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

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    This illustration shows in vitro fertilization, in which a single sperm is injected into the cytoplasm of an egg. Image by Brand X Pictures and Getty Images.

    This illustration shows in vitro fertilization, in which a single sperm is injected into the cytoplasm of an egg. Image by Brand X Pictures and Getty Images.

    As women age, the likelihood of chromosomal abnormalities climbs, and with it, the risk of miscarriage, birth defects or disorders that makes conceiving more difficult. Egg freezing is seen by some as a way to stop the biological clock, expand reproductive options and preserve the younger, possibly healthier eggs. And for many women looking to extend their childbearing years, it has has become an increasingly attractive option.

    The nation turned its attention to the issue in October when Facebook and Apple announced that they would cover up to $20,000 in costs for the procedure.

    But just how successful is it? How invasive? How expensive? When it comes to the details, is this something women should seriously consider? And if so, who?

    We turned to experts for the answers. Here’s what they told us.

    What does egg freezing mean, exactly?

    The process of egg-freezing, or in medical speak, oöcyte cryopreservation, involves stimulating the ovaries with hormones to produce multiple eggs, retrieving the eggs from the ovaries and taking them to the lab, where they’re cooled to subzero temperatures to be thawed at a later date.

    Why might a woman opt to freeze?

    Reasons vary. Some women choose to freeze their eggs for medical reasons. Cancer treatment, for example, can be toxic to the ovaries and cause premature menopause. Dr. Nicole Noyes, director of fertility preservation at New York University School of Medicine, said she’s overseen more than 200 cycles for medical reasons, mostly cancer, with women evenly divided between lymphoma, breast and gynecologic cancers.

    But it’s not all medical. About three-quarters of the women who freeze their eggs do so because they don’t have a partner, Noyes said. She is the senior author of a New York University study released in May 2013.

    “The primary reason given by women we surveyed is that they are not in a relationship conducive to childbearing,” Noyes said. “The second reason is women have something they need to get done before children, whether that’s their career or school.”

    Indeed, among the first wave of egg freezers — those who froze their eggs from 2005 to 2011 — more than 80 percent had no partner, said Sarah Elizabeth Richards, author of the book, “Motherhood Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing.”

    But the “why” is shifting, Richards said. Women are increasingly deferring childbearing in order to focus on demanding careers, and the age has dropped.

    “The average age at which a woman freezes her eggs is now 36,” she said, down from 38. “Now, and really starting with [the Facebook and Apple announcement], we’re seeing women freeze their eggs younger and younger, and the public narrative around it is changing. Women are doing it for work now, which is very different from the first wave of freezers.”

    How invasive is the procedure, and how risky?

    The process of retrieving eggs is identical to the first phase of in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

    “You are going to get anesthesia and there will be a needle puncturing your vaginal wall,” said Dr. Jaime Knopman, an endocrinologist and infertility specialist with the Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York. “That has a risk for infection, but as far as surgical procedures go, it’s a low-risk one.”

    The procedure goes like this: The woman receives a round of hormone injections that stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. This stage involves frequent visits to the fertility clinic, about five in 10 days, while the ovaries are regularly monitored by vaginal ultrasound. After roughly a week or two of hormone treatments, the eggs are retrieved.

    “I think people picture that it’s months of shots and invasive procedures, but in the end it’s a maximum of two weeks,” Knopman said.

    The egg retrieval process takes about 10 minutes and is done under mild anesthesia or sedation. Using an ultrasound, the doctor guides a needle through the vagina to the ovarian follicle containing the egg. A suction device at the end of the needle removes the eggs from the follicles.

    Retrieving the eggs is technically not that different from getting blood drawn, Noyes said. A needle goes into the ovary and the eggs get gently aspirated out.

    “It’s just in a different area of the body: the vagina,” she said. “That makes people eyes bulge when I say it. But it’s exactly the same as a routine IVF retrieval.”

    While the surgical procedure is mostly safe, the hormone shots do carry a risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS, which makes some women ill, said Dr. Samantha Pfeifer, chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine practice committee. That occurs when a woman responds too aggressively to the hormones and the ovaries become swollen and painful. It can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

    When hyperstimulated, the ovaries produce a lot of fluid, which has to be drained from the abdomen with a needle. OHSS tends to happen in younger women in their 20s and 30s, she said, and occurs in less than 5 percent of patients. But in severe cases, OHSS increases the risk of kidney failure and blood clots and in very rare instances, can be fatal.

    “It can be managed,” Pfeifer said. “But you can’t always predict who will get it or 100 percent prevent it.”

    Will the hormone shots make me crazy?

    Not really, but they do cause moodiness and bloating. Noyes compared it to eating too much pie after Thanksgiving.

    “You feel more bloated than you do after eating pie. The hormones make the ovaries swell a little bit, because they have to create space to accommodate the multiple expanding follicles, each containing a maturing egg,” Noyes said.

    “It’s funny sometimes hearing how people say they feel,” Knopman said. “I’ve had patients tell me they feel amazing and awesome. I’ve had people say they feel great and others say they feel tired. In general the emotions are steady, and I don’t see patients having a crazy, emotional response.”

    What are my chances of having a baby later if I freeze my eggs now?

    The chance that a single frozen egg will lead to a live birth is about 2 to 12 percent, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. That’s why doctors often recommend having a couple dozen eggs frozen to maximize success.

    Success is based on a number of factors, from a woman’s age to the quality of her partner’s sperm, Pfeifer said. According to one study published in the journal Fertility Sterility in May 2013, a 30 year-old woman with two to six thawed eggs had a 9 to 24 percent chance of one of those eggs progressing to a live birth, depending on the method of freezing. At age 40, that number dropped to between 5 to 13 percent.

    In a January 2013 report, ASRM said that egg freezing technology has “improved dramatically” and that it should no longer be considered experimental. But the study concluded that there wasn’t enough data to recommend egg freezing for the purposes of delaying childbearing. More data is needed on safety, efficacy, ethics, emotional risks and cost effectiveness.

    Is a 35-year-old egg that’s been frozen really healthier than a 40-year-old egg that’s been freshly harvested?

    It may be hard to believe that an egg removed from its natural state and frozen for years could more readily lead to a baby than a slightly older egg that’s remained inside your body. But Knopman insists that if you’re a woman in your early 40s, eggs that were frozen in your late 30s are your best chance of conception.

    “The most important thing for eggs is time. The younger the egg, the healthier it is,” Knopman said.

    Noyes agreed.

    “Absolutely. Those younger eggs are healthier,” she said.

    But freezing the eggs can cause some damage. Once fertilized, the egg becomes an embryo. Doctors often follow embryo development for about five days in the incubator looking for “blastocyst” formation at the end of this time period. The blastocyst is comprised of two parts; an outer layer, known as the trophectoderm, which is destined to become the placenta and an internal cellular ball called the inner cell mass, which ultimately forms the embryo. Fewer frozen eggs make it the blastocyst stage, Noyes said. But, she added, “the eggs that do seem just as good as fresh eggs.”

    But there have been no studies yet on how long eggs can be frozen and survive the thawing process, Pfeifer says. She chaired the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s committee that declared egg freezing no longer an experimental procedure. At the time, the longest any egg had been frozen was four years, she said. In the majority of studies, the eggs were frozen for a few weeks or months. That’s something that women who don’t plan on having children for a long time need to consider, she said.

    “The expectation is they should be fine, but has anyone frozen an egg for 20 years and used it? No,” she said. When to freeze is a matter of opinion; many doctors see 34 as a good age to freeze eggs, though some recommend younger, Pfeifer said.

    But Noyes said her clinic recently had success with eggs frozen for seven years — a promising sign, she added.

    “Women definitely feel empowered by the experience,” she said. “They come in scared of not having a baby and they leave with their eggs in the bank. They feel like they have a much higher chance of having a baby later.”

    Is this an elitist thing? How much does the procedure cost?

    At most centers the egg retrieval procedure costs about $10,000, and that doesn’t include the drugs, which alone can range from $3,000 to $5,000.

    “Some people will have their medication covered by insurance companies and some will not, because it’s considered an elective procedure,” Knopman said.

    Cold storage costs from $500 to $1,000 in annual fees. And when you’re ready to use the eggs, they must be thawed and then fertilized to prepare for the IVF process. Each round of IVF costs somewhere between $3,500 and $5,000.

    “So, for now, without insurance coverage, it’s a rich person’s game,” Noyes said.

