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

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    Omar Pérez is a Cuban poet, translator, essayist, editor, ordained Zen Buddhist monk and the son of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He graduated from the University of Havana in 1987 with a degree in English and then went on to study Dutch and Italian. He lives in Havana, where he read his poem “The Concept,” which was translated from Spanish by Kristin Dykstra. Photo and video by Frank Carlson and Steve Mort.

    The Concept

    In a revolution riddled with cavities, fillings are constitutional,
    motions by an atrophied organ occur before a physician.
    changes in mentality must be inspected in address records.
    the army erupts into the streets following coordination with criminals
    duly selected by the populace
    in case seawaters rise, take a condom to the beachhead
    swimming and fishing are prohibited until further notice
    to see how fish react to the runoff
    any act of contamination will be referred to the general office of taxation

    The post Cuban writer and son of revolutionary Che Guevara reads his poem, ‘The Concept’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Jeffrey Brown, reporting from Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Jeffrey Brown, reporting for PBS NewsHour from Havana. This week, the NewsHour is launching its reporting series, “Cuban Evolution.” Photo by Frank Carlson

    Deciding to go was the easy part. I’d been looking for an opportunity to get to Cuba for a long time, for all the obvious reasons: the history, the politics, the culture, the place, the fact of it being — the cliché is true — so close and yet so far away. The announcement in December by Presidents Obama and Raoul Castro that the U.S. and Cuba would move toward normalizing relations provided the big, history-in-the-making reason to go. The Havana Biennial, an international art festival, offered the immediate “peg,” something to hang our hats on for our own planning and, importantly, for the Cuban press office. It’s still not easy to visit Cuba. Most tourism is banned under the U.S. embargo and Americans who wish to visit the island must qualify under one of 12 categories of licensed travel, including so-called educational people-to-people trips. (These have become ever more popular, the definitions ever more expansive. We met a tour leader who was hoping to set up a yoga trip.)

    Once the seat of the Cuban government, since 1959 El Capitolio has housed the Cuban Academy of Sciences. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Once the seat of the Cuban government, since 1959 El Capitolio has housed the Cuban Academy of Sciences. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Our group — me, producers Merrill Schwerin and Frank Carlson, cameraman Steve Mort — was traveling as journalists, requiring special visas from the Cuban press office. That process took time, lots of it. Merrill stayed in constant contact — rather, I should say, she tried to stay in constant contact — with the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. We were required to lay out the stories we intended to pursue, the people we wanted to interview. We were given positive early signs but then long silences. We weren’t sure the trip would happen — until we were, just a few weeks before we left. It’s still not clear to me if the delayed response was purely bureaucratic or something else.

    In Cuba, as in many other countries we visit, we worked with a local producer, a “fixer,” (we’ll have more from him this week, when he gives us his “tour” of Havana) who helped arrange things on the ground, from the logistics of hotels and cars to setting up interviews. Our fixer was extremely friendly and helpful. We were also aware that he was in contact with the government press office. Again, this is not entirely unusual. But it meant we had to take some care in what we did.

    The pluses of reporting from Cuba? It’s visually stunning, the layers of time all there before you in Havana’s crumbling buildings. With so few vehicles, it’s an easy city to move through. And those 1950s cars, of course! The “frozen in time” feel — all real. It’s fascinating to be in a commercial-free zone — no chain stores, no ads, few signs — without the visual clutter of so much of our lives. Then there are the people, universally friendly, who we met along the way and who became part of our stories — the human dramas within the larger political, economic and cultural drama that is unfolding. For a reporter, a rich country, indeed. Not in wealth, but in everything else.

    Old cars pass buildings falling apart near the Malecon in Havana. Cuba is truly a place "frozen in time." Photo by Frank Carlson

    Old cars pass buildings falling apart near the Malecon in Havana. Cuba is truly a place “frozen in time.” Photo by Frank Carlson

    The minuses? There’s the heat, high 90s every day we were there. There’s the lack of internet connections. Frozen in time, right? A time before the internet and international cell phone service, for the most part. International hotels are one place where service is available, at a high cost. At ours, you bought time and could sit in a lounge on the second floor (not your room or elsewhere) to use it. No international banks, so American credit cards are useless here — this is a strictly cash economy. And there are few of the amenities international travelers are used to, including air conditioning. Let me be clear: these were inconveniences for us, real problems for Cuban’s citizens. Many spoke to us of the feeling of isolation and the lack of resources available to them. So many intelligent, energetic, get-it-done-whatever-the-obstacles people — it is painful to see so much potential being stymied in so many ways.

    A poet sits outside La Bodeguita Del Medio, an Old Havana bar once frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A poet sits outside La Bodeguita Del Medio, an Old Havana bar once frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda. Photo by Frank Carlson

    There is also the continuing presence of the state in the daily lives of people. We met the artist Tania Bruguera, who’d been detained, her passport taken, for trying to stage a performance piece in which average citizens could speak their minds. We also met 26-year-old Manuel Mons, a member of a dissident group called “Somos Mas,” who told us that “thinking differently is actually illegal in this country.” As we spoke to Mons, two police cars watched. He was quite aware of it, still ready and willing to speak with us. It was, in fact, the only time in our week in and around Havana that we were aware of any overt surveillance or police presence. Much has clearly changed here, we were told over and over again. And we saw it for ourselves — as we note in one of our reports: more American flags than images of Fidel Castro. But some things, the country’s critics and opponents will note, haven’t changed enough.

