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

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    SHEFAYEE/AFP/Getty Images

    Afghan woman crowd a polling location in Bamiyan on Saturday to cast their ballots for the country’s next president. Despite fears of violence, millions of people came out to vote for President Hamid Karzai’s replacement. Credit: Shefayee/AFP/Getty Images

    Thousands of security forces were posted throughout Kabul on Saturday in anticipation of possible violence during Afghanistan’s presidential election.

    The voting represented the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the Taliban was removed from power more than a decade ago.

    While there were reports of small attacks throughout the country, millions of voters flocked to polling stations to cast their ballot for candidates vying to replace president Hamid Karzai.

    Karzai showed up to vote at a school near the presidential palace. ”Today for us, the people of Afghanistan, is a very vital day that will determine our national future,” he said.

    In a statement, President Obama called the elections “another important milestone in Afghans taking full responsibility for their country as the United States and our partners draw down our forces.”

    Some polling locations reportedly stayed open for an extra hour to accommodate the unexpected number of voters. In others, stations ran out of ballots, with more than one-third of the country’s provinces reporting shortages.

    There were also reports of ballot stuffing, and in one case, a group of observers from Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign barred a box of ballots to be transported for counting.

    Results of the vote will likely take at least one week to finalize, but partial results could be released as early as Sunday.

    Many anticipate a runoff vote as none of the eight candidates are expected to receive a majority.

    The post Voters overwhelm polling stations in Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Millions of voters came out for the presidential elections in Afghanistan on Saturday in the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the Taliban were ousted from power. The scene varied throughout the country with violence reported in some areas and ballot shortages in others. What was it like at the polls today? Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Kevin Sieff, the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Kabul, about what he observed on the ground and the candidates vying to replace President Hamid Karzai.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about today’s voting in Afghanistan we’re joined now from Kabul by Kevin Sieff; he’s the Washington Post’s bureau chief there. So you were out at the polls today, what were the scenes like?

    KEVIN SIEFF: You know I think it depends where you were in Afghanistan today. In Kabul the lines were very long, lots of men and women voting. In some places they actually ran out of ballots there were so many people who wanted to vote. But where I spent most of the day, in Wardak Province about 70 miles south of Kabul, there were very few voters, quite a bit of sort of small scale Taliban violence and people worried about the insurgence potentially punishing voters after casting their ballots. So I think it really varied across the country pretty wildly.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the leading candidates?

    KEVIN SIEFF: Leading candidates are Ashraf Ghani who’s a former World Bank official, Johns Hopkins professor, Ph.D from Columbia University who ran in 2009 and I think got around 3 percent of the votes, did very very poorly. But this time has managed to really galvanize a huge number of Afghan voters, in part by choosing a very controversial vice president — a warlord named Dostun — who is very, very popular with certain ethnic groups, but has a sort of sketchy history. The other candidate who is doing very well is doctor Abdullah Abdullah who also ran in 2009, did very well, came in second to Karzai. And Abdullah is the most prominent Tajik candidate, maybe the most prominent Tajik in the country at this point and will do very well in the first rounds. But the question is in a country where the majority of the population are ethnic pashtuns, will Abdullah an ethnic Tajik be able to win the election — that seems unlikely.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so you have one candidate that is favored by Hamid Karzai and he’s the one that’s trailing in the polls and has a vice presidential candidate that’s a women.

    KEVIN SIEFF: Yeah, I mean Karzai has not publicly articulated any kind of preference. There is widespread perception that he’s favoring Doctor Zalmai Rassoul, his former foreign minister. But it’s unclear exactly what that preference would mean if it in fact was true. But yeah, Rassoul is a French educated physician, he has a female vice president which would obviously be very historic thing in Afghanistan. But according to the polls which of course aren’t precise in Afghanistan, he is in a distant third.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: If one of these candidates comes into power, is there a difference in policy likely that will keep U.S. troops on the ground longer?

    KEVIN SIEFF: You know it’s been a bit of a guessing game from at the U.S. embassy to figure out you know would there be a real difference in the way these guys would govern, the way they would deal with the U.S. and the international community. At this point they’ve all said almost exactly the same thing, which is that they understand that a good relationship with the U.S., with the West, is actually crucial to the future of Afghanistan. Of course, we heard Hamid Karzai say that a few years ago, and obviously he speaks very differently now. So the question is once these guys are elected, will they sort of change their tune. I think it’s very hard for an Afghan leader because you have to balance the sort of the importance of stressing Afghan sovereignty, which Karzai has done, with the recognition that this country will actually implode without foreign funding, especially without American funding.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright Kevin Sieff, Washington Post bureau chief in Kabul. Thanks so much.


    The post Voters head to the polls in Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Award-winning author Peter Matthiessen died at his home on in Sagaponack, N.Y. of leukemia on Saturday. He was 86. Matthiessen was known as a novelist and non-fiction writer as well as for his work as an environmental activist and American Indian rights advocate.

    Mr. Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books. He was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, talking about the book that “was likely to be his last.” And, Sunday’s New York Times Magazine features a profile of the dying author, “Peter Matthiessen’s Homecoming.”

    NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown had a long conversation with Matthiessen in 2008 about his National Book Award winner, “Shadow Country.” The book told the story of a man named Edgar Watson was shot and killed in 1910 by a group of his neighbors on Florida’s southwest coast. He’d been a leading pioneer in the Everglades, a successful businessman, and almost certainly a murderer.

    The post Author and environmentalist Peter Matthiessen is dead at 86 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Pilar Abaroa, Communications Manager of Bombardier Aerospace Mexico and Martin Fletcher at the plant in Queretaro, Mexico.

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    MARTIN FLETCHER: When it comes to Mexico, the news is often of drug cartels…violence…illegal immigration…

    But there’s another story in Mexico…America of course has long been a magnet for Mexican workers, but more and more job seekers are coming here to the state of Querétaro. It’s one of Mexico’s smaller states, about an hour’s drive from the capital. It’s a relatively crime-free area. Socially, politically it’s been stable for a long time, and more and more international companies are flocking here.

    Of all the cities in the world, this small Mexican town had the highest growth last year in foreign direct investment — that’s money invested directly into local business. And its population is growing rapidly too.

    With its colonial center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its new industrial parks, the poster child for Mexico’s burgeoning new economy is here in Querétaro.

    Oscar Aguilar, a local journalist, reports on the growth of the town, and the companies investing here.

    OSCAR AGUILAR: Bombardier, American Airlines, Aeromexico, Samsung, Honda.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Siemens, General Electric as well.

    OSCAR AGUILAR: Yes, yes.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: So this means a lot of jobs for the people?


    MARTIN FLETCHER: Those new jobs are attracting Mexicans seeking stability and safety — like Aguilar himself. He was a journalist in the state of Sinaloa, 700 miles away, until –

    OSCAR AGUILAR: The teammate that I had died because of the drug dealers.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: How did he die?

    OSCAR AGUILAR: They arrived into their house, they broke into their house and shot him into the head. Him, his wife, his two daughters, and the two grandmas that were living there. I said no I don’t, I ain’t gonna expose my life.”

    MARTIN FLETCHER: He moved to Querétaro with his wife Anel and daughter, Tammy.

    OSCAR AGUILAR: How was your day? Give me my kiss. My kiss. Good.

    Queretaro means a town that gave me a job, gave me stability, and gave me an opportunity to grow with my family.


    OSCAR AGUILAR: Safely.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: It’s believed at least 70,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars since 2006.

    But Querétaro, nestled in the country’s interior, has been relatively untouched. Although a drug lord was killed here recently — it has one of the lowest murder rates in the country and it’s far from states like Sinaloa and Chihuahua that have the highest incidents of homicide.

