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

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    Second grade students at Horseshoe Trails Elementary study typing in anticipation of new Common Core standards. Photo by David Jolkovski/Washington Post

    Second grade students at Horseshoe Trails Elementary study typing in anticipation of new Common Core standards. Photo by David Jolkovski/Washington Post

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than five years after U.S. governors began a bipartisan effort to set new standards in American schools, the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans.

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads establishment voices — such as possible presidential contender Jeb Bush — who hail the standards as a way to improve student performance and, over the long term, competitiveness of American workers.

    Many archconservatives — tea party heroes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among them — decry the system as a top-down takeover of local schools. The standards were developed and are being implemented by states, though Common Core opponents argue that President Barack Obama’s administration has encouraged adoption of the standards by various parameters it set for states applying to get lucrative federal education grants.

    Tea party-aligned officials and candidates want to delay the standards or abandon them altogether in at least a dozen of the 45 states that adopted some part of the guidelines. Indiana lawmakers approved a repeal that now awaits a decision from Gov. Mike Pence.

    “Common Core is like Obamacare: They passed it before they knew what was in it,” said William Evers, a Hoover Institute research fellow and lead author of a California Republican Party resolution denouncing Common Core.

    To a lesser extent, Democrats must deal with some teachers — their unions hold strong influence within the party — who are upset about implementation details. But it’s the internal GOP debate that’s on display in statehouses, across 2014 campaigns and among 2016 presidential contenders.

    The flap continues as students in 36 states and the District of Columbia begin this week taking field tests of new assessments based on the standards, although the real tests won’t be given for another year.

    Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, has joined seven colleagues, including Texas’ Cruz, to sponsor a measure that would bar federal financing of any Common Core component. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t among the eight, but he had already come out against the standards. So has Rick Santorum, a 2012 presidential candidate mulling another run.

    On the other end of the spectrum is Bush, the former Florida governor and Rubio’s mentor. “This is a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have, and it’s been mired in politics,” Bush said last week in Tennessee, where he joined Republican Gov. Bill Haslam at an event to promote Common Core.

    Haslam, who is running for re-election this year, is trying to beat back a repeal effort in the Tennessee legislature. “These are simply guidelines that say a fourth grader should be learning the same things” regardless of where the student lives, the governor said recently. “Historically, we haven’t been good at setting high standards.”

    The National Governors Association and state education superintendents developed Common Core. Among other things, the framework recommends when students should master certain skills. For example, by the end of fifth grade, a math student should be able to graph and solve complex problems by plotting points on x and y axes. A high school sophomore should be able to analyze text or make written arguments using valid logical reasoning and sufficient evidence.

    The issue presents a delicate balancing act for some governors. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin initially adopted the new standards. Now both men — possible presidential candidates — must watch as GOP lawmakers in their states push anti-Common Core bills. Jindal, who was an NGA member during Common Core’s development, told the Baton Rouge Press Club earlier this year that he’s “absolutely for rigorous standards” but “absolutely against any kind of federal takeover.” Before Wisconsin lawmakers convened, Walker announced support for rethinking Common Core. In both states, however, the anti-Common Core legislation appears stalled, as neither governor has made repeal a priority.

    Establishment Republicans in Georgia, meanwhile, derailed a repeal effort in favor of a “study commission” empowered only to make recommendations. Alabama GOP leaders have held off a repeal measure, as well.

    Immediate political consequences of the disputes aren’t clear. GOP officials and strategists say any fallout for them is dwarfed by Democrats’ struggle with Obama’s health care law. In the meantime, conservative candidates use Common Core as a symbolic rallying cry.

    Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr, a long-shot primary challenger to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, insists Common Core “is just one more overreach of a federal government that wants to insert itself into everything.” An Alabama congressional hopeful, Scott Beason, casts Common Core as liberal indoctrination. In Georgia’s crowded Republican U.S. Senate primary, Rep. Paul Broun declared in a recent debate, “I want to abolish the Department of Education and get rid of Common Core forever.” His first goal wouldn’t necessarily accomplish the second.

    The arguments perplex the politicians most responsible for the plan.

    Democrat Jack Markell, Delaware’s second-term governor, told the Associated Press that opponents mistakenly equate a coalition from across the nation with a federal government initiative. Markell co-chaired NGA’s Common Core panel with Republican Sonny Perdue of Georgia.

    Perdue, who left office in 2011, said Common Core actually began as a pushback against federal influence because of the No Child Left Behind law, the national education act signed by President George W. Bush. Perdue said it was “embarrassing” for governors of both parties that Congress and the White House pushed higher standards before state leaders.

    Perdue attributes the outcry against Common Core to Obama’s backing: “There is enough paranoia coming out of Washington, I can understand how some people would believe these rumors of a ‘federal takeover,’ try as you might to persuade people otherwise. I almost think it was detrimental … for the president to endorse it.”

    Evers, the Hoover Institute fellow who was also a top Education Department appointee during the Bush administration, says it’s unfair to reduce opponents’ concerns to partisanship. He notes insufficient training for teachers expected to use new teaching methods, and he criticizes specific components. For example, some math courses are recommended for later grade levels than in standards already adopted in leading states like Massachusetts and California.

    States move forward, Evers argued, because of competition. “It’s by emulation and rivalry that we have always seen advances in public education,” he said. National standards, he added, “will close the door on innovation.”

    The post Republican governors wrestle with unpopular Common Core education standards appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Cannisters containing spent nuclear fuel travel to a reprocessing 600km north of Tokyo in 2000. Photo by AFP/Getty Images

    Cannisters containing spent nuclear fuel travel to a reprocessing 600km north of Tokyo in 2000. Photo by AFP/Getty Images

    THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Japan plans to turn over to the United States more than 700 pounds of weapons grade plutonium and a supply of highly-enriched uranium, a victory for President Barack Obama’s efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world.

    American and Japanese officials confirmed the plan Monday, ahead of a formal announcement at a Nuclear Security Summit set to get underway in the Netherlands.

    A Japanese foreign ministry official said the two countries had been discussing the transfer for some time as part of efforts to resolve concerns over Japan’s large stockpile of spent nuclear fuel and plutonium. The U.S. and Japan also are discussing ways to reduce the quantity and toxicity of the radioactive material, the official said.

    The material designated for transfer to the U.S. has been kept for decades at a research reactor site in Tokaimura, the site of a 1999 accident that killed two workers who mishandled a highly enriched uranium solution. More than 300 people were believed to have been exposed to radiation exceeding the annual limit after a nuclear chain reaction that lasted for 20 hours, leaking radioactive gasses out of the complex.

    Despite its international pledge not to possess excess stock of plutonium, Japan has large amounts of the weapons-grade material. The amount to be returned to the U.S. this time is a fraction of Japan’s overall stockpile.

    Obama, who arrived in the Netherlands Monday morning, has been pressing his foreign counterparts for years to either get rid of their nuclear materials or more tightly secure the stockpiles.

    Even though the majority of Japan’s public favor nuclear phase-out, the government recently introduced a draft long-term energy policy proposing maintaining nuclear power as a key energy source, while promising to pursue fuel recycling program. Officials argue they can eventually take care of the plutonium issue, but it is highly uncertain because of lingering uncertainty surrounding reactor restarts.

    In order to slow the plutonium stockpile increase, Japan would have to restart about 16 reactors that would burn plutonium-uranium hybrid fuel called MOX, which at the moment an overly optimistic plan.

    The plan was first reported by The New York Times. The Japanese and American officials insisted on anonymity in order to confirm the plan ahead of Monday’s announcement.

    The post Japan to turn over large nuclear stockpile to the U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The U.S. flag flies over the Camp Delta maximum security area at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

    The U.S. flag flies over the Camp Delta maximum security area at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON (AP) — If senators vote this week to release key sections of a voluminous report on terrorist interrogations, an already strained relationship between lawmakers and the CIA could become even more rancorous, and President Barack Obama might have to step into the fray.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee hopes that by publishing a 400-page summary of its contentious review and the 20 main recommendations, it will shed light on some of the most unsavory elements of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Despite now serving Obama, the CIA maintains that the report underestimates the intelligence value of waterboarding and other methods employed by intelligence officials at undeclared, “black site” facilities overseas. The entire investigation runs some 6,200 pages.

    The dispute boiled into the open earlier this month with competing claims of wrongdoing by Senate staffers and CIA officials. The intelligence committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, accused the CIA of improperly monitoring the computer use of Senate staffers and deleting files, undermining the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The agency said the intelligence panel illegally accessed certain documents. Each side has registered criminal complaints with the Justice Department.

