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

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    Members of the U.S. Marines raise the U.S. flag over the newly reopened embassy in Havana, Cuba, on Aug. 14. The American flag was raised for the first time in 54 years, symbolically ushering in an era of renewed diplomatic relations between the two Cold War-era foes. Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool via Reuters

    Members of the U.S. Marines raise the U.S. flag over the newly reopened embassy in Havana, Cuba, on Aug. 14. The American flag was raised for the first time in 54 years, symbolically ushering in an era of renewed diplomatic relations between the two Cold War-era foes. Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool via Reuters

    Secretary of State John Kerry led a delegation of U.S. officials to the office building housing the U.S. Embassy in the capital Havana for a flag-raising event on Friday, marking a new era in U.S.-Cuban relations.

    It was a long time coming — 54 years since the U.S. severed ties with Cuba and closed the embassy. It reopened in 1977 in a scaled-back capacity known as the U.S. Interests Section under the protection of the Embassy of Switzerland.

    After President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the normalizing of relations in December, negotiations led to the U.S. Interests Section switching back to its embassy designation.

    On July 20, the Cuban Embassy reopened in Washington, D.C., with its own flag-raising event.

    Watch Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks and the flag ceremony in Havana.

    Now that both embassies are operational again, what about the unresolved issues of the trade embargo, the future of the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, and the decades of mistrust?

    While recognizing the symbolic importance of Friday’s event, Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a professor at the University of Havana and former Cuban Foreign Service officer, said many Cubans are still concerned that this is a new U.S. strategy to try to change Cuba’s Communist regime, a sort of “killing me softly” approach, he told reporters in a conference call.

    But the more the two governments work together, he said, the more the public perception could change.

    Skepticism exists in certain pockets in the United States as well. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban American and vocal critic of President Obama’s policies on Cuba, has threatened to block the confirmation of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba.

    Congress also must approve the overturning of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, the universally recognized sign that relations have indeed thawed.

    Jake Colvin, vice president of global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, said in the same conference call that Cuba is interested in foreign investment and trade with the U.S., but it’s hard to read the Cuban government’s priorities.

    And U.S. businesses are enthusiastic about entering Cuba, but they aren’t sure the extent that they can engage under the U.S. government’s new terms.

    “Everyone’s still in the getting-to-know-you stage,” he said.

    The post Flag flies over U.S. Embassy in Cuba – now what? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    On Monday, the inspector general for the 17 spy agencies that make up what is known as the intelligence community told Congress that two of 40 emails in a random sample of the 30,000 emails Clinton gave the State Department for review contained information deemed "Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information," one of the government's highest levels of classification. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    On Monday, the inspector general for the 17 spy agencies that make up what is known as the intelligence community told Congress that two of 40 emails in a random sample of the 30,000 emails Clinton gave the State Department for review contained information deemed “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information.” Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Neither of the two emails sent to Hillary Rodham Clinton now labeled by intelligence agencies as “top secret” contained information that would jump out to experts as particularly sensitive, according to several government officials.

    One included a discussion of a U.S. drone strike, part of a covert program that is widely known and discussed. A second conversation could have improperly referred to highly classified material, but it also could have reflected information collected independently, U.S. officials who have reviewed the correspondence told The Associated Press.

    Still, it’s looking increasingly likely the issue of whether Clinton mishandled classified information on her home-brew email server will have significant political implications in the 2016 presidential campaign.

    Clinton, who has been seen from the outset as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, agreed this week to turn over to the FBI the private server she used as secretary of state. And Republicans in Congress have seized on the involvement of federal law enforcement in the matter as a sign she was negligent in handling the nation’s secrets.

    On Monday, the inspector general for the 17 spy agencies that make up what is known as the intelligence community told Congress that two of 40 emails, in a random sample of 30,000 messages that Clinton gave the State Department for review, contained information deemed “Top Secret,” one of the government’s highest levels of classification.

    While neither of the emails was marked classified at the time they were sent, they have since been slapped with a “TK” marking, for “Talent Keyhole,” suggesting material obtained by spy satellites. And they also were marked “NOFORN,” meaning information that can only be shared with Americans with security clearances.

    The two emails got those markings after consultations with the CIA and other agencies where the material originated, officials said. Some officials said they believed the designations were a stretch — a knee-jerk move in a bureaucracy rife with over-classification.

    The officials who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity work in intelligence and other agencies. They wouldn’t detail the full contents of the emails because of ongoing questions about classification level.

    Clinton didn’t transmit the sensitive information herself, they said, and nothing in the emails she received makes direct reference to communications intercepts, confidential intelligence methods or any other form of sensitive sourcing.

    The drone exchange, the officials said, begins with a copy of a news article about the CIA drone program that targets terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere. While that program is technically top secret, it is well-known and often reported on. Former CIA director Leon Panetta and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have openly discussed it.

    The copy makes reference to classified information, and a Clinton adviser follows up by dancing around a top secret in a way that could possibly be inferred as confirmation, the officials said. Several people, however, described this claim as tenuous.

    But a second email reviewed by Charles McCullough, the intelligence community inspector general, appears more problematic, officials said. Nothing in the message is “lifted” from classified documents, they said, though they differed on where the information in it was sourced. Some said it improperly points back to highly classified material, while others countered that it was a classic case of what the government calls “parallel reporting” — receiving information the government considers secret through “open source” channels.

    The issue came to light Tuesday after Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said McCullough found four “highly classified” emails on the unusual private server that Clinton used while she was secretary of state. Two were sent back to the State Department for review, but Grassley said the other two were, in fact, classified at the closely guarded “Top Secret/SCI level.” SCI stands for “sensitive compartmented information,” which can only be examined under strict security protocols.

    In a four-page fact sheet that accompanied a letter to Clinton supporters, Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri stressed that Clinton was permitted to use her own email account as a government employee and that the same process concerning classification reviews would still be taking place had she used the standard “state.gov” email account used by most department employees. The State Department, meanwhile, stressed that it wasn’t clear if the material at issue ought to be considered classified at all.

    “None of the emails alleged to contain classified information include any markings that indicate classified content,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein a California Democrat who is the ranking member on the intelligence committee, said in a statement.

    But even if the emails highlighted by the intelligence community prove innocuous, Clinton will still face questions about whether she set up the private server with the aim of avoiding scrutiny, whether emails she deleted because she said they were personal were actually work-related, and whether she appropriately shielded such emails from possible foreign spies and hackers.

    Former intelligence officials say it’s a certainty that her server was compromised by foreign intelligence services.

    Unless they were encrypted to U.S. government standards, “In my opinion there is a 100% chance that all emails sent and received by her, including all the electronic correspondence stored on her server in her Chappaqua residence, were targeted and collected by the Russian equivalent of NSA,” said former CIA case officer Jason Matthews, an expert in Russian intelligence.

    Then again, Clinton defenders point out, the State Department’s unclassified email system also has been penetrated by Russian hackers, so it’s unclear her use of home server made a difference.

    Clinton says she exchanged about 60,000 emails in her four years as secretary of state. She turned over all but what she said were personal emails late last year. The department has been making those public after scrubbing sensitive material.

    The State Department advised employees not to use personal email accounts for work, but it wasn’t prohibited.

    Associated Press writers Stephen Braun and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

    The post AP: Top secret Clinton emails include drone talk appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935. From left to right, Robert Lee Doughton, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Edwin E. Witte, Director of the President's Social Security Committee, with Senator Robert F. Wagner, co-author of the bill behind him, Senator Robert La Follette, Senator Augustine Lonergan, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, Senator William H. King, Rep. David John Lewis, co-author of the bill and Senator Joseph F. Guffey. Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935, with members of his Social Security Committee, members of Congress and the president’s cabinet. Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Social Security turns 80 on Friday, and the massive retirement and disability program is showing its age.

