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PBS NewsHour

Inside the nuclear deal negotiations with Iran

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HARI SREENIVASAN: As we said earlier, that deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran is tomorrow.

For more about the state of the negotiations, we are joined now by my colleague William Brangham, who reported earlier this year from Iran, and by David Sanger of The New York Times. He’s in Vienna covering the talks and joins us now via Skype — William.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thanks, Hari. David, thanks for joining us.

The president this morning said there are still some significant gaps in the negotiations. What can we likely expect in the next day as these negotiations wrap up?

DAVID SANGER: Well, I think you can expect that these negotiations are not going to wrap up, that what’s going to happen here is that you will get an extension that may well be wrapped in some kind of description of the progress they have made so far.

You know, William, they have very extensive drafts and annexes of an agreement, but they don’t have political decisions from the supreme leader in Iran or from President Obama on some of the main issues of dispute, including how many centrifuges Iran could be left with, the fuel stockpiles, how large they would be, which ones would be sent to Russia, and the question of sanctions.

And all of these require decisions that nobody’s been willing to make, even though this negotiation has been going on for a year.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, how do you foresee us ever getting to an agreement?

DAVID SANGER: Well, I’m not sure that we ever will get to a complete agreement.

I know that many people on both sides hope that they will. But it’s also possible that, to the United States, this could be a manageable issue if you keep rolling it forward, to some degree. Now, to the Iranians, that’s not completely the case, because it’s their oil that is being kept off the market. And they want to have the normal banking relationships and the normal relationship with the West.

I think that’s the reason that President Obama’s team is calculating that time is probably on their side. But that could backfire as well if people in Iran begin to pick up a narrative that, in the end, the United States doesn’t — won’t take yes for an answer or won’t even take a partial yes for an answer.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The — the West’s concern here, obviously, is about Iran’s ability to — to build a nuclear bomb.

What in the negotiations right now are the stumbling blocks about what the Iranians are actually doing in that regard?

DAVID SANGER: Well, the concern is that, since Iran says it has no intention of building a weapon, you have to design a system that would lengthen what’s called breakout time, the amount of time it would take to produce one weapon’s worth of fuel.

Now, right now, that’s down to a few months, the way they have constructed this. And what the United States and the European allies, Russia, and China want to do is to extend that so that if anybody in Iran, even in a different regime, decided to race for a bomb, you would have plenty of warning and time to act, either diplomatically, economically, or militarily.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Western officials believe that it’s the sanctions that they have imposed that are keeping the Iranians at the negotiating table. And certainly, when I was in Iran earlier this year, I saw how those sanctions were squeezing the economy.

How much pressure are the Iranians really under?

DAVID SANGER: Different Iranians are under different pressure.

So, President Rouhani certainly got elected to get this problem solved, and I think feels very acutely that those sanctions have to come off. But it’s the supreme leader who is making the final decision here. And he’s got a different constituency, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and others, who have invested very heavily in the nuclear program.

So he’s under some very competing influences here on the question of whether it’s better to live with the sanctions and keep a bigger part of the nuclear program or get rid of the sanctions, but at a cost that many in the Iranian military may view as too high.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: David, if the negotiations don’t bear some fruit, is the — is the military option on behalf of the West still on the table?

DAVID SANGER: No one in the Obama administration that I have spoken to ever — has ever expressed the view that the military solution is more than a temporary solution.

You could bomb the facilities and certainly set them back a year or two years or maybe even three years. But you might also redouble Iran’s determination to rebuild those facilities deep underground in a place you couldn’t get at them.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: OK. David Sanger from The New York Times, thank you very much.

DAVID SANGER: Thank you, William. Good to be with you.

The post Inside the nuclear deal negotiations with Iran appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Health exchanges’ finances face test in second year

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The federal government shelled out billions of dollars to get health insurance marketplaces going in the 14 states that opted to run their own. Now they must act like true marketplaces and start paying for themselves.

Under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, state-run health insurance exchanges need to be financially self-sustaining starting in January. Some appear to be on that path, while others have shaky funding models or even none at all.

Some states, prohibited from using state money, are imposing fees on plans sold on the marketplaces. Others are spreading costs more widely – which, in one instance, has drawn a federal lawsuit.

