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

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    NARRATOR: In this south central mountain country, over a third of the population has faced chronic unemployment.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: For as long as anyone can remember, the coal country of Eastern Kentucky has struggled. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson came through here after he declared the War on Poverty. This is the area became the face of his campaign.

    PRESIDENT JOHNSON: We are just not willing to accept the necessity of poverty.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Back then, the poverty rate in some areas was around 60 percent.

    Eastern Kentucky has made big strides in the last 50 years since Lyndon Johnson came through here. But even still, the area continues to struggle today.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The poverty rate in Eastern Kentucky has dropped, but in some parts still hovers around 30 percent. Unemployment in some counties is more than 10 percent, much higher than the national average. And the region is still dependent on coal, which has meant trouble as the industry’s gone south.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: How big is the coal industry?

    TOBEY MILLER: Everything here stems off of coal.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Like many here, Tobey Miller’s roots run deep, and they run through the coal mines.

    TOBEY MILLER: Well, my Papaw, he worked in the mines. Used to tell me stories about when he moved here.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Miller’s papaw – his grandfather – bought the family farm in Knox County in 1941 with the money he earned from coal. Miller’s dad worked in coal. And straight out of high school, Miller did too, welding the heavy machinery used in the mines. Miller’s family – his wife, two daughters and granddaughter – lived well. He earned more than $50,000 a year. That’s double the median household income around here. But then a year ago, Miller was told his job was being cut.

    TOBEY MILLER: I’ve got kids that have needs. That I couldn’t provide for. I guess actually I got depressed. Real, real bad. And I- I just- I was just scared of losing everything.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Miller says his family’s farm has helped him get by. He grows most of his own food, and has already chopped firewood for winter.

    TOBEY MILLER: That’ll be my heat.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: After his unemployment checks ran out, he did odd jobs for neighbors to stay afloat.

    TOBEY MILLER: You just can’t go out here and find a job that suits you. I mean, it just ain’t here.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Since the 70’s, more than 130,000 coal jobs have been lost in the U.S., a decline of about 50 percent. Coal employment in Eastern Kentucky’s now at a historic low. More than 7,000 jobs have been lost since 2008.

    JAMES ZILIAK: The thing that hasn’t happened at an adequate rate is the diversification of the local economy.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: University of Kentucky economist and poverty expert James Ziliak says a vicious cycle is at work. Like other persistently poor areas, Eastern Kentucky’s high school and college graduation rates are lower than the rest of the country. So, few other industries – increasingly in need of highly-skilled workers – have located here.

    JAMES ZILIAK: I think the recognition has come at this point in time that coal, it’s not gonna be the engine of- of job growth going forward.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: There are many reasons for coal’s long decline – increased mechanization, a dwindling coal supply, the low cost of natural gas, stricter environmental regulations.

    ADVERTISEMENT: Coal means jobs in Kentucky. While the EPA and bureaucrats try to kill Kentucky’s coal industry.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The job losses are a hot topic in the senate race here. Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell has tried to capitalize on the latest round of environmental rules, proposed by the Obama Administration last summer. Even Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes has kept her distance from the administration.

    ALLISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES: I don’t agree with what the president has done, his energy philosophy.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: While President Obama’s blamed, right or wrong, for the coal layoffs in Kentucky, he’s also getting some credit for a new plan to boost the economy, unveiled earlier this year.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: We’re here today to announce the first five Promise Zones.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The Promise Zone initiative will fight poverty by concentrating aid in specific regions of the U.S. It’s not a new idea. Republican congressman and housing secretary Jack Kemp pushed enterprise zones starting in the 80’s. President Clinton promoted empowerment zones. They appeal to the left and right because they use tax breaks to spur job growth.

    Obama proposed tax cuts for the promise zones. But they have to be passed by Congress, a prospect considered unlikely for now. And there’s no guaranteed federal aid – just a promise of priority for federal grants.

    The Promise Zone in Kentucky includes parts of eight counties in the southeast part of the state, where Tobey Miller lives. Jerry Rickett led the effort to apply for the Promise Zone designation.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: It’s no secret that this part of the country has been struggling with a lot of these issues for many years. What is it about this Promise Zone that you think is gonna actually make a difference?

    JERRY RICKETT: Well, it gets back to the plan and it gets back to the partners all working together. You know, one individual group can only do so much. But if you weave us together into a rope, we can be really, really strong.

    JAMES ZILIAK: The people of the region have said, this is it. We gotta do something now, or else we might not be able to pull back.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: In fact, the Promise Zone has brought together a new coalition of local governments, schools and community organizations that will implement the Promise Zone goals: diversifying the economy, creating jobs, growing small business, and improving education and retraining. The work is just getting underway. But Rickett points to a couple successful local initiatives that show how the promise zone could work.

    JERRY RICKETT: We’ve got to get a better-educated workforce, got to help the adults that, you know, need additional training or retraining.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Especially unemployed coal miners. Many are leaving in droves to find work. So in Hazard, Kentucky, two Promise Zone partners – the community college and a job-training group – launched a new program to teach laid-off miners to repair electricity and phone lines. So far 39 have graduated and almost every one has found a job. Tobey Miller is also retraining. At his nearby community college he’s earning an Associate’s Degree to repair heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, or HVAC.

    TOBEY MILLER: If I can, I’m gonna stay right here and try to get through this school that I’m doing. Because it’s here. HVAC work is here.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Miller says he wants to start his own business one day. Promise Zone supporters say that’s exactly what they want, too.

    JERRY RICKETT: We really believe in entrepreneurship, trying to get businesses to start, trying to find ways to help the ones that are here, you know, thrive. It’s really difficult to recruit industries into Eastern Kentucky.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Because it’s so difficult to recruit outside employers, Rickett says they need to grow their own. Last year, Rickett’s group got an $800,000 federal grant, which they then loaned to local manufacturer Clyde Phillips. He hired 19 people with that money, and plans to hire dozens more.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: When we’re talking about thousands of people losing their jobs and thousands of people already un- unemployed, will one or two jobs here or a dozen jobs there make that difference?

    JERRY RICKETT: Well, it’s the only op- opportunity we have. You have to be realistic and work within the areas that you can and have progress and success in.

    JAMES ZILIAK: I do get the sense that there’s greater energy and enthusiasm to- to- to tackle the problem. Time will tell if it will pay off. Clearly, we’re hoping that it does.

    TOBEY MILLER: I’ve never been dependent on programs before.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Like many here, Tobey Miller blames the government for the coal layoffs, but admits he’s been helped by federal programs, too. A local promise zone partner signed him up for federally-supported programs that have helped pay his mortgage and provide a stipend for a few months.

    TOBEY MILLER: It has been a very big bonus for me. I mean, it saved my bacon. But the problem I have with it is – if they’d left things alone, everything would’ve still been going along just fine.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Miller says his dream is to save enough money to send his youngest daughter to a four-year college. She’d be the first in the family to go.

    The post Will Promise Zone initiative lift Eastern Kentucky’s coal country out of poverty? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Rome’s Mayor Ignazio Marino on Saturday went against Italy’s law by registering 16 gay marriages that had been performed in other countries.

    The mayor was greeted by the applause of gay couples and their families who had gathered at the city hall reception room where Marino transcribed the date and locations of their weddings, which included the United States, Spain and Portugal, the AP reported.

    Gay marriage is illegal in Italy, and in response to Saturday’s ceremony, the country’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said that any registrations of foreign gay marriages would be voided immediately, the AP reported.

    The transcriptions are considered symbolic and not legally binding, with mayors in cities like Milan and Bologna having done the same in the past, Bloomberg reported.

    Marino said Saturday was important in the fight for equal rights and “the most important right is to say to your companion ‘I love you’ and to have that be recognized,” the AP reported. In a tweet, Marino wrote “How can you not call it love? #rometranscribes.”

    While those in attendance applauded Marino for his efforts, several protesters stood outside the building holding up signs which read “Stop Marino” and “Transcriptions don’t make families,” the AP reported.

    The post Rome mayor: Gay marriage transcriptions step toward equal rights appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The youngest male rhino, Suni, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2010. Suni, one of seven remaining northern white rhinos in the world, died on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. in the world. Photo by Elodie A. Sampere / Barcroft Media / Getty Images.

    The youngest male rhino, Suni, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2010. Suni, one of seven remaining northern white rhinos in the world, died on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Photo by Elodie A. Sampere / Barcroft Media / Getty Images.

    One of the world’s few remaining northern white rhinoceroses died in Kenya Friday, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy said, bringing the subspecies population to only six and closer to extinction.

