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

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    Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (L) and US President Barack Obama (2nd L) inspect a military honor guard prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. Photo by Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty Images

    Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (L) and US President Barack Obama (2nd L) inspect a military honor guard prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. Photo by Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty Images

    TALLINN, Estonia — Lashing out at Russia, President Barack Obama on Wednesday cast Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine as a threat to peace in Europe. He vigorously vowed to come to the defense of NATO allies that fear they could be Vladimir Putin’s next target.

    “You lost your independence once before,” Obama said following meetings with Baltic leaders in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. “With NATO, you’ll never lose it again.”

    Obama, who faces criticism in the U.S. for being too cautious in confronting Russian President Putin, sharply condemned Moscow’s provocations. He declared in blunt terms that Russian forces that have moved into Ukraine in recent weeks are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission, as the Kremlin has insisted.

    “They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks,” he said during a speech at a packed concert hall.

    Obama also took aim at one of Russia’s main rationales for its provocations in Ukraine: the protection of Russian speakers living outside its borders. Like Ukraine, Estonia and other Baltic nations have sizeable Russian-speaking populations, compounding their fears that Moscow could seek to intervene inside their borders.

    “We reject the lie that people cannot live and thrive together just because they have different backgrounds or speak a different language,” Obama said.

    Despite the president’s tough talk, the U.S. and Europe have been unable to shift Putin’s calculus in the months-long crisis in eastern Ukraine. While multiple rounds of Western sanctions have damaged Russia’s economy, the penalties have not pushed Putin to end what the White House says is unfettered support for pro-Moscow separatists who have stirred upheaval in key cities.

    Obama offered no new options for penalizing Russia beyond more sanctions, and reiterated his opposition to getting involved in the conflict militarily.Obama offered no new options for penalizing Russia beyond more sanctions, and reiterated his opposition to getting involved in the conflict militarily.

    Shortly after the president arrived in Estonia Wednesday morning, there was a brief flicker of hope for a resolution to the conflict. The Ukrainian president’s office announced that it had reached a cease-fire agreement with Putin. But the statement was ambiguous, and a top rebel figure quickly said no cease-fire was possible without Ukraine withdrawing its forces.

    Estonia and other countries in the region that were once under Soviet control have been warily eying Putin’s aggression and fear he could set his sights on their nations next. Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO members, and have been seeking firm commitments that the U.S. and other alliance powers would come to their defense if Russia were to encroach on their territory.

    Obama’s three-day trip to Europe is aimed at offering just those assurances. Following a meeting with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, he declared that the U.S. commitment to security of NATO’s newest members runs deep.

    “We will defend our NATO allies — every ally,” he said. “In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no senior partners or junior partners — there are just allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single one.”

    Obama’s comments were welcomed by Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves, who said the U.S. commitment to his country has “helped set an example for other NATO allies.” Still, he continued to push for a more persistent NATO military presence in his country, something some allies have been loath to do because of a 1997 agreement with Russia in which the alliance agreed not to put permanent bases on Russia’s borders.

    “I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment,” Ilves said.

    Obama departed Estonia Wednesday evening for Wales, where a high-stakes NATO summit will get underway Thursday. The alliance is expected to approve plans to station more troops and equipment in Eastern Europe, with the aim of building a rapid response force that could deploy within 48 hours.

    He addressed U.S. and Estonian troops at the airport before leaving.

    “You’re sending a powerful message that, as NATO allies, we stand together,” Obama said. “We stand as one.”

    He earlier had announced that he was sending more Air Force units and aircraft to the Baltics, and called Estonia’s Amari Air Base an ideal location to base those forces.

    Obama is the second sitting American president to visit Estonia, following President George W. Bush, who traveled here in 2006. Upon his arrival, Obama wrote in a guest book that it was an honor to visit “a nation that shows what free people can achieve together.”

    The Baltics were invaded by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II. After the Soviet Union crumbled, the Baltic countries turned to the West and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, much to the chagrin of Russia.

    The post Obama: Russia threatens peace in Europe appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver visit a pre-K classroom in Manhattan in April. Photo by Susan Watts-Pool/Getty Images

    New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver visit a pre-K classroom in Manhattan in April. Thursday will mark the first day of free universal pre-K in the city. Photo by Susan Watts-Pool/Getty Images

    According to one of the most famous studies on education in American, access to early childhood education impacts more than a child’s future GPA. The “High/Scope Perry Preschool Study” followed 123 children born into poverty between the years 1962 and 1967. The group was divided at random and 58 of the children were enrolled in a quality preschool program, while 65 received no preschool education. The children who attended preschool were more likely to graduate high school. Forty years later, researchers found they were also more likely to hold jobs and less likely to have committed crimes.

    Recently, Conflicting research has shown that, while children who attend preschool are ahead of their peers both academically and socially upon entering kindergarten, gains fade away by the end of the first grade.

    How important is early childhood education? Could its impact last into adulthood? Can kids without access to quality preschool catch up? What role do parents play?

    Join us as we address these questions in a Twitter chat from 1-2 p.m. EDT this Thursday, Sept. 4. Maggie McGuire, (@Scholastic), vice president of Scholastic’s Kids and Parents channels, will share her insights, along with guests from the National Institute for Early Education Research, (@PreschoolToday), and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes, (@CEELOorg). Follow along and chime in using #NewsHourChats.

    The post Twitter Chat: How important is early childhood education? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    CVS Caremark stopped selling tobacco products in all of its CVS pharmacy stores this week, ahead of a schedule announced earlier this year. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Calmon1

    CVS Caremark stopped selling tobacco products in all of its CVS pharmacy stores this week, ahead of a schedule announced earlier this year. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Calmon1

    CVS, the nation’s second largest drug store-chain is discontinuing the sale of tobacco products in all of its stores effective immediately- making it the first national chain to do so. The company is also changing its corporate name to CVS Health in a bid to reflect the company’s commitment to broader health care.

    Despite the name-change, signs on CVS’ roughly 7,700 drugstores won’t change, so the tweak may not register with shoppers, the Associated Press reports.

    Nicotine gum and quit smoking signs will replace cigarette boxes on CVS shelves. The drug store chain will also launch a new campaign aimed at providing education, medication and assessments for customers looking to end their tobacco habit.

    Chief Executive Officer, Larry Merlo said the move to ban tobacco sales will cost CVS approximately $2 billion in annual revenue. However, he believes he can make up the losses through developing new business relationships with healthcare companies.

    “We’re doing more and more to extend the front lines of health care,” Merlo said.

    In March 2010, a few independent drugstore chains stopped the sale of tobacco after the American Pharmacists Association called for the ban. CVS’ decision to end the sale has health care officials hoping other major chains like Walgreens will follow suit.

    The post CVS quits tobacco and shifts focus to health care appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    New research finds that college graduates don't just have trouble finding work, they also have trouble staying engaged. Photo by Flickr user MRehan

    New research finds that college graduates don’t just have trouble finding work, they also have trouble staying engaged. Photo by Flickr user MRehan

    Three years ago, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that college students learn little while in school. Their book, Academically Adrift, shocked the academy and provoked angry responses. Now, the two provocateurs are back.

    Their sequel is called Aspiring Adults Adrift. It follows the same students after graduation and concludes that schools focus on social life rather than academics, and that levies a high tariff on young adults. Arum recently spoke with On Campus, the higher education desk at Boston’s WGBH about why these graduates are slow to take on all of the responsibilities of adulthood and struggling to find full-time work that pays well.

    Last week, PBS NewsHour’s Rethinking College series looked at how colleges and universities are responding to calls for greater access and better outcomes for students. Arum tells On Campus that to help students succeed in the transition to the working world, schools need to renew their focus on academic rigor.

    Highlights from the interview:

    ON CAMPUS: You open your book talking about this recent graduate who you call Nathan. Can you tell us about him and his experience?

    ARUM: Nathan is a student who graduated from a public university with a 3.9 GPA as a business major. Like many of the graduates in our study, two years later he was struggling to find success. He had a position that was not full-time, he was making around $20,000. He was really adrift.

