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

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    Texas Governor Rick Perry is deploying 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border to boost security during a surge in illegal immigration by children. Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

    Texas Governor Rick Perry is deploying 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border to boost security during a surge in illegal immigration by children. Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry unveiled his plan Monday to immediately deploy about 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the Rio Grande Valley to secure the Texas-Mexico border.

    “I will not stand idly by,” Perry said. “The price of inaction is too high.”

    He pressured President Barack Obama to send the National Guard to the border while criticizing the “lip service” and “empty promises” of the federal government.

    The recent border crisis has been receiving national attention by tens of thousands of unaccompanied children illegally entering the U.S. Perry said criminals are exploiting this situation as border patrol is pulled away from law enforcement to humanitarian aid. Unaccompanied minors take up about 20% of the apprehended on the border, according to Perry.

    The National Guard will provide additional support to a state-funded border surge that is costing an additional $1.3 million a week. CNN reported that Customs and Border Patrol budget jumped to $12.4 billion this year compared to $5 billion in 2002.

    Earlier this month, the Obama administration asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funds from Congress to address the humanitarian crisis.

    The post Perry plans to send 1,000 troops to border appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: There were small signs of progress today in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines disaster over Eastern Ukraine. After an international outcry, rebels finally allowed remains of many of the 298 victims to leave the crash site. Their plane was shot out of the sky last week.

    Neil Connery of Independent Television News reports on the day’s drama over the fate of the bodies.

    NEIL CONNERY: Nothing prepares you for the scene inside this train. The gut-wrenching smell hits you first, and then the sight of the body bags, more than 200 victims from flight MH17.

    Dutch forensic experts joined the small team of international observers granted access, but it’s the pro-Russian militia who are in control of what happens here. The observers plead for the militia commander to allow the train to move, so the victims’ final journey home can begin.

    MAN: When the additional bodies that you have now on the way are here, can the experts then come on the train and leave? I have talked to the experts. We need to move the train.

    NEIL CONNERY: But the answers from the militia were in short supply.

    The refrigerated carriages containing the bodies are struggling to cope with temperatures touching 30 degrees Celsius outside. The bodies of victims of Flight MH17 which are inside these refrigerated carriages appear to have become some source of bargaining chip, the grotesque response to what has happened here over the past few days compounding the anguish of their families.

    The outside world seems powerless to influence what happens here, and the militia want to keep it that way.

    MAN: Journalists and…


    NEIL CONNERY: Can we come with you now?

    MAN: Yes.

    NEIL CONNERY: Thank you. Thank you. He’s asking me — he’s allowing me through.

    The observers then head to the crash site, where bodies and human remains are still being found. While some have their first chance to take in the scene, fresh fighting in the nearby city of Donetsk threatened to delay any movement of the train carrying the bodies.

    MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, OSCE Spokesman: Some of you have seen the Donetsk railway station. There were explosions there today, so I think that’s complicated matters somewhat in terms of the logistics.

    NEIL CONNERY: The train finally set off, heading away from this rebel area towards the city of Kharkiv, which is under the control of the Ukrainian government. Their final journey home seems to be under way.

    GWEN IFILL: On the diplomatic front, claims and counterclaims continued to fly over who was responsible for the shoot-down. And Russia and its Ukrainian rebel allies faced new demands to allow a full investigation.

    Four days in, and international teams are still pressing for unfettered access to the crash site, as Malaysia’s prime minister announced a deal to retrieve the flight recorders from the rebels who control the area.

    NAJIB RAZAK, Prime Minister, Malaysia: The two black boxes will be handed over to a Malaysian team in Donetsk, who will take custody of them.

    GWEN IFILL: But there were new accusations that the site has been hopelessly compromised.

    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko:

    PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukraine (through interpreter): Three notorious crimes were committed. The first crime is a terrorist attack committed from Russian weapons by Russian terrorists and Russian mercenaries. The second crime, I can’t look calmly at how the terrorists treated the bodies of those who died. Thirdly, destroying the evidence is absolutely unacceptable.

    GWEN IFILL: In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to insist the real blame lies with Kiev for its offensive in Eastern Ukraine.

    PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): I believe that if military operations had not resumed in Eastern Ukraine on June 28, this tragedy probably could have been avoided. At the same time, no one should and no one has the right to use this tragedy to pursue their own political goals.

    GWEN IFILL: Putin insisted his government is doing everything possible to promote a full investigation.

    But, in Washington, President Obama said he is not doing enough.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These separatists are removing evidence from the crash site, all of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide? Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia, and President Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation.

    GWEN IFILL: Other leaders issued similar statements.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron:

    DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: The world is watching Putin, and they want to know, everybody wants to know that he will do everything in his power to make these separatists open up that site, so there can be a proper investigation.

    GWEN IFILL: And in New York this afternoon, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution demanding international access to the site.

    The post Rebels allow MH17 bodies to leave crash site appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The governor of Texas is sending up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Mexican border. They would join some 3,000 Border Patrol agents already working the area. Republican Rick Perry announced the move today to help stem a surge of children entering the U.S. illegally. He’s a possible 2016 presidential candidate and a vocal critic of President Obama’s immigration policy.

    GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor. We are too good a country for that to occur.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: White House spokesman Josh Earnest didn’t directly criticize the governor’s move. But he urged Republicans to support the president’s call for $3.7 billion in emergency funding.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: It seems to me that a much more powerful symbol would be the bipartisan passage of legislation that would actually make a historic investment in border security and send an additional 20,000 personnel to the border.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The spokesman also said the numbers crossing the border have dropped by half this month. President Obama plans to meet Friday with the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where many of the children are coming from.

    GWEN IFILL: The city of Chicago suffered another violent weekend, with at least 40 people shot and four killed. An 11-year-old girl was among the dead. She was shot during a slumber party when someone fired a gun into the house from outside. Over the July 4 weekend, more than 50 people were shot, with 17 killed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A friend of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect was convicted today of obstruction. He’s one of two men charged with taking Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dorm room after the attack that killed three and wounded more than 260. The backpack contained fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder. Tsarnaev goes on trial in November.

    GWEN IFILL: In Libya, chaos in the capital city worsened, as rival militias renewed their battle for control of Tripoli’s airport; 47 people have died in a week of intense clashes that left charred remains of airplanes on the tarmac and terminals severely damaged. At least 120 people have been wounded.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Firefighters in Washington state got some welcome relief today, calmer winds and cooler temperatures. In just a few days, the biggest fire, in the north-central part of the state, has burned across nearly 400 square miles. It’s destroyed 150 homes and is blamed for one death, and it’s only 2 percent contained. More than 1,600 firefighters are working on the fire, and improved conditions could help them make headway.

    GWEN IFILL: The heat that’s helped fuel those wildfires comes as the earth is experiencing some of its hottest months ever. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports the average global temperature in June was just over 61 degrees. That’s more than a full degree warmer that the 20th century average.

    The month of May set a heat record as well, going back to 1880, when global data was first recorded. Also today, the National Weather Service said California had its warmest winter and spring on record. The state is struggling with its worst drought in decades.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama has ordered new protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers in the federal government. Employees of federal contractors are also covered under today’s action. The issue has been held up in Congress in a dispute over granting a broad exemption for religious organizations.

    GWEN IFILL: Detroit’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy got a mixed review today in a key report commissioned by a federal bankruptcy judge. The report found the city’s plan is basically feasible. But it also expressed concern that settlements with creditors may hurt the city’s future finances. Still to be released: results of voting on pension cuts by 30,000 retirees.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wall Street started the week on a down note. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 48 points to close at 17,051. The Nasdaq fell seven points to close at 4,424. And the S&P 500 slipped four to 1,973.

    The post News Wrap: Texas governor to send troops to Mexico border appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Xiamen, China. Photo by Flickr user Sara Yeomans

    Xiamen, China. Photo by Flickr user Sara Yeomans

    McDonald’s and KFC in China are reeling from another food safety scare Monday after a local TV station reported that a supplier had been selling expired meat to the restaurants.

    According to the report , Hushi Food Co. was using expired and contaminated meats in the products they sent to KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut restaurants in China.

    McDonald’s and Yum, which owns both KFC and Pizza Hut, apologized and said they immediately stopped using meat from the Hushi supplier as the investigation continues. Hushi Food Co. is owned by the Illinois-based OSI group which has looked to capitalize on growing demand for fast-food overseas.

    Chinese television station Dragon TV had an undercover reporter who allegedly found the packaging plant using 18 tons of expired chicken skin to make chicken nuggets. The Dragon TV footage shows workers “picking up food from the floor and throwing it into processing machines.”

    This is not the first time in recent years that Yum has faced public image problems. KFC, China’s largest chain restaurant, saw a 37 percent drop in sales last December after reports of suppliers using Benjamin Cavender, Shanghai-based principal at China Market Research Group.

    “If proven, the practices outlined in the reports are completely unacceptable to McDonald’s anywhere in the world,” a China-based spokeswoman for McDonald’s told Reuters. Both McDonald’s and Yum promised better precautions to ensure high quality meat in their Chinese locations.

    The post New food scandal hard to swallow for KFC, McDonald’s in China appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin Visits Samara

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    GWEN IFILL: When the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, the stakes in the fight for the future of Ukraine went up. At the center of what has rapidly become a global flash point is the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Russia. But what, if anything, can the U.S. or Russia do in the face of international grief, recrimination and derailed diplomacy?

    Stephen Sestanovich was U.S. ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union during the Clinton administration. He’s now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. And Eugene Rumer was the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia during the Obama administration from 2010 to 2014. He’s now director of Russia and Eurasia Programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    Stephen Sestanovich, how much — how much good can international pressure do?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH, Council on Foreign Relations: Well, there’s no doubt that Russia faces the most appalling public relations predicament that it’s been in, in decades. And it is going to be responding to international pressure.

    No government wants to have the kind of criminal reputation that the Russians are acquiring for their handling of this. And the result is — you already see — is a kind of backing off of some of the positions that they have taken. They supported a U.N. Security Council resolution today. The separatists have been urged to release the bodies. There is that kind of minimal level of cooperation that is meant to rescue their international position right now.

    GWEN IFILL: But, Eugene Rumer, this does seem like a minimal level of cooperation. Is there room for more?

    EUGENE RUMER, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: There is certainly room for more, but I think we have to keep in mind that Mr. Putin has to speak to several different audiences.

    One of course is the audience that Steve talked about, the international pressure to do the right thing. But don’t forget that he has a domestic audience. And the narrative in Russia has been very different about this disaster, as well as about the relationship between Russia and the United States and the crisis in Ukraine, than what we have been hearing here in the United States.

    I was in Moscow last week. And in every meeting I went to, it was very clear that the Russians have a very different view of this situation, that it’s not as black and white as it’s portrayed. If anything, it’s more black and white sort of to their favor. And Putin has to speak to that, has to take into account what’s been broadcast on Russian television and media.

    And I think, to the extent that he wants to comply with international pressure, he has to be aware of the fact that — we have to be aware of the fact that he doesn’t control the situation on the ground 100 percent.

    So he doesn’t want to be embarrassed if he gives orders to the separatists and they say, you’re not in charge, we are in charge here.

    GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Sestanovich, you probably noticed over the past several days that there have been mixed reviews about whether the president has been tough and direct enough in his scolding of Russia and Vladimir Putin in this. What is your sense of that, and would it help?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH:Well, I think the president has been pretty clear about the Russian role.

    There is some criticism of his tone. It is kind of clipped and affectless. And I think his handlers are clearly urging to take a more — slightly edgier, more emotional approach to this. You saw that in his statement today.

    GWEN IFILL: Would that make a difference?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH:I think it is probably going to silence some of the critics who say he’s not hands-on enough, he’s not feeling the pain of the victims and their families.

    But I think there’s a bigger problem for the president here, apart from just laying the blame at the Russian doorstep for access to the crime site, for example. That’s a passing issue. The fundamental issue here is Russian support for separatism in Eastern Ukraine.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you about that, Eugene Rumer.

    I’m sorry.


    GWEN IFILL: I just want to pick up on that point, which is, does Vladimir Putin have the leverage that some people think he does to actually get the pro-Russian separatists, as we have been calling them, to back off?

    EUGENE RUMER: I believe he does have some leverage, but I’m not at all convinced that he can get them to back off, because this is not a regular army.

    There are all kinds of actors with different agendas reporting to different commanders and different interests. And Putin actually at the time when he was encouraging a cease-fire was being bad-mouthed in the Russian press, in the radical Russian right, extreme right-wing press, as a traitor, as someone who was betraying the freedom fighters, if you wish, the separatists, as we call them, rightly so, and he wasn’t really doing what he is supposed to do as president to advance Russian national interests.

    I think that he has some ability, but I wouldn’t bet on him being able to control them.

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH:Putin is in a fix here largely of his own making.