    The post Reporting from Cuba, a place frozen in time yet full of potential appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

    Photo by Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — As many as 390,000 current and former Homeland Security Department employees, contractors and job applicants may have had their private data compromised in a newly disclosed computer hack discovered last year.

    DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee said internal notices about the data breach discovered in September at KeyPoint Government Solutions Inc. were sent to employees starting April 27. The KeyPoint hack is separate from the hacks of the Office of Personnel Management attacks disclosed earlier this month.

    Notifications have taken longer for those outside the department. In a letter to one former job applicant dated June 5, the government advised that the data breach was “initially discovered in September.” A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

    KeyPoint officials did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment Monday.

    Lee said the hack is a separate breach than one involving the same government contractor that was disclosed by the government in December.

    The OPM acknowledged then that computer files of more than 48,000 government workers, including about 25,000 from DHS, may have been compromised.

    The latest disclosure comes amid an ongoing investigation of a massive hack of government files held by OPM. The records of as many as 14 million current and former civilian government employees may have been compromised.

    The post 390,000 Homeland employees may have had data breached appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A nurse feeds a baby for the first time after she was taken to a nursery from her 28-year-old mother, Ruby Cornelioin Brooklyn, New York in 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

    A nurse feeds a baby for the first time after she was taken to a nursery from her 28-year-old mother, Ruby Cornelioin Brooklyn, New York in 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

    Having a baby is a common women’s health event, yet insurance coverage isn’t always assured.

    Although the federal government recently clarified that many insurance plans must cover prenatal care as a preventive service without charging women anything out of pocket, it didn’t address a crucial — and much pricier — gap in some young women’s coverage: labor and delivery costs.

    Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Insurers and some employers have long tried to sidestep paying for maternity care, which includes prenatal, delivery and postpartum services. Individual plans typically refused to pay for pregnancy-related services until the health law established that maternity and newborn care together are a so-called “essential health benefit” that must be included in their individual and small group coverage.

    Meanwhile, large employers that provide health insurance are required to cover maternity care for employees and their spouses under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. But that protection doesn’t extend to dependent children, even though under the health law, adult children can now stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 26.

    “I suspect that a lot of this goes back to dependents being kids,” says Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and education organization. “That perspective is just outdated, and was never entirely correct in terms of need for care anyway.”

    In May, the federal government clarified that dependent children are covered by the health law requirement that preventive services, including preconception and prenatal care, be covered without cost sharing in all plans, except those that were grandfathered under the law.

    Typically, prenatal care for a young woman for a first pregnancy would include visits to her health care provider every four weeks for the first 28 weeks of pregnancy, every two weeks until 36 weeks and weekly thereafter, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In addition, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends pregnancy-related services, including screening for gestational diabetes, anemia and Hepatitis B.

    But prenatal care is a small portion of the cost of having a baby, and families that have to pay for an adult child’s labor and delivery charges, including the hospital bill, could be on the hook for thousands of dollars.

    Insurers paid $18,329 for a vaginal birth and $27,866 for a cesarean birth on average in 2010, according to a study by Truven Health Analytics. Consumers paid an average of $2,244 and $2,669, respectively, out of pocket. The payment totals include all maternity care.

    Hospitalization made up between 81 and 86 percent of the total cost of maternity payments, the largest proportion by far, the study found. Prenatal care accounted for most of the remaining cost.

    “The payments that are made are highly concentrated in that little window,” Carol Sakala, director of the Childbirth Connection, one of the organizations that commissioned the study. Childbirth Connection is a program of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

    But labor and delivery is exactly what some health plans don’t cover for dependent children.

    Continuing a slow upward trend, the average age at which women have their first baby was 26 in 2013. Meanwhile, the proportion of first births to teenagers continues to decline. In 2010, 19 percent of first births were to teenagers under age 20, compared with 36 percent in 1970.

    Although the extent to which large employer plans refuse to cover maternity care for dependent children isn’t known, benefits experts say it’s common.

    In 2013, the National Women’s Law Center filed sex discrimination complaints with the Office for Civil Rights of the federal Department of Health and Human Services against five employers that exclude pregnancy-related coverage for the dependent children of their employees.

    The law center brought the complaints under Sec. 1557 of the health law, which protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, age, disability, gender identity and sex stereotypes in health care plans.

    “Pregnancy discrimination is per se sex discrimination,” says Dania Palanker, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. The center is still awaiting a response from the civil rights office.

    The HHS Office for Civil Rights can’t comment on open cases or compliance reviews, a spokesperson said.

    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 Health insurance still not covering labor and delivery for some women appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed "enormous" concern over growing tension between India and Pakistan and the potential for nuclear weapons between the two long-feuding nations. In this 2013 photograph, an Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier opens a gate at the border with Pakistan in Suchetgarh, southwest of  Jammu. Photos by Mukesh Gupta/Reuters.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “enormous” concern over growing tension between India and Pakistan and the potential for nuclear weapons between the two long-feuding nations. In this 2013 photograph, an Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier opens a gate at the border with Pakistan in Suchetgarh, southwest of Jammu. Photos by Mukesh Gupta/Reuters.

    WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is voicing “enormous” concern over heightened tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.

    The hostility between the South Asian neighbors dates back seven decades, but tough talk between them has intensified recently, adding to strains that have grown since nationalist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office a year ago.

    Kerry told reporters that he had spoken Tuesday with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on how to reduce the tensions in the days and weeks ahead. He said that Sharif had just spoken with India’s prime minister.

