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

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    File photo of loading containers on a merchant ship in the port of Cartagena, Colombia, on May 9, 2012. Photo by Manuel Pedraza/AFP/GettyImages

    File photo of loading containers on a merchant ship in the port of Cartagena, Colombia, on May 9, 2012. Photo by Manuel Pedraza/AFP/GettyImages

    Last fall, while teaching at Hong Kong Baptist University, I had a small encounter that spoke to a larger story of changes brewing in global economics and politics.

    I was on the jitney bus carrying students and staff from the campus to the nearby subway station and struck up a conversation with the only other person not chatting with pals in Chinese. He was a native of Mazatlan, Mexico, spoke flawless English and was soon to obtain his bachelor’s business degree from a university in San Antonio, Texas. He had studied in Europe and mainland China and was in Hong Kong to further improve his Chinese language skills. He said Asia and China were Mexico’s future. And I responded, “You are the future of the world.”

    On a much grander stage, another bit of that story will play out when President Barack Obama meets on Wednesday with his Mexican and Canadian counter parts in Toluca, Mexico. The rapidly growing metropolis is only 40 miles west of the federal capital and 8,000 from China. But, in the words of one analyst, China will be “the elephant in the room” at the formally labeled North American Leaders Summit, more popularly known as The Three Amigos.

    Officially, Mr. Obama and President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada will be observing the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement coming into force. (NAFTA was negotiated by President George H.W. Bush and pushed narrowly through Congress by President Clinton.)

    But it is a sign of how elements of trade-driven international politics are zigging and zagging in new directions and alliances that the three partners are looking as much to the Pacific as to each other for future commercial and diplomatic opportunities. All three nations are part of the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership arrangement still in negotiation and now possibly stalemated by the U.S. Congress. All three are eagerly expanding trade and business ties with China and Asia, and Pena Nieto is just back from a summit in Colombia that put a final seal on the newly created Pacific Alliance of four Latin American nations facing that ocean and now by far the most economically dynamic in the region.

    Perhaps it is not a surprise that the three NAFTA leaders have wandering eyes. At age 20, the pact is generating more than a trillion dollars of annual trade among them but is still a domestic lightening rod, especially in the United States and Mexico. Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, in the 2008 Democratic primaries, promised to revise NAFTA, but changed their minds once in office. But organized labor and its Democratic party allies still assert it has cost at least 700,000 U.S. jobs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce retorts that NAFTA “supports” 14 million American jobs. Mexicans complain it has decimated their agriculture industry. Canadian leaders extol the global supply chain that NAFTA has helped spawn from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, but it is still easier for a citizen of the Czech Republic to enter Canada visa-free than for a Mexican to gain entry after a much shorter journey north.

    Indeed, as a group of analysts assembled on a recent conference call organized by the Mexico Institute of Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center, all agreed, NAFTA always has been more like two bilateral arrangements (Canada-U.S./ Mexico-U.S.) than a full-fledged three-way partnership.

    And those different perspectives and approaches will be visible at the one-day meeting in Toluca. As Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute, pointed out, the meeting takes place against U.S.-Mexican tensions over NSA spying on Mexican leaders and friction between the U.S. and Canada over the Keystone pipeline.

    But Wood and other analysts said the summit will primarily be the setting for Pena Nieto to showcase a year of major economic and social reform legislation, enacted with multi-party support in such sharp contrast to Washington’s hyper-partisanship. The most surprising success was winning legislative approval for a major energy reform plan that will allow foreign participation in Mexico’s oil industry, a flashpoint of Mexican nationalism since U.S. oil companies were ejected in 1938.

    “It will be a showcase for Pena Nieto to highlight Mexico’s re-emergence as a strong regional partner and that Mexico is seeking due respect from the others,” Wood said.

    But another analyst, David Shirk, an associate professor at the University of San Diego, said the Pena Nieto administration still faces the most important issue of establishing the rule of law in the face of continued drug gang violence though the death rate has officially fallen. And in such states as Michoacan, the federal government is trying to figure out how to deal with vigilante groups that have formed to fight the cartels, even though there is evidence of overlapping membership among the two.

    “Drug trafficking and new violence in Mexico,” Shirk said, “have dispelled the illusions of the Pena Nieto government that economic reforms are the key issue.”

    Shirk and Wood did agree that Pena Nieto may be forced, or choose, to resume the intimate cooperation between U.S. and Mexican security agencies that had developed during the drug war launched by Pena Nieto’s predecessor Felipe Calderon. Traditionally, they said, Pena Nieto’s PRI party was always more suspicious of close ties with the U.S., which has been reflected in the recent cooling off of some security ties.

    It was Shirk who used the phrase “elephant in the room” to describe how China will be part of the unspoken agenda of the summit. Wood added that the Pacific Rim is becoming an important arena of Mexican foreign policy.

    “It will come front and center quickly,” Wood said.

    Michael D. Mosettig, PBS NewsHour foreign affairs and defense editor emeritus, watches wonks push policy in Washington’s multitude of think tanks. From time to time, he writes dispatches on what those scholars and wannabe secretaries of state have in mind for Europe, Asia and Latin America.

    The post For NAFTA, half a happy birthday appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 02/18/14--06:55: Broadcast Desk Assistant
  • Broadcast Desk Assistant duration: six-month term (be July 14th, 2014 – January 16th, 2015)

    Please note: There is an immediate opening in the program. To be considered send in an application to smchaney(at)newshour.org

    The Desk Assistant (DA) position is part of a six-month entry-level program aimed at providing practical experience in a broadcast news setting. The DAs are exposed to all aspects involved in producing a nightly television news program. Desk Assistant duties are rotational among the different units that compose the NewsHour.

    Over the course of the program, each of the 8 Desk Assistants hired will work in 3 different units for a period of two months each. They also act as support staff for Senior Producers, Associate Producers, Reporters and Production Assistants, by answering phones, sorting mail, distributing paper and other administrative tasks. Finally, Desk Assistants will attend a series of breakfasts with various members of our organization including correspondents, producers, and reporters.

    Each DA will work in three of the following rotations for a period of two months each.

    DESK ASSISTANT ROTATIONS                    DUTIES

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS / NATIONAL AFFAIRS / POLITICS The Beat DAs perform a variety of duties, including providing basic research, finding, and pre-interviewing guests, logging feeds, and aiding reporters, producers and correspondents with whatever they need.  In the evening, the National Affairs and Politics DAs work on script production and in the control room during the taping of the show.
    (The script production and control room duties switch after one month.)
    FORWARD PLANNING The Forward Planning DA is attached to a unit that focuses on future NewsHour stories on the broadcast and web. He or she will be responsible for generating story ideas, conducting pre-interviews, assisting on shoots, and logging, transcribing and searching for archival footage.
    LOGGING The Logging DA watches, logs and manages incoming feeds from the Associated Press Television Network (APTN). They also log press conferences and hearings as needed. Along with the Newsdesk DA, they also answer phones and provide support in the newsroom.
    (This is done for one month and then switches with Newsdesk.)
    NEWSDESK The Newsdesk DA is primarily responsible for providing general coverage in the newsroom, logging news feeds, answering phones, tracking tape stock, distributing faxes, photocopying and fact-checking all script and tape information before air.
    (This is done for one month and then switches with Logging.)
    PRODUCTION The Production DA is responsible for maintaining our tape library, accompanying crew on local shoots; and providing additional assistance in the edit and tape rooms. During the evening, this person assists with script production and sits in the studio to assist the anchors.
    RESEARCH/COMMUNICATIONS The Research/Communications DA plays two roles: assisting the research librarians with long-term projects by compiling dossiers for anchors, producers and reporters. and writing press releases, compiling press lists, editing DVDs for awards submissions, and performing other duties for the Communications offices.

    -Bachelor’s Degree.
    -Good writing and research skills.
    -Demonstrated interest in journalism and/or television production.
    -Pleasant phone manner and good administrative skills.
    -Strong work ethic and effective time management.
    -Knowledge of The PBS NewsHour’s journalistic style.

    -Prior experience in a broadcast news setting is strongly preferred.

    The deadline for applications is April 30, to be considered please email smchaney(at)newshour.org

    Please note: There is an immediate opening in the program. To be considered send in an application to smchaney(at)newshour.org

    The Desk Assistant position pays $9 an hour with overtime eligibility. As it is a temporary position, we are unable to provide health benefits.

    To apply, please send the following to the Desk Assistant Coordinator via email (preferred) or ground mail.

    (1) Application (downloadable here as a PDF)

    (2) Cover letter

    (3) Resume

    Sarah McHaney
    Desk Assistant Coordinator
    smchaney(at)newshour.org

    The PBS NewsHour
    3620 S. 27th Street
    Arlington, VA 22206

    Candidates must have valid authorization per DHS form I-9 regulations to work for any employer within the United States. Visa sponsorship is not available.

    The post Broadcast Desk Assistant appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Secretary of State John Kerry, right, talks with Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi, left, and Ambassador Jake Walles after arriving in Tunis on Feb.18. Kerry promised American assistance Tuesday in the North African nation's battle against terrorists. Photo by Evan Vucci/AFP/Getty Images

    Secretary of State John Kerry, right, talks with Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi, left, and Ambassador Jake Walles after arriving in Tunis, Tunisia. Kerry promised American assistance Tuesday in the North African nation’s battle against terrorists. Photo by Evan Vucci/AFP/Getty Images

    TUNIS, Tunisia — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Tunisia on its new post-revolutionary constitution and promised American assistance Tuesday in the North African nation’s battle against terrorists.

    The United States wants to encourage the democratic transition in Tunisia, which ousted its longtime dictator in January 2011 and sparked wider revolts that toppled leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

    After two years of fractious debate, Tunisia’s elected assembly of Islamists, leftists and liberals approved what has been described as one of the most progressive constitutions in the region, but now the government is battling Islamist militants.

    “No democracy can survive or prosper without security,” Kerry said in a press conference at the U.S. embassy during his unannounced stop in Tunisia. He also announced that the United States would give Tunisia a high-tech mobile command post vehicle for conducting terrorism investigations, and a mobile crime lab for police forensics investigations.

    Tunisians have requested material and financial aid in their fight against militant groups. In recent weeks several people have been killed or wounded a string of shootouts between security forces and a faction called Ansar al-Shariah.

    Of the $400 million in U.S. assistance since the revolution, $24 million has been used to equip and train Tunisian security forces. Kerry expressed his confidence in Tunisia’s ability to fight terrorism and applauded the recent operations.

    “The evidence of that are the very significant arrests that were made and the break-up of Ansar al-Shariah’s cells in the last weeks,” Kerry said, describing the security operations as “well carried out, well planned and well executed.”

    Kerry stopped in Tunis en route from Abu Dhabi to Paris, where on Wednesday he is scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

    Tunisia’s new charter – achieved after two years of laborious, often turbulent negotiations – has been hailed as one of the most progressive constitutions in the Arab world. A compromise between liberals and Islamists, it guarantees freedom of religion and women’s rights.

    “It is a constitution that underscores Tunisia’s long tradition of respect for the rights of women and minorities,” said Kerry, evoking the memory of the itinerant fruit seller whose self-immolation in December 2010 kicked off the uprising. “It is a constitution that will allow the people to realize the aspirations of Mohammed Bouazizi and millions of others, and it is constitution that can serve as a model for others in the region and around the world.”