    Social Security’s disability fund is projected to run dry next year. The retirement fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2035. But once the fund is depleted, the shortfalls are projected to be enormous.

    The stakes are huge: Nearly 60 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get monthly Social Security payments, and that number is projected to grow to 90 million over the next two decades.

    And the timing is bad: Social Security faces these problems as fewer employers are offering traditional pensions, forcing older workers to think hard about how they will afford retirement.

    “This is a program that’s been immensely popular since it began,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of AARP. “Increasingly, people recognize that saving for retirement is becoming harder and harder, and Social Security is becoming even more important.”

    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935. Things to know about the federal government’s largest program on its 80th birthday:

    Why is Social Security at Risk?

    Social Security’s long-term financial problems are largely a result of demographic changes. Every day, about 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65. These are the baby boomers.

    Typical boomers, however, didn’t have as many children as their parents did. As a result, relatively fewer workers are left to pay the payroll taxes that support Social Security.

    In 1960, there were more than five workers for every person receiving Social Security. Today there are fewer than three. In 20 years, there will be about two workers for every person getting benefits.

    Americans are also living longer. In 1940, someone who was 65 could be expected to live about 14 more years, on average. Today, they can expect to live an additional 20 years, on average.


    Last year, Social Security paid benefits of nearly $850 billion — about a quarter of all federal spending. The average monthly payment is $1,221. That comes to about $14,700 a year.

    For most retirees, Social Security accounts for the majority of their income, according to the Social Security Administration.

    What Happens in 2016?

    The trust fund that supports Social Security’s disability program is projected to run dry in late 2016 — right in the middle of the presidential election. If Congress allows that to happen, it will trigger an automatic 19 percent cut in benefits to the 11 million people who receive Social Security disability.

    Lawmakers could redirect tax revenue from Social Security’s much bigger retirement program, as they have done in the past.

    If the tax revenue were redirected, the retirement fund would lose one year of solvency, so both the retirement program and the disability program would have enough money to pay full benefits until 2034. At that point, Social Security would collect enough in taxes to pay 79 percent of benefits.

    Republicans are balking at the fix. They see the funding crisis as an opportunity to improve a disability program that they believe is plagued by waste and abuse.

    “Social Security retirement funds have been raided far too many times for far too many years,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y.

    Reed sponsored a rule adopted by House Republicans that would prevent the House from redirecting the tax revenue without making changes to improve the overall financial health of Social Security.

    Democrats are much more eager to defend the disability program, noting that its modest benefits keep millions of disabled workers and their families out of poverty.

    “The issue is whether you’re going to cut services and benefits to Americans who paid for them by saying that the Social Security program doesn’t have the money, when in fact it has nearly $3 trillion,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., who has introduced a bill that would merge Social Security’s trust funds.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday, “We renew our vow to protect Social Security for every generation.”

    How Big is the Long-term Problem?

    The numbers are beyond comprehension.

    Social Security uses a 75-year window to forecast its finances, so the projections cover the life expectancy of every worker paying into the system. Over the next 75 years, Social Security is projected to pay out $159 trillion more in benefits than it will collect in taxes, according to agency data.

    That’s not a typo.

    Adjusted for inflation, the shortfall comes to $35.3 trillion in 2015 dollars. That’s nearly twice the national debt, which took the entire federal government 239 years to accumulate.

    Did Congress Already Spend the Trust Funds?

    Yes. For much of the past three decades, Social Security produced big surpluses, collecting more in taxes than it paid in benefits. Social Security invested those surpluses in special U.S. Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

    They are now valued at $2.8 trillion.

    But as Social Security was generating surpluses, the rest of the federal government was running deficits, for all but a few years around the turn of the century.

    To finance deficit spending, the Treasury borrowed from the public and from other federal programs, including Social Security.

    Didn’t Congress Fix Social Security Under Reagan?

    Yes. Social Security was on the brink of insolvency in the early 1980s when Congress and President Ronald Reagan agreed to gradually increase payroll taxes and to reduce benefits, in part by gradually raising the retirement age. Those changes didn’t permanently fix Social Security, but they provided enough revenue to pay full benefits for about 50 years.

    In today’s political climate, another feat like that would be historic.

    Interactive: How would you fix Social Security?

    The post Social Security at 80: Is it time for an overhaul? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 08/14/15--09:37: The joys of Iowa: Part 1
  • The 2016 candidates pay their respects at an election tradition: the Iowa State Fair. Here, Democratic hopeful and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley takes a selfie in front of the famous Butter Cow. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    The 2016 candidates pay their respects at an election tradition: the Iowa State Fair. Here, Democratic hopeful and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley takes a selfie in front of the famous Butter Cow. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Someone who knows what I do for a living complained to me again recently that this election is just starting too darned early.

    I reminded her, again, that the man who currently occupies the White House announced he was running nearly two full years before he took the oath of office. This is not an excuse, just an explanation for why we have all gone politics mad.

    And it’s only partly about Donald Trump.

    So, as I head once again to the Iowa State Fair in search of candidates, funnel cakes and grilled pork chops on a stick, it’s helpful to remind folks who are spending quality time on the beach why it’s worth it to start watching now.

    Happily, there is no Iowa Straw Poll this time around. What was once a quaint finger-in-the-wind GOP political gathering had over the years exploded into a costly political circus that bore almost no resemblance to eventual outcomes. President Michele Bachmann, anyone?

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann enjoys mustard on her corn dog at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 12, 2011. Photo by Daniel Acker/Reuters

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann enjoying the delights of corn dog cuisine at the Iowa State Fair in 2011. Photo by Daniel Acker/Reuters

    But it was colorful and convenient when all the candidates gathered in one place.

    The State Fair is convenient, colorful, plus has actual voters — in theory at least. In reality, most of the people I chat up along the midway are there to talk about anything other than politics. But in Iowa, organizers have realized that if the candidates come, so will we.

    So, for those of you who think it is not too early to be studying polls with tiny samples and huge margins of error, here is why I, at least, care about the Iowa State Fair.

    1. The caucuses will be here before you know it. Like, in February. We’ve got 22 candidates to watch rise and fall before then. No matter how much you read about only one or two of them, it’s important to remember that events change things.

    It was at the Iowa State Fair four years ago that Mitt Romney, in a brief spat with a protester, declared: “Corporations are people.” This apparent display of noblesse oblige haunted him for the rest of the campaign. (Full disclosure: I was standing right there and did not see why it was such a big deal. Mark Shields and Bloomberg’s Al Hunt were standing next to me and got it immediately).

    2. Free media. Yes, it is true that the Donald Trump press mob could well overwhelm everything, and even lure fairgoers outside, away from their consideration of the carved butter cow (which, actually, is worth seeing). But many other candidates will grab at the chance for a moment to stand among the hay- bales and make a little news. And because it is blisteringly hot in Iowa this time of year, we will get to see them sweat.

    Gwen and NewsHour producer Mary Jo Brooks try pork chop on a stick at the 2011 Iowa State Fair. Photo by PBS NewsHour

    Gwen and NewsHour producer Mary Jo Brooks try pork chop on a stick at the 2011 Iowa State Fair. Photo by PBS NewsHour

    3. Food on a stick. The aforementioned pork on a stick is a highlight. I enjoyed at least one with my intrepid producer Mary Jo Brooks.

    Gwen and then-PBS NewsHour Political Director David Chalian enjoying food on stick at the fair. Photo by PBS NewsHour

    Gwen and then-PBS NewsHour Political Director David Chalian enjoying food on stick at the fair. Photo by PBS NewsHour

    I have done enough personal research to wave you away from the deep fried Twinkies, Snickers and, yes of course, butter. If you are going to squander the calories, stick with the time-tested funnel cake.

