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

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    With the recent competition between New York and Chicago over which city has the tallest skyscraper in the U.S. (winner: New York), we were reminded that many of the world's loftiest towers benefit from some seemingly dubious enhancements.

    The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat put out a guide last month documenting the so-called 'vanity height' of many of today's tallest skyscrapers.

    'Vanity height,' according to the Council, refers to "the distance between a skyscraper's highest occupiable floor and its architectural top."

    Here's their chart of the ten tallest vanity heights:

    Credit: Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

    The Burj Kalifa tower in Dubai has the greatest 'vanity height,' with about 820 feet of uninhabitable space perched on top.

    What's not shown on the chart: the 'vainest' building in the world. According to the Council, that honor falls to the Ukrina Hotel in Moscow, where 42% of that building is uninhabitable.

    The Council notes that if you were to chop off the 'vanity height' of the world's 72 "supertall" skyscrapers (those that are over 985 feet), 44 of those towers would lose their "supertall" status.

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  • 11/16/13--11:25: #INDIA
  • PHOTO: Indian Sikh Nihang warriors perform a fire breathing act in Amritsar pic.twitter.com/TYWGYpHYBp

    — Agence France-Presse (@AFP) November 16, 2013

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    PETER EISNER: What happened to an 11-year-old girl in Chile last summer ignited a national debate and sparked demonstrations in this conservative catholic country about an always taboo subject; abortion.  Newspapers reported the story of the girl, known only as Belen, who had been raped repeatedly and impregnated by her step-father.  And it got to be even bigger news after the Chilean president went on national television to congratulate the fifth-grader for deciding not to terminate her pregnancy.

    PRESIDENT PIÑERA: With words that showed depth and maturity, she said despite the pain that the man who raped her had caused, she was going to love and take care of her baby.”

    PETER EISNER: The President’s comments drew condemnation from international organizations like amnesty international and provoked demonstrations.  In one case a group of young women even bared their breasts and marched in downtown Santiago.  A recent public opinion poll shows that two thirds of Chileans supporting a woman’s right to choose an abortion after being raped.

    Chile abortion protest 3

    CLAUDIA DIDES: The case of the little girl who was raped by her stepfather in southern Chile is a case that very much moved public opinion. Maybe women can have the right to decide freely on their bodies, our bodies…

    PETER EISNER: South America is overwhelmingly Catholic and abortion is generally illegal, but most countries allow exceptions for rape, and in cases involving the health of mother and fetus. For most of the 20th century, Chile also allowed those exceptions. That changed in 1989 at the end of General Augusto Pinochet’s 27- year dictatorship. Pinochet issued a decree banning all abortions. Chile is now one of four countries in the Americas that prohibit all abortions for any reason -- a topic little discussed in the years since until the case of the 11 year-old made national news.  In a round-about way, that case shone a spotlight on practices that have been going on for years in Chile but are rarely acknowledged in public.  Despite the total ban on all abortions the government usually looks the other way for affluent or well-connected women if a physician determines there is a medical reason for the procedure. Doctors perform about 30,000 such abortions every year and sometimes falsify records to say they had performed appendectomies or other procedures instead.  And by most estimates there are another 120,000 elective abortions done every year.

    This woman’s story illustrates that statistic.  Francisca, a 30-year-old woman who lives in Santiago, says she became pregnant after her doctor told her to stop taking birth control pills due to a circulatory problem.  She spoke in shadow because she would be subject to arrest if indentified.  More than 100 people were charged with having an abortion or helping to provide an abortion in 2012, and more than 400 women and men, are currently in jail or on probation on such charges. 

    FRANCISCA: The truth is that I think if someone gets pregnant at 30 years old and wasn’t on any sort of hormonal birth control or at least counting days, its pretty ignorant.  I knew that I was involved in a risky situation.

    PETER EISNER: She says arranging an elective abortion in Chile is like making a drug deal.

    FRANCISCA: It feels like you are doing something criminal, like the entire time you fell you are doing something really really wrong.

    PETER EISNER: She says she met a woman on a street corner, was led by another woman she didn’t know to a building she could never find again. The woman took her to a small apartment.

    FRANCISCA: When she injected me with the dilator, it was mixed in a serum, I had no idea what they were injecting me with.

    PETER EISNER: So, you have to hope and trust that the person is…

    FRANCISCA: I thought, well, what if something happens to me?  Who do I call? Should I call the ambulance? Ok, well, then we’ll all go to jail.

    PETER EISNER: Some people would say here that this is a very religious, socially conservative country and you know that very well, and you also know the risks,.  You know what the rules are. What would you say to them?

    FRANCISCA: There’s no sympathy.  Why can't I make a mistake? I feel that this is a big injustice and it makes me motivated to do more.  I have to be responsible because there are women behind me and I do not want them to go through this.

    PETER EISNER: She says that she and her friends never discuss abortion and few of them knows what she has gone through.  She says it’s a conspiracy of silence for fear of going to jail or being shunned by those who oppose abortion.

    FRANCISCA: It’s sad. It’s very lonely.

    PETER EISNER: In her case, she stayed healthy and she wasn’t caught. But she says the first procedure didn’t work. A second chemical abortion was successful only after another visit to the same clandestine practitioner. Francisca says she paid more than $1,000, approaching a month’s average salary. Some women pay many times that much. Chile has a ministerial level government agency dedicated to women’s issues, The National Institute for Women.  We wanted to know whether the federal government was doing anything to help women having these dangerous procedures.  The institute’s director, Loreto Seguel, agreed to talk with us.   

    PETER EISNER: We see statistics that say that maybe there are 120,000 abortions in Chile every year. Understanding that abortion is absolutely illegal in Chile, does the government still have a responsibility to help the women who have had these illegal abortions?

    LORETO SEGUEL: It is important to say that the national women’s service does not do direct work in terms of abortions.  Of course those stats you’re mentioning could be right but the goals of our programming is geared towards adolescent  pregnancies and preventing a second pregnancy.

    PETER EISNER: Who else could I talk to in the government that would tell me how one can take care of women who nevertheless are having abortions and who nevertheless are sometimes operating underground in frightening ways that could hurt their health?

    LORETO SEGEUL: Chile hasn’t been attempting to tackle the issue of clandestine abortions or adolescent pregnancies through one service agency.

    PETER EISNER: While the government says it has limited ability to provide support or counseling to women facing unwanted pregnancies, private groups, pro-life and pro-choice, do provide hotline counseling.

    Veronica Hoffman is the director of a pro-life, anti-abortion group, Chile United. She says that her hotline is successful in comforting women and counseling them to keep their babies.