    “Consequently the species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race,” said the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in a statement.

    The 34-year-old rhino named Suni was found dead in his boma, or fenced corral. A cause of death is still being determined, but poaching was ruled out.

    One of the last two breeding males in the world, Suni was born in the Czech Republic at Dvůr Králové Zoo and brought to Kenya in 2009 at age 29. He was the first northern white rhinoceros to be born in captivity.

    Suni was brought to the sanctuary in Kenya with four other northern whites in an effort to save the subspecies’ dwindling population from extinction, reported the Associated Press.

    PBS NewsHour reported on the proliferation of poaching and effort by conservationists to stave off extinction of endangered rhino species in a report on World Rhino Day, celebrated yearly on Sept. 22 since 2010.

    Last year, the asking price for a rhino horn sold on the streets in Asia was higher than that for gold or platinum at approximately $65,000 per kg, reported Reuters.

    “We will continue to do what we can to work with the remaining three animals on Ol Pejeta,” said the Conservancy in a statement, “in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf.”

    The post Northern white rhino death brings subspecies closer to extinction appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Catholic bishops scrapped their initial welcome of homosexuals into the church, a measure sought by Pope Francis, as their two-week synod in Vatican City concluded Saturday.

    Pope Francis (L) greets French cardinal Roger Etchegaray at the end of the mass at St Peter's basilica on October 5, 2014 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

    Pope Francis greets French cardinal Roger Etchegaray on Oct. 5 at the end of the mass at St Peter’s basilica at the Vatican. Photo credit: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

    The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down version ministering to gays in the church, the Associated Press reported.

    Instead, the revised version of the document referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families have to confront.

    The document had also stated “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy,” with reiteration of church teaching that marriage is only between man and woman, the AP reported.

    The paragraph failed to get the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass, the AP reported.

    A conservative bishop vowed the change in language of the original document was due to confusion among the faithful and threatened to undermine the traditional family, Reuters reported.

    In a recent NewsHour interview, Boston Globe reporter John Allen explained the church’s stance on marriage:

    JOHN ALLEN: What it is not is a change in Catholic teaching on marriage. The bishops at this gathering, which is called a synod, have made it abundantly clear there is not going to be any change in Catholic doctrine, which is that marriage is a relationship between a man and woman that is permanent and it’s open to life.

    Now, that said, the bishops have also made clear that they want a more positive way of engaging people who don’t live that teaching, whether we’re talking about gays and lesbians, whether we’re talking about people who are cohabitating outside a marriage, whether it’s people who have divorced and remarried or whatever.

    Watch the full interview here:

    The post Catholic bishops nix pro-gay language from synod document in sign of split appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And now more of our continuing series, “The War on ISIS.”  Detailed analysis of the administration’s efforts to halt the advance by Islamic extremists who have captured large portions of Syria and Iraq.

    For the latest, we are joined once again tonight from Washington by Douglas Ollivant.  He served with the National Security Council under President Bush and President Obama and is now a partner with Mantid International.

    The Iraqi parliament today approved nominees for the interior and defense ministry positions.

    So what’s the significance of that and what can be done now that they are in place?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: Well, it’s very significant.  We’ve not had a parliamentary-approved minister of defense or minister of interior since 2010.

    So to have the Sunni minister of defense and Shia minister of interior is very important moving forward.  President Obama has talked about getting an inclusive government, and the hardest part of that was the security ministry.

    So now that we have a parliamentary-approved minister of defense and minister of interior, we have yet another step to go forward on really coordinating the response to the Islamic State in Iraq.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.  Well, we’ve been talking a lot about ISIS in the context of Syria and Iraq.  It seems that Lebanon is starting to get dragged into this fight as well.

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: Well, that’s right.  The Islamic State has made no bones about the fact that it has designs on Lebanon and Lebanon has a very fragile stability from its own civil war 20 years ago.  It’s taken in a lot of Syrian refugees, which has put great strain on its state, its service and its balance.

    And again now you have the Islamic State probing the Lebanon border, clearly trying to bring them into this conflict.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.  We’re going to put a map up on the screen that illustrates that ISIS advanced through the Anbar province west of Baghdad during the last seven weeks.

    What is important about the Anbar province?

    And what is the Iraqi military army doing to stop ISIS there?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: Well, Anwar’s always been important.  It is a very large province in the west of Iraq and it borders a number of other provinces.  It borders Baghdad, most notably, but also Babel, Karbala, Najaf.

    It’s a very significant, very large province, and ISIS first moved here in January, long before its sweep into Mosul that garnered everyone’s attention.  So ISIS has been here a long time.

    And in fact, some would say ISIS never really left, that even when the former AQI, now ISIS, the former Al Qaeda in Iraq, went to ground, it never really left Anbar.  It always had a foothold there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.  Now they also control a town just about 12 miles west of the Baghdad airport, and they’ve been able to fire mortars into the green zone on the eastern side of Baghdad, where the U.S. embassy is.

    How safe is Baghdad now from ISIS?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: Well, in the mega-picture, Baghdad is not going to fall to the Islamic State like Mosul did.  That’s simply not going to happen.  Baghdad is a  majority Shia city that is just — whose citizens find ISIS to be absolutely anathema and it will not be welcomed in any way, shape or form.

    Now, that said, ISIS does have sanctuary in and around Baghdad and can do harassing attacks.  What everyone is most concerned about, of course, is the Baghdad airport.  The western edge of the Baghdad airport is just a few kilometers from Anbar province, and it is not inconceivable that ISIS is trying to not capture but interdict the Baghdad airport.

    You put one or two artillery rounds on the runway at Baghdad airport and, all of a sudden, international air travel shuts down for that city, which would send into a tizzy the international community that’s in Baghdad, all the embassies, all the military assistance, et cetera.  So that’s a very real problem that we’re watching.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Doug Ollivant with Mantid International, thanks so much.

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: Thank you so much, Hari.

    The post A step forward in ISIS fight? Iraq lawmakers approve Sunni, Shiite ministers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: As you no doubt know, gas prices have fallen sharply in recent weeks.  According to AAA, the average price of a gallon of regular was $3.52 in late July.  Now, less three months later, it’s $3.12.

    For more, we are joined now by Isaac Arnsdorf.  He is an (INAUDIBLE) with Bloomberg News.

    So we’ve seen it decline a lot and sometimes there’s a lag between the price of oil and the price of gas.

    So are we likely to see the price of gas go lower?

    ISAAC ARNSDORF: It could continue to tick down a little bit.  We are seeing oil prices start to stabilize, significantly lower than they were this summer, but it depends sort of where oil goes from now.  If oil continues to its freefall, really, or finds a floor around $80 a barrel.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And is it likely to last?

    I mean, there are so many different factors that are pushing it down.

    ISAAC ARNSDORF: Absolutely.  We’ve got very soft demand globally and expanding supply from the U.S. and really all eyes are on OPEC now to see if they cut back supply or continue to add supply and let prices continue to fall.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.  And there were comments made by the IMF in Saudi Arabia earlier this week about what’s good and what’s bad for Saudi Arabia and what’s that price point.

    What’s that all about?

    ISAAC ARNSDORF: Well, the IMF estimates that Saudi Arabia needs about $83 a barrel to break even on its budget.  But Saudi Arabia has a lot of currency reserves and very good credit.  They’ve run deficits before and they could withstand it for some time.

    So lower prices, while it would reduce Saudi Arabia’s income, it would actually probably hurt some of their big rivals more, like Iran or Russia.  So, you know, there’s — analysts are sort of split.

    Is OPEC just not hanging together?  Or there’s a camp that thinks maybe Saudi Arabia is all right with the prices being lower.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so what’s the upside here?

    When prices fall at the pump, consumers in the United States actually feel better about it because they’re paying less at the gas station, but what are kind of the economic ripple effects when there are low gas prices?

    ISAAC ARNSDORF: Absolutely.  This is about the equivalent of a $500 or $600 tax cut for every household and that’s money that will probably basically be spent right away because so many Americans live paycheck to paycheck and spend everything in their pocket so anything that they save on fuel, that’s money that will go right into the economy and into consumer spending.

    And that will happen pretty quickly and the economic effect of that could be about 0.4 percent of GDP growth.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Wow.  How does that ripple into, for example, the holiday shopping season?

    Or is that more money in the pocket that can have — that we can start spending on toys and gifts, et cetera, et cetera?