    A word to candidates: it takes a pro to eat a corn dog on camera. Witness my technique here with producer David Chalian. The key: don’t actually eat it on camera. It doesn’t ever end well.

    4. It’s a snapshot. Yes, this has become something of a cliché (as are butter cows). But there will not be all that many opportunities to see most of these candidates in one location with actual people. How they work a crowd, answer an unscripted question or — yes — consume a corn dog will give us something to work with until the next debate. There are at least 14 of them ahead in the primary season. None of them, as far as I can tell, will feature butter cows.

    Next week, I will share what, if anything, I learned at the Iowa State Fair.

    The post The joys of Iowa: Part 1 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Next week the PBS NewsHour takes a special week-long look at one of the biggest problems facing higher education in the United States.

    More students are enrolling in college, but the percent of students who actually earn a college credential by the age of 24 has only increased significantly for families with the highest household incomes. Between 1970 and 2013, the percent of students earning college credentials from families with incomes in the top quarter of all household roce from 40 to 77 percent.

    For students from families in the lowest quarter of all households, attainment of a college credential rose from 6 to just 9 percent.

    Every night next week the PBS NewsHour will take a look at efforts on campuses across the country — from the University of Texas at Austin to Valencia College in Orlando, Florida — focused not just getting more low-income, first-generation students into college, but through college to a useful credential.

    Online, the NewsHour and our partners at the Hechinger Report and Inside Higher Ed, will examine places where efforts like these are paying off and where states and others are falling short.

    By some projections, within the next five years about 65 percent of jobs in the United States will require some form of certification beyond a high school diploma.

    But despite a focus from the Obama administration and countless nonprofits, degree attainment in the U.S. is not rising fast. In 2013, 40 percent of those between 25 and 65 had a postsecondary credential, just 2.1 percentage points than the 37.9 percent that did in 2008.

    That stall has more leaders and educators asking what it will take to close the country’s graduation gap.

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

    The post PBS NewsHour examines ‘The Graduation Gap’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama (L) move to the music as daughter Malia (R) looks on as they attend the Olympic men's exhibition basketball game between Team USA and Brazil in Washington July 16, 2012.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SPORT BASKETBALL OLYMPICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR34ZXX

    U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama move to the music as daughter Malia looks on at the Olympic men’s exhibition basketball game between Team USA and Brazil in Washington, July 16, 2012. Photo by
    Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    CHILMARK, Mass. — By day, President Barack Obama enjoys the music of such artists as Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and the Bobs — Dylan and Marley.

    When the sun starts to set, his tastes shift to the mellifluous sounds of Al Green, Frank Sinatra, Beyonce, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and others.

    Obama on Friday tweeted links to his daytime and evening summer playlists as the White House launched an official channel on Spotify, the popular music streaming service.

    Obama said he shared the lists “due to popular request.”

    “What’s your favorite summer song?” he said on Twitter.

    The presidential presence on Spotify marks the latest step by a White House already active on social media to boost its presence in the online world. Obama and other White House officials regularly use Twitter, Facebook, Medium and other social media platforms to make announcements.

    Obama’s daytime playlist:

    “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” – The Temptations

    “Live It Up” – Isley Brothers

    “Memories Live” – Talib Kweli & Hi Tek

    “Tombstone Blues” – Bob Dylan

    “So Much Trouble in the World” – Bob Marley

    “Paradise” – Coldplay

    “Tengo Un Trato (Remix)” – Mala Rodriguez

    “Wang Dang Doodle” – Howlin’ Wolf

    “Another Star” – Stevie Wonder

    “Hot Fun in the Summertime” – Sly & the Family Stone

    “Boozophilia” – Low Cut Connie

    “Wherever Is Your Heart” – Brandi Carlile

    “Good Day” – Nappy Roots

    “Green Light” – John Legend

    “Gimme Shelter” – Rolling Stones

    “Rock Steady” – Aretha Franklin

    “Down Down the Deep River” – Okkervil River

    “Pusher Love Girl” – Justin Timberlake

    “Shake It Out” – Florence + The Machine

    “La Salsa La Traigo Yo” – Sonora Carruseles

    Obama’s evening playlist:

    “My Favorite Things” – John Coltrane

    “Superpower” (featuring Frank Ocean) – Beyonce

    “Moondance” – Van Morrison

    “Is Your Love Big Enough?” – Lianne La Havas

    “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” – Al Green

    “Red & White & Blue & Gold” – Aoife O’Donovan

    “Nothing Even Matters” – Lauryn Hill

    “The Best Is Yet to Come” – Frank Sinatra

    “You Don’t Know Me” – Ray Charles

    “I Found My Everything” – Mary J Blige

    “Help Me” – Joni Mitchell

    “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” – Otis Redding

    “Suzanne” – Leonard Cohen

    “Feeling Good” – Nina Simone

    “Stubborn Love” – The Lumineers

    “Until” – Cassandra Wilson

    “UMI Says” – Mos Def

    “The Very Thought of You” – Billie Holiday

    “Flamenco Sketches” – Miles Davis

    “Woo” – Erykah Badu

    The post Listen to Obama’s personal playlist appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Illustration by Gary Waters / Getty Images

    Illustration by Gary Waters/ Getty Images

    Zainab bint Younis is a young, muslim blogger who lives near Vancouver and describes herself as goth steam-punk. She also wears a niqab, the full face veil with a narrow slit at the eyes.

    This week’s Shortwave explores the cultural and religious motivations of veiling, as well as the difficulty of eating french fries with one’s face completely covered.

    We’re joined by Younus, who blogs at The Salafi Feminist and Nancy Youseff of The Daily beast.

    The post Why young, western Muslim women are choosing the full face veil appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Republican presidential candidate, Senator Marco Rubio participates in "Restoring American Leadership: A Conversation with Senator Marco Rubio" at the 3 West Club in New York August 14, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly - RTX1O9UL

    Republican presidential candidate, Senator Marco Rubio participates in “Restoring American Leadership: A Conversation with Senator Marco Rubio” at the 3 West Club in New York on August 14, 2015. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

    NEW YORK — As a U.S. flag flies over the American embassy in Havana for the first time since 1961, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is vowing to roll back the administration’s new Cuba policy on his first day in office.

    In a speech to a conservative-leaning foreign policy group in New York today, Rubio described the administration’s approach to Cuba as a dangerous shift that gives the Castro regime international legitimacy. And he says Cuban leaders will also get more resources with which to repress the Cuban people.

    The Florida senator also attacked the recent Iran nuclear deal — and said the policies on Cuba and Iran are evidence of what he called “every flawed strategic, moral and economic notion” driving President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

    Rubio says Obama “has been quick to deal with the oppressors, but slow to deal with the oppressed.”

    The Cuban-American lawmaker has made foreign policy a centerpiece of his campaign for president.

    In his speech, he said he would return Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. And he said Cuba would lose its new diplomatic and economic benefits with the U.S., unless it enacted “meaningful political and human rights reforms.”

    The Obama administration says dealing directly with Cuba over issues including human rights and trade is far more likely to produce reforms.

    The post Rubio slams Obama’s outreach to Iran and Cuba appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Eric Wright Jr., the son of N.W.A.'s Eazy-E, wears a bejeweled necklace of his father, complete with the rapper's trademark Locs sunglasses and black "Compton" hat, all part of the uniform that solidified West Coast bad boy style. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Eric Wright Jr., the son of N.W.A.’s Eazy-E, wears a bejeweled necklace of his father, complete with the rapper’s trademark Locs sunglasses and black “Compton” hat, all part of the uniform that solidified West Coast bad boy style. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Eric Wright Jr., son of famed N.W.A. rapper “Eazy-E,” wears a diamond-encrusted mini bust of his father around his neck. The real “E” was a 5-foot-5 rapper with a relatively high-pitched voice that boomed through the late 1980s as the frontman of gangsta rap collective N.W.A. The inner-city youth of Compton, California, finally had their spokesmen.

