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

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    A car leaves the crematorium on March 7, 2015 in Monrovia carrying barrels containing victims of Ebola's remains to a burial site. Liberia closes crematorium after last Ebola victim is released from treatment center. Photo by Zoom Dosso/AFP/Getty Images.

    A car carrying barrels containing victims of Ebola’s remains leaves the crematorium on March 7, 2015 in Monrovia on the way to a burial site. Photo by Zoom Dosso/AFP/Getty Images.

    The Liberian government has closed and dismantled a crematorium in Monrovia in a move that represents significant progress in the country’s fight against the disease, the Associated Press reported.

    The country had previously imposed cremations because traditional burial practices, which included washing and touching the dead, pose a significant danger of infection.

    The government removed drums from the facility holding ashes of over 3,000 victims. Nineteen barrels of remains are slated for burial on a plot bought by the government as a cemetery for Ebola victims.

    “These activities — these prayers services — are taking place in an effort to accord these people the utmost respect considering the circumstances under which they were cremated and they parted with their families,” Acting Information Minister Isaac Jackson told the AP. “We think it is only but proper that we now accord them — the over 3,000 people cremated — respect in a more dignified way.”

    Liberia's last known Ebola patient Beatrice Yardolo (in yellow) arrives for a ceremony at the Chinese Ebola treatment unit, where she was treated, in Monrovia, Liberia, March 5, 2015. REUTERS/James Giahyue (LIBERIA - Tags: DISASTER HEALTH) - RTR4S7WZ

    Liberia’s last known Ebola patient Beatrice Yardolo (in yellow) arrives for a ceremony at the Chinese Ebola treatment unit, where she was treated, in Monrovia, Liberia, on March 5, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/James Giahyue

    Last week Liberia’s last known Ebola patient, 58-year-old Beatrice Yardolo, danced out of a Chinese treatment center in Monrovia.

    “I am very grateful to the Chinese treatment center and the Almighty God that I lived to see this day. I did not know I would make it,” Yardolo told Reuters.

    Following Yardolo’s release, the country must go 42 days with no new Ebola cases until the country can be officially declared free of the disease, the AP reported.

    The country is still monitoring 106 people for suspected contact with Ebola patients, according to the Wall Street Journal.

    “It’s not over yet,” Tolbert Nyenswah, the deputy health minister in charge of Liberia’s Ebola battle, told the New York Times. “We are still cautioning people. We told them they must still protect their villages, their towns. They should report any suspicion of Ebola to the health teams.”

    Neighboring countries Sierra Leone and Guinea are still struggling to contain the spread of Ebola, as the World Health Organization launched its first experimental Ebola vaccine trials in Guinea on Saturday.

    “The Ebola epidemic shows signs of receding but we cannot let down our guard until we reach zero cases,” Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny, who leads the Ebola Research and Development effort at WHO said in a statement. “An effective vaccine to control current flare-ups could be the game-changer to finally end this epidemic and an insurance policy for any future ones.”

    More than 23,900 cases of Ebola have been reported since the current outbreak began in December of 2013, including some 9,800 deaths according to the WHO.

    The post Liberian government closes crematorium in sign of Ebola progress appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Zaur Dadayev looks out from a defendants' cage inside a court building in Moscow, March 8, 2015. Dadayev and four other men have been arrested in connection to the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Photo by Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

    Zaur Dadayev looks out from a defendants’ cage inside a court building in Moscow, March 8, 2015. Dadayev and four other men have been arrested in connection to the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Photo by Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

    The weekend saw a flurry of developments in the investigation of the recent assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

    Russian authorities arrested five men Saturday in connection with Nemtsov’s murder, one of whom allegedly confessed to the crime.

    Another suspect blew himself up during a standoff with police Saturday night, according to a Russian news outlet.

    A spokeswoman for the Moscow court handling the case, Anna Fadeyeva, said two of the suspects, Zaur Dadayev and Anzor Gubashev, were charged with Nemtsov’s murder Sunday, Russian state media reported.

    “Three [individuals] remain under the status of suspects,” Fadeyeva said.

    One of the three suspects is Shagit Gubashev, the brother of Anzor. The other two are Ramzan Bakhayev and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov.

    Judge Natalya Mushnikova said Sunday that Dadayev had signed a confession, according to state media.

    “Dadayev’s involvement is confirmed by his confession,” Mushnikova said.

    The other four suspects maintain their innocence. According to state-run Sputnik News, Eskerkhanov says he has an alibi.

    “At the time of the murder, I was at work as I usually am every day. There are many people, my colleagues, who will confirm this,” Eskerkhanov told the court.

    All five suspects are from Chechnya, a majority-Muslim republic in the Caucasus region of Southern Russia, where Dadayev served for 10 years in a police battalion.

    In an apartment in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, a sixth suspect blew himself up with one grenade after tossing another at law enforcement officials demanding his surrender Saturday night, according to reports by the Russian news agency Interfax.

    Russian officials have cited various potential motives for Nemtsov’s murder, including that he was killed in an attempt to destabilize the Russian government by casting suspicion on Russian President Vladimir Putin or that Nemtsov was murdered by Islamic extremists.

    On Sunday evening, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov posted on Instagram that Dadayev was known to him as a “deeply religious person” who was “shocked” by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

    However, there is no clear evidence that Dadayev’s motivations were religious, if indeed he is responsible for Nemtsov’s murder, and many are skeptical of the official explanations.

    Nemtsov was killed in downtown Moscow in a brazen shooting late on Feb. 27.

    The crime’s proximity to the heavily-guarded Kremlin, as well as the fact that Moscow police say security cameras on the bridge where Nemtsov was gunned down were not working at the time of the shooting have prompted some in the opposition to accuse Putin of ordering the assassination.

    Others have stopped short of explicitly blaming the Russian president, arguing instead that Putin’s demonization of the opposition created an oppressive political atmosphere that made the killing possible.

    Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, regional governor and physicist, was one of Putin’s most visible critics.

    Tens of thousands of people attended a mass rally in Moscow following Nemtsov’s death, and thousands more paid their respects at his funeral Tuesday.

    The post Suspects arrested in Nemtsov murder investigation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has sided with the Obama administration in upholding a rule making mortgage brokers eligible for overtime pay under federal labor law.

    The justices unanimously agreed Monday to throw out a lower court ruling that faulted the administration for trying to change overtime rules without following proper procedures.

    The case turned on rules put in place by the Department of Labor that would make the mortgage brokers eligible for overtime pay under federal labor law. The rules were changed twice in a four-year period that spanned the Bush and Obama administrations.

    In 2006, the Labor Department said the mortgage brokers were like executives and thus not covered by the overtime provision. In 2010, the department reversed itself.

    The post Justices side with Labor Department, making mortgage brokers eligible for overtime appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Above, a home health aide massages the hand of one of her clients. Ai-Jen Poo, author of “The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America,” argues that Mr. Obama’s executive order on immigration is essential to sustaining the workforce needed to support aging boomers. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, announced in November, has hit several snags. Last month, a U.S. district court judge in Texas blocked the action, saying the president didn’t have the authority to defer deportations.

    The Obama administration has sought a stay from Judge Andrew Hanen while its lawyers appeal the decision. Last week, the Department of Justice issued an ultimatum to Hanen: rule on the stay motion by Monday night or else it’ll seek a stay from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to “protect their interests.”

    Age of Dignity by Ai-jen Poo

    For some activists, it’s not just a humanitarian argument that compels their opposition to the Texas judge’s decision. There’s an economic, even a self-preservation, argument to be made for allowing Mr. Obama’s executive action to go forward, says Ai-jen Poo the co-director of Caring Across Generations, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and author of the new book, “The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America” (The New Press 2015).

    Ai-jen Poo is thinking about the growing demand for long-term care as America’s boomer population ages. “Who will care for us?” she asks in the following op-ed, which, we should add, doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Making Sen$e. Immigrants are often the workers helping American retirees live independently in their homes longer, and Poo’s worried that there won’t be enough caretakers to meet the current demand — let alone future demand — if immigrant workers aren’t allowed to stay in this country.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sen$e Editor


    Many have already called Judge Andrew Hanen’s temporary stop to President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration shortsighted.

    I’m one of those people, but probably not for the reasons you might think. It’s not only because helping millions of undocumented immigrants legalize their status and come out of the shadows will strengthen our communities and economy, and is the moral and right thing to do.

    There’s a dimension of immigration policy that is rarely discussed, yet each one of us should bear in mind: every American who intends to grow old with dignity and independence should embrace this action — including Judge Hanen.

    Judge Hanen, born in 1953, is one of the 4 million baby boomers reaching retirement age every year. This phenomenon, together with our longer lifespans, is creating an “Elder Boom.” Americans are living longer than ever before, and the longer we live, the more likely we are to need assistance to maintain our independence. A full 70 percent of people above the age of 65 will require some form of long-term care and support, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Once we reach age 85, almost all of us will require care. By 2050, that number will reach 27 million.

