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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. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that the agency faces a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. At the same time, a growing number of veterans have asked for services. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that the agency faces a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. At the same time, a growing number of veterans have asked for services. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday it faces a budget shortfall of more than $2.5 billion, mainly because of increased demand by veterans for health care, including new life-saving treatments for Hepatitis C.

    Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told a House committee that VA health care sites experienced a 10.5 percent increase in workload for the 12-month period that ended in April.

    The VA needs flexibility from Congress to close the budget gap, Gibson said, adding that the agency is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other significant moves.

    The VA wants to use money from the new Veterans Choice program to pay for the increased health care, Gibson said. The program, the centerpiece of a VA overhaul approved last year, makes it easier for veterans to receive federally paid medical care from local doctors. Congress approved $10 billion over three years for the Choice program as it responded to a scandal over long waits for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records to cover up the delays.

    The program got off to a rocky start, but has expanded dramatically in recent months and is likely to grow even more, Gibson said. The VA also has expanded its staff, office space and productivity in the wake of the wait-time scandal, Gibson said.

    The VA completed 7 million more appointments for care in the past year, compared to the previous year, Gibson said, but said veterans still face increased wait times in Phoenix, Las Vegas and other sites

    “As we improve access, even more veterans are coming to VA for their care,” Gibson told the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

    As a result, wait times for appointments longer than 30 days are up 50 percent from a year ago, he said.

    House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sneered at Gibson’s remarks.

    “The VA’s problem isn’t funding — it’s outright failure. Absolute failure to take care of our veterans,” Boehner said at a news conference. The Ohio Republican mocked Gibson’s message to Congress as, “Get your checkbooks out.”

    Congress has given VA authority to fire poor-performing bureaucrats, but the agency has “fired practically no one,” Boehner said. Congress also gave the VA resources to build hospitals, yet “they can’t get any of them built on time,” Boehner said. “We gave the VA the resources to improve their care, the waiting lists are even longer.”

    But Gibson insisted that the VA’s problems were the result of increased demand, not bureaucratic bungling.

    Wait times are up in Phoenix, the epicenter of last year’s scandal, even after the VA added 337 staff members, increased the number of appointments by 109,000 and authorizations for outside care by 91 percent, Gibson said.

    The reason: In the same time period, the number of veterans in Phoenix receiving primary care increased by 11 percent, Gibson said. He said those receiving specialty care went up by 17 percent, and mental health appointments increased by 16 percent.

    Similar increases have been seen around the country, Gibson said. The Veterans Health Administration, the VA’s health care arm, now expects to spend $10.1 billion in the current budget year for private care, an increase of $1.9 billion from last year.

    Even medical breakthroughs have hurt the VA’s budget, according to Gibson. For instance, new treatments for the Hepatitis C virus have saved the lives of many veterans, but a single pill can cost up to $1,000. The VA says it can buy pills for about half that amount because of volume discounts, but still has blown through its $700 million budget for Hepatitis C with more than three months left in the budget year.

    “Veterans’ desire for this treatment has been extraordinarily strong,” Gibson said.

    Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the veterans affairs panel, called it “disturbing” that VA officials waited nearly nine months into the budget year to announce such a large budget gap.

    Miller and other lawmakers faulted the VA for what they called a continued emphasis on a failed and bloated construction project for a VA hospital in Denver that is more than $1 billion over budget. “It proves to me once again that VA’s current problems reflect a management issue far more than they represent a money issue,” he said.

    The post Veterans Affairs says agency faces $2.5 billion budget shortfall appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flicker user Jim Sher

    Photo by Flicker user Jim Sher

    Spicy tuna. It’s that sushi bar staple of ground tuna mixed with spicy goodness and wrapped in noori and rice. Dip it in some wasabi-infused soy sauce, and you’re on the bullet train to Yum City.

    What you probably don’t know about this dish is that its main ingredient is called “tuna scrape.” Scrape is the meat left behind on the tuna’s skeleton after the fillet has been removed. It’s separated (or “scraped”) from the bone, usually in a factory in Asia, sealed in air-tight bags and shipped to your local sushi restaurant.

    Imported tuna scrape has been linked to hundreds of illnesses and hospitalizations in the U.S. One of the largest of these outbreaks happened in 2012, when 425 people got salmonella from the stuff.

    But it’s not just grossly-named seafood imports that are making us sick. Outbreaks of all kinds have been linked to imported fruit, vegetables and fish, and the numbers have increased dramatically over the last 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

    This comes as Americans are eating more imported food than ever before. The amount of food imported into the U.S. has nearly quadrupled since the 1990’s, according to government statistics. As a result, between 15 to 20 percent of the food we eat comes from other countries. In some categories, the percentage is much higher. 80 percent of our fish comes from abroad, as well as 50 percent of our fruit and vegetables. Nearly every banana you eat in the U.S. comes from somewhere else.

    But the FDA, the federal agency charged with making sure much of our imported food is safe, inspects as little as two percent of these products.

    This week on Shortwave, we speak with David Plunkett of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He questions the agency’s approach. We also hear from Douglas Stearn, the FDA’s Director of the Office of Enforcement and Import operations. Stearn says that “random sampling isn’t going to be very effective, given the volume of product that we have to deal with.”

    Stearn lays out the FDA’s strategy of partnering with foreign governments and food producers, to keep the U.S. food supply safe.

    The post What you might not know about your spicy tuna roll appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Department of Education . Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

    The Department of Education . Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

    The Obama administration is backing off plans to sort the country’s college and universities into categories based on how data like student debt load, graduation rates and graduate earnings, according to Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    The Department of Education has been working to develop a system to rate colleges since 2013, when President Obama announced his plan to create a system that would let students and their families compare schools across the country based on cost, student outcomes and other factors.

    Most college and university leaders were never enthusiastic about the plan.

    Instead of labeling schools as high or low performing, the Department of Education announced in a blog post today that it will release new, online tools this summer students and families can use to compare schools and “reach their own conclusions about a college’s value.”

    The department hasn’t announced what information will be part of those tools except to say that some of the data has not been available publicly before.

    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.

    The post Federal college ratings plan fizzles appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GWEN IFILL: We end with another look at Brief But Spectacular, our series of interviews featuring personal insights from artists, authors, leaders, and thinkers, telling us, briefly, what they are passionate about.

    Today, producer Steve Goldbloom hears from the creators of the comedy central hit show “Broad City.”

    Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, explain how YouTube and the improvisational group Upright Citizens Brigade shaped their success.

    ABBI JACOBSON, Broad City: So, we were on this improv team for, like, two years.

    ILANA GLAZER, Broad City: It’s funny to lose money on improv.

    ABBI JACOBSON: Yes, we lost a lot of money.

    (CROSSTALK)

    ILANA GLAZER: … funny concept

    ABBI JACOBSON: Yes. The “Broad City” Web series came because we were really struggling to get more recognition, more, like, stage time at UCB, and were not able to.

    ILANA GLAZER: We just wanting to be able to send a link to our parents of what it is that we’re spending all this time on.

    ABBI JACOBSON: We kind of think of it as grad school.

    ILANA GLAZER: Abbi came up with the name “Broad City.” We were — you did. I’m like, come on. Come at me, broad. And she’s listing names.

    (CROSSTALK)

    ABBI JACOBSON: Yes, we were coming up with the name.

    ILANA GLAZER: We were like “Girl City,” “Broadville.” It was like “Broad City,” and we were like, that’s it. It is “Broad City.”

    ABBI JACOBSON: We did the web stories for two years before we pitched it as a TV show.

    ILANA GLAZER: Just for a long time, it was, like 2,000, 2,500 people.

    ABBI JACOBSON: We felt like it was the same people.

    ILANA GLAZER: It was. And we would like have…

    ABBI JACOBSON: We should have — we should invite all those people to a party or something. Right?

    And then we decided that we were going to write a pilot. And we were going to go to L.A. and we were going to pitch this as a TV show. We were going to do our last Web episode. And we had never really had any celebrities.

    And through a friend, she was like, what about Amy Poehler? And we were like, oh, my God. She runs UCB, which we came out of. Would she ever do this?

    ILANA GLAZER: She did. She wanted to be in an episode. I quit my job.

    ABBI JACOBSON: Yes, Ilana quit her job. And then, when we shot with her, we just hit it off. Like, we held our breaths and asked her in that e-mail, hey, this is the episode. We love it. Would you ever consider being an executive producer? We’re planning on going to pitch this.

    And then she wrote back the next day, and she was just like: “I would love to. I don’t want to step on any toes.”

    ILANA GLAZER: I have chills.

    ABBI JACOBSON: And we were like, what toes?

    ILANA GLAZER: And, also, when you called me, we’re like, ah.

    We call our parents. Our parents are like ah. Our parents died. We called each other back and we’re, like, panting, you know?

    (CROSSTALK)

    ABBI JACOBSON: Oh, my God. It was like, our parents died? I did not understand what you were saying.

    (CROSSTALK)

    ABBI JACOBSON: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

    ILANA GLAZER: You know, we were — we acted as every potential hat in the web series, but on this tiny scale.

    We were the line producers. And now having those people is — it’s such a privilege. The response has been so beyond, so surreal and incredible. We definitely have been more in our heads than ever before.

    ABBI JACOBSON: There is, without a doubt, a pressure of, we have to keep this up. The fact that New York is such a big part of the show, having the confidence in the characters to leave New York is something that I think we are figuring out in the third season.

    ILANA GLAZER: Where is “Broad City”? New York City is its own city, and “Broad City” is its own city. What is that?

    My name is Ilana Glazer.

    ABBI JACOBSON: And my name is Abbi Jacobson.

    ILANA GLAZER: And this is our brief, but spectacular take on…

    ABBI JACOBSON: Our television show, “Broad City.”

    GWEN IFILL: You can get a first look at our series Brief But Spectacular every Thursday on the “PBS NewsHour” page on Facebook.

    The post From web to TV hit, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer recount rise of ‘Broad City’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A small group of protesters shout at senate offices as they demonstrate against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    John Komlos reflects upon our current trade deficit and opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

    Now that the U.S. is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal with a dozen Asian nations, as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union, it is a good moment to reflect upon the disadvantages of our current foreign trade policy. Our nagging trade deficit is the elephant in the room that politicians, as well as economists, unfortunately prefer to neglect. The inconvenient truth is that we’ve been buying roughly half a trillion dollars’ worth of goods more from abroad than we are exporting and we have been doing so for decades. In 2014, our exports of goods and services amounted to $2.4 trillion, while our imports amounted to $2.9 trillion—implying that our deficit was a whopping $500 billion.

