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- 02/28/15--08:04: US leaders condemn killing of Russian opposition figure
- 02/28/15--08:51: Obama, Netanyahu on collision course 6 years in the making
- 02/28/15--09:56: Amid concussion fears, parents push for new rules in youth soccer
- 02/28/15--10:08: A parent’s dilemma: Is soccer really safe for kids?
- 02/28/15--10:21: Consumers frustrated by government error on health care tax forms
- 02/28/15--12:03: New law aims to scrap costly metal thefts
- 02/28/15--12:25: Schock repays government 40k for ‘Downton Abbey’ office decor
- 02/28/15--13:09: Uber under fire over data breach for up to 50,000 drivers
- 02/28/15--13:23: Census shows China’s wild giant panda population growing
- 02/28/15--13:40: Dems call GOP homeland security strategy political blunder
- 02/28/15--14:34: Sen. Rand Paul takes first in CPAC presidential straw poll
- 02/28/15--15:21: Stolen Picasso painting recovered by New Jersey officials
- 02/28/15--15:30: WHO: More than 1 billion young people at risk for hearing loss
- 02/28/15--15:31: Behind the funding fight to avert Homeland Security shutdown
- 03/01/15--08:30: Dysfunction in Congress not limited to homeland security fight
- 03/01/15--09:36: ‘I am not afraid': Mass rally held in Moscow to remember Nemtsov
- 03/01/15--10:58: Supreme court to hear case on voter-approved redistricting
- 03/01/15--11:53: Hyundai recalls 200k cars due to power steering defects
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday condemned the killing of prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov.
Obama said in a statement that Nemtsov was brutally murdered. He called on Russia’s government to “conduct a prompt, impartial and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his murder and ensure that those responsible for this vicious killing are brought to justice.”
Nemtsov is a former deputy prime minister who later became a prominent opposition leader and a sharp critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 55-year-old was shot and killed early Saturday in Moscow just outside of the Kremlin.
Obama called Nemtsov a “tireless advocate” for Russia and for the rights of Russian citizens, and praised Nemtsov for fighting corruption. Obama and Nemtsov met in Moscow in 2009.
In a separate statement, Kerry said Nemtsov “sought to reform and open Russia, and to empower the Russian people to have a greater say in the life of their country. His absence will be deeply felt in Russia and around the world.”
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was more strident in his criticism of Putin’s government. “Boris is dead because of the environment of impunity that Vladimir Putin has created in Russia, where individuals are routinely persecuted and attacked for their beliefs, including by the Russian government, and no one is ever held responsible,” McCain said in a statement released Friday night.
The killing comes as the U.S. and Russia are at odds over Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine.
The post US leaders condemn killing of Russian opposition figure appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — For six years, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been on a collision course over how to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a high-stakes endeavor both men see as a centerpiece of their legacies.
The coming weeks will put the relationship between their countries, which otherwise remain stalwart allies, to one of its toughest tests.
Netanyahu is bound for Washington for an address to Congress on Tuesday aimed squarely at derailing Obama’s cherished bid for a diplomatic deal with Tehran. At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry and other international negotiators will be in Switzerland for talks with the Iranians, trying for a framework agreement before a late March deadline.
In between are Israel’s elections March 17, which have heightened the political overtones of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington.
The prime minister is speaking to Congress at the request of Republicans. His visit was coordinated without the Obama administration’s knowledge, deepening tensions between two leaders who have never shown much affection for each other.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street, said Netanyahu was “crossing some lines that haven’t been crossed before and is putting Israel into the partisan crossfire in a way it has not been before.”
But the largest pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has tried to play down the partisanship.
“AIPAC welcomes the prime minister’s speech to Congress and we believe that this is a very important address,” spokesman Marshall Wittmann said. “We have been actively encouraging senators and representatives to attend and we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from both sides of the aisle.”
Nearly a dozen Democratic lawmakers plan to sit out Netanyahu’s speech, calling it an affront to the president.
Stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb has become a defining challenge for both Obama and Netanyahu, yet one they have approached far differently.
For Obama, getting Iran to verifiably prove it is not pursuing nuclear weapons would be a bright spot in a foreign policy arena in which numerous outcomes are uncertain and would validate his early political promise to negotiate with Iran without conditions.
Netanyahu considers unacceptable any deal with Iran that doesn’t end its nuclear program entirely and opposes the diplomatic pursuit as one that minimizes what he considers an existential threat to Israel.
Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use.
U.S. and Iranian officials reported progress in the latest talks on a deal that would freeze Tehran’s nuclear program for 10 years, but allow it to slowly ramp up in the final years of the accord.
Obama has refused to meet Netanyahu during his visit, with the White House citing its policy of not meeting with foreign leaders soon before their elections. Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry will both be out of the country on trips announced only after Netanyahu accepted the GOP offer to speak on Capitol Hill.
The prime minister is scheduled to speak Monday at AIPAC’s annual policy conference. The Obama administration will be represented at the event by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and national security adviser Susan Rice, who criticized Netanyahu’s plans to address Congress as “destructive” to the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
The Iran dispute has heightened a relationship between the two leaders that has been frosty from the start. They lack any personal chemistry, leaving them with virtually no reservoir of goodwill to get them through their policy disagreements.
Within months of taking office, Obama irritated Israel when, in an address to the Arab world, he challenged the legitimacy of Jewish settlements on Palestinian-claimed land and cited the Holocaust as the justification for Israel’s existence, not any historical Jewish tie to the land.
The White House was furious when Netanyahu’s government defied Obama and announced plans to construct new housing units in East Jerusalem while Biden was visiting Israel in 2010. Additional housing plans that year upended U.S. efforts to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The tension between Obama and Netanyahu was laid bare in an unusually public manner during an Oval Office meeting in 2011. In front of a crowd of journalists, the prime minister lectured Obama at length on Israel’s history and dismissed the president’s conditions for restarting peace talks.
Later that year, a microphone caught Obama telling his then-French counterpart in a private conversation that while he may be fed up with Netanyahu, “You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day.”
Despite suspecting that Netanyahu was cheering for his rival in the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama tried reset relations with the prime minister after his re-election. He made his first trip as president to Israel and the two leaders went to great lengths to put on a happy front, referring to each other by their first names and touring some of the region’s holy sites together.
The healing period was to be short-lived.
Another attempt at Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed. Israeli officials were withering in their criticism of Kerry, who had shepherded the talks, with the country’s defensive minister calling him “obsessive” and “messianic.” The Obama administration returned the favor last summer with its own unusually unsparing criticism of Israel for causing civilian deaths when war broke out in Gaza.
The U.S. and Israel have hit rocky patches before.
The settlement issue has been a persistent thorn in relations, compounded by profound unhappiness in Washington over Israeli military operations in the Sinai, Iraq and Lebanon during the Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations that led those presidents to take or consider direct punitive measures. Yet through it all, the United States has remained Israel’s prime benefactor, providing it with $3 billion a year in assistance and defending it from criticism at the United Nations and elsewhere.
“We have brought relations back in the past and we will do it again now because at the end of the day they are based on mutual interests,” said Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and informal adviser to Netanyahu. “The interests of Israel and the U.S. are similar and sometime identical and I think that is what will determine in the end and not feelings of one kind or another.”
The post Obama, Netanyahu on collision course 6 years in the making appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s note: This is an updated segment to a report that originally aired on October 25, 2014.
DR. RICHARD FLYER: Alright here, my man… we’re just gonna take a little look at your ears.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Richard Flyer has been my family’s pediatrician for thirteen years, and to be totally honest: I love the guy. I admire him and I trust him.
But three years ago — when my son, Jack was ten — Flyer said something that floored us. He told Jack he wanted him to stop playing soccer, completely.
Flyer argued that the dozens and dozens of kids he’d seen with serious, sometimes life-altering concussions – some of them from heading the ball — had convinced him that soccer itself was not safe.
