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

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    U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is joined onstage by her husband former President Bill Clinton, her daughter Cheslea and her husband Marc Mezvinsky (L)  after she delivered her "official launch speech" at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson  - RTX1GD35

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: Now, more about Hillary Clinton’s major address today, and the state of the 2016 presidential campaign.

    Joining me to help analyze Clinton’s speech today is Lisa Desjardins, the NEWSHOUR’s political director.

    So, candidates make a lot of speeches. Why did this one — why was this one so important for the Clinton folks to have this kind of visibility?

    LISA DESJARDINS, NEWSHOUR’S POLITICAL DIRECTOR: This was Hillary Clinton answering the “why is she running” question. Up until now, she tried to prove to people “I’m accessible, I’m warm, I’m relatable”, she’s done all these small events all over the country with a few people.

    Now, she has to prove that there’s a reason for her to run. This was what she’s trying to do today. And it was a broad philosophical speech but she also had a lot of specifics. Really her campaign threw everything they had, I think, into this speech.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. And she also talked a bit about her mom, more so than we remember her talking about it during the last campaign.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Yes. It is interesting. I think she’s trying to bring in a human factor and she’s trying to say, I’m not the only one that you can look to as a model. I look to my own mother.

    And she used her mother’s story. Her mother was forced out of her house — she didn’t go into details there — when she was young, 14 years old, made her way as a maid, educated and had Hillary Clinton.

    And as Secretary Clinton said today in her speech, her mom raised her to say, someone should believe in you. You get a chance — you get your own chances but it helps when you have someone who believes in you.

    And what Hillary Clinton was using that as a device today was to say I believe in America, I believe especially in workers, low-paid workers, I believe in women’s rights. And she’s using it as metaphor for what she thinks her leadership role should be.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, there were a couple of new polls out this week that Republicans are citing, saying that fewer than half of the Americans believe Hillary Clinton to be honest or trustworthy. How does that play into this new chapter of her presentation?

    LISA DESJARDINS: It was interesting. I didn’t hear her directly head on address the trust issue. Instead what they decided to do was play to her strong points, which is her experience, decisiveness, a lot of leadership qualities. Three different times, Hari, she came back to her bio, what she’s done in different areas to sort of prove this is her time.

    And interestingly enough, she did not try to separate herself from President Obama, he himself not doing so well in the polls over the last year. Instead, two different times, she sort of tied herself to President Obama. My reading of it is she’s going for those Obama voters. She’s going for that core Democratic voter who loved her husband, likes her, and also the president.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, there’s a lot of core Democratic voters who are in sort of Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Sanders wing of the party. How much is that influencing what she is saying?

    LISA DESJARDINS: You could hear it today for sure. But her main theme, if you had to pick just one, was the idea of inequality, especially inequality in wages and to some degree, inequality in women’s rights, but mostly about wages. She mentioned many specific times of workers, talked about nurses working overnight, talk about low-paid teachers, talked about waitresses.

    She was hitting these sorts of groups of people who feel they’re not getting maybe a fair share. And also went after Republicans for, in her words, helping the fat cats in Wall Street. And also specifically mentioned the Supreme Court — specifically mentioned that she wants to overturn Citizens United. She sees that as a way that the rich are getting richer.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And that’s just the struggle within her own party, the philosophical.


    HARI SREENIVASAN: But there’s the other party, the Republicans who — I think Jeb Bush is set to announce on Monday. So, this is an incredibly crowded field already.

    So, she is really going up against an entire gang of opponents.

    LISA DESJARDINS: You know, I think that’s right. And I think what she’s trying to do today was to cover a lot of bases. She didn’t just talk about inequality, though that kind of stuck out to me. She also hit on climate change. She hit a huge number of issues today.

    And I think the danger that Hillary Clinton has from this speech today, as much as she’s included a broad philosophy, was that she tried to do so many things, that walking away I asked people, what was the main message you got from that? And a lot of the voters who support her couldn’t pick one thing.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, where does the Republican field stand now?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Well, I think Jeb Bush has had a rough couple of weeks. We’ve seen a shake up in his campaign staff.

    But to be honest, Hari, I think all of this is kind of just in the atmosphere — we don’t really know right now where the Republican voters are, though I think Scott Walker is still rising, still very strong. Marco Rubio also very strong among Republican voters.

    But there’s so much to be shaken out and I think very important for Jeb Bush to be strong on Monday, because frankly his appearances, his speeches as he’s been trying to have this roll out had not been his strongest, and I think his campaign is looking to have a very big moment on Monday.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. NewsHour’s political director, Lisa Desjardins — thanks so much for joining us.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Oh, my pleasure to be here in New York with you.

    The post Clinton touts shared prosperity in campaign kick-off speech appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An Afghan policeman inspects the wreckage of a car after a Taliban attack on a guesthouse in Kabul May 27, 2015. Four Taliban insurgents armed with assault rifles and a grenade launcher stormed a guesthouse in the diplomatic quarter of the Afghan capital overnight and held out for hours until they were killed by government forces early on Wednesday, officials said.  REUTERS/Omar Sobhani 

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR:  In Afghanistan today, the Taliban attacked police in the southern province of Helmand, killing at least 20 officers and wounding two others.  It’s the latest in a series of deadly Taliban attacks there.

    Now we’re learning the Taliban may be getting an influx of outside support for these attacks.  The alleged source?  Iran.

    Joining me now via Skype from Istanbul is “The Wall Street Journal’s” Margherita Stancati.

    So, what sort of support is Iran delivering to the Taliban in Afghanistan?

    MARGHERITA STANCANTI, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  It’s many different types of support.  It started gradually, mostly just through financing, but over the years, it has expanded to include equipment such as weapons and ammunition.  And now, more recently, also training and recruitment of the Taliban fighters.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  OK.  So what is Iran’s interest in supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan?

    MARGHERITA STANCANTI:  Well, Iran wants to be relevant in Afghanistan in general.  And with Afghanistan’s future looking more uncertain now than it has for a long time, it wanted to be able to have the influence on all key actors, and that now includes the Taliban.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And they’re involved in several other parts in this fight against Syria.  I mean they’re supporting all kinds of actors in different places.

    MARGHERITA STANCANTI:  Yes.  They pursue a very activist foreign policy in the region.  And, you know, it’s not the first time they have recruited Afghan fighters.  They have also recruited Afghans fighting Syria with the Assad’s regime.

    But with the Taliban, it’s a slightly different focus because here they’re actually siding with the Sunni Taliban, and that’s not an obvious alliance.  Iran is a Shia theocracy.  In the past, they nearly went to war with Iran.  But over the course of the past 13 years, they began reaching out to the Taliban as well because they have an enemy in common and that was the United States.

    Then more recently, what has brought Iran close to the Taliban has been the emergence of the Islamic State within the Afghan territory as well.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  None of this happens in a vacuum.  Does this have an impact or this information have an impact on the ongoing nuclear negotiations?

    MARGHERITA STANCANTI:  It’s too early to say.  But it could definitely add fuel to critics who say that a possible deal would give more freedom to Iran to pursue its policy and that’s definitely how — some of the responses that we have been getting from the U.S.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So that the economic sanctions, if they were to be lifted, allows Iran to pursue this foreign policy of theirs more freely.

    MARGHERITA STANCANTI:  Well, that’s the fear and this is what critics have put up and, you know, many of the critics have looked at this example of Iran supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan as an example of that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Margherita Stancati of “The Wall Street Journal” joining us via Skype from Istanbul — thanks so much.


    The post Is Tehran quietly backing the Taliban? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A battle tank is shown leaving  Riga port on March 9 in Latvia. Credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

    A battle tank is shown leaving Riga port on March 9 in Latvia. The Pentagon is preparing to store heavy weapons in several Eastern European and Baltic countries in an effort to prevent possible Russian aggression in Europe. Credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

    The Pentagon is preparing to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for up to 5,000 American troops in several Eastern European and Baltic countries in an effort to prevent possible Russian aggression in Europe, according to a report published by the New York Times on Saturday.