    With no guarantee on how long the eggs will be viable, freezing eggs isn’t always a financially or medically sound choice, especially when women don’t know when — or if — they will want to use them. It’s better to freeze eggs when women are young and healthy, but a woman in her 20s should carefully consider the costs and risks, Pfeifer said.

    Egg production starts declining after age 35, Pfeifer said, so a woman in her late 30s or 40s may need to go through the hormone treatments and collection cycles several times. And not all the eggs will be good. Among women over 40, about 15 percent of the eggs produced will be normal, Pfeifer said.

    Many doctors recommend freezing about 20 eggs.

    “These cycles are not cheap,” Pfeifer said. “You have to think about an individual going through this four times to store up to 20 eggs.”

    And Richards pointed out that in certain markets, costs are declining, making the procedure more accessible. Some clinics now offer package deals, where they’ll lower the price if you do three or more rounds of egg retrieval.

    “There are some markets offering it for as low as $4,000. When I froze my eggs it cost $13,000, so that’s a big difference,” Richards said. “And at the moment, there is some theoretical talk about parents gifting egg freezing to law school graduates. In reality, when parents know more about egg freezing, it will become more common to have that conversation.”

    Jenny Marder contributed to this report.

    The post 7 things every woman should know before freezing her eggs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Obama Hosts Bipartisan Congressional Leaders At White House DinnerWASHINGTON — Americans may not agree on much lately, but one opinion is nearly universal: There’s almost no chance that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican Congress can work together to solve the country’s problems.

    A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds just 13 percent of Americans are confident the leaders, separated by nearly 2 miles of Pennsylvania Avenue, can work together, while 86 percent have no such faith. That’s far more than the 58 percent who felt that way just after the 2010 midterm elections in which the tea party movement rose to prominence.

    The doubts cross party lines: Fewer than 1 in 5 Democrats or independents have confidence the two sides can cooperate. Republicans are even more pessimistic, with just 1 in 10 confident Obama and Congress can work together.

    Those who lack confidence spread the blame around: 41 percent say neither side would do enough to work together, 35 percent place more blame on the Republicans, 22 percent on the president.

    Neither side holds much hope things are going to get better, either. Just 16 percent think the president is likely to restore public trust in government in the next two years, while 20 percent feel congressional Republicans will.

    Robert Cole, 65, says both Democrats and Republicans deserve blame for Washington’s stalemate: “If you want to place the blame, it rests on the American voter.”

    “They’re not doing their jobs, and we as the electorate are stupid in sending the same people back and expecting things to change,” said Cole, a retiree who lives in Ocala, Florida.

    But not everyone sees cooperation as a positive.

    “In my view, the Republicans were doing what they needed to do to block a harmful agenda coming from the executive branch,” said Ron Tykoski, 42, a paleontologist from Nevada, Texas.

    What does the public think they’ll be able to do?

    A majority say Obama is likely to prevent Congress from repealing the health care law passed in 2010, while nearly half say the GOP is likely to block Obama’s executive order on immigration. Another 42 percent think the GOP will block or roll back Obama’s environmental regulations. Fewer think either side will be able to enact the policies on their agenda.

    Tamara Watson, 35, a high school teacher in West Columbia, South Carolina, said immigration and health care are the two issues where both sides do need to work together. She sees Republicans as the bigger roadblock.

    “They have fought him his entire term and a half now, and there’s so many of them now,” she said. “It’s going to be very difficult for (Obama) to work with them when there are so many of them versus so few of his party.”

    Political gridlock itself ranks pretty low on the issue scale, 47 percent call it extremely or very important compared with 83 percent who say the economy is important, 76 percent who consider health care a key issue and 64 percent who say unemployment is important.

    But the issue prompts Obama’s most negative ratings overall: 66 percent disapprove of his handling of gridlock and among Democrats, 47 percent disapprove.

    Approval ratings for the president and Congress are about the same as before the election, with 41 percent approval for Obama and 15 percent Congress. In general, however, the public expresses greater frustration with politics now than they did four years ago.

    Looking back on last month’s elections, 52 percent say they’re disappointed with the results while 50 percent say they’re frustrated. Both figures are up significantly since 2010. About a quarter, 27 percent, say they’re angry, compared with 16 percent in 2010.

    Just 37 percent say they’re hopeful when they think about the results of the elections, well below the 65 percent saying so after the 2010 elections, when the GOP took control of the House of Representatives, or the 74 percent who felt so when Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. Only 1 in 5 Americans under age 30 describe themselves as hopeful, fewer than any other age group.

    More Americans say they trust neither party to handle managing the federal government than said they trust either side over the other. Nearly a third of both Democrats and Republicans say they trust neither party to handle managing the federal government, along with almost 6 in 10 independents.

    But Cole says this hasn’t turned him away from politics.

    “As aggravating as it is, I’m still paying attention just to see if I can find somebody out there who is going to do more than talk about cooperating and find a way forward,” he said.

    The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

    Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

    The post Nearly 9 in 10 doubt Obama, GOP can break gridlock appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Watch an excerpt of Malala Yousafzai’s acceptance speech.

    Malala Yousafzai said she was “very proud” to represent her country Pakistan in winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and in being the youngest Nobel recipient at age 17.

    “Along with that, I’m pretty certain that I’m also the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who still fights with her brothers,” she joked.

    Yousafzai and Indian-born Kailash Satyarthi shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize – and the $1.1 million purse – and both spoke Wednesday at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, about working together to achieve their goal of children’s rights.

    “It is not time to pity them,” said Yousafzai, referring to the children in need. “It is time to take action, so it becomes the last time … that we see a child deprived of education.”

    Watch part of Kailash Satyarthi’s acceptance address.

    Satyarthi said in his address that he represents the “sound of silence,” the children who cannot speak for themselves. “They’re all of our children. I have looked into their frightened and exhausted eyes. I’ve held their injured bodies and I’ve felt their broken spirits.”

    Satyarthi’s said his life’s mission is to help every child be free to be a child, “free to laugh and cry, free to play and learn, free to go to school and free to dream.”

    The post Nobel Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi honor ‘forgotten children’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Image by DLR German Aerospace Center

    Tools on board the Rosetta spacecraft analyzed water vapor streaming from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. They didn’t find a match for Earth’s water. Image by DLR German Aerospace Center

    It’s a mystery that has baffled scientists for decades: Where did Earth’s water come from?

    Some scientists believed comets might have been the original source of the Earth’s oceans. But a study published this week in the journal Science is sending scientists back to the drawing board. In its first published scientific data, the ROSINA mass spectrometer on board the Rosetta probe found that water on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko doesn’t match the water on Earth.

    The result is surprising, says Kathrin Altwegg, principle investigator for ROSINA at the University of Bern and one of the authors of the study. For decades, scientists had ruled out comets from the Oort Cloud at the very edge of our solar system as the source of Earth’s water.

    But three years ago, an analysis of water on the Hartley 2 comet near Jupiter found a perfect match to the Earth’s oceans. That finding led scientists to believe that Earth’s water could have come from much closer comets, either near Jupiter or in the Kuiper Belt just beyond Neptune. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is one of those Jupiter family comets, which scientists believe originated in the Kuiper Belt.

    “That was a big surprise, but now we are back to what I expected,” she said. “I think it’s very nice to see the diversity we have in Kuiper Belt, to see that not everything is as simple as it seemed.”

    To find the origin of Earth’s water, scientists analyze the water’s “fingerprint”, says Claudia Alexander, project scientist of the U.S. Rosetta Project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Water has a chemical isotopic signature, which works just like a fingerprint. Planets, comets, even minerals all have a fingerprint, Alexander says, and scientists are looking for a match to Earth’s.

    On Earth, water is mostly two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen — H2O. But there’s also “heavy” water, Alexander explained, which is made with deuterium — a hydrogen atom with a neutron. That heavy water is what the Rosetta spacecraft found on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. It’s also a closer match to the water scientists have found on other comets, ruling them out as Earth’s water source, Alexander said.

    “The clues don’t quite all add up,” she said.

    Altwegg agrees, saying that it’s not likely the other Kuiper Belt comets have a match to Earth’s water, but further studies would be helpful.

    “You would have to assume that 67P is the exception in the Kuiper Belt,” she said. “We need more missions to Kuiper Belt comets, which would be fabulous.”