    This week’s vote could fuel the fight, if it goes in favor of disclosure. It would start a process that forces CIA officials and Senate staffers to go line-by-line through the report and debate which elements can be made public and which must stay secret because of ongoing national security concerns. The CIA and the executive branch hold all the keys as the final determiners of what ought to remain classified. Senators primarily have the bully pulpit of embarrassing the CIA publicly and the last-resort measure of going after the agency’s budget.

    But senators are hoping the dispute can be diffused with the intervention of Obama, whose record includes outlawing waterboarding, unsuccessfully seeking the closure of the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and supporting other changes in how the United States pursues, detains, questions and prosecutes terrorist suspects. The president has refused thus far to weigh in on Congress’ dispute with the CIA, while pledging to declassify at least the findings of the Senate report “so that the American people can understand what happened in the past, and that can help guide us as we move forward.”

    Obama’s involvement may be in the interest of both sides. Senators fear their report will be scuttled by CIA officials directly involved in past interrogation practices, undermining the role of Congress in overseeing the nation’s spy agencies. For the intelligence community, which prides itself on its discretion and foresight, even the perception of manipulating that oversight could be damaging with a public still coming to grips with National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive government collection of telephone and other data.

    And a further worsening of Congress’ spat with the CIA hardly serves Obama’s aims. It has centered on Feinstein, a Democratic supporter of the president who has backed the White House on NSA and other matters, and CIA Director John Brennan, who previously served as Obama’s homeland security adviser. The entire fuss is over counterterrorism practices the president entered office determined to eliminate.

    Brennan offered conciliatory words in a message to CIA employees Friday. He said agency officials would address the committee’s concerns so it can complete its work report as soon as possible. He also complimented Feinstein and other congressional figures for carrying out “their oversight responsibilities with great dedication and patriotism.” But he did not directly address Feinstein’s tart criticism or acknowledge any agency wrongdoing. He said that as a result of the unpublished review, the agency has already taken steps to strengthen CIA performance. He did not detail those moves.

    Adding heat on the CIA, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ordered an investigation by his body’s top cop into the computer network that contained the confidential, internal CIA review that has sparked the rift. Congressional aides say the “Panetta review,” so called because it was ordered by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, counters CIA claims about the effectiveness of its interrogation methods and backs up assertions in the committee’s review.

    Brennan has yet to say publicly whether the CIA will allow Senate law enforcement personnel to search agency computers that staffers had used in northern Virginia. In his note, Brennan said only that “appropriate officials are reviewing the facts.”

    In letters last week to the heads of the CIA and Justice Department, Reid, another close Obama ally, said the CIA’s unapproved searching of computers was “absolutely indefensible.” He challenged the credibility of Brennan’s claims and echoed Feinstein’s conflict-of-interest concerns about CIA lawyer Robert Eatinger, who was acting general counsel when he filed the criminal referral against Senate employees. That was after Eatinger was identified 1,600 times in the committee’s study of the interrogation program.

    Eatinger was a controversial figure even before his most recent run-ins with congressional investigators. Between 2004 and 2009, he was chief counsel for the CIA Detention and Interrogation Unit that employed harsh questioning tactics that some consider torture, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation. He was also among several CIA lawyers involved in the decision to destroy graphic videotapes of al-Qaida suspects being waterboarded.

    Congressional officials worry that Eatinger and other CIA officials who worked in the interrogation unit could be involved in the agency’s declassification of the Senate report. Former intelligence officials familiar with the agency’s procedures said the process would probably by overseen by lawyers from the CIA’s general counsel office, as well as its Intelligence Management section, which handles declassification of long-secret historic and important documents.

    In some declassification projects, documents can be farmed out to appropriate CIA units that have historical knowledge of the events, said congressional and former intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Concern that Eatinger and other former interrogation unit members might be involved in declassification partly explains the committee’s insistence on White House oversight, congressional aides said.

    The post Report on Bush-era war on terror may further divide Congress, CIA appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A  temporary Red Cross shelter was opened in Darrington, Washington after a massive mudslide killed at least 8 on Sunday. Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

    A temporary Red Cross shelter was opened in Darrington, Wash., after a massive mudslide killed at least eight on Sunday. Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images


    Updated 12:30 p.m. EDT, March 24 | Authorities said in a news conference Monday that they have a consolidated list of 108 names that are unaccounted for or missing after the Washington landslide. They added that the list does not account for overlap and does not mean that there are 108 injuries or fatalities.

    Although the search operation has expanded, “the situation is very grim” for finding additional survivors, Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said during the conference.

    “We’re still holding out hope that we’re going to be able to find people that may still be alive,” Hots said, “but keep in mind we have not found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday in the initial stages of our operation.”

    11:30 a.m. EDT, March 24 | At least eight are confirmed dead with more than a dozen still missing from Saturday’s 1-square-mile mudslide that devastated a small riverside community 55 miles north of Seattle, authorities said late Sunday.

    Emergency responders found a body Sunday morning in the debris field, after three people were confirmed dead on Saturday. Snohomish County authorities confirmed four more deaths at a community meeting Sunday, bringing the total to eight.

    “We didn’t see or hear any signs of life out there today,” Travis Hots, chief of Snohomish County Fire Districts 21 and 22, said at the Sunday meeting.

    Video by Associated Press

    The mudslide demolished 30 homes in the rural town of Oso, Wash., Seattle Times reports, and covered a mile of Highway 530. Officials have blamed heavy rainfall for the mudslide.

    Officials also lifted an evacuation order Sunday, after concerns of downstream flooding were allayed.

    The post UPDATE: Death toll climbs to 8 in Washington mudslide, 108 missing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Florida Insurance Company Enrolls People In Obama's Affordable Health Care PlanIf you’re uninsured, now’s the time to buy a plan. March 31 is the end of the annual open enrollment period when people who don’t have coverage through their employers can sign up on or off their state’s marketplace. With limited exceptions, people who miss this enrollment window will be unable to sign up for health insurance until next fall for coverage that starts in January 2015. In addition to being uninsured, you will face a penalty for not having coverage. The fine may be bigger than you expect. Here are the details:

    Is everyone required to have health insurance this year or pay a fine?

    This year, most people who can afford to buy health insurance but don’t do so will face a penalty, sometimes called a “shared responsibility payment.” The requirement to have health insurance applies to adults and children alike, but there are exceptions for certain groups of people and those who are experiencing financial hardship.

    What kind of insurance satisfies the requirement to have coverage?

    Most plans that provide comprehensive coverage count as “minimum essential coverage.” That includes job-based insurance and plans purchased on the individual market, either on or off the exchange. Most Medicaid plans and Medicare Part A, which covers hospital benefits, count as well, as do most types of Tricare military coverage and some Veterans Administration coverage.

    Insurance that provides limited benefits generally doesn’t qualify, including standalone vision and dental plans or plans that only pay in the event someone has an accident or gets cancer or another specified illness.

    If I don’t have health insurance, how much will I owe?

    In 2014, the penalty is the greater of a flat $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under age 18, up to a maximum of $285 per family, or 1 percent of your family’s modified adjusted gross income that is over the threshold the requires you to file a tax return. That threshold is $10,150 for an individual, $13,050 for a head of household and $20,300 for a married couple filing jointly.

    Next year the penalty increases to $325 per adult or 2 percent of income, and in 2016 it will be the greater of $695 or 2.5 percent of income.

    The $95 penalty has gotten a lot of press, but many people will be paying substantially more than that. A single person earning more than $19,650 would not qualify for the $95 penalty ($19,650 – $10,150 = $9,500 x 1% = $95). So the 1 percent penalty is the standard that will apply in most cases, say experts. For example, for a single person whose MAGI is $35,000, the penalty would be $249 ($35,000 – $10,150 = $24,850 x 1% = $249).

    The penalty is capped at the national average price for a bronze plan, or about $9,800, says Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. The vast majority of taxpayers’ incomes aren’t high enough to be affected by the penalty cap, he says.

    Many more people will be able to avoid the penalty altogether because their income is below the filing threshold.

    Are there any special circumstances that allow me to get insurance outside the annual open enrollment period?

    Yes. If you have a change in your life circumstances such as getting married, adopting a child or losing your job and your health insurance, it may trigger a special enrollment period when you can sign up for or change coverage and avoid paying a fine. In addition, if your income is low and meets guidelines in the law, you can generally sign up for your state’s Medicaid or CHIP program at any time.

    I’m uninsured and signed up on the exchange in March for a plan that starts May 1. Will I owe a penalty for the first four months of the year?

    No. In October, the Department of Health and Human Services released guidance saying that anyone who signs up for coverage by the end of the open enrollment period on March 31 will not owe a fine for the months prior to the start of coverage.

    What if I have a gap in coverage this year after open enrollment ends? Will I have to pay a fine?

    It depends. If the gap in coverage is less than three consecutive months, you can avoid owing a penalty. Subsequent coverage gaps during the year, however, could trigger a fine.