    In fact, gross domestic product contracted in the first quarter of 2015 at an annual rate of 0.7 percent for this very reason: our deficit in trade in goods and services increased some $77 billion to reach a grand total of $563 billion. If the deficit had not increased but had remained at the previous quarter’s level, then GDP would have risen by 1.1 percent. That’s quite a difference. In other words, instead of talking about “growing the economy,” it is high time to do something about our nagging trade deficit, which weighs heavily on the economy.

    Why is our trade deficit a problem? Because the deficit subtracts from U.S. GDP and hurts the lower middle class. By outsourcing jobs, it has relegated millions of U.S. workers—especially the low-skilled ones—to the underemployment rolls. As the country imports products it could have produced at home, the trade deficit relegates many more to poverty (45 million Americans), and to food stamps (46 million Americans), and to near poverty (another 15 million Americans). Welcome to the land of the American Dream.

    The flood of imports has kept workers’ wages stagnant in the U.S. for decades and median household incomes declining—all at a time when importers like Wal-Mart and Apple are profiting tremendously from cheap overseas labor. While it costs only $2 to make bands for the Apple watch in Asia, those same bands retail at $49 in the U.S., making Apple a 96 percent profit. No wonder Apple has three times as much cash on hand as Uncle Sam. By shipping jobs overseas, companies make big profits, but deny Americans jobs. So yes, our trade policy is adding to inequality in the U.S.

    These deficits add up. During the last two decades, our trade deficit has amounted to a stimulus package of no less than $10 trillion for the rest of the world. That is 12 times more than the “Obama stimulus” of 2009, though, unfortunately for us, it was spent not at home, but abroad. Just think what that kind of stimulus would have done for our economy! At a time when the U.S. is suffering from a jobless recovery—when we do not have nearly enough jobs for the people living in our own communities—it is foolhardy to stimulate the rest of the world by offshoring so many jobs.

    It is no wonder then that China is growing in leaps and bounds with the injection of such stimulus. Last year our deficit with China alone was $342 billion—more than half of the total. Instead of buying consumer goods, which disappear quickly, they have been making investments, buying companies, such as their purchase of Smithfield Foods (for $4.7 billion), and real estate, such as their 99-year lease on Waldorf-Astoria (for $2 billion). That means that our income in the future will be lower as the profits of such enterprises will go to their bank accounts and not ours.

    FLAWS IN CONVENTIONAL ECONOMIC THEORY

    According to conventional economic theory, both sides benefit from the exchange of goods. But those famous theorems of comparative advantage are not working. Comparative advantage assumes that trade is beneficial, because if one country can make a product more efficiently and cheaper and exchange it for another product produced in another country that can make it cheaper, then both countries will benefit. By this logic, it pays for the U.S. to buy labor intensive goods, such as shirts from China, and it pays China to buy soybeans from U.S. farmers. This is all well, but the theory isn’t foolproof. It assumes that the workers who are displaced from their jobs in the contracting sectors will find employment in the expanding ones. An assumption that is hardly valid today. Displaced North Carolina textile workers do not have the credentials to work in the IT sector or on Wall Street, nor will they ever be able to acquire them. They will not have the capital or skills to start producing soybeans. And when trade leads to unemployment, the theory of comparative advantage no longer holds, and both sides fail to benefit as assumed in theory.

    In conventional economic theory, the free market should resolve such trade imbalances by adjusting the exchange rates until the deficits vanish. But it has failed to do so, most notably, because China is eager to send us its products for I.O.U.s and has kept its currency artificially low so that its products remain inexpensive. That’s not a free market. That’s a rigged market. And we’ve stood by and allowed the rigging to continue. That’s not in the comparative advantage theory either.

    Advocates of free trade often argue that America benefits from foreign trade. But in counting benefits, they add the dollars gained and dollars lost, without looking at who gained and who lost. So if one person gains $10 million dollars and 300 people lose $30,000 each (for a total loss of $9 million) that would be counted as a gain of $1 million, even though those who lost money outnumber those who gained by 300 to 1. That does not sound very democratic. And of course, if the $10 million goes to someone who is already a millionaire, his or her life-satisfaction would not increase substantially, but for the 300 people who lost money, their losses could very well be their livelihoods and mean a devastating decline in their living standard. The accounting of gains and losses should be done in a more democratic fashion.

    The buy-now-pay-later strategy has been a weapon of mass destruction across the Rust Belt, destroying neighborhoods and annihilating millions of jobs. Detroit and Baltimore are two key examples. As a trophy of urban blight there are now 17,000 homes (or 8 percent of the housing stock) unfit for habitation and abandoned in Baltimore. Detroit has 70,000 abandoned houses and 90,000 vacant lots, and 40 percent of the street lights do not work. The Soviet Union was not powerful enough to do such damage; nor were our other enemies, the Empire of Japan or the Third Reich. China, however, has outsmarted U.S. by turning our capitalist-free trade ideology into a weapon against us. A brilliant move for which we were unprepared—welcome to real world economics.

    GEOPOLITICAL IMPLICATIONS AND THE THREAT OF CHINA

    As a consequence of our deficits, China has amassed a surplus of foreign assets in value of $4 trillion. As expected, the country is translating that wealth into economic power—see the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—and military power—see their activity in the South China Sea. In other words, our trade deficits have geopolitical implications as well, and it’s being overlooked by the policymakers in Washington. The U.S. has strengthened an adversary, which like most rising economic powers, Germany in the 1900s, Japan in the 1930s and the Soviet Union after World War II, is already using that power for sabre rattling to enhance its place in the firmament of stars.

    The conflict is fueled by U.S. thirst for cheap consumer goods on credit. This is not a phantom threat. In May, a newspaper owned by the Communist Party wrote brazenly that “war was ‘inevitable’ between China and the U.S. unless Washington stopped demanding Beijing halt the building of artificial islands” in the South China Sea. The article continued: “’risks are still under control’ if Washington takes into account China’s peaceful rise. ‘We do not want a military conflict with the United States, but if it were to come, we have to accept it.’” Déjà vu.

    Needless to say, both sides have a lot to lose from a confrontation in either cyberspace or in the South China Sea. Given our cultural and political differences it will not be easy for either side to back down. Although no one is saying that conflict is inevitable, we have to come to terms with this problem by discussing it seriously. The threat of a potential misunderstanding is looming in the background. The fact that the plans for the Trans-Pacific Partnership excludes China is misconceived. As China feels more isolated, it may well become even more assertive, forging a strategic alliance with Russia, which would exacerbate international tensions even further. A Pacific Partnership that excludes China is an unfriendly act and will be interpreted as such.

    A SOLUTION TO OUR NAGGING TRADE DEFICITS

    Fortunately, a solution to the chronic problem of our trade deficits exists, although it has been nearly forgotten. The famous investor Warren Buffett warned us more than a decade ago to “halt this trading of assets for consumables.” He proposed an ingenious way to fix the problem without raising tariffs and without singling out China or any other nation. Buffet argued that the U.S. government should issue import certificates to all exporters in amounts equal to the value of their exported goods. In turn, the exporters could sell these certificates to importers who would not be allowed to import goods without them. By establishing a market for import certificates, firms would have powerful incentives to bring the trade deficit into balance. Importers would have to buy the certificates in appropriate amounts from our exporters and a market in certificates would make our trade deficit disappear.

    In addition, the price of our exported goods would decline depending on the amount that exporters received for the certificates from importers. This would give U.S. firms an advantage in finding new buyers abroad. Implicitly, importing firms would pay an export subsidy. U.S. companies would find it easier to export their products and therefore, could afford to hire many of the underemployed and unemployed. This would be real job creation at last—beyond worn-out slogans.

    If we use the rule-of-thumb that $1 million worth of exports creates roughly 5 jobs in the U.S., then the elimination of the $500 billion deficit would create some 2.5 million jobs. Not bad for starters. The income of the new workers would also generate new government tax revenues and ease the budget deficit. Additional jobs would be created through the multiplier effect, as these newly employed workers spend their money, that money filters through the economy to become other people’s income.

    Importantly, our trading partners would not have the means to retaliate, because if they tried to import less from us, their own exports would automatically and simultaneously decline. It would not pay for them to try to hurt us. We would be merely mimicking the workings of the free market and doing what it is supposed to do, namely, bringing the external balance back into equilibrium.

    Admittedly the price of some imports might increase somewhat depending on the price of the certificates. But note that the gains would be concentrated among the underemployed who desperately need a break, while the inconveniences would be diffused through the rest of the population. This would be a tiny price to pay for giving the underemployed new opportunities and taking a step toward a fairer economy. The question is: would you be willing to pay an extra dollar for a shirt in order to end this jobless recovery?

    A more nuanced version of the import certificate policy could allow for some modifications. There could be exemptions for strategic products, such as oil that could be imported without a certificate. We could also have “threshold values” so small importers could be exempted. Additionally, the policy could be phased in over a number of years to give everyone time to gain experience with the certificate market. The point is, we need to recognize that our current trade policy is hurting us and start doing something about it.

    Shortly after Buffett’s publication, two U.S. senators introduced a bill to turn a certificate market into law, but it went nowhere. The fast-track trading authority that Congress just handed the President is in actuality, a fast track to nowhere. It does not allow amendments to the trade agreements being negotiated. Such a take it or leave it option is not congenial to a democratic process and will not make sure that no one is hurt by the agreement. Before passing the final agreement, Congress should do something about the pestering and festering problem of our endemic deficits and end what Buffett referred to as an exchange of assets for consumables.

    We know that standard economic theory is not working. We know very well that slogans about growing the economy are not working. We know that the U.S. underemployment rate is still 11 percent and among African Americans it’s about 22 percent. We know that median household income has shrunk by $5,000 since 1999. We know that the economy shrank in the first quarter of this year. How long are we going to wait before we actually do something about it? It’s high time to stop stimulating the rest of the world’s economy with our dollars. We need to keep the purchasing power at home, which will create millions of jobs. Giving the President fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a dead-end policy. Instead, Congress should insist on fair trade that is balanced trade.

    The post Why trade deals hurt Americans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GWEN IFILL: Economics correspondent Paul Solman spends a lot of time trying to explain and assess why markets, individuals, consumers, and businesses behave the way they do. But there’s a growing school of thought that says the traditional answers to those questions may not be the correct ones.