    ISAAC ARNSDORF: Yes.  The other interesting thing about gas prices, as it’s often been noted, is it’s really peculiar the way we buy it.  We sit there and we watch the dollars roll by.  So even more than the actual effect on income is this psychological effect on consumer confidence because we really notice when those prices move around as we watch them go by.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.  So to recap, the big reasons are that China is perhaps demanding less oil?

    ISAAC ARNSDORF:Absolutely.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And at the same time that the U.S. is creating more natural gas and oil reserves?  Or…?

    ISAAC ARNSDORF: Yes, so the U.S. is producing a lot more oil domestically, importing a lot less, which makes a lot more oil available on the world market to go to Asia.  But China is not importing — or the growth is slowing down there.

    Also, in developing countries, cars are getting more efficient and people are driving less.  So demand globally is growing at the slowest pace since 2009 and 2009 was, obviously, a very weak year.  And at the same time there is all this supply coming on from the U.S. and elsewhere.  So that’s why we’ve seen prices take such a nosedive.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.  Isaac Arnsdorf from Bloomberg news, thanks so much.

    ISAAC ARNSDORF: Thank you.

    The post What’s behind the sudden drop in US gas prices? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Miles O’brien spoke with Rich Zurek, chief scientist of Mars Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory, about particles in Comet Siding Spring’s tail that could collide with NASA’s Mars orbiters. The tiny tail particles, about a millimeter in size, can be traveling at up to 35 miles per second, so “if they encounter a spacecraft, they can go through just about anything,” Zurek said.

    But the close flyby will give the the probes a chance for a detailed look at the comet. Zurek and his team hope to get a close look at the central ball of ice and dust that makes up the heart of the comment, called the nucleus.

    Comet Siding Spring will make its close pass by Mars between 2 and 3 pm today.

    Watch Miles’ full report on comets and other potentially dangerous astronomical visitors.

    The post Could Comet Sidling Spring’s tail hit one of NASA’s Mars orbiters? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Screen shot 2014-08-01 at 12.05.05 PM

    Ruthie Anderson spends time with family at her new apartment in Chicago. Credit: NewsHour Weekend

    CHICAGO — Just outside Chicago’s city limits in Oak Park, Ill., Ruthie Anderson finally has a place that feels like home.

    Her sun-filled, one-bedroom apartment is sparsely furnished — the walls are mostly blank, and there’s just a table and four chairs outside the kitchen and an easy chair in the living room. But it’s a place where the 59-year-old mother of seven can finally spend time with her ten grandchildren.

    “I love them to death, they’re just like my world,” Anderson said. “That’s all I live for now is to see them grow up and make sure they’re all right. I don’t want to see them go through the things that I had to go through.”

    The apartment is her first permanent home in years. Anderson spent three decades living on the street, struggling with drug addiction and mental illness, including depression. Today, she’s getting treatment and has a place to live — a beneficiary of a year-long mental health pilot program that experts say could serve as a national model for treating people with mental disorders.

    According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 40 percent of adults with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, received no treatment the year prior. Among adults with any mental illness, the survey said, 60 percent went untreated.

    For much of her adult life, Anderson was no different, with the exception of the occasional visits she made to Chicago-area emergency rooms.

    She was addicted to heroin and slept in parks and hospital waiting rooms — and at other people’s houses, occasionally in exchange for sex or drugs.

    “I was stealing in and out of stores doing everything I could to get high,” Anderson said. “It didn’t make a difference what it was, as long as I got that next fix.”

    Ruthie Anderson shares her story of a struggle with mental illness and drug addiction with NewsHour Weekend’s Stephen Fee. Video edited by Mori Rothman. 

    ​But in 2013, after she was admitted to the hospital for the 19th time in less than a year and a half, an employee of the Chicago-based mental health nonprofit, Thresholds, offered to help her find a place to live and get the care she needed.

    “I really didn’t have faith in no one,” Anderson said, “because everyone had lied to me about the things they said they could do for me or help me.”

    Anderson said the nonprofit group gave her a place to stay, managed her Social Security disability payments, and gave her access to a mental health provider.

    “I thank God that I made it,” she said, “Without Thresholds, I really didn’t think I would’ve made it. I really didn’t.”

    Normally, providers like Thresholds bill Medicaid for each service provided — the fee-for-service model that typifies insurance providers in the US. In this case, though, Thresholds was given a list of 50 high-risk, high-cost mental health patients receiving Medicaid.

    Under the year-long pilot program, a managed care Medicaid organization called IlliniCare gave Thresholds a flat fee for keeping Anderson healthy and out of the hospital — and Thresholds could spend the money any way they saw fit.

    “I think everyone across the spectrum and everyone within the medical community, the social service and policy community understands we have to move out of this fee-for-service mindset,” said Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago and an expert on health care policy. “We don’t quite know how to do it yet, and we’re working on it.”

    Over the past 15 years, states have experimented with managed care organizations that contract with state Medicaid programs and avoid the fee-for-service model. The state of Illinois passed a law requiring 50 percent of its Medicaid recipients to move to managed care entities by next year, but managed care entities are still restricted to the types of services they can provide.

    As Anderson’s case shows, supportive housing and other services are often a necessary part of treatment for people with serious mental illnesses — but those services are seldom financed by Medicaid or private insurance plans. And with 1.2 million mentally ill Americans expected to join Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, advocates say supportive services have to be part of the treatment mix.

    “One of the ironies in our health care system is that we provide tremendous resources, all things considered, to deal with the things that we consider to be medical problems,” Pollack said. “If someone needs psychiatric care, we will provide that. And then that same person needs a place to live. And suddenly we’re in a much more underfunded and challenged set of systems.”

    Illinois is looking to change that. This summer, the state applied for a Medicaid waiver, asking the federal government for permission to use Medicaid dollars to pay for services like housing.

    “If you can spend money on social services and keep people out of hospitals, obviously that’s a win-win situation,” said University of Chicago lawyer and mental health policy expert Mark Heyrman. “The federal government spends less money. The state government spends less money. And the person with the serious mental illness is getting services in the community that keep him or her from getting really sick and ending up in the hospital.”

    Anderson says she still has her daily struggles. She goes to a methadone clinic six days a week to treat her drug addiction.

    “It takes faith,” she said. “It might look gloomy, but sooner or later you will run across somebody that will pick you up and help you.”

    The post Could this Chicago nonprofit be the answer to insuring the mentally ill? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — For the third straight year, millions of Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees can expect historically small increases in their benefits come January.

    Preliminary figures suggest the annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, will be less than 2 percent. That translates to a raise of about $20 a month for the typical Social Security beneficiary.

    The government is scheduled to announce the COLA on Wednesday, when it releases the latest measure of consumer prices. By law, the COLA is based on inflation, which is well below historical averages so far this year.

    For example, gas prices are down from a year ago, and so is the cost of clothing. Prices for meat, fish and eggs are up nearly 9 percent, but overall food costs are up less than 3 percent, according to the government’s inflation report for August.

    Medical costs, which disproportionately affect older people, are only 1.8 percent higher.

    But good news at the pump means bad news for benefit increases. Many older people who rely on Social Security are feeling the pinch of tiny benefit increases year after year.

    “You lose that increase, not only in the short-term, you lose the compounding over time,” said Mary Johnson of The Senior Citizens League. “For the middle class, for people that don’t qualify for low-income programs, they are dipping into savings or they are borrowing against their homes.”

    The Senior Citizens League projects the COLA will be 1.7 percent, which is in line with other estimates. Economist Polina Vlasenko, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, projects the COLA will be between 1.6 percent and 1.8 percent.

    Congress enacted automatic increases for Social Security beneficiaries in 1975, when inflation was high and there was a lot of pressure to regularly raise benefits.

    For the first 35 years, the COLA was less than 2 percent only three times. If the COLA is less than 2 percent next year, it would be the fifth time in six years. This year’s increase was 1.5 percent, the year before it was 1.7 percent.

    Susan Gross gets hit twice by the small COLA. She cares for both her disabled son and her 89-year-old mother, both of whom get Social Security benefits.

    A 1.7 percent increase comes to $12.60 a month for her son, said Gross, who lives in rural Barboursville, Virginia.

    “That won’t even pay for his prescription program,” she said.

    Gross, who works in an accounting office, said her family makes due by growing and canning much of their own food, which they can do because they live in the country.

    “It makes our grocery bills less,” she said.

    More than 70 million people receive benefits affected by the annual COLA.

    About 59 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,191. A 1.7 percent raise would increase the typical monthly payment by about $20.

