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

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    Larry Kotlikoff advises boomers on the best strategies to maximize their benefits. Photo by by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

    You can double-dip the Social Security system, says Larry Kotlikoff, but not triple-dip — unless you are divorced. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

    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. Find a complete list of his columns here. 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.

    Sandi Smith — Queen Creek, Ariz: My husband and I are both disabled. I began collecting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) at age 37 and was married to someone else who has now also remarried. My current husband and I have been married 15 years, but we were not married when he began collecting SSDI at age 50. In May 2015, my husband will turn 66. I will turn 66 in July 2016. I know our SSDI will convert to regular Social Security retirement benefits when we turn 66 respectively. I am collecting benefits on my own earnings, as is my husband. He has a full disability pension from his union. I have no other income except SSDI. We both have Medicare A and B plus a secondary insurer through my husband’s union.

    When we turn 66, are there any changes we should make regarding our Social Security? My health is not good. If I were deceased, would there be any effect on my husband’s Social Security? His current benefit is about $800 a month more than my benefit after our Medicare premiums are withheld.

    I don’t seem to find too much information regarding Social Security when both husband and wife are disabled when they reach normal retirement age for Social Security. I just don’t want to make a mistake in how we draw our benefits at age 66.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You can go into the Social Security office before you reach 66 and withdraw your retirement benefit. You can then collect a full spousal benefit through age 70, which will equal half of your husband’s current disability benefit (which will convert to his full retirement benefit when he reaches age 66). You can then restart your retirement benefit at 70 at a 32 percent larger value after inflation.

    If you had another source of income to get you both through age 70, which doesn’t appear to be the case, your husband could suspend (not withdraw) his retirement benefit when he reaches age 66 and restart it at 70.

    Why can’t he collect a full spousal benefit based on your earnings record? The reason is that in order to get you a full spousal benefit, he needs to file for his retirement benefit. If he withdraws his retirement benefit too, you won’t be able to get your full spousal benefit.

    Wouldn’t his suspending his retirement benefit make you ineligible for your full spousal benefit? No. Suspending a benefit requires first filing for a benefit. And the requirement for you to file just for your spousal benefit is that your husband has filed for his retirement benefit (which happens if he lets his disability benefit convert to his retirement benefit). In other words, the requirement doesn’t involve his actually receiving a retirement benefit while you are receiving your spousal benefit.

    When you reach 70 and, under this scenario, take your retirement benefit, you will then have filed for your retirement benefit, permitting your husband to collect an excess spousal benefit. But his excess spousal benefit will be zero because he was the larger earner and the excess spousal benefit is calculated as half of your full retirement benefit less 100 percent of his full retirement benefit.

    Had you gotten divorced two years ago, you could both get a full spousal benefit starting at age 66 because, for purposes of calculating divorcée spousal benefits, Social Security automatically treats ex-spouses (who were married for 10 years or more) as having filed for their retirement benefit at 62 — regardless of whether they have actually filed. Getting divorced now is surely not worth it, financially.

    What I just suggested you and your husband could do can also be flipped. He could withdraw his retirement benefit and you could continue taking your disability benefit, which, at 66, will be called your retirement benefit. He could then apply just for a full spousal benefit that he’d collect off of your earnings record. At 70, he’d restart his retirement benefit at the 32 percent higher level. You could then either continue to collect your benefit or suspend it until 70.

    Given your health, this second, flipped option may be best. But your total income for the next four years will be lower. On the other hand, your husband would have 32 percent larger benefits after inflation for the rest of his life. So if you are quite sure your maximum age of life is pretty short and his is pretty long, trying to get him a permanently higher benefit starting at 70 may make sense. As for survivor benefits, if you were to pass away, your husband would collect the larger of either his actual (not full) retirement benefit or your full retirement benefit (augmented by any delayed retirement credits you might garner if you were to suspend your retirement benefit).

    Stated differently, he’d collect his retirement benefit plus an excess survivor benefit. But this excess survivor benefit (equal to your full retirement benefit minus his actual benefit) would be negative and set to zero by Social Security. So there are no survivor benefits here to go after when it comes to your husband collecting on your work record. On the other hand, were he to die before you, your excess survivor benefit would be positive and you’d be able to collect his full retirement benefit inclusive of any delayed retirement benefits, minus your own retirement inclusive of any delayed retirement benefits.

    I’m sorry that I needed to go on at length here. But our government has produced a monstrously complex saving and insurance system that no one, certainly not anyone in Congress, can remotely understand without years of training. This is no way to run a railroad, although Paul tells me it’s the price of democracy. New Zealand has a longstanding democracy. Their Social Security system has one rule: When you reach age 65, you get a fixed payment no matter who you are or what you earned and paid in taxes.

    Bob — Morgantown, W.Va.: I will reach full retirement age at 66. My wife is two years younger than I am. Our plan is for me to take Social Security at 68. When she reaches her full retirement age (66 and two months), she will file just for a full spousal benefit (50 percent of my full retirement benefit) and let her Social Security continue to accrue until she is 70. At that point, she will stop her spousal benefit and take her full Social Security amount. Can I also receive a full spousal benefit at age 68 when she is at full retirement age (66 and two months) and collect a 50 percent spousal benefit on her earnings record?

    Larry Kotlikoff: No. Your wife needs to file for her retirement benefit in order for you to be eligible for a spousal benefit. But the minute, nay nanosecond, she files for her retirement benefit, she’ll be automatically transferred to the world of excess spousal benefits. That means her full spousal benefit will be transformed into an excess spousal benefit equal to half of her full spousal benefit, less 100 percent of her full retirement benefit. This excess spousal benefit is likely to be negative and set to zero.

    So for you to collect a spousal benefit, you’ll need to wipe out your wife’s spousal benefit. Once she does file at age 70 for her retirement benefit, you’ll be eligible to collect an excess spousal benefit on your wife’s earnings history, but it will surely be zero. You can double dip the system, but not triple dip, unless you are divorced, as I indicated in my answer to Sandi above.

    Cathe Ferguson – Louisville: I am a dual citizen of Australia and the United States. My husband, residing in Australia, and I, now residing in the United States, are in the process of a divorce. Will I ever be entitled to any Social Security benefits?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If you are asking about being eligible to receive Social Security divorcée spousal or survivor benefits the answer is potentially yes. But there are a lot of conditions. First, you need to have been divorced for two years. Second, you need to have been married for 10 years. Third, your to-be-ex-husband needs to have 40 or more credits of Social Security-covered earnings in the U.S. Fourth, your ex-to-be must be 62 or over when you file for a divorcée benefit. Fifth, your own full retirement benefit must not exceed his full retirement benefit or you must wait until full retirement age to collect just your spousal benefit and wait until, say, 70 to collect your own retirement benefit (at its highest possible value).

    If your to-be-ex doesn’t have 40 quarters of work in Social Security-covered employment, you can still collect on your own earnings record provided you have 40 or more quarters of covered employment. If this is the case, your ex can, by the way, potentially collect a divorcée spousal benefit based on your covered earnings record.

    The U.S. does have a totalization agreement with Australia, which could allow payments to you from Social Security with as few as six quarters of U.S. coverage. But you and/or your ex would also need the requisite number of credits under the Australian system to qualify for a totalized benefit. See the technical reference.

    Linda Boenish — Jacksonville, Fla.: My husband passed away in 2011 at the age of 63 (before taking any Social Security benefits). I am now 63 and plan to work to 66. At 66, can I take his full Social Security benefit and swap it for my own when I am 70? Or would I only be eligible for the reduced benefits he was entitled to at the time of his death?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, you can take what would have been his full retirement benefit by applying just for your survivor benefit at 66. Then at 70, you can collect the larger of either your own full retirement benefit augmented by a 32 percent real increase reflecting Social Security delayed retirement credits or your survivor benefit.

    Gail — Madison, Wis.: I am 60 and recently divorced after 18 years of marriage. My ex is 13 years my junior. His income is about three times more than mine. What are my best strategies for making the most out of his Social Security benefits? (Am I correct in understanding that I can do nothing with his benefits until he turns 62?)

    Larry Kotlikoff: Gail, unfortunately, you can’t collect a spousal benefit until he reaches age 62, which is when you’ll be 73. You could get remarried and qualify after one year to collect spousal benefits on your new husband’s work record.