    Paul caught up with one of the leading thinkers changing the way we look at economic behavior, as part of his series Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Millennium Park, Richard Thaler, an academic revolutionary, who thinks his field, economics, has a weirdly distorted view of human behavior that we’re all rational maximizers, mathematical machines, who use our unusually big brains to wisely calculate every decision as we strive to get to the top, thus creating perfect markets to make us better off.

    Yet, says Thaler:

    RICHARD THALER, Economist, University of Chicago: After the ’87 crash, when the market fell 20 percent in a day, and the Internet bubble, when the Nasdaq went from 5000 to 1400, and then the real estate bubble, which led to a financial crisis from which we’re still trying to extricate ourselves, the idea that markets work perfectly is no longer tenable.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Thaler is running his revolution from inside the belly of the beast, the University of Chicago, which boasts 28 Nobel laureates practiced in traditional economics.

    Collectively, they have created what’s known as the Chicago School, predicated on the perfect efficiency of markets, in which prices rationally reflect all available information. But at a lunch with star students, Thaler offered his latest favorite example of markets behaving badly, a closed end stock fund called the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund.

    RICHARD THALER: Ticker symbol CUBA. Now, needless to say, it cannot and doesn’t invest in Cuba. That’s against the law.

    (LAUGHTER)

    RICHARD THALER: And there wouldn’t be anything to buy anyway. There are no traded securities in Cuba.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Now, typically, the shares of closed end funds, which simply own a basket of stocks, shouldn’t be worth more than the stocks themselves. Otherwise, you could save money by just buying the stocks yourself.

    RICHARD THALER: Nevertheless, the day that President Obama made an announcement that relationships with Cuba would be eased, this fund shot to a 70 percent premium, and is now selling at about a 40 percent premium.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Now, to be fair, the fund does invest in firms likely to benefit from economic development throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba, but that doesn’t explain why shares of the fund are now worth a whopping $140 for every $100 worth of actual stocks in the fund.

    RICHARD THALER: Cuba, good, price goes up.

    (LAUGHTER)

    RICHARD THALER: Would you say that’s consistent with a rational, efficient market?

    PAUL SOLMAN: Thaler started noticing such market anomalies early in his career as an economist.

    RICHARD THALER: The market would be up in January. It would go up on Fridays, down on Mondays. It would go up on the day before holidays. None of this made any sense.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So he began challenging economic orthodoxies. Today, his version of economics, behavioral economics, has finally taken hold, a story that he tells in his new book, “Misbehaving.”

    It’s a hit even here in orthodox Chicago, where the book’s very price is an example of economic irrationality.

    RICHARD THALER: My book is 30 percent off, and people love deals. They can be driven to purchase things that they don’t really want if the deal is good enough.

    PAUL SOLMAN: By contrast, Chicago School economists long argued that if someone chooses to buy Thaler’s book, say, or anything else, that’s proof enough that they want it at the price being paid, deal or no deal. All human behavior, says Thaler, was reduced to similar absurdities, usually accompanied by mathematical equations.

    RICHARD THALER: Marry the optimal wife. Get divorced when the utility of being married turned negative.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But it was only when Thaler began doing experiments and publishing them that doctrinaire economists, whom he calls e-cons, began to admit some of the error of their ways.

    Take the concept of sunk costs, time and money already spent. An e-con assumes everyone knows when to quit, cut their losses, move on. This group of Cameroonian students at first seemed to get that.

    RICHARD THALER: Let’s suppose you bought tickets to go to a concert over here at this fancy bandshell 40 bucks each. And the group is OK, but then it starts to rain. How long do you think you’re going to stick around this concert?

    MAN: Not much.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Not much?

    RICHARD THALER: Not much.

    MAN: Not much.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But what if the sunk costs suddenly swell?

    How many of you would have a different decision about staying or leave leaving, if it was $500, as opposed to $40? Every single one of you.

    MAN: I have to make my money worth it.

    PAUL SOLMAN: You have to make your money worth it.

    MAN: Yes.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And your point here?

    RICHARD THALER: Well, economists would say how much you paid for the ticket, tough luck, if it’s $40 or $500.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Doesn’t matter.

    RICHARD THALER: You should just decide whether the music is worth the annoyance of the rain.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Then there’s the way most people value their time, as when Riley Gaunt is shopping for a $40 pair of shoes learns they’re on sale for $30.

    RICHARD THALER: But it’s another store 10-minute drive away.

    RILEY GAUNT: OK.

    RICHARD THALER: Would you go?

    RILEY GAUNT: Probably.

    RICHARD THALER: OK.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But what if she’s shopping for a $200 dress that she learns another store is selling for $190.

    RICHARD THALER: Do you think you would go?

    RILEY GAUNT: No.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But you see the point, right? If 10 minutes is worth $10 to you, it doesn’t matter how you’re saving the $10, no?

    RILEY GAUNT: Yes, I mean, that makes sense.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Now that you have heard this explanation, would you change your answer?

    RILEY GAUNT: No, probably not.

    RICHARD THALER: So, Charlie…

    PAUL SOLMAN: Her boyfriend, Charlie Ellis, had his own distinctly non-e-con approach to personal finance.

    RICHARD THALER: Are you pumped about the finals?

    CHARLIE ELLIS: I’m so pumped. I’m ready.

    PAUL SOLMAN: We taped this on the eve of the Stanley Cup Finals, eventually won by the Chicago Black Hawks.

    RICHARD THALER: Suppose I told you I have two tickets to the first home game about 10 rows behind the penalty box.

    CHARLIE ELLIS: I would be so excited.

    RICHARD THALER: Now let’s suppose I gave you those two tickets.

    PAUL SOLMAN: How much would he demand to sell those tickets?

    CHARLIE ELLIS: Whew, man, maybe $500, if I could get that.

    RICHARD THALER: Five hundred each?

    CHARLIE ELLIS: A pop, yes.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And how much would he pay if he had to buy the tickets?

    CHARLIE ELLIS: Maybe $200.

    RICHARD THALER: OK, so, about half.

    CHARLIE ELLIS: Yes.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Now, an e-con would say the price to buy or sell should be about the same, but not a human, and not our cameraman, a die-hard Black Hawks fan himself who had heard the entire previous exchange, and then gave exactly the same answers.

    MAN: I wouldn’t pay as much as I’m going to sell it for.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And this is after he has heard you do this already.

    RICHARD THALER: Yes, you know, teaching the principles doesn’t make people do it.

    PAUL SOLMAN: After nearly four decades of trying to prove just how crazy economics can be, Richard Thaler is now running the asylum, as president of the American Economic Association.

    His behavioral economic theories have been put into practice by governments around the world, including ours, in so-called nudge units, based on his previous bestseller. Not bad for a guy who thought he’d never get tenured for such unconventional work.

    And how does he now feel about being called the inventor of behavioral economics?

    RICHARD THALER: One guy can’t create a field, but you can get people thinking.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And so he has.

    This is Paul Solman reporting for the PBS NewsHour from ever more sensible and unorthodox Chicago, Illinois.

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    seattleschool

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    GWEN IFILL: Now: how a college prep program helped turn around a failing city school, and the lessons that may offer.

    Since 1971, the International Baccalaureate program has been used in both public and private schools across the nation. Once considered solely for the elite, the two-year curriculum is considered part of a prescription for improving high school education.

    The NewsHour’s April Brown has that story from Seattle, part of our American Graduate series, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    WOMAN: Maybe you’re going to learn something about a profession where it’s not going to be exactly what you thought.

    APRIL BROWN: For many seniors like Danny Segi at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School, the journey toward graduation has been a long one. He’s overcome tough odds at a school in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods.

    Tell me what it was like when you got here four years ago. What was the atmosphere?

    DANNY SEGI, Rainier Beach High School Student: So, it was really a wild environment. You see students in the hallway just walking around. You see a lot of students over here just drinking alcohol, smoking weed. A lot of them smoked cigarettes. And you could just see it being open around the school. You could just smell it. You could just see it on their faces.

    APRIL BROWN: Danny admits he initially ran in that crowd as well, and he wasn’t alone. In 2011, only about half of students here were graduating on time, and the city was threatening to close the school.

    Today, Rainier Beach is dramatically different. Nearly 80 percent of students are now graduating on time and enrollment has nearly doubled.

    WOMAN: It’s a beautiful, beautiful afternoon. Thanks for spending a couple of hours with us here.

    APRIL BROWN: This turnaround is attributed to an ambitious and costly plan hatched by parents and community leaders, to make Rainier Beach an International Baccalaureate school, offering a globally recognized college preparatory curriculum.

    NARRATOR: The International Baccalaureate is international education.

    APRIL BROWN: The International Baccalaureate, or I.B., program has been around for more than 45 years, and early on was very popular for the children of diplomats.

    COLIN PIERCE, International Baccalaureate Coordination, Rainier Beach High School: The children of the affluent, you know, the students who were expected to be leaving, were given this education where they are allowed to explore, their individual thoughts are valued, you know, that they are treated as if the decisions they make are informed by something special in them.

    APRIL BROWN: Colin Pierce is the I.B. coordinator at Rainier Beach and helped bring that attitude toward learning to the school as it went through the three-year certification process.

    COLIN PIERCE: A curriculum where students are expected to leave is absolutely the curriculum we want for all students.

    APRIL BROWN: With a federal school improvement grant of more than $3.5 million and additional state funding, Rainier Beach hired new staff and retrained teachers.

    It also began offering a more rigorous course load, focusing heavily on critical thinking and problem-solving, to develop young adults who can compete and succeed in a global economy. But the staff knew this turnaround plan wouldn’t work without buy-in from students.

    COLIN PIERCE: It’s redefining how we set and support our expectations. And there is a belief element of it. These kids are so smart. And a student can read you if you do not think that they can do something. They will perform to your expectations.

    APRIL BROWN: Expectations for I.B. students are high, similar to the more well-known Advanced Placement program, and it too also offers an opportunity to earn college credit. In order to earn a full I.B. diploma, students must pass tests in six subject areas, including language and literature, science, math and the arts.

    Students are also required to write a 4,000-word research essay, and study the nature of knowledge, how we know what we claim to know.

    COLIN PIERCE: Approaching the world in the way that we have been approaching it, is this worth our time? Is this — or is it a waste of time?

