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

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    KINSHASA, Congo — The United States is prepared to give Congo $30 million in aid for stability and democracy-building – but wants President Joseph Kabila to agree to step down at the end of his current term in office, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.

    Kerry said Congo’s government also needs to schedule elections soon. The vote is tentatively set for 2016, although a firm date has not yet been set.

    In a private Sunday meeting, Kerry said he urged Kabila to follow Congo’s constitution in the upcoming elections, which would prohibit him from running for a third consecutive term as president.

    It was not clear if Kabila agreed. Kerry also said he urged Kabila to lift a freeze on international adoptions of Congolese orphans.

    “It is important to the people to be able to know what the process is, to have confidence in that process,” Kerry told reporters after the meeting. “The sooner the process is announced, the sooner that the date is set, the sooner people have an ability to be able to participate. And we believe it ought to be done in keeping with the constitutional process of the country.”

    Reached for comment, Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said the constitution would be respected, but also suggested it could be revised.

    “Concerning the deadline for elections, our constitution has articles that can be revised in the case of unforeseen events,” Mende said. He added that it was too early to discuss elections.

    “To speak of this now, it’s a way of exploiting the next elections to stop the holder of the current mandate from doing the work for which the Congolese people have elected him,” he said. “Why all this noise just about Congo, when there are more than 15 countries that are going to organize elections in the next year?”

    The $30 million U.S. pledge would more than doubles the $12 million in assistance given to Congo last year linked to elections and stability assistance. Some of the money could go to non-governmental organizations. Last year, total U.S. aid to Congo totaled about $210 million.

    The funding would help further stability efforts in Congo, which has been wracked by violence for two decades. Kerry said more must be done to combat Congo-based rebels, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym, FDLR, whose members are accused of perpetrating the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

    Aside from the upcoming elections, Kerry noted continued challenges in Congo’s fight against several rebel groups. He commended government and United Nations security forces for last year’s defeat and disbanding of the M23 rebel group but said efforts to disarm, demobilize and re-integrate fighters from other opposition groups into society “are the priorities of the moment.”

    “I need to be clear: Military force alone will not deliver stability to the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Kerry said. “Lasting peace will not grow out of the barrel of a gun.”

    Most of Congo’s violence has been limited in recent years to the country’s eastern borders with Uganda and Rwanda.

    The FDLR is viewed by analysts as the greatest remaining menace in eastern Congo. The group is led by Rwandan Hutus who helped commit the 1994 genocide and later escaped over the border. The presence of the FDLR has prompted Rwanda to invade Congo twice before to try to wipe out the group.

    Additionally, Congo’s government is grappling with the Allied Democratic Forces, a group of Islamist rebels that is led by Ugandan commanders. Experts believe the group begins military training for girls as young as 15 and boys as young as 10.

    Saleh Mwanamilongo contributed reporting from Kinshasa.

    The post U.S. pledges $30 million to Congo for democracy-building appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Eight acrobats fell to the ground after the platform they were hanging from by their hair collapsed during a circus performance in Rhode Island on Sunday, leaving nine performers seriously injured.

    The accident occurred 45 minutes into a Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Legends Show at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in providence during a stunt where the performers hang from a metal apparatus by their hair.

    The eight hanging women fell between 25 and 40 feet, landing on top of a dancer on the ground below.

    None of the injuries appeared to be life threatening. 11 patients were admitted to Providence’s Rhode Island Hospital after the incident.

    Officials have not determined the cause of the accident, according to Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare.

    On the circus’ website, these performers are called “hairialists” and the stunt is described as “a combination of choreography and cut-ups including spinning, hanging from hoops, and rolling down wrapped silks, all while being suspended 35 feet in the air by their hair alone.”

    The stunt was introduced in January when the new Ringling Brothers show began. According to the Associated Press, a spokesman for Ringling Brothers’ parent company, Stephen Payne, said all of the women had been performing the act “for some time.”

    The Dunkin’ Donuts Center cancelled two other shows that had been set for Sunday.

    The post Nine injured after Ringling Bros. circus accident appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    North Carolina Speaker of The House and GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis, R-NC, makes  calls to voters alongside phone bank volunteers  two days before the state's primary election. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    North Carolina Speaker of The House and GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis, R-NC, makes calls to voters alongside phone bank volunteers two days before the state’s primary election. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    Today in the Morning Line:

    The Morning Line

    • What to watch in Tuesday’s elections
    • All eyes on N.C. Senate race
    • Tea party challenges, but establishment looks to hold strong
    • One race that represents why Republicans don’t embrace immigration reform
    • Clay Aiken in nasty primary fight
    • Remember the shutdown? Challenges to Republicans who voted to re-open the government fade
    • The Boehner challenge that wasn’t

    Setting the table: The table is set for the 2014 midterms. Voters head to the polls in three states Tuesday — North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio. North Carolina is where most of the action is — from the marquee Senate race to House primaries involving conservative challengers, immigration, and a former American Idol star. Indiana and Ohio mostly represent places where tea party and conservative challenges didn’t materialize — whether it was to Republicans who voted to re-open the government after the partial shutdown last year or to House Speaker John Boehner. Facing a tea party challenge, Boehner ran his first ad in four years, but the threat has mostly faded. By the way, just how much is North Carolina the central focus of not only Tuesday, but this midterm election? Check out these numbers: So far (SO FAR!), 14,870 ads have run in the Tar Heel State at a cost of $6.4 million, per an analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data by the Wesleyan Media Project. And that was just as of last week, so the numbers are already higher, And get this: 90 percent of those ads were run by outside groups. That’s more ads and more outside money than anywhere in the country.

    Carolina on my mind: As we wrote Thursday, the marquee race is the Republican Senate primary in North Carolina. The favorite is Thom Tillis, the state House speaker, who is embroiled in a fight with tea party opponents. But the big question is whether Tillis surpasses the 40 percent threshold to avoid a July 15 runoff against Greg Brannon, an obstetrician and father of seven backed by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky, and Mike Lee, R-Utah. (Paul campaigns with Brannon Monday.) Why is it important for Tillis to avoid a runoff? Because if he doesn’t clear it, that would mean that the man Republicans think gives them the best chance of flipping this Senate seat would have to spend two more months bogged down trying to prove his conservative bona fides in this purple state. Establishment Republicans would rather Tillis be able to pivot to train his focus and resources on Kay Hagan, the vulnerable incumbent Democrat. Republicans need to pick up a net of six seats to win control of the U.S. Senate, and North Carolina is key to their chances.

    RINO or revolutionary? Tillis’ opponents have tried to liken him to Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — Republicans tea partiers love to hate (and deride as RINOs, Republicans in Name Only). Tillis shot back at a recent debate that he has led a “conservative revolution” in North Carolina with the GOP takeover of the legislature — and its subsequent passage of controversial Voter ID and abortion laws. He cites his leadership for the state not expanding Medicaid and is also against same-sex marriage. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s Crossroads groups are both on air in support of Tillis, who has just $1 million cash on hand as compared to Hagan’s $8.6 million. Brannon is being supported by FreedomWorks, but mostly at a ground level. Polls open Tuesday at 6:30 am ET and close at 7:30 pm ET.

    Wonder why Republicans don’t act on immigration? There are also a few House races to watch in North Carolina. High on the list is the second congressional district’s Republican and Democratic primaries. Want to point to a reason House Republicans struggle to do anything on immigration? Look no further. Republican Renee Ellmers is facing a primary challenge from talk-radio host Frank Roche because of her openness to ANY kind of immigration reform (even if it doesn’t include citizenship). It’s led people like conservative Ann Coulter and direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie to endorse Roche. It’s a prime example of Republicans more worried about watching their right flank when it comes to immigration than a general-election challenge from a Democrat.

    Which is worse — Simon Cowell or running for Congress? Meanwhile, on the other side in this district, former American Idol star Clay Aiken, who studied special education, is in a heated race with Keith Crisco, a former state commerce secretary. Check out this brutal ad Crisco is running against Aiken. “Clay Aiken says helping children with special needs is one of his top priorities. But when the president appointed Aiken to the Committee on People With Intellectual Disabilities, ‘No Show’ Clay Aiken skipped every single meeting — eight out of eight,” an announcer says, adding, “If he’s too busy for the president and special-needs children, how can we count on Clay?” This has an outside shot at becoming a potentially competitive seat, especially if Ellmers loses. Republican Mitt Romney carried this district with 57 percent in the 2012 presidential election.

