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- 11/30/14--11:53: _Will new student lo...
- 11/30/14--12:31: _Generations apart, ...
- 11/30/14--13:16: _Spending behaviors ...
- 11/30/14--13:45: _Clashes intesify be...
- 12/01/14--11:55: _Collect your Social...
- 12/01/14--12:05: _Obama proposes body...
- 12/01/14--12:49: _Can teaching Kenyan...
- 12/01/14--12:56: _What does the salty...
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- 12/01/14--15:50: _News Wrap: U.S. tro...
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- 11/30/14--11:53: Will new student loan options make a dent in debt?
- 11/30/14--12:31: Generations apart, Ozark musicians find friendship through fiddling
- 11/30/14--13:16: Spending behaviors shift over holiday shopping weekend
- 11/30/14--13:45: Clashes intesify between police and protesters in Hong Kong
- 12/01/14--11:55: Collect your Social Security as if you may live to 100
- 12/01/14--12:05: Obama proposes body-worn cameras for police
- 12/01/14--12:49: Can teaching Kenyan girls to save money also save them from HIV?
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- 12/01/14--13:19: Using Blu-ray discs to improve solar cell technology
- 12/01/14--15:05: Google’s Chromebook wins over classrooms; ousts Apple’s iPad
- 12/01/14--15:22: Bill Cosby resigns from Temple University board
- 12/01/14--15:35: Philadelphia schools aim to innovate to escape crisis
HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS ANCHOR: Student debt is something millions of Americans live with for years — even decades after they graduate college. Now, two of the nation’s largest private student lenders are rolling out options that will allow borrowers to modify the terms on their loans.
For more about the significance of this, we’re joined now by Marian Wang, a reporter with ProPublica and by AnnaMaria Andriotis. She is with the Wall Street Journal.
So AnnaMaria, let me start with you. Explain the change. What kinds of modifications are we talking about? Who does this apply to?
ANNAMARIA ANDRIOTIS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So we’re talking about declines in the interest rates that student loan borrowers are paying. And this announcement came out of Wells Fargo this past week. Wells Fargo is the second largest private student lender, and what they have decided to start doing is to lower the monthly payment by essentially lowering the interest rate to as low as one percent for borrowers.
That’s significant because actually many borrowers have private student loans with interest rates that are 10 percent or higher than that. So what they’re starting to see is significant declines in what they’re paying monthly.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And banks didn’t want to do this. Why did they go forward with this?
ANNAMARIA ANDRIOTIS: This is a significant turnaround, and there’s a lot of discussion as to what has led to it. What we know is that over the past couple of years the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been applying a lot of pressure on private lenders, basically telling them that they need to start offering repayment options similar to what the federal government offers on its loans. The federal government offers a lot of flexibility for borrowers, in particular those who don’t have high salaries.
So there’s been a lot of back and forth between the CFPB and private lenders. In addition, from the private lender side, what we have started hearing is that there have been a lot of internal discussions at banks about how do we increase loan revenue going forward? If we alienate student borrowers — people who are right now in their 20s and early 30s — down the road when it comes time for them to get a mortgage or when they’re looking to establish some type of banking relationship, we might not get those borrowers. They might go somewhere else.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right, right, right. So Marian, put this population in perspective for us. Because as she mentioned, the federal loans have already been doing some of this in the past. And how much can an average kind of borrower save if they qualify for this modification, do you think?
MARIAN WANG, PROPUBLICA: Well, just to give a little more context, the pool of private student loan borrowers is vastly outnumbered by the pool of federal student loan borrowers. And the feds originate a vast majority of student loan debt. And you’re absolutely right that the feds have for a long time offered income-based repayment plans, things that will help you sort of scale your monthly payments to something that’s reasonable for you if you qualify for those programs.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. So is there an idea, is there kind of a benchmark that they know about what income level this is going to hit someone at, and if they go from 10 percent to one percent, that’s obviously a significant saving, but it also, I guess, depends on how much they have in debt, right?
ANNAMARIA ANDRIOTIS: Sure, so what Wells Fargo, at least, has said is it’s going to look at their overall debt by looking at the borrowers credit reports and they’re looking at their income, and they’re hoping to come to something like a monthly payment that equals about 10 to 15 percent of their income.
Now, what’s also interesting is that Discover, which is the third largest private student lender in the country, is also planning on rolling out loan modifications early next year. What we’ve heard from them is there are potentially even more significant breaks that are being considered. For instance, loan forgiveness, which is something totally unheard of that a private lender would have never even considered up until recently.
And it’s important to point out that private student borrowers, though dealing with a lot of difficulties, as Marian pointed out, are a small share of the overall borrowers out there. So private student loan debt accounts for about eight percent of outstanding student loans. We’ve seen a lot of back and forth between lenders and the CFPB. Lenders are saying, why are you picking on us when the federal government accounts for the majority of that out there.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, so Marian, what about the role that parents play in this? A lot of parents take out private personal loans on top of whatever the financial aid package is that the university can give, right?
MARIAN WANG: Well, yeah, and there’s actually a federal program that’s specifically geared at parents that I did a report on a couple years ago. It’s interesting because federal student loans to students in particular are capped at a certain level. You can only borrow so much in a year. And so, there’s not a lot of underwriting and that’s why there’s a cap.
This federal program for borrowing specifically geared toward parents, actually it’s called the Parent Plus program, and that’s an interesting program because those programs aren’t capped. You can take as much out as you need. There’s very limited underwriting for those loans. And that program is interesting because you see a lot of the financial strain that families face through that program because it’s not capped.
And so you can see more parents taking out more loans, taking out larger loans through this program over time. You’ve really seen it especially in the last five years.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So are those loans through the Parent Plus Program at greater risk for default if, say for example, a parent may not have a steady income coming in but they still qualify to take out a huge loan to get their kids through school.
MARIAN WANG: Absolutely. That’s something we looked at. There’s very limited underwriting where they don’t look at your debt-to-income ratio, like a private lender would. And they can take out vast amounts of money, as much as they need, essentially, to help their kid out, and a lot of parents do. That’s absolutely a thing that parents can get overextended in doing so.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the roles that colleges and universities play in this too? I mean, there doesn’t seem to be that much transparency in figuring out exactly what the financial aid package is and why once student got this much and another student got this much, when perhaps their parents made the same, right?
ANNAMARIA ANDRIOTIS: Well, what’s playing out, the reason why we’re seeing more borrowers, more students come out of school with more debt is because college tuition costs keep rising, right? And what become very confusing for families is when financial aid packages go out to students. And most schools, what they do is they include student loans as part of the financial aid package — federal student loans, that is — but one would argue is to how much of aid is a student loan when a student loan is something you have to pay back. It’s not like grants or scholarships, for example.
So colleges for sure do play a large role here. And there’s been this ongoing debate about why should, for instance, the federal government keep giving out more and more aid? It’s essentially incentivizing the colleges to continue increasing their tuition because they’re saying, well, the money’s got to come from somewhere, someone’s going to pay for it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.
MARIAN WANG: And to your question, too, I think absolutely, schools need to be brought into this. Schools have their own pot of financial aid, essentially. And there’s a sticker price, but they discount it heavily depending on what kind of student you are. And so they have your financial information and they are essentially moneyballing financial aid these days.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Explain that.
MARIAN WANG: There’s a whole industry called enrollment management. There didn’t used to be enrollment managers at schools, you know, two decades ago. But that’s a position that’s sort of been created, essentially to use data, to really create detailed student profiles and do what they call — this is all jargon — but it’s “financial aid leveraging.” How does the school get the biggest bang for its financial aid dollar?
And sometimes that means they’re essentially picking students that they are OK having overborrow, versus students whom they really want and will generally try to protect from having to borrow. And so they’re trying to incentivize certain students coming and certain students they care less about and they’re more comfortable, honestly packaging a student loan in that financial aid package. And that’s a decision that schools are making, picking which students essentially get more, and which students will have to borrow more.
And I think that should definitely be put on schools. The other thing I think is really important to bring up is that it’s on schools to make sure that kids are graduating on time with a meaningful degree. And the surest way to get in over your head with student debt is to drop out and have debt for college and nothing to show for it. You don’t have that credential. You don’t have that higher earning power.
That’s a huge source of debt, and that’s really a terrible situation for a student to be in. The other thing is graduating on time. It’s a sure way to get more debt if you stay six years versus your peer who’s able to get out in four.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Marian Wang from ProPublica and AnnaMaria Andriotis from the Wall Street Journal, thanks so much for joining us.
ANNAMARIA ANDRIOTIS: Thank you.
MARIAN WANG: Thanks for having us.
The post Will new student loan options make a dent in debt? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
BETSE ELLIS, FIDDLER: When I fell in love with fiddle music, I fell so hard, and I turned away from pretty much all other genres of music for years. And it was only a few years into that first flush of loving traditional fiddle music that I met Violet.
And I hadn’t spent too much time with elder generation players before that, I had met a few. I had been really excited by some of those meetings and inspired by other Ozark fiddlers in particular, actually, but I didn’t have that many inspirations who were female.
And meeting Violet and this really strong lady, that first meeting was so impactful and she was so welcoming, and she cared enough to spend time with me.