    Pakistan last week reacted angrily to comments by Modi that reportedly acknowledged Indian forces had a role in the war that created Bangladesh, part of Pakistan until 1971, when separatists won independence after a war.

    The post Secretary of State Kerry expresses ‘enormous’ concern over India-Pakistan tensions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 06/16/15--11:47: Senate votes to ban torture
  • Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a measure Tuesday aimed at ensuring that the United States never tortures detainees again.

    The Senate voted 78 to 21 to approve a defense bill amendment that bans torture. It was introduced by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

    The amendment bolsters current law and makes the U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogations the standard for all interrogations conducted by the U.S. government. It also gives the International Committee of the Red Cross access to every detainee held by the U.S.

    Feinstein said the amendment was important because the presidential executive order banning torture could one day be lifted by a future president.

    “I ask my colleagues to support this amendment and by doing so we can recommit ourselves to the fundamental precept that the U.S. does not torture — without exception and without equivocation — and ensure that the mistakes of our past are never again repeated in the future,” she said.

    The vote comes just months after the Senate intelligence committee released findings of a classified investigation that said the CIA’s brutal interrogations of al-Qaida detainees after 9/11 were harsher than previously thought

    The post Senate votes to ban torture appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch an excerpt of the PBS NewsHour’s interview with retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen about how U.S. efforts stack up to the Islamic State group. The full interview airs on Tuesday.

    Despite reports saying the United States has an uphill climb in countering the Islamic State group’s propaganda on social media, Gen. John Allen said Tuesday, “I don’t agree with the broad characterization that we’re losing” the war to win hearts and minds.

    “It’s a great challenge, because Daesh (the Arab term for the Islamic State group) only has one message and they only have a single entity that’s putting that message out,” said the retired Marine Corps General, who is the special presidential envoy to the international coalition against the Islamic State group.

    “King Abdullah II of Jordan said this is about recovering our faith and to do this we must have an Arab face and a Muslim voice,” said Allen of his meetings with the coalition partners.

    As the U.S. and coalition seek to counter the militants’ message that seems to attract youth, they need to have credible influencers, faces and voices, he said. “With that much diversity across so many regions of the world, achieving the unity of purpose and the unity of message is really important. That’s what we’re working to do.”

    Watch the full interview with Allen when it airs on Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour.

    The post Is U.S. losing to Islamic State group’s social media appeal? General says no appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Aspartame has a bad rap. It has been suspected of causing cancer and depression. However, a new video from the American Chemical Society pulls together the latest research on the food additive, and it’s not as bad as you might think.

    This four-minute clip, which mentions several peer-reviewed studies, is part of the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Reactions science video series. The American Chemical Society is a congressionally chartered, independent organization of chemists that publishes about 50 academic journals.

    Questions about aspartame relate to its metabolites – the chemical products created when our bodies digest the sugar substitute. Critics have raised concerns about the metabolites methanol and phenylalanine.

    Over time, methanol can produce the known carcinogen formaldehyde. While this might seem scary, the video claims that the body actually produces and uses 1,000 times more formaldehyde than you could consume through aspartame. After helping to make important proteins, formaldehyde gets turned into formic acid and exits the body through urine.

    Some studies have shown that aspartame-made phenylalanine isn’t seeping into our brains and causing depression. Milk contains eight times more phenylalanine than aspartame, meaning your morning bowl of Fiber One cereal — which carries the chemical too — isn’t likely bringing you down. Aside from milk and cereals, aspartame is also found in some types of chewing gums, nutritional bars, yogurts and other foods.

    Moreover, the video says recent studies debunk the idea that some people are hypersensitive to aspartame or that it causes cognitive impairments.

    It is unlikely that a person could come close to reaching the aspartame levels deemed unacceptable by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To do so, you’d have to consume 97 aspartame sugar packets or more than 17 cans of diet soda in less than 24 hours.

    What this video doesn’t address is the emerging but limited research raising questions about how artificial sweeteners affect gut bacteria and glucose intolerance.

    Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the role the American Chemical Society plays in the scientific community and to highlight recent studies about other artificial sweeteners, namely saccharin. The headline has been updated to reflect the specific studies on aspartame discussed in the video.

    The post Chemistry debunks the biggest aspartame health myths appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch an excerpt of retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen’s PBS NewsHour interview on efforts to topple the Islamic State group. The full interview airs on Tuesday’s broadcast.

    The fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq will be a tough slog, but forces have made some progress, including cutting off a key supply route to the militants’ self-proclaimed capital Raqqa in Syria, said retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy to the coalition combatting the Islamic State group.

    “It’s a long-term effort that’s been underway by some of the resistance elements in that region to ultimately cut off a border crossing called Tal Abyad,” Allen told PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff on Tuesday.

    After freeing the Syrian city of Kobani earlier this year, Kurdish and other forces to the east moved together and were successful in pushing out the militants from Tal Abyad on Tuesday, he explained.

    “The momentum is going on the part of the coalition and Iraqis,” Allen said. He cited another recent liberation of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, saying families have been returning this week.

    But along with the retaking of towns and recovery of police forces, the returning populations need to be protected and supported, he said. So the international coalition and the United Nations have created a “stabilization fund” to pay the towns’ returning residents.

    “One thing is very important, I think, as these forces continue to operate, we’re going to continue to make the point with them that they have to protect the population that they’re liberating,” he added. “It’s essential really to the stabilization of the area.”

