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

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    Video produced by Victoria Fleischer.

    Poet Wang Ping writes at the intersection of gender, sexuality and the Chinese immigrant experience. She was born in Shanghai and grew up on a small island in the South China Sea before emigrating to the U.S. in 1985 to earn an M.A. in English from Long Island University. She is the author of poetry collections “The Magic Whip” and “Of Flesh & Spirit.”

    Watch Wang read her poem “Syntax” at the 2015 AWP Conference and Bookfair in Minneapolis.

    Syntax

    She walks to a table
    She walk to table

    She is walking to a table
    She walk table now

    What difference does it make
    What difference it make

    In Nature, no completeness
    No sentence really complete thought

    Language, like woman
    Look best when free, undressed

    Wang Ping earned a B.A. from Beijing University and a Ph.D. from New York University. Her books include two collections of poetry, the cultural study “Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China,” the novel “Foreign Devil,” two collections of fiction stories entitled “American Visa” and “The Last Communist Virgin,” and a book of Chinese folk lore, “The Dragon Emperor.” Wang is also the editor and co-translator of the anthology “New Generation: Poetry from China Today” and co-translator of “Flames” by Xue Di.

    The post Poet explores how to ‘undress’ language appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A U.S. postal worker loads up his truck with mail for delivery from the postal station in Carlsbad, California on Feb. 6, 2013. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    A U.S. postal worker loads up his truck with mail for delivery from the postal station in Carlsbad, California on Feb. 6, 2013. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service on Monday reported a net loss of $586 million this spring, a big improvement for the cash-strapped agency compared to a nearly $2 billion loss during the same period last year.

    Postal officials said the loss was mitigated largely because interest rates, which are associated with worker’ compensation expenses, swung in the agency’s favor. Operating expenses outside the Postal Service’s control dropped by $1.6 billion during the same period last year to $389 million this spring.

    The Postal Service is an independent agency that receives no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control. The latest financial statement covers April through the end of June, a time period when the Postal Service says it typically experiences lower revenues.

    Joseph Corbett, the Postal Service’s chief financial officer, said increased package revenue and productivity gains weren’t quite enough to offset inflation and a decline in mail volume, even though operating revenue of $16.5 billion was roughly the same as last spring and shipping and package revenue increased by 10.6 percent. He blamed increases in certain operating expenses, including wages, benefits and transportation.

    “This underscores the need for a combination of continued sales growth, productivity gains and legislation to ensure the Postal Service can return to financial health and meet its public service obligations,” he said in a statement.

    Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said the results represent an impressive “turnaround continuing in full force.” The group cites the $1.2 billion in “controllable” net income for the first three-quarters of the year. Controllable income excludes certain factors including a requirement that the Postal Service prefund retiree health benefits.

    The operating losses during the third quarter aren’t unusual, and “it doesn’t change the fact that 2015 is turning into one of the USPS’ most impressive annual performances since the Great Recession,” he said in a statement.

    The post U.S. Postal Service reports $586 million net loss for spring, a big improvement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A jet departs Washington's Reagan National Airport next to the control tower outside Washington on Feb. 25, 2013. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

    A jet departs Washington’s Reagan National Airport next to the control tower outside Washington on Feb. 25, 2013. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Air traffic controllers’ work schedules often lead to chronic fatigue, making them less alert and endangering the safety of the national air traffic system, according to a study the government has kept secret for nearly four years.

    Federal Aviation Administration officials have declined to furnish a copy of the report despite repeated requests and a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press. However, the AP was able to obtain a draft of the final report dated Dec. 1, 2011.

    The impetus for the study was a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board to the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to revise controller schedules to provide rest periods that are long enough “to obtain sufficient restorative sleep.”

    The study found that nearly 2 in 10 controllers had committed significant errors in the previous year — such as bringing planes too close together — and over half attributed the errors to fatigue. A third of controllers said they perceived fatigue to be a “high” or “extreme” safety risk. Greater than 6 in 10 controllers indicated that in the previous year they had fallen asleep or experienced a lapse of attention while driving to or from midnight shifts, which typically begin about 10 p.m. and end around 6 a.m.

    Overall, controllers whose activity was closely monitored by scientists averaged 5.8 hours of sleep per day over the course of a work week. They averaged only 3.1 hours before midnight shifts and 5.4 hours before early morning shifts.

    The most tiring schedules required controllers to work five straight midnight shifts, or to work six days a week several weeks in a row, often with at least one midnight shift per week. The human body’s circadian rhythms make sleeping during daylight hours before a midnight shift especially difficult.

    The study is composed of a survey of 3,268 controllers about their work schedules and sleep habits, and a field study that monitored the sleep and the mental alertness of more than 200 controllers at 30 air traffic facilities.

    NASA produced the study at the FAA’s request.

    J.D. Harrington, a NASA spokesman, also declined to release the study, saying in an email that since the FAA requested it, “they own the rights to decide its release.” NASA gave the scientists who conducted the study an award for the project’s excellence in 2013.

    In the field study, researchers concentrated on controllers who worked a schedule known as the “rattler” in which controllers squeeze five eight-hour shifts into four 24-hour periods by cutting the turnaround time between shifts to as little as eight hours. Some controllers like the schedule because it gives them a 3-day weekend.

    Controllers participating in the study wore a wrist device that recorded when they were asleep. They also kept logs of their sleep, and were administered alertness tests several times per work shift. More than 30 percent of controllers who worked the six-day schedules said they had committed a significant error in the previous year. Three years later, controllers said six-day work weeks are still common. Schedules worked by 76 percent of controllers in the field study led to chronic fatigue, creating pressure to fall asleep. “Even with 8 to 10 hours of recovery sleep, alertness may not recover to the full rested baseline level, but may be reset at a lower level of function,” the report said.

    “Chronic fatigue may be considered to pose a significant risk to controller alertness, and hence to the safety of the ATC (air traffic control) system,” the study concluded, especially when combined with little stimulation during periods of low air traffic and the human body’s natural pressure to sleep during certain times of the day.

    The 270-page study makes 17 recommendations to the FAA, including that the agency discontinue mandatory six-day schedules “as soon as possible.” At the time, about 4 percent of controllers were being assigned “a six-day constant schedule,” the study said, but the share of controllers who had actually worked a six-day schedule in their previous work week was 15 percent.

    More than 30 percent of controllers who worked the six-day schedules said they had committed a significant error in the previous year. Three years later, controllers at several air traffic facilities told the AP that six-day work weeks are still common.

    FAA officials didn’t reply to questions from the AP about steps the agency has taken to reduce controller fatigue and the prevalence of six-day work weeks.

    FAA officials also refused to share the report with researchers from the National Academies, which advises Congress on science issues.

    The study was completed several months after a series of incidents involving controllers falling asleep on the job embarrassed FAA officials and led to the resignation of the head of the agency’s air traffic organization. In one incident in 2011, two airliners landed at Washington’s Reagan National Airport late at night without assistance from the airport’s control tower where the lone controller on duty had fallen asleep.