    The COLA also affects benefits for about 4 million disabled veterans, 2.5 million federal retirees and their survivors, and more than 8 million people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor.

    By law, the cost-of-living adjustment is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W, a broad measure of consumer prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It measures price changes for food, housing, clothing, transportation, energy, medical care, recreation and education.

    The COLA is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year with prices in the same three months from the previous year. If prices go up over the course of the year, benefits go up, starting with payments delivered in January.

    This year, average prices for July and August were 1.7 percent higher than they were a year ago, according to the CPI-W. The September report – the final piece of the puzzle – is scheduled to be released Wednesday. Once it is released, the COLA can be announced.

    It would take a dramatic increase in consumer prices for September to nudge the COLA above 2 percent.

    “In general I don’t think there was a huge increase in prices in September,” said Vlasenko, the economist. “Fuel prices probably dropped and they have a ripple effect.”

    According to AAA, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.14. A month ago, it was $3.37.

    Advocates for seniors say the government’s measure of inflation doesn’t accurately reflect price increases faced by older Americans because they tend to spend more of their income on health care. The rise in medical costs has slowed in recent years, but that may be little comfort to someone who is suddenly hit with a serious illness.

    Older people on Medicare usually have their Part B premiums deducted from Social Security payments. The good news is that the premiums, which cover outpatient care, are scheduled to stay the same next year – $104.90 a month.

    “Our members are not calling us and saying that the COLA that they’re getting is enough,” said Web Phillips of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “They’re facing serious economic challenges in terms of just buying the basic necessities of life.”

    The post Small Social Security increases expected in 2015 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama delayed acting on immigration and an attorney general nomination this fall to dodge the politics of the midterm campaign season. But there was one topic he could not push aside – Ebola.

    The past week’s jarring Ebola developments have put a spotlight on the president’s management skills just as he was earning praise for acting militarily against Islamic militants.

    In recent months, Obama caught criticism for going golfing immediately after speaking about the beheading of an American, and for attending a fundraiser after an airliner was shot down in Ukraine. This time, as the Ebola threat hit home in America, the president suddenly cleared his schedule, canceling travel and appearances to consult with Cabinet members and talk with world leaders about how to contain the epidemic.

    By Friday, he had named a point man for the U.S. response just as the clamor for an Ebola “czar” was nearing fever pitch.

    “They are resisting their usual impulse to hunker down and wait it out,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid who has in the past consulted with the White House. “This time they’ve decided to switch gears if only because it hasn’t worked in the past.”

    The week began with the news that a nurse in Dallas had become the first known case of Ebola being transmitted within the United States. By week’s end, a second nurse had been diagnosed, and the hunt for possible exposures expanded from Texas to Ohio, from multiple domestic airline flights to a cruise ship denied a port-of-call in the Caribbean.

    White House officials say the president’s approach this time reflected the unfolding, real-time developments that needed ongoing decisions to help reassure an increasingly alarmed public. Seeing the issue spiral, White House press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged “shortcomings” in the federal response and Obama himself had to call on his government to react in “a much more aggressive way.”

    Still, that didn’t stop the second guessing, even within his party.

    “I’m greatly concerned … that the administration did not act fast enough responding in Texas,” Rep. Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democrat in a tight Senate contest, said during a congressional hearing on Ebola.

    At the same time, the crisis seemed to narrow to a single political point of debate: Should the U.S. impose a travel or visa ban on people from the three West African nations bearing the brunt of the epidemic.

    Obama said he was not “philosophically opposed” to the idea, but that in practice it would be counterproductive, driving travelers underground and hindering screening of potential Ebola carriers. Still, polls showed the idea had popular appeal.

    Republican Senate candidates began challenging their opponents to take a stand. And on Friday, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina issued her own call for a temporary travel ban.

    Obama’s appointment of Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden’s former chief of staff, as the administration’s Ebola point man drew its own round of partisan criticism. Several Republicans complained that the lawyer and Democratic insider had no public health experience.

    “Three weeks before an Election Day, and Republicans are seeking to score political points? Stop the presses!” Earnest said dismissively of the critics.

    Still, the week’s developments had been disturbing.

    The Liberian man who died in Dallas from Ebola after traveling to the U.S. had infected two nurses, one of whom flew to Ohio and back before being diagnosed with the disease. Officials could not explain how the nurses became exposed, and the list of potential contacts with the second nurse grew after officials discovered she may have had symptoms before traveling.

    “The trust and credibility of the administration and government are waning as the American public loses confidence each day with demonstrated failures of the current strategy,” said GOP Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, chairman of a House subcommittee that held a hearing on the government’s response.

    Manley and other Democrats say a weak response would feed into a Republican view that government is unmanageable and that scandals such as those at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service, and the botched launch of healthcare.gov last year prove Democrats are not fit to be in charge.

    When Obama postponed a campaign trip to Connecticut for Wednesday for vulnerable Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and canceled a speech on women and the economy in Rhode Island for the next day, he may have given up opportunities to project a strong party message.

    But he also couldn’t be accused of abdicating responsibility for the Ebola response.

    The post In face of ongoing criticism, Obama confronts Ebola head on appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A Swedish Navy fast-attack craft patrols the waters off Sweden on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. On Friday, the Swedish military announced the operation in the Baltic Sea, following reports of suspicious "foreign underwater activity".  Photo by PONTUS LUNDAHL/AFP/Getty Images.

    A Swedish Navy fast-attack craft patrols the waters off Sweden on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. On Friday, the Swedish military announced the operation in the Baltic Sea, following reports of suspicious “foreign underwater activity”. Photo by PONTUS LUNDAHL/AFP/Getty Images.

    In a military move not seen since the Cold War, Sweden stepped up a search for possible “foreign underwater activity” in waters located approximately 31 miles from Stockholm Saturday, Reuters reported.

    “The intelligence operation that the defense began yesterday has now lasted for about 24 hours and we still consider the information we received yesterday very credible,” said Swedish Navy Commodore, Jonas Wikstrom, in a news conference on Saturday.

    “I, as head of operations, have therefore decided to increase the number of units in the area, units with qualified sensor capability.”

    The military operation of more than 200 personnel using navy fast-attack craft and helicopters, was announced at a press conference on Friday, after officials received information about suspicious activities in the waters from a reliable source.

    “It’s important to point out that we are still conducting an intelligence operation,” said Wikstrom on Saturday. “The purpose is to verify whether there is or has been foreign underwater activity.”

    The post Sweden steps up search for possible ‘foreign underwater activity’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The 34th Beijing International Marathon went on as scheduled Sunday despite heavy smog polluting the city as competitors raced to the finish line wearing face masks and sponges.

    About 30,000 people were expected to take part in the 26-mile marathon, which started at Tiananmen Square and ended at the Chinese capital’s Olympic Park, the Associated Press reported.

    Estimates said that pollution soared above the maximum recommended World Health Organization levels.

    The U.S. Embassy, which tracks the Beijing air from a monitoring station on its roof, said the air was hazardous showing a reading of 344 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 particulate matter.

    The World Health Organization considers 25 micrograms within a 24-hour period a safe level.

    The organizing committee made 140,000 sponges available at supply stations along the runners’ trail so they could “clean their skin that is exposed to the air,” the Beijing News told the AP.

    The post Beijing marathon goes on despite heavy air pollution appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Editor’s note: An earlier version of this piece appeared on our website in August — this version has been updated to reflect new information.

    STEPHEN FEE: Gail Davis is 52 years old and lives on Chicago’s SouthSide. Every day she prepares lunch for her 82 year old mother who suffered a stroke.

    Gail is her mom’s primary caregiver — yet Gail herself has struggled for decades with mental illness.

    GAIL DAVIS: “I was like that I guess before — when I come into the world I guess. I didn’t match up, and I didn’t um — seem to blend in with society, what society says what the world says this is what you have to be and do.”

    STEPHEN FEE: For years, anger, depression, and anxiety all kept Gail from holding a job. And she didn’t have health insurance. That meant that for much of her life, except a few emergency room visits, Gail’s mental conditions went untreated.

    MARK ISHAUG: “People with serious mental illnesses generally don’t show up to the doctor’s office. They don’t make medical appointments and psychiatric appointments.”

    STEPHEN FEE: That’s Mark Ishaug — he runs Thresholds, Chicago’s largest nonprofit mental health provider. He says Gail’s story isn’t unique among the millions of low-income, uninsured Americans with mental illness.

