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- 06/04/15--09:11: _Explosion in Ghana ...
- 06/04/15--10:04: _Covering Ebola: Why...
- 06/04/15--10:10: _A creepy vision of ...
- 06/04/15--10:23: _EPA says fracking h...
- 06/04/15--12:04: _Twitter shuts down ...
- 06/04/15--12:23: _In Nepal, children ...
- 06/04/15--12:43: _How much does it co...
- 06/04/15--13:04: _Men continue to out...
- 06/04/15--14:05: _Dirty laundry? Batm...
- 06/04/15--14:10: _China suspected in ...
- 06/04/15--14:53: _Millennials make up...
- 06/06/15--14:09: _Men who planned att...
- 06/07/15--09:01: _New surveillance la...
- 06/07/15--09:07: _Beau Biden remember...
- 06/07/15--09:10: _Obama, Merkel celeb...
- 06/07/15--10:47: _Report: Abortions d...
- 06/07/15--10:54: _Photos: American Ph...
- 06/07/15--11:11: _Listen to the 2015 ...
- 06/07/15--12:20: _Southern opposition...
- 06/07/15--12:53: _European ships resc...
- 06/04/15--09:11: Explosion in Ghana kills scores of people seeking shelter from rains
- 06/04/15--10:04: Covering Ebola: Why I struggle to say much beyond, ‘It was awful’
- 06/04/15--10:10: A creepy vision of the new economic order, harvested from you
- 06/04/15--12:04: Twitter shuts down Politiwoops website
- 06/04/15--12:23: In Nepal, children attend makeshift schools after earthquakes strike
- 06/04/15--13:04: Men continue to outnumber women in the media, study says
- 06/04/15--14:05: Dirty laundry? Batman’s butler, Alfred, to the rescue
- 06/04/15--14:10: China suspected in massive breach of federal personnel data
- 06/04/15--14:53: Millennials make up substantial share of America’s caregivers
- 06/06/15--14:09: Men who planned attack against Malala go free in Pakistan
- 06/07/15--09:07: Beau Biden remembered as selfless son, consummate public servant
- 06/07/15--09:10: Obama, Merkel celebrate U.S.-Germany friendship at G7 summit
- 06/07/15--10:47: Report: Abortions declined in nearly all states since 2010
- 06/07/15--10:54: Photos: American Pharoah wins the Triple Crown
- 06/07/15--11:11: Listen to the 2015 Tony Award-nominated Broadway musicals
- 06/07/15--12:20: Southern opposition forces in Yemen battle Houthis
An explosion at a gas station in Ghana’s capital Accra overnight killed more than 100 people, officials said Thursday.
People were seeking shelter at the gas station from torrential rains. The explosion was caused by a fire at a nearby truck terminal that spread to the gas station and other buildings.
“The area looked like a fire disaster zone. Everything has been burnt down,” Mayor of Accra Alfred Oko Vanderpuije told the New York Times.
The search for bodies continued into Thursday afternoon. Flooding was hindering recovery efforts.
The post Explosion in Ghana kills scores of people seeking shelter from rains appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
After I learned that I would be traveling to West Africa to cover the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak with Miles O’Brien, I spent a lot of time thinking about and preparing for the trip: what cameras to bring, what food to pack, how to fly a drone. I also invested a whole lot of time on my health and safety — acquiring vaccinations, malaria pills, first aid kits, and of course, thinking about how not to get Ebola.
What I couldn’t have prepared for was the psychological toll the trip would take. I’ve traveled all over the world, filmed in a variety of dire situations, witnessed extreme poverty, and I’ve generally made it through okay. It turns out once you’re a father, everything changes.
I have two sons, ages 5 and 2. Going to Africa was my fourth international trip this year and my fourth time leaving my sons and wife behind to cover a sobering news story. But it was the first time that being away from them really hurt.
About a week into our trip, the World Health Organization escorted us to a market town near Kambia, Sierra Leone, to meet a family under quarantine. Eleven days earlier, a woman in this house had died of Ebola. This meant a 21-day quarantine for the five family members living in the home. “Contact tracers” were visiting them every day, taking their temperatures, checking for symptoms and providing them with food and supplies. The day before we arrived, health workers removed the deceased woman’s husband from the home — he too was showing signs of Ebola. Left behind were their two children, two little boys, almost the same ages as mine: 5 and 3.
By the time we arrived, only the aunt and uncle remained with the boys. We observed the aid workers delivering supplies — hundreds of plastic pouches filled with water and some food. Then, one by one, everyone in the family got their temperature taken.
By this point in our trip, this had become routine. We’d had our own temperatures taken dozens of times — on and off every plane, before every building we entered, and at every checkpoint we crossed. The procedure was so common to us now, and I had already filmed it so many times, that it was just a regular part of interactions between people. It goes like this. The aid workers point a funny little gun-like device at the head, click a button, and within a second, the temperature is displayed in Celsius on the thermometer screen. They usually say the number (for me, it was almost always 36.5), and then they turn the device around so you can see it for yourself. I watched through the viewfinder as the uncle, then the aunt, then the 3-year-old boy had their temperatures taken. The screen on the back flashed blue and read 37.0, then 36.4, then 37.2 — that’s 98.6, 97.5 and 98.9 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.
Then it was the 5-year-old boy’s turn. He looked a bit dazed. A crowd of nearly 100 people had gathered — the health care workers and an American TV crew combined created quite a stir — and although this little boy was working hard to be brave, it was clear the chaos put him on edge. I remained concentrated, making sure to keep the lens focused as they pointed the temperature gun to his head. For the first time on our the whole trip, something different happened. The screen turned red and read 39.6 degrees. That’s 103.3, a serious fever.
I felt a shock course through my whole body, like I had been punched in the gut. My mind immediately flashed to the photo of my own 5-year-old son that I keep as wallpaper on my phone. He’s looking off-camera and curious, and lit just right by the sun. A millisecond later I was back in the moment, choking back the tears I knew were welling up in my eyes — I had to keep the scene in focus, make sure I was pointing the camera the right way, ready to follow the action as the situation unfolded. In that millisecond, everyone’s posture changed, there was a hurried call for additional thermometers, more little guns as well as the more familiar silver-tipped plastic probes that would be held under this boy’s arm. The third, the fourth, the fifth readings all came out pretty much the same.
There was consensus that the little boy’s time standing in the sun may have contributed to a higher-than normal temperature, and they would wait a few hours and then come back to check again. We eventually left the scene, but the images never left my mind. Soon after, we learned that the boys’ father had tested positive for Ebola. Not until I returned home and reunited with my own sons, did I learn the fate of those kids. They never did develop Ebola, but their father died. The disease made them orphans.
Whenever anyone asks me about the trip now, I struggle to say much beyond, “It was awful.” We learned a lot, we will deliver some powerful stories for the NewsHour, but the pain in the pit of my stomach hasn’t gone away, and the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic is only starting to come into focus.
Watch part one of Miles O’Brien’s four-part series, Cracking Ebola’s code, on tonight’s PBS NewsHour.