    After the incidents, the FAA and the controllers’ union announced several changes to address fatigue, including requirements that there be at least two controllers on duty after midnight and that controllers be provided at least nine hours between shifts to rest.

    But the transportation safety board told the FAA in 2013: “We are concerned that, given the realities of the time required for an employee to commute home and back to work, and to attend to personal and family needs, a nine-hour break may not allow enough time for an employee to obtain eight continuous hours of sleep.”

    The board’s recommendations were prompted by a 2006 accident in which a regional airliner crashed while taking off from a runway that was too short in Lexington, Kentucky. Forty-nine of the 50 people on board were killed. The air traffic controller who cleared the plane for takeoff didn’t notice it turn onto the wrong runway. The controller had worked all night and had had only two hours sleep in the previous 24 hours.

    The post Study shows chronic fatigue among air traffic controllers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Editor’s note: On tonight’s NewsHour, author Wendy Thomas Russell will talk to the NewsHour’s Jeff Brown about her book, “Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious.” Read an excerpt of the book below.


    Lots of secular parents think religion is too complicated for young children to comprehend, and some worry that early exposure to religious ideas will bias children in one way or another. But waiting is a gamble. Kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. And when we wait too long, we risk losing their interest altogether; religious literacy becomes a chore—for them and for us.

    Precisely when and how you broach the subject with your child, though, will depend a lot on your child’s personality, not to mention your own worldview, the community in which you live, and the sorts of beliefs your child is most likely to encounter in talks with her peers. But, for purposes of planning, count on kicking things off around kindergarten. If you wait a little longer, that’s fine. But do keep in mind that the longer you wait, the harder the transition is likely to be. By eight, your child will probably have picked up a lot of things from peers; he might even be worried about what he’s hearing, or feel an inexplicable lack of belonging.

    Here are some general guidelines.

    Ages Four to Six. At this age, most kids are ready to start exploring ideas of spirituality. This is when blossoming imaginations begin welcoming supernatural ideas and when concepts like “good” and “evil” come into focus. It’s around this time, too, when inquisition replaces demand as the rhetorical tool of choice: “Why did this happen?” “What happens if someone does that?” “Why?” Around five, most children are being exposed to the reality that Mom and Dad don’t have exclusive control of the thought process: Kids at school also have ideas to share.

    Ages Seven and Eight. If, by the time your kid turns seven or eight, you have made clear that faith is a subject you are open to discussing, you ought to hear the subject come up naturally from time to time. You child will likely enjoy thinking about how the world was made and how humans came to be. (Evolution fascinates children of this age.) They may want to discuss what they believe in comparison to what others believe and may surprise you with the depth of their thoughts on the matter. (If you are a believer, don’t forget to talk about non-belief, as well!) Talk a little about the belief systems of your extended family. Encourage your kids to share their own thoughts, whatever they may be. And don’t worry about distinguishing between religions at this early stage. Try pointing out what all religions have in common, rather than what sets them apart. All religions, for instance, have sacred texts. All have life-cycle celebrations. All have views of the afterlife. All have holiday celebrations. Once they grasp that, you can individualize religions a bit more.

    Ages Nine to Eleven. At this point, religious talks will become commonplace. Expand on their knowledge. Work religious literacy into your conversations. Discuss some of the basic differences in religions and how those differences sometimes lead to conflict. Subjects like sin and hell are age-appropriate at this stage, as are discussions about “God’s will” versus “free will.” Look for opportunities to point out real-world examples of religion in books and architecture and clothing, for example. Take advantage of religious symbols in your community, lyrics in music, biblical clichés in your speech. Consider “celebrating” various religious holidays. If your child enjoys more philosophical discussions, you might find it fun to ask kids the question teacher Jim Morrison asks kids in his high school classroom: “Did God create man, or did man create God?”

    Ages Twelve and Thirteen. I hate to break this to you, but you may be nearing the end of your influence, to a certain extent. As your child gets to be a teenager, she will likely begin to turn away from you and instead look to her friends for guidance and direction. That said, this is also the time when her critical thinking skills kick into high gear. Kids enjoy exploring the psychological and political aspects of religion more deeply at this age. Your talks might become increasingly more casual and unfiltered. Good! Just be sure to emphasize how much you value diversity and tolerance. Explain that religion is as much about culture as beliefs and that it’s important not to like or dislike people based on their religion or skin color or sexual orientation or any other identifying feature that makes them different. Sometimes those who are the most different from us have the most to offer us.

    ‘FACT, FICTION OR BELIEF?’

    If you’re not sure your child is “ready” to discuss religious belief, try playing a game called “Fact, Fiction or Belief” to find out for sure. Define fact as anything that’s true; fiction as anything that’s made up; and belief as anything that some people think is fact and other people think is fiction. (For purposes of this game, all opinions, preferences, and tastes can be considered belief.) Then make statements and have your child label them accordingly. For instance, you might say: “The moon is in the sky.” (Fact!) “You like to eat rocks.” (Fiction!) “Pink is the best of all the colors.” (Belief!) Remember: Don’t try to make things too literal or complicated, or to inject actual religious beliefs into your examples. Just keep in mind the point of the game to see if your child can grasp the concept of belief—and have fun with it.

    The post How young is too young to talk to your kids about religion? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pope Francis

    Pope Francis’ historic speech to Congress in September will be broadcast on Jumbotrons on the National Mall. Photo by Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A political pope is sure to seize his opportunity when he addresses a political body. So both Democrats and Republicans are looking forward to Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress next month — and bracing for them, too.

    The pope thrills Democrats with his teachings on climate change, social justice and immigration. At the same time, his message on life and the Catholic Church’s traditional opposition to abortion comfort Republicans.

    There is genuine giddiness among Catholic Democrats — many of whom have long been uncomfortably at odds with their church over abortion rights — about the pope’s strong emphasis on addressing poverty and the environment.

    “I’ve been waiting for this pope all my life,” said liberal Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern, 57. “I find him inspirational and I know a lot of other people do, not just Catholics.”

    The pope comes to the Capitol on Sept. 24, where he will be the first pontiff to ever address a joint meeting of Congress. He will also appear on a West Front balcony to greet the public.

    There’s little doubt that Francis, who in a speech last month in Bolivia spoke out against unchecked capitalism before an assemblage of groups representing the poor, will seek to send a similar message to lawmakers representing the richest nation on earth.

    “Whether it’s climate change or hunger or taking care of the poor, the Pope’s message is really the embodiment of what Catholic social teaching has been about, historically,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who traveled to Rome to witness the pope’s installation two years ago.

    The pope was, of course, invited by the most powerful Catholic in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., who will be accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, another Catholic, in familiar seats behind Francis on the dais. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, also a Catholic, will occupy a prominent seat on her party’s side of the aisle.