    VERONICA HOFFMAN: They are very lonely, very worried, perhaps they are young women who did not think they would be having a baby, so... somehow when the test tells them they are going to have a baby, they feel very desperate, and that's when they call us, then we decrease their stress level, and we start to check in with those who are thinking that they want an abortion. 

    PETER EISNER: She says she also sympathizes with the case of 11-year-old Belen and young girls like her, but she thinks an abortion would be worse.

    VERONICA HOFFMAN: I want to make it clear, it's not that we are not empathizing with that little girl, with that situation with the rape, but we do know that if they make the decision to terminate pregnancy of their child… that damage will be more severe than continuing with her pregnancy.

    PETER EISNER: Pro-choice advocates also provide abortion counseling... The difference is that these organizations, such as Chile’s safe abortion hotline, operate underground.  Volunteers wear masks when promoting the hotline in public. Pro-choice sociologist Claudia Dides says politicians have been afraid to reverse Pinochet’s decree against abortion, even though a majority of Chileans support changes in the case of rape or when the life of the mother is in danger. 

    CLAUDIA DIDES: They wanted to avoid talking about them or legislating them. We say the political elite or political class, they decided not to open the debate on these issues. So there hasn’t been a debate in the last 24 years.

    PETER EISNER: But controversy surrounding the 11-year-old girl, Belen, has prompted Michelle Bachelet, 

    the former president and likely to be Chile’s next president according to polls, to declare that she is in favor of exceptions to the country’s strict abortion laws.  While Claudia Dides fears that a divided Congress may yet block Bachelet’s commitment to change the law, she is glad that finally there is a national dialogue on the subject. 

    CLAUDIA DIDES: I think the issue of abortion has come into the public agenda, we have approached all the candidates to talk about it, and I think that is progress. And in that sense I think we've taken a step for the first time in 24 years,

    PETER EISNER: And as for the little girl, Belen, who started all this.. Loreto Seguel, the head of the National Institute for Women, says that the government is keeping a close eye on her. 

    LORETO SEGUEL: Right now Belen is carrying out her pregnancy with special support.

    PETER EISNER: Certainly in the case of Belen, there were calls for allowing an exemption so that she could have an abortion. Was there ever any consideration by you or by the President that in this particular case there should be an exemption?

    LORETO SEGUEL: Well, the position and the conviction of the national women’s service and of President Piñera’s government has been and is to protect and save the life of the child that is due to be born.

    PETER EISNER: But, final question, you still don’t want to see any change in the law as it is.

    LORETO SEGUEL President Piniera’s position has been very clear about the politics of this issue--

    PETER EISNER: But in short the answer is no need for any change in the law?

    LORETO SEGUEL: The administration has a position and a conviction, and in Chile, this is our challenge, what kind of society do we want to be?


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    MARY ANN MOORMAN KRAHMER:  Being here today just brings back all the memories. Really mixed emotions – more so than the last few times that I’ve been here. I saw a man killed right in front of my eyes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: When Mary Ann Moorman was 31 years old, she learned that the presidential motorcade would drive through downtown Dallas. She was a fan of the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, so Mary Ann and a friend, Jean Hill, headed to Dealey Plaza to watch the procession.

    MARY ANN MOORMAN KRAHMER: My son was in school and I had told him, ‘you can’t be out of school, but I’ll take a picture for you,’ never dreaming that that picture would be part of history.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mary Ann Moorman, shown here in a still frame of the home movie famously shot by Abraham Zapruder – took just one photograph of the President that day -- a grainy Polaroid snapped right as the presidential limousine was passing by.

    MARY ANN MOORMAN KRAHMER: As the car got closer to us, I stepped closer to the curb here, and Jean was yelling ‘Mr. President, look this way!”  And when I put the camera up to my face, I wanted to make sure it was as close as I could get to him, and I snapped the picture, looking through the viewfinder, of course.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: When the photo was developed, it became clear Moorman had pressed the shutter just as the 46-year-old President was hit and fatally wounded by a rifle’s bullet. It is the only known photograph of the moment the President was struck that also captures the “grassy knoll…” an image studied endlessly over the years to determine if another shooter was there.

    ALAN GOVENAR:  When the motorcade started to pass, she realized that she hadn’t taken the one photograph that she promised her son.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alan Govenar is the writer and filmmaker behind “The Silent Witness Speaks,” which documents Moorman’s story.

    ALAN GOVENAR: And when I asked her, ‘What did you see when you looked through the viewfinder?’ She said she thought there was a gust of wind, because his hair ‘lifted up.’ She had no idea that what she was photographing was the assassination of the President of the United States.

    MARY ANN MOORMAN KRAHMER: Jackie hollered, ‘My God, he’s been shot.” We heard that so plain. And then just seconds later, he had slumped over on Jackie and she started to climb out of the car.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This interview with Moorman was filmed earlier this year at Dealey Plaza where the 81-year-old originally took the iconic picture. The film is now being displayed at an exhibit at the International Center of Photography in New York City. It’s called: “JFK: A Bystander's View of History.”

    BRIAN WALLIS: To me, photography was a way to manage that grief and that trauma—a way to try to get a handle on what really happened.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Brian Wallis, chief curator, pored over thousands of photographs for the exhibit.

    BRIAN WALLIS: One of the things that immediately struck me about these photographs-- was that sort of up close and personal intimacy of these snapshots.  I was surprised to find that-- people were allowed tremendous access to the president. In fact, the motorcade through Dallas in November 1963 was just for that purpose, so large crowds could get close to the president.

    The most extraordinary by far is the Polaroid taken by Mary Ann Moorman-- at the exact instant that the President was struck by the first bullet.

    MARY ANN MOORMAN KRAHMER: And it all just happened in seconds, moments really. And it was over with.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: In tonight’s “Connection,” – sizing up which city has the tallest building in America.

    That title now officially belongs to New York’s One World Trade Center -- news celebrated in the Big Apple this week after a ruling by something known as the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

    The group’s heights committee – that’s it real name -- determined that the New York tower actually does measure a symbolic 1776 feet from the ground floor to the very top of its spire, just as its builders intended.

    But that’s hardly the end of the story.

    Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel says his city’s Willis Tower, long known as the Sears Tower, should still be ranked number 1, just as it was for decades.

    After all, he says you can go to the top of that building to enjoy the views, unlike One World Trade Center.

    Emanuel points out that the New York building actually would be 83 feet shorter than the Willis Tower if you didn’t count its spire – something he dismisses as nothing more than an antenna.

    RAHM EMANUEL: I’d just say this to all the experts they gathered in one room. If it looks like an antenna, acts like an antenna, then guess what? It is an antenna. For all those who want to climb on top of an antenna and take a look, go ahead.  I would suggest you stay indoors and take a look.