VIOLET HENSLEY, FIDDLE MAKER AND MUSICIAN: I am Violet Hensley. I’m called the “Whittlin’ Fiddler” because I’ve made 73 fiddles — made fiddles and played fiddle. I wanted to play the fiddle, I guess, because we didn’t have anything else to do. But we didn’t have television or radio. And Dad played it, and I guess it just struck me as I wanted to play.
I can’t read, I’m not a musician. I just learned it — it’s in my head. If I can’t play it in my head, I can’t put it on the fiddle.
(On stage): I like this lady right here, too. We’ve been friends all of our life, but we didn’t know it until we met about 10 years ago.
BETSE ELLIS: Learning a tune from Violet gives me the opportunity to see the whole picture literally. I like to think of fiddle tunes as melody. The notes come in the ears, and then the bowing comes in to the eyes.
And so I can sit there and watch Violet and see the circles that she draws — the little handwriting, as she calls it, with her wrists — and I can see how that has an impact on the overall tune.
VIOLET HENSLEY: Yeah, she’s trying to copy my bow work. It just happens to be my arm’s way of doing things. I developed that over the years of playing. I used to play, my dad was kind of a stiff arm fiddler. I’m still going to teach her some more.
BETSE ELLIS: Well, Violet has her own approach to these tunes, so some of them are so unique that I’ve never heard the likes of them anywhere else. There are some tunes that come directly from her family.
You know, Violet and her existence and her example she puts out everywhere, it’s also a great reminder to appreciate those who have lived very different lives from our own, people who’ve lived longer than we have and the multitude of lessons we can get from them.
The post Generations apart, Ozark musicians find friendship through fiddling appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
ALISON STEWART: Experts expect tomorrow’s so-called Cyber Monday sales to see an uptick over last year, but will it be enough for businesses to consider the extended shopping weekend a success?
For some insight, we’re joined now by Shelly Banjo of The Wall Street Journal.
And, Shelly, let’s just talk about the numbers, the sheer numbers.
ALISON STEWART: What kind of spending went on? And when did it happen, given so many stores opened on Thursday?
SHELLY BANJO: Sure.
So, we’re seeing spending online skyrocket, just up double digits, just the same as last year, really going above years past in both Thanksgiving and on Friday and throughout the weekend.
Different numbers have come out vs. how the brick-and-mortar retailers have fared, but pretty much on par with last year.
ALISON STEWART: Let’s talk about that brick-and-mortar vs. online debate. For a while, it seemed that brick-and-mortars were a thing of the past; everyone was shopping online.
Is that the case for this year?
SHELLY BANJO: I think that online people definitely were shopping more, but people still went out to the store.
So, I went out to a Wal-Mart on Thursday night at — after Thanksgiving, and the lines were out the door so much that I couldn’t even get in.
So, obviously, that’s anecdotal evidence, but you’re definitely still seeing people show up and go to the stores.
ALISON STEWART: Did the Thursday openings, did that have an impact on the Black Friday sales and Saturday?
SHELLY BANJO: I think it just shifts it.
So, I think what is starting to happen is that you can’t really look at just the Black Friday numbers, because when you’re having sales all week, especially on, you know, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, you can’t just look at the Black Friday numbers in isolation.
ALISON STEWART: So, this has become more of a marathon, rather than that — that sprint on Friday.
SHELLY BANJO: Right. Right.
ALISON STEWART: So interesting.
I wanted to get your take on the idea of the sort of packaging of this weekend, that you have Black Friday, and then Small Business Saturday, and then today is Good Shopping Sunday, where some stores are offering a percentage to charities. And then tomorrow is Cyber Monday.
Is this actually reflect people’s behaviors and their wants, or is just a marketing ploy to have retailers just continue to have people focused on shopping?
SHELLY BANJO: Right. I think it’s probably a little bit of both.
I think that a lot of people are — are coming to expect deals. But I asked one of the Wal-Mart executives this question, and he said, you know, I can’t — let’s just call it November at this point… you know, because it’s like every single day, there’s some sort of sale, some sort of marketing gimmick.
And not only are you having sales, but then you’re also getting personalized e-mails telling you to come in, get an extra 10 percent off.
So, it’s just about messaging and continuing the hammering down to the consumers, you know, now is the time to get a deal to keep them coming in the doors and shopping.
ALISON STEWART: There’s also an interesting statistic out there, that people are shopping for themselves initially, that they’re self-gifting.
Is this good news for the economy and good news for the shopping season, or what is it — or is it just an effect of the economy, that people are waiting to buy things themselves until they go on sale?
SHELLY BANJO: I think people are — are waiting to buy things for themselves to go on sale, especially things like phones, laptops, televisions.
Seeing a ton of consumer electronics this year, which is rare and interesting, because consumer electronics haven’t actually been doing that well.
And so a lot of people have been buying these things for themselves and waiting because they know that this discount is going to come now.
ALISON STEWART: Traditionally, there’s a lull after this five-day period. What is the forecast?
SHELLY BANJO: I think it’s going to be a struggle for retailers to keep shoppers coming in.
They have got three — three or four weeks now until Christmas. And there’s generally a huge kind of run-up in Black Friday weekend and then the Saturday before Christmas. And, in between, that’s when the real fight, I think, is going to be fought.
ALISON STEWART: You were saying that 10 and 15 percent doesn’t cut it anymore with a sale.
SHELLY BANJO: Yes.
You know, you see these signs now 40 percent off, 50 percent off in October. So, why am I going to be excited about 10 or 15 percent off at a store?
ALISON STEWART: Shelly Banjo from The Wall Street Journal, thank you for being with us.
SHELLY BANJO: Thanks.
The post Spending behaviors shift over holiday shopping weekend appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Protests turned violent early Monday morning in Hong Kong as pro-democracy activists clashed with police near government headquarters over protesters’ demands for free elections for Hong Kong’s next leader.
The protests gained momentum Sunday night when student leaders urged protesters to surround city government offices before the start of the work day on Monday, the New York Times reported.
Police used pepper spray to disperse protesters who were using umbrellas for protection. The umbrellas have become a symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Twenty-eight people were arrested on Friday and Saturday as a result of the clashes, Reuters reported.
— Alex Ogle (@Alex_Ogle) November 30, 2014
The protests in Hong Kong represent the greatest challenge to the China’s Communist Party party since the 1989 Tiananmen protests in Beijing.
“It is by far the first serious challenge domestically to President Xi Jinping,” Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group told NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff in September. “It really is directly a question of the legitimacy and the support of what’s so far been a very popular, very charismatic and very transformative rule.”
The post Clashes intesify between police and protesters in Hong Kong appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff has spent every week, for over two years, answering questions about what is likely your largest financial asset — your Social Security benefits. His Social Security original 34 “secrets”, his additional secrets, his Social Security “mistakes” and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we feature “Ask Larry” every Monday. Find a complete list of his columns here. And keep sending us your Social Security questions.
Kotlikoff’s state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its “basic” version. His new book, “Get What’s Yours — the Secrets of Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits,” (co-authored with Paul Solman and Making Sen$e Medicare columnist Phil Moeller) will be published in February by Simon & Schuster.
Laura — Calif.: I’m single, with no family, and I just turned 62. I am hoping I can find work and that I’m able to work until age 70. According to my estimated benefits, at age 70 I will receive $1,730 a month. I have lived in California most of my life and would prefer to stay, but it does not seem realistic to live on that amount of money. Any advice for increasing benefits? What about the start, stop, start strategy?
GOT SOCIAL SECURITY QUESTIONS?
Larry Kotlikoff: You can start your benefit now, but it will be reduced relative to your age-66 full retirement benefit by 25 percent. When you reach age 66 and not a day before, you can suspend your retirement benefit and start it up again at, say, 70. It will be increased from its 25-percent-reduced level by 32 percent (after inflation) when you restart it at 70. Therefore, if your full retirement benefit in today’s dollars is $1,000 per month, your benefit through age 66 will be, again in today’s dollars, $750 per month. Between 66 and 70, it will be zero, and after age 70, it will be $750 per month times 1.32 — or $990 per month.
If you don’t take your retirement benefit early and wait until 70 to collect it, your benefit starting at 70 will be $1,320 per month.
Based on your estimated age-70 benefit amount of $1730, your full retirement benefit appears to be $1,311 per month, or 32 percent lower. And your age-62 benefit appears to be $983 per month, or 25 percent lower than your age-66 benefit. That’s miles lower than the $1,730 per month you can collect at age 70. There is, therefore, a very big incentive to wait until 70 to collect if at all possible.
To quote Bob Dylan, “Tomorrow is a long time.”
If you live to 100, which is increasingly likely for middle class Americans in decent health, you’ll be extremely happy you waited until age 70 to collect.
Note that if you take your retirement benefit early and suspend it at full retirement age or, indeed, if you take it at full retirement age, but immediately suspend it, you’ll have the option to take suspended benefits in a lump sum, but your retirement benefit thereafter will continue at the level it was at the time of suspension.
MORE FROM MAKING SEN$E
I’m assuming, as you suggested, that you were never married or were married for less than 10 years so you can’t collect benefits on an ex-spouse. If you could, the optimal strategy could be very different depending on your ex’s age, if he’s alive, whether and when he died, whether he collected his own retirement benefit early, and how much he earned.