DR. RICHARD FLYER: We need to look at these sports realistically and say, “Are they really something we want our children to do?” Do we want to, in the name of sport, put a child’s brain in harm’s way?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Flyer’s warning got me and my wife Tory to take a long, uncomfortable look at whether the sport our three kids love is safe.
The benefits they get out of the game? Those are obvious, but are they worth the risks of really bad injury? For the last couple of years, we’ve been struggling with a dilemma that’s facing really millions of parents across the country.
TORY BRANGHAM: I just feel really confused and worried and just unsure what we’re supposed to do now.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It’s important to say that we became a soccer family partly by design. Our three kids are Jack, who’s 13, Gavin is 11, and Ally is nine.
When they were little, they all tried a lot of different sports, but when it came time to officially join teams, we really steered them to soccer, which we thought was a ‘safe’ sport, compared to something like football.
NFL ANNOUNCER: Don Brown left the game with a concussion.
TORY BRANGHAM: I think I knew enough and this is now ten years ago to know that football wasn’t really an option for our kids.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Because it wasn’t safe.
TORY BRANGHAM: Because it was considered unsafe.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In 2008, that concern was driven home by a horrible accident in our town. A 16 year-old football player at Montclair high school –has name was Ryne Dougherty — died from a brain injury he got during a game.
The whole town was really shaken up by his death. Did we console ourselves, thinking, well, that couldn’t happen to our kids? I don’t know. Maybe. But we kept signing the kids up… and they loved it.
ALLY BRANGHAM: I really like playing– how there are positions, cause there’s, like, a special thing that you have to do when you’re doing it so you feel like you’re an important part of it.
GAVIN BRANGHAM: You get to move around a lot, and that you have to be a good team, not just be composed of good players.
JACK BRANGHAM: Soccer is just the best sport there is. Period.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But every so often, Dr. Flyer’s concerns would echo in the back our of minds… In 2012, one of Jack’s teammates — Nick Graham — went up for a header, fell to the ground, and suffered such a severe concussion that his headaches and dizziness didn’t get better for months. Nick left the team and he hasn’t played since.
Within the last year, at least three of Jack’s teammates suffered concussions. Did that make us think about taking Jack — or any of our kids — out of soccer? Honestly, it didn’t. Seeing them learn how important hard work and dedication is… watching them deal with success and failure… it all seemed worth it.
TORY BRANGHAM: In this day and age, there’s so many warnings — parental warnings. It’s not safe to walk to school, it’s not safe to drink that drink, it’s not safe to watch that screen.
There’s so many “No’s.” And quite frankly some of the things in life that are the most fun and are most rewarding have some risk involved. And I’m not encouraging my kids to skydive.
What I’m saying is soccer is fun and it’s thrilling and it’s exciting. And…
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And it gives them so much.
TORY BRANGHAM: And it gives them a lot of pleasure. So I wasn’t prepared to take that away from them.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Then came the 2014 World Cup, which we all loved, but also where we saw some of those really ugly blows to the head, and then I read this story about a movement to take heading out of kid’s soccer because of concern over concussions.
I mentioned this to a friend who’s spent his entire life around the game. Declan Carney was born in Ireland. He manages my son Jack’s team and our boys have played together for several years.
DECLAN CARNEY: There’s no question that concussions need to be dealt with and need to be taken very seriously whenever they happen.
But if soccer, heading a soccer ball was actually a real danger of some sort of brain injury, I think it would’ve exhibited itself somewhere in medical history in Europe or in South America or in Asia, where people play soccer pretty much all their life and have done for the last 80, 100 years. And I don’t think the science says it’s there.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I checked, and Declan is right: there aren’t any large-scale, long term studies connecting soccer to brain injury among the millions of soccer players in Europe or South America or Asia.
But that article I read cited one small American study showing that adult amateur soccer players who headed the ball a lot – between about 900 and 1,500 times a year (which is way more than any kid I know ever heads the ball) — those players showed abnormalities in their brains — they’re the red and yellow sections here on these scans — that were very similar to what you’d see in concussions.
But many of these players said they hadn’t had concussions. So the study suggests that some kind of brain trauma might be occurring from a lot of heading without players being aware of it… without obvious symptoms.
That article also quoted this man — Dr. Robert Cantu — he’s a neurosurgeon, co-directs a brain study center at Boston University, and he’s one of the nation’s top experts on youth concussions.
Cantu acknowledges the science connecting soccer with brain injury is limited. He’s in fact called for much more research to be done, but even so he thinks it’s better to be safe and not allow young kids to repeatedly head the ball.
DR. ROBERT CANTU: If you took heading out of soccer, it wouldn’t be behind football in the incidence of concussion. It wouldn’t even be in the high-risk group. It would be in a low-risk group.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Cantu told me that headers, as well as the collisions and hard falls to the ground that often accompany them, are problematic for kids because unlike adult brains kid’s brains are still developing.
DR. ROBERT CANTU: The young brain is largely not myelinated. Myelin is the coating of nerve fibers that connect nerve cells, similar to coating on a telephone wire, it helps transmission but it also gives strength.
And so when you violently shake the young brain, you have a much greater chance to disrupt nerve fibers and their connections than you do an adult brain.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Cantu’s says a kid’s head also sits on a less developed neck and torso than an adult’s does — so the same blow might cause more shaking to a kid’s head than it would to a grown up’s.
DR. ROBERT CANTU: So, you’ve got a bobble head doll effect with our youngsters, so that the very minimal impact is now gonna set their brain in much more motion than it would an adult brain with a strong neck.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Cantu says strengthening a kid’s neck muscles can help, but those soccer helmets and headgear that have become popular done really offer much protection, so he says there’s only one thing left to do.
DR. ROBERT CANTU: Take the most injurious activity for head injury out of it, but let the rest of the sport go on. And that’s playing soccer without heading.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Some others who know far more about the game than I do are also listening to Cantu. One of whom you might recognize. Brandi Chastain’s dramatic penalty shot against China won the 1999 World Cup for the U.S. She also helped win gold for the U.S at two different Olympics.
She now lives in northern California with her husband and her 8 year-old son Jaden. She coaches his team, and helps coach a Division 1 team at Santa Clara University. She, along with several of her former teammates from the U.S. National team, have joined forces with Dr. Cantu’s organization.
BRANDI CHASTAIN: We don’t need to have heading in youth soccer, 14 and younger.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The interesting thing is just a few years ago Chastain was on NBC News saying that heading was safe for kids, as long as they were trained correctly.
BRANDI CHASTAIN: [NBC News clip] It’s a part of the game, and I think it’s an important part, and i think it’s a beautiful part of the game.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You at the time, were saying, “I think that it can be taught to kids, and it should stay in the game for kids.” Now you think differently. I wonder what was it in particular that changed your mind?
BRANDI CHASTAIN: I think it was hearing the information that Dr. Cantu was putting out. The more I started hearing about it, and the more research that has come out, I just thought, I have to protect them, and I know that soccer, that doesn’t need to exist at this young age.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Chastain says taking heading out won’t hurt the development of young soccer players — she says they can still learn the techniques using softer balls and then introduce it back into games when they’re 14.
But she admitted that so far — their campaign really hasn’t taken off. Just a handful of soccer programs have removed heading. She says the lead really has to come from the top — from the international governing bodies of soccer, FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Those organizations are currently being sued by a group of soccer parents in California who say they haven’t done enough to protect kids from head injury.
We reached out to both organizations who said the litigation made it hard for them to comment — but both told us player safety is a priority. And U.S. Soccer also told NewsHour that their concussion policies are regularly being reviewed.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Back in New Jersey, the soccer season rolls on. We see a fair amount of heading, especially in my older son Jack’s games.
The boys take hard ones, soft ones. They score goals with them.
Our soccer club, Montclair United, says it’s very concerned about concussions and trains our coaches thoroughly but they say they don’t make the rules, and so heading remains a part of the game.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Scott Davisson is the President of Montclair United soccer club, and has two kids who’ve played in the program.