Rhode Island received high marks for the smooth rollout of HealthSource RI amid last year’s stumbles by the federal government, and the agency director says the state’s health care reform “revolution” has begun. But the state does not have a way to pay for the exchange’s long-term operations, and some lawmakers in the state General Assembly have suggested shifting to the federal exchange.

The cost to operate Rhode Island’s exchange is estimated at $17 million a year, although an earlier estimate pegged the cost at $24 million. Republican state Rep. Patricia Morgan introduced a bill last session to transfer its operations to the federal government, but the legislation was held for further study.

“Think of what we can do with $24 million,” she said.

Some states have decided to tap existing revenue.

New York is relying on two agencies’ general revenue, while Maryland is using money from an existing 2 percent tax on insurance plans. Republican Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, a critic of Maryland’s decision to create its own exchange, said he continues to question its sustainability. He said last week that he is concerned “about the entire structure and that it may collapse of its own weight.”

To cut costs, Colorado’s state-run exchange has reduced overall spending 18 percent, including on technology and marketing. It’s imposing a 1.4 percent fee on monthly premiums for its plans but also approved charging a $1.25-a-month “general market” fee on all individual and small group policies, including those sold outside the state exchange.

Some lawmakers called the fee unfair, and one board member voted against it. It is expected to raise an estimated $13 million a year before it expires in 2016.

In the District of Columbia, which also is operating its own marketplace, the exchange’s budget is being funded by a new 1 percent tax on all health insurance policies. The American Council of Life Insurers is suing, arguing it unfairly taxes insurance products that cannot be purchased on the exchange.

Taxing only plans offered on the exchange would have required a 17 percent tax to cover costs, officials said, reducing the benefit to low-income residents.

Earlier this year, California’s exchange said it was setting aside $184 million in federal money to fight off projected budget shortfalls through 2016. About 1.1 million people enrolled in the first year, exceeding projections, and officials hope to grow that to 1.7 million during the second round of open enrollment.

Officials with Covered California, as the exchange is known, express confidence about its financial health. The agency’s board has projected a $250 million reserve for the coming year, built partly from a $13.95 monthly surcharge on individual policies.

“We do not have a deficit; our enrollment is sufficient to fund ongoing operations through 2015-16,” Covered California spokesman James Scullary said. “We remain committed to managing our resources prudently.”

The Vermont marketplace, which is being funded by the state’s health care provider tax, is on shakier ground. Officials there acknowledged it could face a $20 million shortfall by year’s end. The state hopes pending federal grants will fill the gap.

In Rhode Island, HealthSource’s individual market enrollment of more than 26,000 heading into the second sign-up period exceeded unofficial federal projections. Officials plan to continue using federal money through 2015. Beyond that, the funding mechanism is unclear.

“There’s time, but there’s not that much time, so these decisions need to be made,” exchange Director Christine Ferguson said during a recent briefing.

She has called abandoning HealthSource short-sighted and warned that doing so could come with its own costs.

Democratic Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo wants to keep HealthSource local and has pledged to scrutinize its budget and get “creative.” But the top House Democrat, Nicholas Mattiello, remains skeptical about its cost and value.

“At this point, Speaker Mattiello isn’t satisfied that the exchange has made its case,” spokesman Larry Berman said.

This report was written by Erika Niedowski of the Associated Press.

Associated Press writers David Gram in Montpelier, Vermont; Judy Lin in Sacramento, California; Ben Nuckols in Washington, D.C.; Michael Virtanen in Albany, New York; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; and Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.

The post Health exchanges’ finances face test in second year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Obama defends moves on immigration

HENDERSON, Nev. — President Barack Obama is shrugging off Republican criticism of his actions to lift the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Obama said it was important that he act unilaterally to prioritize the deportation of criminals and recent arrivals and spare those who have lived here illegally for at least five years and have roots, including children who are American citizens.

“Why we would prefer a system in which they’re in the shadows, potentially taking advantage of living here but not contributing?” Obama said in the interview, which was taped Friday in Las Vegas after Obama delivered an immigration speech there.

The president pointed to executive orders issued by Democratic and Republican predecessors and said presidents exercise “prosecutorial discretion all the time.”