My best advice is to look hard for a job, file and suspend at 66, keep working until 70, and restart your retirement benefit at 70 at its highest possible value.
Nathan — Penn.: I am age 66 and I am not sure I should take my Social Security now.
My wife is age 55 and we file jointly. I earn over $150,000 a year and she earns $50,000 a year. I own my own successful business. Should I wait until age 70? Will I lose my Social Security benefit to taxes?
Larry Kotlikoff: The best option is surely for you to wait until you are 70 to collect your retirement benefit and for your wife to file for just her spousal benefit when she reaches full retirement age and for her own retirement benefit at age 70.
John — Calif.: I retired at age 57 (I am now 61) with a State of California CalPERS lifetime defined-benefit pension. I also qualify for Social Security benefits at a reduced amount due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) under Social Security law. I have 22 years of significant earning under Social Security and do not plan on working in the future so no earnings will be accrued toward Social Security benefits.
My question is this: I am aware that under Social Security, my primary insurance amount (PIA) at 66 is either reduced if I take benefits early or increased if I wait past full retirement age. But what about my wife’s benefits? She is seven years younger than I am. She has no work history so will qualify for spousal/dependent or survivor Social Security benefits only under my earnings. If I wait to collect my benefits, does the basis for calculating her benefits go up as well, or are they set at my PIA at normal retirement age no matter when I start collecting my benefits?
Larry Kotlikoff: Your wife’s spousal benefit will be based on your PIA (your full retirement benefit), which will be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision. But since you have 22 years of significant earnings it won’t be reduced by that much.
Her spousal benefit will not be reduced if you take your Social Security retirement benefit early because, again, her spousal benefit is based not on your actual benefit but on your PIA.
A very precise commercial benefit calculator can tell you precisely what you and she will receive taking into account your years of significant earnings.
Note that if you haven’t yet begun taking your non-covered pension, the Windfall Elimination Provision won’t apply until you start taking it.
Now, if you should die, your wife’s widow benefit may not be affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision. The Windfall Elimination Provision is not used to calculate your PIA after you die. On the other hand, if you take your own retirement benefit early, the actual retirement benefit you receive, which is based on your PIA inclusive of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), will enter into the special and complicated RIB-LIM formula that is used to calculate widow(er) benefits of spouses as well as divorced spouses (who were married for 10-plus years) of decedent workers who filed for early retirement benefits.
This RIB-LIM formula, which I’ve written about in the past, can make your wife’s widows benefit depend on when precisely you take your early retirement benefit as well as the value of your early retirement benefit.
Given that your wife is seven years younger than you, you must carefully consider the widows benefit she will lose if you take your retirement benefit before age 70. Again, the right calculator can show you what she will get based on different dates of your death.
I’m assuming your wife will not collect a pension from non-covered earnings. If she did, the Government Pension Offset Provision would reduce her spousal as well as her widows benefit by two-thirds of her non-covered pension.
Donna — R.I.: My husband died four years ago at age 62. I am 60 and working full time with an annual income of approximately $100,000. I hope to continue working for another five years. My husband never applied for Social Security. His income was less than mine. Am I eligible for any benefits from his Social Security or should I just wait for mine when I retire?
Larry Kotlikoff: Very sorry for your loss. You are eligible to collect a widows benefit starting at age 60, but it will be wiped out by Social Security’s earnings test given how much you earn. Your best strategy appears to be to wait until full retirement age, when the earnings test goes away. At that point you should take just your widows benefit while letting your own retirement benefit continue to grow through age 70 thanks to Social Security’s delayed retirement credits. At 70 you’ll take your own retirement benefit. If your age-70 retirement benefit exceeds you widows benefit, you’ll receive it. Otherwise, you’ll continue to collect your widows benefit. The reason is that once you start collecting your retirement and widows benefit at the same time, you receive the larger of the two benefits.
Note, and this is really, really important: You do not want to file for and suspend your retirement benefit at full retirement age. You simply want to file for your widows benefit and wait until 70 to file for your retirement benefit. If you do file for your retirement benefit at full retirement age and suspend its collection, you’ll fall into one of Social Security’s nasty gotcha traps. You’ll receive only your excess widows benefit, not your full widows benefit between full retirement age and 70. Your excess widows benefit is the difference between your widows benefit and your own retirement benefit. If this difference is negative, your excess widows benefit will be set to zero. So you stand the chance of wiping out or greatly reducing your widows benefit for all the months between your full retirement age and age 70 just because you mistakenly filed for and suspended your retirement benefit.
The post Collect your Social Security as if you may live to 100 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama wants to see more police wearing cameras to help build trust between the public and police by recording events like the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, but is not seeking to pull back federal programs that provide the type of military-style equipment used to dispel the resulting racially-charged protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
The White House announced the conclusions of a three-month review Monday as the president was holding a series of meetings with his Cabinet, civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials and others to go over the findings. At least for now, Obama is staying away from Ferguson in the wake of a racially charged uproar over a grand jury’s decision last week not to charge the police officer who fatally shot Brown.
“The president and his administration are very focused on the underlying issues that have been uncovered in a pretty raw way in Ferguson,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. But he wouldn’t say if additional training of Ferguson police would have resulted in different outcome in there.
Obama is proposing a three-year, $263 million spending package to increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement and add more resources for police department reform. The package includes $75 million for to help pay for 50,000 of the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job, with state and local governments paying half the cost. The FBI estimates there were just under 700,000 police officers in the US in 2011.
The White House has said the cameras could help bridge deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public. It also potentially could help resolve the type of disputes between police and witnesses that arose in the Ferguson shooting.
After the shooting and resulting protests in August, Obama ordered a review of federal programs that fund military gear for local police after critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel demonstrators. Obama seemed to sympathize when announcing the review over the summer.
“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,” Obama said at the time.
Earnest said the president does not want to repeal the programs that are authorized by Congress because they have proven to be useful in many cases, citing the response to the Boston Marathon bombing. “But it is not clear that there is a consistency with regard to the way that these programs are implemented, structured and audited, and that’s something that needs to be addressed,” Earnest said.
The White House review shows the wide scope of the programs — $18 billion in the past five years from five federal agencies, including the departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury, plus the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The report said about 460,000 pieces of controlled property are in the hands of local police, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft.
Obama’s staff is drafting an executive order that will require federal agencies that run the programs to work with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to recommend changes within four months.
Demands for police to wear the cameras have increased across the country since Brown’s death. Some officers in the St. Louis suburb have since started wearing the cameras, and the New York Police department became the largest department in the U.S. to adopt the technology when it launched a pilot program in early September.
A report from the Justice Department, which had been in the works before the Ferguson shooting, said there’s evidence both police and civilians behave better when they know there are cameras around. The report also cites how footage from the cameras can be used to train officers.
Obama also plans to sign an executive order to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which will include law enforcement and community leaders. The purpose would be to examine how to reduce crime while maintaining public trust through measures like increased police training. The task force is being co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.
What would you buy if you had some extra cash in your pocket, right now?
The hands of 13 pre-teen girls shot up. Their fingers stretched as close as they could get to the wooden beams above, competing for the attention of the woman at the front of the classroom. They all wanted to answer the question.
“I would buy fries!” Lynette declared as she jumped up from her bench. Laughter in appreciation of her honesty. One by one, girls stood up and shared their hypothetical purchases, from chips, sausages and sweets to lotions and body oils.
Ann Kamau, the teacher, then asked the girls if they would take money if a boyfriend gave it to them. Their snack food fantasies abandoned, they snapped back to reality. Their answers, in unison: a resounding, “No!”
Kamau agreed. “That money is not for free,” she told the girls in Swahili. “At some point you have to pay, some way or another.”
Instead, Kamau suggested that the girls pitch in at home to earn pocket change.
“Your mom will not want you to pay her back like your boyfriend.”
Kamau, a community-appointed mentor, leads a “safe space” at Zelyn Academy elementary and junior high school, where girls can talk about two seemingly disparate — and often taboo — topics: smart savings and reproductive and sexual health. Zelyn Academy is located in the Silanga neighborhood of Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, a compact 1.5 square miles that 800,000 people call home.
The takeaway from this lesson was the same as many others from previous meetings: Taking money from men could place a young woman at risk for a situation that no preteen should ever experience.
Innately at Risk
For adolescent girls in Kenya, poverty increases the likelihood of sexual exploitation. With more 50 percent of Kibera’s population under the age of 15, competition for work, even in low-skill tasks, is steep.
It’s common for older men to take advantage of a girl’s need for food, medicine and school fees in exchange for sexual favors. Those sexual favors can have long-lasting consequences, like teen pregnancy, that can anchor her in poverty.
And poverty isn’t the only repercussion. HIV/AIDS is the second leading cause of death for adolescents in southern Africa, after traffic accidents. According to a World Health Organization report, two-thirds of those killed are adolescent girls, most of whom are contracting the disease through unprotected sex. In Kibera, approximately 10 to 25 percent of the population has HIV or AIDS.
“Adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa … are growing up in the eye of the perfect storm,” said Susan Kasedde, a senior advisor and team leader on HIV and adolescents for UNICEF. And the situation has not improved in recent years. While HIV-related deaths fell by 30 percent across all age groups, Kasedde said that the number of adolescent deaths increased by 50 percent between 2005 and 2012.
For the girls in Kamau’s group, all of whom live in a slum, and in poverty, the risks are even greater.
“As girls go through adolescence, they take more financial responsibilities in the household, to go and bring in some money,” said Sam Kalibala, a doctor and researcher at the Population Council in Washington, D.C.
“Often the only way that girls can do that is with their body,” he said. “Their body is their main asset, so they have different kinds of relationships. Someone helps pay the rent, the shopkeeper gives her food … and she has to do what he says because he helps provide food for that family.”
Population Council researchers also found that only a quarter of girls have a safe place in their community to meet their friends. Of girls ages 10 to 19 that have already had sex, 34 percent said their first sexual experience was unwanted and 60 percent of the same girls said they were at risk for being raped.
That’s why having a safe space for girls to talk about sex before they become sexually active is extremely important. And Kamau, who lives and owns a beauty supply store located near the school, says she often gets house visits from her mentees. For the girls, Kamau is someone they can trust.
“(Guardians) say it’s not right, a bad omen if you tell them not to have sex. They think it is not a conversation to have.” Kamau said.
In Kenya, a highly religious country, talking about sex is taboo, and most parents simply will not broach the subject with their young daughters.
To talk about sex or even reproductive health, would be to encourage immoral behavior. Mothers will sometimes refuse to get their daughters sanitary pads when they start to menstruate.
The girls learn about menstruation, contraception, condoms, sex and boyfriends through a combination of neighborhood gossip, social media and TV, Kamau said.
More Money, More Risk
Getting a job doesn’t necessarily guarantee less dependence on men, especially at younger ages. Just like Lynette and Eunice, many of the girls in the classroom at Zeyln Academy, some as young as 12, are already working jobs a few hours a week. They help out at a family member’s shop or wash dishes at a restaurant or wash the dirty clothes for a neighbor. In Kenya, youth face high rates of unemployment, and according to the UNDP, almost no one age 15 years or younger can find work outside of the informal economy or traditional activities.
Their employers often are older men. So the simple act of getting a job at such a young age can actually increase vulnerability to abuse and sexual exploitation.
“The process of looking for jobs is a big risk for any girl, because they are often lured by men into situations where they are forced to give sexual favors with the hope that they will get jobs,” Kalibala said. He co-authored an extensive study on the vulnerabilities and stigma associated with HIV and AIDS affecting African youth.
“They are in a very vulnerable position (because) they are supposed to please the man in power who is supposed to give that employment.”
Why Saving is Crucial
By giving girls the tools they need to save even a little bit of their money, the Safe and Smart Savings program aims to help them avert risky and vulnerable sexual behavior when a financial need or crisis occurs. In addition to meeting once a week for a lesson and discussion, mentors help each girl to set up a savings account at the bank, something that might be otherwise impossible.
The Population Council, which started and funded the safe spaces program in Kibera, primarily as a research experiment, worked with local banks in order to create special “Princess” savings accounts for the young adolescent girls. Of the girls in Kamau’s group at Zeyln Academy, approximately 19 — about two-thirds — of the girls have set up accounts.
“The girls think, ‘You can only save if you are very rich,’” said Mercy Nzioki, a project coordinator for the Population Council. The curriculum, coupled with the creation of formal savings accounts, is supposed to help create a culture of saving that Nzioki said can help the girls to stay in school and stay economically independent.
Closing the Confidence Gap
Many of the girls in Kibera said they were socially isolated and therefore had few, if any, networks of support, according to the Population Council. Half of the girls said that they didn’t have any friends and nearly half lived with neither or only one parent.
Kamau said that many of the girls lack the confidence to properly assert what they want. This is why she teaches them about cleanliness and proper dress, how to carry oneself, and why it’s so important to not take money from strangers, especially men.
She also teaches them how to stay safe from abuse. For example, if a girl is earning money by washing clothing for a single man, never enter the house and have the clothing picked up outside, she instructs.
Many of the girls at Zelyn Academy said they want to use their savings to help pay for their school fees for high school; some also expressed interest in college.
So far the Population Council’s program to empower young girls has reached more than 11,000 adolescents in Kenya. The council is exploring the possibility of extending the program to more adolescent girls in other regions of Kenya to see if their initial successes in Kibera can be replicated.
“Even if they had all the knowledge about reproductive health, they are still facing an economic barrier,” said Karen Austrian, an associate with the Population Council’s office in Nairobi. “Financial education is a great first step.”
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If you get close to the ocean, you can smell it. That salty odor is distinct, and carried by sea spray spritzing into the air.
But there’s more than salt in the sea spray. There’s phytoplankton, bacteria and viruses — living things that help make up the entire ocean and change the chemistry of the water. Ocean mists do more than dampen beaches, says atmospheric chemist Kimberly Prather of the University of California, San Diego. Ocean aerosols also seed clouds, and they could affect climate change and our weather, she said.
“The single largest uncertainty in climate change is how to aerosols affect clouds and climate,” Prather said.
Prather and University of Iowa chemist Vicki Grassian are trying to understand what role sea-born aerosols play in making our weather and our climate. To do so, they’ve tried to recreate the ocean in their lab. They know that phytoplankton, bacteria and viruses change the chemical composition of the sea. With their laboratory, they hope to follow those chemical changes from the depths of the ocean, to sea spray and straight into the clouds. They hope to incorporate their data into computer climate models.
*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu readies for the only debate she’ll get against Republican front-runner Bill Cassidy, early voting data shows long odds for her re-election.
More than 24,000 fewer people cast ballots early for Saturday’s runoff election than in advance of the Nov. 4 primary. And there were more white and Republican voters than there were last month, when Landrieu got only 42 percent support.
The Democratic incumbent needs strong turnout from black voters and improved support from white voters. But if early voting is a strong indication, black voter interest has dropped.
In the latest weeklong early voting period, only 28 percent of voters were black, though they make up 31 percent of Louisiana’s registered voters.
Landrieu and Cassidy face off Monday night in the only runoff debate.
Check local listings for debate coverage.
The post Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy ready for the last Senate debate of the year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Forget commentaries or deleted scenes; a new special feature found within Blu-ray discs unleashes the power to harness the sun.
Researchers from Northwestern University, in a study published in the journal Nature Communications, found that the way data was written to Blu-ray discs — a high-definition format for movies, television and other video — made it perfect for improving solar cell technology. Using a Blu-ray copy of the 1992 Jackie Chan film “Police Story 3: Supercop,” the team was able to increase the efficiency of how much energy solar panels can absorb.
Solar panels perform more efficiently when sunlight is spread evenly over the cells’ surface, allowing for more equal exposure. Normally, expensive, pre-made fabrications using “quasi-random nanostructures” are used to diffuse the sunlight to achieve maximum efficiency. However, upon study, the surface of the Blu-ray disc, burned with islands and pits containing binary data — ones and zeroes — were found to be a more optimal pattern for achieving this effect.
And it’s not just Jackie Chan movies that work — imprinting solar cells with the patterns from any Blu-ray disc can increase the efficiency.
“We had a hunch that Blu-ray discs might work for improving solar cells, and, to our delight, we found the existing patterns are already very good,” said Jiaxing Huang, lead author of the study. “It’s as if electrical engineers and computer scientists developing the Blu-ray technology have been subconsciously doing our jobs, too.”
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Associating one’s own negative trait with a related positive characteristic can increase productivity in that area, according to a New York University study.
In a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, NYU researchers detailed a series of experiements they conducted on the existence and power of the “silver lining theory,” or the idea that personality traits that may be seen as negative can also lead to an associated positive trait.
In the study, researchers first asked subjects if they believed in the “silver lining theory” — if negative attributes, such as being conceited, could also be seen as positive, such as having high self-esteem. The majority endorsed the theory.
In the second experiment, the subjects took a common personality test, the Barrett Impulsiveness Scale, and were split into two groups: impulsive and non-impulsive. Both groups were then split again and given one of two mock scientific articles: one article that claimed impulsiveness is tied to creativity, and another that refuted this idea. All participants were then given an object and asked to come up with as many different uses as possible in three minutes.
The group that was both impulsive and told that impulsiveness is linked to creativity outperformed the other impulsive group that was told there was no link. On the other side, the non-impulsive group that was told there was a link between the two traits underperformed compared to the other non-impulsive group.
While others may argue about what personality traits are considered positive or negative, believing that weakness can offer an advantage regardless.
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Google has ousted Apple as the leading supplier of educational devices to schools, pushing Apple’s popular iPad tablet into second place.
The Financial Times reported statistics released from market research firm International Data Corporation, revealing that Google shipped 715,000 of their Chromebooks in the third quarter of 2014, compared to Apple’s third quarter total of 702,000 iPads.
The Chromebook’s integrated keyboard, alongside its lower price point when compared to the iPad, is considered a major factor in its surging popularity. “As the average age of the student grows the need for a keyboard becomes very important,” said Rajani Singh, an analyst with the IDC.
The $199 price tag for the Chromebook provides schools with low upfront costs, and the price point is far more attractive than the iPad, which can total for more than $300, including education discounts.
