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

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    The Supreme Court issued two decisions on Thursday that  targeted different issues of free speech.

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Supreme Court of the United States is often the final say on the major domestic conflicts of the day, from voting rights to gay marriage and health care.

    But when foreign law crosses paths with our legal system, how should the Supreme Court proceed?

    Justice Stephen Breyer, who has served on the court for over two decades, examines this in his new book, “The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities.”

    And Justice Breyer joins me now.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    STEPHEN BREYER, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court: Thank you very much.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s great to have you with us.

    So, with so many complicated issues before this Supreme Court, why did you take the time to focus on how it’s affected by what’s going on in other countries?

    STEPHEN BREYER: Well, I have noticed that, over the course of the last 20 years, we have more and more cases, maybe now 15 or 20 percent, where what goes on beyond our shores is directly relevant to our making a sound decision on the American legal question before us.

    They range from security problems, Guantanamo, to human rights problems, victims of tortures, to commercial problems, copyright, antitrust, securities law, domestic relations, marriages that are governed by treaty. They’re all over the place.

    And I wanted to show people, concretely, in the case of our institution, what that general word, interdependence, means.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just to bore down on this a little bit, you start out looking at some cases involving national security and, in some regards, striking a balance between national security, civil liberties.

    Why should the U.S. be concerned with what foreign countries are doing when deciding important questions like that?

    STEPHEN BREYER: We didn’t have to be, our court, for a long time. We didn’t have to be in that area, because for dozens and dozens and dozens of years, the court simply stayed out of the effort to balance security interests, which was the president’s job, against human rights or limitations on civil rights.

    That led to a case in World War II where 70,000 Americans of Japanese origin were put into camps in the center of the country, prison camps, for no reason, no good reason, and the court upheld it.

    Since that time, most people who study these matters think that was a terrible decision, and, therefore, the court gets involved. So, in Guantanamo case, in those four cases, we held in favor of the prisoner prisoners in Guantanamo. And Sandra O’Connor wrote these words: “The Constitution doesn’t write a blank check to the president to run over civil rights, even when national security is at issue.”

    Once you hear those words, blank check, you have to ask, how do we fill the check in? And to know the answer to that today involves knowing something about security problems. It involves knowing about something involving terrorism, which takes place abroad. It involves knowing how other countries deal with those problems.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You also bring up the death penalty, and this arose in a case the court dealt with this year.

    You wrote in your — and you included in the dissenting opinion in that case — you cited the fact that most countries on Earth don’t have the death penalty anymore, either by law or by practice. Again, why is that relevant here?

    STEPHEN BREYER: Well, it — there’s a debate on how relevant it is.

    The relevant constitutional provision forbids punishments that are cruel and unusual. The founders didn’t say whether that meant unusual in the United States or unusual in the world. So, some people think that’s quite relevant. Other people think it isn’t so relevant.

    I put that in, in the opinion to show that we are virtually alone, but some other countries have it. Nonetheless, that wasn’t my main basis for the conclusion. The conclusion was, we should hear the question of whether the death penalty is unconstitutional. And there were other reasons. Arbitrariness, wrong person, long delays, the diminished number of cases in the United States, just a handful, where death is actually carried out, those were the basic reasons I thought we should reconsider the question.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A number of your — well, four of your more conservative colleagues on the court have made it very clear they’re troubled by the idea of being influenced by foreign law.

    In a number of cases over the years, this has come up. It’s come up in Congress when members of — nominees to the Supreme Court have been seeking confirmation. Do you think that kind of implacable opposition to paying attention to foreign law is softening among some of your colleagues?

    STEPHEN BREYER: Yes, for this reason, in this respect, and that’s one reason I wrote this book.

    If you look at the cases actually before us, they’re much different and often far more mundane, but perhaps very important, than death penalty cases. They involve, for example, treaties, which deal with what? Which deal with marriages that failed and abduction of children across boundaries.

    Why do we have those treaties? Because, today, marriage is more and more international. And who interprets treaties? We do. The federal courts do. And when we interpret them, do we pay attention to what other countries have said is the right meaning of the treaty? Absolutely.

    And you can find in all of — I think that’s a unanimous view. So, there are many issues where of course you have to take into account foreign matters. And that’s what I want to show has become more and more of our business.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying — and one of the reasons you wrote the book was to influence your fellow justices.

    STEPHEN BREYER: No, I’m just saying I want the ordinary — the ordinary reader — and I prefer, you know, people read this — contrary to popular belief, of our 315 million citizens, 314 million are not lawyers.

    (LAUGHTER)

    STEPHEN BREYER: And I would like them to have a chance, too, to know what goes on in the court.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A broader question about the court, Justice Breyer.

    Critics on the right, some of them are now saying this court has become too activist. Among other things, they’re pointing to the ruling in support of same-sex marriage. They’re saying, why should the Supreme Court be intervening itself in an area where the public is still sorting itself out?

    How do you answer that? Is the court…

    STEPHEN BREYER: Everyone — and everyone has a right to criticize the court. And, oddly enough, what we do, the nine members, rarely try to respond to the criticism.

    Why? Because our job, our job, which we take very, very seriously, our job is to look at the individual case in front of us, to read perhaps a dozen, perhaps 100 briefs that have been filed on the two sides, to try to understand, through the argument, written and oral, and discussion in the court, where the right answer lies and try to write as best we can our real reasons for reaching the conclusions that we reached.

    Now, we take that job seriously. David Souter said, we are never off-duty. And we’re not. And that is what we must continue to do. And, ultimately, I believe — and others — Justice Brandeis believed this — that the best hope for maintaining the respect for the court that is necessary for our Constitution to work is just do your job.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Justice Stephen Breyer, the book is “The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities.”

    We thank you very much for coming to sit down and talk to us. Thank you.

    STEPHEN BREYER: Thank you.

    The post What a more interconnected world means for the Supreme Court appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laugh together before the start of the first official Democratic candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015.  REUTERS/Mike Blake - RTS4CGY

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Democratic candidates for president got back on the campaign trail today after an issues-packed debate last night.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on what we learned from their first five-way face-to-face encounter.

    ANDERSON COOPER, Moderator: Please welcome the Democratic candidates for president of the United States.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The five-person Las Vegas stage quickly morphed into a two-person heavyweight match, as Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders was asked if he is also a capitalist.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, Democratic Presidential Candidate: Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process, by which so few have so much, and so many have so little, by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t.

    LISA DESJARDINS: It was a symbolic start to a policy deep-debate, and Hillary Clinton moved to critique, but defend the system.

    HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate: It’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism, but we would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.

    ANDERSON COOPER: Senator Sanders?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Clinton pointed to her experience.

    HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I’m a progressive. But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done. And I know…

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: … how to find common ground, and I know how to stand my ground, and I have proved that in every position that I have had.

    LISA DESJARDINS: She soon went on offense, highlighting Sanders’ vote against a prominent gun control bill.

    HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Senator Sanders did vote five times against the Brady Bill. Since it was passed, more than two million prohibited purchases have been prevented.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The Vermont senator insisted he, too, wants gun control, but he argued the issue is complicated.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: As a senator from a rural state, what I can tell Secretary Clinton, that all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want, and that is keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have those guns and end this horrible violence that we are seeing.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The two rivals did unite for a marquee moment on Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state.

    HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I have taken responsibility for it. I did say it was a mistake.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Thank you. Me too. Me too.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    LISA DESJARDINS: Clinton and Sanders dominated. Each spoke for about 30 minutes, according to NewsHour’s analysis, twice as long as anyone else on stage.

    Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley tried for a share of the spotlight, hitting Clinton for not pushing to separate big banks and investment firms.

    MARTIN O’MALLEY, Democratic Presidential Candidate: You are not for putting a firewall between this speculative, risky shadow banking behavior.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Sanders jumped in.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: When you have the three…

    ANDERSON COOPER: Senator…

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: … largest banks in America are much bigger than they were when we bailed them out for being too big to fail, we have got to break them up.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Clinton wouldn’t go that far, but said that banks need strong scrutiny.

    On either side of the stage, two other opponents struggled to be heard.

    JIM WEBB, Democratic Presidential Candidate: I have been waiting for 10 minutes. I will say this.

    ANDERSON COOPER: You’re over your time.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee spoke their minds, but landed few punches.

    Voters can next judge the Democratic hopefuls side by side one month from today in Des Moines.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.

    The post Clinton and Sanders dominate policy-deep Democratic debate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah October 14, 2015. Seven Israelis and 31 Palestinians, including children and assailants, have been killed in two weeks of bloodshed in Israel, Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. The violence has been partly triggered by Palestinians' anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, also revered by Jews as the site of two destroyed Jewish temples.  REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman - RTS4GX1

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Violence and counterviolence continued today in Israel. Israeli police reported that an Arab attacker stabbed a 70-year-old woman near Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station, while, in Bethlehem, dozens of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli troops.

    Over the past two weeks, 32 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed. And each side blames the other for this latest outbreak.

    NewsHour special correspondent Martin Seemungal is in Jerusalem. I spoke with him a short while ago.

    Martin, welcome.

    So, tell us today what the mood and the atmosphere is like in Jerusalem.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Well, it’s a very tense situation.

    We have had a few days of these so-called lone wolf terror attacks, knifings of Jews on the streets here in Jerusalem and some other parts of Israel. And that’s got people extremely nervous, people looking over their shoulder, not knowing when the potential next attack could come.

    There was one, as we talked about in — just outside the Old City, an attack, an attempt on — attack on an Israeli security guard. The perpetrator was shot. And then, of course, the attack at the bus station, where a 70-year-old woman was stabbed, and that perpetrator was shot. Those kinds of things only add to the tension here.

    Amid all that, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government is making good on its promise to crack down in these areas, in these Arab areas where the attackers have come from. So, we have seen an entire neighborhood, an Arab neighborhood called Jabel Mukaber, cut off. We have had checkpoints put up. And we see people being searched.

    The rest of East Jerusalem not as sealed off as we had thought it would be. However, we do see roadblocks that we hadn’t seen before. Obviously, the Israelis trying to make a point that they’re going to punish people in those areas where those attackers came from.

    Also, the Israeli government talking about destroying the homes of the terrorists, also talking about stripping them of their residency, and even there’s a discussion that the bodies of the attackers who have been killed, obviously, are not going to be given back to the families, the Israeli government saying, when they do that, all that does is give an opportunity to support terror, and these funerals become a celebration of terror.

    So, the Israelis say they don’t want to do that.

    GWEN IFILL: So, what has been the Palestinian reaction, not only on the streets, but also in the government?

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Well, the Palestinians are saying these actions by the Israelis in East Jerusalem are unprecedented, and they see it as collective punishment.

    Mahmoud Abbas made a statement today on Palestinian television where he said: We have the right to peaceful protest. We’re going to continue to stand up to the occupation.

    He didn’t mention anything about the terror attacks in recent days. That raised some eyebrows here in Israel. He talked about the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which, as we know, has been a source of great concern among the Palestinians. They feel that the Israelis are trying to change the status quo on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and they’re accusing the Israeli government of trying to do that.

    The Israeli government responded very swiftly to that, saying — this evening, saying that Mahmoud Abbas is only adding to the incitement and spreading lies among the Palestinian population and only making things worse.

    GWEN IFILL: You used the term lone wolf to describe these attacks and counterattacks at the top here.

    It seems like this is a little different. There’s a viral aspect to these attacks and the degree to which people act and counter-react.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Absolutely.

    And, you know, that viral aspect on social media, whenever there’s an attack, it spreads on social media, and each side has its own narrative as to what’s behind it. The Palestinians say that the Israelis are treating some of the people who were the attackers very badly. We saw that video yesterday of the young boy on the ground, the Israelis saying that these are terrorists, they’re being whipped up by the Palestinian leadership.

    And, as a result, this just keeps going on and on. And, you know, we have this attempt by the Israeli government to try to put a lid on this with these checkpoints and deploying more troops and whatnot. But one of those attackers today, the one outside the Old City, for example, didn’t come from anywhere in the Jerusalem area. He came from Hebron.

    So, these attacks are very unpredictable, and, as far as we can tell, they’re not organized. So, that is very difficult for the Israelis to try and put a stop to it.

    GWEN IFILL: Martin Seemungal reporting for us tonight from Jerusalem, thank you.

    The post Palestinian fury fuels random attacks and skirmishes with Israeli forces appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council in Sochi, Russia, October 10, 2015. Putin has taken a risk by launching air strikes against Islamists in Syria because they could incite militants to seek revenge by attacking targets inside Russia. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. - RTS3VEL

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The situation in Syria had U.S. and Russian military officials talking today, at least by long distance. They discussed ways to avoid confrontations between warplanes crisscrossing Syrian skies.

    Meanwhile, the war on the ground raged on. Rebels in Northern Syria fought using American-made anti-tank weapons today, trying to slow a government offensive in Hama province. The Assad regime is taking advantage of Russian airstrikes currently hitting targets in Hama and Aleppo.

    That has raised concerns about possible midair incidents between U.S. and Russian pilots, and Moscow now acknowledges that one of its planes came within a few miles of a U.S. jet on Saturday.

    MAJ. GEN. IGOR KONASHENKOV, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman (through interpreter): While moving to the area, the plane’s threat alert system fixed on the activity of an unknown flying object. The jet turned and approached it, not to scare someone, but to identify the object and whom it belongs to.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In a bid to set rules of the air, Pentagon officials held a third round of videoconference talks with the Russian military today, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed there are no plans for wider-ranging talks on Syria.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: We have said that we’re not interested in doing that as long as Russia is not willing to make a constructive contribution to our counter-ISIL effort. Russia has their own agenda, and it’s an agenda right now that they’re pursuing on their own.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Iranian lawmakers visited Syria’s capital, Damascus, amid reports that hundreds of Iranian ground troops have joined the fight to shore up the Assad regime.

