of pressure economically. And there was some stagnation, and the government could no longer afford to fund the sports programs in the Soviet Union. So they started to think about about allowing some of the older Soviet players to go and play in the West. And they would sell them to NHL clubs for a lot of money, and then basically take all that money for the government. So the players would make, let's say, $1,000 a month and then the rest of that money would go to the government.

And some of the players were so eager to get out of [Russia] that they would take that deal. But Fetisov held out, and didn't want to be treated like a slave and basically work and be sold like a slave to the U.S. and then give all the money back to the Soviet government. And he fought this very powerful system that threatened him and, ultimately, withstood all this pressure.

“ "Russia was a country that needed heroes. I think they suffer from a lack of people for young people to look up to. It was, still is, a country that was rebuilding itself from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and still trying to find itself."

- Filmmaker Gabe Polsky

On how Fetisov ended up playing in the NHL, but later returned to Russia

He was ... making quite a bit of money and has lived the American dream, won two Stanley Cups and was actually coaching. ... His life could've been great and fruitful — but, he got a call from Vladimir Putin. And Putin asked him to be the Minister of Sport in Russia. And I assume it was a difficult decision but I think when you have a guy like Vladimir Putin asking you to do that, it's difficult to say "no" to, first of all.

Second of all, Fetisov is probably one of the most famous people in Russia, and with that comes a lot of responsibility. Russia was a country that needed heroes. I think they suffer from a lack of people for young people to look up to. It was, still is, a country that was rebuilding itself from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and still trying to find itself. I think Fetisov felt a sense of responsibility for his country, his people, and he considers Russia his home. I think he wants to help make the country as good as it can be. ...

I think that the story basically brings to life the difficulties that Russia has had after the collapse of the Soviet Union and finding its place in the world, being prideful and finding its national identity, and regaining the prestige that it had during the Soviet years.

When Hostess Brands announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012, there was a lot of anguish on the Internet about the death of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Donettes and the like.

And it got Jennifer Steinhauer, a New York Times reporter and food writer, wondering why anyone would even want a Twinkie in adulthood?

"Well, maybe we all want a Twinkie or have access to a Twinkie because it's not just that you're losing a snack food you don't eat any more — you're kind of losing your childhood," she says.

Steinhauer usually covers Congress, but the possibility of a snack food apocalypse sent her to the kitchen for a solution. For a year she made Twinkies, Devil Dogs, Mallomars and even Fritos from scratch. She compiled her recipes for homemade junk food in a cookbook, Treat Yourself.

The Two-Way

Twinkies, Ho Hos, Other Hostess Cakes To Return On July 15

Among the foods she tackled was a little pink treat she had absolutely no respect for — the Sno Ball. She shared a recipe for All Things Considered's series, Found Recipes.

"The Sno Ball is the pastel cousin to everybody else. It's showing off. It's saying, 'Look at me, I'm bizarre, don't you want to take part in this?' " she says. "It's bright pink. It's not anything that you've seen in nature or food. It's kind of a holiday, but it's March and it's still there."

For Steinhauer, the Sno Ball was "a bridge too far." But she thought about how she could translate the coconut, marshmallow and frosting-coated treat into something more palatable.

Visually, she knew it had to be something that reminded Sno Ball lovers of the treat they had growing up. So she started with the shape — round — and decided to base it on a doughnut hole.

Then she took the marshmallow from the outside and turned it into a filling so the taster would get a mouth of marshmallow but "not a face of marshmallow," she says. She also pared back the coconut and made an executive decision to skip the pink food coloring.

When she brought the re-imagined Sno Balls to a school party, they were a hit with kids and teachers alike, even those who claimed to not like coconut.

"It's not an overwhelming, gross-sized treat," she says. "It's a little pop, a little fun thing."

Even though Hostess products are now back in production, Steinhauer is sure there's no comparison.

Treat Yourself

70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today)

by Jennifer Steinhauer and James Ransom

Paperback, 176 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

TitleTreat YourselfSubtitle70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today)AuthorJennifer Steinhauer and James Ransom

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?



Independent Booksellers


Food & Wine

More on this book:

NPR reviews, interviews and more

Recipe: Sno Balls

Makes approximately 40 small cake bites
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

For the cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup whole milk

40 mini marshmallows

For the topping

2 1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes

For the frosting

11/2 cups marshmallow fluff

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

Note: I use a donut hole cake pan in making these — it's inexpensive and is very fun to own. You can purchase one at many baking and cooking retailers online.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a donut hole pan (see Note) with unsalted butter.

Make the cake batter: In a heavy-duty stand mixer, cream the stick of butter and the granulated sugar together on medium speed just until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the egg and mix just until combined. Stir the cocoa and 1/3 cup hot water together until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the cocoa mixture to the butter mixture, stirring for an additional 10 seconds.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in batches alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour and beating after each addition until the ingredients are just blended.

Scoop a heaping tablespoon of batter into each donut hole cavity. Place a marshmallow into the center of each scoop of batter and cover the marshmallow with batter, ensuring that each marshmallow is completely coated. The pan hole should be two-thirds full. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cakes are set, Remove the pan from the oven, but keep the oven on to toast your coconut. Let the cakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then gently lift the cakes from the pan, placing them back on the wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Toast the coconut: Place the coconut flakes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the flakes starts to turn golden brown, but no darker.

Make the frosting: With a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer, beat the marshmallow fluff, the 3/4 cup of butter, and the powdered sugar for 1 minute at medium speed until light and fluffy. Transfer the frosting to a piping bag.

Frost the cakes: Place the cooled cakes, spaced generously apart, on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking pan. Starting at the base of each cake, pipe a spiraling circle of frosting around the cake, ensuring that it is completely covered in frosting. (You can use your damp fingers to smooth frosting over any gaps.)

Use your paws to lightly pack each cake in toasted coconut so that each entire cake is covered completely in coconut. (Don't just roll the cakes, or the coconut won't quite stick.) Use the rimmed baking sheet to catch any coconut flakes that fall through the wire rack, which can be applied to any semi-naked cakes.

Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Reprinted from Treat Yourself. Copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Steinhauer. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House LLC.


Web Extra

John Darnielle on writing songs about Ozzy Osbourne

2 min 33 sec



John Darnielle is the core, and sometimes only, member of the band the Mountain Goats. Thought by many to be "America's best non-hip-hop lyricist," he crafts songs that read like stories, and sound like they were recorded in his basement on a rickety tape deck. (Many of them were.) One of the band's most popular songs is the brutally humorous "No Children"—despite (or, perhaps, because of) its sing-along-able quality, the narrator's ode to their toxic marriage feels almost cathartic.

Perhaps it's this bittersweet-yet-vital quality of the Mountain Goats' music that translates into Darnielle's love of death metal. Attending a death metal concert, he says, is simultaneously "awesome and rewarding and painful and great." He appreciates how death metal is "creative expression that can genuinely say that it's not interested in what the world at large thinks of it."

He continued: "Whether it's a song, or a book, or a conversation you have at dinner, the creative thing is what happens in the process—not the relic of it."