    MARK ISHAUG: “So people with a serious or persistent mental illness in general have been treated very badly by the health care system. Either they haven’t had insurance and so they weren’t able to get care, or they used emergency rooms in hospitals for their care. And it’s really hard to engage people and convince them that they can get help and they can be treated well.”

    STEPHEN FEE: In 2010, a family member referred Gail to a mental health clinic in her neighborhood — run and paid for by the city of Chicago. It was the first time in her life she’d seen a therapist.

    GAIL DAVIS: “He’s been a good force. He come into my life at the right time because that’s probably what I needed all along.”

    STEPHEN FEE: But during the recession, Illinois was under financial strain. From 2009 to 2012, the state cut mental health spending by $187 million dollars — a pattern that was happening nationwide. During the same period, states slashed overall mental health budgets by $1.6 billion dollars.

    And that meant mental health clinics like Gail’s were suddenly on the chopping block.

    By the end of 2012, Chicago had closed half of its outpatient mental health clinics — including Gail’s.

    GAIL DAVIS: “It’s like we was dismissed. And that was the hardest part.”

    STEPHEN FEE: But the Chicago clinic closures — along with similar mental health facility closures around the country — weren’t just about budget cuts.

    When the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was signed in 2010, it included a provision to expand Medicaid. Twenty-seven states, including Illinois, have opted in to the plan, which means the federal government — rather than states — will pay for treatment of newly qualified low-income people like Gail.

    Bechara Choucair has been Chicago’s public health commissioner for five years.

    BECHARA CHOUCAIR: “Now all of a sudden they have more options. And if they choose to transition to another provider, we support them through that transition.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Just here in Illinois 120 thousand people with persistent mental illnesses are expected to enroll in Medicaid who weren’t eligible before the new rules came into effect. But of course being eligible for insurance doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the coverage you need.

    STEPHEN FEE: For Gail, signing up for Medicaid complicated her mental health care. After her clinic closed, her therapist began visiting her at home.

    But according to her medical records, Gail’s therapist in mid-2013 “was forced to inform [her] that [mental health] services…would likely have to wind down” and that she could only continue services if she dis-enrolled from her Medicaid plan.

    A city spokesperson says there was initially uncertainty over whether Medicaid recipients could continue seeing city therapists — but that clinicians were never told services had to cease. Nevertheless, Gail went a year without seeing a mental health professional.

    GAIL DAVIS: “If this is something that’s working and this is somebody that I build a bond with, why break that up. You know, because I felt like that was really useless and senseless.”

    Mark Heyrman is a law professor at the University of Chicago and advocates for people with mental illness. He says they have a particularly difficult time when they move out of publicly financed facilities and must find new providers on their own using Medicaid.

    MARK HEYRMAN: “Losing that human connection and a place that they’ve gone for treatment for quite a few years and being told ‘Now you must go find a new person to be connected to.’ That’s a difficult thing. And people fall through the cracks. They fail to show up.”

    STEPHEN FEE: So far, Heyrman says figuring out just how many people like Gail have slipped through the system is nearly impossible.

    MARK HEYRMAN: “I think the answer is we don’t know yet. And unfortunately no one has the money or the time or wants to invest their money and time in sort of really figuring out what is happening to everyone who has a serious mental illness.”

    HAROLD POLLACK: “It’s gonna be a wild ride I think over the next several years.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Harold Pollack is a public health researcher, also at the University of Chicago — he’s an expert on the national health care reform law — and a supporter of it. He says Gail’s difficulties show how important it is to help vulnerable people navigate the system.

    HAROLD POLLACK: “Because it’s not enough to just insure people. You actually have to have systems in place that are effective and economical and credible.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Is Medicaid and the private health insurance expansion enough to get people in Chicago who have persistent mental illness the care that they need?

    MARK ISHAUG: “Medicaid and private insurance, they’re– that’s just what it is. It’s insurance. It doesn’t mean that it’s care and it doesn’t mean that it’s access to care. But it’s a necessary precondition to what we’re able to do.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Not everyone agrees though that Medicaid expansion is the necessary first step. Twenty states have decided not to expand their Medicaid programs mostly out of cost concerns. The federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of expansion costs, but that figure steadily declines to 90 percent by 2020.

    So far, the A-C-A has survived court challenges and repeal efforts – and analyst Harold Pollack says the emerging consensus among states may be more about fixing implementation problems than eliminating the law altogether.

    HAROLD POLLACK: “I do think that governors, both Democrats and Republicans are– you know, they do raise a number of very valid points with the Obama Administration that say, ‘You know, health reform has to be tweaked so that it actually works well.’ And as we start to really implement the Affordable Care Act, we will discover various things that have to be fixed along the way.”

    STEPHEN FEE: President Obama has said he welcome ideas to modify health care reform as problems arise.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “I will always work with anyone who is willing to make this law work even better.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Meanwhile, back on the South Side of Chicago, Gail Davis is seeing her city-funded therapist again.

    Are you getting the help and the assistance that you need to keep yourself healthy?

    GAIL DAVIS: “Not like it should be, you know. But that as I speak will change because I do have an appointment by the way next Friday.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Though the city mental health clinics aren’t taking Gail’s Medicaid plan, they are keeping patients like her on board at
    least for now.

    The post Slipping through the system: Are mentally ill Americans getting adequate health care? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  For more about West Africa’s fight against Ebola, we are now joined from Washington via Skype by Helene Cooper of The New York Times.  She recently returned from Liberia.

    So, I understand you were out and about when you first got home.  In fact, we saw you on “Meet the Press” last Sunday.  And now you’re on some sort of self-imposed quarantine.  Tell us about that?

    HELENE COOPER, The New York Times:  It is sort of a modified quarantine as well.

    I came back from Liberia on Saturday, and I went on “Meet the Press.”  I am not symptomatic.  I have been taking my temperature and all of that.  But then I started thinking about it when it was time to go back to the office and go into the Pentagon, which is where I actually work often.

    And I realized that a lot of people were going to feel weird around me.  So I worked it out with The Times that I would work from home, I wouldn’t go into the Pentagon and into the press bullpen, where — which is a crowded area.

    And what I am trying to do is just for the rest of the — until I reach the 21-day point, is to stay away from crowds.  I am not touching anybody, and I am basically behaving the same way I did while I was in Liberia, which is, don’t touch anybody, no hugging, no kissing, none of that, and don’t allow anybody to touch me.

    If I do get sick, by some chance, and people are — to do contact tracing, I would like to be, oh, wow she didn’t touch anybody for 21 days, so you are not having to put other people under observation because of me.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And is this advice that you got from some doctors when you came back, or this what you have got…

    HELENE COOPER:  No, this is not advice from — it is much more — I think we are all trying to feel our way around with this and strike a balance between caution and panic.

    I am taking my temperature.  I have never been more intimately aware of what my temperature is in my life.  And I tend to stay between 97.6 and 98.4, even though I did once go up to 98.5 and freak out.

    I mean, the science says that I am not sick because I didn’t touch anybody when I was in Liberia.  And you don’t get Ebola unless you come into contact with the bodily fluids of a symptomatic Ebola patient.  But, at the same time, I understand that a lot of people feel uncomfortable at the idea of being near anybody who has been in Liberia.

    So it’s — in a lot of ways, this is much more psychological.  But I also think there’s some things that we maybe perhaps don’t understand about the disease.  So I am just trying to be as cautious as possible and to sort of treat everybody I come — everybody I see the same way I would treat my 4-year-old nephew, who I am definitely not touching for 21 days.

    So my sort of — the way I am looking at it is, if I am not going to touch Cooper (ph) for 21 days, I’m not going to touch anybody for 21 days.


    So, paint us a picture of what it was like on the streets of Liberia, a totally different health care infrastructure and the — some of the images that we have seen coming from that country have been so graphic in how people are literally lying on the ground outside of hospitals waiting for care.

    HELENE COOPER:  I didn’t see people lying on the ground outside hospitals, because I think that the reporting on that is maybe a couple of weeks old.

    What you do see on the street in Liberia right now is people not touching.  You don’t see people holding hands.  You don’t see people hugging and kissing and that sort of thing.  The daily life of the Liberian has — has in many ways almost come to a screeching halt.

    The government of Liberia has closed all nonessential services, and schools are not open.  So you have — if you are looking at the ordinary Liberian, who doesn’t have Ebola, they are dealing with, you know, transportation is a lot harder.  They are not going into the office.

    And one of the things that really struck me is so many people with school-age children are locking the kids up in the house.  And so you do have a case of — like, for instance, with my sister, who has a 9-year-old daughter, my niece has been locked in the house for two months.