    ON CAMPUS: I don’t think it would be a complete spoiler alert to say your most recent findings are grim. How are these new working adults transitioning?

    We asked the graduates, ‘How often do you discuss politics and public affairs?’ We found that 39 percent of them said monthly or never.ARUM: For those in the labor market, only 47 percent have full-time jobs where they’re making more than $30,000. But also we find they’re struggling to make transitions in other important domains of adult responsibility. We asked the graduates, ‘How often do you discuss politics and public affairs?’ We found that 39 percent of them said monthly or never. We asked ‘How often do you read the news, in print or online?’ Thirty six percent said monthly or never. In multiple domains, they haven’t really gained preparation that serves them to make successful transitions.

    ON CAMPUS: Isn’t this period of life, of uncertainty and exploration, normal for young adults?

    ARUM: It has become normal, given cultural shifts. We think that higher education is significantly implicated in legitimating this extended period of emerging adult, where students are drifting and searching.

    ON CAMPUS: Do you think there’s something wrong with young adults taking that time?

    ARUM: Yes and no. Certainly no one would argue about the importance of meaningful exploration. However, there’s quite a difference between meaningful exploration and not having a sense of purpose and focus in life after having four years in college.

    ON CAMPUS: So if colleges are implicated, what more can they do to reverse these trends? What characteristics are effective?

    ARUM: The characteristics are that they’re focused on academic rigor, academic quality, and high standards. There’s an increasing focus on the social rather than the academic. So you see colleges and universities disinvesting from academic programs, and investing in social amenities to attract 17-year-olds.

    We also see that colleges often have very low academic standards. For example, 36 percent of students studied alone for their classes less than an hour a day. Fifty percent of the students did not have a single class that asked them to write 20 pages over the course of the semester. Thirty two percent said they didn’t have a single class that asked them to read more than 40 pages per week. These same students were getting a 3.2 GPA. So they learned from college and universities that success could be achieved with very little effort.

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

    The post Why so many college grads are highly-educated, well placed, and going nowhere appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Detainees are escorted to an area to make phone calls as hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center on June 18, 2014, in Nogales, Arizona.  Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

    Detainees are escorted to an area to make phone calls as hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center on June 18, 2014, in Nogales, Arizona. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The number of immigrant children caught alone illegally crossing the Mexican border into the United States continued to decline in August, according to figures disclosed Wednesday by the Homeland Security Department.

    Last month Border Patrol agents apprehended 3,129 children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. In July agents found more than 5,400 children, while in June the number was more than 10,600.

    The Obama administration has been cautious about speculating over what led to the recent decline, saying several factors are likely at play. Historically, the number of immigrants caught crossing the border illegally declines during the hottest summer months.

    Since the start of the budget year in October, more than 66,000 unaccompanied children have apprehended crossing the border illegally, nearly double the number from the 2013 budget year.

    The dramatic increase in the number of child immigrants this year prompted the administration to step up enforcement efforts against human smuggling rings and launch a public relations campaign urging parents in Central America not to send their children on the dangerous trek through Mexico. The Justice Department has also ordered that newly arrived child immigrants facing deportation hearings should have their cases moved to the top of the federal immigration court’s docket. The court has a backlog of more than 375,000 pending cases.

    Officials in Mexico last month starting pulling Central Americans off the top of a lumbering freight train known as “La Bestia,” or The Beast, which has routinely carried thousands of migrants north toward the U.S. border.

    The crush of Central American children found crossing the border caught the administration off guard earlier this year and strained Homeland Security’s resources. President Barack Obama called the situation a humanitarian crisis and asked Congress to approve an emergency $3.7 billion spending bill to deal with the issue. Congress left Washington for the August recess before the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate could agree on a spending package.

    The post Number of child migrants crossing the border declines appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Bosnian police have arrested 16 people suspected of recruiting, financing and fighting for Islamic State, IS, a radical militant group formerly known as ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

    In a statement released by the State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, some 200 Bosnian police officers arrested the suspects across 17 targeted locations within the country. Officials found and seized weapons, telephone cards computer equipment and other materials.

    “The suspects are connected to financing, organizing and recruiting Bosnian citizens to depart for Syria and Iraq, and taking part in armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq, fighting on the side of radical terrorist groups and organizations,” SIPA spokeswoman Kristina Jozic said in a news conference on Wednesday.

    This is the first police raid since the Balkan country announced a prison sentence of up to 10 years for citizens found guilty of fighting or recruiting fighters for conflicts abroad. The move was made to deter young Bosnians from traveling to Iraq or Syria and joining ISIS, the Associated Press reports.

    Western countries such as the U.K., Australia and the U.S. have also witnessed a rise in the number of radicalized young European and American citizens leaving their countries to join extremist groups in the Middle East.

    Last month, U.S officials discovered that 33-year-old Douglas McAuthur McCain was killed while fighting for Sunni militants in Syria. The FBI warned there were others, like McCain, fighting for terrorist groups abroad.

    IS is notorious for committing gruesome acts against civilians and minority groups such as the Shiites and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria. IS recently beheaded American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the terrorist group.

    The post Bosnian police arrest 16 suspected Islamic militants in targeted raids appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Giving makes us feel good, but not enough Americans do it. Photo by Flickr user Kymberly Janisch.

    Giving makes us feel good, but not enough Americans do it. Photo by Flickr user Kymberly Janisch.

    Editor’s Note: The Ice Bucket Challenge was the height of American cool this summer. (If you need proof, even the NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff did it.) At the end of August, the campaign had raised more than $100 million for the ALS Association.

    Through social media videos, donors made public displays of doing something daring. No, not dumping chilly water on their heads, but giving away money, voluntarily.

    Why daring? Because almost half of all Americans do not give money away — to any cause. Most Americans — six out of seven — do not even give away 2 percent of their income.

    That’s an example of what Notre Dame researchers call the “paradox of generosity.” Giving away money makes people feel good about themselves. (And, of course, in the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, letting people know that you’ve done so on Facebook is a big part of the gratification.) And yet, many Americans just aren’t very generous with their money.

    Why? That’s one question that the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative is trying to understand. Building on five years of research, which included a survey of more than 2,000 Americans and select in-depth interviews across the country, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and Ph.D. candidate Hilary Davidson take a closer look at the paradox of generosity in their book of the same name, which goes on sale this week.

    They find a consistent link between generosity and higher quality of life: people who give, whether it’s financial or not, are happier and healthier. But the connection between compassion and welfare is hardly news to Making Sen$e readers. Visiting the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center last year, we learned that there’s a point at which more wealth doesn’t make people happier. Gratitude, though, does.

    Perhaps surprisingly, Smith and Davidson found that making more money doesn’t mean that you give away a higher proportion of it. Making Sen$e has covered different, but related findings from the Greater Good Science Center about wealth and behavior. As our segment “Money on the Mind,” below, explains, those who feel they have less tend to give more.

    The topic of Smith and Davidson’s book, published by Oxford University Press, is categorized as “religion” — certainly not a regular feature on Making Sen$e — but their research contributes valuable data about which Americans gives and how much.

    Keep reading to learn about Americans’ financial giving practices, adapted from the third chapter of their book, and in the days to come, look for more of their research on which Americans engage in non-financial giving.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sen$e Editor

    Everyone who’s ever given a personally selected gift knows the primary paradox of generosity — that by giving we in fact receive. But there is a related second paradox worth noting. A very large number of Americans, despite (we presume) wanting to enjoy happy, healthy, purposeful lives, fail to practice the kinds of generosity that actually tend to lead to happiness, health, and purpose in life.

    Something gets in their way. Like children whose fingers are caught in “Chinese hand-cuffs,” they pull hard to take care of themselves, but that simply keeps them stuck. But if these people relaxed and freely let go of some of their resources instead, the evidence suggests, they could escape the trap of ungenerous living.

