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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. President Barack Obama is seen speaking in the Rose Garden as seen through the columns of the White House colonnade as he reacts after the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to uphold the nationwide availability of tax subsidies that are crucial to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the White House in Washington June 25, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    U.S. President Barack Obama is seen speaking in the Rose Garden as seen through the columns of the White House colonnade as he reacts after the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to uphold the nationwide availability of tax subsidies that are crucial to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the White House in Washington June 25, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is aiming to use the momentum from a recent Supreme Court victory for his health care law to change the conversation from talk about undoing his signature domestic achievement to talk about how to improve it.

    Obama was headed to the Nashville, Tennessee-area on Wednesday to discuss ways to improve the Affordable Care Act, including by extending Medicaid coverage to more low-income people. Tennessee is one of the few states where a Republican governor has tried to expand coverage for the poor.

    Obama wants to change the conversation after the U.S. Supreme Court last week turned away a major challenge to the law that would have endangered health insurance for millions of Americans. In a 6-3 decision, the justices upheld federal financial aid to millions of low- and middle-income Americans to help pay for insurance premiums regardless of where they live.

    Obama declared after the ruling that the law is “here to stay.” He cited progress under its provisions, but said “we’ve still got work to do to make health care in America even better,” including by helping consumers make informed choices about their medical care, increasing the use of preventive care, improving the quality of hospital care and reducing costs.

    Just over 80 percent of people under age 65 had health insurance when Obama enacted the law in 2010. Since then, the share has risen to about 90 percent.

    The administration would like to boost health care enrollment even further by helping the remaining uninsured get coverage. But achieving the goal largely depends on roughly 20 states, most led by Republican governors and including some heavily populated states like Florida and Texas, that have refused Obama’s offer of billions of dollars in federal money to pay to expand their Medicaid programs.

    Obama has said in recent days that convincing these holdout governors will be important.

    “If we can get some governors that have been holding out and resisting expanding Medicaid primarily for political reasons to think about what they can do for their citizens who don’t have health insurance but could get it very easily if state governments acted, then we could see even more improvement over time,” Obama said at the White House on Tuesday.

    Next year is the final year that Washington will offer full funding to states to pay for the expansion. After 2016, the federal share will begin to gradually decline, and that will leave states with expanded Medicaid programs responsible for picking up more of the costs.

    Republican lawmakers said the Supreme Court decision doesn’t change the fact that the law is flawed and should be repealed. No Republicans voted for the law in 2010.

    “We will continue our efforts to repeal the law and replace it,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week.

    Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, has proposed extending Medicaid coverage to 280,000 low-income state residents, but the plan failed during a special session of the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year. It was revived during the subsequent regular session, but failed in committee.

    Tennessee U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat, is among state officials calling on state lawmakers to reconsider Haslam’s plan in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.


    Associated Press writer Lucas Johnson in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

    The post Obama aims to change conversation around the health care law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A new study from the Pew Research Center explored what factors influence public opinion about issues, such as genetically modified foods or climate change, and found the reasons aren't always clear. Photo by Susan Melkisethian/Flickr.

    A new study from the Pew Research Center explored what factors influence public opinion about issues, such as genetically modified foods or climate change, and found the reasons aren’t always clear. Photo by Susan Melkisethian/Flickr.

    There aren’t always clear-cut reasons for why scientists and the general public don’t always see eye-to-eye on things like climate change or the safety of childhood vaccines and genetically modified foods, new research suggests.

    A report out today from the Pew Research Center explored what motivates public opinion on hot-button policy issues, including whether or not more offshore drilling should be permitted, more government-funded scientific research is beneficial, and if space exploration has been a good idea.

    Researchers studied responses from more than 2,000 U.S. adults, as well as a companion survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In their analysis of the general public, Pew researchers wanted to know if age, political ideology, race, gender, religion, education or knowledge of science influenced these opinions.

    The answer was there’s no silver bullet, said Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science and technology research at the Pew Research Center.

    “There’s a very natural instinct among consumers of reports like this to try to find a single causal explanation to find out why people think the way they do. This data makes it crystal clear that there isn’t a single cause for what’s going on,” Rainie said.

    While the study found links between a person’s political views and their opinion about climate change and energy policies, other policy areas are less easy to determine. When it comes to food safety or space research, there aren’t easy answers for what motivates public opinion, the study says.

    For example, when it comes to food safety or space research, there aren’t easy answers for what motivates public opinion, the study says.

    And regardless of whether or not they understand the science at work, a majority of Americans think that public opinion is important in how policy and science should interact.

    Six out of 10 U.S. adults think that public opinion should dictate the direction of public policy when it is applied to science. That includes regulation of carbon emissions to address climate change, genetically modified foods to enhance food supplies and vaccination to improve public health. However, more than one-third of Americans disagree, saying that some scientific issues may be “too complex for the average person to understand,” the report says.

    The report builds on a January study from the Pew Research Center that highlighted wide opinion gaps between scientists and the general public on a variety of issues.


    The post What motivates public opinion? The answers aren’t always clear appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    [Watch Video]AME bishops are holding an annual meeting in New Orleans, and at 1 p.m. EDT today, they will hold a press conference at which they’ll address recent church fires. PBS NewsHour will live stream in the player above.

    A federal law enforcement authority said Wednesday that a fire that destroyed a black church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, was not arson.

    Officials have yet to determine what caused the overnight fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, which the Ku Klux Klan burned down 20 years ago.

    Tuesday’s fire at Mount Zion comes at a time when a series of fires has been reported at black churches across the south, two weeks after a gunman killed nine worshippers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

    Among the latest string of fires, at least two have been confirmed as arson, but authorities have yet to describe the events as hate crimes. It remains unclear if all these fires are linked.

    The fire in Greeleyville took more than two hours to control and occurred during a night of heavy thunderstorms.

    Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina in this June 30, 2015 handout photo. The cause was not immediately clear. The fire comes amid a rash of fires that have erupted at black churches across the U.S. south, at least two of which have already been declared as deliberate. Photo by Clarendon County Fire Department/Handout via Reuters

    Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina in this June 30, 2015 handout photo. The cause was not immediately clear. The fire comes amid a rash of fires that have erupted at black churches across the U.S. south, at least two of which have already been declared as deliberate. Photo by Clarendon County Fire Department/Handout via Reuters

    Earlier that evening, the NAACP warned black churches on Twitter to “take necessary precautions.” The organization also used the #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches hashtag to recount a recent history of violence against black churches that occurred as early as the 1990s. The hashtag erupted Monday night on Twitter.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    “Almost 20 years later, we must again ask, #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches?” the NAACP tweeted Tuesday.

    The post Latest black church fire in South Carolina not a result of arson, authorities say appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video by Buzzfeed

    Ted Cruz stopped by the Buzzfeed offices to prove he was the biggest fan of “The Simpsons” by working his way through many personalities made famous by the animated comedy.

    Buzzfeed published a video Tuesday of the Republican presidential hopeful’s attempted impressions that ranged from Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders to the drooling aliens Kang and Kodos.

    Cruz even tented his fingers as he said Mr. Burns’ “Excellent” catchphrase. One can understand, however, why the Texas senator would avoid associating himself with Richard O’Hara, the character known as the trigger-happy Rich Texan on the show.

    “I have been told many times, I have a face for radio and I have a face for animation,” Cruz said in the video.

    Cruz said he wanted to replace Harry Shearer, the voice of Flanders, Burns and many more characters on the show, who left the show in May.

    Shearer, in response, took to Twitter to critique Cruz’s audition.


    “When you do different characters, it’s useful to pitch them in different vocal ranges,” Shearer said.

    Since almost all of Cruz’s impressions sound the same, he could study a better attempt at “Simpsons” impressions.

    The post Ted Cruz reminds everyone why we have professional voice actors appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pharmacist talking to customer about prescription Photo by Getty Images

    If there’s one area of Medicare that needs fixing, it’s how doctors prescribe medications and the Medicare rules under which we pay for them. Photo by Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on health and retirement, is here to provide the Medicare answers you need in “Ask Phil, the Medicare Maven.” Send your questions to Phil.

    Moeller is a research fellow at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College and co-author of “How to Live to 100.” He wrote his latest book, “How to Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” with Making Sen$e’s Paul Solman and Larry Kotlikoff. He is now working on a companion book about Medicare. Follow him on Twitter @PhilMoeller or e-mail him at medicarephil@gmail.com.


    Your Medicare Questions

    Medicare rules and private insurance plans can affect people differently depending on where they live. To make sure the answers here are as accurate as possible, Phil is working with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). It is funded by the government but is otherwise independent and trains volunteers to provide consumer Medicare counseling in state and local offices around the country. The nonprofit Medicare Rights Center (MRC) is also providing on­going help.


    Constance: My husband was recently prescribed Januvia [for type 2 diabetes] by his doctor. When he asked about the high cost of this drug, the doctor gave him a coupon from the drug manufacturer and said it would allow him to only have to pay $5 per month for it for up to 12 months. When we contacted our pharmacy, they said such coupons are not valid for those on any government insurance such as Medicare Part D. Further, because it is not on our formulary for the plan we are on, our insurance would approve it only with an elaborate petition, which only would result in our having to pay the entire cost of the drug anyway. What good is it to have the insurance approval if you wind up paying the full amount? Not only that, but by paying the full amount, it pushes you into the donut hole faster. Once you’re in the coverage gap, it brings up the costs of the other drugs you may be on. Even our doctor did not grasp this issue.

