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

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    Watch the full discussion on Iraq from Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour.

    President Barack Obama’s plan to bulk up the U.S. military presence in Iraq by adding up to 450 more advisers and trainers has come under scrutiny, with some, including Ret. U.S. Army Col. Andrew Bacevich saying they were skeptical it would make a difference.

    Bacevich told PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff on Wednesday that it was “a very modest adjustment” to the president’s current policy. He said the United States has tried for 10 years to get effective Iraqi forces “and we’ve not succeeded.”

    The fundamental problem? A lack of will to fight among the Iraqi forces, who are “taking a licking” from Islamic State forces, he said.

    Bacevich joined former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta, former U.S. Central Command chief Anthony Zinni and former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy in Wednesday’s panel discussion.

    Major Iraqi cities, including Mosul in the north and Ramadi in the west, have fallen to the Islamic State militants over the past year.

    The United States already has 3,100 trainers and advisers in Iraq. On Wednesday, President Obama said he would send up to 450 more trainers to help Iraqi forces.

    He had said earlier in the week the United States lacks a “complete strategy” for preparing Iraqi forces to fight Islamic State militants, and he has asked military leaders to come up with ways they could better train and equip Iraqis.

    “There’s no question that I think the president has taken the right step in adding these trainers and advisers,” said Panetta. The Islamic State group, or ISIS, has a lot of momentum in Iraq and adding advisers was a good first step, he said.

    “This is about a threat to our national security,” said Panetta. If the Islamic State militants have a base in Iraq, they could use it to attack the United States at home, he said.

    Bacevich countered that the threat from the Islamic State group is very limited. “We should be worried more about drug lords in Mexico.”

    But Flournoy also called the president’s announcement a “good and smart move,” which allows the United States to start training local Sunni militias in Anbar province. She also recommended allowing U.S. forces to advise during Iraqi operations and calling in “more effective” airstrikes.

    The Islamic State group is displacing al-Qaida as a global terrorist network and is gaining ground elsewhere — in Libya and Afghanistan, she said.

    Zinni cautioned that the president’s move overestimates the Iraqi forces’ capabilities and will to fight. “This is almost deja vu to Vietnam” before the U.S. committed ground forces, he said. “I do think it’s in our national interest to have a stable Middle East,” he continued, but the United States has not shown it is fully committed to the fight.

    Flournoy said the will to fight will come from the Sunnis, who say they are currently discriminated against and feel they will be treated better in the end. “That will create the motivation to fight.”

    She and Panetta agreed the United States needs to work with other allies in the region. “We can’t just stand on the sidelines wringing our hands,” Panetta said.

    Bacevich suggested including Iran as an ally, harkening back to World War II when the United States partnered with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi Germany. “Sometimes when you can’t fix the problem on your own, you need to make some compromises and find the partners who can get the job done for you.”


    Prior to the president’s announcement, Woodruff spoke to Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily about what the U.S. should do in Iraq.

    The post Will more U.S. military might in Iraq keep forces from ‘taking a licking’? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Saxophonist Ornette Coleman performed during the 40th Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland on July 2, 2006. Photo by Dominic Favre/Reuters

    Saxophonist Ornette Coleman performed during the 40th Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland on July 2, 2006. Photo by Dominic Favre/Reuters

    American jazz musician and composer Ornette Coleman, whose ground-breaking saxophone playing earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, died Thursday morning in Manhattan at age 85. The cause was cardiac arrest, a representative for the family said.

    Coleman’s musical ambitions started at his Texas high school, where he was a member of the school band and then started his own. He took gigs in traveling shows and held odd jobs so he could continue pursuing a career in music as an adult.

    He was influential in the Free Jazz movement of the 1960s and inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame, based in Orlando, in 1969. His album Sound Grammar won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2007.

    Coleman’s unorthodox style wasn’t always embraced. According to a Time magazine profile in 1960, “Some of Coleman’s critics feel that he has not only stretched jazz structure but has totally demolished it. Improvisation, to Coleman, means music not limited by standard rhythms, harmonies or even tonality, but based instead on a kind of free association of sounds.”

    More resources:

    NPR encapsulates Coleman’s body of work in five songs.

    Variety describes Coleman’s “liberated approach.”

    Fans praise the late musician on his Facebook page.

    The Guardian has a photo gallery of the jazz great.

    The post Jazz saxophonist and Pulitzer Prize winner Ornette Coleman dies at 85 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    While LGBT seniors face many issues shared among all older adults and those who care for them, a number of specific factors should be considered. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS

    I clearly remember the first time I met Herb. He had beautiful white hair framing a handsome face with an inviting smile. But he greeted me with decidedly exhausted eyes.

    He introduced me to Charles, who sat in the wheelchair Herb was pushing towards the church entrance where the local dementia day respite program met. As the director of Caregiver Services for a local community hospital — sponsor of the day respite program — my staff and I learned to respect Herb’s fierce independence. He clearly was determined to manage all of the care Charles needed — meal prep, bathing, toileting, dressing, emotional support and more. But the stress was taking a toll on Herb’s health. On the advice of his doctor, Herb finally agreed to take advantage of the two afternoons a week the day program afforded him. It wasn’t until Charles’ death about four years later that we learned, at the memorial service, of Charles and Herb’s 47-year committed relationship.

    Twenty-five years ago, when I first met this couple, a community health and social version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was common. Herb and Charles grew up during the McCarthy era when any indication of homosexuality was met with pervasive stigma, destructive branding and legal and economic consequences. In select older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) age groups, and in certain geographic areas and social settings, people remain selective about who and when it feels safe enough to reveal one’s authentic LGBT self. Some individuals may even choose not to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to their medical doctor, therapist or community service agency, leaving them unable to gain the full benefit from the services provided. Health and social service professionals at all levels can even contribute to this problem by ignoring or not having time to discuss an older adult’s emotional health concerns and altogether avoiding sexual health in their assessment.