    Those of us who need assistance to live independently in our homes rely on a care workforce that is increasingly comprised of immigrants. Without their assistance, many Americans would simply not be able to live in their own homes, stay healthy, and age with dignity and freedom. People with disabilities of all ages would face more difficulties being active members of the community — going to school, working, volunteering, raising families of their own, and more.

    “One-quarter of today’s home care workers were born outside the United States.”

    A recent study by AARP demonstrated that 90 percent of us want to age in place, in our homes and communities. Yet the 3 million people currently in the direct care workforce cannot meet even the current need, let alone the demand for workers that will accompany the Elder Boom we’re experiencing. We will need at least 1.8 million additional home care professionals in the next decade. And increasingly, it is immigrant women and men who are doing the important work of providing assistance to seniors and people with disabilities. One-quarter of today’s home care workers were born outside the United States (see page 3 of the hyperlinked Institute for Women’s Policy Research report).

    In 2014, we averaged nearly 900 deportations per day, (dividing the annual total by 365) not to mention the thousands of people being held in immigrant detention centers at any given moment. According to the Migration Policy Institute, we spend more money on immigration law enforcement than all other federal law enforcement programs combined. Those are precious resources that could be deployed toward training and preparing our future caregiving workforce to be a part of the solution to the changing needs of American families.

    Granting people who have been living in our communities legal status also makes it possible for more people to work and pay taxes without fear. This will be crucial in preserving the social safety net that millions of seniors and people with disabilities depend upon. Meaningful change in immigration policy makes economic sense as well. In fact, the social safety net that our seniors depend upon requires it.

    “The diverse and growing aging population and the growing immigrant population in this country need each other.”

    Take Social Security as just one example. In 2010, the Social Security Administration estimated that undocumented immigrants paid $12 billion into the Social Security Trust Fund in that year alone. According to the Center for American Progress, if we provide 70 percent of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, they would contribute $500 billion to the Social Security fund (on net) over a period of 36 years — coinciding with the exact time aging baby boomers are expected to put the most strain on the system.

    In other words, immigration policy is inseparable from the issue of care and quality of life as we age. The diverse and growing aging population and the growing immigrant population in this country need each other. These women and men who do such important work supporting seniors and people with disabilities deserve not only the legal status offered by Mr. Obama’s executive action, but also a pathway to full citizenship that provides fair access to health care and long-term care should they need it. That is how we will secure our caregiving infrastructure for the future. It’s the right thing to do, not only for immigrants, but for our nation.

    The post America’s boomers and undocumented immigrants need each other appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Queuing in their hundreds from dawn, Venezuelans seeking U.S. visas at the U.S. embassy building in Caracas fear their government's order to slash embassy staff may snarl the process far more. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

    Queuing in their hundreds from dawn, Venezuelans seeking U.S. visas at the U.S. embassy building in Caracas fear their government’s order to slash embassy staff may snarl the process far more. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials Monday, accusing them of perpetrating human rights violations and public corruption in the socialist-governed South American nation.

    The individuals all come from the top echelon of the state security apparatus that was responsible for cracking down on anti-government protests that rocked Venezuela last year and for pursuing charges against leading opponents.

    “Corrupt actions by Venezuelan government officials deprive Venezuela of needed economic resources that could be invested in the Venezuelan people and used to spur economic growth,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement. “These actions also undermine the public trust in democratic institutions and the human rights to which Venezuelan citizens are entitled.”

    The sanctions come after the U.S. Congress passed legislation late last year authorizing penalties that would freeze the assets and ban visas for anyone accused of carrying out acts of violence or violating the human rights of those opposing the Venezuela’s government.

    Asked about the sanctions, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez told The Associated Press that her country will insist on a relationship with the U.S. that is “based on respect and sovereign equality.”

    Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela have been on the rise.

    Last summer, the State Department imposed a travel ban on Venezuelan officials accused of abuses during street protests that left dozens of people dead. And last week, Venezuela gave the U.S. two weeks to slash its diplomatic mission there to less than 20 percent of its current size. The U.S., in turn, has criticized Venezuela for its anti-American rhetoric.

    Still, the U.S. maintains deep economic ties with Venezuela, particularly its energy sector. According to a 2013 State Department fact sheet, Venezuela was one of the top five suppliers of foreign oil to the U.S.

    Support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration has fallen off sharply as the oil-rich economy has plunged deeper into crisis marked by widespread shortages and inflation over 60 percent. The president’s approval rating in January stood at 22 percent, the lowest since the revolution started by the late President Hugo Chavez in 1999.

    The list includes close allies of Chavez. Manuel Gregorio Bernal Martínez, who was head of Venezuela’s intelligence service during the protest movement that swept Venezuela last year, participated in Chavez’s 1992 coup attempt. The failed plot launched Chavez into national limelight and cemented the bona fides of his co-conspirers.

    The sanctioned officials also include former members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard, known as the GNB. The White House says GNB members have engaged in “significant acts of violence or conduct that constitutes a serious abuse or violation of human rights.”

    “In various cities in Venezuela, members of the GNB used force against peaceful protestors and journalists, including severe physical violence, sexual assault, and firearms,” the White House said in a fact sheet on the sanctions.

    The seven sanctioned officials are:

    • Antonio José Benavides Torres, commander in Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Armed Forces and former GNB operations director.
    • Gustavo Enrique González López, director general of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. The U.S. says he is responsible for or complicit in acts of violence and other human rights abuses against anti-government protestors. He was also associated with the surveillance of Venezuelan opposition leaders.
    • Justo José Noguera Pietri, president of the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana a state-owned entity, and former GNB general commander.
    • Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padron: national level prosecutor of who has charged several opposition members with conspiracy related to alleged assassination and coup attempts using what the U.S. says were “implausible — and in some cases fabricated — information.”
    • Manuel Eduardo Pérez Urdaneta, director of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police. The U.S. says the policy force has engaged in “significant acts of violence or conduct that constitutes a serious abuse or violation of human rights.”
    • Manuel Gregorio Bernal Martínez : chief of the 31st Armored Brigade of Caracas of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Army and former director general of national intelligence services. He was intelligence chief on Feb. 12, 2014, when officials fired their weapons on protestors killing two individuals near the Attorney General’s Office.
    • Miguel Alcides Vivas Landino, inspector general of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Armed Forces.

    AP writers Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia and Hannah Dreier in Caracas, Venezuela contributed to this report.

    The post Obama levies sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Today, Apple computer releases its first new hardware product since Tim Cook took over as CEO: the highly anticipated Apple Watch. Can the computer giant crack the trendy-but-fringe wearables market, or is the Apple Watch destined to go the same route as Google Glass? In December, Amy Webb of consulting firm Webbmedia Group told Hari Sreenivasan wearables are one the top tech trends to watch in 2015. We’ve syndicated a live blog pulling together live coverage of the event from CNET, Fast Company and other tech media.

    The post LIVE BLOG: Will the Apple Watch crack open the market for wearables? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Listen to J. Allyn Rosser read “As If” from her new collection, “Mimi’s Trapeze.” In the poem, Rosser “contemplates humanity as not quite worthy of the world,” she told Art Beat in December. “We humans, we’re kind of a disappointment. We’re always desiring, we’re never satisfied, we’re cruel sometimes. Maybe we’re not getting the point we were put here to get.”

    As If

    How do you explain why elephants
    appear to move their unwieldy hulks
    with greater dignity than most humans do
    in their finest moments,
    as if they had evolved beyond wanting
    anything but what they have?
    Why does the field begin to ripple
    before the wind arrives in whispers,
    as if there were a communication,
    as if the landscape were poorly dubbed,
    and we weren’t expected to notice?
    What butterfly does not dart away from us,
    as if it could sense our latent cruelties,
    and yet return to check and double-check?
    Has the night not gotten recently darker,
    as if to insinuate that we have squandered
    the light that was there?
    Have we made too much of our own kind?
    And did you notice afterward the dawn
    opening up with a tentative eagerness,
    as if there were something crucial to illumine,
    as if we would wake up early just to see it?
    I imagine you reading this now
    with an expression of quiet trouble
    itself troubled by currents of hope,
    as if you imagined me here with you,
    as if I might be able to see your expression
    and at least answer it with mine.

    J. Allyn Rosser“Mimi’s Trapeze” is J. Allyn Rosser’s fourth book of poetry. Her previous collections include “Bright Moves,” which was awarded the Morse Poetry Prize, “Misery Prefigured,” winner of the Crab Orchard Award in 2001 and “Foiled Again,” for which she won the New Criterion Poetry Prize in 2007. Rosser has published her poems in numerous periodicals, including The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry and Ninth Letter, and has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim and Lannan Foundations. She is an associate professor of English at Ohio University and an editor-in-chief of New Ohio Review.

