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

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    GWEN IFILL: During President Obama’s first term as commander in chief, his administration signaled a new priority in America’s foreign policy, the so-called Asia pivot. But three years of multiple crises on other continents, and at home, have distracted the administration from that goal.

    Starting in China, the president hopes to change that this week.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner explains.

    MARGARET WARNER: The president arrived in the heart of the world’s fastest rising power this morning fresh from a drubbing in last week’s elections. His stop in Beijing begins a week-long trip that will include Myanmar and Australia, as he seeks to boost U.S. influence in a region where China enjoys growing clout.

    His focus today was on commercial ties at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, or APEC.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Over the next five years, nearly half of all economic growth outside the United States is projected to come from right here in Asia. That makes this region an incredible opportunity for creating jobs and economic growth in the United States. And any serious leader in America, whether in politics or in commerce, recognizes that fact.

    MARGARET WARNER: Yet, earlier, at the U.S. Embassy, he hosted leaders of 11 countries that are working to put together a Trans-Pacific trade partnership, or TPP, that pointedly excludes China. At APEC, he had sought to reassure Beijing that the U.S. wasn’t trying to hem China in.

    BARACK OBAMA: We welcome the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China, not only because it’s in China’s best interest, but because it’s in America’s best interest and the world’s best interest. We want China to do well.

    MARGARET WARNER: Obama will have extended talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping tomorrow and Wednesday. And, today, the two countries announced they’d grant each other’s citizens visas valid for 10 years.

    But other concerns shadow the trip, including China’s territorial assertiveness against its neighbors in the East and South China seas. President Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did meet today in what was billed as a first step to ease tensions. But their public handshake was noticeably tense.

    Also of concern to Washington, Chinese cyber-security attacks on U.S. companies and China’s crackdown on human rights, including how it will ultimately respond to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

    Wednesday, Mr. Obama arrives in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. He will meet with President Thein Sein, whom he initially applauded for moving towards democratic reforms. But Washington is now concerned those reforms are backsliding and minority Muslims, journalists and opposition activists are being repressed. The president also will meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who initially encouraged the warming of U.S.- Myanmar relations, but is now urging caution.

    The president ends his trip in Australia at a G20 summit.

    The post Obama visits Beijing on push to expand trade with Asia – Part 1 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The federal government today lowered expectations for the number of people to sign up for coverage under the president’s health care law. The report came just ahead of the enrollment period that begins this Saturday. The Department of Health and Human Services forecast 9 to 9.9 million Americans signing up for private health plans in 2015. That’s well below the Congressional Budget Office forecast of 13 million.

    HHS also reported 7.1 million people enrolled this year, 200,000 fewer than the previous estimate.

    GWEN IFILL: The U.S. Postal Service says it’s been hacked, the latest government agency to come under cyber-attack. The Washington Post reported today that Chinese government hackers are the main suspects in the mid-September attack. The Postal Service said they may have gotten Social Security numbers, addresses and dates of birth. It’s unclear how many of the agency’s 800,000 workers were affected.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Winter arrived in force in the Upper Midwest today with heavy snow and temperatures 40 degrees below average. A major storm moved in last night from the Dakotas across Minnesota and Wisconsin. Up to a foot of snow was possible in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota’s midsection. The frigid air is expected to freeze much of the Midwest and Eastern U.S. as the week progresses.

    GWEN IFILL: In Nigeria, a suicide bomber killed at least 48 students at a high school assembly in the country’s northeast. The Islamist group Boko Haram was believed responsible. Survivors said the killer dressed in a student uniform and hid the bomb in a backpack.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Two fatal stabbing attacks in the Middle East turned up Arab-Israeli tensions today. In the first, a Palestinian man killed an Israeli soldier at a train station in Jerusalem. The attacker was arrested. Later, in the West Bank, another Palestinian stabbed a woman to death near a Jewish settlement before being shot and seized.

    They followed other recent attacks and prompted a warning from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel (through interpreter): We will fight against the incitement from the Palestinian Authority with agents from extremist Islam. Those who protest against the state of Israel and in favor of the Palestinian state, I say to them, simply, move there, to the Palestinian Authority or Gaza. I promise you that the state of Israel will not make it difficult for you, but, for those who stay here, we will make it difficult if you are a rioter or a terrorist.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Palestinian Authority, which rules in the West Bank, had no immediate comment, but, in Gaza, the militant group Hamas praised the attacks.

    GWEN IFILL: The fate of the Islamic State group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remained unclear today. The Pentagon said it can’t confirm reports that he was killed or wounded in weekend airstrikes over Northern Iraq. Separately, Iraqi state TV reported an aide to Baghdadi died in an airstrike near Fallujah.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: An American doctor who caught Ebola in West Africa will be released from a hospital in New York City tomorrow. The New York Times reported late today that Dr. Craig Spencer recovered. Word of his infection last month raised fears in the city when it came out that he had been bowling, eating out and riding a subway before he tested positive.

    GWEN IFILL: In economic news, the price of oil fell again to below $78 a barrel in New York trading. The latest Lundberg survey also found gas prices are down another 13 cents in the past two weeks. And on Wall Street, stocks edged higher, posting new records along the way. The Dow Jones industrial average nearly 40 points to close at 17,613, its best ever; the S&P 500 also hit a new record, adding six points, to finish at 2,038; and the Nasdaq rose 19 points to 4,651.

    The post News Wrap: HHS lowers estimate for 2015 health care enrollment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    In this midterm election, 94 percent of biggest spenders in House races won and 82 percent of biggest spenders in Senate races won. Illustration by NewsHour

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • 94 percent of biggest House race spenders won
    • 82 percent of biggest Senate race spenders won
    • On this Veterans Day, just 18 percent of the new Congress will have served in the military, down from more than 70 percent in 1971.

    Can’t buy you love, but can buy you a duplex on Capitol Hill: We already know that the $4 billion spent on this midterm election was more than any other midterm in history. It was the most on congressional elections ever, including during a presidential year. What do the numbers really tell us? These two stats jumped out at us from a post-analysis done by the Center for Responsive Politics:
    - 94 percent of biggest spenders in House races won, up slightly from 2012
    - 82 percent of biggest spenders in Senate races won, up from 76 percent in 2012

    What that means is, as one of us noted on NewsHour Monday night money, more specifically who spends the most, is about as good a predictor that there is of who will win a race. Those numbers, by the way, are pretty close to the incumbent reelection rates.

    Top 5 most expensive Senate races overall:
    North Carolina Senate: $113 million
    Colorado Senate: $97 million
    Iowa Senate: $85 million
    Kentucky Senate: $78 million
    Georgia Senate: $66 million

    Top 10 most expensive Senate races per voter:
    Alaska Senate: $121
    New Hampshire Senate: $50
    Iowa Senate: $39
    Colorado Senate: $27
    Arkansas Senate: $26
    Kentucky Senate: $24
    South Dakota Senate: $23
    North Carolina Senate: $16
    Montana Senate: $15
    Kansas Senate: $14

    Military service in Congress: The 114th Congress will be made up of 70 current members and 10 incoming members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have served or are serving in the U.S. military. Three of the incoming members are Democrats the other seven are Republicans. A number of veterans who are currently serving in the House decided to retire this year, and a small number lost re-election. Three incoming members of the Senate (two of whom are currently serving in the House) are serving or have served in the military — Tom Cotton, Gary Peters and Joni Ernst. There are currently only 13 members of the Senate who served in the military. In all, 96 members of the next session of Congress will have served in the U.S. military. That means that just under 18 percent of the new congressional delegation served in the armed forces. Note: This number includes one non-voting delegate from the Northern Marianas.