    Although the process was messy and marked by high unemployment, protests, terrorist attacks, assassinations and repeated walkouts by negotiators, Tunisia is cautiously seen as a success story, especially compared to Egypt.

    During the period that the Tunisians drafted their constitution, Egypt wrote two constitutions and suffered a military coup against an elected government. Egypt’s charters were quickly drafted by appointed committees with little public debate. In Tunisia, an elected assembly of Tunisian Islamists, leftists and liberals worked together on the text.

    Tunisia’s constitution aims to make the country of 11 million people a democracy, with a civil state whose laws are not based on Islamic law, unlike many other Arab constitutions. An entire chapter of the document, some 28 articles, is dedicated to protecting citizens’ rights, including protection from torture, the right to due process and freedom of worship. It also guarantees legal equality between men and women.

    After overthrowing their dictator in 2011, Tunisians brought a moderate Islamist party into power allied with two secular parties. The coalition struggled with continuing social unrest, high unemployment, the rise of a radical Islamist movement with ties to al-Qaida, and the assassination of two left-wing politicians.

    Inflation soared, the budget deficit swelled, and demonstrations over high food prices and unemployment spread. However since the constitution’s approval, Tunisia’s image abroad has brightened, the slide of the Tunisian dinar has halted, and the stock market has perked up.

    The post Kerry promises security assistance to Tunisia to fight nation’s terrorists appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sending a hand-written thank you note is important, but not enough by itself, says headhunter Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Flickr user happy_serendipity.

    Sending a hand-written thank-you note is important, but not enough by itself, says headhunter Nick Corcodilos, to show that you’re the best hire. Photo by Flickr user happy_serendipity.

    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.


    Question: When I apply for jobs, I rarely get acknowledgements from employers, much less a thank-you for applying. I used to always send thank-you notes after interviews. But it seems the standard has changed. Are thank-you notes a waste of time?

    Nick Corcodilos: The next 99 people you encounter might be uncouth. But your high standards of behavior will show them up every time. And when you encounter a polite, professional employer, your own behavior will mark you as one of their kind.

    Always keep your standards high, and always send a thank-you note. (See the short article, “Raise your standards.”) But a thank-you note by itself is not enough to demonstrate that you’re the best hire.

    There’s a section of “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers” (pp. 21-22) that addresses this head-on, and I’m reprinting that section of the book here.

    Don’t let anyone convince you that employers don’t care about thank-you notes after job interviews. Good business people value courtesy and follow-up. But you can take a thank-you note a step further: Fill it with help and expertise. For example:

    “Thanks for the stimulating discussion. Each time we talk, I’m more intrigued and excited about the prospect of working with you. In the meantime, you might be interested in this article I ran across. It’s on the subject of xyz, and I think some of these ideas might be applied to the challenge you’re facing that we discussed in our meeting. Best regards.”

    On the clipping, handwrite “To: [manager’s name]” and “From: [your name, e-mail address, and phone number].” Mark up two or three relevant passages in the article, and add one or two short notes in the margin. Be careful: Your comments must be thoughtful and relevant to the discussions you had, and they must provide useful information to the manager. This must not be gratuitous. Since the clipping should be annotated, you’ll want to PDF it so it can be e-mailed with your handwritten comments intact.

    Thank-you notes from other candidates will get tossed out. Your clipping is more likely to be re-read and shared with others on the manager’s team, if it’s really useful. Hand-written means you took time with it, and makes it personal. Your contact information provides an instant way for the manager (or anyone else that reads it) to reach you. Any personal edge on this communication creates an advantage for you.

    Including a relevant clipping with a thank-you note emphasizes your focus on something you and the employer have in common — the work you both do. And, it points out that you’re in touch with the issues. The tone of your note emphasizes that you’re a peer, not just some job hunter who dropped in off the street. Be respectful but not overly formal. Address the manager as though she’s your boss, not an interviewer.

    Like your boss, an employer wants your expertise and your help, so don’t waste a chance to deliver that when you follow up. Thanks is not enough.

    (The PDF book “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers” that this column is excerpted from is available in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore.)

    Dear readers: Do you send thank-you notes? If you’re a manager, does it matter when a job applicant sends one?


    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: A thank-you note is not enough appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The British Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that judges should continue issuing “whole-life” prison sentences. The ruling overturns a European court decision that said such terms violate a prisoner’s human rights.

    Last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that English and Welsh law did not clearly indicate whether such whole-life terms could be reviewed after a number of years in prison in order to assess the possibility of parole. The court decided the terms, therefore, violated human rights and should include a review process.

    However, the British Court of Appeal dismissed the international court’s ruling, arguing that the law did provide an avenue for review of life sentences, since a prisoner could appeal his or her sentence to the British secretary of state in “exceptional circumstances.”

    “In our judgment the law of England and Wales therefore does provide to an offender ‘hope’ or the ‘possibility’ of release in exceptional circumstances, which render the just punishment originally imposed no longer justifiable,” Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas said Tuesday.

    A British court ruled Monday that “whole-life” prison sentences can continue for those convicted of serious crimes. A judge had delayed sentencing Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who were found guilty of killing British soldier Lee Rigby (above), until the British Court of Appeal reached a verdict on whole-life sentences. Photo by MoD/Crown Copy/PA Wire

    A British court ruled Monday that “whole-life” prison sentences can continue for those convicted of serious crimes. A judge had delayed sentencing Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who were found guilty of killing British soldier Lee Rigby (above), until the British Court of Appeal reached a verdict on whole-life sentences. Photo by MoD/Crown Copy/PA Wire

    With the British court’s ruling Tuesday, cases that had been put on hold while the legality of whole-life sentences was being reviewed are back in motion. Sentencing will resume for two men convicted of brutally killing British soldier Lee Rigby last May. A judge will consider imposing a whole-life term in prison.

    The disagreement between the two courts highlights a tense debate in Britain over its connection to transnational organizations, Reuters’ Esetelle Shirbon reported.

    “The European court’s decision in July particularly angered the ruling Conservatives,” Shirbon wrote, “who adopt a tough line on crime and see the court based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg as a threat to British sovereignty.”

    Shirbon also reported that the British home secretary said should the Conservative Party win in the 2015 elections, Britain will reconsider its position on the European Convention on Human Rights. Prime Minister David Cameron also said last year that a Conservative victory will result in a renegotiation of the United Kingdom’s role in the European Union, followed by a national referendum allowing the British people to decide if the nation should remain in the EU.

    The post UK continues to issue ‘whole-life’ prison sentences, despite human rights concerns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Medical costs such as ambulance services, emergency room visits and hospital recovery aren't covered by some insurers after cases of attempted suicide. Photo by Getty Images

    Medical costs such as ambulance services, emergency room visits and hospital recovery aren’t covered by some insurers after cases of attempted suicide. Photo by Getty Images

    Dealing with the aftermath of a suicide or attempted suicide is stressful enough. But some health plans make a harrowing experience worse by refusing to cover medical costs for injuries that are related to suicide—even though experts say that in many cases such exclusions aren’t permitted under federal law.

    Yet patients or their loved ones often don’t realize that.

    Under the 2006 federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules, employment-based health plans can’t discriminate against an individual member by denying eligibility for benefits or charging more because they have a particular medical condition such as diabetes or depression.

    Insurers, however, are allowed to deny coverage for all members for injuries caused by a specific activity or for those that arise from a particular cause spelled out in the policy. These are called “source-of-injury” exclusions. So an insurer that generally covers head injuries or broken bones could decide not to cover those injuries if they’re caused by risky recreational activities such as skydiving or bungee jumping. In a similar vein, insurers sometimes apply source-of-injury exclusions to injuries that are “intentionally self-inflicted,” including suicide or attempted suicide.

    Mental health advocates and government experts point to the HIPAA rules, noting that source-of-injury exclusions aren’t allowed if they’re the result of a medical condition. So if someone is severely depressed and sustains injuries from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, for example, the health plan can’t deny claims for medical treatment, say experts, if the plan would generally cover the treatment for someone whose wounds were not self inflicted.

    Further, the 2006 regulations “make clear that such source-of-injury exclusions cannot be imposed even if the mental health condition is not diagnosed before the injury,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Labor in an email.

    When a 24-year-old young woman with bipolar disorder attempted suicide last year by taking an overdose of an anti-anxiety medication, her mother assumed that the mother’s employer plan covering them both would pay the bills for her daughter’s emergency room visit and her three days in the hospital near her Fort Wayne, Ind., home. But the insurer declined to pay the $6,600 hospital charge, citing an exclusion for care related to suicide.

    “I knew I could appeal the decision, but I didn’t think I had any grounds to do so,” the mother says. “I thought that’s just the way it was.”

    After negotiating with the hospital, the bill was reduced by half and her daughter has been paying the balance off in installments, she says.

    “Suicide is a common exclusion,” says Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health policy at George Washington University. “Insurers are all over the place on this, and state law varies tremendously.” In court cases arising from a denial of benefits, “if the suicide attempt is related to a diagnosis that was treated, typically [the courts] will not deny coverage,” says Ann Doucette, a George Washington University professor of arts and sciences who’s involved in research related to suicide.

    Still the insurance industry says the issue has not raised major concerns. “It’s not something we’ve been hearing about,” says Susan Pisano, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.

    Roughly 38,000 people commit suicide annually, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. More than 90 percent of people who die by suicidebhave a mental health condition, says Jennifer Mathis, director of programs at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

    Depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are mental illnesses commonly associated with suicide.

    The HIPAA nondiscrimination rules apply to all employment-based health insurance. The health law extended those rules to the individual insurance market, including plans sold on and off the health insurance marketplaces. All individual market plans must cover mental health and substance use disorder services as well.

    Suicide exclusions have historically been more common on the individual market than the group market, say experts. Some plans that are currently offered on the health insurance marketplaces contain these clauses, says Carrie McLean, director of call centers at online health insurance vendor ehealthinsurance.

    “I looked at several major carriers’ exclusions, and some specifically spelled it out,” she says.

    Plan language might exclude coverage of injuries related to suicide in all cases or make an exception if the patient’s mental health is in question, she says. The language in one plan, for example, said that no benefits would be payable for expenses resulting from “intentionally, self-inflicted bodily harm, whether sane or insane.”

    Under the mental health parity law, health plans generally have to provide mental health and substance use disorder benefits that are comparable to benefits for medical/surgical care. But if a plan denies coverage following a suicide or suicide attempt, it’s probably not a parity issue, according to the DOL.

    “In the case of a suicide or attempted suicide, it is generally medical/surgical claims that are involved to treat physical injuries” rather than prescription drugs and therapy that would be covered by mental health parity requirements, the DOL spokesperson said.

    Questions about suicide exclusions in individual market plans should be directed to the state department of insurance or the federal Department of Health and Human Services, according to DOL. If someone is enrolled in a group plan that has a suicide exclusion, that person may file an appeal with the health plan.


    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

    The post Medical bills related to suicide aren’t covered by some insurers, despite rules appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by the office of Congressman Darrell Issa/ Flickr

    House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in rare remarks that he believed President Barack Obama is “dangerous” to American democracy. He called on Republicans to reframe their arguments against Obama’s championed government programs, and even “shame” if necessary to get other Republicans in line with his proposed political ideas. Photo by the office of Congressman Darrell Issa/ Flickr

    MANCHESTER, N.H. — The Republican congressman spearheading investigations of President Barack Obama’s administration by the GOP-run House urged his party Tuesday to unite against Obama’s “imperial presidency”.