The post Covering Ebola: Why I struggle to say much beyond, ‘It was awful’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s Note: It isn’t just the NSA. Corporations have been storing massive troves of our data, and it’s not about national security. It’s about making money. As businesses know more about our behaviors, wants and needs, they are beginning to influence our spending decisions in surprising ways.
In their book, “All You Can Pay,” Anna Bernasek and D.T. Mongan paint an Orwellian future, where big data reigns. This data collection won’t just infringe on the privacy of real people, they argue, but also on market competition. The following is a direct excerpt from chapter eight of “All You Can Pay,” which was published May 26.
Imagine going to a restaurant a few years hence. A place you are familiar with. You didn’t make a reservation, but it was almost as if they knew you were coming. They greeted you by name and seated you right away at your preferred table. The waiter offered up a special dish just for you. And of course you bought the bottled water, perhaps one too many drinks, and your favorite dessert. It was all a little expensive — the place always seems a little expensive — but they did a great job. On the way home, you wondered whether you really needed that glass of the dessert wine and the special appetizer. But there’s no doubt that you thoroughly enjoyed the meal.
The restaurant seemed to know what you like, because they did, in fact, know you very well. While you were on your way to the restaurant, an alert with your name and picture popped up on the screen in the host’s podium. Cameras took in your face, height, posture, body type, and hair and eye color and compared all of that to your last visit, confirming your identification.
Although you didn’t make a reservation, your cell phone gave away your location and put a name and an e-mail to your face. The data service told the restaurant early on that you were likely to arrive. Then as you approached, geolocation from your phone alerted the host. By the time you stepped inside, the host could greet you by name with complete confidence. The menu and pricing were triangulated from the restaurant’s stock of ingredients and your personal data.
As cameras recorded nonverbal clues, other sensors picked up your voice and comments at each stage of the meal, whether good or bad, as well as other items not limited to just the restaurant or the food. Your chair recorded your weight before and after and noted your shifting position along the way. The exact duration of each meal element was recorded and managed.
The menu wasn’t printed on paper. You selected your meal from a lightweight tablet computer screen. Because you are a repeat customer, the menu choices (and the prices) were just for you. The first drink was discounted just enough so that you couldn’t resist it. When it came to the second, what the hell, you only live once. In collaboration with the data giant that provides back-office services to the restaurant, a detailed psychograph of your desires and propensities allowed the restaurant to almost perfectly anticipate what you would buy and how much you would pay.
Lots of other data backed up the psychograph. The restaurant glassware spoke volumes. What, how much, and how fast you drank was just the tip of the iceberg. Back at the dishwashing station, the plongeur ran a quick swab around the rim of your glass and tossed the tip into an analyzer. From a tiny drop of saliva, a minute amount of unique DNA was retrieved and fully sequenced. Your trip to the bathroom produced a trove of data. Although the restaurant would be quick to assure you that no human reviews the sounds and images of your bathroom performance, the machines never sleep. Your sound and motion was thoroughly digitized, analyzed, and recorded. “Intelligent” plumbing performed further tests. The restaurant now has a more complete medical record of you than your physician ever had.
Perhaps you didn’t notice, but on the back of the menu was the following printed blurb:
It’s doubtful that you read it, but even if you did, you probably would have felt okay about the vaguely comforting words. The restaurant and its data partner are certainly okay with it. It’s easy for them to promise not to reduce your rights because under that policy, as a practical matter, your rights are approximately nil.
Working with its data partner, the restaurant gave you exactly what you wanted and collected some extra revenue for that. The restaurateur does a steady business, nothing to complain about. He can’t seem to get ahead, though. That’s because every time receipts go up, lo and behold, the data partner increases its charges by a similar amount. Over the course of a year, there’s a lot of money going out the door to the data partner. But there’s no way the restaurant can compete with- out data. Lots of other restaurants are willing to give a great experience based on big data.
The Data Squeeze
The “restaurant of the future” doesn’t exist. It’s hard to imagine that anyone is taking DNA from restaurant glasses today, and restroom surveillance seems beyond the pale. Although companies are, in fact, working hard to develop psychographic profiles of consumers on a mass scale, most of this work is at a crude stage. Restaurants are not varying their menus to reﬂect insights from big data. At least not yet.
But the technologies and analytics described in the restaurant story actually do exist, even if only in early versions. The forward march of technology is relentless. The price of sensors, computing power, connectivity, and data storage falls dramatically year after year. The capability of wringing actionable intelligence from mountains of data increases even more quickly. And the systems and business processes that allow product customization and fast pricing improve every day. Unless limited through grassroots consumer demand or top-down legal authority, all of the consequences described in the restaurant tale are virtually certain to occur, even if the exact methods differ.
And that will usher in a new economic order. Conceivably, a single data giant, or more likely a few data giants, will hold unprecedented power over what consumers know, what consumers are offered, and what consumers finally pay. With their granular, real-time knowledge of consumer surplus, data giants will tailor commerce to individual tastes and circumstances. Personalized customization and restrictions on transfer will erode the resale market, making arbitrage impossible. The mass market will disappear into an immensely complex, data-driven market in which prices vary from minute to minute and individual to individual. Standard goods and services will evolve into a multidimensional tapestry of customized offerings. Fortunes on a scale never before possible will be created. The age of the consumer sovereign and commoditized products will finally expire.
The imbalance of information will be profound. No person or entity lacking access to the data and the analytic resources of a data giant stands even a remote chance of bargaining effectively with a data giant. Take comparison-shopping sites, for example. For airline travel, web services such as Expedia or Kayak appear to offer a broad survey of airline offerings. And in fact, they did that reasonably well, at first. But airlines have been quick to respond. Some, such as Southwest Airlines, simply don’t participate. You can’t price a Southwest ticket on Kayak because Southwest won’t let you. Others opened up a range of customized features that makes comparison difficult. So what if you book the lowest fare if you unexpectedly find yourself paying a fee that was not readily apparent on Kayak. And there’s nothing to stop the comparison sites from favoring one product over another, at the consumer’s expense. Even more importantly, a search on Kayak reveals data reflecting a single point in time. The airline pricing engine that you are unknowingly bargaining with has vastly more information. It knows what customers are buying and what they are rejecting as it shifts the price from moment to moment. You will never know if you can get a better price if you wait a day to book or if you should have booked earlier. No one has the time to sit on Kayak for days to watch prices, and even if they did, an individual lacks the analytic chops to discern how many seats remain open and the optimum time to buy. The pricing engine, on the other hand, contains very accurate information about inventory, demand, and competition and will always out-bargain the individual except in cases of pure random chance.
When you add up asymmetric information, price discrimination, mass customization, and restrictions on the transferability of products, you see nothing less than the systematic dismantling of the free market. What remains is a fatally flawed economy in which natural monopolies flourish and immense economic power is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of a few.
The post A creepy vision of the new economic order, harvested from you appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — Hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil and natural gas has not caused widespread harm to drinking water in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.