    Fewer than one-in-five congressional lawmakers have served in the military: Compared to the 113th Congress, which began with 108 military veterans, the drop-off for the 114th Congress is only slight, but over the past few years each congressional delegation has had fewer veterans than the previous group — 16 percent of senators and 18 percent of representatives in the new class are military veterans or are currently serving. Jump back to 1971, when member military service was at its peak, veterans made up 72 percent of members in the House and 78 percent in the Senate. In 1981, that number dipped to 64 percent of members, but veterans still made up a majority of Congress.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day 1921, the Tomb of the Unknowns was dedicated at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia by President Harding. Who was president when Arlington Cemetery was established? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Monday’s trivia: No American president has served in the Marines, but how many have served in the military? The answer was: 26.



    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:

    The post Money is pretty good predictor of who will win elections appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Russia's President Vladimir Putin walks past as US President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group in China Friday. Photo by Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

    Russia’s President Vladimir Putin walks past as US President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group in China Friday. Photo by Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

    BEIJING — On the surface, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin were all niceties — a pat on the back here, a pleasantry there. But away from the cameras, the two leaders circled each other warily at a global summit in China, coming face to face while relations between their countries continue to deteriorate.

    The White House said Obama and Putin spoke three times Tuesday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic meeting, tackling some of the tough issues that have strained their relationship, including Russia’s provocations in Ukraine and support for Syria’s embattled government. They also discussed the fast-approaching deadline in nuclear talks with Iran, in which the U.S. and Russia find themselves on the same negotiating team.

    Unlike at some of their past meetings, Obama and Putin kept their deep-seated policy disagreements behind the scenes. But their public encounters suggested their relationship remains tense.

    Picturesque Yanqi Lake, just outside of Beijing, became the venue for an awkward pas de deux between two of the most powerful leaders in the world. Entering an ornate, wood-paneled room for the start of the summit, Obama and Putin looked a bit like sidekicks to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The summit’s host led the way, with the American on one side and the Russian on the other.

    “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Putin said in Obama’s direction. Yes, it is, concurred a reticent Obama, avoiding eye contact with Putin and addressing his response to no one in particular.

    As the three presidents came to a stop at the head of the table, Putin reached out to give Obama a slap on the back. But Obama had turned in a different direction, and it didn’t appear that the Putin’s hand landed on its intended target.

    A few hours later, the two again found themselves in close quarters under an overcast sky as leaders planted trees in honor of their counties. Putin strode confidently up to his tree, ahead of Obama, who clasped his hands behind his back before picking up a shovel and greeting a Spanish TV crew with a wave.

    Neither the White House nor the Kremlin offered much in the way of detail about the policy conversations Obama and Putin had on the sidelines of the summit. Putin’s spokesman said only that the two had spoken a few times, touching on “bilateral relations, the situation around Ukraine, Syria and Iran.”

    The U.S. is furious over Russia’s presumed role in fueling pro-Russian rebels in neighboring Ukraine. White House officials have accused Russia of sending heavy weapons to the separatists and shelling Ukrainian troops, and have denounced Russia’s buildup of forces along the border.

    A truce reached in September between the rebels and Ukraine’s government is teetering, destabilized by what the White House calls a “blatant escalation” by Russia and rebel-organized elections in eastern Ukraine that the U.S. condemned as a “sham.” Vice President Joe Biden, in a phone call last week with Ukraine’s president, vowed further U.S. sanctions against Moscow “if Russia continued to willfully violate the terms” of the cease-fire.

    Russia’s economy has taken a major hit following U.S. and EU sanctions — the ruble has plunged by a third this year and hit an all-time low last week — but Putin has dismissed the notion that he’s hurting at the hands of the West. Addressing the Asia-Pacific economic summit here Monday, Putin said his government had the resources to stabilize its currency without taking any emergency measures.

    “We want Russia to play a different role,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said Tuesday. “We want Russia to be a stabilizing force on issues that we care about. But they’re not going to be able to do that … if they’re violating the sovereignty of a country next door.”

    Rhodes said Obama wouldn’t not be seeking out a meeting with Putin while in Beijing — nor in Brisbane, Australia, where the leaders will once again run into each other during a Group of 20 economic summit this weekend. “Putin knows where we stand,” Rhodes said, adding that Obama may discuss Russia’s actions with other G-20 leaders.

    For Obama and Putin, awkward encounters at international gatherings have become almost expected. But the optics have gained even greater attention as the Ukraine crisis has taken center stage.

    In June, on the sidelines of D-Day anniversary commemorations in Normandy, France, Obama and Putin avoided each other during a group photo, with Obama even using Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as a buffer. The two later spoke briefly during a private leaders’ lunch.

    And during a formal meeting last year during a summit in Northern Ireland, Putin slumped in his chair and sat stone-faced as Obama tried to joke about the Russian leader’s athletic ability. Obama later said Putin frequently looks like “the bored kid in the back of the classroom.”

    AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace in Beijing and AP writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

    The post Obama, Putin circle each other warily in China appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: This was a day of honor for military veterans in America and for many thousands more who served and died in Europe during World War I. That vast conflict began a century ago and ended on this day in 1918 and it served as the backdrop for today’s ceremonies.

    Under a bright autumn sky, Vice President Biden carried out a time-honored tradition, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

    With President Obama in Asia, Mr. Biden addressed veterans and their families gathered in the cemetery’s amphitheater.

    VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Collectively, you represent generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who have served and sacrificed for all of us. You are not only the heart and soul, but you are the very spine of this nation.

    GWEN IFILL: In New York City and elsewhere, parades honored veterans. And on the National Mall in Washington, final preparations were under way for tonight’s veterans-themed Concert for Valor featuring stars from Bruce Springsteen to Jennifer Hudson.

    While Americans honored the living, thousands turned out across the Atlantic for Remembrance Day in London, where a memorial sea of red ceramic poppies now surrounds the Tower of London. It features more than 888,000 flowers, one for each British and commonwealth soldier killed in World War I, which erupted 100 years ago this year.

    Thirteen-year-old Harry Hayes planted the final flower.

    HARRY HAYES, Army Cadet Force: It was an amazing honor because it’s just seeing all those poppies that are out there, and every single one represents a life, and that the person is not coming home because they laid down their lives so we can have a free life.

    GWEN IFILL: This was Armistice Day in other European nations, and the World War I anniversary lent added weight to the annual observances, especially in the Belgian town of Ypres, scene of three major battles during the First World War. France also honored all those who have served, and fallen, as President Francois Hollande took part in a wreath-laying at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.

    An estimated 17 million soldiers and civilians died in World War I.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The winter storm that’s swept across the Rockies and Upper Midwest brought frigid temperatures today on the heels of a blizzard. By this morning, more than a foot of snow covered parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And readings dropped as much as 50 degrees overnight as far south as the Texas Panhandle.

    GWEN IFILL: In Beijing today, President Obama and other leaders at an Asian Pacific summit agreed to work on a Chinese free trade proposal. It’s seen as a response to a U.S.-backed initiative that doesn’t include China.

    The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, hailed the decision.