    If you have coverage for even one day during a month, it counts as coverage for that month. The penalty, if there is one, would be calculated in monthly increments.

    Are parents responsible for paying the penalty if their kids don’t have coverage?

    They may be. If you claim a child as a dependent on your tax return, you’ll be on the hook for the penalty if the child doesn’t have insurance. In cases where parents are divorced, the parent who claims the child as a tax dependent would be responsible for the penalty.

    Who’s exempt from the requirement to have insurance?

    The list of possible exemptions is a long one. You may be eligible for an exemption if:

    • Your income is below the federal income tax filing threshold (see above).
    • The lowest priced available plan costs more than 8 percent of your income.
    • Your income is less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $15,856 for an individual) and your state did not expand Medicaid coverage to adults at this income level as permitted under the health law.
    • You experienced one of several hardships, including eviction, bankruptcy or domestic violence.
    • Your individual insurance plan was cancelled and you consider plans on the marketplace are unaffordable.
    • You are a member of an Indian tribe, health care sharing ministry or a religious group that objects to insurance.
    • You are in jail.
    • You are an immigrant who is not in the country legally.

    For a more complete list go to the exemptions page at healthcare.gov or the questions and answers page on shared responsibilities provisions on the IRS website.

    When should I claim or file for an exemption?

    There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You can claim some of the exemptions when you file your tax return in 2015, but for others, you will have to complete an exemption application available at healthcare.gov.

    If you believe you may be eligible for an exemption for financial reasons, experts recommend filling out the paperwork now, if possible, based on your current income and other information. That way, if your circumstances change later in the year — if your income goes up, for example, and you no longer qualify for an exemption based on plan affordability — having a certificate of exemption should enable you to avoid owing the penalty. In addition, losing a hardship exemption triggers a special enrollment period to buy a plan outside the annual open enrollment period, but only if you have a hardship exemption in hand.

    “From a consumer perspective, even though it’s kind of a burden to go through the process, it makes sense to get the hardship exemption certificate, to be safe,” says Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

    Are U.S. citizens living overseas subject to the penalty for not having insurance?

    If you live abroad for at least 330 days during a 12-month period, you aren’t required to have coverage in the States.

    What happens if I don’t pay the penalty?

    The IRS may offset your income tax refund to collect the penalty, but that’s about it. Unlike other situations where the tax agency can garnish wages or file liens to collect unpaid taxes, the health law prohibits these activities in cases where people don’t pay the penalty for not having insurance.


    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. Jay Hancock contributed to this report.

    The post FAQ: What are the penalties for not getting health insurance? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef off of the south coast of Alaska, spilling millions of gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound. Twenty-five years later, there are still traces of oil on the shoreline. Photo by Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images

    On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef off of the south coast of Alaska, spilling millions of gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound. Twenty-five years later, there are still traces of oil on the shoreline. Photo by Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images

    Twenty-five years ago today the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, Calif., ran aground in Prince William Sound off of the south coast of Alaska.

    The vessel released 11 million gallons of oil into the water, polluting 1,300 miles of Alaska’s coastline.

    An oil spill worker recovers and cleans a bird soiled by crude oil in this March 1989 file image. Photo by Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/MCT

    An oil spill worker recovers a bird soiled by crude oil in this 1989 file image. Photo by Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/MCT

    At the time it was the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

    Gary Shigenaka and Alan Mearns responded to the disaster, and they’ve been studying oil spills ever since. They’re scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle.

    They told EarthFix’s Ashley Ahearn about the devastation they witnessed — especially among birds and marine life — all those years ago.

    ALAN MEARNS: Some places we’d go ashore and you’d see starfish that looked like they were sick, they were just kind of drifting around in the surf. And you could smell the oil too, in the places where there was plenty of it. It smelled like benzene, like you’re pumping gas at the gas station and you sniff that little bit of benzene as you pull the hose out of your car.

    EARTHFIX: Gary, how were orcas impacted by the spill?

    GARY SHIGENAKA: Two groups that frequent Prince William Sound crashed immediately after the spill. So since the time of the oil spill those populations have continued to be monitored and we can follow the trends and for the AB pod — the resident pod — there’s been a slow recovery. For the AT1 group, which is the transient pod, it’s been declining ever since the spill and the orca specialist for Prince William Sound, Dr. Craig Matkin, has predicted that that particular group is going to go extinct. It continues to decline with time. So it’s an unfortunate long-term legacy from the spill.

    EARTHFIX: Some people thought the orcas would swim away, would avoid the oil spill itself, but that wasn’t actually the case, was it?

    SHIGENAKA: What we all thought was that orcas are so smart. They will simply avoid the oiled waters. But we’ve got very good photographic evidence that shows that indeed they did not.

    One photograph, an aerial photograph, shows orcas cutting through a slick and you can see where they’ve come to the surface right through the oil. There’s another shot of a pod of orcas right at the stern of the Exxon Valdez, right at the tanker.

    Hundreds of thousands of birds were affected by the oil spill, and several thousand were killed. Photo by Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

    Hundreds of thousands of birds were affected by the oil spill, and several thousand were killed. Photo by Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

    EARTHFIX: What creatures were the most impacted or most harmed by the Exxon Valdez spill?

    MEARNS: Oh, birds. We’re talking about 200 to 300,000 I think, Gary.

    SHIGENAKA: Yeah.

    MEARNS: Seabirds, mainly seabirds and some shorebirds. And of course that was the big thing you’d see in the news almost every day: pictures of an oiled bird, somebody picking it up, taking it to a wildlife rehabilitation station where they’d clean them and then hold them until they could be released.

    EARTHFIX: SO for people who weren’t alive, weren’t reading the paper when the Exxon Valdez spill happened, what were those animals going through? What happens to a bird when it interacts with an oil slick?

    MEARNS: Well, first of all, even though it’s in the spring and summer it’s still cold up there. If it’s not killed by being smothered by gobs and gobs of oil, if it’s a little bit of oil, it will succumb eventually to things like pneumonia-type diseases and things like that, so it suddenly causes birds that had good insulation not to have insulation and start suffering the effects of cold conditions.

    SHIGENAKA: And the same holds true for another of the iconic wildlife species in Prince William Sound: the sea otters. They insulate themselves with that nice thick fur pelt and they are affected in the same way by oil disrupting their ability to insulate themselves during a spill.


    25 years ago, Robert MacNeil, longtime anchor and executive editor of the PBS NewsHour, interviewed Don Cornett, Alaska coordinator for Exxon, and Gov. Steve Cowper of Alaska, days after the clean-up process began for what was, then, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Video by PBS NewsHour

    EARTHFIX: 25 years later, how is Prince William Sound? What species have recovered, how does the place look?

    MEARNS: Well, 14 or 15 species or resource values have recovered. The recovery started a few years after the spill with things like bald eagles. A number of them were killed off but their population rebounded. The most recent recovery was just announced was of the sea otters that we were just talking about. So between 1991-92 when we started seeing reports of recovery of a few bird species and now we’ve had about 14 or 15 species recover but there’s still some others that haven’t yet.

    EARTHFIX: Which ones are you most concerned about, Alan, or scientists are following most closely with concern?

    MEARNS: The orcas are really the ones we’re most concerned about now.

    EARTHFIX: Is the oil gone?

    MEARNS: No. There are still traces of oil in the shorelines. When you go out at low tide and go into some of these back bay areas with gravel and sand overlying bedrock and dig down maybe a foot sometimes you’ll hit spots with oil that is still actually fairly fresh. We’ve encountered that at a few sites that we’ve monitored over the past 25 years.

    SHIGENAKA: That’s been one of the 25-year surprises for us is that there are pockets of relatively fresh oil remaining both in Prince William Sound and along the coast of the Alaska Peninsula and that’s something that I don’t think any of us expected 25 years later.

    EARTHFIX: What did this spill mean for your careers? You guys were both young bucks when this happened. And now, 25 years later, when you look back, what did it mean, the Exxon Valdez?

    SHIGENAKA: I think overall, just the notion that we have a responsibility, both as responders and as scientists to try to communicate what we do and what we know in a way that’s understandable to the people who are affected.

    EARTHFIX: There is more oil moving through this region now — more oil coming from the tar sands of Alberta and coming from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to refineries here in Washington state. If I talk to you guys 25 years from now, what do you hope we’re talking about?

    MEARNS: One thing that I worry about and I think Gary has some other things that he worries about is a lot of this new oil is going to be going through the Aleutian Islands, the great circle route, more and more tankers leaving here or in Canada and heading across. And in the Aleutian Islands, we thought Prince William Sound was remote, well the Aleutian Islands are even more remote. Getting equipment there, getting staff, we’ve had a few experiences with spills. I guess I’m concerned that there will be more spills in that region from this increased traffic out there.