    And now new government reforms aim to bring economic stability and safety beyond small pockets like Querétaro — and extend them to Mexico’s 120 million people.

    MEXICAN FINANCE SECRETARY LUIS VIDEGARAY: Perhaps no other country has had such a successful year as we did last year in terms of changing things in the Mexican economy: in energy, telecommunications, the fiscal front, financial reform. We did many things that better the prospects of growth for Mexico.”

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Manufacturing is booming, especially for export. Take the auto industry. Next year, Mexico should become America’s number one source for cars, exporting more to the United States than Japan or Canada.

    And last year Mexico’s 47-year-old president Enrique Peña Nieto began his term of office with a dramatic series of reforms to open up the Mexican economy even further.

    In the energy sector, Peña Nieto broke the 75-year state oil monopoly, with a constitutional amendment allowing private companies to invest in the industry.

    On education, the government broke the teacher union’s hold on school staffing, by passing a bill to stop the sale and inheritance of teaching jobs.

    And for the broader economy, Peña Nieto and his allies increased competition, by passing new tax and banking reforms.

    The president hopes his reforms bring more success stories like that of Bombardier, the Canadian company that makes the Learjet. Their facility is just a 30 minute drive from the center of boomtown Querétaro.

    PILAR ABAROA, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, BOMBARDIER AEROSPACE MEXICO: In 2005 there was nothing here. It was a green field.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Bombardier invested half a billion dollars in this division in Querétaro – its 45 employees here have grown to 1,800. Two dozen more aviation companies joined them in the area.The new Lear jet 85 should be delivered by the end of this year.

    PILAR ABAROA: We’re manufacturing from here to here – which is the front fuselage, and we’re manufacturing around from here to here, which is the aft fuselage, and we will do the wings assembly too.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Parts manufactured in Mexico, trucked to Wichita, Kansas for assembly, for a company headquartered in Quebec, Canada.

    More centers of growth like Querétaro –- that’s the goal of the new government’s economic reforms.

    Though Mexico’s economy slipped in the last quarter of 2013, economists expect growth to rebound. And this February the credit agency Moody’s upgraded Mexico to an A rating — on hopes Peña Nieto’s government will put those reforms into action.

    Those reforms you’re mentioning have been signed into law, but have yet for the most part to be implemented.

    LUIS VIDEGARAY: Absolutely.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: And the distance from signing a piece of paper to implementing it is a long way.

    LUIS VIDEGARAY: Well reform is change, and there’s always resistance to change.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Already the teacher’s union has launched a series of bitter protests,

    While analysts — like political scientist Denise Dresser — believe the billionaire leaders of industry will not easily give up their power.

    DENISE DRESSER: What Peña Nieto would like to see is a more competitive, level playing field form of economic development. But the vested interests are very strong. And those vested interests are not going to give up without a fight.”

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Can Peña Nieto carry out his reforms? What is sure is that he is deflecting Mexico’s narrative away from this, the drug war, which recently saw a significant development:

    {News coverage}

    From drugs and thugs to manufacturing hubs. That’s the story the government wants to tell. And there’s a lot of truth in the story of Mexico’s industrial growth.

    Demand for Mexican made goods has helped drive the manufacturing sector in the country.

    Mexico’s trade with the United States amounts to half a trillion dollars a year, and both sides want that to grow.

    Mexico’s already America’s third largest trading partner after Canada and China. And Mexico’s advantages over China are clear – it’s closer, so has lower transport costs. And its labor costs are static, while China’s are growing.

    And it’s not just factories that are growing here.

    Back in Querétaro, Roberto Ibañez manages a growing, state-of-the-art business park — helping put a new face on Mexico, encouraging commercial investors.

    ROBERTO IBAÑEZ: We have a commercial center in here, we have two hotels.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Twenty-four companies rent space here, half from overseas.

    ROBERTO IBAÑEZ: I have Pepsi Cola, Ericsson, I have Axa Insurance Company.”

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Eighteen hundred people work here, and growing fast.

    ROBERTO IBAÑEZ: I am going to build nine more buildings.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: And how many of those buildings have already been rented out?

    ROBERTO IBAÑEZ: Three. I already have three rented.

    MARTIN FLETCHER: Still, skilled labor is key to Mexico’s continued growth. So Querétaro’s leaders established an aeronautical university in a vast hangar next to the city’s air field, less than a mile from Bombardier. All its employees trained here.

    A hundred graduates a year find jobs in Mexico’s growing aviation industry. And their key market is North America.

    This the students’ first exam after three weeks of school. The plane should stay in the air for four seconds…

    It’s a work in progress — like the Mexican economy.

    The post ‪Boomtowns spur economic growth in Mexico‬ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera participate in a joint news conference at the Japanese Minister of Defense headquarters April 6, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan.

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera participate in a joint news conference at the Japanese Minister of Defense headquarters April 6, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan.

    TOKYO — U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered a two-pronged warning to Asia Pacific nations Sunday, announcing that the U.S. will send two additional ballistic missile destroyers to Japan to counter the North Korean threat, and saying China must better respect its neighbors.

    In unusually forceful remarks about China, Hagel drew a direct line between Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the ongoing territorial disputes between China, Japan and others over remote islands in the East China Sea.

    “I think we’re seeing some clear evidence of a lack of respect and intimidation and coercion in Europe today with what the Russians have done with Ukraine,” Hagel told reporters after a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera. “We must be very careful and we must be very clear, all nations of the world, that in the 21st century this will not stand, you cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force, coercion and intimidation whether it’s in small islands in the Pacific or large nations in Europe.”

    Hagel, who will travel to China later this week, called the Asian nation a “great power,” and added, “with this power comes new and wider responsibilities as to how you use that power, how you employ that military power.”

    He said he will talk to the Chinese about having respect for their neighbors, and said, “coercion, intimidation is a very deadly thing that leads only to conflict. All nations, all people deserve respect no matter how large or how small.”

    Still, he said he looks forward to having an honest, straightforward dialogue with the Chinese to talk about ways the two nations and their militaries can work better together.

    The announcement of the deployments of additional destroyers to Japan came as tensions with North Korea spiked again, with Pyongyang continuing to threaten additional missile and nuclear tests.

    In recent weeks the North has conducted a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches that are considered acts of protest against annual ongoing springtime military exercises by Seoul and Washington. North Korea says the exercises are rehearsals for invasion.

    North and South Korea also fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other’s waters in late March in the most recent flare-up.

    Standing alongside Onodera at the defense ministry, Hagel said they discussed the threat posed by Pyongyang. He said the two ships are in response to North Korea’s “pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions” that violate U.N. resolutions and also will provide more protection to the U.S. from those threats.

    On Friday, North Korea accused the U.S. of being “hell-bent on regime change” and warned that any maneuvers with that intention will be viewed as a “red line” that will result in countermeasures. Pyongyang’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Ri Tong Il, also said his government “made it very clear we will carry out a new form of nuclear test” but refused to provide details.

    The two additional ships would bring the total to seven U.S. ballistic missile defense warships in Japan, and it continues U.S. efforts to increase its focus on the Asia Pacific.

    The ships serve as both defensive and offensive weapons. They carry sophisticated systems that can track missile launches, and their SM-3 missiles can zero in on and take out short- to medium-range missiles that might be fired at U.S. or allied nations. They can also carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can be launched from sea and hit high-value targets or enemy weapons systems from afar, without risking pilots or aircraft.