    APRIL BROWN: Pursuing a full I.B. diploma usually means several hours of homework a night. And Rainier Beach principal Dwane Chappelle realized that kind of commitment and focus wasn’t realistic for many of his 600 students. But he wanted at least part of the program to be mandatory.

    DWANE CHAPPELLE, Principal, Rainier Beach High School: Some students who at first were saying, you know, this isn’t for kids of color, these are for the rich students. That’s an A.P. program. And so, you know, just hearing that voice right there from a young person just basically made our staff say, you know what, we know that they can do it.

    And that’s where we are right now, where every kid that is a junior or senior, they have to take at least one I.B. class.

    APRIL BROWN: Since Rainier Beach adopted I.B., the makeup of the student body hasn’t changed much. Roughly 95 percent are minorities. But many subjects are different. Foreign language offerings now include Mandarin.

    And there is more skill-based instruction too, like this class that partners with Cisco and teaches students to build and fix computers, cell phones and other mobile devices.

    IFRAH ABSHIR, Rainier Beach High School Student: And not just more knowledge, but like how to understand knowledge as well.

    APRIL BROWN: At the heart of the program, though, is an aim to help students, like junior Ifrah Abshir, who is on track to complete the full diploma, recognize the world beyond high school. Ifrah plans to become a doctor, but the curriculum has sparked another interest that she also hopes to pursue.

    IFRAH ABSHIR: Syria is having a crisis. I will go to Syria, and I will work with their, like, Doctors Without Borders type of thing. A big part of me also wants to be, like, an activist, like, protest for basic rights, like human rights and, like, black lives matter and, like, Muslims lives matter.

    APRIL BROWN: Ifrah is one of 10 kids from a family that immigrated from Somalia. Her mother, Hamdi Barre, says the program has been a blessing, both for the fact that it is free, but also because students become more serious about their studies.

    HAMDI BARRE, Mother of Ifrah Abshir (through interpreter): Ifrah is my oldest daughter. And I have always advised her to become somebody and to help others. And she listened. She’s a good daughter, and I hope she succeeds and reaches her dreams.

    APRIL BROWN: While Ifrah seems to be on the road to success, steep challenges remain at Rainier Beach. Funding for the program only goes through 2017, and the cost of one I.B. test alone is more than $700, though, right now, those fees are covered by grants.

    And some parents, like LaCretiah Claytor, who helped bring the program into the school, have other concerns.

    LACRETIAH CLAYTOR, Parent: We don’t have enough African-Americans in the I.B. program, the full I.B. program. Certainly, some are taking some classes. And, yay, thankfully, they are at least brave enough to attempt one or two classes. We need increase in the Latino community, Hispanic community, the Pacific Islander community, the Native community. We need those numbers to increase.

    APRIL BROWN: Of the 19 students who originally began working toward a full I.B. diploma, only seven were on track to earn one on graduation day. Results won’t be known until July, but I.B. coordinator Colin Pierce says that attrition rate is typical for a first cohort, and he says 21 juniors are currently on track to complete it next year.

    He admits, though, these changes have not been easy.

    COLIN PIERCE: All of our students have had difficulty. All of our students have struggled with this. Our teachers have struggled with this.

    And I think that’s part of the value of it, because they are not struggling alone. They are struggling with a lot of support. They are struggling with people who believe they are going to make it to the other side.

    APRIL BROWN: Across the nation, the I.B. program is now in more than 1,600 schools, many in urban districts. Rainier Beach pursued the program after seeing the results of a report studying graduates of 13 inner-city Chicago schools that adopted I.B.

    It found they were more likely to attend college and stay there in the first two years. While this Seattle school is working towards those outcomes too, I.B. has already done a lot to change its culture and reputation.

    STUDENT: Better books, better textbooks, history books and stuff like that, and felt like an actual, you know, good, outstanding high school.

    APRIL BROWN: Senior Dajaun Rose was both stabbed and shot in his first two years at Rainier Beach, but he was able to stay on track through it all and recently graduated with his senior class.

    DAJAUN ROSE: I feel just amazing. I feel like there is nothing I can’t overcome.

    APRIL BROWN: As for Danny Segi, he eventually plans to go to a university in New Zealand and hopes to one day become a teacher. He credits both Pierce, and the I.B. Program, for helping him get to graduation.

    DANNY SEGI: Mr. Pierce took that initiative and really told us, you know, this is — I could see you doing this. You know, this is who you are going to be. You know, I see you being this. And it really just gave us motivation, you know?

    APRIL BROWN: Rainier Beach is currently asking the state for an additional $250,000 to keep the program going. And parents and community leaders have also started a foundation to support it beyond 2017.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m April Brown in Seattle.

     

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    A lab worker handles samples of the Corgenix rapid test for Ebola.  Image by Caleb Hellerman

    A lab worker handles samples of the Corgenix rapid test for Ebola. Image by Cameron Hickey

    In the early stages of infection it’s easy to mistake Ebola for other diseases, and sorting out which patients carry the virus is a delicate and dangerous task. Happily, there’s new evidence that a simple test from Corgenix, a company based in Colorado, could make that job a lot easier.

    It looks like a pregnancy test, gives results in 15 minutes and works just as well as the current gold-standard method for detecting Ebola – at least in the two Sierra Leone clinics where it was tested this past February. An analysis of this test was published on Thursday in the medical journal, The Lancet.

    For more on the challenges of diagnosing Ebola, check out science correspondent Miles O’Brien’s report from Sierra Leone:

    [Watch Video]

    The current method of checking for Ebola involves a test called PCR, short for polymerase chain reaction, which looks for the virus’ genetic material. While PCR is well established, it calls for expensive, carefully calibrated machinery and experienced technicians. The test itself takes several hours to run, and a bigger problem is the scarcity of equipment and trained lab personnel in Sierra Leone and other West African countries. Since late last year, foreign governments and aid groups have eased the crisis by setting up a number of mobile laboratories, but it still often takes days to get results. Blood samples must be packaged, transported (usually on motorbikes) and then unsealed before the test can be run. Careful safety precautions are required at every step. On top of that, there are frequent delays in communicating results back to the clinic or hospital where the unfortunate patient waits.

    The new study compared PCR to the Corgenix rapid test, in which a drop of blood from a pricked finger is prepared and dropped onto a paper strip. If a specific protein from the Ebola virus is present, it is captured by antibodies that are infused into the paper; gold nanoparticles on the resulting combination produce a reddish stripe.

    In the two clinics where the trial was run, suspected Ebola patients gave blood that was tested by both methods, although doctors weren’t told of the rapid test results, so they wouldn’t influence patient care. As it turned out, everyone who tested positive for Ebola via PCR also tested positive with the rapid test. On the flip side, both tests missed the same proportion of cases – about 1 in 12 – as determined by subsequent re-testing in a more controlled environment.

    The takeaway, according to Dr. Nira Pollock, who oversaw the study for the Boston-based group Partners in Health, is that the Corgenix test works “very well,” but only in people who are already showing symptoms and have a high level of virus in their blood.

    “It clearly can’t be used on people who are asymptomatic,” says Pollock, the Associate Medical Director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital. “People really want an ultra-sensitive fingerstick test, but that hasn’t been developed yet.”

    Earlier this spring, Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said a rapid test could be especially useful in determining whether a person who died was a victim of Ebola, to flag whether family members and caregivers were at risk.

    Others say the test could be extremely valuable when doctors are concerned about Ebola, but have no time to wait for test results. A sick woman giving birth, for example.

    “If a woman presents in labor, or there’s an emergency like a trauma case, a rapid result is really key in determining how to handle the patient,” says Dr. Jana Broadhurst, the Lancet paper’s lead author. “That’s the most likely scenario for this, sooner than later.”

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19:  An East Harlem public housing complex is viewed on May 19, 2015 in New York City. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his 10-year approach to fixing New York City's ailing public housing authority in an appearance Tuesday at the at Johnson Houses Community Center in Harlem. The plan will call for exploring the development of underused housing sites with mixed-income development. In the plan, half of any new residential units would be for low-income families. The New York City Housing Authority has an annual budget of about $3 billion and provides housing for more than 400,000 residents.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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    GWEN IFILL: The justices also ruled on another significant aspect of American life, housing segregation.

    As we mentioned earlier, a closely divided court found that housing discrimination, whether it occurs by zoning or home sales, doesn’t have to be intentional for plaintiffs to sue.

    And, again, we turn to Marcia Coyle.

    Tell us about that case.

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: OK.

    The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it illegal to refuse to sell or rent a house, an apartment dwelling when there’s been a legitimate offer because of someone’s race, national origin, color. It’s been clear for a long time that you can bring intentional discrimination claims under that act.

    But intentional discrimination is very difficult to prove. You have to get into somebody’s motive or mind. What’s not been so clear to some is whether you can bring another type of claim, what we call disparate impact claim.

    GWEN IFILL: My first definition from you, I want. Explain what that is.

    MARCIA COYLE: Right. Exactly.

    That’s a claim that says a policy or a decision that appears neutral on its face has a discriminatory effect on someone.

    GWEN IFILL: Give me an example.

    MARCIA COYLE: Well, in this case, all right, the claim is that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs is giving tax credits, federal tax credits to developers to develop low-income housing, but it’s giving most of those tax credits to develop low-income housing in predominantly black low-income neighborhoods, and not trying to steer more tax credits to development in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.

    Is the department intentionally discriminating? Well, again, that’s very difficult to prove. But if you look at statistics, which is how you usually prove disparate impact claims, they’re saying that what the Texas department is doing has a discriminatory effect.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Justice Kennedy was a strong voice on this case as well.

    MARCIA COYLE: He wrote the majority opinion.

    And he — it really turned on two things, I think, for Justice Kennedy. One, there was a long line of federal appellate court rulings finding that you could bring a disparate impact claim under this federal housing law.

    And, secondly, in 1988, some 20 years after Congress enacted the law, Congress amended the law. And at the time, it knew that nine federal appellate courts had said that you could bring this type of claim, and it did nothing to change that understanding. Not only did it do nothing, Justice Kennedy said, but it created exemptions from that type of claim.

    GWEN IFILL: We’re going to talk about this some more, but I also want to ask you, on a big day like today, when long-awaited cases come down, how dramatic is it inside that chamber?

    MARCIA COYLE: You can feel a lot of public tension, excitement. It was crowded. The press — there was overflow in the press section.

    GWEN IFILL: And you don’t know until it comes down.