    The proposal has yet to be approved, but the war in eastern Ukraine along with Russia’s annexation of Crimea have caused concerns and prompted new military planning within NATO capitals, the Times reported.

    The countries where the weaponry and tanks may be stored, include Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and possibly Hungary, the Times reported.

    Watch NewsHour Weekend tomorrow for an in-depth interview about what this development means for the region’s geopolitical future.

    The post Report: U.S. prepared to store heavy weapons in East Europe appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and his wife Columba (L) walk with Museum director Jan Oldakowski (R) in front of the Memory Wall at the  Warsaw Uprising Museum in Warsaw, Poland, on June 11, 2015. Bush, expected to announce his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential fight on June 15. The trip to Germany, Poland and Estonia is designed to raise his foreign policy credentials before he launches his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Photo by Kacper Pempel/Reuters

    Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and his wife Columba walk in front of the Memory Wall at the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Warsaw, Poland, on June 11, 2015. Photo by Kacper Pempel/Reuters

    PARK CITY, Utah — When Jeb Bush finally says on Monday that he’s running for president, he’ll begin the campaign with much to prove.

    Back in December, the former Florida governor said he was exploring a 2016 run, an announcement that by itself had the power to kick off the campaign.

    In the six months since, Bush probably has shattered a fundraising record as well as pioneering a new approach to White House campaigning. He has just completed a well-reviewed trip through Europe.

    Supporters had hoped that this son of one president and brother of another would by now hold a commanding position in an unwieldy Republican field. Yet he has not broken away from the pack.

    “I know that I’m going to have to go earn this,” Bush said this past week. “It’s a lot of work and I’m excited about the prospects of this. It’s a long haul. You start wherever you start, and you end a long way away from where we are today, so I just urge everybody to be a little more patient about this.”

    Bush, 62, planned to make his candidacy official during a Monday afternoon speech and rally at Miami Dade College, the nation’s largest university.

    He has failed to scare any potential rival from the race, except perhaps 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. He is unpopular among some of his party’s most passionate voters and little known beyond his home state despite the Bush name.

    “I thought Jeb would take up all the oxygen,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “He hasn’t.” Emboldened by Bush’s slow rise, Kasich acknowledged this weekend that he is stepping up preparations for a possible campaign.

    Bush is one of 11 major Republicans in the hunt for the nomination. Kasich and a few others are still deciding whether to join a field that could end up just shy of 20.

    But few among them entered the race with such a high expectations of success as did Bush. Those expectations have seemed a burden at times.

    Take, for example, the question of whether Bush will report raising $100 million for his campaign in the first six months of the year. Lost amid the “will he or won’t he” is that Bush probably will have taken in far more than anyone else.

    Romney said Saturday it would not surprise him to learn that Bush had scooped up twice that of all the other GOP candidates combined.

    “By all appearances, he’s raised a lot of money,” Romney said, praising Bush’s “experienced and capable team.” “At this stage, that’s a very important thing to do.”

    Even if he does not reach the $100 million mark, Bush will have amassed more in six months than Romney and his allies at a super political action committee raised for the entire year before the 2012 election.

    By contrast, a senior adviser to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, considered along with Bush among the few top-tier 2016 contenders, expects he will raise roughly $25 million through the end of June. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal fundraising details.

    Romney’s former fundraising chief, Spencer Zwick, said despite Bush likely commanding lead in the fundraising race, it’s not clear how much of an advantage he will hold over the field.

    “You don’t need $100 million to run a primary,” Zwick said. He suggested that multiple candidates would have the resources “to go the distance,” adding that “it doesn’t feel like anybody owns the dominant position.”

    Bush took lots of questions this past week about a supposed shake-up at campaign headquarters, even though only one member of his senior team – who remains on Bush’s staff – was affected. The attention exasperated Bush: “It’s June, for crying out loud,” he told reporters while in Berlin. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

    Still, Bush’s first six months back in politics since leaving the governor’s office in 2007 have been underwhelming at times.

    His low-key speaking style often leaves something to be desired, particularly when compared with some opponents. He sometimes gets snippy during long campaign days. While detailed policy questions are often his strength, he struggled for several days last month to answer a predictable question about the war in Iraq that his brother, former President George W. Bush, waged.

    “He would be an excellent president no doubt, but how far he can go in the process remains to be seen,” said John Rakolta Jr., the CEO of a Michigan construction company and a leading Romney donor.

    In his speech Monday, Bush planned to make the case that those involved in creating Washington’s problems cannot fix them. The point is designed to jab the Republican senators – including political protégé in Florida, Marco Rubio – in the race.

    Meanwhile, an allied super PAC fueled by Bush’s fundraising haul is developing an advertising strategy that will promote Bush’s record in Florida and attack his rivals.

    Illinois-based businessman Todd Ricketts, a Walker supporter, said it’s far too early to draw any conclusions about Bush or the rest of the field.

    “Once there’s a debate, we’ll have a clearer picture of who appears to be ready,” he said.

    Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Berlin contributed to this report.

    The post Bush seeks to break from pack in leaderless GOP 2016 race appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    On Saturday, Philae, the European Space Agency’s comet lander communicated with its team on Earth for the first time since going into hibernation in November of last year.

    Philae’s team at the ESA believes that the lander may have been awake for a period of time before it was able to make contact.

    Following its seven-month sleep, the lander spoke with its mothership, Rosetta, for 85 seconds, prompting an exchange on Twitter that quickly went viral.

    Philae is the product of an 11-year space project. Philae’s launcher Rosetta, an unmanned space probe, left Earth in 2004.

    Rosetta transmitted its first images from space back to Earth in 2010, and then went into hibernation for nearly three years, according to the Associated Press.

    In August of 2014, Rosetta came across the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet, and the ESA began the process of sending Philae to touch down on that comet.

    According to CNN, Philae’s anchoring mechanism failed during landing. When Philae settled in a shady spot atop the comet, the comet lander fell asleep after 60 hours of operation drained its solar batteries.

    Rosetta had been looking for it ever since.

    Philae’s project manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec said Sunday in a press release that the team has been able to assess that Philae is in good condition.

    “Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of -35ºC and has 24 Watts available. The lander is ready for operations,” Ulamec said.

    The post European comet lander speaks after seven-month hibernation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton answers questions after a roundtable campaign event with small businesses in Cedar Falls, Iowa, United States, May 19, 2015.    REUTERS/Jim Young   - RTX1DOVL

    U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton answers questions after a roundtable campaign event with small businesses in Cedar Falls, Iowa, United States, May 19, 2015. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Seeking an army of volunteers, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to build an organizational edge in Iowa as some of her lesser-known Democratic rivals clamor for attention in the state that tripped up her first presidential campaign.

    Clinton flew to Iowa on Saturday night after her high-profile New York kickoff, telling supporters at a Sioux City house party that her campaign would seek to rally the country around an agenda for the future. “Everybody has a role to play,” Clinton said, urging supporters to sign up to join her campaign.

    Despite her dominant position in the Democratic primaries, Clinton’s allies are trying to erase the memories of her third-place finish in Iowa’s 2008 caucuses, the contest that fueled Barack Obama’s rise to the White House. The former secretary of state’s Iowa event was streamed online to more than 600 similar gatherings around the country, covering every congressional district in an effort to add volunteers to the campaign’s roster.

    Clinton planned to address supporters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Sunday and then travel to the Mississippi River city of Burlington. But she had company in the state: One of her main Democratic challengers, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was campaigning across the state during the weekend. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who is exploring a potential Democratic bid, was holding events in Iowa on Sunday.