    As it turns out, my husband’s high blood sugar was more the result of a recent surgery and he was able to reduce his blood sugar with just metformin [another type 2 diabetes drug] as he recuperated. But it seems to me that doctors are anxious to prescribe these high-cost drugs without understanding the fundamentals of Medicare plans. When a patient contests the matter, the doctor finally finds an “alternative” treatment that may be far less costly. I love our doctor, but this isn’t the first time he’s prescribed prohibitively costly drugs for one or both of us. Before we went on Medicare, we used to just take it, but that was when we had a manageable copay from our employer’s insurance. Now, it’s a different story. Why are doctors unwittingly complicit in this?

    Phil Moeller: Where to begin? How doctors prescribe meds and the Medicare rules under which we pay for them have so, so many problems. Her doc should do better but he is floating in a Big Pharma sea with few lifeboats in sight. First, let me extend my sympathies to Constance and her husband. Their experiences are, unfortunately, increasingly common in the world of wonderful drugs that carry obscene sticker prices. While Constance levels her guns at her doctor, let’s not forget that it’s the drug companies who have been the manipulative puppet masters here. Medicare Part D drug plans first hit the market in 2006. Since then, we have paid an enormous price for the pharmaceutical industry’s success in getting Congress to ban Medicare from negotiating the prices of drugs provided to beneficiaries.

    The way Part D repayment rules are set, the government has become the deep-pocketed payer of most of these pricey drugs. Now, consumers such as Constance have good reason to squawk over how much they must pay. But there is a $4,700 ceiling in 2015 on consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses in Part D plans. It doesn’t take much to hit that ceiling when we’re talking about the recent generation of expensive drugs. When that happens, Medicare pays nearly all of the bill for drugs in this so-called “catastrophic” tier of insurance coverage.

    Creating coupon programs for people with commercial insurance who have not yet signed up for Medicare may sound like a reasonable approach from the pharmaceutical industry. Pardon me for not seeing it this way.

    The pharmaceutical industry has been playing the tune for years that it needs to charge high prices to justify all the research and development work required to keep finding all the wonderful drugs that help improve and extend our lives. We’ll debate another day why U.S. consumers are pretty much the only ones in the world who must listen to this song. I love people in other countries, really I do. But, as many readers have asked me, why can someone in Europe or Asia pay a fraction of what Americans pay, while U.S. consumers largely end up footing the bill for the pharmaceutical industry’s research and development expenses?

    But just looking at domestic pricing, how can the couponing programs for Januvia and other drugs be justified? I would challenge drug companies to explain. How they can afford such largesse if they indeed need all these drug revenues for their research and development programs?

    Call me cynical, but it seems to me that these coupon programs achieve two business goals. First, they shield commercial insurers from the full brunt of covering expensive drugs. Second, they provide consumers with artificially low prices that encourage the early adoption of these drugs and, as in Constance’s case, induce well-intentioned doctors to prescribe them.

    Later on, when it’s Uncle Sam on the hook (and this still means us taxpayers in the long haul) the coupons go “poof,” the effective prices soar, and a silent and incredibly effective raid on the U.S. Treasury can commence. I suspect that even the costs of the couponing programs are embedded in a price structure that clearly is built with the “anything goes” Medicare market in mind. This is just wrong. And if this is the kind of “free enterprise” that members of Congress were supporting when they passed the Part D legislation, then raspberries to them, too.

    As for Constance’s doctor, let’s take a step back and keep in mind what we really need our doctors to be doing. They went to medical school to learn how to diagnose, treat and heal us. They didn’t become doctors so they could master drug formularies or the intricacies of drug coupon programs.

    I share Constance’s lament that doctors are not more sensitive to the economic implications of their treatment decisions. In this regard, the world has changed faster than doctors have adjusted. Consumers are on the hook for paying bigger and bigger shares of their medical expenses.

    Borrowing a page from the retirement pension industry, we are moving from an era of defined benefit health insurance to defined contribution health insurance. The price monkey has been shifted onto our backs (directly as consumers and indirectly as taxpayers), and our physicians should be more sensitive to this shift.

    Fortunately, there are increasingly powerful medication software and medical case-management programs that Constance’s doctor should make sure his office staff is using. Yes, absorbing these office expenses is yet another reason why doctors face financial pressures in serving a Medicare population. But they ought to do this.

    And before I get crocodile-tears-stained emails from doctors, let me just remind them that Congress just agreed to shell out $210 billion—mostly at taxpayer expense—to eliminate the perennial “doc fix” headache that had been plaguing physicians for nearly 20 years.

    The post Medicare woes: Why the meds your doctor prescribes are outrageously expensive appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Over the weekend, the hasthag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches popped up on Twitter following a string of church fires throughout the South. Since its inception, it’s been used more than 170,000 times. To put that surge of conversation in perspective, over the past seven days, “Charleston” has been used on Twitter 284,000 times and “Confederate flag” nearly 600,000 times.

    A seventh church fire in Greeleyville, South Carolina, occurred Tuesday night at a church that was once burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995. Authorities say that fire was not arson, but have not yet determined a cause. One of the fires was linked to an electrical mishap, and the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the remaining, three of which are suspected of arson. As of right now, none of these fires have been declared hate crimes.

    The fires come a week after 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The crime was labeled as one of hate, with racism at its root. Many believe these church burnings are too timely not be tied to that same racial hatred. A motive has not been determined.

    In his eulogy for Rev. Pinckney, President Barack Obama called black churches the center for black culture.

    “Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah,” rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.”

    In the 1960s, rampant church burnings were attempts to intimidate members and quell civil rights progress. When a church burns more than 50 years after Jim Crow laws ruled the South, it’s no surprise that outrage, questions and skepticism would ensue.

    The post Thousands on Twitter ask #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sociologist and time-use researcher Liana Sayer studies how people spend their time. But when unforeseen delays interrupt her schedule, she’s only human. Here’s the story of how one time-use expert worked to regain control of her day.

    A day with a time-use expert — University of Maryland sociologist and time-use researcher Liana Sayer looks for patterns and consequences in the ways people spend their time. Photo by Megan Hickey.

    Before her workday even begins, time-use expert Liana Sayer’s schedule is already off course.

    A day earlier, strong winds and heavy rain delayed her flight from Lubbock, Texas, routing her through Dallas and New Orleans before she finally arrived in Washington, D.C., after midnight. By the time she got to bed at 3 a.m., it was clear that she wasn’t going to make it to her 6 a.m. spin class.

    Sayer studies how the frenetic pace of work, family and personal obligations consume daily life, minutes and hours at a time. But outside of her research, she has not yet managed to apply these same skills to her own life.

    “That would be handy if I could do that,” she said with a wry smile. “What it does is make you more aware of the complexities of how you spend your time outside of work.”

    As a sociologist and director of the University of Maryland’s Time Use Laboratory, Sayer explores the ways that gender and social class guide the ways that people use their time. She looks for patterns and consequences of time use and the ways that these actions influence people’s daily lives.

    When she’s not in her office, Sayer lives with her mother, who depends on Sayer’s care, as well as her husband and their three cats. And her recent trip to Texas was not for pleasure but instead to visit her sick older brother and take care of family business.

    Sayer has no children, but she said her life accidentally stumbled into an area of her own research known as the second shift, which is commonly understood to be parents who work full-time professionally while taking care of a child. However, in Sayer’s case, she has served since 2008 as her mother’s caregiver.

    “Caregiving has very mixed consequences for people,” she said.

    Years ago, Sayer said she would have worked through the night to conquer unforeseen delays and to get her life back on schedule. But these days, life’s demands and mental worry make it increasingly difficult for her to rebound from unexpected setbacks as she once had.

    “Over time, it just saps your reserves,” Sayer said. “You’re just less able to tax yourself further and recover from it.”

    ***

    Meetings, email and software updates — As director of graduate studies for the University of Maryland's sociology department, Liana Sayer offers advice to a graduate student. When she is not in meetings, she reviews journal articles and grant proposals, responds to email and conducts daily business. And that's before she goes home. Photo by Megan Hickey.

    By the time she walks 15 minutes from her house and switches on her office’s fluorescent lights, it’s 12:45 p.m. Even during the summer doldrums on the University of Maryland campus, her workday began nearly four hours behind schedule. Half of the day is gone.

    At her standing desk, she surveys her email inbox. In it, 49 unread messages wait for her. She checks three times a day — morning, noon and before wrapping up the workday.

    “If I responded to them as they came in, I’d get no work done,” she says.

    During spring and fall semesters, a flurry of emails and meetings scatters disruptions across her days. She once relied on her own memory to stay on top of her to-do list, but that system just doesn’t work anymore.

    “Increasingly, I can’t rely on that. What happens now is I tend to get interrupted or distracted,” she says.

    Sometimes, she even needs back-up reminders, setting up a note on her Microsoft Outlook calendar and another in Google Calendar.

    “Teaching days, I almost always feel rushed,” she says. “By the time I’ve dealt with one interruption, the other thing [I was suppose to do] is just out of my head, and I won’t think about it again until I get reminded about it.”

    ***

    For many people, this blur of activity is a symptomatic of a condition that Sayer’s colleague, University of Maryland sociologist and time-use researcher John Robinson, calls “hurry sickness.”

    That is when “people run a life out of control” with “so many things to do,” Robinson said.

    Hurry sickness is when “people run a life out of control” with “so many things to do.” — University of Maryland sociologist and time-use researcher John Robinson

    For five decades, Robinson has studied how people spend their time. In 1965, he directed the first national study that tracked time use. And in recent years, contrary to conventional wisdom, his research has found that people actually have more leisure time than they did when he first began his research.

    He says mobile devices, especially smartphones, do much to drive the social phenomenon of hurry sickness.

    “All these new technologies, they make me frantic, so i imagine they do the same to other people,” Robinson said. “They make their way into the workplace, so employers can keep better tabs on what you’re doing and increases the possibility that you feel you’re a part of that hurry-up society.”