    “As If” from “Mimi’s Trapeze,” by J. Allyn Rosser, © 2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

    The post Poet posits, ‘We humans, we’re kind of a disappointment’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Nearly two years since the attack on the Boston Marathon, the trial for suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got underway Wednesday in a federal courtroom in Boston. Federal prosecutor William Weinreb says that both Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan who dies in a gun battle days after the bombing, were terrorists whose mission was to maim and kill.

    Tsarnaev faces 30 charges including the use of a weapon of mass destruction. According to Boston’s WBUR, 17 of these charges carry the possibility of the death penalty.

    Follow the trial with a live blog from the Boston Globe:

    The post LIVE BLOG: Follow the Boston bombing trial appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Radius Images/Getty Images.

    The Social Security Administration treats unwed couples as second-class citizens, argues Larry Kotlikoff. Radius Images/Getty Images.

    Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff has spent every week, for over two years, answering questions about what is likely your largest financial asset — your Social Security benefits. His Social Security original 34 “secrets”, his additional secrets, his Social Security “mistakes” and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we feature “Ask Larry” every Monday. Find a complete list of his columns here. And keep sending us your Social Security questions.

    Kotlikoff’s state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its “basic” version. His new book, “Get What’s Yours — the Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security Benefits,” (co-authored with Paul Solman and Making Sen$e Medicare columnist Phil Moeller) was published in February by Simon & Schuster.

    Below, Larry explains the file-and-suspend and spousal benefit strategy to Paul, which got Paul and his wife an extra $50,000 in benefits.


    Carmen — Bronx, N.Y.: My question is that my mother did not marry my father, but she was with him for 11 years before he died in a car accident. We, the children, all received Social Security check money. When we got older, we all had a few thousands dollars in the bank. But my mother did not get one cent even though she had seven kids, the youngest of which was born a few weeks after my dad’s death.

    Larry Kotlikoff: This is another example of Social Security’s outrageously unjust practices. But there is nothing to be done. Unless Congress changes the law, which it surely won’t, the unwed will be treated just as its designers desired – as second-class citizens.


    Anonymous – Columbia, Md. I viewed the Feb. 26 Making Sen$e segment and was informed, entertained, as only Paul can, and delighted to learn about the book and answers to Social Security benefit mysteries.

    My question is: When one turns 65 and has to sign up for Medicare so as not to incur penalties, the Social Security Administration says to start your Social Security benefits so the Medicare payment can be drawn from the benefit. Can one pay their Medicare fees out of pocket until age 66 or beyond, as described on the Feb. 26 segment? Since someone can suspend their benefits after starting them, how would it work with Medicare going forward?

    GOT SOCIAL SECURITY QUESTIONS?

    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    Larry Kotlikoff: One of the gotchas in our book, “Get What’s Yours – the Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” concerns making sure you pay your Medicare premiums out of pocket if you suspend your retirement benefit and Social Security is no longer in a position to withhold these premiums each month.

    From what I’ve been told by a very senior actuary at Social Security, if you suspend your retirement benefit and Social Security doesn’t receive a Medicare Part B premium payment from you, it will reactivate your benefit, withhold the premium, deny you the accumulation of delayed retirement credits, and, it seems, never tell you it’s doing any of this.

    If this happen, when you restart your retirement benefit, say at 70, Social Security will give you the same benefit – no larger – that you were collecting when you suspended. So if you suspend at 66 and restart at 70, you’ll have lost four years of benefits and get nothing whatsoever back for it! Social Security can be a very nasty business if you aren’t careful. This is, in part, why we wrote the book – to protect people from the system’s extremely well hidden traps.


    Eileen — Farmington Hills, Mich.: I will be 63 in April and am self-employed. My income has been increasing in the past few years. Will this make a difference to my Social Security benefits?

    A second question: I am considering marrying (I have been divorced 20 years). Will my new husband be able to collect spousal benefits since I am a larger earner? And is there a grace period? If we do not file jointly, is he a dependent spouse?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If you earn enough, your benefits will indeed be larger. Social Security recomputes your benefits each year to see if you have raised your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME).

    This average is used to calculate your Primary Insurance Amount or PIA. Your PIA is used to calculate the retirement, spousal, divorcee spousal, child, child survivor, widower, divorcee widower, and parent benefits that you and your current and former spouses, your children, and even your parents can, potentially, collect off your work record.

    Indeed, if you have a short work record, the extra future benefits you thereby generate for yourself and others may exceed the extra FICA taxes you pay. As we explain in “Get What’s Yours,” your AIME will automatically rise if you are over 60 and earn above the taxable earnings ceiling ($118,500 this year).

    Your to-be new husband will be eligible to collect a spousal benefit off of your work record after you have been married for one year, assuming that he is at least age 62. For him to collect a full spousal benefit off of your work record, you’ll need to file for your retirement benefit and he’ll need to file just for his spousal benefit. He can only do this when he’s at or over full retirement age and under age 70. After age 70, there is no advantage for him not to also file for his retirement benefit.

    So depending on his age and when you file for your own retirement benefit, he can indeed collect a full spousal benefit. For example, if he too is 63 and you wait until full retirement age to file for your retirement and then suspend it (which you can only do starting at full retirement age), he can, at that point, file a restricted application and get full spousal benefits for four years. You can then both collect you own retirement benefits starting at 70, when they will start at their highest possible starting value. Alternatively, you can potentially collect a full spousal benefit off of your new spouse’s work record.

    But since you are divorced, be aware that if you were married for 10 years, getting remarried will eliminate your potential ability to collect a full or excess divorcee spousal benefit on your ex’s work record. In your case, getting married after age 60, does not, however, keep you from collecting a divorcee widow’s benefit off of your ex’s work record once he dies.


    Larry — Austin, Texas: If you take disability from Social Security, are you permanently locked in to that benefit amount, or can you file and suspend at full retirement age (FRA) and wait until you are 70 to take the larger benefit? Is your benefit at 70 reduced for having taken disability?

    And second, if a disabled spouse takes the spousal benefit from their spouse’s account before the first spouse reaches FRA, are their benefits permanently reduced, even if they wait until 70 to take their own benefits? If so, then is it best to wait until FRA to take the spousal benefit on your spouse’s account when he or she has already reached FRA?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If you take disability, your disability benefit will convert into a full retirement benefit at full retirement age. At that point you are, indeed, able to suspend your benefit and start it up again at 70 inclusive of delayed retirement credits. (Just make sure you pay your Medicare Part B premiums by writing a separate check. Otherwise, Social Security may, without telling you, reactivate your retirement benefit to pay the premiums and, as a consequence, not provide you with delayed retirement credits.)

    For those now reaching full retirement age (currently 66), the suspension means a 32 percent higher retirement benefit (above and beyond any inflation adjustment) when the benefit is restarted at 70.

    I had thought, and even wrote in our new book, that disabled workers could, upon reaching full retirement age, withdraw their retirement benefits and file for a full spousal benefit. But as I wrote in a prior column, Social Security wiped out this possibility for millions of disabled workers in what I view as a truly malicious act of discrimination against the disabled. This action was taken on Dec. 23, after the book went to press.

    Anyway, the answer to your first question is yes, you can file and suspend and no, your benefit at 70 is not reduced due to having taken Social Security. What is reduced — actually wiped out — is your ability to collect a full spousal benefit between full retirement age and 70.

    Regarding your second question, if a disabled spouse files for a spousal benefit before full retirement age, he or she will get an excess spousal benefit that will be reduced due to his or her filing for it before full retirement age. And if he or she files for a spousal benefit at or after full retirement, he or she will get an excess spousal benefit that’s not reduced even if he or she has suspended his or her own disability benefit. This again is the effect of the Christmas Eve disability benefit massacre that I find absolutely outrageous.

    My blood pressure rises just thinking about the decision of bureaucrats to wipe out this benefit when they apparently thought no one was paying attention. Their action was, I’m sure, triggered by my telling disabled workers in prior columns that they could collect full spousal benefits. And that, clearly, was what the Social Security regs permitted prior to their being rewritten virtually in the dead of night — likely in response to a disabled worker trying to withdraw the automatic conversion of her disability benefit to a retirement benefit and collect just a full spousal benefit.

    The post Your relationship means nothing to Social Security unless you’re married appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A study released last week says that much of the atmospheric heat produced by global warming in the last 15 years was absorbed by the Atlantic Ocean.  Wikimedia Commons uploaded by Ronline

    Florida will now refer to rising sea-level as “nuisance flooding.” Wikimedia Commons uploaded by Ronline.

    Florida, a state that environmental scientists have agreed would be hit hard by extreme changes in climate, is not allowed to speak about climate change. At least, not by members of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency behind planning for these potential changes.

    Four former DEP employees told Florida’s Center for Investigative Reporting
    that state officials at Florida’s DEP were unofficially banned from using the terms “climate change,” “global warming” and “sea-level rise.” The rise in sea-level will now be referred to as “nuisance flooding.” The reasoning was to prevent “unwanted attention” on DEP energy, business and educational reports. The DEP, however, has declined any such policy.