Given Darnielle's philosophy behind his creative process, it's no wonder that his artistry spans from music to novels. His novel Wolf In White Van, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2014, feels like an extension of the characters in his songs. The main character, Sean, even shares Darnielle's love for professional wrestling and heavy metal.

More From This Episode

Following his Ask Me Another Challenge about death metal, which found Jonathan Coulton crooning tender, acoustic covers of Pig Destroyer and analyzing Cannibal Corpse lyrics, Darnielle treated the audience at the Carolina Theater in Durham, N.C., to a rousing rendition of the Mountain Goats' "The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton." Only Darnielle could make a chorus of "Hail Satan" seem so sweet.

Interview Highlights

On the heart in death metal

When we say something comes from the heart we have all these romantic associations that it has to be emotional in a certain way, it has to be somehow sad or plaintive. But death metal really does come from the heart, in that it comes from inside somebody and it's a mode of self-expression that is put out there at risk of ridicule, and with the near certainty of no monetary reward at all. It costs a lot of money to make a death metal album, and it takes considerably more musical expertise than I'm ever going to have. They're incredible musicians. It's a very passionate music. It's also really dark and gory—and I like that stuff.

On writing books vs. writing music

I can't imagine having to choose. It would be weird for me to go well this is the only thing I do. I don't really understand that. I respect it because zealots always attract me. Like "I only make this kind of music, that's all I do." I'm interested by that. But for me, I just like to make stuff. The thing you make and the form it takes is only the after-effect of the creative thing you did. Whether it's a song, or a book, or a conversation you have at dinner, the creative thing is what happens in the process—not the relic of it.

wolf in white van

the mountain goats

john darnielle

NPR and ProPublica have been reporting about nonprofit hospitals that seize the wages of lower income and working-class patients. Now, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says hospitals could be breaking the law by suing these patients and docking their pay. And he wants some answers.

Your Money

When Nonprofit Hospitals Sue Their Poorest Patients

NPR and ProPublica looked across six states, and in each, we found nonprofit hospitals suing hundreds of their patients. One hospital in particular jumped out — Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, Mo. Thousands of patients a year are getting their paychecks docked by the hospital and its debt collection arm.

One family we interviewed in our story has been getting their wages seized for nearly 10 years, but still owes $25,000 and feels trapped — in part because Heartland is charging 9 percent interest on that debt.

This family, and others we spoke to, should have qualified for free medical care under the hospital's own charity care policy based on their income. But that didn't happen. We also documented that hundreds of patients with low-wage jobs at McDonald's, Wal-Mart and elsewhere had their pay seized by this hospital.

i i

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says nonprofit hospitals could be breaking the law by suing patients and docking their pay. Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times/Landov hide caption

itoggle caption Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times/Landov

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says nonprofit hospitals could be breaking the law by suing patients and docking their pay.

Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times/Landov

Grassley: Hospitals Could Be Breaking The Law

Grassley, R-Iowa, told NPR and ProPublica he was "astounded" by these collection practices. For more than a decade, Grassley has been working to make nonprofit hospitals more accountable for the huge tax breaks they get. They don't pay federal income tax or local property tax. Grassley says that to justify their tax-exempt status, nonprofit hospitals have to "earn" it by "taking care of people who couldn't provide for their own health care."

Grassley worked on voluntary standards. But he also authored language in the Affordable Care Act requiring hospitals to do more to provide charitable care.

After he saw NPR and ProPublica's reporting on Heartland Hospital (which is changing its name to Mosaic Life Care), Grassley decided to get involved.

He says that under the ACA, a hospital has a responsibility to make a determination: Can a person or a family pay, or can they not. "It seems like Mosaic turned [the law] on its head," he says.

Grassley says the ACA requires that hospitals take the initiative to determine whether patients qualify for financial aid. The hospital is not supposed to shift that burden onto the patients. But in Heartland/Mosaic's case, Grassley said, "It seems to me they have not taken the initiative and they have not abided by the law."

Tougher Rules Required?

This story was reported in partnership between NPR News Investigations and ProPublica, an investigative journalism organization.

For more from this investigation:

From NPR: When Nonprofit Hospitals Sue Their Poorest Patients

From ProPublica: How Nonprofit Hospitals Are Seizing Patients' Wages

From NPR: Millions Of Americans' Wages Seized Over Credit Card And Medical Debt

From NPR: With Debt Collection, Your Bank Account Could Be At Risk

From ProPublica: Wages Of Millions Seized To Pay Past Debts

From ProPublica: Weak Laws Offer Debtors Little Protection

Heartland/Mosaic's board is reviewing its practices as a result of our earlier reporting. Grassley has now sent a letter to the hospital saying he wants to be briefed on the results of that review by Jan. 30. Grassley wrote that the hospital "may not be meeting the requirements to be a nonprofit."

And Grassley hopes his letter sends a wider message to other nonprofit hospitals that are being too aggressive collecting bills from patients who can't afford to pay. "Well, I think some hospitals, you hit them over the head with a 2x4 and they still don't get the message," he said.

Grassley says the health care law may need to be strengthened in order to force nonprofit hospitals to offer financial assistance to poor patients. "If they don't get the message now, we'll have to work towards getting the ideal language in the legislation," Grassley told NPR and ProPublica.

Tama Wagner, a Mosaic Life Care spokesperson, says the hospital will quickly respond to the senator's request and that the hospital's goal is to "do the right thing."

medical debt

health care costs

Affordable Care Act




Two days after the State of the Union address, President Obama will sit down for a round of unusual interviews. There's a good chance he'll get a question that none of his predecessors have ever had to answer.

One distinct possibility: "Mr. President, is you OK? Is you good? 'Cuz I wanted to know."

That's the signature greeting of GloZell Green, the self-dubbed "Queen of YouTube." Green is one of three YouTube sensations — the others are Bethany Mota and Hank Green — who will interview the president at the White House about the policies outlined in his speech. Viewers can follow along on the White House YouTube account, and ask questions via social media using the hashtag #YouTubeAsksObama.

The practice of bypassing traditional media outlets in favor of more unconventional forums is a familiar one for the Obama White House. Obama famously appeared on actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis' web-based parody talk show "Between Two Ferns" last year to plug government health care, primarily to young Americans.

The webisode has logged about 28 million views since it first launched on humor site Funny Or Die on March 11, 2014. The next day, healthcare.gov experienced a 40 percent bump in traffic, according to a message from the verified Twitter account for the website.

Here's a look at the three YouTube personalities who will be interviewing the president live on Thursday:

GloZell Green

i i

Self-proclaimed "Queen of YouTube" GloZell Green. YouTube hide caption

itoggle caption YouTube

Self-proclaimed "Queen of YouTube" GloZell Green.


Green is a California-based entertainer who shot to fame after posting comedy videos on YouTube, which soon went viral. A video of her coughing and sputtering after consuming a ladle full of cinnamon garnered more than 42 million views.

According to her online biography, GloZell has posted more than 2,000 videos online, has over 3 million subscribers to her YouTube channel and about 529 million total page views. She has leveraged her internet fame to appearances on television shows including the Dr. Oz Show and Showbiz Tonight, and secured a book deal.