    Sayer herself is planning to update her six-year-old cell phone for a flashier smartphone. She wants to use an app that Belgian time-use researchers developed that crashes on her current phone. She’s even contemplating jumping into social media after having “tweeted maybe three times in my life.”

    A growing number of academics are turning to social media to promote their research, she says.

    Of course, this would further add to her to-do list and fragment her day.

    As a researcher, being able to focus on a single question at a time is one reason why she entered academia in the first place, she says.

    Sayer is no multi-tasker. When she talks to you, she stops what she is doing, looks you in the eye and listens to you. It’s actually refreshing. She does not attempt to fumble through conversation while constantly pecking away a response email or reviewing a grant proposal.

    She says most of the research on multitasking “shows that people think they’re managing that well, but they’re really not. Neither task is getting done that well because most of these things require your actual attention.”

    Liana C. Sayer. Photo by Megan Hickey.

    Time-use researcher Liana Sayer reads through a time diary in the University of Maryland’s Time Use Laboratory. With these diaries, researchers track how many minutes and hours each day people spend doing housework, childcare, working or sleeping. Photo by Megan Hickey.

    It’s now 2:41 p.m. Sayer sets out to check her office mailbox. Winding through the arts and sociology building and walking down two flights of dimly lit stairs, she runs into an office administrative assistant who is lingering outside of the Time Use Laboratory, looking for a place to store some spare furniture. Not in my lab, Sayer tells her.

    She returns to her office by 2:50 p.m. And forgets to check her mailbox.

    Coming and going, she always takes the stairs. Her purple FitBit is evidence of the valued role exercise plays in Sayer’s life. She says it helps her to manage stress, and she relishes each chance she has to practice yoga, spin or lift weights.

    As she reviews a grant proposal she had promised to submit (the deadline just a few hours away), she hears the pipes in the ceiling above her office gurgle. She notices a growing brown spot over her office doorway and wonders if she needs to throw a tarpaulin over her computer.

    Back to her mailbox — this time to tell the administrative assistant about the pipes.

    At 3:30 p.m., she’s on her way back to her office with an armful of mail and notices a package full of checks and expense reports for the Population Association of America, a professional group that she serves as secretary-treasurer, that had been priority-mailed to her days ago.

    “Yikes!”

    She approves four checks and plans to leave the office by 5 p.m. Then, she has to answer an email that requires a software update for her to view a contract that needs verification. It is now 3:40 p.m.

    The next 30 minutes of her life belong to Adobe Acrobat.

    At 4:12 p.m., she finally accesses the contract for an upcoming reception for a professional organization where she serves on the board. Apparently, there was a discrepancy about seating.

    “Now I should be able to do what I’ve attempted to do for the last 30 minutes,” Sayer says. “It’s one of those things that you think will only take two minutes to do.”

    Days when she feels that she has successfully managed her time happen about once a month, she says.

    That sense of accomplishment doesn’t usually materialize except when Sayer is staring down the barrel of a grant deadline. Then, she shuts her office door and refuses to answer email in the middle of the day.

    On this day, she starts to surrender to her to-do list at 4:28 p.m. There are 44 unread messages in her inbox.

    “I’m obviously not going to get through my email today,” she says. “Some of these things, they can wait until tomorrow.”

    By 5:15 p.m., maintenance workers show up outside her office to fix the pipes and patch the leak. She looks at the 51 unread messages that now sit in her inbox.

    “I’m going to finish at home,” she says with resignation.

    She’ll cram the leftover office work somewhere in between tidying up the house, feeding the cats, making dinner, eating (usually around 8), chatting with her mom and husband, cleaning, reading the newspaper and getting to bed by 11:30.

    So, even as the day winds to a close, her to-do list only gets bigger.

    The post How a time-use expert uses her time appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    James Taylor sings “Shower the People” for the Newshour at his recording studio in New York City.

    James Taylor has continued performing over the past decade, but it’s been 13 years since he released an album of all new material. “Before This World” dropped in June and “Sweet Baby James” fans responded; the album hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 recently and, as Taylor told the Newshour’s Jeffrey Brown (watch that interview below), his audience is still very important to him.

    “I definitely feel like a working musician and there’s value in continuing to show up, show up for the audience, show up for the song writing, for the whole process. I think in my case, it’s something that’s evolved over time and I’ve kind of stuck with it.” But he was concerned going into this project. “I was worried about whether or not the lyrics were going to make it through. It’s such an episodic kind of thing. I’ll write for an album and release and album and then, afterwards I’ll be finished with that for years, tour the album. In the beginning there was a kind of energy, an urgency to express myself and the songs just couldn’t be held in.”

    Jeffrey Brown talks to Taylor, now 67, about wearing his heart on his sleeve in his songs and finding satisfaction in his life and career.

    He also told the Newshour that the influences on his music are more varied than fans may realize and, in fact, that notion helped inform the name of this album. “I became who I am in the mid-60s and I was influenced by the family record collection which was a lot of Broadway, but also Brazil. I got a large amount of Afro-Cuban music, folk music, rhythm and blues but I was also hugely influenced by the sort of Church of England hymnals, you know, all those hymns that I was forced to sing as a student. They are sort of the foundation of Western music, the way I see it,” he said. “I am a product of that time which really looked back at the Fifties and Forties as well, you know, so Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly Pete Seeger. So in a way, I am a messenger from another time, before this world!”

    Taylor sang “Shower the People” for the Newshour when we visited him recently at his recording studio in New York City. Watch that performance above. And he rehearsed his new song, “Angels of Fenway,” with his band. It’s an ode to his beloved Boston Red Sox. “In the case of ‘Angels of Fenway,’ I knew I wanted to write about that series against the Yankees in 2004 when we were down three and couldn’t afford to lose one game out of the next four and then went on to sweep the cards. That was the relatively rare thing of having a song I know I want to write in advance and setting out to write it.”

    Taylor and his band rehearse “Angels of Fenway,” off of his new album, “Before This World.”

    After an overseas tour earlier this spring, Taylor continues to tour this summer with his final concert fittingly at Fenway Park in August.

    The post One old, one new: James Taylor sings two songs for the NewsHour appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Ceres is seen from NASA's Dawn spacecraft on March 1, just a few days before the mission achieved orbit around the previously unexplored dwarf planet. The image was taken at a distance of about 30,000 miles. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s look at a space mission that’s generating lots of interest and excitement. It’s the mission to orbit the dwarf planet Ceres by the NASA spacecraft named Dawn.

    It arrived in March, and as the spacecraft has gotten closer in recent weeks, it’s getting a better view of the planet, leading to some intriguing questions.

    MARC RAYMAN, Dawn Mission Director: Our team sat down with Dawn’s mission director in California and put together this video.

    We launched Dawn from Cape Canaveral in September 2007. In my view, Dawn is exploring two of the last uncharted worlds in the inner solar system. In more than 57 years of space exploration, it’s the only spacecraft ever to orbit two extraterrestrial destinations.

    I’m Marc Rayman, the chief engineer and mission director for the Dawn mission.

    Vesta and Ceres are the two most massive objects in the main asteroid belt. There are millions of objects orbiting the sun there between Mars and Jupiter. But Ceres itself contains about a third of the mass of all of those objects.

    Ceres is the largest object in the main asteroid belt. In fact, it’s the largest object between the sun and Pluto that a spacecraft had not visited prior to Dawn, so it’s almost 600 miles across. This is a big place. It’s more than one million square miles. It’s got 38 percent of the area of the continental United States.

    Ceres and Vesta, they are remnants from the epic in our solar system of the formation of planets, the dawn of our solar system. And so scientists want to study these bodies because they may tell us more about the conditions and the processes that were acting at the times planets formed.

    As Dawn got closer to Ceres, one of the first things we saw were those bright spots. And it’s impossible not to be mesmerized by these glowing beacons shining out from the unfamiliar lands ahead.

    The reason these are so bright is that they reflect so much more light than the rest of Ceres does, maybe five times or more as much light as the rest of Ceres. And so the contrast is just stark.

    There are many possibilities for what the bright spots might be. They might be ice in some form. They also might be the remnants from ice that was on the surface and sublimated. That is, it’s almost as if the ice evaporated into space and left behind the materials that had been dissolved in it, so essentially salts that could be very, very reflective.

    And while we don’t know yet what they are, as we continue to get in closer and get measurements, not only with the camera, but with the other sensors on the spacecraft, we will figure out what they are.

    What it is about them, whether it’s a difference in the chemical compositional nature of this material or something about its structure, its makeup, why it reflects so much more light, we don’t know. And it makes you want to send a spacecraft there to find out. And, by golly, that’s what we’re doing.

    At Ceres, we fly the spacecraft in four different orbits in order to study this alien world. So, we started out in an orbit 8,400 miles high, and then eventually, we will fly it down to only about 230 miles, which is actually a little bit closer to the surface of Ceres than the International Space Station is to the surface of Earth.

    Part of what is so exciting is, not only does each orbit answer questions for us, but it raises new questions. And then we can answer those questions by going lower and getting more detailed data. It’s been a remarkable, ambitious interplanetary adventure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Our own Jenny Marder helped produce that piece. And visited NASA for the story. And she joins me now.

    So, Jenny, thank you for being here.

    Really interesting. And you just — you heard the mission director say, this is really about learning about the origins of our solar system.

    JENNY MARDER: That’s right.

    Ceres is known as a protoplanet, and that means that scientists believe it was in the process of forming, like a full-pledged planet, and its formation was suddenly halted, likely by the tremendous gravity of Jupiter.