Obama’s executive actions, which he announced Thursday, have drawn a withering response from Republicans, but also has laid bare divisions within the GOP over how to deal with immigration.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, rejected Obama’s claim of prosecutorial discretion. “Essentially he’s gotten in the job of counterfeiting immigration papers, because there’s no legal authority to do what he’s doing,” Cruz said on “Fox News Sunday.”

A second Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said his party shares the blame for failing to get an immigration bill through the House of Representatives.

“Shame on us as Republicans for having a body that cannot generate a solution to an issue that is national security, it’s cultural and it’s economic. The Senate has done this three times,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Indeed, Obama cast his decision as the result of the Republican-led House’s failure to act on a comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed with bipartisan support in June 2013, or advance legislation of its own.

He said Republicans still could pass an immigration bill.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he had pressed the Republican leadership to start passing legislation two weeks ago on the immigration issue.

“We are going to pass legislation, but it is not going to be the legislation the president is asking for,” Labrador said.  “We as Republicans don’t believe you should give amnesty first and talk about security later, which is what the Senate bill did.” Labrador spoke on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

Obama spent the weekend in Nevada, mostly playing golf, after the speech and was returning to the White House on Sunday evening.

The post Obama defends moves on immigration appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Former mayor of Washington Marion Barry is dead at 78

ATLANTA,
         GA - OCTOBER 31:  President Bil Clinton campaigns with Georgia Senate candidate Michelle Nunn at Paschal's on October 31,
         2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry attends a campaign rally for Georgia Senate candidate Michelle Nunn with President Bill Clinton at Paschal’s on October 31, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. Barry died on Sunday. He was 78 years old. Credit: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Divisive and flamboyant, maddening and beloved, Marion Barry outshone every politician in the 40-year history of District of Columbia self-rule. But for many, his legacy was not defined by the accomplishments and failures of his four terms as mayor and long service on the D.C. Council.

Instead, Barry will be remembered for a single night in a downtown Washington hotel room and the grainy video that showed him lighting a crack pipe in the company of a much-younger woman. When FBI agents burst in, he referred to her with an expletive. She “set me up,” Barry said.

Barry died Sunday at 78. His family said in statement that Barry died shortly after midnight at the United Medical Center, after having been released from Howard University Hospital on Saturday. No cause of death was given, but his spokeswoman LaToya Foster said he collapsed outside his home.

Speaking at a 4 a.m. press conference at United Medical Center, the city’s mayor-elect Muriel Bowser called Barry an “inspiration to so many people and a fighter for people.”

“Mr. Barry, I can say this, lived up until the minute the way he wanted to live,” said Bowser, who had served with Barry on the D.C. Council.

The year was 1990, and crack cocaine had exploded in the district, turning it into the nation’s murder capital. In his third term, the man known as the “Mayor for Life” became a symbol of a foundering city.

Federal authorities had been investigating him for years for his alleged ties to drug suspects, and while he denied using drugs, his late-night partying was taking a toll on his job performance.

The arrest and subsequent conviction – a jury deadlocked on most counts, convicting him of a single count of drug possession – was a turning point for Barry. He had been elected to his first term as mayor in 1978 with broad support from across the city. With his good looks, charisma and background in the civil rights movement, he was embraced the dynamic leader the city’s young government needed. The Washington Post endorsed him in each of his first three mayoral runs, although the 1986 endorsement was unenthusiastic.

Barry’s six-month term in federal prison was hardly the end of his political career. But it forever changed how it was perceived. To some, he was a pariah and an embarrassment. But to many district residents, particularly lower-income blacks, he was still a hero, someone unfairly persecuted for personal failures.

Barry returned to the D.C. Council in 1992, representing the poorest of the city’s eight wards. Two years later, he won his fourth and final term as mayor. The electorate was starkly divided along racial lines, and Barry advised those who had not supported his candidacy to “get over it.”

“Marion Barry changed America with his unmitigated gall to stand up in the ashes of where he had fallen and come back to win,” poet Maya Angelou said in 1999.

Barry’s triumph, though, was short-lived. In 1995, with the city flirting with bankruptcy from years of bloated, unaccountable government, much of it under Barry, Congress stripped him of much of his power and installed a financial control board. Barry held authority over little more than the city’s parks, libraries and community access cable TV station. He decided against seeking a fifth term.