    Hagel is on a 10-day trip across the Asia Pacific, and just spent three days in Hawaii meeting with Southeast Asian defense ministers, talking about efforts to improve defense and humanitarian assistance cooperation. Japan is his second stop, where he said he wants to assure Japanese leaders that the U.S. is strongly committed to protecting their country’s security.

    Japan and China have been engaged in a long, bitter dispute over remote islands in the East China Sea. The U.S. has said it takes no side on the question of the disputed islands’ sovereignty, but it recognizes Japan’s administration of them and has responsibilities to protect Japanese territory under a mutual defense treaty.

    Onodera said he and Hagel talked about the islands, known as Senkaku by Japan and Diayou by China, and the concerns about any changes to the status quo there.

    Hagel said the U.S. wants the countries in the region to resolve the disputes peacefully. But he added that the United States would honor its treaty commitments.

    The ships are just the latest move in America’s effort to beef up Japan’s defenses. Last October, the U.S. and Japan agreed to broad plans to expand their defense alliance, including the decision to position a second early warning radar there by the end of this year. There is one in northern Japan and the second one would be designed to provide better missile defense coverage in the event of a North Korean attack.

    The U.S. will begin sending long-range Global Hawk surveillance drones to Japan this month for rotational deployments. They are intended to help step up surveillance around the Senkaku islands.

    The post Hagel delivers destroyers to Japan and a strong warning to North Korea and China appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has released dramatic video of a “mid-level” solar flare from April 2.

    Flares are short, powerful bursts of radiation emitted from the sun’s surface.

    NASA says the radiation cannot penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere, but on rare occasions, the radiation can disrupt GPS and other communication technologies.

    From the Observatory:

    This flare is classified as an M6.5 flare. M-class flares are ten times less powerful than the most intense flares, which are labeled X-class. The number after the M provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense.

    The post NASA sets solar flare images to music appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 26: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) speaks during his weekly news conference March 26, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner discuss various topics including the Ukraine Aid Bill. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) speaks during his weekly news conference March 26. Speaker Boehner oversaw negotiations on new legislation to expand coverage choices for small businesses. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — At the prodding of business organizations, House Republicans quietly secured a recent change in President Barack Obama’s health law to expand coverage choices, a striking, one-of-a-kind departure from dozens of high-decibel attempts to repeal or dismember it.

    Democrats describe the change involving small-business coverage options as a straightforward improvement of the type they are eager to make, and Obama signed it into law. Republicans are loath to agree, given the strong sentiment among the rank and file that the only fix the law deserves is a burial.

    “Maybe you say it helps (Obamacare), but it really helps the small businessman,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., one of several physician-lawmakers among Republicans and an advocate of repeal.

    No member of the House GOP leadership has publicly hailed the fix, which was tucked, at Republicans’ request, into legislation preventing a cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

    It is unclear how many members of the House rank and file knew of it because the legislation was passed by a highly unusual voice vote without debate.

    Several lobbyists and Republican aides who monitored the issue said the provision reflects a calculation that no matter how hard the party tries, the earliest the law can be repealed is after Obama leaves office in 2017. In the meantime, according to this line of thinking, small-business owners need all the flexibility that can get to comply with it.

    One repeal-favoring Republican lawmaker took a similar view. “I was brought up in a family of 12. My mother taught me to be patient,” said Rep. Tom Reed of New York, who backed a stand-alone bill to make the same change.

    The provision itself was relatively minor. It eliminated a cap on deductibles for small group policies offered inside the law’s health care exchanges as well as outside; the cap was set at $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.

    Republicans said they sought it so small businesses can offer high-deductible plans that could be purchased by individuals who also have health savings accounts. These tax-preferred accounts are a long-time favorite of many Republicans, who say they give consumers greater control over their own health care.

    The health law contains no deductible caps for individual plans or those offered by large employers, and the Department of Health and Human Services already had waived them for small businesses through 2015. The legislation means they will never go into effect.

    As yet, there is no indication the change in course heralds any sort of significant pre-election change in attitude by Republicans, who last week engineered their 52nd vote in the House to repeal or dismember the law. They have said they intend to make its elimination a key element in the November election.

    At the same time, though, administration officials announced last week that more than 7 million people have signed up for coverage. Democrats hope to counter demands for repeal by challenging critics to explain why they want to eliminate some of politically popular provisions such as guaranteed of coverage for pre-existing condition or plans without a lifetime cap in coverage costs.

    Fittingly in an era of divided government, now that the change has been made, officials in both parties are once more at odds, each describing it as a victory for their side in a ceaseless political struggle.

    Asked if the legislation strengthened the law, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “I would hope so. I believe that” it does. He added, “So there are changes being made. But the Republicans have to get over if they hate `Obamacare’ and are going to repeal it,” he added.

    Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said, “This is another in a series of changes to Obamacare that the House has supported to help save Americans from being harmed by the law, and we’re glad to see the President signed it into law.” Cantor was involved in negotiations on the legislation, which were overseen by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Reid.

    While Cooper described the change merely as one of several designed to prevent harm, the episode marks the first time Republicans have agreed to make it easier for anyone to obtain coverage under the law.

    According to a list maintained by the office of the House Republican whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, five of the eight previous changes signed by Obama reduced funding; one repealed a minor voucher provision; one jettisoned a section dealing with home care for the elderly; and the other eliminated a tax reporting requirement.

    In this case, though, large business organizations that support repeal pressed Republicans to make the change.

    “Repealing the annual limitation on deductible would free up an important “lever” that employers need as they struggle to design affordable plans that meet the requirements” of the law, R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote senior lawmakers. He expressed satisfaction with HHS’ waiver, yet added, “a more permanent and predictable solution is critical.”

    Democrats said the now-defunct limitation was inserted into the original law in an unsuccessful attempt to win the vote of former Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. She supported the bill in the Senate Finance Committee but opposed it on the Senate floor.

    Associated Press Special Correspondent David Espo wrote this report.

    The post GOP quietly secures change in health care law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    This diagram illustrates the possible interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: A report published this week in Science magazine offered new remarkable details about the presence of water on one of Saturn’s moons. It once again stirred talk about the possibility of life elsewhere in our solar system. For more, we are joined from Los Angeles by David Stevenson of the California Institute of Technology. He co-authored the article.

    So tell us about this moon, Enceladus. You knew about it, quite a bit about it before. Tell us what you found and how did you find it?

    DAVID STEVENSON: So we knew already that Enceladus has geysers. Water coming out of cracks near the south pole. But we didn’t know what was beneath the surface. What we’ve now done by tracking the Cassini spacecraft, which is in orbit around Saturn, is figure out that there must be excess mass underneath the ice at the south pole. And water will do that because water is more dense than ice. This is an ocean that is about the size of Lake Superior, perhaps even larger and it is about 10 kilometers thick. So it’s a lot of water.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Why is this exciting? This is maybe a basic science question – if this planet is further from the sun than we are and it’s incredibly cold – a few hundred degrees below zero – how is it possible that water exists there?

    DAVID STEVENSON: The way water is produced in Enceladus is by tides. Enceladus is in orbit around Saturn. The orbit is not circular so that as the satellite goes around Saturn is gets flexed and this heats the ice and allows it to melt in part. A similar effect happens in Europa which is a moon of Jupiter.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So is it possible for this to mean that there is life there? I mean water is one of those things that we always look for to see if life can exist right?

    DAVID STEVENSON: Yes, that’s right. Actually, water is quite common. Water is present in many of the icy bodies in the outer solar system, I suspect, we don’t know for sure. I think one of the interesting things about Enceladus, and also Europa, is that that water is likely to be in contact with rock underneath the ocean. And when you have water and rock and energy sources you have chemistry. And so indeed it seems to create a lot of the conditions that we think are suitable for life.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:: All right so what happens next? The Cassini spacecraft is going to continue on for a couple of years and do a couple of more flybys of this moon. What are you looking for?