    There are several ideas to explain the origin of Earth’s water, Alexander said. Some believe that water has been on Earth since its formation, that it was beaten out of other minerals as the planet formed. Others think “wet planetesimals” near Jupiter — which were like planetary Silly Putty, loose sticky blobs of rock and ice, Alexander said — collided with Earth in the early formation of the solar system.

    Alexander believes the answer could be a combination of any of these ideas. The upcoming Dawn mission in 2015 will study the water on the asteroid Ceres, near Jupiter. If it’s a match for Earth’s water, it may be another clue, Alexander said. But the Rosetta finding is a huge step in solving the mystery, she said.

    “I think this is a big deal…For me, I’ve not always been a believer in the story that comets brought the water,” Alexander said. “In some respects, I’m somewhat relieved (this finding) doesn’t confirm it. It’s more complicated than that. I think we need more forensic evidence to settle the score.”

    The post Rosetta spacecraft finds water on Earth didn’t come from comets appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    University of Missouri students guide a quad-copter drone off the ground at Columbia's Hinkson Field. Journalists, businesses and many entrepreneurs are eagerly awaiting FAA rules for the commercial use of drones. Photo by David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images

    University of Missouri students guide a quad-copter drone off the ground at Columbia’s Hinkson Field. Journalists, businesses and many entrepreneurs are eagerly awaiting FAA rules for the commercial use of drones. Photo by David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Commercial drone flights are taking off in other countries while the U.S. lags behind in developing safety regulations that would permit unmanned aircraft operations by a wide array of industries, witnesses told a House panel Wednesday.

    The Federal Aviation Administration bars all commercial use of drones except for 13 companies that have been granted permits for limited operations. Permits for four of those companies were announced Wednesday, an hour before a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee. The four companies plan to use drones for aerial surveillance, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare stack inspections. The agency has received 167 requests for exemptions from commercial operators.

    Several European countries have granted commercial permits to more than a 1,000 drone operators for safety inspections of infrastructure, such as railroad tracks, or to support commercial agriculture, Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office testified. Australia has issued more than 180 permits to businesses engaged in aerial surveying, photography and other work, but limits the permits to drones weighing less than 5 pounds. And small, unmanned helicopters have been used to monitor and spray crops in Japan for more than a decade.

    Canada has had regulations governing the use of unmanned aircraft since 1996 and, as of September, had issued more than 1,000 permits this year alone, Dillingham said. Canada recently revised it regulations to grant blanket permission for flights of drones weighing less than 5 pounds. It also cleared the way for flights by drones weighing between about 5 pounds and 55 pounds as long as operators abide by certain restrictions.

    The FAA has been working for years on developing safety rules to give small drones broader access to U.S. skies and agency officials have said they expect to propose regulations before the end of this month. But it could be at least two or three years before regulations become final, Dillingham said.

    “It … concerns me that road builders in Germany and farmers in France today are enjoying economic benefits from (drones) because safety regulators there have found ways to permit such flights,” said the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J. “I can’t help but wonder if the Germans, French and Canadians can do some of these things today, then why can’t we also be doing them?”

    The U.S. has led the world in the development of drones, but FAA regulations are so restrictive that researchers trying to resolve key technology gaps in order to make commercial unmanned aircraft safer are at a disadvantage compared to colleagues in some other countries, said Nicholas Roy, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who has worked with Google on drone technology.

    Even testing of drones in remote, unpopulated areas entails complying with onerous regulations in the U.S., while countries like the United Kingdom and Australia make allowances for flights in lightly populated areas, he said.

    While U.S. researchers into unmanned aircraft haven’t yet fallen behind, “there are issues and constraints that may allow other countries to overtake the U.S. both in developing the next generation of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology and in training the next generation of UAV engineers,” Roy said.

    Earlier this week Amazon, which wants to deploy drones to deliver small packages, said FAA testing restrictions were so burdensome that the company is looking to do its research in other countries.

    Peggy Gilligan, the FAA’s associate administrator for safety, told the committee that delays in issuing regulations for small drones are “beyond what any of us think acceptable,” she but assured lawmakers they would see proposed regulations very soon.

    In general, “we agree we need to speed this up a little bit,” she said.

    FAA officials frequently point out that there are far more planes and other aircraft in U.S. skies than in the skies of any other country, making the safe integration of drones a significant challenge. The FAA is receiving about 25 reports a month from pilots and others of drones flying in the vicinity of planes and airports, raising concern about the potential for collisions.

    Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, brought a DJI Phantom — one of the most popular small drones on the market — with him to the subcommittee witness table. He told lawmakers he could stand in the courtyard of the House office building where the hearing was being held and fly the drone across the Potomac River and into the flight path of a plane landing at Washington Reagan National Airport. It’s difficult for pilots to see small drones: They aren’t equipped with technology to warn pilots of their presence; and they aren’t visible on the radar screens of air traffic controllers, he said.

    The permits announced Wednesday were granted to Trimble Navigation Limited, VDOS Global LLC, Clayco Inc. and Woolpert Inc., which received two permits. Previously the only permits the Federal Aviation Administrational Aviation had issued were to two oil companies in Alaska and seven aerial photography companies associated with television and film production.

    The post Other countries are surpassing the US in commercial drone flights appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Denver resident Ben Hamilton sat on a citizen panel tasked with writing a report on proposition 105, which would require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. Photo courtesy of Luke Runyon, KUNC and Harvest Public Media.

    Denver resident Ben Hamilton sat on a citizen panel tasked with writing a report on proposition 105, which would require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. Photo courtesy of Luke Runyon, KUNC and Harvest Public Media.Lawmakers

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The food industry is likely to find a receptive Congress come January in its fight against mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.

    Republicans and Democrats on a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee questioned Wednesday whether requiring a label on any packaged food including genetically modified organisms — or foods grown from seeds engineered in labs — would be misleading to consumers since there is little scientific evidence that such foods are unsafe. The food industry has made a similar argument.

    Congress has shown increasing interest in getting involved in the labeling debate as the food industry has faced a potential patchwork of state laws requiring it. The hearing previewed GOP efforts to push legislation next year that would reaffirm that such food labels are voluntary, overriding any state laws that require them. The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, has the backing of the food industry.

    Even Democrats on the panel appeared concerned about the unintended effects of requiring a GMO labeling on food packages, though they stopped short of endorsing Pompeo’s bill.

    Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he is concerned that labeling could be “inherently misleading.” Rep. G.K Butterfield of North Carolina, a Democrat who represents a heavily agricultural district, said he is worried the costs of labeling would be passed on to consumers. Butterfield has co-sponsored the voluntary labeling bill with Pompeo.

    Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who will replace the retiring Waxman as the committee’s top Democrat, said he was weighing both sides of the issue.

    “If the labeling could result in higher food costs, then maybe that’s not a risk we want to take,” he said.

    Consumer advocates pushing for the labeling say shoppers have a right to know what is in their food, arguing not enough is known about the effects of the technology. They have pushed several state efforts to require labeling, with the eventual goal of having a federal standard.

    Vermont became the first state to require the labels this year, passing a law in May that will take effect mid-2016 if it survives legal challenges. Maine and Connecticut passed laws before Vermont, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit. Ballot initiatives that would have required labeling were narrowly defeated in California and Washington in the past two years, and an Oregon initiative on the ballot this year is in the midst of a recount.

    Currently, the FDA doesn’t require labeling for genetically modified foods. Michael Landa, head of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, testified that the agency believes that engineered foods on the market now are safe. The agency has a safety review process for GMO crops but it isn’t required.

    Landa said the agency doesn’t require labeling because it has so far found no basis to conclude that foods that are genetically modified “differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way or pose any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

    Genetically modified seeds are engineered to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides or certain plant diseases. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Modified corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like corn oil, corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

    Labeling advocates say the issue is about transparency, not safety. Scott Faber, head of the national Just Label It campaign, testified that consumers want to know what they are buying and how the food was produced. He said advocates are not seeking a warning label, but a “factual, non-judgemental disclosure” on the back of all food packages that contain GMO ingredients.

    “Because our food choices dramatically shape our lives, unprecedented consumer interest in food is a trend that should be welcomed, not frustrated,” Faber said.

    The food industry has faced pressure from retailers as consumer awareness of GMOs has increased and the conversation about modified ingredients has grown louder. The retailer Whole Foods announced last year that it planned to label GMO products in all its U.S. and Canadian stores within five years. And some companies have decided to remove the ingredients altogether, so no labels will be necessary.