    Jones-ing for a fight: Can anti-war/libertarian Republican Walter Jones survive yet another challenge? This time, establishment Republicans in Washington think his time could be up. Former Bush administration official Taylor Griffin has the backing of many establishment Republicans and operatives in Washington, as well as outside groups. Republicans have long-complained that Jones isn’t conservative enough after reversing positions on the Iraq war. Now, they think they have their best chance to upend Jones after his [district was made less favorable to him in redistricting. Plus, two outside groups -- Ending Spending Fund, backed by owner of the Chicago Cubs Joe Ricketts and The Emergency Committee for Israel -- have spent $1 million either attacking Jones or supporting Griffin, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Note: There are also competitive open primaries in NC-6 on the GOP side because of Rep. Howard Coble’s retirement, and in NC-12 among Democrats looking to replace former Rep. Mel Watt, who took a job in the Obama administration.

    Shutdown politics faded: Another phenomenon to pay attention to -- just how much the government shutdown politics have faded. When several Republican members of Congress backed a deal to re-open the government, conservative outside groups like Heritage and the Club for Growth urged ‘no’ votes and threatened primaries. But across the country, that hasn’t materialized. Case in point: Indiana, where there are no competitive primaries. Conservative groups threatened to go after Reps. Susan Brooks and Todd Young, but no challenger emerged. And the Club for Growth had vowed to back a challenger to Rep. Larry Bucshon for what it sees as too liberal a voting record, but nothing came of that, either.

    Boehner challenger fired for ad: Boehner took no chances when he saw a tea party challenge coming and ran a TV ad for the first time in four years. But the threat has all but faded. One conservative challenger, J.D. Winteregg, tried to get attention with a web video playing off a common mispronunciation of Boehner’s name, one the speaker has said he was called in high school. Unfortunately for Winteregg, the sophomoric ad, which accused Boehner of suffering from “Electile Dysfunction” and was called, “When the Moment is Right,” got him fired from a teaching job at a small Christian college. The Tea Party Leadership Fund had spent $320,000 in ads, billboards, and direct mail opposing Boehner and supporting Winteregg, the Washington Post reported. There are still two other tea party challengers -- activist Matthew Ashworth and Eric Gurr, a tech consultant. Boehner got 84 percent of the vote in the 2012 primary. Speaking of Boehner, he recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, and he’s pushing for the U.S. to have a broader engagement there. The U.S. is set to pull out in July.

    Ohio governor’s race kicks off: Incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, are expected to emerge unscathed out of the primary Tuesday. That sets up what will be one of the more closely watched governors’ races in the country. Kasich faced a backlash when he signed a law that limited the collective bargaining rights of public employees. It was later recalled. But since, he has tried to tack to the middle. He expanded Medicaid, triggering a backlash among conservatives. That’s something that could hurt him if he wins reelection and decides to run for president in 2016, something he is looking at. Polls show Kasich with a narrow lead over FitzGerald.

    Quote of the day: “I’m feeling sorry, believe it or not, for the Speaker of the House, as well. These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.” -- President Obama ribbing Boehner at the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night.


    • A new survey by the Pew Research Center and USA Today finds that voters favor the Republican candidate over the Democratic candidate 47 percent to 43 percent ahead of the November midterm election. The four-point lead for the GOP on the generic ballot question is a change from last October when the poll showed Democrats with a 49 percent to 43 percent advantage. The poll also finds diminished enthusiasm for the president on the part of Democrats. About three-in-ten say they think of their vote in the midterms as being “for” the president, compared with 47 percent in 2010.

    • Speaker Boehner announced Friday he would plan to call for a House vote to form a select committee to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the response to the September 2012 terror attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Politico notes the challenge facing the panel, which is expected to be led by South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, reporting that it “will be following in the footsteps of no less than eight congressional committees in the House and Senate” that have already looked into the attacks.

    • The president’s day: Mr. Obama meets with the president of Djibouti at 10:55 am ET. Some allege that Djibouti was a country the CIA used as one of its “black sites” after 9/11. Mr. Obama also hosts a Cinco de Mayo reception in the Rose Garden beginning at 5:50 pm ET.

    • Mr. Obama will tout a national climate assessment Tuesday, reflecting the higher priority he’s putting on the fight against climate change in his second term.

    • Republicans are positioned to gain even more state House and Senate majorities this year. They have full legislative control in 26 states, and with an additional three seats, they’d control five more, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Beth Reinhard.

    • Texas Gov. Rick Perry hinted at another potential presidential bid in 2016 on Meet the Press: “America is a place that believes in second chances. We see more character out of an individual by how do you perform after you fail and you go forward.”

    • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., endorsed Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential campaign on Saturday during a speech to Democratic women in South Carolina.

    • Rupert Murdoch took some time to get to know Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., this weekend as his guest at the Kentucky Derby. That Murdoch “allowed himself to be paraded for six hours around the boisterous and bourbon-drenched grounds like a prize horse behind a proud jockey,” Jason Horowitz writes in the New York Times, “amounted to a message to more establishment Republicans that, as Mr. Murdoch put it, ‘I’m very open minded.’”

    • The Democratic National Committee proposed primary dates for 2016 that would keep Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina as the first four states to hold presidential nominating contests.

    • On the left, big donors are privately working on “a new big-money strategy” to support state-level candidates and boost voter turnout, Matea Gold writes in the Washington Post.

    • Panama, where a president’s wife could become vice president.


    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    The post Preview of Tuesday’s primary contests appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Students at Doherty Middle School get their healthy lunch at the school cafeteria, on June 18, 2012 in Andover, Massachusetts. Some schools are concerned new guidelines only mean more healthy food will end up in the trash. Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

    Students at Doherty Middle School get their healthy lunch at the school cafeteria, on June 18, 2012 in Andover, Massachusetts. Some schools are concerned new guidelines only mean more healthy food will end up in the trash. Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

    ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Becky Domokos-Bays of Alexandria City Public Schools has served her students whole-grain pasta 20 times. Each time, she said, they rejected it.

    Starting next school year, pasta and other grain products in schools will have to be whole-grain rich, or more than half whole grain. That includes rolls, biscuits, pizza crust, tortillas and even grits.

    The requirement is part of a government effort to make school lunches and breakfasts healthier. Championed by first lady Michelle Obama, the new standards have been phased in over the last two school years, with more changes coming in 2014.

    School’s main concerns: finding enough whole grain-rich foods that kids like, lowering sodium levels and keeping fruits and vegetables from ending up in the trash.Some schools say the changes have been expensive and difficult to put in place, and school officials are asking Congress and the Agriculture Department to roll back some of the requirements. Their main concerns: finding enough whole grain-rich foods that kids like, lowering sodium levels and keeping fruits and vegetables from ending up in the trash.

    In interviews, school nutrition directors across the country mostly agreed that healthy changes were needed in school lunches — long famous for daily servings of greasy fries and pizza. Kids have adapted easily to many of the changes, are getting more variety in the lunch line and are eating healthier.

    But Domokos-Bays and other school nutrition directors say the standards were put in place too quickly as kids get used to new tastes and school lunch vendors rush to reformulate their foods. When kids don’t buy lunch, or throw it away, it costs the schools precious dollars.

    “The regulations are so prescriptive, so it’s difficult to manage not only the nutrition side of your businesses but the business side of your business,” Domokos-Bays said.

    Some of the main challenges reported by school nutrition directors:

    • Whole grains. While many kids have adapted to whole grain rolls, breads and even pizza crusts, some schools are having problems with whole grain-rich pastas, which can cook differently. USDA’s Janey Thornton, a former school nutrition director, says the government is working with the food industry to develop better pastas.

      Whole grains have also proved a hard sell for some popular regional items, like biscuits and grits in the South. Lyman Graham of the Roswell, New Mexico, school district says tortillas are one of the most popular foods in his area, but the whole wheat flour versions are “going in the trash.”

    • Sodium. Schools will have to lower the total sodium levels in school meals next school year and then will have to lower them even further by 2017.

      School lunch directors say the 2017 target — 640 milligrams total in an elementary school lunch and 740 milligrams in a high school lunch — isn’t feasible and say kids will reject the foods. USDA’s Thornton acknowledges the food industry isn’t there yet but encourages frustrated school lunch directors to “worry about today first before we imagine the worst down the road.”