    U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs at a toy while shopping in Independence, Iowa, United States, May 19, 2015.    REUTERS/Jim Young   - RTX1DOCU

    U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs at a toy while shopping in Independence, Iowa, United States, May 19, 2015. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    During her New York speech, Clinton remained silent on some issues of critical importance to the Democratic base, most notably a Pacific Rim trade pact backed by Obama but opposed by organized labor, liberals and others who say it will cost the U.S. jobs. The agreement has not been finalized or submitted to Congress.

    Sanders, who has opposed the trade deal, again questioned Clinton’s refusal to say where she stood on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “Most Democrats in the Congress are against it. But I don’t understand how you don’t have a position on this issue,” he said Saturday in Des Moines, where he opened a new campaign office.

    “You can’t take a position on a trade bill that you can’t see,” Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. Clinton and her advisers are not saying whether she supports legislation in Congress to give the president special negotiation authority on trade deals.

    In New Hampshire, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pointed to his executive experience while his campaign noted to supporters in an email that Clinton “didn’t say that she would take any substantive actions to hold Wall Street CEOs accountable for reckless behavior. Nor did she weigh in on the secretive TPP deal that could depress American wages and cost American jobs.”

    In New York, Clinton offered herself as a fierce advocate for those still struggling from the Great Recession.

    “I think you know by now that I’ve been called many things by many people,” Clinton said to cheers and laughter from the crowd of roughly 5,500 gathering on New York’s Roosevelt Island in the East River. “Quitter is not one of them.”

    Hours later in Iowa, Clinton added, “I don’t believe we should ever quit on our country.”

    The post Clinton aiming to shore up base of supporters in Iowa appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on trade at Nike corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon May 8, 2015.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    President Barack Obama talks about trade on May 8, 2015, at the Nike corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON  — The trade defeat in Congress was an ominous sign in a month of challenges that could help determine President Barack Obama’s standing for the rest of his second term.

    Fellow Democrats rebuffed last-minute appeals to rescue his global trade agenda, and the House seriously damaged Obama’s chances of capping his presidency with a groundbreaking economic pact involving Pacific Rim countries.

    Obama also is awaiting a Supreme Court decision that could upend his health care law, and he faces a June 30 deadline to conclude an accord that aims to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

    Friday’s setback was the result of a complicated legislative strategy that linked passage of trade negotiating powers for the president with a measure that would provide training and assistance to American workers who lost jobs because of trade.

    A narrow House majority voted to give the president the right to negotiate deals that Congress can approve or reject, but not change. Then a large majority of Democrats, eager to kill that negotiating power, joined a majority of Republicans to vote against the aid for workers.

    The White House drew attention to the close passage of the trade negotiation piece and noted that the legislation had overcome similar difficulties in the Senate.

    “I’m tempted to walk out here and say that it’s deja vu all over again,” presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said.

    But Obama’s struggles raised fresh questions about his ability to hold sway over members of his own party.

    He made a surprise visit Thursday to watch lawmakers’ annual charity baseball game. Obama brought a case of his White House beer for the winners

    He made a rare trip to the Capitol to meet with House Democrats on Friday morning. Asked as he emerged if he had changed any minds, Obama replied, “It’s just a question if I changed votes.”

    He hadn’t.

    Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., a critic of the trade legislation, offered a blistering critique: “He’s ignored Congress and disrespected Congress for years and then he shows up at the baseball game with homemade beer, and then comes to the caucus and lectures us for 40 minutes about his values and whether or not we’re being honest by using legislative tactics to try and stop something which we believe is a horrible mistake for the United States of America and questions our integrity.”

    DeFazio added, “It wasn’t the greatest strategy.”

    At issue in the health care case before the Supreme Court case is whether Congress authorized federal subsidy payments for health care coverage regardless of where people live, or only for residents of states that created their own insurance marketplaces. Nearly 6.4 million low- and moderate-income people could lose coverage if the court rules those enrolled through the federal site aren’t eligible for the subsidies.

    Obama says the 5-year-old law is well established and that the case against it is so flimsy that the court should not even have considered it.

    “This is now part of the fabric of how we care for one another,” he said this past week.

    On Iran, negotiators from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran face a month’s end deadline to finalize a deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb.

    Iran denies any nuclear weapon ambitions and says its nuclear program is meant for power and other peaceful purposes.

    Obama has already come under criticism from some U.S. allies in the Middle East and members of Congress who say the administration has conceded too much.

    But the talks provided the White House with an opportunity Friday to suggest that relations with House Democrats aren’t as sour as the trade vote might suggest.

    Spokesman Earnest noted that nearly every House Democrat signed a letter last month voicing support for Obama’s efforts to complete a deal with Iran.

    The post Trade loss proves ominous sign for Obama during challenging month appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Gay rights activists march in front of the parliament building during a Gay Pride parade in Athens, June 13, 2015.  Photo by Kostas Tsironis/Reuters

    Gay rights activists march in front of the parliament building during a Gay Pride parade in Athens, June 13, 2015. Photo by Kostas Tsironis/Reuters

    As pride parades and demonstrations continue throughout the month of June, the official LGBT Pride Month in the United States, cities across the globe are joining in with events celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

    A boy waves a rainbow flag during a Gay Pride march held in Nicosia, Cyprus on June 6, 2015. Cyprus recently passed legislation penalizing incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation and authorities say they are preparing legislation for civil partnerships. Photo by Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

    A boy waves a rainbow flag during a Gay Pride march held in Nicosia, Cyprus on June 6, 2015. Cyprus recently passed legislation penalizing incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation and authorities say they are preparing legislation for civil partnerships. Photo by Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

    A make-up artist applies make-up before a drag show for Tel Aviv's annual pride parade on June 6, 2015. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

    Make up is applied before a drag show during Tel Aviv’s annual pride parade on June 6, 2015. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

    Tel Aviv, Israel, hosts one of the largest pride parades in the world. Approximately 180,000 people reportedly came to the city’s parade on June 12.

    The city is sometimes called “the gay capital of the Middle East.”

    Seventy percent of Israelis support equal rights for the gay community, according to a poll conducted by Haaretz.

    Participants take part in Pride Run, an event at the ShanghaiPRIDE LGBTQ celebration in Shanghai, China on June 13, 2015. Photo by Aly Song/Reuters

    Participants take part in Pride Run, an event at the ShanghaiPRIDE LGBTQ celebration in Shanghai, China on June 13, 2015. Photo by Aly Song/Reuters

    ShanghaiPRIDE, in its seventh year, initiated a “hand-holding campaign.” The campaign aims to fill social media with images of all kinds of people holding hands in order to emphasize the importance of love.

    The post Photos: Cities around the world celebrate LGBT pride appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An illustration picture shows a woman holding a birth control pill at her home in Nice January 3, 2013. French health regulators are studying limiting the use of contraceptive pills that carry health risks and will stop reimbursing prescription costs of some types from March, after a woman sued drugmaker Bayer over alleged side-effects. An inquiry launched this week by the ANSM health regulator will review prescription practices by doctors, whom it says may be over-prescribing higher-risk third and fourth-generation pills. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard (FRANCE - Tags: HEALTH) - RTR3C2QC

    An illustration picture shows a woman holding a birth control pill at her home. A new bill introduced this week in the Senate has renewed discussions about birth control access and affordability across the country. Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

    Democratic Sen. Patty Murray’s introduction of the Affordability is Access Act this week has renewed debate nationwide about birth control access and affordability.

    The proposed bill would require health insurance companies to cover birth control pills if they become available over-the-counter. The bill builds on the  Affordable Care Act, which requires that most private insurance plans provide coverage for female contraception. The Affordable Care Act does not specify that insurers must cover birth control made available without a prescription.

    This has caused some women’s health groups to argue that insurance providers may refuse to cover over-the-counter contraceptives if they become available, potentially costing women up to $600 per year, according to The Guardian.