    So it is really difficult for — for her and for those sorts of people.  But then you have the other side of the equation.  These are the people who are coming into contact with Ebola.  And there, you see suffering of the magnitude that was very hard for me to sort of get my head around, because the — one of the worst things about this disease is that it makes pariahs out of the people that get it.

    And so, if you get Ebola, people around you are not going to want to touch you.  They are not going to — it has become — you immediately become — you are sick, you are vomiting, you have diarrhea.  And at the same time, you are sort of — you are a menace to anybody else around you.

    And that’s one of the things that really struck me about it.  And yet, in the middle of all of that, you still have people trying to take care of these people who are sick, at great peril to themselves.  I mean, people know to put on gloves and masks and that sort of thing, but this is a poor country, where everybody doesn’t have access to that.

    So it’s really — it was heartbreaking.  It was one of the hardest reporting experiences I have ever had.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Is the U.S. intervention — I mean, we had planned on deploying thousand of Marines to the area.  Is that making a difference?

    HELENE COOPER:  Not yet, but it is starting to.

    What the — I went in.  When I first arrived, I came in with the U.S. military.  And I spent a lot of time with them.  And they are building — working toward building 17 treatment units.  But it definitely seemed like they were in a race against time.  And they are trying to catch up with the disease that is galloping ahead of them.

    So the construction has started while I was there on several of these centers.  These military guys are in there.  And they are doing their best.  And they are going as far as — fast as they can, but there is some frustration, because this sort of thing takes time.  It is not as easy or as fast as a lot of people would like.

    I think now we are seeing the point now they have stood up one of the hospitals, and they are working on several other that have started.  And I think you are now seeing the point where — that you are starting to see benefit on the ground.

    One thing that it really did do, though, is, I think the arrival of the American military gave a lot of Liberians hope, you know, sort of like hope that maybe that other people are coming in to help them.  They are not on their own.  They was a lot of optimism when the American military guys showed up.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Yes.  At the same time, we have Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf saying on the BBC “Newshour” — she sort of wrote a letter to the world.

    She said — quote — “It is the duty of all of us as global citizens to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves against an enemy that they do not know and against whom they have no defense.”

    It is a — it’s just a — it is tragic that we have literally got a president now that is just pleading for help around — for the international community to get in there.

    HELENE COOPER:  It really is.

    And the whole response has been a lot slower than the disease, and that is the biggest problem.  I mean, I kept asking people, what took so long?  Why did it take them until the end of August and September for us to start, for the international community to get — and, you know, there is not — there is not really a real answer to that.

    Everybody thought — it seems as if the CDC, the WHO, all of these different entities thought this was going to go away.  In March, when this first entered Liberia, you know, there was a brief moment, and then things seemed to get under control, and then it showed up again in June.

    And so it took a long time.  A couple of people even said, well, it was all this.  A lot of people were on vacation.  It didn’t take — you know, people didn’t realize how big of a deal this was going to be.  And that — that is sort of — that is said, but that’s where we are right now.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  But considering you were on the streets in Liberia, where Ebola is far more rampant, compared to the United States, now that you are back, and the reaction to Ebola that you must have seen on cable news and elsewhere, compare the two for us.

    HELENE COOPER:  Wow.  That is a really good question.

    I have to say, people are like a lot more calm than they are here.  They seem — there is a resignation in Liberia to this — the fact that they are dealing with this disease.  Liberians seem to know a lot more about how it is spread.

    And that is, naturally, because they have been dealing with this since March.  So people in Liberia, the average person on the street, you know, is not touching anybody.  But they also seem to know that you are not going to catch Ebola from somebody touching you.  You are going to catch Ebola from a symptomatic.

    And that is a really key word, a symptomatic Ebola patient.  And so that — there’s not — you are not seeing the kind of panic on the streets in Liberia that I see not on the streets necessarily here, because I haven’t really been on that streets that much, but that you see when you turn on cable news and you see — you hear about all these different instances of people keeping their children from school and that sort of thing here.

    And I think their tolerance for risk is probably a lot higher than we are here in the — than our tolerance for risk here in the United States.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Helene Cooper of The New York Times joining us under house quarantine, so to speak, in Washington, D.C., via her phone, thanks so much for joining us.

    HELENE COOPER:  Thank you.

    The post Self-quarantined reporter: US must ‘strike balance between caution and panic’ on Ebola appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Image by Aaron McCoy/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

    A recent poll is more evidence that Democrats are tuning out the midterms. Meanwhile, the party is trying to reach low-interest voters with vigorous turnout operations. Image by Aaron McCoy/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • Republicans have another likely voter advantage
    • Security is the latest issue of the scattershot campaign
    • It’s the demographics, stupid
    • Romney 2016? Not likely, but here’s what his lead in a new poll says about the GOP primary field

    Another poll, another GOP edge: Republicans have a 49-44 percent advantage on who Americans want to control Congress among likely voters in a new NBC/WSJ/Annenberg poll. They have a 2-point edge 45-43 percent among registered voters. The Wall Street Journal: “The survey is yet more evidence that Democratic voters are tuning out the midterms. Democrats carried a 10-point lead among low-interest voters, whom the party is trying to reach and motivate with vigorous turnout operations across the country. Republicans carried a 10-point lead in the new survey among voters who said they were highly interested in the election.” Generic ballot numbers can be tough to read, but generally when Republicans lead, that can spell big gains. Before the GOP 2010 wave elections, Republicans had a 2-point lead among registered voters in the last NBC/WSJ poll before the election. In the final NBC/WSJ poll before the 2006 election, in which Democrats took back the House, Democrats had a whopping 15(!)-point lead. In 2002, despite the history of losses for a president’s party, Republicans defied gravity and picked up eight seats in the House and two seats in the Senate. In the generic ballot question, Republicans led 43-42 percent.

    Now, it’s shaping up to be a security election? An online poll paid for by Politico found “two-thirds of likely voters said they feel that the United States has lost control of its major challenges. Only 36 percent said the country is ‘in a good position to meet its economic and national security’ hurdles. If no individual issue has come to define this election — like health care in the 2010 campaign or the Iraq War in 2006 — the accumulation of disparate fears has created a sense of pessimism and frustration across the midterm landscape.” The Washington Post’s Matea Gold goes to North Carolina and finds Republican Thom Tillis firing up conservatives with talk of Ebola and the president’s handling. It’s pretty remarkable that Ebola has become the latest issue of the scattershot election. Issues in this election have ranged from health care to the unaccompanied minors crisis to the Islamic State to Ebola. Republicans, more than anything, are trying to make this election about competence with their base voters. In fact, get this from the Politico* poll: “Voters in the midterm battleground states are evenly split on whether President Barack Obama or George W. Bush was more effective at managing the federal government. Thirty-eighty percent named Bush, while 35 percent preferred Obama. A quarter of respondents said the two men were equally competent.”

    It’s the demographics, stupid: If it’s the economy, stupid, then it’s also the demographics, stupid. And despite the possible Democratic hopes in South Dakota, Kansas and Georgia, the fundamentals of this election tilt heavily toward Republicans because of where these races are being run. That said, if Republicans can’t win in this landscape… One problem, though, that they face is their negative favorability ratings. The party’s favorable/unfavorable score was 27-50 percent in the latest NBC/WSJ poll, while Democrats were marginally more positive — 37-43 percent.

    Black voters key to Democratic hopes: Speaking of demographics, the New York Times gets its hands on a “confidential memo from a former pollster for President Obama,” which “contained a blunt warning for Democrats. Written this month with an eye toward Election Day, it predicted ‘crushing Democratic losses across the country’ if the party did not do more to get black voters to the polls. … African-Americans could help swing elections in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and possibly Arkansas, a New York Times analysis of voter data shows, but only if they turn out at higher-than-forecast rates. They will also be important in Kentucky, where Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic Senate candidate, refuses to say if she voted for President Obama — a stance that black leaders … fear will depress turnout.”

    Where race matters most: Back in April, we broke down where non-white voters could matter most — Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and Arkansas in that order. “Although more than 1.1 million black Georgians went to the polls in 2012, only about 741,000 voted in 2010,” the Times writes. “In North Carolina, Democrats say there are nearly one million black registered voters who did not vote in 2010.” Said the pollster, Cornell Belcher: “If you tell me in Georgia that, on the closing of the polls, the electorate is 32 percent African-American, I’m going to tell you we have probably elected a Democratic senator. That’s not theory. It’s basic math.” Black Georgia voters made up 30 percent of the electorate in the 2008 presidential election, and President Obama lost by just 5 points. While it’s true to get that close, Democrat Michelle Nunn has to turn out black voters in big numbers, to put her over the top, she probably has to replicate former Sen. Max Cleland’s map, the last Democrat elected to the Senate from Georgia in 1996. He did so narrowly and won not just metro Atlanta and the “Black Belt” counties but also rural counties in the Central and Southern portions of the state.