    See more of their interview on Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour.

    The post Ret. Gen. Allen: Population in Syrian town liberated from Islamic State needs to be protected appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A break in the border fence at the United States-Mexico border is seen outside of Brownsville, Texas, August 5, 2014. On the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are still barriers separating communities around the world, from the barbed wire fence dividing the two Koreas, the fence around the Spanish enclave of Melilla, to the sectarian Peace Wall in Belfast, the Israel-Gaza barrier and the border separating Mexico from the United States. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

    A break in the border fence at the United States-Mexico border is seen outside of Brownsville, Texas, August 5, 2014. On the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are still barriers separating communities around the world, from the barbed wire fence dividing the two Koreas, the fence around the Spanish enclave of Melilla, to the sectarian Peace Wall in Belfast, the Israel-Gaza barrier and the border separating Mexico from the United States. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

    MCALLEN, Texas — When former Gov. Rick Perry ordered a big reinforcement of security at the Mexico border in 2011, Texas bought six new gunboats that can fire 900 rounds a minute and clock highway speeds. But the boats, which cost $580,000 each, spent more time docked than patrolling the Rio Grande.

    That was a small price tag compared with what Texas is about to spend. The new Republican governor, Greg Abbott, this month approved $800 million for border security over the next two years — more than double any similar period during Perry’s 14 years in office.

    On Texas’ shopping list is a second $7.5 million high-altitude plane to scan the border, a new border crime data center, a 5,000-acre training facility for border law-enforcement agencies and grants for year-round helicopter flights. The state also wants to hire two dozen Texas Rangers to investigate public corruption along the border and 250 new state troopers as a down payment on a permanent force along the border.

    Other states along the nearly 2,000-mile Southwest border — New Mexico, Arizona and California — do not come remotely close to the resources Texas has committed. And Texas is doing so long after last year’s surge in undocumented immigrants crossing the border has subsided.

    So why is Texas setting up what appears to be a parallel border patrol alongside the federal force?

    “Google ‘cartel crime in Mexico’ and just put a time period of the last week, and you’ll see some dramatic instances of what the cartels are doing in Mexico right now,” Abbott told reporters this month following the legislative session. “The first obligation of government is to keep people safe and that means ensuring that this ongoing cartel activity, which is not abating whatsoever, gains no root at all in the state of Texas.”

    The 320-mile Rio Grande Valley sector of the border was ground zero last year for a wave of Central American migrants, mostly unaccompanied minors and women with children. The Valley sector accounted for 53 percent of all migrants captured in the Southwest during the fiscal year ending September.

    That alarmed Texas Republicans, who called for a crackdown during the election campaign last year. But the number of migrants caught is down 44 percent in the first eight months of this fiscal year.

    Raul Ortiz, deputy chief of the federal border patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, attributed the decrease mainly to beefed-up law enforcement on the Mexican side, especially along its own borders with Central America. He also gave a nod to the Texas Department of Public Safety, or DPS, and other law enforcement for helping.

    Critics worry that the border buildup is open-ended, with little accounting for how the money will be spent and whether it will be effective.

    Republican lawmakers in the final weeks of the legislative session stripped language from the bill Abbott signed that would have required monthly updates and crime data from a new oversight board. The panel is only tasked with giving lawmakers a single report by 2017.

    “In a third-grade classroom or with DPS, if you have no metrics and no way to evaluate success, you are wasting your money,” Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia said.

    In one report, the Texas public safety agency defined a secure border as “interdiction of all people, drugs and other contraband.”

    “That is so far from reality,” said Adam Isacson, a longtime border analyst at the Washington Office On Latin America, a human-rights advocacy group. “Even the most secure sectors of the border still have thousands of people get through.”

    Texas officials say they have tracked more than $2 billion in drug seizures, mostly marijuana, and discovered more than 150 stash houses used by human smugglers in the past year alone.

    But it is has not always been clear what DPS has gotten for its money.

    Records provided to The Associated Press in 2013 showed that the state’s new gunboats on the Rio Grande were used as little as one day a week or docked for repairs during the first year of deployment.

    At the time, agency leaders said that the boats spent about 30 percent more time in the water than what records suggested. DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said this month that those records are dated and the boats now conduct round-the-clock operations, performing more than 1,400 missions in the last year alone.

    Down in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas troopers are stationed about every quarter mile inland from the border along Highway 83. The heavy trooper presence has alarmed the large community of immigrants living permanently in the area, many of whom crossed illegally years ago, said Efren Olivares, a lawyer for the South Texas Civil Rights project.

    “Local police are used to interacting with undocumented people,” Olivares said. “But with DPS it’s particularly bad because most are not from here.”

    Other locals see improvements in safety. Othal E Brand Jr., president of the water district that supplies the McAllen area, said employees used to be threatened by smugglers but now work safely night and day.

    On a recent afternoon in Rio Grande City, the Texas Cafe was full for lunch, with conversation a mixture of Spanish and English. Jaime Alvarez, a longtime resident now running for county commissioner, said residents have complained to him about the constant traffic stops along Highway 83.

    “It’s just too much,” he said. “The politicians up north sometimes overreact.”

    The post Texas approves $800 million for border security appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    You see it as soon as your plane touches down in Havana — in the decades of texture worn into a pastel wall, in a brightly colored car parked on a quiet city street, in an elderly woman with flowers in her hair smiling at you in Old Havana — Cuba is a photographer’s dream.