    So what you’re really seeing is a planet in the process of forming which is frozen in time, so that it’s really a window into the beginning of the solar system.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as we just saw in that description in the pictures, the spacecraft Dawn is getting closer and closer. We heard him talk about the bright spots. What is the spacecraft seeing now?

    JENNY MARDER: The spacecraft is maneuvering now from its third to its second orbit. Each orbit brings it closer and closer to the surface of Ceres.

    So the images that we’re seeing, we’re seeing images of the craters, of valleys, a three-mile-high cone that sort of looks like a volcano on Earth. And we’re seeing these bright spots which are very interesting. In August, we will start getting a new crop of photos. These are images coming from Dawn at the third orbit.

    Those photos will be three times sharper than the images we’re seeing now. And then, in early December, when it gets to its closest altitude, those will be 12 times sharper than what we’re seeing now and actually 850 times sharper than what we were seeing back in January, when Dawn first started capturing these images.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, still trying to figure out if there could have been life or could be life on this dwarf planet?

    JENNY MARDER: Yes, that’s a really interesting question.

    It’s a question that this mission likely won’t answer, because they’re not collecting anything from the surface of the planet. They will just — they’re just orbiting it. However, Ceres does seem to possibly, very possibly have the ingredients for life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Because of those bright spots?

    JENNY MARDER: At least as we know it on Earth, life requires three ingredients, food, water, and energy.

    And the energy could come from radioactive nuclear decay from the planet’s interior. The planet is very dark, which they think indicates carbon-rich compounds on the surface. And then the third ingredient is water. And it looks like it’s likely that these bright spots are evidence of water, of a liquid water mantle underneath the surface.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it sounds like the scientists are very excited about this.

    JENNY MARDER: Yes.

    What’s so cool about this is, is it’s incredible detective story that we’re just seeing unfolding in real time. And as we get closer and closer to the surface of Ceres, this planet just comes increasingly into focus.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jenny Marder, thank you very much.

    JENNY MARDER: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can learn more about the Dawn mission to Ceres by going to our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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    SHAPING YOUNG MINDS  monitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: neuroscience and education.

    Thousands of teachers around the country are learning about an alternative teaching program that aims to use scientific discoveries about the brain to improve the way children learn in the classroom.

    Special correspondent John Tulenko of Learning Matters reports from Philadelphia.

    JASSELLE CIRINO, Teacher, Francis Scott Key Elementary: When I say class, you…

    CLASS: You stop what you’re doing. Look at the teacher.

    JOHN TULENKO: Today is Wacky Wednesday in Jasselle Cirino’s third grade classroom, which explains the blue wig.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: So I want you to teach your neighbor.

    JOHN TULENKO: But the rest of what you’re about to see is what her classroom looks like every day.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: I want giant gestures.

    JOHN TULENKO: She uses a set of techniques some call whole brain teaching.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: A lot of times in traditional teaching, you’re just lecturing, and you’re talking and talking. And what we like to say, whole brainers, we like to say that the more you talk, the more students you lose. And so we use different methods to engage multiple parts of the brain. And that way, you get 100 percent engagement.

    JOHN TULENKO: These days, scientists can look further into the brain than ever, pinpointing the neurons and circuits that control how we think and act. All that’s sparking a movement that’s changing the way some teachers teach.

    Are there parts of the brain that you’re aiming at?

    JASSELLE CIRINO: Yes, the hippocampus, the motor cortex, the prefrontal cortex, which is the brain’s boss, so something like class, it turns on the prefrontal cortex, which makes the brain’s decisions.

    So it says, hey, pay attention. I’m about to tell you something. So, once I have their attention, I teach the material usually through mirrors.

    This deals with the mirror neurons in your brain. And so what I say, they repeat. To learn anything, you have to repeat something. You have to repeat something that’s modeled to you. That’s where it starts.

    JOHN TULENKO: A lot of times in your class, I saw you gesture, and then you asked your students to gesture.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: Right. That’s for engaging their motor cortex. When you act things out while you’re reading, you comprehend more. And we use brainees. These are gestures that are tied to writing skills.

    JOHN TULENKO: Can you give me some examples?

    JASSELLE CIRINO: Sure. For example is an example. But or however. If, then, so more of like a cause and effect. Adjective. A noun is a person, place or thing, compare, contrast, simile, metaphor, I mean, the list goes on and on.

    JOHN TULENKO: I saw you a bunch of times where you would stop, and then you would say to the group, teach.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: Teach.

    JOHN TULENKO: What’s going on there?

    JASSELLE CIRINO: So I have taught them the lesson, but now they need to teach that main point to each other. They’re getting another repetition of the material, but, this time, a lot of times it’s in their own words. And they’re learning how to put things in their own words.

    You’re writing while you’re doing it. You’re gesturing, so you’re remembering it in different parts of the brain. You’re not just listening. You’re also speaking. You need to be doing all of these things at once in order to engage the whole brain.

    JOHN TULENKO: We wanted to know if science actually backed up any of this. So we brought a video of Jasselle’s class to Daphna Shohamy, a neuroscientist at Columbia University.

    DAPHNA SHOHAMY, Columbia University: I buy it. It makes great sense to me.

    I mean, the brain is really in many ways wired for actions. Right? It’s — it’s really not wired to sit passively and absorb any information. But I think where — you know, where I wouldn’t fully agree is the idea that more activity is always good. More brain activity in more places doesn’t equal more learning or a better memory.

    JOHN TULENKO: OK. How can children learn better?

    DAPHNA SHOHAMY: Right, right. Yes, it’s the million-dollar question. I think we have some answers.

    The brain learns when things are surprising and interesting.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: What is going on here?

    DAPHNA SHOHAMY: So if I give you a $20 bill, now, all of a sudden, you will sort of have a burst of activity in your dopamine neurons. They fire.

    But if I do that regularly, like every five minutes, I give you $20, your dopamine neurons will stop firing. So what these neurons are doing is they’re signaling how unexpected an event was in the world. They’re not signaling how good or bad it was. They’re signaling how unexpectedly good or unexpectedly bad it was.

    So keeping things a little bit noisy and a little bit different is actually really beneficial for learning in many different ways.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: Hold your horses.

    JOHN TULENKO: Neuroscience says there’s something else important going on here.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: When you’re learning things, just even in life, you connect it with a type of feeling. And so the main emotion we want you to feel in a whole brain classroom is fun.

    Seriously?

    DAPHNA SHOHAMY: Our brain was evolved to survive. We need to remember things that were of emotional and social significance. That’s probably much more important than remembering any bit of information that was communicated to us within a lecture.

    JASSELLE CIRINO: We’re done being blah. It’s time to get fuzzy.

    CLASS: Fuzzy!

    JOHN TULENKO: Here are a few other things neuroscientists think the rest of us ought to know about the brain, that stress damages neurons and impairs learning. Brain training games claim to be effective, but, in fact, the jury’s still out.

    What does help is regular physical exercise. Staying active keeps the brain developing and delays cognitive decline as we get older.

    In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I’m John Tulenko reporting for the NewsHour.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As for results, a study on the effect of whole brain teaching in one California elementary school found test scores in math and language arts rose by an average of 11 percent.

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    A man wears a t-shirt showing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as "Notorious R.B.G." at a celebration rally in West Hollywood, California, United States, June 26, 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry in a historic triumph for the American gay rights movement. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson  - RTX1I0IG

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the case on the health care law, with Secretary Burwell named as a defendant, was, of course, just one decision in a dramatic and, some believe, historic Supreme Court session.

    That session started last October, and it ended this week. In all, the high court heard 67 cases. Many of the most significant rulings came out in just the past seven days. And some of the decisions showed surprise splits among the justices.

    Jeffrey Brown looks at what we learned from and about the court.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The court’s 2015 session took on a big and broad landscape, free speech, the rights of pregnant workers, housing discrimination, the use of lethal injection, and, of course, the fate of Obamacare, and the definition of marriage itself.

    We take our own big and broad look with three of the country’s top Supreme Court watchers, Joan Biskupic, legal affairs editor for Reuters and author of biographies of Justices Scalia and Sotomayor, Amy Howe, editor of SCOTUSblog, and, of course, our own regular contributor Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal,” author of the book “The Roberts Court.”

    Welcome to you all.

    Joan, you start us off.

    Was there a big theme that you saw emerge from this term?

    JOAN BISKUPIC, Reuters: Well, you know, we always try to isolate the courts for the one term.

    But the court never sits still to just say, OK, just judge us by this term. So we have to step back a little bit. Of course, we had the upholding for the second time of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which was big for so many of your viewers. We had this fundamental right to same-sex marriage declared.

    And those two sort of gave the court a little bit of liberal identification, but the truth is that this is still pretty much of a conservative court. They also upheld the lethal injection nationwide for death penalty. So I would say that we saw several things, but mostly what it comes down to is, it depends on the case, it depends on Anthony Kennedy, our traditional swing vote justice.

    And this time, he did go more with the liberals. And for the chief himself, we saw him going in both directions, but still being very consistent for himself.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Amy, pick up on that. The chief, the key players, what do you see?

    AMY HOWE, SCOTUSblog.com: Well, I think it was interesting, because it’s certainly true that the four liberal justices were in the majority in a lot of the important cases this term, including same-sex marriage, including Obamacare, housing discrimination.

    But I wouldn’t look at this as a term in which the law necessarily moved to the left, that these were actually liberal victories, as much as they were the liberals staving off efforts by the right to move the law to the right. And so same-sex marriage, undoubtedly, that was a decision that moved the law to the left.

    Until last Friday, there was no nationwide right to same-sex marriage. Now there is. But when you look at a lot of the other big cases, whether you’re talking about Obamacare, housing discrimination, a case involving whether or not Congress can order interest the executive branch to put Israel on the passport of U.S. citizens who were born in Jerusalem, these are all cases in which all that happened really was that the law stayed the same.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Status quo.