    When it comes to generosity with money, time, skills and relationships, we know that relaxing, letting go, and giving away is not often automatic or easy. This is especially true in American culture, which from all sides constantly pounds home messages of scarcity, discontent, insecurity and acquisition. These messages may serve to grow the consumer economy, but they are often not good for the consumers.

    So, given the omnipresence of these cultural messages, real generosity requires learning something different, something that may not feel natural for many people. It often requires real personal change. A better understanding of how generosity works can aid that learning and change.

    But just how generous or ungenerous are Americans? And in what ways are we generous or not?

    What we see is that many Americans are indeed generous. Then again, many others are not. Sizeable proportions of Americans give away money, volunteer, go out of their way to take care of their families, friends, and neighbors, give blood, are organ donors, and more. At the same time, large proportions of Americans do not volunteer in any capacity. We’ll first take a closer look at financial giving, drawing on evidence from the Science of Generosity Survey.

    Financial Giving

    Who gives financially, of course, depends on just how much of our finances we’re talking about giving away.

    About 3 percent of adult Americans give away 10 percent or more of their income. This number is calculated by dividing the amount respondents reported giving away by their reported total salary.

    Graph courtesy of the authors.

    Graph courtesy of the authors.

    What does this tell us? If we think that giving away 10 percent of one’s income is an exceptional feat, then this number is a bit impressive. But if we think it is a good baseline measure of true financial generosity, then the vast majority of Americans are falling below the bar. For our purposes, suffice it to say that giving 10 percent of one’s income is a good marker associated with enjoying better health, happiness, and purpose in life.

    Viewed this way, though, the vast majority of Americans (97 percent) are forfeiting the chance to enhance their well-being by practicing real generosity with their money.

    But it may not be that bleak. This 2.7 percent may underestimate the actual percent of adult Americans who give 10 percent or more of their income. The General Social Survey (GSS) finds, in the most recent year it asked this question (1998), that about 8 percent of Americans give away 10 percent or more of their income.

    “The vast majority of Americans (97 percent) are forfeiting the chance to enhance their well-being by practicing real generosity with their money.”

    We think the true number is closer to 3 than to 8 percent, however, for this reason: Estimates for larger amounts tend to ask respondents the percentage of their incomes that they give, which people typically overestimate for various reasons, including social-desirability bias. But our estimate of 3 percent is based upon a sum total of giving carefully calculated by asking respondents to report specific dollar amounts for 36 possible different giving categories, which tends to produce more accurate results, and comparing that to their reported incomes.

    We also must remember that these survey data were collected in the midst of the Great Recession, which began in 2008 and is only now showing signs of abating. So our numbers, some of which are a bit lower than those of previous studies, should be understood as representing generosity at a time of relative economic stress for many Americans.

    What do Americans think about their own giving? When asked to calculate these numbers in their own minds, Americans typically report much higher percentages of giving.

    In response to a straightforward survey question that directly asked respondents whether (by their own reckoning) they do or do not give away 10 percent of their income, 20 percent of Americans answered yes. Clearly, some people (about 17 percent of Americans) tend to be much more “generous” with themselves when it comes to thinking about how much money they give away, compared to what seems to be real when it is directly calculated.

    This tells us a few things. First, a decent proportion of Americans believe that giving money away is a good, socially desirable thing, and so give themselves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to thinking about how much they do give away.

    Second, a proportion of Americans simply seem to be not very good at estimating how much money they are giving away. This does not surprise us at all, based on what we have learned in our interviews with Americans about their generosity: the amount an individual reported on the survey was sometimes different than the amount reported in-person in the interview. There were also discrepancies within households with one partner claiming that the family gives more or less than the other.

    Lowering the Standard

    We can assess Americans’ financial generosity by lowering the standard and seeing what percentage of Americans do not give even 2 percent or more of their income. At least 86.2 percent give away less than 2 percent of their income. This, again, is calculated by dividing the sum of the amount of money they say they give away in 36 possible categories of types of giving by their reported annual income — which we have reason to believe produces accurate results. Assuming so, we see that most Americans, about six out of seven, do not give away even 2 percent of their income. That suggests a relatively stingy lot of people, financially speaking — though, again, we should keep in mind the effects of the Great Recession on these numbers.

    Graph courtesy of the authors.

    Graph courtesy of the authors.

    Looking at the percentage of Americans who give certain percentages of their total incomes, we see that nearly half of us (44.8 percent) admit to not giving away a single dollar.

    Close behind the half who gives nothing at all is the 41 percent who give away a small amount of money — less than 2 percent of their income. Increase the percentage given away, and the percentage of Americans who do it shrinks. Nine percent of Americans gives away between 2 and 5 percent of their income; 3.1 percent gives away 5 to 10 percent of their income, and 2.7 percent gives away 10 percent or more. Again, the vast majority gives away relatively little of their financial means in voluntary charitable donations.

    “Making more money in America is not associated with giving money more generously.”

    Some readers might assume that the percent of income that Americans give rises gradually with increases in their actual income. It stands to reason that the more money people make, the greater the percentage of it they should be able to give away without cutting too much into their own basic needs and wants. But this is not the case. Making more money in America is not associated with giving money more generously.

    In fact, the percentage given actually drops slightly, from 2.2 to 1.1 percent of income given away when moving from the lowest income category (less than $12,499) to the highest ($90,000). Earning a higher income in the U.S., in other words, does not translate into giving larger proportions of that income away.

    We can look at the financial generosity of Americans in yet another way. Suppose we took all Americans and distributed them on a line from the least financially generous to the most generous. Imagine then that we clustered them into 20 groups of 5 percent of Americans each, again from the least to the most financially generous.

    Then suppose that we calculated the percentage of all dollars given by Americans for each of the 20 groups of 5 percent. We’d see that the least generous half of Americans (50 percent, on the left side) gives away almost none of the total dollars given — only .41 percent of all dollars given away, to be precise.

    Graph courtesy of the authors

    Graph courtesy of the authors

    At the other extreme, we see that the most generous 5 percent of Americans gives a whopping 57 percent of all of the money given away in financial charitable contributions. Between the least generous 50 percent of Americans who give almost nothing and the most generous 5 percent of Americans who contribute well more than half of all the money given, the balance of the money (43 percent) is accounted for by the remaining 45 percent of relatively generous givers. And most of that is given by the few highest-end groups of givers.

    For example, adding together the money given by the 20 percent of the most generous Americans (the four 5-percentiles on the right) shows us that they give 86 percent of all of the money voluntarily given away in the U.S. If you have ever heard of the “80/20 Rule” when it comes to voluntary financial giving, the actual rule is in fact more like the “86/20 Rule.”

    In short, a quite small group of Americans gives away the vast majority of the money that is donated voluntarily in the U.S. If the top 10 percent of most generous Americans were to stop giving money, the entire sector of society and the economy based on voluntary financial giving would simply collapse. In other words, there is a huge amount of room for growth in financial generosity for many Americans.

    The post Are Americans a stingy lot of people? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Video by Greg Abbott campaign

    On a summer day in 1984, Greg Abbott was out for a jog, when an oak tree fell on his back, paralyzing him from the waist down. Abbott was only 26 years old at the time of the accident, and has used a wheelchair since.

    30 years later, Abbott is now the Texas Attorney General, and is currently running against State Sen. Wendy Davis to be the next governor of the Lone Star state.

    This week, Abbott’s campaign released a powerful ad highlighting his ability to overcome the difficulties he faced after his accident. The 30-second spot, narrated by Abbott, shows the Attorney General rolling up the ramps of a parking garage.

    Abbott: “After my accident I had to rebuild my strength. I would roll up an eight-story parking garage, spending hours going up the ramps.”

    “With each floor it got harder and harder, but I wouldn’t quit. Just one more, I’d tell myself. Just one more.”

    “I see life that way, and that’s how I’ll govern Texas. To get to the top we must push ourselves to do just one more.”