Bethany Mota

i i

Bethany Mota's YouTube videos feature makeup tips, DIY projects and home decoration advice aimed at teen girls and young women. YouTube hide caption

itoggle caption YouTube

Bethany Mota's YouTube videos feature makeup tips, DIY projects and home decoration advice aimed at teen girls and young women.


Nineteen-year-old Mota has more than 8 million subscribers to her YouTube account, which features makeup tips, DIY projects and home decoration advice aimed at teen girls and young women. In a video discussing her favorite October beauty products, Mota mentions immediately putting up Christmas decorations after Halloween because she "...just decided that my room looked really sad."

In a January 2014 article, Business Insider reports that the fashion maven earned about half a million dollars through her videos, and had more Instagram followers than Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle, Glamour and Cosmopolitan magazines combined.

Hank Green

i i

Hank Green has used his online stardom to promote and raise funds for charity. YouTube hide caption

itoggle caption YouTube

Hank Green has used his online stardom to promote and raise funds for charity.


More than 2 million YouTubers subscribe to the vlogbrothers channel to watch Hank Green and his brother John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars, rant about Harry Potter, Hong Kong, net neutrality and farting. The project began when the brother realized they were only communicating through text messages and email, and decided to create video blogs for each other to stay in touch.

They have since used their online stardom to promote and raise funds for charity. Project for Awesome, which has taken place every December since 2007, challenges viewers to create innovative videos showcasing the work of their favorite charities. In 2014, the effort raised more than $1.2 million for several charitable organizations including Save the Children and Partners in Health.


President Obama

State of the Union

i i

A gold-mining barge docks along the Madre de Dios river. Courtesy of Duke University hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Duke University

A gold-mining barge docks along the Madre de Dios river.

Courtesy of Duke University

Picture this: A rickety, barge about the size of a garden shed is floating on the Madre de Dios River in eastern Peru. A stream of tan sludge pours off a conveyor belt on one side of the platform. Smoke from a generator belches from the other. The sound of a massive pump thuds across the water. And dangling over the side of the barge is a thick tube to suck sediment up from the riverbed.

Welcome to wildcat gold mining in the 21st century, Peruvian-style.

"Somebody will dive down to the bottom of the river with a scuba suit or some kind of tube to breathe," says Bill Pan, an assistant professor in the Global Health Institute at Duke University. "They'll be on the bottom sucking up the dirt."

i i

A miner holds a nugget of mercury mixed with gold. The mercury is used to extract gold from river sludge. Rodrigo Abd/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Rodrigo Abd/AP

A miner holds a nugget of mercury mixed with gold. The mercury is used to extract gold from river sludge.

Rodrigo Abd/AP

The miners sift through the dirt searching for flecks of gold and use a ball of mercury to extract tiny specks of specks of the precious metal from the sludge.

In this process, tiny beads of mercury end up getting dumped back into the river along with the leftover mud.

i i

Sarah Diringer, a Ph.D. student at Duke University, examines fish samples from the Madre de Dios river for potential mercury exposure. Courtesy of Duke University hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Duke University

Sarah Diringer, a Ph.D. student at Duke University, examines fish samples from the Madre de Dios river for potential mercury exposure.

Courtesy of Duke University

Pan and his colleagues at Duke are showing in a new research paper that these illegal mining boats, along with open-pit artisanal mines, are responsible for toxic levels of mercury not just near the miners, but also hundreds of miles downstream.

Over the last decade, tens of thousands of people have moved to this remote area of the Amazon jungle in hopes of striking it rich — or at least making a bit more money than they were before. Not all of them work on floating barges. Some of the miners clear trees from riverbanks and sift the soil in search of gold. The destruction of the forests has been widely documented. This new study shows the extent of the mercury contamination. And the study clearly shows the link between mining and the elevated levels of mercury in the environment.

"There's definitely a strong correlation between where the mining is occurring and where people are at risk for mercury toxicity," Pan says. "And that risk remains elevated for hundreds of miles."

A study in 2013 from the Carnegie Institute found mercury in fish and people in the region at levels far above what the World Health Organization views as acceptable. Mercury exposure can lead to neurological damage. It's particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children. Heileen Hsu-Kim, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Duke who worked on the study with Pan, says it's clear that mercury levels in fish and people have been going up as mining has expanded.

The government of Peru has attempted to crack down on illegal miners operating on the Madre de Dios river. The Peruvian Navy has even blown up some of the barges. But with gold prices well above $1,000 an ounce, laborers continue to flock to the boats and open-pit mines where they can earn far more than in the other jobs that are available to them in the country.

gold mining



The wedding of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) was one of Parks And Recreation's greatest moments. So was the wedding of April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt). But Tuesday night, Parks spent the second half of its hour-long double episode on its greatest love story: the friendship of Leslie and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman).

To recap: This final season has involved a time jump, such that it takes place in 2017. We learned at the start of the season premiere that there had been a falling out between Leslie, the good-government liberal, and Ron, the skeptical-of-government libertarian, that had broken their unlikely but profound bond and made them enemies. It involved something they kept referring to as "Morningstar," and happened sometime after they stopped being colleagues at the Pawnee Department Of Parks And Recreation and Leslie went to work for the National Park Service while Ron went off to start his own business, the Very Good Building Company. This season, Ron and Leslie found themselves facing off over land she wanted for a park and he wanted for the new headquarters of Gryzzl (a tech company that we learned last night has a Vice President Of Cool New Shizz), but they had turned on each other long before that.

In last night's episode "Leslie And Ron," their friends got tired of seeing them at war with each other and locked them in their old office, vowing to leave them there overnight to force them to work things out. And they did, which came as a relief, since seeing them fight was really stressing me out, you guys.

The origin story of Parks is now familiar: it was originally rumored to be a spinoff of The Office, it had a central boss who was weird enough that it originally seemed to actually be a local-government version of The Office, but it gradually grew into one of the most emotionally rich shows on TV — not only in broadcast or in comedy or in broadcast comedy, but overall. One of (many) things that separates it from The Office, though, is the underlying fact that working in a midsize paper company really was, in and of itself, a job in which it was hard to find real meaning, which is part of why the relationships were so important. But Parks has a point of view about working in government, and that point of view is unapologetically that it is possible for people in government to do things that are meaningful — hard, but possible.

There's a scene in a very early episode in which city planner Mark Brendanawicz — who later left the show — explains with some misery that his latest accomplishment is getting a speed bump lowered two inches. Leslie, as always, had the bright side covered: "You fixed a problem," she says. "That's what we're supposed to do."

But beyond its theory of government, the show has always had a more fundamental optimism that, particularly on the night of the State Of The Union, seemed more subversive than ever: it has been committed from the start to the idea that people with very different politics can love each other, and that humanity is a kind of universal solvent that doesn't undo disagreements but can clean off enough other stuff for surprising connections to happen. It isn't optimistic about everything — Leslie had to ship a couple of male penguins out of town to quiet the uproar after she inadvertently married them to each other a few seasons back. Leslie has lost a lot. She lost the seat on the City Council that it had been her pinnacle as a human to win, and she has remained in administrative and not elective office ever since. The Pawnee government is full of problems (and weirdos).