    New York comedienne Michelle Balan says this sort of dispute -- about what’s sometimes referred to as vanity height -- is really only about fragile male egos. She has an idea how to end what she thinks is a ridiculous debate.

    MICHELLE BALAN: You know what? We need female mayors, ‘cause they would go, “what do you think is more attractive? I think this building is way more attractive and we should adorn it with a few other things.”

    For now, the mayor of New York, listed at 5 foot eight, can declare victory over the mayor of Chicago, listed at 5-7.


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  • 11/16/13--13:21: #HAIYAN
  • Filipino chapel serving as intensive care unit for newborns http://t.co/hcQEtB16zF Photos by David Guttenfelder pic.twitter.com/IEisSDXf2W

    — Mikko Takkunen (@photojournalism) November 16, 2013

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    On this edition of PBS NewsHour Weekend, the latest on the typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines. Then, the growing debate over abortion in Chile, sparked when an 11-year-old rape victim was hailed by Chile's President for choosing to keep her baby. And lastly, ordinary people's extraordinary photos of President John F. Kennedy.

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  • 11/17/13--06:19: #LESSING
  • Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing dies age 94 http://t.co/V0IYHsL9f9

    — Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 17, 2013

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    MONA ISKANDER: Twenty-two year old Robert Covington spends a lot of his time at the new haven adult education center. He dropped out of high school when he was 17 and now he’s trying to make up for lost time.

    ROBERT COVINGTON: It’s not 3.5…I made mistakes when I was younger.  And I just-- I want to be able to better myself.  Become a better man and this starts here with your education. 

    MONA ISKANDER: Covington has passed the science, social studies, writing and reading sections of the general educational development exam– or the GED -- the nationally recognized high school equivalency test. Now he’s practicing geometry problems so he can pass the math section. He’d like to start community college early next year.

    ROBERT COVINGTON: So I have to pass it.  Yeah.  Fingers crossed. 

    MONA ISKANDER: Many like him across the country are rushing to take the GED now because this January a new version of the test will roll out and about 40 states, including Connecticut, are expected to use it. The test will be more rigorous, will cost more in some states and only be available online.

    MONA ISKANDER: And if you need to take it over in the New Year, then what?

    ROBERT COVINGTON: I'm just going to have to take it over.  Start from square one.

    RANDY TRASK: What we're doing is absolutely the most monumental-- change we've made in our-- in our GED testing service history.  I think what we're doing is-- complicated.  It's confusing.  It's worrisome.  But we're absolutely convinced that what we're doing is the right thing for learners.

    MONA ISKANDER: randy Trask is the president of the GED testing service, the for-profit company that’s developing the new exam.  The GED was created in 1942 for returning veterans who dropped out of high school to serve in World War II and was run by the non-profit American Council on Education.

    RANDY TRASK: And in the 70 years since then, our test takers have evolved quite a bit.  But we now have more than 19 million people that have-- have earned their second chance at-- at a high school credential by way of the GED test.

    MONA ISKANDER: The GED has been an important tool for high school dropouts and immigrants to make inroads into higher education or to secure better jobs. About 700,000 people take it every year, but only about 36% of those who pass the GED, enroll in a two or four year college… compared to 66% of high school grads who enroll. And overall, those with a high school equivalency degree earn less than those with a regular high school degree.

    MONA ISKANDER: Trask says figures like that compelled the Council in 2011 to partner with Pearson, an education services company. They formed a joint venture under the name GED Testing Service – and hired Randy Trask to overhaul the GED.

    MONA ISKANDER: What is it that was lacking in the old exam?

    RANDY TRASK: If-- you think about what we've been testing historically, we've been testing knowledge.  And what employers are telling us and what colleges are telling us is it's less about the knowledge and more about being able to use what you know to demonstrate critical thinking skills and solve real-world problems. 

    MONA ISKANDER:  Trask says in order to keep up with the times, the test going forward will only be administered by computer. It’ll be more rigorous to reflect new academic standards that high schools in many states have already adopted to prepare students for college or the workforce.

    RANDY TRASK: Take math, for example. Can you use that to solve a problem that's interesting-- to the-- two-- to the employer. For example, can you go in-- using some-- some basic algebra to adjust pricing-- for-- a store?  It's the application of the knowledge that becomes much more important than the original knowledge we-- tested.

    MARY MCNERNEY: I was definitely a naysayer initially, a skeptic.  And-- I felt, "What are they thinking?" "How do we know it's a present tense verb?"

    MONA ISKANDER:  Mary McNerney is a GED instructor at the New Haven Adult Education Center. Today, the lesson is on using correct verb tenses. 

    MARY MCNERNEY: I was worried.  I was thinking, "Oh, my God.  (Are my students really going to pass this test?"  And then, it's the use of a computer.  You know, for a lot of the young people, no problem; they're happy it's on a computer.  For the people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, they're, "Oh, my God.  It's another obstacle."

    MONA ISKANDER: One of her students is 56-year-old Roosevelt Barnes. He dropped out of high school to join the military… he then worked as an electrician… but lately, he says, finding work has been hard.…. Now he needs to pass the GED exam to go to community college.  He wants to eventually open an auto repair business.

    MONA ISKANDER: So you've been taking classes here, and you found out that the new test will actually be administered by computer -- was it intimidating at first?

    ROOSEVELT BARNES: Yes.  Because-- I'm computer illiterate and-- now since I’m-- doing-- the classes and stuff, they also have-- computer training. 

    MONA ISKANDER:  This has pushed you to learn more?

    ROOSEVELT BARNES: Yes.  Uh-huh.

    MONA ISKANDER:  And while the State of Connecticut has embraced the new GED exam, education officials just one state over in New York have serious reservations about it.

    MONA ISKANDER: So your reaction was what?

    KEVIN SMITH: Too far, too fast. 

    MONA ISKANDER: Kevin Smith is the Deputy Commissioner for Adult Career and Continuing Education for New York State.  He agrees the exam needed to adapt to a changing world, but he says the new version threatens to leave too many people behind.

    MONA ISKANDER: One of the concerns you had is  the new GED test is going to be-- administered by computer only.

    KEVIN SMITH: Yes.

    MONA ISKANDER: But isn't  it important to push people into the digital realm? 

    KEVIN SMITH: Absolutely.  We would call that an aspirational goal for us and for the test taker.  For the test taker who has little access to basic computing skills, or little knowledge of basic computing skills, it's one more point or one more barrier to their ability to demonstrate their skills.  There are too many barriers already and we need to break those barriers down one at a time. 

    MONA ISKANDER:  And even if New York State wanted to use the new GED exam, he says practical considerations would make it impossible. 

    KEVIN SMITH: Equally important, our infrastructure to provide that test exam by computer is negligible. 