    MARCIA COYLE: You don’t know which decision it’s going to be.

    When they started with the housing case, Justice Kennedy read — they read by seniority, so we knew that it was going to be something important, because he has a lot of seniority. And then it goes right to the chief justice, and then again we knew that it was going to be a big case.

    GWEN IFILL: We will be watching for more drama Friday and perhaps on Monday as well.

    MARCIA COYLE: Perhaps Monday as well.

    GWEN IFILL: Thank you very much, Marcia Coyle, as always.

    MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure.

    GWEN IFILL: Glad you’re there.

    For more reaction on this second big case, we go to Hari Sreenivasan in our New York studios.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me now for a look at the housing issues this case addresses, and which remain unresolved, are Ralph Kasarda of the Pacific Legal Foundation. He filed an amicus brief in this case. And Olatunde Johnson, a law professor at Columbia University who has worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

    So, Olatunde, I want to start with you. It’s been illegal to discriminate under the Fair Housing Act for the last 45 years. Why was today important?

    OLATUNDE JOHNSON, Columbia Law School: Well, today was important because the Supreme Court made clear that practices that have the practical effect of excluding groups, even without a showing of intentional discrimination, that have the practical effect of excluding people based on an arbitrary characteristic, like race, or gender, or disability, that those are prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.

    And, as was mentioned before, this has been the law as it’s been understood for more than four decades for — from the lower courts, but it’s still an important pronouncement from the Supreme Court at a time where there’s a lot of concern about housing discrimination and about residential segregation in this country.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But, Ralph Kasarda, you and your organization filed an amicus brief on what became the losing side today, in part because you said this leads to race-conscious decision-making. Did you find any clarity in the opinions that were written and handed down?

    RALPH KASARDA, Pacific Legal Foundation: Actually, I did find some clarity.

    And just to reiterate, our objection to disparate impact is that it causes — it lead to race-conscious decision-making. And as Justice Scalia said in another decision, that it causes decision-makers to have their thumb on the racial scales and to make sure that their decisions have an outcome based on some predetermined racial quota, in other words.

    This decision was — in this decision, Justice Kennedy recognized that there is a constitutional concern here. As a matter of fact, no justice objected to that. All the justices would agree that there is a constitutional concern. And to address that concern, Justice Kennedy identified or reiterated some safeguards to ensure that disparate impact claims can be brought without fear of constitutional concerns.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Olatunde, I want to ask, what about this idea that motive or intent is taken out of the equation now, and we’re just looking at effect?

    OLATUNDE JOHNSON: Yes, I think it’s important to emphasize, especially in light of the last comments, that this has been the law as it’s been understood.

    It’s true not just in the Fair Housing Act. It’s true in other statutes dealing with employment, for example. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of disparate impact. A lot of times, people think, if I just bring a claim, that it has an impact on a group, and that’s enough for you to win.

    But first, for those who are statisticians, it’s important you emphasize you have to show statistically significant impact. But more than that, if a policy is justified, if a policy is one that a local government can say, we’re doing this for health reasons, for safety reasons, for traffic reasons, then it’s going to be OK under the Fair Housing Act.

    So, we call it really an unjustified disparate impact standard. And that’s why, for the last 40 years, it hasn’t been leading to things like rampant racial quota and constitutional questions haven’t been an issue here.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mr. Kasarda, will this change how perhaps business gets done?

    RALPH KASARDA: It may, in that this decision touches on housing decisions by local governments, zoning decisions. In one previous case, it touched on efforts by a city to enforce its housing code.

    It doesn’t touch on lenders, on insurance companies, and those are governed — those entities are governed under the Fair Housing Act. So this may cause concern among the business community by the fact that it wasn’t addressed in this case, and their concerns were not addressed. And this may lead to further litigation against those entities.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ms. Johnson, does this change any of the underlying behavior, or perhaps what could be structural patterns?

    OLATUNDE JOHNSON: Well, the hope is that it will.

    I mean, it’s part of increasing efforts to really do more around enforcement in fair housing. And so some of this is litigation that is done by private actors. Some of it has to come from the government. An important part of this was the Housing — Department of Housing and Urban Development has made renewed efforts to implement disparate impact and other provisions the Fair Housing Act that say you have to affirmatively further fair housing.

    So, the hope is that it would change things on the ground. And I just want to mention here that the purpose of the Fair Housing Act was to address government practices, as well as private practices. And that requires addressing, sometimes, local government practices.

    And Kennedy really reaffirms this element of the Fair Housing Act when he says that questions like discriminatory zoning, when you have zoning barriers that are not justified by any other kind of policy, even if you can’t smoke out discrimination, if they have a disparate impact, they exclude people based on family status or based on race, that’s not promoting the integrative purposes of the Fair Housing Act.

    So, that’s important. And the hope is that public and private enforcement will continue to have an impact on this.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mr. Kasarda, reading the opinion, were there other openings for future challenges here, or do you see the possibility that this could be interpreted narrowly, just in this case?

    RALPH KASARDA: I think the opportunity would be on a case-by-case basis. And that is whether an outcome does create a constitutional problem. That decision would have to be attacked individually.

    I think the — it’s pretty clear that the Fair Housing Act encompasses claims for disparate impact. That issue is closed. So, it would be on a case-by-case basis.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Ralph Kasarda of the Pacific Legal Foundation, Olatunde Johnson of Columbia Law School, thanks so much for joining us.

    OLATUNDE JOHNSON: Thank you.

    RALPH KASARDA: And thank you.

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    Supporters of the Affordable Care Act celebrate after the Supreme Court up held the law in the 6-3 vote at the Supreme Court in Washington June 25, 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the nationwide availability of tax subsidies that are crucial to the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, handing a major victory to the president.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTR4YXBA

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    GWEN IFILL: Now to a momentous day at the Supreme Court.

    We begin our coverage with the long-awaited ruling on the president’s health care law.

    Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal” was in court, as always, and she joins me now.

    Marcia, 6-3, a pretty — a pretty definite ruling. What was the rationale for the court?

    MARCIA COYLE, “The National Law Journal”: It was a very straightforward ruling, and done in only about 21 pages by the chief justice.

    The challenge before the court was to examine the meaning of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that explains how subsidies are to be used. The provision says that subsidies are available to purchase on exchanges established by the state. The challengers here said established by the state means what it says, state exchanges, not subsidies available on the 34 federally created exchanges.

    The chief justice said initially that when you look at established by the state, the words seemed pretty plain, but when you look at that phrase and how it’s used in other parts of the act, along with other provisions in the act dealing with federal exchanges, it’s not so clear. And since it’s not so clear, you have got to examine the words in their context, as well as within the whole structure of the statute.

    GWEN IFILL: So he was ruling on the intent of the law writers, as opposed to these specific words, which Justice Scalia said was turning the words on their head.

    MARCIA COYLE: He examined the intent of what Congress did, but he also explained how the act operates, that these subsidies were an integral part of the act being workable.

    Under the challengers’ interpretation, he said, the act wouldn’t work. In fact, it would send insurance markets into a death spiral. And that is not what Congress, he said, wanted to do here. He said they wanted to improve and save the health insurance markets, not destroy them, and the court has a responsibility to pay attention, to be sensitive to the legislative plan. And so it adopted the interpretation that it did because of that.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, there are some observers, I guess we can call them, who were surprised at this and surprised at the chief justice’s definitive language, especially because he also wrote the ruling upholding the last challenge to the health care law.

    MARCIA COYLE: He did.

    The chief justice didn’t say much during the oral arguments in this case. He was considered possible vote to strike down the subsidies, but also to uphold them. And I think his very straightforward, clear opinion makes it very clear that he felt this was the best interpretation of the act.

    Justice Kennedy joined him in the 6-3 majority. Justice Kennedy voted in 2012 to invalidate the entire act because of the individual coverage requirement. But even during the arguments in the current challenge, Justice Kennedy had some problems with what the challengers were saying. So, he was considered gettable as well.

    GWEN IFILL: Justice Scalia used the opportunity today to read his very strongly worded dissent from the bench.

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes, he did. He summarized it from the bench, which is always an indication that a justice feels very strongly.

    And he said that the words established by the state couldn’t be plainer. It means established by the state. And he said that the court was engaging in pure applesauce interpretation. He even said, interpretive jiggery-pokery.

    GWEN IFILL: Wasn’t that a “Harry Potter” phrase, I think?

    MARCIA COYLE: It was actually — it actually has a Scottish derivation.

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    MARCIA COYLE: And J.K. Rowling tweeted about it, saying she stopped using that phrase something like 20 years ago.

    But it was a very colorful dissent. But also he went step by step through the statute with his own interpretation of how the provisions worked, and obviously was very unhappy. He was joined by Justices Thomas and Justice Alito in his dissent.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, I will tell you, it was an interesting, a big day, and we’re going to talk about it some more. And we will get back to you on the next case in a moment.

    MARCIA COYLE: OK.

    GWEN IFILL: OK.

    So, is that the end of the fight?

    For more on what happens next, I’m joined by two experts who helped shape the offense and the defense.

    Neera Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress. She helped write the health care law. And Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute was a leading force behind its challenge.

    Michael Cannon, you say the Supreme Court was intimidated by this.

    MICHAEL CANNON, Cato Institute: Well, yes.

    I think there are a couple of things that are important to keep in mind here. One of them is that it’s not just subsidies that we’re talking about. There are taxes that are tied to those subsidies that are being imposed on 70 million Americans in those states. And had the challengers won, those taxes would have disappeared, too. So they were actually challenging both the subsidies and these taxes as illegal.

    Another important thing to keep in mind, I think, is that nine Supreme Court justices said, all nine of them said, you know what, the challengers have a case. The plain meaning of the statute here does do what they say. The plain meaning of the operative part of the statute does do what they say. It does mean established by the state.

    But because they thought that the purpose of the statute wouldn’t be served by the way Congress actually wrote it, they decided to rewrite it.

    GWEN IFILL: Neera Tanden.

    NEERA TANDEN, Center for American Progress: No, I don’t see it that way at all.

    I think that Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, as well as the other three justices — and I will just note two of those were appointed by conservative presidents — have a very strongly worded opinion which is very definitive.

    They had an option here, which is to say they could have interpreted it in a way that would allow a future president to interpret differently. They could have used the Chevron defense, or a Chevron argument. They chose not to do that.