The beating heart of the show, though, is this hard-won (and beautifully acted and written) friendship that has not placed Ron and Leslie in full agreement, but eventually made them allies as far as they agree and respectful opponents when they don't. Leslie has learned to respect Ron's brand of happiness instead of bulldozing him for what she perceives to be his own good — she didn't try, for example, to force a surprise party on his birthday, but arranged for him to spend the evening blissfully alone, as he actually wanted.

In the end, a little bulldozing did have to be employed. When Ron wouldn't talk and Leslie was ready, she employed an escalating series of discomforts to force his hand. He withstood a fan blowing on his ear, being covered in Post-Its and having water dripped on his mustache, but when Leslie blasted "We Didn't Start The Fire" and made up her own lyrics ("Freddy Krueger bought some pants/Oprah has a turtle farm/Peter Piper pee pee poopy/Daddy ate a squirrel") he broke. (Poor Billy Joel.) So they talked.

This is not the obvious kind of "love conquers all," but it is a love story nonetheless — earnest and unpredictable and built on the same series of advances and retreats as any love story in fiction. And it was a story with higher emotional stakes than the great majority of romances that television and film will ever come up with, to be hoenst. Rather than futz around with the ridiculous question of whether men and women can be friends (spoiler alert: yes), Parks has devoted itself to the specifics of this relationship, these people, this office, and this town, and the fact that they matter to each other.

It was still very, very funny — Leslie's coercion tactics, those alt lyrics, Ron detonating what he believed to be a real land mine in order to break out of the office, only to discover that it was ... not a land mine. There's no trade-off between writing with feelings and writing with goofs except when writers choose to make one, and this particular episode was a welcome return to the Parks world as it should be: Ron and Leslie loving each other with all the platonic purity of purpose that Peter Piper could ever ask for.

Note: Thursday morning on WNYC at about 11:40 a.m., I'll be talking to The Brian Lehrer show about this episode and the other one that aired last night, "William Henry Harrison."

Shin Don-hyuk told a powerful story about the misery of life in a North Korean prison camp, becoming the most famous defector from that notoriously reclusive country.

His story seemed well-documented. Veteran journalist Blaine Harden brought him to prominence in a 2012 book, Escape from Camp 14, which has been published in 27 languages. 60 Minutes featured him in a report by Anderson Cooper. Shin's testimony played a role in a United Nations report condemning North Korea for human rights violations.

Now Shin says some parts of his account were not true.

His story raises the tricky question of authenticating information from North Korea and other largely closed societies where access to journalists and other outsiders ranges from extremely limited to nonexistent.

Harden, a former Washington Post reporter, wrote on his website that he learned last Friday that Shin "had told friends an account of his life that differed substantially from the book."

Harden goes on to quote Shin as saying: "When I agreed to share my experience for the book, I found it was too painful to think about some of the things that happened. ... So I made a compromise in my mind. I altered some details that I thought wouldn't matter. I didn't want to tell exactly what happened in order not to relive these painful moments all over again."

Related NPR Stories

The Two-Way

Obama Authorizes New Sanctions On North Korea Over Sony Hack

The Two-Way

Kim Jong Un's Little Sister Reportedly Marries

Shin, 32, maintains he accurately described his basic story. He says he was indeed born at Camp 14, north of the capital Pyongyang, and that he was subjected to torture.

But he originally said he spent his whole life at that camp until he escaped in 2005, when he was in his early 20s. Now he says that when he was 6, he and his family were transferred to a nearby prison, Camp 18. There, he says, he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.

He also now says he escaped the camp twice as a teenager: once in 1999, and once in 2001. After his second escape, he says, he managed to reach China but was arrested and sent back to North Korea for punishment in the more brutal Camp 14. He'd originally said he was 13 at the time of the torture that left his back scarred. Now he says he was 20 when that happened.

Other North Korean defectors had raised questions about Shin's account. Harden acknowledged the fact-checking limitations, writing in the book:

"There was, of course, no way to confirm what he was saying. Shin was the only available source of information about his early life. His mother and brother were dead. His father was still in the camp or perhaps dead too. The North Korean government could hardly set the record straight, since it denies that Camp 14 exists. Still, the story had been vetted and rang true to survivors of other labor camps, to scholars, to human rights advocates, and to the South Korean government."

North Korea pounced on the latest development, saying Shin's claims were false and again denying the existence of the camp.

The state-run KCNA news agency called Shin a swindler who "styled himself a 'survivor' in the 'concentration camp of political offenders' that does not exist."

Shin's case is likely to raise doubts about future stories from North Korean defectors.

Meanwhile, Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said memory loss or confusion over details is not unusual in cases where there is trauma.

"It's really quite common," he said. "It depends on the extent of the trauma that people have suffered. Can you remember the name of your third-grade teacher? Or where you were when you where 12 years old, when you had your birthday party? Or other important events in your life? I can't."

Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, agreed.

"The true surprise here is that we expect a former political prisoner who went through such unthinkable tragedy to remember everything in minute detail and in chronological order," Scarlatoiu said.

Asked if his organization trusted Shin, he said the foundation of Shin's story is still intact.

"There is a very fine line to walk here. NGOs require academic rigor, but also compassion," he said.

However, Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said journalists always need to consider the veracity of their source.

"Are they for real? Is this person legitimate? Because there are totally fraudulent, made-up people who masquerade around trying to win propaganda points against this or that regime," Sesno said.

North Korea

Shiite Houthi rebels are in apparent control of all of the major institutions in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, a day after they seized the presidential palace and shelled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's residence.

The rebels took charge today of a military base that houses ballistic missiles, and they posted guards outside Hadi's residence. The president is unharmed and is inside the house.

On Tuesday, the rebels took control of the TV building and the official news agency, and surrounded the prime minister's house.

Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, the Houthi leader whose followers regard him as a saint, in a televised address on Tuesday called the takeover a revolutionary move. The Associated Press reports that he said his group was merely forcing Hadi to implement a U.N.-brokered agreement that gave the Houthis more power.

Yara Bayoumy, a correspondent for Reuters in Sanaa, told NPR's David Greene that signs of Houthi control are apparent.

"When I went past President Hadi's home this morning, we first saw that the sentry posts where the presidential guard units would normally be were completely empty and, at the entrance of his home, there were a number of Houthi fighters with a military vehicle hanging around," she said.

She added: "In general, it would be accurate to say that the Houthis are in control of all of the major institutions in the capital."

The Houthis, who follow a strain of Shiite Islam that is close to the dominant Sunni strand of Islam, were created as a movement in 2004. They have called for greater autonomy for the north of Yemen and for the past year have pushed south toward the capital, capturing territory. The group is considered to be close to Iran. Last September, the Houthis reached Sanaa and took control of the city.

"When they took over the capital ... it really took everyone by surprise," Bayoumy said. "And I spoke to a diplomatic source. He told me if they were in control at 60 or 70 percent back in September, they are now 100 percent."