    EARTHFIX: Or elsewhere.

    MEARNS: Yeah.

    Gary Shigenaka and Alan Mearns are scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle. They responded to the Exxon Valdez spill 25 years ago.

    EarthFix is a public media project of Oregon Public Broadcasting and Boise State Public Radio, Idaho Public Television, KCTS 9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Southern Oregon Public Television and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post 25 years later, scientists still spot traces of oil from Exxon Valdez spill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Using an economics approach to personal finance, Larry Kotlikoff explains how to get more money for your retirement. Photo by microgen/E+ via Getty Images.

    Larry Kotlikoff demonstrates how to increase your standard of living for retirement — in this case, by 15 percent — by correctly timing your Social Security, 401(k) and Roth IRA withdrawals. Photo by microgen/E+ via Getty Images.

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


    Before answering a few Social Security questions, I’m going to perform an awesome economic magic trick. Specifically, I’m going to pull money — a large amount of money — out of a hat. I’m also going to tell you how the trick works, how you can perform it at home, and convince you it’s real.

    I’ll need a subject. Ah, here’s one — my hypothetical friend Steve. Steve, who never married, lives in Delaware with his five cats, affectionately named One, Two, Three, Four and Five.

    Steve just turned 62 and has a planning horizon of age 100. Yes, Steve knows the chances are small he’ll live to 100. But he also knows he just might and doesn’t want to risk running out of money if he lives that long.

    Steve has $300,000 in regular assets, $300,000 in a standard 401(k) and $300,000 in a Roth IRA. Steve’s plan is to immediately start taking his Social Security age-62 benefit of $1,704 and also begin smoothly withdrawing his retirement account holdings.

    “Smooth withdrawal” means taking the same amount (adjusted for inflation) from his retirement accounts each year between now and age 100.

    Steve’s also decided to withdraw his Roth money first. Taking out the Roth money won’t trigger higher federal and state income taxes because he paid taxes on his Roth contributions when he made them. But withdrawing his 401(k) money will trigger higher taxes because contributions to his 401(k) were made tax free. (More precisely, they were excluded from his adjusted gross income.) By taking his Roth money out first, Steve figures he’ll defer paying taxes on his 401(k) withdrawals and earn some extra interest during the deferral.

    I ran Steve through my company’s free online financial planning program, called ESPlannerBASIC. It shows Steve can spend $48,945 in today’s dollars (after inflation) straight through to age 100.

    Now for the magic.

    Drum roll as my hands return to the keyboard.

    Next, I try having Steve take his Social Security benefit starting at age 70. I also have him take his Roth money out first and 401(k) money out second.

    Changing these inputs in ESPlannerBASIC takes me about 4.342 seconds. Rerunning the program takes another 0.621 seconds.

    Now Steve’s sustainable spending is $56,581. That’s a 15.6 percent increase in Steve’s spending for the rest of his life. And it takes less than five seconds!

    Based on Steve’s original plan (taking Social Security at 62 and the Roth money first), he’d need an extra $250,000 in non-retirement account assets to attain this higher living standard.

    So I’ve just pulled $250,000 out of a hat.

    What’s the trick?

    A big part is having Steve wait until 70 to collect Social Security. Doing so means his benefit, when it starts, will be 76 percent higher in real terms (adjusted for inflation). Yes, this will mean giving up eight years of benefits, but Steve will get the 76 percent bump to his monthly Social Security check for 30 years. And, again, Steve must plan to live that long because, as Dr. Seuss wrote, “If it could be, it would be.”

    The other, smaller part is having Steve take his 401(k) benefit first and his Roth money second. Taking the Roth money first, not second, produces lower real sustainable spending, namely $55,974.

    The fact that Steve can spend more each year by taking his Roth money second means he’s saving taxes over his lifetime. Yes, Steve’s giving up the deferral advantage. But ESPlannerBASIC has our incredibly complex tax system programmed in all its gory detail. And one of these details, a truly nasty one, is that up to 85 percent of our Social Security benefits can become taxable depending on their size, the amount of our other taxable income and the year.

    Why the year? Because the thresholds beyond which the first 50 percent and then 85 percent of our Social Security benefits are taxable aren’t indexed for inflation. So every year after Steve starts taking Social Security entails a potentially higher degree of Social Security benefit taxation.

    By taking his Roth money second, Steve reduces the size of his other taxable income because, recall, Roth withdrawals aren’t taxable and aren’t considered part of taxable income (adjusted gross income, to be precise). In Steve’s case, limiting the extent of Social Security benefit taxation beats tax deferral as a lifetime tax-saving device.

    ESPlannerBASIC was ranked the number one planning tool on the web by Money Magazine. It has a highly sophisticated (and patented) mathematical algorithm under its hood. Yes, it’s a black box. But you can easily verify from its reports that it’s making the right calculations.

    There is no other program like it. And no human being (including myself, and I designed it, building on decades of other other economists’ and mathematicians’ work in personal finance and numerical computation methods) can make these calculations in his or her head.

    There’s no login required and no ads to distract you. It’s a free money machine brought to you by one of nature’s greatest gifts — economics. Use it!


    Joseph Dever — Philadelphia: I lost my job when I was 62. My unemployment ran out. And I was still paying a mortgage. So, I started collecting Social Security, and did so for two years. My question is: Is your ex notified when you start collecting on their Social Security? I am 66 and back at work. Trying to get some cash in the 401K plan.

    GOT SOCIAL SECURITY QUESTIONS?

    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    Larry Kotlikoff: No, your ex is not necessarily notified, but if the ex asks for the information from the Social Security Administration, he or she is entitled to know to whom and how much is being paid from his or her account. However, information about the ex’s whereabouts cannot be disclosed.

    Also, one of the requirements to be entitled to divorced spousal benefits is that the ex-spouse on whose account benefits will be paid must be at least age 62. Unless proof of age has previously been established, the ex-spouse may need to be contacted to obtain the necessary documentation.


    Mike Robertson — Memphis, Tenn.: My mother and father were married 27 years; they have been divorced the same amount of time. My father is remarried; my mother is not. Can she collect his Social Security benefits before he is deceased? He received twice as much as her and she has no other income. If she must wait until he is deceased to collect, will she receive his entire benefit? Both of them are over 75. Thank you!

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your mother is no doubt collecting her own retirement benefit. If she hasn’t yet filed for a divorced spouse’s spousal benefit, she should do so right away. It will be calculated as an excess spousal benefit (the difference between half of your father’s full retirement benefit and 100 percent of your mother’s full retirement benefit), but this could very well be small or zero. Once your dad passes away, your mom can collect a divorced spouse’s widow’s benefit. This could equal 100 percent of what you dad is now receiving.


    Norma — Delhi, La.: I married my ex in January 1972. We divorced in June 1981, remarried each other in November 1983 and divorced again in May 1993. We were married to each other a total of just under 20 years. He is 64 and still working. I am 62 and am on SSI and have never remarried. Am I eligible to collect on his Social Security earnings?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Gee, I think not because you weren’t married for 10 consecutive years in either case. Social Security restarts the 10-year marriage clock required for divorced spouses to collect when they remarry, including when they remarry their former spouse. I hate delivering this news because I think this is incredibly unfair.


    Kris Cloyd — Shrewsbury, Mass. If a wife starts collecting her Social Security benefits at age 62, she would collect 75 percent of her full retirement benefit. If her spouse dies and is eligible for survivor benefits, would she collect 100 percent or 75 percent of his full retirement benefit?

    Larry Kotlikoff: As described in this column, if the decedent spouse took retirement benefits earlier than his full retirement age, depending on when the widow collects, the survivor benefit may be less than the decedent husband’s full retirement benefit, equal to or greater than the benefit he was receiving, or 82.5 percent of the husband’s full retirement benefit.


    Susan Nininger — Chapel Hill, N.C.: I was a homemaker for 15 years and during that time I had assorted part-time jobs. Then I worked at a mall starting as a receptionist, and after seven years, I was the operations manager and often acting property manager. Three years ago, I was forced out. The best salary I made was $55,000.00 for two years. I am still unemployed and my savings are depleted. If I collect my Social Security at 64, I get around $800 per month. My ex is a physician and should have a good Social Security income. He is older than 62. If I am unable to find work, should I file against his benefit at 64 and then go to mine at 66? Or start with his? Any ideas?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If you were married for 10 or more years you can collect a full spousal benefit (equal to half of your ex’s full retirement benefit) starting no earlier than your full retirement age. Then you can wait until 70 to collect your highest possible retirement benefit, which may just exceed your full spousal benefit.

    If you file at 64 for your spousal benefit, you’ll be forced to take your reduced retirement benefit early as well. But having filed for your retirement benefit, your reduced spousal benefit will no longer be your full spousal benefit, but your reduced excess spousal benefit, which may be very small or zero.