SCOTT DAVISSON: We’re not experts. We’re not head trauma experts. We’re not academics that are able to really discern from these short-term studies or, you know, these articles the best course of action, so we’re trying to be conservative and make sure that player safety is at the forefront of this.
We’re also not trying to make sure the pendulum doesn’t swings too far the other way — and we’re just trying to make the best decision for the kids, just like you’re trying to make the best decision for your family.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And quite frankly, there’s a lot of doubt on a lot of people’s minds that heading is a problem at all.
DECLAN CARNEY: I have a 13 year old son that I wanna protect as much as anybody wants to protect their son. But I will let my son head a ball because I see no evidence whatsoever that there is a danger for anybody in youth soccer playing, heading a ball.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But our pediatrician, Dr. Flyer, says taking heading out of kids soccer doesn’t go far enough in his opinion. He says what he’s sees in his own patients for three decades is evidence enough that the sport isn’t safe for kids.
DR. RICHARD FLYER: We had this 30-year experiment. The results are coming in. It’s not safe for children to do this. It’s a contact sport. That and, you know, that’s also a euphemism. It’s a brain-injuring sport. And if I don’t get this information across, even at the risk of upsetting people, I’ve failed.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So where does all this leave us? My wife and kids and I still get up every Saturday and Sunday and get ready for another weekend of soccer.
But after all the interviews I’ve done, Tory and I recently told our kids not to head the ball anymore, not till they’re 14. So far, it’s not been an issue in their games or with their coaches.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And since this story first aired last fall, our soccer club updated its policies on heading and head injury.
They’re now offering free baseline testing for all players, so that if a kid does get a concussion, doctors can know how serious it is, and track their recovery better.
They’re also updating how they teach heading techniques, using softer balls for young kids, and focusing on neck strength.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you feel like we’re doing the right thing by letting them play?
TORY BRANGHAM: We are sort of punting the ball down the field and avoiding a decision. Which in and of itself is a decision. Our decision is that we’ve let our kids continue to play soccer.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And are you okay with that?
TORY BRANGHAM: Well, you know, I sort of just sit there secretly hoping at the end of every game that they walk off the field in one piece. I just want them to be whole.
The post Amid concussion fears, parents push for new rules in youth soccer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Three years ago, during a routine check-up for my oldest son, Jack, then 10, our beloved pediatrician looked Jack straight in the eye and said: “I hope when I see you next, you’re not playing soccer anymore.”
My perfectly healthy kid, sitting on the exam table in his soccer jersey, was dumbstruck. So was my wife.
Our doctor’s warning — one he now gives to all his young patients and their families — came from his years of caring for an increasing flow of kids suffering serious, sometimes life-altering concussions from playing soccer. “If I don’t get this information across,” he told me, “even at the risk of upsetting people, I’ve failed. I haven’t done my job.”
According to Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the country’s top specialists in youth sports injury, soccer is right up there behind football in the incidence of reported concussions in kids. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 10,000 kids land in the emergency room every year for soccer-related brain injuries.
But at the same time, following the doctor’s orders seemed unthinkable.
My wife and I have raised three soccer-mad kids in a soccer-mad New Jersey town in an increasingly soccer-mad nation. From fall through spring, our evenings and weekends are consumed by practices and games; our home decorated with the requisite smelly pile of cleats, shin guards and bits of astroturf. And then comes all the laundry…
We know the benefits of team sports are huge and long-lasting, and when our kids were little, we thought we were doing the right thing by steering them away from football, especially after a tragedy in 2008 when a 16-year-old from our local high school died from a concussion and brain hemorrhage he got on the field. Soccer seemed like the “safe” alternative.
But as our kids got older and bigger and their play became more intense, our pediatrician’s warning kept creeping back into our minds. My wife saw two girls collide over a header; one of them left the field in an ambulance. A teammate of my son’s fell hard after going up for a header. The headaches and dizziness from his concussion lasted months, took a toll on his schoolwork and has kept him from playing soccer ever since. Of the 17 boys on Jack’s current team, at least three have had concussions within the last year.
Believe me, I get it: soccer’s a contact sport. Kids can get hurt. I’m not looking to bubble-wrap my kids, but I’d be lying if I said my wife and I weren’t increasingly uneasy while watching from the sidelines.
During the World Cup last year, we cheered along like everyone else, but also winced when players like Germany’s Christoph Kramer took brutal blows to the head but were allowed to keep right on playing. Kramer was apparently so disoriented that when the final whistle blew, he had to check with a referee whether the game was over or not. What kind of lesson was that teaching my kids?
That’s when I read about a fledgling movement led by Brandi Chastain and other former members of the United States women’s World Cup team who were trying to remove heading for kids aged 14 and under. (Heading, of course, is the deliberate striking of an airborne ball with your head.) Though brain injuries can also be caused by falls or collisions with other players, leaping up for a header can often cause those accidents.
Just a few years ago Chastain had defended heading in kids soccer, but she explained to me why she’d changed her mind. She was now the parent of an 8-year-old soccer player. She’d also heard from her World Cup teammates, several of whom have lingering symptoms from concussions they had suffered on the pitch. But most of all, Chastain said the emerging science about head injury and concussions had convinced her this was the right move, and one that wouldn’t fundamentally alter the game she loves.
She said young players can still practice heading, but just use a softer ball instead. She’d rather see kids re-double their focus on foot-skills and then, when they’re 14, she says heading can be safely introduced into their game. Dr. Cantu, who’s a partner on Chastain’s campaign, said there’s some evidence that heading the ball a lot — around 1,000 times a year — can cause brain injury, even if those headers aren’t causing noticeable concussions. In addition, he said kids’ brains are still developing, so any blows to the head can damage crucial nerve fibers before they’re fully formed. Finally, kids experience what Cantu calls “the bobble-head effect”: their heads are disproportionately large compared to their bodies, and their relatively weaker neck muscles can’t protect their heads as much as full-grown adult’s can.
For those reasons, even though he admits conclusive evidence of harm is still lacking, he thinks eliminating heading from kids’ soccer is the prudent way to go.
Very few soccer programs have taken this advice. Cantu and Chastain say change needs to come from the top, from governing bodies like FIFA or the U.S. Soccer Federation. Those organizations wouldn’t comment to me on any plans they might have, in part because they’re currently being sued by a group of soccer-parents who allege they’ve not done enough to prevent head-injuries for kids.
So what’s a soccer parent to do? My wife and I haven’t seriously considered telling our kids they can’t play anymore, because we think the benefits still outweigh the risks. But we have told them to avoid heading the ball until they’re 14. To Jack, this is a sacrilege, but he says he’ll comply. Chastain believes if enough parents speak up about their concerns, things might change, but heading is still part of her own 8-year-old son’s league.
So next season, we’ll be out at the games, watching our kids succeed and fail, their faces red with exertion. Frankly, it is one of the joys of our lives. My wife and I can talk our kids’ ears off about the value of hard work and dedication, but we don’t have to say a word when they’re out there with their teammates, absorbing those same crucial lessons on the field.
Editor’s note: This piece is an updated version of a post originally published on the Huffington Post’s Parents blog on Oct. 31, 2014.
The post A parent’s dilemma: Is soccer really safe for kids? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — It’s not uncommon to feel some trepidation around tax-filing season. But there’s an added hassle this year for nearly a million consumers who got financial help with health insurance premiums under President Barack Obama’s law.
The government sent consumers erroneous information on forms that they need to complete their 2014 tax returns. Now they’re getting robocalls and emails advising them to delay filing until the mistakes get fixed.
Some are taking it in stride. Others wonder what else could go wrong.
“It’s been a comedy of errors from the start,” said K.C. Crafts, a freelance financial writer from South Berwick, Maine.
The mistake the government made affected 800,000 customers receiving subsidized health coverage through the federal insurance market. Some states running their own insurance exchanges also have had tax-form troubles.
In the federal case, 2015 premiums were substituted for what should have been 2014 numbers on new tax forms called 1095-As. Those forms are like W-2s for people who got subsidized health insurance – building blocks for filing an accurate tax return.