The IDC released data in November predicting that the worldwide tablet market’s year-over-year growth will see a sharp decline in 2014, dropping from 7.2 percent from 52.5 percent in 2013.
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In the wake of a string of rape and assault allegations, 77-year-old entertainer Bill Cosby resigned from his position on the Temple University’s board of trustees Monday. Cosby has been on the board at his alma mater since 1982.
“I have always been proud of my association with Temple University. I have always wanted to do what would be in the best interests of the university and its students. As a result, I have tendered my resignation from the Temple University Board of Trustees,” Cosby said in a prepared statement.
In the past month, Cosby’s past rape allegations have resurfaced. These cases date back to the 1970s, and in 2004, Andrea Constand, a Temple University women’s basketball staffer, and 13 other women filed a civil lawsuit against Cosby. Since then, more women have come forward.
As media coverage of the rape allegations grew, companies began backing away from Cosby. Netflix canceled a stand-up comedy special with Cosby, and NBC cancelled its fledgling plans for a sitcom. Retrospective channel TV Land has since pulled all “Cosby Show” reruns from its lineup.
Though Temple University’s board director Patrick O’Connor has stood by Cosby throughout the ordeal, he accepted Cosby’s resignation, telling the Associated Press that he didn’t want the scandal to distract the board.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: the battle to contain Ebola in West Africa.
The World Health Organization reported today that Liberia and Guinea have met two key targets. They’re now isolating 70 percent of those infected, and ensuring safe burials for 70 percent of those who have died. More than 6,900 people have been killed by the virus during this outbreak.
Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations is back from a recent trip to Liberia and Sierra Leone. She has a new e-book called “Ebola: Story of an Outbreak.” She is symptom-free, but since she is still being monitored, we spoke with her by Skype from New York.
Laurie Garrett, welcome.
So there is some good news today from the WHO about Guinea and Liberia. How do you size up the situation there, having just come back?
LAURIE GARRETT, Council on Foreign Relations: Well, certainly, in Liberia, the American presence has made a difference. The staggering capacity of the Liberians themselves, the way they have organized, has made a difference.
And, indeed, that epidemic, which was doom and gloom in September, has plummeted. Now, the danger is to get cocky and think, OK, so, it’s all over, we can all go back to behaving exactly as we did before Ebola emerged.
And, of course, Liberia made that mistake before, back in April, thinking that it had this small intrusion from Guinea, but it was over and everybody could go back to business as usual. And, of course, we know what happened after that.
Guinea, I have not been in Guinea, but I can say that the data we have so far looks promising. That’s a country where the president himself has deeply engaged in fighting the epidemic. Sierra Leone is another story.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what about the challenges in Sierra Leone, based on what you saw?
LAURIE GARRETT: It’s a really tough situation.
Physically, it’s a very tough country, mountainous, hilly, lots of mud, very difficult just to simply get around from place to place. And in Freetown, in the capital, you have a really massive level of denial.
The kind of social distancing, where everybody in Liberia stays a certain distance away from the next person and washes their hands in bleach, you don’t really see that in Freetown. You don’t really see that in Sierra Leone. You don’t have a sense that people are really appropriately fearful.
And then, on top of everything else, they have very complicated burial and funeral rituals that are quite dangerous. And people are not reporting loved ones that are sick or dead, because they don’t want to be forbidden to practice traditional funereal services.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Laurie, why do you think there’s been more progress in Guinea and Liberia than in Sierra Leone? What’s the fundamental difference?
LAURIE GARRETT: Well, certainly in the case of Liberia, I do think the Americans have made a difference. And American taxpayers should be very proud of our dollars well-spent in that country.
You do see a very tightly coordinated response between U.S. military, USAID, our Centers for Disease Control, and the whole set of other players on the field, and then, of course, a very, very important and prominent presence from Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, and also in Liberia a pretty terrific core group within the government that has put together great contact tracing, smart epidemiology.
They understand their epidemic. They know where it’s going. They’re able to move pretty swiftly now to put out a brushfire when it appears in some remote area. In contrast, you feel in Sierra Leone like everything, the international response, the national response, the NGO response, that all of it is late, that it’s dragging its feet and it’s just trying to get where it needs to be.
And you have these huge Ebola treatment centers that have been built and have almost no patients or almost none, just a handful, not because there’s a lack of patients that need the facilities, but because the people operating them are scared to take in all the would-be patients.
And so I actually saw people dying on the streets in Freetown. I saw little pens set up that looked like something you would put animals in outside of hospitals, in the open, blazing sun, where people who have what might be Ebola, they don’t have a blood test, but they have a high fever, and they’re vomiting or they have diarrhea, are places in these pens right on the street. And they have to wait for someone inside in the hospital to die, so they can get a bed in the hospital.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just very quickly, Laurie, the pledges coming in from other countries, the WHO says it’s not happening.
LAURIE GARRETT: Yes, we’re way behind.
Huge amounts of money and personnel were pledged by many different players, many different countries back in September. The United States is way ahead, both on how much we pledged and what percentage of what we pledged has actually materialized. And some countries, my goodness, it’s abysmal.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Laurie Garrett, Council on Foreign Relations, just back from both Sierra Leone and Liberia in the last few weeks, we thank you.
LAURIE GARRETT: Thank you.
The post Liberia and Guinea meet key targets in Ebola fight as Sierra Leone lags appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It was a horrific crime in itself, sexual abuse of children. But what happened at Penn State University in 2012 became a national story because of who and what was involved.
The convicted abuser was Jerry Sandusky, a respected football coach at the school. His boss was head coach Joe Paterno, a legendary figure in college sports history and a near mythical figure at Penn State itself.
Jeffrey Brown is back with a conversation he recorded earlier.
JEFFREY BROWN: The documentary “Happy Valley” focuses less on the crime, for which Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to what amounts to a life sentence, and more on the atmosphere, the aftermath and the complex reactions of the community, including to the treatment of Joe Paterno, who was fired from his job amid questions of whether he had known of the abuse or done enough to stop it much earlier.
Here’s an extended clip.
MAN: The board of trustees and Graham Spanier have decided that, effective immediately, Dr. Spanier is no longer president of the university.
In addition, Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately.
DOTTIE SANDUSKY, Widow of Joe Paterno: We were getting into bed. When it rang, I gave Joe the phone. And he said, OK, OK. And he hung up and he said, goodbye. And he said, they just fired me.
So I redialed the number. And I said, after 61.5 years, he deserves better, goodbye, and I hung up. I couldn’t — I couldn’t believe that’s how you — they can take your heart away that quickly.
MAN: Why did you guys come out?
MAN: What do you want to say?
CROWD: Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone!
JOE PATERNO, Former Penn State Head Football Coach: Study, all right? We still got things to do. All right, I’m out of it maybe now. I had a phone call to put me out of it, but we will go from there, OK?
Hey, good luck, everybody. And thanks for coming.
WOMAN: We love you, Joe!
MAN: I love you, Joe!
WOMAN: We love you, Joe!
MAN: You’re making him the fall guy for this.
MAN: I think we have to do what we think was the right thing to do in the circumstances. I am confident that the university and our students will behave in the proper manner.
MAN: Have you made any contingency plans?
MAN: Our administration is very adept at handling these sorts of affairs. And I’m sure they’re prepared for whatever eventualities there may be.
MAN: The campus is going to burn.
CROWD: We want Joe! We want Joe! We want Joe! We want Joe!
STUDENT: I was just so angry, so I took that picture I have of Joe. And I just stood out there on my balcony with it. And I got like a bunch of texts from family and stuff, saying, like, good job. You’re on TV representing Joe.
JEFFREY BROWN: Filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev joins us now from New York. His previous film, “The Tillman Story,” examined the death of football player and soldier Pat Tillman.
Well, welcome to you.
You know, this — this story so much captured the national psyche and attention. What was there more to tell? What were you after?
AMIR BAR-LEV, Director, “Happy Valley”: I was after reexamining the way we dealt with the principals — the principal failings of the story.
I mean, as you mentioned at the top, I’m not so interested in Jerry Sandusky, but in the way we kind of distanced ourselves from his failings. What drew me to the story, for instance, was a prayer service a couple of days after the clip you just showed. There was the first game without Joe Paterno in half-a-century.
The two opposing teams gathered on the field in prayer. And Ron Brown, the Nebraska coach, said: “There’s a lot of little boys watching this game today, and they’re wondering about the definition of manhood. Lord, this is it right here.”
And I thought — when I watched that on television, I thought, boy, Jerry Sandusky’s crimes make me outraged, they make me sad, but they don’t make me question my definition of manhood. And I certainly don’t think there’s an answer in football.
And, you know, we all had a strange reaction to Jerry’s crimes and to Joe Paterno’s failure to do more than he should have.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you show in great detail this — a football culture that borders on religion, really, with Joe Paterno. And we saw in that clip, when he’s fired, it causes a riot on the campus.
Joe Paterno was a kind of religious and holy figure there. What did you see in that culture?
AMIR BAR-LEV: Well, you know, I mean, I think it’s another case in which the pot calls the kettle black, because, after all this happened, we all pointed the finger at Happy Valley and said, my God, they have a football-first — football-first culture. That’s what the NCAA said, and that’s what Louis Freeh said in his report. The culprit here is a passion for football.