    AMY HOWE: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Marcia, you have, of course, worked us through, walked it through play by play throughout the term. Put a bigger hat on here.

    Let me show a couple of graphics that we have to show some of the alliances. So, the Affordable Care Act, here’s the 6-3 decision in that. And then we will put up the gay marriage case, and you can see the shifts. What do you see in terms of the alliances that took place this term?

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Well, I think the alliances are what distinguished a lot of these cases.

    You saw movement from justices on the right over to the left, and they were the reason that we had the victories in the same-sex marriage case, health care as well. I think we learned a lot about the court from this particular term. We learned a lot about the differences among the justices on the right and how they interpret the Constitution and how they interpret federal laws.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You mean the right as a bloc itself? It was interesting to watch.

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes.

    I think we — as we have said in the past, these justices on the left and the right are not monolithic blocs at all. And we saw in many of the big cases this term that the justices on the right don’t march in lockstep when it comes to interpreting the Constitution.

    We saw, for example, in same-sex marriage that Justice Kennedy has a broader conception of individual — individual liberty that is protected by the 14th Amendment than his — the colleagues to the right of him. And we saw in the health care case that the chief justice interprets statutes differently from Justice Scalia.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Joan, can we talk about a — we talk about a Roberts court, right? But we’re saying here that that has meanings that change around.

    JOAN BISKUPIC: It does.

    And the chief himself was in the majority less this term than he has been in past terms. And that’s another reason to remember that you judge a term by the particular cases that are up there for those nine months. And next year, we’re going to have so many other different kinds of cases that, frankly, at this point might play more to the justices on the right wing.

    But it’s Roberts court in name. We informally give it that. In terms of winners and losers, we probably should say it’s the Kennedy court, as we have said for many, many years. But just to pick up with what Marcia said about the justices on the left hanging together, Justice Ginsburg has a view that she will assign an opinion, she will write up an opinion, and they will sign it. Her colleagues will sign it.

    Once you’re — if you’re in the dissent and you’re on the right wing, they’re going to naturally splinter even further than they already are. There is a lot of difference between Clarence Thomas, who is on the far right, and Anthony Kennedy, who is also on the right, much more of a difference than among at all those four justices on the liberal side.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I want to ask.

    I will start with you on this, Amy Howe, the question of the rhetoric, because it’s something we all watch and you’re all there in the court and reading the decisions. There’s a lot of strong rhetoric this term, right? This is Glossip vs. Gross, the capital execution case, right?

    So, we have Justice Scalia referring to some words by Justice Breyer as gobbledygook. Scalia is always good for…

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

    Was this unusual?

    AMY HOWE: It did seem a little bit unusual. Every term, by the end of the term — because, frequently, especially the last few years, that’s when a lot of the high-profile cases have been coming down

    And so those are the cases on which the justices are more likely to be closely divided. They’re tired of each other. They’re ready for summer vacation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They’re normal people, like the rest of us.

    (CROSSTALK)

    AMY HOWE: They’re tired. They’re tired, and they’re tired of each other, because they’re working so hard at the end of June.

    But this session, when you had Justice Scalia in the same-sex marriage case saying that he would rather hide his head in a bag than sign on to an opinion that started the way that Justice Kennedy started his opinion in the same-sex marriage case, that’s really kind of remarkable.

    And so I think there is a couple of things going on. I think that the conservatives this term were frustrated that they were on the losing side in some of these cases, particularly maybe the Obamacare, ACA subsidies case, that they probably expected to win.

    And it seemed, when I looked back at the rhetoric in some of the dissents, the rhetoric was particularly strong on the part of justices like Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito, when it was directed at majority opinions, for example, in the same-sex marriage case, in the Obamacare case, that were written by conservatives.

    It’s one thing if you’re Justice Scalia and you think Justice Ginsburg has written an end-driven opinion with no grounding in legal doctrine or anything like that. We kind of expect that from her, is the thinking on Justice Scalia’s part.

    But it’s another thing when you have got Justice Kennedy or the chief justice changing sides in a case that he regards as fundamentally important.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What about, Marcia, now looking ahead? And Joan referred to some of these cases. There are some big cases coming.

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, there’s always big ones, but there’s big ones that could shift our whole perception again. Right?

    MARCIA COYLE: There are.

    Already, the court has on its docket for next term a major case involving unions and agency shop fees that non-union members pay in order for the union to represent them during collective bargaining. There, it seems, sentiment on the court to find that they’re unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

    The court also has, once again, taken affirmative action in higher education, a case…

    JEFFREY BROWN: Which has colleges worried again.

    MARCIA COYLE: Absolutely. And it’s the second time for this particular case that they’re going to be looking at it.

    The court has a political case involving the meaning of one person, one vote, after all these years, in redistricting, and teeing up we’re seeing coming now, because there have been a slew of emergency requests for stays in lower court cases involving abortion clinics, voting rights. And we may also see next term a challenge to President Obama’s executive action on immigration.

    So, it could be, as Joan said, an extremely different term.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Just a very brief last word on that? You see some real challenges?

    JOAN BISKUPIC: Yes. I think next year at this time, we could all be sitting around saying, what a swing to the right it was.

    And I will just mention one thing that the chief himself has said at this time of year. It’s a very good thing we all get a break from each other.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, on that — not that I want to take a break from the three of you, but we will end there.

    Joan Biskupic, Amy Howe, Marcia Coyle, thanks very much.

    AMY HOWE: Thank you.

    MARCIA COYLE: Thanks, Jeff.

    JOAN BISKUPIC: Thanks, Jeff.

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    burwell

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the health care law, the president headed to Nashville today to make the case that more states should participate. More than 20 states, mostly led by Republicans, have rejected an expansion of Medicaid, including in Tennessee.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And the federal government is there to help and to work with those states that are ready to get going.

    I will tell you, the states that have taken full advantage of all the federal options available, they have an even lower uninsured rate and a healthier population, and more people signing up for the options that are available than those state how have not taken full advantage of those options. And that’s just a fact.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We pick up on what happens now to the health care law and the issues surrounding coverage and costs.

    Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell is the point person for the administration.

    Sylvia Burwell, welcome.

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL, Secretary of Health and Human Services: Thank you so much for having me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So the administration just won this big victory in the Supreme Court just last week, the president already out on the road saying it needs to be improved, the health care law.

    How do you know this is a wise approach when, I guess, half the American people say they’re still not sure they like the law?

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: Well, I think what we want to do is use this as an opportunity to build on the progress that’s been made.

    And whether that’s the progress that’s been made for those that are in the employer-based market, those that no longer can be kept out of insurance because of preexisting conditions or can keep their child on until 26, or those that are newly insured, we have made a lot of progress.

    And what we want to do is turn now and build on that progress and use this moment as an opportunity to move forward.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m sure you know very well Republican members of Congress, Republicans running for president are saying they want to either completely repeal the law or undo big chunks of it.

    How worried are you that they may do that either in the next year-and-a-half or when there is a new president?

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: Well, you know, I think the president’s been clear about the issue of repeal.

    And what we’re hoping is that the conversation can turn to the substance, and I think that’s what the president was reflecting today, in terms of most Americans want to make sure — they don’t want to go back to a time where you can’t get insurance if you have preexisting conditions or your children up to 26, or in terms of the consumer protections that are in place, and whether that’s lifetime limits no longer exist or annual limits no longer exist.

    And I don’t think folks want to go back to that. And so I think what we want to do is focus on there has been a lot of progress made in terms of quality, affordability and access, but we believe that there is more that can be made, and we would like to work together to do that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about some of the modifications that have been discussed. Even people who support the plan are saying there are parts of it that need changing, the so-called Cadillac tax on the more generous plans.

    The thinking is that this could cause employers to cut back on benefits, to pass along the cost. Is that something that the administration is willing to take a look at and maybe get rid of?

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: So, with regard to what we said about the things we want to look at, and how we’re going to think about each of those things is in terms of, how does it impact access, affordability and quality, and what does it do in terms of the deficit and the health of the economy.

    These are the things that, for all the issues, we’re ready to have the conversation in terms of — in our budget even, we actually have proposed extending some of the tax credits to a larger group of small businesses. In our budget, we have also proposed things that we think will help with increasing costs in the pharmaceutical space as well.

    And that’s about making sure we have the ability to negotiate with pharmaceuticals about price for Part D and Medicare.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the Cadillac tax?

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: As I said, in terms of that one, there is the issue of what it means in terms of the deficit. That is a very expensive thing. And so, as we think about that, that’s one of the things that we think is problematic in that space.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As you know, also, one of the persistent criticisms of the law and health care in general is that the costs is so high, that premium costs are high.

    We looked at some numbers today. In many places, people are paying 10 percent, 20 percent, even 30 percent of their gross income for these premiums. How do you reverse this trend, which seems to be happening in places all over the country?

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: So, first, I think it’s important to recognize that in terms of premium growth, that we have seen some of the lowest premium growth in the employer-based market that we have seen in many, many years in terms of a decade.

    We have also seen that price increases in the health system are at some of the lowest in decades. With regard to what we’re seeing now in terms of some of the premiums that have been posted and are being talked about, those are the proposed premiums.

    And part of the Affordable Care Act created a process of transparency and review. So when insurers are going to charge more than a 10 percent increase, that needs to be reviewed and there needs to be justification. The Affordable Care Act actually has put in place things that we believe both increase transparency and increase downward pressure on the premiums, but I think everyone knows, before the Affordable Care Act, we saw these premium increases that existed as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the difficulty in getting people to sign up. This is something I know the administration’s worked very hard on.