    Still, mandatory labels would disrupt the supply chain, said Thomas W. Dempsey Jr., president and CEO of the Snack Food Association. GMO ingredients would have to be separated out from farm to store, creating new burdens on manufacturers, he said.

    He said food companies would have three options to comply with a state labeling law like Vermont’s: order new packaging, reformulate products or halt sales to the state.

    “Each option is difficult, costly, time-intensive and, at worst, could eliminate jobs and consumer choice in the marketplace,” Dempsey said.

    The post Lawmakers wary of genetically modified foods appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Kate Davis talked to Art Beat about her attraction to the bass and writing her own songs before a recent performance at Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland.

    Kate Davis’ ’40s-style jazz rendition of Megan Trainor’s pop hit “All About That Bass” has garnered more than 8 million views on YouTube since September. But Davis isn’t only about that one instrument.

    While she makes playing the upright bass seem like a breeze, the 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist and vocalist prefers not to be boxed in as a bassist or under any specific label. She stretches her talent across many different genres of music as she continues to explore and develop her personal style, showcased on her recently released EP.

    Photo by Ariel Min/PBS NewsHour

    “My relationship with the upright bass has been a wild ride.” Davis says she has sometimes been in physical therapy in order to keep playing her instrument, and that she didn’t really connect with it until she started writing her own songs. Photo by Ariel Min/PBS NewsHour

    While Davis sees herself as a songwriter, her musical foundation comes from growing up with the Great American Songbook, learning classical music on the piano and the upright bass, and studying jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. Unlike her new work, her previous albums feature her interpretations of traditional jazz songs, like “I’ll Take Romance,” and bass-based renditions of modern songs, like Rufus Wainwright’s “Leaving For Paris” .

    “I learn a lot about music from doing covers or being immersed in pop music or old music,” Davis told Art Beat before her recent performance at Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland. “People appreciate the thought that goes into personalizing (the song) or just making it something else.”

    Video shot by Ariel Min and Jaywon Choe and edited by Ariel Min. Black Rock Center for the Arts, Technical Director: Marc Wright; Sound Engineer: Scott Twiford – Big Bear Productions Ltd.; Stage Assistant: Conor McNamara; Lighting Design: Adam Konowe.

    The post YouTube crooner all about that upright bass and then some appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo illustration by Getty Images

    Photo illustration by Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on health and retirement, is here to provide the Medicare answers you need in “Ask Phil, the Medicare Maven.” Send your questions to Phil.

    Medicare rules and private insurance plans can affect people differently depending on where they live. To make sure the answers here are as accurate as possible, Phil is working with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). It is funded by the government but is otherwise independent and trains volunteers to provide consumer Medicare counseling in state and local offices around the country.

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


    Jim – Conn.: Does it make sense for this 70-year-old to postpone filing for Social Security to avoid Medicare Part A so that he can contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA)?

    Phil Moeller: This is a deceptively complex question. And Jim, like many readers, is a lot smarter than I am. He was way ahead of me with this question. I had never considered that filing for Social Security could force someone to take Medicare even if they were still employed and had employer-provided health insurance. And I certainly never thought it would make it illegal for them to continue making pre-tax contributions to their HSA.

    Silly me.

    I was wrong and Jim is correct. So, be warned. If you are 65 or older and file for Social Security, the government will consider you to have also filed for Medicare. If you have an HSA, you will no longer be able to make pre-tax contributions to it. In fact, the rules say you need to stop contributions six months before claiming Social Security!

    This makes no sense to me, but please read on and judge for yourself. And if I am the only one who didn’t already know this, let me know and I will enroll you in the Maven chapter of the Rootie Kazootie fan club.

    HSAs are available to most people whose employers offer them high deductible health plans. The plans have lower premiums than standard coverage but higher deductibles.

    Uncle Sam made these deductibles more palatable to consumers by pairing them with tax-exempt HSAs. Contributions can be up to $6,650 ($7,650 including a $1,000 catch-up contribution for people 55 and older) in pre-tax earnings, and they are placed in 401(k)-type investment accounts. Many employers sweeten the deal a bit more by making their own contributions to an employee’s HSA. The annual contributions limit applies to the total of all funds placed into the HSA.

    Neither the contributions nor investment gains on the accounts will ever be subject to federal income taxes so long as account distributions are spent on qualifying medical expenses. Better still, any unused balances in the accounts will not be lost but will roll over to the next year and beyond. They can even be passed on to heirs when the original account holder dies.

    HSAs thus can be a terrific retirement savings vehicle for people who don’t rack up large out-of-pocket medical expenses. Alternatively, people with the financial means to pay such expenses without tapping their HSAs can allow their HSA account values to rise over time, and then tap them in their later years, when they almost certainly will have less income but more medical expenses to pay.

    High-deductible health plans have become an increasingly attractive way for employers to combat rising costs for health benefits. According to a federal survey (check out Table 10), as of the first quarter of this year, 36 percent of people younger than 65 with private health insurance had high-deductible plans; two-thirds of these people were not enrolled in an HSA and one-third was. As recently as 2009, only 22 percent of employees were in high-deductible plans.

    Jim is one of them. He likes his HSA. He also is one of fewer than 2 percent of all Social Security participants who has elected to defer taking retirement benefits until he turns 70. By electing to defer benefits, Jim’s monthly check will be 32 percent higher (plus inflation adjustments) than if he began taking them at 66, and 76 percent higher than if he took early retirement at 62.

    MORE FROM THE MEDICARE MAVEN

    How to plug holes in your Medicare coverage

    But Social Security benefits reach their maximum values at age 70, so there is no longer any reason for Jim to delay taking them. He still plans to work, mind you, and his employer presumably is still willing to provide him with health insurance.

    However, as confirmed by spokespersons for both Social Security and Medicare, Jim’s filing for Social Security will force him to also sign up for Part A of Medicare. And signing up for Part A, whether he wants to or not, qualifies as being on Medicare. And once Jim, or anyone else, is on Medicare, they can no longer contribute to an HSA. Here’s what Medicare said:

    When he applies for Social Security and Medicare coverage, his Social Security entitlement and Part A coverage will be retroactive for 6 months, as outlined in law. He can’t apply just for Social Security benefits and not also get Medicare Part A as he is over age 65. IRS rules for the HSA state that someone can’t contribute to an HSA when they have Medicare, so the individual will need to stop contributing 6 months in advance of applying for Social Security benefits and Medicare. If he contributes to the HSA after Medicare coverage begins (not when he applies for Social Security/Medicare), he may be subject to IRS penalties.

    Jim thus must lose his HSA or pass up his Social Security until he leaves his job. I think losing the HSA is far and away the less painful path for him. Average Social Security retirement benefits are about $1,300 a month, and I’m betting Jim’s benefit would be much higher. If you recall, the most pre-tax income that can be put into an HSA is $7,650 a year.

    The last time I looked, every new user of Medicare cost Uncle Sam (that’s us, folks) money. So, I am thinking that the government should be happy to keep people on employer-provided insurance as long as possible. Forcing them out of HSAs hardly seems a wise move in that respect.

    Part A, mind you, is the hospital portion of Medicare. It imposes no premiums on Jim (and most other workers) because they have in effect been paid for by the payroll taxes that Jim has been making to Social Security all these years. So, forcing him to get Park A does not put a penny more into government hands. Further, getting Part A doesn’t require Jim to sign up for the rest of Medicare. As long as he is covered by group health insurance, he does not have to get Medicare Part B or a Medicare drug plan or other forms of Medicare coverage.

    What it does do is force Jim into a bad and costly decision. This policy should be changed, if not for Jim than for the millions of older workers who are staying in their jobs and will face the same set of two bad choices that Jim faces.

    Labor force participation rates are falling for most workers but have soared for older workers. A 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics study projected that nearly one in five persons aged 70 to 74 are in the labor force today and one in nine aged 75 to 79 are also working or seeking work.

    Should all of them with employer health insurance be denied participation in HSAs because they want to claim Social Security?

    The post The Social Security and Medicare gotcha that makes contributing to your HSA illegal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — Top spies past and present campaigned Wednesday to discredit the Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s harrowing torture practices after 9/11, battling to define the historical record and deter potential legal action around the world.

    The Senate intelligence committee’s report doesn’t urge prosecution for wrongdoing, and the Justice Department has no interest in reopening a criminal probe. But the threat to former interrogators and their superiors was underlined as a U.N. special investigator demanded those responsible for “systematic crimes” be brought to justice, and human rights groups pushed for the arrest of key CIA and Bush administration figures if they travel overseas.