Well, the whole country has a passion for football. And, you know, I think what we tried to do with the story is sort of widen the circle of responsibility ever wider. So it becomes, to my mind, not a story about Joe Paterno or Penn State or even football, but America today.
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s interesting you say that because it comes through in the film, you know, capturing many voices, pro and con football, pro and con Penn State, pro and con Joe Paterno.
Did you yourself come to conclusions about the culture, about the aftermath, about the sort of culpability of people, or did you just really want to put those voices out there?
AMIR BAR-LEV: You’re right. We do let a lot of opposing voices be heard, but, ultimately, the film has a perspective. And that perspective that has to do with this sort of — this kind of shaming spectacle that — you know, it’s a film about ideas.
It’s a film — and one of those ideas is the way we shame people and kind of run them out of town, so the culture can move on. There are a bunch of other ideas. It’s a film that, while there’s a painful story at its heart, it’s, dare I say, kind of an enjoyable 90 minutes, because these are, I think, to my mind, compelling ideas that are very much at play right now. And they didn’t go away three years ago.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you, briefly, finally, what’s your sense of — in the end of how this has played out in the aftermath in the years since at Penn State? Is there still — or in the larger culture? Is there still soul-searching over this?
AMIR BAR-LEV: This is something that is in the headlines right now.
We’re learning more about potential improprieties in the way Louis Freeh conducted his report. Certainly, you know, the NCAA saying that — fining Penn State and saying that they had a culture that put football first is something that bears more scrutiny.
And I think, you know, all the questions about the role of athletics and the role of football in our universities in America are — you know, are in the headlines today. So this is a story of our time. That’s why I was drawn to it.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the film is “Happy Valley.”
Amir Bar-Lev, thank you so much.
AMIR BAR-LEV: Thanks for having me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: “Happy Valley” is now showing in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and several other cities. It’s opening wider next month and is now available on demand on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: As we have been reporting, it’s been a very rough go for the Philadelphia public schools this year, for its students, teachers and parents, and even further back.
Now the school superintendent is taking new steps and trying experiments with expanding charter schools to fight back.
The “NewsHour” special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has the first of two reports this week.
JOHN MERROW: Philadelphia public schools are in trouble. Not enough money. Overflowing classrooms. And the unkindest cut of all, more than one-third of its students, 70,000, are in charter schools, which Philadelphia has to pay for, but doesn’t control.
WILLIAM HITE, Superintendent, The School District of Philadelphia: Individuals are choosing away from us, simply because they don’t think that our schools are meeting the needs of our children.
JOHN MERROW: William Hite is superintendent of Philadelphia’s public schools.
WILLIAM HITE: So what we want to do is to become a part of that choice. Our survival depends on our ability to innovate, to think differently about how children are educated.
MAN: You noticed there’s mirrors. Mirrors are, like, fascinating to kids. They, like, look at them and they’re like, who is that kid? What brain development stuff is going on with those kinds of things now?
JOHN MERROW: This is the kind of innovative model superintendent Hite is talking about. These 12th graders at Science Leadership Academy are learning about brain development by designing toys for babies and infants.
WOMAN: Aaron, what do you think? Do you want to do like little infant or do you want to do like 4- to 5-year-olds?
STUDENT: I want to do toddlers 1 to 3.
MAN: You will need to research what’s going on and then think of what you could build, design that would help develop those parts of the brain that are developing during eight to 12 months.
JOHN MERROW: Some teachers might have given a lecture on brain development, but that’s not how things work at Science Leadership Academy. Here, kids learn by finding their own answers and working collaboratively on real-life projects.
TRINITY MIDDLEBROOKS: What they really care about is how you got to your answer, not what the answer is itself.
MARCIE HULL, Technology teacher: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going over the three different acceptable use policies. You are going to answer the questions that are on the canvas.
I have had kids cry in front of me, like, I just — can you just tell me, Ms. Hull? I just — I want to do a good job. And I said, I know you want to do a good job, and I’m going to help you do that, but you have to find your own answers now.
STUDENT: They have to learn how to like pick that up and, like, I guess, put their hand in it and grab it.
JOHN MERROW: This innovative approach, project-based learning, is at the core of everything that goes on at Science Leadership Academy, also known as SLA.
TIM BEST, Science teacher: Project-based learning, I would say, takes longer. But I would argue that it is well worth it. This is a much more interesting way, I would say, to — for them to learn this content, by kind of figuring it out on their own.
JOHN MERROW: More interesting, and, according to Chris Lehmann, SLA’s founding principal, much more rewarding.
CHRIS LEHMANN, Principal, Science Leadership Academy: When you get away from the front of the room, right, you actually end up being able to spend more time with the kids, not less. And we need to create those spaces. We need to make sure that — that there are teachers who can connect with the kids, who can mentor the kids, who can be that role model for them in their lives in incredibly powerful ways.
JOHN MERROW: SLA has 500 students grade nine through twelve. Lehmann founded the school in 2006, in partnership with the Franklin Institute, a museum of science and technology.
An expert on education technology, Lehmann has been honored with numerous awards, including the prestigious McGraw Prize, which he received in October.
CHRIS LEHMANN: It is our belief at SLA that schools should be cathedrals, that schools should be places of incredible passion and not just what happens in the hallways in between classes, but actually places where kids can’t wait to be.
JOHN MERROW: But Lehmann and his cathedral of learning have one great advantage over most Philadelphia schools. SLA accepts only those who meet its admission standards.
CHRIS LEHMANN: We will interview any kid who gives us a call or shows up at open house, or sends an — sends us an e-mail.
JOHN MERROW: This year, SLA interviewed 1,200 students for 125 freshman class slots. And high test scores alone were no guarantee of admission.
CHRIS LEHMANN: It’s those kids who want to love learning. I think that they flourish here.
JOHN MERROW: The numbers bear that out. The city’s graduation rate is 65 percent. SLA’s is 97 percent, and almost every graduate takes the next step, post-secondary education.
MEENOO RAMI, English teacher: Malala wins the Nobel Peace Prize. What does this do for the issue of girls trying to get an education?
JOHN MERROW: But numbers don’t tell the whole story.
MEENOO RAMI: I think there’s a palpable feeling of care in this building amongst teachers, amongst students, from students to teachers and from teachers to students, that I think makes kids feel like they belong here, they’re valued here.
JOHN MERROW: Because Science Leadership Academy has performed so well, superintendent Hite asked Lehmann to open a second school. Like the original, it selects its students. And, as at SLA, teachers push students to find their own answers.
MARY BETH HERTZ, Art teacher: It’s your project. You’re the one that is going to have to be working on it, so I want it be something that interests you.
STUDENT: You don’t think about rainbows.
STUDENT: I would say, like, if you drew rainbow with the cross, it could stand for, like, oh, I support — like, I think, like — I feel like…
STUDENT: Right. And then I could put, like, the LGBT, like, in the middle of something. I have an idea.
JOHN MERROW: The two SLA schools enroll only 830 students. Philadelphia’s traditional public schools serve 130,000. The vast majority of them attend neighborhood schools, which, by law, must admit everyone who shows up. Can the SLA model work in traditional neighborhood schools, ones that do not get to hand-pick their students? Superintendent Hite is gambling that they can.
We will report on that tomorrow night.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The fallout from Ferguson took center stage at the White House today, with President Obama calling for some $260 million in federal response funds. It includes buying 50,000 body cameras to record police actions.
Ferguson officer Darren Wilson wasn’t wearing a camera when he shot and killed Michael Brown. He’s now resigned after a grand jury voted not to charge him.
Today, the president met with civil rights and community leaders and with police officials. He said it’s vital to restore trust between police and minorities.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When any part of the American family doesn’t feel like it is being treated fairly, that’s a problem for all of us. It’s not just a problem for some. It’s not just a problem for a particular community or a particular demographic. It means that we are not as strong a country as we can be.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president also called for better training for police, including in using military equipment.
The meetings amid continuing protests, including five Saint Louis Rams players who made a “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture before their football game Sunday. Mr. Obama said the racial divide today seen in Ferguson is nationwide. And he promised that a new task force is going to be more than just talk.
For some perspective on today’s announcements and police practices and training in the aftermath of Ferguson, we turn to Malik Aziz. He’s national chairman of the National Black Police Association and a former commander in the Dallas police force. And Raymond Kelly, he’s former police commissioner of New York City. He’s now president of Risk Management Services at Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm.
We welcome you both to the program.
Raymond Kelly, to you first. What are your thoughts, before I ask you about police practices in general, about what the president was saying today and the need for more community policing, that they are going to put money forward for 50,000 body cameras, they want to put restrictions on military-style equipment? How does all this come across to you?
RAYMOND KELLY, President of Risk Management Services, Cushman & Wakefield: Well, I generally support the president’s position.
I would only say about body cameras that I think they should be tested a little more. I think we need some pilot programs; 50,000 is a big number. It’s clear that cameras are meant to have police officers hesitate. If they hesitate from doing things that they shouldn’t be doing, that’s a good thing. If they hesitate from doing things that they should be doing, that obviously is not good.