    • Fruits and vegetables. The standards require every student to take a fruit or vegetable to create a balanced plate. The reaction among students has been mixed. “If the kids don’t eat the food, then all I have is healthy trash cans,” said Peggy Lawrence, director of nutrition at the Rockdale County Public Schools in Georgia.
    • Healthier snacks. Schools will for the first time this year have to make sure that all foods, including vending machines and a la carte lines, meet healthier standards. While many schools have already moved to make snacks healthier, others depend on snack money to help operate their lunchrooms and are worried about a sales dip.
    • The School Nutrition Association has asked Congress and USDA to only require that 50 percent of foods be whole grain-rich, to suspend the 2017 sodium requirements and to stop requiring students to take a fruit or vegetable.

      Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest who has pushed for healthier meals, says relaxing those standards could gut the program. “You can’t call a meal a meal without a fruit or vegetable,” she said.

      USDA has shown some flexibility already: In 2012, the department scrapped maximums on proteins and grains after students complained they were hungry.

      USDA’s Thornton says problems will lessen as the food industry creates healthier products. “I’ll bet that five or seven years down the road, we’ll see kids eating healthy food and we’ll see acceptance,” she said.

      Republicans say they may intervene before then. Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the Republican in charge of the House spending committee overseeing USDA, has said school districts need a “pause” while problems are worked out.

      Aderholt’s panel is expected to release a new spending bill this month that may propose changes. Republicans also are eying the next five-year renewal of the school foods policy, due in 2015.

      Sam Kass, senior policy adviser for nutrition at the White House, said last month that there have been “tremendous gains” in school foods and said he finds efforts to undermine that disappointing. “First and foremost, the key is not going back,” he said.

      At Alexandria’s Patrick Henry Elementary last Tuesday, students said they loved their lunches and gobbled up plump strawberries. Kindergartner Jade Kennedy said she recently tried kiwi at school for the first time.

      But Domokos-Bays said she will serve white pasta to the students until she has to make the change this summer. Tuesday was pasta day, and several children said it was their favorite lunch — “better than my mom made,” first-grader Ruth Gebregiorgis said.

      Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

      The post Some schools push to roll back healthy lunch requirements appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court says prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity.

    The court said in 5-4 decision Monday that the content of the prayers is not critical as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.

    The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, N.Y., outside of Rochester.

    In 1983, the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature and said that prayer is part of the nation’s fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. Monday’s ruling was consistent with the earlier one.

    The post Supreme Court decision allows prayer at government meetings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A woman carries placard to press for the release of missing Chibok school girls during a rally by civil society in Lagos on May 5, 2014. Photo by Pius Utomi Expei/AFP/Getty Images

    A woman carries placard to press for the release of missing Chibok school girls during a rally by civil society in Lagos on May 5, 2014. Photo by Pius Utomi Expei/AFP/Getty Images

    Boko Haram claimed responsibility Monday for the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from a boarding school in northeast Nigeria on April 15.

    A new video, obtained by Agence France-Presse, showed Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau standing alongside masked individuals in front of armored vehicles, threatening to sell the abductees.

    “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” he said.

    In the video, Shekau ranted against democracy in addition to calling for Western education to end. Boko Haram, translated from the local Hausa language, means “Western education is forbidden.”

    Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan vowed on Sunday the government would do what they could to rescue the abducted girls. “Wherever these girls are, we’ll get them out.”

    The post Boko Haram threatens to ‘sell’ abducted Nigerian schoolgirls appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Irma Montalvo, a U.S. citizen, prefers to travel to Mexico to meet with her doctor, Cecilia Espinoza, even though she signed up for a health plan through Covered California. Photo by Heidi de Marco/KHN.

    Irma Montalvo, a U.S. citizen, prefers to travel to Mexico to meet with her doctor, Cecilia Espinoza, even though she signed up for a health plan through Covered California. Photo by Heidi de Marco/KHN.

    TIJUANA, Mexico – Irma Montalvo signed up for a health plan through California’s new insurance exchange last month, getting coverage for the first time in eight years.

    But when she needed treatment for a painful skin rash, Montalvo didn’t go to a doctor near her home in Chula Vista. Instead she drove to Mexico, about 16 miles south. Her doctor, Cecilia Espinoza, diagnosed her with shingles and prescribed medication to relieve pain and head off complications.

    Montalvo, 64, said she comes to Tijuana in part because it costs just $15 to see the doctor. She can’t use her insurance for care outside California but it’s still cheaper because she doesn’t have to worry about a deductible. More important, she said, is that she feels comfortable with Espinoza.

    “She listens to me,” said Montalvo, a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, said in Spanish. “I come here feeling really bad, and three days later I am better.”

    Mexican immigrants living in California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico have long sought health care in border cities like Tijuana, Mexicali and Nogales. The Affordable Care Act won’t change that, experts said, even though it has expanded coverage to millions of people, including many Latinos.

    Naturalized citizens and legal residents are expected to continue traveling for check-ups, minor surgeries and dental care, drawn to treatment that is less expensive and a medical culture that is less hurried. Doctors speak their language and patients often can get appointments without long waits.

    In fact, it’s possible even more U.S. residents may seek care with Mexican doctors, said David Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the UCLA School of Medicine. Many Latinos in the United States live in areas with a huge undersupply of providers, and as new coverage increases the demand for care, waits for appointments could grow longer and more frustrating, he said.

    “If you don’t have access to care, going to Tijuana may seem like a reasonable alternative,” he said.

    Some of these patients now going to Mexico remain uninsured, or work for employers in the U.S. offering insurance plans that pay for medical care in Mexico. Others have signed up for Obamacare to cover emergencies or avoid a fine – but face high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

    “Even with insurance, it can sometimes be cheaper in Mexico,” said Steven Wallace, who is associate director the UCLA center and has studied why Mexican immigrants seek care in Mexico.

    The majority of these patients are Mexican immigrants with green cards or U.S. citizenship who can travel freely across the border. One 2009 study by Wallace found that nearly half a million Mexican immigrants living in California receive medical, dental or prescription services every year south of the border.

    Lorena Villanueva, who cleans houses in Riverside County, Calif., came to Tijuana on a recent day because of a flare up of allergies that gave her a sore throat and a rash on both arms. Villanueva bought a plan through Covered California for about $150 a month. Joining a plan that her husband has through his work as a car salesman was too expensive.

    “To be honest, I like to come here better even if I have insurance,” she said. “Over there it’s wasting money and wasting time.”

    The Obamacare plan, she said, is just for emergencies. For most everything else, Villanueva said she will continue driving the 70 miles to Tijuana. “It’s a long drive … but for me, it’s worth it,” she said.

    The medical office where she sees her doctor is in an eight-story, modern building just steps from the border and across the street from a bus station. Two flags – one American and one Mexican – fly above the building owned by SIMNSA, a cross-border health plan.

    Just outside, security guards monitor who enters and a line of taxis waits to give patients rides. Inside, the clinic is bustling with people seeking to get their eyes checked, lab results read, cavities filled, hearts examined, allergies treated and children immunized.

    Licensed in California and overseen by the state’s Department of Managed Health Care, SIMNSA offers health insurance to employees of American companies in San Diego and Imperial counties. The employer plan offers the essential benefits required under the ACA, administrators said.

    Patients not on the SIMNSA employer plan can walk in to the clinic and pay out-of-pocket. Or, like Montalvo, they can pay a small membership fee allowing them to see an internist for $15 and a specialist for $25.

    SIMNSA provides primary and specialty care, physical therapy, spa services and a pharmacy. “It’s a one-stop shop,” said Christina Suggett, chief operating officer.

    Suggett said appointments typically last 30 minutes or more and the doctors don’t rely heavily on nurses or medical assistants – a contrast to often more rushed encounters in the United States. Physicians develop long-term relationships with their patients, who return again and again, often bringing family members along.

    Ophthalmologist Josue Delgado has been seeing Alberto Luna, 49, for several years. Luna lives just over the border in National City and has a SIMNSA policy through his job at a hotel in San Diego. Luna said he never has to wait to see Delgado and that the doctor treats him like a friend.

    “We know each other by first name,” Delgado said of Luna.

    On this day, Luna was seeking follow-up treatment for a complication of his diabetes — bleeding in his eye. Delgado explained it was causing blurry vision and wasn’t healing. The doctor gave Luna a note for his boss so he could spend a few more weeks at home before returning to work. “Make sure you rest,” Delgado told his patient, shaking his hand.

    Xochitl Castaneda, director of the health initiative of the Americas at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said Mexican clinics offer something not always found in the U.S. “In Spanish, we say calidad and calidez, quality and warmth,” she said. “When you are sick, you need medical support. You also need emotional support. That is something that Mexican physicians give.”