    PRESIDENT XI JINPING, China (through interpreter): The approval of the road map symbolizes the start of the process and demonstrates the confidence and resolve of the members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation to push for regional cooperation. This is a historic decision which will bring regional economic integration to a higher level.

    GWEN IFILL: Xi also met with President Obama in the first of two days of talks between the two leaders.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The verdict came today in the South Korean ferry disaster that killed hundreds of high school students last April.

    Lucy Watson of Independent Television News filed this report from Beijing.

    LUCY WATSON: For these actions and this choice, the captain of the Sewol ferry will spend the rest of his life behind bars. He abandoned the vessel to save himself. It was carrying more than 470 people, most of them schoolchildren.

    Today, with his head bowed, Lee Joon-Seok and 14 other crew members filed into court to hear their fate, guilty of gross negligence, but not murder, the captain jailed for 36 years, others for as little as five, punishments that simply aren’t enough for the victims families.

    KO YOUNG-HEE, Mother of Victim (through interpreter): We all prayed that the court would issue the death penalty. We wanted the crew members to suffer the same pain our children did.

    LUCY WATSON: It was a desperate sight in April, one of South Korea’s worst maritime disasters. More than 300 people perished on board. And the anguish these parents suffered continues, but they’re promising to appeal the verdicts.

    KO YOUNG-HEE (through interpreter): We will connect every bit of evidence we have and send it to the court of appeals. We will do anything to make the crew members who abandoned our children pay for their crimes.

    LUCY WATSON: Nine bodies are still missing, but, today, the underwater search was called off permanently. It was a decision made by the families as they solemnly accept the impossibility of finding everyone.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: South Korean investigators have concluded the ferry was overloaded, and they have cited the vessel’s owners for spending too little on safety.

    GWEN IFILL: Rising religious tensions between Israelis and Palestinians turned deadly again today in the West Bank. Protesters threw rocks at Israeli soldiers near Hebron, and the soldiers fired back with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets. When that failed, the troops opened fire, killing a Palestinian man. In the wake of the killing, the Palestinian and Israeli leaders blamed each other for causing the trouble.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, a physician who contracted Ebola in West Africa was released from a hospital in New York City. Craig Spencer was diagnosed in October after he’d worked for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea.

    Today, he praised the U.S. medical system.

    DR. CRAIG SPENCER, Ebola Survivor: My early detection, reporting and now recovery from Ebola speaks to the effectiveness of the protocols that are in place for health staff returning from West Africa.

    I am a living example of how those protocols work and of how early detection is critical to both surviving Ebola and ensuring that it is not transmitted to others.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, in Maine, nurse Kaci Hickox emerged virus- free from her 21 days of being monitored for Ebola.

    GWEN IFILL: The governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, warned today against any new trouble in the town of Ferguson. A grand jury reports this month on whether to indict a white policeman who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in the Saint Louis suburb last August. The governor says in anticipation of renewed violent protest, he will call on police statewide and put the National Guard on standby.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And on Wall Street, stocks eked out small gains today. The Dow Jones industrial average added one point to close just short of 17,615. The Nasdaq rose about nine points to 4,660. And the S&P was up a point to finish at 2,039.

    The post News Wrap: South Korean ferry captain sentenced for deadly disaster appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Veterans used to make up a strong majority of Congress. In 1972, more than 70 percent of Congressional members had served in the military. But those numbers have fallen dramatically. In 2012, for the first time in American history, the presidential election featured no candidate with military experience. And now, even with lawmakers who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, there will be fewer of them than at any time in at least the last 50 years — just 18 percent. NewsHour political director Domenico Montanaro reports on the changing numbers.

    The post Fewer veterans are serving in Congress than ever before appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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     Big Bank Hank of Sugarhill Gang performs at the Planet Hollywood Theatre for the Performing Art on October 1, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jackson died Tuesday of complications from Cancer. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

    Big Bank Hank of Sugarhill Gang performs at the Planet Hollywood Theatre for the Performing Art on October 1, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jackson died Tuesday of complications from Cancer. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

    In his own words, Henry Jackson — or Big Bank Hank — was a Casanova. He was six foot one, and tons of fun.

    That was his self-introduction in Sugarhill Gang’s 14-minute “Rapper’s Delight,” a song that borrowed from disco and was one of the first to bring hip hop into the mainstream (for more on that, check out NPR’s piece on the song’s backstory).

    Jackson died Tuesday of complications from cancer. He was 57 years old.

    His fellow Sugarhill Gang rappers, Wonder Mike and Master Gee, issued a statement Tuesday:

    “So sad to hear about our brother’s passing. The 3 of us created musical history together with the release of Rapper’s Delight. We will always remember traveling the world together and rocking the house. Rest in peace Big Bank.”

    The post Sugarhill Gang’s Big Bank Hank dies at 57 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Skateistan youth leader Madina Khsrawy teaches another girl how to skateboard. Photo courtesy of Skateistan

    Skateistan youth leader Madina Khsrawy teaches another girl how to skateboard. Photo courtesy of Skateistan

    When Madina Khsrawy was 13, she saw some boys skateboarding and asked them where she could learn.

    It’s not an unusual pastime — unless you live in Afghanistan, and you’re a girl.

    They took her to a program called Skateistan, a nonprofit that teaches skateboarding to children in Afghanistan to segue into an education program.

    Learning to skateboard was hard at first, she said by phone from Kabul. “All sports are hard in the beginning. But I liked it and was interested in it, so I learned it fast.”

    It’s still a challenge to skateboard outside the Skateistan facility in Kabul. Khsrawy said when she did venture out on the street, “people would look at me and were shocked.” They would ask her why — as a girl — she had a skateboard.

    At Skateistan, “I feel I am free and I can do sports here, but not on the outside,” Khsrawy said.

    Skateistan's founder and executive director Oliver Percovich with possibly the youngest girl skateboarder in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Skateistan

    Skateistan’s founder and executive director Oliver Percovich with possibly the youngest girl skateboarder in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Skateistan

    That’s the idea, said Skateistan founder and executive director Oliver Percovich: providing a safe place where girls and boys can interact and learn new skills. The program provides additional education for “street children,” or those who sell items on the street such as chewing gum and cigarettes and don’t get to go to school. The condensed curriculum helps catch them up to their peers.

    About 1,200 students ages 5-17 attend the Skateistan program per week in Afghanistan’s two sites, in the capital Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Skateistan has opened skate parks in two other places: Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Johannesburg, South Africa, where another 300 students go.

    Since the PBS NewsHour profiled the group in 2011, Skateistan had branched out into two more countries.

    About 47 percent of the Skateistan students in Afghanistan are female — quite an undertaking in a country where girls usually don’t play sports, let alone skateboard. The female students require more of Skateistan’s resources, Percovich said, because organizers must pick up and drop off the girls at their homes. The organizers also conduct home visits to ensure their families’ support.

    “That’s really important in a society where girls going to school is a very special thing, and doing a sport is not the norm at all,” he said. But it’s worth it.

    “While it’s a lot of effort in terms of logistics, and transport and home visits, the extra attention adds a lot of quality to our programming. I don’t think I would have really started Skateistan if it was just boys skateboarding. The fact that girls were interested in skateboarding when they weren’t doing any other sports made it special.”

    Percovich started the organization in 2007. “I fell into this work with no background in international development. We were just a ragtag bunch of people who tried very hard to look at what was native and what made sense.”