    Classic cars that serve as tourist taxis line up in front of the National Capitol Building, or El Capitolio, in downtown Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Photographers know the exhilarating feeling when there’s a seemingly inexhaustible supply of neatly framed fractions of a second waiting to be captured, and that you have them mostly to yourself — for now. And this, broadly speaking, is also a big part of the allure of Cuba at the moment, the fear that something will be lost as Havana and Washington normalize relations and Americans overrun the country with money and development.

    This idea is also problematic — a romanticizing of the poverty and hardship that Cubans have spent decades enduring. Many Cubans we spoke to desperately want American money and development, and our broadcast series “The Cuban Evolution” explores some of the promise and problems the opening may hold for Cuba.

    There’s also no denying the visual draw of a place that’s existed in a parallel world for more than 50 years. And so from our most recent reporting trip to Cuba, we present a collection of images of this incredible moment in time, as Cuba prepares to enter a new chapter in its history.

    A man passes in front of a mural in Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A tourist taxi passes dilapidated buildings on the Malecon. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A woman poses with a cigar on a street in Old Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A mother and her daughter talk on a street in Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson
    Two generations of Cubans look out from a balcony in Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A man poses with a cigar in front of a church in Old Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A quiet street in Havana where tourists now stay through Air BnB. Photo by Frank Carlson
    Every evening people gather on Havana's ocean-front avenue, the Malecon. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A young girl flies a kite at a beach resort outside of Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson
    Children look out at the Gulf of Mexico from the Malecon, Havana’s ocean promenade. Photo by Frank Carlson
    The sun rises over Havana as smoke rises from an oil refinery in the distance. Photo by Frank Carlson
    The San Francisco Plaza in Old Havana, seen from the Chamber of Commerce building. Under the guidance of Leal Eusebio, Havana has used tourism dollars to restore and protect hundreds of its colonial buildings. Photo by Frank Carlson
    The sun sets on the Malecon, Havana's oceanfront promenade. Photo by Frank Carlson
    Old cars pass buildings falling apart near the Malecon in Havana. Cuba is truly a place 'frozen in time.' Photo by Frank Carlson
    Classic cars on a Havana morning. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A man sits on a stairwell overlooking the Malecon. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A woman takes in the view of the Malecon from the window of a building falling apart. Photo by Frank Carlson
    An Apple logo on an old car stopped on a busy Havana street. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A woman stops at a café in Old Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson
    Carmen Blanco Boyce, an 87-year-old Cuban who supported the revolution, worries about what may happen to Cuba as it normalizes relations with the U.S. 'I want to be a friend of the United States, because I love your country. But I’m very, very scared,' she told us. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A poet sits outside La Bodeguita Del Medio, an Old Havana bar once frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda. Photo by Frank Carlson
    Cars pass on Havana’s ocean avenue, the Malecon. Photo by Frank Carlson
    Cuban boxers spar on the Malecon in front of the statue of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan revolutionary considered the forefather of the Latin American independence movement. Photo by Frank Carlson
    A farm worker poses in front of a photo of former Cuban president Fidel Castro on the outskirts of Havana. Photo by Frank Carlson

    The post In Havana, beauty and decay coexist appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    French fries are shown in Hollywood, California October 3, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson  (UNITED STATES) - RTR1UK7C

    Watch Video

    GWEN IFILL: In health news today, the Food and Drug Administration moved to effectively ban artificial trans fats, declaring that partially hydrogenated oils, known as PHOs, and the main source of artificial trans fats, are unsafe for use in human food.

    Food manufacturers have three years to get rid of the PHOs, a move the FDA said could prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks each year.

    For more on today’s announcement, we turn to Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

    Thank you for joining us, Dr. Willett.

    If you could please start by explaining for people who don’t understand, where do they find, where do you see trans fats?

    DR. WALTER WILLETT, Department of Nutrition Chairman, Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Trans fats have been widely used in the food supply as a substitute for lard and butter.

    We found them in shortenings? We found them in margarines, baked goods, deep-fried products. Fortunately, about 80 percent or 85 percent of trans fats have been removed from the food supply by this time.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, OK, let’s talk about that, because if the FDA is just today saying that they were banned and we have already lost 80 — almost, as you pointed out, 80 percent of trans fats in the food supply since 2003, what is the need for this full ban now?

    DR. WALTER WILLETT: Even the relatively small amount of trans fats remaining are still likely to be causing around 7,000 premature deaths from heart disease per year.

    That’s still a large number and definitely worth the ban taking effect to really get trans fat off the table entirely.

    GWEN IFILL: Why isn’t simply labeling the foods not sufficient, so people can decide if that’s something they want to consume or not?

    DR. WALTER WILLETT: Well, the problem is that many foods don’t have labels on them. When we were able to put trans fat on the food label for those foods that do have a label, the manufacturers quickly removed trans fats from most of those products, but they kept selling trans fats in restaurants, where there are no food labels, providing quite clear evidence that just labeling alone was very important, but it’s not a sufficient way of getting trans fats out of the food supply.

    GWEN IFILL: So, prepared foods are a danger zone.

    But explain to me the health connection. You said and the FDA said that thousands of heart attacks would be prevented because of this kind of ruling. What is the connection?

    DR. WALTER WILLETT: There are many kinds of studies that have looked at trans fat.