    As a nation, Americans are paying greater attention to age-related concerns and chronic debilitating illness. While many of these are issues shared among all older adults and those who care for them, some unique considerations arise for aging LGBT people. Although estimates vary, conservatively 2.4 million adults age 50 and older self-identify as LGBT. With the documented growth of the age 50-plus population, the number of self-identified LGBT older adults will more than double by 2030. The key challenges facing aging LGBT adults center around: chronic health care, caregiving, financial security for long-term care, social isolation, building resiliency and where to find trusted help.

    The LGBT community and long-term care

    Today, thanks to dedicated social and political activism fermented in the 1960s and ’70s, LGBT adults reaching their 50s and beyond are seeing incremental improvement in acceptance and assistance by mainstream health practitioners and long-term care community service providers.

    In 2015, California enacted legislation to develop standards and provide LGBT cultural competency for medical providers. The law works to ensure that physicians and surgeons receive continuing medical education to increase cultural competency in their work with LGBT patients, and hopefully with their partners and families also. To ensure that the training encompasses the needs of older LGBT community members, in addition to younger adults, advocacy and expert resources are available in person and online. Openhouse in the San Francisco area, and Lavender Senior online are community providers at the forefront of those working to prepare for and serve this emerging older adult population. (More elder LGBT training options can be found in the Resource section below.)

    Health disparities for LGBT adults are just now coming to light. At the invitation of the National Institutes of Health, the Institute of Medicine released a report saying:

    “While LGBT populations are often seen as a single entity for research and advocacy purposes, each [lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual] is a distinct population group with its own specific health needs.”

    With the benefit of more in-depth research, we are learning that responsive, reliable health and long-term care services and support for bisexual and transgender older adults lag behind their lesbian and gay peers. The IOM report also notes that the experiences of LGBT individuals are not uniform, and are shaped by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographical location and age, any of which can have an effect on health-related concerns and needs.

    The “The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults,” by primary investigator Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen and her co-investigative team further illuminates the lives of older LGBT adults by helping to fill in long-standing information gaps and identify opportunities to address current health concerns for potential improved long-term outcomes. The first longitudinal study addressing the needs of baby boomer LGBT seniors nationally is now underway by Dr. Fredriksen-Goldsen and co-investigators, including, for the first time, representation from the South (Texas, Georgia and Kentucky).

    Dementia

    LGBT community members are living longer and with this increase in life expectancy comes the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. At a recent groundbreaking conference in San Francisco on dementia awareness and caregiving for LGBT older adults from diverse communities, Dr. Fredriksen-Goldsen said that the findings to date from the longitudinal study paint a vivid portrait of LGBT older adults and their families, documenting strengths and health disparities. With more than 2,400 LGBT study participants ranging from age 50 to 100 years old, this project deepens our understanding of how various life experiences are related to changes and trajectories in health and aging over time. To hear Dr. Fredriksen-Goldsen’s presentation, and the other speakers addressing LGBT aging and caregiving, dementia, substance abuse and end of life, view the just-released recorded presentations here.

    HIV and aging

    LGBT communities know caregiving first hand, having cared for and experienced devastating losses throughout the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The impact of the epidemic affected the LGBT population primarily in two ways. First, there is tremendous psychological distress associated with having lived through a devastating epidemic. Second, many medical advances, primarily those in antiretroviral therapy, have increased the lifespan of those living with HIV/AIDS. In the United States, approximately 28 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS are over 50 years old. This number is projected to grow to 50 percent by 2017.

    Yet, since the start of the AIDS epidemic more than three decades ago, doctors, caregivers and patients have observed that some people living with HIV/AIDS experience decline in brain function and movement skills, as well as shifts in behavior and mood. This disorder is called HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder, or HAND. It can afflict anyone with HIV/AIDS, homosexual and heterosexual alike. Caring for a loved one with HAND can be challenging due to the physical, cognitive and emotional issues involved. A more in-depth discussion of this condition is available in a newly released FCA fact sheet you can read here.

    Caregiving

    The support that a caregiver receives from friends and family is often critical in relieving stress that can be part of caring for someone who has a chronic debilitating health condition. LGBT caregivers may find that they have less support than they would like from their own — or the care receiver’s — biological family members. Historically, to fill in this gap, many LGBT people have formed strong “families of choice,” a support system comprised of trusted friends, relatives and supportive community service providers.

    Being a member of both a chosen family and a family of origin creates situations where an LGBT person may become a primary caregiver for a domestic partner or legal spouse, a close friend who is also LGBT and/or an aging parent or other relative — sometimes simultaneously. In the community at large, it is most common for typically unpaid caregivers such as spouses and adult children to provide the majority of care to older adults in the United States. In the LGBT community — with older adults twice as likely to be single and living alone, and three to four times less likely to have children — a family of choice is depended upon to provide support and care.

    In September 2011, HHS announced new guidance to hospitals that participate in Medicaid and Medicare, outlining the rights of hospital visitors to choose their own visitors during a hospital stay, including a visitor who is a same-sex partner. The guidance also says that patients have the right to designate the person they want (including same sex partners) to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are incapacitated.

    Health care and financial decision-making

    It is important for LGBT seniors and their caregivers to complete a few key legal documents establishing the right to make care decisions and to document treatment preferences for hospital and health care providers. (See the FCA fact sheet, Legal Issues for LGBT Caregivers.)

    Rules governing resources to plan for and pay for long-term care remain an obstacle. We know that same-sex partners do not have access, as married older adults do, to federal family leave benefits, equivalent Medicaid spend-downs, Social Security benefits, bereavement leave, or automatic inheritance of jointly owned real estate and personal property. In addition to spousal impoverishment depending on the state, there may also be differences in how assets in same-sex couples are treated in regard to Medicaid liens, asset transfers and estate recovery.