    The nationalist hysteria that Gene talks about that dominates the Russian media right now has been encouraged by Putin. It is the consequence of the campaign that he’s been on to stoke Russian nationalism as a source for his domestic popularity. That is something that does limit his maneuvering room, but he can’t let himself be in a position where he makes Russia so isolated that it has severe consequences for the economy and for Russia’s political standing.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s what the U.S. is counting on, it’s what the Europeans are counting on, more now than they were before, and certainly it’s what we have heard or — which is that sanctions and tougher sectoral sanctions are going to change the calculus here, and that’s what the president should be walking out and talking about.

    Do you think that would change the calculus?

    EUGENE RUMER: I don’t think it is going to change the calculus. Maybe in the long term.

    But I just don’t see Putin stepping away from the course that he’s on now under pressure, under threat of sanctions. And those sanctions, be they sectoral, be they a demand for Europe to stop buying Russian gas, are simply not realistic in a practical policy time frame. It’s just not in the cards.

    GWEN IFILL: OK, so I want to ask both of you gentlemen what anybody should be doing here to force some sort of action in the wake of this tragedy. Is there something the U.S. could be doing? Is there some sort of diplomacy? Is there some sort of arming the rebels, arming the Ukrainian government? What is the solution?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH:Well, a lot of support for Ukraine is coming at us. That is going to be the issue that has to be faced by the administration.

    They have indicated that they’re prepared to do a lot of support, give a lot of support for the Ukrainian economy. They have offered a lot of diplomatic and political support in recent days. Security assistance is probably the next issue on the agenda. It used to be said, you know, the Ukrainian military is so pathetic that they can’t even use any help or they use it irresponsibly.

    The record of recent weeks has been that the Ukrainian military has been able to make advances against the separatists, and they probably need further help.

    EUGENE RUMER: I don’t think that there’s really a military solution to this crisis.

    If the Ukrainian begins to really win and push the separatists, squeeze them into smaller and smaller areas, I think Putin will have no choice but to open the spigot again even more so. And I think that could actually push them to the option that I believe he really doesn’t want to pursue. And that is more of a military intervention that he’s been pursuing so far.

    And, frankly, I don’t see any solution to this crisis, other than for all parties to just say, enough is enough, let’s negotiate, let’s all come to the table without any preconditions, and start — I know it’s a bad term — start freezing this conflict and looking for a way out of this situation.

    GWEN IFILL: All right, Eugene Rumer and Stephen Sesan — Sestanovich — I’m going to get your name right one day — thank you both very much.


    The post Will the MH17 disaster cause Putin to change course in Ukraine? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: : The death toll from the fighting between Hamas and Israel continued to mount today. In total, more than 500 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed since the conflict began nearly two weeks ago.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. push for a cease-fire accelerated.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has our report.

    MARGARET WARNER: Rescue crews scrambled to find survivors, as Israeli airstrikes blasted parts of Gaza City and Khan Yunis. Local health officials said at least three families were buried in rubble.

    Palestinians also reported Israeli tanks shelled a hospital in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, killing at least four people. The Israeli military said it was aiming at anti-tank missiles stored nearby, and Israel’s defense minister vowed to keep up the fight.

    MOSHE YA’ALON, Defense Minister, Israel (through interpreter): We are prepared to continue the operation as long as necessary. If there is a need, we will recruit more reserve combat forces until we bring quiet from the Gaza Strip.

    MARGARET WARNER: The Israelis say they’re focused on destroying Hamas rockets and the network of tunnels used to store them and to infiltrate militias into Israel. The military said it foiled another such attempt today, shown in this video, and killed 10 militants.

    All this came a day after the first major ground battle of the conflict, in Gaza City’s Shaja’ia neighborhood; 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed. Funerals for the soldiers were held today, as the military announced more soldiers died in fighting.

    Hamas also claimed late Sunday that it had captured an Israeli soldier, but there was no confirmation. Meanwhile, sirens sounded over Tel Aviv today, as militants fired at least 50 more rockets into Israel, damaging a house, but causing no casualties.

    In a televised speech, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, insisted his group won’t stop fighting until there’s an end to the Israeli- Egyptian blockade of the territory, saying, “We cannot go back to the silent death of the blockade.”

    As casualties mount, so do the numbers of Gaza residents forced to flee their homes, estimated now in the tens of thousands. The pressure to end the fighting is building, too.

    President Obama spoke of the human cost today.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians both in Gaza and in Israel.

    MARGARET WARNER: To that end, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Egypt to try to revive cease-fire efforts. He’s scheduled to meet there with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and others.

    The new American involvement came a day after Kerry was caught on an open microphone questioning the toll taken by Israel’s offensive.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.

    MARGARET WARNER: The U.N. Security Council voiced similar concerns last night. The 15 members demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities.

    The post As death toll climbs, pressure builds for Mideast cease-fire appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    If Social Security won't tell you when you could be collecting more than you are, who will? Photo by of Tetra Images/Flickr

    If Social Security won’t tell you when you could be collecting more than you are, who will? Photo by of Tetra Images/Flickr

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

    Here’s my question to myself for today. It’s based on an actual couple’s experience, which made me want to ask, how does a couple know if there are benefits they’re not taking but could be? Will Social Security tell them?

    Answer: No, Social Security will absolutely not inform you. Let me illustrate this with an example. Mark and Joan just celebrated their 62nd birthdays by unadvisedly rushing over to their local Social Security office and signing up for their retirement benefits. They both realize they can live to 100, but their broker convinced them that he can make more money for them with their reduced Social Security benefits checks now than if they waited to collect higher Social Security benefits later.

    What Mark and Joan don’t fully realize is that their broker is promising them not just a higher, but also a lower return than Social Security. Come again?

    Well, it depends on the future. In some situations, the broker could indeed deliver a higher return than Social Security. But in others, he’ll underperform Social Security. The Social Security Administration sets Mark’s and Joan’s retirement benefits to 76 percent larger values, after inflation, if they start collecting them at 70 rather than at 62. By picking the right benefit collection strategy, Mark and Joan can jointly optimize both their retirement and spousal benefits. This optimization will, in general, not entail their both waiting until age 70 to file for their retirement benefits.


    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    But their broker is Mark’s first cousin and best friend. So they followed his advice. When they sat down with the Social Security staffer, named Clair, at the local office, Joan, who was a much lower earner, asked if she could file for a spousal benefit too. Clair said not only could she file for a spousal benefit, she had to file because of what’s called Social Security’s deeming provision.

    Clair did some quick calculations and said, “Ok, here’s the deal. You, Joan, can and must file for a spousal benefit, but you earned too much to get one, so your spousal benefit is zero.”

    Joan said, “You’re kidding, I thought I was going to get my retirement benefit plus half of Mark’s retirement benefit?”

    Clair smiled and said, “There is a lot of misinformation out there. We at Social Security know the rules, and what I’m telling you is what our computer system is telling me. You can file for your spousal benefit — in fact, you have to file for your spousal benefit, but it’s zero, so there is no spousal benefit. The reason is that you get what is pretty much the larger of the two benefits when you file for both. And your retirement benefit exceeds your spousal benefit.”

    “Ok,” Joan said, “If that’s the case, that’s the case. ​Please g​ive me ​whatever you can.”

    What Social Security didn’t tell Joan is that she could wait until full retirement age and collect half of Mark’s full retirement benefit and wait until 70 to collect her own 76 percent higher retirement benefit. Instead, Clair from Social Security said, “It’s good you are taking your benefits early. You can never tell when you’ll die.”

    Now let’s slow forward to three months from now when Mark is offered a very high-paying job if he’ll come out of retirement. Mark’s been a good upper-income earner but no superstar. Now he’s been given a new job that will pay him more than the covered earnings ceiling ​– a job he can ​do as long as his brain’s ticking. What’s the job? He’s going to serve on a corporate board that pays board members large annual amounts for their service.

    Mark realizes that going back to work will cost him his Social Security benefits through full retirement age due to the system’s earnings test. But he’s done his homework and knows that thanks to Social Security’s adjustment of the reduction factor, any benefits he loses between now and full retirement age will be made up by Social Security in the form of a permanently higher benefit starting at full retirement age.

    Now fast forward 23 years. Mark and Joan are 85. They are in perfect health. They are sure they can make it to 100. They’ve had stress tests, total body scans, knee and hip replacements, colonoscopies up the wazoo, and they’re avid golfers, entertainers, travelers and readers. And one thing Joan keeps reading about are spousal benefits. She’s learned enough to realize that because Mark has made more money ever since age 62, and since his full retirement benefit has been and continues to be recomputed each year based on his additional covered earnings, her spousal benefit may now exceed her own retirement benefit. Furthermore, she realizes that if she now qualifies for her spousal benefit, she probably qualified last year and for many years before that.

    Joan is right. She now qualifies for about $3,000 (in today’s dollars) per year in extra or excess spousal benefits over and above her retirement benefit. And, though this excess spousal benefit was smaller in the past, it became positive when Joan turned 70. All told, Joan’s excess spousal benefits since age 70 amount to over $30,000 — and that ignores the interest she could have earned on the money had she received it.

    Joan’s upset. She marches over to the local Social Security office. There, to her great surprise, is Clair, looking a little older, but still very happy to help. Joan demands all her past spousal benefits that she had originally asked for but never received. Clair smiles and says, “There is a lot of misinformation out there. I can give you spousal benefits back six months, and from here on out. But that’s it.”

    Joan screams, “What? I asked for my benefits when I was 62. I filed for them. You didn’t give them to me once they became positive. This is grossly unfair.”

    Clair smiles. “There is a lot of misinformation out there. When you didn’t quality for a positive spousal benefit back at age 62, we treated you as not having filed. In order to have received your excess spousal benefits you needed to come in ​and apply again for them when they became positive.”

    “But you never notified me when they became positive,” Joan exclaims.

    Clair smiles again. “That’s not our job.”

    Don’t expect Social Security to tell you anything about what it owes you. Use very accurate software that shows you your annual benefits in all future years, and take special notice if a benefit that is initially zero becomes positive in a future year. When that happens, go in, find Clair, and smile.

    Robin — Idaho: I married my husband in 1987. We were still married when he passed at 47 in 2005 after collecting Social Security disability for about a year. He had the larger cumulative income at the time of his passing, however, I have now surpassed that at $32,000 per year.

    At 62, I am still working towards a full retirement age of 67. I filed for widow’s benefits when they became available to me. They are being offset by my income such that I received a $1,330 benefit for each of the last four months of 2013. I thought I should put off collecting my own benefit as long as possible to help it grow?

    I will be vested in my company as of August 2015 and eligible to retire. However, I’m slowing down and not sure I can work (at this pace) until 2017 when I am 67. (I wanted to try to stay on the job to continue our free health insurance premiums until my daughter turns 26 in 2017.)

    Am I on the right track? Is there something better I should be doing to maximize my retirement and Social Security benefit?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Sorry for your loss. It sounds like you probably made the right move in taking your widows benefit first when you reached age 60, while letting your own retirement benefit grow.

    But it might have been better to have applied for your retirement benefit first and let your widows benefit grow. Which of these two options widow(er)s should pursue is devilishly complex and discovering the right answer requires using extremely accurate software.

    Yes, you are now making more money, in dollar terms, than your husband made, but Social Security indexes past covered earnings using the historic growth rate in average wages to calculate both your widows benefit and your own retirement benefit. It actually compares two indexing procedures (called “windexing”) to calculate widow(er)s’ benefits if the worker passed away prior to age 62.

    There is also a separate, complex formula to determine the widows benefit for widow(er)s of deceased disabled workers (deceased spouses who were receiving disability benefits prior to passing away). So the fact that you are now making more money than your husband made doesn’t mean taking your widows benefit first was the right decision when you made it at age 60. But you made it, and it can’t be changed at this point. (And, again, it probably was the right decision.)

    I would encourage you to continue working as long as you can and to wait, if possible, until age 70 to take your own retirement benefit. Depending on your earnings history and your widows benefit and how long you wait to file, your total check may end up being larger when you file for your retirement benefit.

    I would not advise you to file for your retirement benefit at full retirement age and suspend its collection. Doing so will plunge you into what I call “excess benefit hell,” where you would no longer receive your current widows benefit, but rather just the larger of either your widows benefit or your retirement benefit — were you to be collecting it.
    I’ve advised certain people to file and suspend their retirement benefits at full retirement age in order to be able to collect all their suspended benefits in one lump sum payment if they discover they urgently need a large infusion of cash. But I wouldn’t advise you or others in your shoes to do so.

    Marlene — Indiana: I am almost 61, and was widowed at age 56. My husband was 59 and had not taken any benefits. My primary insurance amount (PIA) is half of what my husband’s was. Everyone kept advising me to take the survivor benefit at 60, but I felt that would be a mistake because of the reduction to 71.5 percent and also because it would make no use of my own retirement benefit I earned by contributing to the system for 24 years.

    I currently make very low wages and am struggling month to month. I would like to start my own benefit at age 62, then switch to my survivor benefit at either 65 or 66, depending on whether I can financially sustain waiting that extra year. I know the numbers of years I will survive is a big question mark, and 66 is the best option for the survivor benefit.