    In short-term feeding studies, we see that trans fats increase LDL, the bad cholesterol, reduce HDL, the good cholesterol, increase inflammatory factors, and have many other adverse metabolic effects. Then, in long-term epidemiologic studies, we see clear evidence repeated in many studies that higher intake of trans fats is associated with higher risk of heart disease, and, in more recent studies, with many other conditions, such as diabetes and infertility. Trans fats really are a metabolic poison.

    GWEN IFILL: So, if trans fats have been in our food or at least for most of our living — our lives, what substitutes for them? There’s a reason why they were there in the first place, I assume to extend shelf life, for instance, for goods and preserve them. But what takes their place?

    DR. WALTER WILLETT: There is no single substitute for trans fat. It depends what you’re doing with a — that — with the trans fat.

    For frying, liquid vegetable oils work perfectly well. And the restaurant industry has very completely switched over to trans fat-free oils for deep frying. For baking and some of other cooking, types of cooking, it’s a little more complicated, but there are many alternatives to trans fats. Sometimes, still liquid vegetable oils work perfectly fine.

    Sometimes, a little bit of palm oil or a little bit of coconut fat will be needed if there’s a crispiness that’s an important part of that food.

    GWEN IFILL: Finally — pardon me — finally, the FDA says there’s a three-year clock on this. If this is indeed poison, the word you used, why make it immediate?

    DR. WALTER WILLETT: This was a bit of a compromise.

    Parts of the industry pushed back quite hard against a more immediate trans fat ban. Hopefully, I think industries, many industries will take — see the writing on the wall and get trans fats out of their products well before that three years.

    GWEN IFILL: Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, thank you very much.

    DR. WALTER WILLETT: Good evening.

    The post FDA orders elimination of trans fats within next three years appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: And now to the latest installment in our “NewsHour” series on the Cuban Evolution.

    Tonight, Jeffrey Brown explores Havana’s aging and, in many cases, crumbling infrastructure that puts Cuba’s culture, character and charm at risk.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It is a city of rare visual depth, layers of history told in its buildings, a melding of styles through hundreds of years, Spanish Colonial to mid-20th century Modernism.

    Today, after decades of neglect and a severe lack of resources, so much of it is crumbling.

    It’s often said that Havana has been frozen in time, and being here, that feels right. I have never seen anything quite like this before. But everyone agrees that changes are now coming to the city, and that means big new challenges and decisions ahead.

    The man credited with preserving large chunks of Havana and saving hundreds of its buildings is Eusebio Leal.

    What do you see when you walk these streets?

    EUSEBIO LEAL, Havana City Historian (through translator): I remember what I saw before renovation. Everything was ruined. It was abandoned.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The official city historian, Leal is a man who thinks big.

    EUSEBIO LEAL (through translator): Havana is a city like a small Paris. And like Paris, Havana has an identity of its own. We need to preserve the identity of Havana, much the way they have done in Paris.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Leal hatched a plan decades ago, and then got Cuban leaders to sign on, to fix up and restore a handful of buildings in Old Havana and funnel part of the proceeds, more than $100 million a year now, back into other buildings, using tourism, in effect, to beautify and maintain the city.

    Of course, part of the city is still ruined, right, still falling apart?

    EUSEBIO LEAL (through translator): Yes, but it’s there, it’s still there, and that’s what is important.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Only in the last five years have Cubans been legally allowed to buy a property, and few can afford such a luxury. That’s meant little incentive or resources for updating homes. Many people live in buildings without plumbing or electricity.

    NESTOR MACHADO, Cuba: I live in a building that is almost crushed, and it’s very dangerous.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Nestor Machado lives in one of Havana’s grand buildings in serious decline.

    NESTOR MACHADO: It has seven architectural types. Tourists pass all the time, and they want to take good pictures, you know, because it caught their attention. But the problem is that it is almost crushing.

    ROSA LOWINGER, Art Conservator: This is a building that my father designed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Rosa Lowinger was born in Cuba, but came to the U.S. with her family as a young girl.

    ROSA LOWINGER: This neighborhood is very endangered.

    JEFFREY BROWN: An art conservator, she returns these days to lead tours of Havana’s historic architecture.

    ROSA LOWINGER: If developers had come in here in the early ’60s, something that was this low in this neighborhood would have been gone. This an accident of history has allowed them to stand.

    What the revolution did is stop development, and when you stop development, you stop destruction that is deliberate.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, says Lowinger, with Cuba poised to open its doors more to U.S. tourism and industry, development is likely to come, but what kind, and with what impact?

    ROSA LOWINGER: The issues now, is what you see around you. You see decades of deferred maintenance. You see infrastructure that’s falling apart, cracked buildings, dirt, corrosion. But, to me, that is not nearly as potentially destructive as what can happen if developers come in here and they don’t protect the city.

    JEFFREY BROWN: American tourists we met here offered a common refrain.

    KAREN WRIGHT, Tourist: I wanted to see it untouched, and I just heard so much about the beautiful architecture, and the wonderful people, and the art, and the music. I hope it doesn’t get overrun with Americans. You know, you don’t want to see a Starbucks and McDonald’s on every corner.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But Cubans like Dario Figueroa wouldn’t mind, say, a Home Depot. We found him at work making repairs to a neighbor’s house. And he echoed a common complaint about life here, where supplies are so limited, stores so poorly stocked.

    DARIO FIGUEROA, Cuba (through translator): You have got to do a lot of work to get the materials, because we don’t have a central market where we can get everything that’s needed for construction. I think there should be one big store.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Rosa Lowinger says those needs must be taken into account.