    The ad, which makes no mention of his opponent or his policy positions, clearly aims to depict Abbott as an everyman. In recent attack ads, Davis has criticized the attorney general for being “another insider who is just not working for us.”

    Davis gained national attention last year, when she filibustered a restrictive abortion bill in the Texas State Senate. But despite Davis’ filibuster fame, Abbott has remained the strong front runner, in a state that has only had two, single-term Democratic governors since 1979.

    The most recent polling from Rasmussen has Davis trailing the Attorney General by eight points, which is a significant improvement from her 17 point deficit back in July.

    Davis remains a longshot to succeed Gov. Rick Perry, but she and state Democrats hope Davis can gain support during the upcoming debates. The two candidates are scheduled to face-off for the first time on September 19 in McAllen, Texas.

    The post Texas gubernatorial candidate gives new meaning to the biographical campaign ad appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Researchers believe the Lone Star tick is at the root of a troubling new meat allergy.  Image by Lyle Buss

    Researchers believe the Lone Star tick is at the root of a troubling new meat allergy. Image by Lyle Buss

    One night in the summer of 2009, Jeremy Spittle emerged from a hot tub covered in hives that itched “four times more than poison ivy.” For months, his skin broke out like this every few days. The only thing that helped was doubling – sometimes quadrupling – the recommended dose of Benadryl. One time, the reaction was so bad it required a trip to the emergency room. Another time, Spittle fainted in the bathroom, hitting his head on the sink as he fell.

    He tried cutting alcohol from his diet. Then milk. Then vegetables. It was during this “trial and error period” that Spittle’s father stumbled across a Washington Post article detailing cases of a new meat allergy with symptoms ranging from hives to anaphylactic shock. The cause?
    The Lone Star tick.

    Spittle, 33, who lived in Nokesville, Virginia and worked frequently outdoors for Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, had been bitten by multiple ticks earlier that spring. The stories and symptoms in the article seemed to echo his experience. Was this tick at the root of his problems, he wondered?

    The Lone Star tick is a medium-sized, reddish-brown tick that’s common in the Southeastern United States. It gets its name from a white dot found on the backs of all female adults. Nymphs are the size of a lower-case “o” in newspaper print, expanding to the size of a zero when fully engorged, said Phillip Kaufman, assistant professor and entomologist at the University of Florida. Adults are the size of a capital “C,” but engorged, can swell as large as a raisin.

    Lone Star ticks bite humans by inserting needle-like mouth parts into the skin, while backward-facing teeth act as hooks, securing them in place. They also secrete a cement-like substance that helps them to stay attached, Kaufman said.


    Approximate distribution of the Lone Star tick. Map courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Though it hasn’t been scientifically proven, researchers think the Lone Star tick produces a sugar from its gut called alpha-galactosidase, or “Alpha-Gal.” In some cases, the human immune system develops an allergic response to that sugar. Because Alpha-Gal is also found in red meat, a bite by the Lone Star tick may translate to an allergic reaction to anything from beef hamburgers to bacon. Repeated tick bites can potentially cause the antibody level of Alpha-Gal to rise, worsening reactions.

    The Washington Post article to which Spittle’s father alerted his son referenced a University of Virginia study conducted by an immunologist named Scott Commins. Desperate, Spittle tracked down Commins and sent an email. ‘Hey, I read this article,” he wrote. “I may have this thing. Can you test me?”

    Commins responded the next day, and in early November, Spittle drove to Charlottesville, Virginia where his blood was tested for reactions to cat, dog, pork and beef extract. Results showed high antibody levels for Alpha-Gal. He was allergic to red meat.

    According to Commins, more than 2,000 known cases have cropped up in less than 10 years in the U.S. Cases have also been reported in Australia, Germany, Japan and on the Panama Canal’s tiny Barro Colorado Island, which contains a rainforest preserve teeming with species.

    A female Lone Star Tick sits on a blade of grass.  Image by  Kallista Images and Getty Images

    A female Lone Star Tick sits on a blade of grass. Image by Kallista Images and Getty Images

    Hives are the most common symptom, but others include swelling and symptoms linked to anaphylactic shock, such as vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing and a drop in blood pressure, according to a report by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center: “Persons with the allergy can go into a delayed anaphylactic shock four-six hours after eating red meat,” the report reads.

    Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Robert Valet, who works at the hospital’s allergy clinic four days a week, sees one to two new cases a day, he said. The allergy has the potential to be deadly, he said, though no one to his knowledge has died of it.

    Researchers have demonstrated the allergy’s association with tick bites and a delay between the bite and reaction. (For Spittle, that delay was as long as a month.) They also know that it does not increase risk for asthma. Still unclear, Commins said, is what’s caused the recent surge in allergies and whether Alpha Gal is indeed at the root of the problem.

    A blood-fed, engorged female lone star tick, or Amblyomma americanum. Image by Lyle Buss.

    A blood-fed, engorged female lone star tick, or Amblyomma americanum. Image by Lyle Buss.

    “While the scientific community has demonstrated that there’s Alpha-Gal in the gut of the Ixodes ticks in Sweden, we don’t have that evidence in Lone Stars,” Commins said.

    Valet says that a lack of exposure to good bacteria may leave immune systems more vulnerable to this kind of infection. This is known as the hygiene hypothesis.

    “Good bacteria is important to help train our immune system to do normal things,” Valet said. “Without exposure to good bacteria, your immune system won’t recognize things that aren’t dangerous. In this case, red meat.”

    Spittle’s doctor doesn’t buy the ‘hygiene hypothesis.’

    “The hygiene hypothesis has more to do with clean drinking water and basic protection,” Commins said. “We’ve had basic hygiene for a long time. That doesn’t explain this sudden outbreak.”

    Recent cases have not given researchers enough time to study the allergy, Commins said. Other culprits could include a new tick-based bacteria or organism, or the way humans process and handle meat.

    Spittle said was not surprised by his diagnosis.

    “I was working indoors and outdoors at the time,” he said. “I always had ticks on me and they were biting all the time,” he said.

    Though there is no indication how long Spittle’s allergy will last, it’s possible that it may improve over time, Valet said.

    When it comes to allergies, the human immune system has a “memory,” Valet said. Proteins found in peanuts and eggs trigger the immune system faster than the proteins found in Alpha Gal sugar, which takes longer for the immune system to recognize. This explains the red meat allergy’s delayed reaction, he said. Doctors hope the allergy will be less durable than others since it’s caused by a sugar, he added.

    “Once this starts, there’s not a way to make this stop,” said Valet. “If you can avoid [repeated tick bites], your antibody levels go down. But prevention is important. It should be something that’s 100 percent preventable.”

    Commins, who enjoys hiking and fishing himself, advises fellow outdoorsmen to wear bug spray and layers and to check for ticks after being outside.

    Since his diagnosis, Spittle has been red-meat free. Before his diagnosis, he was eating it nearly every day.

    “The worst was when I’d have a McDouble or something like that,” he said. “Some people have it worse where they can’t even inhale the smoke from a grill used for red meat.”

    Now, Spittle sticks to chicken, seafood and turkey and can still drink milk, eat cheese and have real butter. Despite cutting out a large part of his diet, he has no regrets. His wife Samantha helped him through the worst of the allergy, and his two children born after his diagnosis “couldn’t be healthier.”

    “People always look at me with a puzzled look when I say ‘I’m allergic to red meat,’ Spittle said. “Typically, the next thing out of their mouth is, ‘I would just die if I couldn’t eat red meat.’”

    “I’m always tempted to throw back, ‘I would just die if I ate red meat,’ but I haven’t felt the need to do so just yet.”

    Jenny Marder contributed to this report.

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    American journalist Steven Sotloff, right, was reportedly killed by Islamic fighters Tuesday. U.S. intelligence analysts believe Sotloff was beheaded some time after another U.S. reporter, James Foley, was killed by the same militant group.

    American journalist Steven Sotloff, right, was reportedly killed by Islamic fighters Tuesday. U.S. intelligence analysts believe Sotloff was beheaded some time after another U.S. reporter, James Foley, was killed by the same militant group.