    MONA ISKANDER:  Smith also says the cost of administering the new exam is prohibitive since it would rise from $60 to $120 per test taker in New York.  Costs vary and some states subsidize a portion of the exam, but by law, New York would have to pay for all of it.

    MONA ISKANDER:  At least eight states have opted not to use the new GED exam at all and are planning to use an alternative, including New York which has hired another education service company – CTB/McGraw-Hill, a competitor of the GED testing service. Its test will be offered online and on paper… and the level of difficulty will increase gradually over three years.

    MONA ISKANDER: Do you think that this is doing a disservice at all to New Yorkers not to be part of  what most other states are doing?

    KEVIN SMITH: No, I don't.  No, I think quite the opposite.  I do-- I think it's doing a service to New Yorkers. This is a much slower, more appropriate phase-in to the new exam, the new standards, than we are led to believe will occur in those other 40 states utilizing the GED exam.

    MONA ISKANDER: We've talked to people who say the test was not working as it was.  But maybe the changes should have been a little bit slower-- incremental.  What do you say to that?

    RANDY TRASK: Well, I say change is hard.  We have to keep focusing on the fact that-- that it's really not about-- a credential.  This isn't-- a feel-good ending.  This is about getting people into jobs that they can-- be less vulnerable to economic downturn. And so we're doing no one any favors if we don't in fact make sure that these adults are equipped with exactly what they need to compete for these higher-skilled, higher-wage jobs.

    MONA ISKANDER:  Trask points out that the cost of the new GED includes online resources to find out about jobs and training programs.

    Back at the New Haven Adult Education Center, Mary McNerney says she’s come to embrace the mission of the new GED test and she’s up for the challenge.

    MONA ISKANDER: Are you concerned that some people may not be up to speed by next year?

    MARY MCNERNEY: If I have any concerns that some people will not be ready this year-- which, many are not-- I believe, in my heart, that the majority of them will be able to work through the curriculum to eventually get their GED.

    MONA ISKANDER:  As for Robert Covington, he took the remaining section of the exam last weekend. He could find out if he passed as early as next week.


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    In this week's Doubleheader, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join me to tackle the tense relationship between the U.S. and Israel in the context of fragile negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

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    As our story on the overhaul of the GED test suggests, the new test will be substantially different.

    It will have to be administered via computer -- in part because of the complexity of the design of the questions, which are now designed to measure multiple skills and integrate more robust visuals and graphics.

    Take a look a some samples of the 2014 test and then try your hand at some old-school GED questions below -- just for fun.

    Note: The two images above are from the new test to be released in 2014. The sample questions below are from actual GED tests before the revision.

    var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "dcvanessa.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "what-s-state-of-your-general-educational-development-ged", placeholder: "pd_1384737933" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

    Editor's note: The clay question WAS wrong. It has been fixed. Clearly the editor needs to be more careful filling in the little circles on the quiz interface! Sorry! ^KM

    Watch the story on the GED revision.


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    Londoners buying newspapers and reading about details of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Credit: Terrence Spencer/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

    As part of our continuing coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, PBS NewsHour asked you to share your stories from the day the President was shot.

    Here are some of those memories.

    Came home after half day of Kindergarten and discovered that my sixth birthday party was canceled, and everyone was crying…

    — Russell Martin

    I was 18 months old. My mom talks about me crying because she was. I had no clue.

    — Cindy York Pursley

    Came home from school for lunch, turned on the TV - then I remember coming out and telling my father “someone’s been shot - they say they are giving him blood transfusions” - I was 11 and I remember it so clearly.

    — Heather Anne

    Watching TV and folding my youngest’s diapers when Walter Cronkite broke in to announce the news of JFK’s death.

    — Jeanette Tito

    John F. Kennedy in memoriam edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

    I was a sophomore in French class at a Catholic HS in NJ. It left me numb for days.

    — Dorothea Petrosky

    I was in chorus class. We heard the school principal announce over the intercom that President Kennedy was shot and was dead. We spent the entire class period in silence and shock.

    — Joanne Setzer

    I remember I couldn’t watch my favorite cartoon shows because every channel was covering the tragedy.

    — Rolfe Eric Tikkala

    I was a 20-year-old marine stationed in Japan and got the news about 0500 when awakened by another marine crying in the bunk next to me.

    — Jim Roberts

    I was three, my mother was crying, asked why and she told me the President was killed, I asked… “What’s a President?”

    — Dann Marceau

    Was in 6th-grade class (Mrs. Harbison). The principal came on the speaker & told us to put our ‘books and pencils’ away. Elsberry, Missouri.

    — Linda Elaine Stamper-Foss

    Commuters reading of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Credit: Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

    I was in the principal’s office and his secretary told me to tell my second grade teacher that the president had been shot. I told Mrs. Smith but she didn’t believe me.. On the bus going home adults were crying openly and I’d never seen that before.

    — Gayle Black

    Dismissed from school as a 2nd grader, I came home to tell my mom that the President had been shot and she didn’t believe me. We went upstairs to turn on the B/W television and hear the news…

    — Rudy Nyhoff

    I had been curbside for the parade and was able to smile and wave at the President as his car passed by. I was inside a nearby 5&10 about 20 minutes later, when a woman came in crying and screaming “the President’s been shot.” We raced to the street and my most horrifying memory is the sound of hundreds of police sirens coming from every direction in that canyon of tall buildings. It was so frightening and so very, very sad.

    — Dianne Taylor

    I was 10 years old living in Kaiserslautern, West Germany. We received the news about the assassination of President Kennedy that evening. We were watching the American TV channel out of Ramstein Air Force Base. My father was with the U.S. Army 11th Calvary, at the time. He called his company commander and was told to report to his mechanized unit. He then told my sister and me to put on our long johns and lay out our winter clothes on the bed. My mother put a small suitcase by the entry door, just in case we had to evacuate. We didn’t know if the assassination was a prelude to war. I remember watching out the window that cold winter night and seeing the other soldiers starting their cars and driving to their units.

    — Ralph Rodriguez

    I was in my classroom in Jr. High School. The teacher stopped the lesson and told us she had just gotten an announcement from the school office that she had to share with us. I will always remember that moment that changed our country and took away my innocence about the world… Next class was gym class. But we didn’t get changed for gym. We just stood in the locker room and cried.

    — Janet Shapiro

    Do you remember the day that JFK was shot? Share your story with us in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  A story by Reuters details how hackers from the group known as Anonymous broke into multiple U.S.  government agency computers and stole sensitive information And may still have access.  For more, we're joined now from San Francisco by Joseph Menn, He authored the piece.

    First of all, how significant is this hack?