But a draft report issued by the agency found several specific instances where poorly constructed drilling wells and improper wastewater management affected drinking water resources. It said the number of cases was small, however, compared to the large number of wells that use hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.
The controversial drilling technique could affect drinking water if safeguards are not maintained, the report said.
The EPA assessment tracked water used throughout the fracking process, from acquiring the water to mixing chemicals at the well site and injecting so-called “fracking fluids” into wells, to collection of wastewater, wastewater treatment and disposal.
The report identified several vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, including fracking’s effect on drought-stricken areas; inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below-ground migration of gases and liquids; inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources; and spills of hydraulic fluids and wastewater.
Improved drilling techniques have led to a surge in fracking in recent years that has fueled a nationwide boom in production of oil and natural gas, as fracking wells sprout up from California to Pennsylvania. Fracking involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow.
Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain access to vast stores of oil and natural gas underneath states from coast to coast but has raised widespread concerns that it might lead to groundwater contamination and even earthquakes.
Industry groups hailed the EPA study as proof that fracking is safe, while environmental groups seized on the report’s identification of cases where fracking-related activities polluted drinking water.
“After more than five years and millions of dollars, the evidence gathered by EPA confirms what the agency has already acknowledged and what the oil and gas industry has known: hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry-best practices,” said Erik Milito, upstream group director of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top lobbying group.
But Lauren Pagel, policy director of the environmental group Earthworks, said, “Today EPA confirmed what communities living with fracking have known for years: fracking pollutes drinking water.”
“Now the Obama administration, Congress and state governments must act on that information to protect our drinking water and stop perpetuating the oil and gas industry’s myth that fracking is safe,” she said.
EPA officials said the report was not intended to prove whether fracking is safe, but instead was aimed at how state regulators, tribes, local communities and industry can best protect drinking water and reduce the risks of fracking.
“It’s not a question of safe or unsafe,” Tom Burke, deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, said in a. conference call with reporters.
The issue for the EPA is “how do we best reduce vulnerabilities so we can best protect our water and water resources?” Burke said.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the report was “the latest in a series of failed attempts” by the Obama administration to link fracking to systemic drinking water contamination.
“The Obama administration is now zero for four,” Inhofe said. “EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey and others have said that hydraulic fracturing is indeed safe.”
But Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said fracking and related activities have the potential to severely impact the nation’s drinking water and endanger public health and the environment.
“While the number of cases (where fracking has harmed drinking water) may be small, the impacts to public health and safety are large,” Markey said. “EPA must ensure that these activities occur appropriately with robust safeguards to ensure clean and safe drinking water.”
The post EPA says fracking has not caused widespread damage to drinking water but safeguards needed appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Twitter is apparently helping members of Congress protect themselves from … themselves.
Twitter has killed a website dedicated to publishing the deleted tweets of politicians, including members of Congress, governors and candidates for president, the Sunlight Foundation announced Thursday.
Twitter said the website violated its terms of service.
The website is called Politwoops, and the Sunlight Foundation has run it since 2012. Over that time, the website has documented hundreds of deleted tweets, some embarrassing, others just poorly worded.
There was the tweet by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. That was deleted after 55 minutes, according to Politwoops. And one by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, featuring a photo of a scantily clad woman wearing leather straps and what appears to be a dog collar. It was deleted after 17 minutes.
In both cases, staffers took the blame.
Last year, six politicians deleted tweets welcoming the return of Taliban POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after questions were raised about whether the Army soldier was a deserter.
“Politwoops was created because public communications from public officials should be available to anyone who wants to see them,” Christopher Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, wrote in a blog. “The site isn’t just about blunders, but rather revealing a more intimate perspective on our politicians and how they communicate with their constituents.
Gates said access to deleted tweets was cut off nearly three weeks ago, but his office just received an explanation from Twitter on Wednesday. Old deleted tweets are still available on the website.
In a statement, Twitter said it supports the Sunlight Foundation’s “mission of increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents, but preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement.”
“Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress,” the statement said.
The earthquake that struck central Nepal on April 25 was bad enough, but then another major quake hit two-and-a-half weeks later, causing even more physical — and psychological — damage, said one aid worker.
“Parents were telling their kids, ‘Don’t worry, the big earthquake is gone, it’s over,’” said Kent Page of UNICEF who recently returned from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu to help assess school damages. “People were starting to dig out of the rubble and restart their lives when the second earthquake hit (on May 12) and that shook people up in an emotional way, perhaps more than the first one.”
So, the opening of some temporary schools this week provided not just needed education but a symbol of recovery as well, he said.
About 14,000 children began their education again, five weeks after the initial earthquake, in 137 temporary learning centers. The centers — provided by the Nepalese government, UNICEF and other groups — were constructed with bamboo frames covered with tarpaulins and mats lining the floor.
Supplies include papers, pens and books, along with recreational equipment such as soccer balls and jump ropes.
Teachers were trained to talk to children who are having difficulty processing the trauma they experienced.
“They’re very scared that there will be another big earthquake,” Page said. “They’ve seen all the damage earthquakes can do. They know friends who have been killed or injured.”
From previous disasters, UNICEF learned that children can recover quickly if they feel they are in a safe place, are cared for and have a sense of routine that school can provide.
And when children are attending school, it frees up their parents to put food on the table and rebuild their own lives, Page added.
An estimated 980,000 children are still out of school in Nepal, and about 4,700 temporary schools are needed to accommodate them, he said. The government and organizations are trying to get as many learning centers set up as soon as possible before monsoon season starts at the end of June. “The areas most severely affected are in remote areas accessible by dirt roads which will be impassable when the rains begin.”
Adding to the challenge, Page explained, is the far-reaching and indiscriminate nature of the damage. Some towns were leveled. Others had scattered pockets of destruction, and still more escaped unscathed. “Slowly but surely more temporary learning spaces will be built, more schools structurally assessed and, gradually, more and more kids will get back to school.”
View a U.N. interactive map on the earthquakes in Nepal and their aftermath.
The post In Nepal, children attend makeshift schools after earthquakes strike appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
If he was blown away by a $5 milkshake, imagine how Vincent Vega would react to a $225 tasting menu from one of America’s finest restaurants. I can almost hear John Travolta’s character from 1994’s “Pulp Fiction”: “House smoked sturgeon in a glass dome with caviar tastes gooood.”
It should, because it was prepared by one of the best chefs in the world, at the best restaurant in America, according to the latest list of the top 50 restaurants compiled by an international panel of experts. The list, which came out earlier this week, is dominated by European restaurants. Only six American eateries made the cut, including Eleven Madison Park, which led the American contingent at No. 5, with chef Daniel Humm taking home this year’s Chef’s Choice Award.
Two restaurants by American chef Thomas Keller are featured: at No. 50, The French Laundry, his landmark Napa Valley bistro, and at No. 40, New York’s Per Se. Also in New York, Le Bernardin grabbed the No. 18 spot, Chicago’s Alinea came in at No. 26, and the Hudson River Valley’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns was No. 49.