    But if that’s not an option, what’s best to do will depend on your earnings record compared to his. It’s possible that your largest retirement benefit, which you’d collect if you waited until 70 to start collecting, is less than one half of his full retirement benefit. If this were the case or close to the case, if might behoove you to take your own retirement benefit early — say at age 62 — and take your spousal benefit at 73. At that point, you’ll collect your own reduced retirement benefit plus your excess spousal benefit (calculated as the difference between half of your ex’s full retirement benefit and 100 percent of your full retirement benefit). The only way to know what’s really best is to run yourself through very careful Social Security software and to consider alternative options with respect to your ex’s future covered earnings.

    Larry – High Point, N.C.: I have just turned 65 and would like to work at least one more year. My previous employment includes nine years as a North Carolina government employee, and I started receiving a small pension after ‘retiring’ when I reached 60 years of age. My wife is 64 and has retired. She had worked as a teacher in the North Carolina public schools and is receiving retirement benefits. We would like to maximize our Social Security benefits and want your advice on how best to accomplish this.

    Larry Kotlikoff: From what you wrote, it sounds like your wife doesn’t have 40 quarters of covered Social Security employment. In this case, your best strategy may be to wait until 70 to collect your highest possible Social Security retirement benefit. If you have 30 years or more of covered employment with substantial earnings, you won’t be hit by the Windfall Elimination Provision.

    If you have less than that amount of covered employment, you will get hit, but it doesn’t sound, in your case, that it would be a big hit. By waiting until 70 to collect, you’ll provide your wife with the largest possible survivor benefit if you die before she passes away. Her survivor benefit will, however, be reduced by an amount equal to two-thirds of her North Carolina teachers’ pension, thanks to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision.

    If you do wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit, you’ll want to file for your retirement benefit at 66 and suspend its collection. This will enable your wife to file for a spousal benefit at age 66, which will equal half of your full retirement benefit. This full spousal benefit may be fully wiped out by the GPO, but it can’t hurt to see. Also, if her North Carolina teachers’ pension isn’t indexed for inflation, the spousal benefit, even if wiped out initially, may become positive at some point because it will be calculated each year as the difference between your annual cost-of-living-adjusted-full retirement benefit and two-thirds of her fixed (in terms of dollars, i.e., not inflation-adjusted) state teachers’ pension.

    All of the above assumes that North Carolina teachers are not covered by Social Security.

    The post To triple-dip the Social Security system, get divorced appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Westfield High School vs Lafayette Jefferson High School

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    GWEN IFILL: Next: a students’ eye view of a problem we have been covering for a while: concussions suffered on the football field and the damage they do.

    Hari Sreenivasan narrates this report.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: According to the National Academy of Sciences, there are 11 recorded concussions for every 10,000 high school games and practices, twice the rate of college players. But researchers believe the number is actually much higher because many go unreported.

    We asked our network of Student Reporting Labs, middle and high school journalism programs around the country, to provide a snapshot of concussions in their hometowns.

    Alex Borowski of Windsor High School in California couldn’t tell he was badly hurt.

    ALEX BOROWSKI, Windsor High School: The hit itself wasn’t that big. I HAD suffered worse hits, you know, two days earlier in practice, and I was basically sleepwalking through the rest of the game.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Coaches are trained to identify when a player is injured, but it can take time for symptoms to appear.

    ALEX BOROWSKI: They didn’t take me out until the third quarter, when one of my coaches noticed how I was acting. And even on film, I could see that, you know, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Often, players try to hide their injuries to get back in the game, not realizing concussions can lead to memory loss, sleep problems and changes in behavior.

    This player at Austin High School who asked not to be identified said he saw flashes of light and stars and even blacked out. He knew what the symptoms meant. But he wanted to keep playing despite these and other injuries.

    STUDENT: I have had about 15 to 20 concussions, and I have only reported four.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That figure is based on personal experience, rather than medical evidence. But even if the true number is less, this player says there’s no question the hard hits have affected his brain.

    STUDENT: I do feel as if the concussions have diminished my ability to concentrate on certain subjects, especially, like, math. Adding numbers seems a lot harder, or figuring out a puzzle is just a lot more tedious than it should be.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The lax attitude stems partly from a culture where on-field performance is paramount and kids just want to play.

    STUDENT: Sixteen-year-old kid, you’re invincible. You want to get back on the field as quickly as you can. And a concussion, you can’t get — you get a headache, but you really don’t feel it. It is not like a sprained ankle.

    Chuck Cook a graduate of Black River Falls High School in Wisconsin, explained how he and his friends beat the so-called impact test, a set of associations and memory questions used to diagnose concussions.

    STUDENT: I did not take the impact test seriously. My freshman sophomore year, I tested low on purpose. I didn’t want to have to sit out a football game because I had a concussion.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Meaning when Chuck was tested after a hard hit to see if he had a concussion, his low score wouldn’t set off alarm bells that he was hurt. And he could go back in the game.

    And while new regulations require coaches to take head injury awareness classes, players revealed there is still a lot of pressure to get back in uniform.

    Jesse Horseman from Fort Mill, South Carolina.

    JESSE HORSEMAN, Fort Mill High School: A couple days after I got my concussion, I definitely felt pressured to get back on to the field. And I wasn’t comfortable at all, because it was only a couple days afterwards and coaches were asking me, how much longer?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But for Richard Cunningham in Austin, the health effects were too much. He decided to switch sports.

    RICHARD CUNNINGHAM, Stephen P. Austin High School: I missed football more than probably anyone out there. But it was just what was in my health’s best interests. I have been blessed that concussions put things in line for me. And I was able to focus more on my baseball and my academics. And as much as I do miss football, it’s just — it’s been a blessing in disguise having to put it up.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In Montana, it was only after one player died from repeated head injuries that attitudes truly began changing. Dylan Steigers went into a coma after a hard hit during a scrimmage in 2010. He was flown to the hospital and died the next day.

    His parents channeled their grief to push forward the Dylan Steigers Protection of Youth Athletes Act, a state law that requires each school district to test for concussions and set guidelines for when an athlete can start playing again.

    CYNDI STEIGERS, mother of Dylan Steigers: We will never recover. We will never recover. But we can do — if you can do something positive in your life to help somebody else, that’s very healing.

    GWEN IFILL: You can watch all of the student-produced stories on our special feature page Tough Calls, how concussion awareness has affected youth football around the country.

    The post High school football players discuss the pressure to stay in the game, despite concussions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks

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    GWEN IFILL: And finally tonight: remembering the work of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

    Jeff is back with that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Hoffman, who died this weekend, was a prolific actor on stage and on screen. He appeared in more than 50 films, often in a memorable supporting role, but just as notably as a leading man. In 2006, he won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote.

    Here’s a short clip from that movie, in which Capote is asked about his feelings for one of the murderers he’s writing about. Catherine Keener plays his friend, Harper Lee.

    CATHERINE KEENER, actress: Did you? Did you fall in love with him?

    PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, actor: I will not answer that. It’s as Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day, he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.

    CATHERINE KEENER: Are you kidding me?


    JEFFREY BROWN: Ann Hornaday reviews films for The Washington Post and joins me now.

    And, Ann, you started your remembrance today writing, “Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t a movie star in the conventional sense of the term.”

    What was he?

    ANN HORNADAY, The Washington Post: Well, he was a classic character actor, you know?

    I mean, these are the actors, the yeoman working man guys who can disappear into roles and become the people they are playing, slip into them effortlessly, and also, by the way, make the stars around them look all the more credible for their own honesty and truth-seeking.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I was thinking for a lot of us. And I’m one. We started watching this guy in films, something striking about him. Oh, he’s in different — wondering, who is this guy? And then we didn’t know after so many films?

    ANN HORNADAY: It’s so true.

    And no matter what he did, whether it was a comic role, or dramatic role, a leading role, a supporting role, he was complete. I mean, it was that quality of screen acting which is fusing being and seeming and being utterly transparent.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, now explain — explain that, explain that.

    ANN HORNADAY: Well, you are playing a role.

    You are — you’re reciting words that have been written by a screenwriter. You are hitting your marks that the director has worked out, but you’re making it — you might be on your 16th take, but you are making it seem utterly brand-new, spontaneous and, most of all, honest. And I think that’s what people — you know, audience members who grew to love him over the years, I think, realized he never lied. He always told the truth to whatever character he was playing. It just emanated from him.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That’s — I was — that is what tied his performance, these many different characters, but you think that’s what ties them all together?

    ANN HORNADAY: I think that’s what made him so great.

    And, yes, I do think that that was just a consistent through line. Regardless of the material he was in, the genre, the scope, maybe even the quality, he always elevated it, because he was honest. And he was 100 percent committed and right there.