Crafts said her form has another error as well, potentially more serious. The coverage dates are wrong, and the result makes it appear as if she and her husband got much more in subsidies than they actually received. Maine is one of the 37 states served by HealthCare.gov, which is run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“This is not just an aggravation, it’s a financial issue, because I could end up paying for a clerical error,” she said.
The Obama administration says it’s trying to figure out what caused the broader mistake, even as it rushes corrected information to affected taxpayers.
Asked for an explanation at a recent House hearing, HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan put it this way: “It appears there was an unfavorable interaction between two pieces of software code.” Translation: The administration is still technologically challenged by health insurance programs.
“This is an unforced error,” scolded Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa. “It provides fodder for those who want to tear down” the law.
Donna Brown of Austin, Texas, said she thinks it’s about on par for the government.
“I never am too surprised when the federal government makes mistakes like this,” said Brown, a former executive administrative assistant for a tech company. Taking a break from the industry’s pressures, she said she’s relieved that she was able to get health insurance as a result of Obama’s law. Brown usually files her taxes at the last minute, so the error notices haven’t affected her routine.
“Whoever implemented this, there would have been problems,” said Brown. “It’s new. Even though it’s the second year of coverage, it’s the first time these statements are coming out.”
The health care law offers subsidized private insurance to people who do not have access to coverage on the job. Because those subsidies are delivered as tax credits, recipients have to account for them each year on their tax returns. That’s what the 1095-A tax form is supposed to help them do.
For John Stephens of Littleton, Colorado, it’s turned to vexation. An audio recording and editing specialist, Stephens said his 1095-A indicates he was only insured for the last two months of 2014, when in fact he had coverage since February. Such a mistake could expose him to tax penalties that the law levies on people who remain uninsured if they can otherwise afford coverage.
Stephens said he’s spent a lot of time on the phone with his insurer and the Colorado health insurance exchange, which is run by that state. “It’s really easy for them to bounce the ball back to the other.” Last year, insurers said many of the enrollment records they got from the then-new insurance markets had errors.
Spokesman Curtis Hubbard said the Colorado exchange is reviewing its records and working with Stephens’ insurer to resolve the situation.
Stephens said he suspects his situation is an early indicator of more problems. “It’s the pointy end of the spear,” he said. “It’s going to be a big, big problem.”
Hubbard said Colorado sent out about 107,000 of the forms to consumers. So far, the exchange has gotten about 170 calls with questions.
The post Consumers frustrated by government error on health care tax forms appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s note: This is an updated segment to a report that originally aired on July 13, 2014.
RICK KARR: Angela Day’s landline kept going dead in 2012. She didn’t have a cell phone she could use instead because cell coverage is spotty in the Appalachian region of Ohio where she lives.
And at the house where she was living with her daughter and her parents, there’s no cell signal at all. So whenever she had to be away from home, she worried especially about her father.
ANGELA DAY: He had a heart condition, and he had had several open-heart surgeries. He had triple-bypass surgery.
RICK KARR: A few days after Christmas, he said he wasn’t feeling well.
ANGELA DAY: He called over to talk to a nurse, and he was having problems with the phone.
RICK KARR: His condition deteriorated, and finally he said he needed an ambulance. The family called 9-1-1, but the line was so bad that they finally gave up and Day’s brother rushed their father to doctors. But it was too late. He died that evening.
ANGELA DAY: It was really frustrating close to the whole week afterwards we couldn’t even call out to plan the funeral. We couldn’t even call and tell family that he had passed. I had to go to my workplace to use the phone to even call the funeral home.
RICK KARR: Angela Day’s phone didn’t work because thieves were stealing telephone wires all over the county. It’s one of the poorest in Ohio, and the copper in the lines was valuable. There could be hundreds of dollars worth in the cables strung between two utility poles.
At the time, thieves were stealing all kinds of metal throughout Ohio: parts from farm equipment and electrical substations, manhole covers, grave markers. For five years running, the state has led the nation in metal thefts. And from one corner of Ohio to another, thieves have put the public in danger.
RICK KARR: According to police here in Akron, there was an accident on that interstate highway behind me because of an attempt to steal copper wire from the high tension lines beyond it.
The would-be-thieves climbed up and cut the line so it dangled over the interstate under thousands of volts of tension. When an SUV got too close there was a bright flash that blew out the windshield and knocked the driver unconscious. The driver survived, but thieves themselves aren’t always so lucky.
RICK KARR: I’m struck by the idea of somebody climbing up a utility pole and cutting something like this down. I mean this is gonna be carrying a lot of juice. This is gonna be a dangerous crime to commit.
DETECTIVE BOB MEADER: Let me be very clear on this. We have people dying regularly for this.
RICK KARR: Commander Bob Meader’s been dealing with metal theft for more than two decades as a Columbus cop. Metal prices have come down recently, but copper is still more than twice as valuable as it was a decade ago. In 2007, Columbus became the first city in the state to crack down on metal theft. Police couldn’t keep an eye on every piece of metal thieves might steal. But the city could make it harder for them to sell it.
DETECTIVE BOB MEADER: We know that it’s not gonna go to the center of the city and put a sign out and say, “I have scrap metal for sale.” There’s one location in the state of Ohio, and throughout the United States, that they can get money for it and that is a scrap yard.
RICK KARR: Columbus enacted a new ordinance requiring scrap yards to follow rules a lot like the ones that apply to the city’s pawn shops. Scrap dealers have to check every customer’s ID against an online database of convicted thieves, who might be trying to sell what they’ve stolen.
Dealers have to record every detail of every purchase they make so that law enforcement can investigate thefts.
Columbus officials say those steps are helping to reduce metal thefts. In January, there were only fifty seven thefts reported in the city — compared to more than a hundred a year ago.
Ohio legislators decided to implement what Columbus did statewide. The new law fully kicked in last month. Now, more than four hundred scrap yards from Cleveland to Cincinnati to Toledo are required to record every customer’s information in a law enforcement database — and check to see if their names are on a list of more than a quarter million conviction records.
Ohio scrap dealer Josh Joseph says when Columbus cracked down, thieves went to scrap yards outside the city limits. Now that the whole state is cracking down they’ll just go to scrap yards across the state line.
JOSH JOSEPH: For someone to steal it, drive someplace where they know there are really laxed laws or laxed enforcement of the laws, and sell it, is a really easy thing to happen. The uniformity of the law, the uniformity of the way that it is enforced from an industry perspective, we see as paramount to the success of the law.
RICK KARR: Joseph has a lot of other concerns about the law. For one thing, he worries about what the cost of complying with it will do to family-owned small businesses in the industry.
JOSH JOSEPH: It’s anywhere from probably $20,000 or $30,000 up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. You know, we’ve spent six figures to, to maintain, upgrade, and train our people in order to be compliant.
RICK KARR: And training might not be enough to keep some employees honest.
How can you be sure that if somebody steals, say, a bunch of copper wire, brings it in, slips one of your employees a hundred bucks, how do you ensure that your employee’s not susceptible to that?
JOSH JOSEPH: I would say that our employees are susceptible to that. We think we’ve had some instances of that happening in the past.
RICK KARR: Have you ever had to fire anybody?
JOSH JOSEPH: We have.
RICK KARR: There could also be consequences to the environment, according to scrap dealers. They’re in the recycling business. The metal they take in gets melted down and reused.
The law in Ohio makes it a crime for scrap dealers to buy certain items unless sellers can prove something’s theirs to sell, electrical lines, for instance, and telephone cables.
But the list also includes items homeowners might bring in. And that could end up in a landfill if a scrap dealer refuses it to stay on the safe side of the law, according to Robin Weiner, who runs the scrap industry’s Washington-based trade group.
ROBIN WEINER: I’ve gotten emails from citizens who’ve complained that they’ve gone to one of our members and the members, and then the member asked for proof of ownership and they don’t have that. You know, how are they gonna, they wanna do the right thing and recycle.