The panel of 972 judges are food journalists and chefs from around the world. Each judge casts seven votes for their “favorite restaurants that they have dined in during the last 18 months.”
Before you make your reservations, take a quick tour of the Top 10 restaurants and see how much a typical tasting menu will set you back.
See the full list here.
10. Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand, $74
9. D.O.M., São Paulo, Brazil, $168
8. Narisawa, Tokyo, $202
7. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, $307
6. Mugaritz, San Sebastián, Spain, $207
5. Eleven Madison Park, New York, $225
4. Central, Lima, Peru, $123
3. Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark, $256
2. Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy, $191
1. El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain, $186
All prices converted into U.S. dollars at this week’s rates.
Vanessa Dennis and Colleen Shalby contributed to this report.
The post How much does it cost to eat dinner at the 10 best restaurants in the world? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Men outnumber women in news anchor seats and bylines in print and online, according to a study released Thursday by the Women’s Media Center based in New York and Washington, D.C.
In total, 62.1 percent of these media positions were filled by men compared to 37.3 percent by women, the study found. The percentage of men dropped one point from 2014.
The research looked at 10 major newspapers and found women had bylines 32 percent to 55 percent of the time. At the low end of the scale were the New York Times, Denver Post and Daily News. The Chicago Sun Times was the only newspaper with a majority of women bylined at 55 percent.
As for wire services, Reuters had 59 percent men and 41 percent women bylined. The Associated Press had 64 percent men and 35 percent women.
Women tended to write about education, lifestyle, health and religion, whereas men usually wrote about politics, criminal justice, science, sports and technology, according to the research.
Evening news broadcasts were anchored by men 64 percent of the time. At the PBS NewsHour, women anchored 97 percent of the time.
“We have a long way to go before we reach gender and racial/ethnic parity,” said Women’s Media Center President Julie Burton. “The good news – for those willing to chart a different course – is that there is an opportunity both to do good and to do well by expanding the talent and source pools to better serve the majority audience that is women.”
View the complete report online.
The post Men continue to outnumber women in the media, study says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s Note: For every nine-year-old kid that dreams of meeting Batman, there’s an overworked adult that would do anything for the assistance of Batman’s butler. Yes, a new service allows you and me to have our very own Alfred (as long as you live in Boston or New York).
Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck conceived of Alfred, after working 90-hour work weeks on Wall Street. “You barely saw the light of day,” Sapone said. “I was not doing a good job taking care of myself.” When was she supposed to clean the house, pick up the dry cleaning, take out the trash, and buy the groceries? Enter Alfred, the perfect solution. For $99 a month, Alfred could buy what she needed most: time.
Business and economics correspondent Paul Solman sat down to chat with CEO Sapone about how she came up with the idea for the company, Hello Alfred, and how she hopes it will liberate people in busy careers. Tonight, tune into the NewsHour to watch our Making Sen$e segment about the company. The text of Sapone’s extended conversation with Paul below has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Paul Solman: When did this idea of your own personal butler occur to you? And in what form?
Marcela Sapone: When I was working in New York, I was working in finance and trying to push my own career. I was completely busy, and I didn’t have any help. When I went to business school, I met my co-founder Jess who had a similar experience. We were both working in New York, working 90 hour work weeks, and we didn’t even have time to go to the dry cleaning and pick up our clothes. The idea was basically just to have someone in your life who could help take care of all of the things that you didn’t have time to take care of yourself. We were fed up so we just built it for ourselves. And the thing that happened is, we became really focused on fundamentally changing how people like us lived. Something like this needs to exist.
Paul Solman: So you think of this as missionary?
Marcela Sapone: It’s a strong word, but I mean, we’re not making toothpaste, we’re not making pants. We’re actually saying, there are humans out there in the world trying to do things with the most precious asset we have, and that’s time. We are connecting people and saying, let’s help each other, right? Let’s go do things that we’re passionate about, and use our time the best way possible. We’re helping each other to get things done.
Paul Solman: So that’s the germ of the idea? How did it evolve?
Marcela Sapone: If your secret weapon in life is people helping you, and the key word is people. And there’s a lot of amazing services out there and a lot of people who are redefining value chains. But there’s no one who’s coming and putting them all together into a single place, with a relationship, with a human that you trust, who would do things as well, if not better than you would yourself.
It was really when we began focusing on a human who could glue everything together, and who you could trust to do things for you, that the idea began to congeal together. Then the background behind making it happen was to take all the tech of all these different services and aggregate them. We made a platform so we could route hundreds of requests at the same time, and take all of the cognitive load off of the people who we are going to employ.
Paul Solman: Your service would have been impossible without the TaskRabbits, the Ubers, the grocery delivery services and so forth.
Marcela Sapone: Right. For two reasons. One, the TaskRabbits of the world defined the ability to create a platform where people could connect to help each other. And they made us comfortable with that concept. I think businesses like Uber and Airbnb have also shown that sentiment of essentially helping one another. It’s strangers helping you, and you’re also having people who are in your most private space, right?
So the sentiment, the overall cultural sentiment towards sharing things and being in each other’s private spaces, has changed. And without that, there is no way that Alfred could exist. So that’s number one. Number two is the ability to connect all these services, book things online, and as a result, do things in a very efficient way. So, if this was the 1900s, we’d have hundreds of calls to get this done, but this is just happening automatically.
Paul Solman: Once you had this idea, and it evolved into something specific, what did you do?
Marcela Sapone: We looked for a name. We looked for a name for the thing that we were building, because it felt like a new category. It felt like a luxury that was not accessible before. And so, you know, this isn’t frivolous, but if you look at the name we chose, we chose Alfred for a reason. And that’s because it connotates and symbolizes that act of service and taking care of people.
A milkman run that gets all of your chores done. And visits every week, puts your dry cleaning in the closet, puts your groceries in the fridge, and take your packages away. Just completely automatically.
And then we constructed the concept of, hey, every person out there can have their own Alfred, and that these people are actually really qualified, intuitive, smart, truly wonderful people. People who want to be connected to their community and help you. We would train them and, and essentially create a really standardized milkman run. A milkman run that gets all of your chores done. And visits every week, puts your dry cleaning in the closet, puts your groceries in the fridge, and take your packages away. Just completely automatically. From that you build a lot of trust, and the things you can do from there are much greater.
Paul Solman: So you had to have people willing to allow you into their private space, you had to have lots of services that are easy to locate, and you had to have the image of Michael Caine?
Marcela Sapone: I mean, honestly, that man taught us a lot of things, right? He’s a normal person, and yet, he’s a superhero. And through sufficient technology and organization, he was able to do something pretty extraordinary. And there’s no reason you or I can’t be just as extraordinary as Batman.
Paul Solman: I guess the question is, were you leveraging a character—an actor, in fact?
Marcela Sapone: Right. I mean, there’s a certain regalness and nobility and trust, right?
Paul Solman: Oh he’s very reassuring, Michael Caine as Alfred in the Batman movies.
Marcela Sapone: Right. And, you know, there are also stereotypes, right? That only women take care of us, and we wanted to break that.