    What would be your advice to me? There is so little info out there for strategies for widows, especially for those of us under retirement age but without dependents at home.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Very sorry for your loss. Of late, I’m getting a lot of questions just like yours. Your proposed strategy may be best. But I would not follow it or take the advice of anyone else on this. Inside, I would use a highly precise software tool to make this calculation. Your situation is different from other widows’ insofar as your husband didn’t collect his retirement benefit early. You are also working and may be subject to the earnings test. And the adjustment of the reduction factor, which will restore specific benefits lost to the earnings test, may not, in your case, be of help because you may flip to a different benefit that hadn’t been lost to the earnings test. An accurate program that incorporates all the details of Social Security’s complex, interconnected provisions will be able to tell you what collection strategy will maximize your lifetime benefits.

    James — Kentucky: I am currently 58 and have been on Social Security Disability for eight years due to spinal cord injuries sustained from a broken neck. I am mobile but am unable to work any longer. I also am paying $136 a month for parts A, B and D of Medicare. What happens when I turn 66? I was born in 1955 and was married twice. The first time for 20 years and the second for about four days. My first ex is still employed I think, but she did work for more than 10 years. Can I get anything out of my ex for once? I worked since I was 16. Once I go onto SSI, will my disability insurance decrease, increase or stay status quo?

    Larry Kotlikoff: When you reach full retirement age, which will be ​when you are 66 and four months, you can A) withdraw your retirement benefit and B) file just for your divorcée spousal benefit based on the earnings record of your ex from the longer marriage. If your ex is over 62 you’ll be able to collect half of her full retirement benefit. At 70, you can then file for your own retirement benefit. It will be about 30 percent larger than your disability benefit after inflation. At that point, you’ll collect your retirement benefit plus your excess spousal benefit.

    Note that I’m telling you to withdraw your retirement benefit. I’m not telling you to suspend your retirement benefit. If you reach full retirement age without having withdrawn the benefit, your disability benefit will automatically convert into a retirement benefit for which you will be treated as having filed. And, as I’ve described in a prior question today, once you file or are viewed by Social Security to have filed for your retirement benefit, you plunge into “excess benefit hell.” In excess benefit hell, you can no longer receive a full divorcée spousal benefit while letting your own retirement benefit grow. Instead, you are given an excess spousal benefit. The excess spousal benefit is calculated as the product of A) half of your ex’s full retirement benefit less 100 percent of your retirement benefit, inclusive of any delayed retirement credits, and B) the early spousal benefit reduction factor (which wouldn’t apply in your case since you wouldn’t be taking a spousal benefit before full retirement age).

    Long story short, you can collect on your former “beloved” if she’s not too young when you reach full retirement age and if you play your cards right.

    Catherine — California: My girlfriend is 68 and has deferred collecting her Social Security until she is 70 years old. (She is still working full time.) Her husband is 72, retired, and is currently collecting his Social Security. She was advised that she could file and collect half of her husband’s Social Security, while he is still collecting his full amount. I don’t understand, isn’t this double dipping?

    Larry Kotlikoff: It’s true. By not filing just for her spousal benefit, she is foregoing receiving half of his full retirement benefit (which is not necessarily equal to the benefit he’s receiving).

    Is this double dipping? When it comes to Social Security, I don’t know what to say is and is not double dipping. Social Security’s provisions are monstrously complex. They were developed over time by old, white guys in back rooms of Capitol Hill. These fellows (members of Congress, Congressional staffers, Social Security actuaries, and others) decided what was and wasn’t socially equitable. They probably did so with the best of intentions and with strong faith that they were doing the right thing as they saw right. But in piling rule upon rule, exception upon exception, and gotcha upon gotcha, they left us with a basic retirement saving system that no one can understand and that capriciously redistributes across households based on their particular circumstances and ability to get proper Social Security collection advice.

    Your girlfriend is a prime example. She has already lost about two years of spousal benefits because she didn’t know about those benefits. And they are lost for good. At most, she’ll be able to collect six months of her spousal benefits retroactively.

    Your friend may be very poor or very rich. But whatever she is, why should she lose these benefits when someone else in her same situation gets to collect them because that other person learned at the right time that she could do so? Also, her husband paid 12.4 percent of his pay via employee and employer Social Security FICA taxes for the entire set of benefits that Social Security provides. Why is it double dipping if her husband paid for what amounts to an annuity for his wife?

    Teresa — Texas: I am a 66 year old retired teacher in Texas, from whom I receive an annuity. My last day of teaching, however, in June of 2004, was with a district that was part of the Social Security system as well as the Texas retirement system. I have also worked other jobs that paid into the Social Security system and will receive about $500 a month beginning this month. I am penalized almost $500 because of the windfall provision. My husband is 62 and will not draw his Social Security until at least the age of 66. Should I file on his benefits at that time? He will receive more than $2,000 a month.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You should file for your excess spousal benefit when your husband files for his retirement benefit.

    ​As indicated above, it may not be ​​subject to the Government Pension Offset​, which would otherwise reduce your excess spousal benefit by up to two-thirds of your non-covered pension​. I​t can’t hurt to file for your excess spousal benefit as soon as your husband files. However, w​hat may be best is ​for him to file for just a spousal benefit based on your earnings record when he reaches full retirement age and then wait until 70 to file for his own retirement benefit. In this case, you’d need to wait until he was 70 to file for your excess spousal benefit. Also, consider suspending your retirement benefit and starting it up again at 70. It will start up at a roughly 30 percent higher value after inflation.

    Now back to the Government Pension Offset provision. Prior to July 1, 2004, a person was exempt from the GPO if their government work was covered by Social Security on the day they retired, even if all of it was previously not covered. Congress changed that for people retiring after June 2004, but grandfathered those people who retired before that.

    The Texas public pension programs actually prompted the change in the law because they had come up with some “special rules” designed to help their employees circumvent ​the ​GPO. These Social Security sites can help.

    ​But if you really did retire prior to July 1, 2004, and ​you were ​contributing to Social Security when ​you ​​retired, ​your uncovered​ pension will not ​trigger the ​GPO.

    The post Will Social Security tell me if I’m leaving benefits on the table? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza full of dead bodies

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Margaret joins me now.

    So, Margaret, Kerry is now in Cairo. What’s the game plan?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, the game plan when they left, Judy — and he’s only been on the ground an hour-and-a-half or two — was to first try to get another one of these humanitarian pauses in place that might last a little longer than the five hours of last week, and during that time, if passions cool just a little bit, start working on a real cease-fire.

    But even that is very complicated, because it depends on Hamas playing ball. Israel already says it’s ready to play ball with a humanitarian pause. Hamas will have to agree. And unlike in 2012, when the president of Egypt, who was a Muslim Brotherhood member, President Morsi, had direct leverage with Hamas, this time, he doesn’t. And so even getting that humanitarian pause is a challenge.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But — so what does the administration believe Kerry brings to the table that all the other players involved can’t or don’t have?

    MARGARET WARNER: That’s a great question, because the Egyptians, the American indirectly, but the Egyptians, Israelis, Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, they all have been in Cairo over a week trying to get this going.

    And they have moved around also to Doha and to Ankara. And so far it’s just dead in the water. What U.S. and Israeli and even Palestinian officials think he brings is, he has leverage and he has relationships with all the players who count here, in a way that General Sisi, now President Sisi of Egypt, doesn’t.

    In other words, President Sisi has no leverage with Hamas because, after all, he helped oust the Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi. And the two players that do, Qatar and Turkey, one, are upset of course that their fellow Islamist was ousted as president — they’re popularly elected — Morsi was ousted as president — and, two, they have a great rivalry with Egypt.

    So, if anything, the Israelis think they have deliberately frustrated the Egyptian cease-fire efforts. Kerry has built careful relationships with both the Qatari foreign minister, with General Sisi, despite a lot of criticism here at home at that. And President Obama has a very good relationship with the Turkish president, Prime Minister Erdogan.

    So, the hope is that Secretary Kerry will be sort of the grownup in the room, meaning no disrespect to anyone else, but the one person who can act as mediator. That’s at least the hope and expectation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you reported on this, off — when he thought he was off the mic yesterday, the comments Secretary Kerry, “hell of a pinpoint operation.”


    JUDY WOODRUFF: You have been talking to people about that. What was behind that?

    MARGARET WARNER: That’s why I was smiling, because it reflected really his unhappiness and his frustration at, of course, the civilian death toll. And he’s understanding that there’s no such thing as a pinpoint operation. This is a former — guy who served in the military.

    I am told that, far from being necessarily upset by this, this actually reflected the view of people in the White House and the State Department. And it all dates back to the killing of four Palestinian boys on the Gaza beach last week. And that’s when you saw the tone of the administration comments changing, which is, whatever Israel is saying they are intending to do, and they are trying to limit civilian casualties, they say, it’s not possible, and this shows exactly the slippery slope you start going down, and it was time to say it’s time to get a cease-fire.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, which brings me to the question, is there daylight, how much daylight is there between the U.S. position and Israel’s?

    MARGARET WARNER: OK, officially, on the record, we hear none, which is President Obama and Secretary Kerry always say Israel has a right to defend itself.

    And, in fact, they do believe that these tunnels in particular are a real security threat to Israel, because, as Israeli officials said to me today, those militias could come in and get behind our lines, and then we’re squeezed on both sides.

    So even the U.S. agreed with getting of the tunnels. But what I was hearing today from U.S. officials was, OK, the Israelis say they have gotten a lot of the tunnels. We really think it’s now time to work on a cease-fire.

    What a senior Israeli official said to me today is, well, we have gotten a lot of the tunnels near the border, but we have discovered lots more tunnels, and it’s a whole spider web of tunnels. And there are a lot more.

    And here was the chilling thing, Judy. This official said to me, there are a lot of other neighborhoods, just like the one yesterday, densely populated ones, where it’s essentially a network of tunnels underneath, and sort of terrorist leadership cells and command centers. And we know where they are.

    And so what that says is, if a cease-fire isn’t reached, we could see more of the sort of civilian mass casualties we saw yesterday.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just quickly, Kerry is in Cairo. Where does he go from there, and how long is he prepared to devote to this?

    MARGARET WARNER: The game plan was, with no date certain of when, was he would go to Doha definitely to see the Qataris perhaps next. Then he would definitely go to Jerusalem, maybe to Ankara to see Erdogan.

    The short-term game plan was a week. But the State Department was busy tamping down expectations today about how hard this was going to be and how long it would take. And as someone said to me, Secretary Kerry, once he gets out there, he could stay two weeks. So, it won’t be fast.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will be talking to you throughout.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner, thank you.

    MARGARET WARNER: My pleasure, Judy, as always.

    The post Kerry travels to Cairo to help mediate Mideast conflict appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Now we travel to Miami for a story of architecture, graffiti, and a city’s identity.

    Jeffrey Brown explores, in the latest report in his series Culture at Risk.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It sits abandoned on a thin stretch of land called Virginia Key, overlooking a manmade basin between Miami’s South Channel and Biscayne Bay, a magnificent setting, downtown Miami in the near distance.

    Today, the 6,500-seat Marine Stadium is littered with garbage, every reachable inch of it covered in graffiti, forgotten by many, but not those who remember its role as a cultural centerpiece for a rising city. One of those is Miami’s own music star Gloria Estefan.

    GLORIA ESTEFAN: This is one of those things in the city that has history. It’s almost 50 years old.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That’s — 50 years old is not that long, right?

    GLORIA ESTEFAN: In Miami, it is.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, the stadium turned 50 years old just last December. And Estefan has joined a grassroots effort not only to save it, but to give it renewed life.

    In the 1950s and ’60s, Miami was still finding its identity as something more than a seasonal tourist destination. When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, waves of Cubans began leaving for South Florida, seeking new lives and redefining the city’s culture.

    HILARIO CANDELA, Architect: Then Castro came in, and absolutely nothing, no work whatsoever.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One of those exiles was an architect named Hilario Candela, 27 years old and fresh out of design school, he was asked to create a simple steel grandstand as a venue for powerboat races.

    HILARIO CANDELA: I wanted it to be something very special because I realized that the site was fantastic and, therefore, I was facing a fantastic responsibility.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Candela resolved on a far more ambitious work, boasting a 326-foot long cantilevered roof, at the time the longest in the world, all made from poured-in-place concrete.

    You think of this as a sculpture?


    JEFFREY BROWN: So, it’s a piece of art?

    HILARIO CANDELA: Yes, I do. I believe that very strongly. And in terms of materials, concrete is a very honest material.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What does honest mean?

    HILARIO CANDELA: It means that, if you think about it, a lot of the architectural and structural process, you use a variety of materials that are covered with another skin, but behind that skin is the true bones of the building.

    When you use poured-in-place concrete, the true bones of the building is what you express on the outside.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The stadium opened in December 1963, and while serving its original purpose for boat races quickly broadened uses to rowing regattas, religious services, even a movie set for Elvis Presley’s 1967 comedy “Clam Bake.”

    ACTOR: It’s Elvis barreling and belting that wild Presley beat.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It was used for political rallies. This is where Sammy Davis Jr. embraced President Richard Nixon in 1972.

    Most of all, it became a popular concert venue. Jimmy Buffett famously jumped off the floating stage. Then a rising star, Cuban American Gloria Estefan played a show here in the mid-’80s.