    DAVID STEVENSON: Well, certainly it would be nice to get a little more information about Enceladus. We’re not going to be more information about the gravity which is the method that we used to reach this result. The Cassini mission will end by coming in very close Saturn – getting inside the rings of Saturn — and that will be really exciting. In 2017 we’ll be able to collect additional data about Saturn. As for Enceladus, I think that if we’re really going to figure out what’s going on there we have to have to be talking about a mission sometime in the future – a decade or so – as indeed we should for Europa as well.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right David Stevenson from CalTech, joining us from California, thanks so much.

     DAVID STEVENSON: Thank you.


    The post New report shows water on Saturn’s moon appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We want to take another look tonight at the latest unemployment report. For more about that, we are joined now from Washington by Nela Richardson. She is a senior economist with Bloomberg.

    So we’ve heard that all the jobs lost in the recession have been recovered, but there’s quite a few people saying that not all jobs are created equal.

    NELA RICHARDSON: That’s absolutely right Hari. Actually, it’s an important milestone but it’s a milestone that doesn’t tell the whole story. The quality of the jobs that have been created in the past five years since the Great Depression are of less quality and lesser pay than the ones that were lost. And that is as important to the recovery – job quality – as the number of jobs created every month.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what sort of jobs did we lose and what sort of jobs did we recover?

    NELA RICHARDSON: You know the BLS also put out another set of analyses that said of the top ten jobs – ten occupations – created in March, nine of the had average wages below what the annual average is for occupational jobs. Only registered nurses made more than the average. The others were in low-pay jobs like cashiers or secretarial services ranging from about $18,000 to $34,000 annually a year, when the average is about $44,000 a year. So again we’re creating lower pay job sin our biggest sectors than were lost in the Great Recession.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So are these jobs or these pay scales keeping up with inflation?

    NELA RICHARDSON: Well, they’re basically treading water right now. Janet Yellen said in a recent speech that at best wage growth has grown by two percentage points. When you look at what low-wage workers spend their money on — food and energy – that is not keeping up with bulk of their budget. Energy prices have gone up over 100 percent since the Great Recession. We’re looking at food prices that have gone up on average over 47 percent . So a 2 and a quarter average annual increase in wages simply won’t cut it for a lot of Americans.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So most people look at the stock market and the incredible success that’s had in the last few of years – how come that’ s not translating into good paying jobs?

    NELA RICHARDSON: Well that’s a great question and it’s a hard question to answer. Right now companies are sitting on a lot of cash. So the cash is available to create new jobs. The question is the incentive – are companies still fearing risk coming down the road? Is it a lack of demand? This is a question that needs to be answered because we are not getting these good quality jobs that the market needs. It’s also important to understand that the government is not adding jobs. They are not playing their role either. We lost 85,000 net federal jobs last year. So you have our two big sectors not creating those good paying jobs any more.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And long-term unemployment continues to be a problem.

    NELA RICHARDSON: Right, 3.7 million Americans have been out of work for six months or more. There are several things that people are trying to do to support the long-term unemployed. One of the most headlined of which is extension of the unemployment insurance benefits which is still making its way through Congress. If that is not resolved by the end of the year, 4 million plus Americans will not have unemployment benefits that need them who are still out of work.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So this might be an economist’s debate, but is this structural unemployment or cyclical unemployment? And why does that matter to most Americans?

    NELA RICHARDSON: Well it matters and it is an economists’ debate that economists take very seriously. It matters because if it is indeed cyclical, than the Fed policy of keeping interest rates very low and working through the markets to create new jobs will work eventually. Because eventually theses low interest costs will incentivize companies to create the jobs that we’re all waiting for. But if it is indeed structural, meaning that companies do have job openings and American workers don’t have the skills to meet those jobs, then we have a whole other class of problems that will take years and lots of money to resolve – not just a few quarters.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Nela Richardson joining us from Washington from Bloomberg. Thanks so much.

    NELA RICHARDSON: Thank you.

    The post What’s the quality of the jobs gained in March? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    From New Jersey to the Navajo Nation, more than $5 billion has been designated to clean up contaminated areas following the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.

    The settlement announced Thursday stems from a legal battle over a company, Kerr-McGee, that the Justice Department said left behind a legacy of environmental grievances, including polluting Lake Mead in Nevada with rocket fuel.

    Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post joins NewsHour for a Google+ hangout to speak on the federal government’s settlement with Anadarko Petroleum. 

    The funds will be used to clean up of dozens of sites across 22 states and the Navajo Nation, and will provide compensation for the more than 7,000 people living with issues stemming from the contamination.

    Credit: Washington Post

    This map illustrates the areas impacted by Kerr-McGee’s legacy. Credit: Washington Post

    “This settlement agreement with the Litigation Trust and the U.S. Government eliminates the uncertainty this dispute has created, and the proceeds will fund the remediation and cleanup of the legacy environmental liabilities and tort claims,” Anadarko Chairman, President and CEO Al Walker said in a statement.

    “Investor focus can now return to the tremendous value embedded in Anadarko’s asset base, allowing our peer-leading operational and exploration results to again become the basis for valuation. We are grateful to our stakeholders who have maintained their confidence and trust in our people and our assets.”

    To learn more about the settlement, I spoke with Juliet Eilperin, who has been covering the story for the Washington Post.

    According to Eilperin, the contamination left by Kerr-McGee was so serious that the Navajo Nation published a comic book for children warning of the dangers of drinking from or swimming in affected water sources.

    The post Unpacking the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Mickey Rooney in a 1940 studio portrait.

    Mickey Rooney in a 1940 studio portrait.

    Mickey Rooney, a Hollywood legend whose acting career spanned nine decades across film, television and stage, died Sunday night from natural causes at his North Hollywood home at the age of 93.

    Rooney, born Joseph Yule Jr. in Brooklyn, New York in 1920, was one of the last surviving members of the studio era. Rooney found his way onto the stage before the age of two in his parents’ vaudeville act and broke into short films playing the title role in 78 Mickey McGuire shorts released from 1927 to 1936. Soon after, he started a successful film career debuting in 1937’s “A Family Affair,” earning a Juvenile Oscar in 1939 and holding the title of biggest box office draw for three consecutive years from 1939 to 1941.

    Mickey Rooney alongside Judy Garland in 1939’s “Babes in Arms”

    Through the rest of his life, Rooney would continue to “put on a show” on the big and small screens, as well as the stage. His roles included numerous and famous collaborations with Judy Garland in movies such as 1939’s “Babes in Arms.” Rooney took his talents to Broadway in 1979′s “Sugar Babies.” And he starred in The Family Channel’s 1990 televison series “The Adventures of the Black Stallion.” Working in every decade since the 1920s, Rooney was acting right up to his death. He was in the process of filming scenes reprising his role of “Gus” for the upcoming “Night at the Museum 3.”

    “I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done,” Rooney once said. “I only wish I could have done more.”

    The post Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney ‘put on a show’ in nine-decade career appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    According to the NASA spacesuit voting site, the "Trends in Society" design is based on what everyday clothes may look like in the not too distant future.

    According to the NASA spacesuit voting site, the “Trends in Society” design is based on what everyday clothes may look like in the not too distant future.

    Who says astronauts can’t be fashionable in the Final Frontier — or at least while in training? Not NASA, which is why the space agency has launched a contest to select a style that will serve as a cover for their latest prototype spacesuit, the Z-2.