    At the same time, Rep. Darrell Issa of California questioned former the leadership abilities of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    Issa heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and in this role has led a host of investigations into administration controversies. Issa’s remarks came as he made a rare New Hampshire tour, telling audiences he’s not interested in running for the White House.

    Issa did say he wants to play a key role, as voters here begin vetting 2016 presidential contenders. Issa challenged fellow Republicans to abandon government-centered solutions to problems and but directed his most pointed remarks at Obama and Clinton, the overwhelming Democratic favorite should she seek the presidency.

    “I came here hoping to change the debate for those who do run for president,” Issa said in a speech at St. Anselm College. It was last of his three public appearances in two days in the state that traditionally hosts the nation’s first presidential primary election.

    In Congress, Issa has lead a series of investigations by the Republican-led Oversight panel of some of the Obama administration’s most provocative controversies. These include the troubled rollout of the health care website, the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of politically active groups, the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records and the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

    “I believe this president is dangerous to our Democracy,” Issa said, stopping short of endorsing outright impeachment, when asked.

    He repeatedly referred to purported Obama missteps on issues that resonate with anti-government tea party supporters and Republican establishment figures alike, wings of the party that have been deeply divided over government approaches to immigration, foreign policy and spending programs. Democrats complain that the continued focus on the Benghazi attack, in particular, is a political stunt designed to weaken Clinton should she run for president.

    Issa said that Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were accountable as the “top two informed individuals who were awake.”

    “They didn’t react,” he said, adding later, “We need to find out from Secretary Clinton, why in the world you wouldn’t have insisted that (security forces) be moving and providing support.”

    Issa’s remarks come as the New Hampshire primary season approaches.

    Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, was scheduled to visit the state Tuesday evening. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and 2012 contender Rick Santorum have agreed to March appearances, while other Republicans such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul already have traveled to New Hampshire in recent months.

    Issa, a former businessman who reportedly is Congress’ wealthiest member, offered a warning for prospective Republican candidates.

    “For too long, the Republican Party has been about Republican ideas of bigger government versus Democratic ideas of bigger government,” he said Monday night, suggesting Republicans use “shame” if necessary to get other Republicans in line. “Republicans have to stop talking about new solutions that come with new government programs,” he said.

    Asked what the federal government should do, Issa offered a simple response: “Very little.”

    The post Issa calls on GOP to reframe debate against Obama’s ‘imperial presidency’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Ukraine law enforcement has given a 6 p.m. local time deadline (11 a.m. EST) for protesters to cease clashes with police in the capital of Kiev. Live stream of protests via http://ukrstream.tv/

    Updated 1:45 p.m. EST:

    At least nine people have reportedly died in clashes between policemen and anti-government protesters in Ukraine Tuesday.

    The Associated Press reports that fire has engulfed the protest camp in the center of the country’s capital, Kiev, as police advance on demonstrators.

    11:01 a.m. EST:

    Tens of thousands of demonstrators marching on parliament in Ukraine were hit by rubber bullets and stun grenades Tuesday as protesters and police clashed again in the capital of Kiev.

    The BBC reports that marching protesters were blocked by lines of police vehicles when they marched on the parliament building. As protesters threw cobblestones and smoke bombs, police fired back with stun and smoke grenades and rubber bullets. Crowds also temporarily occupied the headquarters of Ukraine’s governing party — President Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions — before police were able to force the protesters out.

    Anti-government protesters throw ripped-up cobblestones at police in in the center of Kiev on February 18, 2014.

    Anti-government protesters throw ripped-up cobblestones at police in in the center of Kiev on Feb. 18, 2014. Photo by Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

    The renewed protests come a day after Russia gave $2 billion in economic aid to Ukraine — the latest segment of a $15 billion package that President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to in November in lieu of a free trade agreement with the European Union, which sparked the country’s continuing unrest.

    Commenting on the latest violence, Russia’s foreign ministry said it was a “direct result of connivance by Western politicians and European structures that have shut their eyes … to the aggressive actions of radical forces.”

    Ukraine’s Security Service and the Interior Ministry jointly set a Tuesday deadline for protesters to cease their clashes with police in Kiev. In a joint statement, the law enforcement agencies said that authorities will restore order if the “disorders” do not stop by 6 p.m. local time.

    The post Fire engulfs protest camp in Kiev; 9 reported dead in clashes with police appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 02/18/14--11:38: Picturing hunger in America
  • Hunger Through My Lens: Photographs of Hunger in Everyday Life

    Elizabeth Deak (left) talks about her work with “Hunger Through My Lens,” a project sponsored by Hunger Free Colorado.

    Hunger Through My Lens” has a dual mission: to empower people who are living in poverty and to promote awareness about hunger issues. Sponsored by the non-profit group Hunger Free Colorado, the program gives digital cameras to food stamp recipients and asks them to chronicle what it’s like to be hungry in America.

    So far, 15 women — who come from all walks of life — have participated in the pilot program. Over the months, they’ve formed a “sisterhood” of sorts, supporting and encouraging one another. One woman is a former paralegal who suffers from autism. One is a family practice physician. A third woman is HIV-positive and has struggled with chronic homelessness. A fourth just got off government assistance and is now an executive director of a local non-profit organization.

    Their photos are as diverse as the women themselves. At first glance, many of the photos don’t necessarily appear to depict hunger; one shows two driver’s licenses, another a bent fork. But the stories behind the photos tell about the complications and suffering that poverty brings. The work has been on display in Denver libraries, churches, coffee houses and even the Colorado Capitol. At each exhibit opening, the women come to talk about their personal stories.

    Hunger Through My Lens“This issue is hard to talk about. There’s so much stigma attached to hunger in America,” said Kathy Underhill, director of Hunger Free Colorado. Underhill says she has seen a real blossoming among the women and is so proud of them for speaking out, because their photos and stories help break down negative stereotypes.

    “Everyone has this archetype of who’s hungry in America and it’s usually the gentleman on the side of the street with the cardboard sign,” Underhill said. “And the truth is, you’re most likely to live in a hungry household in Colorado if you’re between the ages of 0 and 5. You’re most likely to be hungry if you’re an older adult or a single woman. So it’s incredibly important for folks to understand that hunger can impact anybody.”


    “The stress of $50 a week — $2.40 per person, per day for one mom, two kids.”

    Photo by Andrea Fuller

    Photo by Andrea Fuller

    “After I lost my job, grocery shopping became extremely stressful. Even just the act of making the shopping list caused stress, knowing I wouldn’t be able to afford many of the items on the list. One morning, I saw that my nephew had written ‘I love you’ on my grocery list, and just that small notation made me feel so much better.”


    “November: SNAP Cuts and Garden Frozen”

    Photo by Robin Dickinson

    Photo by Robin Dickinson

    “My family relies on two main sources for food: our garden and SNAP benefits. Last November it seemed especially cruel that SNAP benefits were cut at the same time winter frost killed off the last of our tomatoes.”


    “Balancing Act”

    Photo by Elizabeth Deak

    Photo by Elizabeth Deak

    “This photo represents a couple of things for me. First, you can’t eat with a broken fork just like people in this country can’t eat because of a broken system. But the photo also symbolizes the delicate balancing act that people in poverty have to maintain– finding employment, housing, transportation and food.”


    “The Land Is Plentiful, So Why Isn’t Access?”

    Photo by Ashley

    Photo by Ashley

    “I took this photo of a community garden in Denver. This small plot of land helps provide food for people who don’t have enough money to buy fresh produce. There is so much land available in this country for gardens like this. Why don’t more people have have access to it?”


    “AIDS. Food is Medicine Too”

    Photo Courtesy: Sallie

    Photo Courtesy: Sallie Campbell

    “I have AIDS. And I’ve discovered that my medicine doesn’t work if I’m not eating right. The driver’s license photo on the left was taken in September 2007 when I wasn’t eating well. The photo on the right was taken in August of last year. Look how much better I look when I’m eating well! Food feeds not just the body but the soul.”


    “Reversed Disparity”

    Photo Courtesy: Caroline Pooler

    Photo Courtesy: Caroline Pooler

    “I took the photo of the beautiful bananas in a large, chain supermarket in a nice neighborhood. The other bananas, which were over-ripe and more expensive, were in little corner bodega in a low-income neighborhood. It struck me that people living in poverty have no chance of eating nutritionally with that kind of disparity.”


    “Still Waiting”

    Photo by Victoria Asalp

    Photo by Victoria Asalp

    “Poor people encounter signs like this every day. They wait in line to hand in paperwork for assistance. They wait in line at food banks, at soup kitchens. Often it feels like too much of my life is spent just waiting.”


    Tune in to Tuesday night’s PBS NewsHour to see a full report about “Hunger Through My Lens.” You can stream the broadcast on our Ustream channel at 6 p.m. EST or check your local PBS listings.

    The post Picturing hunger in America appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pharmacists across the border draw U.S. citizens looking to buy cheaper prescription drugs in Nogales, Mexico. Savings between drugs sold in Mexico and the equivalent sold in the U.S. can be significant. Photo by Norma Jean Gargasz/Getty Images

    Pharmacists across the border draw U.S. citizens looking to buy cheaper prescription drugs in Nogales, Mexico, in this 2003 file photo. The difference in the price of drugs sold in Mexico and the U.S. equivalent can be significant. Photo by Norma Jean Gargasz/Getty Images


    MARFA, Texas — In borderland Texas, a widespread lack of health insurance is linked to poverty and high rates of diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

    Cheaper prescription drugs to treat these conditions are available across the border in Mexico. But physicians and law enforcement are tracking a relatively new trend — the smuggling of medicine in bulk from Mexico to U.S. patients who no longer feel safe shopping for them in Mexico.

    Mexican Pharmacist Jorge Sandoval says people who buy his medicines these days often buy for people they don’t even know.

    “There’s a trade in legal prescription medication,” he said in Spanish from his shop in Chihuahua, Mexico, about an hour south of the border. “The trade is generated by people (in both countries) who want to buy medicine at a lower price. People are bringing in ice chests to fill with medicines that they sell to friends and relatives.”

    About 24 percent of Texans have no medical insurance, the highest percentage of uninsured in the nation. And although Texas has some of the highest enrollments in the new health care marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, the numbers represent a small fraction of the overall uninsured.

    That’s one reason why, for years, people have crossed the border for cheaper medicine. The diabetes medicine Metformin is $35 a month here and $15 in Mexico. The blood thinner Coumadin is $60 a month here, $15 there.

    But what’s new here is a cottage industry of smugglers buying medicines in bulk to bring back to the U.S.

    At emergency rooms on the border, physicians like Juan Nieto of Presidio, Texas, say patients are at risk. He says they’re increasingly showing up with medications that don’t look right.

    “These are medications that we sometimes can’t identify. They appear to be black market, homemade,” he said.

    Nieto said patients are unapologetic.

    “Medications have made the scene in flea markets,” Nieto said. “It’s a good avenue for people, to (be) inconspicuous in obtaining their medicines without seeming like they’re dealing with a drug dealer.”