    GWEN IFILL: In Iraq, government forces say they have launched a new offensive to recapture Baiji from the Islamic State militants. The key northern city sits about 90 miles south of Mosul, and is home to the country’s largest oil refinery. Caravans of vehicles carrying Iraqi army and Shiite militia fighters could be seen on the move there in recent days. The city has changed hands several times in the last year.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Iranian nuclear deal cleared what appears to be a final hurdle in Tehran today. A majority of the country’s Guardian Council, made up of both Muslim clerics and lawyers, ruled the accord does not violate religious law. This comes a day after Iran’s legislature approved the deal, and it means dismantling of nuclear infrastructure can begin.

    GWEN IFILL: For the first time in six years, Afghanistan may produce less opium. A joint U.N. and Afghan survey reports the acreage planted in opium poppies is down 19 percent. Officials say that’s due mainly to bad weather, but also to a change in how farmed areas are measured. As a result, the country’s potential output of opium could fall by nearly half this year.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Pope Francis apologized today for what he called scandals that have recently occurred in the church. The pontiff spoke during a general audience for the public at the Vatican. He didn’t elaborate or cite any examples.

    POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): The word of Jesus is strong today. He says it is inevitable that there will be scandals. But woe to the man who causes them. Therefore, I ask for forgiveness for the scandals that have occurred recently either in Rome or in the Vatican. I ask you for forgiveness.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A spokesman wouldn’t specify which incidents the pope had in mind. They may have involved a monsignor who was fired after he announced he was gay or a priest who said children are at fault for pedophilia.

    GWEN IFILL: Volkswagen now says its 2016 diesel models contain even more software that could cheat on emissions tests. The company says it told the Environmental Protection Agency last week. The information didn’t appear in V.W.’s initial applications to meet U.S. emissions standards. For now, thousands of 2016 Volkswagens are quarantined at U.S. ports.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Toyota announced that it hopes to eliminate nearly all gasoline-powered vehicles from its lineup by 2050. Instead, it’s shifting to hybrids and fuel cell technology that converts hydrogen into energy and water. Toyota aims to cut emissions from its cars by 90 percent below 2010 levels.

    GWEN IFILL: And on Wall Street, stocks gave ground after Wal-Mart issued a warning about future profits. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 157 points to close below 16925. The Nasdaq fell 13 points, and the S&P 500 slipped nine.

    The post News Wrap: U.S., Russia discuss air rules over Syria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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

    If you were a child in the ’80s or ’90s, you knew Sally Ride.

    By 1963, Russia had launched a woman into space, but America lagged behind. Space travel, like so many occupations, remained a (white) boys club. There were strange, unfounded claims holding women back — women were too emotional for space travel, for example, or menstruation in microgravity was dangerous, according to NPR’s Skunkbear.

    NASA has since come a long way in terms of gender equality. The makeup of the New Horizons mission is a great example.

    And Sally Ride, who on June 16, 1983, became the first American woman in space, played an invaluable role in this progress. She taught millions of American young girls — and at least one black boy growing up outside Atlanta (me) — that their dreams, nay the stars, could reached by learning science.

    Behind the icon was a person with private and public passions. And a new photobiography by Tam O’Shaughnessy, Ride’s life and business partner of 27 years, offers an intimate view into that life. PBS NewsHour recently spoke with the O’Shaughnessy about the book. An excerpt of our conversation along with some photos from the book are below.

    Sally Ride was bone May 26, 1951. She is pictured here with father, Dale Ride. Courtesy of Tam O'Shaughnessy/Ride Family/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    Sally Ride was bone May 26, 1951. She is pictured here with father, Dale Ride. Courtesy of Tam O’Shaughnessy/Ride Family/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    Nsikan Akpan: Describe Sally Ride as a child.

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: She was close to her mom and her dad. Sally has one sister, Karen, but she goes by Bear. Sally was two when Bear was born and she couldn’t pronounce her name, so she called her Pear or Perry, and then it kind of morphed into Bear. Bear just stuck.

    Joyce Ride, Sally’s mother, loves the church and is kind of an introvert — quiet and thoughtful. Bear is more that way and less athletic. Dale Ride, Sally’s father, loves sports, so I think that they kind of naturally…Sally went with her father and Bear with her mother to do things.

    science-wednesday

    Joyce and Dale never fought. If they had an issue, they wouldn’t talk about it or confront it, so Sally kind of learned to keep her emotions buried. And to not really talk about her feelings, and that kind of stayed with her her whole life, which is a plus in some ways and a negative in other ways.

    Her parents are very neat people, and they created a very stable loving home. But I would say that part of Sally’s personality, just like all of ours, gets shaped by her parents.

    Sally and Bear At Zoo. Courtesy of Tam O'Shaughnessy/Ride Family/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    Sally (right) and Bear (left) at the zoo. Courtesy of Tam O’Shaughnessy/Ride Family/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    A young Sally Ride  fishing at Lake Gregory in the San Bernardino Mountains, California in 1957. Courtesy of Tam O'Shaughnessy/Ride Family/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    A young Sally Ride fishing at Lake Gregory in the San Bernardino Mountains, California in 1957. Courtesy of Tam O’Shaughnessy/Ride Family/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    Nsikan Akpan: Were Bear and Sally close?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy:They were very close. When Bear and Sally were young, Bear tended to copy her older sister. I think that’s common, because they were two years apart.

    I’ve seen family films when the girls were very young, and Sally was always moving forward, you know, toward people and toward animals, and Bear was kind of holding back and following Sally.

    Nsikan Akpan: What did Sally do for fun?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: Sally was very physical. She loved the outdoors. She was very curious.

    Sports were important to her throughout her whole life.

    Her grandfather taught her how to play baseball, and he sawed off a little bat for her and taught her how to play catch. She maintained that she loved the Dodgers her whole life.

    Her father took her to UCLA basketball games and football games. Because her father helped students transfer from Santa Monica City College to UCLA, they got special privileges and were able to talk to Coach Wooden and be down on the football field with the football players during practices.

    Even though she went to Stanford and got her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Stanford, if Stanford was playing UCLA, she rooted for UCLA. That childhood loyalty just never went away.

    Nsikan Akpan: How did you and Sally meet?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: Sally started playing tennis when she was 10. Her father drove her to all the junior tournaments

    I was standing in the line with a group of kids — boys and girls. We were all in our white tennis shorts and tennis skirts, waiting to check in at the tournament desk. And I saw this girl ahead of me in line, and what I noticed about her is she had long blond hair, straight blond hair, but she was standing on her toes, and it just looked funny to me.