Paul Solman: Oh, is that right? Was that very much part of your thinking?
Marcela Sapone: Very, very, very. We did that for a reason.
Paul Solman: So now you have the idea, and now you have the name. Why Hello Alfred?
Marcela Sapone: We wanted it to be a conversation. This is a relationship with someone you trust.
Paul Solman: Got it. So now you have the concept and the name. What did you do to make it work?
Marcela Sapone: We looked at models where we could group chores together so they happened at the same time, on the same day, for you and your neighbors. So you’re essentially sharing the cost of a personal assistant. And then we looked at all the different services out there in the world, and said, which of you vendors—whether it be dry cleaning or groceries or home cleaning—are really truly doing a good job? Who we can rely on, and showcase to be the service providers? We would act as an advocate for the customer to book, coordinate, manage, let these guys in the house, and then if things ever go wrong, take care of it.
Paul Solman: How did you choose the vendors? On what basis?
Marcela Sapone: We used them. We looked for the ones that had the highest ratings, whether it was online or offline, and then we simply sent them dry cleaning. Or we booked a cleaning and watched. And it’s the cream of the crop. It’s really evident. We’re looking for local businesses who really care about what they’re doing. And those people who really shine are the type of people we want to have relationships and partnerships with.
Paul Solman: So you’re in a sense not only patronizing these people, but you’re promoting them?
Marcela Sapone: That’s right. We’re giving them a concentration of clients that are reliable and who, basically, are asking for service every week. Because this is all about a routine. And that makes these on-demand and local providers actually have a healthier business. Why? We’re guaranteeing volume in a geographically dense way. That’s locked in, and they have operational transparencies. They know that next Monday, you and I are going to send the dry cleaning.
Life is actually becoming unmanageable. And the hours that we’re working are going up, and the amount of complexity in our lives is only going up.
Paul Solman: And that’s definitely advantageous to them, since they can then plan whatever they need to invest in, for example.
Marcela Sapone: Right. And we’re doing all of the work in the middle to the day, which is exactly when no one is asking for an on-demand cleaning.
Paul Solman: So this is sort of an off-peak load.
Marcela Sapone: Exactly.
Paul Solman: Okay. So now you’ve got the idea, you’ve got the name, you’ve got the vendors, don’t you need money at some point in order to sustain yourselves, at the very least?
Marcela Sapone: First you need customers. We started in Boston, and we essentially put flyers underneath the door and just watched as people signed up. We ran this business ourselves, bootstrapped, for six months with no money.
Paul Solman: Was this money you’d made while you were working in finance?
Marcela Sapone: No. I mean, this was our own money, but it didn’t take a lot of money to start this business. It was about organization, right? So we hired two Alfreds, and they became basically owners in the businesses. They were bought into what we were doing. And then we just ran the business and charged money. The model worked and we made money so we were able to grow.
Paul Solman: So you were actually self-sustaining?
Marcela Sapone: Yeah!
Paul Solman: In the beginning?
Marcela Sapone: It was. And it was, to be honest, a business that was small and could’ve run just like that and made good money. But that wasn’t the point. The point again was to fundamentally change how people lived.
Paul Solman: So that you could liberate single women who wouldn’t have any other support?
Marcela Sapone: Not just women. I mean, young people in their careers are just so busy. Right? Life is actually becoming unmanageable. And the hours that we’re working are going up, and the amount of complexity in our lives is only going up. And there’s cognitive load. So even if you have all of these on-demand services, you still have to actually ask for them, right?
Paul Solman: Oh yeah.
Marcela Sapone: So what could be more convenient than not having to ask?
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WASHINGTON — China-based hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the U.S. government personnel office and stealing identifying information of at least 4 million federal workers, American officials said Thursday.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been compromised.
“The FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred,” the statement said.
The hackers were believed to be based in China, said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican.
Collins, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said the breach was “yet another indication of a foreign power probing successfully and focusing on what appears to be data that would identify people with security clearances.”
A U.S. official who declined to be identified said the data breach could potentially affect every federal agency. One key question is whether intelligence agency employee information was stolen.
“This is an attack against the nation,” said Ken Ammon, chief strategy officer of Xceedium, who said the attack fit the pattern of those carried out by nation states for the purpose of espionage.
The information stolen could be used to impersonate or blackmail federal employees with access to sensitive information, he said.
The Office of Personnel Management is the human resources department for the federal government, and it conducts background checks for security clearances. The OPM conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, according to its website.
In November, a former DHS contractor disclosed another cyberbreach that compromised the private files of more than 25,000 DHS workers and thousands of other federal employees.
DHS said its intrusion detection system, known as EINSTEIN, which screens federal Internet traffic to identify potential cyber threats, identified the hack of OPM’s systems and the Interior Department’s data center, which is shared by other federal agencies.
It was unclear why the EINSTEIN system didn’t detect the breach until after so many records had been copied and removed.
“DHS is continuing to monitor federal networks for any suspicious activity and is working aggressively with the affected agencies to conduct investigative analysis to assess the extent of this alleged intrusion,” the statement said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called the hack “shocking, because Americans may expect that federal computer networks are maintained with state of the art defenses.”
Ammon said federal agencies are rushing to install two-factor authentication with smart cards, a system designed to make it harder for intruders to access networks. But implementing that technology takes time.
Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Alicia A. Caldwell and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
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Nearly 40 million Americans offer unpaid care to an adult friend or relative, and of those caregivers, Millennials make up a major part of this group, according to a report issued today by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
The typical caregiver in the United States is a 49-year-old female who balances a full-time job with at least 20 hours each week of helping an older or sick family member who lives nearby, the report says. However, Millennials today make up nearly a quarter of caregivers, and among those individuals age 18 to 34, men are just as likely to offer care as women.
Generally, these activities range from providing transportation and managing finances to feeding a recipient or helping them sit in a chair or get out of bed. Nearly 60 percent of recipients need care due to a long-term physical condition, the report says.
Millions of Americans provide care for loved ones, but employers are not doing enough to support caregivers, said Gail Gibson Hunt, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Caregiving.
“We’re especially concerned that not enough is being done to support family caregivers in the public or private sector as they age,” Hunt said in a released statement. “There’s a double-edged sword when we fail to support caregivers, because we put both the caregiver and the care recipient at risk.”
For the report, researchers conducted online interviews with more than 1,200 caregivers who were at least 18 years old. To qualify as a caregiver, one provides unpaid care to an adult relative or friend during the last year. This new method was a shift away from traditional telephone interviews, which prevented researchers from comparing 2015 results to previous years.
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Pakistani police announced on Friday that despite reportedly admitting to their crimes, eight out of the 10 men that were charged with planning the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai in 2012 were released from jail.
All 10 men confessed in court that they were part of the Pakistani Taliban plot to kill Yousafzai, but police freed eight of them because of a supposed lack of proof, Reuters reported.
In April 2015, a police official told the Associated Press that all 10 men had been convicted on terrorism charges in a closed trial and each sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Authorities now say that only two of the men were convicted, and the rest were freed on April 30. Their whereabouts are currently unknown.