    Online voters can select one of three designs that will be used as a cover to protect the spacesuit from abrasions while astronauts train in multiple vacuum chamber tests and at a rocky Martian surface analog site at the Johnson Space Center. Ultimately, these tests will guide NASA in designing their next spacesuit.

    As of April 7, the "Technology" design was the lead vote-getter. Photo by NASA

    As of April 7, the “Technology” design was the lead vote-getter. Photo by NASA

    The design names reflect the designers’ inspiration: “Biomimicry,” “Technology” and “Trends in Society.” The styles were produced in collaboration with ILC, the primary suit vendor; and Philadelphia University School of Design and Engineering.

    “Space is cool. Shouldn’t spacesuits be?” NASA’s Amy J. Ross, the lead for advanced pressure garment development, told The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal. “So far the ‘Technology’ design is winning by a good margin over the other two.”

    Voting is open through April 15.

    The "Biomimicry" design features electroluminescent wire that becomes apparent in reduced light. Photo by NASA

    The “Biomimicry” design features electroluminescent wire that becomes apparent in reduced light. Photo by NASA

    The post NASA explores the fashionable frontier appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Older Americans may be attached to Social Security, but the system is significantly more underfunded than most Americans realize, Larry Kotlikoff argues. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Older Americans may be attached to Social Security, but the system is significantly more underfunded than most Americans realize, Larry Kotlikoff argues, which will stick younger generations with a massive bill. Photo by Spencer Platt/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.

    Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University and director of the Tax Analysis Center.

    The Social Security system gives social insurance a bad name and needs to be replaced, root and branch. I’m a strong supporter of compulsory saving and social insurance. But Social Security, as currently constituted, is a disgrace. It’s insolvent, grossly unfair within and across generations, and a user’s nightmare.

    It’s in Worse Shape than Detroit’s Pension Systems

    According to table IVB6 of its 2013 Trustees Report, the Social Security system is 32 percent underfunded. To be precise, its infinite horizon fiscal gap — the present value difference between all future projected expenditures less the sum of all future projected taxes, plus the system’s trust fund — is $23 trillion, or 32 percent of the present value of future projected Social Security taxes.

    Resolving Social Security’s insolvency requires either an immediate and permanent 32 percent increase in payroll taxes or an immediate and permanent 22 percent cut in all Social Security benefits. Detroit, in contrast, needs to cut pension benefits by roughly 16 percent on a system-wide basis.

    Social Security won’t be broke in 10 or 20 years; it’s broke now, as I’ve detailed before on this page. Like Detroit, there are no reasonable scenarios under which its projected receipts cover its projected expenditures. And waiting to address the system’s finances will make them even worse.

    Social Security’s 32 percent present-value fiscal gap ($23 trillion in absolute dollars) is calculated over the infinite horizon, not over a finite horizon like 75 years. Over 1,000 economists, including 16 Nobel Laureates, have endorsed infinite-horizon fiscal gap accounting not just for Social Security, but for the federal government as a whole.

    This reflects the profession’s realization that finite-horizon fiscal gap measures aren’t well-defined fiscal measures. Instead, they are linguistic constructs reflecting how the government labels its receipts and payments. Were one to label all of the next 75 years of Social Security contributions as “borrowing” rather than “taxes” and label the future benefits those contributions trigger as “repayment of principal plus interest” on this borrowing, the 75-year fiscal gap would be vastly larger (since there would be no taxes to discount for the next 75 years) than is now the case. Only the infinite-horizon fiscal gap is invariant to such economically irrelevant changes in fiscal language.

    Yes, valuing uncertain future flows is difficult. But economists are developing better risk-adjustment techniques for doing so. This research suggests that Social Security’s risk-adjusted fiscal gap may be substantially larger than reported in table IVB6. Why? Because Social Security’s projected benefits are more likely to be paid than its projected taxes are to be collected. And risk adjusting means discounting (as in making less of) more heavily future payments and receipts that are less certain.

    Social Security Is Generationally Inequitable

    Social Security, like the federal government as a whole (which is 57 percent underfunded), has been run on a take-as-you-go basis. Each generation of retirees (rich, middle class and poor) takes from the contemporaneous young, promising the young that their turn will come when they’re old, at generational expropriation.

    This Ponzi scheme is an ongoing moral outrage. Current and near-term retirees (rich, middle class, and poor) are being asked to pay not a penny of the system’s $23 trillion unfunded liability. This bill will, apparently, be dumped entirely in our children’s laps requiring of them, not 37 percent, but 50 percent or higher lifetime FICA tax payments in exchange for no extra benefits.

    Social Security Is Unfair Within Generations

    Social Security’s provision of free spousal and survivor benefits leads to egregious inequalities. Husbands (or wives) that contribute not a penny to Social Security their entire lives, but who are married to high earners, can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in free benefits over their lifetimes based on their spouses’ earnings records. Yet these workers aren’t asked to contribute a penny more to help pay for those auxiliary benefits.

    Divorced spouses who were married for 10 or more years can potentially collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in spousal and survivor benefits on their exes’ earnings record. But those who call it quits nine years and 364 days into their marriages receive nothing whatsoever in such benefits.


    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    Surviving spouses who remarry at 60 or older can collect on their deceased partners’ records, but not those who remarry even a day before.

    Households that time their benefit collection just right can collect tens of thousands in additional benefits. Those who don’t understand deeming, excess spousal benefits and other esoteric provisions are left out of these freebies.

    A Retirement System that No One Can Understand

    Social Security has 2,728 rules in its handbook and tens of thousands of rules about these rules in its program operating manual. The rules are so complex and written in such an opaque manner that it’s virtually impossible for anyone to understand his or her retirement finances. The formulas for determining benefits are so complex, who knows how many households are undersaving because they think Social Security will deliver more benefits than is the case.

    Freeze the Current System, Pay Off Accrued Liabilities and Start from Scratch

    President Franklin Roosevelt would be appalled at what politicians and bureaucrats have done to his signature social program. But there is a way to reform the system from scratch to let it fulfill its real mission. It’s called The Purple Social Security Plan. It transforms the retirement portion of Social Security into a personal security account system with compulsory, shared (between spouses) and progressively matched (by the government) contributions made to personal accounts and invested by a computer (i.e., not Wall Street) in a global, market-weighted index of stocks, bonds and real estate. The government would guarantee a zero cumulative real return on the portfolio and gradually sell each participant’s account balance, converting them into inflation-indexed pensions (again, with no involvement by Wall Street).

    You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Social Security’s time is past. It needs to be retired and replaced for everyone’s sake, especially our children’s.

    The post America’s Ponzi scheme: Why Social Security needs to retire appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON – The White House is warning Russia against intervening in eastern Ukraine and threatening further sanctions.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney says there’s strong evidence that some pro-Russian protesters who have taken over government buildings in eastern Ukraine were paid, and not local residents. He says escalation in Ukraine is the result of increased Russian pressure.

    Carney says if Russia moves into eastern Ukraine either overtly or covertly, it would be a very serious escalation.

    He’s calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to cease efforts to destabilize the area. He says Russia must pull back its troops from the border.

    Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk have also proclaimed the region independent. The chain of events has raised concerns about a repeat of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

    The post U.S. warns Russia not to intervene in eastern Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Jennifer Johnson and her parents, Gail and Ron Thompson, attend a candlelight vigil for mudslide victims on March 25, 2014 in Arlington, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

    Jennifer Johnson and her parents, Gail and Ron Thompson, attend a candlelight vigil for mudslide victims on March 25, 2014 in Arlington, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

    Updated April 7 at 1:40 p.m. EDT| A total of 33 bodies have been recovered from the Washington mudslide. Thirty of those victims have been identified, and ten people are still missing in the debris.