    Branwyn Maxwell-Watts, a small business owner in West Texas, is far from a dealer. She’s a married mother of four and engaged in her tight-knit rural community. But she crosses the border to buy medicine for friends and herself.

    “Mainly diabetes, a ton of high blood pressure medicine. For me it’s migraine medicine, ” she said. “It’s something that I was providing that they needed. I didn’t think about the consequences. I still don’t, because I still do it.”

    A recent report by the British medical journal The Lancet says Maxwell’s case is not unusual.

    “There’s a lot of people, and even people that I know, who’ve gone down there in the past, that won’t go down there now,” Maxwell said. “Not even for their medicine. So they’re always asking, ‘do you know anyone who is going that can pick this up for me?’”

    Medical professionals are asked the same question.

    Don Culbertson, who has a physician’s assistant with a license to prescribe prescription medicine, traveled to Mexico to help a patient with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, congestive heart failure and diabetes, who couldn’t afford to buy the medicine in the U.S. Culbertson knew it was illegal to cross the border with someone else’s medicine. But he did it anyway.

    “The Customs officer asked me if I had anything to declare,” he told Fronteras Desk.

    “And I declared, ‘Medications.’ And he asked me if they were for me or for someone else. And I told him they were for someone else,” Culbertson said. “The Customs officer was a compassionate, reasonable person. And I know they have a job to do and laws to uphold. But they let me through that one time.”

    Back in Mexico, Sandoval the pharmacist wonders if cartels that control smuggling routes are involved. So does U.S. law enforcement.

    “It’s being done in kilograms, he said, “the same way it’s done with illegal drugs.”
    In one raid alone last summer, police in Hidalgo, Texas, seized 25,000 bottles of prescription medicine like antibiotics and steroids at a flea market across from Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Nine people were charged with running a ring that earned $5,000 a day.

    The Department of Homeland Security says it’s now tracking the trade.

    Fronteras is a multimedia collaboration among seven public radio stations that produce stories from across the southwest and along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is led by KJZZ in Phoenix and KPBS in San Diego, Calif., and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of its Local Journalism Center initiative.

    The post Mexican smugglers have a new cargo: cheap prescription drugs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Are European olive oil producers passing off "extra rancid" as "extra virgin"? Maybe not to that extent, but U.S. producers still want Congress to impose stricter standards on imports, which now make up 97 percent of the market. Photo by Flickr user Allen Sheffield

    Are European olive oil producers passing off “extra rancid” as “extra virgin”? Maybe not to that extent, but U.S. producers still want Congress to impose stricter standards on imports, which now make up 97 percent of the market. Photo by Flickr user Allen Sheffield

    WASHINGTON — Need olive oil? American shoppers are more likely to pick a European brand, which is cheaper and viewed as more authentic than U.S.-produced olive oil.

    But U.S. producers contend that “extra virgin” olive oil from Europe may not be as pure as you think. They’ve asked the federal government to intervene by imposing stricter standards on the imports, which now make up 97 percent of the market.

    Olive oil production is steadily growing, and the domestic industry says it has gone from 1 percent of the national olive oil market five years ago to 3 percent today. Most of that is in California, though there are smaller operations in Texas, Georgia and a few other states.

    U.S. producers are seeking to build on that growth in a struggle reminiscent of the California wine industry’s push to gain acceptance decades ago.

    They’ve mounted an aggressive push in Washington, holding olive oil tastings for members of Congress and lobbying for stricter standards on imports. The strategy almost worked last year when industry-proposed language was included in a massive farm bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee.

    The provision backed by California lawmakers would have allowed the Agriculture Department to extend mandatory quality controls for the domestic industry to imports. The bill’s language would have allowed government testing of domestic and imported olive oil to ensure that it was labeled correctly.

    That testing, intended to prevent labeling lower-grade olive oil as “extra virgin” or fraudulently cutting in other types of oil, would be much more comprehensive than what imported oils are subjected to now. Extra virgin olive oil is considered to be the highest quality.

    But the language on labeling was stripped from the bill on the House floor, an effort led by lawmakers from New York, where many of the country’s olive oil importers are based. They had the backing of food companies and grocery stores that use and sell olive oil.

    Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a farmer from Northern California, suggested that labels for imported oil should say “extra rancid.”

    “What we’re after here is not to cause problems for our friends who would like to market it. It’s more just the truth in advertising that’s necessary,” LaMalfa said.

    New York Republicans said new testing standards would cost importers millions of dollars. Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island, N.Y., said his Greek-American and Italian-American constituents know good oil and haven’t had problems.

    “It’s not rancid,” he said. “There is always going to be a problem in every industry, but this is nothing more than a multimillion-dollar earmark,” he added, using the term for special provisions that sometimes are inserted into legislation.

    In the end, the final farm bill signed by President Barack Obama earlier this month was silent on olive oil.

    But a nonbinding statement accompanying the bill encouraged the Agriculture Department, the U.S. Trade Representative and the Food and Drug Administration to “remove the obstacles that are preventing the U.S. olive oil industry from reaching its potential.” It cited a 2013 U.S. International Trade Commission report that said international standards are widely unenforced and allow many varieties to be mislabeled and possibly even adulterated.

    The report also cited subsidies for European olive oil producers and tariffs as barriers to the domestic industry’s success.

    The California olive oil industry boasted of helping to influence the report. According to the American Olive Oil Producers Association, California producers arranged farm tours for federal investigators, arranged for witnesses to testify to the group, and even held an olive-oil tasting on Capitol Hill for lawmakers and administration officials.

    For now, the domestic industry says it will keep pushing. Kimberly Houlding, executive director of the American Olive Oil Producers Association, says producers are still considering petitioning the USDA for an order to establish mandatory quality standards, including frequent testing. Ideally the order would apply to the entire domestic industry, including importers, Houlding says.

    Eryn Balch of the North American Olive Oil Association, which represents the importers, says they want to work with the domestic industry to grow the olive oil market in the United States. There’s still a lot of the market to grab – only around 40 percent of U.S. consumers use olive oil, and olive oil has only about 15 percent of the volume share compared to other cooking oils. But that market is growing along with increased awareness of olive oil’s health benefits compared with other oils. Extra virgin olive oil is often rich in polyphenols, nutrients that are thought to be helpful in preventing heart disease and other illnesses.

    “If the industry promoted the key proven benefits with a common voice and positive message, the growth potential could be almost limitless,” Balch said.

    The United States now consumes the third largest amount of olive oil of any nation, behind Italy and Spain, according to the trade commission report. The report said consumption has risen by more than 50 percent since 2001 but said most U.S. consumers aren’t able to distinguish good olive oil from bad, so they gravitate toward the least costly.

    Patricia Darragh, director of the California Olive Oil Council, says the domestic industry wouldn’t have the capacity to supply all of the country’s olive oil, but it is a grassroots industry that is continuing to grow. And in another decade or two, Americans may be more familiar with the domestic variety.

    “We’re where the California wine industry was 20 or 30 years ago,” Darragh says.

    The post U.S. olive oil producers urge Congress to impose stricter import standards appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    standardized test

    Remember fretting about your ACT and SAT scores? A new study reveals that it really is only a number and not a reliable predictor for college success.

    Teens across the U.S. are standing by their mailboxes, waiting anxiously for the envelopes that will seal their academic fate. It’s college admissions season and for many students a lot hinges on how well they performed in standardized testing.

    But how much should exams like the SAT and ACT really matter?

    A study published Tuesday that probed the success of “test-optional” admissions policies in 33 public and private universities calls into question the need for such testing.

    Former Dean of Admissions for Bates College William Hiss led the study which tracked the grades and graduation rates of students who submitted their test results against those who did not over several years.

    Hiss’ data showed that there was a negligible difference in college performance between the two groups. Only .05 percent of a GPA point set “submitters” and “non-submitters” apart, and the difference in their graduation rates was just .6 percent.

    There are about 850 test-optional colleges in the U.S., and the trend is growing slowly.

    What should college admissions officers look for instead? Hiss says GPA matters the most.

    “The evidence of the study clearly shows that high school GPA matters. Four-year, long-term evidence of self-discipline, intellectual curiosity and hard work; that’s what matters the most. After that, I would say evidence that someone has interests that they have brought to a higher level, from a soccer goalie to a debater to a servant in a community to a linguist. We need to see evidence that the student can bring something to a high level of skill,” Hiss said.

    According to the data, if high school grades are not high, good testing does not promise college success. Students with good grades and modest testing did better in college than students with higher testing and lower high school grades.

    “The human mind is simply so complex and so multifaceted and fluid, that trying to find a single measurement tool that will be reliable across the enormous populations of American students is simply a trip up a blind alley. I would never say the SATs and ACTs have no predictive value for anybody; they have predictive value for some people. We just don’t find them reliable cross populations,” says Hiss.

    But the dreaded test was born of good intentions.

    The SAT started in the 1930s as a scholarship test for Ivy League schools. Based off of an Army IQ test, it was meant to help those who came from more humble backgrounds to be noticed by prestigious schools. Many other universities followed suit.

    But standardized testing may now be hurting rather than helping disenfranchised students.

    The study found that non-submitting students were more likely to be minorities, women, students with Learning Differences, Pell Grant recipients and first-generation college-goers.

    According to Hiss’ data, the test-optional policy could even help to level the playing field.

    “We need thousands of students going through higher ed. Optional testing is one of the ways that that could happen. Optional testing is a potential route to getting many more students through higher education who normally would not be admitted or would not apply in first place,” Hiss said.

    The study comes at a time of renewed debate about college admissions, after President Barack Obama pledged in January to get more low income students into higher education.

    The post Do ACT and SAT scores really matter? New study says they shouldn’t appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg

    Netflix keeps track of your viewing preferences – and the preferences of everyone else who watches. Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg

    As the clock crawled towards midnight Thursday on the West Coast, Netflix’s engineers sat around a conference table in the company’s War Room and waited for the moment that season two of the company’s original series “House of Cards” would debut across the world.

    And as many of Netflix’s 40 million subscribers tuned in to the exploits of power-hungry Vice President Frank Underwood, the engineers kept track of each and every one of them, reported Queena Kim of Marketplace.

    “We monitor what you watch, how often you watch things,” said spokesman Joris Evers. Keeping track of viewing habits creates valuable analytic data for Netflix, allowing them to better understand what sort of television their customers crave. And, as the company develops more and more original content, that information will help them decide what to finance.

    “‘House of Cards’ was obviously a big bet for Netflix,” Evers said. “But it was a calculated bet because we knew Netflix members like political dramas, that they like serialized dramas. That they are fans of Kevin Spacey, that they like David Fincher.”

    And that bet paid off. According to Forbes, 16 percent of all Netflix members watched at least one episode of “House of Cards” in the 24 hours after season two’s release. And 3.6 percent watched all of the first five episodes.

    In fact, as Kim reported for Marketplace, at least one subscriber watched all 13 episodes in only 13 hours – with just three minutes of break time.

    The success of Underwood and company bodes well for Netflix’s ultimate objective, which is to usurp HBO as the premier destination for high-quality television programs.

    “There’s not a lot of really great, deep, serialized television … and we can see from the data that that’s what people want,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a profile by GQ last year.

    “The goal,” he said, “is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.”