    The group pledged to stay in Afghanistan for 10 years and adapted to local needs. Several years later, it turned over the Kabul facility to be run by Afghans, which makes it more sustainable, Percovich said.

    Boys and girls age 5-17 can participate in the skateboarding program. Photo courtesy of Skateistan

    Boys and girls age 5-17 can participate in the skateboarding program. Photo courtesy of Skateistan

    While some nonprofits take a while to expand, Skateistan grew pretty quickly, he continued, and is now in what he describes as a holding pattern. The organization eventually will take on more projects “where we can have the greatest impact and where there’s the biggest need,” he said.

    Khsrawy, meanwhile, is now 16 years old and a youth leader with Skateistan. She said she never expected to be recruited for that role.

    “I could not tell myself I am intelligent, but they told me I was intelligent and I should become a leader,” she said in English, which she practices with the English-speaking organizers. Like learning to skateboard, being a leader can be difficult at first, but you learn that “you should try hard and be your best.”

    View all of our Social Entrepreneurship profiles and tweet us your suggestions for more groups to cover.

    The post Meet the skater girls of Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Hundreds of Hillary Clinton campaign buttons are ready to be shipped to Clinton supporters by Ready For Hillary, a PAC urging Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016 from its headquarters in Rosslyn, VA. Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images

    Hillary Clinton supporters wait with bated breath for an announcement from the former secretary of state. Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • A completely gratuitous look at the 2016 presidential election
    • Hillary Clinton starts as the favorite, but Democrats have no bench
    • Republicans have a deep bench, which is going to create another long primary
    • Morning Line going on a two-week break

    Setting the table for 2016: Congress is back today for the first time following the midterm elections, and there will be plenty to chew on about what will get done in the lame duck (Attorney General nominee? Keystone vote? President Obama executive action on immigration?). We’ll get to that, but following the midterms, we, at Morning Line, are taking a short break. We’ll be on a two-week hiatus, starting tomorrow. But first, to be completely politically gratuitous, we set the 2016 table for you. We have avoided it through the midterms, but, unfortunately, there’s no avoiding it anymore with all the political activity going on with the people who will be seeking the White House.

    The presidential race: If she were a Republican, she’d be the elephant in the room. In many ways, the 2016 election is all about Hillary Clinton. She leads in all the polls. Republicans have been taking aim at her since she stepped down as secretary of state. The day after the midterm elections, Republicans were saying that her policies were on the ballot, too. Some in the media want to create drama in a Democratic primary, because why not? So there will be lots of coverage of Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb and the mysterious candidate who could ultimately derail Clinton’s nomination (will Elizabeth Warren re-think it, etc.) Problem with that narrative is there’s no Barack Obama this year, and Warren has said definitively she won’t run this year. The only wildcard is if Clinton has a change of heart or has a prohibitive health issue. And then, what do Democrats do?

    GOP drama set to play out: The Republican race, on the other hand, is setting up to be another long, drawn-out primary process. The GOP has a good problem — unlike Democrats, they have a deep bench. But they also have a continued presidential primary problem — the internecine conflict between the conservative and establishment wings. What’s happened predictably in the last two elections is the establishment candidate has won out, but gets pulled to the right (see John McCain on immigration, Mitt Romney on, well, almost everything). That is going to continue to play out. Conservatives’ argument is, “We nominated two so-called moderates in the last two elections and how’d that work out. Plus, we stuck to our principles in 2010 and 2014, and we won.” That’s an easy, but false narrative. Midterms are different elections than presidentials. The white vote has continued to decline in presidentials and will continue to do so with the non-white vote increasing. It’s why people like Rand Paul have been out there talking to black voters and trying to sell his more libertarian message. But many of Paul’s views are likely going to be seen as outside the mainstream, and how does he get through a GOP primary with some of them? Maybe he will, but there’s lots of drama to play out.

    Establishment vs. Conservative wings: The GOP primary usually sets up as a fight between two brackets — conservative and establishment candidates with the winner of each squaring off. We’ve outlined 13 potentially serious 2016 Republican candidates, and where they fit:

    For the conservative bracket (the people who have to win Iowa): Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — he could be a hybrid, but being from a state that borders Iowa, he needs to do well there; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the 2012 Iowa winner; Indiana Gov. Mike Pence; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; Dr. Ben Carson, who is on the lips of every tea party/grassroots conservative — and, yes, we predict there will be a poll that shows him leading the GOP field; South Dakota Sen. John Thune. (We’re not buying runs by Mike Huckabee or John Bolton.)

    For the establishment slot (the people who have to win New Hampshire): New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. (We’ll save you the digital ink — Mitt Romney is NOT running.)

    Hybrids, who might try to play in both: Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — if he runs and we’re not convinced he will; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — it’s not clear he will run if Jeb Bush does since they have many of the same donors; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — he could play a third route here and for a while in the primary. Unlike his father, who always had a following but won no delegates, we predict this Dr. Paul will pick up at least a few and maybe more than that.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day 1979, President Carter shut down all oil imports from Iran in response to 63 Americans being taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran eight days earlier. Why were the Americans being held hostage? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to P Arndt (@parndt66), roy wait ‏(@ind22rxw) and EmGusk ‏(@EmGusk) for guessing Tuesday’s trivia: Who was president when Arlington Cemetery was established? The answer was: Lincoln.


    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.

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    The post 2016 is all about Hillary Clinton and the GOP drama appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Liberian health workers load six bodies of people who died from Ebola into the back of a pickup truck outside the Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept. 13. Photo by Michel du Cille/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Liberian health workers load six bodies of people who died from Ebola into the back of a pickup truck outside the Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept. 13. Ebola aid workers are looking to Congress to help fund the ongoing fight against the disease. Photo by Michel du Cille/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Health workers on the front line of the Ebola crisis say the need for urgent help isn’t letting up, as Congress begins considering President Barack Obama’s $6.2 billion emergency aid request to fight the disease.

    Despite reports that the number of infections is slowing in some parts of West Africa, cases still are rising in other areas — and aid organizations say thousands of health care workers are needed to treat Ebola over the next few months.

    “We’re not yet at a point where we can have confidence that we’re turning the corner, even in Liberia,” said Andy Gleadle of the International Medical Corps, which is running a treatment center in Liberia and plans to open another in that country and two more in Sierra Leone.

    Even with increasing global attention to the epidemic, it takes time to train new health workers, build field hospitals, and buy protective equipment for doctors and nurses.

    “Let’s say President Obama gives us another $5 million tomorrow morning — which would be very nice, thank you — but it takes weeks to absorb that funding and implement it on the ground,” added Gleadle, who is responsible for the charity’s response in Sierra Leone.

    On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee is set to question Obama administration officials about the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak as it begins evaluating the emergency aid request. It includes $4.64 billion in immediate spending to fight the epidemic in West Africa, shore up U.S. preparedness, and speed the development and testing of Ebola vaccines and treatments.

    More than $1.5 billion would be for a contingency fund to deal with any unexpected developments.

    “The situation does change quite dramatically from one day to the next, one week to the next,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press.

    Cases continue to pop up in new areas across the three hard-hit West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, he said.

    “The challenges are really daunting, and one of the critical needs is for speed and flexibility” as those clusters emerge, Frieden said.

    The hearing comes even as Ebola is fading from U.S. headlines.