    GLORIA ESTEFAN: I was literally over water and water behind me, boats all around me. It’s a 360-degree experience. And to me particularly, this is very symbolic, this building, because the Cubans came here after the revolution. And we really built a big part of the city in many different ways.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In 1992, Hurricane Andrew ripped through South Florida, leaving more than $25 billion of destruction in its wake. The city, not wanting to continue with the upkeep, claimed the stadium was damaged beyond repair and attempted to have it torn down.

    HILARIO CANDELA: It was close to being torn down, not because it was in a bad state of repair. It was just that, politically, they wanted to use it, the land, for something else.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, it’s a valuable spot. Right?

    HILARIO CANDELA: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But an engineering study confirmed the stadium was sound. So, instead of being demolished outright, it was locked up, left to time and neglect.

    LUIS BERROS, Artist: We enjoyed the surfaces. We enjoyed the privacy. We enjoyed the shade.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Except for people like street artist Luis Berros, for whom it became a mecca for graffiti art, skateboarding, and parkour, a kind of urban gymnastics.

    LUIS BERROS: Well, the first time we ever came in here and painted, it was a crew, which is a group of us. And you have your lookouts. Everybody had a job to do. And you would take turns.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You mean look out for security or something.

    LUIS BERROS: Of course, yes, look out for police or whoever came by that — you weren’t supposed to be in the building.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Vandalism then, now something much more.

    HILARIO CANDELA: They have kept the building alive.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Kept it alive?

    HILARIO CANDELA: Yes. They have brought new life into the building.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And you like this?

    HILARIO CANDELA: Oh, I like it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, the group that formed in 2008 to save the structure, has embraced graffiti art as part of its history and as a way to raise money for its future.

    On the day we visited, the group had brought in artists from around the world to create new works that, once complete, will be photographed, with the prints sold off.

    One star of the graffiti art world who goes by the name RISK flew in from Los Angeles and was happy to be part of the effort.

    RISK, Artist: I think a lot of graffiti artists tend to look at urbanscapes as beautiful. And a place like this is really cool because it had so much life in the past, and then it died. And now people are bringing it back to life with art.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Going further, architect Candela, who’s now overseeing restoration plans, wants to incorporate the graffiti. But big questions remain, how much of it to keep, in what form and how to remove the rest.

    ROSA LOWINGER, Architecture Conservator: I would say in this spot here we probably behind about 200 layers of paint.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Two hundred layers?

    ROSA LOWINGER: I would say 200 layers of paint.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Conservator Rosa Lowinger is leading a study on how to once again expose the raw concrete.

    ROSA LOWINGER: … is that these thick layers come off fairly easily, because we can literally…


    JEFFREY BROWN: You’re doing it, right?

    ROSA LOWINGER: You can literally peel these upper layers. You can steam them off. You can pressure-wash them off. When you get down to the floor, to these areas where the graffiti is embedded into the surface or deep into these layers, that’s where the tricky part is.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Important support for all this came from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit that in 2009 put the stadium on its list of most endangered places.

    And the project goes well beyond the stadium itself. At his home, Candela showed me the plans for a grand new public space, including a large park on what is now an empty parking lot.

    HILARIO CANDELA: We’re going to have things — we’re going to do things in the stadium that have — we never thought of.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, 50 years later, you sound as energized as probably you were at 28.

    HILARIO CANDELA: Oh. Well, I hope I am. I don’t like to talk anymore about the past. I only want to think about the future of the stadium. And I want the future to be as quick as possible.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And Candela means it. The city has given the friends group a limited time to raise $30 million to restore and reopen this piece of Miami’s history.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: From stadiums to highway overpasses, watch Jeff’s extended interview with graffiti artist RISK on the evolution of his art form. That’s on Art Beat.

    The post Graffiti art gives abandoned Miami stadium a second life appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Next: a major expansion of a national program aimed at improving the lives of disadvantaged young men, known as My Brother’s Keeper.

    Greater access to early education, reducing school suspensions, and recruiting mentors, 25,000 of them, around the country, those steps are part of the expansion of the president’s effort to improve life chances for young men of color, often more likely to be expelled from school than to succeed.

    Sixty of the country’s largest public school systems, who educate nearly three million boys of color, joined the effort today, as well as mayors, corporations like AT&T, nonprofits like the Emerson Collective, and the national Basketball Association.

    Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul:

    CHRIS PAUL, Point Guard, Los Angeles Clippers: With the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, this is our opportunity to stand together as athletes, as parents, as mentors, and as leaders in our communities to show our young men and boys of color with our action that we are behind them and that their success matters.

    GWEN IFILL: No federal money is involved in the expanded multiyear effort, but the companies and foundations have pledged an additional $100 million to the effort. That follows $200 million pledged when the program was announced last winter.

    Two participants in the expanded initiative join us now. John Deasy is the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which enrolls nearly 650,000 students at over 900 schools. And David Williams is the CEO of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services. He’s working closely on the private sector portion of the plan.

    Thank you, gentlemen, for joining me. I’m glad you’re both in town for this.
    Let’s just talk about the graduation rates piece of this. How would a program like this improve graduation rates, which I know is a big concern of yours?

    JOHN DEASY, Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District: Absolutely.

    Youth can’t graduate if they don’t stay in school. And the focus we put on suspension, where the district is sending students out of school, was a huge part of this. When our administration began four years ago, we realized that there was an enormous disproportionality in terms of the students who were being suspended, meaning mostly black young men, Latino young men.

    And so we began to look at policies and the work of the district, and took our suspension rate, nearly 49,000 incidents of suspension, to below 9,000 incidents of suspension. And we ended using willful defiance as a reason for which you could suspend a child.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, you’re talking about something you have already done. So, what difference does it make really if the administration, if the White House is doing something like this?

    JOHN DEASY: So we begin thinking through this as quite an amazing example of collective action.

    So, more than 60 superintendents from across the country signed pledges and we delivered to the president today that we would all begin to do this and more, access to early education, mentor in our districts, health, physical health in terms of clinics. And the power of that across the system and across the country I think is what made today so special.

    GWEN IFILL: David Williams, what is the corporate piece of this, and why sometimes the government and the private sector don’t necessarily see the same goals?

    DAVID WILLIAMS, Deloitte: We absolutely see the same goals in this case, Gwen.

    It’s about productivity. It’s about the ability to use all of the resources, the human capital resources that are available to us. And this group of people are extremely important to us. Young men of color are an important part of what we need to do going forward in order to make the U.S. work force more productive.

    GWEN IFILL: So, you’re saying you’re trying to build on the supply, because it would help serve your demand.

    DAVID WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

    And also these are communities that we live in and that work in. And so there is a philanthropic part of this for us as well. It’s a citizenship portion of it for us as well.

    GWEN IFILL: John Deasy, I heard you give a speech about educational apartheid. How would this close the gap that you see that exists in our public schools now?

    JOHN DEASY: In a number of ways. And was a very powerful day when you take a look at what some of the students have and what some students do not have.

    One of the things we did as we have been building up to this is instituted a student-weighted funding formula. Schools and communities who historically have had the least amount of investment now in Los Angeles get the most amount of investment, so that schools and communities where students have struggled, historically struggled, for resources, are the places that, with our funding formula, the ones who are getting the most resources, as we begin to build back.

    And the second thing has been to invest in their families. At least one of our unions, SEIU, the majority of those workers, more than 30,000, are parents. And we just signed our contract which brings the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and it’s the highest in the country in doing this, so that we’re trying to deal with the growth and support of homes, schools so that — and these are resources that we have — it’s just how we’re distributing them.

    GWEN IFILL: David Williams, what’s the convening council? That sounds like one of those bureaucratic terms someone comes up with in which you guys maybe meet twice a year, and talk and then go your separate ways. How is this different?

    DAVID WILLIAMS: Well, if that’s what happened, that’s a real problem for us.

    What we really want to do with a convening council is to being to spread the message, to take the message into the community, into the places where these young men live and hopefully where they work, in order to drive the messages that the president talked about today into those communities, because that’s where the services that are going to impact their lives are going to be performed.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, you must be familiar, both of you, with the fact that since this was announced in February, one of the big conversations has been, why only boys? Why not girls? What is special or specially disadvantaged about young men?

    DAVID WILLIAMS: Well, there’s two things.

    First, this is an intractable problem for young men of color. And it hits that demographic much more significantly than it does most others. That’s the first point. But the second point is, lots of things that we’re trying to get done with the initiative in cities around the country are things that are going to benefit young women and other people besides young men of color.

    So a rising tide floats all boats. And we’re trying to do as much as we can for everybody, but we’re recognizing that this demographic, young men and boys of color, is unique.


    JOHN DEASY: And the most stunning disproportionality in schools occurs when we take a look at achievement and attendance and discipline with young men of color very early on.

    Special education identification rates — I mean, one of the powers of this is, we just need to start talking the truth about these issues and doing something about that, from who’s being identified in special education, who is being suspended, who is not getting into AP courses.

    And in all those cases, the greatest disproportionality is young men of color.

    GWEN IFILL: In the Los Angeles school system, there has been a lot of discussion lately about teachers kind of resisting some of the changes you would like to implement, which involve changing tenure rules. Is this something that could get in the way of what it is you hope to accomplish, that dispute?

    JOHN DEASY: No, I don’t think so at all.

    Actually, the teachers in L.A. are amazing individuals. The tenure rule issue came from a judge’s decision around students getting access to the best teachers and are there laws that are preventing that from happening. He ruled that there were. And that’s now taking his legal approach.

    But, by and large, our teachers work in very impacted situations and are getting amazing results. This focus on this actually thinks honors the work that they’re doing.

    GWEN IFILL: There are some who argue $300 million is still in the end a drop in the bucket.

    But the bigger question and threat might be that, after this president, who has taken this personally, leaves, it leaves. What’s to stop that from happening?

    DAVID WILLIAMS: This certainly can’t be a shiny thing, something that we admire for the time that President Obama is in office and then we let die.

    And there are lots of things in place designed to drive it forward. And that’s one of the reasons that the convening council is in place, to make this lasting. And it has got to be a generational thing in order to make it have any impact at all?

    GWEN IFILL: How? How? How?

    DAVID WILLIAMS: Very simply, we’re trying to make sure that the programs that we put in place structurally have their own life, have their own momentum.

    So we’re doing it in places, place-based, so that, in fact, they’re not governmental programs, but they’re programs that take place in the communities where these kids live, hopefully where they work, and ultimately drive some continuation, some lasting impact.

    JOHN DEASY: The moral obligation to end a schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline goes way beyond the presidential initiative. That’s why this is embedded in our communities.

    GWEN IFILL: John Deasy of the Los Angeles Unified Schools, David Williams of Deloitte, thank you both so much.

    JOHN DEASY: Thank you, Gwen.

    DAVID WILLIAMS: Thank you.

    The post Expansion of My Brother’s Keeper initiative aims to end ‘schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor today to a 28-year-old who performed heroically, and at times single-handedly, in a battle that wasn’t only one of the deadliest of the Afghanistan war, but also, as it turned out, one of the most investigated.

    Afghanistan’s eastern provinces had long been the scene of fierce fighting with the Taliban, when in July 2008, the Army’s 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, was assigned to set up a new outpost in the village of Wanat. Sergeant Ryan Pitts, then 22 years old, and nearing the end of his second tour in the country, had already seen a lot of combat when his team started the operation.

    STAFF SGT. RYAN PITTS (RET.), U.S. Army: This was in the valley, very close to the village, basically kind of integrated among the village, somewhat by the river.

    It wasn’t the low ground, but there’s always a balance between accessibility and security that we try to strike in terms of being able to support and reinforce and get supplies via ground.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you and your unit feel extra vulnerability because of where you were?

    STAFF SGT. RYAN PITTS: Our entire battalion had been facing enemy attacks all year long for that entire deployment, so I don’t think — I certainly didn’t feel any more vulnerable there than I did any other point in my deployment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On a ridge to the east of the main base, Sergeant Pitts and others manned a surveillance system seen here in a photo taken on July 12. Just after 4:00 the next morning, their situation took a dramatic turn.

    STAFF SGT. RYAN PITTS: It started with a machine gun burst from the north, and they had moved in with approximately 200 fighters, had the high ground, element of surprise, had us surrounded, and initiated a large-scale attack on us.

    We had about 48 Americans on the ground, as well as a platoon, 20 to 30 Afghan national army soldiers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Grenade shrapnel hit Sergeant Pitts in both legs and his left arm, but he and his fellow soldiers fought on.

    STAFF SGT. RYAN PITTS: The valor was everywhere. I mean, it was incredible to see these guys. I mean, we were all young. And everybody just doing their jobs without anybody having to be told and just trusting one another that we would do our jobs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For much of the next 90 minutes, Pitts alone lobbed hand grenades, fired a machine gun and grenade launcher, before being airlifted out by a medevac helicopter. Pitts also relayed vital information to headquarters throughout the attack, allowing reinforcements and airstrikes to come in.