    As for all older adults, certain legal and financial decisions become increasingly important as we age. These documented decisions determine who has the responsibility to provide care, the power to make medical decisions and the legal authority to utilize financial resources on someone’s behalf if he or she is incapacitated. Without written protections in place, these relationships might not be legally recognized, and could easily be questioned or contested by a biological family member.

    LGBT couples should draw up advance directives in order to guarantee their rights, even if they are legally married. A growing number of states are granting same-sex couples the right to obtain legal recognition of their relationships through marriage (to date, 35 states [see map here] plus the District of Columbia). Despite these gains, the inconsistencies in the law across the states may leave older adult same-sex couples and their family members legally vulnerable. All LGBT couples must clearly articulate their desires in legal documents to protect their right and wish to care for one another, leave property and possessions to one another through a will, or make funeral arrangements on the other’s behalf.

    As a caregiver to a spouse, partner or friend, it is essential to discuss available legal protections and their limitations with the person for whom you care before that person becomes incapacitated. Please note that laws affecting LGBT care differ greatly from state to state — and even from city to city — so it is best to work with an attorney when putting together advance directives and other legal documents. For help finding an LGBT-friendly attorney in your area, contact the Legal Information Helpline of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

    Isolation and social support

    Social isolation and lack of family and community support has a significant impact on the mental and physical health of older LGBT adults. Historically, coming out about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity was met with family rejection and social disenfranchisement. Today, LGBT older adults are likely to have experienced this rejection, in some part, from their family and peers. Increases in clinical depression and debilitating anxiety are correlated with a lack of social support.

    The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force report, “No Golden Years at the End of the Rainbow,” states that:

    “Access to immediate family support impacts aging LGBT adults’ ability to confront statistically higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, poor mental health and physical disability. As they age, many people rely on their family and community to provide transportation to and from doctors’ appointments and other critical care services necessary for maintaining wellness.” A 66-year-old lesbian who participated in the Aging and Health Report Study was quoted as saying, “Isolation, finding friend support, caregiving and health are the biggest issues older gay persons face. Who will be there for us, who will help care for us without judgment?”

    Whom to trust for help

    In cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and New York, with sizeable gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, some public and private agencies will have experience with caregiving issues and LGBT families — particularly in the two decades since the start of the AIDS epidemic. In less densely populated areas, where programs may have less opportunity to encounter and work with LGBT individuals and families, determining whether an agency will be welcoming and supportive may be more difficult.

    How do you know if a service provider or organization is welcoming to LGBT individuals and families? Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Look for posted policies stating non-discrimination based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, and on the organization’s written description of their programs and services.
  • LGBT welcoming organizations will use such terms as “partner,” “domestic partner,” “significant other,” and “recognize a same-sex spouse.”
  • Seek out services or businesses who display a rainbow flag sticker or similar sign in a public place on their premises (a sticker on a street side window or visible sign in their reception area) and on their websites.
  • The organization will define a family in the broadest sense, including non-married partnerships, friends and neighbors or any persons who choose to live together to provide mutual help and support.
  • A service organization’s staff has participated in LGBT cultural competency training. In California, the Older Californians Equality and Protection Act legislates that the California Department of Aging must ensure that services for elders account for the needs of California’s LGBT seniors.
  • LGBT communities across the nation have drafted resource guides to help senior community members and their caregivers to know their legal rights and learn about services where they will feel welcome. Here is an example of one resource created by LGBT advocacy and service organizations for California’s LGBT Seniors. A growing number of LGBT-specific services, such as senior housing communities, older adult health services and estate planning legal services are available or under development across the United States.

    Local and national LGBT organizations, such as the SAGE — National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, are a vital resource for trustworthy information and for help in locating community agencies that are sensitive and supportive. Many areas have robust websites, hotlines and support groups that provide information anonymously online or by phone. Larger cities frequently have LGBT-specific medical clinics or other centers devoted to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender health and legal issues.

    The art of growing old with the best possible physical, emotional and social health is important for all older adults. Thanks to high quality research and a greater willingness by LGBT older adults to participate in studies and sharing their stories, we are progressing further along the path towards making optimal well-being a reality for all older adults, including LGBT community members. The organizations and resources mentioned throughout this column and listed below are welcoming and open to providing information, education, support and service without judgment.


    More Information & Resources


    The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults

    Preparing for the Changing Horizon: Dementia awareness for Older LGBT Adults from Diverse Communities

    “GEN SILENT”: Movie Documentary

    Los Angeles LGBT Center

    The National LGBT Taskforce

    Lambda Legal

    Lavender Seniors

    Openhouse : Housing Services and Community for LGBT Seniors


    More Helpful Publications from Family Caregiver Alliance:


    Long-Term Care Options Explored on PBS NewsHour:


    About Family Caregiver Alliance

    Family Caregiver Alliance
    National Center on Caregiving
    785 Market Street, Suite 750
    San Francisco, CA 94103
    (415) 434-3388
    (800) 445-8106
    Website: www.caregiver.org
    E-mail: info@caregiver.org

    Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) offers an extensive online library of free educational materials for caregivers. The publications, webinars and videos offer families the kind of straightforward, practical help they need as they care for relatives with chronic or disabling health conditions.

    Family Care Navigator is FCA’s online directory of resources for caregivers in all 50 states. It includes information on government health and disability programs, legal resources, disease-specific organizations and more.


    Leah Eskenazi, MSW, is Director of Operations for Family Caregiver Alliance, based in San Francisco, California.

    The post How to find care for LGBT seniors appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    British actor Christopher Lee acknowledges the audience as he arrives for the screening of the movie 'Farewell My Queen'  ('Les adieux a la Reine') during the 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 9, 2012. The legendary actor died at 93, his wife announced Thursday. Photo by Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

    British actor Christopher Lee acknowledges the audience as he arrives for the screening of the movie ‘Farewell My Queen’ (‘Les adieux a la Reine’) during the 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 9, 2012. The legendary actor died at 93, his wife announced Thursday. Photo by Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

    British actor Christopher Lee, known for portraying the immortal bloodsucker Dracula, among other villains on the silver screen, has died at the age of 93, his wife confirmed Thursday.