RICK KARR: Josh Joseph’s family’s been in the scrap business for four generations. He doesn’t like his business being compared to a pawn shop. And he’s not sure his industry should have to bear the burden of cracking down on metal thieves.
Thieves will keep stealing metal, according to Angela Day, as long as it’s valuable. A couple of months after her father died, police arrested two men who were charged with stealing phone lines, including the one that law enforcement officials say affected the call to 9-1-1 the day her father died.
She’d known one of the men as a kid. And she understands what motivated the crimes.
ANGELA DAY: Growing up here you realize how desperate people are and how much in need this area is. I mean, there’s not a lot of resources. They’re still gonna be stealing things.
I mean, that’s just a part of life. I don’t care where you live in the Unites States. You’re gonna have that. You’re gonna have people desperate or stealing, to make you know, to survive.
RICK KARR: Both men are serving prison terms for stealing the telephone lines.
WASHINGTON– Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock repaid $40,000 from his personal checking account for redecorations to his congressional office in the style of the TV show “Downton Abbey,” according to financial records reviewed by The Associated Press.
Schock paid $35,000 earlier this month to the owner of the Illinois decorating firm Euro Trash, and $5,000 more on Thursday, the records showed. His official House expense account had previously paid the group for its services.
Schock, a rising star in the Republican Party, has been under scrutiny for using taxpayer money to pay for the redecorating, as well as using his official and campaign funds for flights on donor-owned planes and concert tickets.
The Washington Post was first to describe the office decorations in early February. A watchdog group has since requested a House ethics review of the congressman’s spending.
Schock’s office said Friday his payments made good on an earlier promise to personally shoulder the costs of the office renovation. Schock wrote two checks – for $25,000 on Feb. 4 and $10,000 on Feb. 6 – to Tracy “Annie” Brahler, owner of Euro Trash. He wrote a third check for $5,000 on Thursday.
“Congressman Schock has fulfilled his commitment to pay for all the renovation costs,” his office said Friday in a prepared statement. It said that while congressional office costs are usually paid from office expense accounts, “the congressman believed it appropriate to pay these costs himself.”
Schock, 33, is in his fourth term representing the Peoria and Springfield areas.
This week, Schock brought on board a team of campaign finance lawyers and public relations experts to address the controversy about his expenses. His financial charges – including the use of his donors’ private aircraft and concert tickets – were detailed by the AP and other news organizations since news of the decoration work became public.
An AP review this week identified at least a dozen flights worth more than $40,000 on contributors’ planes since mid-2011, tracking Schock’s reliance on the aircraft partly through the congressman’s pictures uploaded to his Instagram account. The AP extracted hidden location data associated with each image; it then correlated it with flight records showing airport stopovers and expenses later billed for air travel against Schock’s office and campaign records.
Lawmakers can use office funds for private flights as long as payments cover their share of the costs. But most of the flights Schock covered with office funds occurred before the House changed its rules in January 2013. Those earlier rules prohibited lawmakers from using those accounts to pay for flights on private aircraft, allowing payments only for federally licensed charter and commercial flights.
Schock previously told the AP he travels frequently throughout his Peoria-area district “to stay connected with my constituents,” and that he takes compliance with congressional funding rules seriously.
Schock also spent thousands more on tickets for concerts, car mileage reimbursements – among the highest in Congress – and took his interns to a sold-out Katy Perry concert last June.
His office is still reviewing those transportation and entertainment charges.
The Post first reported that Brahler donated her services as she decorated Schock’s Washington office with red carpet and red walls accented with antique-looking frames and sconces reminiscent of “Downton Abbey.” The popular PBS show depicts the lives of aristocratic families and their servants in 1920s England.
Brahler refunded to the U.S. government $35,000 paid to her from Schock’s congressional office expense account, records show, within days of the Post’s report.
A liberal-leaning group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, had requested an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an outside panel that reviews ethics complaints against House members.
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Uber disclosed Friday that a data breach may have affected up to 50,000 of its drivers across several states.
The computer-database was accessed on May 13, 2014 and Uber found out four months later, the company said. Uber is now facing flack for waiting over five months to notify affected drivers.
“Uber takes seriously our responsibility to safeguard personal information, and we are sorry for any inconvenience this incident may cause,” Katherine Tassi, Uber’s managing counsel of data privacy, wrote in a statement on the company’s blog.
The app-based car service company says once it was aware of the breach, it changed access protocols for the database. Uber said the company is in the process of notifying drivers whose names and driver’s license numbers were exposed.
In California, where the company is based, companies who lose consumer names and other personal information, including driver’s license numbers, are mandated to tell those affected “in the most expedient time possible and without unreasonable delay,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
“Investors and consumers want timely, if not immediate, notification,” Jacob Olcott, a former congressional adviser on cybersecurity told the Wall Street Journal.
Uber said in the blog post that no misuse of the exposed information has been reported. The company said it will provide a free one-year membership to identity protection services for drivers whose personal information may have been compromised.
The breach follows a number of legal challenges that have rocked the on-demand taxi service app in the recent past.
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Good news for China’s national treasure: Wild giant pandas, which have spent more than two decades on the endangered species list, are increasing in number.
The species’s population throughout China grew by nearly 17 percent over the past decade, officials said Saturday, according to a census by China’s State Forestry Administration.
The country’s fourth national giant panda survey documented a growth of 268 pandas to a total population of 1,864 in the country since the last census was conducted in 2003 — more than a decade after the species was downgraded from rare to endangered status.
The report found that nearly 67 percent of wild giant pandas live in nature reserves, which also grew in number from 40 to 67, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which partially funded the census.
— WWF (@WWF) February 28, 2015
The giant panda has been the logo for the WWF since its inception in 1961 and has grown to become a worldwide symbol of the conservation movement.
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WASHINGTON — Democrats are losing some skirmishes over the Department of Homeland Security, but many feel they are winning a political war that will haunt Republicans in 2016 and beyond.
Democrats lacked the votes Friday to force Republicans to fund the department for a year with no strings. Still, even some Republicans say party leaders are on a perilous path with a very public ideological struggle only highlighting the GOP’s inability to pass contested legislation and possibly worsening its weak relationship with Hispanic voters.
Worst of all, numerous lawmakers said, Republican leaders have offered no plausible scenario for a successful ending, so they simply are delaying an almost certain and embarrassing defeat.
Conservatives defend their doggedness. They say they courageously are keeping promises to oppose President Barack Obama’s liberalization of deportation policies, which they consider unconstitutional. Several said their constituents support their stand, while others said the issue transcends politics.
As a deadline fast approached Friday night, the House agreed to extend the department’s funding for a week. But some in both parties said the Republicans were losing political ground.
“It’s bad policy and bad politics,” said Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who once oversaw his party’s House campaigns. The short-term fix, he said, “doesn’t help the country, and it just shows that they’re incapable of governing” despite holding House and Senate majorities.
As for an important voting group in presidential elections, Van Hollen said: “Any effort to earn the support of Hispanic voters has been torpedoed by these antics.”
Some Republicans are nearly as pessimistic.
“Bad tactics yield bad outcomes,” GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania told reporters. Republican leaders, he said, have engaged “in tactical malpractice, and at some point we’re going to vote on the negotiated Homeland Security appropriations bill,” a bipartisan plan that most Republicans oppose but cannot kill.
Weeks ago, Republicans embarked on a strategy that targeted Obama’s executive order protecting millions of immigrants from deportation. They voted to cut off the department’s money flow after Feb. 27 unless the order was rescinded.
But they never figured how to overcome Democratic delaying tactics in the Senate that, as many predicted, blocked the GOP plan. Stymied, Senate Republican leaders agreed to fund the department for the rest of the budget year, through September, and to deal separately with immigration.
House Republicans rejected that approach. Shortly before Friday’s midnight deadline, the House extended funding for a week without resolving the larger dispute.
“We all know how this is going to turn out,” said an exasperated Republican, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. “Politically, it’s devastating.”
Democrats turned up the heat, saying short-term extensions will damage morale at the agency.