    And though recently released data from Time Warner shows that HBO still has the upper hand in terms of profit, Netflix’s willingness to track and respond to its audience’s interests means that the company is fully invested in rising to the top.

    Much, in fact, like Frank Underwood.

    The post While you watch Netflix, Netflix watches you appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Image Source/Vetta via Getty Images.

    What is post-crisis Wall Street like for millennials? Making Sense finds out from Kevin Roose, who profiled eight millennials in his book “Young Money,” released Tuesday. Photo by Image Source/Vetta via Getty Images.

    First-year analysts at America’s top tier investment banks face soul-crushing hours, mind-numbing work and pain-inducing client meetings in the post-crash, post-recession world of today’s Wall Street.

    Kevin Roose’s “Young Money” profiles eight young investment bankers at New York’s top financial firms as they navigate their way through an industry that has been heavily criticized after the crisis of 2008.

    Roose, a former writer for The New York Times’ DealBook blog and author of “The Unlikely Disciple,” writes for New York magazine, which just published this adaptation from his newly-released book about the time he crashed a Wall Street secret society.

    Roose gives us a glimpse into the world fresh-faced college graduates face as investment banks sober up after both bubbles and bailouts.

    Before the housing boom went bust, graduating seniors from America’s top colleges poured into the world of finance. In 2006, 46 percent of Princeton University students who had a job at graduation went to Wall Street. A year later, 47 percent of Harvard University’s graduating seniors went into finance and consulting.

    But things changed after the crash. In 2010, 12 percent of Ivy League seniors applied to Teach for America, and between 2008 and 2011, AmeriCorps applications have almost tripled. For Harvard’s class of 2013, only 5 percent reported they would like to still be working in finance in 10 years. The money on Wall Street is still there, but the industry has lost its luster in the minds of many millennials.

    Making Sense recently spoke with Roose about his book and what life is like on the low end of the ladder for the best and brightest in investment banking on Wall Street today. The following interview has been condensed and edited.


    Making Sense: This is a book about young professionals starting careers in finance in the period directly after the financial crisis of 2008. Why did you decide to write this book?

    Kevin Roose: I was at a dinner party in New York and had just graduated from college at Brown University. It was a bunch of friends and friends of friends, and we were all going around the room introducing ourselves. We get to this one woman and she says, “I work downtown.” We’re all like, “Okay where downtown?” She says, “I work in finance,” and somebody says, “Well where? Where do you work in finance?” Ultimately, she says, “Well, you know, I work at Goldman Sachs,” and she sounds so sheepish about it. I thought, how fascinating. I mean, in 2005, this would have been something you would be wearing on a T-shirt. You would have been so proud to have been at Goldman Sachs. And yet in 2010, it was like having a scarlet letter.

    Young Money

    I think that really cemented for me that something drastic had changed in the crisis, and I wanted to explore what that was.

    What shocks a lot of young people when they come to Wall Street is they’ve read “Liar’s Poker,” they’ve all seen “Wall Street,” and they think that’s what it’s going to be like. A lot of them who showed up after the crisis expected champagne and caviar and instead, they had protesters outside their offices. This was not a fun time to be a banker. Obviously you can only feel so bad for them — they’re making a ton of money and they’re very fortunate to be where they are — but I think it really takes a toll on these people. It’s the difference between their expectations and the reality.

    Making Sense: This book is written as a series of profiles for eight entry-level professionals who work for the biggest banks in America including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. Why did you decide to organize the book as profiles? And why keep the bankers’ identities anonymous?

    Kevin Roose: I wanted to get a kaleidoscopic view of the banking industry. If I could get eight young bankers to follow, that would give me enough diversity between the different firms, the different parts of the different firms, where I could really get a complete, overarching view of what this world was like for most young people.

    I decided to structure this as profiles because I wanted this to be their stories. It wasn’t my story. I wanted people to be able to see from the perspective of someone living this life and what it’s like.

    I decided to keep the identities anonymous because I had to. Wall Street banks are incredibly secretive, and young employees are not allowed to talk to the media for any reason. Unless these people wanted to be fired, which they didn’t, they had to remain anonymous, so that was part of the understanding from the start, that I wouldn’t reveal their names in exchange for their openness.

    Making Sense: What profile from the book do you find most powerful?

    Kevin Roose: Well I think one of the most powerful parts of the book for me was a guy named Derrick. Derrick was from a small town in the Midwest. He didn’t come from a lot of money. He didn’t go to Harvard. He worked his way up and into the very elite sphere of finance. The entire time he’s moving his way up, he’s having moral quandaries about what he’s doing. He is making a lot of money — he is very successful by any traditional definition — but something about working in private equity and working on Wall Street doesn’t feel right to him.

    Talking to him, I got this very complex picture of the inner life of someone who works on Wall Street, makes a lot of money on Wall Street, but doesn’t consider himself part of Wall Street in some sort of basic, structural way. So that was really interesting. I had no idea that bankers had self-doubt. You see movies like “Wall Street” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” and these are some of the most confident people in the world. But when you really ask them about their background and their lives and their work, they start opening up and a lot of them have a lot of doubts.

    Making Sense: What is the psychological toll of working 60 to100 hours a week without seeing friends or family, yet making upwards of $120,000 as a 22-year-old fresh out of college?

    Kevin Roose: Right, it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for people who are making that kind of money as 22 or 23-year-olds. But I will say that it occurred to me sort of halfway through this book that I wouldn’t switch places with these people even if I had the opportunity to. I mean, they work incredibly hard and their lives essentially belong to their employers for two years. One guy told me it’s not the hours that kill you, it’s the lack of control over the hours. So you can be in the middle of your friend’s wedding or a birthday or an anniversary dinner and if you get called in, you have to go — it’s a miserable way to spend your early 20s.

    Even people who have made it through and come out on the other side and have been successful on Wall Street or in some other industry would tell you these are some of the hardest years of their lives.

    Making Sense: It’s interesting that you call the culture that came with this explosion of growth in stocks, tech companies and hedge funds from the 1980s to 2007 “Old Wall Street.” But your book still has scenes of hard drug and alcohol use. How much of that is the profession and how much is personal choice?

    Kevin Roose: It’s a much more subdued culture now. There aren’t nearly as many ridiculous, over-the-top parties and lavish expenses, and I think people are a lot more careful. A lot of the most profitable kinds of trading, a lot of the most freewheeling kind of activity on Wall Street has been reined in by regulation. Bonuses are smaller for most people, the perks have been dialed back, and so I think, it’s much less a happy-go-lucky, the-world’s-great kind of a place.

    I don’t think that “Old Wall Street” cultural legacy even needs to extend as far back as the mid-1980s. I think that was true even in 2005 and 2006. So we’re talking about a maybe eight or nine year transition in which Wall Street turned from one place into something completely different.

    The goal of what came out of the financial crisis was to make Wall Street a more boring place and I think it is. I should say I expected a lot more drug use among the young bankers. The stereotype is that they’re all on cocaine all the time. But actually, the most common drug I heard about people using was Adderall. These people are not taking drugs to go out and party; they’re taking drugs so that they can stay up longer and work more. So that shocked me, and I just thought how sad: if you’re going to be doing drugs in your early 20s, you might as well make it a fun one.

    But I do think they tend to drink more than they should, and a lot of that is maybe a coping mechanism, but mostly it’s a social thing. This is the culture and you’re expected to go out and have drinks with the boss. The bar is where a lot of the social and professional propulsion comes from.

    Making Sense: You mention at least one of your characters had some pretty severe health problems due to that drinking, and others have mental and physical health problems as well.

    Kevin Roose: I’ve talked to so many bankers who not only gained weight and stopped going to the gym while they were bankers — they just didn’t have time — but a lot of them developed pretty serious health problems.

    Last year in London, there was a Bank of America intern who had an epileptic episode and actually died after working reportedly three all-nighters in a row. That shocked a lot of people, and for me, the shock was that it hadn’t happened sooner.

    This is a really unhealthy industry and I think they are now realizing that and trying to make it slightly better. It is still a macho culture, and I think the banks are trying to pare some of this back. They’re making junior analysts take the weekend off. They are forcing mandatory vacation days. And this has all happened within the past year, I think, as a response to some of the things I have been writing about in my book. So my hope is it will eventually become a more normal working environment because you don’t want to see anyone get hurt.

    Making Sense: You mention that the appeal of tech companies has grown at top schools as the hiring and the prestige of Wall Street firms has fallen in the wake of the financial crisis. Do you see this as a second tech bubble or are people going into fields that offer less hierarchy and a more entrepreneurial spirit?

    Kevin Roose: I don’t know if it will burst like the bubble, but something like that. I had a programmer say to me once, “The rule of working in tech is that you should be wary when the ‘pretty people’ show up.”

    You have bankers now who are quitting their jobs and going to work at Google and Facebook and a bunch of other tech companies. Banks have lost their default status as the place where college graduates from top schools go. One in six Ivy League seniors now applies to Teach for America. Google is out hiring Goldman Sachs at several of the top colleges.

    Wall Street has lost its luster for this generation so I don’t think you’re going to see this sort of massive migration every year from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc., into finance like you did before the crash. For many years, it was the next step. You went to Exeter or you went to Andover, you went to Harvard, and then you went to Goldman Sachs. It was all very apportioned and very predetermined almost. But now that talent pipeline is sort of breaking down.

    There is an idealism among people in this generation, my generation. We do want our work to be meaningful in a grander sense, and so I think for a lot of years, people put that on hold in order to work on Wall Street and make money to pay back their student loans, what have you. The theory was they would quit and do what they really wanted to do later on. Some of them got stuck because they have the so-called “golden handcuffs” of having high-pay and getting used to that.

    But I think now people want to take that meaningful work on early in their careers. When Goldman Sachs comes to you and says, work here for 20 years and then you can start your foundation or do whatever you want, but Google or Facebook or another company is saying, come with us and you can start changing the world today, I think that’s a more attractive proposition to people who want to be socially conscious about their work.

    Making Sense: Not too many people ended up staying on the Street. Most of the professionals you profiled either left finance altogether or entered careers in private equity.

    Kevin Roose: Well part of the frustration among Wall Street bankers is the pay differential between being a young banker and being anything else, being a consultant or an accountant or working in health care and the media. You were making much more than the next category of your peers. But now, after the crisis, I think the pay differential has come down; you’re still well paid and you may still be making more as a young banker than you would be doing anything else, but it’s a game of inches now, so you’re not out-earning your peers by so much that it’s worth it.

    A lot of people are saying, now wait a minute, I could be working half as hard at a tech company or at a consulting firm and making 80 percent as much money — and I’ll take that trade. I think it’s generally a fairly large attrition rate on Wall Street. Not a lot of people stay in it for the long haul, but especially after the crash these were really tumultuous years to be a young banker. And a lot of them had expectations that weren’t fulfilled and had hopes for their pay and their advancement that weren’t met, so I think that there’s a lot of disillusionment and a lot of people looked around and saw people in Silicon Valley getting rich, seemingly having a great time, and said that sounds actually better than what I’m doing.

    So Wall Street may return to a more normal climate — normal by the old standards — someday, but I think this Wall Street is really a tough sell for a lot of young people right now.