    Birgit Kroencke, Lee’s wife of 50 years, said he died at a London hospital Sunday morning, The Guardian reported. Lee was admitted to the Westminster Hospital three weeks earlier for respiratory problems. Kroencke said she delayed the news of Lee’s death until family and friends were all notified first.

    Born in the Belgravia district of London in 1922 to an aristocratic family, Lee’s breakout role wasn’t until he was 35, playing the reanimated creature in the 1957 horror movie “The Curse of Frankenstein.”

    Watch the 1958 “Horror of Dracula” movie trailer.

    Lee’s 6-foot-5-inch height helped him look the part in the Hammer horror studio’s nightmarish creations. He went on to play “The Mummy” and was then immortalized as the Gothic horror icon in 1958’s “Dracula,” a role he continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Lee’s association with the vampire followed the actor throughout his career.

    Over six decades, the veteran actor played a who’s who of film adversaries. Lee played assassin Francisco Scaramanga opposite Roger Moore’s James Bond in “The Man With the Golden Gun.” With a horror movie background, Lee easily tapped into his dark side as Sith lord Count Dooku in two of the “Star Wars” prequels. He donned a shock white wig in “The Lord of the Rings” films to play the treacherous wizard Saruman. And Lee’s favorite role was playing Lord Summerisle, the leader of a pagan cult, in 1973’s “The Wicker Man.”

    His overbearing portrayal of dentist and father in Tim Burton’s “Willy Wonka” remake had a velveteen way of saying “chocolate.”

    Beginning in the 1990s, the actor, armed with a commanding baritone, released heavy metal albums as Charlemagne, including 2012’s “A Very Metal Christmas.” He had long maintained his lineage to the first Holy Roman Emperor. And in a very un-metal move, he also recorded an album of Broadway tunes.

    Video of tunes by Charlemagne Productions

    After appearing is nearly 250 movie and television roles, Lee was knighted in 2009 for services to drama and charity. In 2011, Lee was awarded the BAFTA fellowship, a lifetime achievement award that recognizes outstanding British artists.

    “I never looked on these people, imaginary or not, I never really looked on them as evil and frightening, which they, of course, were in many cases,” Lee said, when asked about embodying so many different monster roles. “I always felt rather sorry for them, that they didn’t want to be that way.”

    The post Christopher Lee, the definitive Dracula and veteran actor, dies at 93 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch unveiling News Cooperation's iPad news publication "The Daily" in New York Feb. 2, 2011. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    File photo of News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch unveiling News Cooperation’s iPad news publication “The Daily” in New York Feb. 2, 2011. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    Australian American business magnate Rupert Murdoch is leaving his post as CEO of 21st Century Fox and turning over the mass media corporation to his son James, according to an announcement on Thursday.

    Murdoch, 84, plans to take the title executive chairman of Fox and remain executive chairman of News Corp., which includes the Wall Street Journal, New York Post and Times of London. Officials said Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes will continue to report directly to Murdoch.

    James Murdoch is currently a director of News Corp. Both Murdochs were called before the British Parliament in 2011 to answer to accusations their news companies hacked the phones of celebrities and citizens.

    Another son, Lachlan Murdoch, will become co-executive chairman of 21st Century Fox once the reorganization is approved at an upcoming company board meeting.

    The post Rupert Murdoch to step down as CEO of 21st Century Fox appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

    Photo by Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Hackers stole personnel data and Social Security numbers for every federal employee, a government worker union said Thursday, saying that the cyber theft of U.S. employee information was more damaging than the Obama administration has acknowledged.

    Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said on the Senate floor that the December hack into Office of Personnel Management data was carried out by “the Chinese” without specifying whether he meant the Chinese government or individuals. Reid is one of eight lawmakers briefed on the most secret intelligence information. U.S. officials have declined to publicly blame China, which has denied involvement.

    J. David Cox, president of the American Federal of Government Employees, said in a letter to OPM director Katherine Archuleta that based on OPM’s internal briefings, “We believe that the Central Personnel Data File was the targeted database, and that the hackers are now in possession of all personnel data for every federal employee, every federal retiree, and up to one million former federal employees.”

    The OPM data file contains the records of non-military, non-intelligence executive branch employees, which covers most federal civilian employees but not, for example, members of Congress and their staffs.

    The union believes the hackers stole military records and veterans’ status information, address, birth date, job and pay history, health insurance, life insurance, and pension information; and age, gender and race data, he said. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

    The union said it is basing its assessment on internal OPM briefings. The agency has sought to downplay the damage, saying what was taken “could include” personnel file information such as Social Security numbers and birth dates.

    “We believe that Social Security numbers were not encrypted, a cybersecurity failure that is absolutely indefensible and outrageous,” Cox said in the letter. The union called the breach “an abysmal failure on the part of the agency to guard data that has been entrusted to it by the federal workforce.”

    Samuel Schumach, an OPM spokesman, said that “for security reasons, we will not discuss specifics of the information that might have been compromised.”

    The central personnel data file contains up to 780 separate pieces of information about an employee.

    Cox complained in the letter that “very little substantive information has been shared with us, despite the fact that we represent more than 670,000 federal employees in departments and agencies throughout the executive branch.”

    The union’s release and Reid’s comment in the Senate put into sharper focus what is looking like a massive cyber espionage success by China. Sen. Susan Collins, an intelligence committee member, has also said the hack came from China.

    Mike Rogers, the former chairman of the House intelligence committee, said last week that Chinese intelligence agencies have for some time been seeking to assemble a database of information about Americans. Those personal details can be used for blackmail, or also to shape bogus emails designed to appear legitimate while injecting spyware on the networks of government agencies or businesses Chinese hackers are trying to penetrate.