    According to former employees, the move began under Republican governor Rick Scott, who appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. to be DEP’s director the year Scott took office in 2011. That same year, Scott said he was not convinced that humans were the reason behind global warming. In 2014, when asked about his stance on global warming, Scott deflected the question, saying “I’m not a scientist,” according to FCIR.

    The post Florida environmental officials banned from using the term ‘climate change’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 03/09/15--13:08: Are you celebrating Pi Day?
  • It's National Pi Day. How many digits of the mathematical constant can you name?

    There’s no wrong way to celebrate Pi Day. Photo by Colleen Shalby.

    Saturday, March 14, is a special holiday for math-lovers. Known as Pi Day, the holiday celebrates the mathematical constant pi. This irrational number is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its radius, and it starts with 3.1415926535897…the numbers continue at random into infinity.

    People celebrate Pi Day around the U.S. and around the world with pie-eating, pie-throwing, even with pi-recitation competitions, where people recite digits of pi from memory.

    And we love Pi Day at PBS NewsHour (see photo above for proof). But this Pi Day is a once-in-a-century celebration. At 9:26:53 a.m. on Saturday, this will happen:

    3.14.15 9:26:53
    That’s 10 digits of pi (nine after the decimal point). It only happens once every hundred years.

    Despite Pi Day’s endorsement from Congress as a day to celebrate math education, U.S. math scores still fall behind other developed countries. In a survey of OECD countries in 2012, the U.S. was below average in its math scores, falling behind the Slovak Republic in this survey. According to a study in Spain in 2009, six out of 10 college students experience anxiety around math. And Education Week reported in 2012 that
    math anxiety affects around 50 percent of Americans
    .

    So we’re asking: Why do you love math? This Pi Day, we want to hear from math enthusiasts of all ages. Tell us why you’re passionate about numbers, and how you’re celebrating Pi Day by tweeting @NewsHour your photos and answers using #NewsHourAsks. Come Pi Day, your answer may be featured on our website.

    The post Are you celebrating Pi Day? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Fireworks illuminate the sky during the celebrations of the Chinese Lunar New Year in Hong Kong on Feb. 20. Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

    Fireworks illuminate the sky during the celebrations of the Chinese Lunar New Year in Hong Kong on Feb. 20. Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

    In Hong Kong these days, a Chinese and international city of 7 million brimming with both raw commercial energy and political tension, the newest hot button issue is how to separate the sheep from the goats.

    It is a reflection of how tense things are in this partially autonomous bit of China since the pro-democracy demonstrations of last fall that a minor storm developed over the English translation of one Chinese word — yang. Hong Kong’s un-elected chief executive C.Y. Leung used the word in his Chinese language Lunar New Year message. And while all-encompassing in Chinese, the word has three possible translations to English — sheep, goats or rams.

    Most Hong Kongers have been calling the new year the Year of the Goat, but in the English language version of Leung’s talk, the deeply unpopular chief executive admonished his citizens to live in the spirit of the sheep, peacefully in groups and to take inspiration from the sheep’s character.

    Leung’s admonition took on sinister connotations among pro-democracy elements in a city very much divided since the student-driven Occupy movement fizzled out after blocking three key commercial and government areas for 79 days. Is the chief executive trying to persuade us to act like sheep? Is he, or the communist rulers he reports to in Beijing, which took over Hong Kong from colonial Britain in 1997, trying to be our shepherd?

    In a column only slightly tongue-in-cheek and with an eye to Hong Kong’s substantial Christian population, analyst Frank Chin wondered if the chief executive were comparing himself to the Good Shepherd Jesus.

    Satire aside, two words came up in dozens of conversations with friends, colleagues and former students from my five-month teaching stint here in 2013. Whether Hong Kongers, Westerners or the growing number of mainland Chinese coming to work or study, they all used the words “tension” and “frustration.” An accumulation of the latter fuels the former.

    What the Occupy movement brought out in force is the parallel nature of unhappiness among large swaths of the population — partly political, more social and economic.

    On the political front, under the one country-two systems deal between the departing British and Beijing, Hong Kong is supposed to choose its next chief executive in 2017 via universal suffrage. An election would replace the current system of a committee of pro-Beijing worthies picking a leader. The rub is that the Chinese government insists the election can only be between two or three candidates it approves. And if anything, the protests seem to have strengthened the resolve of the local government and Beijing on that position.

    For Hong Kongers, especially the democrats on the local legislative council, the issue is whether to accept that partial loaf. The local legislative council has until mid-year to vote on a government election plan (still not formally presented). A negative vote would likely mean continuing the system of an appointed chief executive.

    Of course, the vote will not come in a vacuum. In private conversations and in news reports, more democratically minded residents talk of increasing pressure, a kind of nibbling away, from the mainland government on news organizations, universities and even lower schools over what they print and teach and over who gets appointed to key jobs.

    On the social and economic front, frustrations behind the protests could be just as threatening as a political unraveling to Hong Kong’s future as one of the world’s three international financial capitals alongside New York and London.

    Michael DeGolyer, the leading academic authority on the Hong Kong transition, said he warned local leaders months before the Occupy protests of mounting frustration among the city’s young population.

    Much of that frustration centers on real estate, in a city where a 300 square foot apartment far from the center can easily sell for half a million dollars (U.S.) and anything even slightly bigger goes for at least a million. Recently, the government raised the amount required for down payments, further driving a stake in many youthful aspirations.

    And the response of the city’s chief financial officer, John Tsang, to their complaints: “If it is not affordable, then don’t buy a property.” His comment was the latest from top officials that seemed to channel Marie Antoinette, sentiments most famously voiced by the chief executive during the Occupy protests that the problem with one man-one vote is that poor people might take over politics.

    According to David Dodwell, an analyst and former journalist, frustration has been exacerbated by a job market that has been shrinking in quality and quantity successively since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the Avian flu epidemic, the SARS epidemic and the 2008-09 global financial meltdown and the new competition for the better jobs from mainland Chinese moving to Hong Kong.

    Ill will occasionally leading to violent confrontations continues to grow between Hong Kongers and mainlanders. Hong Kongers complain that the hundreds of thousands of visitors are driving up prices at the city’s 42 high-end shopping malls. (It is relatively easy to spot a mainland tourist in Hong Kong. They are pushing suitcases to fill with items from the most posh shops that do not carry the higher Chinese sales tax.)

    More provocative are the mainlanders who clear shelves in shops near the border of baby formula and diapers for re-sale back home. Complaints that the visitors are loud, rude and unsophisticated are eerily reminiscent of what European sophisticates said about Americans in the early waves of 1950s and ‘60s U.S. tourism to Europe. The mainlanders, put off by the negative reception in Hong Kong, may be getting their revenge. During this Lunar New Year, mainland tourism and shopping slumped for the first in a decade, ringing off a different set of alarm bells.

    The initial enthusiasm of the young to the Occupy protests, and the widely repeated view that an entire generation of apolitical Hong Kongers has now become politicized, may be evaporating, says DeGolyer, an American a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. He said the most recent polling shows a new disdain and disillusionment with politics rather than a determination to seize political power that characterized the U.S. civil rights movement.

    Among other Hong Kongers I talked with, there is a readiness to move elsewhere if the economic or political situation grows intolerable. One 30-something doctor said everyone in both his hospital unit and sports club has a foreign passport. And those without talk more of Taiwan, where the air is cleaner and real estate cheaper, even though politically that might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire as Beijing steps up its warnings that Taiwan must remember it is part of One China.

    But amidst such talk are the reminders that Hong Kong is a quintessentially pragmatic place, which still offers mainland China a window to international capital and finance. It likely will for a least a decade or more until the Chinese currency becomes completely convertible and Shanghai can compete as a financial center where contracts are guaranteed by an independent rule of law.

    The pragmatism, say local analysts, academics and diplomats alike, was demonstrated anew on all sides. Beijing and the Hong Kong governments and eventually most of the demonstrators let the Occupy movement fizzle with little bloodshed and certainly avoiding another Tiananmen Square. Instead it faded amid internal divisions among the pro-democracy factions and growing public impatience with disruptions to daily lives and commerce.

    The youthful pro-democracy movement may have captured the imagination of the international press and the West, and certainly its leaders were as or more articulate than the government figures they confronted in occasional public forums. But its appeal here, judging by conversations and public opinion polls, is neither universal nor necessarily enduring.

    And as one local columnist reminded, Hong Kongers will be on their own. Britain, which negotiated the one country-two systems arrangement, has made clear where its economic and political interests rest, most recently with the visit of royal heir apparent Prince William to Beijing.

    The United States has been studiously quiet, in part to avoid Chinese paranoia — voiced again most recently by a top general, Gen. Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army — that Americans are fueling unrest or revolution in China. The one time President Barack Obama made a passing reference to Hong Kong at a Beijing press conference last year, he was quickly swatted down by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who tartly reminded him that the city’s future is an internal Chinese issue.