    Cameras on arriving helicopters captured the scene on the ground, burning structures dotting the landscape as pilots fired on enemy targets. The fighting raged on for several more hours before the area was finally secured.

    In the end, nine soldiers were killed and 27 others wounded in the deadliest single fight yet of the Afghan war. An Army investigation followed, standard procedure with any battle. No wrongdoing was uncovered. But because of the high casualty count and pressure from family members of the fallen, in 2009, General David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command, ordered a separate investigation.

    In January 2010, Central Command concluded that commanders at the battalion, company and brigade level were neglectful and derelict in their duty in the planning and execution of the operation. Initially, the three officers were issued letters of reprimand, but, several months later, after appeals by members of the unit, including Sergeant Pitts, the Army announced the reprimands were withdrawn.

    Throughout that process, Sergeant Pitts defended the actions of his superiors.

    STAFF SGT. RYAN PITTS: I think a lot of that attention came about from not all the facts coming out initially of understanding there’s a lot that went into our battle space that led commanders to make the decisions that they did.

    We had a certain amount of resources. We were trying to set up the next unit for success. I have complete confidence in my command teams. I would still serve with them. I would follow them anywhere.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Pitts, by now a staff sergeant, was medically discharged from the Army following his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

    Today at the White House, he became the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. President Obama praised Pitts’ courage and referred to lessons learned at Wanat.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is the story Ryan wants us to remember, soldiers who loved each other like brothers and who fought for each other, and families who have made a sacrifice that our nation must never forget.

    Ryan says, “I think we owe it to them to live lives worthy of their sacrifice.”

    And he’s absolutely right.

    As commander in chief, I believe one of the ways we can do that is by heeding the lessons of Wanat. When this nation sends our troops into harm’s way, they deserve a sound strategy and a well-defined mission, and they deserve the forces and support to get the job done. And that’s what we owe soldiers like Ryan and all of the comrades that were lost.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think all this changed you as a person? What has it meant to you, I think, as — in terms of how you live your life?

    STAFF SGT. RYAN PITTS: The biggest change is not necessarily in me as a person, but the appreciation that I have for life.

    You know, a lot of men sacrificed a lot that day, so the rest of us could come home, Specialist Sergio Abad, Corporeal Jonathan Ayers, Corporal Jason Bogar, 1st Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom, Sergeant Israel Garcia, Corporal Jason Hovater, Corporal Matthew Phillips, Corporal Pruitt Rainey, Corporal Gunnar Zwilling.

    They made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us could come home. And they gave us all a second chance. And I have an appreciation of life that I didn’t have before. And I’m not going to waste it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Pitts graduated from college, now works for the Oracle Corporation, and lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, with his wife, Amy, and their young son, Lucas.

    The post ‘Valor was everywhere’: Medal of Honor winner Pitts honored for Afghan battle heroism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    DetectiveComics31 copy

    When the Bat-Man first appeared, he did so from the shadows, clad in a vampiric cowl with slits for eyes, long, sharp ears and a cape with bat-like wings. That was in 1939, in the pages of Detective Comics No. 27. Six months later, when Batman’s creators realized they had a hit on their hands, they revealed his traumatic childhood. As a boy, the story goes, Bruce Wayne watched a criminal gun down his parents in a street robbery. Alone and orphaned, with tears streaming down his pink face, he resolved to spend his life fighting violent crime. “Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot,” he famously declared, as he vowed to “strike terror in their hearts.”

    It was a time of global unease. The economy had not yet recovered from the Great Depression, and Hitler was amassing power in Germany. Meanwhile, in the comic books, it was the dawn of the Superhero age. In many ways, the shadow Batman emerged from belonged to the enormously powerful Superman. But this was no Superman. Batman had no superpowers, no alien origins and no foster parents who inspired him to use powers for good.

    From the beginning, readers loved the pulpy adventures of Gotham City’s masked crimefighter — socialite by day, dark avenger by night. Little did they know, the orphan would outlive his creators, fueling a multi-billion-dollar franchise and inspiring generations of Bat-fans.

    In the 75 years since that first issue, comic’s greatest detective has become one of the world’s most popular superheroes. And we wanted to know why. Why is Batman still relevant? What are the qualities that make him so timeless? How has he thrived when so many other pop-culture phenomenons have faded away?

    For an orphan, Batman has many adoptive parents. Originally created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, countless others have kept his character alive in comics, video games, films and television. We reached out to nine of these creators to help us decode the secrets to Batman’s longevity.


    His superpower is his humanity

    Unlike other heroes, who drew superpowers from sunlight, chemical accidents or magic to fight crime on Earth, Batman has always remained human. His power, his creators say, lies in his extraordinary motivation, willpower and focus.

    ROBERT GREENBERGER: Largely, Batman has succeeded with readers of all ages because everyone can see themselves becoming Batman. They could train themselves mentally and physically to go out and do the things he did. You didn’t need to come from another planet. You didn’t need a power ring from another galaxy. You just needed to be the very best human being you possibly could be.

    SEFTON HILL: I always think of his one superpower as his willpower. It’s that determination to do everything he can to succeed. And there’s something in that which everyone can kind of tap into and believe in, and I think that’s kind of what makes him such an exciting and enticing and long-lasting character.

    SCOTT SNYDER: He’s a character who could be any one of us. He suffers this incredible tragedy as a boy, and he takes that traumatic event and turns it into this fuel and becomes determined beyond anything to be a hero who can prevent the same thing from happening to another child. And in doing so, he becomes this hero who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the gods of the Justice League; they look to him for advice half the time. So, in a way, I think there’s just this kind of enduring appeal of that story, of taking something horrible that happens to you and turning it into the engine by which you become your own great hero.

    “[Batman] represents that epitome of your own potential. You could never be Superman, because he’s from another planet, but you certainly can be Batman.”

    BRUCE TIMM: In a way, I’m sure he goes to bed at night and he’s back in Crime Alley watching his parents get gunned down before him. Any other person would eventually kind of get over that, but he can’t get over it. So, he wakes up and goes, ‘Okay, how am I going to fight crime today?’ That’s what he’s all about.

    NEAL ADAMS: You can place the whole superhero genre between Superman, who is the most powerful superhero, and Batman, who is a hero who wears a costume, but is not, in fact, a superhero in any sense of the word. All the other comic book superheroes exist between these two. So Batman represents that opposite end of the scale where you’re not into the unbelievability necessarily, but you’re into the detectiveness and the bodily strength and the physical acumen of a character who you even perhaps want to be like. Batman is your guy. So, he represents that epitome of your own potential. You could never be Superman, because he’s from another planet, but you certainly could be Batman.

    He fights a fight he knows he’ll never win
    Still from "Batman: Arkham Knight." Image courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment

    Still from “Batman: Arkham Knight.” Image courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment

    As he grows into adulthood, Bruce Wayne trains both his body and mind to their absolute peaks, becoming a skilled martial artist, acrobat, detective, chemist and tactician.

    Whether striking from the shadows with a ninja’s grace, or clobbering a villain with a bright 1960s “BAM!” “BIFF!” or “POW!” the hero known as the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader and the World’s Greatest Detective, dominates his enemies with extraordinary strength and outwits them with intelligence.

    And while in the early issues, he’s not afraid to use a gun or kill criminals, the character evolves to have a “no-gun, no-kill” policy, one that separates him from petty crooks and the tragedy that took his parents’ lives.

    JEFF PARKER: As driven as he is to crush crime, he’s not a killer. The notion of him being anti-gun is prevalent, but I think it’s part of a larger priority of not taking life. His origin is focused on his parents’ murder, and opposing fatal action like that is core to who he is.

    ROBERT GREENBERGER: It was [Batman editor Whitney] Ellsworth who recognized that young kids were reading this, and so maybe Batman shouldn’t be shooting, maybe he shouldn’t have the gun, maybe there shouldn’t be as much death. So by 1940, Batman was already no longer resembling how he appeared in 1939.

    BRUCE TIMM: Every single thing he does in his daily life is about eradicating crime, which he knows he can never ever do, but he’s going to do it anyway. And it’s not something any sane person literally would do, but at the same time, I don’t think of him as being psychotic or a loose cannon. I think he’s very, very controlled, and he’s just very focused.

    JIM LEE: I think sometimes when we look at our world and the complexities of it and all the grayness in between the black and the white, a character like Batman — someone that we know is acting on the side of justice — is very appealing and very mythical.

    “There is that almost American cowboy feel to him that he’s never going to settle down, he’s always going to be alone. There’s a sadness in that, too.”

    SCOTT SNYDER: Batman is the greatest hero in that he puts his own body on the line every night for his city to prevent these terrible things from happening to other children, other citizens. And yet at the same time, he’s so incredibly driven by that that he forgoes any sense of a normal life, and he tips over into obsession.

    And that intersection, I think, of tremendous heroism and self-sacrifice and also a self-destructive pathology, I recognized even as a kid as something that was sort of magnetic. That sense of, this guy is the good guy, he is the hero, but at the same time there’s something dark and sad about him as well, and we’ve tried to explore that as deeply as we can in our Batman writing. On the one hand, there’s that incredible heroism, and on the other, those darker impulses and the tragedy of Batman too, which is that he gives up so much to be Batman. There is that almost American cowboy feel to him that he’s never going to settle down, he’s always going to be alone. There’s a sadness in that, too.

    Graphic by Travis Daub

    He’s a good guy who dresses like a bad guy

    Batman’s costume, inspired by a bat, is an icon, a character itself. Its creation story dates to Detective Comics No. 33, when a bat startles Bruce Wayne as it soars through his open window. He considers it an omen.

    Batman’s cape and cowl brought a noir flavor to early superhero comics, evoking the 1930s pulp radio heroes The Shadow and the Green Hornet. Bat gadgets, such as the Batcave, the Batmobile and the Bat-Signal, became pervasive. The branding was so successful that the bat symbol exploded in popular culture, spawning an industry of clothing, toys and memorabilia.

    “I mean, on a really basic level, it is the absolutely coolest superhero costume ever. He’s a good guy who dresses like a bad guy. He’s like half-Dracula, half-Boy Scout.”

    ROBERT GREENBERGER: Based on the success of Superman and Action Comics No. 1, Vince Sullivan, the editor at the time, said to [Batman co-creator] Kane they were looking for other costumed characters. Kane went home and gave it some thought and with his writing partner, Finger, they brainstormed up what became Batman. Kane’s original sketches were very much in the Superman vein, with a bold costume and bright colors, and it was Finger who was suggesting things like the bat cowl and cape, the dark gloves and the dark color scheme. If this was going to be a guy named Batman, he’s gotta look darker, he’s gotta be a bat, he’s gotta be shadows.

    Image courtesy DC Comics

    Image courtesy DC Comics

    BRUCE TIMM: On a really basic level, it is the absolutely coolest superhero costume ever. He’s a good guy who dresses like a bad guy. He’s like half-Dracula, half-Boy Scout. You can’t go wrong with that. Also, once you start playing with the darker textures of him, there’s the whole mysterious mood, the film noir kind of aspects of it. The crime drama. I think everybody on a basic level can relate to that.

    NEAL ADAMS: I like drawing that cape. There’s something about that. I saw a Dracula movie with Christopher Lee once when I was younger. Dracula was standing on a parapet, looking down to a carriage that was riding away. His prey had escaped, and he was pissed off. So, he’s standing there and had this long cape that practically went to the ground, and then he turned away in kind of an anger to screen right, but he didn’t turn to screen right because he had a cape on. What he did was, he slightly turned screen left and then turned screen right. He gave his cape the ability or the flow to move out outward a little bit to the left, so that when he moved right, the cape followed him and flowed with him. And I was like, “Ohhhh, that is so cool.” And it was just this subtle little move.

    In the same way, Batman has to probably do the same thing until it becomes second nature because those capes are big. In drawings, I can find that perfect pose. I have it flip up and make it look like bat wings. So it’s a lot of fun to draw.

    “If this was going to be a guy named Batman, he’s gotta look darker, he’s gotta be a bat, he’s gotta be shadows.”

    JEFF PARKER: The key to his appeal is his persona as a creature of the night. From the beginning, he was different from all the other bright heroes with colorful costumes. He’s wearing black and looks much more like a heavy, a villain. Built into that is the idea that he’s a figure who criminals should be scared of. For all the terrifying forces out there, there’s one person on our side that they all fear. That’s enormously empowering to readers.

    JIM LEE: He’s a sexy character. Dark, brooding. I think he really was one of the very first superheroes created that had a costume that felt modern and continues to be modern. It’s exciting to be shepherding and publishing a character that’s been around for so long that still feels extremely current and is incredibly popular.

    His allies and villains define him
    Adam West and Burt Ward in costume as Batman and Robin for the 1966 television version of "Batman." Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

    Adam West and Burt Ward in costume as Batman and Robin for the 1966 television version of “Batman.” Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

    Though he starts out as a lone avenger in 1939, Batman has since collected allies. Police commissioner James Gordon appears alongside Batman in the first issue, eventually becoming one of his most important friends. Bruce’s faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth, acts as a surrogate parent. And the world’s greatest detective needed a sidekick, so in 1940, Batman’s writers introduced Robin, who appealed to younger readers. That “Dynamic Duo” was the beginning of what would come to be known as the Bat-family.