    “The teachings of the Catholic Church don’t fit neatly into either the Democratic or the Republican Party,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill. For joint addresses like the State of the Union or even the recent appearance before Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, partisan politics is unavoidable. One side will jump to their feet while the other will sit on their hands. In September, however, most hope and anticipate such grandstanding can be avoided.

    “You will not know it’s the Congress,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

    There’s also no glad-handing the pope as he walks down the center aisle, unlike the annual ritual in which lawmakers such as Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, commandeer a seat to press the flesh. The pontiff is expected to keep his hands clasped as if in prayer.

    A top adviser to Francis visited Washington in April and said the pope will speak “frankly but friendly” in his U.S. trip.

    “Even the Congress people can listen to other voices, to counsels, to advisers,” said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, according to Religion News Service. “The one who receives advice commits less errors and is not mistaken. The one who does not like to listen to advice will have a lot of trouble. So I think the Congress will receive very well the advice (of the pope) — even if there are some things that will not be comfortable.”

    Francis’ recent encyclical chastised policymakers across the globe for inaction on the environment as the skies warm and the oceans are ravaged by overfishing and pollution.

    “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth,” the pope wrote. “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes.”

    In September, such warnings could be seen as a challenge directed to a Congress populated by GOP skeptics of proposals to reduce greenhouse gases like new curbs on coal-fired power plants.

    “You’re always stronger in terms of credibility when you stay closer to your church doctrine and church teaching and also what the Catholic Church has been about,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. “Many people take a lot of pride, whether you’re Catholic or not, in terms of focus on the poor, focus on helping the most vulnerable.”

    Francis, however, is not shy about expanding his reach beyond a traditional role as he leads the church in a rapidly changing century.

    “He’s a very different pope. He’s defined himself in a very different way,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., another Catholic. “He’s talking about outcomes. We’ve got to work on means.”

    The recent encyclical also reiterated the church’s longtime teachings on abortion.

    “How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” Francis wrote.

    Whatever the pope’s message, lawmakers in both parties hope it serves as a salve — however temporary — to a body that too often sees issues in black and white and seeks partisan advantage wherever it can be found.

    “The teachings of the Catholic Church don’t fit neatly into either the Democratic or the Republican Party,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill. “And I think that leads oftentimes to a fight on both sides over — now that we have a very popular pope — who is going to turn that to their political advantage. I hope that we won’t see that.”

    The post Pope Francis expected to challenge lawmakers in U.S. trip appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A sign in front of the Veterans Affairs building in Washington, D.C.  Photo by Karen Gleier/Getty Images

    A sign in front of the Veterans Affairs building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Karen Gleier/Getty Images

    DENVER — The chairman of the House Veterans Committee says the troubled Veterans Affairs Department should fire problem employees faster and that Congress should make it easier for the entire government to dismiss bad workers.

    In Denver, Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida on Monday defended his proposal to streamline the VA’s firing process but said he’s open to changes.

    Congress is unhappy about how long the VA has taken to discipline employees over falsified records to cover up long wait times for veterans’ health care and cost overruns at a hospital under construction outside Denver.

    VA Secretary Robert McDonald, also speaking to the Disabled American Veterans in Denver, said the bill would make it hard to recruit good staffers.

    Miller’s measure passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.

    The post VA should fire bad workers faster, House veterans chairman says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    In Marvel's comic book Fantastic Four, a  radiation blast yields superpowers in people.

    In Marvel’s comic book Fantastic Four, a radiation blast yields superhuman powers.

    The blockbuster reboot of the Fantastic Four flamed out this weekend, pulling in a meager $26 million at the U.S. box office. Still, the movie raised an age-old question: what would it take to obtain superpowers?

    Typically in comic books, the transition to superhuman power involves exposure to radiation. Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and can suddenly crawl on ceilings. Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil, gets splashed with radioactive juice and can hear through walls. But a new video from the American Chemical Society’s Reactions highlights the extreme unlikelihood of such scenarios.

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

    As the video explains, radiation is everywhere. When you hug your friends, heat radiation emanates from their arms and onto your skin. Switch on a bike lamp, and light radiation illuminates your path. Turn on Spotify or the radio, and sound radiation pumps jams into your ears. On a basic level, radiation is any energy that travels through space in the form of waves or particles. Here on Earth, we typically encounter radiation in the three forms mentioned above: heat, visible light and sound, but in most cases, we aren’t harmed by radiation because its energy and intensity levels are too low.

    To acquire superpowers, you would need a place steeped in high-energy radiation. Such a source lurks 600 to 12,000 miles outside Earth in the Van Allen radiation belt, where the planet’s magnetic field traps radioactive particles, like gamma rays created by solar wind or cosmic rays from other galaxies. (Our atmosphere shields most of these cosmic rays). A radioactive particle is an unstable atom that spews energy in an attempt to restore balance. If the energy level is strong enough, then it can pass through solid barriers, like our skin, and cause changes in our DNA.

    In many superhero origin stories, those mutations lead to superhuman abilities, but that situation is unlikely in the real world, as University of Nebraska physicist Dan Claes explains in the Reactions video.

    Claes says that the main barrier is the human body’s exorbitant number of cells. For the The Human Torch to gain his ability to become a fireball, each of his 75 trillion cells would need to mutate in the exact same way, he says. Even if a person traveled through the Van Allen belt, where they’d be pelted with 15 million cosmic rays per second, one couldn’t guarantee that happening.

    When you take deeper look, superpowers become really unfeasible. The DNA helix is like a train track with rails made of chemicals called base pairs. There are 3 billion base pairs in the human genome. So let’s say somewhere in that genome, there is one base pair responsible for Human Torchism. The odds of mutating that single base pair in all of your cells would be close to one in a septillion (1 followed by 24 zeros).

    At the same time, your body would be fighting back. High-energy radiation can physically snap the DNA helix or create deletions in the tracks, but cells come with repair systems to fix these mistakes. Or when they reach the point of no return, cells can commit a sort of suicide, a process known as apoptosis. (When these failsafes fall short, genetic disorders like cancer can occur).

    Ok, so a full-body superpower is out, but what about something simpler like supervision?

    In human eyes, colors are perceived by three light sensors in the eye called cones, but birds have an extra, mutated cone that detects ultraviolet light. In 2013, a study showed that this trait is due to a single mutation and had evolved at least 14 different times among the world’s bird species. The odds for supervision are still against you. Even if you developed an extra cone today, as at least one human has, there’d be no guarantee that your brain could comprehend the visual information or that you’d be able to describe the sensation to others.

    The post Why radiation can’t give you superpowers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Jail cells are seen in the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit at the Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York March 12, 2015. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    Jail cells are seen in the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit at the Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York March 12, 2015. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Prison reform advocates who have spent years campaigning against solitary confinement are counting on a powerful new ally in their quest to end the practice — Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

    Kennedy took the unusual step earlier this summer to condemn long-term solitary confinement, writing a separate opinion in a California death penalty case that had nothing to do with the issue.