    As one resident noted, Hong Kong has shown incredible resilience for seven plus decades through the Japanese occupation, the turmoil of the communist revolution on the mainland that frequently spilled over to the city in the 1950s and ‘60s wars, the uncertainty before the 1997 handover and the financial and political crises since.

    Perhaps that confidence is best expressed in the city’s signature skyline. Even now, when pessimism often seems to reign, new office and apartment towers continue to be carved out of mountainsides. Some are so tall they pierce low level clouds and their top floors reach blue skies above. They are one metaphor for a deep belief in hard work, determination to earn money and pursuit of a better future after two catastrophic centuries of Chinese history. These emotions have long driven this city and made it grow and thrive, and by most reckonings will continue to do so whatever storms lay ahead.

    The post Separating sheep from goats in a tense Hong Kong appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    In a new study led by Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam, found that parental warmth led to high self-esteem. And children whose parents believed they were more special or entitled than other children grew more narcissistic. Photo illustration by Getty Images

    In a new study led by Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam, found that parental warmth led to high self-esteem. And children whose parents believed they were more special or entitled than other children grew more narcissistic. Photo illustration by Getty Images

    Think telling your children they’re special will help them reach higher, work harder and bravely pursue their dreams? Maybe. But you might also be making them narcissists.

    New research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that children whose parents told them they were “special” and “superior” grew more narcissistic over time.

    Everyone recognizes a narcissist, said Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and author of “The Narcissism Epidemic” and “Generation Me.” Narcissists have an overinflated sense of self, and suffer from vanity, materialism, entitlement, a lack of empathy and overvaluing their abilities and skills.

    In short, “they’re jerks,” Twenge said.

    Narcissistic traits start appearing in children as young as seven. That’s the age they start comparing themselves to others.

    And narcissism is not to be confused with high self-esteem, especially in young children, said Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam and lead author of the study.

    “Narcissistic children feel superior to others, believe they are entitled to privileges, and want to be admired by others. Children with high self-esteem feel satisfied with themselves” as people, he wrote in an email.

    But the narcissists are also aggressive, prone to bullying others and lashing out when they don’t get their way. They have problems maintaining personal relationships. And narcissism doesn’t lead to success, Twenge said.

    “There’s this idea that you have to be self-absorbed to succeed, and that’s not true. (Narcissists) end up failing,” she said. “They alienate people. They take too many risks.”

    Millennials, those born between 1980 and the early 2000s, have been accused of being the most narcissistic generation, but it’s a trend that’s been rising in Western cultures since at least the 1970s, Twenge said. And some research indicates that the increasing emphasis on the individual goes all the way back to the Renaissance, she said.

    But why do kids grow up to be narcissists? There are two prevailing — and contradictory — theories, Twenge said. Some say parents who overpraise and emphasize a child’s specialness raise narcissists. Others say it stems from the opposite: kids who are undervalued and treated harshly.

    Brummelman studied 565 children in the Netherlands between the ages of 7 and 11 and their parents. They surveyed the families four times, with six months between each visit. Children filled out questionnaires, ranking statements like “kids like me deserve something extra” and “kids like me are happy with themselves as a person,” and “my father/mother lets me know he/she loves me”. Parents were asked how they regarded their children, either by overvaluing (“my child is more special than other children”) or how warmly they treated them (“I tell my child I love him/her”).

    Brummelman found that parental warmth led to high self-esteem. And children whose parents believed they were more special or entitled than other children were more likely to be narcissistic.

    “When people attempt to raise children’s self-esteem, they might sometimes inadvertently use ‘overvaluing’ practices, such as conveying to children that they are superior to others. Instead of raising self-esteem, these practices may predict higher narcissism levels,” Brummelman said.

    Overall, the study found that fathers were more likely than mothers to overvalue their children, saying that their kids were more special or entitled. It could be that those parents were a bit narcissistic themselves, Brummelman said, and narcissism may be passed on from one generation to the next.

    So how do you raise kids with high self-esteem who aren’t narcissists?

    “Instead of saying, ‘You’re special,’ say ‘I love you,’” said Twenge, who has three daughters of her own. People have confused overvaluing specialness with love, she said. Saying “I love you” rather than emphasizing your child’s specialness sounds overly simple, but it works, she said.

    “That’s what parents mean anyway, and it’s a much better message.”

    The post How not to raise a narcissist appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Original "foot soldiers" Dorothy Tillman Wright, center, who marched at the original Bloody Sunday, shouts during a prayer at the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, Sunday. Photo by Tami Chappell/Reuters

    Original “foot soldier” Dorothy Tillman Wright, center, who marched at the original “Bloody Sunday,” crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, Sunday. Photo by Tami Chappell/Reuters

    The Cornerstone Presbyterian Church on Broad Street threw open its doors for weary marchers to rest. Lamp posts were decorated with posters and banners hailing the jubilee weekend. New landscaping had been installed on downtown street corners. On the day before the president arrived, buildings along the parade route were still being painted.

    This was the part of Selma that anxiously awaited the arrival of what officials predicted would be 20,000 visitors for the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march that galvanized the movement for voting rights and provided inspiration for an Oscar-nominated film. More than 100,000 showed up.

    A bust of Martin Luther King Jr. sits just outside of Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma. Photo by Gwen Ifill

    A bust of Martin Luther King Jr. sits just outside of Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma. Photo by Gwen Ifill

    There’s nothing wrong with cleaning up the place a bit before company comes. But in the case of the Selma anniversary, a fresh coat of paint could scarcely conceal the cracks in the foundation.

    In some cases this was literal — houses that leaned to the side as residents watched from their front porches as the out of towners streamed past, parking haphazardly on lawns, vacant lots and in ditches. Hundreds of people spilled onto the streets for Sunday service outside Brown Chapel AME Church — where much of the 1965 march was organized. People lined up to take selfies in front of a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. Less famous congregations worshipped quietly, and with much less fanfare, nearby.

    New, but quickly-dying, sod was laid at George Washington Carver Homes across the street, the low-slung public housing project where many of the marchers lived. Housing Secretary Julian Castro even dropped by.

    About a mile away from all the hubbub, the all-white Selma Country Club was eerily quiet on a 70-degree day, a security guard posted at the entrance.

    President Barack Obama crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge with first lady Michelle Obama, Congressman John Lewis, former first lady Laura Bush and former president George W. Bush. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    President Barack Obama crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge with first lady Michelle Obama, Congressman John Lewis, former first lady Laura Bush, former president George W. Bush and many others. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Meanwhile, at the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named in honor of a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon), President Obama embraced Congressman John Lewis, who helped lead the 1965 march. A battalion of photographers — shooting backward from a slow rolling open air truck, captured every step as Mr. Obama linked hands in a front line that included his wife, daughters, civil rights leaders and former President George W. Bush.

    Selma this weekend was awash in contradictions.

    People from almost every conceivable race, color creed and political orientation gathered for a common cause that did not involve a new Apple gadget.
    Behind the scenes, a furious feud was underway between the Alabama-based jubilee organizers who normally lead the annual commemoration, and the Faith and Politics Institute, a D.C.-based group that leads civil rights pilgrimages and brought the President to town.

    The goal was for there to be a single sanctioned Sunday march, but local organizers were no match for what it takes to bring the president and 100 members of Congress to town. Security trumps all.

    Photo courtesy of Gwen Ifill

    Overlooking the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photo courtesy of Gwen Ifill

    So in the end, the defining photograph of the weekend was the president walking across the bridge. By the time the jubilee march got underway on Sunday, so many people packed the bridge that they were unable to move, let alone march. The church service at Brown Chapel showcased so many speakers, including Attorney General Eric Holder, and went on so long that many in attendance never actually made it to the bridge.

    There were hurt feelings, those who complained that their claim to history was being hijacked by outsiders.

    But this was not true. In a time where we are often so eager to rush past our history on the way to something else, it was still an amazing weekend. People from almost every conceivable race, color creed and political orientation gathered for a common cause that did not involve a new Apple gadget. And everywhere I went, there was good cheer and genuine pleasure at the simple act of being there.

    We should not be surprised that moments like this breed some conflict. We are a nation that has come so far, even while leaving the poorest of the poor marginalized. We embrace the notion of equal justice by day, even as the news of yet another police-involved shooting turns our young people into protesters by night.

    We are a nation that was born and bred in conflict. But at least now — at least this weekend, we were engaged in a common cause to use conflict as a path toward a community ideal.

    That’s what I saw in Selma.

    The post Our colliding ideals: What I saw in Selma appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sam Simon, a television producer and writer who co-developed the long-running series “The Simpsons,” died on Sunday at the age of 59.

    Simon started his career as a storyboard artist for Filmation Studios, before joining the writing staff of the sitcom “Taxi.” In 1989, after stints writing and producing shows including “Cheers” and “The Tracey Ullman Show,” Simon played a crucial role in adapting “The Simpsons” from a series of short animated sketches created for “Ullman” into a primetime, half-hour sitcom. He remained with the show for four seasons, eventually leaving in 1993 after continued clashes with “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, before moving on to projects including “The George Carlin Show” and “The Drew Carey Show.”