    He was also relatable. I mean, let’s face it, he looked like most of the rest of us. And I just think there was something so endearing about that and so reassuring about that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And as he did get some starring lead roles, he continued coming out in these small films in smaller roles as well.

    ANN HORNADAY: Yes, he did.

    And even just the last few years were sort of a great case in point. I mean, he was doing movies with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, and that was a great example, I think, of here are two bona fide larger-than-life movie stars.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Movie stars in the way we think of it. Right?

    ANN HORNADAY: But they were — in one case, Brad Pitt is playing a baseball manager. In another, George Clooney is playing a politician.

    Hoffman’s performances sort of grounded them and allowed them — allowed us to believe them as those sort of more blue-collar, not glamorous guys.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One thing you wrote about is how this inevitably plays into the idea of the tortured artist, right, the dark place that someone like this, who is so — such a genius on the stage and screen, reaches to. It’s a romantic idea that you don’t totally buy, I think.

    ANN HORNADAY: No, I think — and I understand where it comes from, because I think when we lose somebody — and it happened with Heath Ledger. It seems to happen almost — with dispiriting regularity — these people with such promise and such gifts, and you think, why would they embark on a self-destructive path?

    And so that is when you start introducing terms like demons and fighting with demons and the tortured artist. And I think that is a way for us to express with compassion and respect their gifts without being punitive. But I also think it mystifies the deeper truth, which is that these are often — this is a disease. Addiction, dependence is a disease, whether it is a chemical dependence or a psychological one.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we just have been 20 seconds. Do you have a favorite Hoffman either film or scene that you want to recommend to people?

    ANN HORNADAY: You know, I will go — I will be cliche and say that, along with most of the rest of the country, I was first introduced to him in “Boogie Nights.” I had seen him in — I think I have seen him in littler roles, in littler films, but that was really the first time I was aware of him as such a galvanizing force.

    And that scene with Mark Wahlberg where he is showing off the car that he bought to match Mark Wahlberg’s character, he is just this lovesick guy with a crush this other guy. He is just tortured and sympathetic and vulnerable and sweet and the whole — the whole beautiful mess.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post on the life and work of Philip Seymour Hoffman, thanks so much.

    ANN HORNADAY: Thank you.

    The post Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman, an unconventional movie star appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 02/03/14--18:31: Monday, February 3, 2014
  • The post Monday, February 3, 2014 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A U.S. Senate subcommittee will hear testimony on the West Virginia chemical spill in Washington Tuesday.

    The Committee on Environment and Public Works’ water and wildlife subcommittee will convene over the spill that left 300,000 people without clean water for days.

    Scheduled to testify are West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman, Natural Resources Defense Council official Erik Olson and Putnam Public Service District General Manager Michael McNulty, among others.

    The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold its counterpart hearing in Charleston, W.Va., on Feb. 10. The committee includes two West Virginia members.

    They are the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Nick Rahall, and Republican Shelley Moore Capito.

    The post Senate hearing convenes over West Virginia chemical spill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday named 47-year-old Satya Nadella, the company’s enterprise and cloud chief, as the new chief executive, ending a five-month search to replace Steve Ballmer who has been serving as CEO since 2000.

    Bill Gates, will also step down as chairman, a position he’s held since 1981, to assist Nadella as a “technology advisor.” Board member John Thompson will take over as chairman.

    In a promotional video about Nadella, Gates said that the change would increase the time he spends at the company.

    “I’ll have over a third of my time available to meet with product groups, and it’ll be fun to define this next round of products working together,” he said.

    Nadella’s transition as Microsoft’s third CEO in 38 years follows a year that saw the worst decline in PC shipments, the Los Angeles Times reported. With signs of PC sales slowing — PC sales dropped by 10 percent last year — Nadella sees the future of the $300-billion company to be in devices and services.

    NPR points to Nadella’s December interview with Quartz about his vision to “complete the scenario” for the customer:

    “I think reconceptualizing Microsoft as a devices and services company is absolutely what our vision is all about. Office 365 and Azure on the services side are representative of it. Does that mean we won’t have our software available for other people to build on? No. Windows is available outside of our devices. Windows server is available outside of our data centers. We think that’s important because there will always be distributed computing. But at the same time, there is also the customer expectations that we should complete the scenario. That means running a cloud platform, running a cloud service. So were conceptualizing the future of Microsoft along those pivots.”-Satya Nadella

    In his first letter to Microsoft employees on Tuesday, the 22-year veteran Nadella said they needed to make sure “Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.”

    Wired reports that, with Nadella taking the helm, the company isn’t moving away from the mobile market, which Apple and Google dominates, but looking to pursue another part of computing’s future.

    “[T]he choice of Nadella is a statement that, in the coming years, cloud computing will be a more crucial field to dominate,” Wired writes. “After all, cloud services ultimately feed the mobile as well as the gaming world, providing a way for software developers and businesses to build and host and operate the mobile applications that run on a world of smartphones and tablets.”

    The post Satya Nadella named new Microsoft CEO; Bill Gates steps down as chairman appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Food and Drug Administration launched a new campaign Tuesday aimed at preventing young people from smoking. Photo by Photo by Flickr user Valentin Ottone

    The Food and Drug Administration launched a new campaign Tuesday aimed at preventing young people from smoking. Photo by Photo by Flickr user Valentin Ottone

    The Food and Drug Administration launched an anti-tobacco campaign Tuesday that targets youth and seeks to prevent young people from smoking.

    “We are addressing one of the biggest public health problems in this country and in the world,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg. “It’s something the FDA has not really done before in terms of a broad public health campaign of this magnitude but it’s something that we are so pleased to doing because it matters for health.”

    According to the FDA, more than 3,000 young people try their first cigarette every day. And each day more than 700 youth under the age of 18 become regular smokers.

    The FDA is hoping to educate this age group, between ages 12 and 17, on the harmful effects of smoking through The Real Cost campaign. The campaign plays on some of the more superficial effects of smoking like wrinkles, bad breath and stained teeth.

    “The Real Cost campaign is going to find teens wherever they’re watching or using media,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., Director of FDA Center for Tobacco Products, “and we’re going to surround our target with compelling and personally relevant messages about the health consequences of smoking and what happens when you become addicted.”

    Ads portraying the negative effects of smoking will target youths who use social media, watch television, listen to the radio, read the newspaper and go to the movies. The ads will run for at least one year in 200 markets throughout the country.

    The campaign’s $115 million cost was funding by “tobacco user fees” from manufacturers and companies that import tobacco products. The FDA was granted the authority to conduct a widespread campaign by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 and the administration plans to launch several other educational campaigns in the coming years. These campaigns will target more specific audiences such as “multicultural youth, rural youth, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.”

    The post FDA launches anti-tobacco campaign focused on youth appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Relying on big data about job candidates doesn't make for a good hiring process, says Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Flickr user Infocux Technologies.

    Relying on big data about job candidates doesn’t make for a good hiring process, says Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Flickr user Infocux Technologies.

    Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

    In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

    Last week, I appeared on Brian Lehrer’s CUNY-TV news show to discuss how human resources departments are misusing “big data” (aka, “people analytics”) to recruit, hire and watch employees. I think the topic deserves a lot more exploration and discussion.

    Are you frustrated because employers reject your job application out of hand without even talking to you? Tired of online application forms kicking you out of consideration because you took too long to answer questions or because you failed to disclose your salary history?

    Wait — America’s employment system is getting even more automated and algorithm-ized by applying “big data” to process you. According to a new report in The Atlantic (“They’re Watching You At Work” by Don Peck), the vice president of recruiting at Xerox Services warns that “We’re getting to the point where some of our hiring managers don’t even want to interview anymore.” According to the article, “they just want to hire the people with the highest scores.”

    Does that worry you?

    I’m worried about the claims made by vendors that promote the use of big data “tools” in the employment process — and about some of the conclusions Peck draws in his article. According to CMO.com, big data refers to new methods of gathering, processing and analyzing information, primarily for marketing purposes. (See “For CMOs, ‘Big Data’ Is A Very Big Deal.” It’s perhaps no accident that big data is very big in marketing circles today.)

    But I think there are some big problems with human resources (HR) departments using big data to assess people for jobs and on the job.

    The Metrics Are Indirect
    The vendors behind these “tools” don’t directly assess whether a person can do a job. Instead, they look at other things — indirect assessments of a person’s fit for a job. For example, they have you play a game and they measure your response times. From this, they try to predict success on the job. That determines whether you get interviewed.

    The Problem: We’ve known for decades that this approach doesn’t work. Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli throws cold water on indirect assessments: “Nothing in the science of prediction and selection beats observing actual performance in an equivalent role.”