    WASHINGTON — A U.S. intelligence analysis has concluded that American journalist Steven Sotloff was beheaded by Islamic State militants at some point after a similar killing of another U.S. reporter.

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday it’s still not clear exactly when or where Sotloff was killed. An online video of his beheading was released Tuesday.

    Psaki cited unspecified signs that the video of Sotloff was taken at least some time after an earlier recording of militants beheading journalist James Foley. The video of Foley was released two weeks ago.

    Sotloff’s mother pleaded for his life late last week after the Foley video surfaced.

    The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for both beheadings and is believed to be holding several other Americans hostage.

    The post U.S. analysts conclude that Islamic State militants killed Sotloff after Foley appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A banner explains Ebola prevention measures and symptoms of the disease in Dolo's Town, east of Monrovia, Liberia in this Sept. 2 photo by Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images.

    A banner explains Ebola prevention measures and symptoms of the disease in Dolo’s Town, east of Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images.

    Despite world health agencies’ best efforts to clamp down on ever-increasing Ebola outbreaks, people in West Africa who are in the center of the virus’ path are finding it hard to get accurate information and proper medical care, United Nations officials who recently visited the region said Wednesday.

    Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the U.N.’s World Health Organization, said in a conference call that there are an estimated 3,500 confirmed Ebola cases mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. More than 40 percent of new cases occurred in the past 21 days.

    “The outbreaks are racing ahead of the control efforts,” she said.

    On Aug. 28, the World Health Organization released an updated Ebola strategy aimed at stopping the spread of the disease in the affected countries in six to nine months. The agency also is reviewing the most promising experimental therapies and vaccines later this week to add to the response plan, said Chan.

    The bulk of Ebola infections occur when family members take care of each other, said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at WHO. There aren’t enough beds in treatment clinics, so the sick stay at home, he said. “Ill people have nowhere to go.”

    Several thousand more workers are needed to care for patients in the hard-hit nations, along with additional vehicles to transport the sick and dead. “Bodies are not removed quickly enough” by health authorities, he said. “It is really upsetting” to the residents.

    Chan said the World Health Organization is trying to recruit medical teams from other countries, but hasn’t found very many. “Without them, it is very difficult to mount a response in keeping with the situation,” she said.

    Airlines are cancelling flights to the Ebola-stricken nations to protect against the spread of the disease, but it complicates getting the health care workers to the region, she added.

    Meanwhile, quarantined communities are going hungry because not enough people are bringing them food, said Fukuda. They also crave more information about the devastating disease. Many know it’s unsafe to touch people who have died from Ebola or are sick, but they don’t know what to do beyond that, he said.

    The United Nations is working with its partner organizations in the field, including Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to spread information about the causes and symptoms of Ebola, and encourage people to get treated early to increase their likelihood of survival, said Chan.

    “There is a lot of misunderstanding, rumor and denial in communities that Ebola isn’t real and is something being given to them from the outside,” she said.

    The United Nations also is working with the heads of the affected African governments to forge a coordinated response, but stigmatization of the disease and those who have it is making it difficult to implement, Chan said.

    At least $600 million will be needed to help the governments get the situation under control, including paying for vehicles, medical supplies and salaries of health care workers, said Dr. David Nabarro, senior U.N. system coordinator for Ebola disease.

    “We are not in a position where we can afford to lose a day, because this outbreak is currently moving ahead of efforts to control it,” he said.

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    Esteban Lovato, a doctor at the La Loma Medical Center, does a routine check-up with a patient at the center's clinic in Oakland, California, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

    Esteban Lovato, a doctor at the La Loma Medical Center, does a routine check-up with a patient at the center’s clinic in Oakland, California, earlier this year. More Americans using the nation’s health services will drive up the cost of care, a new government report forecasts. Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

    WASHINGTON — The nation’s respite from troublesome health care inflation is ending, the government said Wednesday in a report that renews a crucial budget challenge for lawmakers, taxpayers, businesses and patients.

    Economic recovery, an aging society and more people insured under the new health care law are driving the long-term trend.

    Projections by nonpartisan experts with the Health and Human Services department indicate the pace of health care spending will pick up starting this year and beyond. The introduction of expensive new drugs for the liver-wasting disease hepatitis C also contributes to the speed-up in the short run.

    The report from the Office of the Actuary projects that spending will grow by an average of 6 percent a year from 2015-2023. That’s a notable acceleration after five consecutive years, through 2013, of annual growth below 4 percent.

    Although the coming bout of health-cost inflation is not expected to be as aggressive as in the 1980s and 1990s, it will still pose a dilemma for President Barack Obama’s successor. Long term, much of the growth comes from Medicare and Medicaid, two giant government programs now covering more than 100 million people.

    The United States is expected to spend more than $3 trillion on health care this year, far above any other economically advanced country. Yet Americans are not appreciably healthier, and much what they spend appears to go for tests and treatments of questionable value. Fraud also siphons off tens of billions of dollars a year.

    Because health care spending is so high, shifts of a couple of percentage points have significant economic consequences. Health care inflation has recently been in line with overall economic growth, keeping things manageable.

    As spending rebounds, health care again will start consuming a growing share of the economic pie, crowding out other worthy priorities. From 17.2 percent of the economy in 2012, health care is expected to grow to a 19.3 percent share by 2023, the report said.

    “The period in which health care has accounted for a stable share of economic output is expected to end in 2014, primarily because of the (health care law’s) coverage expansions,” it concluded.

    Yet if Obama’s Affordable Care Act is an immediate trigger for rising costs, the analysts who produced the report said it is not the only factor. It’s probably not the most important one when placed next to a recovering economy and an aging population. Traditionally, the state of the economy has been the strongest driver of health care spending.

    The report estimated that 9 million uninsured people gained coverage this year as the health care law’s big coverage expansion got underway, and another 8 million will be added next year.

    More people insured translates into higher demand for medical services and more spending, so White House claims of dramatic savings from the health law were always suspect. But the fiscal doomsday warnings from “Obamacare” detractors have not materialized, either.

    Part of the reason seems to be a push-and-pull effect within the health overhaul. Obama’s insurance expansion increases spending, but Medicare cuts under the same law help keep other costs down. And Congress reinforced Obama’s Medicare cuts with a round of its own during recent budget battles.

    The analysts said they did not see much evidence that payment reforms encouraged by the health law are having an impact on costs yet. Medicare is experimenting with how it pays hospitals and doctors to reward efficiency while maintaining or improving quality.

    The White House may take comfort that the report does not foresee a return to inflation rates of 7 percent a year or more. “We are not projecting that growth will get back to its rapid pace of the ’80s and ’90s,” said Sean Keehan, a senior economist who worked on the report.

    Again, factors other than the health care law seem to be involved. For example, employers have significantly increased deductibles and copayments, so working families must pay more out of their own pockets when they use medical care.

    The report was published online by the journal Health Affairs.

    Among other findings:

    – Medicare and Medicaid will drive costs from 2016-2013, with average annual increases of 7.3 percent and 6.8 percent respectively. For Medicare, it’s partly due to the retirement of the baby-boom generation, while Medicaid will see higher use of services by elderly and disabled beneficiaries.

    – The federal, state and local government share of health care spending will keep steadily rising, from 44 percent in 2012 to 49 percent in 2023. The share of costs covered by businesses will decline from 21 percent to 19 percent.

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    PBS NewsHour will live stream tonight’s hourlong North Carolina Senate debate beginning at 6:30 p.m. EDT. The debate is hosted by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation.

    RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis are seeking political advantage in their first debate as television advertising intensifies in a costly, competitive Senate race with national stakes.

    The hourlong confrontation Wednesday night marks the first major post-Labor Day event of a national struggle between the political parties for Senate control.

    Republicans must gain six states to win the Senate majority and have long listed North Carolina as a top target. Two months before the election, polling suggests that the race is a toss-up.