    Sally Ride during a break from tennis. Courtesy of Tam O'Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    Sally Ride during a break from tennis. Courtesy of Tam O’Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    I was like, ‘What is she doing?’ because she was standing up on her toes, even when we were shuffling forward in line. It was sort of like a ballet dance, and I just thought, “How funny.” And then I recognized that it was Sally Ride, this kid that I had seen at other tournaments but just never spoken to. I was 12, and she was 13.

    Sally shoots a layup during a basketball game. Courtesy of Tam O'Shaughnessy/Geni Lebedoff/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    Sally shoots a layup during a basketball game. Courtesy of Tam O’Shaughnessy/Geni Lebedoff/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    She was a good athlete and a very good tennis player. Because she was good at tennis, that helped her get into one of the best all-girls schools for high school. The teachers in the school also liked her intellectual ability, but it was really the tennis that enabled the scholarship.

    The same thing was true when she went to college. She got into Swarthmore. Played number one on the tennis team. Played on the basketball team. Played on the field hockey team.

    She was at Swarthmore for a year and a half, and called home and said, “I don’t want to be here. There’s too much snow.” She came home and took summer classes at UCLA and really worked hard on her tennis.

    Her tennis helped her once again get into Stanford. She played number one on the Stanford team.

    When Sally first went to Stanford, she was 20. She skipped a grade, so she was a little younger. She was a junior, and she got a job teaching tennis in the summer at Tennis America in Lake Tahoe, which was created by Billie Jean King and her husband Larry King.

    [One day] they set up an exhibition where Sally played with Dennis Van der Meer, this very famous tennis coach, against Billie Jean and another guy.

    I think that’s the first time that they formally met, and Billy Jean said, “Hey you’re pretty darn good; if you work hard enough, you could be on the pro tour.”

    Nsikan Akpan: What was her experience at Stanford?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: She took physics courses. She was a never a straight-A student, but she certainly did well. But she was also playing volleyball for three to four hours everyday. She fell in love for the first time. A lot of typical undergraduate stuff happened to her.

    She was a very easygoing human being. Funny, fun, and smart. She was a person, who, on one hand, you could just sit and do nothing with, and she’d be perfectly happy and you’d be perfectly comfortable, but if you wanted to talk about something interesting, then she’d be a good person to dive into a conversation with and be engaged with.

    Nsikan Akpan: How did she learn about NASA’s search for female astronauts?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: When she got into graduate school, that’s when she turned it up a notch. I remember her telling me when she was taking very high-level math classes that it was so dry and dead, until she started applying it. In science, we all have that experience where you finally get why you learn this stuff and how cool it is and how important it is. Then she just loved it.

    She was imagining becoming a physics professor, and getting a job somewhere in California and living out her life doing research and writing and teaching students.

    When she was a year away from finishing her doctorate, she saw an ad in the student paper about NASA recruiting women for the first time in history. Something happened inside her. It was one of those moments. This was another part of Sally being easygoing. She always left room in her life to change direction and to follow her heart.

    She was accepted into the astronaut corps at the end of 1977, and she started after she turned in her dissertation.

    NASA's first six female astronauts (left to right): Sally Ride, Shannon Lucid, Kathy Sullivan, Rhea Seddon, Anna Fisher and Judy Resnick. Courtesy of NASA/Tam O'Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    NASA’s first six female astronauts (left to right): Sally Ride, Shannon Lucid, Kathy Sullivan, Rhea Seddon, Anna Fisher and Judy Resnick. Courtesy of NASA/Tam O’Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    She started in the summer of 1978. Her class had 35 new rookies. And six of them were the first women in history to be astronauts at NASA.

    They had to learn about every system, every part of the space shuttle. They also learned a lot about geology, because when you’re in space, it’s a great opportunity to look back at Earth, and then you need to know what you’re looking at and recognize little wiggles in the ocean.

    Nsikan Akpan: What was Sally’s favorite part of becoming an astronaut?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: Sally loved flying in T-38 jets. They’re little two-seaters. They’re like little mosquitoes and they go really fast. She and her then husband Steve Hawley, who was also an astronaut, leased with their friends a small Cessna. They liked flying on the weekends. In fact, Sally flew Steve to their wedding. She loved flying.

    Sally Ride recovers from ride in a giant centrifuge, which simulates the massive g-forces experienced during a shuttle launch. Courtesy of NASA/Tam O'Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    Sally Ride recovers from ride in a giant centrifuge, which simulates the massive g-forces experienced during a shuttle launch. Courtesy of NASA/Tam O’Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    They did jumping out of airplanes in parachutes and learning how to safely land and roll. They did water survival. They did the giant centrifuges. That was pure fun — they got to just really be kids again.

    Nsikan Akpan: Did she ever talk about her time in space?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: I’ve heard her talk about it a million times. She loved the whole adventure. She said launch is terrifying because you have … you’re out of control. It either works or it doesn’t. You have tons of rocket fuel literally exploding beneath you, and you’re just going up. It’s just eight minutes of terror, but also exhilarating.

    Once she hit outer space 50 miles up, suddenly her necklace would float up in front of her face and all the G-forces would suddenly stop, and she was floating. She loved weightlessness.

    Sally Ride looks back at Earth. Courtesy of NASA/Tam O'Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    Sally Ride looking at Earth from space. Courtesy of NASA/Tam O’Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    The other thing that happened was looking out the little shuttle windows back at Earth. It really changed Sally. It made her appreciate that we really do live on a planet; it’s very fragile. It made her an environmentalist.

    Nsikan Akpan: What was life like when she landed? She had a tough time with the attention, right?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: When she came back, she was basically kind of a quiet introvert. She had a hard time with people recognizing her. She couldn’t go anywhere. In Houston, going to the grocery store, going for a run around the neighborhood, people were pointing at her, stopping her and wanting to touch her, wanting to take photographs, and she just didn’t like it.

    For the first time in her life — it was amazing that Sally thought of this because of how she was as a human being — she realized that she needed help, so she saw a psychologist back in Palo Alto just to figure out how to help herself. The psychologist helped her [by saying], “You need to take more time after giving talks and going to banquets. You need to do fewer of them, and just take better care of yourself, so you can recover.”

    People Magazine, June 20, 1983. Courtesy of Tam O'Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children's Publishing Group

    People Magazine, June 20, 1983. Courtesy of Tam O’Shaughnessy/MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

    [The fame] was hard for Sally but at the same time, she was happy to be the one chosen to be the first American [woman in space], and she totally appreciated that it would make her life, that it would give her opportunities that even the other female astronauts wouldn’t have.

    Nsikan Akpan: Eventually Sally retired from NASA and became a physics professor. You were a psychology professor, but as a side profession together, you began writing children’s science books. Why?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: It came about because we both loved books. No matter where we were in the country, we’d go to bookstores. We’d always go to the science sections, mystery sections, but usually we’d end up in the children’s section.

    We noticed that the kids departments had huge fiction sections, and just this little dinky non-fiction section with very few science books. And when we looked at the science books, there were errors.