Authorities haven’t commented on why this misinformation was never corrected, even as media outlets around the world reported it.
Many trials in Pakistan are held in secret locations without media disclosure, because of threats from militants, according to Reuters.
Yousafzai, an avid advocate for the education of women and girls and now the world’s youngest Nobel Peace prize winner, was shot in the head on her way home from school in Pakistan one October afternoon in 2012.
She was airlifted to the UK for medical care and now lives there with her family.
The Taliban immediately took credit for the attack, and the gunmen were widely believed to have fled to Afghanistan, as per the BBC’s reporting.
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WASHINGTON — Tucked into the surveillance bill that became law was a little-noticed section that will let the United States complete ratification of two long-stalled treaties aimed at stopping a frightening scenario: terrorists wielding radioactive bombs.
“Today, nearly 2,000 metric tons of weapons-usable nuclear materials remain spread across hundreds of sites around the globe – some of it poorly secured,” said former Sen. Sam Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization in Washington that works on the issue. “We know that to get the materials needed to build a bomb, terrorists will not necessarily go where there is the most material. They will go where the material is most vulnerable.”
When President Barack Obama signed the surveillance law last Tuesday, attention focused on how it ends the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. The last drafts of that legislation, however, included 15 paragraphs permitting the U.S. to formally endorse two nuclear terrorism treaties after years of delay.
The Senate ratified both treaties in 2008, but it has taken seven years to pass legislation needed to bring U.S. law in line with them. That’s what was needed for the U.S. to complete the ratification process.
One treaty is the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which took effect in 2007.
Nations that sign it pledge to enact laws to criminalize certain nuclear terrorist actions and punish individuals who possess or use radioactive or nuclear material and devices or damage nuclear facilities. President George W. Bush signed the convention in 2005, but until last week, the Senate had never approved the necessary legislation.
The surveillance law also will let the U.S. finish ratification of the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The original treaty called for securing material during international transport. But by the late 1990s, it became clear that this would not be enough to prevent nuclear terrorism because the material is all over the world.
The amendment requires nations to enact standards to protect nuclear material while it’s stored and transported domestically, and take criminal action against individuals who try to steal, smuggle or damage facilities.
NTI President Joan Rohlfing said a terrorist needs only a “soda can’s amount of plutonium or enough highly enriched uranium to fill a 5-pound bag of sugar” to make a nuclear weapon.
“In failing to ratify these treaties, the United States is dangerously out of line with other countries that also have nuclear weapons and nuclear materials – among them Russia, China, India and the United Kingdom – all of which have ratified both treaties,” said Rohlfing, former senior national security adviser to the energy secretary. “Failure to ratify these treaties is an embarrassment.”
It’s unclear exactly why it took the Senate so long to pass the legislation implementing the treaties.
The House did its part in 2012 and again in 2013, but the issue hit a snag in the then-Democratic controlled Senate where, among other things, there was disagreement over whether to authorize the death penalty for nuclear terrorism offenses. Some Democrats who oppose the death penalty weren’t comfortable with that.
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I, introduced legislation last month to authorize the death penalty, making it a crime to support nuclear terrorists and allow the government to request wiretaps to investigate suspected nuclear terrorism. These provisions, however, were not included in the surveillance measure that Obama signed into law. The senators could still push these provisions in future legislation.
“Fears of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation are rising, especially as Iran moves closer to obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Grassley said in introducing his bill last month. “In this environment, it’s obvious that the government needs the ability to seek the death penalty for nuclear terrorists under the appropriate circumstances.”
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WILMINGTON, Del. — Politicians, military leaders and celebrities from across the country came to bid farewell on Saturday to former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, whose death at age 46 opened yet another chapter of grief for his father, Vice President Joe Biden.
Calling himself part of the Biden clan, President Barack Obama remembered Beau Biden as a selfless son and consummate public servant in a eulogy delivered at Biden’s funeral.
“He did in 46 years what most of us couldn’t do in 146,” Obama said. “He left nothing in the tank.”
Addressing the vice president and his wife, Jill, Obama reflected on their friendship: “Michelle and I thank God you are in our lives. Taking this ride with you is one of the great pleasures of our lives. Joe, you are my brother.”
Beau Biden, the vice president’s oldest son, died a week ago after a two-year battle with brain cancer that played out mostly in private, in contrast to the intensely public life that the Bidens have lived for decades. An overflow crowd of more than 1,000 packed St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Wilmington to pay their respects. Local residents sat among political luminaries such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, former President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
For Joe Biden, the death marked yet another untimely personal loss. More than four decades ago a car crash killed Biden’s wife and baby daughter and injured his two sons just weeks after he was elected to the Senate. Biden was sworn in at the hospital where 3-year-old Beau and his younger brother, Hunter, were being treated.
The vice president, who did not speak at the funeral, embraced Obama after crossing himself solemnly as he entered the church to the strains of “Bring Him Home,” from “Les Miserables.” Outside the church before the Mass of Christian Burial, Biden held hands with his son’s widow, Hallie Biden, and his granddaughter, Natalie, as six pallbearers wheeled the coffin into the church.
Amid the solemnity were spirited moments – a gospel choir’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” and Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin’s performance of “Till Kingdom Come.” The White House said Hunter Biden had been a Coldplay fan and that when Martin found out, he asked to come to the funeral.
Gen. Ray Odierno, who was the top U.S. commander in Iraq when Beau Biden served there, eulogized his former soldier and presented him with the Legion of Merit, which honors U.S. service members for exceptionally meritorious conduct.
Beau Biden’s role as the celebrated scion of the vice president’s family was reflected time and again in the remarks of his siblings, Hunter and Ashley – Joe Biden’s two surviving children. Ashley Biden recalled accompanying her brother to his chemotherapy treatments and said she would forever cherish the time she’d spent with him on those Fridays over breakfast.
“He was our protector, our mediator, the captain of our lives,” she said.
The funeral for Beau Biden, who died at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, capped three days of public mourning in which the vice president and his family were both the consolers and the consoled.
His casket lay in honor in the state Senate chamber on Thursday ahead of a public viewing on Friday. On both days, seemingly endless lines of people streamed through to greet the vice president, whose sadness at times gave way to his characteristic humanity as he greeted familiar faces with a broad smile, a lingering hug or a fond memory of his son.
Following the funeral, Beau Biden was to be buried in a private ceremony Saturday.
Beau Biden served two terms as attorney general before declaring a run for governor, and many saw in him the same aspirations that brought his father to the White House. But in 2010, at age 41, he suffered a stroke, then was diagnosed with brain cancer three years later. He returned to work after treatment, but the cancer returned.
Hunter Biden, 45, said his earliest memory was of lying next to his brother in the hospital, with Beau Biden holding his hand and repeating, “I love you.”
“And as it began, so did it end,” Hunter Biden said, recalling his brother’s final moments in the hospital surrounded by family. “Each of us desperately, desperately holding him. Each of us whispering, `I love you, I love you, I love you.’ I held his hand, and he took his last breath, and I know that I was loved.”