    Hagan, 61, fashions herself as “not too far left, not too far right. Just like North Carolina” in her television advertising at a time when President Barack Obama’s popularity has declined in the state compared to last year.

    At the same time, Hagan and allies accuse Tillis of presiding over a cut in education spending as speaker of one house of the North Carolina legislature. They also say he slashed unemployment benefits and weakened voter protections for minorities.

    Tillis, 54, counters that education spending has risen each year since he became speaker, and teacher pay grew on average by 7 percent this year.

    Since winning the Republican primary in May, Tillis has said Hagan’s voting record is shaped by Obama’s agenda rather than the needs of her constituents, as evidenced in her vote for the president’s health care legislation.

    Hagan has treated Obama gingerly. She criticized his policy on veterans recently a few days before he visited the state, then welcomed him warmly when he stepped off Air Force One in Charlotte to speak to the American Legion.

    Hagan, Tillis and their allies have already spent about $29 million on the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making it one of the most expensive in the country.

    Much of that has gone into television commercials.

    The National Republican Senatorial Committee began running a new ad Wednesday criticizing Hagan’s tenure as a state senator through 2008, when she defeated Sen. Elizabeth Dole in an upset.

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which backs Tillis, announced it intends to begin two weeks of advertising on Thursday.

    The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pledged to spend $9.1 million in advertising supporting Hagan.

    The post Watch tonight: First debate in high-stakes NC Senate race appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Comedian Joan Rivers in 1968 in New York City. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Comedian and television star Joan Rivers, known for her no-holds-barred approach to comedy, has died, her family said in a statement. She was 81.

    Joan Rivers began a career in stand-up comedy in the 1950s, a time when females were exceedingly rare in the field. She was frank and often self deprecating. She joked about her pregnancy, her mother’s desperate attempts to marry her off and later about her own cosmetic surgery. “Screw kindness. You have to tell the truth, that’s what comedy is all about,” Rivers once said.

    She was propelled into the limelight in 1965 when Johnny Carson invited her on “The Tonight Show.”

    Rivers became one of Carson’s most recurring guests. Eighteen years later, the comedian accepted an offer for her own late night show on the newly established Fox Network. It was a decision that ultimately ended her friendship with Carson.

    Though the late night gig didn’t last long, it further cemented Rivers’ position in the entertainment business. She soon landed a daytime talk show that lasted for five years, and earned her a Daytime Emmy.

    Comedian Joan Rivers during an interview with host Johnny Carson on April 25, 1986. Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

    Comedian Joan Rivers during an interview with host Johnny Carson on April 25, 1986. Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

    In 1994, she and daughter Melissa Rivers hosted the pre-Golden Globes show on E!. The pair would go on to be hosts of E!’s “Fashion Police,” and star in the reality show, “Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?”

    On PBS’s “Pioneers of Television” series in 2013, Rivers said she didn’t like the term “pioneer.”

    “I don’t like it when the ladies come up and say, ‘oh you broke barriers for women.’ I’m still breaking barriers. … I could still take you sweetheart with both hands tied behind my back,” she said. “Am I proud to be a pioneer? I’m not a pioneer. I’m still in the trenches. I’m still breaking ground.”

    Rivers had been admitted to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York last week after after she had reportedly stopped breathing while undergoing a throat procedure at a medical clinic.

    Melissa said in a statement that her mother died peacefully surrounded by family and close friends.

    “My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon,” the statement read.

    The post Irreverent and unapologetic comedian Joan Rivers dies at 81 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was convcted of 11 counts of

    Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was convicted of 11 of the 14 counts of corruption. His wife Maureen McDonnell was found guilty on eight counts.

    Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell on Thursday were convicted of corruption in a federal court.

    The couple were charged in a 14-count federal indictment in January 2014. Below are the allegations and verdicts in each count:

    Count One: Both McDonnells guilty of conspiracy, specifically of conspiring to defraud the voters of Virginia of the honest services they were due from the governor’s office. It alleged that McDonnell and the governor’s office provided “favorable official action” for Star Scientific as opportunities arose, including arranging meetings for Star Scientific and Jonnie Williams with state officials, and hosting an event at the governor’s mansion designed to encourage university researchers to conduct studies on the active ingredient in Star’s tobacco-based health supplement, Anatabloc. In exchange, the McDonnells allegedly enriched themselves by receiving more than $165,000 in gifts and loans.

    Count Two: Both McDonnells guilty of committing honest services fraud, not just conspiring to do so. It relates specifically to a $15,000 check from the Williams-controlled Starwood Trust to a catering company in May 2011 that paid costs associated with the wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter Cailin.

    Count Three: Both McDonnells guilty of honest services fraud and relates specifically to a $50,000 loan check in March 2012 from Williams, via Starwood Trust, to MoBo Real Estate Partners, a joint venture between Bob McDonnell and his sister in which they rented out vacation homes in Virginia Beach.

    Count Four: Bob McDonnell guilty, Maureen acquitted of honest services fraud and relates to a second loan check for $20,000 in May 2012 from Starwood to MoBo.

    Count Five: Both McDonnells guilty of conspiring to obtain property under color of official right, meaning they used the governor’s office to obtain things that McDonnell was not due to receive as governor. Like the other conspiracy count, it is not linked to a specific item the McDonnells received.

    Count Six: Both McDonnells guilty of obtaining property under color of official right, and relates to a $50,000 loan from Williams, via Starwood Trust, to Maureen McDonnell in May 2011.

    Count Seven: Both McDonnells guilty of obtaining property under color of official right and relates to the $15,000 catering check Williams wrote, via Starwood, for Cailin McDonnell’s wedding.

    Count Eight: Both McDonnells guilty of obtaining property under color of official right and relates to $2,380 in greens fees, food and merchandise from a golf outing that Bob McDonnell, his two sons, and a future son-in-law took at Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot on Williams’ tab.

    Count Nine: Bob McDonnell guilty, Maureen acquitted of obtaining property under color of official right and relates to $1,424 in greens fees, caddie fees, dining expenses and merchandise at Kinloch paid for by Williams.

    Count 10: Both McDonnells guilty of obtaining property under color of official right and relates to a $50,000 loan from Williams, via Starwood Trust, to MoBo.

    Count 11: Bob McDonnell guilty, Maureen acquitted of obtaining property under color of official right and relates to the $20,000 loan from Williams, via Starwood Trust, to MoBo.

    Count 12: Bob McDonnell acquitted of making a false statement to a financial institution by failing to disclose a $50,000 loan from Williams on a loan application to TowneBank. Maureen was not charged on this count.

    Count 13: Both McDonnells acquitted of making a false statement to a financial institution by failing to disclose the $120,000 in loans they received from Jonnie Williams on a loan application to Pentagon Federal Credit Union.

    Count 14: Maureen McDonnell guilty of obstructing a federal grand jury by returning to Williams the clothing he had purchased for her in New York City, along with a handwritten note suggesting they had a previous agreement that she would return the apparel so Williams could give it to his daughters or to charity. Bob was not charged on this count.

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    Some strategies for long term care can give aging Americans the opportunity to live at home. Photo by Getty Images

    Some strategies for long term care can give aging Americans the opportunity to live at home. Photo by Getty Images

    When Barbara T. made her usual Sunday visit to her mother, she was alarmed to see her 80-year-old mom with a black eye and large bruises on her arm. She had tripped on the stairs. Fortunately, she was not seriously injured, at least not this time. It wasn’t the first time she had fallen and, she confessed, she was having trouble with her balance. She also had high blood pressure and the doctor said she may have had more than one TIA, also known as a mini-stroke. She had lived alone since her husband died three years before, and she was having trouble managing the upkeep of the family home. Clearly, Barbara thought, something needed to change. Her mother needed to live in a place without stairs, and needed some help with grocery shopping, transportation and other tasks. A good first step–before a crisis arises–is to hold family meetings with your parent, spouse, children, siblings and other key people so everyone can share their views and help decide how best to proceed.Many of us find that as our parents age, they’re more likely to need assistance to carry out everyday activities. Barbara’s first instinct was to suggest that her mother move in with her and her family. And while this is often a first–and sometimes the best–solution, it’s one that needs careful thought and planning.