    His departure from “The Simpsons” included a lucrative deal that saw Simon remain credited as Executive Producer and receive royalties — which he claimed earned him “tens of millions of dollars” annually. Simon used his wealth to become a philanthropist and an active campaigner for animal rights, creating the Sam Simon Foundation, an organization that rescues and trains dogs to assist with disabled persons, as well as contributing his earnings to organizations that include Save the Children, PETA, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a vegan food bank and a Los Angeles mobile veterinary clinic, among others.

    “One thing is, I get pleasure from it,” he told the Hollywood Reporter in 2013. “I love it. I don’t feel like it is an obligation.”

    In 2012, Simon was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Given only months to live, the producer vowed to give away the majority of his fortune to charity.

    “The truth is, I have more money than I’m interested in spending,” said Simon. “Everyone in my family is taken care of. And I enjoy this.”

    Several “Simpsons” staff members, including Al Jean, who has been involved with the show off and on since its 1989 start, spoke about Simon’s death on Twitter.

    The post Sam Simon, co-developer of ‘The Simpsons,’ dies at 59 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A little girl smiles for the camera in Bamako, Mali’s capital, less than a mile from the palace of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Keita was elected on his promise to unify the country after a rebellion, coup d’etat and Islamic insurgency that plunged what was one of Africa’s most stable democracies into chaos. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A little girl smiles for the camera in Bamako, Mali’s capital, less than a mile from the palace of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Keita was elected on his promise to unify the country after a rebellion, a coup d’etat and an Islamic insurgency that plunged what was one of Africa’s most stable democracies into chaos. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The Northern part of Mali in West Africa has come under attack repeatedly since 2012, when al-Qaida-linked militants seized two-thirds of the country. French and Malian forces re-took the north in 2013, but the violence continues. This weekend, terrorists launched two separate attacks, killing eight people and injuring more than 20. It was the first-ever attack in Bamako, Mali’s capital, sending the city into shock.

    Chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown just returned from Mali for a series called “Culture at Risk,” where he reported on the critical role the country’s cultural heritage is playing in the peace process.

    On the trip, Jeff visited Bamako, where some of Mali’s top musicians performed a concert calling for an end to the violence. He also explored the ancient, storied city of Timbuktu. Once a crossroads of Islamic scholarship, desert trade and West African music, Timbuktu is still recovering from 10 months of terror under the occupation of militant jihadists who seized the city and imposed a brutal form of Sharia law. They banned any form of artistic expression and destroyed many of the city’s cultural treasures, including mosques, shrines and music studios.

    Today, as U.N.-led peace talks progress, Mali’s artists and scholars are joining in the fight for reconciliation and the preservation of the music, art and scholarship at the heart of their country.

    View from a rooftop in Bamako, punctuated by the blue minarets of a large mosque. Muslims currently make up 90 percent of the population in Mali. The constitution mandates freedom of religion and defines the country as secular. Sadly, Northern of Mali has been under attack since 2012 by religious extremists who espouse a brutal form of Sharia law. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The skyline of Mali’s capitol, Bamako, is punctuated by the blue minarets of a large mosque. Muslims currently make up 90 percent of the population in Mali. The constitution mandates freedom of religion and defines the country as secular. Sadly, northern Mali has been under attack since 2012 by religious extremists who espouse a brutal form of Sharia law. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Children in an alleyway in Bamako, Mali’s capital. Mali ranks among the world’s poorest countries – almost half the population lives below the poverty line. As a result of the conflict, food insecurity remains a critical issue and malnutrition is one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of five. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Mali ranks among the world’s poorest countries — almost half the population lives below the poverty line. As a result of the conflict, food insecurity remains a critical issue and malnutrition is one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of five. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Bassekou Kouyate is one of Mali’s greatest musicians and a master of the ngoni, a traditional West African lute. Bassekou – pictured here on the rooftop of a music school he’s building in Bamako - has toured around the world and shared the stage with global legends like Bono; the two played together at the famed Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu just weeks before the 2012 conflict began. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Bassekou Kouyate is one of Mali’s greatest musicians and a master of the ngoni, a traditional West African lute. Bassekou — pictured here on the rooftop of a music school he’s building in Bamako — has toured around the world and shared the stage with global legends like Bono; the two played together at the famed Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu just weeks before the 2012 conflict began. Photo by Molly Raskin

    UN troops patrol the heavily secured roads surrounding the airport in Timbuktu. Peacekeeping troops in the North have come under continual attack by militants since French and Malian forces re-took the area in early 2013. Last weekend, an attack on a UN compound in the city of Kidal killed three, including two children and a UN peacekeeper. Photo by Molly Raskin

    U.N. troops patrol the heavily secured roads surrounding the airport in Timbuktu. Peacekeeping troops in the north have come under continual attack by militants since French and Malian forces re-took the area in early 2013. Last weekend, an attack on a U.N. compound in the city of Kidal killed three, including two children and a U.N. peacekeeper. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Children play soccer on a sandy square next to the University of Timbuktu, once one of the greatest centers of Islamic scholarship. Just two years ago - on this very square - Islamic militants carried out brutal public punishments on those who did not comply with their form of Sharia law. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Children play soccer on a sandy square next to the University of Timbuktu, once one of the greatest centers of Islamic scholarship. Just two years ago — on this very square — Islamic militants carried out brutal public punishments on those who did not comply with their form of Sharia law. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A donkey walks on the sandy streets of Timbuktu. Still a common mode of transportation in the North of Mali, donkeys often carry food and other goods. In 2013, they were part of a dramatic rescue mission, helping to carry thousands of ancient manuscripts out of Timbuktu to the safety of Bamako after jihadists seized the city. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A donkey walks on the sandy streets of Timbuktu. Still a common mode of transportation in northern Mali, donkeys often carry food and other goods. In 2013, they were part of a dramatic rescue mission, helping to carry thousands of ancient manuscripts out of Timbuktu to the safety of Bamako after jihadists seized the city. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A small girl stands in a desolate alleyway of Timbutku. The city is struggling to recover in the aftermath of the militant occupation and still feels empty; more than half its 50,000 residents fled and have yet to return. It’s a sad chapter for a city that once bustled with trade, scholarship and tourism. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A small girl stands in a desolate alleyway of Timbutku. The city is struggling to recover in the aftermath of the militant occupation and still feels empty; more than half its 50,000 residents fled and have yet to return. It’s a sad chapter for a city that once bustled with trade, scholarship and tourism. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Abdrahamane Ben Essayouti, the Grand Imam of Timbuktu and the famous Djingareyber Mosque, witnessed the destruction of his hometown at the hand of the jihadists. Today he’s thankful his city was rescued, but also concerned about its future as the jihadists continue to threaten the area. Photo by Molly Raskin.

    Abdrahamane Ben Essayouti, the Grand Imam of Timbuktu and the famous Djingareyber Mosque, witnessed the destruction of his hometown at the hand of the jihadists. Today he’s thankful his city was rescued, but also concerned about its future as the jihadists continue to threaten the area. Photo by Molly Raskin.

    The Djingareyber Mosque, built in 1327, is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. The mosque’s central minaret is the tallest in the city and landmark of its skyline. During the occupation the militants took over the mosque and destroyed many of the city’s holiest sites, including two tombs at the mosque, which they smashed using pick axes. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The Djingareyber Mosque, built in 1327, is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. The mosque’s central minaret is the tallest landmark in it’s city’s skyline. During the occupation, the militants took over the mosque and destroyed many of the city’s holiest sites, including two tombs at the mosque, which they smashed using pick axes. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The Djingareyber Mosque at sunset in Timbuktu. Made almost entirely out of mud, it serves as a prayer space for up to 2,000 people. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The Djingareyber Mosque is made almost entirely out of mud. It serves as a prayer space for up to 2,000 people. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Young people in post-war Timbuktu are suffering; the conflict interrupted the delivery of food and other staples to the city, weakened health care and education and forced many to flee or seek exile. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Young people in post-war Timbuktu are suffering; the conflict interrupted the delivery of food and other staples to the city, weakened health care and education and forced many to flee or seek exile. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A woman in Timbuktu sweeps the sand away from the front of her doorstep. Because Timbuktu sits on the edge of the vast Sahara desert, sand encroaches everywhere. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A woman in Timbuktu sweeps the sand away from the front of her doorstep. Because Timbuktu sits on the edge of the vast Sahara desert, sand encroaches everywhere. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The ancient, prized manuscripts of Timbuktu, one of the largest written records of Islamic and African history from the 13th to 18th centuries, have long been housed in the libraries of Timbuktu. The collection is currently in Bamako, moved here by a team of historians who rescued the manuscripts after militants occupied Timbuktu and threatened to burn them. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The ancient, prized manuscripts of Timbuktu, one of the largest written records of Islamic and African history from the 13th to 18th centuries, have long been housed in the city’s libraries. However, the collection was moved to Bamako by a team of historians after militants occupied Timbuktu and threatened to burn the manuscripts. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Once crowded with shoppers and stalls, Timbuktu's main market is now eerily quiet. Peacekeeping forces patrol its streets, and shop owners are struggling, praying for the return of peace to their city. Photo by Molly Raskin