    So, I think it’s probably best to wait until full retirement age and file just for a full spousal benefit and then wait until 70 to go for your own retirement benefit. First-rate Social Security software can show you the options.

    The post Using economic magic to pull retirement money out of a hat appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A file photo taken on November 12, 2006, shows the former leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony. Photo by Stuart Price/AFP/Getty Images

    A file photo taken on November 12, 2006, shows the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony. Photo by Stuart Price/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. is sending military aircraft and more forces to assist in the hunt for fugitive African warlord Joseph Kony, more than doubling the number of American troops and airmen on the ground to 250.

    The beefed up U.S. assistance could be “the decisive game changer” in the hunt for Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army appears weaker than ever before amid growing defections and the loss of senior commanders, an expert said Monday.

    “The timing is right,” said Kasper Agger, an Africa researcher with the Enough Project, which fights to end crimes against humanity. He said the deployment of the vertical-takeoff Ospreys “could be the decisive game changer in the mission to end the LRA.”

    A senior U.S. military official confirmed Monday that the U.S. is sending at least four CV-22 Osprey aircraft and about 150 more Air Force special operations members and airmen to assist African forces. The official confirmed the plans on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss them on the record.

    Obama sent about 100 U.S. troops to help African Union forces in 2011 find Kony, but so far he has eluded them in the vast jungles of central Africa. The additional support will enable the African Union troops “to conduct targeted operations to apprehend remaining LRA combatants,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said early Monday.

    “Our African partners have consistently identified airlift as one of their greatest limiting factors as they search for and pursue the remaining LRA leaders across a wide swath of one of the world’s poorest, least governed and most remote regions,” Hayden said.

    The aircraft will be based in Uganda and will be used in Central African Republic, Congo and South Sudan, she said. The U.S. advisers are assisting about 2,500 African Union troops to chase LRA fighters in a jungle about the size of France.

    “The deployment of these aircraft and personnel does not signify a change in the nature of the U.S. military advisory role in this effort,” Hayden said. “African Union-led regional forces remain in the lead, with U.S. forces supporting and advising their efforts.”

    The LRA is accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of killing and mutilating innocent civilians and kidnapping thousands of children, forcing them to become soldiers and sex slaves.

    The CV-22 Osprey is a versatile aircraft that can fly like a plane and a helicopter. Its ability to take off and land vertically should make it effective in the heavy jungle areas where the troops are operating.

    “These aircraft are very helpful. They enhance our capacity, particularly in the search operations, reconnaissance, airlifts,” said Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, the Ugandan military spokesman.

    The LRA originated in Uganda in the 1980s as a tribal uprising against the government. In 2005 Kony became the first suspect to be indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    After it was ousted from Ugandan territory in 2005, the group scattered into parts of Congo and Central African Republic. There are between 200 to 500 LRA fighters still active in the jungle, according to estimates from the Ugandan military and the Enough Project.

    Kony himself is believed to be hiding in the border region between Central African Republic and Sudan’s South Darfur region.

    The post U.S. doubles effort to search for fugitive warlord Kony appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    In this handout from the Washington State Department of Transportation, a mudslide on Saturday buried a mile of State Route 530, demolished 30 homes and killed at least eight people in a rural community near Oso, Wash. Photo by WSDOT

    In this handout from the Washington State Department of Transportation, a mudslide on Saturday buried a mile of State Route 530, demolished 30 homes and killed at least eight people in a rural community near Oso, Wash. Photo by WSDOT


    ARLINGTON, Wash. — Authorities have confirmed that the landslide on the Stillaguamish River has killed several people and destroyed homes.

    EarthFix’s Ashley Ahearn turned to Dave Montgomery to find out what caused the slide. Montgomery is a geologist at the University of Washington.

    AHEARN: Dave what happened on the Stillaguamish?

    MONTGOMERY: Literally an entire hillside gave way. The hill slope itself was fairly weak glacial material and the river was cutting into the toe at the base of it. If you look at the Google Earth image from before the slide you’ll notice that if you imagined yourself in a canoe going down the river on the right hand bank, you would have been forced against that bank. And it was eating into the toe of what then became the landslide. So you have a situation with the river undermining a relatively unstable slope, and you also have one of the wettest Marches in history.

    It’s a recipe for causing a slide. But turns out there was a slide there beforehand as well because on the same Google Earth images you can see the trace of the edge of a landslide scar that predates the current one. So the slope was already unstable and it reactivated in a much more dramatic and violent fashion than it seems to have done in the past.

    An image from Google Earth, taken before the current slide, shows the scars from a previous slide that took place at the same spot in 2006.

    An image from Google Earth, taken before the current slide, shows the scars from a previous slide that took place at the same spot in 2006.

    AHEARN: What other causes might be at play here? How about logging?

    MONTGOMERY: Well it looks like the slope had been logged sometime in the not too distant past. The old slide — it looks like there’s younger forest growing on top of that bit but there’s still a lot of argument about the way in which forest practices might affect the deep-seated slides. So that question I’m sure will be asked, and I’m sure it’s a pertinent question, but I don’t think the answer’s as obvious as some might think.

    AHEARN: Precipitation patterns are changing in this region — we’re getting more rain instead of snow in the wintertime. How do you think that contributes to a slide like the one on the Stillaguamish or the potential for more landslides in the future?

    MONTGOMERY: Well, I can’t really say one way or the other how that might have contributed to the one on the Stillaguamish. We’ve had a very wet March and that was definitely a contributing factor. Why we had that wet a March, well that gets into all the problems of climate versus weather. In terms of how changing patterns of rainfall ought to affect land sliding, if we get more intense rainfall in the future we should have more landslides. If we get more soaking rainfall and get more rainfall total, we should have more landslides. The character of the rainfall that we get, whether it’s more high intensity rain or more of the long soak would actually influence the type and style of landslides that we might expect to get but the short answer is, you know, if we get more rainfall we ought to expect to see more landslides and this region already is landslide-prone.

    AHEARN: So sort of like connecting extreme weather to climate change, you can’t connect any one landslide to climate change, writ large, but …

    MONTGOMERY: But if the climate changes in a way that we get a lot more rainfall you would expect to see a lot more landslides. It’s the same with hurricanes in the South; if the climate is changing we might expect to see more of them, but can you blame any one of them on climate change? That’s a case that most scientists might not make because it’s the wrong question to ask.

    AHEARN: What’s the right question to ask?

    MONTGOMERY: The right question to ask, particularly in terms of this landslide on the Stilly, is to what degree do we want to investigate the hazards that are out there in the world around us and communicate that to everybody in society so we can all make informed decisions about where we live, the risk we may be running, how our infrastructure is a raid on the landscape. And this place is a place that looks like it had slid before, so it was an identifiable hazard. But did the people living downhill and on the other side of the river, were they aware of it? And if not, that’s kind of a societal failing of communication. And so, there’s an information and education component that I think we could actually learn a lesson from this. It’s sadly too late for the people that live there, but even there, the question would be, if you had this risk of maybe someday this hill will come down, how do you weigh that against living in a beautiful spot in the bend of a river?

    Dave Montgomery is a geologist at the University of Washington. His latest book is “The Rocks Don’t Lie.”

    EarthFix is a public media project of Oregon Public Broadcasting and Boise State Public Radio, Idaho Public Television, KCTS 9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Southern Oregon Public Television and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post What happens in a mudslide? A geologist answers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    C. D. Wright reads her poem “Obscurity and Legacy” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