    In this column and the next, we’ll explore the range of residential options for caregiving. In column 1, we’ll look at options for someone with fewer care needs, like Barbara’s mother; in column 2, we’ll explore options for those with more demanding health conditions or those with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

    The most typical situation is one in which adult children are assisting aging parents, and that’s the example we’ll focus on here. But the information applies to anyone—spouse, grandparent, friend, aunt, sibling, even yourself—who may no longer be able to live independently.

    Open discussions: The family meeting

    A good first step–before a crisis arises–is to hold family meetings with your parent, spouse, children, siblings and other key people so everyone can share their views and help decide how best to proceed.

    Since finances play an important role in long-term care, an honest discussion about financial resources should be part of the meeting. Families are rich in historical experiences, and family dynamics (“Mom always liked you best…”) will come into play in your decision-making. If the meeting is likely to be difficult, an outside facilitator such as a social worker, religious leader, or geriatric care manager might be helpful. Expectations should be clear to everyone involved.

    It's important to have a serious conversation about finances and the levels of care required for any planned long term care living situation. Photo by Getty Images

    It’s important to have a serious conversation about finances and the levels of care required for any planned long term care living situation. Photo by Getty Images

    Key consideration: What level of care is needed?

    As your parent gets older, his or her care needs will change, and in most cases become more challenging. Consulting with a geriatric care manager or knowledgeable social worker may be helpful as you consider current and future needs. As time goes by, changes in your parent’s medical or cognitive condition may require a further change in living arrangements.

    Questions to think about:

    • Does your parent need assistance throughout the day? Who’s available to provide this?
    • Is your parent’s memory impaired?
    • Which activities of daily living (such as food preparation, bathing, toileting) can your parent can do independently?
    • If needed, what is your comfort level for providing personal care such as bathing?
    • Evaluate your own health, physical abilities, job and family demands to help decide if you are able to provide care for your parent.
    • What services, such as in-home care, adult day services and transportation, are available to your parent?
    • Can your parent get appropriate medical care in your community?

    What are your options?
    Moving your parent into your home is certainly one option, but you and your family might want to consider other living arrangements as well. The type of housing you choose will largely depend on four important factors:

    • Your parent’s care needs
    • Finances
    • The location of potential housing and proximity to family members, and
    • Services and support available in your parent’s or your community.

    The following list outlines different types of living arrangements that may be appropriate for someone who doesn’t need extensive care or assistance. Every community offers different choices. Remember, Medicare does not usually cover long-term care expenses or services.

    • Living independently at home: Most people prefer to remain in their own homes, and sometimes that’s possible—with some help. Resources in the community such as meal delivery service, “friendly visitors,” housekeeping, home health aides, transportation, or other in-home assistance might provide enough support so your parent can remain at home, in familiar surroundings. The home must be safe, with good lighting, clear spaces to walk, no stairs. Tech innovations, such as automatic pill dispensers, movement monitors or webcams, can be useful.A move to a smaller apartment, condominium or one-story house in their community or yours might also be feasible, with help and check-ins from family. Sharing an apartment or house with a friend or relative could be another possibility.
    • A newer option, called Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, NORCs or Villages, offers members—generally a group of older people who live in the same geographic area—services such as home repair, transportation and social/educational activities. There’s a fee to join and the organization is directed by volunteers and/or paid staff. This is a growing national movement, and for some people, it’s enough support to allow them to remain in their homes.
    • Retirement Community: Independent retirement communities usually offer individual apartments in a multi-unit setting, with group meals, transportation, housekeeping and organized social activities. Residents are free to come and go as they please, yet have the benefits of a larger group setting. Amenities and prices vary from place to place. Some offer access to a nurse or nurse practitioner. As care needs increase, additional services (e.g., help with laundry, bathing) often can be added for a fee. Visit several communities before making your decision.
    • Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs–sometimes called “Life Care”) offer independent, assisted and skilled nursing facilities all in one location. If a person’s health deteriorates, a disruptive move to a new community isn’t necessary. These communities generally require a substantial entrance fee, often paid for with the sale of a home.

    When your parent moves in with you

    If living with family is the best option for someone who needs care, there are several issues to consider before making the move.

    Changes in family roles. You and your family may decide that the best place for your parent is in your home. While this can be a very rewarding experience on many levels, living with your parent may lead to some tension caused by a shift in family roles. A once-independent parent may become more dependent. You’ll probably have less time for your spouse and for yourself. You might have to adjust your work schedule, and your children may need to help with household responsibilities, including care of their grandparent. These role changes can be big adjustments for everyone.

    Changes in your house. There must be enough space and a floor plan that is suitable for an older adult who might have mobility or vision problems. Some homes require special adaptations to make them safe. Home health agencies and/or Area Agencies on Aging may help you do a home assessment and recommend modifications (such as grab bars and ramps). Some families even build an addition to their home or lease an “accessory apartment” (or “accessory dwelling unit”)—a fully equipped modular unit that can be temporarily or permanently set up on your property.

    Changes in lifestyle. You and your parent probably have different lifestyles. Sleeping cycles, food preferences, noise level, social calendars, interests, and activities may need adjustments in order to guarantee a happy transition. If care needs become heavy, try to arrange for some time off from caregiving duties (“respite”) and enlist the help of family members, friends, a paid aide or a home care agency.

    Finances. You may become more involved in your parent’s personal finances, including paying bills and monitoring and managing accounts. To make financial issues more manageable:

    • Agree upon how much, if any, payment your parent will provide towards their living expenses. Will they pay for rent, food and other costs?
    • Openly discuss financial arrangements with siblings.
    • Consider preparing a formal legal document called a Personal Care Agreement describing any payment to you from your parent for accommodations or your caregiving services.
    • Be sure legal documents are in place, such as Durable Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives.
    • Evaluate whether you need to make adjustments to your current work schedule.
    • If you will reduce your work hours, determine the implications for your own financial picture, your job, health insurance, and Social Security and retirement benefits.


    Managing a Move
    Packing and moving out of a house is a significant chore for anybody, but for the older adult who has decades’ worth of memories and possessions, moving can be a major emotional challenge.

    In some communities, there are specialized companies that will, for a fee, help organize a senior’s move to a new location and arrange to sell or give away unneeded furniture and possessions. They will also help pack and unpack. Even if outside services are used, however, in most families the adult children play key roles in this task. Beginning to “de-clutter” early helps.

    Your parent will need time to adjust to his or her new living environment and role in your family. Open communication, patience and support will help make this transition as smooth as possible.

    More Information & Resources

    601 E. St. N.W.
    Washington D.C., 20049
    (888) 687-2277

    Administration for Community Living
    U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
    200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20201

    Eldercare Locator
    Locate Area Agencies on Aging and other resources
    (800) 677-1116

    National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
    3275 West Ina Road, Ste. 130
    Tucson, AZ 85741
    (520) 881-8008

    Village to Village Network
    201 Crystal Drive, Ste. 800
    Arlington, VA 22202

    About Family Caregiver Alliance
    National Center on Caregiving
    785 Market Street, Suite 750
    San Francisco, CA 94103
    (415) 434-3388
    (800) 445-8106
    Website: www.caregiver.org
    E-mail: info@caregiver.org
    Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) offers an extensive online library of free educational materials for caregivers. The publications, webinars and videos offer families the kind of straightforward, practical help they need as they care for relatives with chronic or disabling health conditions.

    Family Care Navigator is FCA’s online directory of resources for caregivers in all 50 states. It includes information on government health and disability programs, legal resources, disease-specific organizations and more.

    Helpful Publications from Family Caregiver Alliance:

    Founded in 1977, Family Caregiver Alliance was the first community-based nonprofit organization in the U.S. created to address the needs of caregivers. FCA and its National Center on Caregiving are nationally and internationally recognized for pioneering programs—information, education, research and advocacy—that support and sustain the important work of families and friends caring for loved ones with chronic, disabling health conditions. Visit www.caregiver.org or call (800) 445-8106 for more information.