    U.S. intelligence officials say China, like the U.S., spies for national security advantage. Unlike the U.S., they say, China also engages in large-scale theft of corporate secrets for the benefit of state-sponsored enterprises that compete with Western companies. Nearly every major U.S. company has been hacked from China, they say.

    The Office of Personnel Management is also a repository for extremely sensitive information assembled through background investigations of employees and contractors who hold security clearances. OPM’s Schumach has said that there is “no evidence” that information was taken. But there is growing skepticism among intelligence agency employees and contractors about that claim.

    In the Senate on Thursday, Democrats blocked a Republican effort to add the cybersecurity bill to a sweeping defense measure. The vote was 56-40, four votes short of the number necessary.

    Democrats had warned of the dangers of cyberspying after the theft of government personnel files, but Democrats voted against moving ahead on the legislation, frustrated with the GOP-led effort to tie the two bills together. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the defense legislation over budget changes by the GOP.

    “The issue of cybersecurity is simply too important to be used as a political chit and tucked away in separate legislation.” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

    Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

    The post Union: Hackers have personal data, including SS numbers, on every fed employee appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Walk-ins may be a thing of the past. By Flickr/Concorde Branding

    Walk-ins may be a thing of the past. By Flickr/Concorde Branding

    Editor’s Note: You know the situation. It’s your wife’s birthday in three months. You call up her favorite restaurant and ask to for a reservation at 8 p.m. Saturday night, convinced that for once you’ve planned far enough in advance. The hostess picks up. “I’m really sorry sir, we’re fully booked then,” she replies, “How about 5 p.m.?”

    OK, so how can that be? It turns out restaurants, like people, sometimes lie. And because people sometimes lie about coming in for their reservations, restaurants overbook and try to sell the off-peak time slots first. If they don’t, they can lose a hefty amount of money.

    Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Alinea, named one of the best restaurants in the world, decided something had to be done. At the next restaurant he opened, conveniently named Next, he decided to sell tickets for reservations. It was a success. So much so, he decided to create a platform from which any restaurant could do the same.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman sat down the Kokonas to discuss Tock, the service that allows you to buy or put down a deposit for a reservation. Tune in tonight to Making Sen$e’s weekly segment for more information about the service. The text of Kokonas’s extended conversation with Paul below has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.


    Paul Solman: Okay, so what’s the basic idea here?

    Nick Kokonas: The basic idea here is that the reservation systems—the way that we’ve known them for the past 50, 60 years—need to be updated. We know that. I mean, we used to have three people, full-time, every day, answering phones. One person’s sole job was to listen to the messages that were left on a voicemail machine. By the time you listen to 80 messages, write all that down, and call everyone back, you’ve got yourself a full-time job. It sounds very antiquated, but this was four years ago. So what we’ve begun to do is to sell tickets restaurants—a restaurant like Next or Alinea, or Coi in San Francisco or Qui in Austin, Texas for example.

    Paul Solman: Only fancy restaurants?

    Nick Kokonas: No, not at all. It started fancy like many things do. And we did that because we had the ability to take some risk.

    At Alinea restaurant, which is the restaurant that I built with Chef Grant Achatz, customers would call often asking for the same thing, for a reservation Friday or Saturday night at 7 or 8 o’clock. And we would be booked months out, as are many restaurants.

    Paul Solman: Yeah, that is true. Why is that?

    Nick Kokonas: There are a couple of reasons. One, is that there’s a no-show rate of 10 percent, 12 percent. So some restaurants overbook, just like the airlines do. So the restaurants lie to the people, and then the people who know they might not show up are lying to the restaurant. I think it’s a minority of the restaurants, and a minority with the people, but it sort of spoils the kettle for everybody else.

    Paul Solman: So this is a way of reducing the number of no-shows and making the restaurants own process more transparent?

    Nick Kokonas: Yes. And by making the process more transparent, it makes it easy to pick from the inventory that’s there and book it. You make a small commitment to the restaurant in return. Maybe it’s $5 or $10 deposit.

    Paul Solman: So just by putting down $5 bucks, do people more consistently honor the reservation they’ve made?

    Nick Kokonas: Hugely more consistent. Even if it’s just a small amount of money, they don’t want to lose that deposit. That creates better hospitality once they arrive, because the restaurant doesn’t have to go through that process of double booking tables. In turn, the restaurant can take some of that money and go to the purveyors and the farmers and say, hey, we’re going to prepay for some of this product, because we know who’s coming in for sure. There’s less waste at the restaurant as well. It creates a virtuous cycle.

    Paul Solman: Do you actually pay your providers up front now?

    Nick Kokonas: We do. Not all of them, but the ones where we have recurrent monthly expenditures that are predictable—our fish purveyors, our meat purveyors. We go to them and say, instead of giving us a credit line, why don’t we prepay half of next month? They give us a little bit of a discount, and they can then plan better what they produce, what they bring in, the meat that they dry age, the produce that they grow, all of those things. So we end up with a better product, our customers end up with a better product, and we have less waste, which is good for everybody.

    Paul Solman: But there’s OpenTable, right? Yelp? There are already apps where you can make reservations relatively transparently, or at least it looks that way.

    Nick Kokonas: To a certain extent, Yelp, OpenTable, all those companies, are gatekeepers. Tock is very, very different than that. We are providing a toolbox to restaurants, and then we get out of the way. You’re not getting a Tock-branded experience. We’re not trying to create a network or affiliate marketing program. What we’re trying to do is give small business owners, in this case, restaurants, the tools to manage their inventory and make it available to people via their mobile phones.

    Paul Solman: So, if I want to make a reservation at Next I go to the web on whatever device I’ve got—

    Nick Kokonas: You just go to Nextrestaurant.com and you click ‘book a table,’ and it takes you through Tock, but it feels like a branded Next experience.

    Paul Solman: And how many restaurants use Tock now?