    The question of quality is not settled. Experts say that some hospitals, doctors and clinics are comparable to the U.S. but that quality varies widely. Some studies find that patient satisfaction with Mexican providers is generally good while others find the care needs improvement.

    It is that warmth that brings Montalvo back to Tijuana, despite her new Covered California plan. After checking Montalvo’s rash, Espinoza told her to continue the medication and come back in a few weeks. She also told her to call – night or day – if she had any questions.

    “You are responding perfectly” to the medication, Espinoza told Montalvo. “I’m happy.”

    Montalvo smiled at her doctor before heading down to the pharmacy. “Que dios le bendiga,” Montalvo told her. “May God bless you.”

    This KHN story was produced in collaboration with USA Today. Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

    The post Many insured U.S. Latinos prefer to see doctors in Mexico appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Pro-Russian protesters occupy and ransack the military prosecutor's office on May 4, 2014 in Donetsk, Ukraine. Photo by Brendan Hoffman for The Washington Post

    Pro-Russian protesters occupy and ransack the military prosecutor’s office on May 4, 2014 in Donetsk, Ukraine. Photo by Brendan Hoffman for The Washington Post

    Fighting continued throughout parts of Ukraine on Monday as the Kiev government carried out its “anti-terror” operations to regain control of cities occupied by pro-Russia militia.

    The Associated Press and other news outlets reported heavy gunfire and explosions around the eastern city of Slovyansk, where Kiev’s army mounted its first major offensive Friday against armed pro-Russian insurgents.

    Monday’s clashes in Slovyansk left four Ukrainian officers dead and 30 wounded, Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his agency’s website. Avakov added that Ukrainian troops faced 800 pro-Russian forces armed with large-caliber weapons and mortars.

    Video by Associated Press

    A pro-Russia militia spokesman in Slovyansk said an unspecified number of fatalities resulted from the fighting, the AP reports.

    Kiev said Monday that it also sent an elite national guard unit to the southern city of Odessa, where more than 40 people perished in a building fire amid fighting between pro-Russia militia and pro-government supporters.

    The armed pro-Russia insurgency, protesting the new interim government in Kiev, has vowed to seize government buildings across the country. Kiev has confronted the insurgents head-on in Slovyansk and Odessa, because both cities are of economic and political importance to the government.

    Meanwhile, anti-government uprisings elsewhere, such as in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, have not seen the same level of resistance from Kiev. On Sunday, Hari Sreenivasan spoke with Peter Leonard of the Associated Press about the situation in Donetsk.

    Ukraine’s national presidential election is scheduled for May 25.

    The post Clashes in Ukraine leave 4 dead, 30 wounded appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Adding a baby gate to the top of a tall stairway is one of the first steps many new parents take to “child-proof” their homes. But new research shows the gates themselves can lead to accidents, especially if they’re installed incorrectly or used in the wrong locations. The Associated Press reports that 1,800 children a year visit emergency rooms in the U.S. due to baby gate incidents, and that there are no federal standards for the construction or safety of the devices.

    The study, conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, looked at data on children up to age 6, and covers hospital records going back to 1990. The report finds that gate-related injuries were different for different age groups, and that they most commonly involve boys.


    The study was published in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

    The post Baby safety gates send 1,800 kids to the ER every year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user Andrew Malone

    Photo by Flickr user Andrew Malone

    Forget a playlist or a hard drive — a new spin on an old technology could let you fit as much music, or any other type of data, as you could ever want on a cassette tape.

    Sony debuted a new tape format Sunday at the International Magnetics Conference in Dresden, Germany that can hold 148 gigabytes of data per square inch; shattering a previous magnetic tape record of 29.5 gigabytes. If packed into a cartridge, a single cassette tape would be capable of holding 185 terabytes of storage — equal to the capacity of 3,700 Blu-ray discs. That’s more than 46 million songs if you wanted to store MP3s.

    While the world’s longest mixtape does sound appealing, this cassette tape would not be an ideal MP3 player replacement nor would it play on an old boom box, however. This tape is meant for storage, the same type of magnetic tape used for large-capacity storage back when hard drive capacities were measured in megabytes. Read and write times on magnetic tapes are also quite long compared to other types of data storage, so the format is most suitable for backups as opposed to storing one’s media library.

    Even so, pretty good news for a format that celebrated its 50th birthday in September.

    The post Your next mixtape could hold more songs than tens of thousands of iPods combined appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Economist Larry Kotlikoff gives it straight to the class of 2014. Photo by Hero Images via Getty Images.

    Economist Larry Kotlikoff gives it straight to the class of 2014. Photo by Hero Images via Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: Economist Larry Kotlikoff is our resident Social Security columnist, but this week, he turns his attention to the children and grandchildren of Social Security recipients and takes a break from the 34 Social Security “secrets,” “mistakes” and gotchas that have prompted so many boomers to write in with Social Security questions.

    Dear About-to-Graduate or Recently-Graduated College Grads,

    I’ve been writing a weekly column since August 2012 that gives your parents and grandparents advice on how to maximize their lifetime Social Security benefits. This week, Making Sen$e asked me to send some personal financial suggestions your way.

    Your generation is, unfortunately and outrageously, in a very tough spot.

    First, you are facing fierce and increasing competition from smart machines who can substitute for you and other humans much more directly than was the case with previously developed technology. Smart machines have, at their core, software code. And since this code was produced in the past by humans, what we have here is, in the large, past labor competing with current labor.

    Second, there is lots of current labor competing with current labor. Thanks to the Internet, outsourcing, immigration and international trade, you are and will increasingly be competing for jobs with people all over the world.

    Third, you are joining an economy in which jobs, particularly good ones, are becoming increasingly scarce. Yes, the unemployment rate has come down. But more and more people have given up trying to find work. The country’s labor force participation rate is now just 62.8 percent — an all-time low.

    Fourth, you face not just a very tough job market, but enormous and ongoing uncertainty about what career to pursue. A law degree used to mean a high-paying job. Now it often means no job at all. Doctors are in high demand, but general practitioners get paid no more than plumbers over their working lives when you consider all the training costs they face (see the section “My Son the Plumber” in my book “The Clash of Generations”).

    Professors, like me, used to think we were irreplaceable. But online courses could put most of us out of business. Software engineering is now hot. But it was hot during the ‘90s and then crashed very hard for many years when the Dot.com bubble burst.

    Fifth, there’s a gigantic dirty secret that neither political party has told you. The federal government is totally broke, indeed in far worse shape than Detroit. Almost all of the country’s $205 trillion present-value fiscal gap separating projected future expenditures and receipts comprises obligations that have been kept off the books based on accounting that would turn any true adult’s stomach. The politicians aren’t even acknowledging this fiscal gap, let alone asking anyone over 40 to cover a single penny of it. Consequently, it will be dumped in your laps because someone has to pay. Disreputable supply-side and demand-side economists to the contrary, there is no free lunch.

    Sixth, … well that’s enough bad news, even for an economist. The good news is that we are Americans. The government may have lost its way, but we haven’t lost our edge. We are tough and resilient and creative and entrepreneurial. We get down and then we get up. And as individuals and as a country, we’ve been in hotter spots before. So as goes the World War II slogan that your generation has adopted as your own, “Keep calm and carry on.”

    Your first job is to find a job, work hard at it, but always keep looking for a better opportunity. Better opportunity doesn’t necessarily mean more immediate pay. It may mean working at a lower-paid job that offers excellent future career opportunities. It may also mean investing more in education. But be careful. Higher education is a for-profit business, even when it comes to state schools. And as we’ve been seeing, it doesn’t always pay.


    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    Your second job is not to get discouraged. Most young people entering the workforce quit, get fired or switch jobs numerous times before finding what they really want to do. Expect to quit, get fired and switch jobs so that when this happens you’ll keep calm and carry on.

    Your third job is to figure out how to maximize your lifetime living standard. This may entail working for less, but in a job where housing costs, sales taxes, property taxes and state income taxes are lower.

    Your fourth job is to keep your eyes open to starting your own business. There is a terrific restaurant in Edinburgh called The Oink. It consists of one small room and a huge roasted pig in the window. All day long people stand in line to buy delicious pulled pork sandwiches from that pig. They sell drinks and great chutneys to put on the sandwiches. That’s it. That “restaurant” can be replicated anywhere in the country and be profitable. You don’t have to be the first to invent something. If you see a great business that works and can be replicated without infringing on any intellectual property or trademarks, go for it. Or ask that owner if you can set up a franchise in your town.