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KRUEN, Germany — Feasting on Bavarian beer and sausages, President Barack Obama on Sunday celebrated decades of U.S. friendship with Germany despite recent challenges and said the country “is proof that conflicts can end and great progress is possible.”
Obama kicked off an overnight visit to attend the Group of Seven summit of world leaders by focusing on mending relations with host Germany, visiting the picturesque Alpine village of Kruen with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“This morning as we celebrate one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known my message to the German people is simple: We are grateful for your friendship, for your leadership. We stand together as inseparable allies in Europe and around the world,” Obama said as he addressed the timeless Bavarian scene, complete with the sounds of the long wooden alphorns.
Obama is closer to Merkel than most heads of state, although their relationship has been tested in the past couple of years, particularly after it emerged that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel’s cellphone. The revelation was particularly chilling in Germany, with its oppressive history of secret government surveillance, but Merkel seemed eager to move on as she addressed Obama as “dear Barack.”
“Although it is true we sometimes have differences of opinion today from time to time, but still the United States of America is our friend, our partner and indeed an essential partner with whom we cooperate very closely,” Merkel said through a translator. “We cooperate closely because this is in our mutual interest. We cooperate because we need it. We cooperate because we want it.”
Obama and Merkel met privately afterward at the nearby Schloss Elmau resort to coordinate their summit agenda before joining the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Japan. Russian President Vladimir Putin was ousted from the group last year over aggression against Ukraine, and fighting with pro-Moscow separatists has spiked in the past week.
“The two leaders discussed the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and agreed that the duration of sanctions should be clearly linked to Russia’s full implementation of the Minsk agreements and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty,” the White House said in a statement. The White House said they also talked about the economic opportunity presented by the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the importance of coordinating for a successful international climate agreement this year.
During the visit to Kruen, about 800 Germans filled the village square wearing traditional dress: wool hats decorated with feathers and goat hair plumes, women in dirndls and men in lederhosen. Well before noon they gathered at long tables covered in blue gingham tablecloths, drinking beer in what looked more like a biergarten than the setting for a presidential address.
“Gruess Gott!” Obama began, which literally translates as “greetings from god” but is the typical Bavarian greeting instead of “good day.”
“I have to admit that I forgot to bring my lederhosen but I’m going to see if I can buy some while I’m here,” Obama joked. He said when he first heard the G-7 would meet in Bavaria, he hoped it would be during Octoberfest.
“But then again, there’s never a bad day for a beer and a weisswurst,” Obama said. “And I can’t think of a better place to come to celebrate the enduring friendship between the German and the American people.”
After his remarks, Obama and Merkel joined one of the tables, sampling pretzels and the weisswurst sausage and toasting tall beer glasses. The label on the glass indicated they were drinking a wheat beer from the local Karg brewery in nearby Murnau. “It was a very fine beer. I wish I was staying,” Obama said as he prepared to depart to plunge in to two days of heavy discussions.
Next week, Germans will be looking to future U.S. relations beyond Obama’s presidency. Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush plans to kick off a six-day European trip with a speech Tuesday in Berlin to the economic council of the Christian Democratic Union, the conservative party led by Merkel.
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Abortions have declined in states where new laws make it harder to have them – but they’ve also waned in states where abortion rights are protected, an Associated Press survey finds. Nearly everywhere, in red states and blue, abortions are down since 2010.
Explanations vary. Abortion-rights advocates attribute it to expanded access to effective contraceptives and a drop in unintended pregnancies. Some foes of abortion say there has been a shift in societal attitudes, with more women choosing to carry their pregnancies to term.
Several of the states that have been most aggressive in passing anti-abortion laws – including Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma – have seen their abortion numbers drop by more than 15 percent since 2010. But more liberal states such as New York, Washington and Oregon also had declines of that magnitude, even as they maintained unrestricted access to abortion.
Nationwide, the AP survey showed a decrease in abortions of about 12 percent since 2010.
One major factor has been a decline in the teen pregnancy rate, which in 2010 reached its lowest level in decades. There’s been no official update since then, but the teen birth rate has continued to drop, which experts say signals a similar trend for teen pregnancies.
The AP obtained the most recent abortion numbers from the health departments of all 45 states that compile such data on a comprehensive basis. (States not compiling such data are California, Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Wyoming.) With one exception, the data was from either 2013 or 2014 – providing a unique nationwide gauge of abortion trends during a wave of anti-abortion laws that gathered strength starting in 2011.
Among the groups most active in promoting the restrictive laws is Americans United for Life. Its president, Charmaine Yoest, suggested that the broad decrease in abortions reflected a change in attitudes among pregnant women.
“There’s an entire generation of women who saw a sonogram as their first baby picture,” she said. “There’s an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born.”
But advocates for abortion rights said the figures demonstrate that restrictive laws are not needed to reduce the number of abortions significantly. That can be achieved, they said, by helping more women obtain affordable, effective contraception, including long-lasting options such as IUDs and hormonal implants.
“Better access to birth control and sex education are the biggest factors in reducing unintended pregnancies,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “More restrictive abortion laws do not reduce the need for abortions.”
Elizabeth Nash, a state-issues expert for the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, said a total of 267 abortion restrictions have been enacted in 31 states since 2011. Among them are measures that ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, impose hospital-like physical standards on abortion clinics, and require doctors who perform abortions at clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
While some of the new laws have been blocked by lawsuits, most have taken effect, contributing to closure of about 70 abortion clinics in a dozen states since 2010. States with the most closures, according to state officials and advocacy groups, include Texas with 27, Michigan and Arizona with about 12, and Ohio with at least four. Two clinics closed in Virginia, including one that was the state’s busiest.
The only states with significant increases in abortions since 2010 are Republican-led Louisiana and Michigan, which have passed laws intended to restrict abortion. Louisiana – where abortions increased 12 percent between 2010 and 2014 – was recently honored by Americans United for Life as the No. 1 state in taking steps to reduce access to abortion.
In both Louisiana and in Michigan, where abortions rose by 18.5 percent, the increases were due in part to women coming from other states where new restrictions and clinic closures have sharply limited abortion access. Anti-abortion groups said many Ohio women were going to Michigan and many Texas women to Louisiana.
Lori Carpentier, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan, argued that one factor in Michigan’s increase was inadequate public funding for family planning.
Genevieve Marnon of Michigan Right to Life said the increase resulted in part from new licensing and inspection regulations that prompted several abortion clinics to close a few years ago. She said some of these clinics had failed to report many of the abortions they performed and that women in those communities were now going to clinics with more scrupulous reporting practices. In all, about a dozen clinics closed; Marnon said 19 remain in operation.
Both sides agree that one factor in Michigan’s upsurge in abortions is an influx of women coming from Ohio, where several abortion clinics recently closed. According to Michigan’s health department, abortions for nonresidents jumped from 708 in 2013 to 1,318 in 2014.
Northland Family Planning, which operates three abortion clinics in southern Michigan, has been openly soliciting business from women in Ohio and Indiana. Its website notes that one of its clinics is less than 60 miles from Toledo, Ohio.