    Current and former CIA officials pushed back, determined to paint the Senate report as a political stunt by Senate Democrats tarnishing a program that saved American lives. It is a “one-sided study marred by errors of fact and interpretation — essentially a poorly done and partisan attack on the agency that has done the most to protect America,” former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

    Hayden was singled out by Senate investigators for what they said was a string of misleading or outright false statements he gave in 2007 about the importance of the CIA’s brutal treatment of detainees in thwarting terrorist attacks. He described the focus on him as “ironic on so many levels” as any wrongdoing predated his arrival at the CIA. “They were far too interested in yelling at me,” Hayden said in an email to The Associated Press.

    The intelligence committee’s 500-page release concluded that the CIA inflicted suffering on al-Qaida prisoners beyond its legal authority and that none of the agency’s “enhanced interrogations” provided critical, life-saving intelligence. It cited the CIA’s own records, documenting in detail how waterboarding and lesser-known techniques such as “rectal feeding” were actually employed.

    The CIA is now in the uncomfortable position of defending itself publicly, given its basic mission to protect the country secretly. Its 136-page rebuttal suggests Senate Democrats searched through millions of documents to pull out only the evidence backing up pre-determined conclusions. “That’s like doing a crossword puzzle on Tuesday with Wednesday’s answer’s key,” the CIA said in an emailed statement.

    Challenging one of the report’s most explosive arguments — that harsh interrogation techniques didn’t lead to Osama bin Laden — the CIA pointed to questioning of Ammar al-Baluchi, who revealed how an al-Qaida operative relayed messages to and from bin Laden after he departed Afghanistan. Before then, the CIA said, it only knew that courier Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti interacted with bin Laden in 2001 when the al-Qaida leader was accessible to many of his followers. Al-Kuwaiti eventually led the U.S. to bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

    Poring over the same body of evidence as the investigators, the CIA insisted most of the 20 case studies cited in the Senate report actually illustrated how enhanced interrogations helped disrupt plots, capture terrorists and prevent another 9/11-type attack. The agency said it obtained legal authority for its actions from the Justice Department and White House, and made “good faith” efforts to keep congressional leaders informed.

    Former CIA officials responsible for the program echoed these points in interviews.

    John McLaughlin, then deputy CIA director, said waterboarding and other tactics transformed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into a U.S. “consultant” on al-Qaida.

    Tenet, the director on Sept. 11, 2001, said the interrogation program “saved thousands of Americans lives” while the country faced a “ticking time bomb every day.”

    Vice President Dick Cheney also pushed back. And former top CIA officials published a website — ciasavedlives.com — pointing out decade-old statements from Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller in apparent support of agency efforts. The two Democrats spearheaded the Senate investigation.

    The intelligence committee’s Republicans issued their own 167-page “minority” report and said the Democratic analysis was flawed, dishonest and, at $40 million, a waste of taxpayer money. Feinstein’s office said Wednesday most of the cost was incurred by the CIA in trying to hide its record.

    If the sides agreed on one thing, it was the CIA suffered from significant mismanagement problems early on. The agency and its Republican supporters said those failings were corrected.

    “We have learned from these mistakes,” current CIA Director John Brennan said.

    President George W. Bush approved the program through a covert finding in 2002 but wasn’t briefed by the CIA on the details until 2006.

    Obama banned harsh interrogation tactics upon taking office, calling the treatment “torture.” But he has shown little interest in holding accountable anyone involved, a sore point among human rights groups and his supporters on the left.

    “Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of officials, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents,” said Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s director.

    Lawyers representing former CIA detainees have introduced cases in Europe and Canada, though to little success thus far. Undeclared prisons existed in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, among countries.

    Twenty-six Americans, mostly CIA agents, were convicted in absentia in Italy of kidnapping a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003, limiting their ability to travel for fear of extradition. The former CIA base chief in Italy was briefly detained in Panama last year before being returned to the U.S.

    The potential prosecution of CIA officials explains somewhat the agency’s aggressive response. For months, it reviewed the Senate report to black out names or information that might allow foreign governments, investigating magistrates and human rights lawyers to identify individuals. It demanded the elimination of pseudonyms in part so foreign courts wouldn’t be able to connect evidence to a single individual.

    The post CIA tries to discredit Senate’s investigation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A bit of nostalgia: the National Debt Clock in April 2011 sits at Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    A bit of nostalgia: the National Debt Clock in April 2011 sits at 14.5 trillion. Recently the debt surpassed $18 trillion. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The Morning Line
    Today in the Morning Line:

    • $18 trillion national debt
    • What to watch for in shutdown showdown
    • Obama talks deportations, CIA report
    • Hillary’s the choice of millionaires, and it says a lot about who’s getting buzz

    The national debt at $18 trillion dollars: A story away from the pack for you this morning. Just in case you don’t check the national-debt-to-the-penny website from the Treasury Department regularly, we do. And in the past two weeks, we saw the national debt rise above $18 trillion dollars for the first time. It has fallen slightly since then, to $17,997,912,502,715.74 as of Dec. 9.

    What does this mean? The number $18 trillion isn’t especially significant in and of itself. (Other than the fact that it’s enough money to buy a new car for every person in America. And Canada. And Mexico.) But it is noteworthy because this large number comes when the debt is at a relative low point in growth. The deficit, which pumps the red ink into the debt, is down. And the Congressional Budget Office predicts it will be down again next year. In other words, this big number is about to get a lot bigger in the next two years. Unless one of two things happens: (1) the U.S. brings in more revenue (economic boom or a tax increase, for example) or (2) the U.S. government finds a way to cut costs, especially the biggest, least-addressed costs of entitlements.

    Republicans, days from assuming full control of the U.S. Congress, have generally prioritized tax cuts over deficit cuts in recent votes on Capitol Hill. So, it’s a good issue to follow when they return in January. If nothing changes, $18 trillion in debt will seem relatively small.

    Shutdown showdown viewing guide: Watch C-SPAN closely today. We’re waiting to see if House Republicans hold the vote they planned on their government funding proposal. The House is scheduled to hold its last votes at 3 p.m. EST. If that time comes and goes with no vote, we’ll know there are problems. Conservatives want a more firm rebuke of the president’s immigration action. Democrats sharply pushed back yesterday after news broke that the deal included rollbacks of the Wall Street reforms in the Dodd-Frank Act and of campaign finance limits to political parties. But, no fears, say the top guns on the Hill. Sources from both the House Republican leadership and Senate Democratic leadership told our Lisa Desjardins that they still expect passage of the bill. Though an important note: the House GOP source also said they have a backup plan: a short-term funding bill that keeps government running into January.

    Also watch: This amendment proposed by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., yesterday, which aims to defund President Obama’s most recent immigration policy (allowing more illegal immigrants to temporarily stay in the country). Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tweeted late last night that 65 members were co-sponsoring.

    Vote counting: Any bill needs 218 to pass in the House if all members vote. Currently there are 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats. One bottom line: Speaker Boehner can afford 16 Republican ‘no’ votes on the spending bill, but if 17 or more Republicans vote against it, he will need Democratic votes to pass it.

    Obama on deportations, CIA program: Don’t overlook the interview Jorge Ramos conducted with President Obama. The president made his first on-camera remarks about the Senate CIA interrogation report but also struggled in answering why he didn’t act sooner on deportations. Ramos read back to him a quote from a town hall, in which the president said, “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case.” Ramos pressed: “That’s exactly what you did.” The president tried to make a distinction between stopping SOME deportations and stopping them ALTOGETHER. “[T]he notion was that we could just stop deportations period, and we can’t do that,” Mr. Obama argued. “What I’ve said very clearly, consistently is that we have to enforce our immigration laws, but that we have prosecutorial discretion given the limited resources, and we can’t deport 11 million people. … The question is, are we doing the right thing, and have we consistently tried to move this country in a better direction.”

    ‘Terrible mistake were made’: Before the Senate report was ever made public, the president derided the CIA interrogation program, ending it and saying this year, “We tortured some folks.” In the interview with Ramos, the president refrained from taking an explicit shot at former President George W. Bush for approving the program, but he did say, “There were a lot of people who did a lot of things right and worked very hard to keep us safe, but I think that any fair-minded person looking at this would say that some terrible mistakes were made in allowing these kinds of practices to take place.” He added about going forward: “When we are under threat and we’re afraid and the public is clamoring to do something, that’s when we have to be most on guard, because, you know, there are times where we can slip into the kinds of activities that I don’t think we want to see repeated.”