    JOSEPH MENN:  Well, it's obviously very significant. They don't -- there are multiple U.S. agencies, including various bits of the U.S. army. There's the Department of Health and Human Services, and at the Department of Energy alone, we got ahold of an email Internally that says that they got access to personal details on 100,000 people and others and bank account information on 120,000 employees.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:   So the idea that they still have a backdoor open, how do they do this?

    JOSEPH MENN:   They got into a previously unknown flaw in a piece of software called Cold Fusion, which is used to run websites made by Adobe. That was back as far ago as December of last year.  And they put in a back door for future access, so even after Adobe fixed the problem, they were still able to have access. And the Feds don't know how far else they got, but they clearly have ongoing access, and at least in some places, they were pretty worried about it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:   So what's the real damage Done here?

    JOSEPH MENN:   Well, so far, the same group Broke into the U.S. Sentencing Commission and posted a video that was condemning -- calling for reforms of anti-hacking laws. It’s about what they see as unjust sentences for hackers. But we really don't know what else they're going to do with It.

    They have all of this Information; they can use it for identity theft, can impersonate Army personnel and get access to classified information that way. They don't really know the scope of the problem, but it's pretty big.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:   And when they don't know the scope of it, what is the FBI likely to do? What, in the memos that you've seen, what are their next steps?

    JOSEPH MENN:   Well, one of the things they've done is warn computer administrators at various federal agencies to look for specific signatures is, what they call, indicators of compromise. So they're going through, they're looking; they're trying to find the hackers' tracks. They might be able to find them all, they might not. In the meantime, they're continuing a criminal Investigation. There's been one person indicted In the United Kingdom and he's awaiting extradition. There are other conspirators they're looking for.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:   Is there concern about the safety of information inside these agencies today?

    JOSEPH MENN:  Yeah, absolutely, there's huge concern about it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:   All right, Joseph Menn from Reuters joining us from San Francisco, thank you so much.


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    Earlier this month, NewsHour Weekend published a story about the debate surrounding genetically-modified seed farming on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

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    President Obama met with CEOs from across the health insurance industry at the White House Friday. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    President Barack Obama and his team are running out of time to fix the problems with the Affordable Care Act, as pressure mounts from Democratic allies in Congress who are losing patience with the disastrous rollout of the law.

    The Morning Line

    The Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved the "Keep Your Health Plan Act" last Friday on a 261 to 157 vote, with 39 Democrats breaking ranks to support the measure put forward by Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton. The number of defectors could have been even higher had the president not taken to the White House briefing room last Thursday and proposed his own solution for letting the millions of Americans who have had their policies canceled in recent weeks be able to keep them.

    The president may have bought himself a little time with last week's mea culpa, but unless the glitches with the HealthCare.gov site are smoothed out in the next two weeks, the administration could be facing another, and perhaps more forceful, wave of Democratic backlash against the program.

    The National Journal's Josh Kraushaar notes that concerns among Democrats are not limited to members in red states who are up for reelection next year:

    More than anything, politics is about self-preservation, and the last two weeks provided numerous examples of how public opinion has turned so hard against the law that even its most ardent supporters are running for the hills. It's not just red-state Democrats, like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, distancing themselves from the law. It's blue-state senators like Oregon's Jeff Merkley and New Hampshire's Jeanne Shaheen -- and top blue-state recruits like Michigan's Gary Peters and Iowa's Bruce Braley, who voted for GOP legislation Friday that the White House said would "gut" the law. Nearly every House Democrat in a competitive district joined with Republicans to threaten the law. Without a quick fix, those ranks will grow.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., acknowledged Sunday on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that the launch of the federal online marketplace had been "terrible," but she insisted that Democrats "stand tall" in support of the law.

    Republicans, meanwhile, reiterated their calls that Democrats scrap the ACA and start over.

    "The president said that he fumbled the rollout. It's time for a timeout, which I've been calling for, so that we can go back to the drawing board and really talk about bipartisan solutions for health reform in the country," New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte said during an appearance Sunday on "Meet the Press."

    Julie Pace of the Associated Press writes that the battle over the health care law has stakes not just for the initiative itself, but the rest of the president's second-term agenda:

    Democrats in both the House and Senate worry the health care problems could dim their re-election chances next year. Republicans are saddled with historically low approval ratings and an internal debate over the direction of their party, though the heath law woes have proved a lifeline following the GOP's much-criticized handling of the government shutdown.

    With Republicans sensing an opportunity in Obama's free fall, the president is sure to face a struggle in getting their support, particularly in the House, for White House priorities such as an immigration overhaul or broad budget deal.

    Without success on other fronts to counteract the health care failures, Obama will have fewer chances to change the public's view that Washington, and the president himself, are ineffective.

    Looking to turn the tide in his favor, the president will address supporters of his campaign on a conference call Monday hosted by the group Organizing for Action.

    "I want to cut through the noise and talk with you directly about where we're headed in the fight for change," Mr. Obama wrote in an email encouraging supporters to take part.

    The president will find a friendly audience among campaign loyalists. The real test will be whether he can make inroads with Americans who have soured on his job performance, or Democrats who have grown increasingly anxious over the rocky rollout of the law. To win over those groups, the president will have to deliver results, and not just remarks.

    LINE ITEMS

    The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration will deem the online marketplace a success if 80 percent of eligible Americans are able to sign up for plans through the site.

    The insurance commissioner in Washington, D.C., was forced out of his post last week after criticizing the president's executive action.

    Political researchers are digging up 1990s-era attack fodder to use against Hillary Clinton if she runs for president, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    Alexander Howard writes for the Daily Beast that all government technology projects, even websites, aren't disasters like HealthCare.gov.

    The National Security Agency faces an almost 1,000 percent increase in open records requests from people asking if the organization has been spying on them, according to USA Today.

    The New York Times' Jonathan Martin reports on a feud between Wyoming GOP Senate candidate Liz Cheney, and her sister, Mary Cheney, that started when Mary watched Liz criticize same-sex marriage on "Fox News Sunday" and then erupted publicly on Facebook.

    Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn declared seven counties disaster areas after they faced violent storms this weekend.

    Scott Walker proclaims that he would be the president of the Paul Ryan fan club. One hitch: Walker doesn't think Ryan would make the ideal 2016 presidential candidate; that candidate would be someone with a state executive resume like .... Walker.

    From Politico Magazine, a post-mortem on why a campaign allowed Michael Dukakis to put a helmet on his head and pose for the tank photo op.

    Recovery from the recession has led to an interesting disparity, the Labor Department reports: Women have recovered the jobs that were lost, yet men haven't.

    Rep. Paul Ryan, visiting Iowa, told the crowd at Gov. Terry Branstad's birthday fundraiser that he and Mitt Romney may have won the 2012 presidential election if voters had understood the failures of Obamacare.

    Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley spoke at a fundraising dinner in New Hampshire as he continues to gear up for a 2016 presidential bid.

    Vance McAllister won the all-Republican runoff for a congressional seat in Louisiana. He had earned the endorsement of the Duck Dynasty family and had campaigned in support of the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion.

    The Denver Post "decodes" the players and conspiracy theories of the Kennedy assassination, which happened 50 years ago this Friday.

    The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee set a record for fundraising in an off-election-year October and outraised its Republican counterpart.

    Jackie Kennedy's pink Chanel suit, stained by her husband's blood at the assassination, will remain hidden from the public until 2103.

    Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, chairman of the -- yes, this is real -- Congressional Bike Caucus, hopes to make the U.S. House a certified bike-friendly workplace.

    D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray will sign a bill allowing people who can't prove they immigrated to the U.S. legally to get drivers' licenses.

    A town in Utah that recently voted to allow alcohol sales highlights a political divide driven by Mormonism in the state.

    The Museum of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Center will combine to build a new museum in Richmond.

    Microsoft will open an "innovation center" in D.C.

    The late Doris Lessing was critical of British imperialism and turned down an offer from the government to become a dame.

    NewsHour Political Editor Christina Bellantoni will be guest hosting the Kojo Nnamdi Show Monday from noon to 2 p.m. The topics are workplace bullying, attempts to forge peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo and reflections on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Nnamdi has been away because his brother was tragically killed last week in Guyana.

    Miles, a 5-year-old cancer patient, had the best day after San Francisco transformed into Gotham City and he became the Internet's cutest hero.

    NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

    Mark Shields and David Brooks dove into opining on the federal health care rollout in their weekly segment. And they turned to BatKid and foreign relations in the Doubleheader.

    Gwen Ifill writes about the Washington-perfected art of delay.

    Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

    TOP TWEETS

    Visit this site to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in any way you can. -JK http://t.co/Km5iBpGbNT#unselfiepic.twitter.com/qMXIb8pwK5

    — Department of State (@StateDept) November 15, 2013

    C'mon dude, F is the lowest grade RT @AshleyRParker: Dem Rep. Rahall says he would give the WH an F-minus for their handling of Obamacare.

    — Rebecca Berg (@rebeccagberg) November 15, 2013

    This Upton bill now has the Billy Joel song "Uptown Girl" stuck in my head. Thanks #Obamacare

    — Ben White (@morningmoneyben) November 15, 2013

    If you like your Doctor, you can't keep him - the BBC casts a new actor every four years.

    — Eric Kleefeld (@EricKleefeld) November 14, 2013

    best birthday present ever RT @darth: @OKnox@EvanMcSan@ZekeJMiller i read about it on the new improved ACA website pic.twitter.com/NI3LhlYiIS

    — Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) November 15, 2013

    Here he comes!!!! #SFBatkidpic.twitter.com/PhF85F4Mw3

    — Make-A-Wish Bay Area (@SFWish) November 15, 2013

    Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

    Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    Follow @cbellantoni

    Follow @burlijFollow @kpolantzFollow @elizsummersFollow @ljspbs

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    The Second City

    for Cathy Simon

    Even though there are motorized conveyances I am on foot; even though there is a map I negotiate the streets by landmark

    there are no landmarks but a series of edges common to several cities

    the hill is in San Francisco, the great shopping district with its glittering windows

    and esplanade before the fountain is in New York and the river with its bridges is in Paris

    I'm working on the park with its glass botanical gardens marble pillars in the distance

    leftover from the exposition there is probably a hill from which I descend

    and arrive at the "market district" below clearly indicated by the word "brick" like those on the west side of Buffalo

    to make this descent is to parse the terrifying grid of hill cities, roads

    dead-ending against canyons, barriers where a street careens into space and continues below

    bearing the same name so that a second city rises out of the forgotten one

    more pointed because not yet filled in by monument or palisade the place where water touches land

    and forms a line the leaflike veins of streets it is too late

    for the bus and I must walk from North Beach to the Bronx or something with a B

    through the middle city the place a middle occupies when you are no longer familiar

    and the buildings have only been seen by night from a car and by lights

    I am afraid someone will address me in French and I will forget the word for myself

    having so recently arrived and yet to be a stranger is to be swallowed up

    without words without glasses bearing an envelope with a numbered series

    in the second city I live out the dream of the first living neither for its access and glamour

    nor dying from its disregard simply talking toward the twin spires of an ancient cathedral like a person becoming like a person

    "Am I inventing the city or is the city inventing me?"

    That is the question that absorbed Michael Davidson as he wrote "The Second City," a poem "about the city you create in your dreams." Fascinated by modernism, urban redevelopment and dreamscapes, Davidson focuses on cities and consumerism in many of his poems. This poem he believes is a bit more optimistic than the others.

    "It's a city created by architects and urbanists who have fantasies of utopian uses for populations in groups," Davidson told Art Beat.

    "And what are the materials out of which I'm making the second city? Of course, since I'm making it out of a poem, I'm making it out of language. So a lot of the lines are about how I need to go for a walk from one part of the city to another and it could be as distant as the Bronx or San Francisco but I do it by means of associations with the (letter) B, like brick. It's a city created in language."

    Sometimes his brand of writing is considered "difficult poetry," but Davidson's advice is to keep trying. "Poetry like anything else requires training. You have to swim laps, you have to jog, you have to keep at it." Residing in England for the moment, Davidson is reading contemporary British poetry, perhaps for the first time. He said that at the beginning, he didn't understand the poems, but "little by little I'm picking up on themes, voices, rhythms, concerns"

    "If you want to make a soufflé, there's going to be a lot of failed eggs. You have to keep at it."

    Photo by Sophia Davidson

    Michael Davidson is a professor of literature at University of California, San Diego. Davidson has published five other books of poetry, including "The Arcades" (O Books, 1998). "Bleed Through: New and Selected Poems" (Coffee House Press, 2013) is his first book of poems in 15 years and will be on the shelves in December. "The Second City" is reprinted by permission from Bleed Through (Coffee House Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Michael Davidson.


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    An artist's concept of MAVEN satellite, pictured, shows Mars in the background. NASA plans to launch the satellite into Mars' orbit on Monday. NewsHour will live stream the launch. Image by NASA/Goddard

    Mars is a cold, dry, dusty planet with a thin atmosphere, completely inhospitable to life on the surface. But scientists believe that Mars looked very different four billion years ago.

    "What we see on Mars is a planet that seems very Earth-like 4 billion years ago. Not that it had a similar atmosphere, but in terms of what's important for life -- liquid water, access to the elements to build life -- it's possible we had two planets that had the potential for life and they diverged radically," said Bruce Jakosky, the principal investigator for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission.