As NPR's Greg Myre reported, the Houthis and the government reached a deal after September's takeover that allowed the rebels to control parts of Sanaa.

Yemen is a key ally of the U.S. and was recently described by President Obama as a success story in the war on terrorism. Hadi has worked with the U.S. to target al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is widely seen as the most dangerous al-Qaida franchise and which claimed responsibility for the deadly Jan. 7 attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The Houthis are apparently anti-U.S. — with "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" signs at their checkpoints — but they are also anti-al-Qaida, and have been fighting the group in other parts of Yemen.

"They launched a major campaign against al-Qaida in the province of Beqaa," reporter Iona Craig told NPR's Audie Cornish on Tuesday. "And [there has also been] ... a sharp increase in attacks by al-Qaida targeting the Houthis and now trying to push Yemen into a second sectarian conflict."

Yemen, like much of the Muslim world, is predominantly Sunni. The Shiite Houthis live mostly in the north. In protests against the unrest, authorities in Aden, which is the main city in southern Yemen, closed the airport; the port in Aden was also closed.


Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula


Are you thinking about tax day yet? Your friendly neighborhood tax preparer is. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen declared this tax season one of the most complicated ever, partly because this is the first year that the Affordable Care Act will show up on your tax form.

Tax preparers from coast to coast are trying to get ready. Sue Ellen Smith manages an H&R Block office in San Francisco, and she is expecting things to get busy soon.

"This year taxes and health care intersect in a brand-new way," Smith says.

For most people who get insurance through work, the change will be simple: checking a box on the tax form that says, "Yes, I had health insurance all year."

Shots - Health News

Tax Time Gets New Ritual: Proof Of Health Insurance

But it will be much more complex for an estimated 25 million to 30 million people who didn't have health insurance or who bought subsidized coverage through the exchanges.

To get ready, Smith and her team have been training for months, running through a range of hypothetical scenarios. She introduces "Ray" and "Vicky," a fictional couple from an H&R Block flyer. Together they earn $65,000 a year, and neither has health insurance.

i i

An H&R Block flyer with fictional couples representing possible scenarios of what people might encounter reconciling their taxes under the Affordable Care Act. H&R Block hide caption

itoggle caption H&R Block

An H&R Block flyer with fictional couples representing possible scenarios of what people might encounter reconciling their taxes under the Affordable Care Act.

H&R Block

"The biggest misconception I hear people say is, 'Oh, the penalty's only $95, that's easy,' " says Smith, but the Rays and Vickys of the world are in for a surprise. "In this situation, it's almost $450."

That's because the penalty for being uninsured in 2014 is $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. Next year, it's 2 percent. Smith says the smartest move for people to avoid those penalties is to sign up for insurance before Feb. 15, the end of the health law's open enrollment period.

But a lot of people may not think about this until they file their taxes in April. For them, it will be too late to sign up for health insurance and too late to do anything about next year's penalty, says Mark Steber, chief tax officer for Jackson Hewitt Tax Services.

"They're kind of stuck," says Steber. "Quite frankly that's a very difficult discussion."

Steber's team at Jackson Hewitt is also role playing with tax advisors to prepare them for delivering bad news, in case taxpayers want to blame the messenger.

Lou Graham works at an H&R Block office in Hartford, Conn., and he is facing the same concerns. He is bracing to tell some people who got a subsidy all year long that it was actually too generous — maybe they made more money than they originally estimated. And, soon, they'll have to pay the government back.

i i

ACA Penalties Infographic H&R Block hide caption

itoggle caption H&R Block

ACA Penalties Infographic

H&R Block

"I'm going to tell a client, 'I'm sorry, $300 of your return is not going to be yours.' Well, that will send them right through the roof," Graham says.

Like his colleague Smith in California, Graham is afraid some people may be completely unaware of the penalty for not having insurance.

That means Graham may have to deliver two pieces of bad news. First, he'll tell them they owe a penalty for 2014, and then he'll tell them it's too late to sign up for 2015. "So they're going to get stymied twice," he says.

Graham says he also hopes to guide people to some good news. A lot of people may not know that they're able to get an exemption from the law's mandate to get insurance, and it's his job to pull it out of them.

A client could say to him, for example, "'I didn't have insurance for six months, but you know what? I had got a notice that my electricity was going to be cut off.' Well, you fall into a hardship case," says Graham. "Those things need to be explored and not many people want to bring that forward."

Bringing it forward it important. Tax preparers like Graham can only help if tax filers seek them out, and most people don't - not this early, at least, he says. "People don't really start thinking about tax work until they get their W-2s in their hands."

That presents a real crunch. Most people won't get those W-2s until the end of January. That gives them just two weeks before the Obamacare clock runs out on them on February 15.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, WNPR, KQED and Kaiser Health News.

Internal Revenue Service


Affordable Care Act




When he lays out a list of national priorities in his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama will face a Congress that's now controlled by his Republican opponents.

An early excerpt of the speech released by the White House shows the president hopes to draw a line under America's first 15 years of the 21st century and set new priorities for the future.

From Obama's speech:

"We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.

"But tonight, we turn the page."

You can watch the State of the Union address live at 9 p.m. ET on this post, via PBS; we'll also stream live audio of NPR's special coverage. We'll update this page with news from the event.

The speech will center on tax proposals that would boost middle class workers while requiring more from banks and America's rich. Immigration, health care, and conflicts with terrorist groups will also be key points.

Obama will also mention the hacking attacks that have hit Sony and other U.S. companies, in a portion of the speech that pushes for new legislation regarding cyber security and privacy.

The Republican rebuttal will be delivered by Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who arrived in Washington this month as a part of her party's takeover of the Senate.

"We heard the message you sent in November — loud and clear," Ernst says in an excerpt of the speech released Tuesday. "And now we're getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country."

In her speech, Ernst will also discuss taxes, saying that it's time to "simplify America's outdated and loophole-ridden tax code."

As Obama begins his seventh year, NPR's Ron Elving notes that he's in the same position every other two-term president since the 1950s has found themselves: "facing a Congress where both the House and Senate are in the hands of the opposition party."

Earlier today, the White House threatened to veto two House bills if they were to make it to the Oval Office: One would ease approval of natural gas pipeline projects, while the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would introduce new limits on abortion.

Here are more excerpts from President Obama's State of the Union speech:

"At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It's now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.

"Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?"

"So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don't get in the way."

"In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity. We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet – tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them.

"That's what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

"I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership. We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don't let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That's exactly what we're doing right now – and around the globe, it is making a difference."

"In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL's advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. We're also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism. This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL."

"No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children's information. If we don't act, we'll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe."



President Obama

State of the Union

Even in the era of declining television audiences, President Obama's state of the union address is still the biggest audience he'll have all year. Historically, seventh-year state of the union speeches have a short shelf life. Every one of the five lame duck presidents (that is, presidents constitutionally barred from running again — Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama — have all had opposition congresses, making the prospects for passing major parts of the president's agenda slim to none.

But on Tuesday Obama will try to use his speech to frame the debates for the next two years and set the table for the 2016 election.