    Hillary Clinton, the choice of millionaires — what it really means: CNBC surveyed 500 millionaires across the country and across political stripes, 93 percent of whom voted in the midterms, and found Hillary Clinton was their top choice. She gets 31 percent followed by Republican Jeb Bush at 18 percent, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., at 14 percent and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., at 11 percent. Of course, that doesn’t mean Clinton would win millionaires in a head to head, but she is the overwhelming pick — getting 72 percent — of Democratic millionaires. But who cares what millionaires think, anyway, right? Well, those names help explain why there is constant buzz about those particular candidates, and with so much money in politics, the candidates who can raise the most money are often the candidates who win. This shows which candidates have the opportunity to reach into some deep pockets.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 2001, President George W. Bush gave a significant policy speech at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, calling for sweeping changes in the military and intelligence gathering to fight the war on terror. He told cadets that the U.S. was finding “new tactics and new weapons” to defeat its enemies. Which U.S. president had the most experience working in intelligence gathering? Be the first to tweet the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and we’ll give you a well-deserved mention here. Congratulations to Kenneth Davis (@kennethcdavis) and William Rives (@MrWmCR) who both correctly answered yesterday’s question quickly, replying that John C. Calhoun was the vice president who disagreed with Andrew Jackson on state’s rights. A special shout-out to the students in the Providence Schools, for whom Mr. Rives sent the answer.

    LINE ITEMS

    • President Obama is expected to announce $390 million in public and private funding for manufacturing and apprenticeships Thursday.

    • Liberal opposition to the spending bill mounted Wednesday, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaking from the Senate floor, pushing House Dems not to vote for it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer, however, while they may not like the bill, aren’t eager for their caucus to edge the government toward a shutdown.

    • Leading 2016 candidates, including Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, are keeping their mouths shut on torture. An exception: Marco Rubio.

    • Does Jeb Bush have a Mitt Romney problem? Bloomberg digs into SEC documents exposing the former Florida governor’s offshore private equity holdings.

    • In a hypothetical 2016 match with Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie would lose New Jersey. That’s nothing new for the blue state. But in the latest Quinnipiac poll released Thursday, more New Jersey voters said they didn’t think Americans were ready to elect a “Jersey Guy” as president.

    • Meanwhile, New Jersey’s largest pension fund is suing Christie for taking $2.4 billion out of the pension fund to close budget shortfalls.

    • “I’ve been trained to never say no. But it is highly, highly unlikely,” Sen. Mary Landrieu said Wednesday in response to questions about whether she’d ever run for governor or Senate again.

    • Two years after the elementary school schooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., a Pew poll has found for the first time in 20 years that more Americans support “gun rights” than support “gun control.”

    • Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration is popular among Hispanic immigrants, but Hispanics born in the United States are much more evenly split on the measure.

    • Unlike conservative Sens. Ted Cruz and Tom Coburn, some GOP senators are defending the inclusion of a national park expansion in the National Defense Authorization Act as a cost of doing business in Congress.

    • A National Journal analysis of new FEC reports suggests just how overconfident Democrats were in the weeks immediately before the midterms, giving away money to other candidates because they didn’t think they needed to spend it.

    • Even senior members of Congress who are leaving office this year are having to deal with the logistics of moving out while trying to wrap up legislative business. “I was over in Buck McKeon’s office when they were pulling out the wires to his computer and his phone,” Rep. Jim Moran told National Journal. “I was objecting — ‘Gosh, this is a guy who’s served for 38 years. He’s chairman of the Armed Service Committee. Can’t you give him a little slack?’ And the guy says, ‘Don’t worry, Congressman, we just did the same thing in your office.’”

    • Ann Compton writes about 40 years of covering the White House.

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

    Editor’s note: This report has been updated from the original post. Rep. Jim Moran was quoted in the National Journal, not Jerry Moran, who is a U.S. Senator.

    TOP TWEETS

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

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

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

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    Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Retirees covered by financially troubled multiemployer pensions could soon see their benefits cut under a congressional spending deal to keep the government running.

    Architects of the proposal said it was the best way to keep the pension plans viable and benefits flowing to retirees.

    “We have a plan here that first and foremost works for the members of the unions, the workers in these companies and it works for the companies,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who worked the deal out with Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.

    But it quickly drew fire from some labor unions and AARP, who denounced what they call backroom deal-making that will create hardships for older Americans.

    A vote on the overall spending plan was expected before week’s end.

    Some questions and answers about multiemployer pension plans and the impact of the congressional move.

    ___

    WHAT ARE MULTIEMPLOYER PENSION PLANS?

    These plans are usually found in industries that have many small employers that would not ordinarily put together a pension plan on their own, according to a report from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.

    More than 10 million people are covered by the plans, which involve agreements between labor unions and a group of companies. Many plans cover those who work in construction, but they are also can be found in the transportation, retail and trade sectors.

    All told, there are about 1,400 multiemployer pension plans.

    ___

    HOW DID THINGS GET SO BAD?

    About 150 to 200 of these plans covering 1.5 million people are in financial trouble and could become insolvent within a few years, according to estimates from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The agency was established by Congress to take over failed and failing pensions when they run out of money.

    The plans were once thought to be secure, but a decline in unionization and financial crises like the Great Recession have left them with fewer workers to pay into them.

    The PBGC says it’s about $42.4 billion short of the money it would need to pay out pensions for plans that have failed or will fail. That’s up from $8.3 billion in 2013.

    The congressional proposal essentially shifts much of the risk from the government back onto the retirees and their funds.

    Alicia H. Munnell, a Boston College professor and director of the school’s Center for Retirement Research, says it was made out of desperation.

    “They’re at a point in time where it’s impossible to cut benefits for new employees any further,” she said. “It’s sort of impossible to ask employers for any more money, so the question is what do you do?

    “It’s a place where there’s no good options.”

    ___

    WHAT KIND OF CUTS ARE LOOMING?

    This can vary widely, depending in large part on the financial condition of the plan and the wages paid in the industry.

    “We have plans where a 10 percent cut will be enough to allow them to survive and thrive,” said Randy DeFrehn, executive director of the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, an advocacy group that consulted with Congress on the legislation.

    In other cases, cuts as high as 30 percent may be necessary.

    Some cuts may eventually be restored. That depends on factors like the industry, the plan’s location and how much trouble it was in when the cuts were made.

    “It’s a function of a lot of different things,” DeFrehn said.

    People will know whether their plans face a cut because they will have to vote on the cuts.

    ___

    WHAT ABOUT OTHER PENSION PLANS?

    Single-employer pension plans are much more common, covering about 31 million workers and retirees in around 22,300 plans.

    The PBGC said in June that it was “highly unlikely” that its single employer program would run out of funds in the next decade.

    The improving economy, better market returns and an $869 million jump in income from legislative changes led to the improvement.

    “It’s a well-functioning pension insurance program, it’s adequately funded, it’s in fine shape,” Munnell said.

    The PBGC does not guarantee government pensions, and those were targeted for cuts in the Detroit bankruptcy case. But Munnell said her research shows states are “absolutely committed” to paying benefits.

    “In the end, the cuts to pensions in Detroit were relatively modest,” she added.

    ___

    WHAT’S THE REACTION?

    Among unions, it’s mixed.

    The AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department has been generally supportive. But the Teamsters and Machinist unions blasted the provision.

    “Today, we have seen the ugly side of political backroom dealings as thousands of retirees may have their pensions threatened by proposed legislation that reportedly contains massive benefit cuts,” said Teamsters President James Hoffa.

    Machinists International President Tom Buffenbarger said, “While there is a genuine retirement crisis in this country today, the solution must not be borne by retirees who worked hard and faithfully contributed to their pension plans and have no practical means to replace lost income.”

    The AARP, which says it represents millions of retirement-age Americans, also attacked the agreement as a “secret, last-minute, closed-door deal between a group of companies, unions and Washington politicians to cut the retirement benefits that have been promised to them.”

    Karen Friedman of the Pension Rights Center, a group that opposes the changes, called the move “outrageous. We think that Congress is sneaking through a provision that would torpedo the most sacred protections of the federal private pension law and will devastate retirees.”

    ___

    Murphy reported from Indianapolis.