    They made a very definitive statement about what this law was intended to do, what this language means in the statute, and found that the plaintiffs were wrong to bring this case, that it was — that they were wrong. And I think the best part about this is the nature of the decision makes it harder to bring future claims. And now my hope is that…

    (CROSSTALK)

    GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s my next question, which is, is this the end of the road? We heard a lot, including John Boehner, almost every Republican candidate for president, came out today and said this is not the end of the road.

    MICHAEL CANNON: Well, I don’t think it’s the end of the road for the opposition to this law, because the majority or plurality of the public still opposes it, after six years, as they have for six years.

    And this law doesn’t — or this decision doesn’t eliminate the law’s high cost. It just hides them. And that’s why the administration fought this case so vigorously. But I think it’s important to note…

    GWEN IFILL: But is there another way in, other than outright repeal, after this kind of ruling?

    MICHAEL CANNON: Well, there are a couple of cases that are making their way through the courts right now. The House of Representatives has filed a suit whose impact would be very similar to a ruling for the challengers in King vs. Burwell. But they’re going to have a difficult time establishing standing. But, if they do so, I think the issues are even clearer than they are in this case.

    GWEN IFILL: Neera Tanden.

    NEERA TANDEN: And some cases — I mean, some cases are getting dismissed. There was a case today that got dismissed.

    Look, my view of this is that this is the second time the Supreme Court has found in favor of the government, and, you know, we are now spending a lot of resources, federal resources to keep relitigating this issue. People had to defend this case.

    At some point, I think the vast majority of Americans would like to move on from this debate. This isn’t about improving the law or making fixes. This effort is really just to undo the law, and, at some point, we have to move on.

    GWEN IFILL: But there are a lot of governors who are still resistant to this and who were fighting Medicaid expansion, fighting all kind of bits of this law. How can you say that move on when the debate is still going on?

    NEERA TANDEN: Actually, you know, what has been interesting, I mean, I — people should debate the law.

    But what’s interesting about the last couple of years is, we have seen Republican governors in states like Michigan, et cetera, Ohio. John Kasich is running for president, and he’s actually talking about his Medicaid expansion.

    (CROSSTALK)

    GWEN IFILL: But not in Florida or Indiana or 30 other states.

    (CROSSTALK)

    NEERA TANDEN: I mean, there’s the debate. There are governors who are trying to push in states like Indiana. Discussions are happening in conservative states.

    I think it’s definitely — that is on the Medicaid expansion itself, not on the exchanges. But I think you will see — you see in polling today the vast majority of Americans would like to see how we can improve upon the law, but not get engaged in these legal maneuverings.

    (CROSSTALK)

    GWEN IFILL: Well, it’s very confusing for people. You just said that most Americans want this law rolled back.

    And you just said most Americans want this law fixed.

    Is there a fix? Is there a middle ground? Is there a common ground?

    MICHAEL CANNON: Well, I think that what the American people want is, they want health care that is better and more affordable and more secure.

    The problem is that I think that the centerpiece of this law, which are the — what we call the guaranteed issue of community rating provisions, or the preexisting condition provisions, perversely, they actually make health care less secure for the people we care about the most, which are the sickest Americans.

    The problem is that you can’t make health care more secure for them until you get rid of that centerpiece of this law, so I think this debate is going to go on for a long time.

    NEERA TANDEN: That’s just — I just disagree with that.

    And Justice Roberts recognized this. You can have preexisting conditions requirements, making sure that people no longer face just — you know, face the situation where they can’t get health insurance because of preexisting conditions. You can do that, but you have to ensure that everyone has health insurance.

    Justice Roberts articulated how we work together, how all these sections work together, why the subsidies were so important to that. And that’s a center part of this decision and the law itself.

    GWEN IFILL: I have cost questions for both of you.

    Health care continues to rise at a lower rate, and premiums continue to go up.

    So, for you, I want to know, how do you speak to people who feel like this law is costing them more?

    And in your case, I’m curious, how do you tell people, we’re going to take something away from you that you have already had now for a couple of years?

    And I will start with you.

    MICHAEL CANNON: Well, clearly, there is going to be political resistance to that.

    I think that the easiest way to reduce premiums for people is to get rid of the preexisting condition provisions and all sorts of other regulations in the ACA that increase the cost of care. If you repeal…

    (CROSSTALK)

    GWEN IFILL: Isn’t that the most popular part of the ACA?

    NEERA TANDEN: Yes.

    MICHAEL CANNON: Well, only if you ask about the benefits.

    If you ask people about the cost, including how it erodes the quality of care for the sickest people, then the support for that flips to 5-1 opposition.

    GWEN IFILL: Neera Tanden.

    NEERA TANDEN: So, on the issue of rising costs, we have a challenge, which is employers have been shifting costs to employees.

    That was before the ACA. That’s been a long-term trend. Deductibles are going up, et cetera. It has nothing to do with the ACA, and it’s hitting people who have never been in the insurance market in the ACA itself. That’s a problem that we should deal with, and we should make it clearer, more transparent what’s happening.

    I believe that question will be the next generation of health care ideas, reforms, debates, in the presidential context and outside — and elsewhere, because I think people are concerned about that.

    But I hope that we can — now that we have had two Supreme Court cases, 50 attempts in the House, we can actually move on to a debate about health care costs writ large.

    GWEN IFILL: Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress, and Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute, thank you both very much.

    NEERA TANDEN: Thank you.

    MICHAEL CANNON: Thanks for having me.

     

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    Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 6.36.08 PM

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    GWEN IFILL: State lawmakers in California moved today to impose one of the nation’s strictest vaccination laws. The state assembly voted to require that nearly all public schoolchildren get their shots, or be homeschooled. The bill gained momentum after a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland and killed more than 100 people.

    Congress has completed work on a major trade package sought by President Obama. The House gave final approval today to renewing a job training program. It’s meant to aid Americans who lose jobs to overseas competition. The vote clears the way for the administration to return to negotiating an Asian free trade deal.

    The deadline for finishing a nuclear deal with Iran is Tuesday, but 18 leading national security figures have their doubts. In an open letter, they are pressing for a tougher line on inspections and sanctions relief. Otherwise, they say, the talks may fall short of the administration’s own standard of a good agreement, a warning that brought this White House response.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The letter essentially lays out the kind of criteria that is broadly consistent with the framework that was announced back in April. And the president was crystal-clear that the only kind of final agreement we would reach is one that fulfills the principles that have previously been agreed to.

    GWEN IFILL: U.S. officials suggested the June 30 deadline could slip by a short bit if that’s what it takes to get a good agreement.

    Greece also faces a looming deadline, for a new bailout deal, but negotiations appear stuck. Eurozone finance ministers met with Greek officials in Brussels and adjourned without agreement. That sets up a last-ditch effort on Saturday.

    JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM, President, Eurogroup: The door is still open for the Greek sides to come with new proposals or to accept what is on the table. The institutions are going to look at the last proposals, as I said. If anything of that is useful, we will use it, of course, but we are very, on a number of issues, quite far apart, so it is going to be difficult.

    ALEXIS TSIPRAS, Greek Prime Minister: I think that European history is full of disagreements, negotiations, and to then compromises. So, after the comprehensive Greek proposals, I am confident that we will reach a compromise that will help Eurozone and Greece to overcome the crisis.

    GWEN IFILL: Greece’s creditors say they need an agreement by Monday. Otherwise, the Athens government is likely to default on a major debt repayment.

    A heat wave in southern Pakistan has now killed more than 1,100 people, even as temperatures ease down. In Karachi today, morgues ran out of space, and hospitals were still struggling to handle an influx of patients with heat-related ailments. Volunteers turned out across the city, setting up relief camps and handing out water.

    In Syria today, Islamic State fighters struck back, after losing ground to Kurdish forces in recent days. Militants attacked the Kurdish-held town of Kobani along the Turkish border, killing at least 35 people. Footage shot from the Turkish side of the border showed demolished homes, and thick smoke rising from buildings. Sporadic fighting continued through the day. ISIS attackers also staged a separate assault in Northeastern Syria.

    In France, taxi drivers staged a nationwide strike to protest the ride-hailing service Uber. Strikers blocked traffic, attacked Uber vehicles and, in places, even clashed with police wearing riot gear. They accused the ride-sharing service of stealing their livelihood.

    MAN (through interpretor): Uber, it’s illegal work. Anyone and everyone can do it. You can’t tell whether they have a driver’s license. You know nothing about them. They’re not taxis. They’re not professionals. They don’t have training. We just don’t know who they are.

    GWEN IFILL: The French government has banned Uber from operating its lowest-cost service, but so far without success.

    Back in this country, attorneys for James Holmes began presenting their case in the 2012 movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. The attack at a midnight showing killed 12 people and wounded 70 others. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

    Another big auto recall is in the works. Mitsubishi announced today it’s calling in 460,000 cars in the U.S. In some cases, when the air bags deploy, they can jam the sun visors into a passenger’s face. Five injuries have been reported, and two of the victims lost sight in one eye. The models affected include the Eclipse and some Chryslers and Dodges from the early 2000s.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 75 points to close at 17890. The Nasdaq fell 10 points, and the S&P slipped six.

     

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    Interns with media organizations run with the decision upholding the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court in Washington June 25, 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the nationwide availability of tax subsidies that are crucial to the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, handing a major victory to the president. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTR4YXSO

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    GWEN IFILL: For the second time, the president’s signature health care program has survived a potentially life-or-death legal challenge.

    Today’s Supreme Court decision created waves of relief at the White House and beyond.

    PROTESTERS: ACA is here to stay!

    GWEN IFILL: Supporters of the Affordable Care Act erupted in cheers outside the court as the news reached the marble steps. An hour later, President Obama and Vice President Biden stepped into the White House Rose Garden to savor the victory.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There can be no doubt that this law is working. It has changed, and in some cases saved American lives. It’s set this country on a smarter, stronger course.

    And, today, after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law, after a presidential election based in part on preserving or repealing this law, after multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

    GWEN IFILL: The law had survived a previous Supreme Court test. This time, opponents challenged the federal subsidies that underpinned its health coverage, specifically in 34 states that didn’t set up their own insurance exchanges.

    By 6-3, the court said the subsidies do apply. Had the decision gone the other way, more than six million people could have lost their health coverage. Chief Justice John Roberts took note of that potential in his majority opinion, saying: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

    But Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent, read aloud from the bench, was scathing. He said, in part: “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” alluding to the court’s 2012 decision to uphold the law for a different reason.