    Sally had written a book about going into space — To Space and Back — with her high school friend Sue Okie in 1986. We just decided, let’s try to make books that are really fun, engaging and scientifically accurate. We just kind of got started and kept doing it.

    Sally Ride signing books at a Sally Ride Science Festival at NASA Ames, 2007. Sally and Tam co-founded Sally Ride Science in 2001. Photo by Karen Hom/Sally Ride Science

    Sally Ride signing books at a Sally Ride Science Festival at NASA Ames, 2007. Sally and Tam co-founded Sally Ride Science in 2001. Photo by Karen Hom/Sally Ride Science

    Sally Ride Cover

    Our world has become much more sophisticated with technology in science and math. Now, math and technology are part of all the sciences, and you really need to be pretty savvy about all of this stuff.

    Our whole society has become much more science-, math- and technology-based, so to get almost any decent job, you have to have a decent background. We just kind of recognized that it’s an equity issue. All kids deserve to know math and science.

    Nsikan Akpan: Finally, Sally was internationally renowned, but as your book portrays in lovely detail, she was just a regular person with hobbies and a deep passion for science. With that in mind, what did Sally mean to you, and what did Sally mean for a generation of young scientists? What lessons can young scientists take away from her life?

    Tam O’Shaughnessy: I hope what young people realize who read not just my book, but learn about Sally or hear about Sally from their teachers or parents or whomever, is that science and learning is something that’s fun and fulfilling and can take you places, but also that your life doesn’t just need to be one note.

    Sally had many things that she enjoyed and that she was good at, and they all helped make her who she was and kind of a content, happy human being.

    Just follow your heart and do what you enjoy. Sally was a perfect role model for that.

    Editor’s note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    The post The life of Sally Ride, America’s first woman astronaut, in pictures appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Soldiers listen as U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (not pictured) holds a question-and-answer session with U.S. military personnel at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Feb. 22, 2015. President Barack Obama is expected to announce Thursday morning the decision to keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Soldiers listen as U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Feb. 22, 2015. President Barack Obama announced Thursday the decision to keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced plans Thursday to keep nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of next year and 5,500 when he leaves office in 2017, casting aside his promise to end the war on his watch and instead ensuring he hands off the conflict to a successor.

    Obama called the new war plan a “modest but meaningful” extension of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, which he originally planned to end next year. He acknowledged America’s weariness of the lengthy conflict but said he was “firmly convinced we should make this extra effort.”

    Military leaders have argued for months that the Afghans needed additional assistance and support from the U.S. to beat back a resurgent Taliban and hold onto gains made over the past 14 years of American bloodshed and billions of dollars in aid. In his remarks from the White House Thursday, Obama said that while Afghan forces have made progress, the security situation in the country remains fragile.

    After lengthy internal deliberations, Obama settled on a plan to maintain the current force of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, then draw down to 5,500 troops in 2017, at a pace still to be determined after consultation with commanders.

    It will be up to Obama’s successor — the third U.S. commander in chief to oversee the war — to decide how to proceed from there.

    “I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next president,” Obama said, standing alongside Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford.

    Until now, Afghanistan has barely been a factor in the 2016 presidential campaign. But Obama’s announcement could send candidates in both parties scrambling to outline their own plans for a war they could inherit.

    Republican candidate Jeb Bush said he was glad Obama “dropped his plan to abandon the region entirely.” But he added that if the president is committed to securing a stable Afghanistan, “he shouldn’t shortchange what our military commanders have said they need to complete the mission.”

    Obama’s plan largely lines up with what military commanders had requested, though some proposals have called for higher numbers. Key to the commanders’ requests was a continuation of the current counterterrorism mission, which Obama said would indeed be part of the effort after 2016.

    The second part of the U.S. mission is training and assisting Afghan security forces, which are now in charge of combat operations across the country. The American forces will be based in Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, as well as bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar.

    Obama now faces the prospect of passing on to his successor active U.S. military missions in two countries he vowed to withdraw from: Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The president did withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq in late 2011, an action he heralded as a promise kept to a war-weary America. But the rise of the Islamic State drew the U.S. military back into Iraq last year to train and assist local security forces and to launch airstrikes, a campaign Obama has said will likely last beyond his term in office.

    On Thursday, Obama insisted he wasn’t disappointed to not be fulfilling his pledge to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan before he leaves.

    U.S. officials have hinted at the policy shift for weeks. They have noted that conditions in the country have changed since his initial decision on a sharper troop withdrawal timeline more than two years ago. The White House also has been buoyed by having a more reliable partner in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who succeeded the mercurial Hamid Karzai last year.

    “We cannot separate the importance of governance from the importance of security,” Obama said.

    The president’s decision was reinforced when Taliban fighters took control of the key northern city of Kunduz late last month, leading to a protracted battle with Afghan forces supported by U.S. airstrikes. During the fighting, a U.S. air attack hit a hospital, killing 12 Doctors Without Borders staff and 10 patients.

    Beyond the recent security troubles in Afghanistan, U.S. commanders have expressed concern about Islamic State fighters moving into the country and gaining recruits from within the Taliban.

    Officials said discussions on staying in Afghanistan longer began during Ghani’s visit to Washington in March. The top U.S. commander in the country, Gen. John Campbell, recently presented Obama with a range of options calling for keeping more troops there, based on his judgment of what it would take to sustain the Afghan army and minimize the chances of losing more ground.

    Officials said NATO allies had expressed support for extending the troop presence in Afghanistan, but they did not outline any specific commitments from other nations.

    Last week, during a meeting of defense ministers, Carter urged allies to remain flexible and consider abandoning their earlier timelines to cut troop levels. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and defense ministers were quick to agree, saying the size of the force should be based on security conditions rather than a fixed timeline.


    Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Washington and Lynne O’Donnell in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

    The post Obama to keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    For the third time in 40 years, Social Security recipients will not receive a benefit increase next year, the government said Thursday. Photo by Flickr user Tetra Images

    For the third time in 40 years, Social Security recipients will not receive a benefit increase next year, the government said Thursday. Photo by Flickr user Tetra Images

    WASHINGTON — There will be no benefit increase next year for millions of Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees, the government said Thursday.

    It’s just the third time in 40 years that payments will remain flat. All three times have come since 2010.

    And there’s more bad news. The lack of a benefit increase means that many older people could face higher Medicare costs, an issue that has advocates lobbying Congress.

    The main reason for no increase next year is low gas prices.

    By law, the annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is based on a government measure of inflation. That gauge came out Thursday.

    As of Wednesday, AAA said the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $2.30, about 90 cents less than it was a year ago.

    “The big story has been the plunging gas prices,” said Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “There’s not a lot of inflation anywhere.”

    The announcement will affect benefits for more than 70 million people, more than one-fifth of the nation’s population.

    Almost 60 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security benefits. The average monthly Social Security payment is $1,224.