    Once crowded with shoppers and stalls, Timbuktu’s main market is now eerily quiet. Peacekeeping forces patrol its streets, and shop owners are struggling, praying for the return of peace to their city. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The jihadists raided the market in 2012, looting and destroying many of its treasures and the livelihood of its patrons. This tailor told us the militants smashed all his sewing machines, leaving him to work now only by hand, and driving away customers who remain afraid. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The jihadists raided the craft market in 2012, looting and destroying many of its treasures and the livelihood of its patrons. This tailor told us the militants smashed all his sewing machines, leaving him to work now only by hand, and driving away customers who remain afraid. Photo by Molly Raskin

    African peacekeeping troops have come under constant attack since they retook Timbuktu in 2013. Today, only certain parts of the city are considered safe, and Western travelers are cautioned not to visit the city until the violence abates. Photo by Molly Raskin

    African peacekeeping troops have come under constant attack since they retook Timbuktu in 2013. Today, only certain parts of the city are considered safe, and Western travelers are cautioned not to visit the city until the violence abates. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A boy floats down the Niger River on a pirogue, a traditional wooden boat used for transport and fishing. Plagued by frequent droughts, Mali survives largely because of its access to the Niger, the third longest river in Africa. Photo by Molly Raskin

    A boy floats down the Niger River on a pirogue, a traditional wooden boat used for transport and fishing. Plagued by frequent droughts, Mali survives largely because of its access to the Niger, the third longest river in Africa. Photo by Molly Raskin

    The post Mali’s artists fight to save the country’s ancient cultural treasures appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Light Brigading

    A group in Wisconsin protests a “right-to-work” law in 2014. Photo by Light Brigading

    Wisconsin labor unions took another hit today as Governor Scott Walker signed a bill known as the “right to work” into law Monday morning. In 2011, Governor Walker won a bitter fight to restrict collective bargaining for public sector workers. Now, after surviving a recall election and potentially looking towards a White House run, Mr. Walker has put restrictions on unions in the private sector.

    “What right-to-work does is that at unionized plants the unions will come to an agreement with the employers so that if you want to work at that plant and don’t want to join the union you don’t have to, but you do still have to pay a fee to the union for representation,” John Ahlquist a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told the PBS NewsHour. “Typically this fee is about half of what union dues are for union members. Unions, by law, are to represent all the workers at a plant whether they voted to join it or not.”

    The “right-to-work” bill, or “freedom-to-work” legislation, removes the fee that non-union members had to pay to unions representing their work place. Without the fees from non-union members, Ahlquist said unions will likely see a steep drop in membership — and forming a new union will become much harder.

    Unions have fought the bill, saying the fees are fair considering the representation they provide all workers and the benefits workers receive from union-negotiated contracts. Walker, however, has repeatedly said that this law will provide workers with much needed freedom in the workplace.

    “This freedom-to-work legislation will give workers the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union, and employers another compelling reason to consider expanding or moving their business to Wisconsin,” Walker said.

    Wisconsin is the 25th state to pass a “right-to-work” bill. For decades, Southern and Western states passed similar legislation, but the industrial, union-strong Midwest did not. That changed just a few years ago when the Republican party won elections across the region. Indiana and Michigan have already passed similar laws and, despite large protests, West Virginia, a union stronghold, may pass their own version soon. Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky are also considering similar legislation.

    Unions may have reason to be worried about these laws taking effect. Ahlquist said there are correlated consequences for unions in states that have passed “right-to-work”:

    “In states that have right-to-work in place, they have lower wages overall. Not just in industries with unions, but in general they have lower wages,” said Ahlquist. “They have marginally more industrial accidents it appears. It is pretty well established and we’re prone to believe that right-to-work certainly inhibits the establishment of unions and questions the survival of existing unions over time.”

    Union membership in Wisconsin has already taken a hit since Mr. Walker took office. In 2010, 14.2 percent of the employed were in unions, while in 2014 only 11.7 percent of the workforce were paying union dues. The decline, which has been happening for decades across the country, have to causes to blame, according to Steven Pitts at the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor, Research and Education.

    “One, there is an economic shift away from union strongholds,” Pitts told PBS NewsHour. “At the height of union density there was a focus on manufacturing. Two, there is a sense on the part of the employers to resist these campaigns.”

    Ahlquist agreed that the passing of “right-to-work” in Wisconsin demonstrates a much larger issue for unions.

    “I view right-to-work as the symptom of labor unions today. You could not have passed this in Wisconsin 20 years ago. Passing it is more of an example of how weak unions have become, not as the thing that will kill them off,” said Ahlquist.

    Though membership numbers are falling every year, labor unions still wield important power. In February, dockworkers belonging to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down West Coast ports for days, stranding ships and costing millions of dollars. A deal was eventually brokered and the ports reopened.

    “The dockworkers’ protest showed that they still have leverage in a key industry,” said Pitts. “Historically they have been a very strong union and a deeply engaged union. That remains true. They wanted to protect their benefits and knew a successful way to do that.”

    Union members also still make a difference at the polls.

    “Unions are still a very big part of the Democratic Party’s on-the-ground apparatus,” said Ahlquist. “Union members tend to be more politically informed and they vote at higher rates. They tend to vote democratic at national elections, that’s important.”

    As “right-to-work” spreads through more than half the country, the law may continue to make it harder and harder for unions to maintain some power and influence.

    The post Is right-to-work the kiss of death for labor unions? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user Don McCullough

    Photo by Flickr user Don McCullough

    WASHINGTON — Mysterious, middle-of-the-night drone flights by the U.S. Secret Service during the next several weeks over parts of Washington — usually off-limits as a strict no-fly zone — are part of secret government testing intended to find ways to interfere with rogue drones or knock them out of the sky, The Associated Press has learned.

    A U.S. official briefed on the plans said the Secret Service was testing drones for law enforcement or protection efforts and to look for ways, such as signal jamming, to thwart threats from civilian drones. The drones were being flown between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to publicly discuss the plans. The Secret Service has said details were classified.

    Some consumer-level drones, which commonly carry video cameras, are powerful enough to carry small amounts of explosives or a grenade.

    The challenge for the Secret Service is quickly detecting a rogue drone flying near the White House or the president’s location, then within moments either hacking it to seize control over its flight or jamming its signal to send it off course or make it crash.

    The Secret Service has said only that it will openly test drones over Washington, but it declined to provide details such as when it will fly, how many drones, over what parts of the city, for how long and for what purposes. It decided to tell the public in advance about the tests out of concern that people who saw the drones might be alarmed, particularly in the wake of the drones spotted recently over Paris at night. Flying overnight also diminishes the chances that radio jamming would accidentally affect nearby businesses, drivers, pedestrians and tourists.

    It is illegal under the U.S. Communications Act to sell or use signal jammers except for narrow purposes by government agencies.

    Depending on a drone’s manufacturer and capabilities, its flight-control and video-broadcasting systems commonly use the same common radio frequencies as popular Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies. Jamming by the Secret Service — depending on how powerfully or precisely it works — could disrupt nearby Internet networks or phone conversations until it’s turned off. Testing in the real-world environment around the White House would reveal unexpected effects on jamming efforts from nearby buildings, monuments or tall trees.

    Signals emanating from an inbound drone — such as coming from a video stream back to its pilot — could allow the Secret Service to detect and track it.

    Federal agencies generally need approval to jam signals from the U.S. telecommunications advisory agency, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That agency declined to tell the AP whether the Secret Service sought permission because it said such requests are not routinely made public.

    The Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed it formally authorized the Secret Service to fly the drones and granted it a special waiver to fly them over Washington. The agency declined to provide specifics about the secret program.

    In January, a wayward quadcopter drone, piloted by an off-duty U.S. intelligence employee, landed on the White House lawn. At the time, the Secret Service said the errant landing appeared to be accidental and was not considered a security threat.

    The agency had been looking at security issues surrounding drones before the January crash, but the crash of that drone led the agency to focus more attention on security issues surrounding small, unmanned aircraft that can be hard to detect. Previously published reports have disclosed that the Secret Service already uses jammers in presidential and vice presidential motorcades to disrupt signals that might detonate hidden remotely triggered improvised explosive devices.

    Researchers with the Homeland Security Department’s science and technology directorate are working on strategies to interdict an unauthorized drone flying inside security areas. The research arm of DHS is trying to balance security concerns of the small, hard-to-detect devices, with the burgeoning commercial use and interests of hobbyists. Likewise, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said last week it’s studying how the U.S. can resolve privacy risks with increasing use of drones.

    The Homeland Security Department hosted a two-day meeting last month with industry officials, law enforcement and academics to discuss balancing security and commercial interests and establishing security practices. Days later, the Secret Service, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, distributed a three-sentence press release saying it will “conduct a series of exercises involving unmanned aircraft systems, in the coming days and weeks.”