    ROSA LOWINGER: It’s not fair to the people who live here to think of it as a collapsed splendor, because they deserve plumbing that works, and air conditioning, and elevators that don’t freeze, that kind of thing, so I’m not a romantic about that at all.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One key, says Mary Jablonski, a conservator on the tour who teaches at Columbia University, is fitting new building, even chain stores, into the character of the place, using appropriate materials.

    MARY JABLONSKI, Columbia University: It’s very easy to make mistakes, and if you’re too aggressive in what you repair, you can actually make it worse.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mistakes meaning what, the wrong material or the style?

    MARY JABLONSKI: Yes. If you are doing a repair with the wrong material, it will actually accelerate the deterioration, and that’s a huge concern.

    Not every building can be saved. I mean, that’s a dream. That’s not going to happen. But let’s say you got 70 percent saved. There’s still room to put in things like Home Depots.

    JEFFREY BROWN: City historian Eusebio Leal told me he welcomes the new opening between Cuba and the U.S. He thinks, done properly, development of his beloved city can be done in a way that works for everyone. But there’s a long road ahead.

    If I come here in five years, or 10 years, 20 years, will I see Starbucks, will I see McDonald’s, will I see brands from, as I would in any other city?

    EUSEBIO LEAL (through translator): We will try to make these fit, like they have been able to do in other cities in the world. We will have to make these fit into the beauty of Havana.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But will some neighborhoods of the city have to be torn down and new development and new buildings brought in?

    EUSEBIO LEAL (through translator): For sure, there are places that need a complete renovation, a total change. But we will need to keep the character of Havana. People say to me, you have saved Havana.

    And I have not saved Havana. I have done a little bit of what needs to be done. And people say to me, what would you need to make it happen? And I would need another life, perhaps a third life, to get done what needs to happen.

    JEFFREY BROWN: From Havana, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”

    GWEN IFILL: Tomorrow in part three of the Cuban Evolution, a look at technology and access to the Internet.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The Cuban government says that 25 percent of its citizens have Internet access. Watchdog groups like Freedom House put the number able to link to a free and open Internet far lower, at around 5 percent. Either way, it’s one of the lowest rates in the Western Hemisphere.

    GWEN IFILL: Online, we have many more images of the beauty, and decay, of Havana. “NewsHour” producer Frank Carlson also traveled to Cuba to report this series, and you can see a photo gallery of his work at PBS.org/NewsHour.

    The post Will development help or hurt Cuba’s iconic architecture? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, we launch an occasional series we are calling Food, Glorious food, reports about what we eat, how our food is grown, and the economics of putting a meal on the table.

    Tonight, we begin with food waste. Much of what is grown on American farms never gets to market.

    Allison Aubrey of National Public Radio has our report. This story is part of the NewsHour’s ongoing collaboration with NPR.

    ALLISON AUBREY, NPR: In Salinas Valley, California it’s a symphony of sound, as the growing season gets under way. This fertile strip produces 70 percent of our leafy greens. It’s been dubbed the Salad Bowl of America. But not everything grown here makes it to our plates.

    In fact, some of it never leaves Salinas. At a local solid waste dump, operations manager Cesar Zuniga watches as trucks roll in every day to dump produce destined for a nearby landfill.

    CESAR ZUNIGA, Operations Manager, Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority: We got a whole load pretty much of loose organic lettuce. We have got some spinach towards the back. Looks like it’s perfectly fine, nothing wrong with it. We have got some kale here. We have got broccoli in the back as well. We have plenty of produce to make a salad here.

    ALLISON AUBREY: The greens in this landfill are from local farms, and sometimes they end up here because something goes wrong during the packaging process.

    Another reason perfectly good food gets wasted? Peter Lehner from the Natural Resources Defense Council explains.

    PETER LEHNER, Natural Resources Defense Council: Right now, food that isn’t sold to your best buyer is often dumped in the landfill. The prices for fresh fruits and vegetables can go up and down quite a bit, and farmers may plant thinking they will get one price, but, by the time harvest comes around, there’s another price, and it’s not even worth it for them to get to the market.

    ALLISON AUBREY: A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council says that as much as 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States never gets eaten.

    PETER LEHNER: The idea that almost half of our food is wasted is crazy.

    ALLISON AUBREY: That waste occurs at every point along the food chain. Some is lost in transport and during food processing. Supermarkets and we the consumers end up tossing out a lot too.

    But what about what’s lost on the farm? An NRDC report found that anywhere from 1 percent to 30 percent of farmers’ crops don’t make it to market. We toured Ocean Mist Farms with Art Barrientos to find out why.

    ART BARRIENTOS, Ocean Mist Farms: This cauliflower here, you see how it just has that yellow tinge to it? This is not marketable.

    ALLISON AUBREY: Mm-hmm. Just because it’s — the color is a bit off?

    ART BARRIENTOS: Because it’s yellow. This will not be packed.

    ALLISON AUBREY: It’s got to be every bit as nutritious as the white cauliflower down here in the field. What’s wrong with it?

    ART BARRIENTOS: There isn’t anything wrong with it. Let me cut a — grab that.


    It’s crunchy. It’s tasty. It tastes like any other cauliflower I have ever had. So, we just shopping with our eyeballs and forgetting about all about our taste buds?

    ART BARRIENTOS: Absolutely. As consumers, we want white cauliflower. That’s what we expect from our grocer. As a result, it gets incorporated back into the ground. We won’t harvest it.