    The post What is the best strategy for taking care of your aging parents at home? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Department of Labor said the number of applications for unemployment claims rose by 4,000 for the week ending August 30. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

    The Census Bureau says that Millennials are not changing jobs as much as previous generations. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

    The job hopping that has become synonymous with Millennials is a false depiction of the current predicament that they find themselves in, according to the Census Bureau. In fact, the Washington Post reports, the number of young people changing jobs in the last two years has been significantly less than generations prior, due in part to the Great Recession.

    Data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012 showed that people from the ages of 25 to 34 years old were staying at their current job for approximately 3.2 years, while 10 years prior in 2002, 25 to 34 year olds were changing jobs at a rate of 2.7 years. After the recession, 35 percent of 22 to 25 year olds year olds were found to change jobs each year — a 25 percent drop from 1980.

    Economists believe that the stagnation caused by the Great Recession were responsible for the drops. The lack of jobs during the recession, the Washington Post wrote, prevented Millennials from changing jobs to those that presented a better salary and positions that fit their skill set and education level.

    Economists tend to view voluntary job hopping as beneficial to people early in their careers. Think of it as trading up: people often change jobs because they find a position that’s better paying or a better fit. It’s believed that the recession stymied some of these transitions because it has made finding a new job much harder.

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    An animal found in the ocean of the coast of Australia in 1986 has defied classification on the tree of life. Photo courtesy PLOS ONE

    An animal found in the ocean of the coast of Australia in 1986 has defied classification on the tree of life. Photo courtesy PLOS ONE

    A mushroom-shaped animal found deep in the ocean doesn’t fit anywhere on the tree of life.

    Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides are only a few millimeters wide, with a wide disc at one end and long stalk with a mouth on the other end. And no one knows how to classify this new critter.

    “Finding something like this is extremely rare, it’s maybe only happened about four times in the last 100 years,” said Jorgen Olesen of the University of Copenhagen. Olesen and his team published a study on the Dendrogramma in the academic journal PLOS One on Wednesday.

    It’s possible that Dendrogramma is an ancient organism, leftover from early evolution.

    “We think it belongs in the animal kingdom somewhere; the question is where,” Olesen told BBC News.

    Newly discovered organisms are classified by their characteristics and sorted into different kingdoms such as animal, bacteria, fungi and plants. From there, they’re divided into phyla, which is determined by body design. Then living organisms are divided into classes, orders, families, genuses, species and subspecies.

    Dendrogramma is multicellular, so it isn’t a bacteria. But its body isn’t symmetrical like many animals. Its gelatinous body is almost like a jellyfish, but it doesn’t meet the requirements for that phyla either, Olesen said.

    Unfortunately, DNA analysis isn’t an option to classify the new animal. The specimens in the study were found in 1986 and preserved in an alcohol solution, destroying their genetic material for analysis. Olesen hopes the international scientific community can help come up with an answer.

    “We published this paper in part as a cry for help,” Olesen said. “There might be somebody out there who can help place it.”

    The post ‘Mushroom’ sea creature makes a new branch on the tree of life appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Fifty-three million Americans are freelancers, according to a survey released Thursday. Photo by Flickr user markus spiske

    Fifty-three million Americans are freelancers, according to a survey released Thursday. Photo by Flickr user markus spiske

    Thirty-four percent of the American workforce freelances, according to a survey commissioned by the Freelancers Union and “online workplace” site Elance-oDesk, which was released Thursday. That’s 53 million Americans. A decade ago, the General Accountability Office found 42.6 million “contingent workers.”

    The Freelancers Union, of course, has an interest in demonstrating that their ranks are growing, but some of the finer-print statistics in the survey conducted by independent research firm Edelman Berland provides more insight into who’s freelancing and why.

    Earnings, for example, may provide a window into why some people freelance. Nearly eight in 10 freelancers (77 percent) make the same or more than they did before freelancing. In fact, the desire to “earn extra money” was the most common answer to why Americans wanted to freelance.

    That’s not to say the money is easy coming. About half of part-timers and freelancers complain about lack of stable income and the difficulty of finding work, although the Internet and social media are changing the search process.

    Freelancing, though, is a generic term for a variety of different employment terms. The biggest group of freelancers (40 percent) are independent contractors, who work without employers on a project-to-project basis.

    But for many freelancers, their unsupervised project-to-project work is on the side — in addition to a regular job. These moonlighters make up 27 percent of the independent workforce. The Pew Research Center suggested Thursday that despite all you’ve been hearing about part-timers, moonlighters are actually fewer than they were in the 1990s. Millennials, more educated people and women are often the ones working more than one job.

    Work schedules get more complicated for the nearly 20 percent of the independent workforce the survey calls “diversified workers.” They balance out their week between hours with a regular employer, a part-time side gig and freelancing. Temps — freelancers working on one contract — are only 10 percent. The smallest group, though, are the 5 percent who call themselves freelance business owners. These people identify as freelancers even though they may be someone else’s boss.

    It’s no surprise that millennials are slightly more likely to freelance than older workers. For some of them, it’s the only career they’ve ever known. Their freelance work also seems to be more purposeful, with 62 percent of them (compared to 54 percent of freelancers over 35) saying that they’re likely to look for work that has a positive world impact.

    The post No boss, no office, no problem! The rise of the freelance workforce appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user malloreigh

    Photo by Flickr user malloreigh

    A team of researchers at North Carolina State University published a study challenging the idea that home-cooked meals are ultimately “better” for the family as a whole.

    Sociologists and anthropologists by training, the previous work of study authors Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton and Sinikka Elliott concentrates on health and low-income families’ infrastructural access to food. Over the course of a year, the researchers collected interviews from 150 families of various racial makeups and socioeconomic backgrounds and more than 250 hours worth of ethnographic observation.

    Their time spent accompanying parents shuttling children to checkups, grocery shopping, and, of course, preparing food, led the team to a set of real world conclusions at odds with stereotypical parenting wisdom. For all of the health benefits associated with food prepared at home, the task presented parents, particularly mothers, with a slew of economic and interpersonal stressors.

    “One could say that home-cooked meals have become the hallmark of good mothering, stable families, and the ideal of the healthy, productive citizen,” their abstract reads. “Yet in reality, home-cooked meals rarely look this good. Leanne, for example, who held down a minimum-wage job while taking classes for an associate’s degree, often spent her valuable time preparing meals, only to be rewarded with family members’ complaints — or disinterest.”

    The traditional standards of “good mothering,” the team posits, demanded that mothers manage an unrealistic balance of their own time, money, energy and focus, all while catering to the desires of their families. Participants in the study reported that picky eating habits from spouses and children, plus mismatched schedules, made arranging specific meals and mealtimes a Sisyphean effort.

    Blue Apron, a New York City-based startup, is one of about 57 “food tech” companies backed by venture capitalists in the past three years looking to take some of the hassle out of coordinating dinners. For about $10 per person, Blue Apron says, the service will send subscribers a diverse selection of healthy, well thought-out meals. While mothers voiced their desire to provide their families with a variety of different kinds of foods, services like Blue Apron still require time to actually cook the food, and in many cases are cost prohibitive.

    Bowen, Brenton and Elliott suggest that a solution may exist in innovative forms of food preparation and delivery, such as robust meal programs at school or in the workplace.

    So let’s move this conversation out of the kitchen, and brainstorm more creative solutions for sharing the work of feeding families. How about a revival of monthly town suppers, or healthy food trucks? Or perhaps we should rethink how we do meals in schools and workplaces, making lunch an opportunity for savoring and sharing food. Could schools offer to-go meals that families could easily heat up on busy weeknights? Without creative solutions like these, suggesting that we return to the kitchen en masse will do little more than increase the burden so many women already bear.

    The post Study finds that home-cooking disproportionately burdens mothers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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