    The post Adderall not cocaine: inside the lives of the young wolves of Wall Street appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

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    GWEN IFILL: In an age of hyper-connectedness, it was only a matter of time until the politicians found you. Does the music you stream make you a Democrat or a Republican? Do the programs you record to watch later give political ad-makers a clue to whether you’re persuadable? Satellite TV, radio and cable are all in on the game, which takes targeted advertising way beyond what you’re getting in the mail. But how does it work?

    For that, we turn to Ken Goldstein, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and former president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, and Eitan Hersh, assistant professor of political science at Yale University.

    Ken Goldstein, how vulnerable should we downloaders, streamers, you name it, music listeners, feel about all this?

    KEN GOLDSTEIN, University of San Francisco: Well, on what Pandora’s doing, I don’t think very vulnerable.

    What they’re basically doing is taking data on what geographic units are doing.

    GWEN IFILL: Pandora, the Internet radio…

    KEN GOLDSTEIN: Internet radio, exactly.

    So, they’re saying that people in this area are listening to this music, and people in this area tend to vote for this particular candidate. So they’re not really addressing it to the individual.

    Now, what’s going on with other technologies in terms with return path data, so all the folks out there who are using DVRs, those DVRs are tracking all of your tuning patterns, what you’re watching, what you’re fast-forwarding through, what commercials you’re watching and not watching.

    That can be connected with other individual level data about you. And that’s what’s really being used to target.

    GWEN IFILL: Eitan Hersh, how long has this been going on?

    EITAN HERSH, Yale University: Oh, targeting, especially targeting using voter registration lists, has been going on for a long time, for a century.

    It really got off the ground in a serious way after the Help America Vote Act, which was a response to our election troubles in the year 2000 in Florida, for states to start making digital, regularly updated voter files.

    And once they were making those voter files at the state level, the campaigns caught on that they could start assembling massive databases by linking people with their birth dates and address and personal information with all sorts of commercial and other public records.

    GWEN IFILL: So, let me ask you this. If I’m a Bob Marley fan, but I also like Pat Boone, is this telling anyone out there who is trying to get someone elected who I’m likely to vote for?

    EITAN HERSH: Well, maybe not.

    One thing about microtargeting is that they have a lot of data, these campaigns and parties, that is not very well highly correlated with your political dispositions. So, it’s — just because you listen to those musicians, it doesn’t really mean that those — that those dispositions towards music are correlated with dispositions that campaigns care about, which is how likely you are to vote and whether you’re likely to support one party or another.

    So there are limits in terms of the data and its relationship to politics that suggests this might not be all that compelling data for campaigns.

    GWEN IFILL: Seems like Bruce Springsteen would be very confusing for people.

    KEN GOLDSTEIN: Right.

    GWEN IFILL: But I’m also…

    KEN GOLDSTEIN: And so would someone who is a fan of Pat Boone and Bob Marley.

    GWEN IFILL: I try to be eclectic.

    But tell me something. How lucrative is it for campaigns or for the companies themselves, whether it’s Pandora or DISH TV or any of these deliverers of information? How lucrative is it for them to work with the campaigns to provide this information?

    KEN GOLDSTEIN: Well, political used to be sort of a pain for folks in the advertising business.

    Now it is a very large source of revenue in even-numbered years. So not only new sort of media like Pandora are looking for their share of it, but the traditional sorts of local television, it makes up a huge proportion of their profits in election years.

    Listen, like what Eitan said, targeting isn’t anything that’s new. It’s been going on for a long time. And we used to think about targeting maybe a city. Then we thought about targeting a precinct. Then we thought about targeting a street. Then we are able to target houses with this microtargeting. No I don’t have to send you a piece of mail to your house or come knock on your door.

    But I’m trying to figure out exactly what shows Gwen Ifill is watching. And, actually, the Bush campaign in 2004 pioneered this. And what the really new frontier is, is this addressable advertising. So, if the big thing Obama and Bush did in 2004 and then Obama in 2008 and 2012 was trying to figure out what shows you’re watching.

    Now, with addressable, they don’t care what show you’re watching. They’re going to deliver that ad to you, no matter what show you’re watching.

    GWEN IFILL: Eitan, are we talking about targeting persuadable voters, or are we targeting people — are you trying to identify the people who are most likely to support you? Say, if you’re a Republican and you watch FOX, it’s — the general understanding is that those people would be Republicans anyway. So why target them?

    EITAN HERSH: Right.

    Well, the main thing that targeting has been most useful for in the last few election cycles is targeting people who are very likely to be supporters of your side, but who might not turn out without an extra push. It’s basically — with public records just of your party registration, your past behavior in party primaries, whether you’re voting or not, it’s very easy for a lot of people to figure out if they’re likely to support you.

    So, for those people, they just need the extra push, and that’s what this has mostly been about in recent election years. The question of how to target a persuadable voter is still something that campaigns know almost nothing about, meaning, if your goal as a campaign is to try to find someone who, if the campaign targets you, you’re going to change your mind, the campaigns haven’t figured that out yet.

    That’s kind of the Holy Grail. And the real question is whether there is any data out there from these new sources or old sources which can help a campaign figure out who is going to change their minds.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, here’s the first question I had when I read these stories, Ken. I thought to myself, how do I opt out? Are there privacy concerns? How do they stop — how do I stop them from watching me?

    KEN GOLDSTEIN: Well…

    GWEN IFILL: Or have I already given it all away?

    KEN GOLDSTEIN: I think you have already given it all away.

    So, listen, the voter registration data is public data. And your voter activity is public. So, in some states, you have to register by party. But, even if you don’t, the harvesters of this can look, oh, as you know, is this person — if they voted in primaries where there’s only been Democratic action going on, so that person must be a Democrat.

    And so there’s lots of ways to model publicly available data. And then, sometimes anonymously, sometimes not anonymously, it’s connected with other information about you. But that train has left the station.

    GWEN IFILL: Eitan, if I am trying to — do I have to give up on my DVR? Is that what I have to do in order for that information not to be shared, or is there a way to stop it from being shared?

    EITAN HERSH: Yes, well, the one suggestion I have for you is that if you’re concerned about the privacy issues, those issues are settled in state legislatures, where they decide what data on the public side and the voter registration files and other licensing data that they have that we produce at the state level can be shared — shared with parties and linked to other records.

    Interestingly, in recent election cycles, at least in recent legislative cycles, some state legislators have tried to stop voter registration data and other licensing data from being used in the campaign setting for microtargeting. And those bills are always — are always ended. Those bills are put to an end by the — by the mainstream politicians who think that the data’s very useful for a campaign.

    GWEN IFILL: Right. Exactly.

    Eitan Hersh at Yale, assistant professor of politics, and Ken Goldstein at University of San Francisco, professors both, you depressed me a lot. Thank you.

    (LAUGHTER)

    KEN GOLDSTEIN: Thank you.

    EITAN HERSH: Thanks for having us.

    The post How ‘microtargeting’ works in political advertising appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    livingwages

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: A small factory in the Caribbean is trying to buck the trend toward lower wages in the garment industry by making apparel for big athletic programs in the U.S.

    Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has the story. It’s part of his ongoing series Agents for Change.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Football is a big money-maker for University of Notre Dame. The storied Fighting Irish name is a lucrative brand in the $4 billion-a-year business of licensed apparel.

    In the campus bookstore, one display is trying to stand out in a crowded space.

    JOE BOZICH, Founder and CEO, Knights Apparel: Every garment has a hangtag on it, has a picture of one of our employees. One of the hangtags says, “My son goes to school because of these clothes.”  Another one might say, “I can afford food, clean water, and medicine for my children when they’re sick because of your purchase of these clothes.”

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Joe Bozich founded the Knights Apparel company in 2001 and built it into the largest maker of licensed college sportswear.

    These shirts are made in a tiny corner of the Knights empire: a factory called Alta Gracia that pays people like Manuel Guzman a living wage. Unusual does not begin to describe the factory where Guzman works in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation of nearly 10 million, where unemployment exceeds 15 percent.

    The factory atmosphere is relaxed. The music is loud.

    MANUEL GUZMAN (through interpreter): There is no pressure here to produce all the time. People come here to train us. Lawyers have taught us our rights. Also, we have a union that protects us.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Maritza Vargas is the union steward.

    I asked her, are your wages sufficient?

    MARITZA VARGAS (through interpreter): Yes.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: “Yes,” she responded. They are based on the cost of living for a family of five, calculated by the country’s central bank and adjusted every year for inflation.

    MARITZA VARGAS (through interpreter): For me, the most important thing is that my children have been able to go to school. I even have my oldest daughter in college.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Manuel Guzman and his wife, Digna Martinez, his job at Alta Gracia has meant a healthy diet.

    DIGNA MARTINEZ (through interpreter): He was jobless for nine months, and we have four kids who don’t understand when you tell them there’s no milk, so it was difficult. This is such a blessing.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Another blessing they count on in this home in place of a half-built shack that once was here.

    Workers at the Alta Gracia factory earn about $3 an hour. It might not sound like much, but that’s three times the legal minimum wage in the Dominican Republic. And just for comparison, Bangladesh’s government just announced that it plans to raise the minimum wage for its garment workers from about 19 cents an hour to about 34 cents per hour.

    All around the Alta Gracia factory are empty buildings, reminders of the daunting global competition. Thousands of jobs have moved to lower-cost countries. Alta Gracia is located in a building that once was a much larger garment factory that employs just 130 workers now, compared to more than 1,000 until 2007, when the building’s previous owner, a South Korea-based company, shut it down.

    Alta Gracia itself is running at just 60 percent of capacity. In three years of operation, it has yet to turn a profit. That doesn’t surprise one expert who has studied the plant.

    Georgetown University’s John Kline says there have been previous short-lived attempts at living-wage factories.

    JOHN KLINE, Georgetown University: They were small. They didn’t have the ability to carry it forward for several years to give it a real test. Joe is big enough with Knights Apparel to back it for long enough to give it a real test.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Knights Apparel founder Joe Bozich says he is in it for the long haul. Garment industry wages and working conditions have come under critical scrutiny, especially after the recent series of deadly fires and accidents in Bangladesh. But Bozich created Alta Gracia much earlier, in 2010.

    He says a setback in his own health made him especially sympathetic to the plight of garment workers.

    JOE BOZICH: Can you imagine what it would be like to know every night that your kids are going to bed hungry?  You can only afford one meal a day. I’ve had some experience that made me think about those things in my own life, including my own diagnosis with a disease called multiple sclerosis. And the good news for me was, though, I always had hope.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says there’s growing concern among consumers about conditions in garment factories, and that’s helping the market for ethically produced goods. Alta Gracia apparel is now displayed in more than 800 college bookstores. What we don’t know yet is how it will fare in this competitive space, says Georgetown’s Kline.

    JOHN KLINE: A lot of brands are built on reputation by celebrity endorsements. What he’s trying to do is build a brand name that gives him pricing advantages on something else, on good worker conditions.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And do you have inkling yet about whether that has cachet?

    JOHN KLINE: You certainly have a lot of studies that have been done of what people say: that they will pay more for products that they know are made under good labor conditions. I don’t know that there are convincing studies that people really follow through on this.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Our informal survey showed some of the challenges. These freshmen said they were sympathetic to the issue of fair trade and workers’ rights, but not particularly tuned in.