    All that’s being thrown into the mix by these “assessment” vendors is big data — lots of extraneous factoids about people and their behavior that have nothing to do with the tasks required in a job. But more data about irrelevant behaviors don’t make better predictions. In fact, it makes things worse if the data are not valid predictors of success. It’s worse because indirect assessment leads to false negatives (employers reject potentially good candidates) and to false positives (they hire the wrong people for the wrong reasons).

    The Conclusions Are Based on Correlations
    These tools predict success based on whether certain characteristics of a person are similar to characteristics of a target sample of people. For example, Peck’s article says that “one solid predictor of strong coding [programming] is an affinity for a particular Japanese manga site.” (Manga are Japanese comics.)

    Gild, the company behind this claim, says it’s just one correlation of many. But Gild admits there’s “no causal relationship” between all the big data it gathers about you and how you perform on the job.

    In what can only be called a scientific non sequitur, Gild’s “chief scientist” says “the correlation, even if inexplicable, is quite clear.”

    The Problem: A basic tenet of empirical research is that a correlation does not imply causality, or even an explanation of anything. Data tell us that people die in hospitals, and that correlates highly with the presence of doctors in hospitals. All jokes aside, that correlation doesn’t mean doctors kill people. Except, perhaps, in the world of big HR data: If you’re selling “people analytics,” then your product is a game that predicts how someone will do their job.

    When we pile specious correlations on top of indirect assessments (interview questions like what animal would you be if you could be any animal?), we wind up with no good reasons to make hiring decisions, and with no basis for judgments of employees.

    There’s a Hidden Lesson for Recruiters in Big Data
    Hanging out at a manga website doesn’t improve anyone’s ability to write good code — nor does it predict their success at work. But it might mean that a recruiter can find some good coders on that manga site — the one reasonable conclusion and recruiting tactic that none of the people Peck interviewed seems to have thought of.

    I don’t think Peck wrote this article to promote “people analytics” as the solution to the challenges that American companies face when hiring, but he does seem to think the Kool-Aid tastes pretty good. I think Peck over-reaches when he confuses useful data that employers collect about employee behavior to improve that behavior, with predictions based on silly big data assumptions.

    Here are a couple of highlights in the article that blinded me. Well, the assumptions behind them were blinding, anyway:

  • Spying Tells Us a Lot
    In further support of indirect assessments of employees and job applicants, Peck cites the work of MIT researcher Sandy Pentland, who’s been putting electronic badges on employees to gather massive amounts of data about their daily interactions. In other words, Pentland follows them around electronically to see what they do.

    The badges capture all sorts of information about formal and informal conversations: their length; the tone of voice and gestures of the people involved; how much those people talk, listen, and interrupt; the degree to which they demonstrate empathy and extroversion; and more. Each badge generates about 100 data points a minute.

    That’s certainly big data. But Peck notes that these badges are not in routine use at any company.

  • It’s Just a Game
    A lot of the “breakthroughs” Peck writes about come from start-up test vendors like an outfit called Knack, which creates games “to suss out human potential.”

    Knack continues to seek venture funding, and the only Knack client mentioned in the article is Palo Alto High School, which is using Knack games to help students think about careers.

    Play one of [Knack’s games] for just 20 minutes, says Guy Halfteck, Knack’s founder, and you’ll generate several megabytes of data, exponentially more than what’s collected by the SAT or a personality test.

    Again, that’s a lot of big data. But does that improve the conclusions Knack makes? Let’s draw a comparison in the world of medicine. It’s an easy one: If more megabytes of game data can be used to generate more correlations, could doctors diagnose patients more effectively by collecting bigger urine samples? That’s the logic.

    No Sale
    I don’t buy it. As a headhunter, I want to know, can you do the job?

    Some big data about employee behavior can be analyzed to good effect. For example, Peck reports that Microsoft has gathered data showing employees with mentors are less likely to leave their jobs, so Microsoft gets mentors for them. But he seems to easily confuse legitimate metrics with goofy games of correlation. And the start-up companies he profiles don’t seem to be on any leading edge — they’re mostly trying to sell the idea that big data in the service of questionable correlations makes those correlations worth money.

    The “employment testing” business is rife with questionable practices. Dr. Erica Klein, an industrial psychologists and employment testing expert, writes in “Employment Tests: Get The Edge” (available in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore):

    Unfortunately, there are no laws against tests being stupid or annoying or a bad idea. Sometimes organizations make poor use of tests and poor choices about test vendors. Those organizations are the eventual losers since they are not choosing the best employees and may expose themselves to discrimination lawsuits. The bottom line is that anyone can create and sell a test.

    Big Deal
    We know that what Cappelli says about the science of prediction is correct. But I think Arnold Glass, a leading researcher in cognitive psychology at Rutgers University, says it best:

    It has been known since Alfred Binet and Victor Henri constructed the original IQ Test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job. Therefore, the idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (big data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.

    Recruiting and hiring are no laughing matter — or any place for wildly speculative analysis of “all the data we can consume.” While HR departments experiment on humans who need jobs, managers are regressing into beings incapable of recruiting and judging job applicants. It seems that any technology that can “process” more and more applicants is better than a few skilled humans who can recognize just a few good workers.

    One could easily make the case that employers today are afraid of making judgments and hiring mistakes, and too easily seduced by big data in the service of plausible deniability.

    Dear Readers: Have you experienced “big HR data” or “people analytics” as a job seeker or as an employer? Is big data a big headache, or is it the path to 21st century recruiting and hiring?

    Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

    Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

    Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

    The post Ask The Headhunter: Big data in HR means big problems for job seekers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — The U.S. budget deficit is set to fall to $514 billion this year, down substantially from last year and the lowest level by far since President Barack Obama took office five years ago, a congressional report said Tuesday.

    The Congressional Budget Office credits higher tax revenues from the rebounding economy and sharp curbs on agency spending as the chief reason for the deficit’s short-term decline.

    But the budget experts see the long-term deficit picture worsening by about $100 billion a year through the end of the decade because of slower growth in the economy than they had previously predicted.

    The report also updates the budget office’s analysis of the new health care law. It now projects that Obama’s signature legislation will lead to about 2 million fewer full-time workers by 2017, a significantly larger effect on employment than predicted previously. The reduction in employment, the agency said, is because many people will choose not to work or will work fewer hours because of the law’s incentives, which include subsidized health coverage for people who don’t have workplace coverage.

    The agency also reduced its estimate of the number of uninsured people who will get coverage through the health care law. The budget experts now say about 2 million fewer people will get covered this year than had been expected, partly because of website problems that prevented people from signing up last fall when new markets for subsidized private insurance went live.

    Website woes have largely cleared up, but the nonpartisan analysts said they expect 1 million fewer people to sign up through the new insurance exchanges, for a new total of 6 million in 2014. Enrollment will pick up in 2015, topping 20 million in 2016 and beyond.

    CBO also revised its Medicaid projection down by 1 million, for a new total of 8 million in 2014. About half the states have accepted the health law’s Medicaid expansion.

    Last year’s deficit registered $680 billion. Obama inherited an economy in crisis and the first deficits ever to exceed $1 trillion. The 2009 deficit, swelled by the costs of the Wall Street bailout, hit a record $1.4 trillion, while the deficits of 2010 and 2011 both registered $1.3 trillion.

    The report predicted the economy will continue to rebound this year and grow at a 3.1 percent rate and by 3.4 percent next year. It foresees the jobless rate holding steady at 6.8 percent this year; the most recent nationwide unemployment rate registered 6.7 percent. It predicts the jobless rate remaining above 6 percent through the remainder of Obama’s term.

    The agency sees the deficit sliding to $478 billion next year before beginning a steady rise years through 2024 that would bring deficits back above $1 trillion a year.

    “CBO expects that economic growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades,” the report said, citing an aging population and decrease in the rate of growth in the labor force.

    As it has for many years, CBO predicts the stark demographics of the nation’s retirement programs, especially the growth of Medicare, would eventually spark a debt crisis. The growth of Medicare has been driven by medical inflation. But the ratio of people paying into the program and those receiving benefits is shrinking as the Baby Boom generation retires.

    Economists say that too-high deficits and debt are a drag on the economy and squeezing out investment and, if unchecked, could eventually precipitate a European-style fiscal crisis.

    Tuesday’s report comes as Obama and Republicans in Congress are taking a respite in the budget wars that have periodically consumed Washington since Republicans took control of the House in 2011. The declining deficit numbers mean there’s even less urgency to act now.