    N.W.A.'s Eazy-E performing at Brixton Academy in London in 1991. Photo by PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

    N.W.A.’s Eazy-E performing at Brixton Academy in London in 1991. Photo by PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

    On “Straight Outta Compton,” N.W.A.’s 1988 debut album, and the subject of a new movie that comes out today, Eazy-E and company spelled out in lyrics the anger and frustration that was brimming in a generation of black youth. The album was credited with giving a “voice” to an often-ignored community. And if N.W.A., self-proclaimed as “the world’s most dangerous group,” was profane and aggressive in their delivery — at least they were heard.

    It was one of the first rap albums to portray street life, “you know, dope dealing, gang banging and what the police were going through,” Wright Jr. said.

    Most famously, N.W.A’s “F*** tha Police” promises “a bloodbath of cops, dying in L.A.” Decades before the Black Lives Matter movement, Michael Brown and Eric Garner and years before the Rodney King police beating, N.W.A. rattles down a list of grievances against law enforcement. The FBI responded with a warning letter to the group’s label.

    Eazy-E didn’t write the lyrics, but it was his life story as a former drug dealer that inspired a lot of N.W.A.’s music. He died on March 26, 1995, of lung and heart complications from AIDS. He was 31. And while some critics have argued for his spot on rap’s Mount Rushmore, the rapper’s grim narratives of gang banging and drug dealing about his hometown have outlasted the man.

    That notoriety, along with N.W.A.’s raucous debut going multi-platinum, put Compton on the pop culture map. As the hub of Los Angeles, Compton is city of 10 square miles and more than 97,000 people. It saw a rise in violent gang activity in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    “The only time it seems Compton can get any press is if Suge Knight is running over somebody.” — Compton resident Donald Phillips
    But the city has been working to change that image. If the world paid attention then, residents want to be heard again: Compton is not what it used to be.

    Longtime resident Donald Phillips says when he tells people he lives in Compton, they immediately associate it with the gangster image.

    “The only time it seems Compton can get any press is if Suge Knight is running over somebody,” Phillips, 53, said. “Otherwise, you can’t get any camera newspeople out here for anything positive that goes on.”

    Phillips is used to turning on his “defense mode” of explaining what else Compton has to offer, including a flight school where the city’s youth have broken world records.

    “I don’t try to sugarcoat and make it sound like everything’s rosy,” he said, “but I do try to point out all the positive things about Compton.”

    Several Compton residents told the NewsHour they have high hopes about Aja Brown, an urban planner who took over as the city’s youngest-ever mayor in 2013, at the age of 31. Brown has promised to help shed the city’s notorious image with new jobs, housing and commercial developments, farmers markets and art galleries to attract outsiders. Brown even has said that she envisions Compton as the “New Brooklyn.”

    Phillips, like many of the residents we talked to, said the transition was already occurring.

    The Compton Swap Meet, also known as the Compton Fashion Center, closed its doors in January to make way for a rumored Wal-Mart. The site was vital to the burgeoning gangsta rap scene where local shops, such as the Cycadelic Music Corner, supported albums like "Straight Outta Compton" when other retailers and radio stations turned away. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    The Compton Swap Meet, also known as the Compton Fashion Center, closed its doors in January to make way for a rumored Wal-Mart. The site was vital to the burgeoning gangsta rap scene where local shops, such as the Cycadelic Music Corner, supported albums like “Straight Outta Compton” when other retailers and radio stations turned away. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    “You’re starting to see things that previously, maybe five years ago, never thought would come to Compton,” he said.

    Residents speak of the bevy of businesses that have cropped up in recent years, including a Target, Best Buy, Chipotle and two Starbucks within walking distance of each other, while empty lots await further development. Phillips said Compton residents would normally have to travel outside the city to find these businesses.

    But Brown still has to field questions about the city’s reputation. She told the Telegraph that a U.K. official once told her that Compton ought to “keep making that gangsta rap.” It didn’t help that one of Compton’s previous mayors, Omar Bradley, who had served time on corruption charges, described himself as a “gangster mayor.” His conviction was overturned by an appeals court in 2012.

    Compton residents like Rameisha Davis, 35, told the NewsHour they were proud of N.W.A., but they didn’t want the city’s violent history — immortalized in the group’s songs — to define its residents.

    “A lot of people, to me, are taking a little more pride in the city,” Davis said.

    Mayor Brown has reached out to other one-time Compton residents such as rappers Ice Cube and The Game, and tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams for help with revitalizing the city. Dr. Dre said he would donate all the royalties from “Compton,” his soundtrack to the N.W.A. biopic, to fund a new arts center in the city.

    Some of Compton's finest such as rapper The Game and N.W.A. founding members MC Ren and DJ Yella adorn jackets at the Cycadelic Music Corner in Compton. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Some of Compton’s finest such as rapper The Game and N.W.A. founding members MC Ren and DJ Yella adorn jackets at the Cycadelic Music Corner in Compton. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    The view from the streets today

    In 2000, the Compton police department was dissolved as a cost-saving measure, and the L.A. County sheriff’s department took over patrolling duties for the city. Joseph Iberri joined the department at that time. Now a sergeant in the department’s gang unit, Iberri, 43, says it’s safer in Compton.

    In the early years, public places like Kelly Park were the stomping ground for the Kelly Park Compton Crips — Eazy-E’s one-time gang — among others, Iberri said.

    “You didn’t go hang out in the park,” he said. “Over time, that’s changed. Kids playing soccer … People [walking] their dogs. I know things are safer.”

    Demographics have also changed. According to 2013 census statistics, Latinos represent 67 percent of the city’s population in what was once a majority black community. But, blacks in Compton accounted for more than 60 percent of homicide victims last year, the Los Angeles Times reported.

    “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Iberri said.

    According to numbers provided by the L.A. sheriff’s department, Compton experienced a recent spike of homicides in 2013 with 37 killings, 33 of which were gang-related murders. The rate since then has dropped with 30 homicides in 2014, 24 classified as gang-related. As of Aug. 8, 2015, all but one of the 13 homicides were gang-related.

    Gang activity has spread online, giving residents even more concern. After the death of 27-year-old Kenneth Lynn Peevy in mid-July in nearby Westmont, the hashtag #100days100nights emerged on Twitter and Instagram. It was here that a local gang vowed a 100 days of violence to avenge his death in South L.A., the Los Angeles Times reported.

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    The L.A. Police Department has since tried to quell fears about the rumored eruption of violence. LAPD Deputy Chief Bill Scott called the situation “a bunch of hype” and said he was more concerned about the fear it created.

    “The gang shootings that happen here are old rivalries,” Iberri said. “It’s an old story and still true today.”

    Jalonni Diggs, 26, knew Peevy. He said the two were good friends in high school. Diggs has never been in a gang, but like several of the Compton residents we talked to, he has known family and friends affected by gang violence.

    Diggs grew up within walking distance of Compton’s Centennial High School, once attended by Dr. Dre and rap wunderkind Kendrick Lamar. Diggs said he had friends, including Peevy, who were in gangs and “on their way to do something bad, they would always tell me, ‘Go to the basketball court, and go do some homework.’”