Barry spent a few years working as a municipal bond consultant, but he couldn’t stay away from politics. In 2004, he returned to the council, again representing Ward 8, where he remained beloved. Many constituents still referred to him as “Mayor Barry,” and he was re-elected in 2008 and 2012.

Barry was born March 6, 1936, to Marion and Mattie Barry, in the small Mississippi delta town of Itta Bena, and was raised in Memphis, Tenn., after the death of his father, a sharecropper.

While an undergraduate at LeMoyne College (now LeMoyne-Owen College), Barry picked up the nickname “Shep” in reference to Soviet propagandist Dmitri Shepilov for his ardent support of the civil rights movement. Barry began using Shepilov as his middle name.

Barry did graduate work in chemistry at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., earning a master’s degree. He left school short of a doctorate to work in the civil rights movement.

His political rise began in 1960, when he became the first national chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which sent young people into the South to register black voters and became known as one of the most militant civil rights groups of that era.

Barry’s work with the committee brought him to Washington, where he became immersed in local issues, joining boycotts of the bus system and leading rallies in support of the city’s fledgling home rule efforts.

In 1970, The Post wrote: “Four years ago widely considered a young Black Power Militant with almost no constituency, (Barry) has become a man who is listened to – if not fully accepted – on all sides.”

Barry’s activism propelled him into local politics, first as a member of the Board of Education and then in 1974 as a member of the first elected city council organized under home rule legislation.

In 1977, he was wounded by a shotgun blast in the Hanafi Muslim takeover of D.C.’s city hall. A young reporter was killed. The shooting was credited with strengthening him politically.

In 1978, he defeated incumbent Mayor Walter Washington – the city’s first home rule mayor – in the Democratic primary and went on to easily win the general election.

Barry’s early years in office were marked by improvement in many city services and a dramatic expansion of the government payroll, creating a thriving black middle class in the nation’s capital. Barry established a summer jobs program that gave many young people their first work experience and earned him political capital.

In his second term, the district’s finances were rockier, and some of his appointees were caught up in corruption scandals.

The city’s drug-fueled decline mirrored Barry’s battles with his personal demons, leading to the infamous hotel room arrest on Jan. 19, 1990. The video of Barry was widely distributed to the media and made him infamous worldwide.

A few months after his arrest, long-time civil rights advocate and educator Roger Wilkins, a past supporter, wrote in The Post: “Marion Barry used the elders and lied to the young. He has manipulated thousands of others with his cynical use of charges of racism to defend his malodorous personal failures.”

Even after his comeback, controversy continued to dog Barry. Several times after his 1990 arrest, Barry sought treatment or counseling for problems with prescription medications or other substances. In 2002, he made an attempt to seek an at-large seat on the D.C. Council but abandoned his bid amid allegations of renewed illegal drug use.

In 2006, Barry was given three years of probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges for failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2004. As part of a plea bargain, he agreed to file future federal and local tax returns annually, a promise prosecutors later said he had failed to keep.

In 2010, he was censured by the council and stripped of his committee assignments for steering a government contract to a former girlfriend. The council censured him again in 2013 for accepting cash gifts from city contractors.

Barry played the role of elder statesman in his later years on the council, but he sometimes exasperated his colleagues with his wavering attention at meetings and frequent, rambling references to his tenure as mayor.

He suffered numerous health problems over the years. In addition to kidney failure, he survived prostate cancer, undergoing surgery in 1995 and a follow-up procedure in 2000. In late 2011, he underwent minor surgery on his urinary tract. In early 2014, he spent several weeks in hospitals and a rehabilitation center battling infections and related complications.

In a statement Sunday, current Mayor Vincent C. Gray expressed deep sadness after learning about Barry’s death. Gray spoke with Barry’s wife, Cora Masters Barry, late Saturday and shared his condolences and sympathies with her. The couple was long estranged but never divorced.

“Marion was not just a colleague but also was a friend with whom I shared many fond moments about governing the city,” Gray said. “He loved the District of Columbia and so many Washingtonians loved him.”

Mayor Gray said that he would work with Barry’s family and the Council to plan official ceremonies “worthy of a true statesman of the District of Columbia.”

Barry was married four times and is survived by his wife, Cora, and one son, Marion Christopher Barry.

The post Former mayor of Washington Marion Barry is dead at 78 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.