    The COLA also affects benefits for about 4 million disabled veterans, 2.5 million federal retirees and their survivors, and more than 8 million people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor. Many people who get SSI also receive Social Security.

    The main reason for no increase next year is low gas prices. Congress enacted automatic increases for Social Security beneficiaries in 1975, when inflation was high and there was a lot of pressure to regularly raise benefits. Since then, increases have averaged 4 percent a year.

    But in the past decade, the COLA has been that big only once. Advocates for seniors said years of small increases or no increase are eroding the buying power of benefits, regardless of the official inflation numbers.

    “You’ve got all kinds of people receiving COLA-adjusted retirement benefits. This is going to be another blow to their retirement income,” said Mary Johnson of The Senior Citizens League. “It’s a huge amount over a lifetime.”

    Most Social Security recipients have their Medicare Part B premiums for outpatient care deducted directly from their Social Security payments, and the annual cost-of-living increase is usually enough to cover any rise in premiums. When that doesn’t happen, a long-standing federal “hold harmless” law protects the majority of beneficiaries from having their Social Security payments reduced.

    But that leaves about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries on the hook for a premium increase that otherwise would be spread among all. Those who would pay the higher premiums include 2.8 million new beneficiaries, 1.6 million whose premiums aren’t deducted from their Social Security payments, and 3.1 million people with higher incomes.

    Their premiums could jump by about $54 a month; it could be more for those with higher incomes.

    States also would feel a budget impact because they pay part of the Medicare premium for about 10 million low-income beneficiaries.

    Both AARP and the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association are urging Congress to protect all retirees from dramatic increases in Medicare costs.

    “Ideally, all Medicare beneficiaries should be held-harmless in the face of no Social Security COLA adjustment,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s executive vice president said in a letter to lawmakers.

    Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages up to $118,500, with half paid by workers and the other half paid by employers. The amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes usually goes up each year. But because there is no COLA, it will remain at $118,500 next year.

    The cost-of-living adjustment is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W, a broad measure of consumer prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    The COLA is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year with prices in the same three months from the previous year. If prices go up, benefits go up. If prices drop or stay flat, benefits stay the same.

    The CPI-W numbers for September were released Thursday, providing the last piece of the puzzle.

    The September numbers show that gasoline prices are down by 30 percent from last year. Airfares have fallen by 5.9 percent and clothing prices are down by 1.3 percent.

    But other prices are up. For example, medical care has risen by 2.4 percent, housing costs climbed by 3.2 percent and food prices were 1.6 percent higher.

    Advocates say the government’s measure of inflation does not accurately reflect price increases in the goods and services that older people use.

    “The CPI-W reflects the purchasing patterns of workers, many of whom are younger and healthier than most Social Security recipients,” LeaMond said in her letter. “Social Security recipients spend more of their monthly budget on health care, food and housing than do younger workers.”

    The post No benefit hike for Social Security next year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Former Speaker Dennis Hastert is surrounded by officers as he leaves federal court, regarding a hush-money case. Hastert, 73, told a judge Thursday that he intends to plead guilty for trying to evade detection of $3.5 million in payments he had promised to someone from his hometown of Yorkville, Illinois, to conceal past misconduct. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    Former Speaker Dennis Hastert is surrounded by officers as he leaves federal court, regarding a hush-money case. Hastert, 73, told a judge Thursday that he intends to plead guilty for trying to evade detection of $3.5 million in payments he had promised to someone from his hometown of Yorkville, Illinois, to conceal past misconduct. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    CHICAGO — A federal grand jury has accused former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert of agreeing to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep an unidentified person silent about “prior misconduct” by the Illinois Republican.

    Before the indictment was handed down in May, Hastert was remarkable for being a little-known state lawmaker from suburban Chicago who rose to the third-highest office in the nation.


    1965: Hastert begins teaching history at Yorkville High School and coaching wrestling team.

    1976: Hastert named Illinois Coach of the Year after leading Yorkville to state wrestling championship.

    1980: Hastert comes in third in Illinois state House of Representatives primary. But GOP chooses him to replace fatally ill primary winner; Hastert later wins general election.

    1981: Hastert leaves Yorkville teaching post.

    1986: GOP leaders name Hastert to replace freshman Republican U.S. Rep. John Grotberg, who was battling cancer. Hastert defeats Democratic opponent with 52 percent of vote — the closest of his many elections.

    1998: Hastert tells incumbent Speaker Newt Gingrich dissatisfaction in GOP ranks makes it unlikely the Georgia lawmaker will hold onto post. Gingrich resigns next day.

    1999: Hastert voted speaker of the House of Representatives.

    2007: Hastert steps down as speaker after becoming longest serving Republican in position.

    2007: J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy founded at Wheaton College

    2008: Hastert joins Washington lobbying firm of Dickstein Shapiro as senior adviser.

    May 2015: Hastert, 73, charged with evading bank regulations as he withdrew less than $10,000 at a time to make alleged hush money payments, according to the indictment. Hastert also charged with one count of lying to the FBI about reason for bank withdrawals.

    Oct. 15, 2015: An attorney for Hastert tells a federal judge that Hastert intends to plead guilty. The judge schedules an Oct. 28 hearing.

    The post The rise and fall of ex-U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Should you take your Social Security benefits early to avoid the Medicare premium increase? Photo by Donald Higgs/Getty Images

    Should you take your Social Security benefits early to avoid the Medicare premium increase? Photo by Donald Higgs/Getty Images

    Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff has spent every week, for over two years, answering questions about what is likely your largest financial asset — your Social Security benefits. His Social Security original 34 “secrets,” his additional secrets, his Social Security “mistakes” and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we feature “Ask Larry” every Monday. Find a complete list of his columns here. And keep sending us your Social Security questions.

    Kotlikoff’s state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its “basic” version. His new book, “Get What’s Yours — the Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security Benefits,” (co-authored with Paul Solman and Making Sen$e Medicare columnist Phil Moeller) was published in February by Simon & Schuster.

    Watch Larry explain how Paul and his wife could collect an extra $50,000 in Social Security benefits:

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


    A Mr. Stan Mills, age 69, sent me a link to a Fox Business column by Gail Buckner that discusses the “sickening” likelihood of Medicare Part B premiums rising by 50 percent or more starting Jan. 1 unless you are one of the 70 percent of retirees who is “held harmless.”

    Held harmless are those middle- and low-income households who already collect Social Security benefits. Their Medicare Part B premium increases are limited to their increase in Social Security benefits resulting from the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA). Today, Social Security announced there will be no COLA in 2016. That is, no one will get any increase in their Social Security benefits, because we’ve had so little inflation. Since the COLA is zero, the increase in Medicare Part B premiums, which can’t exceed the dollar amount of the COLA, will also be zero. As a consequence, some 70 percent of current Medicare recipients will be held harmless. The other 30 percent are in for it. And some are really in for it. As Gail details, for very high-income households, the increase in Part B premiums will total more than $2,000 a year!