    Republicans could use a man like Mitt Romney again? Here come the 2016 horse-race polls that will inevitably not predict who the nominee will be. But they do tell you something about how uncertain and unpredictable the 2016 GOP field will be. Even though his wife Ann says no way, no how will her husband run again, Mitt Romney leads the Republican field in a new ABC/Washington Post poll. Romney gets 21 percent followed by Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee tied at 10 percent apiece; Rand Paul gets 9 percent; and Chris Christie at 8 percent and Paul Ryan at 5 percent. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, continues to blow away the Democratic field with 64 percent support from Democrats. Joe Biden is a distant second with 13 percent, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 11 percent.


    • The Pentagon announced a special Ebola response team of medical experts to be deployed to any region in the United States where new cases pop up.

    • President Obama hit the campaign trail for Democratic gubernatorial candidates this weekend, helping Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn rally support from key constituencies and stress the importance of their tuning out to vote. Mr. Obama told the audience in Chicago that he’d be voting there Monday morning.

    • In an early morning order Saturday, the Supreme Court said that Texas can use its strict voter ID law in next month’s elections.

    • In a new ad, American Crossroads hits Alaska Sen. Mark Begich for Congress’ failure to approve open drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    • The New Orleans Times-Picayune endorsed Sen. Mary Landrieu.

    • Voters in 34 states and the District of Columbia can now cast ballots in person.

    • Another term is not all Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is fighting for this fall; his viability as a presidential candidate is also on the line.

    • Iowa’s competitive Senate race has given a boost to down-ballot Republicans running in three of Iowa’s four congressional districts.

    • Spending in North Carolina’s Senate race is on track to top $103 million.

    • The unemployment rate has dropped 2 percentage points since November 2012 — the largest decline between a presidential and midterm election, notes economist Justin Wolfers. And yet, voters don’t seem enthused about the economy.

    • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaigned for Iowa’s Bruce Braley over the weekend.

    • Hillary Clinton heads to Maine this week to stump for Rep. Mike Michaud.

    • President Obama speaks to Jeffrey Toobin about his legal legacy in the New Yorker. “I think being a Justice is a little bit too monastic for me,” the president said when asked about his serving on the high court one day. “Particularly after having spent six years and what will be eight years in this bubble, I think I need to get outside a little bit more.”

    • If there’s one thing we know already about the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, which Aaron Blake notes “are set to begin in earnest in about three weeks,” it’s that the tea party is behind.

    • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, himself in a wheelchair from a 1984 accident, isn’t happy about an attack ad from Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis that accuses him of limiting the amount of damages plaintiffs can receive in personal injury lawsuits.

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


    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

    Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Rachel Wellford at rwellford-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the poll mentioned here that surveyed whether voters considered President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush to be more effective at managing the federal government.

    The post When Republicans have an edge on this poll question, they usually win big appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a press conference following the Friends of Syria meeting in London, on May 15, 2014. Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AFP/Getty Images

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, seen here speaking at a press conference following the Friends of Syria meeting in London, on May 15, 2014, says that it would be “irresponsible” to not aid Kurds fighting Islamic State group militants. Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AFP/Getty Images

    JAKARTA, Indonesia — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the Obama administration decided to airdrop weapons and ammunitions to “valiant” Kurds fighting Islamic State extremists in the Syrian border town of Kobani because it would be “irresponsible” and “morally very difficult” not to support them.

    Speaking in the Indonesian capital, Kerry told reporters that the administration understood ally Turkey’s concerns about supplying the Kurds, who are linked to a Kurdish group that Ankara fiercely opposes.

    But, he said the situation is such in the besieged town of Kobani that the resupplies were deemed absolutely necessary in a “crisis moment.”

    “Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect the PKK,” Kerry said. “But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy ISIL, and ISIL is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani.”

    An insurgent group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has fought a three-decade war, initially for independence and later for autonomy and greater rights for Kurds. The conflict with the PKK has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. Turkey and its U.S. and European allies consider the Marxist PKK a terrorist organization for killing civilians in urban bombings.

    Kerry said the militants had chosen to “make this a ground battle, attacking a small group of people there who while they are an offshoot group of the folks that our friends the Turks oppose, they are valiantly fighting ISIL and we cannot take our eye off the prize here.”

    “It would be irresponsible of us, as well morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL as hard as it is at this particular moment,” he said.

    The U.S. military said Sunday it had airdropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish forces defending the Syrian city of Kobani against IS militants.

    The airdrops were the first of their kind and followed weeks of U.S. and coalition airstrikes in and near the town not far from the Turkish border. The U.S. said earlier in the day that it had launched 11 airstrikes overnight in the area. Central Command said its forces have conducted more than 135 airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Kobani.

    President Barack Obama called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday to discuss the situation in Syria and notify him of the plan to make airdrops, one administration official told reporters. He would not describe Erdogan’s reaction but said U.S. officials are clear about Turkey’s opposition to any moves that help Kurdish forces that Turkey views as an enemy.

    The airdrops are intended to be temporary and the U.S. has asked Turkey to allow Kurdish fighters from Iraq into Kobani to help, Kerry said.

    Turkey’s Foreign Minister said Monday that his country is helping Iraqi Kurdish forces cross into Kobani “to give support” to fellow Kurdish fighters defending the Syrian town against Islamic State militants.

    The comments by Mevlut Cavusoglu at a news conference in Ankara followed the announcement by the U.S. military that it had airdropped supplies to the Kurdish forces in Kobani.

    In a conference call with reporters after Central Command announced the airdrops, senior administration officials said three C-130 planes dropped 27 bundles of small arms, ammunition and medical supplies.

    One official said that while the results of the mission were still being assessed, it appeared that “the vast majority” of the supplies reached the intended Kurdish fighters. That official also said the C-130s encountered no resistance from the ground in Syria during their flights in and out of Syrian airspace. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.

    One of the administration officials said the airdrops should be seen as a humanitarian move. He said U.S. officials believe that if Kobani were to fall, the Islamic State militants would massacre Kurds in the town.

    Another administration official said “you might see more” U.S. resupply missions to benefit the Kurdish fighters in Kobani in the days ahead. Yet another administration official said a land route to resupply the Kurds had been under discussion but would require Turkish cooperation. He said talks on resupply needs and means would continue.

    Burns reported from Washington

    The post Refusing to aid Kurds against Islamic State group would be ‘irresponsible,’ says Kerry appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People walk past an information board on Ebola in a bus terminus at Obalende district of Lagos on October 20, 2014.  Africa's most populous nation Nigeria was on Monday declared officially Ebola free but warned that it remained vulnerable as long as the virus was raging elsewhere in west Africa. Photo by Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

    People walk past an information board on Ebola in a bus terminus at Obalende district of Lagos on October 20, 2014. Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria was on Monday declared officially Ebola free but warned that it remained vulnerable as long as the virus was raging elsewhere in west Africa. Photo by Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Ebola outbreak in Nigeria is offically over, the World Health Organization said Monday.

    WHO announced that it had been 42 days since the last case of Ebola tested negative in the country — equal to twice the virus’s maximum 21-day incubation period. The statement makes Nigeria the second African country to end Ebola transmission after Senegal received the same declaration Friday.

    “The outbreak in Nigeria has been contained,” WHO Country Director Rui Gama Vaz said at a news conference in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja. “But we must be clear that we only won a battle. The war will only end when West Africa is also declared free of Ebola.”

    In total, Nigeria reported a total of 20 Ebola cases, including eight deaths from the disease. According to the CDC, Ebola spread to Nigeria after an ill traveler carrying the virus flew into the international airport in Lagos before being admitted to a private hospital with symptoms — potentially exposing 72 people at both locations.

    The post WHO declares Nigeria free of Ebola appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Specialty medications, which include high-cost drugs that require extra care, are dramatically increasing in cost. Photo by Flickr user e-Magine Art

    Specialty medications, which include high-cost drugs that require extra care, are dramatically increasing in cost. Photo by Flickr user e-Magine Art

    Some patients are paying sky-high prices for ‘specialty medications’ when cheaper options exist, a team of researchers has found.