    A December budget agreement and last month’s follow-up spending bill could buy peace through November’s mid-term elections. Republicans also appear to be taking a less confrontational approach to legislation needed this month to increase the government’s borrowing limit to avoid defaulting on its obligations.

    House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that Republicans have “a lot of opinions about how to deal with the debt limit. No decision’s been made.”

    Asked if any debt limit bill could get 218 Republican votes — a majority in the House — Boehner said, “We’ll see.”

    He added, “The goal here is to increase the debt ceiling. Nobody wants to default on our debt. But while we’re doing this, we ought to do something about keeping jobs in the economy, about the drivers of our debt.”

    The post Budget deficit to drop to $514 billion, lowest of Obama years appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Rob Andrews

    Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) will retire from Congress in February. Photo by Flickr user cliff1066

    Longtime Congressman Rob Andrews, D-N.J., announced Tuesday he will resign from the House of Representatives around Presidents Day (Feb. 17), He plans to join a law firm in Philadelphia, Dilworth Paxson, according to a report from Philly.com.

    Last year, he became the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation after allegations emerged that he spent campaign funds on trips to Scotland and Los Angeles, and used his daughter’s graduation party to raise money for political gain.

    Andrews, 56, has represented New Jersey’s 1st congressional district for 24 years, and is a member of the House Committees on Armed Services and Education and the Workforce. He released a statement outlining his resignation.

    ”The House has always been a place of high energy and healthy division, and it remains so today. My decision is, however, most emphatically not a political decision about what is happening in Washington — it is a personal decision about the best path for my family.”

    Democratic party leaders in the southern New Jersey area have endorsed State Sen. Donald Norcross for Andrews’ seat.

    Andrews will be one of 26 members who have announced plans to retire from the hill this year, and the thirteenth from the Democratic Party.

    The post New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews to leave Congress this month appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Video by The Scottish Parliament

    The BBC reports that Scotland legalized marriage equality on Tuesday. The first same-sex weddings are to take place this fall.

    The bill faced opposition from the country’s two main churches, the Scottish Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, representatives of which have said they did not have plans to hold ceremonies. The measure allows religious groups an “opt in” to perform same-sex marriages.

    The Scottish government passed the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill with a vote of 105-18, expanding on the legislation that has allowed civil partnerships since 2005.

    Same-sex legislation was also passed for England and Wales in 2013 with the first weddings to take place in late March. Northern Ireland is not currently pursuing marriage equality legislation, making it the only part of the UK that hasn’t legalized gay marriage.

    The post Scotland becomes latest country to legalize marriage equality appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — Congress has given its final approval to a sweeping five-year farm bill that provides food for the needy and subsidies for farmers.

    Ending years of political battles, the Senate on Tuesday sent the measure to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it. The Senate passed the bill 68-32.

    The bill provides a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions. But the bulk of its nearly $100 billion-a-year cost is for the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans.

    House Republicans had hoped to trim the bill’s costs, pointing to a booming agriculture sector in recent years and saying the now $80 billion-a-year food stamp program has spiraled out of control. Partisan disagreements stalled the bill for more than two years, but conservatives were eventually outnumbered as the Democratic Senate, the White House and a still-powerful bipartisan coalition of farm-state lawmakers pushed to get the bill done.

    The final compromise bill would get rid of controversial subsidies known as direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not. But most of that program’s $4.5 billion annual cost was redirected into new, more politically defensible subsidies that would kick in when a farmer has losses. The food stamp program was cut about 1 percent; the House had pushed for five times that much.

    Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said before the bill passed that she and her House counterpart, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., tried to craft a bill that would work for all regions of the country, “from traditional row crops, to specialty crops like fruits and vegetables, to livestock, to organics, to local food systems.”

    Those incentives scattered throughout the bill – a boost for crop insurance popular in the Midwest and higher subsidies for Southern rice and peanut farmers, for example – helped the bill pass easily in the House last week, 251-166. House leaders who had objected to the legislation since 2011 softened their disapproval as they sought to put the long-stalled bill behind them. Leaders in both parties also have hoped to bolster rural candidates in this year’s midterm elections.

    The final savings in the food stamp program, $800 million a year, would come from cracking down on some states that seek to boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts of federal heating assistance that they don’t need. That heating assistance, sometimes as low as $1 per person, triggers higher benefits, and some critics see that practice as circumventing the law. The compromise bill would require states to give individual recipients at least $20 in heating assistance before a higher food stamp benefit could kick in.

    Some Democrats still objected to the cuts, even though those cuts are much lower than what the House had sought. The Senate-passed farm bill had a $400 million annual cut to food stamps.

    “This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress, while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said. “I cannot vote for it.”

    At the same time, some Republicans took to the Senate floor to say the bill doesn’t do enough to trim spending.

    “It’s mind-boggling, the sum of money that’s spent on farm subsidies, duplicative nutrition and development assistance programs, and special interest pet projects,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday. “How are we supposed to restore the confidence of the American people with this monstrosity?”

    McCain pointed to grants and subsidies for sheep marketing, for sushi rice, for the maple syrup industry.

    Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a longtime member of the Agriculture Committee, said he would vote against the bill because the compromise does not include provisions he authored to reduce the number of people associated with one farm who can collect farm subsidies. Grassley has for years fought to lower subsidies to the wealthiest farmers.

    The bill does have a stricter cap on the overall amount of money an individual farmer can receive – $125,000 in a year, when some programs were previously unrestricted. But the legislation otherwise continues a generous level of subsidies for farmers.

    In place of the direct payments, farmers would now be able to choose between subsidies that pay out when revenue drops or when prices drop. Cotton and dairy supports were overhauled to similarly pay out when farmers have losses. Those programs may kick in sooner than expected as some crop prices have started to drop in recent months.

    The bill would save around $1.65 billion annually overall. But critics said that under the new insurance-style programs, those savings could disappear if the weather or the market doesn’t cooperate.

    Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group, an organization that has fought for subsidy reform for several years, said replacing the direct payments with the new programs is simply a “bait and switch.”

    “The potential for really big payoffs” is huge, he said.

    The post Congress-approved farm bill makes its way to President Obama appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Tom O'Neill, the Playworks coach at Fox Hill Elementary School in suburban Indianapolis, Indiana shares a new game with his students at indoor resource.  Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

    Tom O’Neill, the Playworks coach at Fox Hill Elementary School in suburban Indianapolis, shares a new game with his students at indoor recess. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

    The PBS NewsHour’s American Graduate team recently visited Indianapolis, where we saw how one elementary school there was making sure students were not just learning during the day, but moving and getting exercise as well. (See the full story here.)

    Tom O’Neill, or Coach Tom, is the Playworks coordinator at Fox Hill Elementary. He makes sure kids have organized games to play at recess and visits each classroom regularly to give kids “brain breaks,” a short time away from classwork where they can move around. We asked him to share some of his favorite games.

    I love to play games, and over time I have discovered a few favorite games of mine. One of my favorite indoor games is Mystery Creature. It helps develop critical thinking, and imagination for students and adults. During the game, everyone needs a brain break, and get some energy out. A great game for a quick break, and to safely get energy out, is Up, Down, Stop, Go. This game uses listening skills and body control. My all-time favorite game to teach, play and watch is Ultimate Ball. It teaches everyone teamwork, strategy, physical awareness, and timing. The game is a mixture of football, soccer and includes a lot of running. All of these games are fun to play with kids and adults.

    American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post Coach Tom recommends his favorite games for a classroom ‘brain break’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Students at Fox Hill Elementary school in suburban Indianapolis, Indiana take dancing 'brain breaks' in class.  Photo by Mike Fritz

    Students at Fox Hill Elementary school in suburban Indianapolis, Indiana take dancing ‘brain breaks’ in class. Photo by Mike Fritz

    INDIANAPOLIS — It’s hard not to smile and move to the beat when you see Katie McLiver’s first grade classroom dancing to some of their favorite songs. The students at Fox Hill Elementary School in suburban Indianapolis do the “Sid Shuffle” with the sloth of the same name from the film “Ice Age.” And they are nearly bursting, just waiting to move all their limbs as they “countdown from 20″ before the lyrics instruct them to dance and “shake your groove thing.”

    The “brain breaks,” as they are called here, along with organized games and physical activity at recess and in the class are part of the school’s strategy to educate students holistically.

    “We have to always take into account their physical health, their mental health as well as their ability to read, write and to do math,” said Principal Sean Taylor. “You can’t exceed your expectations in one area without taking into account all those other aspects.”