    Supervillains, such as the Joker, Hugo Strange and Catwoman, among others, challenged the hero. Before long, the popularity of Batman’s enemies, which would become known as his Rogues Gallery, would rival his own.

    BRUCE TIMM: One of the things that always appealed to me about Batman ever since the first time I saw that Adam West show back in 1966 — that was my first exposure to the character — was not just Batman himself, but the whole world. You know, Gotham City is a cool place, he’s got a cool supporting cast, and, man, he’s got the best Rogues Gallery of any classic superhero. Those are just amazing characters.

    SCOTT SNYDER: I think he tries to pretend that he can do it all alone, but at the end of the day, Alfred and Jim Gordon and these characters — there would be no Batman without them, or no Batman series. They’re such vital parts of that same mythology. They’re characters that have become so timeless and important to the legend and to the narrative of Batman that I can’t imagine writing Batman without them there.

    ROBERT GREENBERGER: [Co-creators] Kane and Finger immediately figured out that Batman needed someone to talk to, and if he was not hanging out with commissioner Gordon, he needed somebody else, which is kind of what led to Robin being created. So Batman had someone to explain his observations and deductions and someone to crack wise with when fighting the criminals.

    SEFTON HILL: [Batman's allies] give him great power, but there’s also a vulnerability to those characters, because they’re not as strong as Batman. They’re not as well trained as Batman. And he feels deeply responsible for them and putting them in the firing line as well.

    FRANCIS MANAPUL: The body count of people he cares for keeps piling up, so his misguided solution is to close himself off emotionally. He has a great support group of people that care for him, especially Alfred. They keep him human.

    SCOTT SNYDER: For me, it’s all about Gotham, ultimately. In the way that we try to explore this idea of Gotham City itself as the great antagonist for Batman, and, really, for anybody that lives there. The idea is that the city says, “Come to me,” with the promise of being able to become the hero you always knew you wanted to be, whether that means becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a good parent, any of that. Come to the city and we’ll challenge you, but if you come out that challenge, that trial by fire, you will be transformed into — if you can survive it — the person that you always hoped you could be.

    So for Bruce, it’s like Gotham says to him, “I’m going to create villains that get under your skin and basically every aspect of your personality,” whether it’s the duplicity of your life represented in Two-Face; whether it’s the responsibility that you feel to always be the smartest so you can outsmart the villains in the Riddler; whether it’s your worry that deep down what you’re doing might be crazy in the Joker; whether it’s your own feelings about whether you’re too soft because of your background, because of your wealth in the Penguin. All of those characters I see as extensions of psychological elements of Bruce’s profile.

    SEFTON HILL: It’s really interesting from a story writing point of view to push those boundaries and really push up against those and see how hard Batman is pushed in order to try and break his moral code. And, obviously, for Joker, that’s the one thing that he wants to do. Joker’s all about the game. It’s all about breaking Batman. Really that’s his sole goal, just to see what he can do with Batman and see how much he can push Batman and how much he enjoys playing the game with Batman.

    FRANCIS MANAPUL: Batman’s experience is enough to drive a weaker man over the edge, but he’s able to stay on the line. His intelligence keeps him in check because I can guarantee you that Batman knows exactly what he’d do if he were to cross that line. His inner complexity juxtaposed to a simple mystery to solve is a real treat for us, maybe not so much for Batman.

    JIM LEE: Each of [the villains] kind of represent the worst elements of the human psyche. But I think that as you move into the modern age, into the Internet age, into the digital age, creators are going to be adding new villains to that Rogues Gallery. So, I think it will be really interesting to see how our notion of evil and our notion of what a villain is change as technology progresses at this kind of alarmingly quick rate.

    Batman is Bruce Wayne’s mask — or is it the other way around?

    As Batman evolves, so does Bruce Wayne. Over the years, Bruce morphs from self-absorbed playboy to billionaire philanthropist. For years, his high-profile persona was a smokescreen for Batman’s prowling in the dark. Bruce was the mask, and Batman, the true face. But as the character developed, the writers increasingly plumbed Batman’s alter ego for storylines.

    ROBERT GREENBERGER: Bruce Wayne was pretty much a nondescript character all the way through 1970. He was a rich playboy, he ran Wayne Enterprises. But in 1970, [former Batman editor Julius Schwartz] took him out of the Batcave, took him out of Wayne Manor, brought him into Gotham City proper and made him a proactive member of Gotham’s business world. And that’s when the Bruce Wayne-does-good-by-day, Batman-does-good-by-night dichotomy really got established and took off.

    FRANCIS MANAPUL: It’s important to show that Bruce has the ability to create change as well. If he’s dedicated his life to fighting crime and saving the city from the depths of despair, it makes sense for him to take a dual-pronged attack. As Bruce Wayne, he has access to things that Batman wouldn’t be able to reach and vice versa. This way, he can work with the only person he truly trusts: himself.

    NEAL ADAMS: If there were a Batman, you would have to ask the very serious question: Who can do more good for the world? Bruce Wayne or Batman? Because Bruce Wayne can feed starving children in Africa, Bruce Wayne can contribute to St. Jude’s. Bruce Wayne can help bolster the city administration by having more honest politicians. Bruce Wayne has abilities far beyond those of Batman who can just catch criminals and throw them in jail. We used to have this thing where criminals would rob banks and cops would go after them — even heroes in comics would do that — but the truth of the matter is, if somebody robs a bank, the Federal Reserve replaces that money immediately, and nobody’s hurt. Tracking down those criminals is something, but why should a superhero do that? So, what do superheroes do? I don’t know. They save the world; that’s pretty much what they’ve been relegated to. But anything real and human, superheroes don’t really get involved. That’s one of the reasons why Batman is such a good character. He’s a very ground-level character and the stories can go from fantasy to total bone-crunching reality with a character like that.

    The more he changes, the more he stays the same.

    Batman has taken many different forms between 1939 and 2014. He was a pulpy detective in the late 30s and 40s. He turned science fiction adventurer in the 50s. After a detour into camp in the 1960s, and a return to gritty detective tales in the 1970s, he became increasingly darker in the 1980s and beyond.

    We know what Batman has been, but what will he become? What shadows does his future hold? What evils will he conquer? Where will we find our Dark Knight in another 75 years?

    Image courtesy DC Comics

    Image courtesy DC Comics

    DAN DIDIO: Even though Batman is 75 years old, I think the story of Batman, his origin and what he tries to accomplish is timeless. And what we always try to do is contemporize the character for each generation. So you see many iterations of Batman throughout the years. But at the core of the character — a child who loses his parents and what he tries to do to overcome that and how he tries to right the wrongs of his city that he sees decaying around him — I think that’s something that people can always relate to and strive to be part of.

    JIM LEE: I think one of the great strengths about the comic book business is that it is probably the largest, and arguably the greatest, collaborative work of fiction ever. When you look at these mythical universes — and certainly the DC Universe is the longest running one — it’s all about creators building off of the ideas and the concepts of the prior generations.

    Both writers and artists are encouraged to add something to the mythology, and it’s not just in print. You see it in the video games and in the movies and in the cartoons. When there’s a cool idea, you see all the Batman creators working in all the different mediums, gravitating toward the best ideas and using them or building off of them. And so, it’s a rolling kind of continuity and canon that basically is created, and it’s sort of a natural selection of the best ideas. And you see that change, but the central core of Batman, this dark vigilante of the night who stands for justice, remains intact.

    “I think one of the great strengths about the comic book business is that it is probably the largest and, arguably, the greatest collaborative work of fiction ever.”

    SEFTON HILL: Because he’s such a deep, complex and interesting character, it means that we can keep coming up with new and interesting storylines for him. There’s lots of potential and different things you can do with the character and with gadgets and the Rogues Gallery. I think there was such a tremendous breadth of opportunity with him.

    DAN DIDIO: It seems like so many of these interpretations out there are somebody’s favorite. And the truth be told is that they all feel like it’s the same character. Regardless of how different they might be or how separate they might feel, they all feel like they’re Batman. They all feel true to the core conceit of what that character is.

    FRANCIS MANAPUL: At the heart of Batman are stories about mystery and crime fiction, which has such a mass appeal. People from every generation, language or religion crave mysteries, and when you present them with a compelling question, they’ll want an answer. Although that genre has mass appeal, the unique nature of who Batman is allows him to stand above other fictional detectives. Batman is able to transcend not only generations but he’s also able to attract fans from different genres. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s visually one of — if not the best — designed characters in pop culture. He’s a character that can be visually portrayed in a variety of styles and still work.

    Image courtesy DC Comics

    Image courtesy DC Comics

    BRUCE TIMM: If you look at those early Batman comics in the first year, they’re really grim. They’re very, very straight. Batman’s literally carrying a gun and shooting bad guys. And obviously that couldn’t last very long. It didn’t take them long before they started toning all of that down and giving him Robin. And the Joker’s really scary too. In his first couple of appearances he’s pretty psychotic, he’s pretty much kind of like the Heath Ledger Joker. So again, once they realize kids are reading this, and we don’t want to frighten them and give them bad ideas and stuff, they toned everything down. The Joker became more about the silly crimes rather than the killing people because he thinks it’s fun. But again, those early couple of issues of Batman obviously had a big impact on people, because there was really nothing else like that in comics at the time. All the other superheroes were kind of like Superman clones, or they were really happy and really good-natured. And then here comes this guy. You look at those early covers and he’s just like grim and he’s kind of scary and he’s like towering over the city. He’s completely the opposite of all the other superheroes at the time. Clearly, that was part and parcel of his early popularity and of his enduring popularity to this day.

    DAN DIDIO: Batman really does reflect a lot of the moods and sensibilities that were in the culture of the time he was being written. If you look at him in the early days during World War II when he was first created, he was a darker, brooding character. During the ’50s, when the Space Race was going on, he becomes a character that can actually wind up on the moon, getting caught up in these science-fiction adventures. You have a little bit more of a pop-culture feel in the early ’60s and then you have a much more relevant character in the late ’60s into the ’70s. Then you get into the ’80s and again, he becomes that strong, muscular, right-or-wrong hero, basically.

    “I’m sure that whatever the future holds for Batman it will be wonderfully dark and twisted and heroic and exciting.”BRUCE TIMM: All those different versions of Batman, they’re all equally valid. That’s the weird thing about it. You can play Batman as the happy-go-lucky father figure with all the gadgets and the Batcave and Alfred and all of that stuff, and then you can take it really, really dark because of the origin story. It is a very, very dark origin story. And he basically is in a constant state of war against crime. I don’t know of any other comic book character that is that adaptable to that many different formats.

    ROBERT GREENBERGER: He’s always been a man of his era, and right now, we are as a nation at a time where I think our heroes have to be homegrown, our heroes have to be representative of the American Dream, the self-made man and succeed. And Batman reflects that today in very, very dramatic, larger-than-life terms. Where goes America, goes Batman, I think. And as we move into the next generation, we will see how he adapts.

    SCOTT SNYDER: Batman is forever, and so is that idea that every generation should create its own Batman. I love seeing the mythology reborn. Every time it gets rebooted I’m there, first in line. And I think it’s a wonderful thing that these characters can shed their skin and still be the same characters over again, just brand new at the same time. So, I’m sure that whatever the future holds for Batman it will be wonderfully dark and twisted and heroic and exciting.

    The post Taking the Bat out of the shadows appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The brands we choice dictate the identity we perform, says Wayhd Vannoni. Photo by Flickr user ed Yourdon.

    The brands we choose dictate the identity we perform, says Wayhd Vannoni. Photo by Flickr user ed Yourdon.

    Editor’s Note: How many of us are guilty of buying a certain brand of jeans or sneakers because we liked the way they made someone else look? We don’t just want to look like that person, we want to embody a bit of their identity by wearing the same costume.

    Brands are everywhere, and sometimes, as Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz told us in “The Paradox of Choice,” deciding between them can be so overwhelming as to discourage making a purchase at all. But often, we know what we want: the consumption choices we make are guided by how we want to see ourselves in the world. What we wear, sip and drive all play a major part in the identity performance we all participate in every day, says Hult Business School marketing professor and consultant Wahyd Vannoni.

    Vannoni, who writes for the Italian website Linkiesta , translated his 2013 post about J.K. Rowling’s authorship of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” into English for Making Sen$e. He returns to this page today, with a literary interpretation of how brands make us who we are.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sen$e Editor

    “All the world’s a stage,” states Shakespeare in “As You Like It.”

    But while the monologue continues to describe how man progresses from infanthood to death in seven stages, let me recast Shakespeare’s allegory in our modern consumer-oriented world.

    Brands play two fundamental roles in our lives. The most obvious is that they help us make purchasing decisions. Our lives would come to a standstill if, when faced with hundreds of varieties of breakfast cereal, or shampoo or deodorant in a supermarket, we were to evaluate each and every one objectively. This lurking woe is thankfully minimized by our recognizing a familiar brand among multitudes. We have come to trust its packaging, its colors and all of its elements to the extent that we wouldn’t wish any other companion.