An influx of women from out-of-state also was cited as a reason for Louisiana’s increase. Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said abortions for nonresidents jumped by more than 1,200 between 2010 and 2012, and suggested new restrictions in Mississippi and Texas were a factor.
Ellie Schilling, a lawyer who represents Louisiana abortion clinics, said the state could reduce abortions through expanded sex education and other efforts to reduce teen pregnancies. The rise in abortions “is absolutely not because access has increased,” Schilling said. “There were fewer clinics and doctors in 2014 than 2010.”
The biggest decrease in abortion, percentage-wise, was in Hawaii, where abortions fell from 3,064 in 2010 to 2,147 in 2014. Laurie Temple Field, government relations director for Planned Parenthood in Hawaii, said more women there were getting access to health insurance and affordable contraception. She also credited the state’s policies on sex education in public schools, which includes information to help teens avoid unplanned pregnancies.
Five of the six states with the biggest declines – Hawaii at 30 percent, New Mexico at 24 percent, Nevada and Rhode Island at 22 percent, Connecticut at 21 percent – have passed no recent laws to restrict abortion clinics or providers.
Nancy Northup, who as CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights has overseen some lawsuits against state restrictions on abortion, said, “All of this effort is being spent on passing legislation and on litigation, when in fact what those states should do is take a look at the blue states and what they’re doing right in decreasing abortions.”
Judy Tabar, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said the declines in Connecticut and Rhode Island were due in part to expanded access to long-lasting contraception methods that are now fully covered by health insurers under the federal Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion and other initiatives. Nationwide, Planned Parenthood – the largest abortion provider in the U.S. – says its health centers report a 91 percent increase since 2009 in the use of IUDs and contraceptive implants.
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American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza performed one of the sports world’s rarest feats Saturday, winning the Belmont Stakes, the third and final race needed to clinch the elusive title of Triple Crown champion. The win, only the 12th of its kind in history, ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought, and quieted skeptics who questioned whether it was possible to win the title in the era of modern horse racing.
The three-year old bay colt finished 5 1/2 lengths ahead of runner-up Frosted to win the Belmont Stakes, the longest and most demanding of the series of three races that comprise thoroughbred horse racing’s most prestigious achievement.
The other two races in the Triple Crown are the Kentucky Derby, where American Pharoah won by a length this year, and the Preakness Stakes, where he finished seven lengths ahead of the competition in a driving rain.
Since the last winner, Affirmed, clinched the title in 1978, 13 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to fail the final hurdle of Belmont.
Included in those who have come close to winning the title before are Espinoza and American Pharoah’s hall of fame trainer, Bob Baffert.
Baffert has had three failed Triple Crown attempts, including two with Espinoza as the jockey: In 2002, Espinoza rode War Emblem to a disappointing loss at Belmont, and just last year Espinoza and California Chrome tied for fourth in the race.
The prize for the race was $800,000, 10 percent of which will go to Espinoza, who has promised to donate it all to City of Hope, a medical research and treatment facility to which Espinoza normally donates a portion of his winnings.
The biggest night on Broadway is upon us yet again.
The 69th annual Tony Awards, recognizing the Great White Way’s best actors, actresses and creatives from the 2014-2015 season, takes place Sunday evening, broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
A pair of past Tony Award-winners, Kristen Chenoweth and Alan Cumming, will host this years awards ceremony. Chenoweth is a nominee again this year for her role in “On the Twentieth Century.”
The award for Best Musical, the most sought-after prize of the night for show producers hoping for a post-Tony boost in ticket sales, will likely come down to the high-grossing “An American in Paris,” which has been widely admired for its choreography and score filled with Gershwin standards, and the graphic novel-adapted “Fun Home,” about a lesbian cartoonist and her suicidal father, which has been a critical darling since it opened off-Broadway in 2013.
Another much-talked about category reaching a fever pitch among industry experts and fans alike is the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical. Five women are nominated, three of whom could be considered frontrunners. But those betting on the outcome will likely favor Kelli O’Hara (“The King and I”) or Chenoweth. (Fun fact: Both are alums of Oklahoma City University and trained with the same voice teacher, Florence Birdwell.)
Chita Rivera, who received her tenth Tony nomination for her role in “The Visit,” also shouldn’t be counted out for a win in the category. If the 82-year-old Broadway icon takes home the trophy, it would be her third win in her career spanning more than six decades.
Were your favorites this year nominated? Sound off in the comments section.
And catch up on all the season’s Broadway musical nominees with our Spotify playlist below.
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A group of local militias calling themselves the Southern Popular Resistance have been fighting to expel Houthi fighters from the southern regions of Yemen.
Currently the Southern Popular Resistance is centralized around the southern Yemeni city of Aden, a site of intense anti-Houthi bombing by the Saudi coalition.
Fighters throughout the south oppose the Houthis’ attempt at armed takeover, but are not necessarily supportive of the status quo either.
Some support southern Yemen’s independence, harkening back to the early 1990s, before the south and north were unified by civil war.
The Houthis are a Shiite rebel group that took control of Yemen’s capital Sanaa in September and then drove Sunni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi out of the country in March.
They are backed by the Shiite Iranian government, but have been consistently bombed by a Saudi Arabia-led Arab alliance — supported by the United States — since March 26, 2015.
Reuters reported on May 25 that local militias had successfully expelled Houthi fighters from Dalea, a city approximately 105 miles north of Aden.
Saudi Arabia, a staunch supporter of Hadi’s Sunni government, has actively intervened in its neighbor’s politics since Yemen’s modern birth 25 years ago, according to Reuters.
On May 27, the World Heath Organization estimated that 2,000 people have been killed and 8,000 injured in the conflict so far.
The WHO warned of a health crisis in Yemen due both to the violence, and to the dismantling of health infrastructure that has escalated in the country since the fighting began.
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Crews from several European countries launched a new wave of rescue missions to save hundreds of migrants still stranded in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday after as many as 10 boats called for help earlier this morning.
In a vast joint effort, navies from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, and Italy rescued 3,500 migrants on Saturday, even as the European Union debates how to handle the influx of refugees once they come ashore. The rescued migrants will be taken to Sicily.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 90,000 refugees and migrants have been rescued or sailed to safety and crossed into Europe so far this year. Most of these migrants have landed in Italy, Greece, Spain and Malta.
Desperate to flee persecution and violence in Libya and Sub-Saharan Africa, many of the migrants paid smugglers to board wooden and rubber ships to Europe. The voyages have already claimed thousands of lives this year.
Additionally, The International Organisation for Migration estimates that 1,850 migrant lives have been lost at sea since the beginning of 2015.
Many European countries have become increasingly unwilling to give migrants food and shelter in their regions, as the asylum requests for thousands continue to be evaluated.
In Italy, right-wing politicians and local community officials have voiced strong opposition to the migrants, saying they would not accept any more “illegal immigrants,” because the reception facilities for the migrants had already reached maximum capacity.
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