    Why such a big increase? A part of the answer is that roughly 25 percent of total Medicare Part B costs have to be covered by its premiums. The more people who are held harmless, the less people there are to pay premiums. Thus, the amount of money is spread out over a smaller pool of people, each of whom will have to pay more.

    But what about Mr. Mills? If he doesn’t take his Social Security benefit before the end of this year, he’ll definitely be among the 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who won’t be held harmless.

    What would Stan’s retirement benefit be if he stuck with his original plan and waited until 70 to collect it? It would be $44,000. Stan’s question was whether he ought to take his benefit early (before the end of this year) or wait another year to collect.

    I told Stan to wait to collect his Social Security retirement benefit. If Stan takes his benefit now, it will be over $3,200 smaller (measured in today’s dollars) each year for the rest of his life. The most he could lose from not being held harmless (that is, from not collecting before the year’s end) is about $650 next year, with this amount declining through time (more on this later). This is only the case for low- and middle-income retirees. But in Stan’s case, his income may well have been and continue to be so high that he won’t be held harmless. In this case, there clearly is no extra incentive for Stan to collect early.

    In short, collecting early to be held harmless doesn’t appear to provide a strong enough incentive for people to take their benefits earlier than would otherwise be the optimal case.

    But here’s the rest of the story that Gail didn’t cover. From what I understand, hold harmless is only a temporary advantage. If you are held harmless this year from, say, a $650 Medicare Part B premium increase, because there was no Social Security COLA this year, you’ll have to hand over your Social Security COLA next year — potentially all of it — and in future years as well until your Medicare Part B premium has been raised by the full $650. Of course, inflation may stay very low for many years. In this case, you’ll have lots of Medicare Part B premium hikes to pay off for many years as a result of no COLAs. Or stated differently, you’ll get your COLAs, but your total Social Security check won’t rise because your Medicare Part B premium, which is deducted from your check, will increase by the amount of your Social Security COLA.

    In short, collecting early to be held harmless doesn’t appear to provide a strong enough incentive for people to take their benefits earlier than would otherwise be the optimal case. Below, my colleague Mike points out that there are a few, rare circumstances where it might be advantageous.

    My understanding is the same as yours — being held harmless is only a temporary reprieve. That’s how it’s programmed in our Social Security code. However, there can be cases where it’s still worth filing early to be held harmless.

    For example, say you were planning to take your Retirement Insurance Benefits (RIB) at age 70 in December 2015. To be held harmless, you need to be entitled to your Retirement Insurance Benefits in both November and December. Say your Primary Insurance Amount is $500, then taking it in November means that your Retirement Insurance Benefits will be $556.60, which is $40.80 per year less than if you waited until December. If your maximum age of life is 85 and the discount rate is 2 percent, that’s a present value of $524. So even if the temporary reprieve of $650 only lasts for one year, you’d be better off filing a month earlier.

    While this isn’t a very significant difference, it does mean that you can’t unequivocally dismiss filing earlier in order to be held harmless.


    Jim: I read your book. It was excellent. I have a situation that the book doesn’t clarify. I am 62 years old and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Does that qualify me for immediate fast-track full retirement benefits? How should I proceed?

    Larry Kotlikoff: I hope the new meds that are coming out help. You can, I would think, file for disability benefits. Your disability benefit will equal your full retirement benefit. Doing so will, however, prevent you from collecting a full spousal benefit starting at full retirement age and then switching to your age-70 retirement benefit when you reach 70. You can, however, suspend your retirement benefit at full retirement age and get a 32 percent higher retirement benefit starting at 70. My bet is that taking your disability benefit immediately and suspending your retirement benefit at full retirement age when your Disability Insurance (DI) benefit converts to you retirement benefit is the best strategy.

    All the best. My dad had Parkinson’s, so I realize this will be a challenge.

    Jim: Thank you for your response. Just to clarify, I would technically be receiving DI, which would be a full retirement 66 benefits figure, right? There is no spouse involved. Does converting to age 70 benefits occur automatically, or do I have to stop receiving at 66? Shouldn’t DI qualify you for age-70 benefits immediately? What is someone relying on this income supposed to do from age 66 to 70? Is your Dad still alive?

    Larry Kotlikoff: My dad passed in 1990 at 81. I don’t believe Parkinson’s affects longevity or affects it much, but your doc will know. If there is no spouse, are there any ex-spouses to whom you were married for 10 or more years? If you suspend at 66, your benefit is supposed to automatically restart at its higher value at 70. But you should go into the office and make sure. They may try to give you six months of retroactive benefits. Don’t let them unless it is in your interest. If they do, they will permanently lower your benefit when it restarts. Also, pay your Medicare Part B premiums out of pocket directly to the Social Security Administration, so they don’t reactivate your retirement benefit in order to pay the premiums and a) not give it to you and b) not give you your delayed retirement credits when you restart your benefit at 70.


    Larry – Dunedin, Fla.: I’m 67 and filed for my Social Security at full retirement age at 66. My wife is 64 and will be retiring later this year prior to her turning 65. After reading your book, I understand that I can suspend my payments at any time, allowing her to file for spousal benefits. What I’m not clear on is: Does she have to be at full retirement age in order to qualify for the 50-percent spousal payment? And secondly, can she claim spousal benefits before reaching full retirement age and not trigger deeming? Thanks for your help.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, you can suspend your retirement benefit and restart it at 70. If you just turned 67 and suspend immediately, your age-70 retirement benefit will be 24 percent larger. If your wife files for a spousal benefit before her full retirement age, she will trigger deeming and end up with a permanently lower retirement benefit based on her own work record and an excess spousal benefit that equals zip, nada, scratch, de rien, zero.

    My suggestion is a) for you to immediately suspend your retirement benefit and restart it at 70, b) for your wife to file for just her full spousal benefit at her full retirement age and c) for your wife to file for her own retirement benefit at 70. This will maximize your wife’s widow’s benefit if you kick first as well as produce a higher check for your wife starting at 70 if her own retirement benefit exceeds her full spousal benefit, assuming you are still above ground. (Sorry to be mordant, but Social Security is a deadly subject.)


    Bruce – Richmond, Calif.: Most explanations feature the older spouse earning more money. In my case, it’s different. At 61, my wife is almost 2 and a half years older than me. Her Social Security earnings have been modest, and she recently received a statement projecting an $858 benefit at full retirement.

    I am turning 59 in November, and I expect my benefit at full retirement age to be about $2,400. As longevity insurance, I want to take my benefits when I turn 70. We are semi-retired already, living off of a taxable investment base of about $1 million, and modest part-time income as musicians. We are hoping this will take us through the next decade, after which we will switch to our IRAs and Social Security benefits. Barring another financial melt-down, we expect our IRAs to be worth about $1 million in ten years. Given the cost of living in the Bay Area, we would love to file my wife’s Social Security benefits sooner and switch her to spousal benefits when I reach full retirement age and do a file and suspend. Short of both of us waiting to age 70 to file, what Social Security strategy would make sense for us?