    Obscurity and Legacy

    After Pura López Colomé’s
    Fabula disuelta, ensimisada
    translated by Forrest Gander
    Again
    To get up
    To get up on legs that stretched, strode and straddled
    To unplug the mud from the end
    Of the barrel
    Again
    Which would involve
    Having hands
    Or
    Having a hand
    One that understood the consistency of mud
    Also
    What sprang from the same consistency
    The hand
    That hung their door at an angle
    That gawkily shore the lamb
    A hand that had warmed itself in the cavities
    Of a fallen man
    With barely suppressed feelings of kinship
    And
    Revulsion
    The same hand that dug a spud
    From an abandoned mound
    To eat with clods adhered to its skin
    A hand that felt secure
    Only
    If not
    Near peerless holding a pen
    Felt
    Natural, numerous, never-ending
    That peeled the skin off a birch
    After
    The writing paper was finished
    That he might inscribe
    His ardency
    Adieu
    That would drift past as a strip of charpie
    Then drift
    Past a window as a clean white shirt
    Bearing a husband
    Freshly bathed and shaved
    To get up
    Again
    On the undestroyed elbow
    Red and raw
    From the unpatched uniform
    Forced into wearing
    To be beside oneself
    To be up on one raw red elbow
    To have been forced
    Into uniform
    Beside blown off parts of oneself
    Before
    Being blown away not knowing
    Parts of his lonely body were gone
    His busted up bookish being fleeing
    And
    Once
    Blown over the furrows
    Once
    The creed crested so little would be left
    Ploughshare
    Broken coulter
    A few useless silver objects
    From
    An all but involuntary wedding
    And
    Now
    Never
    To come back
    To the everlasting paradigm
    Of the nearness of a known body
    Leaf on leaf worm on worm snow on snow
    Now
    Be the woman thoroughly exhausted
    Drained discolored defeated
    To have gotten up
    To have gone to her dresser
    Before
    Getting up
    Again
    And hoisting her hoe to the wrecked field
    To have gone to her dresser
    Before
    Seeing her wracked visage
    Now
    Be the shoulders dusted as shoulders can glare
    Be the credits scrolled slowly and boldly
    Be the air expanding at supersonic speed
    Be the windows let p and the tree
    The centenarian tree dependably there
    There
    The tree just
    Standing
    There
    The chestnut from which she descended
    Leaf on leaf
    Worm on worm
    Snow on snow
    Born from what resplendent reason
    To irrigate this dumb mud
    With his oblivious blood
    Who always thought he would
    Once
    Again
    Get up
    After sucking her breast
    After
    Putting away his nibs
    After
    An exceptional dinner with friends
    Die in the snow

    C. D. Wright’s poem “Obscurity and Legacy” is published in “Lines in Long Array: A Civil War Commemoration: Poems and Photographs, Past and Present.” In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Smithsonian’s National Poetry Gallery commissioned 12 modern poets to reflect on our contemporary understanding of the war.

    The post Weekly Poem: C. D. Wright reads ‘Obscurity and Legacy’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An Egyptian court sentenced 529 supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi to death Monday for murdering a police officer, among other charges, in relation to an attack on a police station in August 2013.

    A total of 545 defendants were tried in the case, with only 147 reported to be in attendance, and the rest tried in absentia. In the end, 16 defendants were acquitted.

    The mass trial, one of the largest in Egypt for decades, lasted two sessions before a decision was made. Defense lawyers for the hundreds of defendants say judges denied them extra time to review trial documents for their defense. One of the lawyers, Yasser Zidan, told The Associated Press that defense lawyers were prevented by security forces from attending the announcement of the verdicts.

    The post 529 Morsi supporters sentenced to death in Egypt appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    PBS NewsHour producer Morgan Till and chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner have been reporting from Ukraine for the last week and a half. They have reported from Crimea where the region’s ethnic Russian majority voted to secede and join Russia; they traveled to Donetsk in eastern Ukraine where loyalties to both Ukraine and Russia run deep; and Monday night they will be reporting from the capital Kiev, where Ukrainians have been rallying against Russian aggression.

    Along the way the pair made a stop about 15 miles outside Kiev, to the site of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s splashy villa. The former leader was ousted from power in February under pressure from the opposition.

    Till sent this notebook:

    At the end of a road dotted with nouveau-riche McMansions, stands a wrought iron gate, a guard house with bullet-proof windows and security cameras and as clear a “No trespassing” sign as the modern world provides. What sits beyond — on 300-plus wooded acres, on a bluff overlooking a lake — is Mezhyhirya, the garishly opulent estate Viktor Yanukovych built over the years, through his time as Ukraine’s Prime Minister and President.

    It is said that the property was once staffed with more than 350 workers to run its daily operations, and cost $10 million a year to operate. Among its amenities: at least four opulent homes; a petting zoo with ostrich and antelope, peacocks and deer; an acre green house under glass that rivals most arboretums; a golf course; a helipad and hangar; docks for a private navy; and an entertainment center with bowling alley, pool hall, tennis court, gym and boxing ring.

    Throughout, pictures of the former president in heroic poses abound. But today, an unpaid guard staff manages the grounds to ensure its preservation — as someone said to us, as a “monument to corruption.”

    The post Photos: Yanukovych’s lavish digs came complete with guard lion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Dead birds covered in black oil have been spotted on the shores of Galveston, Texas since Sunday’s oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

    The spill blocked a Houston ship channel, stopping about 60 vessels and cruise ships from entering the area. U.S. Coast Guard officials said it’s possible that as much as 168,000 gallons of oil spilled from a barge when one of the tanks ruptured. Oil has been detected 12 miles offshore in the gulf as of Sunday afternoon. Officials said it would take at least several days to contain the oil.

    The recent spill of black, heavy tar-like oil is a huge blow to the wildlife and small businesses nearby. Texas City’s shores are popular bird habitats, especially with the migratory shorebird season approaching soon. It also threatens small fishing businesses and can be a safety hazard for local residents.

    Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent investigators from the Texas Environmental Protection Division to Galveston on Monday, promising to help local businesses recover from the damage. His statements showed concerns for the ripple effect that could eventually damage the Texas economy.

    The post Galveston oil spill threatens local businesses and wildlife appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    World Leaders Gather For Nuclear Security Summit 2014

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: dismantling the world’s nuclear arsenal.

    Japan agreed today it would relinquish enough weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium to make dozens of nuclear weapons. The announcement came as leaders from around the globe gathered in The Hague for a nuclear security summit.

    Matthew Bunn, an expert on nuclear proliferation issues at the John F. Kennedy school of government at Harvard University, joins us to explain the day’s developments.

    So what led up to this handover, and if, in fact, they were so insecure, this fissile material, then what took so long?

    MATTHEW BUNN, Harvard University: Well, this is something the United States has been talking about with Japan for some years.

    And I wouldn’t say that it was very insecure in Japan. There have been some important security improvements there in recent years. After the 9/11 attacks, they added armed guards at this site. There have been some more significant security improvements quite recently.

    But this is really a tremendous step forward. This is some of the best material for terrorists if they could get their hands on it that exists in states without nuclear weapons. And now we’re going to be getting rid of it entirely. It’s material that’s really the same stuff you would get if you broke into a U.S. nuclear weapons facility, but not with the same kind of security that exists at those facilities here in the United States.

    GWEN IFILL: They also — I’m sorry. They also asked today that they would be doing the same — handing over some materials from Belgium and Italy and the U.S. would be taking control of these materials. Does that mean that it’s happening around the world, that there are a lot of locations where this material exists?

    MATTHEW BUNN: Well, actually, that’s right.

    This is one part of a much larger global effort that’s bringing these 53 countries together in The Hague. So far, just over the last five years, there are 13 countries that have eliminated all of the material on their soil that you could use to make a nuclear bomb. So that represents really in a very real sense bombs that will never go off.

    But, at this summit, we’re also seeing a lot of progress in other areas. There are going to be new initiatives where a number of countries agreement to follow IAEA regulations — that’s from the International Atomic Energy Agency — and to accept regular peer review of their securities arrangements.

    There’s going to be a new initiative on radiological sources that’s been announced. So there’s really quite a number of major steps that are being taken at this summit.

    GWEN IFILL: I have to ask you a really practical question. What happens to this material once it’s handed over? If it’s dangerous there, why isn’t it dangerous here?

    MATTHEW BUNN: Well, this is material that is going to be added to large stockpiles that already exist in the United States and already require very serious security.

    And then the sides have agreed that the highly enriched uranium will be blended down to low-enriched uranium. You can actually destroy highly enriched uranium so that it’s not useful in nuclear bombs anymore and use it for the standard fuel for nuclear power plants. And the plutonium will be added to whatever measure we eventually manage to figure out for our own stocks of excess plutonium.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, fewer — as you said, fewer nations now have this kind of material than had maybe five, even 10 years ago, but which nations still have it that you worry about the most?

    MATTHEW BUNN: Well, I would argue — and we argued in a report we just put out from Harvard University a few days ago — that pretty much every one of the dozens of countries where this material still exists has more to do to make sure that it is secure.

    There are about 30 countries where this material exists, although, in a handful of them, it’s less than a kilogram. And there are hundreds of buildings. But really the biggest stocks are in the United States and Russia, the two countries that have something like 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and more than three-quarters of the world’s potential nuclear bomb material.

    GWEN IFILL: Who pays for the transfer of this kind of material?

    MATTHEW BUNN: Well, Japan will pay the United States a fee for the management of this highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

    If past experience is any guide, that fee may not quite cover the full cost. So I would say, my guess is that, in the end, the United States and Japan will end up sharing the cost of managing this dangerous material, but I think that’s a worthwhile investment in U.S. security, because the reality is that insecure nuclear material anywhere is a threat to everyone everywhere.

    GWEN IFILL: And, Matthew Bunn, finally, how — how — is there any global agreement that’s being reached about how to track and secure this kind of material overall?