    Updated April 1 at 11:15 a.m. EDT| The Associated Press has reported that the official death toll from Washington’s mudslide has increased to 27, with the Snohomish County medical examiner’s office saying 19 victims have been positively identified. That’s up from 24 dead with 18 identified on Monday.

    Updated March 31 at 6 p.m. EDT| A total of 24 bodies have been recovered from the Washington mudslide, Washington officials reported Monday. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has identified 17 of the victims.

    Scores more are missing and two dozen homes were destroyed in the landslide that swept through a small riverside community 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

    Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency that could bring in supplemental federal money beyond the assistance President Barack Obama ordered last week to aid local rescue efforts.

    The Red Cross is taking donations to benefit those affected by the mudslide. People can call 800-733-2767 to donate or text “RedCross” to 90999 and $10 will be charged to their phone bill.

    The post UPDATE: Death toll rises to 33 in Washington mudslide appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 04/07/14--12:50: This is your brain on movies
  • brain

    Your brain isn’t too different from your fellow movie watchers,’ researchers say.

    Nothing makes a room full of strangers feel united quite like a movie. Now, science is trying to prove that you’re a lot more similar to your fellow popcorn eaters than you might think.

    Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have found striking similarities in brain patterns among movie-goers.

    Different parts of movies affect people in similar ways. When you feel sad or happy during a certain part of a film, chances are the person seated next to you feels the same — even if they don’t show it on their face.

    “Despite the apparent complexity of movies, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has revealed notable synchronization of brain activity between different spectators,” wrote researcher Kaisu Lankinen in the journal “NeuroImage.”

    Simply put, when you watch a movie, you’re most likely feeling the same emotions as every person around you. So, the next time you’re in a movie theater and the person sitting next to you is loudly texting away making you want to explode with anger, just remember: your brains aren’t that much different.

    The post This is your brain on movies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Cryoelectron microscopy reconstruction of Chikungunya virus. Photo via Wikimedia user A2-33

    Cryoelectron microscopy reconstruction of Chikungunya virus. Photo via Wikimedia user A2-33

    The World Cup may bring a lot more than soccer to South America in June — a viral epidemic may be traveling with it.

    Research published ahead of print Monday in the Journal of Virology warns that FIFA’s 2014 World Cup — the international soccer tournament that draws both teams and fans from around the world — boosts the risk of unleashing a “catastrophic” epidemic of the chikungunya virus across the Americas. Researchers claim that infected travelers can carry the virus to Brazil and that the mosquitoes known for carrying the virus have high transmission ability in areas all around North and South American cities from Tyson, Missouri to Buenos Aires.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chikungunya can cause high fever, severe joint pain and rashes on those infected, with chances of permanent disability.

    The post World Cup may bring viral epidemic to Brazil appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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     Two residents of a care home for Alzheimer's disease and dementia patients walk hand-in-hand. Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

    Two residents of a care home for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients walk hand-in-hand. Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

    In June 2012, Gary Epstein-Lubow stepped out of a national conference on the topic of patients with Alzheimer’s disease to participate in a smaller, more personal phone meeting on a similar subject: the hospitalization of his mother-in-law, who had recently been diagnosed with dementia.

    Epstein-Lubow, a geriatric psychiatrist at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I., and a professor at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School and School of Public Health, had spent the day hearing about numerous models of care for patients with dementia that, if widely distributed, could change the way families cope with the disease. Now, he faced a grim reality: of the resources developed to help families, none were accessible to his own family members in New Jersey and Rhode Island.

    Health Affairs

    “On a personal level, I was worried,” Epstein-Lubow writes in a stark, personal essay that will be published in April’s edition of Health Affairs. “I was worried about (my father-in-law), my wife, her siblings, and myself. We would be (my mother-in-law)’s caregivers for the rest of her life. And I understood the devastating toll dementia could take on an entire family.”

    The essay, “A Family Disease,” follows the difficulty that Epstein-Lubow and his family had in finding the treatment that his mother-in-law required and the support that they — her primary caregivers — so badly needed. The author also describes his own grandparents’ struggles with the same disease 25 years prior, and notes that as access to family-based solutions remains limited, “the situation today is not much different.”

    Though family caregiver support has been lacking in the past, recent years have seen considerable research on the subject, along with legislation like the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA), enacted to help families struggling with dementia.

    Epstein-Lubow, for his part, is hopeful that access and options will improve. “I’m very optimistic,” he told PBS NewsHour. “NAPA is helping to frame a conversation at a federal level, and it’s helping states to also do similar work at the local levels.”

    The author recently sat down for a discussion with the NewsHour.

    NEWSHOUR: As a geriatric psychiatrist, how did your understanding of dementia family care change after your mother-in-law was diagnosed?

    GARY EPSTEIN-LUBOW: There were three ways. Living it from the inside has a whole bunch of feelings associated with it … I love my mother-in-law and my father-in-law, and it’s just terribly sad and difficult and uncomfortable to watch them suffering. It really affects all of us. It affects my son, my wife. Living that was new for me, and it really increased my empathy for what (other) family members are wrestling with when I’m working with their loved ones in the hospital.

    I thought that I knew the right things to do. I could recommend, ‘This is what we need to do. We need to get care management in place. There’s different types of clinicians that my mother-in-law needs to see.’ (But) actually making that happen… wasn’t that simple. It’s not like writing a prescription. … I’ve always understood that it’s stressful for family caregivers to get these things in place, but actually seeing it within our family and how hard it is for the family members to get their loved ones the services—that was an education.

    When we went actually looking for services — we wanted to find a program that would help my father-in-law and my mother-in-law at the same time — they just weren’t available. I’ve known about these types of programs in New York City and other places, but even though we’re in a busy, suburban New Jersey area, it was difficult to get services that were matched for them, and then we had to pay for them. That was an education.

    NEWSHOUR: How has this experience changed the way you do your job?

    GARY EPSTEIN-LUBOW: I have always taken a good amount of time with families. I can’t say that it really changed the way that I approach patients and caregivers that much because I was already oriented that way, but I think I listen just a little bit more with the family members when I see that they’re very distressed, and I’ll put extra effort in… to make sure that the family caregivers have all the resources that they need.

    NEWSHOUR: You write that even after decades, “access to family-based solutions” still remains limited. What kind of solutions would you like to see, and why are they so limited?

    GARY EPSTEIN-LUBOW: I’d like to see family caregiver assessment happening at the same time that the patient care happens. At the time of an initial diagnosis, when someone first learns that they have dementia, that’s a great opportunity for the team who’s working with the patient to also help the family caregiver with education and with thinking ahead about resources that they might want to plan, be they financial or supportive.

    Then there are other times as dementia progresses when it’s really important to include the family caregiver: certainly when there are emergencies at a hospital, or when they’re having a dangerous situation at home and there are questions about whether they can stay at home or would need to go to a facility. … And also at the end of life.

    There are other reports in the Health Affairs issue about work that’s happened in Indianapolis with dementia care management and Mary Mittelman’s program for longitudinal caregiver support. If those programs were systematically tied to all of the dementia care in a particular area—Indianapolis is doing it somewhat, and if you happen to live in New York City you can connect to Mary Mittelman’s program—those are the types of resources that I would like to see more universally available.

    I was invited to a meeting in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2012 called “Translating Innovation to Impact” … and we were discussing exactly this issue: ‘How do we—with all this evidence about these programs that work for family caregivers and help patients stay at home longer—make an impact? How do we get them disseminated so that they’re more easily available?’ That same day that I was at that meeting, I had to step out during lunch and was on a phone conference call with my family because my mother-in-law was in the hospital. I talk about that in the essay: I was actually standing there in D.C. feeling how frustrating it was that there were all these resources, but we can’t get them to the families in need.