    Your fifth job is to try, as soon as possible, to buy a decently-priced apartment or house. This is especially true if you intend to live and work somewhere for many years and have a reasonably secure job or can rent out the house if you lose your job. Owning a home provides some tax breaks. But the big deal is securing a major part of your living standard, namely your housing needs. If you own a house, no one can ever raise rent on you.

    Your sixth job is to never take stock tips, even from your favorite uncle who has made a killing in the market. He was lucky. No one can systematically beat the market unless he or she has either insider information or works very hard at researching particular companies and has special talent evaluating them. Such Warren Buffets are extremely rare, meaning you will most likely lose your shirt investing with someone who isn’t Warren Buffet and pay a high fee for the privilege.

    Your seventh job is to not be scared of the stock market. It’s the right place to invest most of your savings (apart from money you are saving for a down payment) when you are young. The goal is always to stay fully diversified. When you are young, most of your assets are invested in your own human capital — your own future labor earnings. The returns on this investment aren’t likely to be correlated with the return on stocks. Hence, putting money in stocks is a way of spreading your risk.

    Your eighth job is to be very careful of investing in long-term bonds from a governments like ours that’s broke. Such countries print money to pay their bills, which is exactly what’s been going on in spades for the last six years. Indeed, the Federal Reserve in 2013 printed 29 cents of every dollar spent by Uncle Sam. This will, eventually, produce inflation, which will wipe out the return on your investments in long-term nominal (non-inflation-indexed) government and, also, corporate bonds.

    Your ninth job is to pay off your debts, starting with your credit card bills, which charge you a usurious interest rate. Once you’ve paid them off, pre-pay your student loans and then, if you have one, pay off your mortgage. Pre-paying loans may not sound like it, but it’s fundamentally the same as investing in something perfectly safe that yields a very high return. To see this, think about your net worth a year from now if you take $1,000 today and invest it in a one-year Treasury bill yielding one-half of 1 percent versus paying off your outstanding credit card balance, for which you’re being charged 18 percent interest.

    Your tenth job is to maximize your happiness. The super rich aren’t super happy. Yes, they have more toys and don’t have to worry about money. But plenty of super rich movie stars, musicians, actors and business moguls have led miserable lives because money can’t buy you love — either from someone else or from yourself. Love yourself, give yourself a break, be kind to others, find meaning in what you are doing or stop doing it, and have fun!

    The post 10 ways the class of 2014 can beat the economic odds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Carl Schmidt, associate professor at University of Delaware, leads a team of researchers that are developing new breeds of chickens that would be able to withstand conditions of climate change. Image courtesy of Carl Schmidt/University of Delaware

    Carl Schmidt, associate professor at University of Delaware, leads a team of researchers that are developing new breeds of chickens that would be able to withstand conditions of climate change. Image courtesy of Carl Schmidt/University of Delaware

    Researchers believe that the key to feeding a growing global population is a chicken that can take the heat.

    A team of scientists from the University of Delaware, beginning in fall 2012, studied the genetic makeup of the African naked-neck chicken and whether its ability to survive heat stress and other conditions of a warmer climate could be bred into American broiler chickens.

    The African naked-neck chicken. Image courtesy of Carl Schmidt/University of Delaware

    The African naked-neck chicken. Image courtesy of Carl Schmidt/University of Delaware

    “We are dealing with the challenge of difficult weather conditions,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Los Angeles Times. “At the same time, we have to massively increase food production,” Vilsack said, to meet the demands of larger populations.

    The research, funded by a $4.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is part of a larger effort to breed farm animals that could cope with climate change.

    Warmer temperatures, the L.A. Times explains, would make chickens and other farm animals more susceptible to disease, while producers can lose whole stocks to heat waves.

    The post Feds fund research to create a climate-proof chicken appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Christy Whitney

    Photo by Christy Whitney

    When Kevin Powers, author of the award-winning novel “The Yellow Birds,” was composing his first book of poetry, he was preoccupied with questions of communication and relatability. (Chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown spoke to Kevin Powers about his novel back in October 2012).

    “Where do we find this vocabulary to talk about events and experiences that feel singular and unique and extreme? How do we find the terrain that other people can enter and reach some kind of empathy or understanding?” Powers pondered during a recent conversation with Art Beat.

    Powers was a machine gunner for the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. In “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting,” his poems describe both combat and the moments that surround it in order to talk about the consequences of conflict for different people.

    “One of the things … I think the book as a whole is also trying to do is really understand war at its most basic and direct level, but to approach it with unadorned honesty, with a directness,” said Powers. “There’s serious questions being asked by the speaker of the poem with serious repercussions, but that’s it’s happening below the surface.”

    “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting,” the poem that gave the collection its name, is one of the poems that deals more directly with combat. Like the collection as a whole, the poem grapples with the difficulties of communication.

    Listen to Kevin Powers read “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting,” from his new collection of the same name.

    Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting

    I tell her I love her like not killing
    or ten minutes of sleep
    beneath the low rooftop wall
    on which my rifle rests.

    I tell her in a letter that will stink,
    when she opens it,
    of bolt oil and burned powder
    and the things it says.

    I tell her how Pvt. Bartle says, offhand,
    that war is just us
    making little pieces of metal
    pass through each other.

    Power wrote each poem to stand alone, but he hopes that there is an organic connection between the poems in the book, especially expressed through the order in which they appear.

    In the title poem, Powers explores death or injury by violence, but the book’s examination evolves.

    “The natural progression is to reflect on the nature of death as it presents itself in everybody’s life and also thinking about who we are is a product of where we’re from, and not just where we are from in terms of geography, but also in terms of who we come from, from our families, and those kind of influences.”

    While this collection is Power’s debut, the writer says he’s loved poetry from the moment he remembers first reading a poem.

    “I think there are people who love poetry who just don’t know it yet. And so I’m hoping maybe, even if it’s not mine — obviously I’m hoping they like mine — but even if it leads somebody to take a look at something they might not have otherwise, I find that incredibly exciting and rewarding,” said Powers.

    “It’s great that if nothing else, I’ll have some opportunities to just be an advocate for poetry as a form.”

    “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting” was excerpted from the book “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting” by Kevin Powers. Copyright © 2014 by Kevin Powers. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.

    The post Weekly Poem: Kevin Powers approaches war with ‘unadorned honesty’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Target’s stock fell about 3 percent Monday after news its president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel had stepped down.

    Steinhafel’s resignation comes five months after a massive holiday-season data breach that resulted in stolen credit and debit card information from about 40 million customers.

    Steinhafel had been with Target for 35 years and became CEO in 2008.

    “The last several months have tested Target in unprecedented ways,” Steinhafel, who also gave up his position on the company’s board of directors, wrote in his resignation letter. “From the beginning, I have been committed to ensuring Target emerges from the data breach a better company, more focused than ever on delivering for our guests … With several key milestones behind us, now is the right time for new leadership at Target.”

    The letter said Steinhafel’s resignation came after “discussions” with the board.

    According to the Associated Press, the company’s sales, profit, and stock price have all taken hits since it disclosed the breach.

    Chief Financial Officer John Mulligan will serve as interim president and CEO of the Minneapolis-based Target. A company spokeswoman declined to give specifics on how the resignation decision was reached.

    The post Target stock tumbles after CEO resigns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    With the price of limes skyrocketing due to a poor growing season and cartel interference, many bars won’t be offering lime wedges this Cinco de Mayo. Photo by Flickr user Eric Driggers

    With the price of limes skyrocketing due to a poor growing season and cartel interference, many bars won’t be offering lime wedges this Cinco de Mayo. Photo by Flickr user Eric Driggers

    When Cinco de Mayo revelers line up tonight at their local watering holes to celebrate the holiday, they may find their respective margaritas and tequila shots paired with a jarring garnish: lemons.

    While local shortages have caused a rapid spike in the price of limes, bars and restaurants across the country have been eschewing limes in favor of their less expensive yellow cousins. And while the absence of limes from one’s favorite beverage might seem like a minor annoyance, the shortage is tied to a very serious crisis in Mexico.

    Over the past year, the cost of limes has quintupled, going from roughly $20 for a 38-pound case to “over $100 per case at present”. The cause of this increase? For one, heavy rains late last year damaged crops in the Mexican states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Veracruz hurt the crop. The United States imports nearly 95 percent of its limes from Mexico, so when those damaging rains were coupled with an outbreak of a citrus-killing bacterium in the lime producing state of Colima, this year’s lime yield already figured to cause headaches for bar owners and tequila connoisseurs alike.