    The high court also sided with civil rights activists in a high-profile challenge to housing law. In a case from Texas, the justices voted 5-4 that discrimination lawsuits can be brought even if the action was unintentional.

    But it was the ACA decision that dominated the day.

    Ron Pollack of FAMILIES USA, which favors the law, was at the Supreme Court and welcomed the outcome.

    RON POLLACK, Executive Director, Families USA: It means that the millions of people who have been receiving subsidies that make all the difference in terms of whether health insurance is affordable, people will continue to receive those subsidies and they will continue to have health insurance.

    GWEN IFILL: Those on the losing side lamented the decision. Sam Kazman is with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team.

    SAM KAZMAN, Competitive Enterprise Institute: Today’s ruling is a tragedy for the rule of law in this country. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court has twisted and somersaulted on traditional rules of statutory interpretation and essentially allowed the IRS to rewrite the very statute that Congress enacted.

    GWEN IFILL: Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, vowed to continue their effort to roll back the whole law.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), Speaker of the House: Obamacare is fundamentally broken. It’s raising costs for people. It’s pushing people out of the ability to afford health insurance. And it needs to be dealt with. But, as we know, it’s been — it’s very difficult to deal with it when you have a president that fundamentally disagrees with us. And so the struggle will continue.

    GWEN IFILL: Also among those vowing repeal, several presidential candidates now running to succeed Mr. Obama.

    We will have more on the health care and housing decisions after the news summary.

     

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    Pope Francis arrives at his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on June 17. Photo by Max Rossi/Reuters

    The Pope recently said that marital separation can be “inevitable.” Photo by Max Rossi/Reuters


    Speaking to the masses in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis articulated a more accepting tone toward marital rifts.

    “There are cases in which separation is inevitable,” Francis said. “Sometimes, it can even be morally necessary.”

    Francis emphasized that marriages involving abuse, exploitation and neglect were clear reasons to separate.

    Still, he tempered his comments by saying the separation of couples created “so called irregular families, even if I don’t like this word,” but also said it could help children “avoid becoming hostages of daddy or mommy.”

    Last year, Francis echoed similar reformist comments on gay marriage, saying he would tolerate some same-sex civil unions, though not marriage.

    In both areas, he emphasized individual circumstances rather than advocating for systemic alterations in the Catholic Church.

    “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question. ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

    As of now, the church states that divorced members must obtain an annulment, a formal declaration that a marriage was never valid since the Church does not recognize “civil” divorces. This process can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months. The Pope’s comments come ahead of the upcoming bishop’s conference in Rome where they will discuss issues affecting the church, such as the annulment process for ending marriages.

    However, the Vatican released a working paper earlier this week which suggested that no such changes are planned on being implemented.

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    Tevin Johnson-Campion said he was at the court to support his parents, who have been together for 24 years. They married in California in 2008, but their marriage was not previously recognized in their home state of Kentucky. “They are just as deserving of the rights that married couples have,” he said. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Tevin Johnson-Campion said he was at the court to support his parents, who have been together for 24 years. They married in California in 2008, but their marriage was not previously recognized in their home state of Kentucky. “They are just as deserving of the rights that married couples have,” he said. Photo by Corinne Segal

    In a landmark ruling today, the Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry in any state in the U.S., overturning same-sex marriage bans in 14 states. (Read the full opinion here.)

    “Knowing today that my gay friends in Texas can get married gives me shivers.” — Joe Goldman
    The ruling came on a meaningful day for many: the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which determined that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they were legal. As today’s ruling reached the crowd outside the court, it drew a strong reaction from both supporters and opponents of marriage equality, for whom today was both the culmination of years of work and the harbinger of what work still lies ahead. We spoke with them about their personal connection to the decision.
    Judy Walton, a supporter of marriage equality, celebrates the decision outside the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    Judy Walton of Grand Rapids, Michigan, said the decision’s impact would reach beyond the LGBTQ community. “How can anyone have freedom if there are people in our society who don’t have freedom?” she said. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Wes Givens and Jane Lanning celebrate the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality at the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    Wes Givens, left, filed a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas in 2013 when it refused to recognize the marriage between him and his partner Beau, which was performed in New York. Jane Lanning, right, said she was there to support everyone’s equal rights. “I’m not here just for me,” she said. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Brigid Slipka celebrates the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality outside the Supreme court on June 26, 2015.  (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    Brigid Slipka, left, director of philanthropy for the ACLU, said the decision should be important to all people regardless of their sexuality. “We’re all people. It doesn’t matter how you identify, we should be treated equally,” she said. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Joshua Denton stands outside the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    Joshua Denton said he did not support same-sex marriage and believed in defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Jamal Brown (right) celebrates the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality on June 26, 2015. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    White House Deputy Press Secretary Jamal Brown, right, celebrates the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Sophia Romeu (left) and Joe Goldman (right) celebrate the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality on June 26, 2015. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    Joe Goldman, right, who came to the court dressed as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, said that she had always been a role model for him. Goldman came out as a gay man while he was living in Texas. “Knowing today that my gay friends in Texas can get married gives me shivers,” he said. His friend Sophia Romeu, left, said she was at the court to honor “everyone who has had the courage to fight for what they believe in.” (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    A group celebrates the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality on June 26, 2015. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    A group celebrates the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Joshua Dowling (left) and Sam Knode celebrate the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality on June 26, 2015. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    Joshua Dowling, left, and Sam Knode hug outside the Supreme Court. “It’s amazing to have gone from a child that was afraid to come out … to now being 24 and having the government say that my love matters equally under the law,” Dowling said. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Karin Quimby celebrates the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality on June 26, 2015. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    Karin Quimby came out when she was 17 in 1984. “I never thought I’d see this day in my lifetime,” she said. Photo by Corinne Segal

    Katherine Nicole Struck (holding sign) said she hoped the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision would be the first step in dismantling discrimination. (Photo by Corinne Segal)

    Katherine Nicole Struck of Frederick, Maryland (holding sign), said she hoped the decision would be the first step in dismantling discrimination against LGBTQ people. Photo by Corinne Segal

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    The body of a tourist shot by a gunman lies near a beachside hotel in Sousse, Tunisia on June 26. Photo by Amine Ben Aziza/Reuters

    The body of a tourist shot by a gunman lies near a beachside hotel in Sousse, Tunisia on June 26. Photo by Amine Ben Aziza/Reuters

    A gunman disguised as a tourist killed at least 37 people in a popular beach town in Tunisia on Friday. Also Friday, a suicide bomber killed 24 worshippers at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City, and a decapitated body was found at a factory in Lyon, France. The three incidents raised concerns that militants were heeding the call to step up global attacks.

    The Tunisia incident occurred in the resort town of Sousse, where 37 Tunisians, Britons, Germans and Belgians were killed and 36 others were injured.

    Police shot dead one gunman, and some reports said a second attacker was arrested.

    In Kuwait, a man wearing a suicide belt walked into a Shiite mosque, setting off his explosives among the worshippers gathered there, killing at least 24 people and injuring dozens more. Islamic State militants claimed responsibility.

    And in the town of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier in southern France, a man drove a vehicle into canisters of gas at a U.S.-owned factory. When police arrived, they found a decapitated body and a flag with Arabic wording.

    “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s horrifying terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait, Somalia, and Tunisia, where dozens of innocent civilians and, in the case of Somalia, Burundian peacekeepers, were killed and injured,” according to a statement issued by the U.S. State Department on Friday. “We express our deepest sympathy to the victims’ families and our heartfelt wishes for the recovery of those injured.”

    There was no immediate indication that the incidents were coordinated, but they came days after Islamic State militants urged sympathizers to launch attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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    Artist rendering of the New Horizons probe approaching Pluto and one of its moons. Image by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

    Artist rendering of the New Horizons probe approaching Pluto and one of its moons. Image by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

    Less than three weeks from a historic flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto, operators of the New Horizons spacecraft are poring over images and data streaming in from the probe to determine if any final trajectory adjustments will be necessary to steer safely past Pluto and its moons on July 14. Their window for such maneuvers is quickly closing.

    “What we’re looking for in the imagery are new moons, new potential sources of particles or debris,” New Horizons’ Pluto Encounter Mission Manager Mark Holdridge said.

    Rocks as small as grains of rice floating around Pluto or its moons could spell big trouble for a spacecraft traveling at a relative speed of more than 30,000 miles per hour, he said. So these last minute hazard observations have been part of the plan from the beginning.

    The team even went as far as to outfit the spacecraft in its own Kevlar “bulletproof” vest, strong enough to stand up to a pelting by space dust without significant worry. And if imagery shows larger rocky debris in the probe’s path, they can make minor course adjustments to avoid them — but only up to a point.

    “The latest that we could make a correction based on the hazard observations would be about 14 days out,” said Holdridge said. “If we had a problem with that maneuver, we could correct it 10 days out. That’s truly the final date for a trajectory correction maneuver.”

    But New Horizons’ Principal Investigator Alan Stern is not too worried.

    “We have a very good knowledge already that the system is not full of dust and debris,” he said. “There may be a low-level threat, but measurements made by ground-based telescopes and by the Hubble have already allowed us to establish that the estimated probability of loss of mission is about one in 10,000. That’s a pretty good set of odds.”

    The July 14 Pluto flyby will be the culmination of a nine-year, 3-billion-mile journey to the edge of the solar system. The spacecraft is traveling so fast it will spend just 12 hours in close proximity to Pluto and its five known moons. At closest approach, it will pass just 7,750 miles from Pluto’s surface. All the while, a suite of onboard cameras and other scientific instruments will snap pictures and gather data.

    “We are on Pluto’s doorstep,” New Horizons’ Stern said. “We want it. We worked designing the spacecraft, building the spacecraft and testing it, getting it launched, flying it — an epic journey across the entirety of the solar system. Now, we’re here and the data is flowing and we are revealing something completely new to human knowledge, and the energy level is just electric.”

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    Larry Kotlikoff explains how divorce laws differ state by state and argues for a  national divorce law. Photo by Getty Images

    Larry Kotlikoff explains how divorce laws differ state by state and argues for a national divorce law. Photo by Getty Images

    Economist Laurence Kotlikoff, well known for his Ask Larry Social Security column and his best seller, “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security Benefits” (co-authored by our Paul Solman and Philip Moeller), advises people on their divorce settlements. Today’s Divorce column provides a warning that where you live can make a big difference in your divorce settlement.