    However, this is only the functional and practical aspect. In reality, brands inform who we should be, how we should think of ourselves and how we should behave. As Shakespeare and other playwrights did when they wrote, brands dictate the script we are to follow and tell us what to do. As we shall see, they serve the same purpose today that books did for one of the most renowned literary characters: Don Quixote.

    The Merchant of Seattle

    Coffee chains such as Starbucks have created a new stage known as the third place. It is neither home nor work. This stage is also meant to be slightly exotic. As Shakespeare brought to London audiences a taste of Verona, Mantua and Venice, Starbucks brought Italy to the heart of Seattle, Halifax and Tokyo.

    The chain’s official founding myth is that “in 1983, Howard [Schultz] traveled to Italy and became captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience. He had a vision to bring the Italian coffeehouse tradition back to the United States.”

    This “third place” stage also implies that within this space, we are to be creative and thoughtful. “When our customers feel this sense of belonging, our stores become a haven,” Starbucks tell us in their mission statement.

    So bring a computer, bring a book, and seat yourself in that sofa in such a way so that if you were to see yourself through the windows, you – the spectator — would see you — the actor — holding court like a prince.

    As for the dialogue we recite in this theater, Starbucks publishes a script for us : macchiato, frappuccino, mocha, Americano or venti. Be prepared to use these lines when your part comes in Act I, Scene II. The barista may not understand what “American” or “twenty” mean.

    Starbucks and Moleskine notebooks are two brands that help us perform our identities. Photo by Flickr user MyLifeStory.

    Starbucks and Moleskine notebooks are two brands that help us perform our identities. Photo by Flickr user MyLifeStory.

    What the barista will do, though, is formally introduce us to the play in the most dramatic and inventive of ways. Unlike most characters throughout theater history who are given a name by the playwright, at Starbucks, we get to choose our stage names. When that name — our given name or any name we care to give — finally appears on the cup, we become the main protagonist and merge into the brand.

    We gain recognition of our existence when the brand acknowledges us. Our name will eventually echo throughout the store and the audience (other customers waiting for their orders) will turn their heads to find out who that Jennifer or John is.

    The illusion of the stage is so powerful and so carefully crafted that we hardly remark that what we consume is rather different from what we say and pretend we consume; most of us buy and drink a larger quantity of milk than coffee while at Starbucks, for example. And yet, no one acknowledges that it is a coffee shop where we mostly buy dairy.

    All’s Well That Ends Well

    Brands deconstruct every situation we might face during the course of a day and recreate an alternate reality that we are destined to inhabit.

    The IKEA catalogue, for instance, is magnificent in its ability to suggest how we should stage our bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms. Each picture in the catalogue tells a story about who lives there. The actors are precisely positioned to suggest happiness and satisfaction with life. When you do not see anyone in the picture, we still know what has happened just before. The unkempt linen on the bed or the forgotten headphones on the sofa suggest that the owners are confident enough to afford the occasional imperfection because they are in control of their lives, and so would we be if and when we furnished our home from IKEA.

    Screenshot of a living room set from the IKEA website.

    Screenshot of a living room set from the IKEA website.

    For those of us who want to don a heroic yet sophisticated costume, the leather-bound Moleskine notebook is the answer. We could buy “sheets of paper that are attached at one end and used for writing notes” or we could buy a “legendary” notebook, one that might have been used by Hemingway or Picasso. A piece of paper from a Moleskine notebook is not merely fiber for ink to dry on but a springboard that enables each of us to revolutionize culture and the arts.

    The association with Hemingway is not casual; among other heroic achievements, he was a reporter in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and wrote a play during that time.

    Screenshot courtesy of the author from Harley Davidson website.

    Screenshot courtesy of the author from Harley Davidson website.

    A Moleskine notebook endows us with heroism, but how do we know when we’re truly free?

    To settle this existential question, Harley Davidson comes to the rescue proclaiming “Freedom above all else” through the ownership of one of their motorcycles, or indeed, a “freedom jacket.”

    The stage Harley-Davidson has set for us is one in which we escape the daily grind. Riding a Harley helps us reconnect with the myth of the American West, a time when the frontier lay untamed and when heroic, solitary explorers braved all manner of dangers.

    “To all the freedom loving riders who celebrate the spirit of Harley Davidson every time they start their bike – we salute you,” Harley Davidson proclaims.

    Screenshot from Harley Davidson website courtesy of the author.

    Screenshot from Harley Davidson website courtesy of the author.

    The Ingenious Hidalgo

    We may never have heard of the then-nearing 50-year-old Alonso Quixano. His life is unremarkable up to the moment Cervantes introduces him to us. The retiring Alonso becomes infatuated with chivalry books and decides to rename (“rebrand” in modern parlance) himself as Don Quixote. He has lost all reason and sets out to recreate the fictitious world conveyed by the books he has read. He learns how to dress, how to speak, how to act and at last, finds a purpose for his life.

    As chivalry books informed Don Quixote on his place and goal in life, brands inform modern man. They provide an essential service because, without them, we would not know who we are.

    The post How brands make the man, and the woman – literally appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A view of gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014.  Photo by Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

    A view of gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. Photo by Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

    The doctor leading the fight against the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone has contracted the virus, according to government officials.

    Sheik Umar Khan has been admitted to a hospital in the Eastern province of Sierra Leone and is undergoing treatment.

    The 39-year-old doctor is considered a national hero and is credited for treating scores of people suffering from the virus.

    Health Minister Miatta Kargbo said she would “do anything and everything in my power to ensure he survives.”

    Ebola is spread by a virus that is initially transmitted from wild animals; it has a high fatality rate and no cure. The virus kills up to 90 percent of those infected, however patients have a better chance of survival if the virus is detected early on.

    According to the United Nations, 630 people have died since the virus was detected in Guinea in February and the virus has spread across borders and into several West African countries like Liberia. Symptoms of Ebola include high fever, vomiting, internal and external bleeding as well as diarrhea.

    Khan seemed aware of the risks involved with dealing with Ebola, telling Reuters late last month “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life.”

    He also said “Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease.”

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    Bats are the only other mammal, other than humans, known to be able to perceive polarized light. Photo by Flickr user Noel Reynolds

    Bats are the only other mammal, other than humans, known to be able to perceive polarized light. Photo by Flickr user Noel Reynolds

    Bats navigate the evening sky using patterns of polarized light, according to a new study. Researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast have found that in addition to their uncommon echolocation skills, bats use polarized sunlight at dusk to set their internal compass. They are the first mammals known to exhibit this ability.

    Sunlight is naturally scattered in all directions but becomes directional when it is passes through gases in the earth’s atmosphere. The directional patterns it creates are determined by the position of the sun in the sky.

    These patterns create stripes across the sky 90 degrees from the position of the sun when they are strongest at both sunrise and sunset. Many species of birds, fish and insects are capable of seeing the polarized light. So far bats are the first mammals aside from humans who are known to be capable of perceiving the phenomenon at all.

    Dr Richard Holland, the paper’s senior author, was also a part of the team that
    bats used a magnetic compass which they set using cues at sunset. “The question was, what cues? It was known that birds calibrate the magnetic field with the pattern of polarization at sunset, so we tried the same for bats,” said Holland.

    To determine whether or not Bats had this ability, the zoologists placed bats in boxes that showed them polarized patterns before allowing them to fly their homes 20 kilometers away. Using small radio transmitters, the scientists found that the bats that had been shown a polarization pattern shifted by 90 degrees flew in right angles from the bats that were shown the natural polarization pattern.

    The behavioral evidence supports bats using the polarized light at dusk to set their course, but scientists are unsure how they detect it. Unlike many insect species, vertebrates lack the specialized photoreceptors in their eyes, leading researchers to believe the structure of their cone cells may play a role.

    The research provides a clearer picture of how bats use “map and compass” mechanisms to navigate longer distances outside the range of their echolocation.

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    Drivers on Interstate 580 approach the MacArthur Maze interchange in heavy traffic near Oakland, California, in this 2007 file photo. Photo by Noah Berger/AP

    Drivers on Interstate 580 approach the MacArthur Maze interchange in heavy traffic near Oakland, California, in this 2007 file photo. Photo by Noah Berger/AP

    WASHINGTON — The Senate agreed Wednesday on an $11 billion measure to temporarily fix a multibillion-dollar shortfall in federal highway and transit programs, setting up a vote next week on several alternatives.

    But senators will likely end up simply adopting a measure that passed the GOP-controlled House by a sweeping bipartisan vote last week, which would send it directly to President Barack Obama for his signature.

    The House bill would provide enough money to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent through May 2015. The fund pays for transportation programs nationwide. The money would come from pension law changes, customs fees and a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks.

    The largest chunk of the money, $6.4 billion, results from allowing employers to defer payments to their employee pension plans. Funding pension plans normally results in a tax savings for companies, and deferring those payments means they will pay more in taxes and increase federal revenue. Critics say the idea is a gimmick since the pension changes cost the government money in the years beyond the 10-year window in which legislation is officially scored for its impact on the budget.

    The measure is among the few must-do items before Congress goes on a five-week vacation in August. Without action, money to states for highway and transit projects could dry up next month at the height of the summer construction season.

    The highway fund is expected to run dry by the end of August if Congress doesn’t act. States have been told to expect an average 28 percent reduction in aid. Some states already have begun to delay or cancel construction projects due to the uncertainty of federal money.

    It’s hoped the measure will buy time for Congress to act next year on a longer-term highway measure.

    Earlier this month, the NewsHour’s Quinn Bowman reported from West Virginia on one project that depends on these federal highway funds, and those who could be affected.

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    Atiljan and Tiffany, 2011, New York, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Atiljan and Tiffany, 2011, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    If you’re being approached by a photographer with a large, antique-looking camera, who is asking you to pose with a stranger, it’s probably Richard Renaldi.

    The photographer traveled around the country for his project “Touching Strangers,” the book of which was published by Aperture this past spring. His method was fairly simple: he would chose a background and then introduce himself to the first stranger that he wanted to cast as part of his portrait.

    “I tell them I’m making family portraits out of strangers,” Renaldi told Art Beat. “That I would like them to touch, that they need, for the picture, to touch someone that we both haven’t met yet in a way that a friend or family or a couple would touch one another.”

    Donna and Donna, 2011, Craig, Colorado. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Donna and Donna, 2011, Craig, Colorado. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    The idea came out of his previous project, “Seeing America by Bus,” where he took portraits of bus drivers at Greyhound stations across America. At one such station, he found two strangers sitting on a communal bench.

    “It took the orchestrating of asking someone to take a photo for me to a new level … and I liked that. I thought it was really challenging and new, that there was definitely some uncharted territory in that terrain in which to explore.”

    Vincent and Charles, 2012, Los Angeles, California. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Vincent and Charles, 2012, Los Angeles. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    At the same time, Renaldi was transfixed with this image of a busy intersection in mid-town Manhattan.

    “You see all these people clustered together in a group. For that moment in space and time, they’re all connected, but actually most all of them are strangers to each other. I liked that dynamic and wanted to explore that.”

    In 2007, the photographer took his first images for “Touching Strangers.” He was intrigued to see “what the results would be in body language and the visual vocabulary that would emerge.”

    He used a large format film camera, of a style that was first developed in 19th century.

    Heather and Johnny, 2012, San Francisco, California. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Heather and Johnny, 2012, San Francisco. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    “They’re beautiful … the detail’s amazing, the experience of being photographed by one I think is very unique and different than being photographed by a handheld, a point and shoot, or an SLR,” he said. “Definitely it’s a longer experience. It slows everything down and I think that process has an effect on the image making and the final result.”

    As the project began to evolve, he developed a more selective eye when asking pedestrians to participate, looking for people that he thought had a story to tell or a sense of beauty he wanted to capture. He would start by asking one person and then finding a partner.

    “Sometimes they take a really long time to come together, sometimes they happen really quickly. Most often they take a while and sometimes the whole thing falls apart because the (first) person can’t wait it out with me anymore.”

    Tari, Shawn and Summer, 2012, Los Angeles, California. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Tari, Shawn and Summer, 2012, Los Angeles. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    But, every once in a while, something surprising happens, like his one portrait from Twin Peaks in San Francisco.

    “I found this woman in a cheetah print jacket named Annalee, very striking, very open face and she was with her husband and she was a tourist from South Carolina and I thought she would be great.”

    Moments after she agreed to be photographed, a covered Muslim woman walked by and Renaldi wanted to include her in the portrait. The photographer gave his usual spiel, but the woman declined. Dejected, he went looking for another person.

    “(I thought) even if this Muslim woman had said yes … my bias was that (Annalee) was going to be biased. I thought I was potentially opening up this other woman Rayqa to painful incidents of intolerance,” said Renaldi.

    He went looking for Annalee and heard someone shout “Hey, photographer!” Annalee and Rayqa were holding hands. The South Carolinian had convinced her fellow stranger to pose together.

    “She had intervened and I was just incredibly touched.”