“It’s a staggering failure of leadership that will prolong this manufactured crisis of theirs and endanger the security of the American people,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
But Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona said he and his fellow conservatives are taking a principled stand against Obama’s “unconstitutional” action. The president, he said, has forced lawmakers to choose between “potential short-term national security threats and almost inevitable long-term damage to the constitutional foundation of the nation.”
He and his allies will “do the right thing, even if it doesn’t make us look good,” Franks said.
Lawmakers from strongly Republican districts tend to closely track the fiercely conservative voters who can dominate GOP primary elections. Rep. Kenny Marchant of Texas said he tried to persuade some of his Dallas-area constituents that a federal judge’s order to freeze Obama’s move lessened the urgency to use Homeland Security funding as political leverage.
“But they don’t have the confidence back home that some of us do” about the likely longevity of the judge’s order, Marchant said.
He said his supporters see reversing Obama’s order as more important than preventing a partial and temporary funding lapse at Homeland Security. He noted that most agency employees are considered “essential” and would stay on the job.
After Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, a Republican National Committee-commissioned report said the party must embrace “comprehensive immigration reform” to win future elections, including the 2016 presidential contest.
Democrats say Republicans are heading in the wrong direction.
Pelosi hinted at possible Democratic campaign themes next year when she said of the funding fight: “This crisis exists only because Republicans prioritize anti-immigrant extremism over the safety of the American people.”
Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said his party’s wounds are self-inflicted.
“Politically it’s going to kill us,” he said of conservatives’ demands to link Homeland Security funding with Obama’s immigration policy. “Morally, you’re equating an immigration order with the lives of American citizens.”
“I’ve had it with this self-righteous delusional wing of the party that leads us over the cliff,” King said.
The post Dems call GOP homeland security strategy political blunder appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: For more now on the shooting death of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — reporter Andrew Kramer has been following the story for The New York Times. He joins us via Skype from Moscow.
So, for our American audience, who was he?
ANDREW KRAMER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: He was a very influential politician in the 1990s, very dashing, handsome, up-and-comer under President Boris Yeltsin.
He embodied the hopes for democratic reform in post-Soviet period in Russia.
He was the governor of a region, Nizhny Novgorod region, and then moved into national politics.
Under President Putin, he was in the opposition, and he was part of a very small and beleaguered community of opponents of Mr. Putin, sometimes standing on the street holding signs, just with a few people.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And put in perspective for us, if you can, how he rose to prominence as a dissident. He got condolences from world leaders after he was killed last night.
ANDREW KRAMER: That’s right. He was a very high-placed politician under President Yeltsin in the 1990s, and many of his colleagues from that time went into business or dropped out of public view but he, in contrast, dived into opposition politics and he was arrested a number of times.
Amnesty International had counted him a prisoner of conscience. He was very high profile. Often traveled to Europe and met with world leaders.
So, it’s not a surprise that when this happened, there was quite a bit of support and outpouring of condolences for his family, from world leaders, including President Obama.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, the question for the investigation now is who is behind the murder, right? I mean, this was– it says it looks like a contract hit. But who has motives to kill him?
ANDREW KRAMER: The police have put out a number of theories today. Some of them are not considered very plausible.
They had said that maybe Islamic militants were involved, or that the opposition had itself organized his murder as a way to create a martyr and invigorate their cause.
Mr. Nemtsov’s own colleagues have pointed the finger at the Kremlin and at the security services here in Russia.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what does this do to any of the opposition? Is there an opportunity for them to band together?
ANDREW KRAMER: There’s a potential for that happening. The opposition has been very fractured and marginalized.
Now, they’ve agreed to unite for a memorial march tomorrow in Moscow. We’ll see going forward how significant this event is. But many people here think that it’s pivotal.
This is a galvanizing and searing experience for the opposition. And now, there is a rallying cry to continue to support the causes that he had lived for.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how closely will the West be watching what happens next?
ANDREW KRAMER: Very closely. This is being seen as a pivotal moment for Russian politics.
Some are saying this suggests a return of fear to Russian politics, even of terror. This is really a new horizon for what’s happening here.
We’ve had dissidents arrested before. We’ve had them go into exile, and we’ve had journalists and human rights workers, obviously, die under mysterious circumstances.
But this was a senior member of the Russian government in the 1990s, and he was shot very theatrically right in front of the Kremlin.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Andrew Kramer of The New York Times, joining us via Skype from Moscow — thanks so much.
ANDREW KRAMER: Thank you.
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OXON HILL, Md. — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has won the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual presidential preference straw poll.
Pollsters announced Saturday afternoon that Paul won 26 percent of the votes in the annual survey, giving Paul his third consecutive win in as many years.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came in second, with 21 percent.
The three-day CPAC conference in suburban Washington draws many libertarian-leaning college students whose views and priorities differ significantly from the Republican party at large.
But it is nonetheless seen as a barometer of certain conservative activists’ early leanings.
Pollsters say just over 3,000 attendees voted. Nearly half were aged 25 or under.
Respondents said economic issues, like jobs and taxes, were most important to them in deciding whom to support as the Republican nominee for president in 2016.
The results are nonbinding and reflect only the views of the registrants who chose to vote during the conference.
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A stolen painting by the artist Pablo Picasso was recovered in New Jersey and authorities are now taking steps to return the work to its rightful owner, the French government.
— CBP (@CustomsBorder) February 27, 2015
In a Brooklyn court on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil action to forfeit Picasso’s “La Coiffeuse” (The Hairdresser) that had been smuggled into the U.S. from Belgium on Dec. 17 of last year.
“A lost treasure has been found,” U.S. Attorney Lynch said in a press release. “Because of the blatant smuggling in this case, this painting is now subject to forfeiture to the United States. Forfeiture of the painting will extract it from the grasp of the black market in stolen art so that it can be returned to its rightful owner.”
The 104-year-old oil painting done in the cubist style was reported stolen from a museum storeroom in Paris in 2001, according to a Justice Department press release. At the time, it was worth about $2.5 million, Reuters reported.
Authorities alleged the person who sent the package falsely completed the customs declaration, labeling the item a holiday “art craft” worth 30 euros ($37) and including a cheeky message: “Joyeux Noel” (Merry Christmas).
Upon its arrival in the United States, the shipment was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the painting was subsequently seized by Homeland Security Investigations.
The filing of the civil complaint is the first step in an effort to return the work to the French government.
In the south of France on Feb. 10, Picasso’s former electrician and his wife went on trial to face charges of possessing 271 stolen drawings and paintings by the late Spanish artist.
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More than one billion young people around the world are at risk of hearing loss because of recreational exposure to loud sounds, the World Health Organization said Friday.
The U.N. agency says its analysis of data from middle-and high-income countries showed that nearly half of 12-to 35-year-olds listen to unsafe sound levels on devices like smartphones and MP3 players.
Additionally, nearly 40 percent are exposed to hazardous noise levels at entertainment venues like sporting events, nightclubs and bars.
“As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,” WHO official Dr. Etienne Krug said in the Friday press release.
“They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back,” Krug said.
The WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define the high acceptable workplace noise level as 85 decibels – about the volume of heavy city traffic — over an eight-hour period.
As volume increases, safe exposure duration falls. People should not spend more than 15 minutes around noise levels of 100 decibels, the WHO said. According to the agency, 100 decibels is typical for sporting events, nightclubs and bars.
The WHO recommends young people guard against hearing loss by wearing earplugs at noisy events, keeping the volume down on personal audio devices and limiting their use of such gadgets to less than one hour per day.
In time for International Ear Care Day, March 3, the WHO is launching “Make Listening Safe,” an initiative intended to “draw attention to the dangers of unsafe listening and promote safer practices.”
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: For more details on the politics behind this funding fight, I’m joined now from Washington, D.C. by Roll Call reporter Niels Lesniewski.
So, what happened? Why did we get this close again to almost shutting down the Department of Homeland Security?