    It wasn’t the first time Kennedy had spoken out on the topic. He testified before Congress in March that American prisons rely too much on holding inmates in isolation and said it “literally drives men mad.”

    But the tone of his June 18 opinion surprised many civil liberties groups with its almost explicit call for a fresh legal challenge to the practice of keeping prisoners in “a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot for 23 hours a day.”

    “I’ve never seen it happen before,” said Amy Fettig, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “Every civil rights attorney in the country heard his call. Certainly, Justice Kennedy has opened the door and we’re all preparing to walk through it.”

    The unusual opinion from the justice who wrote the court’s landmark gay marriage ruling was a boost to opponents who say solitary confinement violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Some legal challenges are already being heard in lower courts, including a Virginia case that could make its way to the Supreme Court as early as the new term beginning in October.

    Fettig says the words of Kennedy, often a swing vote in cases that divide the court’s liberal and conservative justices, send a strong signal to lower court judges “that this is a broad human rights issue.”

    Kennedy’s clarion call is already gaining steam. Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited it favorably less than two weeks later in a dissent that questioned whether the death penalty was constitutional. The liberal justices condemned “the dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement” for death row inmates.

    Kennedy testified before Congress in March that American prisons rely too much on holding inmates in isolation and said it “literally drives men mad.” And President Barack Obama announced last month that he asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to begin a review of the “overuse” of solitary confinement in federal prisons.

    “The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent,” Obama told the annual conference of the NAACP in Philadelphia.

    More than 80,000 inmates were held in some form of isolation in federal, state and local prisons in 2005, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number has risen sharply since the 1990s with the rise of so-called “Supermax” prisons intended to segregate the most violent prisoners.

    But some states have begun to re-examine the effectiveness of solitary confinement as studies have shown that it can lead to mental illness, hallucinations, self-mutilation and even suicide. Kennedy said the research confirms that “years on end of near-total isolation exacts a terrible price.”

    Kennedy in recent years has expressed growing concerns over prison conditions and the rights of criminal defendants. He authored the court’s 5-4 ruling in 2011 that found overcrowding in California prisons led to inadequate inmate health care that was “cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment. And in 2012, he sided with the court’s liberals in a 5-4 decision that threw out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles.

    Last year, Colorado passed a law that bans prison officials from placing mentally ill inmates in long-term solitary confinement, unless there are special circumstances. Nevada and Texas have passed bills to study the issue and Maine and New Mexico have been working to reduce their use of solitary confinement.

    “There’s a growing consensus that we’ve over-criminalized, over-punished and over-locked up an entire generation,” said Andrea Lyon, a criminal law professor and dean of Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana.


    Lyon co-authored a 2005 report on Missouri’s policy of “mainstreaming” death row inmates into the general prison population. She said the data showed that death row inmates and others serving life sentences were five times less likely to commit violent offenses in prison than other inmates.

    One case that could soon come before the court involves a challenge to Virginia’s practice of automatically holding death row inmates in solitary confinement. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that around-the-clock isolation of condemned prisoners is so severe that prison officials should make the decision on a case-by-case basis. But earlier this year, a divided federal appeals court in Richmond reversed.

    Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, writing for the 2-1 majority, said the isolation that characterizes Virginia’s death row is “undeniably severe.” But she said the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that state correctional officials “have broad latitude to set prison conditions as they see fit.”

    Attorneys for the inmate, Alfredo Prieto, have already appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The state hasn’t deemed the appeal worthy of a response.

    There are other cases in the pipeline that more directly attack solitary confinement in general as being cruel and unusual punishment banned by the constitution. One is a California class action filed in 2012 on behalf of a group of prisoners in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. That case is set for trial later this year.

    The post Advocates against solitary confinement see hope in Justice Kennedy’s comments appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    2nd December 1955: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien ( 1892 - 1973) the South African-born philologist and author of 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord Of The Rings'. Original Publication: Picture Post - 8464 - Professor J R R Tolkien - unpub. Original Publication: People Disc - HM0232 (Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images)

    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” in 1955. A manuscript from 1914 titled “The Story of Kullervo” will be widely distributed for the first time this August. Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images

    A 1914 manuscript that formed the early basis for J.R.R. Tolkien’s works of epic fantasy will be widely published for the first time this summer.

    “The Story of Kullervo,” which Tolkien wrote while at Oxford University, has previously only been published in the journal “Tolkien Studies: Volume 7.” It will be widely distributed for the first time in the U.K. on Aug. 27 and in the U.S. on Oct. 27.

    The book follows the story of an orphan seeking revenge on the dark magician who killed his father. Tolkien based the book on the Finnish epic poem “The Kalevala,” which was published in English for the first time in 1888.

    Tolkien never finished “Kullvero,” but wrote that it was an early exploration of epic fantasy that formed the basis for his later work“The Silmarillion”:

    “The germ of my attempt to write legends of my own to fit my private languages was the tragic tale of the hapless Kullervo in the Finnish Kalevala. It remains a major matter in the legends of the First Age (which I hope to publish as The Silmarillion).”

    His reference to the “First Age” also links the story to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Daily Dot pointed out.

    The post 100-year-old J.R.R. Tolkien book to be published this summer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Planned Parenthood logo is pictured outside of a clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, June 27, 2014. Furor over a stealthily recorded video of Planned Parenthood executives discussing how they provide fetal organs for research has not subsided. Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters

    The Planned Parenthood logo is pictured outside of a clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, June 27, 2014. Furor over a stealthily recorded video of Planned Parenthood executives discussing how they provide fetal organs for research has not subsided. Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters

    BOSTON — The furor on Capitol Hill over Planned Parenthood has stoked a debate about the use of tissue from aborted fetuses in medical research, but U.S. scientists have been using such cells for decades to develop vaccines and seek treatments for a host of ailments, from vision loss and neurological disorders to cancer and AIDS.

    Anti-abortion activists set off the uproar by releasing undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials that raised questions of whether the organization was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has denied making any profit and said it charges fees solely to cover its costs.

    University laboratories that buy such cells strongly defend their research, saying tissue that would otherwise be thrown out has played a vital role in lifesaving medical advances and holds great potential for further breakthroughs.

    Fetal cells are considered ideal because they divide rapidly, adapt to new environments easily and are less susceptible to rejection than adult cells when transplanted.

    “If researchers are unable to work with fetal tissue, there is a huge list of diseases for which researchers would move much more slowly, rather than quickly, to find their cause and how they can be cured,” Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said in an email.

    From 2011 through 2014 alone, 97 research institutions — mostly universities and hospitals — received a total of $280 million in federal grants for fetal tissue research from the National Institutes of Health. A few institutions have consistently gotten large shares of that money, including Yale, the University of California and Massachusetts General Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard.

    The U.S. government prohibits the sale of fetal tissue for profit and requires separation between researchers and the women who donate fetuses. Some schools go further, requiring written consent from donors.