    A specialty medication is defined by Medicare as any drug that costs more than $600 a month. Such drugs typically require special handling like refrigeration or additional supplies like syringes. They represent only a fraction of prescriptions filled, but by 2018, are expected to account for half of total annual pharmacy spending, or $235 billion, according to a study published in the October issue of Health Affairs.

    Though specialty medications are used by only 3.6 percent of the commercial population, rising costs of these drugs accounted for a 3.2 percent increase in total prescription drug spending in 2013. That’s $329.2 billion according to a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

    Several factors contribute to the soaring costs.Health Affairs

    There’s the simple issue of supply and demand. Huge dollar amounts go into developing drugs that, in the case of rare diseases, few patients buy.

    Another obstacle is that generic alternatives for these drugs are typically unavailable. Unlike more popular drugs, there’s no regulatory or scientific pathway for specialty medications to become generics. The Hatch-Waxman Act, which became a law in 1984, paved the way for generics to be manufactured, a move that led to “astronomical” savings, according to Dr. Alan M. Lotvin, the executive vice president for specialty pharmacy at CVS Caremark and lead author of the Health Affairs report. The legislation required that a generic drug be “bioequivalent” to the original. In other words, the active ingredient in the generic version must be absorbed at the same rate and extent as the original drug. But specialty medications are often too complex to be replicated under these requirements.

    Plus, the price is set by manufacturers, Lotvin said. “To put it simply, the expansion of Medicaid and the 340b program make it harder for manufacturers to raise prices once they’re on the market. So the economically rational approach is to start off at a higher price.”

    Lotvin’s team found that specialty drugs are not always the only or even the best choice. In other words, some patients may disproportionately shoulder a hefty burden of drug costs when a cheaper option may work just as well.

    So how can a patient navigate the choices available? Here are some tips from Lotvin.

    • Check whether the drugs are being sold in-house. Doctors choose drugs based on their assessment of the care needed for the patient, but if there are two equivalent drugs, the doctor has an incentive to prefer those where they both purchase and administer the product, Lotvin said.
    • With some specialty drugs, doctors are required to fill out extra medical details about the patient — details on the diagnosis or other drugs the patient is taking, for example — before insurance will cover the drug. The process is known as prior authorization, or prior approval. This is a good thing, Lotvin said. Prior authorization adds another quality check to the prescribing process.
    • Finally, a specialty drug is typically less expensive when administered at home or in a doctor’s office rather than in a hospital.

    “Administering a specialty medication is usually less expensive outside of the outpatient hospital setting — at a physician’s office or a home setting,” he said.

    The post Small group of specialty drugs could make up half of total pharmacy spending by 2018 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A pedestrians walks past the Little Green Pharmacy medical cannabis dispensary in Denver, Colorado, on Tuesday, August 2, 2011. Photo by Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images.

    Above, the Little Green Pharmacy medical cannabis dispensary in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images.

    For 29 years now, Paul Solman’s reports on the NewsHour have been trying to make sense of economic news and research for a general audience. Since 2007, our Making Sen$e page has striven to do the same, turning to leading academics and thinkers in the fields of business and economics to help explain what’s interesting and relevant about their work. That includes reports and interviews with economists affiliated with the esteemed National Bureau of Economic Research.

    Making Sense/NBER logo

    Founded in 1920, NBER is a private nonprofit research organization devoted to objective study of the American economy in all its dazzling diversity, combining data with rigorous analysis to describe and explain the material world in which we live long before data analytics became fashionable. “Why Some Women Try to Have It All: New Research on Like Mother Like Daughter” and “Why Does the First Child Get the Gold? An Economics Answer” have been among our most popular posts on Making Sen$e, both of them largely based on NBER research. We thought our readership might benefit from a closer relationship.

    Each month, the NBER Digest summarizes several recent NBER working papers. These papers have not been peer-reviewed, but are circulated by their authors for comment and discussion. With the NBER’s blessing, Making Sen$e is pleased to begin featuring these summaries regularly on our page.

    Monday’s paper was reviewed in NBER’s October. Check out September’s reviews on Making Sen$e.

    Marijuana use is illegal under federal law. Despite this, an estimated 18 million people were current marijuana users in 2011. As of June 2014, 23 U.S. states had legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in response to growing awareness that the active ingredient in the drug may be useful as an analgesic for chronic pain, an antiemetic, and an antispasmodic. Two states, Washington and Colorado, had legalized recreational use as well.

    In “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Marijuana, Alcohol, and Hard Drug Use” (NBER Working Paper No. 20085), Hefei Wen Jason M. Hockenberry, and Janet R. Cummings use individual survey data from seven states to examine the effect of legalizing medical marijuana.

    They find that legalization increased both marijuana use and marijuana abuse/dependence in people 21 or older. It was also associated with an increase in adult binge drinking, defined as the number of days on which an individual had five or more drinks on the same occasion in the last month. People 12 to 20 years old were 5 to 6 percent more likely to try marijuana for the first time when medical use was legalized.

    Legalization was not associated with an increase in adolescent drinking, or with increased cocaine or heroin use in either group.

    The data are drawn from the 2004 to 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey data include self-reported information on respondent drug use, the frequency of use, and questions designed to assess drug abuse or dependence with respect to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition. The authors controlled for age, gender, race/ethnicity, cigarette smoking, urban residence, family income, marital status, educational attainment, college enrollment, and employment status. They also controlled for state beer taxes, unemployment rates, average personal income and median household income.

    Graph courtesy of NBER. Click on image to go to full digest.

    Graph courtesy of NBER. Click on image to go to full digest.

    The survey data do not distinguish between legal medicinal and illegal recreational use. In practice, many state laws are vague about the medical conditions that qualify for legal medical use. “Chronic pain” is not medically verifiable, and the authors explain that allowing people with chronic pain to qualify for medical use makes it difficult to separate medical users from recreational users posing as medical users.

    For adults, the baseline predicted probability of an individual having used marijuana in the last month was 8.6 percent. Legalization increased it by 1.37 to 1.40, an increase of 16 percent. The number of marijuana use days per month rose by 0.14 to 0.21 days a month, or 12 to 17 percent. Legalization increased the probability of adolescent initiation of marijuana use in the last year by 0.32 to 0.46 percent, a 5 to 6 percent increase. While this suggests that more adolescents experimented with marijuana, the data do not suggest that regular use increased in this group.

    …Legalization could result in “considerable economic and social costs from downstream health care expenditures and productivity loss.

    The authors note that the 6 to 9 percent increase in frequency of adult binge drinking, along with an estimated increase in the probability of simultaneous use of marijuana and alcohol of 15 to 22 percent, suggests that legalization could result in “considerable economic and social costs from downstream health care expenditures and productivity loss.”

    Linda Gorman, National Bureau of Economic Research

    Watch Paul Solman’s report on innovation in the recreational pot industry.

    The post After medical legalization, what are the costs of getting high? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A picture shows the damage inside the burnt US consulate building in Benghazi on September 13, 2012, following an attack on the building late on September 11 in which the US ambassador to Libya and three other US nationals were killed. Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/GettyImages

    A picture shows the damage inside the burnt US consulate building in Benghazi on September 13, 2012, following an attack on the building late on September 11 in which the US ambassador to Libya and three other US nationals were killed. Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/GettyImages

    WASHINGTON — A Libyan militant on Monday pleaded not guilty to charges arising from the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

    Ahmed Abu Khattala, 43, entered the plea through his lawyer in a 15-minute court proceeding before a federal judge.

    An 18-count grand jury indictment handed up last week makes Abu Khattala eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

    Abu Khattala’s lawyer, federal public defender Michelle Peterson, said she is waiting for the Justice Department to turn over additional material — much of it classified — on the charges her client faces. The next court date in the case was set for Dec. 9.

    Khattala’s lawyer has said previously that the government has failed to show Khattala was connected to the attacks.

    The charges against him include murder of an internationally protected person, murder of an officer and employee of the United States and killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility.

    Abu Khattala is the first militant to be prosecuted for the Benghazi attacks.

    The Sept. 11, 2012, attack by militants killed Stevens and communications specialist Sean Smith and set the mission ablaze.

    Nearly eight hours later at a CIA complex nearby, two more Americans, contract security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, died in a mortar attack that showed clear military training, retired Gen. Carter Ham told Congress in closed-door testimony earlier this year.

    The administration apprehended Abu Khattala in June and brought him to the United States to stand trial on terrorism charges.

    The post Benghazi attack suspect pleads not guilty appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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