    The last Ebola patient being treated in the U.S. — a doctor who was diagnosed after returning from a volunteer stint fighting the virus in Guinea — was released from a New York City hospital Tuesday. New York officials continue to monitor health workers who cared for him as well as other recent travelers from West Africa.

    That “doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods,” Frieden cautioned. Until the epidemic is ended in West Africa, “there is still the real possibility that other people with Ebola will be diagnosed in the U.S.”

    There’s bipartisan concern about Ebola and its threat to the U.S., and support for military and public health efforts at fighting the epidemic in West Africa. But Republicans have been critical of the Obama administration’s security measures at home and how it has helped states and hospitals prepare for cases since Liberian visitor Thomas Eric Duncan became the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. He died in Dallas; two nurses who treated him became infected but recovered.

    Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said he’s optimistic the spending package will pass quickly, and hopes it won’t get delayed by debate over such things as travel bans.

    “We need to keep on this task and to keep supporting” the military, government health workers and volunteers abroad while at the same time “making sure the United States has the resources and preparation and ability to keep us safe at home,” he said.

    Among the proposed spending:

    • $1.83 billion for the CDC, to be divided between fighting the epidemic in West Africa, ramping up U.S. preparedness and global health security — helping other vulnerable countries build the health systems and train their workers to spot and respond to early signs of outbreaks.
    • On the domestic front, the CDC would support more than 50 hospitals around the country designated as being capable of safely treating Ebola cases, train health workers and health departments how to screen for Ebola and handle suspect and confirmed cases, and buy protective equipment for the national stockpile.
    • Also included is $238 million for the National Institutes of Health for clinical trials of experimental vaccines and treatments.
    • The U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department would receive about $2 billion to further scale up assistance in West Africa.

    The post Health workers look to Congress for aid in Ebola fight appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a press conference in Beijing, China, after the 22nd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders conference, on Nov. 12. Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images

    U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a press conference in Beijing, China, after the 22nd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders conference, on Nov. 12. Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images

    President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping said Wednesday the two nations had come to an agreement on cutting carbon emissions.

    The United States and China are the top two emitters of greenhouse gases.

    President Obama said Wednesday the United States has set a new goal of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025.

    “This is an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal,” he said.

    The president had previously promised to lower emissions 17 percent by 2020.

    Xi agreed for the first time to a date of 2030 for peak carbon dioxide emissions and to increase the portion of non-fossil fuel energy consumption by about 20 percent by 2030.

    Their announcement followed statements at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York in September showing the two countries were on the same page in terms of reducing greenhouse gases.

    The pledges make way for further countries to sign on to a global climate agreement at a conference in Paris next year.

    In a sign of potential political pushback, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement: “Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners.”

    Environmental groups were cautiously optimistic. “These landmark commitments to curtail carbon pollution are a necessary, critical step forward in the global fight against climate change,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    The post U.S.-China deal on climate aims to cut emissions by 2025 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A November 2014 report claims education majors may be getting higher grades than they deserve. Photo by Ilmicrofono Oggiono.

    A new report claims education majors may be getting higher grades than they deserve. Photo by Ilmicrofono Oggiono.

    The Internet is teeming with advice for first-year teachers on how to navigate the challenges they’ll face in the classroom. Establish boundaries. Get to know your students outside the classroom. Challenge the most advanced students without leaving those who struggle behind.

    But how to do all of that and more shouldn’t be a mystery for new teachers to solve on their own, according to Kate Walsh, director of the National Council for Teacher Quality. A report out today from the group called “Easy A’s” argues new teachers find themselves floundering because many teacher prep programs aren’t challenging enough.

    “It’s the easiest major to get into on a college campus and we’ve just shown it’s the easiest to complete,” Walsh said in an interview with the NewsHour. “But it’s the hardest job there is.”

    Walsh’s claims are based on her group’s review of college graduation programs from more than 500 colleges and universities. On average, students in education departments on those campuses were 50 percent more likely to graduate with honors than students in other majors.

    Authors of the report also reviewed education class syllabi from 33 campuses and found two-thirds of assignments focused more on students’ reflections, opinions or personal experiences. A much higher portion of assignments compared to classes in other departments. That difference, according to the report, makes it more difficult for education instructors to give objective and constructive feedback and give uniform grades based on the specific skills and knowledge students are supposed to be developing.

    The need for more rigorous coursework and to ensure graduates are adequately prepared to teach on day one are well known to teacher preparation programs, according to Sharon Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

    But, in an interview with the NewsHour, Robinson said NCTQ’s method of document review was an unreliable way to judge programs’ quality.

    “This is a significant issue and one the professional community takes seriously,” Robinson said. “But they are not consulting the community, they’re consulting easily available documents like course syllabi.”

    Robinson said the NCTQ report comes as more than 500 teacher preparation programs and six states have adopted a pre-service assessment called edTPA to qualify candidates for teaching degrees or licenses. For edTPA candidates submit teaching materials portfolio, work of their students and video of the candidate teaching.

    In states that use the system for licensing purposes pass rates are reported to the federal government. That gives the test high stakes for future teachers and the institutions that train them.

    “It puts the programs on high alert that they have to change to do what they need to do to get candidates ready,” Robinson said. “It helps institutions learn and reflect on ways to improve programs and helps candidates become users of assessments to inform their own learning.”

    Walsh of NCTQ agreed a widely accepted assessment for future educators was a step in the right direction for the teaching profession, “but it’s not going to be able to satisfy everything we need to be able to know about what the candidates will need to do as a teacher.”

    Getting schools to examine how challenging their teaching classes are is an easy fix, Walsh said.

    “Any dean in any school of education or any institution anywhere could sit down with faculty and say ‘I want to look at quality of assignments you’re giving,’” she said, “and asking of institutions’ professors that they can compare one person’s work to another’s.”

    How to improve teacher preparation programs will only get more attention in coming months. The Department of Education is expected to release a proposal for rating teacher preparation sometime this fall.

    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 Are future teachers getting too many easy A’s? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ralph Peer in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Peer family archives

    Ralph Peer, seen here in the 1930s, popularized the genres of country, blues, jazz, gospel and Latin. His story begins in the era of the wind-up crank cylinder and ends in the age of color television. Photo courtesy of the Peer family archives

    During a two-week period late in the summer of 1927, a little-known producer named Ralph Peer recorded 77 songs in a hat warehouse he had converted to a studio. It would turn out to be a landmark moment, known as the Bristol Sessions, that Johnny Cash would later call “the single most important event in the history of country music.”

    Among the artists were the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, who recorded hits like “Single Girl, Married Girl” and “Sleep, Baby, Sleep” there. These songs launched them to stardom and their successes were only the beginning for Peer, who popularized the genres of country, blues, jazz, gospel and Latin music.

    Peer had already been recording “hillbilly” songs — what is now known as country — across the Southern United States for five years before the Tennessee recordings.

    Listen to The Carter Family sing “Single Girl, Married Girl,” recorded by Ralph Peer in 1927.

    Listen to Jimmie Rodgers sing “Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” recorded by Ralph Peer in 1927.

    A new book by music journalist Barry Mazor, “Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music,” released Nov. 3, follows the arc of both Peer’s life and the music industry.

    His story begins in the era of the wind-up crank cylinder and ends in the age of color television. In that span of time, he navigated performance rights and recording contracts, emphasizing that songwriters and producers each received their share of the profits.