    “I believe strongly that women should be able to get the comprehensive health care they need, when they need it — without being charged extra, without asking permission, and without politicians interfering,” said Sen. Murray in a news release.

    Opponents of the proposed bill have concerns about offering the pill over-the-counter and without a doctor’s input.

    Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director for the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told U.S. News and World Report she is worried women would miss out on testing for sexually transmitted diseases if the pill became available over-the-counter.

    “It takes the highest-risk women and separates them from medical care,” Harrison said.

    A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that examined 20 insurance carriers in five states found that almost all the plans limit access to some forms of birth control — either by not covering them at all or by charging a co-pay.

    The state of Oregon is also pushing to increase women’s access to contraception. An insurance law enacted this week in the state would allow women to get a year’s worth of birth control at a time, instead of the typical 30 to 90-day supply.

    Gov. Kate Brown signed the legislation Thursday, saying it “has a simple premise that I wholeheartedly believe in: increase access and decrease barriers,” according to the Associated Press.

    Supporters believe the measure will reduce unwanted pregnancies and make accessing contraception easier for women, since they won’t need to visit pharmacies as often.

    Critics say the law could increase health care costs for employers and insurers and that it could be a wasteful way to distribute a year’s worth of pills, the AP reported.

    In California, women will soon be able to get birth control directly from their pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription. The law was approved in 2013 and is expected to go into effect by the end of 2015.

    Increased access to contraception could help reduce the number of abortions performed in the United States, according to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

    The CDC reported 730,322 legally-induced abortions in the United States in 2011 — a number that excludes abortions performed in California, Maryland and New Hampshire.

    A study published in the journal Contraception says that over-the-counter birth control pills could result in up to 25 percent less unwanted pregnancies, if there are no out-of-pocket costs for women.

    The post Senate bill renews debate over expanded access to contraception appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Passengers wearing masks to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) sit inside a train in Seoul, South Korea, on June 5, 2015. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    Passengers wearing masks to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) sit inside a train in Seoul, South Korea, on June 5, 2015. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak currently plaguing South Korea is believed to be the largest outbreak of the virus that has ever occurred outside of Saudi Arabia, where MERS is thought to have originated.

    The virus has thus far been contained to South Korean hospitals, but 15 people have died and at least 145 are reportedly infected, according to the BBC.

    NewsHour Weekend’s Hari Sreenivasan spoke to NPR’s South Korea bureau chief, Elise Hu, on Sunday about the significant economic and political cost of the MERS outbreak.

    You can watch the full Google+ hangout in the player below.

    “The much-prized South Korean economy, as you know, is one of the biggest in the world, but it was already kind of stagnating because of a decline in exports, and now we’re seeing this big decline in consumer spending,” Hu said.

    Hu explained that South Korea’s central bank this week took measures to prevent the outbreak from impacting the economy any more than it already has.

    “There’s some debate as to whether this was preemptive, maybe too preemptive, but they announced they were going to cut interest rates down to 1.5 percent, which is a historic low, in order to stave off what they believe could be problems from the MERS outbreak on the economy,” she said.

    South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye was scheduled to visit the United States this week to discuss security issues with President Barack Obama. She cancelled her trip to focus on the MERS virus outbreak in her country.

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    SASKIA DE MELKER: High on the slopes of the Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii, six people — three men and three women — have been living inside this dome, completely isolated, for the last eight months.

    NASA and the University of Hawaii are funding and leading the project known as the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation or HI-SEAS for short. The ultimate goal? To study social interaction among crew on long term space missions, like the one to Mars that NASA hopes to launch in the 2030’s.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: And driving up to the site on Mauna Loa, it’s easy to see why they chose this location.

    KIM BINSTED: The site is very geologically similar to a young Mars. There’s no signs of human life, there’s no signs of animal life, very little plant or insect life.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: Kim Binsted is the principal investigator for the HI-SEAS study. We caught up with her via Skype from her home on the Big Island of Hawaii.

    KIM BINSTED: NASA certainly has a lot of technical concerns to consider, but also there’s problems to do with the human side of the equation and that’s what we’re trying to address. So, things like how do you pick a crew so that they’ll continue to work together well over the 2.5 to 3 years of a Mars mission. And how do you support them so that, to be honest, they don’t want to end up wanting to kill each other.

    JOCELYN DUNN: You don’t have a lot of privacy and personal time and we all have so much going on.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: To test their individual and team behavior, the crew completed numerous daily surveys, tasks, and computer games. They also wore devices called socio-meters that measure the distance between them and the volume of their voices.

    KIM BINSTED: If two people are standing very close to each other, the volume of their voices is very high, you might assume they’re having a fight. And similarly if two people have never come near each other, then maybe they’re avoiding each other. Those might be warning signs for a problem that is developing amongst the crew.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: Their communication with the outside world was limited and on a 20-minute time delay. But the crew did make and share periodic video diaries of their experiences.

    SOPHIE MILAM: So, one disadvantage would be the food.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: They were faced with a number of conditions similar to those that astronauts encounter on space missions.

    JOCELYN DUNN: So, here for example is the green and red bell pepper and then we just put hot water and soak them for a while to rehydrate.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: They could only eat freeze dried and shelf stable foods.

    JOCELYN DUNN: On this side we have one of each of our meats. So we have sausage, beef, chicken, turkey.

    ZAK WILSON: Here we have our electrical system for the hab.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: Life in the dome is powered by solar panels, and resources, including water, were restricted.

    JOCELYN DUNN: So, we have a timer here that helps us keep track of how many seconds and minutes we spend in the shower.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: Each person was allowed just 8 minutes of shower time a week.

    ZAK WILSON: Mission support this is HI-SEAS engineer Zak and I’m requesting assistance.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: On the rare occasions when they went outside, crew members had to first request approval from ‘Ground Control’ and wear spacesuits while exploring the volcano’s Mars-like landscape.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: Most of the time though they were confined to the 1000-feet-square feet dome.

    PARTICIPANT: Here you have the only window of the habitat.

    MARTHA LENIO: We’re doing a type of composting that’s called Bokashi.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: Each person had their own individual project to keep them busy.

    NEIL SCHEIBELHUT: I do all my testing in here in the lab and Martha’s actually got her garden here.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: From research on microbiology and hydroponics to work on robotics and 3D printing. And then there were daily group routines, including exercising together.

    ALLEN MIRKADYROV: Besides dinners we also make excellent desserts.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: Cooking together — perhaps the biggest challenge for crew members wasn’t being separated from the rest of the world, but the inability to separate from each other.

    ALLEN MIRKADYROV: There’s really no place in the hab where you can stand and not be heard.

    ALLEN MIRKADYROV: Zak, how’s my coffee coming?

    ZAK WILSON: It’s not quite ready yet, but do you want cream or sugar?

    ALLEN MIRKADYROV: Both please.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: Yesterday, the simulation came to an end. To celebrate the crew took a jump back to earth. And, they’re all still smiling.

    KIM BINSTED: Even when you choose very low drama people and we’re not a reality show, problems will arise. So what we’re looking for is not a way to eliminate all problems from happening but a way to choose people and to train people so that they know how to respond to conflict and can do that in a really resilient way.

    SASKIA DE MELKER: It will take some time before all  the observations and data collected during the study will be synthesized. But another HI-SEAS experiment will be starting soon. In August, a new crew of six will enter the dome. This time for an entire year.

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    A man pays respect at the site where Eric Garner died after New York police put him in a chokehold in July in Staten Island, New York. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It has been almost a year now since we first saw the video showing the choking death of Eric Garner as he was being arrested on Staten Island here in New York.

    That event, along with the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, of Michael Brown, triggered nationwide protests.  We’re now learning much more about the circumstances that led to Garner’s death.

    Reporter Benjamin Mueller is part of a team with The New York Times that has been working the story.  And he joins us now with the latest.