Here are 5 things to watch:

1. How does the president talk about the economy?

We know he will make "Middle Class Economics" the centerpiece of his speech, with a tax plan that raises taxes on the wealthiest and the biggest banks in order to pay for tax breaks for working families. How will he convince the country that his policies have led to an economy that's growing fast enough that it's now time to move beyond the debate about deficits and stimulus?

2. What tone will he take toward Congress?

The president's tax plan is a not-so-subtle populist challenge to the new Republican majority. Will they dare to defend tax breaks for inherited wealth — like what the White House is now calling the "trust fund loophole?" The president's tone is important. Will he reach out to his old golf buddy John Boehner in the spirit of compromise? Or will he treat the GOP leadership the way he did the Supreme Court in his state of the union address after the Citizens United ruling (the one that prompted much head shaking from Justice Samuel Alito)?

3. Will Obama challenge his own party?

With his tax proposals, the president is finally giving Democrats the middle class economic agenda they've been missing. Will he also challenge them on trade? Getting "fast track authority " through Congress is one area where there is potential for bipartisan action. But most Democrats are opposed. On Tuesday night the president can show he's willing to push his own party on this issue, or he can make it clear he'd rather let Republicans do all the heavy lifting on trade votes.

4. How does the president avoid looking like the "small-ball" president?

President Obama famously said he didn't want to play "small-ball" — referring to Bill Clinton's agenda of narrowly focused items like midnight basketball, or school uniforms. Now, though, the president has rolled out a series of bite size proposals and executive actions like expanded access to high speed broadband, mortgage relief, and free community college tuition. Can he wrap them all into a compelling agenda for the middle class that is bigger than the sum of its parts?

5. How does he talk about Iran, ISIS, and the new terrorist threats?

This was going to be the year that Obama ended two wars and made a legacy-cementing deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. But the world isn't cooperating. Watch how the president talks about the attacks in France, the negotiations with Iran and the so far unsuccessful efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS in Syria and Iraq.


President Obama

State of the Union



Money Mixes Up Missouri Circuit-Court Race

Election 2010

Report: Too Much Money Going To State Court Races


Supreme Court Strikes Down Pillar Of Campaign Finance Limits

With New Campaign Finance Rules, You Can't Really Follow The Money

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in a case testing whether states, in the name of preserving judicial impartiality, may bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

There was a time when judicial elections were a pretty tame affair, with relatively little money spent, and candidates in most states limited in how they could campaign. Not anymore.

In 2002, the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote struck down state rules that barred judicial candidates from campaigning about legal issues that might come before them. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the deciding vote in the case, later would say she regretted that vote. But she has retired, and a new, more aggressive conservative Supreme Court majority repeatedly has struck down rules — long in place — to limit campaign fundraising for legislative and executive candidates.

Now comes the first challenge to limits specifically aimed at fundraising by judicial candidates.

Thirty-nine states elect some or all of their judges, and most bar all judicial candidates from soliciting campaign contributions personally. Tuesday's case tests that personal soliciting ban in a case from Florida, where judicial election fundraising is supposed to be done by candidate committees, instead of the candidates themselves.

Lanell Williams-Yulee ran for the trial bench in Hillsborough County, Fla. in 2009. She sent out a signed letter to potential contributors seeking money for her campaign and posted a signed appeal on her website. She said she misunderstood the rule. She was reprimanded and fined for the violation.

Williams-Yulee then challenged the personal solicitation ban as a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech, appealing her case all the way to the Supreme Court.

In the high court today, lawyers representing the Florida Bar will defend the personal solicitation ban as necessary to protect two important constitutional values: the impartiality and integrity of the courts, and also the constitutional right to due process of law guaranteed to those who seek justice in court.

Several former chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court have filed briefs supporting the personal solicitation ban, among them Harry Lee Anstead.

"The image I see is a judge in their robes, holding their hand out to a lawyer or to a private company, and cash being passed from one hand to the other," says Anstead.

Not so, says Andrew Pincus, the lawyer for Williams-Yulee: "This is a mass solicitation via a post on an Internet site and via a letter."

While challenging the entire personal solicitation ban, Pincus is seeking to parse it, contending there is a difference between a mass mailing or an internet post, or even a speech to a large group. After all, he notes, contributions are publicly disclosed.

"It's a phony protection," he maintains, "because the judge is going to know who gave and who didn't. So in a way, the prohibition creates an illusion of insulation when there isn't any real insulation."

Gregory Coleman, president of the Florida Bar, counters that it's not so easy to "divide up" a ban on personal solicitation. Either you have one or you don't, and allowing a judicial candidate to personally ask for campaign funds from those who come before the court, he says, "does not look right, it doesn't smell right, it doesn't feel right."

Indeed, how would you draw the line, asks Barry Richard, representing the Florida Bar in the Supreme Court. When does a mailing become a "mass mailing?" And when would an audience be big enough that you legally could make an in-person appeal?

Former chief justice Anstead says that striking down any portion of the personal solicitation ban would be disastrous in Florida, which is just one generation removed from the worst judicial corruption scandal in the state's history — state Supreme Court justices fixing cases on behalf of campaign donors, and even permitting a lobbyist to ghost-write the opinion of the Florida Supreme Court in a public utilities case. In the end, four of seven justices were forced to resign and the state adopted a raft of reforms, including the ban on personal solicitation.

Those challenging the ban, however, contend that making judicial candidates do their fundraising through committees stacks the deck for those with connections.

"That really favors the legal establishment," argues Pincus. "If you're someone who is not a well-connected lawyer, you may not have well-connected people to put on a committee to do the soliciting for you. You may have to send out letters yourself, and why should that be prohibited?"

The Florida Bar replies that there is nothing in the rule that prevents candidates from raising money – they're just prevented from doing it personally.

Pincus has another argument: if the purpose is to prevent corruption, then why are candidates for legislative and executive office permitted to personally solicit campaign contributions?

Because they're different, replies the bar association's Barry Richard.

"They're policymakers and people vote for them and contribute money to them because of the policies that they stand for," says Richard. "In the case of the judicial candidate you have an entirely different concern, which is a requirement for impartiality."

Finally, those challenging the personal solicitation ban argue that if a donation does cause either a conflict or the appearance of impropriety, judges can recuse themselves. In practice however, most experts say that is a nonstarter, because recusal decisions largely are left to individual judges and can cause all kinds of unanticipated problems.

"Trust me, in rural communities they're all getting their contributions from the same pool," says Florida Bar President Coleman. "So you could theoretically run through three, four, five, six judges before you could find one that the lawyer did not contribute to. So it could create, literally, chaos within the system."

Just what role does money play in judicial elections and decisionmaking? Polls show astonishing majorities of the public — as high as 70 or 80 percent or more — think money influences judges. And scholars have found that there is a "strong" relationship between campaign contributions and judicial voting, according to Tracey George, a law and political science professor at Vanderbilt University. She is among a group of scholars who filed a brief surveying the data.

"Money biases — whether consciously or subconsciously — the recipient's subsequent actions," George says. Indeed, she notes, "donors have given to judges who face no opposition, so these donors clearly think there's an impact."