    Tom O’Neill helps make sure Fox Hill students move throughout the day. Coach Tom as he’s known, is the school’s full-time coordinator for Playworks, a non-profit which promotes the power of play. Playworks pays for half the salary for O’Neill and other coaches, while the low-income schools they serve in pick up the rest.

    Principal Taylor determined the value of organized play in his school was worth the expense, and this year Coach Tom organizes games during recess and sometimes in classes that are designed to teach soft skills like kindness, sharing and even conflict resolution at the same time the kids are getting to move around.

    For the students at Fox Hill, physical fitness is an integral part of their school day. Watch the full report Tuesday on the PBS NewsHour.

    Making time for regular physical activity in school is precisely what a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine is advocating. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School indicates students may benefit academically and become healthier in general.

    “It does impact the brain,” said Jayne Greenberg, the District Director of Physical Education and Health Literacy for Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and a member of the committee that produced the report. “It does impact speed of cognitive processing, attention, memory and hence enabling the student to become more physically active is correlated to better academic performance.”

    Many schools around the country have shortened or cut recess and physical education classes in favor of more academic time and to accommodate additional testing. Those decisions may have been shortsighted, according to Greenberg.

    “Principals are now learning about the relationship between brain activity and physical activity,” Greenberg said. “In the past where principals have said ‘well it’s a frill we can take out of the schools’ they are now rethinking that and putting physical education and physical activity, in particular the physical activity breaks and recess, back into the schools.”

    Surveys have shown that only about half of young people get at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity exercise daily, which is what the U.S. Department of Health’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans’ suggests. Greenberg and her colleagues on the Institute of Medicine committee have developed their own recommendations to support more exercise and physical activity in schools. The Institute has also created an infographic resource to show how students can integrate exercise into their day

    At Fox Hill Elementary, teachers and students have commented on how recess, Coach Tom’s games in and out of the classroom have made it easier to focus on academics.

    “You’ve got all the wiggles out,” said fourth grade student Lizzy Maze. “Probably because of that reason and because you’ve just kind of had a little fun, so now you’re really tired so you are ready to do some work.”

    For Principal Taylor, it’s about balance. Making sure kids can be kids, while they learn and grow.

    “We understand the stakes are high and we welcome those stakes,” Taylor said. “We want the best for our students but we know that in order to get the best we have educate the whole child.”

    Need a “brain break”? Check out Coach Tom’s favorite classroom games.

    American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post Why recess and physical education are making a comeback appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

    Happy 10th birthday, Facebook. Photo by REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach.

    Ten years ago, on Feb. 4, 2004, TheFacebook.com was born. What started as a website for Harvard University students has become a networking site of more than 1.2 billion people that has transformed our language, culture and identity. Facebook has shaped the way we communicate, connect and share our lives with the world — for better and for worse.

    The site has seen several changes since its launch, from dropping the initial “the” in the url, adding pokes, status updates, transitioning from “The Wall” to Timeline. Of all of Facebook’s most Facebook-y features from the past 10 years, we ask: Which do you “like”?

    The post Celebrating 10 years of “hot” (or not) Facebook innovations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Gay rights supports crowded outside the Supreme Court in June, 2013, awaiting word on the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act.

    Gay rights supports crowded outside the Supreme Court in June, 2013, awaiting word on the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act. Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Getty Images

    One week before the Winter Olympics were set to begin in Sochi, 40 human rights groups sent a letter to the games’ top American sponsors, urging them to pressure Russia to address its anti-gay policies.

    “Discrimination has no place in the Olympics, and LGBT people must not be targeted with violence or deprived of their ability to advocate for their own equality,” they wrote. “As all eyes turn toward Sochi, we ask you to stand with us.”

    One of letter’s signatories was the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. HRC focuses on grassroots efforts to promote equality in the United States and was a driving force behind the gay rights movement in 2013.

    “We’ll look back and see 2013 as yet another major step forward, recognizing that we still have a long way to go,” said the HRC’s Legal Director, Brian Moulton.

    Supporters of same-sex marriage in the U.S. celebrated some major victories in 2013. In June, the Supreme Court ruled on two landmark cases. The high court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), expanding federal benefits to same-sex couples, and sent the case surrounding a statewide gay-marriage ban back to California, effectively legalizing gay marriage in that state.

    Moulton said the the DOMA decision was “groundbreaking” but acknowledged that the Supreme Court stopped short of addressing statewide bans on same-sex marriage by dismissing California’s Proposition 8 case. He said the court will likely address bans in the near future, considering that there are two dozen other lawsuits filed in federal courts challenging state amendments prohibiting gay marriage. “That is very likely to be the way that we see some of these amendments removed,” said Moulton.

    Opponents of same-sex marriage disagree that the court will declare statewide bans unconstitutional. Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the conservative Family Research Council told PBS NewsHour, “I remain skeptical that the Supreme Court would dare to impose what we’ve referred to as a ‘Roe v. Wade’ of same-sex marriage.” Sprigg noted that when the justices addressed the issue of abortion in
    Roe vs. Wade, “all they did was unsettle it and inflame the division.”

    While those on both sides of the issue will keep an eye on the courts in 2014, they are also focusing some of their efforts on the states. In 2013, the number of states allowing same-sex marriage doubled. However, most states have provisions banning same-sex marriage and of those 33 states, 29 have constitutional amendments prohibiting gay marriage. “If it was a football game we would still be ahead,” said Sprigg.

    Overturning state constitutional amendments is also a difficult and complicated process. The Human Rights Campaign’s Brian Moulton said advocates of gay marriage “have to look at tactics and shift our approach when it comes to this next year. We’re certainly at a higher hurdle in a lot of ways.” The first test for supporters will be in Oregon, where the Human Rights Campaign is working to repeal its constitutional amendment as part of a ballot initiative in 2014.

    Opponents of same-sex marriage are focusing their state-level efforts on Indiana, where they are hoping to pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage, which passed Indiana’s House of Representatives last week. “That’s a top priority for us,” said Sprigg. “We can show that the momentum is not completely on the other side.”

    However, advocates of same-sex marriage gained some momentum in 2013. Along with victories in the Supreme Court and a number of states, gay rights advocates also saw the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate. Almost two decades after a narrow defeat, 64 Senators voted to pass ENDA, banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

    While this was a significant victory, ENDA has stalled in the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner refused to bring the act to a vote. Brian Moulton said “employment is a huge issue” for the gay rights movement and they will continue to lobby for a vote in the House, but he admits “it’s a challenge given the leadership’s opposition to it.”

    On the other hand, conservative groups including the Family Research Council
    are working to keep ENDA off the House floor. Peter Sprigg said ENDA is “the biggest threat [to religious liberty] that we face” at the federal level. Sprigg said ENDA “comes up against the right of the employer and of religious employees, who may be disciplined for expressing religious views”

    One religious leader made headlines in 2013 for his comments in support of the gay community. In July, Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, told reporters, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

    However, Dr. John Grabowski, an associate professor at Catholic University, said the pope’s comments were not a divergence from Catholic teaching. The Catholic Church has always condemned any discrimination against the gay community, said Grabowski, and it continues to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Grabowski said Pope Francis’ comments were “an adjustment of the Church’s tone, not a change of his teaching.”

    Grabowski said there is “not a debate within the leadership” about changing the Church’s stance towards homosexuality. Instead, he noted that society has accepted a changing definition of marriage and reigniting a debate about marriage may be fruitless. “We’re not going to stop the ship from sailing and there are leaders in the Church who realize this,” Grabowski told the NewsHour. He added that the Catholic Church faces a broader challenge of engaging in a debate that is defined in terms of equal rights.

    Conservatives agree that when they speak out against same-sex marriage in defense of traditional marriage, they are portrayed as denying equal rights to same sex-couples. “The other side has been effective in framing the issue,” said Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council. Sprigg said the FRC is working to redefine the debate “with respect to the definition of marriage” instead of equal rights.

    “The homosexual movement is very well organized and very well-funded,” said Sprigg. “They have the wind behind their sails in term of major cultural institutions supporting them,” including the news media, the entertainment industry, and academia.

    Brian Moulton of the Human Rights Campaign also said the media played a major role in bringing the issue of same-sex marriage to the forefront in 2013. “There’s been so much more cultural change and public dialogue and presence of LGBT people in the mainstream media,” said Moulton. “More and more realities of LGBT people and their lives are reflected in broader culture.”

    Another cultural force driving the issue is a younger generation coming of age that overwhelmingly supports the legalization of gay marriage. However, Peter Sprigg said he is not completely discouraged by the poll numbers. “We find that those same individuals, like other generations … may become more conservative as they grow older,” said Sprigg.