    Many major universities declined to make scientists available for interviews about their fetal tissue work, saying they fear for the researchers’ safety because the issue is so highly charged. The Planned Parenthood uproar led to a failed attempt by Republicans to strip the organization of federal funding.

    U.S. scientists have been using such cells for decades to develop vaccines and seek treatments for a host of ailments, from vision loss and neurological disorders to cancer and AIDS. Researchers use fetal tissue to understand cell biology and human development. Others use it to look for treatments for AIDS. Research on spinal cord injuries and eyesight-robbing macular degeneration involves transplanting fetal cells into patients. European researchers recently began putting fetal tissue into patients’ brains to try to treat Parkinson’s, a strategy that previously had mixed results.

    Some scientists are looking for alternatives to fetal tissue, such as using adult cells that have been “reprogrammed” to their earlier forms. But those techniques are still being refined, and some fields are likely to remain reliant on fetal tissue, such as the study of fetal development.

    Vaccines have been one of the chief public benefits of fetal tissue research. Vaccines for hepatitis A, German measles, chickenpox and rabies, for example, were developed using cell lines grown from tissue from two elective abortions, one in England and one in Sweden, that were performed in the 1960s.

    German measles, also known as rubella, “caused 5,000 spontaneous abortions a year prior to the vaccine,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We wouldn’t have saved all those lives had it not been for those cells.”

    Fetal tissue was “absolutely critical” to the development of a potential Ebola vaccine that has shown promise, said Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, an associate director at NIH, which last year handed out $76 million for work involving fetal tissue, or 0.2 percent of the agency’s research budget.

    Scientists are also using fetal tissue to try to identify substances in adults that could be early warning signs of cancer, said Dr. Akhilesh Pandey, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University.

    Experts at MIT and other research centers use fetal tissue to implant the human immune system into mice, as a way to study diseases without employing people as test subjects. They add tumors to study the immune system’s response, then test cancer treatments out on the mice.

    “This eventually will provide a benefit to society,” said Jianzhu Chen, an immunology professor and researcher at MIT.

    At Stanford, fetal tissue has been used to study Huntington’s disease, “bubble boy disease” and juvenile diabetes. Fetal brain calls are now being used there in research on autism and schizophrenia.

    After the release of the undercover videos, Colorado State University conducted an ethics review and suspended its dealings with one vendor. But it is pressing ahead with its HIV research with fetal tissue.

    “Our position is this research has such tremendous value in driving discoveries that could be done no other way,” said Alan Rudolph, university vice president of research.


    Johnson reported from Chicago.

    The post Scientists say fetal tissue remains essential for vaccines and developing treatments appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ARLINGTON, VA - MARCH 31:  Soldiers, officers and civilian employees attend the commencement ceremony for the U.S. Army's annual observance of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in the Pentagon Center Courtyard March 31, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. In conjunction with the national campaign against sexual assault, The Army announced this year's theme, 'Not in My Squad. Not in Our Army. We are Trusted Professionals,' during the ceremony.Ê According to the Pentagon, the initative 'is a grassroots approach meant to reinforce a climate of dignity and respect founded on good order and discipline.'  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    Soldiers, officers and civilian employees attend the commencement ceremony for the U.S. Army’s annual observance of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in the Pentagon Center Courtyard March 31, 2015, in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Next year, the military will officially lift restrictions on women in combat, the end of a process that may open up as many as 245,000 jobs that have been off limits to women. But women who deploy overseas may continue to face obstacles in another area that can have a critical impact on their military experience: contraception.

    It’s not a minor issue. Rates of unintended pregnancy among women in the military are 50 percent higher than those of women in the general population. And because of strict federal rules, their insurance does not generally cover abortion.

    Tricare, the health care plan for more than 9 million active and retired members of the military, covers most contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Active-duty service members pay nothing out of pocket. Spouses and dependents of service members may face copayments in some instances.

    But all methods aren’t necessarily available at every military hospital and clinic, and overseas, for example, women may have difficulty getting refills of their specific type of birth control pill.

    Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, says, “It is unfortunate that here we have the military, that has one of the best health care systems in the country, and where we still have a gap is in contraception.”

    Fifteen percent of active duty service members are women, and 97 percent of them are of childbearing age.

    In a 2013 study, based on more than 28,000 responses to the 2008 Department of Defense health-related behaviors survey, researchers found that after adjusting for the larger concentration of young women in the military, the rate of unintended pregnancy among military women was 7.8 percent, compared with 5.2 percent among women in the general population.

    “It’s critically important to address unintended pregnancy in the military, because it can be particularly damaging to women’s careers, and it’s hard to access abortion care,” says Dr. Daniel Grossman, a study co-author who is vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, a research and advocacy group.

    Abortion is available at a military facility or covered by military health care only if a woman’s life is in danger or if the pregnancy is a result of incest or rape. Women who want an abortion in other circumstances must use a non-military health care provider and pay for the procedure out of pocket, according to Department of Defense health officials.

    Coverage for emergency contraception, meanwhile, has recently been expanded to all active duty service women and female beneficiaries without cost sharing.

    It can be challenging to use contraceptives while deployed overseas for many reasons. There is the problem of trying to schedule a daily birth control pill when traveling across time zones, and desert conditions may make a contraceptive patch fall off. Although women are allowed a 180-day supply of contraceptives before deploying, obtaining refills of the same pill is sometimes difficult, some women reported in a 2012 study published in Contraception about access to contraception during deployment that was based on survey of 281 servicewomen.

    Women also reported that they were told that contraceptives were unnecessary because having sex during deployment was forbidden or that they couldn’t receive an intrauterine device because they hadn’t yet given birth. Neither of those claims is true.

    The majority of women surveyed also noted that they weren’t counseled about using contraception for either pregnancy prevention or menstrual suppression before deploying.

    Pre-deployment counseling that specifically addresses women’s contraceptive needs could help counter confusion and ensure women have access to birth control methods that meet their needs. According to military health system officials, contraceptive and reproductive counseling is a covered benefit under Tricare and is an expected component of good clinical practice.

    The House and Senate versions of the Pentagon’s spending bill for the fiscal year that begins in October contain measures that would affect contraception coverage in the military. The Senate version of the bill would guarantee family planning education and counseling, while the House version would make available a broad range of FDA-approved contraceptives at military treatment facilities and ensure that women servicemembers have enough contraceptives to last for the duration of their deployment. A congressional conference committee is working to write a compromise between those two bills.

    Defense Department officials said they had no comment on the pending legislation.

    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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    TODAY -- Pictured: Tracy Morgan appears on NBC News' "Today" show on Monday, June 1, 2015 -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

    Tracy Morgan appears on NBC News’ “Today” show on Monday, June 1, 2015. Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — A Wal-Mart truck driver who hadn’t slept in 28 hours failed to slow down despite posted warning signs and was responsible for a highway crash last year that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed another comedian, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

    But the board said the failure of Morgan and other passengers in a limousine-van to wear seat belts and adjust headrests contributed to the severity of injuries when the limo was struck from behind by the truck.