    Trying to keep drones out of a secure area can be tricky.

    There are basically three ways to stop a drone, said Jeremy Gillula, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation: block the radio signals linking the drone to its controller, hack the aircraft’s control signals and trick it into believing it is somewhere else, or physically disable it. Some drone manufacturers program a “geo fence” — location coordinates their drones treat as off-limits and refuse to fly past — into the drone’s programming. Police could physically knock a drone out of the air with a projectile or use a net to catch it.

    “If it were me that would actually be the first thing I would think about doing,” Gillula said. “You would have to basically encase the White House in this net. It sure wouldn’t look pretty, but in some ways it would be the most effective way.”

    Associated Press reporters Alicia A. Caldwell and Josh Lederman wrote this report.

    The post Heads up D.C., the Secret Service is testing drones in the middle of the night appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    To meet the challenges of an aging workforce and decades of low birth rates, America has the opportunity to revolutionize innovation, regulation and workplace culture. Photo by Dana Neely/Getty Images.

    File photo by Dana Neely/Getty Images

    SALISBURY, N.C. — Lillie Robinson came to Rowan Medical Center for surgery on her left foot. She expected to be in and out in a day, returning weeks later for her surgeon to operate on the other foot.

    But that’s not how things turned out. “When I got here I found out he was doing both,” she said. “We didn’t realize that until they started medicating me for the procedure.” Robinson signed a consent form and the operation went fine, but she was told she would be in the hospital far longer than she had expected.

    “I wasn’t prepared for that,” she said.

    Disappointing patients such as Robinson is a persistent problem for Rowan, a hospital with some the lowest levels of patient satisfaction in the country. In surveys sent to patients after they leave, Rowan’s patients are less likely than those at most hospitals to say that they always received help promptly and that their pain was controlled well. Rowan’s patients say they would recommend the hospital far less often than patients do elsewhere.

    Feedback from patients such as Robinson matters to Rowan and to hospitals across the country. Since Medicare began requiring hospitals to collect information about patient satisfaction and report it to the government in 2007, these patient surveys have grown in influence. For the past three years, the federal government has considered survey results when setting pay levels for hospitals. Some private insurers do as well.

    In April, the government will begin boiling down the patient feedback into a five-star rating for hospitals. Federal officials say they hope that will make it easier for consumers to digest the information now available on Medicare’s Hospital Compare website. Hospitals say judging them on a one-to-five scale is too simplistic.

    Some Hospitals Improve as Others Stagnate

    Nationally, the hospital industry has improved in all the areas the surveys track, including clean and quiet their rooms are and how well doctors and nurses communicate. But hundreds of hospitals have not made headway in boosting their ratings, federal records show.

    “For the most part, the organizations that are doing really wonderfully now were doing well five years ago,” said Deirdre Mylod, an executive for Press Ganey, a company that conducts the surveys for many hospitals. “The high performers tend to continue to be the high performers and the low performers tend to be low performers.”

    Some hospitals have made great gains. The University of Missouri Health System, for example, created a live simulation center at its medical school in Columbia to help doctors learn to communicate better with patients. The simulations use paid actors. Instead of having to diagnose the patient, doctors must respond to nonmedical issues, such as a feuding teenager and mother or a patient angry that he was not given information about his condition quickly enough.

    “My scenario was I was late to the appointment and the patient’s husband was upset,” said Dr. Kristin Hahn-Cover, a physician at Missouri’s University Hospital. In 2013, the most recent year that the government has provided data for, 78 percent of patients at University Hospital said doctors always communicated well, a 10 percentage point jump from 2007. Other scores rose even more.

    At Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, executives credit improvements in patient satisfaction to their psychological screening methods in hiring and rigorous job reviews. Potential nurses and other staff must first pass a behavioral screening test and then be interviewed and endorsed by some of the staffers with whom they would be working. In the third element of the program, every six months, managers rate employee performance as high, medium or low. Low performers are told to improve or find work elsewhere.

    “Those are the three most defining things we did as an organization,” said Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s chief marketing officer. “Without that, I can guarantee you we wouldn’t have had the successes.”

    Nudging up scores has been a frustrating endeavor elsewhere, like at Novant Health, a nonprofit hospital system that runs Rowan Medical Center and 13 other hospitals in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. While some Novant hospitals have excellent patient reviews, Rowan’s scores have remained stubbornly low since Novant took over the hospital in 2008.

    Last fall, Rowan’s president, Dari Caldwell, replaced the physician group that ran the emergency room because the doctors had not reduced wait times. ER waits are down to half an hour, a spokeswoman said. Doctors and nurses also are being coached on their bedside manner, like being advised not to stare at their computer when a patient is talking.

    Rowan’s nurses now spend 70 percent of their time with patients, swinging by every hour. Even the president makes rounds once a day. The hospital has made lots of small improvements to provide a warmer environment, such as putting white poster boards in each room where nurses can list a few personal details about their patients.

    “I can go in there and say ‘Oh, you have three dogs’ or ‘You have a grandchild, that’s great, great,’” said Jennifer Payne, a nurse manager. “And they can talk for hours about that.”

    Payne said she pores over patient comments and surveys, passing around the good ones and tackling complaints. “We’re very driven by what these patients say,” she said. “Everything I do is based around how these patients come back [in comments in the surveys] and say, ‘Hey is this working’ or ‘This isn’t working.’ ”

    Perceptions Sometimes Hard to Change

    Rowan executives fear scores may not be going up because patients still harbor bad memories from previous hospitalizations.

    “I was treated like a dog,” Carl Denham, 76, said about a stay two years ago. He said the hospital was doing loud construction work that kept him awake, and it took nurses all day to deliver an oxygen tank his doctor ordered.

    Admitted again in Rowan in December, Denham said that visit was different. “It is fantastic from what it used to be if you want my opinion,” he said as he lay in his hospital bed a few days after he came back. “I’ve been both ways and the way it is now, it is great. No waiting and the doctors are all pleasant. I never thought I’d see it like this.” He said he would give the hospital top marks.

    His daughter Benicia said that in the last visit she had to nag the nurses to get her dad his medication. This time, it has not been an issue. “It’s like a totally different hospital,” she said. “I had to say, ‘Did I come to Rowan Regional?’ ”

    Despite the unexpected operation on both feet, Robinson also said nurses have been attentive to her pain. “They do the best they can,” she said. “At times it gets so bad I’m crying because it’s overwhelming to me.”

    But “the best they can” is not good enough for Medicare. In determining how much to pay hospitals, the government only gives credit when patients says they “always” got the care they wanted during their stay, such as their pain was “always” well-controlled. If a patient says that level of care was “usually” provided, it does not count at all. Likewise, the surveys ask patients to rank their stays on a scale of 0 to 10; Medicare only pays attention to how many patients award the hospital a 9 or 10.

    “Sometimes what we see and hear from our patients doesn’t show up on their surveys,” Rowan’s president Caldwell said.

    Another challenge for hospitals is that Medicare does not take into account the inexact nature of these ratings, which can be based on as few as 100 patients over a year. Medicare recommends a minimum of 300 surveys, but even those have imprecisions that Medicare does not highlight when publishing ratings on Hospital Compare, or take into account when determining financial bonuses or penalties.

    In its hospitals with lower ratings, Novant is trying to replicate some of its successes at its Medical Park Hospital in Winston-Salem, a surgical center, which has the best patient satisfaction scores in the Novant system. Sean Keyser, Novant’s vice president for patient experience, interviewed the staff to figure out how it performed so well.

    “The first thing they suggested was the relationship between the physician and the nurses,” he said. “They tend to round more together; they tend to huddle more together. It doesn’t matter how long we study health care organizations, personal relationships that caregivers have with each other translates into better relations with patients.”

    Staff members from Medical Park now conduct the pre-surgical discussions for patients at several bigger Novant hospitals. Those preparatory talks, which take place a week or two before planned operations, give nurses the chance to allay fears and make sure that patients have realistic expectations of what will happen.

    Dr. Scott Berger, a surgeon, said the smallness of the hospital—Medical Park has only 22 beds, while Rowan has 268 — gives Medical Park an advantage over other hospitals in pleasing patients. “We also think that because we only do surgery here, that we’re really able to have kind of a sharp edge, if you will, of focus on good outcomes and good patient care,” he said. “And that really carries over to the nurses as well. Because all day every day, that’s all they see, is the same kind of surgical patients over and over again.”

    Even patients who had not prepared to come to Medical Park are impressed. George Stilphen, who was admitted for emergency colon cancer surgery, said he planned to rate the hospital a 10.

    “They said that they’d take great care of us,” he said as he recovered from surgery in the hospital. “They were very soothing, comforting, they weren’t condescending. It was a great experience.”

    Michael Tomsic, a reporter for WFAE, contributed to this report. Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

    The post Hundreds of hospitals struggle to improve patient satisfaction appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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