    Nick Kokonas: Today just Next will be going on Tock, and we have the luxury, like we did four years ago, of testing out the new software that we’ve built on our own restaurants first. Then we’re going to seed it out to pilot program restaurants, which already range from San Francisco all the way to London. Then, probably in July or August, we will open the software as a service to restaurants around the world. Already, hundreds and hundreds of restaurants have put themselves in the queue for the software.

    Paul Solman: And is Tock a system that you hope will spread to virtually every restaurant in the world that takes reservations?

    Nick Kokonas: Because we own restaurants ourselves, we know the nitty gritty business problems of running a restaurant. We know how hard restaurant industry people work, the hours they put in, and how they wrangle with technology. People always say that restaurants and restaurant people don’t like technology. They just want to use a paper and pen. Well, restaurant people don’t like bad technology. With Tock, we can know all the dietary restrictions for these people ahead of time and customers don’t have to call the day of and say, ‘oh, and by the way, someone is allergic to shellfish,’ or, ‘my girlfriend’s vegetarian.’ Getting all of that information ahead of time makes chefs better able to plan their days. And, so we’ve built something that can be utilized by the industry that works, that’s simple, that’s efficient and that’s inexpensive.

    Paul Solman: How much does it cost for a restaurant to use Tock?

    Nick Kokonas: $695 a month, flat fee.

    Paul Solman: That’s a lot of money. So you are talking high-end restaurants at this point.

    Nick Kokonas: Well, no. If you think about it, OpenTable charges $1.25 per reservation? So, if you have a restaurant which has 200 seats, you could be looking at doing you know, 50 to 100 tables a night, multiply that by $1.25, multiply that by seven days, and you can easily be looking at $700 a week. That’s pretty normal.

    The post Soon, there may be no such thing as a free reservation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Jun 9, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Tadar Muhammad (right) and Jeremy Brustein (left) demonstrate in support of Tamir Rice outside of Quicken Loans Arena prior to game three of the NBA Finals. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports - RTX1FV2B

    Tadar Muhammad, right, and Jeremy Brustein, left, demonstrate in support of Tamir Rice outside of Quicken Loans Arena prior to game three of the NBA Finals. Photo by Ken Blaze/USA Today Sport.

    A judge has found probable cause to charge a police officer in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the Guardian reports.

    According to the Guardian, Cleveland municipal court’s Judge Ron Adriane says there are grounds to prosecute officer Timothy Loehmann, who fatally shot Rice last November, “with murder, manslaughter and reckless homicide.” Loehmann’s partner Frank Garmback could be charged with reckless homicide and dereliction of duty. This does not mean charges have yet been made. The case will now go to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation before delivering evidence to a grand jury.

    That process could take weeks or months, Cleveland.com reports. We will continue to update this story.

    The post Judge finds probable cause to charge officer in Tamir Rice death appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A voter walks to the polls for the Iowa straw poll in Ames, Iowa, August 13, 2011. Six Republican presidential hopefuls competed on Saturday in the poll, an unofficial test of campaign strength. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    A voter walks to the polls for the Iowa straw poll in Ames, Iowa, Aug. 13, 2011. This year, Repubilcan leaders voted to end the tradition. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican leaders in Iowa have agreed to end the state’s straw poll because of waning interest from presidential hopefuls and questions about its relevancy.

    Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kauffman says state party officials voted during a Friday morning conference call to end the straw poll, which began in 1979 and has been held every summer before a contested presidential caucus.

    For years, the poll has been considered an early but unreliable test of campaigns’ strength.

    Critics say it has become a costly sideshow, and many candidates fear the humiliation of a poor showing. Some 2016 GOP hopefuls recently said they would skip the event altogether.

    The post Iowa Republicans ending straw poll, a tradition born in 1979 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Deserted grain silos are seen in front of the snowcapped Mount Olympus near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    Deserted grain silos are seen in front of the snowcapped Mount Olympus near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    From obliterated entrances to calendars frozen in time, Greece’s abandoned factories recall much better economic times. Buildings that used to make goods such as timber, textiles and cooking oils are now overgrown, rusted shells of their former selves. Graffiti reflects the frustration some feel about the country’s heavily indebted state.

    "Please help," reads graffiti inside a manager's office at a deserted textile factory that closed in 1995 near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    “Please help,” reads graffiti inside a manager’s office at a deserted textile factory that closed in 1995 near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    When the G7 leaders met in Germany a week ago, Greece’s debt crisis was among the top items on the agenda with questions about whether the country would default on its international obligations.

    Following a six-year recession, with unemployment rate at 25 percent, Greece “desperately needs billions of euros and more bailout funds,” Anton Troianovski of the Wall Street Journal told the PBS NewsHour Weekend on Sunday. “But the negotiations between the creditors and Greece remain very tense.”

    A broken marble sign that reads "Accountant's Office" lies on the floor of a deserted marble factory that closed in 2006 near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A broken marble sign that reads “Accountant’s Office” lies on the floor of a deserted marble factory that closed in 2006 near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    On June 5, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rejected conditions by creditors for supplying more bailout money, instead insisting on debt relief. The deferring of the payment shook up the financial markets last week.

    The European Commission and the leaders of France and Germany on Wednesday pushed Greece to reach a deal with creditors before the June 30 deadline to make a payment to the International Monetary Fund. If Greece fails to meet the deadline, it will be the first and only developed country to default on the IMF loans, according to the Telegraph.

    A Greek flag is draped over the gate of a deserted cooking oil factory that closed in 1996 in the town of Elefsina in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 28, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A Greek flag is draped over the gate of a deserted cooking oil factory that closed in 1996 in the town of Elefsina in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 28, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    As pressure builds in Athens, Reuters photographer Yannis Behrakis traveled from Athens to northeastern Greece via the Peloponnese region in the south to unearth traces of a once-flourishing Greek economy, which has dropped 30 percent in production.