    GRACE GUIBERT: It’s not something I’ve really thought about. I mean, I’m always aware that things are made in sweatshops and that it happens, but I never think about it when I’m buying.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For others, price is king.

    If you saw two T-shirts that were identical, and one said it was made in a living-wage factory and one said nothing, would you pay more for the one that said living-wage factory?

    BRI HOUSER: No, I’d probably buy the one that was cheaper.

    DAVID SKOCZYN: Yes, probably the cheaper one.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bozich says he’s ready to compete on price, so Alta Gracia’s approach is to not raise its prices or ask for any charity from the consumer, even though higher wages raise its production costs by 20 to 30 percent.

    Instead, Bozich is going after more volume sales. Alta Gracia won the bid last year, for example, for 150,000 football-themed shirts sold for a student fund-raiser that helps needy students at Notre Dame.

    John Wetzel and Abby Dankoff say it’s a compatible fit.

    ABBY DANKOFF: We definitely market the Alta Gracia aspect.

    JOHN WETZEL: We do see a lot of people who hear about our cause and then just buy the shirt, and so then if they are able to hear about another cause on top of that, it makes their decision easier.

    JOHN KLINE: I would think in the next year or two it will be proven or not proven in the collegiate sector. And I think Joe is already starting to test the waters outside the collegiate sector, and that will be a broader, tougher test.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bozich says high productivity at Alta Gracia and the promise of more business should allow the factory to soon break even.

    JOE BOZICH: I think that’s going to transpire in 2014. Recently, the National Hockey League has just made the decision to license Alta Gracia. So we’ll now be able to produce all of the NHL teams in the Alta Gracia factory and bring that to market.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Experts say much will depend on consumers, whose behavior can be influenced by factors as varied as a team’s performance or even a news headline from Bangladesh.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.

    The post Can garment factories pay a living wage and still compete in the global economy? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Around the Games: Day 11 - 2014 Winter Olympic Games

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    GWEN IFILL: At the Olympic Games in Sochi, all eyes are on the ice, where skaters are taking center stage.

    Jeffrey Brown catches up on the past 24 hours and previews what’s ahead.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And for that, we’re joined from Russia again by Christine Brennan, who’s covering the Olympics for USA Today and ABC News. I spoke with her earlier this afternoon.

    Well, Christine, welcome.

    I know the most exciting thing on your mind because the ice dancing victory last night by Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Tell us, why was that such a big deal?

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: It’s the first time it’s ever happened, so that alone I think, Jeff, makes it headline news, the sense that, for as long as there has been ice dancing in the Olympics, the United States has not won a gold medal until last night.

    And this has been a long, slow slog for the United States. The teams were always 11 or 15th at the Olympics. It was basically bloc judging by the Eastern European countries, making sure the Russians, occasional Torvill and Dean, but, otherwise, the Russians would win.

    And the Americans were innovative and interesting, and never had a chance. The judging changed. The new judging system came in, in 2004, and the Americans went from 11th to second at the Olympics. And there was much more of an opportunity, frankly, for the United States and Canada to get into the medals.

    And then, of course, the magic of last evening with Davis and White, together for 15 — for 17 years — excuse me — 17 years, putting it together.

    JEFFREY BROWN: As you say, they have been skating together since they were children, really.

    It’s interesting, though, that, as you wrote today, these changes in the sport can be seen in the more recent context of the popularity of dance in this country, right, especially on television.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Absolutely.

    This is — we’re a dancing nation now. Who would have thought?  But “Dancing with the Stars” and these other shows that we see, especially — Meryl Davis said this — that that actually contributed to the success of the sport. She said there is no doubt that her sport is more popular and dancing itself is more popular because of these TV shows.

    And so really that — it might sound strange, but this is much more than just a figure skating victory, the first time ever a team, either a dance team or a pairs, has ever won a gold medal for the United States in the Olympics in figure skating, such a popular discipline, of course, but also it’s a cultural victory.

    It’s about the United States as a nation and encouraging these young people to dance, and in this case it was dancing on the ice.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And next on the ice, we have got women’s figure skating coming up.

    You and I have talked about this in past years, so I know how much you love that competition.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Oh, without a doubt.

    I this mean, probably, you could say arguably, is the marquee event of the Olympic Games. The winner usually becomes the most famous or one of the most famous Olympians from any Olympics, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt, actually the last woman to win it two times in a row in ’84 and ’88.

    Yuna Kim of South Korea is trying to do that, trying to become the first since Katarina Witt to win two in a row from Vancouver in 2010 now here in Sochi in 2014. But it’s going to be a tough task, with Julia Lipnitskaia, the 15-year-old from Russia, who brought down the house for her in the teen competition. You have got Mao Asada with her triple axels, the American’s Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner. This is a packed field and it’s just going to be fantastic.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I’m going to give a brief spoiler alert to our audience now, because I want to ask you about a couple of standout athletes.

    There’s the overall incredible performances by the Dutch speed skaters, and then there’s skier Tina Maze, who won the giant slalom today.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Yes, Tina Maze is having an incredible Olympics, winning the downhill in a tie, and then the giant slalom, the first woman to ever do this since 1972.

    And she was the overall World Cup champion last year. She is definitely on top of her game at the exact right moment. And the Dutch, my goodness, they’re winning almost every medal in speed skating, and especially every medal that the United States is not winning. The U.S. is having a terrible Olympics in a venue that they usually dominate, from Bonnie Blair to Eric Heiden, Dan Jansen, all those names people know from the past.

    Well, it’s the Dutch who are winning those medals now. No surprise. The arena is often served with orange and that is, of course, the Dutch national color and the orange is just dominant at these Olympics.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Finally, Christine , off the ice and off the slopes, several members of the group Pussy Riot were reportedly detained in Sochi today, before being released. How much has that or any political activity really gotten through the bubble that you’re part of there?

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: You know, Jeff, I think that Olympic bubble burst just a little bit, maybe just sprung a leak just a little bit today, with the news of Pussy Riot.

    Yesterday, you had a transgender protester who was in the park who was escorted out. The protest zones are there. It seems to be that in the second week of the Olympics, some of these protesters, some of these groups, especially the gay rights group, are saying, OK, enough is enough. We have been good, we have been away and we haven’t done much of anything the first week. Now we’re going to the fore in the second week.

    And I would expect that would continue. The athletes know this. Ashley Wagner, the American figure skater who skates tomorrow, she’s been the one who has been outspoken about gay rights here when she got to Russia. She — we asked her about it and she says she’s going to keep talking about it.

    A lot of people are aware of this. And I think it’s a significant development. Frankly, we have been talking sports for the first 10 days, now a little bit of news, and very expected news, at these Games.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Christine Brennan of USA Today in Sochi, thanks again.

    CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Jeff, my pleasure. Thank you very much.

    The post South Korean skater Yuna Kim hopes to land a second Olympic gold medal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    hunger

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: shedding light on hunger in the U.S., through the eyes of women struggling to put food on the table.

    The NewsHour’s Mary Jo Brooks has the story.

    MARY JO BROOKS: A year-and-a-half ago, 32-year-old Robin Dickinson, a family practice physician, was living her dream. She and her stay-at-home husband, Tim, were raising two young children in their small bungalow in suburban Denver.

    ROBIN DICKINSON: I was a normal mom, taking my kids to the zoo, taking my kids to the museum and the playground.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Then the unthinkable happened: Dickinson suffered two strokes that left her unable to work.

    ROBIN DICKINSON: I fatigue very easily. So, when I get tired, after a few hours, I start getting really dizzy. And so if I’m walking down a hall and someone is walking the other way, I fall.

    MARY JO BROOKS: She was forced to quit her job and live off savings while she recovered. Her husband continued to care for the children, and now her.

    And while they managed to pay mortgage and utility bills, there was almost no money left over for food.

    ROBIN DICKINSON: We were down to the point where we were eating potatoes and oatmeal and rice. And one night, it suddenly occurred to me, we qualify for assistance. There’s a safety net there for a reason. It’s for people in our situation.

    It’s — it has nothing to do with your education. It has nothing to do with how good a person you are or how hard you work. It has everything to do with your financial situation. And our financial situation was really bad.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Last April, she applied, and qualified, for food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

    ROBIN DICKINSON: I will never forget that first grocery trip. My kids were so excited. Eleanor loves cucumbers, and so we got her cucumbers. So, she’s sitting in the cart hugging her cucumbers, and Charlie has his watermelon in his lap, all this stuff that we hadn’t eaten in months.

    And we went to the checkout and we’re getting everything paid for, and the checker is like, what’s going on? Is it somebody’s birthday? What are you celebrating? And I said, we went grocery shopping. It was amazing.

    MARY JO BROOKS: The experience of suddenly falling into poverty has made Dickinson want to speak out about hunger and how widespread it’s become among working and middle-class people.

    Several months ago, she joined a project sponsored by the non-profit group Hunger Free Colorado, which gives cameras to recipients of SNAP benefits. It’s called Hunger Through My Lens and asks participants to chronicle what it’s like to be hungry in America.

    Fifteen women are in the pilot project. They come from all walks of life. And their photographs have become part of a traveling exhibit, seen in coffee shops, libraries, churches, and most recently the lobby of the Colorado State Capitol.

    At each exhibit opening, the women come to share their stories with anyone who will listen.

    ROBIN DICKINSON: A year ago, I had a stroke and ended up in the same situation as all the other women in the exhibit, not being able to afford food and medical care. A lot of people see me, and I look perfectly normal to them. And they don’t understand the struggles that I have. You can’t see autism. And you can’t see post-traumatic stress disorder.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Sometimes it’s difficult to tell by looking at the photos what they have to do with hunger, but the women are quick to explain.

    WOMAN: (INAUDIBLE) fancy buildings doesn’t feed me. We spend how much money on these buildings, but yet our people are hungry.

    WOMAN: Going to the grocery store was extremely stressful, because every time I went, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get everything on the list.

    WOMAN: This is another picture that I did. This is what you’re always doing when you’re hungry, waiting. You’re always waiting. It gets to a point where you’re hopeless.

    CAROLINE POOLER: Here we have this one.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Caroline Pooler is one of the photographers. She says it’s important for them to tell their stories to get rid of stereotypes of just who lives in poverty.

    CAROLINE POOLER: Any one of your fellow peers, colleagues or fellow parishioners may be hungry, but you don’t know that about them, because people don’t want to advertise that about themselves. There’s lots of people out there who do not have enough to eat until next payday. There’s a lot of working people who give their last five bucks to their kid for lunch and they go without. And so that’s kind of a different face of hunger than people are thinking of hunger.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Pooler, who lost her job as a medical assistant two years ago, at first resisted the idea of going on food stamps. Instead, she relied on places like this community cafe, which serves hot lunch to people in need. But one day, when she was turned away from a food bank that had run out of food, she realized she needed something more reliable.

    CAROLINE POOLER: I decided to apply for food stamps at that time.

    And I was awarded them. And I really can’t tell you what that’s meant to my overall ability to function, get things done in the day, and now have been able to at least see the light at the end of the poverty vortex, as I call it, where I’m in full-time school in a dental assisting program. So I’m hopeful that the training is going to translate into a full-time job, me getting off SNAP, and being able to support myself fully.

    MARY JO BROOKS: In addition to taking those dental classes, Pooler has become an artist and makes some money selling her art. She hopes to be off SNAP benefits by the fall, but says she’s always going to remain active in hunger issues.