    The post Multiemployer pensions could face cuts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    In a recent “Making Sen$e” column, billionaire Nick Hanauer explained why he believes unfair standards for overtime pay are hurting the middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers were paid time-and-a-half for every hour they worked over 40 hours a week. Today, only workers earning less than $23,660 annually are eligible for mandatory overtime pay.

    In spite of this, a recent Gallup poll revealed that full-time U.S. workers report working 47 hours a week on average. Why are workers putting in longer hours when overtime pay is not guaranteed? How has this impacted the economy and the middle class. We took the conversation to Twitter. Nick Hanauer (@NickHanauer) and Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless (@GBurtless) shared their insights, along with PBS NewsHour economics web editor Simone Pathe (@sfpathe). Read a transcript of the discussion below.

    The post Twitter chat: Are U.S. overtime standards fair? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Police officers dismantle an arrangement of umbrellas outside Hong Kong's government complex on Dec. 11. Photo by Brent Lewin/Getty Images

    Police officers dismantle an arrangement of umbrellas outside Hong Kong’s government complex on Dec. 11. Photo by Brent Lewin/Getty Images

    Hundreds of police in Hong Kong methodically dismantled pro-democracy protest camps in the financial district on Thursday and arrested more than 200 people who tried to stop them.

    The protesters, who had camped out in the city since Sept. 28, vowed to return. They have been demonstrating against the Chinese government’s decision to screen all candidates in Hong Kong’s elections in 2017.

    “The movement has been surreal,” said 27-year-old protester Javis Luk. “No-one knew it could last more than two months … in a place where time and money are most important.”

    Protest leaders said they would consider civil disobedience as other forms of getting their point across.

    The police used trucks and cranes to remove the blockades, and by late evening traffic had resumed on the highway.

    The post Police dismantle Hong Kong protest camps appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A newly released Justice Department report says about 20 percent of all instances of sexual assault on college campuses is reported to police. Many victims do not think that what happened them is important enough to file a report, the Justice Department said. Photo by Getty Images

    A newly released Justice Department report says about 20 percent of all instances of sexual assault on college campuses is reported to police. Many victims do not think that what happened them is important enough to file a report, the Justice Department said. Photo by Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Only about 20 percent of campus sexual assault victims go to police, according to a new Justice Department report providing insight into why so many victims choose not to pursue criminal charges.

    About one in 10 say they don’t think what happened to them is important enough to bring to the attention of police. Other reasons they don’t go include the views that it is a personal matter or that authorities won’t or can’t help. One in five said they fear reprisal.

    A recent Rolling Stone article that described a gang rape alleged to have occurred at a University of Virginia fraternity brought renewed attention to the issue of campus sexual assault. The magazine later said it couldn’t stand by its reporting. But even before the article’s release, the Obama administration had taken steps to pressure colleges to better treat victims, and Congress has grappled with how best to get colleges and law enforcement to work together on these cases.

    Researchers from the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics used 1995 to 2013 figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey.

    Some questions and answers arising from the report’s findings, which were released Thursday.

    ___

    Why would some victims think the crime was not important enough to contact police?

    Victims may be reflecting not their own view of the crime, but how they think it will be seen if they report it, said Laura Dunn, a victim’s rights lawyer and executive director of SurvJustice.

    “They are basically suggesting that they know in our society that the only rapes that are taken seriously are those committed by strangers and are significantly violent,” Dunn said.

    Some victims view the crime differently if people start blaming them and they, in turn, start to blame themselves, said Scott Berkowitz, executive director of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which runs a national sexual assault hotline. Or, because they are in a closed social structure where everyone knows everybody, they feel that reporting the crime would be going against their peer group, he said.

    Peter Lake, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law who conducts training for colleges on the topic, said there is a disturbing cultural acceptance of this crime, leading some victims to believe what happened to them is acceptable.

    Lake said some students he’s talked to about rape “don’t know what their legal rights are.”

    ___

    If they aren’t going to police, are victims going elsewhere for support or to report the incident?

    Fewer than one in five victims said they received assistance from a victim service agency. While victims can find support from someone like a friend or loved one, there is evidence that people who get help quickly after an attack fair better in the long term, Berkowitz said.

    It’s unclear from the survey how many victims choose to report the crime to campus authorities rather than police. The survey said a small percentage of victims reported it to officials other than police, but researchers caution against making judgments about a sample that small.

    Some victims’ advocates have said victims prefer to have their cases adjudicated by their colleges instead of using the criminal justice system. But there have been complaints of schools poorly handling cases and protecting the school’s image instead of supporting the victim. Plus, while schools can expel a perpetrator, they can’t send that person to prison to prevent repeat offenses.

    ___

    Are all victims women?

    No. About 17 percent of the student victims were men, the researchers found. That is a higher rate than among nonstudents, where just 4 percent of victims were male.

    __

    How do the rates of sexual assault on female students compare to nonstudents?

    The Justice Department report said that young women between the ages of 18 and 24 are more likely to be raped than those in any other age group.

    The rate of rape and assault was 1.2 times higher among nonstudents than among their peers in school. In both cases, about 80 percent of victims knew the perpetrator. A weapon was used in about one in 10 cases.

    Other studies have shown that about one in five women is raped during their college years.

    ___

    Are there differences between the nature of the crime when you compare female students and nonstudents?

    Nonstudents were more likely to be attacked at home, while attacks on students occurred more often while they were out, engaged in leisure activities.

    There also were some differences in who committed the attacks. Nonstudents were more likely to identify an intimate partner, while college students more often said they were the victim of a friend or acquaintance.

    Students were less likely than their nonstudent peers to go to police.

    In about 40 percent of the cases, victims thought the person who attacked them was drinking or on drugs.

    ___

    Do police need to be involved anyway?

    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is pushing a bill that would force colleges to enter into a memorandum of understanding with law enforcement over the handling of such cases, has said the goal should be to get 100 percent of victims go to police. But she said she’s heard from survivors who feel re-victimized by the process of seeking justice.

    David Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University who has litigated Title IX cases, said there are clearly cases in the criminal justice system where there is abuse of victims and minority groups, and it’s far from a perfect system. But, he said, “Rape is an incredibly serious crime that college administrators aren’t equipped to handle. It’s an issue that very reasonable people disagree about who care deeply about rape survivors and justice.”

    Ultimately, Cohen said, “If people don’t feel like they can get justice in the system, then they are going to keep it to themselves.”

    The post Justice Department: Majority of campus sexual assault goes unreported to police appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Obama Administration supports a Republican-backed spending bill, despite Democrat protests.

    The Obama Administration supports a Republican-backed spending bill, despite Democrat protests.

    Despite objections on everything from weakening Wall Street regulations to loosening campaign-finance laws, the White House is pushing for passage of a short-term Republican government funding measure.

    In a dramatic vote earlier Thursday, the funding bill passed the House by the narrowest of margins, 214-212. The Obama administration move puts the president at odds with the left, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who was the president’s pick to help him set up the Consumer Financial Protection Board.

    “We have just to stand up and say no,” Warren thundered Wednesday, rallying opposition against the bill. “We want every single person in the House of Representatives to stop and think, ‘Do I want to vote for something that is reckless, that puts our economy in danger? And who does it help? It helps a handful of the largest financial institutions in this country.’ Make no mistake, this is about money.”

    On Thursday, Warren warned the bill would increase the chance of future Wall Street bailouts.

    “Who do you work for — Wall Street or the American people?” Warren asked of her colleagues on the Senate floor.

    Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took the the House floor shortly afterward and said she is “enormously disappointed” the White House is going along with the bill.

    White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest at a White House briefing called the $1 trillion bill “a compromise” and said the president would sign it, because it would “provide certainty to our economy.”

    The White House’s “Statement of Administration Policy” praised the legislation for funding most of the government for a year and providing funding to fight Ebola, the Islamic State militant group, and initiatives on education, manufacturing and trade.

    But the statement was remarkable in that it spent two of the four paragraphs blasting the legislation:

    “The Administration objects to the inclusion of ideological and special interest riders in the House bill. In particular, the Administration is opposed to the inclusion of a rider that would amend the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and weaken a critical component of financial system reform aimed at reducing taxpayer risk. Additionally, the Administration is opposed to inclusion of a rider that would amend the Federal Election Campaign Act to allow individual donors to contribute to national political party committee accounts for conventions, buildings and recounts in amounts that are dramatically higher than what the law currently permits.