    A deserted industrial building, part of the local customs bureau, is seen in front of the snowcapped Mount Olympus near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A deserted industrial building, part of the local customs bureau, is seen in front of the snowcapped Mount Olympus near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    “In my 2,500 km trip around Greece, I witnessed the sad reality of once-flourishing Greek industry,” Behrakis wrote in his Reuters photo essay. “Near the town of Larissa, south of Mouth Olympus, I visited a factory that once produced textiles, only to witness rusted gates and signs of squatters living in the once-thriving business.”

    Graffiti on the walls of a deserted textile factory that closed in 1995 near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    Graffiti on the walls of a deserted textile factory that closed in 1995 near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    The rusty gate of a deserted textile factory that closed in 1995 is seen near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    The rusty gate of a deserted textile factory that closed in 1995 is seen near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    The interior of a deserted textile factory that closed in 1995 is seen near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    The interior of a deserted textile factory that closed in 1995 is seen near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A view shows the Izola factory in the town of Thebes in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 25, 2015. Izola, a manufacturer of home appliances in Greece was founded in 1930 and closed in 1986. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A view shows the Izola factory in the town of Thebes in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 25, 2015. Izola, a manufacturer of home appliances in Greece was founded in 1930 and closed in 1986. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A calendar from the year 2000 is seen next to a destroyed electricity panel inside a cotton spinning factory in the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A calendar from the year 2000 is seen next to a destroyed electricity panel inside a cotton spinning factory in the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    Poppies are seen near a deserted metal construction close to the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    Poppies are seen near a deserted metal construction close to the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A deserted factory is seen in the industrial zone of the town of Thebes in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A deserted factory is seen in the industrial zone of the town of Thebes in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    Boxes of cotton thread are seen inside a cotton spinning factory that closed in 2000 in the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    Boxes of cotton thread are seen inside a cotton spinning factory that closed in 2000 in the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    The sign of a plastic tube factory that closed in 2011 is seen near the town of Kavala in Thrace region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    The sign of a plastic tube factory that closed in 2011 is seen near the town of Kavala in Thrace region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    Graffiti is seen inside a deserted dry nut factory that closed in 1995 near the town of Xanthi in Thrace region, Greece April 24, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    Graffiti is seen inside a deserted dry nut factory that closed in 1995 near the town of Xanthi in Thrace region, Greece April 24, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A destroyed sign on a closed textile factory that closed in 2003 is seen in the town of Thebes in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A destroyed sign on a closed textile factory that closed in 2003 is seen in the town of Thebes in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A deserted factory stands in the industrial zone of the town of Thebes in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A deserted factory stands in the industrial zone of the town of Thebes in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    Bond documents in Drachma currency dated October 25, 1985 are seen on top of sunflower seeds in a deserted dry nut factory that closed in 1995 near the town of Xanthi in Thrace region, Greece  April 24, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    Bond documents in Drachma currency dated October 25, 1985 are seen on top of sunflower seeds in a deserted dry nut factory that closed in 1995 near the town of Xanthi in Thrace region, Greece April 24, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    Graffiti is seen inside a deserted fruit packing factory that closed in the late 1990s near the town of Xanthi in Thrace region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    Graffiti is seen inside a deserted fruit packing factory that closed in the late 1990s near the town of Xanthi in Thrace region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A Christmas tree is seen on the floor of a logistics and international transportation company that closed in 2012 in the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A Christmas tree is seen on the floor of a logistics and international transportation company that closed in 2012 in the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A first aid box hangs off a wall at a deserted wood factory that closed in 2007 in the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A first aid box hangs off a wall at a deserted wood factory that closed in 2007 in the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A safe is seen inside an office at a logistics and international transportation company that closed in 2012 in the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A safe is seen inside an office at a logistics and international transportation company that closed in 2012 in the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A metal factory with a collapsed roof is seen in the Sindos industrial zone of the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015.Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A metal factory with a collapsed roof is seen in the Sindos industrial zone of the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015.Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A wild plant grows inside a deserted insulation factory that closed in the 1980s near the town of Xanthi in Thrace region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A wild plant grows inside a deserted insulation factory that closed in the 1980s near the town of Xanthi in Thrace region, Greece April 25, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A punch clock is seen at the entrance of a deserted cooking oil factory that closed in 1996 in the town of Elefsina in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 28, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A punch clock is seen at the entrance of a deserted cooking oil factory that closed in 1996 in the town of Elefsina in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 28, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A destroyed silo is seen in a deserted cooking oil factory that closed in 1996 in the town of Elefsina in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 28, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A destroyed silo is seen in a deserted cooking oil factory that closed in 1996 in the town of Elefsina in Sterea Hellas region, Greece April 28, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    A deserted factory that closed in the early 1990s is seen in the Sindos industrial zone of the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    A deserted factory that closed in the early 1990s is seen in the Sindos industrial zone of the town of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia region, Greece April 23, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

     

    An accounting book lies on the floor of the management offices of a deserted marble factory that closed in 2006 near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    An accounting book lies on the floor of the management offices of a deserted marble factory that closed in 2006 near the town of Larissa in Thessaly region, Greece April 22, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

    The post Photos: Greece’s deserted factories are ghosts of the past appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    CYBERSECURITY monitor

    WASHINGTON — As many as 14 million current and former civilian U.S. government employees had their personal information exposed to hackers, according to two people who were briefed on the investigation, a far higher figure than the 4 million the Obama administration initially disclosed.

    The newer estimates put the number of compromised records at between 9 million and 14 million going back to the 1980s, said one congressional official and one former US official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because information disclosed in the confidential briefings includes classified details of the investigation.

    There are about 4.2 million federal employees, so the majority of the records exposed relate to former employees. Contractor information also has been stolen, officials said.

    The latest revelation came a day after a major union said the cyber theft is more damaging than it first appeared, asserting that hackers stole personnel data and Social Security numbers for all the federal workers in a central personnel database.