    We Americans love lots of things. We love to fall in love, we love to get married, we “love” to get divorced, and we love to move. Almost all of us fall in love (at the very least with our pets), almost all of us get married, almost half of us who get married get divorced, and almost half of us born in one state end up living in another. When our country was formed none of this was true. Marriage was near universal, divorce was unheard of, and most people stayed put.

    State rights, one of our nation’s founding principles, made sense back then. It makes far less sense today. But your state of residence determines all kinds of things. These include the penalties for crimes you commit, how much you pay in taxes, how much you can collect in welfare, what you can leave your children when you die, where you can buy beer, whether you can smoke pot, whether you can readily get an abortion, and the list goes on.

    And until today, when the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal throughout the land, where you lived also determined whether you could married. Now it’s time for our nation to ditch state-specific divorce rules too.

    One of the biggest issues some married couples face when they move across state lines is how they will fare if they get divorced. (And, again, almost half will untie the knot.) The answer may be far better or far worse depending on the state and even the county in which you reside. I say “may,” because if you reach an amicable settlement, that settlement may be legally approved no matter where you live. But if you have a contested divorce and end up leaving it up to a judge, she’ll likely apply state or county guidelines that can be very different depending on the state or country. Indeed, since only a few states and counties in the country have formal guidelines, the guidelines are mostly those set by the local judge. These judges are, of course, influenced primarily by what other judges in their locality and state are doing.

    Let me illustrate the world of divorce trouble in which you can land by picking the wrong state of residence. Take fictitious Joe and Sally, a 50 year-old couple who have been married since age 25. Most of their marriage was sheer bliss. But since their four kids left home, Joe and Sally’s relationship has gone off the rails. Whether its Joe’s drinking, Sally’s smoking, or a hundred other things that have gone wrong, both want out.

    They face a big, conflict-laden question. How much should Joe pay Sally in alimony? Sally makes $30,000 a year. Joe makes $200,000. They both intend to work through age 67 (the Social Security full retirement age). Joe has a three-times larger Social Security retirement benefit coming his way, and his 401(k) is five times Sally’s. Apart from a small checking account and house equity, Joe and Sally have no other major assets.

    Now suppose Joe and Sally live in Massachusetts. According to its online alimony guideline calculator, Joe will need to pay Sally $59,500 annually in alimony indefinitely, but this appears to really mean until Joe reaches 65 (17 years from now). This is the maximum alimony, which is set at 35 percent of the difference in Joe and Sally’s incomes, but can be set as low as 30 percent of the difference.

    If the couple lives in Kansas, however, Sally will, based on its state alimony guidelines, receive only $38,000. That’s a third less! And she’ll only collect the $38,000 for 8.77 years. So, on the face of it, Kansas’s alimony—discounting for the time value of money—is less than 40 percent of the Massachusetts amount.

    The guideline calculators ignore a host of factors, including differences in asset holdings and future pensions, Social Security, and other income. So if they live in Kansas, Joe can, it seems, walk away with all of his retirement account and Social Security retirement benefit. Yes, Sally can collect half of Joe’s full retirement benefit as a spousal benefit between her full retirement age and 70. Afterward, she will flip onto her own retirement benefit, which is higher. But the story’s the same for Joe. He too can collect a full (if smaller) spousal benefit off of Sally’s work record before taking his own retirement benefit at 70. The main saving grace for Sally, when it comes to Social Security,  arrives the instant Joe dies. Once he passes, which could occur when they are both 90, Sally will receive his retirement benefit in the form of a divorcee widow’s benefit.

    In short, having been married for a quarter of a century, having raised four children primarily on her own, and having sacrificed her own career for decades, Sally’s reward in Kansas is to live the rest of her life at a far lower living standard than Joe. Things are better for Sally and worse for Joe in Massachusetts, but it’s not clear that Sally will receive any of Joe’s assets since the guidelines appear to be mum on that subject.

    If Joe and Sally lived in Texas, the guideline for alimony would be similar to that in Kansas. She would receive slightly more in alimony ($40,000 per year), but for an even shorter duration (only 7 years). But Texas is a community property state, which is the case for neither Massachusetts nor Kansas. So in Texas, Sally would, arguably, have a 50 percent claim on all of the couple’s combined assets, including all their combined retirement accounts. This is also likely in practice in Massachusetts for a long-term marriage, but certainly not a sure thing.

    So here’s my question. Why should Joe and Sally, who may have spent most of their life in Massachusetts before resettling to Kansas, end up with such different post-divorce lifestyles just because they moved to Kansas for better jobs, hurricanes, whatever? Isn’t it time we have a national divorce law? After all, this is one nation under God, not 50 states under God, let alone more than 3,000 counties under God. Moreover, why do we let possibly male-hating or women-hating judges arbitrarily decide what’s fair if the divorce settlement is contested? Do the judges handling divorce cases have any training in personal finance? And, as I showed last week, determining a fair divorce, which in long-term marriages requires equal living standards for each spouse going forward, is, in fact, real rocket science, none of which is remotely covered in law school.

    The post Is it time for a national divorce law too? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    PRISON BREAK monitor clinton correctional facility richard matt david sweat

    The Associated Press has confirmed that Richard Matt, one of two prisoners who escaped from a New York prison nearly three weeks ago, has been shot and killed.

    Matt was killed after police converged on an area just south of Malone, New York, near the cabin where police earlier found evidence of the two convicts.

    Police are now chasing Matt’s companion, David Sweat. The manhunt for Matt and Sweat began when they broke out of New York’s Clinton Correctional Facility — the state’s largest correctional facility. Matt was charged with second-degree murder after kidnapping, torturing and dismembering his boss. Sweat was convicted of first-degree murder after killing a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County.

    The post One of two escaped prisoners shot and killed appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Kathleen Sebelius speaks during a business of health conversation with at the Aspen Institute last year. Today, also in Aspen, Colorado, the former Health and Human Services Secretary lauded the Supreme Court's decision to continue subsidies for President Barack Obama's signature health law. Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

    Kathleen Sebelius speaks during a business of health conversation at the Aspen Institute last year. Today, also in Aspen, Colo., the former Health and Human Services Secretary lauded the Supreme Court’s decision to continue subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

    ASPEN, Colo. — The Supreme Court decision on Thursday that allows insurance subsidies to continue flowing through the federal exchange was the “strongest possible” ruling for ensuring Obamacare survives into the future, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

    Sebelius, who oversaw Obamacare’s passage and rocky implementation, told the NewsHour that the the decision will strengthen the law against leadership changes in the future.

    SEBELIUS: The Chevron precedent (Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.) would have meant that the Court could have said, ‘We deferred to the IRS, the IRS determined that all marketplaces should have subsidies, and we defer to the agency.’ If that had been the basis for the decision, the next administration, with a different head of IRS, could have made a different interpretation, and could have reversed that, saying, ‘Yes, in the Obama administration, the IRS ruled this way, but we ruled differently.’ But they didn’t use agency deference as the rationale. They used the way the law was written. So they found that the basis of the law meant that all exchanges should be eligible for subsidies. It could have been a bit more tenuous. If the Chevron precedent had been used, it could have been overturned in the future. This is now a ruling on the law itself. So absent repeal, it stands.

    NEWSHOUR: How are you personally feeling about the decision?

    SEBELIUS: You know, a lot of people always talk about what this says to the president, or how I feel. And we’ve been the lucky ones. I’ve always had affordable health care. But I get stopped on the street every day. I get stopped in the grocery store. I get stopped on an airplane. And people immediately tell me their story about their mother, their kid, themselves, and say, ‘This has changed my life. I can do things.’ There is a wonderful diner now open in Lawrence, Kan. — the Ladybird Diner. Meg Heriford is the head of it. When she opened her diner, and I was there eating her fabulous pies for the first time, she said, ‘I could only do this because of the Affordable Care Act. I have a preexisting health condition. I could not leave my job because I would never be insured. Having this law pass meant that I could fulfill my lifetime dream and open a diner.’ It’s wildly popular. She’s very happy. But I think that story is repeated now 10 million times. And it’s really fabulous.

    The post Former HHS Secretary Sebelius says health law strengthened with latest Supreme Court decision appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    hoover doc

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: While today the Supreme Court recognized the right of gay people to marry, the history of the federal government’s treatment of gays and lesbians has not always been so favorable.

    In the new Yahoo! documentary “Uniquely Nasty: The Government’s War on Gays,” reporter Michael Isikoff explores a dark chapter of America’s past. It’s striking today to see how much the country’s changed.

    MAN: Even if there were only one communist in the State Department, even if there were only one communist in the State Department, that would still be one communist too many.

    MICHAEL ISIKOFF: The ’50s, Americans are gripped with fear of communists. But there was also hysteria over what was portrayed as an equally sinister infiltration of government.

    DOUG CHARLES, Author, “Hoover’s War on Gays”: Homosexuality was considered just a horrible thing, in that decade, if they discovered a gay person in government could blackmail them into betraying state secrets. Now, there was never, ever any evidence whatsoever that anybody was ever blackmailed, but that didn’t matter.

    MAN: “June 20, 1951, upon the receipt of an allegation that a present or former employee of any branch of the United States government is a sex deviant, such information in all cases should be disseminated.”

    MICHAEL ISIKOFF: While digging through government archives, Charles Francis came across a stunning document, shown here for the first time.

    CHARLES FRANCIS: We get J. Edgar Hoover’s sex deviant program memo of 1951. For us, it was an ‘aha’ moment that we have got J. Edgar Hoover in our sites and we’re seeing him provide his brand of sick, obsessive focus on gay America.

    MAN: “Each supervisor will be held personally responsible to underline in green pencil the names of individuals who are alleged to be sex deviates. Very truly yours, John Edgar Hoover.”

    MAN: He’s instructing his people to become plants in each arm of the federal government, to identify potential accused homosexuals, report back to him and then let them investigate.

    MICHAEL ISIKOFF: The plants were also instructed to leak the names of gays, in some cases anonymously, to their employers.

    DOUG CHARLES: In terms of FBI abuses, this ranks at the top.

    MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Doug Charles is the author of a new book, “Hoover’s War on Gays.”

    DOUG CHARLES: It was an effort to silence them. It was an effort to ruin their lives, because if you were exposed as gay in the 1950s or 1960s, your life as you knew it was over.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You can watch the entire documentary at Yahoo.com.

     

    The post When the government could destroy your life for being gay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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