    Joe Hargrave, owner of the popular Bay Area restaurant chain Tacolicious, told the San Francisco Chronicle he had to raise the price of fresh lime margaritas at his stores by $3, while John Berry, owner of the prominent Mexican eatery La Fonda in San Antonio, told Reuters he decided to stop buying limes entirely.

    Yet, there is a second reason for the increase in lime prices, one that carries a much heavier weight than sour pallets and light wallets that connects to the United States’ war on drugs.

    In Michoacan, the lime-growing capital of Mexico, the Mexican crime cartel known as The Knights Templar have found a new product to push north of the border: limes. A splinter group of La Familia Michoacana, the drug cartel dismantled by law enforcement around 2011, the Knights Templar were looking for a way to diversify their business in the wake of La Familia’s downfall. With drugs becoming increasingly more difficult to struggle across the U.S. border, the Knights Templar decided to diversify their business interests, using kidnappings and violence to terrorize and extort those involved with lime export in Michoacan. Business owners in the area have pushed back by forming vigilante “self-defense” groups, which have battled the drug cartels in violent shootouts. As the unrest has spiraled out of control, so too has the price of limes, and it is now virtually impossible for U.S. officials to guarantee how or where Mexican limes are grown.

    “Most people in the U.S. don’t realize how highly dependent we are on Mexico for certain products. They don’t understand how much our economies are intertwined. The bad things happening in Mexico do have an impact on U.S. consumers and U.S. exporters,” David Shirk, a security specialist at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told CNN. “The influence of organized crime groups is extremely pervasive and affects daily life in ways that are shocking. It’s part of daily life in Michoacán and one of the unintended consequences of the drug war.”

    While the price increases have begun to recede from record highs in April, many restaurants are now staying away from purchasing limes for a moral reason: afraid that by doing so they might be supporting violence south of the border.

    “I’m not playing that game,” said Alexeis Filipello, owner of Bar Dogwood in Oakland, to the culinary blog Alcademics. “I hope Mexico has case upon case of rotten limes and the cartels are forced to sell drugs again instead of strong arming lime farmers.”

    While the violence in Michoacana continues to escalate, the Mexican government has attempted to quell the unrest by sending a military presence into the state, while telling the vigilante groups to stand down by May 10. It remains to be seen if they will listen to that call.

    The post How Mexican drug cartels have caused a rapid increase in lime prices, putting a squeeze on bars for Cinco de Mayo appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11, 2012. Photo by STR/AFP/GettyImages

    An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11, 2012. Photo by STR/AFP/GettyImages

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and House Democrats said Monday they were undecided about whether to take part in or boycott an election-year investigation by Republicans into the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans.

    House Speaker John Boehner announced last week he would create a select committee to examine the response to the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Legislative aides said a vote to authorize the panel is expected sometime this week. On Monday, Boehner said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., would head the investigation.

    The action puts President Barack Obama’s team and House Democrats in a bind. They are concerned about what they believe will be a partisan forum for attacks on the president and his top aides ahead of crucial midterm elections in November, which could swing the Senate to GOP control. But avoiding the committee altogether means sacrificing the ability to counter Republican claims.

    White House press secretary Jay Carney said that what Republicans have said about the committee “certainly casts doubt” about its legitimacy.White House press secretary Jay Carney stressed Monday that the administration always cooperates with “legitimate” congressional oversight — including sending witnesses to hearings and providing bipartisan committees with documents. He declined to characterize whether the Obama administration would view a House select committee as legitimate or illegitimate. But he said that what Republicans have said about the committee “certainly casts doubt” about its legitimacy.

    Carney also suggested the select committee was unnecessary. “One thing this Congress is not short on is investigations into what happened before, during and after the attacks in Benghazi,” he told reporters.

    Boehner and other Republicans accuse the administration of misleading the American people after the attack to protect Obama in the final weeks of his re-election campaign, and of stonewalling congressional investigators ever since. They pointed to emails released only last week as further evidence of White House wrongdoing.

    Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2-ranked Democrat, said he and his colleagues would first have to see the specifics of Boehner’s proposed committee before making a decision on participating in or boycotting the new probe. He said he and other party leaders would vote against establishing the committee.

    “This has been seriously and thoroughly investigated,” said Hoyer, citing 13 public hearings on the Benghazi attack, 25,000 pages of documents handed over and 50 separate briefings. “There was nothing the military could have done in the time-frame available,” he told reporters Monday. He said all investigations thus far have produced “no smoking gun, no wrongdoing.”

    Republicans have pointed a finger at one passage in particular among the 40 or so emails obtained last week by the watchdog group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request. Three days after the attack, Ben Rhodes, then the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications at the White House, stressed the goal of underscoring “that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader policy failure.”

    The email was written the Friday before then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday television news programs and explained the Benghazi attack as a protest over a YouTube video that mocked the Islamic prophet Mohammed that was hijacked by extremists. Administration officials later changed their description of the attack and said references to a protest were inaccurate.

    Asked if Rhodes’ email constituted proof of administration wrongdoing, Hoyer said: “That’s baloney.” He said the memo largely mirrored CIA language and joked that it must be shocking that administration officials receive suggestions on what they’ll say before they appear on national news programs. “I was astounded that any White House would do that,” he said.

    However, Hoyer left open the small possibility of Democratic involvement in the select panel. He said it “ought to be an equally balanced committee, so that this is not an exercise in partisanship. We’ll see whether that’s the case.”

    Establishment of the select committee is almost a formality given the GOP’s control of the House. Democrats controlling the Senate have shown no interest in launching a similar probe.

    “With four of our countrymen killed at the hands of terrorists, the American people want answers, accountability and justice,” Boehner said Monday in a statement.

    He called Gowdy, a former prosecutor in his second term in Congress, “as dogged, focused and serious-minded as they come.”

    The committee will have “the strongest authority possible to root out all the facts,” Boehner said.

    Separately, the State Department said Monday that Secretary of State John Kerry would not appear before the House Oversight Committee on May 21 to talk about Benghazi — as demanded in a subpoena from the panel’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

    Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Kerry planned to travel to Mexico at that time and officials would discuss alternative options with the committee.

    Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

    The post Democrats undecided on Benghazi attack investigation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    US Secretary of State John Kerry waves from his airplane prior to departing Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 3, 2014.  Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

    US Secretary of State John Kerry waves from his airplane prior to departing Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 3, 2014. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

    LUANDA, Angola — Traveling from lush green hilltops to hot dusty roads and seaside ports, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked African nations this last week to make a choice: Choose democracy. Embrace economic stability. Reject violence, and move people into the modern world.

    It was an optimistic offer, and the kind of Western jingoism the U.S. is used to espousing. But two conflict-wracked African nations said no, challenging the limits of American influence in a continent that is emerging as the next land of opportunity for foreign financial investors.

    So far, the U.S. is lagging in the worldwide race to reap economic benefits in Africa, and President Barack Obama is hosting a summit this August for leaders of more than 40 African nations to try to build stronger financial ties. The refusal this week by several leaders to heed Kerry’s urgings now confronts the Obama administration with a choice of its own: Pursue economic opportunities with governments that do not respect rule of law or human rights, or take a backseat in global competition by shunning obstinate sub-Saharan countries.

    “This is up to the will of the people, and the will of leaders,” Kerry told about 100 diplomats and local activists gathered at an environmentally friendly tukul hut atop a hilltop in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. “We need to make certain that we grab the choice that seizes the future, and we need to refuse to be dragged back into the past.”

    He added: “I have absolutely no doubt that this could be an inflection point for the new Africa, a time and a place where Africans bend the arc of history toward reform, and not retribution; toward peace and prosperity, not revenge and resentment.”

    In what appears to be the biggest flop of his trip, Kerry announced a tentative agreement to restart stalled peace talks in South Sudan, where U.S. officials say six months of fighting between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President-turned-rebel leader Riek Machar have plunged the world’s newest nation into a civil war.

    But even before Kerry left Africa on Monday, Machar called the peace talks premature and derided the American diplomat’s demand for a transitional government. Kerry continued to hold out hopes that the talks would happen as soon as this week, saying Machar “didn’t close the door” on negotiations. Kiir, meanwhile, sent troops into two rebel strongholds in a violent offensive that the State Department quickly denounced as a violation of an earlier cease-fire agreement.

    Kerry again raised the possibilities of imposing financial and travel sanctions against both leaders and their most violent commanders, as well as sending in U.N. troops to quell the fighting. But such threats have been bandied for weeks without any apparent impact. Leaders in neighboring countries are reluctant to take similar steps that would hurt their own economies or otherwise draw political opposition.