    Most of their injuries were caused when the passengers were whipped around or thrown into the sides of the vehicle, the board said at a meeting to determine the cause of the crash and make safety recommendations.

    None of the passengers in the back of the 10-seat limo or the driver was wearing a seat belt.

    The board said truck driver Kevin Roper of Jonesboro, Georgia, could have prevented the June 7, 2014, crash if he had slowed to 45 mph, the posted speed limit for the construction work zone on the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranbury, where the crash occurred.

    The truck traveled 0.9 miles past the first work zone sign and more than 0.4 miles past the 45 mph speed limit sign without slowing from 65 mph. The truck was going that fast until it reached a closing distance of approximately 200 feet before the impact.

    At 45 mph, the truck could have stopped before impact, the board concluded.

    The collision with the limo started a chain reaction crash that affected 21 people in six vehicles.

    “One tragic aspect of roadway deaths is that so often they could have been prevented,” said the safety board’s chairman, Chris Hart.

    Heavy trucks are involved in nearly 1 in 8 fatal crashes, NTSB said. In work zones, 1 in 4 fatal crashes involves a heavy truck.

    Roper had driven over 800 miles overnight from Georgia to a Wal-Mart distribution center in Delaware to pick up a load before starting the trip without stopping for sleep.

    He had worked for Wal-Mart for 15 weeks and had had nine “critical event reports.” Critical event reports, which are generated by a truck’s computers and downloaded by Wal-Mart, record things such as hard braking, activation of the vehicle’s stability control system or other events that might indicate unsafe driving.

    Roper also had been involved in a preventable accident, causing him to lose his safety bonus, investigators said.

    Wal-Mart had provided guidance to its drivers on preventing fatigue, but didn’t have a comprehensive program to prevent drivers from being assigned over-tiring schedules or to make sure they were rested before reporting to work, the board said. Since then, Wal-Mart has taken greater steps to educate drivers about fatigue and has said it will put in place a program to reduce fatigue, investigators said.

    The board has long raised concerns about operator fatigue leading to accidents across all modes of transportation, from airline pilots to train engineers.

    Investigators said the limo wound up on its side with its rear doors jammed shut. A sheet of plywood that had been added to the limo to separate the cab from passengers blocked occupants from escaping the vehicle through the front doors after the crash.

    It took emergency responders working with the assistance of other motorists 37 minutes to remove the first of the crash victims from the rear of the limo.

    Investigators said emergency responders, mostly volunteers, didn’t have the training to address some of the logistical and coordination issues arising from the complicated accident. New Jersey doesn’t have requirements for the number of training hours that volunteer emergency responders must have, or a certification program, they said.

    Comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair of Peekskill, New York, a mentor of Morgan’s, was killed. Morgan suffered head trauma, and was in a coma for two weeks. Three other passengers in the limo suffered serious injuries.

    Morgan, a former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” star, and the others were returning from a performance in Dover, Delaware.

    Roper was charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto in state court in New Jersey.

    The post Driver was awake for 28 hours before crash that injured Tracy Morgan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he will oppose the Iran nuclear deal. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he will oppose the Iran nuclear deal. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images


    WASHINGTON — The lone Democratic senator to publicly oppose President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran said Tuesday that even if the U.S. backs away and other countries lift their sanctions, Iran still will feel meaningful pressure from the U.S. penalties.

    The deal that the U.S. and other world powers negotiated with Iran would curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from crippling sanctions.

    New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s view sharply contrasts with European leaders who have told U.S. lawmakers that if Congress were to reject the deal, the international sanctions would unravel, undermining global pressure on Iran.

    Schumer also said that sanctions aimed at companies that do business with Iran could force U.S. allies and trade partners back to the negotiating table.

    “Let’s not forget, those secondary sanctions are very powerful,” Schumer told reporters in New York as he detailed a decision he first announced last week.

    He said these sanctions alert corporations, such as the French oil company Total, that if it deals with Iran, it cannot deal with the United States.

    “We have that powerful tool, and if used, I think that’s a better, better chance in a very difficult world than an agreement that is so totally flawed,” Schumer said.

    Schumer’s opposition was seen as a blow to the Obama administration, but since Schumer’s announcement, a handful of Senate Democrats and several House Democrats have announced their support.

    Schumer is a leading congressional ally of Israel, a major fundraiser and savvy strategist for his party, and represents a state that is home to more than a million-and-a-half Jews. He is in line to lead Senate Democrats after the 2016 elections.

    He was asked by reporters whether he intended to lobby colleagues to vote with him.

    “Certainly, I’m going to try to persuade my colleagues that my viewpoint is right, but anyone who thinks you can force somebody to vote with you in the Senate doesn’t understand the Senate,” he said. “This is a vote of conscience. It was a vote of conscience for me. It will be a vote of conscience for my colleagues.”

    The post Lone Democratic senator to oppose Iran nuclear deal says sanctions will be effective appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

    In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees—just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


    Question: How should I request a better offer than the one that was made? By phone? By e-mail? By regular mail? Do you ask the HR person, since that is who handles the offer letter in the first place? How does the give-and-take take place?

    Nick Corcodilos: Almost everyone makes one huge mistake when asking for a higher job offer. They fail to justify the extra pay.

    Why would anyone give you more money just because you asked for it? Yet job seekers try that lame approach all the time. If you want more money, you must prove why you’re worth more.

    (By the way: Don’t waste your time quoting salary surveys. No survey includes the exact job you’re applying for, or your exact constellation of skills and attributes. You will always lose the survey game because any smart employer will respond with yet another survey that “proves” its offer is handsome! See “Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher job offer.”)

    When negotiating for a better offer, the goal should be to engage in a discussion rather than to put a stake in the ground, unless you are absolutely sure your asking figure is firm. This allows the company to explore the money issue with you, rather than be forced to respond with a yes or no.

    It’s critical to have the discussion with the hiring manager, not with HR. HR might control the hiring process, but it’s the manager’s budget that your compensation will come from. So have this discussion with the manager, in person or by phone. (I would not use e-mail. It’s too impersonal.) Try this:

    “First, I want to thank you for the offer. I want to come work with you.”

    That’s a powerful opening statement because it resolves one big question for the manager: Does this candidate want the job? Once you’ve made this commitment, managers know it’s worth their time to work out the terms. Too often, job candidates try to negotiate money without consenting to the job itself. Bear in mind that saying you want the job doesn’t obligate you in any way. If the money can’t be negotiated to your satisfaction, you can ultimately turn the job down.

    Now comes the most important part:

    “I realize you have carefully considered how much you think this job is worth. As we discussed in our interview, I believe I can do this job [more profitably, more efficiently, more quickly, more effectively] by doing [such and such]. For these reasons, I believe my contribution on this job would be worth between $X-$Y in compensation. Of course, if I can’t show you why I’m worth more, you shouldn’t offer me the job. Are you open to discussing this?”