Of course, a ban on personal solicitation may not solve that problem.

"It's true that it is not a perfect way of dealing with it," concedes former chief justice Anstead.

"We're limited to what we can do because of the great value we place in the First Amendment," he explains. "But at least we're doing something."

The question now is whether the Supreme Court thinks that "something" is constitutional, or whether judicial candidates soon will be just like all other candidates — scrambling for campaign cash, in person.

judicial elections

campaign finance


Supreme Court

The solar energy business is growing fast, thanks in part to a steep drop in panel prices.

The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that prices dropped by more than half since 2010. But the industry's future looks a little hazy. Generous government subsidies expire soon and the price for natural gas — a competitor that's also used to generate electricity — keeps dropping.

For now, though, the solar business is booming and the industry is hiring. More than 31,000 solar jobs were added in 2014, according to The Solar Foundation.

Among those who became solar industry workers last year is Charlie Wilde, 54, of Denver. He finished a training program at Solar Energy International in the spring, got certified and then worked temp jobs as an installer.

"It's really hard work, especially in the summertime, when you're on those hot roofs," Wilde says.

He sees a bright future in solar panels and is starting his own business called Ecology Solar.


Solar Advocates Fight Utilities Over Grid Access


After Solyndra Loss, U.S. Energy Loan Program Turning A Profit


Should Homeowners With Solar Panels Pay To Maintain Electrical Grid?

"I'll be targeting people in my neighborhood of Denver, Colo., and then expand out from there as the business grows," Wilde says.

Experienced installers can earn a good wage of about $22 per hour, says Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation.

"People in sales positions are making about $40 an hour," she says. "So these are good jobs. These are highly desirable jobs, and jobs that are helping to positively contribute to the U.S. economy."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track solar industry employment, but it cites figures from Luecke's foundation.

"We have nearly 174,000 solar jobs in the U.S., which is 22 percent more than last year and 86 percent more than when we first started to track jobs in 2010," Luecke says.

And she says there is plenty of room for more growth, because solar makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. today. Two-thirds of the country's power still comes from coal and natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Luecke says the solar industry expects to add another 36,000 jobs this year, but after that is a big question mark. Solar companies still rely on a 30 percent federal tax credit to compete with more established fossil fuels. Unless Congress extends the credit, it will end in December 2016.



solar power

solar panels


On the one hand, having the just-elected senator from Iowa, Joni Ernst, deliver the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address next week makes perfect sense.

On the other hand, you have to wonder why anyone would want the job. As often as not, the opportunity to speak right after the president does has been the kiss of death for aspiring politicians — especially in the GOP during the Obama years.

But let's start with the positives. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it, the newly sworn-in Ernst is "the perfect choice" to address the nation on behalf of her party. She is a woman from a swing state that matters in presidential politics, a new face in the new Senate majority.

She is also the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress for either party, the daughter of an Iowa farm family and a former colonel in the Iowa National Guard who served in Iraq. In November she won easily, rising from the state legislature to the seat that Democrat Tom Harkin had held for 30 years.

Ernst was a long shot a year ago, stuck in the pack of other Republican wannabes. Then she aired a TV ad in which she smilingly talked about castrating hogs in her early days on the farm. In case you missed the portent, in the ad Ernst said she'd know how to "cut pork" in Washington and "make 'em squeal."

Soon the Ernst campaign was the talk of Iowa and the national political class that keeps a weather eye on the Hawkeye State. Late in the season, Ernst had some rough weeks and ran afoul of some in the Iowa media. In the closing weeks, she skipped editorial board meetings, even at the state's powerful Des Moines Register. She often sails past reporters now in the Capitol, smiling but answering no queries.

Even this week, at the Republican retreat in Hershey, Pa., where her SOTU role was announced, she did not take questions at a press conference.

No matter. The SOTU speaker is expected to give a prepared rebuttal to the president, and not to take questions before, during or after. It is an ideal role for anyone trying to elevate his or her profile in national politics.

Except that, well, sometimes it doesn't work out so well, especially for the GOP. In the years Bill Clinton was president, a total of eight different Republicans took up the cudgels post-SOTU. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas did it twice en route to challenging Clinton's re-election in 1996 (a challenge that ended Dole's career). New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, U.S. Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine and William Frist of Tennessee all took their turns at the task. So did House members Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., and Steve Largent, R-Okla. Of this group, only Collins remains in politics. Lott left the Senate late in 2007, by which time the other six were already out of office.

i i

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered the GOP response in 2009 from the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge, La. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered the GOP response in 2009 from the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge, La.


The Republican Party's luck has scarcely been much better in the Obama years. The first Republican anointed to respond to President Obama in a similar circumstance was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in January 2009. Jindal popped up to the camera in the vestibule of his gubernatorial mansion in Baton Rouge, manging to seem impertinent, immature and self-important all at the same time. Widely panned, he receded into a secondary role in his party's national affairs.

The following year, 2010, the party turned to another — this one just elected in Virginia two months earlier. A good-looking and youthful conservative, Bob McDonnell had people talking about his future place on a national ticket. Five years later, his one term as governor finished, McDonnell is appealing his recent conviction on charges of corruption in office (and his sentence of two years in federal prison).

Things got better for the SOTU responders in 2011, when the GOP turned to Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan was just taking over as the chairman of the House Budget Committee following the party's smashing victories in November 2010. Ryan gave a well-received speech about budget priorities. Not long after, he brought forth a budget that slashed federal programs for lower-income groups and emphasized tax cuts and other incentives for investment.

Lavishly praised by fiscal and social conservatives, it has never been approved by the Senate and has provided plentiful ammunition for Democratic attack ads. But Ryan himself went on to the 2012 vice presidential nomination and is now chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. While he took himself out of the 2016 presidential sweepstakes, he is barely in his mid-40s and bids fair to be part of the national conversation for a long time.

i i

In this screen grab, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio takes a sip of water during his Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union in 2013. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP

In this screen grab, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio takes a sip of water during his Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union in 2013.


Since Ryan, those privileged to give the SOTU response have not reaped a commensurate benefit. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels got the job in 2012, but only after he had already decided not to run for president that year. He has since left politics altogether.

In 2013, the big responsibility fell to freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who had cut a swath through Florida politics. Rubio was able to do his response in both English and Spanish but was ill at ease, swigging water from a plastic bottle as he faced the camera. Rubio was soon enmeshed in the political crossfire over immigration, and he is no longer even the strongest presidential prospect in his home state (a distinction that now goes to former Gov. Jeb Bush).

Hats off to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the No. 4 Republican in the House and the highest-ranking woman in her party in Congress. Her speech following the State of the Union in 2014 was a model of personal appeal and modest policy pronouncements. It did her considerable personal good while doing her party no harm.

This year, Ernst might well aspire to have the scoreboard read the same after her SOTU response.

When you're president of the United States, what you say about the economy matters, because it isn't just about numbers and widgets; It's about people's lives and hopes. The health of the economy is intertwined with the national psyche.