    Kerry’s visit last Friday to Juba, the South Sudan capital, “is coming at a crucial time and cannot serve as an empty gesture or a photo-op,” Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of human rights group Oxfam America, said in a statement. “This visit and subsequent follow through by the administration must demonstrate to all that the U.S. will not tolerate a prolonged conflict that neither side can win and in which civilians are the clear losers.”

    On another losing front, Kerry promised $30 million in election assistance aid for the upcoming 2016 presidential vote in Congo, which has weathered at least 20 years of fighting between the government and a number of rebel groups. But as he pledged the money, Kerry urged President Joseph Kabila to step down at the end of his current term in office, as required under Congo’s constitution.

    The response by Kabila’s government was almost comically unenthusiastic. Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said the constitution would be respected, but also suggested it could be revised.

    “Why all this noise just about Congo, when there are more than 15 countries that are going to organize elections in the next year?” Mende said.

    Leaders held Kerry’s requests at arms’ length throughout the trip, from ensuring press freedoms from Ethiopia’s oppressive government to demanding that Ugandan security forces leave South Sudan or otherwise work under the auspices of the United Nations.Other leaders held Kerry’s requests at arms’ length throughout the trip, from ensuring press freedoms from Ethiopia’s oppressive government to demanding that Ugandan security forces leave South Sudan or otherwise work under the auspices of the United Nations.

    At the same time, the U.S. does not want to miss out on economic gains available in Africa, which has vast oil and gas resources and a middle class that is expected to double over the next decade. And it was impossible to ignore the number of construction cranes erecting new buildings around Addis Ababa, or the Chinese hotel next to Juba’s airfield, or the presence of General Electric at Luanda’s shipping port.

    Compared to competitors across the world, the U.S. companies “have been slower to sort of pick up on the growth in Africa,” said Elizabeth Littlefield, president and CEO of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp.

    But in the last several years, she said, American companies like IBM and GE have opened major offices across Africa. Legal and accounting firms also have flocked to the continent to help the expected flood of U.S. investors navigate various nations’ business rules. And the U.S. Commerce Department is planning to open a commercial service office in Luanda.

    OPIC financed $1 billion in loans for U.S. investors last year, and since 2008 has increased by five-fold the number of businesses it works with.

    Much of the test of Africa’s future will come in elections in 37 nations over the next three years, and of course, whether warring and threat of famine continue to mire the continent.

    Kerry said the U.S. is looking for more than simply an economic relationship with Africa, drawing an unspoken comparison to nations like China, which is sinking 5 percent of its foreign direct investment into the continent, compared to 1 percent by the U.S. But despite building roads and hotels in Africa, officials say China has done little to create long-term jobs or provide services like health care and education training for local workers.

    “Africa has the resources; Africa has the capacity; Africa has the know-how,” Kerry said in his speech in Addis Ababa. “The questions that Africa faces are similar to those confronting countries all over the world: do we have the political will, the sense of common purpose, to address our challenges? Are we prepared to make the hard choices that those challenges require?”

    “The continent’s course is ultimately up to you,” Kerry said.

    The post Kerry’s trip reveals how little influence U.S. has in Africa appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The "Chandos" portrait of William Shakespeare. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

    The “Chandos” portrait of William Shakespeare. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

    “To be, or not to be” could have been the perfect start to a rap song. Some have even called Shakespeare the original rapper, his use of iambic pentameter the first dropped beat.

    So, it seems fitting that when comparing the range of vocabulary among hip hop artists, data scientist Matt Daniels would also incorporate the Bard himself — whose entire collection of work included a total of 28,829 unique words forms, with 12,493 appearing only once.

    In order to include younger rappers in the data, Daniels compared the first 35,000 lyrics — or in Shakespeare’s case, the first 5,000 words of seven of his works — of 85 different rappers from Salt-n-Pepa to Drake. He then counted each unique word to determine the extent of a rapper’s vocabulary.

    Image courtesy of Matt Daniels.

    Image courtesy of Matt Daniels.

    Where did Shakespeare place? That is the question.

    Rapper Aesop Rock held the top spot with the use of 7,392 unique words. The Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA — whose “Dark Matter” album inspired a flood of science rap submissions from PBS NewsHour viewers last year — wasn’t too far behind with 6,426 unique words. DMX ended up in the last slot with a total of 3,214 unique words.

    And Shakespeare? He landed near the middle range with a total of 5,170 unique words, right in the middle of Outkast and the Beastie Boys, among others.

    See Daniels’ work in its entirety here.

    The post Shakespeare loses to the Wu-Tang Clan in vocabulary duel appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — As the United States attempts to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine, the Treasury Department is deploying an economic weapon that could prove more costly than sanctions: the Internal Revenue Service.

    This summer, the U.S. plans to start using a new law that will make it more expensive for Russian banks to do business in America.

    “It’s a huge deal,” says Mark E. Matthews, a former IRS deputy commissioner. “It would throw enormous uncertainty into the Russian banking community.”

    Long before the Ukraine crisis, Congress approved the law in 2010 to curb tax evasion that relies on overseas accounts. Now, beginning in July, U.S. banks will be required to start withholding a 30 percent tax on certain payments to financial institutions in other countries — unless those foreign banks have agreements in place to share information about U.S. account holders with the IRS. The withholding applies mainly to investment income.

    Russia and dozens of other countries have been negotiating information-sharing agreements with the U.S. in an effort to spare their banks from such harsh penalties.

    But after Russia annexed Crimea and was seen as stoking separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, the Treasury Department quietly suspended negotiations in March. With the July 1 deadline approaching, Russian banks are now concerned that the price of investing in the United States is about to go up.

    The new law means that Russian banks that buy U.S. securities after July 1 will forfeit 30 percent of the interest and dividend payments. The withholding applies to stocks and bonds, including U.S. Treasuries. Some previously owned securities would be exempt from the withholding, but in general, previously owned stocks would not.

    Private investors who use Russian financial institutions to facilitate trades also face the withholding penalty. Those private investors could later apply to the IRS for refunds, but the inconvenience would be enormous.

    “It’s a big problem for them,” said Matthews, who is now a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale, a tax firm based in Washington. “It decreases their competitiveness and they may have capital flight elsewhere.”

    The U.S. and Russia are significant trading partners, though not all transactions would be subject to withholding. Last year, the U.S. imported $27 billion in goods from Russia, which ranked 18th among importers to the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. The U.S. exported $11 billion in goods to Russia.

    The withholding would expand in 2017, if there was still no information-sharing agreement. At that point, if investors sold stocks or bonds, U.S. banks would be required to withhold a 30 percent tax on the gross proceeds from those sales.

    The law would also snag big global banks with subsidiaries that don’t have agreements with the IRS to share information. At first the withholding could be limited to the subsidiaries. But eventually, if any part of a large global bank refused to comply with the information-sharing requirements, the entire bank would be penalized.

    “That keeps an institution from deciding that it’s going to register its entity in Germany but not register the entity it has in Switzerland,” said Denise Hintzke of Deloitte Tax.

    It would also provide a tremendous disincentive for large global banks to do business in countries where they can’t share information with U.S. authorities.

    More than 50 countries have reached agreements with the U.S. to share tax information about U.S. account holders. The list includes countries famous for bank secrecy, such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

    For Russia, the penalties could be more damaging to its economy than U.S. sanctions, said Brian L. Zimbler, managing partner of the Moscow office of Morgan Lewis, an international law firm.

    “If sanctions are going to be limited to certain targeted individuals and banks, where this applies to everybody in the market, yes, I think this could potentially be worse than sanctions for the Russians,” Zimbler said.

    The 2010 law is known as FATCA, which stands for the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. It was designed to encourage — some say force — foreign banks to share information about U.S. account holders with the IRS, making it more difficult for Americans to use overseas accounts to evade U.S. taxes.

    Under the law, U.S. banks that fail to withhold the tax would be liable for it themselves, a powerful incentive to comply. On Friday, the Treasury Department issued guidance saying it will give U.S. banks a temporary reprieve. As long as U.S. banks make a good-faith effort to withhold the proper tax, they won’t be liable for mistakes until 2016.

    The new guidance also gives some leeway to U.S. banks that may have trouble identifying all payments subject to withholding by July 1. Those banks will be given an extra six months to comply.

    The goal of the law was to set up a penalty so harsh that foreign banks would have little choice but to share information with U.S. authorities, Matthews said.

    “Withholding is a failure of the system,” Matthews said. “Withholding was just a big stick out there. No one hoped that would happen.”