    The key element here is value: You must show how the added value you will deliver is worth more money. Employers love it when you reveal you have thought carefully about the work and how you would do it profitably. It shows you are motivated to make the deal a “win” for the employer.

    But I will warn you: If you cannot explain exactly what you will do to perform the job more profitably, efficiently, quickly — better, in some way, than the employer expected — then you have no business asking for more money. This is not a negotiating game. It’s about exchanging fair value for fair value, and you must be prepared to explain it.

    HR cannot have this kind of discussion with you, because HR will never understand the ins and outs of how you will add more value to a certain job. Talk to the hiring manager, and let the manager go explain it to HR.

    (Don’t know how much to ask for? See “How to decide how much you want.” Once you figure this out, lay the groundwork for your salary negotiations early in your interview. See “The most important question in an interview.”)

    Once you’ve said your piece, it’s up to the manager to respond and engage in a discussion. The manager may also decline to discuss a higher salary. So, you must know in advance whether you will back off and take the offered package, or politely walk away from the offer.

    The only way to approach salary negotiations is to grant the manager a concession. Clearly state that you want to work for him or her. Separate your interest in the job from the compensation, and the manager is more likely to negotiate terms with you.

    “I’m ready to come to work, if we can work out the terms — the compensation.”

    There’s no guarantee about how this will work out. But, the better prepared you are to discuss how you will do the job better than anyone else, the better your chances of working out a mutually beneficial deal with the manager.

    Dear Readers: How do you ask for more money? Can you prove you’re worth what you ask for?


    Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

    Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

    Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

    The post Ask the Headhunter: The huge mistake almost everyone makes when they ask for a higher job offer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video shot and edited by Justin Scuiletti.

    We are a nation of drinkers.

    Alcohol’s storied relationship with the U.S. dates back to the dawn of the nation, according to Derek Brown, chief spirits advisor for the National Archives Museum’s “Spirited Republic” exhibit. Brown is an innovator of cocktails who owns several bars in Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood. We joined him at Mockingbird Hill, his punk-rock sherry bar named for a lyric from The Clash song “Spanish Bombs,” for a history on alcohol in the U.S. Here are seven things you might not know about alcohol’s history in America.

    Courtesy of National Archives Foundation.

    “Workers At Renault’s Champagne Vaults, Egg Harbor, NJ,” during the summer of 1906. Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering.

    1. At the time the U.S. was created, alcohol was seen as healthy.

    In 1790, drinking-age Americans consumed an average of 5.8 gallons of pure alcohol annually, according to the “Spirited Republic” exhibit. By 1830, that number had risen to 7.1 gallons. That’s a lot, considering that Americans today drink on average 2.5 gallons a year, according to the World Health Organization.

    At the time, alcohol was viewed as a digestive aid and a source of strength. With no standard water treatment system in the U.S., some considered it an alternative to water.

    “For some people, it was because water was poisonous in the sense that it had all kinds of bacteria they didn’t quite understand,” Brown said.

    Courtesy of National Archives Foundation.

    Prescription for whiskey for I. F. Johnson, January 3, 1924. Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of the Internal Revenue Service.

    2. Doctors used to prescribe whiskey to patients.

    During Prohibition, the U.S. Treasury Department authorized physicians to prescribe alcohol. It was used to treat depression and even cancer.

    But the prescriptions, which cost approximately $7 to obtain and get filled, were largely a way for the medical industry to make money, Daniel Okrent, author of “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” told Smithsonian Magazine.

    “There may have been some people who were being prescribed because of a perceived medical need, but it was really a way for some physicians and pharmacists to make a few extra bucks,” he said.

    3. George Washington once made orders for his troops to receive whiskey and rum.

    While encamped at Valley Forge during a brutally cold winter, General George Washington issued orders for his troops to receive a “gill” of whiskey and rum each. Washington, who owned the largest rye whiskey distillery in the country post-presidency, knew good whiskey, Brown said.

    Brown and “Spirited Republic” curator Trevor Plant created a cocktail inspired by this bit of history. Called “The General’s Order,” the drink is, you guessed it, rum and whiskey-based, while incorporating Martha Washington’s recipe for cherry bounce.

    Photo courtesy of National Archives Foundation.

    An automobile is decked out with signs and banners supporting the repeal of the 18th Amendment in New York City, May 1932. Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency.

    4. The first definition of the cocktail came about in 1806.

    A newspaper based in Hudson, N.Y., called The Balance and Columbian Repository defined a cocktail this way: a drink comprised of sugar, water, bitters and “spirits of any kind.” The paper’s editor, Harry Croswell, wrote the definition in response to the question, “What is a cocktail?” He continued:

    It is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.

    Croswell’s definition of the cocktail most resembles what is known today as an Old Fashioned, Brown said.

    Courtesy of National Archives Foundation.

    “Close the Saloons,” poster from 1918. Image courtesy of National Archives and Naval Records Collection.

    5. Lewis and Clark journeyed with wine and beer.

    The famous Lewis and Clark expedition across the U.S., led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, totaled more than 30 people. To keep the group satiated, Lewis purchased 30 gallons of “rectified spirits” for the journey, according to records from 1803.

    Courtesy of National Archives Foundation.

    Receipt for wine and kegs purchased by Meriwether Lewis for the Expedition to the West, June 1, 1803. Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General.

    6. The 19th century is considered “The Golden Age” of alcohol.

    The ad men of Don Draper’s era owe much of their time sipping cocktails to the 100 years before the 1960’s. That’s when the Manhattan, martini and daiquiri were born. In 1862, the “Bar-Tender’s Guide” by Jerry Thomas — widely considered the first bartending guide — was created. Prohibition would come 51 years later.

    Prohibition agents destroying a bar, ca. 1930National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency

    Prohibition agents destroy a a bar in 1930. Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency.

    7. A surprising number of amendments pertain to alcohol.

    Of the 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, two are focused on alcohol.

    The 18th amendment, known as the Prohibition Act, was ratified in 1919. It prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. It wouldn’t be repealed for another 14 years under the 21st amendment.

    An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the 18th amendment was passed in 1913.

    The post 7 things you didn’t know about alcohol in America appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo of prison guard with prisoner by Halfdark via Getty Images

    Photo of prison guard with prisoner by Halfdark via Getty Images


    WASHINGTON — Prison reform advocates who have spent years campaigning against solitary confinement are counting on a powerful new ally in their quest to end the practice — Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

    Earlier this summer, Kennedy took the unusual step of condemning long-term solitary confinement, writing a separate opinion in a California death penalty case that had nothing to do with the issue.

    It wasn’t the first time Kennedy had spoken out on the topic. He testified before Congress in March that American prisons rely too much on holding inmates in isolation and said it “literally drives men mad.”

    But the tone of his June 18 opinion surprised many civil liberties groups with its almost explicit call for a fresh legal challenge to the practice of keeping prisoners in “a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot for 23 hours a day.”