    So, one of the first reports police made about the incident made no reference to actually anybody’s hands being on his neck or his arms, of anything being around his neck.  But yet the — the — you quote the autopsy as saying, on external examination of the neck, there are no visible injuries.  On the inside, however, were telltale signs of choking.

    Why this discrepancy?

    BENJAMIN MUELLER: You’re right.

    I mean, this is an internal police department document that is prepared soon after his death and, in this case, before the pivotal video came out that showed the choke hold.

    It comes from interviews with supervisors who were on the scene.  And there’s no mention of any contact with Eric Garner’s neck.  That’s despite them interviewing a witness, Taisha Allen, who — who told a grand jury she saw a choke hold and told us that she told the police department officials who interviewed her that day that she saw a choke hold too.

    The statement attributed to her is different from the one she said she gave them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, if it wasn’t for that video, there is a chance that that version of the truth could be the record.

    So, there’s — she’s also — she’s also behind the second video that shows the — how the emergency responders, the ambulance folks came in, the medical technicians.  The protocol is supposed to be that anyone who is having a heart attack or having breathing problems is supposed to be taken to the hospital right away.

    What happened in this case?

    BENJAMIN MUELLER:  From the start, the EMTs who responded actually knew very little about what they were responding to.  The call came in as unknown, which is a low priority.  They didn’t know that police officers were involved.  They didn’t know what Eric Garner’s condition was, all information that could have helped them prepare.

    And then, once they’re on the scene, there are a series of sort of communication breakdowns that seems to have contributed to what appears to be a disorganized response.  Their — the oxygen supplies are not kept by his side.  In fact, they are carried away from his side by an EMT trainee who is on the scene.

    There are no fire department supervisors who are assisting in care on the scene, which is typical in a case of cardiac arrest.  But, again, this didn’t start as a case of that level of seriousness.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, what has happened since?  It’s been almost a year now.  There are still investigations under way.  They haven’t wrapped up.  But have there been any policy changes at the NYPD because of this?

    BENJAMIN MUELLER:  Well, since then, the police department has instituted a retraining of some officers in the way they use force.

    They have also created a new centralized unit to investigate cases of police death — of deaths from shooting by police officers.  It is not clear how exactly they’re connected to the Garner incident, but, surely, that was part of a string of deaths of unarmed black men around the country that set off calls for reform.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Benjamin Mueller of The New York Times, thanks so much.

    BENJAMIN MUELLER:  Thank you.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  For the first time since Russian forces annexed Crimea last year, the United States is reportedly poised to send heavy military equipment into several Eastern European and Baltic nations near Russia. It’s meant to reassure American allies and to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from what the West considers military aggression.

    New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers broke the story, and joins me now from Washington, D.C., to explain the Pentagon’s possible plan. So, what kind of equipment are we talking about here?

    STEVEN LEE MYERS:  We are talking about a brigade’s worth of heavy equipment that would include tanks, armored vehicles, artillery pieces, and so forth.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And where would this be stationed?

    STEVEN LEE MYERS:  What they’re looking to do is to deploy it in several of the NATO allies. A bulk of it would be in a place like Poland.  They are looking at Bulgaria and Romania, and then smaller contingents of it that would be in the three Baltic nations, which are — are seen as the most vulnerable to a potential Russian attack.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And are these countries or have these countries been asking for it?  How — what is their sense on the ground on why they need this equipment now?

    STEVEN LEE MYERS:  They have been asking, actually.

    And it’s other NATO members who are a little bit reluctant, including the U.S. before.  For many years after the end of the Cold War, NATO didn’t look at Russia as an adversary.  And now, once again, after the events in Crimea, the war in Eastern Ukraine, they’re looking at a need to reassure the allies about the United States, the alliance’s willingness to defend these countries.

    Since the annexation of Crimea last year, NATO has stepped up a number of exercises that they have been doing, operations, training missions, and so forth.  So, you have seen a lot of increased activity.  Every time the United States participates in that, they have to send troops from — either from Germany, where there are bases, or all the way from the United States.

    And when you’re dealing with heavy machinery, heavy weapons like tanks, that is an enormous logistical lift.  And so a lot of people in the Pentagon are saying, it makes a lot more sense now to have that equipment, as they say, prepositioned in the places where these troops will rotate more and more frequently, and for the time being.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, how far along is the plan to deploy these weapons, this equipment?

    STEVEN LEE MYERS:  The Pentagon has been working on this for a number of months now.

    And it’s expected that the secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, will present this to the NATO defense ministers when they meet in Brussels later this month.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Is it in anticipation of an increased amount of aggression from Russia?

    STEVEN LEE MYERS:  I think it’s more of a response to the aggression that has been seen.

    I mean, you have seen a lot of additional Russian overflights, a lot of Russian exercises right on the borders, in the Baltic area particularly, but also in the south, around, obviously, Eastern Ukraine.

    And the — I think that they’re — the — the NATO allies, NATO commanders are looking at this as a way to build up reassurance, a trip wire, if you will, that, you know, any move against any of these NATO allies would encounter very quickly American military equipment and the troops who could quickly respond and fall in on it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, one country’s prepositioning could be another country’s threat, right?  So, what is the response from the Kremlin, or has there been one yet?

    STEVEN LEE MYERS:  There hasn’t been so far today, that I have seen anyway.

    And, you know, there’s no question that they will — that they will view this as an aggressive act.  I mean, Putin, for a long time, has been complaining that NATO, specifically the American military, is encroaching closer and closer to Russia’s borders.

    And the fact is, is that the United States really hasn’t.  And since the events over the last year, you know, it’s now becoming a reality, exactly what Putin feared most.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And so what are the likely outcomes here?

    STEVEN LEE MYERS:  I think there are a lot of people in the NATO alliance, in the United States that don’t want to see us back into a cycle of response and counter-response, tit-for-tat kind of buildup.

    But the fact is, is that, you know, with so many Russian troops so close to NATO’s borders with the Baltic states, that, you know, they’re — the Pentagon is considering and believes it necessary to show a little bit more resolve, commitment to the collective defense of the alliance.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Steven Lee Myers of The New York Times joining us from D.C., thanks so much.

    STEVEN LEE MYERS:  Thank you.

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    WASHINGTON — The U.S. military says it launched an airstrike Saturday targeting a mid-level al-Qaida operative in Libya.

    Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren says the military believes the strike was successful and hit the target, but he did not provide the name of the al-Qaida militant.

    Warren says he does not know where the strike took place in Libya, and it’s not known if it was a drone or manned aircraft. He says there were no U.S. personnel on the ground in Libya for the strike.

    Warren says the U.S. is still assessing the results of the strike.

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    The Supreme Court is expected to decide how workers may collectively dispute issues with their employers . The case involves a $5.8 million class-action lawsuit against Tysons Foods Inc., and 3,000 employees based out of a Storm Lake, Iowa, processing plant. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    In a 5-4 ruling today, the Supreme Court said a California woman can’t challenge the government’s decision to deny a visa to her spouse. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A California woman can’t challenge the government’s decision to deny a visa to her spouse from Afghanistan, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

    The justices ruled 5-4 that Fauzia Din, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had no basis to protest after the visa petition she filed for her husband was rejected in 2009.

    Din’s husband had worked as a clerk in the Afghan government when it was controlled by the Taliban. But the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan offered no factual explanation for refusing his visa request, other than to cite a law giving officials broad discretion to deny visas based on “terrorist activities.”

    Din argued that the rejection triggered her spousal rights under the Constitution and that she deserved to know the specific reason for the denial.

    But Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for three justices, said even assuming that marriage is a fundamental right, Din has not been forbidden from getting married.

    “Those right-to-marry cases cannot be expanded to include the right Din argues for — the right to live in the United States with one’s alien spouse,” Scalia said.

    Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito agreed with the outcome, but wrote separately to say that it was not necessary to decide whether marriage is a right protected by the Constitution. He said the government satisfied due process when it notified Din’s husband he was denied under the law’s anti-terrorism ban.

    A dissent from the court’s four liberal justices said Din should have prevailed on her constitutional claims. Justice Stephen Breyer said Din had “the kind of liberty interest” that deserves protection under the Constitution.

    A decades-old legal doctrine gives the government broad power to deny visas and courts have long held that noncitizens have no constitutional right to seek an explanation. Din was trying to get around that legal barrier by asserting that her marriage was affected by the decision.

    A federal judge threw out Din’s case, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that Din had a right to get a fuller explanation for the visa denial based on her marital rights.

    The government said visa rejections are confirmed with an advisory opinion from the State Department and all denials are reported to Congress, which provides additional oversight.

    At the end of his opinion announcement, Scalia mistakenly referred to his longtime colleague and friend, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as Justice Goldberg. After colleagues alerted Scalia to his mistake, he apologized to Ginsburg. “Sorry about that, Ruth,” Scalia said.

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    Debbie Chen had always struggled with her schoolwork. So when she arrived at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Chen — whose parents never went to college — worried she might have trouble juggling her assignments and other campus activities.

    By her second semester, Chen had a mentor and had joined a group of about 20 other undergraduates who meet monthly to discuss the issues confronting first-generation and low-income students. They talk about everything from time management to financial aid to class requirements, connecting with others who face the same challenges but don’t have support networks back home.

    “It feels like a very safe environment,” said Chen, who has just finished her first year. “You get to see the same people and talk about any problems you might be having. It’s a built-in safety net.”

    The program isn’t run by the school. It was set up by Let’s Get Ready, one of a growing number of outside organizations stepping into what advocates say is a vacuum of on-campus support for students like Chen, in spite of universities’ promises to help them.

    Related: Some high schools following their graduates straight into college

    “Colleges think that they are already providing these services,” said Lisa Castillo Richmond, executive director of Graduate NYC!, an initiative that began five years ago to help more City University of New York students earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees and has now added a peer mentoring program on a handful of campuses. “But the reality is a lot of their students are falling through the cracks.”

    Fewer than one in 10 dependent students with family incomes below $34,160 a year earn bachelor’s degrees within six years of starting college, and that figure that has remained virtually unchanged since 1970, according to the Pell Institute and the University of Pennsylvania’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy.

    By comparison, more than three-quarters of students with family incomes of $108,650 or above earn bachelor’s degrees by the time they’re 24, up 37 percentage points over the same period.

    Related: Wealthier students more likely than poor to get private scholarships

    “We say that education will lead to mobility, but, in fact, the higher-ed system is structured in such a way that makes it very difficult for first-generation students to move up,” said Joshua Steckel, a high school counselor and co-author of “Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty.”

    “Until colleges begin to realize that first-generation students face a host of unique issues, those graduation rates aren’t going to go up,” said Steckel, who sits on the board of Let’s Get Ready, a New York-based nonprofit that also offers SAT preparation and college counseling to low-income high school students.

    Related: Confusing college financial-aid letters leave students, parents adrift

    “While academic readiness matters a lot, the reason students are failing has little to do with academic readiness,” he added. “It’s because the system is stacked against them.”

    Low-income, first-generation students often encounter strong headwinds on the way to their degrees, especially at elite universities. Some struggle to scrape together enough money to buy books, food, or even bus fare from home. Others might feel overwhelmed if English is not their first language. Many are pulled between their lives on campus and the needs of their families back home.

    Let’s Get Ready set up a mentoring program at UMass Amherst as a test case in New England after realizing that, of the people it was helping get into college, only half were actually finishing their degrees. The organization also has college coaches at four schools in New York and will be expanding to other campuses in the fall.

    “Programs like these are growing because the conversation is starting to shift from college access to college success,” said Andrew Gallagher, who directs the Boston office of the Posse Foundation, which helps students from urban public schools build support networks in college.

    This has become especially true now that more jobs require bachelor’s degrees, he said.

    For Chen, Let’s Get Ready provides a mentor who checks in with her periodically to make sure she’s on the right track. Usually, it’s just a text message asking how she’s doing, but even that simple interaction lets her know that someone is looking out for her. While Let’s Get Ready helps organize the meetings Chen attends, most of the counseling is done by older students from similar backgrounds who went through the Let’s Get Ready program in high school.

    “It has lessened the stress and anxiety of college,” said Chen, who is from Brockton, Mass.

    Peer-to-peer interaction like this can go a long way to help low-income, first-generation students realize they can survive college, according to advocacy groups like Let’s Get Ready and Posse. These organizations also note that creating a place where these students feel like they fit in is a key piece of lowering dropout rates.

    Related: The college “bait and switch”

    “At predominately white institutions, there is a culture shock,” Steckel said. “They find themselves to be the only student of color and that can lead to a lot of insecurity. They constantly ask themselves, ‘Do I really belong here?’”

    For these students, college advising needs to touch on more than just what classes are required to earn degrees, he said. It’s about fostering relationships on campus with people who understand the challenges that they face.

    “The very nature of being a low-income, first-generation student is isolating by definition,” said Matt Rubinoff, founder of the Center for Student Opportunity, another nonprofit that runs an online community network to support undergraduates whose parents haven’t gone to college.

    “Some schools get it and are investing in resources specifically targeted to this population,” Rubinoff said. “But we need them all to get it.”

    This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about higher education.

    PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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    Wendy Thomas Russell ponders the pros and cons of young girls in bikinis. Photo by Wendy Thomas Russell

    Author Wendy Thomas Russell ponders the pros and cons of young girls in bikinis. Photo by Wendy Thomas Russell

    Last April, my husband and I set aside our pipe dream of buying a cabin in the woods and instead poured all that precious cash into one big hole in the ground. That is to say, we succumbed to the Southern California cliché and built a swimming pool in our yard.

    Suddenly, and predictably, our lives revolved around the pool. Dinners became poolside BBQs. Play-dates became pool-dates. There were always, always, towels in the dirty clothes hamper. And our 9-year-old daughter’s closet became home to a rapidly accumulating collection of bathing suits.

    The last part was my fault. I am a sucker for adorable kids’ clothes in general and bathing suits in particular, especially those that are even remotely vintage-looking. Pictures of my daughter, Maxine, in a navy blue suit with buttons along the side and little anchors all over it kept my Instagram feed alive for months.

    But I always drew the line at bikinis.

    At 9, I just thought, you know, no. Just … no.

    Occasionally Maxine would pick out a bikini in her size, but I’d make some vague comment about not caring for it, and she’d move on to something else. Then, about a month ago, she came out of her room wearing … you guessed it … a bikini.

    Oh boy, I thought.

    Maxine and her dad had bought the turquoise-and-white-striped two-piece at Target earlier that day, and the look on her face told me how clearly delighted she was.

    There was something that icked me out about bikinis on kids. I couldn’t help but see the suits as sexualizing them in some way.

    “Do you like it?” she asked.

    What could I say?

    “I don’t know, Max. The suit is very cute. And you look very cute in it. It’s just that I’m not crazy about bikinis on little kids.”

    “Well,” she announced, “I like it. And Daddy likes it.” And she was right. Her dad had no problem at all with the belly-bearing number. In his mind, his daughter was simply wearing the swimming suit of her choice.

    As my husband and I sparred light-heartedly about the decision, I realized how personally torn I was on this one.

    On the one hand, I wanted to support my kid’s choice of clothing. I myself wear bikinis all the time (and so do some of her friends, incidentally); is it any wonder she would want follow suit? I certainly didn’t want to make her self-conscious about her body, not when puberty was around the corner. And, let’s face it, two-pieces really are more practical when it comes to bathroom breaks.

    On the other, I wanted to preserve my kid’s childhood. There was something that icked me out about bikinis on kids. I couldn’t help but see the suits as sexualizing them in some way.