    MATTHEW BUNN: Well, that’s really one part of what we need to do as we look toward the next and probably last nuclear security summit that will be happening in Washington or somewhere in the United States in 2016.

    We need to put together a stronger global framework for managing nuclear security that includes effective standards, clear accountability to confirm that states are following those standards, and some way of continuing the dialogue so we can maintain momentum in improving nuclear security after we stop meeting at the summit level.

    GWEN IFILL: Matthew Bunn of the JFK School at Harvard, thanks so much.

    MATTHEW BUNN: Thank you.

    The post Japan surrenders part of its nuclear stockpile for disposal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Activists protest the surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA outside the Justice Department Jan. 17. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

    Activists protest the surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA outside the Justice Department Jan. 17. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    • Obama proposes NSA changes
    • Health care at the Supreme Court
    • Senate moves forward with Ukraine aid bill
    • Biden to New Hampshire
    • Scott Brown trades “Bqhatevwr” for “whatever”

    Obama proposes changes to NSA bulk data collection: President Obama is aiming to narrow the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data with a legislative proposal he will send to Congress, the New York Times reported last night and Morning Line confirms. The proposal, expected “in the coming days,” per a senior administration official, would move housing the data from the government to the phone companies, something the administration has been trying to do for months. It would also require companies to hold data for just a year and a half, rather than the five years the NSA currently holds onto them, which is more in line with federal regulations; the government would have to go to a FISA court to access the data, and could request phone calls and data for up to two connections or “hops” away (it was three before Obama changed that in January); and it will seek to clarify if bulk collection can be done under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The Bush administration argued it was allowed under that provision. The program, by the way, will remain in place until Congress acts; under the proposal, the program would remain in place for three months.

    The news comes just a day before the House Intelligence Committee was expected to unveil its bipartisan legislation on the NSA, days ahead of Friday’s deadline for the Department of Justice to submit its proposals to the White House, and after months of public pressure following revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The administration’s push seems designed to try and thread a needle and get key Democrats, who support the program -– like Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) -– on board. Feinstein defended the NSA program Friday, calling it an “important tool” and constitutional. She also said she could embrace proposed changes if they maintained “operational effectiveness.” A senior administration official said the change “ensures that the government has access to the information it needs to meet the national security needs.” That is going to be the key question for supporters of the program.

    Health care law back in court: The president signed the Affordable Care Act into law four years ago Sunday and his signature domestic achievement is still being hotly debated. The arguments on Tuesday will play out at the Supreme Court, where beginning at 10 a.m. ET justices will look at the question of whether for-profit corporations, citing religious objections, can refuse to provide health care coverage that includes contraceptive services. It’s a reminder that health care is not going away this election year. Republicans already are hitting Democrats with ads across the country, taking advantage of public disapproval of the rollout of the online exchange. A decision in the case is expected before the end of June. In 2012, Mr. Obama caught a break when the law was upheld. Does the same thing happen in June or does the law -– and Democrats -– take a hit just four months or so before the election? The court is also expected to hand down decisions Tuesday, with one of the pending cases dealing with campaign contribution limits. Tune in to the PBS NewsHour tonight for more on Tuesday’s action at the court with the National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle.

    Ukraine aid advances in Senate: A bill to provide aid to Ukraine cleared a procedural vote in the Senate Monday evening, 78-17, far more than the 60 votes needed. But 17 Republicans voted against cloture because they object to the inclusion of International Monetary Fund reforms in the bill, and some of them, like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are pushing for an amendment to remove the IMF reform issue. Others are advocating for a delay in IRS regulation of so-called social welfare organizations in return for inclusion of the IMF reforms. The bill is expected to pass the Senate sometime this week. But the stumbling block remains the House, which is considering its own version without the IMF funding.

    2016 watch – Biden to N.H.: Vice President Joe Biden happens to be heading to New Hampshire Tuesday to promote job-training programs and raise some money for Granite State Democrats facing tough re-election fights this fall. “Biden’s office says he will participate in photo lines benefiting Gov. Maggie Hassan, and New Hampshire Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster,” reports the Associated Press’ Josh Lederman. The New Hampshire visit, scheduled for 1:45 p.m. ET, is certain to stoke speculation about Biden’s intentions for 2016. The vice president hasn’t ruled out launching a third presidential bid, and fundraising for endangered Democrats is a good way to get in their good graces. The photo line option gives Biden an alternative to setting up a leadership PAC to dole out money to candidates, a strategy Politico’s Glenn Thrush notes the vice president continues to resist. There is no question Biden is laying the groundwork for a bid and will probably run IF Hillary Clinton doesn’t.

    2014 watch – Bqhatevwr: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who recently picked up a potential challenger in former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown, will not be joining Biden on the trip. Her office told the Nashua Telegraph that she would be in Washington Tuesday to chair a subcommittee hearing and for possible votes on the Ukraine aid package. Brown, meanwhile, is planning to capitalize on the vice president’s presence by visiting a New Hampshire hospital for an event his campaign says will be focused on “the harmful impacts of Obamacare on medical care and coverage in the Granite State.” That comes after Brown stumbled a bit in an interview with the AP: “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ‘Cause, you know, whatever. But I have long and strong ties to this state.” Brown’s answer shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though, given this nonchalant Twitter response of 2013.

    LINE ITEMS

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    The post Obama administration to rein in bulk data collection appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Senate and House appear headed for a standoff over competing bills to authorize sanctions on Russia and provide aid to Ukraine, potentially prolonging Congress’ inaction over the two weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in the Crimean peninsula.

    The Democratic-controlled Senate advanced its legislation in a 78-17 procedural vote Monday, sparing President Barack Obama an embarrassing setback while he uses his weeklong overseas trip to lobby allies to punish Moscow. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed in no mood to compromise with Republicans who oppose changes in the bill relating to the International Monetary Fund.

    Reid focused his ire on GOP senators who delayed his bill before lawmakers went on a break March 14. He urged them to consider “how their obstruction affects United States’ national security as well as the people of Ukraine” and said their delay of any congressional action “sent a dangerous message to Russian leaders.”

    “Since a few Republicans blocked these important sanctions last work period, Russian lawmakers voted to annex Crimea and Russian forces have taken over Ukrainian military bases,” the Nevada Democrat said. “It’s impossible to know whether events would have unfolded differently if the United States had responded to Russian aggression with a strong, unified voice.”

    Full passage of the Senate bill is likely later this week. But members of the Republican-led House are preparing to write their own Russia sanctions bill at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, supplementing the aid legislation they passed earlier this month. Neither includes any reference to IMF reforms, which House Speaker John Boehner has called unnecessary.

    At issue are changes that would increase the power of emerging countries in the IMF and shift some $63 billion from a crisis fund to a general account the lending body can use for economic stabilization operations around the world.

    Republicans have long spurned the administration’s attempt to ratify the IMF revisions, saying they would increase the exposure of U.S. taxpayers in foreign bailouts. Making the shift now, opponents argue, also would marginally increase Russia’s voting power over the fund’s finances.

    The Obama administration and Democrats counter that unless the U.S. approves the new rules, Washington will lose its influence at the IMF and hamper the body’s ability to avert economic meltdowns in places precisely like Ukraine. The U.S. is the only major country that has yet to sign off.

    Reid’s charge came despite widespread bipartisan support for providing Ukraine with aid and hitting Putin’s government with sanctions. GOP congressional aides noted the House has passed different legislation, meaning the Senate bill could not have become law before recess anyhow. They blamed Reid and Democrats for blocking the Senate from taking up the House legislation.

    Reid “sounds completely unhinged,” fired back Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “The House has acted, and is continuing to act, in a reasonable and responsible way to give the White House the tools it needs to hold President Putin accountable.”

    The Senate bill includes a proposal from one of Obama’s fiercest critics, Republican Sen. John McCain, enabling the president to impose economic penalties on Russian government officials for corruption even within Russia’s own borders. The broadness of the authorization is unprecedented for Russia, even if applying the sanctions would be at Obama’s discretion.

    “If we do not send this message now,” Republican Sen. John McCain said, “Putin will be encouraged to enact further acts of aggression against Crimea and in the region.”

    With American officials warning Russia could opt to expand farther into Ukraine, McCain urged his colleagues to look beyond the IMF provisions. He stressed the need for Congress to pass the Senate bill quickly.

    “If we do not send this message now,” McCain said, “Putin will be encouraged to enact further acts of aggression against Crimea and in the region.”

    The post Congress locked over Ukraine aid standoff appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama was in The Netherlands and Belgium on Tuesday for meetings with global leaders and for the Nuclear Security Summit.

    President Barack Obama said the United States is concerned about further encroachment by Russia into Ukraine during a joint news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in the Netherlands.