    The Treasury Department said Russian banks can still apply on their own to share information about U.S. account holders directly with the IRS. But those banks may risk violating local privacy laws by sharing such information with a foreign government.

    “They can’t do it,” Zimbler said. “Russia does have bank secrecy laws.”

    It is a problem that banks around the world are facing. To get around the hurdle, the Treasury Department has been negotiating agreements in which foreign governments will collect the information from their banks and then share it with U.S. authorities. Russia was negotiating one of these agreements when the U.S. broke off talks.

    Russian banks face another hurdle: time. In June, the Treasury Department is scheduled to release a list of foreign banks that are exempt from withholding. If your bank isn’t on the list, U.S. banks are required to start withholding 30 percent of your payments in July.

    The deadline for getting on the list was Monday, just a few weeks after the U.S. and Russia suspended negotiations.


    Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

    The post Tough new IRS penalties set to target Russian banks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The mountains, trees and meadows surrounding this famous high-elevation lake suffered from the effects of an extended drought as viewed on March 17 in South Lake Tahoe, California, with 2013 the driest year in recorded history. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

    The mountains, trees and meadows surrounding this famous high-elevation lake suffered from the effects of an extended drought as viewed on March 17 in South Lake Tahoe, California, with 2013 the driest year in recorded history. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • Obama leans into climate change
    • But Democrats remain divided on Keystone
    • Another good poll for Republicans
    • McConnell pivots to general election
    • The Iowa candidate who brought you castration is now packing heat in her purse

    Climate change: President Barack Obama is leaning into climate change Tuesday with the release of the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, a 1,300-page report on climate change that warns of dire consequences. The president will be speaking to meteorologists across the country, and senior officials in the White House are hosting an event at 2 p.m. ET. The Washington Post: “After years of putting other policy priorities first — and dismaying many liberal allies in the process — Obama is now getting into the weeds on climate change and considers it one of the key components of his legacy, according to aides and advisers.” Yet, for all the red flags the White House and Democrats will raise on climate change, as Pew noted from its polling data: “The American public routinely ranks dealing with global warming low on its list of priorities for the president and Congress. This year, it ranked second to last among 20 issues tested.” And there’s a sharp partisan divide with 42 percent of Democrats ranking it as a top priority with just 27 percent of independents and 14 of Republicans saying so.

    Keystone complication: But on one issue of importance for environmental activists, the Keystone XL Pipeline, the president is still undecided. The Obama administration delayed a decision until after the election. And vulnerable, red-state Democrats are pressing for approval. “It is time to stop studying and start building,” Mary Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has said. Republicans want to attach a Keystone amendment to an energy-efficiency bill (debate begins on the bill at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday and a cloture vote is expected on it later in the day). But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn’t want to do that. Instead, Reid is willing to give on a binding, stand-alone Keystone bill if Republicans will let the energy-efficiency bill get an up-or-down vote and not be filibustered, according to a top Democratic leadership aide, who charges that Republicans are shifting their demands. Republicans say Reid again is refusing amendments from Republicans. With Senate control hanging in the balance, a lot is made of the Republican intra-party splits, but this is one issue where Democrats are divided.

    Start your voting! Three states are set to vote today — North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio. Here’s our full Morning Line preview from Monday. Polls close in Indiana at 7 p.m. ET; North Carolina (where most of the action is) and Ohio close at 7:30 p.m. ET.

    More good poll news for Republicans: A new CNN/ORC International poll released Monday gave Republicans a narrow 46 percent to 45 percent advantage among registered voters on the generic ballot, a split that tracks with other recent surveys and reflects the challenge facing Democrats in November. Given the traditional pool of midterm voters and the Republican-leaning nature of congressional districts, anything less than a comfortable lead on this metric is worrying news for Democrats. While the president is minus-12 in his approval/disapproval ratings (43 percent approve to 55 percent disapprove), a majority of voters said they wouldn’t base their vote on Mr. Obama’s job performance. A quarter of those polled said they would send a message against the president, while 20 percent said their vote would signal support for Mr. Obama. The lack of enthusiasm on the part of Democrats could be a concern in generating turnout on Election Day. If there is a silver lining for Democrats in the survey, the party outperformed Republicans on the specific question of control of the Senate. Forty-five percent of respondents said the country would be better off with Democrats in the majority, while 42 percent said they would rather have Republicans in charge.

    Batman! Superman! Mitch McConnell! Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is up with a new ad that focuses on how he’s brought jobs to Kentucky. “He’s been called a hero for saving Kentucky jobs,” an announcer says in a new $100,000 ad buy airing statewide beginning Tuesday. “Mitch McConnell works for Kentucky jobs,” the ad concludes. The AP notes, “[T]he message of the ad could indicate McConnell’s worries. Just last month, a local newspaper quoted McConnell saying it was ‘not my job’ to bring employment to a struggling Kentucky county. He said that role belonged to the state commerce department. McConnell said his comments were taken out of context, but the latest ad suggests his team saw the gaffe as driving voters’ perception of McConnell, especially as Grimes piled on criticism.”

    Grimes’ campaign released a statement this morning that read, in part: “Mitch McConnell has been in Washington for 30 years, yet never proposed a jobs plan for Kentucky,” said Jonathan Hurst, a Grimes senior adviser. “Instead, he has turned Washington into a gridlocked embarrassment, putting himself and his party first.” By the way, anyone hear the name Matt Bevin anywhere in all this?

    Joni Ernst goes from castrating pigs to riding a hog (and packing heat): The Iowa Republican Senate candidate is out with a new ad that showcases her appreciation for motorcycles, firearms and limited government. “Joni Ernst will take aim at wasteful spending. And once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni’s gonna unload,” the ad’s narrator says as Ernst fires off rounds at a target. In her debut ad, Ernst highlighted her experience growing up on an Iowa farm castrating pigs to talk about her commitment to cutting spending. With a crowded GOP primary field, the spots are sure to make Ernst stand out. She also got a boost Monday in the form of an endorsement from Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1957, then-Senator John F. Kennedy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book “Profiles in Courage.” How many American presidents have won this award?
    Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Josh Silberberg ‏(@jsilberberg) for guessing Friday’s answer: Irwinville, Georgia.


    • Top American companies like Alcoa, Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Morgan Stanley and ConocoPhillips have cancelled plans to attend an international economic forum hosted by President Vladimir Putin in Russia, after the Obama administration strongly urged them to pull out.

    • Members of the Russian punk rock protest band Pussy Riot will hold a press conference on Capitol Hill with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission at 11:30 a.m. ET Tuesday.

    • We can add judicial races to the list of campaigns that outside groups are forking over money for. In North Carolina, an attack ad against Justice Robin Hudson was paid for by a group that had recently received a large donation from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington.

    • Hillary Clinton speaks at the National Conference for Behavioral Health at 10 a.m. ET.

    • Later this month Hillary Clinton will headline a fundraiser for former Pennsylvania Rep. Marjorie Margolies, who also happens to be Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law.

    • Vice President Joe Biden will raise money for South Carolina Democrats Friday before delivering the University of South Carolina’s commencement address.

    • Sen. Mark Pryor, R-Ark., isn’t afraid to be seen with the president. At his invitation, Mr. Obama will make his first presidential trip to Arkansas on Wednesday to tour tornado damage.

    • The House Ethics Committee is continuing its investigation of Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who’s accused of keeping a staffer-turned-lobbyist on his congressional payroll for 10 years.

    • Massachusetts is ditching its broken Health Connector website because it’s too hard to repair. The state will prepare to temporarily join the HealthCare.gov marketplace in case their new site is not ready by the Fall.

    • Here’s a way to win re-election: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, helped save a woman’s life by performing CPR on her.

    • Mr. Obama’s pick for the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit might be too liberal for Republicans, and even some Democrats, to confirm.

    • The House Finance committee holds a hearing at 10 a.m. ET on funding federal highways. The fund fund is expected to be empty by the end of August, and likely will become an issue in coming weeks, per NewsHour’s Quinn Bowman.

    • Republicans in Missouri successfully overturned Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a tax bill that will now dramatically decrease personal income taxes.

    • Republican Sid Dinsdale has shaken up the financing field in Nebraska’s Senate race by loaning his campaign $1 million in April.

    • The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision Monday that legislative bodies can open meetings with prayer without violating the Constitution’s prohibition against government establishment of religion. Gwen Ifill spoke with the National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle about the decision.

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


    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    The post Obama, Democrats try to strike balance on climate change, energy politics appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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