    On the other hand, Brian Moulton found the views of the so-called millennial generation extremely encouraging. Moulton said, “It certainly gives us confidence that really these changes are, if nothing else, just a matter of time.”

    Many Americans seem to side with Moulton. The Pew Research Center found that in 2013 a majority of both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage believe legalization of gay marriage is inevitable.

    Tonight on the PBS NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown discusses the state of gay rights and the upcoming Sochi olympics with Brian Moulton and Andranik Migranyan, Director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. Tune in on your local PBS station, or watch here on the PBS NewsHour live stream.

    The post As gay rights spotlight shifts to Sochi, sides square off back in the U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 02/04/14--18:40: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
  • The post Tuesday, February 4, 2014 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report on economic effects of the president’s health care law struck sparks today. The Congressional Budget Office projected as many as 2.3 million workers will reduce their hours or drop out of the work force by 2021 as they gain health insurance.

    Jason Furman chairs the president’s Council of Economic Advisers.

    JASON FURMAN, White House Council of Economic Advisers: Even if the net result of this is a net reduction in labor supply, to the degree that reduction in labor supply is voluntary and reflects the choices people are making, you’re going to think about that very differently than if it was businesses cutting back on jobs. This is not businesses cutting back on jobs. This is people having new choices they didn’t use to have.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Furman also argued the report doesn’t take into account a number of economic benefits of the law.

    But Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said, in fact, the new estimate proves the law is indeed a job-killer.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: The CBO report is certainly not pretty if you’re interested in creating jobs in America. As we all know, they estimate up to $2 million — two million fewer jobs will be created as a result of Obamacare.

    Honestly, it’s not a surprising report. All the anecdotes you hear all across the country are that premiums are going up and jobs are being lost.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The report also lowers the estimate of how many uninsured people will gain coverage this year by two million. It blames the early troubles of the government’s website, HealthCare.gov. We will explore all of the numbers further right after the news summary.

    Separately, the CBO now says this year’s federal budget deficit will drop to $514 billion. That’s down sharply from last year, and it is the lowest since President Obama took office. The agency attributes the decline to rising tax revenues from the economic recovery, plus reductions in federal spending.

    Wall Street had some improved numbers of its own today, after Monday’s big losses. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 72 points to close at 15,445. The Nasdaq rose 34 points to close at 4,031.

    A new five-year farm bill has won final approval in the Senate, after more than two years of wrangling. The ultimate compromise will cost $956 billion. It keeps most crop subsidies intact, but it cuts $800 million a year from food stamps, about 1 percent. Many Republicans had wanted deeper cuts in both areas.

    Officials and activists from West Virginia are stepping up the pressure for more information on last month’s chemical spill. They took their frustration today to a Senate hearing on the spill that tainted the water supply of 300,000 people.

    West Virginia’s secretary of state, Natalie Tennant, said people don’t know what to believe.

    NATALIE TENNANT, West Virginia secretary of state: First, we hear it’s 7,500 gallons. Then we hear it’s 10,000 gallons. One day, we’re told the water is safe. The next day, we hear that pregnant women shouldn’t drink it. It doesn’t add up. Either it’s safe or it’s not safe.

    Quite frankly, people are fed up, they are angry, and they are scared. I have families telling me that they are melting snow just to be able to give their children baths.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Democratic and Republican senators alike are backing a bill to require inspections every three years at chemical plants that can threaten public water systems.

    A federal judge in Virginia heard arguments today on whether to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage. Voters approved it, in 2006, as an amendment to the state constitution. But two same-sex couples brought suit, saying the ban violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Virginia’s Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, announced last month that he wouldn’t defend the ban.

    In Afghanistan, the office of President Hamid Karzai confirms that he has held secret talks with Taliban officials in a bid to make peace. That disclosure comes as relations between Karzai and the U.S. have been strained since he refused to sign a security agreement. We will delve into what Karzai is doing, and why, later in the program.

    Microsoft has reached within its ranks for a new CEO. Satya Nadella has been in charge of the software giant’s cloud computing business. With today’s announcement, he replaces Steve Ballmer, who announced last August that he would be leaving the company. In addition, Microsoft founder Bill Gates is stepping down as chairman, but he will serve as a technology adviser.

    The post News Wrap: Senate passes farm bill after two-year battle appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: The Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the economic fallout from the Affordable Health Care Act reignited partisan debate today. The new report focused on the impact the law could have on the labor force, specifically how it could lead to fewer full-time workers over the next decade.

    Julie Rovner of NPR has been covering what was in the analysis and the reaction all around.

    Reaction by the Republicans, Julie, was that this is a job killer. The reaction from the Democrats was, this was good news. Which is it?

    JULIE ROVNER, NPR: Well, I think it was probably neither of those things.

    The CBO was very careful in its analysis. Basically, what it said was a little bit more of what it said when it first analyzed the act in 2010, which is that this is the inevitable consequence of when you give people help in buying health insurance, that you’re going to deter work output.

    Now, this is not, we should point out, not employers cutting back on workers that they hire. This is largely people not working, people voluntarily either dropping out of the work force or cutting back in the number of hours that they work.

    GWEN IFILL: So, there’s a distinction to be drawn between this affecting job supply and worker supply.

    JULIE ROVNER: That’s right. This is all on the supply side, not the demand side. These are fewer — in fact, I will read the line that the CBO said: “The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor.”

    So these are fewer workers in the work force, not fewer businesses hiring.

    GWEN IFILL: The White House was emphasizing that word choice, by the way, repeatedly today, which is I imagine why.

    So they said that it’s mostly going to be low-wage jobs, which — or low-wage worker who will be affected by this. Why?

    JULIE ROVNER: That’s right, because low-wage workers are the ones who are getting help to buy their health insurance. So, for them, every hour that they work, every extra hour that they work costs them more because, if they work more, they will be at risk of losing that subsidy, or, if they’re getting Medicaid, they would be at risk of losing the Medicaid if they earn that much more.

    So they are more sensitive to working more and therefore losing that benefit.

    GWEN IFILL: Or if you’re an older worker, it provides an incentive to retire sooner?

    JULIE ROVNER: That’s correct. That’s the other half of this. And these were things that were anticipated when the law was passed.

    GWEN IFILL: So none of this was an unanticipated or unintended consequence of the law? This was something people saw?

    JULIE ROVNER: That’s right. This was — these are — if you’re going to give people money to help them buy health insurance, you’re going to assume that these things are going to happen. As the administration was saying today, if you took away Medicare and Social Security, you would have more 95-year-olds in the work force, too. They would have to work because they wouldn’t have benefits. That might not be what you want, but that is what would happen. So, this is the converse of that.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, in this report, it talked about health care costs as well. Do we have any evidence that, as promised, the cost of health care is declining?

    JULIE ROVNER: What we do know is that the cost of health care or that the rise in health care spending is slowing. What we don’t know is whether it’s because of the Affordable Care Act.

    There’s a very lively debate among health care economists as to the impact that the law is having. The CBO very carefully said we don’t know either. So they’re not going to say.

    GWEN IFILL: And there’s also a debate about whether the ACA is actually more expensive than originally anticipated. Do we know the answer to that question?

    JULIE ROVNER: The one thing that they said, that the head of the CBO said is that there is no evidence that — when they first estimated how much the bill would cost, they said that it would reduce deficits, because the things that are in the law that raise money are greater than the things that are in the law that spend money, that everything that they have re-estimated, nothing has changed that.

    So this would — this law is still anticipated to reduce the federal deficit over these 10 years and I guess the years that follow that. It’s not yet spending more than it takes in.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, every week or so, the Department of Health and Human Services, someone comes out and says this is the number of people who have registered with the Affordable Care Act. Because of the botched rollout, is that number less than what was expected?

    JULIE ROVNER: Well, right now, they’re at about — the last time they told us, it was about three million. And of course they had been aiming for seven million, which was the seven million estimated by the CBO. Now the CBO has rolled that back to six million. That’s just how much they estimate.

    They’re also estimating a million fewer on Medicaid. That’s going to be eight million instead of nine million.

    GWEN IFILL: By when?

    JULIE ROVNER: By the end of this year.

    However, the CBO is also estimating that those numbers — that we will catch up in future years, so that even though this year, rather than getting seven million people signed up in the exchanges, there will only be six million, that in 2015 and 2016, they will catch up to their estimates for those years.

    GWEN IFILL: So it’s not a completely — it’s a mixed bag about whether this is doing as expected or not.