NIELS LESNIEWSKI, ROLL CALL: Well, there really was the somewhat surprising, I think, for a lot of observers, situation that developed in the House where the House was unable to pass the three-week stopgap spending bill for Homeland Security, which sent everyone scrambling well into the evening on Friday night.
What it does, though, is it sets up a test for the coming week, requiring basically the House of Representatives to go through this whole process again some time Monday or later in the week.
And the question will be, once again, does Speaker Boehner allow the full-year funding bill for the Homeland Security Department that has already passed the Senate onto the floor of his chamber, or is there another sort of stopgap in and is the Homeland Security Department going to be funded week to week for the foreseeable future?
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is there a rift now between the House and Senate Republican leadership?
NIELS LESNIEWSKI: Well, there’s a rift between many people in the House of Representatives I think and a lot of Republican senators.
I don’t know to what extent it goes to the leadership level, but we’ve heard any number of Republican senators who are on the ballot in 2016, particularly those who are in states that would be more inclined to vote for a Democrat for the Senate who are saying that this fight really needed to be resolved, and they’re just putting off the inevitable over on the House side by using these short-term bills.
We’ve heard from that Senator Mark Kirk in Illinois and others.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And so, this also moves the clock, right, on what other pieces of legislation Congress can try to tackle, much less get approved.
NIELS LESNIEWSKI: Yes, every time that you have to spend another week wrangling over immigration and funding Homeland Security, doing the basic work of government, the closer that you get to other things reaching their deadlines.
We’re only about a month away from having the recurring problem over the amount of money that doctors get paid for treating patients who have Medicare benefits, and there’s all sorts of other things that are coming up.
And so, the longer you spend on this the less time there is to actually advance an agenda rather than just putting out fires.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. Briefly, do you know if the members of Congress are hearing from their constituents about how this brinkmanship maybe isn’t really for them?
NIELS LESNIEWSKI: Well, there’s been some sign of that. The real sign of that is going to come about a week from now because the House is scheduled to go out on recess actually in mid-March.
The Senate’s going to be here all the way through the Easter break. But the House members are actually going to be going home for a whole week, and that could be fascinating to watch.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Niels Lesniewski from Roll Call, joining us from Washington — thanks so much.
NIELS LESNIEWSKI: Thank you.
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WASHINGTON — Congress’ dysfunction isn’t limited to the struggle to keep a Cabinet department running without interruption.
Lawmakers couldn’t finish their work last year and it’s showing now. The leftover business could prove even more divisive than the dispute over rolling back President Barack Obama’s immigration policies on a bill providing money for the Department of Homeland Security.
Stretches of brinkmanship are certain to consume much of the legislative calendar in 2015. One critical issue is whether to increase the nation’s borrowing authority. That debate could have major repercussions for the recovering economy.
The to-do list includes forestalling a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians, preventing a cutoff of highway and transit dollars in the middle of peak construction season this summer and renewing critical parts of the Patriot Act.
There’s also a debate among Republicans, the majority on Capitol Hill, about whether to renew the charter of the Export-Import Bank, which provides credit to purchasers of U.S. exports.
“We haven’t even started talking about either one, (Medicare payments) or highways,” said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. “So that shows how procrastinated all this is.”
Approaching are deadlines for longer-term legislation set to expire, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
A look at Capitol Hill’s leftover agenda and expiring laws that may be renewed, with an assessment of the degree of difficulty:
Doctors who participate in Medicare face a 21 percent cut in their payments at the end of March. Because of a flawed formula dating to 1997, Medicare doctors are threatened with big fee cuts almost every year. Congress has since stepped in 17 times to prevent the cuts but has failed to permanently fix the problem.
Lawmakers hope to resolve the issue once and for all this year. In the meantime, they plan a temporary fix that would buy six months or so. Shouldn’t be too difficult.
Authority to spend money from the highway trust fund expires May 31, the end of a reprieve passed last fall. The uncertainty is slowing construction in some states. A long-term fix won’t be ready by then, so the most likely solution is Congress will punt again. Even doing that requires coming up with billions of dollars to fix the short-term shortfall, which won’t be easy.
On June 30, temporary authority expires for the bank. Critics say it picks winners such as Boeing Co. and General Electric and that too little of its financing benefits small business. The bank has support from Democrats and establishment Republicans but increasingly is opposed by conservatives, who note that its subsidies for foreign purchasers of exports such as jumbo jets give foreign airlines advantages over U.S. carriers. This split clearly has the bank in danger of losing its charter. Very difficult.
The government’s borrowing authority lapses on March 15. Filing-season tax surpluses and Treasury Department accounting maneuvers could delay the need for Congress to step in until August or later. Action is mandatory or else the government would default on its obligations.
In 2011, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, used the debt limit as leverage to pry spending cuts from President Barack Obama. Since then, Obama has refused to negotiate. Last year, Boehner had to rely on Democratic votes to pass an extension. Raising it again will prove difficult, but it must be done.
Three controversial provisions expire June 1: authorizing the bulk collection of telephone records, obtaining surveillance warrants without naming the person being wiretapped, and allowing surveillance of foreigner suspected of terrorist activity but who are not affiliated with a terrorist organization. Both left and right oppose the provisions, but solid majorities are likely to back them amid the growing threat from the Islamic State group. Obama signed a four-year extension in 2011. Not too hard.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage to millions of children in low-income families, expires Sept. 30. There’s pressure to renew it well before then because state legislatures are drafting their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1 in most places. A fight is unlikely because top Republicans such as GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, are proposing to tighten eligibility for the program, possibly taking away insurance from many children, and roll back a scheduled increase in federal matching funds to states. Tricky, but doable.
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Tens of thousands of Russians marched in Moscow on Sunday in memory of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition politician who was gunned down near the Kremlin shortly before midnight on Friday.
Supporters chanting “Russia without Putin” held portraits of the slain Kremlin critic and carried signs saying “I am not afraid,” Reuters reported.
“This is being seen as a pivotal moment for Russian politics,” New York Times Moscow correspondent Andrew Kramer told PBS NewsHour on Saturday. “Some are saying this suggests a return of fear to Russian politics, even of terror. This is really a new horizon for what’s happening here.”
Nemtsov, 55, was killed a few hours after giving a radio interview in which he criticized Russian intervention in Ukraine as a “mad, aggressive and deadly policy of war,” according to the Associated Press. He was shot four times in the back and head.
“We’ve had dissidents arrested before. We’ve had them go into exile, and we’ve had journalists and human rights workers, obviously, die under mysterious circumstances,” Kramer said. “But this was a senior member of the Russian government in the 1990s, and he was shot very theatrically right in front of the Kremlin.”
Russian officials have proposed a number of possibilities for who might be behind Nemtsov’s assassination, including Islamic extremists or members of his own opposition movement. Nemtsov’s supporters counter that Russian authorities were responsible.
“The authorities are corrupt and don’t allow any threats to them to emerge. Boris was uncomfortable for them,” opposition leader Gennady Gudkov told Reuters.
Leaders in the United States, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have condemned Nemtsov’s killing and have called for an impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding his murder.
In a statement released Friday, Obama praised Nemtsov’s “courageous dedication to the struggle against corruption in Russia.”
“Nemtsov was a tireless advocate for his country, seeking for his fellow Russian citizens the rights to which all people are entitled,” he said.
Speaking on the ABC program “This Week” on Sunday, Kerry called for a “thorough, transparent” investigation into Nemtsov’s assassination.
“The bottom line is we hope there will be a thorough, transparent, real investigation, not just of who actually fired the shots but who if anyone may have ordered or instructed or been behind this,” he said.
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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday tried to calm tensions with Israel before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s congressional address, yet insisted the Obama administration’s diplomatic record with Iran entitles the U.S. to “the benefit of the doubt” as negotiators work toward a long-term nuclear deal.
Kerry said in an interview broadcast before he left for more talks in Switzerland with Iran’s foreign minister that Netanyahu was welcome to speak in the U.S. and that the administration did not want the event “turned into some great political football.”