    Plenty of Eazy-E memorabilia appear throughout the rapper's childhood home in Compton. The late rapper's son other family members continue to live there. "I'm not scared of my city," Wright Jr. told the NewsHour. "If you can adapt to this life, always flooring, always staying on your toes, it prepares you for life." Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Plenty of Eazy-E memorabilia appear throughout the rapper’s childhood home in Compton. The late rapper’s son other family members continue to live there. “I’m not scared of my city,” Wright Jr. told the NewsHour. “If you can adapt to this life, always flooring, always staying on your toes, it prepares you for life.” Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    N.W.A.’s Legacy

    Ice Cube penned the lyrics. Dr. Dre was the heartbeat. MC Ren and DJ Yella filled out the original line-up. But Eric Wright was not a rapper — at least not yet. His bandmates have often described Eazy-E as a hesitant performer, one who had to rap in the dark to record a song in the studio. But that nervousness would soon pass.

    “He wasn’t an emcee, he was an entrepreneur,” Wright Jr. said, adding that before the wide availability of the Internet, new artists had to sell out of their car trunks. His father helped moved that business into stores by founding his own independent rap label, Ruthless Records, to help support N.W.A.’s music.

    But it wasn’t all about the salary, it was also about reality.

    “He thought [‘Straight Outta Compton’] was a masterpiece,” Wright Jr. said. “It’s them giving you their lives, what they wanted to put out, the music they wanted to listen to, the music they wanted to do. It was just them.”

    Wright Jr. embraces that history. He lives in the same Compton house where his father grew up. He even started rapping as “Lil Eazy-E” to continue his father’s legacy.

    “I could care less about being the best rapper,” Wright Jr. said. “I miss him. I feel like the world’s forgotten about him; he’s not getting his due justice.”

    His younger brother Derrick Wright, also known as the rapper “Baby Eazy-E,” is at his side as he remembers his father.

    “He was a genius. He was a legend in his music. In between me and my brother, we’re going to continuously keep that going on.”

    Eazy-E's legacy continues with his first two sons with Wright Jr. as "Lil Eazy-E" (L) and Derrick Wright, 27, as "Baby Eazy-E" or "E3" (R). Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Eazy-E’s legacy continues with his first two sons with Wright Jr. as “Lil Eazy-E,” left, and Derrick Wright, 27, as “Baby Eazy-E” or “E3,” right. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Music as inspiration

    Posters of the upcoming biopic appear throughout the city, reminding the people of Compton of their past.

    But artists from the city have since added to the mythology, including repeated assurances — “We gon’ be alright — from hometown hero Kendrick Lamar.

    Resident Jalonni Diggs said it was artists like Lamar who kept him hopeful and helped him get through college. He graduated from University of California, Riverside, in 2011, and is currently a realtor in the Los Angeles area.

    “I can only imagine what ‘Straight Outta Compton’ did for those who were in high school or college at the time,” he said.

    For Diggs, too, music is his inspiration, but not necessarily a model.

    “You can do something other than gang bang. Your life is worth more than a death sentence, a funeral or a face on a shirt.”

    Watch arts and culture correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s report on the film “Straight Outta Compton” on tonight’s PBS NewsHour.

    The post How a city reckons with its ‘Straight Outta Compton’ roots appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Young men celebrating their grandfathers birthday. Photo by WIN-Initiative/Getty Images

    On Social Security’s 80th birthday, Larry Kotlikoff argues that it needs to be replaced by a modern system. Photo by WIN-Initiative/Getty Images

    Social Security turns 80 today! Should we cheer or cry?

    We should cheer that the system has kept millions of seniors out of abject poverty.

    We should cry that it’s done so in large part by leaving a massive $26 trillion unfunded liability for our children to pay. It’s poorly designed, arcane, sexist and the least user-friendly system ever created by mankind (in my humble, but very well informed opinion).

    Maybe everyone who contributed to the hundreds of thousands of rules was trying his or her best to do good on a piecemeal basis within their capacity to do good. In any case, we now have a system that is being run by staff that are a) underpaid, b) undertrained and c) far too few in number to handle 10,000 retirees per day.

    Every day, I hear from someone with a different Social Security horror story — sometimes a small one, sometimes a big one. Everyone needs to understand what’s really going on with this system, because collectively, we have the option of keeping the status quo or paying off what we owe to seniors and all current workers, shutting Social Security down and starting from scratch.


    Recall my recent discussion of the woman who was told the wrong thing about suspending her benefits by not one, but by seven separate Social Security personnel. She would still be trying to suspend her benefit had I not called her local office and told the office head how suspending your benefits works.


    Today, I heard from a gentleman, who went about a year later than he should have into Social Security to file and suspend his benefit and get his wife a full spousal benefit. He got to the local office early by 9 AM. Both he and his wife work, and they could only spare an hour. They were told they could wait in the office until 1 PM and maybe get to talk to someone who might be able to handle their request, or they could come back in two months — on October 8th, the first available appointment. Trouble is, his wife is having surgery that week and can’t make it. The conversation went something like this:

    “Can we make a later appointment?”

    “No, we can’t book further out than two months. You’ll have to contact us in a couple of weeks to reschedule. But, not to worry, we’ll make note that you came in today, and you’ll get your benefits, when you get them, as if you were seen today. So you won’t lose anything.”

    “Okay,” he says.

    He leaves the office and emails me. I tell him to get the last bit in writing. He calls and finds out they can’t produce a written document without his going back into the office. They would undo confirmation of today’s visit (if it is indeed in their system) and then confirm the new visit and requests. Only then, could he get a written confirmation.

    I tell him that he better go back and waste more time to get something in writing.

    He calls Social Security again and emails me:

    “I called back, got a different person, and was told that she would send me confirmation letter regarding the original date of the lead, so nothing was changed in the SSA’s records, nothing supposedly will be cancelled, etc.”


    Yesterday, I received an email from a gentlemen who is 63 and wants to file for his benefit now in order to activate child benefits for his two young children. He then, at full retirement age (66), wants to suspend his benefit and restart it at 70. This is all perfectly legitimate.

    After waiting 6 weeks for an appointment, he went to his local office, waited for another hour and was told he can’t suspend his benefit when he turns 66. He left and emailed me.

    They told him the wrong thing. “You can suspend,” I said. He didn’t trust me.

    “Okay, call them up, or go back to the office,” I urged.

    “I don’t want to wait another six weeks for an appointment. I’ll call.”

    A couple days later he calls, talks to a supervisor, who says, “Yes, you can suspend at full-retirement age, but if you suspend, the child benefits to your children will stop.”

    This too is absolutely untrue and it’s coming from a supposed supervisor.


    Going back a few days, I received an email from a lady who was sent a $19,000 bill from Social Security telling her they’d made a mistake and had overpaid her benefits to the tune of $19,000 for the past two years. (They did not make a mistake, but that’s a story for a future column.) They demanded repayment. She appealed their request. They then stopped sending her any benefits, and with no notice, kicked her off of Medicare because, it seems, they were deducting her Medicare premiums from her benefit check. They did this with no advance warning.


    Speaking of getting kicked out of Medicare, a Mr. William Davey emailed me today with a twist on Gotcha statement #11 in my book with Paul and Phil: ”If you suspend retirement benefits and don’t pay Medicare Part B; you may lose your delayed retirement credits.” Here’s what he wrote:

    My Situation: I suspended my benefits at 66 in order to receive benefits for my underage 14 year old and to max out benefits at 70. I did not pay my Medicare Part A and B for one quarter only, and as a result my Medicare part A WAS SUSPENDED for 9 months. I paid a penalty and have paid my Medicare in all other quarters for the past two and a half years. Question: Am I going to lose my delayed retirement credit for this four year (66 to 70) period due to this one mistake?? A whopping 8 percent annually or a four year total 32 percent increase of delayed retirement benefits gone?!!!!