    But even today, we’re told something like 18 million Americans who are eligible who are uninsured still have not signed up, decided to buy insurance. Many of these are Hispanic, young people, young men. How do you reach out to these individuals? How do you persuade them to sign up when they haven’t been willing before now?

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: So, we know a couple of things.

    First, 16.4 million fewer Americans are uninsured now. And that is progress and progress we want to build. We want to do this year as part of our open enrollment and focus, as we did last year, on meeting the consumer where they are, making sure that we understand what these consumers are making their choices on and that they have the information they need to make good decisions and know that they can find affordable, quality care.

    We know that many people don’t realize that there are tax credits that can help make it affordable. We also know that many people, differing groups need to be — have individual contact. And that’s why we use navigators and assisters, so that people can ask the questions of an individual and have a conversation about what is a very important and personal matter.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, of course, another important part of this is coverage for low-income individuals, for the poor, Medicaid. A number of governors, a number of states have said they are not going to go along with expanded Medicaid coverage.

    There is difficulty. We know the administration is going to be reducing, I guess, from 100 percent down to 90 percent of the portion it covers. You still see state leaders saying this is something they can’t afford to do. How do you persuade them otherwise?

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: Well, first, I think it’s important that the 100 percent goes through 2016.

    So, for many governors, it’s important to go ahead and fully get that 100 percent payment that the federal government is willing to make in terms of expanding and providing coverage for many working people in their state who can’t afford that coverage right now.

    And we believe that, in terms of the expansion, it’s important for two fundamental reasons. One is for the individuals. And those individuals, as I said, many are working, are people who can get health security and financial security by the expansion.

    I think the other thing that’s important is what this does mean in terms of jobs and the economy. And in Kentucky, where they did expand, they have done studies so that they make sure they track what’s happening. And a study done by Deloitte, as well as the University of Louisville, showed that, in the state of Kentucky, by the year 2021, they expect 40,000 new jobs to be created because of the expansion and $30 billion to flow into the budgets of the state of Kentucky.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So that’s something you will think is going to happen elsewhere?

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: We think it is. And we think that it’s because of the substance in terms of what it means in the states, both for individuals, as well as for the states’ economies and providers in those states.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, thank you.

    SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: Judy, thanks for having me.

    The post After surviving Supreme Court challenge, what’s next for Obamacare coverage and cost? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Anti-EU protesters hold a burned and torn European Union flag during a protest at the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece July 1, 2015. A defiant Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged Greeks on Wednesday to reject an international bailout deal, wrecking any prospect of repairing broken relations with EU partners before a referendum on Sunday that may decide Greece's future in Europe. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis - RTX1INYK

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: One day after an historic missed payment to the International Monetary Fund, the scene in Greece became ever more desperate and chaotic, as European creditors rebuffed a late request by the country’s leader.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Athens.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Greece’s ceremonial guard symbolizing national pride marched past the prime minister’s residence, as Alexis Tsipras blasted his country’s creditors on national TV.

    PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS, Greece (through interpreter): I know well that at this hour, the warning sirens are loud. They are blackmailing you and calling on you to vote yes to all the measures the creditors are asking for, without any prospect of coming out of this crisis.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Instead, Tsipras urged a show of defiance against austerity measures in Sunday’s referendum.

    ALEXIS TSIPRAS (through interpreter): On the other hand, a no-vote is not just a slogan. No is a decisive step towards a better agreement that we aim to sign immediately after Sunday’s result. It consists of the people’s clear mandate on how they want to live the next day. No doesn’t mean clashing with Europe, but returning to a Europe of values.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Hours earlier, Tsipras had sent a letter to those same creditors, accepting bailout terms, but with some conditions. They included keeping in place a discounted sales tax for Greek islands popular with tourists, stretching out defense spending cuts and delaying the phase-out of an income supplement for poor pensioners.

    But for leaders of the European Union, it was too little, too late. The view from German Chancellor Angela Merkel reinforced by other European leaders was no deal before the referendum.

    CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter): Holding a referendum is a democratic sovereign right of the Greek state. It is the legitimate right of Greece to do that whenever they want and about whatever they want. But to make it as clear, it is also a democratic sovereign right of the other 18 member states of the Eurozone to respond to the Greek decision in a proportionate way.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Meanwhile, for desperate pensioners in Athens, it was another long, frustrating day outside the few designated banks that opened their doors to retirees. Only those whose last names began with the letters A through I were served, and even then, they were given the equivalent of just $133.

    Do you have enough money to pay these people?

    MAN: I don’t know. I don’t know.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Some of those in the line couldn’t believe how far they’d fallen.

    MAN (through interpreter): I lived abroad for 40 years and I brought back $1.5 million back into the country.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: And as the day wore on, tensions built and tempers flared.

    MAN (through interpreter): Don’t push me around or I will punch you in the face. Don’t tell me how long you have been here. I have been here since 3:00 this morning.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The police were called in to keep order, and in the end, these pensioners did get their money, but it’s a scene that will doubtless be repeated tomorrow with many people now past all patience.

    GIORGOS HAZIDIMITRAKIS, Greece (through interpreter): Whether they give me only 120 euros or not, it’s the same thing. As far as I am concerned, they’re trying to fool us.

    HARALAMBOS KATIS, Greece (through interpreter): The working class should form a society which solves the problems of the ordinary people and not the profits of the rich.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: All of which sets the stage for a showdown at the ballot box.

    The call by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Greeks to vote no in Sunday’s referendum should not come as a surprise to the country’s European partners. Tsipras is embroiled, so he says, in a fight to restore Greek dignity. But make no mistake. He’s also involved in a battle to secure his political future and legacy.

    If he loses the referendum, he will no doubt have to resign and call a general election. But, according to the latest opinion polls, the no-camp is substantially in the lead with 54 percent support, where the yes-camp is trailing at 33 percent. Those numbers may narrow over the next coming days as a result of Greeks getting an early bitter taste of capital controls — Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Malcolm Brabant in Athens.

    And you can see more of Malcolm’s reporting on the Greek crisis on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

    The post Greece’s Tsipras urges defiance after creditors reject late offer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Smoke rises in Egypt's North Sinai as seen from the border of southern Gaza Strip with Egypt July 1, 2015.  Islamic State militants launched a wide-scale coordinated assault on several military checkpoints in Egypt's North Sinai on Wednesday in which 50 people were killed, security sources said, the largest attack yet in the insurgency-hit province.  REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa          TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY           - RTX1IMV7

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Islamic State militants fought for hours with Egyptian government troops today in the Northern Sinai Peninsula. When it was over, 100 militants and more than 60 soldiers had reportedly been killed.

    The lengthy battle began after the Islamic State forces launched a massive coordinated assault on army and police positions.

    For more on this, I spoke with Reuters correspondent Yara Bayoumy in Cairo.

    Yara Bayoumy, thank you for talking with us.

    First of all, tell us what happened in the Northern Sinai.

    YARA BAYOUMY, Reuters: Well, it started out really early this morning when we heard that there were a number of attacks on military checkpoints in North Sinai by a number of militants.

    That happens often, actually, because North Sinai is the epicenter of an insurgency here in Egypt. But it quickly escalated, and we saw that it was a very widespread, coordinated assault on a number of military checkpoints in Northern Sinai by militants. And actually Islamic State’s Egypt’s affiliate claimed responsibility for those attacks.

    We had security sources that did tell us that the intention of the militants was to basically lay siege to the town of Sheikh Zuweid, which is one of the most restive towns in North Sinai. And, of course, this is all part of the militants’ broader campaign in their attacks against security forces and their ultimate aim of wanting or seeking to topple the Cairo government.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I read that this went on for hours and hours. How well-equipped, how prepared was the Egyptian military?

    YARA BAYOUMY: Well, the Egyptian military has been fighting this insurgency for over — or about two years now. And it has actually intensified since the military ousted Islamic President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, after mass protests against him.

    So, the army has been very — very used to this kind of warfare, but, of course, the Egyptian army is a largely conventional army. And the enemy that it’s confronting is largely an enemy that uses guerrilla warfare tactics in North Sinai, so ones that really largely depend on car bombs, IEDs.

    And, of course, we can’t forget that these militants operate in areas that — some of which provide havens for them within the region. And so it’s a very difficult enemy that they’re confronting. In terms of how they have managed to do, this was, as I said, a very sustained — a very sustained attack or clash that happened today.

    Most of the times, the militants tend to launch attacks and then disappear or melt away into various neighborhoods within Northern Sinai, but, this time, it seems like they really did put up a fight.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just quickly, these militants are an affiliate, an offshoot of Islamic State?

    YARA BAYOUMY: Right. So they’re called Sinai Province, and they have — you know, they have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

    And they very early on claimed responsibility for these attacks, saying that they have launched attacks on 15 military checkpoints. They carried out three — and there were three suicide bombings. The army said that they used car bombs as well. They did have anti-aircraft weaponry as well, so they did seem to have — they were very well-prepared for this assault that they launched today.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there.

    Yara Bayoumy, thank you for joining us from Cairo. We appreciate it.

    YARA BAYOUMY: Thank you.

    The post Islamic State militants launch coordinated assault on Egyptian forces appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Justice Department has launched an investigation of major airlines and possible collusion to keep fares higher. The department confirmed the probe after the Associated Press reported it focuses on whether carriers have limited available seats. American Airlines, Delta, Southwest and United now control more than 80 percent of all seats on domestic flights.

    The United States and Cuba will reopen their embassies in each other’s countries, in Havana and Washington, later this month for the first time in more than 50 years. President Obama made the formal announcement this morning in the White House Rose Garden. He said both countries are ready to move forward.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba, despite good intentions, increasingly had the opposite effect, cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere.