    “I’ve never seen it happen before,” said Amy Fettig, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “Every civil rights attorney in the country heard his call. Certainly, Justice Kennedy has opened the door and we’re all preparing to walk through it.”

    The unusual opinion from the justice who wrote the court’s landmark gay marriage ruling was a boost to opponents who say solitary confinement violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Some legal challenges are already being heard in lower courts, including a Virginia case that could make its way to the Supreme Court as early as the new term beginning in October.

    Fettig says the words of Kennedy, often a swing vote in cases that divide the court’s liberal and conservative justices, send a strong signal to lower court judges “that this is a broad human rights issue.”

    Kennedy’s clarion call is already gaining steam. Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited it favorably less than two weeks later in a dissent that questioned whether the death penalty was constitutional. The liberal justices condemned “the dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement” for death row inmates.

    And President Barack Obama announced last month that he asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to begin a review of the “overuse” of solitary confinement in federal prisons.

    “The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent,” Obama told the annual conference of the NAACP in Philadelphia.

    More than 80,000 inmates were held in some form of isolation in federal, state and local prisons in 2005, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number has risen sharply since the 1990s with the rise of so-called “Supermax” prisons intended to segregate the most violent prisoners.

    But some states have begun to re-examine the effectiveness of solitary confinement as studies have shown that it can lead to mental illness, hallucinations, self-mutilation and even suicide. Kennedy said the research confirms that “years on end of near-total isolation exacts a terrible price.”

    Kennedy in recent years has expressed growing concerns over prison conditions and the rights of criminal defendants. He authored the court’s 5-4 ruling in 2011 that found overcrowding in California prisons led to inadequate inmate health care that was “cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment. And in 2012, he sided with the court’s liberals in a 5-4 decision that threw out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles.

    Last year, Colorado passed a law that bans prison officials from placing mentally ill inmates in long-term solitary confinement, unless there are special circumstances. Nevada and Texas have passed bills to study the issue and Maine and New Mexico have been working to reduce their use of solitary confinement.

    “There’s a growing consensus that we’ve over-criminalized, over-punished and over-locked up an entire generation,” said Andrea Lyon, a criminal law professor and dean of Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana.

    Lyon co-authored a 2005 report on Missouri’s policy of “mainstreaming” death row inmates into the general prison population. She said the data showed that death row inmates and others serving life sentences were five times less likely to commit violent offenses in prison than other inmates.

    One case that could soon come before the court involves a challenge to Virginia’s practice of automatically holding death row inmates in solitary confinement. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that around-the-clock isolation of condemned prisoners is so severe that prison officials should make the decision on a case-by-case basis. But earlier this year, a divided federal appeals court in Richmond reversed.

    Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, writing for the 2-1 majority, said the isolation that characterizes Virginia’s death row is “undeniably severe.” But she said the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that state correctional officials “have broad latitude to set prison conditions as they see fit.”

    Attorneys for the inmate, Alfredo Prieto, have already appealed the case to the Supreme Court, and the justices have asked the state for a response.

    There are other cases in the pipeline that more directly attack solitary confinement in general as being cruel and unusual punishment banned by the constitution. One is a California class action filed in 2012 on behalf of a group of prisoners in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. That case is set for trial later this year.

    The post Prison reform advocates hope one Supreme Court justice will help end solitary confinement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Butoh, a form of Japanese performance art, brings weakness and sadness to the surface in a society that often suppresses those feelings.

    Gadu Doushin moved from his native Japan to study engineering at the University of Minnesota in the early 1990s, but his true passion was dance. After years studying South Indian classical dance with Ragamala Dance, Doushin began to study butoh, an avant-garde Japanese performance art developed in the late 1950s.

    Unlike forms of dance that praise strength of the body, butoh celebrates vulnerability. In the late 1950s as it was developing, Minamata disease, a neurological disorder resulting from mercury poisoning, was emerging in Japan. The performance art drew on the motions of people suffering from the disease and incorporated them into the form, according to Doushin.

    Doushin said butoh forces people to come face-to-face with sadness and fear. “Our society [has] so much dogma about feelings,” he said. “Everybody’s supposed to be just happy and joyful, or just not feel anything. But without feeling — without noticing what you’re feeling and actually confronting and dealing with it — it’s almost like not really living.”

    Watch a full performance by Doushin below.

    Videos produced by Brittany Shrimpton. Local Beat is an ongoing series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation. 

    The post Why a Japanese performance art celebrates weakness appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Yellow mine waste water from the Gold King Mine is seen in San Juan County, Colorado, in this picture released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken August 7, 2015.  A contaminated plume of waste water accidentally released from a Colorado gold mine by U.S. environmental agency workers has spread downstream and reached northern New Mexico, officials said on Saturday.  Picture taken August 7, 2015. REUTERS/EPA/Handout

    Yellow mine waste water from the Gold King Mine is seen in San Juan County, Colorado, in this picture released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken August 7, 2015. A contaminated plume of waste water accidentally released from a Colorado gold mine by U.S. environmental agency workers has spread downstream and reached northern New Mexico, officials said on Saturday. Picture taken August 7, 2015. REUTERS/EPA/Handout

    WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday her department takes full responsibility for spilling 3 million gallons of mining waste that turned a southwest Colorado river an unnatural shade of orange, adding it “pains me to no end.”

    Gina McCarthy made the comments as her agency comes under increased scrutiny after federal and contract workers accidentally unleashed the spill last week while inspecting the abandoned Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado. The contaminated water that flowed into a tributary of the Animas and San Juan rivers contained high levels of arsenic, lead and other potentially toxic heavy metals. McCarthy expressed regret that the spill occurred and said her agency has “added responsibility here.”

    “It is really a tragic and very unfortunate incident, and EPA is taking responsibility to ensure that that spill is cleaned up,” McCarthy said. “I am absolutely, deeply sorry that this ever happened.”

    The accident comes at a sensitive time for the EPA, a frequent and favorite target of conservatives and pro-business groups. McCarthy spoke Tuesday as part of an event on the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which mandates steep greenhouse gas emission cuts from U.S. power plants.

    State and local officials in the areas affected by the spill have characterized EPA’s initial response as too slow and too small. It took about 24 hours to first notify some downstream communities of the accident and the agency originally underestimated the volume of the spill.

    The plume of pollution has since flowed at least 100 miles downstream to New Mexico, where towns and cities have been forced to close their intake valves to protect public water supplies.

    McCarthy pledged a thorough review of the EPA’s role in the disaster, but said her current focus is on properly managing the response. So far, there have been no reported cases of anyone’s health being harmed by the spilled heavy metals, she said.

    “It takes time to review and analyze data, so I understand people’s frustration, but we have our researchers and our scientists working around the clock,” McCarthy said. “Our commitment is to get this right and make sure we are protecting public health.”

    The post Environmental Protection Agency ‘is taking full responsibility’ for mine waste spill, administrator says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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