    “I think Ralph Peer did more than anyone, any other one single person, to change the popular music we hear,” Mazor told Art Beat. “Yet people don’t necessarily know the name.”

    But the names of artists he worked with are recognized as musical greats: Mamie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Perez Prado, Buddy Holly. The list goes on.

    Listen to Hoagy Carmichael’s version of “Georgia on My Mind,” published by Ralph Peer in 1930.

    While Mazor was working on his previous book, “Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century,” he learned about Peer’s relationship to Rodgers. Mazor was fascinated by the man who recorded and produced so much of the music he personally enjoyed listening to and writing about.

    After Mazor published his Rodgers biography, Peer’s son offered the music journalist access to rooms full of previously unpublished documents from his father’s life, including personal papers and royalty statements, Peer’s wife’s diaries and his mother’s letters.

    The Carter Family "forged a river in a borrowed car to get to" Peer's Bristol Sessions, which launched them to stardom. Photo courtesy of the Peer family archives

    The Carter Family “forged a river in a borrowed car to get to” Peer’s Bristol Sessions, which launched them to stardom. Here, Jimmie Rodgers stands with the Carter Family in 1931. Photo courtesy of the Peer family archives

    Most previous writing about Peer’s life came from musician testimony. With no way to fact check those stories, historians retold them as the de facto truth. With access to Peer’s own written records, Mazor could read the music publisher’s side of the story.

    “It was an opportunity to tell an important story that had never been done,” Mazor said.

    The narrative of Peer’s career begins in the years leading up to World War II. He traveled the country, recording songs by musicians who were rooted to a place and imbued with its history. He brought their native music to the masses, recognizing that the public wanted “something new — built along the same lines,” as he wrote to folklorist John Greenway in 1955.

    Peer’s breakthrough was Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” in 1920. It was the first blues track with a black vocalist.

    Listen to Mammie Smith’s version of “Crazy Blues,” recorded by Ralph Peer in 1920.

    “It just took off like a rocket,” Mazor said. “It was like nothing anyone had heard before.”

    Peer consistently replicated that reaction over the entire course of his career.

    “Finding an untapped opportunity that worked — an audience unaddressed, a style of music under-explored, a new way to freshen what was already available — was precisely what excited Ralph Peer, spurred him to musical and music business experimentation, as the discovery of some new reaction or interaction might galvanize an applied scientist,” Mazor writes in the book.

    Later in his career, as WWII engulfed Europe and Asia, Peer traveled to Latin America and continued his pattern: publishing local songs and expanding their audience it was international. Soon, people were dancing to the Spanish lyrics of the Mexican romantic ballad “Besame Mucho” in Moscow and Tokyo.

    Listen to Consuelo Velázequez’s version of “Besame Mucho,” published by Ralph Peer in 1944.

    Peer also transformed how we listen to music. As a producer, he was one of the first to record artists on-site instead of taking them out of their environments and into an unfamiliar studio. Instead of looking for songs that could be easily transcribed to sheet music, where most of the industry made its money at the time, he paid attention to songs that relied on improvisation, the ones learned by careful listening and rote repetition, passed down as auditory tradition.

    To monetize those records, he helped create Broadcast Music, Inc., a performance rights organization that guaranteed musicians get paid when their songs are played. Since its founding in 1939, BMI has represented artists from Willie Nelson to Lil Wayne.

    Ralph Peer with Mexican female composer Consuelo Velazquez. Photo courtesy of the Peer Family Archives

    What began as a recording excursion to Mexico City in 1928 turned into a an intimate relationship between Ralph Peer and Latin music. Peer produced music with Consuelo Velazquez, who sang “Besame Mucho” when she hadn’t been kissed yet. Here Peer sits with Mexican female composer Consuelo Velazquez. The two are seated next to each other on the left of the photo. Photo courtesy of the Peer Family Archives

    As Mazor notes, Peer’s story is pertinent now, as the modern music industry bucks against the architecture of an old system. He watched the industry shift from singles to albums; today we’ve looped back to the single. Peer worked through how to finance music on the radio and television; today we’re figuring out how to pay artists when we listen online.

    Today’s music industry is also dealing with the question of authenticity. From Bing Crosby to Taylor Swift, pop music has a history of coming under fire for issues of appropriation.

    Ralph Peer with Walt Disney and José Carioca from the Disney animated movie "Saludos Amigos." Photo courtesy of the Peer family archives

    Peer also worked with Walt Disney to create the soundtrack for “Saludos Amigos,” Disney’s animated feature set in Latin America. Here Peer stands with Walt Disney and José Carioca, the star of “Saludos Amigos.” Photo courtesy of the Peer family archives

    “I think that’s something that’s missed when people set up the dichotomy that either it’s authentic folk music, really of the area, or it’s commercial music, which is really something else, as if hit pop music didn’t strike some chord with real people,” Mazor said. “Of course it does.”

    From a certain lens, Peer’s career could be seen as a legacy of appropriation: popularizing roots music meant changing it. He added repetitive choruses to the traditional version of “The Storms Are the Ocean;” cleaned up offensive language from the original version of Popeye’s theme song; and inserted English lyrics into Spanish folksongs.

    Without Peer’s influence, the modern music world would look very different. By adapting local music for a broader audience, he ensured its survival.

    “Traditional music lives as traditional music,” Mazor said. “Times moves on. Things change. if they don’t change, they die. So one of the ways it didn’t die was by popularizing it. Ralph Peer is as responsible for that as any single person. I don’t think it’s appropriation, I think it’s extension.”

    “Single Girl, Married Girl” by A.P Carter, The Carter Family. © 1927,1955. “Sleep, Baby, Sleep” by Jimmie Rodgers. © 1927. “Besame Mucho” by Consuelo Velázequez © 1941, 1968 by Promotora Hispano Americana de Musica. “Single Girl, Married Girl,” “Sleep, Baby, Sleep” and “Besame Mucho” published with permission of Peer International Corporation.

    “Georgia on My Mind” by Stuart Gorrell and Hoagy Carmichael © 1930. “Georgia on My Mind” published with permission of Peermusic III, Ltd. (BMI).

    “Crazy Blues” is in the public domain.

    The post The modern music industry was shaped by a man you’ve never heard of appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    crimepunishmentAccording to the Innocence Project, the average amount of prison time served by individuals who were wrongfully convicted of a crime and later exonerated is thirteen years. PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan recently spoke to exoneree Drew Whitley. Whitley served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Whitley lives in Pennsylvania, one of many U.S. states that offers no compensation to the wrongfully convicted. Among the 30 states that do offer compensation, the size and scope of compensation packages varies greatly. In many states, guilty prisoners who are paroled or released after serving out their time receive more comprehensive rehabilitation services (including medical care and job training) than prisoners who are proven innocent. Some exonerees choose to sue the state for adequate compensation, but the process is long and costly, and there is no guarantee that the judge will rule in their favor.

    The federal government offers exonerees $50,000 for each year spent in prison on a wrongful conviction. Should this same standard be enforced in all 50 states? What other programs should be put in place to ensure quality of life for the exonerated? What are the most effective ways to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place? Join a discussion of this topic on Twitter this Thursday, Nov. 13, from 1-2 p.m. EST.

    Award-winning investigative reporter and journalism professor Bill Moushey (@Bmoushey) will join the conversation. Moushey holds an M.S. in criminal justice administration, and has reported extensively on crime and punishment issues. In 2001, he founded the Innocence Institute at Point Park University, where he leads journalism students in investigations of wrongful convictions. Marissa Boyers Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project (@innocencepa) will also share her insights. Follow the conversation and chime in using #NewsHourChats.