    The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can and will change.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cuba for the American Embassy’s opening on July 20.

    Secretary Kerry is in Vienna now for the Iran nuclear talks. He said today there’s been enough progress to go beyond yesterday’s deadline. His Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, also talked of progress, but he offered few details.

    Investigators converged on a small South Carolina town today, after the latest in a series of fires at black churches across the south. Mount Zion AME Church at Greeleyville burned last night. The fire broke out as lightning was moving across the area, and federal investigators said initial indications suggest it wasn’t arson. But they’re not ready to make that official.

    CRAIG CHILCOTT, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives: We haven’t ruled anything in or anything out at this point. We’re going to let the case dictate and we’re going to investigate it, as the facts will ultimately determine what occurred. We’re going to bring all the assets of the federal government to bear to investigate this — this fire.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The same church was the target of a fire set by two Ku Klux Klan members in 1995.

    The presidential fund-raising race has begun in earnest. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign said today that it took in more than $45 million in the second quarter. That eclipses a record set by President Obama in 2011. Clinton formally announced her bid in April.

    The president’s residence is making itself more welcoming to some visitors and more hostile to others. Officials today ended a 40-year ban on photography during public tours of the White House by encouraging people to snap pictures. But selfie sticks and video cameras remain on the banned list. Meanwhile, outside the executive mansion, work crews added sharp metal spikes to the fencing to stop intruders. That follows several security breaches.

    Thousands of people marched in Hong Kong today, pressing the city’s leader to step down, and calling for full democracy. The annual protest marks the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Last year, pro-democracy forces blocked streets for 79 days, demanding reforms.

    In Indonesia, the death toll passed 140 in the crash of a military transport plane. The plane went down Tuesday, after taking off from Medan city. By today, an excavator began clearing away what’s left of the wreckage.

    LT. COL. MOHAMAD RIDWAN, Chief Commander, Indonesian Army (through interpreter): Today, we have completed the evacuation of the bodies. We hope that the evacuation of the aircraft’s tail can be completed as soon as possible. Our constraint is the lack of equipment we need for cutting to quickly move the wreckage.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Investigators are now focused on why the plane had far more passengers than first believed. Civilians apparently were permitted on board for a fee, in violation of military rules.

    The wave of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has grown more than 80 percent from a year ago. The United Nations Refugee Agency reported today that 137,000 refugees have landed in Europe since January. That far outstrips the 75,000 who made the crossing in the first half of 2014. Greece is now the leading destination for the migrants.

    In economic news, Wall Street pushed higher, anticipating that the June jobs report due tomorrow will be stronger than expected. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 140 points to close near 17760. The Nasdaq rose 26 points and the S&P 500 added 14.

    U.S. soccer fans celebrated today, after the women’s national team reached the World Cup final. The Americans beat Germany 2-0 in last night’s semifinal in Montreal. They will play either Japan or England in Sunday’s title match.

    And the man known as Britain’s Schindler for saving Jewish children from the Nazis has died. In 1939, Nicholas Winton managed to get more than 650 children on trains out of Czechoslovakia, just before World War II broke out. Nicholas Winton was 106 years old.

    The post News Wrap: Justice Department investigating major airlines appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A man holds a plastic bag with oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill south of Freemason Island, Louisiana on May 7, 2010. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    A man holds a plastic bag with oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill south of Freemason Island, Louisiana on May 7, 2010. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    BP has reached an $18.7 billion settlement with the federal government and five states, effectively ending litigation stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and subsequent oil spill.

    The fire killed 11 workers and underwater oil gusher contaminated U.S. shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico.

    According to the Justice Department, the settlement covers fines under the Clean Water Act, natural resource damages, and claims by state and local governments for economic damages related to the spill.

    “This is a realistic outcome which provides clarity and certainty for all parties,” BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said in a statement. “For BP, this agreement will resolve the largest liabilities remaining from the tragic accident.”

    The agreement will be submitted for public comment and undergo court approval.

    The post BP to pay $18.7 billion to 5 states for Gulf of Mexico oil spill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Denver Post photo by Cyrus McCrimmon via Getty Images

    Denver Post photo by Cyrus McCrimmon via Getty Images

    Who knew people cared so much about what goes into their guacamole, to the point that the suggestion of adding an ingredient for “green” purposes would create such rancor?

    In a seemingly innocuous story, no doubt timed for July 4 festivities, New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark touted adding fresh peas to the picnic staple.

    It seemed like a good suggestion in light of California’s drought and the gazillion gallons of water needed to grow one avocado.

    Nonetheless, some cried blasphemy:

    Clark quickly shifted the blame, er, credit to “farm-fresh eatery” ABC Cocina in New York City:

    People started falling into different camps.

    The president weighed in via his newly created Twitter account. The Splendid Table (“for people who love to eat”, hosted by Lynne Rosetto Kasper) bravely sided with Clark (although they also posted a recipe for seaweed salad, so…):

    Others confirmed they had a taste for it:

    Clark herself noted that:

    Here is the recipe that caused the brouhaha (take it with a grain of salt. Re-posting does not equal endorsement.):

    Green Pea Guacamole
    • ½ pound fresh sweet peas, shucked (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup peas)
    • 2 small jalapeños
    • 2 tablespoons packed cilantro leaves, chopped, more for garnish
    • ¾ teaspoon salt, more as needed
    • 3 small ripe avocados, mashed
    • 2 scallions, whites only, sliced as thin as possible (about 1/4 cup)
    • Zest of 1 lime
    • Juice of 1 lime, more as needed
    • 1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds
    • Flaky sea salt, for serving
    • Tortilla chips, for serving
    • Lime wedges, for serving

    1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a bowl with water and ice. Plunge peas into the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 1 minute. Drain peas and immediately transfer to the ice bath. Drain.

    2. Heat broiler to high and broil one of the jalapeños on a heatproof pan. Cook, turning occasionally, until jalapeño is completely charred. Transfer to a small bowl, cover tightly in plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, use a towel to wipe off the charred skin. Halve, seed and devein the roasted jalapeño. Then halve, seed, and mince the remaining raw jalapeño.

    3. In a blender or the bowl of a food processor, purée peas (reserving 2 tablespoons for garnish) with roasted jalapeño, minced raw jalapeño, cilantro and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Process until almost smooth but still a little chunky.

    4. In a medium bowl, combine mashed avocado, scallions, lime zest, lime juice, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pea purée. Adjust salt and lime juice as needed and garnish with fresh peas, sunflower seeds and flaky sea salt. Serve with tortilla chips and lime wedges.

    View the full recipe on ABC Cocina chef Jean-Georges’ website.

    The post The great guacamole debate: to pea or not to pea? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A plate sits full of crispy fried catfish. For years, generations of Turners have passed around similar platters during the family's annual reunion in Tupelo, Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Smith/Flickr

    A plate sits full of crispy fried catfish. For years, generations of Turners have passed around similar platters during the family’s annual reunion in Tupelo, Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Smith/Flickr

    Editor’s Note: A version of this essay first appeared on the food and culture blog, American Food Roots.

    For decades, generations of my family gathered over plates piled high with freshly fried, farm-raised fare at catfish houses scattered across northeast Mississippi to make good on a promise made to my Granny’s daddy. Before he died, he asked his children that no matter how many miles separated all of them, they would never grow apart.

    Before he died, Papa Turner asked his children to meet each year during what became an annual summer tradition in Tupelo, Mississippi -- the Turner family reunion. Photo courtesy of Laura Santhanam

    Before he died, Papa Turner asked his children to meet each year during what became an annual summer tradition in Tupelo, Mississippi — the Turner family reunion. Photo courtesy of Laura Santhanam

    Enter all-you-can-eat fried whole catfish. Some sad souls, bless their hearts, dismiss the catfish as a bottom feeder. But this wondrous fish brought together roughly 200 people each year, signaling the start of what became the annual Turner family reunion.

    On the third Friday of every June, Turners from as far away as Walla Walla, Washington; Dallas; and Kenosha, Wisconsin, descended upon Tupelo, Mississippi, my hometown and near where Papa Turner raised his 13 children, working as a cotton farmer during the Great Depression and World War II.

    Those of us who stayed in Tupelo opened our houses to the out-of-towners. Many of my cousins, aunts and uncles cashed in their year’s vacation for this trip, and all salivated at the prospect of relishing that first taste of home — catfish — at one of several catfish houses in or near the county.

    When I was growing up, to see one catfish house was to see them all, although Malone’s was a family favorite until it burned down. The restaurant was a simple structure with forgettable vinyl siding. I could smell the fish and hushpuppies frying when Momma drove us onto the packed gravel parking lot, tucked away in the piney woods near the Lee-Pontotoc county line.

    These bustling restaurants only opened for the weekends, guaranteeing the freshest fish to us who waited sometimes more than an hour for all of the Turners to be seated. The dark wood-paneled walls were barely enough to contain the chatter and sheer number of all of us. Iced, syrupy sweet Lipton tea filled every plastic glass on the particle-board tables, and each folding chair held someone catching up on a year of family news and gossip. Wax paper-lined red plastic baskets filled with hushpuppies, those zesty balls made of fried cornmeal and minced Vidalia onion, were fetched from the fryer. Children squirmed for a chance to play with cousins.

    Most of Papa Turner's 13 children line up for a sibling portrait in Tupelo, Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Laura Santhanam

    Most of Papa Turner’s 13 children line up for a sibling portrait in Tupelo, Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Laura Santhanam

    As a child, boneless filets and fries magically showed up in front of me on the table. It wasn’t until I reached my teenage years that I embraced the namesake dish at these catfish houses. The menu was just a formality reserved for first-timers. My order, like just about everybody else’s, was a foregone conclusion: Whole fried catfish. Orders took a while to emerge from the kitchen, but on those June weekends, we Turners had nothing but time. With it, we talked and tried to make the miles and months melt away.