On Tuesday, when President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, he will talk about the economy, something that in the past he's struggled to describe in a way that resonated with the American people.

"I know that for many Americans watching right now," Obama said, addressing a joint session of Congress in 2009, "the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others."

That February, Obama's first in office, the nation was in the throes of the worst recession in generations. He used the word "crisis" 11 times. The month before, the economy had shed nearly 800,000 jobs, and the situation would get worse before it got better.

"You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day," he said. "It's the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights."

Obama To Call For Hike In Capital Gains Tax In State Of The Union Jan. 17, 2015

In that first address, Obama and his speechwriters figured the American people weren't simply looking to him for sympathy and an accounting of economic doom. Obama had been elected on a message of hope, and he needed to offer some.

It's All Politics

5 Things We Learned From The President's Speech

Why Isn't Obama's Speech A State Of The Union? Feb. 23, 2009

"Tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," he said.

But since then, Obama has had a hard time hitting the right note when talking about the economy. In that first speech, he was still an outsider. But in the years that followed, it was his economy.

In 2010, he reframed, saying the worst of the storm had passed.

"And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again," he said. "Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value, businesses are beginning to invest again."

But just barely. The recession was technically over, but there was huge disconnect between Obama's words and what Americans were experiencing. One in 10 people still couldn't find work.

The story was the same in 2011, when an optimistic Obama told an unconvinced America, "The stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again."

Year after year, Obama described green shoots and good news that economists say were real, but many people watching at home simply didn't feel. Each year, Republicans, in their official response, had no problem finding very real pain to highlight.

The contrast between Obama's assessment and the GOP response was never starker than in 2012.

"The state of our union is getting stronger, and we've come too far to turn back now," he said.

Then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels gave this GOP response: "The president did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight, but he was elected to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have done anything but make them worse."

The economy wasn't actually worse: The unemployment rate was no longer rising. It was coming down, and that trend has continued. In 2014, U.S. businesses added more jobs than in any year since the go-go '90s.

When Obama stands at the front of the House chamber and talks up the economy this Tuesday, polls, consumer confidence surveys and $2-a-gallon gas all indicate the American public is more likely to agree with his assessment.

My parents were South African Jews. They'd come from Lithuania, [but] they grew up [in South Africa]. My dad came to England as a young doctor at the end of World War II, then went back. And he abhorred apartheid. He was actually the dean of the last black house within the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. And then he saw how, as a result of apartheid, black students were no longer able to attend, and that for him was the last straw.

I lived there as an infant and then would go back every year, and there was always this faint menace in the horizon. That blacks were going to rise up and sweep away these beautiful homes where I stayed in Johannesburg. And I remember cousins saying to me, "Enjoy the swimming pools — next year they'll be red with blood." And I didn't quite get it. Sometimes I would sit on the wrong bench or wander into the wrong place. Because I was part of South Africa, but I wasn't from there.

And of course, one of the particularities of apartheid was that blacks were banished except in the most intimate of settings: the home, the family. More or less every white family had black staff. And I would wonder why these utensils were set apart, and I would see [the black workers] going to sleep in these little concrete outhouses with their baleful single windows. So there was this combination of intimacy, of closeness, and of threat, fear, menace, always out there. It gave me a profound abhorrence of this evil.

You know, I spent a lot of time in the Middle East. I don't think Israel practices apartheid ... When it comes to Palestinians, some people use that phrase. But there are echoes. You know, when you're in the West Bank, and you're on the road, and it says, "Only for Jews, only for settlers, only for Israelis and not for Palestinians," those echoes are there. And it's one of the reasons why I'm a Zionist who believes very strongly that Zionism must involve two states for two peoples.

On coming to America, and whether it's easier to assimilate here

It is easier ... that's why I love it. That's why I became an American citizen. You can't imagine what a relief it was as a Jew to arrive in New York City.

The bright star, as I think I put it in the book, of immigration, of moving on, is new opportunity. And its black sun is loss. The loss of a home, the loss of a country, the loss of a community. And for some people, the project of beginning again is overwhelming. It's too much. That was the case with my mother. Even in America, for me, it's hard.

But even the most open of European societies has nothing like the openness of the United States, which is a country that is still — in my view — endlessly enriched by immigration.

Read an excerpt of The Girl from Human Street

bipolar disorder

South Africa

New York

One of Ireland's most prominent politicians, Health Minister Leo Varadkar, has become the first government minister ever to come out as gay — a move that comes just four months before the traditionally conservative Catholic country holds a nationwide referendum on same-sex marriage.

Varadkar, 36, told Ireland's RTE Radio 1 today: "I'm a gay man. It's not a secret, but it's not something that everyone would necessarily know."

He said the referendum was one of the reasons he'd decided now was the time make his sexual orientation known to the public.

"What I really want to say is that I'd ... like the referendum to pass because I'd like to be an equal citizen in my own country, the country in which I happen to be a member of government," Varadkar said. "And, at the moment, I'm not."

NPR's Ari Shapiro says Varadkar "is a prominent, well-known figure in Ireland's government. His party is considered right-of-center."

Reuters adds that the health minister "is widely seen as one of the strongest contenders to succeed 63-year-old Prime Minister Enda Kenny as leader of the ruling party."

And, by way of background, the news agency says:

"The Roman Catholic Church dominated Irish politics until the 1980s and the country only legalised homosexual acts in 1993.

"But Ireland has become much more liberal in recent years as the Church's public influence waned in the wake of a string of child sex abuse scandals."

The Guardian last month reported that an opinion poll, conducted by The Irish Times, showed 71 percent of Irish electorate would vote yes on gay marriage.


same-sex marriage

gay marriage

The self-declared Islamic State has released a group of some 200 elderly members of the Yazidis religious minority, allowing them to cross out of territory controlled by the extremists.

It is not clear why the militants released the men and women, many infirm, but The Associated Press quotes Gen, Shirko Fatih, the commander of the Kurdish peshmerga in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk as saying "It probably became too expensive to feed them and care for them."

As you might recall, the Yazidis have been a frequent target of the extremist group, who views the religious minority as apostates. In August, tens of thousands of Yazidis fled when ISIS militants captured the town of Sinjar near the Syrian border, but hundreds of others were captured by the extremists, and some forced into slavery, according to human rights groups.

The Guardian says: "The militants transported the captives from the northern town of Tal Afar, where they had been held for the past five months after the militants raided their towns last summer. The militants dropped them off on Saturday at the Khazer bridge, near the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil, Fatih said. They were being held on Sunday by Kurdish authorities for questioning, he said."

The AP reports that "[almost] all of the freed prisoners are in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect. Three were young children. The former captives were being questioned and receiving medical treatment on Sunday in the town of Alton Kupri."

In a statement quoted by Al-Jazeera, peshmerga member Sihamee Omar said most of the Yazidis were more than 50 years of age and that they were transferred in a convoy.

Khodr Domli, a leading Yazidi rights activist at a health center where the refugees were taken, tells Agence France-Presse: "Some are wounded, some have disabilities and many are suffering from mental and psychological problems."

"These men and women had been held in Mosul," he said.



Islamic State

Blog Archive