    Obama says that would be a bad choice for Russian President Vladimir Putin to make. He says there’s another path available to Russia, and that world leaders have created the framework for additional costs to be imposed on Russia if it takes the next step by moving further into Ukraine.

    Obama says he believes if Ukrainians have a choice, they’d seek to have a relationship with both Europe and Russia. He says it’s not a zero-sum game, and that the U.S. is not recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

    The post President Obama holds a joint press conference on nuclear security appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Leading Insurance Agency in Miami, Fla. offers enrollment services for Affordable Care Act plans. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Leading Insurance Agency in Miami, Fla. offers enrollment services for Affordable Care Act plans. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    The open enrollment period ends March 31, and people continue to have many questions about how the health law and the exchanges work.

    Q. I am an insurance agent. When I got trained for the California health insurance marketplace, we were told that the coverage on and off the exchange would be “mirrored” coverage, with the same benefits and providers. But that is not what I am hearing from my clients. Are the plans the same or not?

    A. The health law established standards that all new plans sold in the individual and small group markets must adhere to, no matter where they’re sold. All plans have to cover 10 essential health benefits, for example, and limit the maximum amount people owe out-of-pocket for in-network services to $6,350 for single coverage and $12,700 for families in 2014.

    Some states imposed additional requirements. California requires that plans sold on the health insurance exchange also be available off of it. A handful of other states also have rules that deal with similar situations regarding plan offerings on and off the exchanges. The purpose is to ensure that plans on the marketplaces – which may draw consumers’ interest because they offer premium subsidies — don’t attract disproportionate numbers of people with high health care costs.

    But insurers may make additional plans available outside the exchange that aren’t for sale on it, say experts. Insurance carriers that aren’t participating in the state marketplace may sell plans outside it, or insurers may offer plans with somewhat different benefits or broader provider networks than those that are available on the exchange.

    In California, for example, online health insurance vendor eHealth has six Anthem Blue Cross plans and four Kaiser Permanente plans for sale that aren’t available on Covered California, the state’s exchange, says Carrie McLean, director of customer care at eHealth.

    Q. Because my income is between 150 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of two, I qualified for premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions on a silver level plan. The plan I picked, with an annual family deductible of $3,000 and an out-of-pocket spending cap of $12,700, can link to a health savings account. With my cost-sharing reduction, the family deductible dropped to $800 and the annual out-of-pocket maximum dropped to $2,600. My question: How can this plan still meet the IRS requirements for HSA-qualified plans?

    A. It doesn’t. As you know, people with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $38,775 for a couple) may qualify for cost-sharing subsidies on the health insurance exchanges that reduce their out-of-pocket health care costs, including deductibles, copayments and their annual maximum out-of-pocket limit. The cost-sharing subsidies are only available to people who buy a silver-level plan. (Those with incomes up to 400 percent of poverty may also qualify for premium tax credits.)

    Health savings accounts can be used to save money tax free for medical expenses, but they have to be linked to a health plan that meets certain federal standards, including a family deductible of at least $2,500 and an out-of-pocket maximum spending limit of $12,700 in 2014.

    If the cost-sharing subsidies would reduce the deductible to below the minimum for HSA-qualified plans, people generally won’t be able to contribute to an HSA in those circumstances, according to a Treasury Department spokesperson.

    “For purposes of a health savings account, the cost-sharing reduction is considered in determining the deductible of the plan,” the spokesperson said. You could, however, consider buying the plan without the cost-sharing subsidies and then be eligible to contribute to an HSA, according to guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (See question 8.)

    Q. My son will be 19 in May. I claim him as a dependent on my taxes. If I don’t provide for his medical coverage and he is unemployed and makes no income, how is he supposed to pay his penalty? Or are they going to take his penalty out of my tax return because he is a dependent on my return?

    A. If you claim your son as a dependent, you’ll be responsible for paying the penalty if he doesn’t have health insurance this year.The penalty is the greater of $95 for every uninsured adult in a tax household or 1 percent of your annual family income over the income threshold that requires you to file a tax return. (The threshold is $13,050 for a head of household or $20,300 for a married couple filing jointly.).

    To qualify for the flat $95 fine, a family’s income would have to be quite low. For most families, the 1 percent penalty will apply, says Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. In your case, if your modified adjusted gross income is $60,000 and you file as head of household, the penalty would be $470 ($60,000 – $13,050 = $46,950 x 1 percent = $470).

    “We tell people, that child could cost a lot more than a spare bedroom,” says Haile.


    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. Jay Hancock contributed to this report.

    The post How do marketplace health care plans differ from others? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    If an interview request arrives last minute and you're not prepared, don't do the interview, says headhunter Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Zia Soleil/The Image Bank via Getty Images.

    If an interview request arrives last minute and you’re not prepared, don’t do the interview, says headhunter Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Zia Soleil/The Image Bank via Getty Images.

    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: Here’s the harsh reality of job interviewing. You apply for a job, you are called in for the interview, and there is no time to do all the research and preparation that you recommend we do. I have been in this spot, as I know most people have. How many times has a headhunter called at 4:00 p.m. and said, “I have a great job possibility for you. Are you available tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.?” How can you prepare yourself in the manner that you recommend? Should one just say no to the interview? I think not, especially when one has been out of work for a while. What is your answer?

    Nick Corcodilos: Why on earth would you want to go into an interview when you are unprepared and likely to embarrass yourself?

    I have three comments on this.

    1. Don’t apply if you didn’t choose the interview based on research.

    If you selected this company as one you want to work for, I expect you selected it for several good reasons, all based on your research. Even if you were introduced by a headhunter, due diligence is necessary. Thus, you must know quite a bit about the company. Otherwise, why interview?

    2. Good headhunters always prep their candidates.

    Any headhunter worth his salt has lots of information about his client company. If he isn’t willing to share it with you, you’re interviewing blindly. Why would you want to do that? If the headhunter doesn’t know enough about the company to be able to prep you thoroughly, then the company is not his client. (See “Is your resume spaghetti?”) You’re wasting your time. (If you need help figuring out whether the headhunter knows what he’s doing, see my PDF book “How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.”)

    3. Preparation is more important than showing up on demand.

    A request for an interview is not a command. It’s an invitation. You are allowed to say to the headhunter, “I need two days to prepare properly for this interview — to optimize my chances of success as well as your chances of earning a placement fee.” What idiot of a headhunter would want to send an unprepared candidate to an interview? (Hint: One whose placement strategy is scheduling as many interviews as possible rather than a few good ones.)

    Please remember: Both you and the headhunter have an immense responsibility to make a job interview productive and profitable. Both your reputations are on the line. If you’re dealing with lousy headhunters, stop. If you’re desperate to interview as often as possible under any circumstance, stop.

    My answer: Decline the interview until you are prepared. This isn’t a race. It’s business, and unprepared business people lose.

    Dear Readers: What happened the last time you went on an interview unprepared? Is there a way to fake it that actually works? How do you deal with situations like this?


    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: Don’t go to a job interview you’re not ready for appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Elementary student takes a math test

    An elementary school student draws a 3 and 1/4-inch line as part of a math test. Creative Commons image by Judy Baxter via flickr.

    Indiana has become the first state to drop the Common Core standards for teaching math and English in public schools. Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation making the withdrawal official late Monday. The move came at the start of a week that also kicks off field testing of new standardized tests based on the Common Core in 34 states.

    “By signing this legislation, Indiana has taken an important step forward in developing academic standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high,” Pence said in a statement.

    While Indiana was one of the first states to adopt the standards in 2010 — which set out guidelines for the topics and skills students should study at each grade level — opposition to the guidelines has been building since Pence took office in 2012. Last year, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature put the standards roll-out on hold and work began on drawing up Indiana’s own standards.

    But critics of Common Core may not be satisfied with the move. Sandra Stotsky, a retired University of Arkansas professor who reviewed Indiana’s new standards at Pence’s request, told the Indy Star that the state’s new English standards amounted to a “warmed-over version of Common Core’s standards.”

    However, Pence thinks Indiana could help lead the way out of the Common Core for many states, just as it led the way in.

    “I believe when we reach the end of this process there are going to be many other states around the country that will take a hard look at the way Indiana has taken a step back, designed our own standards and done it in a way where we drew on educators, we drew on citizens, we drew on parents and developed standards that meet the needs of our people,” he said.

    Oklahoma is among the other states considering legislation to scrap the standards. Critics believe the standards amount to a federal takeover of public education, while supporters argue the Common Core is an improvement over the previous mixed bag of state-designed standards. They believe the standards’ focus on skills like critical thinking and problem solving will better prepare students for college and the workplace.

    The Common Core standards were developed by the National Governors Association and state superintendents of education. Their adoption was pushed by the Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant program.

    PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post In an about-face, Indiana decides to drop Common Core appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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