    What finally appeared before me was a plate full of cornmeal-battered, golden-brown, deep-fried whole catfish, crispy fins intact. The white fish was seasoned with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and a blend of spices. Its taste was as fresh as could be. Slices of raw white onion and lemon wedges came out in small, plastic pudding bowls for those who knew how and when to use them.

    Each bite was hot, flavorful perfection. The gritty cornmeal complemented the tender, flaky catfish. But there was more to it. Granny and Aunt Delta demonstrated the value and wisdom of “waste not, want not” by snapping off the fried fins and biting into each of them like a potato chip. They had the same crunch, and the not-too-fishy taste was savored as a delicacy.

    This meal set the tone for a reunion weekend of swapping memories and making new ones. For the next few days, food reminded us of the warmth of family, the feeling of closeness that hundreds of miles unsuccessfully threatened.

    Year in and year out, Turner family reunions followed this wonderfully familiar rhythm. By the end of the weekend, we all returned to our jobs, school and normal life with a sense of connection that we savored as long as we could until next June came around. That is how it once was, but things changed. The location switched to an all-you-can-eat catfish buffet. No longer did the long-anticipated appearance of freshly fried catfish punctuate conversation the way it once had. The quality was all right but never the same.

    Five generations of Turners, including Granny (second from right) and the author (far right)  stand together at the 2008 reunion. Photo courtesy of Laura Santhanam

    Generations of Turners, including Granny, second from right, and the author, far right, stand together at the 2008 reunion. Photo courtesy of Laura Santhanam

    As Granny’s brothers and sisters passed away, one by one, turnout for reunions became more sparse. Granny herself had to miss last year’s reunion for the first time since they started. She died last year, two Mondays after Mother’s Day. Two reunions have come and gone, and it still hurts to know that we’ll spend them without her, or any other family gathering for that matter. These days when I get into the kitchen, hundreds of miles from home and her, I turn to recipes she once made and brought to get-togethers — chess pie, candied yams, chicken and dressing — and think of my Granny.

    That is the magic of food, especially in the South and particularly in our family. Whether it is catfish, Granny’s pecan pie or an aunt’s garden-grown black-eyed peas and homemade cornbread, food forms the focal point of all major events and holidays and brings people closer together. On those June weekends, however different they may be nowadays, it continues to give us a chance to honor our promise to Papa Turner and each other.

    The post Every summer, generations of my family gather around this Mississippi bottom feeder appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    URBANDALE, IA - JUNE 14:  Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb listens to speakers at the Urbandale Democrats Flag Day Celebration on June 14, 2015 in Urbandale, Iowa. Webb is on a three-day tour of Iowa while he continues to explore his potential in a bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb listens to speakers at the Urbandale Democrats Flag Day CelebrationPhoto by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

    WASHINGTON — A look at former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who announced Thursday he would seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

    THE BRIEF
    Jim Webb has built a long career as a soldier, writer, Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan and a U.S. senator from Virginia. Webb’s next chapter will include a plotline that could be out of a novel — as a longshot on a quixotic quest to defeat the established Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    Since launching a presidential exploratory committee in November, Webb has said he wants to be a voice for working-class Americans who have struggled with economic hardships and been neglected in a political system dominated by money. He says foreign policy has been “adrift” since the end of the Cold War.

    He brings to the campaign an independent streak and an outsider’s view on the economy and criminal justice. His foreign policy views on Iraq and Libya and criticism of Wall Street excess could lead to debate-stage confrontations with Clinton, who served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state.

    Webb will need to raise enough money to mount a viable campaign, something he’s acknowledged will be a challenge in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling that helped super PACs spend millions from corporations, unions and wealthy people.

    RESUME REVIEW
    A Naval Academy graduate, Webb served as a company commander in the Marines during the Vietnam War and was awarded the Naval Cross, the Silver Star Medal and two Purple Hearts. After the war, he graduated from law school and published his first novel in 1978, “Fields of Fire,” about the Vietnam War. The 2000 film, “Rules of Engagement,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, was based on a story by Webb.

    In the late 1970s, he served as a counsel to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and worked as a journalist, receiving an Emmy Award for his PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983. He later served in the Defense Department and became Navy secretary under Reagan in 1987.

    In 2006, Webb ran for the Senate on an anti-Iraq war message and overcame a large deficit to defeat incumbent Republican George Allen. In the Senate, Webb focused on foreign policy and veterans issues — he helped write the post 9/11 GI bill — but decided not to seek re-election in 2012.

    PERSONAL STORY
    Webb’s father was an Air Force colonel and his family moved frequently during his childhood. He enrolled at the University of Southern California but left a year later to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.

    He was one of the Annapolis graduates — along with Arizona Sen. John McCain — featured in Robert Timberg’s “The Nightingale’s Song,” about those who fought in Vietnam. The book chronicles a memorable boxing match between Webb and Oliver North, a central figure in the Iran contra scandal of the 1980s.

    Webb, 69, has written several novels, movie scripts and articles, including one, in Washingtonian magazine, that came back to haunt him. The 1979 piece criticized the role of women in the military and was remembered for Webb’s observation that an Annapolis dormitory was a “horny woman’s dream.” He added, “I have never met a woman, including the dozens of female midshipmen I encountered during my recent semester as a professor at the Naval Academy, whom I would trust to provide those men with combat leadership.”

    Webb became a Republican at the end of the Vietnam War based on national security issues and endorsed Allen in the 2000 Senate race. But he became disillusioned with the party during the Iraq war and decided to challenge Allen in 2006. Webb was helped when Allen’s campaign imploded after the incumbent senator called a Democratic tracker “macaca,” taken as an ethnic insult, during a campaign event.

    CALLING CARD MOMENT
    Webb’s military service in the Vietnam War has infused every aspect of his career: his time on Capitol Hill as a counsel working on veterans’ issues, his novels and stints in journalism and his tenure in the Defense Department. As the nation’s debate over the Iraq war waged, Webb defeated Allen in one of the top Senate contests of 2006. After winning the seat, he raised his son’s military boots in the air during a Democratic rally in one of the lasting images from the campaign. His wife, Hong Le Webb, an attorney, was born in Vietnam. The former senator speaks Vietnamese.

    EARLY STATE ACTION
    Webb has made frequent visits to the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina but is overshadowed in the contest. He has sought to appeal to veterans and military voters in the early states and has played down the hurdles in running against Clinton, noting that he started well behind Allen about nine months before the 2006 Senate election.

    READING LIST
    Webb is the author of military-themed books, including the novels “Fields of Fire,” ”Lost Soldiers,” ”The Emperor’s General,” ”A Sense of Honor,” ”Something to Die For,” and “A Country Such as This.” He wrote also wrote his memoirs, “I Heard My Country Calling,” and a policy book, “A Time to Fight.”

    The post Former Sen. Jim Webb announces his presidential run appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    fresh sliced Avocado

    Who knew people were so fierce when it came to dressing their fresh avocados. Photo by Getty Images

    After a week of debating contentious issues like gay marriage and the confederate flag, Americans have chosen a new topic to dispute: guacamole.

    On Tuesday, the New York Times published a recipe that calls for adding green peas to the Mexican favorite. Within hours, social media exploded. Some said the recipe was delicious and should be given a chance, others locked ranks around traditional guacamole and decried the radical idea. Even the President weighed in. By the end of the day, the debate had made headlines.

    In order to get some perspective on the issue, the PBS NewsHour did what we do best: consult an expert.

    Oscar Serrano is the manager of Tequilas, an haute Mexican restaurant that’s been serving traditional cuisine in Philadelphia for 30 years. Serrano admits Tequilas often messes around with their guac. On the weekends they even have guacamole bars where customers can add fish, crab — even octopus — to their guacamole. But peas?

    “No, definitely not,” said Serrano. “It would change the whole flavor and concept of the guacamole. Peas have a very unique and strong flavor that’s going to change the whole taste. It would change it definitely in the wrong way.”

    Serrano said he understands the urge to experiment with foods like guacamole — to add in different ingredients, to play around with the spices. He’s all in favor of that.

    “That’s about one of the great things about guacamole,” he said. “You can make it your own. You know you want to put a little bacon in your guacamole, change it up a little bit, everyone will be like oh you’re a good chef. When you have the basic recipe you can twist it up a little bit and I think all those changes are good.”

    For Serrano, however, there is a very clear line between changes that should be made, and changes that should not.

    “As long as you don’t change the basic guacamole,” he said. “So like instead of lime I’ll use lemon.”

    But don’t get too crazy. “Guacamole without cilantro? That’s where I draw the line,” he said. “The basic recipe has to be there. You cannot substitute the basic ingredients for anything else”

    Courtesy of Tequilas in Philadelphia

    Courtesy of Tequilas in Philadelphia

    Tequila’s Guacamole with Crab and Mango

    Ingredients:
    1 avocado
    1/4 onion, finely chopped
    1/3 tomato, chopped
    1/2 teaspoon chopped cilantro
    1/2 teaspoon chopped jalapeño
    Juice of 1/2 lime
    Chopped crabmeat to garnish
    Chopped mango to garnish

    Directions:
    Mash avocado with a fork. Add in onion, tomato, cilantro, jalapeño and lime juice. Then, place crab meat and chopped mango on top for a healthy garnish.

    Recipe courtesy of Tequila’s in Philly.

    The post Forget peas — add crab and mango to your guacamole. Trust us. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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