So I think we need more examination in the area of body cameras, but I support that — the testing going forward. As far as the demilitarization of the police, I think that’s a good idea. I think it’s an idea whose time has come and gone. This was a result of a good-faith effort on the part of Congress to help the fight against crime in the ’90s.
It was well-intended, but I think the optics of seeing heavy military equipment on the streets of America is just not something that America will any longer accept. So I would like to see that sort of reduced, perhaps not eliminated. And I think the president’s proposal is to do just that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Malik Aziz, what is your sense of today’s announcements, and in particular the body cameras, which you just heard Ray Kelly say may need some more testing and examination before they’re used widely?
MALIK AZIZ, National Black Police Association: Well, first, I would say I appreciate the president and applaud his efforts today.
I wish that the National Black Police Association would have been at the table or would have been invited to the table to discuss our views since we have been discussing these issues since 1972 and pressing community issues. And we were absent today or not invited.
So I would think that he would invite us in the future if he wanted to have a task force that was about action. But I do believe what the former commissioner just said. The cameras, I think they have already been tested, though, well enough across the nation. And I do echo his sentiments on doing more testing.
I think we do need more body cameras. We need more in-car cameras. We also — we need to be more accountable and transparent in those — in those areas. I think the better departments, the most promising departments who outfit their police with cameras have been able to find a few that they have seen more benefits in it, that that hesitation that the police commissioner just spoke of, it takes place, therefore saving an officer from doing something that he may not had any real intentions to do, just out of a real quick response.
So, I agree with him. I think we more body cameras, more in-car cameras, more technology, but it has to be accountable. And the resources have to be deployed responsibly.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray Kelly, I want to broaden this out just a little just to ask you, both of you, how adequate do you believe the training is today that most police officers receive when it comes to the use of deadly force?
RAYMOND KELLY: Well, I think it is reasonably adequate.
Obviously, you know, it’s not totally consistent across the country, but in big police departments, I think it’s pretty well done. Technology is used. We have what we call firearms training, simulators, where they will show some pretty realistic scenarios and officers have to make decisions as to whether or not to draw their weapon, to fire, and those things are pretty well done.
You can really drill down and get some very specific situations. So I think the training is good. I would have to characterize it as good. You have a lot of regional training now. For instance, in Ferguson, those offices went to the Saint Louis County Police Academy, and technology is being used across the country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Malik Aziz, how do you see the training that most police officers today receive when it comes to deadly — use of deadly force?
MALIK AZIZ: Well, I think that the training could be much better. I think it’s been handicapped by time and resources, meaning funds, and how do you get — in some departments, how do you train people when you need them on the street to answer calls, everyday calls from the citizens?
But, overall, some of the use of force, reality-based simulated training that’s been done to offer reasonable alternatives, not every department has those. And I think the training that involves reasonable alternatives or can you do something else, which could have been the case in Ferguson, or the options for mace or Taser training or training, or how do you simulate certain situations that may call for deadly force or just may call for you to take another option — so I think 80 percent of the departments really are in need of more training.
I think the 20 percent of departments that are major and medium-type cities, they do it rather well, just as the commissioner just said. But there are a few departments that could use more training in technology use or equipment use, as well as diversity training and sensitivity training. All those things go together with the deployment of vital resources.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ray Kelly, what about that? What about training when it comes to police officers? How are they trained to think about race, to think about working in a diverse community?
RAYMOND KELLY: Well, there is an awful lot of focus on working in different communities.
The police officer training in the NYPD, for instance, is six months in the police academy and then another field training session after that. That’s a significant period of time, and a good portion of the six months of training is focused on the very diverse communities in New York.
We believe New York is the most diverse city perhaps in the world. And we now have in the New York City Police Department police officers born in 106 countries. So the department is reflecting the population of the city, certainly more than any other city agency is concerned, and we’re proud of that.
But I think the focus on diversity is important, and I believe it goes on certainly in most major police departments.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Malik Aziz, how much — do you think there needs to be a change in the way police officers today are trained to think about race, to think about working with individuals who are of a different background than they are?
MALIK AZIZ: I think once you — it’s another tool in the chest. I think once you add that to their options, that they tend to look at things a little bit different. Some officers come from places that they haven’t had a great interaction with communities of great diversity, unless they’re in some — New York City, but, even then, it’s coming from neighborhood perspectives.
When you look inside of cultures, I think once officers are exposed to one another’s cultures, it can’t do anything but help. It’s another tool in the chest to help for a different outlook. And I will tell you, as an example, you know, black people talking loud doesn’t scare me. That may scare some other people, but I get used to that. And it’s cultural.
It doesn’t mean that some aggression will happen. Most people should worry about when we stop talking. It’s some of those things that you would look at in training that will help people say, this is part of the culture, this is how we act. And it’s not a means of aggression. It’s not a means of passiveness. It’s just our culture. And we need cultural training. We need it. Police officers need it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, this is just one part of a conversation we very much want to continue. We thank you both, Malik Aziz and Raymond Kelly.
MALIK AZIZ: Thank you so much.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: When writing in social media, like Facebook, what is defined as a threat and what is protected by free speech? That was the question at the center of a case before the Supreme Court today.
Jeffrey Brown has the story.
And a warning: This case contains some graphic language.
JEFFREY BROWN: In 2010, Anthony Elonis began writing Facebook posts about his ex-wife, angry rants filled with violent language. She filed a restraining order. And eventually Elonis was charged with threatening to injure another person and sentenced to four years in prison.
Now the Supreme Court must decide were indeed threats under the law or an exercise of his First Amendment rights.
And Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal” was of course at the court today to hear the arguments.
Marcia, first, give us a little bit more details, a little bit more background on this case.
MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: All right.
Mr. Elonis was obviously having difficulties after he separated from his wife and his children. He was unable to do his job at an amusement park outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was sent home from work several times by his employers because he was crying at his desk.
And also he was accused of sexual harassment by a co-worker, at least one co-worker. Ultimately, he was fired by his job, and he did do a post involving his co-workers at the amusement park that wasn’t a very good one, but he wasn’t charged under that. It was the posts that he made involving violent statements against his wife, against law enforcement officials in particular, an FBI agent who visited his home after the FBI began monitoring his posts, and also against elementary schools, threatening possibly to go in and have a major mass shooting.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so let’s look at one of the posts that he sent to his wife.
We’re going to put up the graphic here: “There’s one way to love you, but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”
Now, strong stuff, clearly. His argument, the argument from his lawyer today was what, that this is protected somehow?
MARCIA COYLE: Right.
Actually, he made the same argument that he basically did in — at trial and on appeal before the case got to the Supreme Court, and that is, under the federal law that he was charged under, this law makes it a crime to transport in interstate or foreign commerce any communication that expresses a threat to do or to inflict bodily harm on another person.
JEFFREY BROWN: In this case, over the Internet.
MARCIA COYLE: That’s right. Exactly. The Internet is interstate commerce.
His lawyer argued today, as his lawyers did previously, that this law requires a subjective intent to threaten, and that he didn’t have that, that these posts were really cathartic for him, that he was trying to work through his anger and also, after he was separated from his wife, he took an interest in rap lyrics, and he did have — on some of these posts, he had taken the name of a rap artist.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. There was even the suggestion that it was sort of a performance in a way, right?
MARCIA COYLE: Right. Exactly.
Some of the posts were in lyrical form, and his name — his rap name was Tone Dougie.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, how did the justices take this argument?
MARCIA COYLE: Well, some of the justices were critical of the argument.
Justice Ginsburg right away asked, well, how — with subjective intent, how does the prosecution get into his mind? How do they prove subjective intent? And Mr. Elonis’ lawyer said, well, you look at the circumstances, you look at the posts. This is something that juries do in criminal cases.
Other justices, like Justice Scalia, felt that this speech had no value, no First Amendment value. The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment doesn’t protect true threats. And as Justice Kennedy said at one point, the court didn’t do the language or the law any real benefit by using the phrase true threat.
JEFFREY BROWN: You know, one of the most interesting aspects of this of course is that it’s said to be the first time the justices are taking up this question of limiting speech in social media. Right?
MARCIA COYLE: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, is there a difference? Was that a big element to that, the argument today?
MARCIA COYLE: It actually — it actually was not a major element, but but — it came out in the questioning of the justices, particularly by the — on the government’s argument.
The government’s argument is that this law has no specific intent requirement. It’s silent. And so it has a general intent, and the way that is interpreted is, if a jury finds that a reasonable person looking at Mr. Elonis’ statements perceives them as threats, then the government gets a conviction.
That led to questions from some of the justices about, well, who is the reasonable person? What about teenagers who post some pretty awful things on the Internet these days?
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
MARCIA COYLE: Is the reasonable person a reasonable teenager?
JEFFREY BROWN: You know, and a lot of people of course are — it resonates with a lot of people, their feeling. I have got a graphic here from the Pew Center, a poll, that shows people experiencing — 40 percent of people experiencing some variety of harassment.
People are online more. Right?
MARCIA COYLE: Absolutely.
JEFFREY BROWN: Language is used a little differently.
MARCIA COYLE: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: And now we’re seeing it come up into law.
MARCIA COYLE: Yes.
And Chief Justice Roberts, during the argument, he quoted lyrics, rap lyrics, that really were from Eminem. And he asked…
JEFFREY BROWN: That probably doesn’t happen every day at the Supreme Court.