    NEWSHOUR: Can you speak to why it’s so difficult to get these resources to the families?

    GARY EPSTEIN-LUBOW: That Innovation to Impact meeting, that was what the whole day was about: ‘What do we need to be doing next, and why is it so difficult?’ I think a lot of it is that we don’t have the fiscal or financial models yet. It takes a lot of time to just work with a dementia patient in the outpatient setting, and a lot of that time goes into educating the family caregiver on what they need to do specifically for the patient. To add in the time that it takes to assess the caregiver and how she’s doing, that’s additional work.

    The patient is the person with dementia, and when an outpatient program starts to work with the family, then you have to think ‘Is the family caregiver going to get services from us also, or do they get services someplace else?’ So those can be complicated models to set up. … Examples exist, but they haven’t made their way into routine payment models. We’re demonstrating that they’re cost-saving in the long run, but how to pay for them in the short run is what’s complicated.

    In the Innovation to Impact meeting, there were some other suggestions about what’s critical to really move this work forward. In addition to finances, (we need) more evidence about the cost-effectiveness of it that will convince payers. (We also need) some common language so that when we talk about caregiver support services, it means the same thing to a neurologist as to a social worker as to a psychiatrist … We (need to) understand what we we’re talking about when we say ‘caregiver support.’

    NEWSHOUR: Are you optimistic that with the help of these conversations and recent Alzheimer’s legislation, care and service will be improved?

    GARY EPSTEIN-LUBOW: Yes, I’m very optimistic. NAPA (National Alzheimer’s Project Act) is helping to frame a conversation at a federal level, and it’s helping states to also do similar work at the local levels. One example: in Rhode Island, we have recently put together a state plan and going to the national plan as a model is very helpful to us.

    That said, the resources that need to go to NIH (National Institutes of Health) to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of this work … are still limited, and the agenda — this is not exactly my area, but the scientific agenda to produce medications that are disease-modifying and that slow the course of the illness, will require a very substantive investment of scientific resources to the NIH. It’s not clear to me if the amount of funds that are allocated through NAPA to the NIH to complete that scientific mission are adequate.

    NEWSHOUR: As someone who has personally experienced the effect that dementia can have on a family, and as someone in the psychiatric field, what advice would you offer to families suffering from this disease?

    GARY EPSTEIN-LUBOW: Contact your local Alzheimer’s association or groups that are like that in your area that are easy for you to get to, convenient, so it’s not stressful to reach out to that help.

    If there’s not an agency nearby, use the phone help lines, which are available everywhere.

    I would talk with people who have been through the situation before. If you can find a support group, that could be a great way to get information and be able to talk openly about how you’re coping.

    Practically, you would want to make sure that there’s an accurate diagnosis. However you would get that diagnosis — it’s typically from a physician — and that person or another person then needs to become a primary contact that the family can go to over time. Establishing that consistency of a clinician or a group of clinicians that can help with the dementia care over months and years can be very reassuring to the family.

    The post Professional gets personal as doctor considers care of the Alzheimer’s caregiver appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Could America ever seriously entertain a guaranteed basic income? Above, members of 'Generation Basic Income' in Switzerland post with 8 million Swiss coins after securing a ballot referendum on an uncondition basic income. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images.

    Could America ever seriously entertain a guaranteed basic income? Above, members of ‘Generation Basic Income’ in Switzerland stand with 8 million Swiss coins after securing a ballot referendum on an unconditional basic income. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: When activists in Switzerland dumped 8 million Swiss coins – one for each citizen – in front of the Parliament building in Bern last fall, the rest of the world took notice. Not just because it was a compelling publicity stunt, but because the activists secured enough signatures to get a referendum on an unconditional basic income on the ballot. If it’s adopted as part of the Swiss constitution, citizens, regardless of whether they work, would receive 30,000 Swiss Francs (about $34,000) a year.

    The idea has intellectual legs, at least, in the United States with renewed support from the political left and right. (Hear some of those voices, including libertarian economist Charles Murray, on the NewsHour Monday night). The conservatives we spoke to would replace all other social welfare programs with a guaranteed basic income to make government aid more self-directed and efficient. Some on the right support a slightly different guaranteed minimum income as a means-tested form of public assistance. Many liberals see the guaranteed income as a tool to combat economic inequality, which, by most accounts, is far more extreme in America than in Europe.

    But adopting a measure similar to the one in Switzerland – let alone putting it to a popular vote – in America is still widely considered a far-flung idea. Here to explain why this kind of wealth redistribution is much more palatable in more economically equal countries like Switzerland is someone familiar with both societies: Swiss native and Harvard Business School professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee. He also appears in the Making Sen$e segment on Monday night.

    Will a guaranteed income pass in Switzerland? He’d be surprised if it did — and even more surprised if the idea ever seriously took root in America.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sen$e Editor

    In Western Europe, there is a lively debate about proposals to guarantee every citizen a basic income. The idea, which has a long history dating back to the 1920s (at least), is increasingly popular in policy circles and the broader population. The German and Spanish parliaments explored it. The Swiss will soon vote on an initiative that would guarantee everyone $2,800 each month — no questions asked, irrespective of whether a person works. Early polls indicate that more than 45 percent of Swiss voters will support the initiative.

    The supporters of a guaranteed income are a varied lot. They range from unreconstructed communists to humanists with a strong sense of dignity and the wealthy. One concern that many of them share, however, is the global rise in income inequality. In the past few decades, economic growth lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. But, at the same time, the distribution of income became increasingly skewed in favor of wealthy individuals.

    The current situation is exceptional from a historical point of view. For example, the top 10 percent of earners in the U.S. captured 35 percent of income through the 1950s and 1960s. Today, this share stands at 50 percent. Rising inequality reflects gains at the top in all sources of income: salaries and business income, as well as capital income and capital gains.

    There are many reasons why income inequality has risen. One is technology, which tends to benefit the well-educated. Machines increasingly take over routine tasks, leaving low-paid service jobs for unskilled workers. As a result, U.S. employment and wages tend to grow at the very bottom and at the very top of the distribution in skills. The middle is hollowed out.

    Import competition from poorer countries is a second reason. Chinese imports, for example, explain about one quarter of the decline in U.S. manufacturing from 1990 to 2007.

    Third, globalization produces so-called superstar effects. In a flat world, top talent is handsomely rewarded for its broad appeal. The Brazilian soccer player Pelé, the best ever, earned $1.1 million in 1960 (adjusted for inflation). The Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo made $17 million this past year. Pelé played for 350,000 television sets in Brazil. At the most recent World Cup, 700 million people watched Ronaldo, as Eduardo Porter writes in “The Price of Everything.”

    While rising income inequality is a global phenomenon, it is perhaps surprising to see that radical redistribution is more extensively debated in Europe than in the United States. After all, income inequality is greater in the U.S. than in Europe, and it is growing faster in America too. Comparing the incomes of the top 20 percent to the bottom 20 percent, this ratio stands at 4.0 in Sweden, 4.3 in Germany and 5.6 in France. With a ratio of 8.4, the U.S. is in a different league, more similar to Kenya (8.2), Ghana (8.4), and Nicaragua (8.8). So why is there far more demand for redistribution in Western Europe?