    ALLISON AUBREY: So, what’s another issue that might ding something out of the marketplace?

    ART BARRIENTOS: Size. Size is critical. This cauliflower here is just too big.

    ALLISON AUBREY: So you have to meet these very specific size stipulations?

    ART BARRIENTOS: Yes. And this — this is too big.

    ALLISON AUBREY: It’s really kind of shocking to me.

    ART BARRIENTOS: Well, yes, it can be.

    ALLISON AUBREY: Size matters because retailers demand uniformity, when everything is stacked up nicely, it makes for better eye candy, like this perfectly sized cauliflower that is being wrapped up, destined for the produce aisle. The yellow rejects and heads deemed too big or too small are left behind in the field to be plowed under.

    And if you think broccoli and cauliflower have a tough time making the grade, check out these peaches.

    CHRIS HOLLAND, General Manager, HMC Farms: If you look at this peach, the fruit all the way around, there’s no blemishes to it. It’s got a red color with a yellow blush background. That’s going to go to our premium box, the high-end retailer. And this one right here, it has got green on it, so this will definitely go in a number two. We wouldn’t put this in a premium box.

    ALLISON AUBREY: Wait. Back that up. Premium grade? Second? Wouldn’t you buy those seconds?

    And the ones that don’t even rate as a one or two? Dumped into this truck.

    CHRIS HOLLAND: This truck here is our final throwing out, going to the cattle feed.

    ALLISON AUBREY: So think of everything it takes to grow these crops, the water, the fertilizer, the fuel to run the tractor. But, ultimately, if these crops don’t measure up to standards, they’re just plowed under here in the field and all that energy is wasted.

    PETER LEHNER: Eighty percent of our water, 10 percent of our energy, 40 percent of our land is used to grow our food.

    ALLISON AUBREY: And when it ends up in a landfill, Lehner says there’s another problem.

    PETER LEHNER: Now food is the largest material in our landfills. Of all the things that are in our dumps, the biggest portion is food. And when it rots in a landfill, it emits methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas, 30 or 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

    ALLISON AUBREY: But there are some solutions on the horizon. Ocean Mist and HMC Farms donate some of their less-than-perfect produce to the California food banks. Last year, Ocean Mist sent nearly 400,000 pounds of broccoli and cauliflower.

    And some of it ends up here at this warehouse in San Francisco. It can store seven square miles of produce.

    Paul Ash oversees the operation. He says, in the last decade, the California Association of Food Banks has doubled the amount of produce it distributes.

    PAUL ASH, California Association of Food Banks: This year, we hope to grow the California Farm to Family program by over 70 million pounds. And part of that will mean more produce for California food banks. But we hope part of it also means that we are going to be able to push this eastward to other food banks.

    ALLISON AUBREY: The food bank’s Farm to Family program has tried to recruit more growers who pack in the field to do what Ocean Mist does. They separate out the seconds and pack it in these black crates headed for the food bank. The premium heads get packed in the Ocean Mist boxes headed for retailers.

    It’s a simple process, but only three out of 25 broccoli and cauliflower growers in the state participate.

    Harold McClarty of HMC Farms says he’d like to donate more of his peaches to the food banks, but:

    HAROLD MCCLARTY, Owner, HMC Farms: Getting it into the hands of someone to eat it isn’t free. There’s got to be an economic incentive to move more of this into an avenue that food banks could take advantage of. It’s a lot easier and cheaper just to basically throw it away.

    ALLISON AUBREY: The state of California does offer farmers tax credits to donate produce, but Ash says the food banks are lobbying for bigger deductions. There are only six other states besides California that give tax breaks to growers for donating food.

    PAUL ASH: Fifty million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We, meanwhile, are wasting this — all this food. If we cut our food waste even by a third, there would be enough food for all those people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from to be fully fed.

    ALLISON AUBREY: As food banks work to expand their programs, some entrepreneurs say there are so many seconds to go around, they see a whole new business model, much like what a French supermarket did last year.

    NARRATOR: So, we launched Les Fruits & Legumes Moches starring the grotesque apple, the ridiculous potato.

    ALLISON AUBREY: And it worked.

    NARRATOR: Our new kind of fruits and vegetables were an immediate success. We faced only one problem, being sold out.

    ALLISON AUBREY: Here in the U.S., entrepreneur Ben Simon and two partners are betting they can turn Americans on to less-than-perfect produce.

    BEN SIMON, Imperfect Produce: We’re working right now hard to launch a venture called Imperfect.

    So, you get a box of seasonal ugly produce delivered to your door every week. And because this produce looks a little funky on the outside, you get it for 30 to 50 percent less.

    ALLISON AUBREY: Imperfect plans to start delivery in the San Francisco area some time this summer, and they have just signed a deal with a high-end grocery chain called Raley’s, which has more than 100 stores in California and Nevada.

    Here’s Raley’s Megan Burritt:

    MEGAN BURRITT, Raley’s: When they’re picking up that apple, we need to somehow tell them that story, whether it’s you know, these are the underdog apples, who doesn’t love an underdog story, or something like that.

    ALLISON AUBREY: Will Americans embrace these misfits as easily as the Europeans have? Raley’s is betting they will.

    And back in Salinas, Cesar Zuniga is anticipating traffic will pick up as the growing season hits full swing.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Allison Aubrey of NPR News in Salinas Valley.

    The post Why does almost half of America’s food go to waste? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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