    Alfredo and Jessica, 2011, New York, NY. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Alfredo and Jessica, 2011, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Over the course of many incidents like the one in San Francisco, Renaldi has grown a lot. Since most people tend to strike conventional poses, the photographer has had to think of a range of “more intimate ways of connecting” and become a confident director.

    “I definitely became more comfortable in asking people for what I want and I learned how to do that better … I was really surprised to learn that people do amazing things for you just by the mere fact of asking,” That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned, is how generous people can be with giving themselves over to someone.”

    Sonia, Zach, Raekwon and Antonia, 2011, Tampa, Florida. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Sonia, Zach, Raekwon and Antonia, 2011, Tampa, Florida. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    But the response to the project has not been so simple. Many viewers have sent him emails asking to be paired with a stranger and posed on a street corner. Others had been profoundly uncomfortable.

    “It makes them feel anxious. Either they feel anxious about the pairings of racial dissimilars or they project themselves onto the situation — ‘I don’t want some stranger touching me’,” said Renaldi. “It’s not universal that everyone has that kind of desire to feel that contact or touch. Some people’s relationship to touch I’ve learned is very different.”

    View more photos from Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers” below:

    Nathan and Robyn, 2012, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Nathan and Robyn, 2012, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Elaine and Arly, 2012, New York, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Elaine and Arly, 2012, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Jermoy and Matthew, 2011, Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Jermoy and Matthew, 2011, Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Kiya and Simon, 2012, New York, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Kiya and Simon, 2012, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Tom, Alaina, and Charlie, 2012, San Francisco, California. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Tom, Alaina, and Charlie, 2012, San Francisco. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Michael and Kimberly, 2011, New York, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

    Michael and Kimberly, 2011, New York. Photo by Richard Renaldi/Aperture

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    President Obama's low approval rating could hurt his party's chances in the Senate. Photo by Getty images.

    President Obama’s low approval rating could hurt his party’s chances in the Senate. Photo by Getty images.

    One key factor in any election is the popularity, or unpopularity, of a president.

    An unpopular president can drag down his party and make life difficult for vulnerable incumbents in tough races.

    That can be especially true in midterms when fewer voters turn out. The ones who do show up are generally the most politically active.

    President Barack Obama’s approval rating sits at about 41 percent, if you take an average of the last two months of major national polls. So what might that mean for this election?

    Democrats are already expected to lose seats–both sides agree. The question is how many. If history is a guide, it could be very close as to whether Republicans wrest control of the Senate.

    Republicans need a net gain of six seats to make that happen. Since World War 2, when a president’s approval rating is below 50 percent, as President Obama’s is now, the party out of power has gained an average of 5.5 seats.


    That’s about three seats worse for the president’s party when his approval rating has been above 50 percent. In those cases, though, even a popular president has seen his party lose an average of 2.6 seats. (Combining the popular and unpopular presidents, overall their parties have lost an average of 3.7 seats in midterms.)


    Elections, however, don’t happen in vacuums. Other issues come into play – where the races are being held, who the candidates are, and the popularity of the opposition party.

    That’s a big wildcard. Democrats are clearly playing on unfavorable turf. But candidates in Alaska and Arkansas with longstanding family ties – Mark Begich and Mark Pryor – have more than held their own, so far.

    And the Republican Party’s brand continues to suffer with favorability ratings in the low to mid 30s. Democrats and the president are slightly higher, in the low 40s generally.

    There is also a lot of pessimism–broad majorities see the country as off on the wrong track, many aren’t feeling as good about the economy as the headline economic numbers suggest, and Congress’ approval ratings are at or near all-time lows.

    All that may add up to the one constant – a declining interest in politics from the broader electorate. In May, Gallup found interest in this election at a 20-year low.

    And in a report out Tuesday, the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University found that turnout in these primaries are at an all-time low. Just 14.8 percent of eligible voters have turned out to vote, down from the mid-30s in the 1960s and 18.3% four years ago.

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    The mosquito Aedes aegypti, with its distinctive markings in the form of a lyre, spreads disease like yellow fever and is a carrier of the Chikungunya virus. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control/Wikimedia Commons

    The mosquito Aedes aegypti, with its distinctive markings in the form of a lyre, spreads disease like yellow fever and is a carrier of the Chikungunya virus. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control/Wikimedia Commons

    On Thursday, federal officials announced that the tropical Chikungunya mosquito-borne disease had been transmitted for the first time within the United States, infecting two Florida residents.

    What’s notable about these cases is that the people affected reported no recent trips to the Caribbean, Africa or Asia, where the painful virus is widespread. Until last week, all cases reported in the continental United States were from people who had recently traveled to endemic areas. Read: Chikungunya-infected mosquitoes are now living, breeding and sucking human blood in the continental United States.

    “This is not good news,” says Mike Raupp, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland.

    A few facts. The word Chikungunya derives from the Kimakonde language in Southeast Africa. (Click here for pronunciation.) It means contorted, a nod to the stooped-up appearance of people with severe joint pain, one of the main symptoms of the virus, along with fever, muscle pain, headache, fatigue and rash, according to the World Health Organization.

    “Mainly, you’re going to get a fever,” said Walter Tabachnick of University of Florida’s Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory. “You’re going to feel lousy. With Chikungunya, you’re going to ache. You do not want to get this disease.”

    It is seldom fatal. But that fact shouldn’t deter anyone from aggressive mosquito control, stressed Tabachnick, who believes the media has downplayed the danger of the virus.


    “No one wants to be a fearmonger. No one is saying, ‘We’re all going to die.’ But on the other hand, it does take public awareness and public responsibility to protect themselves. We’ve been very frustrated by the inability to get this message out to the public and nothing seems to take.”

    The virus is primarily transmitted by two types of mosquitoes, the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, also known as the yellow fever and Asian tiger mosquitoes, respectively. Both are invasive to the United States. The yellow fever mosquito arrived in the 1500s; the Asian Tiger more recently, in the 1980s.

    Unlike the West Nile virus, which is transmitted to mosquitoes mostly from birds and only occasionally to humans, Chikungunya is a mosquito-man virus. This means mosquitoes easily and efficiently the virus to humans.

    Transmission of the virus goes like this: A female mosquito bites an infected person. For about seven days, the virus incubates inside the mosquito, multiplying. The warmer the weather, the shorter that incubation period. Eventually, it migrates into the insect’s salivary glands, and as the mosquito feeds on human blood, she spits, transmitting the virus. (Note: only female mosquitoes bite. They need the protein in the blood to grow eggs.)

    These mosquitoes prefer to breed in man-made storage containers: soda cans, birdbaths, rain barrels and garbage can lids. Standing water that collects on tarp-covered boats is a major breeding site in Florida, Tabachnick said. Yellow fever mosquitoes prefer these sites to natural water, like puddles.

    As of July 18, 2014, a total of 436,586 suspected and 5,724 laboratory-confirmed Chikungunya cases had been reported in the Caribbean, Central America, South America and the United States, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

    “This is not a trivial illness,” Raupp said. “Even though it’s not often lethal. What’s disturbing is we know we have vector-competent mosquitoes who are able to feed off someone who has a virus circulating in their bloodstream and to transmit it to people who have not yet traveled.”

    To prevent breeding, he said, police and clean up your yard. Dump the birdbath twice a week. Dump or monitor other sources of water.

    “The public outcry should be to demand your neighbors to clean up,” Tabachnick said. “All it takes is one property owner who doesn’t care, and he could be rearing enough mosquitoes to endanger the entire neighborhood.”

    And a rule of thumb: apply insect repellant over sunscreen, not the other way around.

    The post How concerned should we be about the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The first of the victims from the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine arrived back in the Netherlands today. Life in the grieving nation largely came to a halt, as the day’s somber events played out.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News has our report.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: At Eindhoven military airport this afternoon, two aircraft, one Dutch and one Australian, ferried the first of MH17′s passengers and crew back to the country which lost the most; 193 of the 298 were Dutch, 32 Australian, and 10 from the U.K., 40 hearses for 40 coffins.

    And before they were taken away for forensic investigation, the Dutch gave the bodies a hero’s welcome, with the sounding of the last post. The country’s new king, Willem-Alexander, and Queen Maxima, led a day of national mourning, the ceremony here meticulous in bright sunshine, and performed in front of about 1,000 relatives of the dead.

    And what was most striking, the determination to give them a dignity in death that they never received in the fields of Eastern Ukraine. At the crash site itself, separatist rebels gave access to officials from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but not to Dutch investigators, who said their safety wasn’t guaranteed.

    The plane’s flight recorders have been taken to the U.K. for an examination which could take weeks. But six days on, there has been no professional investigation permitted here. On Monday, the U.K. said it had imposed an absolute arms embargo on Russia. But, today, it emerged that more than 200 export licenses, including for missile launching equipment, are still in place.

    DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: We have an arms embargo in place. We set out the terms of it, and we need to make sure that everything that’s happened since is consistent with the terms of that embargo. I believe that’s the case, but we will want to go through each one of these individually to very much make sure that it is the case. And if it isn’t, of course, we will act very swiftly.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: And amid disagreement among world leaders as to how to respond, pro-Russian separatists are continuing to shoot down aircraft. Today, it was two Ukrainian military jets, this just 25 miles from the MH17 site, the Ukrainians claiming the rockets were fired from Russia itself.

    On the other side of Europe, though, the peeling of bells, and then a minute’s silence. Not a corner of the Netherlands has been untouched by this disaster. And the scenes this evening have been unprecedented, many thousands lining the streets to watch the hearses pass by, the first bodies from 11 nations in all, though none of them have yet been identified, yet all of them honored here by the country which less than one fateful week ago had sent them on their way.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: European monitors said today there are body parts still at the site in Eastern Ukraine where the plane was shot down. And Australia’s prime minister warned it’s increasingly likely that some of the remains will never be recovered.

    GWEN IFILL: And in other news today, in Taiwan, a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in stormy weather as it was trying to land on the small island of Penghu. At least 47 people were trapped and feared dead. Rescue workers used flashlights to comb through the wreckage in the darkness; 58 passengers and crew members were on board.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans and Democrats in Congress offered up competing bills today on the flood of migrant children across the southern U.S. border. But there was no sign that either side can win over the other. House Republicans said their bill could cost $1.5 billion, far less than President Obama’s request of $3.7 billion.

    Speaker John Boehner:

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: What the president is asking for is a blank check. He wants us to just throw more money at the problem without doing anything to solve the problem. The administration ought to get their act together. Without trying to fix the problem, I don’t know how we actually are in a position to give the president any more money.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans also insist on speeding up deportations by changing a 2008 law that lays out a lengthy hearing process. In the Senate, Democrat Barbara Mikulski proposed legislation to cut the president’s funding request by $1 billion. But it wouldn’t change the 2008 law on deportations.

    Homeland Security Department officials warn the border and immigration agencies will run out of money in the next two months unless Congress acts.

    GWEN IFILL: Lawmakers in Iraq have again delayed voting on a new president. They agreed today to put off a decision until tomorrow, after the Kurdish political bloc asked for more time. At least 95 candidates are running. Meanwhile, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an overnight suicide bombing that killed 31 people at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Indonesia, a former general who lost the presidential election now plans to challenge the results in the nation’s highest court. His campaign alleges widespread fraud in the voting, although election observers have said that it was generally free and fair. Election officials declared Jakarta governor Joko Widodo the winner yesterday.

    GWEN IFILL: The Costa Concordia cruise liner began its final voyage today, more than two years after it capsized off an Italian island. Two tugboats pulled the ship away from the port of Giglio. It will make a slow four-day journey to the northwestern port of Genoa, home to the company that owns the vessel.

    FRANCO PORCELLACCHIA, Technical Team Leader, Costa Crociere: It is difficult to describe the feeling without being too emotional. The ship is heading north at a speed of two knots. Having reached the speed in such a short time, I’m confident that the expected arrival time in Genoa falling between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

    GWEN IFILL: And 32 people died when the Concordia steered too close to land and struck a reef. The captain is now on trial on charges of causing the wreck and abandoning his passengers and for multiple counts of manslaughter.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, General Motors has issued six more safety recalls covering another 700,000 vehicles. This time, the problems range from faulty seats to turn signal failures, to problems with power steering. All told, GM has issued a record 60 recalls this year, for nearly 30 million cars and trucks.

    GWEN IFILL: Congressional investigators told House members today how they repeatedly qualified for subsidized health coverage using fake I.D.s. The Government Accountability Office said investigators succeed in 11 out of 18 attempts; they said they got around an online identity checking system by dialing government call centers instead.

    Also today, a study by the Department of Health and Human Services estimated more than 10 million adults have gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The anthrax incident at a government lab has now cost the lab director his job. Michael Farrell submitted his resignation today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He’d already been reassigned from a CDC facility in Atlanta that handles bioterrorism agents. Last month, that lab accidentally sent anthrax samples that were still alive to two other labs. Dozens of CDC workers were potentially exposed, but no one got sick.

    GWEN IFILL: Wall Street had a mixed day after some mixed reports on corporate earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 27 points to close at 17,086. The Nasdaq rose 17 points to close at 4,473. And the S&P 500 added three to end at 1,987.

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