    The post Twitter chat: What do we owe the wrongfully convicted? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    A hose sits on a dead lawn in front of a house on July 15, 2014 in San Francisco. Water theft has become a growing problem in California as drought conditions continue to worsen across the state. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    As drought conditions continue to persist in California, state authorities now have to deal with another threat: water theft.

    Water has become the unlikely subject of black market dealings in some the California’s worst-hit areas. With nearly 60 percent of the state currently experiencing exceptional drought — the highest level of drought designated by the U.S. Drought Monitor — and chances of a full recovery this winter looking unlikely, reports of water being stolen from private tanks or siphoned from public rivers are increasing.

    In one instance, thousands of gallons of water were stolen from a fire station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains — a station that provides protection to the surrounding community and forest from wildfires. In fact, the discovery came at the peak of wildfire season, worrying officials and community members about the dangerous implications of such thefts.

    One of the other major culprits in California’s rising water thefts appears to be illegal marijuana cultivation. Particularly in rural areas of Northern California, large scale illegal grow operations have been discovered siphoning billions of gallons of water from nearby rivers and streams. Many of these these sites are operating out of state and national parks, where environmental damage is an additional concern.

    In some counties and communities, local authorities have set up hotlines and patrols in an attempt to prevent water theft. Punishments vary, but often range from mere misdemeanor charges to fines of $25. Even still, it is difficult to identify thieves without catching them in the act.

    Recently, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-California, announced the U.S. Sentencing Committee had finalized the guidelines for the Protecting Lands Against Narcotics Trafficking Act. Huffman introduced the bill last year in an effort to increase the punishment for those creating trespass marijuana grow sites.

    “Especially this year, the worst drought year California has ever seen, it’s more important than ever to crack down on water theft,” Rep. Huffman told NBC Bay Area.

    Huffman represents California’s northernmost district, where illegal sites are a particular problem. While cultivation of illegal drugs on federal land is already illegal, the new guidelines — which took effect Nov. 1 — will count environmental damage such as water diversion and the removal of vegetation as criminal offenses.

    The post Water theft in California heightens state drought concerns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The European Space Agency celebrates the historic cosmic achievement of the first-ever comet landing Wednesday. Scientists hope the Philae probe, which is currently resting on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, can provide clues into the origins of the universe. Video via AP

    Updated 1:15 p.m. EST

    The European Space Agency celebrated a first-ever achievement Wednesday after landing a spacecraft on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

    The successful touchdown of the Philae lander marked the end of 10-year, 4-billion-mile journey for the Rosetta spacecraft that culminated in a seven-hour countdown between Philae’s launch from the craft and its landing on the comet’s surface.

    “We are the first to have done that,” ESA director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain said in an address livestreamed by the agency, “and that will stay forever.”

    Updated November 12, 2014 at 10:47 a.m. EST

    After months of orbiting its target, the Rosetta spacecraft is finally ready to fulfill its mission: landing a probe on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

    Scientists have yet to successfully land anything on a comet. If Rosetta can successfully deploy its Philae lander on Wednesday, it would be the first mission to achieve such a feat.

    It would also be the pinnacle of a decades-long journey for the European Space Agency, the organization behind the Rosetta mission. The ESA spent ten years planning and building the spacecraft before launching it on an additional ten-year trip — sending it through outer space for its meetup with Comet 67P. It’s the most complex mission the agency has ever undertaken, and it’s about to enter its most complex phase.

    Image by DLR German Aerospace Center

    The Rosetta spacecraft will soon attempt to land a probe on the surface of a comet. If successful, it would be the first mission to achieve such a feat. Image by DLR German Aerospace Center

    Landing Philae properly on the comet won’t be easy, as Stephan Ulamec, manager of the landing mission, points out.

    “You plan for 20 years and then, in the end, you realize the probe you have worked on may touch down on a nice flat area and you are fine or it could move 10 meters to one side and hit a boulder and everything is lost,” Ulamec said. “Twenty years of my career — and those of my colleagues — will be boiled down to those few seconds. So, yes, it will certainly get emotional in the control room as we wait for a signal to say Philae has landed safely.”

    “The landing is so difficult,” U.S. Rosetta project manager Art Chmielewski told the PBS NewsHour in August. “So, so difficult. It’s definitely one of the hardest things humankind has ever done.” The comet is currently soaring through space at 36,000 mph, meaning Rosetta has to maintain the exact same speed alongside it, then try to drop the probe into an area that is slightly more than half a square mile.

    Chmielewski likened the landing to grabbing a mosquito by the wings — except the mosquito is in New York, and somebody is working the controls from Los Angeles.

    Assuming the probe does land successfully, it would mean the start of significant data collection. Researchers hope to learn how a comet is put together, what its surface is like and how it changes as it hurtles towards the sun.

    For a more in-depth look at the Rosetta mission, read our Science Wednesday piece from August. And for live updates on the comet landing, check out the mission’s website.

    The post Philae lander successfully touches down on comet in historic cosmic achievement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user goldlionpics.

    Photo by Flickr user goldlionpics.

    Editor’s Note: The open enrollment period for Medicare extends to Dec. 7. To help readers navigate this complicated process, Making Sen$e turns to journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on health and retirement, to answer your Medicare questions in a new column on this page, “Ask Phil, the Medicare Maven.” Read Phil’s past columns and keep sending your questions.

    Phil Moeller is a research fellow at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College and co-author of “How to Live to 100.” Follow him on Twitter @PhilMoeller or e-mail him at medicarephil@gmail.com.

    Millions of Medicare enrollees are unfamiliar with a key feature of Medicare that could save them money on their prescriptions. Sound too good to be true?


    Ask Phil Here

    Well, there are catches, of course. You must meet the financial qualifications. But you may be surprised to learn that the income standards have become more generous in recent years.

    The Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy program, otherwise known as “Extra Help,” helps people pay their Medicare prescription drug bills. Those bills are so expensive that nearly 12 million people with a Part D Medicare drug plan, or more than 30 percent of all Part D participants, received low-income subsidies last year of nearly $40 billion, a Medicare spokesman says. Low-income Medicare premium subsidies totaled another $7.5 billion.

    Medicare enrollees with incomes below the federal poverty level who qualify for Extra Help support usually pay no premium or deductible for their Part D plans. Their total payment for drugs is limited to $3.60 for brand-name medicines and $1.20 for generics. Payments are higher for people whose incomes are above the federal poverty level but still low enough to qualify for Extra Help.

    As big as the Extra Help program has become, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that as many as 2 million more Medicare enrollees qualify for this help but either don’t know about it, think it doesn’t apply to them, or simply haven’t bothered to ask. They, or you, as the case may be, shouldn’t rule it out especially since the definition of low income has become more generous of late.


    How to plug holes in your Medicare coverage

    To qualify, your annual income must be less than $17,505 a year ($23,595 for a married couple). But you can get an unlimited amount of money to help you pay for household expenses – from relatives, friends or others – and it does not count as income.

    Your financial resources must be less than $13,440 ($26,860 for a married couple). But life insurance policies no longer count against your total financial resources. Neither do your home, vehicles and personal possessions.