    Seeing no clear resolution, I decided to turn to the real authorities for advice — my Facebook friends. (Who did you think I meant?)

    “Help settle a debate in our household,” I wrote in a post. “How do you feel about little girls wearing bikinis? For instance, for the sake of argument, a little 9-year-old girl?”

    There were 45 comments in total, and the reactions were all over the place.

    “Completely fine,” said one friend.

    “It depends on the style of the suit,” said another.

    “Hmmm,” said a third. “In public? Or in the backyard?”

    And then the unflinching: “No!”

    It was like a web of opinions, all intertwined, many dovetailing with one another at one point or another. Most of the responses came down to conditional “yes’s.”

    “There are little-girl bikinis and there are bikinis. I think the little-girl bikinis are probably fine.”

    “I think it’s all about proper fit and her own comfort. I’ve seen girls in ill-fitting one-pieces that make necks crane in an inappropriate way.”

    Some said it was a matter of raising confident kids, but didn’t necessarily agree about the type of suit that would accomplish that.

    “A one-piece will preserve that beautiful skin and give her the confidence to swim like a fish.”

    “If it’s cute, she’s comfortable, and feels good about herself, I feel great about little girls wearing bikinis.”

    A couple suggested that bikinis were fine for girls but not for young women.

    “Something to think about is you can’t go back. If you’re ok with her wearing a bikini at 9, then, when she starts developing, you can’t take it away.”

    A couple cited skin cancer as a factor in choosing one-pieces.

    “There is an extremely good argument, given where we live and your child’s skin tone/risk factors, for insisting on a one piece or MORE (rash guard, etc), for skin protection.”

    Several, speaking from personal experience, said it was just fine.

    “All 3 of our daughters wore the age-appropriate bikinis meant for the little girls.”

    “I’d say sturdily made. No strings or ties. I remember feeling very cool in mine!”

    “Totally fine. Totally, totally fine … [but] whatever you decide, explain it to her in excruciating detail. I speak from experience as a person who had boobs at 10.”

    “Well, I wore them when I was a little girl and I didn’t grow up to be a hooker or anything, so I’d say they’re fine! Lol”

    And then there was a little humor thrown in from her grandpa:

    “I am ok with it until they are 13 or so, and then they should be covered from neck to ankles if they are my granddaughters.”

    But of all the comments, the one that rang loudest in my ear was one written by my friend Heather Wood Rudulph, a feminist writer.

    “I think giving her the power to choose what she feels good in is a great gift. Do you want her in a string bikini top? Probably not. But if you harshly restrict a wardrobe choice such as this, which is probably just an inkling from a little girl who wants to wear cute swimsuits like her friends, she’ll ask why. And in the answer, even from an awesome, feminist parent like you, lies a smidgeon of shaming. And we only do this to girls.”

    The word “shaming” hit me like a ton of bricks.

    In that moment I stood outside myself and saw someone who was hovering uncomfortably close to slut-shaming her 9-year-old child.

    All of a sudden I remembered all those stories I’d read about college girls who were being raped on college campuses across the country but not reporting it to authorities because they felt they were somehow to blame — that they had led the boys on, had too much to drink, or dressed too provocatively. Those stories unearth a terrible truth: We as parents are sending our girls into the world with the notion that it is their responsibility to not get raped. It is never — and I know you are with me on this, but I’m still going to say it — ever a girl’s fault for being raped.

    In that moment I stood outside myself and saw someone who was hovering uncomfortably close to slut-shaming her 9-year-old child.

    To be clear, there is nothing wrong with preferring modest bathing suits (on children or on ourselves!) for any number of reasons. And varying circumstances require varying decisions; each parent should do what’s right for her or him. What’s more, I do think that, around puberty, kids should be told (if they don’t know already) that the more skin they show in public, the more likely they are to attract sexual attention. Sex Ed is important stuff.

    That said, for me at least, in my particular situation, I was won over by my feminist friends. Girls have just as much right as boys to wear what is comfortable and what makes them feel good.

    I went into my daughter’s room later that day, where the two-piece was already holding court among the clutter of her bedroom floor.

    “Maxine,” I said, “ I just want to let you know that I changed my mind. I think bikinis are fine, and I think yours is cute. And I have no problem with you wearing it at all.”

    She smiled.

    “Thank you,” she said.

    The post How young is too young for a bikini? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from North Carolina to revive a requirement that abortion providers show and describe an ultrasound to a pregnant woman before she has an abortion.

    The justices left in place an appeals court decision that said the 2011 North Carolina law was “ideological in intent” and violated doctors’ free-speech rights. The measure was championed by conservative Republicans in the state legislature, who overrode a veto from the then-Democratic governor to approve the law.

    The North Carolina law would have required abortion providers to display and describe the ultrasound even if the woman refused to look and listen — a mandate that the court found particularly troublesome. The law did not include any exception for cases of rape, incest or severe fetal anomalies.

    “North Carolinians should take comfort in knowing that this intrusive and unconstitutional law, which placed the ideological agenda of politicians above a doctor’s ability to provide a patient with the specific care she needs, will never go into effect,” said Sarah Preston of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, one of several groups that opposed the law in court. “We’re very glad the courts have recognized that politicians have no business interfering in personal medical decisions that should be left to a woman and her doctor.”

    North Carolina is among 23 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, which passed laws dealing with the administration of ultrasounds by abortion providers, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research institute that supports abortion-rights.

    Tami Fitzgerald, the executive director of the NC Values Coalition and a supporter of increased restrictions on abortion, said it made no sense to her that federal judges would block a woman’s access to what she described as life-saving information.

    “In any other medical procedure, doctors would have a duty to disclose all of the relevant information, and, yet, a procedure as destructive and life-changing as abortion is held to a lower standard,” Fitzgerald said.

    The court took no action in a separate abortion case from Mississippi. The state is appealing a lower court ruling that effectively allowed Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic to remain open and blocked a state law that would have required the clinic’s doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

    A second appeals court ruling involving a Texas law imposing restrictions on abortion providers also is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court soon. In Texas, the appeals court upheld the admitting privileges requirement and other provisions that could force 11 clinics to close by July 1, lawyers for the clinics said in court papers.

    The North Carolina case is Walker-McGill v. Stuart, 14-1172.

    The post Supreme Court will not revive North Carolina abortion law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    You're not the only one confused about collecting Social Security benefits. Photo by Flickr user Davicianci.

    You’re not the only one confused about collecting Social Security benefits. Photo by Flickr user Davicianci.

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

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

    Watch Larry explain how Paul and his wife could collect an extra $50,000 in Social Security benefits:

    Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) just released the results of a survey on Americans’ Social Security knowledge. The research was conducted by KRC Research on behalf of MassMutual from February 26 to March 2, 2015 via an online survey among 1,513 Americans (1,000 non-Hispanic age 25 to 65; 513 Hispanic age 18 and over).

    The basic finding is that many to most people are clueless when it comes to collecting Social Security. But the precise wording of the survey questions also suggests that MassMutual, itself, doesn’t have a fully correct understanding of the system. On the other hand, MassMutual’s answers to the questions, which it provided after the participants took the survey, are pretty much on target.

    It’s worth noting that MassMutual and virtually every other financial company are beginning to get into the Social Security advice business as a lost leader. They will start a conversation with you about Social Security, but that conversation will likely end up with MassMutual pitching their financial products to you. This said, MassMutual may have the best financial products around. I haven’t examined them or compared them.


    Pose Your Questions to Larry Here

    So nothing I say here should come across as particularly critical of MassMutual. Their survey is very valuable (and I applaud them for conducting it), because it tells is something I’ve been shouting in this column for what is now almost three years—Social Security, as currently designed, is a true national disgrace and needs to be retired and replaced. It’s far too broken to be fixed on a piecemeal basis. A modern version of Social Security, much like the one I advocate here, would fully fulfill its critical mission without randomly redistributing between those who know and those who really don’t know exactly, to the T, the system’s rules.