MARCIA COYLE: No, it doesn’t, not at all — and to the government’s lawyer, and basically said, well, you know, what is this? How is a jury — what’s a jury supposed to do with something like this?
And the government’s lawyer said, look, clearly, that’s entertainment. That was done in a concert setting. And the chief justice came back at him and said, well, what about an aspiring rap artist, the first time he posts?
So the court was also looking for some kind of middle ground here. Justice Kagan said, you know, you’re basically saying that there is the lowest standard of proof for the government, but doesn’t the First Amendment require something more here?
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
MARCIA COYLE: But the government says there is no First Amendment value to criminal threats.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, a very interesting case in the digital world, huh?
MARCIA COYLE: Fascinating case.
JEFFREY BROWN: Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal,” thanks so much.
MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure, Jeff.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. troops and veterans may now be targets for Islamic State attacks inside the United States.
The warning comes in a bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The bulletin says the militants — quote — “are spotting and assessing like-minded individuals who are willing and capable of conducting attacks.” The warning urges troops and veterans to erase identifying information from social media accounts.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced moves today to bolster his military against Islamic State forces. He announced two dozen security officials will have to retire. He also attacked military corruption after news that Iraq has been paying thousands of troops who exist only on paper.
HAIDER AL-ABADI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through interpreter): If there were inspection teams, they would have discovered this long ago. I feel sad that we have paid salaries for mock soldiers at a time we don’t have enough money. We have soldiers fighting and being killed, while there are mock soldiers receiving salaries. This demands more than simple auditing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, the United Nations reported more than 1,200 Iraqis died in violence last month. That’s down slightly from October.
And Afghanistan’s new president is overhauling his military and security forces in a bid to turn back the Taliban. The Associated Press reports that Ashraf Ghani will fire civilian and military heads in the most volatile provinces of his country.
The Pentagon and State Department played down reports today of creating a possible buffer zone along Turkey’s border with Syria to protect Syrian refugees. Officials said those talks are continuing. Meanwhile, the World Food Program suspended food vouchers to some 1.7 million Syrian refugees. The U.N. agency said many donors have failed to come through with money.
In Nigeria, officials blamed the Islamist Boko Haram group for attacks that killed at least seven people. A double bombing hit a market in the capital of Borno state. And a police base in the Yobe state capital was attacked with explosions and gunfire. More than 170 people have been killed just in the last week.
The government of Hong Kong showed signs today of cracking down after two months of pro-democracy protests. Riot police moved aggressively against demonstrators in the most violent confrontation yet.
We have a report from John Sparks of Independent Television News, who’s watching the situation from Bangkok.
JOHN SPARKS: Protest leaders said the time had come to escalate their struggle, as they surrounded government headquarters in the middle of Hong Kong.
But, as the sun rose, the police took their positions, and, with batons in hand, decided to charge. Weeks of relative calm were shattered today, as pro-democracy protesters were driven through a public park and back towards the main protest site in the heart of Hong Kong.
One observer said it was like the Running of the Bulls. These are the most violent clashes since demonstrators occupied parts of the city two months ago. The police made 40 arrests and dozens of people were injured, with activists accusing the police of brutality.
The protest movement now giving ground. Its call for open elections has been rejected and a request for talks with the government ignored. Today, a senior official told them to pack up and go home.
LAI TUNG-KWOK, Secretary for Secretary, Hong Kong: The police, after repeated warnings, have to take resolute actions. They have no choice because it is their duty to restore law and order.
JOHN SPARKS: Last night, protest leaders called for peaceful disobedience at the main government building, but what they got was chaos, as both sides traded blows, as well as territory.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Protesters are demanding free elections in 2017, but the Chinese government has refused.
The Russian ruble hit a new all-time low today, dropping another 5 percent of its value. The currency’s been battered by declining oil prices and economic sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine. The ruble is down a total of more than 40 percent this year.
Back in this country, Congress returned from its Thanksgiving break with a full slate for its final two weeks. That includes the need to fund government operations past December 11 and President Obama’s requests for money to fight Ebola and the Islamic State group.
Entertainer Bill Cosby stepped down today as a trustee of Temple University. He said it’s in the school’s best interest. Cosby is facing a wave of allegations that he’s drugged and sexually assaulted women over the years.
And a congressional staffer resigned after criticizing the president’s teenage daughters on Facebook. Elizabeth Lauten worked for a Republican congressman from Tennessee. Last week, she wrote that Sasha and Malia Obama should have shown more interest in the ceremonial pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey and should dress better. Lauten apologized today.
Well, retailers are hoping this Cyber Monday will jump-start holiday shopping. Weekend sales were down from a year ago, due partly to sales starting earlier this fall. And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 51 points to close below 17777; the Nasdaq slumped 64 points to close at 4727; and the S&P 500 fell 14 to finish at 2053.
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Do it or else. Increasingly, that’s the approach taken by employers who are offering financial incentives for workers to take part in wellness programs that incorporate screenings that measure blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index, among other things.
The controversial programs are under fire from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed suit against Honeywell International in October charging, among other things, that the company’s wellness program isn’t voluntary. It’s the third lawsuit filed by the EEOC in 2014 that takes aim at wellness programs and it highlights a lack of clarity in the standards these programs must meet in order to comply with both the 2010 health law and the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.Honeywell, based in Morristown, N.J., recently got a reprieve when a federal district court judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the company from proceeding with its wellness program incentives next year. But the issue is far from resolved, and the EEOC is continuing its investigations. Meanwhile, business leaders are criticizing the EEOC action, including a recent letter from the Business Roundtable to administration officials expressing “strong disappointment” in the agency’s actions.
In the Honeywell wellness program, employees and their spouses are asked to get blood drawn to test their cholesterol, glucose and nicotine use, as well as have their body mass index and blood pressure measured. If an employee refuses, he’s subject to a $500 surcharge on health insurance and could lose up to $1,500 in Honeywell contributions to his health savings account. He and his spouse are also each subject to a $1,000 tobacco surcharge. That means the worker and his spouse could face a combined $4,000 in potential financial penalties.
“Under the [Americans with Disabilities Act], medical testing of this nature has to be voluntary,” the EEOC said in a press release announcing its request for an injunction. “The employer cannot require it or penalize employees who decide not to go through with it.”
Honeywell sees the situation differently. “Wellness is a win-win,” says Kevin Covert, vice president and deputy general counsel for human resources at Honeywell. In time, the company expects to see lower claims costs while workers avoid health problems. Sixty-one percent of employees who participated in the company’s screening last year reduced at least one health risk, he says.
Further, Covert says, it’s easy for employees and their spouses to avoid the tobacco surcharge. Smokers can take a 15-minute online tobacco cessation course, while non-smokers can simply call up the health plan and certify that they don’t smoke.
“The way they described the program was quite hyperbolic,” Covert says.
Employers are watching the Honeywell case closely because many have similar incentive-based wellness plans, says Seth Perretta, a partner at Groom Law Group, a Washington, D.C., firm specializing in employee benefits.
Eighty-eight percent of employers with 500 workers or more offer some sort of wellness program, according to a 2014 national survey of employer-sponsored health plans by the benefits consultant Mercer. Of those, 42 percent offer employee incentives to undergo biometric screening, and 23 percent tie incentives to actual results, such as reaching or making progress toward blood pressure or BMI targets.
Despite employers’ enthusiasm for wellness programs, “there’s no good research that shows these programs actually improve health outcomes or lower employer costs,” says JoAnn Volk, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.
The health law encourages employers to offer workers financial incentives to participate in wellness programs. It allows plans to incorporate wellness incentives — both penalties and rewards — that can total up to 30 percent of the cost of employee-only coverage, an increase over the previous limit of 20 percent. If the wellness activity aims to help someone reduce or quit smoking, the incentive can be even higher, up to 50 percent of the plan’s cost.
Under the ADA, employers aren’t allowed to discriminate against workers based on health status. They can, however, ask workers for details about their health and conduct medical exams as part of a voluntary wellness program. What constitutes a voluntary wellness program under the law? Employers, patient advocates and policy experts want the EEOC to spell out what “voluntary” means under the ADA and clarify the relationship between the health law and the ADA with respect to wellness program financial incentives.
“The EEOC has chosen litigation over regulation,” says J.D. Piro, a senior vice president at Aon Hewitt, who leads the benefits consultant’s health law group.
The EEOC is always reviewing its guidance, but there’s no timeframe for issuing further guidance, says spokesperson Kimberly Smith-Brown.
Consumer advocates say it’s critical not to confuse incentive programs with comprehensive workplace wellness.
“The incentives are meant to engage employees,” says Laurie Whitsel, director of policy research at the American Heart Association, “but they’re not the comprehensive programming we’d like to see employers offer.” It’s really important to have a culture of health, Whitsel says, including an environment that supports a healthy workplace, from a smoke-free work environment to healthy food in the cafeteria.
Patient advocates voice another concern: That wellness program financial penalties may be so onerous they actually limit people’s access to the medications and primary and preventive care they need to get and stay healthy.
“When penalties become that high, it really is a deterrent to affordable, quality health care,” says Whitsel.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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