    So why did Mars become so inhospitable to life while the Earth flourished? Jakosky and his team think the answer is in Mars' missing atmosphere. On Monday, NASA plans to launch the MAVEN satellite, which will orbit Mars and collect data that will explain the planet's past and why it lost its water and carbon dioxide. The launch, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in central Florida, will be live streamed by the PBS NewsHour.

    Video streaming by UstreamPBS NewsHour live streamed MAVEN's launch on Monday afternoon.

    Mars' atmosphere is extremely thin, less than one percent of the Earth's, said Jim Bell, professor of planetary science at Arizona State University. That's too thin for water to exist, Bell said; if you held a cup of water on Mars it would evaporate immediately, like it was in a vacuum.

    But traces of Mars' wetter past are etched into its geography, Bell said. Unlike Earth there were never jungles or pterodactyls, or even oceans, but satellite images and surface missions found dried up river beds, lakes and glaciers. And earlier missions found rocks and minerals that can only be formed with water, like clay, he added.

    "That smoking gun is sitting on the surface. It's a combination of geology and mineralogy that tell us there was water there," Bell said.

    "We see so much evidence for liquid water on early Mars, we have to ask what allowed water on early Mars that doesn't allow it today," Jakosky added.

    First, Mars would have been warmer than it is today, he said. The sun was dimmer four billion years ago, but if Mars had a thicker, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, the resulting greenhouse effect would have made the planet warm enough for water -- and potentially life, Jakosky said.

    But Jakosky asks: "where did all that CO2 from early atmosphere go?" There are two options: underground or into space, he said.

    Carbon dioxide on Earth dissolves into the ground, and shows up in carbonate rocks, Bell said. But so far soil analyses of Mars found very little carbon dioxide in the rocks, so MAVEN is looking for evidence that those gases escaped into space.

    One theory is that at some point in its history Mars' magnetic field around the planet appears to have "shut off," said David Mitchell, the project manager for the MAVEN mission. Jakosky thinks without that magnetic field shielding the planet, the Martian atmosphere was stripped away atom by atom by solar storms.

    MAVEN is going to test that hypothesis. The satellite will orbit the upper atmosphere in an elliptical orbit, circling 3,728 miles to 93 miles above the surface. There are eight instruments on board looking for the effects of solar wind on the Martian atmosphere and "sniffing" the air, analyzing its chemical composition, Mitchell said.

    "With that data, we can project back in time and determine the erosion of the atmosphere," Mitchell said.

    And that will tell us if terraforming the Red Planet, or geoengineering its atmosphere and surface to support life, is possible, Jakosky said. In order to bring water and life to Mars, it needs a bit of its own global warming, he said, but that depends on where the planet's carbon dioxide went.

    "If you wanted to terraform Mars, the easiest way to do that is heat the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. If its [carbon dioxide] is being buried underground, it's possible. If it's being lost to space, it's gone," Jakosky said. "With Mars either answer is going to be an important one, scientifically and philosophically."

    Read more:

    India launches Mars mission in T-minus 24 hours

    New discoveries from NASA's 'Curiosity' rover's mission to Mars

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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    Boomers don't make the right decisions about collecting Social Security because the present often takes precedence over the future. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Leenata Bankhele.

    Larry Kotlikoff's Social Security original 34 "secrets", his additional secrets, his Social Security "mistakes" and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we now feature "Ask Larry" every Monday. We are determined to continue it until the queries stop or we run through the particular problems of all 78 million Baby Boomers, whichever comes first. Kotlikoff's state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its "basic" version.

    Larry Kotlikoff: I've taken of late to asking myself a broader Social Security question before answering your specific ones. This is my academic economist side coming out. We dismal scientists are trained to focus on the big picture, especially when the big picture is bad. And, from everything I can tell, the vast majority of the 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day are making the wrong Social Security decisions.

    Social Security, as I've belabored, is an impossibly complicated system, forcing most new retirees to consider thousands of options to find the one that maximizes their lifetime benefits.Getting this exactly right requires using software that solicits the right inputs and that's extraordinarily precise under the hood.

    But only a handful of retiring boomers -- 500 a day is my guesstimate -- seem to be using Social Security-maximizing software. Those that are using software appear to be using programs like AARP's free software, which provides wrong answers, even ignoring the calculations under the hood. (Full disclaimer: My small software company sells Social Security maximization software, but also offers a free version, available on this page.)

    MORE FROM LARRY KOTLIKOFF: Gen X and Y, It's Time to Make Your Social Security Retirement Decisions

    The calculators that are dangerous are those that ask for too few inputs to generate the right answer. In addition, the inputs they solicit are the wrong numbers. For example, the AARP calculator asks for either your current salary or sends you to a Social Security calculator to recover your monthly full retirement benefit. But your current salary, even if you are working full time, may have very little connection to your actual earnings history, which one needs to determine the right Social Security maximization strategy.

    And the Social Security Administration's calculator, which is based on your earnings record, assumes the economy will experience what it has not experienced for well over a half century: zero inflation and zero economy-wide real wage growth. Social Security makes these assumptions in order to produce low-ball benefit estimates for workers out of fear that workers won't save enough on their own if they think their future benefits will be as large as they actually will be.

    The bias in the Social Security estimate depends on the age of the person using the calculator. So a husband and wife who are, say, five years apart, will have differentially wrong Social Security benefit estimates, which can seriously impact the optimal strategy if, and this is a huge if, AARP is calculating everything correctly under the hood. Their casual treatment of inputs does not instill much confidence.

    Other retiring baby boomers are relying on non-specialists at Social Security, either those available on the phone or those in the local offices, for Social Security benefit collection advice. As my recent columns suggest, the last people you want to ask for Social Security advice are the very conscientious, but very poorly trained folks at Social Security.

    There are brilliant current and former Social Security technical experts (like Jerry Lutz, who double checks my responses to your questions every week), but there are far too few of them to serve 10,000 people per day. Nor can even the best technical expert run thousands of comparisons in his or her head.

    (Jerry, by the way, thinks I'm being too harsh on many of his former Social Security colleagues. Maybe. But I get emails every few days from people who have been steered the wrong way, some extremely badly, by the good folks at Social Security.)

    Yet other baby boomers are relying on the advice of financial planners. But most planners are giving advice from their hip pockets. Two weeks back, I spoke in Florida at a conference for financial planners specializing in giving advice to prospective and current retirees. To check their knowledge of Social Security's provisions, I asked the roughly 75 planners if any of them were aware of Social Security's option to suspend your retirement benefit upon reaching full retirement age and start it up again at a permanently larger level at or before age 70.

    (If, for example, you suspend at 66 and wait until 70 to restart your retirement benefit, it will start at a 32 percent larger value after inflation.) Not a single financial adviser was aware of this option. And their questions after my talk suggested they too had very little knowledge of Social Security's other provisions.