    Here are a few of MassMutual’s findings:

    • Citizenship is not a requirement: Three-quarters of survey respondents think that being an American citizen is necessary to receive Social Security retirement benefits, which is incorrect.(Being a nitpicker, I need to say that if you aren’t a U.S. citizen and live abroad, in a country like Armenia, you may have a lot of trouble collecting spousal or widow(er) or divorcee spousal or divorcee widow(er) or child benefits or survivor child benefits on your spouse or ex-spouse’s work record.)
    • Retirement age is a mystery: More than seven in ten surveyed (71 percent) incorrectly believe that full Social Security retirement age is 65, when the age actually varies depending on birth year.
    • Continuing to work and age affect benefits: More than half of those surveyed (55 percent) incorrectly believe that they can continue working while collecting full Social Security retirement benefits regardless of their age.(Again, the nitpicker in me needs to tell you that, as long as you don’t flip onto another benefit, you can, actually, collect full Social Security benefits regardless of age thanks to Social Security’s Adjustment of the Reduction Factor (ARF). ARF kicks up your retirement, spousal, divorcee spousal, widow(er), and divorcee widow(er) (but not child-in-care spousal or mother or father) benefits at full retirement age to compensate you on an actuarially fair basis for benefits lost to the earnings test before full retirement age. So if you lose all your early retirement benefits to the earnings test, your retirement benefit at full retirement age will be set to your full retirement benefit!)

      I’m going to walk you through each of the other questions of the survey and point out if the question is, itself, unambiguous. The following are statements that survey participants were required to specify as true or false:

      1. Social Security retirement benefits are based on my earnings history, so I’ll receive the same monthly benefit amount no matter when I start collecting.

      This is a good question, setting aside the Earnings Test and the Adjustment of the Reduction Factor. The answer is false since Social Security reduces your monthly retirement benefit if you take them before full retirement age and increases them via the Delayed Retirement Credit (if you delay, which you can do up to age 70, taking them after full retirement age).

      2. If my spouse dies, I will continue to receive both my own benefit and my deceased spouse’s benefit.

      This is not a well written question. You can’t continue to receive anything that you haven’t already been receiving. And you can’t receive a widow(er) benefit before your spouse dies. Also, what Social Security will give you, assuming your deceased spouse didn’t take his or her retirement benefit early, is the larger of one’s own retirement and one’s widow(er)’s benefit. But if your widow(er)’s benefit is larger, Social Security will describe this as your continuing to receive your own benefit plus your excess widow(er) benefit. Moreover, if your deceased spouse took his or her retirement benefit early, your widow(er) benefit will be computed via the RIB-LIM formula, which is extremely complex and involves both your own and your deceased spouse’s benefit.

      3. If I file for retirement benefits and have minor dependent children, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits.

      This is a good question and the answer is true—unless you are a disabled worker with a low earnings history. In this case, the family benefit maximum, which is different for the disabled than for the non-disabled can wipe out any family benefits. Moreover, at full retirement age, your disability benefit, which is actually your full retirement benefit, begins to actually be called your full retirement benefit.

      4. As a divorced person, I can collect Social Security retirement benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings history.

      Frankly, this is a bad question. If you were married for 10 or more years, the answer is true. If you were married for fewer years the answer is false. MassMutual explains this after the survey has been applied, but…

      5. Once I start collecting Social Security, my benefit payments will never change.

      This is a really bad question. Assuming you don’t keep working, Social Security benefits are CPI indexed, so they will change due to inflation, but not in real terms. So the answer can be true or false. Furthermore, if you collect early and earn enough to lose benefits due to the Earnings Test your benefit will be adjusted upward due to the aforementioned Adjustment of the Reduction Factor. And if you earn enough after you start collecting to raise the average of your past covered earnings, called the Averaged Indexed Monthly Earnings, your own retirement benefit will be increased under a provision called the Automatic Earnings Reappraisal Operation. So again, the answer can be true or false. And if you are taking one benefit, like a widow(er) benefit, and switch to a different benefit, like a retirement benefit, again the answer can be true or false. Finally, if you took it early, you can suspend your retirement benefit at full retirement age, in which case your benefit will change, but not your full retirement benefit on which the early retirement reduction and delayed retirement credits are calculated.

      6. Government workers may have their Social Security retirement benefits reduced.

      This isn’t a great question either, because all federal government workers are now covered by Social Security. Instead, I would have asked, “If you worked in a job, such as being a teacher in the State of Massachusetts, that didn’t deduct Social Security taxes might your Social Security benefits be reduced?”

      7. My spouse can qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, even if he or she has no individual earnings history.

      Well, this is OK. But if my spouse never worked a day in her life, and I take my retirement benefit at, say, 67, and drop dead, her widow(er) benefit will equal my retirement benefit. The question doesn’t specify whose retirement benefit is in question.

      To its credit, MassMutual provides a lot of correct and important information about the system’s rules in providing the answers to its survey questions. But it’s clear that survey participants aren’t the only ones at least somewhat confused about Social Security.

    The post New survey confirms no one understands Social Security. Do you? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A collection of confiscated cat rugs  held by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at their repository in Commerce City, Colorado. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    A collection of confiscated cat rugs held by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at their repository in Commerce City, Colorado. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    The Internet offers access to an elephant’s trumpet, a tiger’s roar and a rhino’s grumbling squeal into our homes, and now it is helping to save these animals from a treacherous network of illegal poachers and traders.
    Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania used data from around the world to identify the key perpetrators in wildlife trafficking. They found that illegal poaching in just six countries could account for 89 to 98 percent of the global trade of elephants, tigers and rhinos. By tracking these networks, the scientists spot the countries that need stronger public awareness and law enforcement against illegal trafficking.
    The study relied on HealthMap: Wildlife Trade, an online repository where conservation organizations and local news sites report the illegal trafficking of animals. Researchers analyzed the illegal shipments of 232 elephants, 165 rhinos and 108 tigers that happened from August 2010 to December 2013.
    Nikkita Patel, the project’s manager, got the idea from other areas of research that have used online resources to find the best routes to uncover terrorist networks and trace drug trafficking.

    Countries serving as exporters, importers or intermediaries vary for each animal, according to the June 15 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Poachers take indirect routes to sneak past security checkpoints, increasing the number of countries involved in trafficking. China plays the biggest role in the trafficking for all three animals.
    Patel laments this may be due to the high demand for wildlife products – such as ivory – in Asian cultures. The United States also made the list as a dominant player for elephant trafficking, suggesting a need for tighter regulation on ivory trade at American shores.
    Culture drives a lot of the demand for wildlife products. Tigers get turned into rugs or wine in Guilin, China. Elephants throughout Africa are slaughtered to make ivory jewelry, and South African rhinos are butchered for their mythical ‘cancer curing’ horns.
    “Some people don’t realize the animal has to be killed for ivory to be extracted and that they are causing harm to elephants. They may think the tusks just fall out,” Patel said. “More education about what is actually happening and the backstory of these animals would decrease these demands [for illegal products].”
    Current attempts to disrupt wildlife trafficking include security checkpoints with sniffer dogs and educational campaigns. China and many other countries sponsor ivory crushing demonstrations to raise awareness of the issue. For instance, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will crush one ton of ivory in Time Square on June 19. Patel’s research provides a tool to help pinpoint where enforcement and education are most needed. But she also feels confident that future technology will fortify checkpoints and monitor populations of endangered species. Drones are already scanning fields for poachers and keeping tabs on the numbers of endangered black footed ferret in Montana.
    “If trafficking continues at this rate we aren’t going to have wildlife for future generations,” Patel said.

    The post Web detectives fight illegal poachers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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