    I told Bill that since they kicked him off of Medicare, they probably hadn’t secretly reactivated his retirement benefit in order to grab the premium from it. Had they done so, he would have lost his delayed retirement credits. But the key word here is “probably.” I don’t know and don’t know if anyone inside Social Security really knows. Last I was told, their computer program was written in Cobol, an ancient computer language that few people read or write. That program may produce some nasty surprise for Bill when he reaches 70, because he missed a few Medicare premium payments. And then straightening it out may turn into yet another nightmare.


    Another woman emailed me last week about having learned years ago that she and someone else were given the same Social Security number. When she learned, she immediately filed for and got a new number. Decades later she started collecting her retirement benefit on which she is surviving. Recently, she was informed that she was collecting benefits on the wrong record and that Social Security would no longer pay her a retirement benefit. She is now without income and fighting the bureaucrats to have her benefit — which was, in fact, correct based on the new Social Security number she received — reinstated.


    Then there are all the people that Social Security are sure are dead, except they aren’t.  And if you are dead to Social Security, don’t expect them to start believing you are alive and give you the benefits you are due just because you actually are alive and offer to come to office with a heart monitor to prove it. The dead, after all, can’t appeal Social Security decisions.

    Do we need to be plagued by a system like this? Do we want our children to deal with such a system? Do we really need to have what for most of us is our primary source of retirement income in the hands of well meaning, but often highly incompetent bureaucrats? Is this the best our country can deliver — a lottery ticket to getting what we’re due and then, only after a Kafkaesque slog fest with Tweetle Dee and Tweetle Dumb?

    No, no, no, no, no. We don’t need to keep the current system around for another day, let alone another 80 years. If I was in charge, I’d freeze it, and pay off, over time, everything it now owes. I’d treat all workers as having no future earnings under Social Security, but fully recognize their past covered earnings and provide all the benefits owed on those earnings. And finally, I’d replace it with a modern version of Social Security that’s fully funded, fair, simple and efficient. That’s my birthday wish for Social Security — to put it to sleep and start it anew.

    The post Social Security turns 80. Should we cheer or cry? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich holds a campaign town hall meeting in Peterborough, New Hampshire, August 11, 2015. Kasich hopes to challenge Jeb Bush in the New Hampshire primary. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich holds a campaign town hall meeting in Peterborough, New Hampshire, August 11, 2015. Kasich hopes to challenge Jeb Bush in the New Hampshire primary. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — Even at his own rallies, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich is a stranger to some New Hampshire voters.

    Karen Bednarski, who packed into one of the Ohio governor’s three New Hampshire appearances this week, says she learned about his presidential bid for the first time “within the last week.”

    “What I’ve heard I like,” Bednarski, a 48-year-old Republican-leaning independent from Peterborough, said just before Kasich walked into the room.

    It may not matter that many in the audience didn’t know how to pronounce his name (it’s KAY-sik), didn’t remember his 18 years in Congress and hadn’t heard about his overwhelming re-election last year in one of the nation’s premiere swing states. Even as a mystery, Kasich has emerged as a legitimate threat to his better-known Republican rivals – former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in particular – whose presidential aspirations are focused on New Hampshire.

    “I’ve always been underestimated,” Kasich said, describing himself as “the little engine that keeps saying that it can.”

    Kasich is among a handful of Republican White House hopefuls betting they can capitalize on the first-in-the-nation primary state’s tendency to favor pragmatic leaders over party ideologues. Beyond Kasich and Bush, it’s a group that includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former New York Gov. George Pataki and perhaps Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whose libertarian leanings resonate in the state whose official motto is “live free or die.”

    It is a powerful collection of candidates targeting the same slice of the electorate among a larger field of 17 major Republican contenders. Coming off a strong performance in the first GOP debate, however, Kasich has shown signs of momentum. And Bush’s team has taken notice.

    On policy, tone and political strategy, Kasich and Bush draw from a remarkably similar political playbook. Both men made New Hampshire their first stop immediately after announcing their presidential campaigns and after the recent presidential debate, although the straight-talking Kasich doesn’t pretend he’s as well-known as his rivals.

    “One of the things that frustrates me is that you don’t know me,” he told the audience at a Peterborough town hall-style meeting on Tuesday, the first of three public appearances over three days of campaigning.

    It was Kasich’s 11th trip to the state this year, said Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf; he’s scheduled to make his 12th next week.

    Bush is set to return to New Hampshire next week for his 11th appearance since March alone.

    “Our approach from the start is we’re going to be low to the ground and we’re going to take Jeb everywhere,” said Rich Killion, a senior adviser to Bush in New Hampshire.

    Kasich has just four paid staffers in the state compared to Jeb’s seven. Yet Kasich has recently acquired two well-respected surrogates volunteering on his behalf: former Sen. John E. Sununu and former state Attorney General Tom Rath.

    “I think Jeb is a very strong candidate here,” said Rath, a former adviser to Bush’s older brother, former President George W. Bush. “The difference is it’s a stronger field. Right now, nobody’s got control of this playing surface.”

    The parallels between Kasich and Bush are undeniable.

    In sharp contrast to many conservatives, both men speak warmly of immigrants in the country illegally. While Bush says such immigrants came out of an “act of love,” Kasich said this week they “contribute significantly” to the nation.

    “A lot of these people who are here are some of the hardest-working, God-fearing family-oriented people you can ever meet,” he said.

    Kasich and Bush are also among the few candidates in the race who support the Common Core education standards, a policy they defend as helpful for states to seeking to establish higher standards. The standards are vehemently opposed by many conservative Republicans.

    Both favor sending additional ground troops to combat the Islamic State group. Like Bush, Kasich won’t say how many troops might be necessary beyond the 3,500 American military trainers and advisers already helping Iraqi forces. Asked how long U.S. forces should be willing to stay in the region, Kasich said, “As long as it takes to get the job done.”

    The pair also shares a similar tone, embracing an optimistic campaign message when compared to rivals such as Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose candidacies are defined as much by what they’re against as what they’re for. Kasich has taken his positive message to the next level, however, by refusing to attack his competitors in either party.

    “If you’re suggesting that personal attacks are off limits, I agree with you,” he told a voter this past week, adding that issue-oriented debates are fair. “I won’t attack Hillary personally,” a reference to Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    After his first New Hampshire appearance, Bednarski said she was impressed by Kasich’s straightforward manner and compassionate tone. And once he started talking, she said, she remembered his role in budget negotiations with President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

    “I never thought I’d say this,” Bednarski said, “but I may sign up to help him. That’s a step I’ve never taken.”


    The post John Kasich may challenge Jeb Bush in New Hampshire primary appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Featured here is Will Rogers in April 1930. At the time of his death in 1935, Rogers had the most popular Sunday evening radio show, his newspaper columns were read by millions in the country and he was the second biggest motion picture box office draw. Image courtesy of Will Rogers Memorial Museum

    Eighty years ago Saturday, William Penn Adair, better known as Will Rogers, an entertainer, humorist, political commentator and writer, died in a plane crash in Alaska.

    A key backer of American aviation, Rogers was exploring Alaska with pilot Wiley Post, when their plane sputtered and stopped soon after takeoff and made a nosedive into a lagoon near Point Barrow. Both Rogers, the country’s “cowboy philosopher,” and Post, the one-eyed airman and the first pilot to fly solo around the world, died on impact. He was 55 years old.

    Rogers’ weekly radio broadcast, one of the first comedic political shows, had become the most listened to program in the country on Sunday evenings by 1935.

    Additionally, an estimated 40 million people read his “Daily Telegrams,” published by The New York Times and syndicated to hundreds of other newspapers throughout the U.S. and Canada. He was also the second highest grossing movie star, behind Shirley Temple.