    There are also many baby boomers who are living hand to mouth and have no option but to "take the money and run" -- to take whatever they can get as soon as they can get it.

    But many boomers do have choices, like waiting until 70 to take benefits that will be 76 percent higher adjusted for inflation than the benefit available at age 62. Yet fewer than 2 percent are waiting this long. Again, this may be ignorance -- folks using bad calculating tools or receiving bad advice. But I think there is a deeper, darker explanation that comes from the economics of behavioral finance that might loosely be called economic schizophrenia.

    We like to think of ourselves as being one person -- one self. But an alternative view is that we are one body comprising multiple selves -- one for each future period or year. And these multiple selves are duking it out inside our brains to protect their living standards. But the current self is in charge, and if it doesn't care enough about the future selves, it will try to over-consume today and let the future selves fend for themselves later. Taking Social Security retirement benefits early is ignoring your fiduciary responsibility to care for your future self.

    Telling baby boomers to save for their futures hasn't succeeded in getting them to save. Perhaps, the trick is to get boomers to think of their future selves as their own children, whom they need to protect, which in this context, means spending the effort to get Social Security right and putting the concerns of tomorrow ahead of the demands of today.

    Christine -- Los Angeles, Calif.: I was married in 1994 and divorced in 2004. Does this make me married for 10 years, or does it have to actually be Jan. 1, 1994 to Jan. 1, 2004 to qualify as 10 years of marriage in order for me to be eligible for my ex-spouse's higher benefits?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Unfortunately, you need to last it out a full 10 years before becoming divorced to be eligible to collect spousal or survivor benefits. If you are even one day short of the 10 year threshold (say you get divorced the day before your 10th anniversary), you get nothing. This is a very nasty Social Security gotcha. I'm not sure when this provision was put in place (perhaps the Stone Age), but it is something this Congress should change. (It used to be worse. Before 1979, you had to be married for 20 years to collect divorcée benefits.)

    Plenty of spouses stay home to rear their children, which is as important a job as there is, and then get divorced before the 10 years is up. Now it's true that their alimony decree might involve a payment from the working parent to the stay-at-home parent that takes into account that the former will collect Social Security benefits based on his or her labor earnings, whereas the child-rearing parent will not. But I doubt the alimony settlements are taking this into account.

    If you were within one year of having divorced your ex, you could remarry him for the extra months needed to reach the 10-year threshold. But if you remarry him now, the clock starts from scratch. The marriage would be treated as if you are marrying a different person when it comes to determining your divorcée benefits. In other words, you'd need to be married to him for another full 10 years before calling it quits again.

    Clarice Sowders -- Afton: If my spouse collects a certain amount of Social Security and he passes away, how much of it would the spouse receive even if she is on Social Security?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If your husband were to pass away, you would receive the larger of either your survivor or your own retirement benefit because you have already filed for your own retirement benefit. If your survivor benefit exceeds your own retirement benefit, the difference or excess will be paid to you. This is true even if you are between full retirement age and age 70 and have suspended your retirement benefit. Once you file for your own retirement benefit, you are eligible for an excess spousal benefit (when your husband is alive) or an excess survivor benefit (after he passes away). In addition to having your survivor benefit zapped in this manner, it may also be reduced if you take it before your full retirement age.

    The amount of the survivor benefit will determine your excess survivor benefit. The survivor benefit will be your husband's current retirement benefit if he filed for his retirement benefit after reaching full retirement. If he filed for his retirement benefit before full retirement age, your survivor benefit will be the larger of the reduced retirement benefit he was receiving or 82.5 percent of his full retirement benefit. This assumes you aren't taking your survivor benefit early.

    If he took his own retirement benefits early and you are taking your survivor benefit early, the calculation of your survivor benefit gets even more complicated. Social Security orders, from lowest to highest, three benefits. The first is your reduced survivor benefit, calculated assuming that your husband, counterfactually, collected his retirement benefit at full retirement age. The second benefit is 82.5 percent of his full retirement benefit, and the third, is the actual retirement benefit he was receiving when he passed away.

    Which of these benefits is then used as your survivor benefit for subsequent transformation into an excess spousal benefit that is then subjected to a early survivor benefit reduction (because you are, I'm now assuming, taking your widow's benefit early) will depend on the precise low-to-high ordering of the three benefits. And depending on the ordering, either the lowest or middle benefit will be used. For more specifics, take a gander at this nifty chart.

    Alex -- Massachusetts: How would you compute the divorced spouse's benefit with an ex-spouse's earnings record? You would need to know how to compute the Primary Insured Amount (PIA), then use that to determine the spouse's benefit. Do you have a program outside of the Social Security Administration system that can do this? It seems that the detailed earnings record wouldn't help someone plan retirement accurately since the computations for a PIA are fairly complex (for the average person).

    Larry Kotlikoff: You'd compute the divorced spousal benefit as either the full or excess spousal benefit based on whether the divorced spouse has filed for his or her own retirement benefit. Then you'd reduce the full or excess spousal benefit if the divorced spouse is taking spousal benefits early. You'd use the ex's earnings record to figure out his or her full retirement benefit, which is the benefit used to calculate both the full and excess spousal benefits. A good starting place for help with calculations is my free software, available here.

    Gerald March -- Seattle, Wash.: I am 65 and have been on Social Security Disability Insurance for 20 years. My wife is 66 and took early Social Security benefits at 62. Can she get my spousal excess benefit?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Possibly, but if her full retirement age benefit (i.e. Primary Insurance Amount) exceeds half of your disability benefit amount, she would be ineligible.

    Question: Is it true that I can only claim half of my ex's Social Security benefit? I live in Texas and we were married for 37 years. I have not remarried.

    Larry Kotlikoff: The truth may be worse than this. If you ever filed for your own retirement benefit, even if you suspended it after reaching full retirement age in order to start it up at a higher value later, you won't get the full spousal benefit, which is half of your ex's full retirement benefit (not what he actually collects as a retirement benefit, which can be larger or smaller than his full retirement benefit). Instead, you'll get an excess spousal benefit equal to your full spousal benefit (i.e., half of his full retirement benefit) minus 100 percent of your full retirement benefit if you filed at or before full retirement age or your actual retirement benefit if you filed at or after full retirement age.

    This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown -- NewsHour's blog of news and insight. Follow @paulsolman


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    In 2000, Ray Suarez interviewed Doris Lessing about "Ben in the World," a science fiction novel that continued the story of a young man striking out on his own path. As the sequel to her 1988 novel, "The Fifth Child," Lessing told Suarez about what made her take up Ben's story again, more than a decade after the first book.

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