    There are other exclusions to the income and resource cutoffs, so if you think you’re too well off to qualify for Extra Help you may not be. Maybe qualifying is bittersweet, but getting help with your drug bills should be a good thing. The qualification process is run by Social Security (it handles a lot of administrative work for Medicare). You can apply online or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users: 1-800-325-0778).

    If you do plan to apply for Extra Help (there is no cost or obligation), you should first round up your personal financial information, tax returns and details of any Social Security benefits you are receiving. In other words, the process may take some time.

    Also, Extra Help is automatically provided to people on Medicare who also are on Medicaid, or who also collect Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. If this applies to you, don’t apply for Extra Help.


    How to find a Medicare Part D drug plan online

    Extra Help may have you either congratulating Washington for being kind-hearted or lamenting yet another building block of the welfare state. Before you do either, though, consider that when the government created Part D plans about a decade ago, the drug industry carved a big notch on its belt when Medicare was denied the right to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices for consumers.

    Medicare has the market clout to achieve substantial savings for consumers, but it’s not allowed to do so. Instead, health insurers negotiate with drug companies to determine prescription costs. I’m as sure as you are that they drive a very, very hard bargain. Anyway, when all this tough negotiating is done, we (as in taxpayers) fork over $47 billion a year to private insurance companies for Part D drug and related plan subsidies. Well done, you negotiators out there!

    Further, to soften the impact of high prices on lower-income seniors, Medicare rules have created a set of perverse incentives. A recent Congressional Budget Office study finds that Medicare’s LIS (geekspeak for low-income subsidy) rules have caused Part D drug insurers to game Medicare rules to exploit the low-income market.

    They do so by offering plans with premiums that they know are very likely to be low enough to be fully covered by Extra Help. An effective premium of zero draws low-income customers who pay too much attention to low premiums and not enough to other plan charges. But this premium is also low enough to formally entitle the insurance plan to automatically gain a share of low-income customers assigned to different plans by Medicare.

    Having attracted low-income customers, insurers then face the reality that Extra Help recipients have little if any reason to be cost-conscious drug consumers. Those with full subsidies pay nothing for their coverage and a pittance for even brand name drugs. Plans serving this market thus may be forced to apply heavy-handed rules to limit plan members’ access to expensive drugs. As so often happens with even well-intentioned regulations, unintended consequences can make everyone unhappy with the outcome. In this instance, insurers and pharmaceutical firms get black marks with consumers, who in turn feel unfairly denied access to needed drugs.

    The post The Medicare drug subsidy that millions of enrollees overlook appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Michael Brown parents

    The parents of 18-year-old African American Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, testified before a UN committee against torture Tuesday.

    Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. joined a delegation that took the events surrounding their son’s killing to an international forum, listing several recommendations for the United Nations Committee Against Torture to help “end racial profiling and police brutality against people of color” in the United States.

    The testimony was closed to the public, but among the recommendations in their written statement, Brown’s parents called for the immediate arrest of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who killed their son.

    The statement also said the police force used against the Ferguson protests following Michael Brown’s death should prompt the Justice Department to “conduct a nationwide investigation of systematic police brutality and harassment in black and brown communities, and youth in particular.”

    Speaking from Geneva, Switzerland, Brown’s mother told CNN on Wednesday that “we have to bring it to the U.N. so they can expose it to the rest of the world, what’s going on in small town Ferguson.”

    Grand duty deliberations are expected later this November, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, on whether Wilson would be indicted for the Aug. 9 killing of Brown.

    The post Ahead of grand jury decision, Michael Brown’s parents testify before UN committee appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Lights of ideas

    (Photo by Flickr user Saad Faruque)

    The mental workout of constantly balancing two competing vocabularies makes it easier for bilinguals to process information, according to a new study published in Brain and Language on Wednesday.

    The research, conducted by brain structure specialist Viorica Marian of Northwestern University, suggests foregoing Sudoko because “speaking multiple languages routinely exercises the brain.”

    Bilingualism, or the brain’s ability to accommodate two languages, means your brain is perpetually working to tune out one messaging system. When someone can think equally well in more than one set of words, your cognition skills sharpen.

    Marian asked her subjects (17 Spanish – English and 18 English monolinguals) to match a spoken word with one of four pictures. Objects in the pictures were phonetically similar, for example “candle” and “candy.” Using fMRI tests (functional magnetic resonance imaging,) Marian and her team found that monolinguals had higher blood flow to the brain when performing mental exercises. The measured increase in oxygen for the monolinguals during the tasks signaled their brains were working harder.

    Both languages are “active” in the brain, with a wealth of words to choose from. Their processing system is always in gear, which results in a “more efficient deployment of neural resources,” the study concludes.

    Marian’s findings can be compared to what she found in a report published last month in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. It suggested bilingual children were better at ignoring classroom noise.

    “Whether we’re driving or performing surgery, it’s important to focus on what really matters and ignore what doesn’t,” Mariana believes.

    It appears that bilingual speakers have a competitive advantage.

    The professor adds, “Bilinguals are always giving the green light to one language and red to another. When you do that all the time, you get really good at inhibiting the words you don’t need.”

    The post Speaking two languages is better for your brain than Sudoko appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    TOUCHDOWN monitor

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: It was a historic first for space exploration.

    The European Space Agency landed a small spacecraft, one the size of a washing machine, on a moving comet speeding through the solar system. The Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae lander took this photo of the comet as it descended. Precision was everything. For the smaller lander you see here, an error of one inch could have thrown the lander more than 850 feet off course.

    Tom Clarke of Independent Television News has a report on the day’s events.

    TOM CLARKE: Some of these scientists waited 20 years for this moment. Then they had to wait some more. Traveling at the speed of light, a message from the Philae lander took nearly half-an-hour to cover the 300 million miles from the comet to Earth.

    But come it did and, with it, space history.

    STEPHAN ULAMEC, Philae Lander Manager: The first thing he told us was that the harpoons have been fired, rewound, and the landing gear has been moved in time. So we are sitting on the surface.

    TOM CLARKE: Putting the lander’s mother ship, Rosetta, into orbit around a comet was audacious enough. 67P, as the comet is known, is tumbling end over end at 40,000 miles an hour.

    But to land a 100-kilogram spacecraft on its forbidding surface, only a few had dared to dream of.

    DAVID PARKER, U.K. Space Agency: Science fiction has become science fact today. Or a better way maybe is, Hollywood is good, but Rosetta is better.


    JIM GREEN, NASA: How audacious. How exciting. How unbelievable to be able to dare to land on a comet.

    TOM CLARKE: The Rosetta spacecraft, which carried the lander, was built here but by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage. Their main business is making satellites and carefully avoiding mishaps. Rosetta and its lander were almost unthinkably risky.

    RALPH CORDEY, Airbus Defence and Space: When we look at this image, we can see some areas that look kind of benign and kind of smooth. But we can also see big boulders and cliffs. This is not going to be an easy area to land on.

    TOM CLARKE: Despite a successful touchdown, the lander team uncertain how securely Philae is anchored to the comet’s surface. In the last hour, it sent these images of its final descent, the closest we have ever had of a comet. But whether the probe is working as it should is as yet unclear.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Doesn’t look very friendly.

    PBS will present a special documentary called “To Catch a Comet” that takes you behind the scenes of the Rosetta mission. It will air on many stations next Wednesday. But you can watch it now online at PBS.org.

    The post Scientists who dared to land on a comet score a touchdown appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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