    The public viewing of Rogers' flower-covered casket at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, 1935. Image provided by Will Rogers Memorial Museum

    The public viewing of Rogers’ casket at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, 1935, where 49,926 people saw the casket before it was transferred to the funeral chapel. Image courtesy of Will Rogers Memorial Museum.

    After his death, federal and state officials ordered flags to be flown at half-staff and the New York times dedicated 13 pages to Rogers. On August 22, nearly 50,000 people went to the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles to see Rogers’ flower-covered casket before it was transferred to the funeral chapel.

    Rogers is perhaps best known for his 1931 radio broadcast “Bacon, Beans and Limousines,” in which he criticized U.S. leaders for not adequately addressing the country’s unemployed population, which was then at 7 million people.

    “When he gave that speech, he was there to make America feel good and give hope,” Rogers’ great granddaughter and commissioner on the Will Rogers Memorial Commission, Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry told PBS NewsHour.

    “He was the one to say ‘people wake up,'” she said regarding his dismay over people who were starving throughout the country.

    In the address, Rogers joked that the U.S. would be the “only nation in the history of the world that ever went to the poor house in an automobile.” If he were around today, Rogers-Etcheverry believe he’d change the end to be “with a cell phone,” instead of “in an  automobile.”

    Rogers-Etcheverry said she didn’t realize the extent of her great grandfather’s achievements until 1991, when she went with 12 other family members, including her grandfather, to New York City for the Broadway opening of “The Will Rogers Follies.”

    By the age of 55, Rogers had written six books and more than 3,600 articles, according to historians at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. He had traveled around the world three times, made 71 movies, and entered the Guinness Book of World Records for throwing three lassos at once, landing around a horse’s neck, its four legs and the horse’s rider.

    He wouldn’t have been able to do any of those things, Rogers-Etcheverry mentioned, without the support of his wife and manager, Betty Blake Rogers. The two had four children. The youngest died shortly before his second birthday.

    Born in 1879 to an affluent and influential Cherokee Nation family in Oologah, Oklahoma, Rogers picked up the roping skills he used later in his “Ziegfeld Follies” vaudeville act, while working on his father’s ranch.

    In the beginning, his quick wit–served with a smile–was used in jokes about his ropes. However, it didn’t take long for him to turn his humor toward American society, politics, and events like World War I, Prohibition and the Great Depression.

    In 1926, Rogers embarked on a “Badwill Tour,” his spoof on the goodwill tours of politicians at the time. During the tour he said, “I have never met a man I didn’t like,” in reference to Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, whom Rogers tried to meet while visiting the former Soviet Union, but he never got the chance.

    Will Rogers backstage with 1924 Ziegfeld Follies cast. Image provided by Will Rogers Memorial Museum

    Will Rogers backstage with the 1924 “Ziegfeld Follies” cast. Image courtesy of Will Rogers Memorial Museum.

    The quote, one of his most famous, appeared first in the November 6, 1926-edition of the Saturday Evening Post. The sentiment became a popular adage used by him and others when referring to politicians and world dignitaries who held unpopular beliefs.

    Rogers often found material for his radio broadcasts and newspaper columns by observing Congress. He poked fun at those on both sides of the aisle and also had the ear President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    “Most people and actors appearing on the stage have some writer write their material. I don’t do that. Congress is good enough for me. They have been writing my material for years.”

    He wasn’t simply the voice of the American conscience. In 1931, Rogers traveled 15,000 miles and raised $220,000, as part of the Red Cross relief tour of drought-stricken areas in Arkansas and his home state of Oklahoma.

    Today, schools, highways, an airport and a shrine to the sun in Colorado Springs, Colorado, are named after Rogers.

    Every year to mark the anniversary of Rogers’ death, more than 100 planes fly into a grass landing strip near his childhood home.

    The post Remembering Will Rogers: 80 years on, how the ‘cowboy philosopher’ popularized political humor appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) touches Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez during a joint news conference at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, August 14, 2015. Kerry declared a new era in relations as he celebrated restored diplomatic ties in Havana on Friday, but he also urged political change in Cuba, telling Cubans they should be free to choose their own leaders. Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) touches Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez during a joint news conference at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, August 14, 2015. Kerry declared a new era in relations as he celebrated restored diplomatic ties in Havana on Friday, but he also urged political change in Cuba, telling Cubans they should be free to choose their own leaders. Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters

    HAVANA — A jubilant flag-raising at the reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana is giving way to serious talk about the road ahead in improving relations between the United States and Cuba.

    Capping off a Friday in Havana that began with the Stars and Stripes being hoisted outside the embassy, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Cuban dissidents in the evening and said the island will not see an end to the despised U.S. trade embargo if Cuba’s single-party government does not make progress on human rights.

    Cuban and U.S. negotiators are to meet in Havana in early September to begin talks on normalization of the relationship between the two countries, which includes topics ranging from maritime security to the embargo to human rights, Kerry told reporters.

    He said negotiations will follow three tracks. The first will encompass areas in which rapid progress is expected, such as cooperation on naval matters, climate change and the environment. The second will tackle more complex topics like the establishment of direct airline flights and U.S. telecommunications deals with Cuba. The last will take on the toughest problems, including the embargo, human rights and each country’s desire to have fugitives returned by the other.

    While the three tracks will proceed simultaneously, Kerry said, Cuban leaders should not expect to see progress on the embargo without improvements in civil liberties in Cuba, which does not allow independent media, political parties other than the ruling communist party or direct election of anything but low-level municipal posts.

    “There is no way Congress will lift the embargo if we are not making progress on issues of conscience,” he said.

    Kerry began the day with a nationally broadcast call for democratic change on the island, saying that “we remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith.”

    Hundreds of Cubans mixed with American tourists outside the former U.S. Interests Section, newly rechristened with a sign announcing “Embassy of the United States of America.” They cheered as Kerry spoke, the United States Army Brass Quintet played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and U.S. Marines raised the flag outside the building, which overlooks the famous Malecon seaside promenade.

    Addressing reporters with Kerry after the ceremony, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded by indignantly opening his remarks with complaints of U.S. human rights transgressions – from police shootings of black men to mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base on Cuba that the government says must be returned.

    “Cuba isn’t a place where there’s racial discrimination, police brutality or deaths resulting from those problems,” Rodriguez said. “The territory where torture occurs and people are held in legal limbo isn’t under Cuban jurisdiction.”

    Many Cubans disagree with that assessment, including Afro-Cubans who say discrimination is still rampant despite the revolution’s egalitarian ideals. Human rights groups say regular, short-term arrests and beatings of the government’s critics seek to intimidate dissent.

    President Barack Obama also called for change in Cuba when he announced the new U.S. policy of engagement in December, but his words were less pointed than Kerry’s on Friday.

    Cuba formally reopened its Washington embassy last month. The U.S. raised its flag in Havana then, too, though saving the formal ceremony for Kerry’s visit. Three Marines who took part in lowering the U.S. flag when the embassy was closed in 1961 handed over the new flag to Marines who raised it on Friday.

    Kerry was the first secretary of state to visit Cuba since 1945, and his speech was remarkable for its bluntness and the national spotlight in which it came.

    Many Cubans lauded Kerry’s call for reform, including greater access to technology on an island with one of the world’s lowest rates of Internet penetration. They paired their praise with calls for the United States to lift the 53-year-old trade embargo and allow easier travel between the two countries.

    “More democracy, elections, we hope for that to come with this diplomatic opening,” said Julio Garcia, a mechanic.

    Like Obama, Kerry said the longtime U.S. strategy of trying to isolate Cuba and provoke regime change by choking off trade and fomenting grass-roots agitation had failed.