That sentiment was a step back from some of the sharp rhetoric between the allies in recent weeks, and Kerry mentioned that he talked to Netanyahu as recently as Saturday.
But Kerry stressed that Israel was safer as a result of the short-term nuclear pact that world powers and Iran reached in late 2013, and he described that improvement as the “standard we will apply to any agreement” with the Islamic Republic.
Officials have described the United States, Europe, Russia and China as considering a compromise that would see Iran’s nuclear activities severely curtailed for at least a decade, with the restrictions and U.S. and Western economic penalties eased in the final years of a deal.
“We are going to test whether or not diplomacy can prevent this weapon from being created, so you don’t have to turn to additional measures including the possibility of a military confrontation,” Kerry told ABC’s “This Week.”
“Our hope is that diplomacy can work. And I believe, given our success of the interim agreement, we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future.”
Netanyahu, set to arrive in Washington later Sunday, will press his opposition to a diplomatic accommodation of Iran’s program in a speech Tuesday to Congress. The prime minister says he is making the address out of concern of Israel’s security.
The Republican invitation and Netanyahu’s acceptance have caused an uproar that has exposed tensions between Israel and the U.S., its most important ally.
By consenting to speak, Netanyahu angered the White House, which was not consulted with in advance, and Democrats, who were forced to choose between showing support for Israel and backing the president.
“I will do everything in my ability to secure our future,” Netanyahu said before flying to Washington. He described himself as “an emissary” of the Jewish people.
The congressional speech also has sparked criticism in Israel, where Netanyahu is seeking re-election on March 17. He also planned to speak Monday at the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.
Netanyahu considers unacceptable any deal that does not entirely end Iran’s nuclear program. But President Barack Obama is willing to leave some nuclear activity intact, backed by safeguards that Iran is not trying to develop a weapon. Iran insists its program is solely for peaceful energy and medical research purposes.
The dispute has become more personal of late.
Last week, Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, described the timing and partisan manner of Netanyahu’s visit as “destructive” for the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
On Sunday, Kerry painted a more positive picture of continued close cooperation. He said the U.S.-Israeli security partnership was closer than at any point before, and noted the large investment of American money in the Jewish state’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
He said the U.S. government has “intervened on Israel’s behalf in the last two years a couple of hundred of times” in more than 75 forums “in order to protect Israel.”
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WASHINGTON — In a reversal of the usual worries about political influence on electoral map-making, the Supreme Court is being asked to let raw politics play an even bigger role in the drawing of congressional district boundaries.
The court hears argument Monday in an appeal by Republican lawmakers in Arizona against the state’s voter-approved independent redistricting commission for creating the districts of U.S. House members. A decision striking down the commission probably would doom a similar system in neighboring California, and could affect districting commissions in 11 other states.
The court previously has closed the door to lawsuits challenging excessive partisanship in redistricting, or gerrymandering. A gerrymandered district is intentionally drawn, and sometimes oddly shaped, to favor one political party.
Independent commissions such as Arizona’s “may be the only meaningful check” left to states that want to foster more competitive elections, reduce political polarization and bring fresh faces into the political process, the Obama administration said.
The court fight has one odd aspect: California Republicans are rooting against Arizona Republicans.
If the Republicans who control Arizona’s Legislature prevail, the process for drawing district lines in California for the nation’s largest congressional delegation, with 53 members, would returned to the heavily Democratic Legislature. Three former California governors, all Republicans, filed a brief with the court defending the independent redistricting commission that voters created in 2008.
California’ GOP chairman, Jim Brulte, though officially neutral, said “most of us understand that this could have a negative effect on Republicans in California.”
“Redistricting is perhaps the most political activity that government can engage in and a partisan gerrymander of the congressional seats could lead to more Democrats in Congress from California,” he said.
But Paul Clement, the lawyer for the Arizona Legislature, said the likely differing outcomes in Arizona and California demonstrate that the issue is not partisan.
“An unelected commission may benefit Republicans in one state and Democrats in another. But that simply underscores that once congressional redistricting is taken away from the state legislatures and given to another entity, there is no guarantee that such an entity will be neutral, or favor one party, or reflect the will of the people. Whatever their shortcomings, state legislatures are elected, politically accountable and hand-picked” by the Constitution’s authors for the map-drawing task, Clement said.
The argument against independent commissions rests in the Constitution’s Election Clause, which gives state legislatures the power to set “the times, places and manners of holding elections for senators and representatives.” It also allows Congress to change those plans.
The case could turn on whether Congress did so in a law passed in 1911, around the same time it was considering Arizona’s statehood. The justices also will weigh whether the Legislature even has the right to sue over the commission’s maps.
Only Arizona and California essentially remove the legislature from the process, the National Conference of State Legislatures said in support of the Republican lawmakers in Arizona.
Lawmakers’ only contribution in those states is picking commission members from a list devised by others. In the other states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Washington — lawmakers either get first crack at drawing districts, approve plans drawn by commissions or appoint commission members of their choosing, the conference said.
Supporters of the commissions point to more competitive races in both Arizona and California since the commissions were created.
“When the district-drawing process is controlled by elected officials, the result too often is a process dominated by self-interest and partisan manipulation,” political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein said in court papers in support of the independent commission.
States are required to redraw maps for congressional and state legislative districts to account for population changes after the once-a-decade census.
Arizona voters created their independent redistricting commission in 2000 after complaints that the Legislature was gerrymandering districts to keep one party or one member of Congress in office. The five-member commission has two Republicans and two Democrats, chosen by legislative leaders from a list drawn up by the state’s Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Those four members then choose a political independent to be chairman.
The first crack at redistricting after the 2000 census pleased Republicans, and they did not sue. Democrats did, though unsuccessfully. But after the 2010 census, Republicans were unhappy with the commission when it left Republicans with four safe congressional seats, Democrats with two, and three tossup districts.
The three tossup seats all went Democratic in the 2012 election, but one turned Republican in 2014.
State Senate President Andy Biggs, a Republican, said the suit that resulted is not meant to ignore the will of the voters.
“I would like to make this very, very clear for people who look at this — this isn’t the will of the people, these lines,” Biggs said. “These are unelected people, they are appointed people, they are now, we know, not even held accountable to elected people. These people who draw these lines are the most … detached, tyrannical people, because it all boils down to one person. And that will be the chairman of the commission.”
Democrats, naturally, disagree.
“The bottom line is they had no problem with the independent redistricting law when the lines were drawn to their liking,” said Sen. Steve Farley, the assistant Democratic leader. “They’re having problems and suing to overturn it now that the lines weren’t drawn to their liking. And that’s frankly not fair and frankly not legal.”
A decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 13-1314, is expected before July.
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Hyundai is recalling nearly 205,000 Elantra cars in the United States due to a potential defect in the vehicles’ power steering systems, according to a report released late Saturday on the National Highway Safety Administration’s website.
The recall covers Elantra four-door sedans made from June 1, 2008 to April 30, 2010, and 2009-10 Elantra Touring hatchbacks.
Hyundai estimates three percent of these cars may have the defect.
The report said that the power steering could suddenly stop working, making the vehicle much harder to turn and potentially increasing the risk of an accident.
“Steering control can be maintained,” the company said, “however, the vehicle will revert to a manual steering mode, requiring greater driver effort, particularly at low speeds. This could result in an increased risk of a crash.”
The company did not mention if there had been any accidents or injuries linked to the defect.
Hyndai’s recall is the most recent in a string of recalls across several carmakers. General Motors Co. said on Friday the company would recall more than 68,000 cars for roof panel and parking issues, the Detroit News reported. On Thursday, Fiat Chrysler announced a recall of 25,000 cars worldwide due to a transmission problem, the New York Times reported.
Earlier last week, Mercedes-Benz announced a recall of nearly 150,000 of varying models due to a problem in the engine compartment seal, the Associated Press reported.
In 2014, the auto industry recalled nearly 64 million vehicles for safety issues, exceeding the number recalled in the previous three years combined.
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