    Beliefs about the reasons for inequality turn out to be important. According to the World Values Survey, 60 percent of Americans believe that the poor could become rich if they just tried hard enough. In Europe, however, the number of individuals who hold similar beliefs is only half as large. In Brazil, a mere 19 percent believe that poverty stems from laziness rather than circumstances, connections and luck.

    Beliefs about the reasons for poverty are critical for the willingness to redistribute income. People like to be generous if they think the poor are deserving of their support. But they have a strong aversion to giving if they suspect the less fortunate do not try hard to escape their circumstances.

    These differences in beliefs give rise to two policy regimes: one with little redistribution and low taxes, the United States, and one with a greater demand for redistribution, Europe.

    There is evidence in both places for these dynamics. As U.S. tax rates fell, the top income share rose, not only because the affluent paid less, but also because it makes sense to bargain harder for improved remuneration in a lower-tax environment. Meanwhile, in Europe, people are justified in thinking that “luck” (in the form of being born to the right parents) is an increasingly important determinant of income. From 1820 to 1910, inheritances made up 20-25 percent of disposable income in France. This share fell to 5 percent in the early part of the 20th century. Today, France is back to where it was 100 years ago. This return of inherited wealth is a far weaker dynamic in the United States.

    So, will Europe provide a guaranteed income to its citizens? My personal view is that this is unlikely. The Swiss in particular (most of whom are temperamentally risk averse) are too practical to turn into strong proponents of radical redistribution. Differences in beliefs about the reasons for income inequality, however, will continue to drive redistributive policies.

    The post Will a guaranteed income ever come to America? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A free “teledentistry” program in California offers dental care for low-income patients who don’t have access to regular dental care. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

    A free “teledentistry” program in California offers dental care for low-income patients who don’t have access to regular dental care. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

    Inside a South Los Angeles classroom filled with plastic dinosaurs, building blocks, stuffed animals and Dr. Seuss books, Mireya Rodriguez counts Hendryk Vaquero’s teeth and looks for cavities.

    At just 4 years old, he already has nine stainless steel crowns and multiple fillings, and his gums show signs of inflammation and infection. Since a check-up more than three months ago, he’s lost a couple of teeth, including a capped tooth his mom pulled out after it started bleeding.

    “Pero no llore,” said the boy, assuring Rodriguez in Spanish he didn’t cry.

    This was only the second time the dental hygienist examined his teeth, many of which have rotted, in part because he is eating too many sweets and drinking milk before falling asleep. Later, a dentist at the Venice Family Clinic 16 miles away will pull up his records online and consult with Rodriguez on his case – without ever necessarily seeing the patient.

    It’s all part of a free “teledentistry” program for low-income patients in California who don’t have access to regular dental care. Often they’re stymied by high costs and a shortage of dentists who treat the poor. Many also face language barriers, lack legal immigration status, are afraid of dentists or have a poor understanding of what causes dental problems.

    “The only thing that they know is that they have to provide for their family and that’s the most important thing for them,” said Rodriguez, who comes to the Volunteers of America Silva Head Start program on a regular basis. “You have to educate the parents.”

    Rodriguez is among 15 specially trained hygienists and dental assistants who work online with dentists as part of a $2.5 million experiment designed to deliver preventive dental care and education to underserved populations. Funded for now by grants from non-profits, trade associations and others, the “Virtual Dental Home Demonstration Project” has been launched in 50 locations throughout the state, including Pacoima, Santa Monica, San Jose, Santa Cruz, East Palo Alto, San Francisco, Sacramento and Eureka.

    With special permission from the state, the hygienists and dental assistants travel from place to place performing basic procedures not in their scope of practice – for instance, deciding which X-rays to take or installing temporary fillings that help prevent early decay from progressing—then consult remotely with dentists on how to proceed. Sometimes, after doing what they can, they send a patient to a dentist’s office.

    Operating at community sites ranging from schools to nursing homes, the program is meant to boost access and maximize the expertise and efficiency of the people delivering care.

    The Virtual Dental Home Demonstration Project “really changes the idea of what the dental team and the dental practice is — from being confined to the four walls of a dental office to now having a team that can be spread out,” said Dr. Paul Glassman, a dentist at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, who started the program.

    A bill pending before the state Legislature would expand the Virtual Dental Home approach statewide and require Medi-Cal, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, to pay for procedures facilitated by the Internet.

    The bill, AB 1174, passed unanimously in the Assembly. It is expected to come up for vote in the state Senate later this year and enjoys wide bipartisan support. Expanding the program statewide would increase costs minimally in the short-term — by upward of $500,000 a year, according to a State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee fiscal analysis. If teledentistry takes off, the costs could be higher.

    Advocates think the return on that investment could be substantial. For every dollar spent in preventive services like the ones provided through the Virtual Dental Home demonstration project an estimated $50 is saved on more expensive, complicated procedures, said Dr. James Stephens, a Palo Alto dentist and president of the California Dental Association.

    “It’s a no brainer,” he said. “We should spend more money on prevention.”

    The association, which represents 25,000 dentists, is generally behind the proposed California law because it gives people access to dental care who wouldn’t have a way to get it otherwise. The organization is working with legislators to assure it benefits the public as much as possible and is fiscally sustainable, Stephens said.

    Dr. Burton Edelstein, a professor at Columbia University and the founding president of the Children’s Dental Health Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, said “quality of care can be just as good or even better” in teledentistry if the benefits of better access are factored in.

    Some dental organizations around the country have spoken out against letting hygienists, assistants and other mid-level providers do procedures typically reserved for dentists. In Maine, for example, dentists have fought a bill creating a special category of provider called dental therapists – who would perform some of the duties of hygienists and some of dentists, such as filling cavities. Dental therapists already practice in Minnesota and Alaska.

    Maine dentists have said creating this role won’t solve the fundamental obstacles to treatment.

    “It’s a crisis of financing, not a crisis of providers,” Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, an Augusta dentist and representative of the Maine Dental Association told the Portland Press Herald. “If people can’t afford a dentist, they’re not going to be able to afford a dental therapist.”

    In California and elsewhere, the teledentistry effort has been made more feasible in part because equipment and devices are smaller, more portable and less expensive than before. Also, Obamacare has provided a boost with its emphasis on digital technology to improve care and reduce costs.

    Out in the field, what matters is a gentle touch with patients — especially those who have never been to a dentist before or have had frightening experiences in the past.

    When Rodriguez examines children at Head Start — government-funded pre-schools — she usually brings them up to her work station in pairs. Meanwhile, their friends are singing and playing with each other and the teachers in the background. It’s a fundamentally different experience than going to an office.

    “These kids are getting something that reframes their connection to dentistry,” said Terry Press-Dawson, the grant coordinator for several schools in Sacramento, some of which are participating in the Virtual Dental Home project. “They are connecting dentistry with something that is not scary — and that’s huge.”

    After spending weeks coaxing Hendryk Vaquero, the 4-year-old with serious dental problems, into an examination, hygienist Rodriguez was patient and respectful. She asked his permission as she took pictures of his teeth with a camera connected to a laptop and put fluoride on his teeth with a tiny disposable brush. She told him she was proud of him and complimented him on his shoes and Buzz Lightyear T-shirt.

    And at the end of the exam, she gave him a baggie with a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash and a two-minute timer so he could take care of his teeth at home with his mom’s help.

    All the while, 5-year-old Abigail Velasquez was watching. She was up next. She said she’d never been to the dentist.

    “We’re going to talk to mom so maybe mom can take you to a dentist when you’re done seeing us. Because it’s very important that you experience that,” she told her. “Going to the dentist is quite an adventure.”

    This KHN story was produced in collaboration with the Los Angeles Daily News

    The post The whole tooth of helping low-income patients with ‘teledentistry’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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