    “It would be equally unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have a transformative impact in the short term,” he said. “After all, Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape.”

    Kerry briefly walked Old Havana’s historic Plaza de San Francisco with City Historian Eusebio Leal, stopping to look in shops and greet residents and store owners before attending an afternoon flag-raising at the home of the embassy’s chief of mission.

    While there, he addressed a group of diplomats, Cuban-Americans and advocates of warming relations with Cuba. The event also was attended by dissidents including Jose Daniel Ferrer, Miriam Leiva and Yoani Sanchez, who tweeted a selfie of with Kerry and a photo of the secretary of state meeting privately with a group of dissidents.

    The dissidents were not invited to the embassy ceremony to avoid tensions with Cuban officials who typically boycott events attended by the country’s small political opposition.


    The post After ceremonial flag raising, real talk of diplomacy begins in Cuba appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy signs proposal to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, June 2, 2014. Critics of the Obama administration’s newest carbon regulations are seeking to use a recent mine disaster, in which an EPA team accidentally released about 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into a Colorado river, to attack the carbon overhaul. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy signs a proposal to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, June 2, 2014. Critics of the Obama administration’s newest carbon regulations are seeking to use a recent mine disaster, in which an EPA team accidentally released about 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into a Colorado river, to attack the carbon overhaul. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Authorities say rivers tainted by last week’s massive spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine are starting to recover, but for the Environmental Protection Agency the political fallout from the disaster could linger.

    The federal agency’s critics are already seeking to use its much-maligned handling of the mine spill to undercut the Obama administration’s rollout of major regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the nation’s power plants. Members of oversight committees in both the House and Senate say they are planning hearings after Congress returns from its August recess.

    “The EPA is supposed to help prevent environmental catastrophes, not cause them,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., a member of the House leadership and the Energy and Commerce Committee. “But, sadly, President Obama’s EPA has been too busy threatening American jobs with radical regulations instead of focusing on what should be their core mission.”

    EPA and contract workers accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater as they inspected the idled Gold King mine on Aug. 5, just two days after Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan during an event at the White House.

    The timing could hardly be worse for the beleaguered regulatory agency, a frequent target for congressional Republicans and pro-industry groups. Attorneys general for at least 15 states say they plan to sue over the new carbon restrictions, and such coal-mining backers as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are urging states to simply ignore new carbon rules from Washington.

    Over the last week, even Democrats representing states affected by the spill have publicly criticized the agency’s response as anemic. That has forced top administration officials off-message just as they were launching an effort to sell the new carbon rules to the American people.

    On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gave a policy speech about the new carbon-reduction program at an event in Washington. But at a news conference afterward, every question was about the mine spill. McCarthy said her agency takes full responsibility for the accident and expressed deep sorrow for the environmental harm caused to the Animas and San Juan rivers.

    Following bipartisan pressure from the congressional delegations of Colorado and New Mexico, the EPA chief then departed Washington for a two-day fence-mending trip out West aimed at showing that her agency is responsive and competent.

    For Republicans, it was an opportunity to put the EPA on the defensive.

    “I think we have seen what happens when the EPA comes after private industry – they come after them with heavy hand,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and we have seen a lack of communication and coordination. … This goes to the core competency of the EPA.”

    Bob Deans, a spokesman for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, predicted that people would see efforts to link the spill to regulations aimed at addressing climate change for what it is – political theater.

    “The public wants action on climate change and we expect our waters to be protected from mining waste,” Deans said. “We count on the EPA to do both. This tragic accident hasn’t changed that. If anything, it’s highlighted the risks we take and the price we pay when we allow environmental threats to fester.”

    Still, the EPA’s handling of the Gold King spill is likely to remain an issue of political debate for months to come.

    “The House will continue to monitor the situation and the appropriate committees will conduct rigorous oversight to make sure the administration is assessing the damage the EPA has caused and taking action to clean it up,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Now that his EPA has accepted full responsibility, I expect President Obama to demand full accountability for what happened here.”

    The post Critics of Obama carbon rules use Animas river disaster to blast EPA appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Digital tablet and book on desk in classroom

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The national debate over education quality, integration, and funding is playing out in two states this week: Washington and Florida.

    We begin with Washington state, where state leaders will meet Monday to begin addressing inequities in public school funding. The move comes after the state Supreme Court imposed a $100,000-a-day fine this week, because the judges say, kindergarten-through-12th grade education is insufficiently funded. The court said the state needs to do more to reduce class size, expand kindergarten, and raise teacher pay. Other states, such as Kansas, Ohio, and New Jersey, have also been embroiled in court fights over school funding.

    Joining me now to discuss the problems in Washington state is Seattle Times reporter Joseph O’Sullivan.

    So, we’re all paying attention to the $100,000-a-day fine. That seems like sticker shock to a viewer or audience member, but this has been a long time coming. How did we get here?

    JOSEPH O’SULLIVAN, THE SEATTLE TIMES: So, the Washington state constitution says expressly that education is the, quote/unquote, “paramount” duty of the state to provide for. And so, in 2007, a family, the McCleary family, who had children in school sued the state, along with some school districts and teachers unions, saying that the state was underfunding.

    And it made its way to the Supreme Court which in 2012 agreed saying the state was unconstitutionally underfunding the school system. So, the court imposed a 2018 deadline for the state to come up with more funding and fix some specific problems.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So here we are now, the courts — the judges basically say they’re completely dissatisfied. They’re slapping this significant fine on them, but it doesn’t seem to have caused the type of deterrent we think. I mean, in your reporting, you say some of the legislators say, you know what? Let’s keep racking up the fines until January because that will still only add up to $14 million versus what we have to fund this thing by.

    JOSEPH O’SULLIVAN: Sure, that’s the thing. The penalty in that sense is symbolic because $14 million, you know, in a budget that’s $38 billion large isn’t that much money, and the problem is significantly bigger in the portion of the court’s decision on teacher compensation. It’s going to be about $3.5 billion every two-year budget cycle to fix.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So what are some of the inequities? What are — what’s at the core of this? What sorts of programs are missing? What sorts of teachers are underfunded? Is there inequity from one neighborhood or one community to another?

    JOSEPH O’SULLIVAN: Sure. Well, so far, the state legislature has put money into school funding. The state has provided more money for transportation costs, materials and operation supplies. They’ve put money into funding all-day kindergarten, and kindergarten through three class size reduction.

    But one of the big pieces that’s still hanging out there is that the state isn’t funding teacher pay enough. And what happens in Washington state is that local property tax levies provide supplemental funding for teacher pay, so local school districts wind up coming up with more money to pay their teachers.

    And so, that’s one of the big inequality questions because poorer school districts that don’t have as wealthy residents, as wealthy — good property tax levies, they can’t provide funding for their teachers as easily as a wealthy district can.

    And so, that’s one of the things that lawmakers are going to have to figure out. And it’s kind of — one of the things that’s being talked about is a property tax levy swap whereby some of the richer districts would send money — pay more money and send that money to the poorer districts, but that’s very politically complicated to do because it’s, you know, politically tricky for everybody.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, where else is this happening? Or is this just peculiar to Washington state because of how the constitution’s written?

    JOSEPH O’SULLIVAN: So, these have played out in a lot of states. About 45 states have had some kind of litigation before.

    For Washington state, we actually had a similar case back in the 70s to deal with teacher compensation and local property tax levies. So, it’s not super unusual. What is unusual for us this time is that it’s the first time the state has sanctioned — the court has sanctioned the state and fined the state.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Joseph O’Sullivan from The Seattle Times — thanks so much.

    JOSEPH O’SULLIVAN: Thank you.

    The post Washington lawmakers to address education funding after court fines state appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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