    The Obama administration had acknowledged that up to 4 million current and former employees whose information resides in the Office of Personnel Management server are affected by the December cyber breach, but it had been vague about exactly what was taken.

    But J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a letter Thursday to OPM director Katherine Archuleta that based on incomplete information OPM provided to the union, “we believe that the Central Personnel Data File was the targeted database, and that the hackers are now in possession of all personnel data for every federal employee, every federal retiree, and up to 1 million former federal employees.”

    The OPM data file contains the records of most federal civilian employees, though not members of Congress and their staffs, members of the military or staff of the intelligence agencies.

    The union believes the hackers stole military records and veterans’ status information, address, birth date, job and pay history, health insurance, life insurance, and pension information; and age, gender and race data, he said.

    Also Thursday, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic Senate leader, said that the hack was carried out by “the Chinese” without specifying whether he meant the Chinese government or individuals. Reid is one of eight lawmakers briefed on the most secret intelligence information. U.S. officials have declined to publicly blame China, which has denied involvement.

    The union, which does not have direct access to the investigation, said it is basing its assessment on “sketchy” information provided by OPM. The agency has sought to downplay the damage, saying what was taken “could include” personnel file information such as Social Security numbers and birth dates.

    “We believe that Social Security numbers were not encrypted, a cybersecurity failure that is absolutely indefensible and outrageous,” Cox said in the letter. The union called the breach “an abysmal failure on the part of the agency to guard data that has been entrusted to it by the federal workforce.”

    Samuel Schumach, an OPM spokesman, said that “for security reasons, we will not discuss specifics of the information that might have been compromised.”

    Schumach did, however, address Cox’s comment on encryption. “Though data encryption is a valuable protection method, today’s adversaries are sophisticated enough that encryption alone does not guarantee protection,” he said. “OPM does utilize encryption in some instances and is currently increasing the types of methods utilized to encrypt data.”

    The central personnel data file contains up to 780 separate pieces of information about an employee.

    Cox complained in the letter that “very little substantive information has been shared with us, despite the fact that we represent more than 670,000 federal employees in departments and agencies throughout the executive branch.”

    The union’s release and Reid’s comment in the Senate put into sharper focus what is looking like a massive cyber espionage success by China. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, an Intelligence Committee member, has also said the hack came from China.

    Mike Rogers, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last week that Chinese intelligence agencies have for some time been seeking to assemble a database of information about Americans. Those personal details can be used for blackmail, or also to shape bogus emails designed to appear legitimate while injecting spyware on the networks of government agencies or businesses Chinese hackers are trying to penetrate.

    U.S. intelligence officials say China, like the U.S., spies for national security advantage. Unlike the U.S., they say, China also engages in large-scale theft of corporate secrets for the benefit of state-sponsored enterprises that compete with Western companies. Nearly every major U.S. company has been hacked from China, they say.

    The Office of Personnel Management is also a repository for extremely sensitive information assembled through background investigations of employees and contractors who hold security clearances. OPM’s Schumach has said that there is “no evidence” that information was taken. But there is growing skepticism among intelligence agency employees and contractors about that claim.

    Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

    The post Officials: Hack exposed up to 14 million federal records appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Tom Grill/The Image Bank via Getty Images.

    An Avalere Health study found that Medicare drug plans are cutting back on coverage for certain types of painkillers that deter abuse. Photo by Tom Grill/Getty Images

    The abuse of prescription painkillers is a growing problem for seniors, as it is for other age groups. But Medicare drug plans are cutting back on coverage for a specially designated type of painkiller that deters abuse in favor of cheaper generics that don’t have the same deterrent qualities, a new study found.

    Overall, Medicare coverage for long-acting prescription opioids declined from an average 46 percent of plans in 2012 to 36 percent of plans in 2015, the study by Avalere Health found.

    But coverage of OxyContin, a brand-name drug that has received “abuse-deterrent labeling” from the Food and Drug Administration, fell off more sharply than other long-acting opioids that didn’t receive the deterrent labeling during that time period.

    OxyContin, originally introduced in 1995, gained notoriety because people soon realized that the extended release oxycodone hydrochloride tablets could be crushed and then injected or snorted for a euphoric rush. Sometimes called “hillbilly heroin,” the drug was reformulated in 2010 by the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, to make it harder to manipulate.

    The abuse-deterrent labeling approval means a drug is formulated to make it tougher for patients to snort, inject or otherwise misuse. OxyContin received the designation in 2013; the FDA announcement noted the pills were difficult to crush, break or dissolve, forming a “viscous hydrogel” when tampered with that can’t be easily injected.

    Three other extended release opioid drugs were approved for abuse-deterrent labeling in 2014, outside the timeframe of the Avalere study.

    Despite its abuse-deterrent labeling, OxyContin’s coverage rate in the Medicare drug plans, sometimes called Part D plans, dropped from 61 percent in 2012 to 33 percent in 2015, the study found.

    Although there’s no generic equivalent for OxyContin, the Avalere analysis found that generic oxycodone, which contains the same active ingredient as OxyContin but lacks its special abuse-deterrent labeling, was covered by nearly 100 percent of plans in each of the years studied.

    The coverage decisions “suggest that the Part D plans are not considering abuse deterrents as any meaningful part of the coverage decision,” says Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at Avalere and co-author of the study.

    OxyContin is significantly more expensive than generic hydrocodone. A 120-day supply of generic hydrocodone might cost $28, according to Healthcare bluebook, which estimates prices based on a nationwide database of payment data. A similar prescription of OxyContin, on the other hand, might cost $632, more than 20 times the generic price.

    Pearson notes that as more drugs receive the abuse-deterrent labeling, competition may bring prices down somewhat.

    “But they’re never going to be the same price as a generic,” she says. “At some point, payers or policymakers need to decide whether they’re willing to pay a premium to avoid abuse.”

    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 Medicare drug plans favor generic opioids over those designed to avoid abuse, study finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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