    One other thing which is interesting which is referred to in this report today is the risk corridors, which — explain, first of all, what they are and then how — what this report says is happening.

    JULIE ROVNER: That’s right.

    These are payments that are made to insurance companies from the federal government in case they get too many sick people, that if a particular plan gets too many sick people and therefore they don’t have enough premiums to cover their expenses, these are ways — these are safety valves, if you will, for the insurance companies.

    Republicans have been talking about repealing some of those because they’re…

    GWEN IFILL: They called it an insurance bailout.

    JULIE ROVNER: Exactly, an insurance company bailout.

    JULIE ROVNER: Right. That would have the impact of probably raising premiums.

    However, the CBO said that, in fact, there will be more money coming from the insurance companies to the federal government, the other way around. So it will actually raise $8 billion for the federal government. So if the Republicans want to repeal that, they are going to have to find $8 billion to help pay for that. That could be a problem.

    GWEN IFILL: Love this. So do you.


    GWEN IFILL: Julie Rovner of NPR, thank you.

    JULIE ROVNER: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s been a rough couple of weeks for some overseas financial markets. That was true again overnight in Europe and Asia, where stocks finished lower. The volatility of late has brought fresh concerns about what’s happening in the global economy and the connections with the U.S.

    Jeffrey Brown explores what’s behind the jitters and its ripple effects.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Much of the concern surrounds emerging markets in countries that are now nicknamed the fragile five: Turkey, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia.

    For its part, here at home, the Dow Jones industrial average is nearing a so-called correction, a drop of 10 percent.

    We look at what’s happening with Eswar Prasad, an economist with Cornell University and the Brookings Institution, and author of the new book “The Dollar Trap: How the U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance,” and Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist for Charles Schwab & Company.

    And, for the record, Charles Schwab is a NewsHour underwriter.

    Well, Eswar Prasad, let me begin with you and let’s talk about the emerging market concerns. These have been areas of major growth for some time. So, generally speaking, what’s going on with them?

    ESWAR PRASAD, Cornell University: Emerging markets are facing two hits right now, first of all, the Chinese economy, which is a very important trading partner for many of the emerging markets and it’s absorbing a lot of the commodities. Looks like it’s going down.

    But, more importantly, the prospect of monetary tightening in the U.S., which could lead to an increase in interest rates in the U.S., is causing investors worldwide to start thinking about whether they really want to leave their money in the emerging markets, which look a little riskier and which have uncertain growth prospects.

    And this is laying bare the vulnerabilities in the emerging markets. And the economies that you mentioned all have a common thread running through them. They have large current account deficits, which means that they rely on foreign capital to finance some of their domestic consumption and investment. Many of them have budget deficits that are quite large.

    And most of them are visited by political turmoil, which means that they are unable to take the reforms necessary to put their economies back on the right track. So it’s a confluence of a lot of bad things happening at the same time.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask.

    Liz Ann Sonders, pick up a little bit first on that on that tie to the U.S., to the Fed in particular. What’s the connection?

    LIZ ANN SONDERS, Charles Schwab: Well, we saw it last start last summer when the Fed first started to hint that they would consider tapering their quantitative easing purchases.

    And what had happened prior to that is so much of this liquidity had gone to chase yields, higher yields anywhere in the world. So you saw a lot of money go into emerging markets, in the currency markets, the bond markets and the equity markets. And the fear that the Fed was pulling the punch bowl away started to unwind these trades.

    That calmed when the Fed opted not to do anything in September, but, of course, they not only hinted this time, but actually started tapering. So you start a resurgence of the unwinding of what they sometimes call these carry trades. And that’s really what you’re seeing. So the infection is more in the financial markets than I think it is at least yet economic contagion into the U.S.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me ask Eswar first about the economic fallout in these countries before we get back to the U.S. We’re talking about markets. We’re talking about currencies. Are we seeing real impact on the streets in these countries?

    ESWAR PRASAD: It’s not as bad as in the periods of the Asian financial crisis in 1997/’98, for instance. Many emerging markets in fact have learned their lessons.

    They have more flexible exchange rates, which means they’re not trying to protect a particular level of the currency. They don’t have as much external data as they used to have a couple decades ago, and they have much more foreign exchange reserves, which means a lot more protection from financial crises.

    But it is still a very rough road ahead for these emerging markets because now foreign capital has stopped coming in. Well, it is. It just isn’t coming in as the same quantities as before, which means they either have to tighten up their own domestic policies, especially budget policies, or they have to reduce their domestic consumption and investment.

    And at the same time, many of these emerging markets are also contending with high inflation and other problems domestically. So they need to fix a lot before they can get their economies back on this high-growth trajectory.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, Liz Ann Sonders, given that, then come back to what are the prospects for what we call contagion, right, all of what’s happening there bouncing back to us and getting even worse?

    LIZ ANN SONDERS: I think somewhat limited, at least into the broader economy.

    There’s no question that there are ripple effects and there is some fear that we are potentially seeing a repeat of the late 1990s, although I would agree the differences are important, notably the difference between pegged exchange rates and flexible exchange rates. So I don’t think we have that type of scenario.

    But margin debt recently hit in an absolute sense an all-time high. So the contagion sometimes happens when a lot of investors who are starting to lose money in many of these asset classes get margin calls. They have to sell other assets. So that’s where the contagion tends to come into play.

    I think it’s a short-lived situation. I think we might be somewhat limited in terms of the correction we’re going to see. It may have a little bit more to go, but I don’t think the bull market is over. But there’s a lot of concern that there may be some dead bodies buried, kind of like long-term capital in the late 1990s. And until we settle some of those questions, we probably have some more volatility.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Dead bodies buried in terms of bad investments around the world.

    What about the U.S. economy? How — what’s the interplay now, Liz Ann Sonders, staying with you, as you look at the potential for a correction?

    LIZ ANN SONDERS: Well, a little bit of a double whammy for the markets, the U.S. markets anyway, has been the fact that some of the recent economic data has been fairly weak. So about a month ago, we got a very, very weak jobs number.

    On the surface, anyway, it seemed it was highly weather-related. The problem is, the weather hasn’t improved, so we have another jobs report coming out later this week. And if it’s weak again, even if it’s cited as weather being one of the problems, that’s still going to send some ripples.

    We had the ISM manufacturing number come out that was quite a bit weaker than expected, also with weather as one of the reasons cited. But — so we have some near-term angst that we’re dealing with, uncertainty regarding the economy. And as far as the weather is concerned, speaking from somebody in the Northeast, we’re not going to get an answer for some time as to how much of an impact weather has had.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Eswar Prasad, as you watch the world, and especially these emerging countries — economies that we’re talking about, it seems like every day there’s a different story about a different one of them, and they all have very specific issues, of course.

    But is there — are there one two that you’re most focused on to help you and maybe help us think about where we’re headed?

    ESWAR PRASAD: Turkey and Argentina are the most volatile cases because they have enormous political problems. But, in addition, they have fairly significant current account deficits, so they rely on a lot of foreign capital.

    Other countries like India and Brazil are also facing tremendous domestic tensions because they have very high inflation, which means that their central banks need to tighten monetary policy, increase interest rates in order to fight inflation. But that reduces domestic activity.

    So, ultimately, it’s going to be a very difficult balancing act for these economies. And for the U.S., it’s going to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it means more money coming to the U.S. in search of safety, but, on the other hand, the emerging markets have been a very important part of the world economy.

    They now account for about 40 percent of world GDP, so lack of demand from there is not good for the U.S. And if the dollar remains stronger than it ought to be otherwise, that’s going to mean less job growth, less exports for the U.S. And right now, when the economy is weak, every little bit helps, and this is going to hurt.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Liz Ann Sonders, just in our last 30 seconds, I have to ask the — so much of this is about big traders, of course, in the markets. What about regular old investors at a time like this? What’s the advice?

    LIZ ANN SONDERS: Well, the potential good news, if you want to call it that, is that a lot of individual investors have largely stayed out of this market. They have been very skeptical over the last five years.

    So I don’t think you have had the mass influx that you might expect, given that we’re in a five-year bull market. I do think more of the activity that you’re seeing is coming from the institutional side, less so on the individual investor side.

    I think, ultimately, this is a buyable correction, if you want to call it that. So I think we will ultimately be OK, but it’s going to be — it’s going to be rough for the near term.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Liz Ann Sonders, Eswar Prasad, thank you both very much.

    LIZ ANN SONDERS: Thank you.

    ESWAR PRASAD: Thank you.

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