    CAROLINE POOLER: Food ties families together. Food is something that brings lovers together, friends. I really think that food is an important part of our culture that I don’t want to see somehow diminished.

    So I think bringing it into the forefront, helping solve this problem of hunger is going to make a big difference. I really do believe that.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Robin Dickinson also hopes to be off federal benefits soon. She has started her own family practice clinic for low-income patients. Right now, she works one to two hours a day. But as her strength returns, she hopes to go back to full-time work.

    ROBIN DICKINSON: Our original goal was to be off food stamps by now, but you can’t predict how long a stroke takes to recover from. I was thinking I would be like completely back to normal now, which is not the case.

    But our goal is that, by next year, we’re not going to need public assistance anymore. And we have a five-year goal of building my own building in order to have more services offered for my patients at affordable prices. And I have big plans.

    MARY JO BROOKS: Hunger Through My Lens has big plans as well. The project hopes to expand to communities all across Colorado later this year.

    The post Breaking stereotypes and sharing stories, women use cameras to take aim at hunger appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — The White House says it will continue to press Congress for “fast track” authority to speed approval of trade deals even as election-year politics makes the task harder.

    The Obama administration is engaged in two difficult trade negotiations, one with Japan and 10 other Pacific nations, and the other a proposed trans-Atlantic deal with European Union nations. The trans-Pacific talks are closer to completion.

    President Bill Clinton used such powers to push through the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 1993. President George W. Bush used fast-track authority to push through Congress the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005.

    The fast track process, more formally known as “trade promotion authority,” empowers presidents to negotiate trade deals and then present them to Congress for up-or-down votes, with no amendments allowed.

    Such trade deals have always been more popular with Republicans than Democrats.

    That’s largely because business interests aligned with Republicans have always formed the core support for efforts to expand trade, while labor unions traditionally supportive of Democrats claim trade deals like NAFTA have cost U.S. jobs, helping to send them overseas.

    Politically, what it means is that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is on President Barack Obama’s side this time. Fast-track critics Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are working against him.

    The day after Obama asked for fast-track authority in his State of the Union address last month, Reid asserted: “I’m against fast track. … Everyone would be well-advised just to not push this right now.”

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that despite such objections from Democratic leaders, “we’re going to continue to press for this priority.”

    Carney was asked whether recent generally pessimistic-sounding comments on prospects for fast track by Vice President Joe Biden to a Democratic conference could be taken as recognition by the White House that the trade legislation wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

    Carney said no but added that the administration is “mindful … that there are differing views in both parties, not just the Democratic Party” on the subject.

    But opposition to the trade deals is more pronounced on the Democratic side.

    Late last year, 151 House Democrats, roughly three-quarters of the chamber’s Democratic membership, signed a letter to Obama signaling their opposition to granting him fast-track trade authority.

    In the past, Obama has not been an ardent supporter of the fast-track process. Even without fast track, Obama was able to win congressional passage of free-trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea the old-fashioned way in 2011. And he has yet to make a high-profile major push for renewal of the powers since his State of the Union comments.

    If ratified, the proposals — the Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific Trade and Investment Partnerships — would create the largest free-trade zone in the world, covering roughly half of all global trade.

    But the free-trade talks are generating strong emotions at home and abroad.

    Many Democrats up for re-election in November are fearful of drawing primary-election opposition over the issue. Concerned about lost jobs that are important to labor unions, they’re abandoning Obama on this issue.

    Meanwhile, some European allies are pushing back, still peeved over recent disclosures of National Security Agency surveillance of them.

    Obama had hoped an agreement could be reached on the trans-Pacific talks before he visited Japan and other Asian nations in April. But the trans-Pacific talks have been complicated by disputes over environmental issues and resistance in some Asian countries to a wholesale lowering of trade barriers.

    Boehner, R-Ohio, taunts Obama by asserting that “trade promotion authority is ready to go. So why isn’t it done?”

    “It isn’t done because the president hasn’t lifted a finger to get Democrats in Congress to support it,” Boehner said, answering his own question. “And with jobs on the line, the president needs to pick up his phone and call his own party, so that we can get this done.”

    A fast-track bill may be “ready to go” in the GOP-controlled House but certainly isn’t in the Democratic-led Senate.

    Little by little, the politics of approaching midterm elections are intruding.

    “Neither political party at this point has any appetite for taking on an issue that would divide that party’s caucus in Congress,” said William Galston, Clinton’s domestic-policy adviser when NAFTA was passed. “That being said, I suspect that very little is going to happen between now and November” on the trade front.

    “Bill Clinton had to go against the majority of his own party, especially in the House,” noted Galston, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.

    U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman says that, regardless of the political season, the administration will continue to push for fast-track authority. Without it, “You can’t negotiate (trade deals) with our partners and you can’t implement (them) here in the United States,” Froman said.

    But Alan Tonelson, an economist with the United States Business and Industry Council, argues that “American workers on the whole have been leading victims” of such free-trade agreements, beginning with NAFTA.

    “Rather than rushing to conclude and endorse new trade initiatives, Congress and the administration should first figure out how to ensure that they serve as engines of domestic growth and job creation, rather than of offshoring and lower living standards,” he said.

    The post Democrats divided on trade negotiations as 2014 elections approach appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Obama greets a Costco bakery employee January 29 in Lanham, Md. to promote raising the minimum wage. Photo by Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images

    President Obama greets a Costco bakery employee January 29 in Lanham, Md. to promote raising the minimum wage. Photo by Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday became instant fodder for Democrats and Republicans looking for the political high ground in the debate over whether to raise the federal minimum wage.

    The CBO found that increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour would boost earnings for 16.5 million Americans and lift 900,000 people out of poverty. But the report also projected that the wage hike could reduce employment by 500,000 workers by 2016.

    “As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger,” the CBO noted, adding that its assessment found “there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers.”

    The White House disputed the CBO’s estimate on Tuesday, with the head of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, telling reporters on a conference call that the study did not “reflect the overall consensus view of economists.”

    “When you look at some of the highest quality studies in all of it, I think it’s completely reasonable to think it would have zero impact on employment,” Furman said.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, touted the other findings in the CBO release. “No matter how the critics spin this report, the CBO made it absolutely clear: raising the minimum wage would lift almost one million Americans out of poverty, increase the pay of low-income workers by $31 billion, and help build an economy that works for everyone,” she said in a statement.

    Republicans said the analysis proved their argument that raising the minimum wage would hamper job growth and add to the hiring costs of businesses.

    “Today’s CBO report shows that raising the minimum wage could destroy as many as 1 million jobs, a devastating blow to the very people that need help most in this economy,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

    “This report confirms what we’ve long known: while helping some, mandating higher wages has real costs, including fewer people working,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. “With unemployment Americans’ top concern, our focus should be creating – not destroying – jobs for those who need them most.”

    The CBO report comes as both parties made expanding economic opportunity part of their agendas heading into the midterm elections this fall.

    The president and congressional Democrats have made the wage push a centerpiece of their strategy, with Mr. Obama last week signing an executive order to require federal contractors to pay workers a base of $10.10 an hour.

    Recent polling suggests that Democrats have the advantage when it comes to public support for a minimum wage hike. A Pew Research Center survey released last month found that 73 percent of Americans back such legislative action.

    The velocity of the responses Tuesday to the CBO report reflect the importance both parties see in winning the debate. For Democrats, they need to maintain public support for raising the minimum wage in order to keep up the pressure on Republicans. For the GOP, chipping away at public support for a wage hike could take away a key issue from Democrats in the fall campaign.

    Who is affected most by a federal minimum wage hike, Washington Post’s Niraj Choksji explains, depends on state minimum wages. Because the minimum wage varies by state, the ripple effect of a federal hike will result in higher wages in some states than in others.

    LINE ITEMS

    • A Quinnipiac University poll out Wednesday shows Ohio Gov. John Kasich holding a slim lead — 43 to 38 percent — over his possible Democratic challenger, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.

    • Roll Call’s Emily Cahn reports the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised its Republican counterpart in January. The DSCC hauled in $6.6 million last month while the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $4.6 million.

    • The president took another executive action Tuesday, outlining new fuel efficiency rules for trucks and buses as part of his administration’s push to limit carbon emissions and reduce oil imports.

    • The Obama administration’s big data technology used to target voters is proving less successful at identifying Americans to enroll in the Affordable Care Act.

    • Democratic Rep. Rush Holt announced Tuesday he will not run for a ninth term representing New Jersey’s 12th congressional district. Some Democrats, Roll Call’s Abby Livingston notes, are hoping a woman will be part of their delegation for the first time in 35 years.

    • Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif., will not seek a second term in Congress and instead will run for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors this fall.

    • Former Rep. Joe Baca, who lost to Negrete McLeod in an all-Democratic contest in 2012, said her retirement would not alter his decision to seek outgoing Rep. George Miller’s 31st congressional district seat. In an interview with The Hill Baca also referred to Negrete McLeod as “some bimbo” and slammed DCCC Chair Steve Israel for meddling in California politics.

    • The NRCC has changed some of its websites that had made it look like donors were giving to Democratic congressional candidates when actually they were supporting GOP candidates.

    • The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore looks at billionaire Democrat Tom Steyer’s commitment to spend as much as $100 million on the 2014 campaign to push lawmakers to move forward on climate change legislation.

    • Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., tells National Journal that being attacked by Steyer actually might help her re-election bid.

    • Big donors are also looking to get in on the action on the Republican side. Politico’s Alexander Burns and Ken Vogel report New York billionaire Paul Singer has launched an alliance of pro-business donors to help shape the direction of the GOP.

    • The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal will take to court Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien and former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly to enforce its subpoenas. Stepien and Kelly had until Tuesday to respond to the request to turn over records.

    • Christie appeared at the NRSC’s winter policy meeting in Manhattan Tuesday, and National Journal’s Michael Catalini explains why Senate Republicans are still eager to invite Christie to fundraisers.

    • BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins spent 36 hours on the road with perpetual presidential tease Donald Trump.

    • Mr. Obama’s picks for global ambassadorships stumbled through recent confirmation hearings. The Washington Post’s Matt Delong listed all the foot-in-mouth moments and Juliet Eilperin explained how friendship with the president can play a role in appointments.

    • Financial Times’ Edward Luce takes a hard look at Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago mayorship and his possible return to Washington.

    • Mr. Obama sent a handwritten note to a University of Texas art history professor apologizing for his “off-the-cuff” remarks on the value of an art history degree versus vocational training.

    NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

    • It’s easy to get the entertainment you like delivered to your TV, phone or tablet on demand. Now, the same technology that deciphers your personal taste can aid political campaigns targeting undecided voters. Gwen Ifill spoke with University of San Francisco professor Ken Goldstein and Yale University assistant professor Eitan Hersh on Tuesday.


    • With recent gaffes from Mr. Obama’s political ambassadorial nominations sparking questions about their qualifications, Gwen Ifill spoke with former Foreign Service Officer Nicholas Burns and Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest.


    • Mark Shields and David Brooks weighed in on the passage of the debt limit bill, as well as the Republican support it took to pass it, and fresh enrollment numbers for the Affordable Care Act.


    TOP TWEETS

    Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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    Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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    The post Both parties seize on CBO minimum wage report appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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