    “Furthermore, the Administration is disappointed that the bill would fund the Department of Homeland Security through February 27, 2015, at last year’s levels. Short-term continuing resolution funding measures are disruptive, create uncertainty, and impede efficient resource planning and execution.”

    Despite all that, the White House urged its passage.

    PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.

    The post Rebuking the left, White House endorses Republican funding bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Three pre-teen girls — Quinn, Izzie and Mimi — watch a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. A camera captures the wonder on their faces as they hold the newly formed butterfly. These girls are the star of Twin Cities Public Television’s “SciGirls,” which aims to inspire young girls to go into science and engineering.

    “’SciGirls’ is a distinctive way of letting girls see themselves succeeding at science and engineering,” says Richard Hudson, director of science production for Twin Cities Public Television.

    The show starts with a problem from animated characters Izzie and Jake. They learn how to solve their problem using science and engineering, bringing girls in front of the camera to learn and participate in science experiments. Getting to do real science is the appeal for Mimi, one of the show’s young stars.

    “I feel that when you read about it, it’s just not the same and you won’t learn as much,” she said.

    “SciGirls” is not just a TV show. The program also has a website, which provides a safe networking and learning place for girls ages 8-12 who want to learn about science and engineering.

    Miles O’Brien has more behind the scenes of this show on this episode of the National Science Foundation series, “Science Nation”.*

    *For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.

    The post ‘SciGirls’ turns the camera on young citizen scientists appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    12DaysBanner_FinalWelcome to Day 4 of our 12 days of NewsHour. To thank our audience for supporting PBS NewsHour all year long, We’ll be releasing a new gift each day until Dec. 19.

    Today’s gift comes to you from PBS NewsHour co-anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. This time of year fills many of us with the desire to pick up the phone and catch up with friends and family. While there is no way to prevent the disappointment of those nearest and dearest to you when they call and you are not there to answer the phone, their feelings of disappointment may be assuaged ever so slightly by this unexpected and delightful voicemail greeting from Gwen and Judy. You can download the audio file above as an MP3 and upload it directly to your phone, or record the voicemail from your computer’s speakers.

    When you do call your loved ones back, be sure to fill them in on the other gifts we’ve unveiled. On Day 1 we invited you to cozy up by the fire. On Day 2 we provided a NewsHour-themed craft to keep you occupied while you’re snowed-in this winter. And on Day 3 Judy Woodruff shared one of her favorite recipes.

    Check back tomorrow for Day 5. And remember to share photos of yourself enjoying your gifts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #12DaysofNewsHour.

    The post 12 Days of NewsHour: A voicemail greeting from Gwen and Judy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    John Brennan

    Updated at 3:06 p.m. EST | CIA Director John Brennan said Thursday in response to the release of a Senate report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation tactics that some agency officers used “abhorrent” techniques and it was “unknowable” whether they produced any helpful intelligence from terrorism suspects.

    He also defended the agency and the CIA officers who fought and died in the Afghanistan war. The CIA “did a lot of things right” in a time when there were “no easy answers,” he said.

    While Brennan addressed the public, the Twitter account for the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, launched a live factcheck of Brennan’s remarks, using the hashtag #ReadTheReport.

    DiFiTweet_1

    Read the Senate’s full report below:

    Senate Republicans issued a minority report in response to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s executive summary on enhanced interrogation techniques.

    The post CIA director: Some agency officers used ‘abhorrent’ interrogation tactics appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    White potatoes may be included as part of the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, also known as WIC, if the Congressional spending bill is passed as written. This would be the first time that the white potato has been part of the WIC program. Photo by Glenn/Flickr Creative Commons

    White potatoes may be included as part of the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, also known as WIC, if the Congressional spending bill is passed as written. This would be the first time that the white potato has been part of the WIC program. Photo by Glenn/Flickr Creative Commons

    WASHINGTON — It’s another political victory for the popular potato.

    For the first time, low-income women would be able to pay for white potatoes with government-subsidized vouchers issued by the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known as WIC.

    The potato provision is part of a massive spending bill Congress is considering before the end of the year.

    White potatoes have been excluded from WIC since fruits and vegetables were first allowed under the program in 2009. It’s not that white potatoes themselves aren’t nutritious, but they’re often used to make french fries, which are usually fried or baked in unhealthy fats and oils.

    The Institute of Medicine had recommended that they be excluded, saying WIC recipients already eat enough white potatoes.

    The potato industry has aggressively lobbied for inclusion, saying it’s not as much about sales as the perception that potatoes aren’t as nutritious as other vegetables. Lawmakers from roughly 40 potato-growing states have been pushing for several years to include the potato in the program.

    The potato’s advocates argue that it provides potassium, dietary fiber and folate, a water-soluble B vitamin, which can be helpful for pregnant women. They say it is also economical, which could help low-income mothers stretch their dollars.

    Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from the potato-growing state of Maine, has long promoted the nutritional attributes of potatoes, including potassium.

    “Potatoes are cholesterol-free, fat-free and sodium-free and can be prepared in countless healthy ways,” she said in a statement Wednesday.

    The potato industry had another major legislative victory in 2011, when Congress voted to thwart the Agriculture Department’s recommendation that only two servings a week of potatoes and other starchy vegetables be served in federally subsidized school lunches. The USDA effort was an attempt to limit the proliferation of french fries on school lunch lines.

    WIC provides grants to states to provide food vouchers to low-income pregnant women, women who have recently given birth and infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk. Only a handful of foods meant to boost nutrition are allowed, such as whole grains, low-fat dairy and fruits and vegetables.

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has opposed efforts to add white potatoes to WIC, but he said in a letter to a member of Congress earlier this year that USDA would move up a regular review of the WIC food package by more than a year so the department could seek the assistance of the institute to learn if excluding white potatoes “is still supported by the most current science available.”

    That review by the institute, which advises the government on health matters, is already underway.

    At an event Thursday, Vilsack again deferred to the institute’s recommendations. “When it comes to children’s health, I’ve got much more confidence in pediatricians than politicians,” he said.

    WIC supporters say Congress shouldn’t meddle in the program, which has always been based on the institute’s recommendations and isn’t supposed to be political.

    “This opens the door for other corporate interests to press their priorities over the integrity of the food packages,” said Douglas Greenaway of the National WIC Association.

    The post Government may subsidize white potatoes for low-income women, children nutrition program appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    After years of drought, North California is the in the crosshairs of a strong storm that has produced floodwaters and power outages. Photo by Mathesont/Flickr Creative Commons

    After years of drought, North California is the in the crosshairs of a strong storm that has produced floodwaters and power outages. Photo by Mathesont/Flickr Creative Commons

    Northern California is being hit with a massive storm that’s pounding the state with rain, snow and strong winds.

    The National Weather Service considers it the strongest storm the state has seen in five years and expects it to dump as much as 8 inches of rain over a 24-hour period. Since the storm began last night, more than 90,000 San Franciscans have already lost power.

    Travel by train, ferry and air has been delayed across the San Francisco Bay Area. The power outage caused local public transportation systems, Muni and BART, to close two area stations, including one due to flooding. The FAA has issued a weather update saying that flights at San Francisco International Airport are arriving late by an average of three hours and 40 minutes.

    In a very rare occurrence, public and private schools have closed in San Francisco, Oakland and nearly all of Marin County.

    Flash flood warnings have been issued all over the Bay Area, in Sonoma, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Napa, Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. Many are worried about mud and debris slides since this storm arrives right on the heels of a year of intense drought and wildfires.

    “Given the long-term drought and short–term saturated ground, many trees will lose the battle to the wind on Thursday,” said news station KPIX 5 meteorologist Paul Deanno.

    Over the past three years California has been in the midst of a record-shattering drought that caused Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in January. In September, he signed legislation to strengthen local management of groundwater basins across the state, in an effort to boost urban water conservation.

    The heavy rains are being produced by a tropical system called the “Pineapple Express,” which delivers long, narrow gusts of warm moisture from Hawaii to the West Coast. It is an example of an atmospheric river that pipes concentrated water vapor from the tropics towards the western U.S.

    The U.S. Coast Guard has issued warnings to surfers and those who live near water as waves are swelling to 15 feet high. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, winds are gusting up to 140 miles per hour, and as much as 4 feet of snow is expected.

    On Twitter, the hashtags #BayAreaStorm and #Stormaggedon are trending.

    The post During a historic drought, storm batters California appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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