    Larry Kotlikoff: I’d considering moving out of the Bay Area, which is very expensive given your resources. If you own a house, you might be able to sell it for a big number and move to some part of the country where people aren’t so damn happy, the weather is awful and there is plenty of water. Maine comes to mind. With global warming it’s probably the next California.

    But back to Social Security. You need to use some highly detailed commercial Social Security software to decide what’s best in terms of maximizing your combined lifetime benefits. Your wife will ultimately collect spousal benefits based on your work record. So one option is for her to take her reduced retirement benefit at 62 and her excess spousal benefit when you file for your own retirement benefit. (Note, there will be no spousal benefit deeming — no requirement that she also file early for her spousal benefit — when she files for her retirement benefit at 62, because you will have not yet filed for your own retirement benefit, which is a condition for her to collect a spousal benefit.)

    It might be optimal for you to file for your retirement benefit before you reach full retirement age to activate her excess spousal benefit. Why? Because she can’t collect an excess spousal benefit on your work record until you file for your retirement benefit. If you do file for your retirement benefit before you reach full retirement age, when you reach full retirement age, you can suspend your retirement benefit and restart it at 70. This is what I call the Start-Stop-Start strategy. Another option is for you to wait until full retirement age and then file and suspend at the same time. Only highly analytical software can determine the best general strategy and its timing.


    Eddy – Bala Cynwyd, Penn.: My wife is about to retire and will be 62 in a few months. I will be 66 this fall, and I plan to continue working until the end of 2018 when I will be 69. We both would have a monthly pension of about $2,500 at full retirement age, but we do not plan to claim personal benefits until age 70. After reading your book, I’m still uncertain if either of us can file and suspend and claim a spousal benefit without penalizing ourselves over the long run. How do I best assess whether this is a good option?

    Larry Kotlikoff: My grandmother lived on 26 Bala Road in Bala Cynwyd! I remember the street number, because I built her a street number sign. Anyway, back to your question. As good software will confirm, your best moves are surely for you to take you own retirement benefit at 70 and for your wife to file for only her full spousal benefit when she reaches full retirement age — the earliest age she can do so without getting smacked by deeming. At 70, your wife would file for her own retirement benefit. Make sure your wife does not file and suspend her own retirement benefit at her full retirement age. This will transform her full spousal benefit into an excess spousal benefit that will, in her case, be zero.


    Edward – San Francisco, Calif.: I appreciate your knowledgeable advice in your columns. I am 63, a widower and eligible for survivor benefits. My wife passed away at age 61, and she was receiving Social Security disability benefits. As I understand, if I apply for survivor benefits now, it will be reduced relative to the benefit at full retirement age. But if I intend to switch to my own benefit at age 70, waiting to apply for survivor benefits until age 66 would only give me four years of higher payments.

    Example: Survivor benefits at age 63 would be $1,700 and at age 66, $2,100. Total payments received from age 63 to age 66 would be $1,700 times 36 months, which would equate to $61,200. Total difference in higher payments if one were to wait to apply to age 66 would be: (2,100 – 1,700) x 48 months = $19,200. It seems that applying now would result in $42,000 of additional income. Is my logic correct? Also if I apply now and my W2 and net self-employment income exceed the threshold of $15,720, will Social Security recalculate and increase the survivor benefit at full retirement age, and thus will the reduction be temporary? Thank you in advance for your time and assistance.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your logic is nearly spot on. You should take your reduced widow’s benefit right away and then take your own retirement benefit at 70 if your own retirement benefit at 70 exceeds your unreduced widow’s benefit. If that’s not the case, you’ll want to take your own reduced retirement benefit at 62 and wait until full retirement age to take your widow’s benefit, which will be the larger of the two amounts.

    If you lose a particular benefit due to the earnings test, that benefit and that benefit only will be kicked back up at full retirement age to compensate you, on an actuarial basis, for the loss of those benefits. Of course, if you flip onto a different benefit, this so-called “adjustment of the reduction factor” won’t be of any real help.


    Anonymous – Richmond, Texas: I read your book and still need help looking for divorced spousal support. My ex-husband is 71 this December. I will be 64 this October. We were married for over 10 years. I am not remarried. We both have earned maximum credits. I do not know if he is currently receiving, and I am not. I would like to apply and suspend mine until 70 and use half of his. However, I am hung up each time I read that if I took mine now it would be greater than half of his.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You should take your divorcee spousal benefit when you reach full retirement age and NOT before. If you do, Social Security will hurt you very badly. At 70 you should take your own retirement benefit. When your ex dies, you can flip onto his benefit (it will be your divorcee widow’s benefit) if it’s larger.

    The post Should you take Social Security early to avoid a likely massive Medicare premium increase in 2016? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    socialentre

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now a look at how individuals are tackling social issues around the globe through innovative programs, the concept known as social entrepreneurship.

    It’s the focus of a new book called “Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works.” The co-author is Sally Osberg, president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation.

    For the record, the Skoll Foundation is an underwriter of the NewsHour.

    Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, sat down with her in New York, part of our weekly series Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Sally Osberg, welcome.

    SALLY OSBERG, Author, “Getting Beyond Better”: Thank you, Paul. It’s wonderful to be here.

    PAUL SOLMAN: You write about the key to social entrepreneurship being an equilibrium shift. What do you mean?

    SALLY OSBERG: It’s a status quo in which — which affects everybody.

    But it takes the entrepreneur to see how to shift that status quo. Think of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. There’s this Internet full of information, and yet there’s no ability for the ordinary person to search out and retrieve what she or he wants to know.

    They develop a search engine, Google. The rest is history, right? The difference is that the social entrepreneur also understands that this equilibrium, this status quo, is affecting some marginalized population in some very significant way, and that population very rarely has the power or the means to effect the transition on its own. Enter the social entrepreneur.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Like Molly Melching, whose organization Tostan, has been working in West African villages for 30 years now on human rights issues, most notably, eliminating the painful and dangerous 2,000-year-old practice of female genital mutilation.

    SALLY OSBERG: Something that seems pretty horrific to many of us in the West.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Disgusting, even, right?

    SALLY OSBERG: Yes. Yes. Yes.

    PAUL SOLMAN: How dare you? You’re doing what?

    SALLY OSBERG: Yes.

    But we don’t get there by wagging our fingers at these populations and saying, how could you? It’s up to those people themselves to decide whether they’re going to cut their daughters or not.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And what’s the key to changing people’s attitudes or empowering women?

    SALLY OSBERG: It wasn’t until Molly Melching realized that Senegal had actually signed onto the conventions to eliminate all forms of violence against women that she realized that these people had rights they weren’t even aware of.

    Once they understand they have these rights, they can begin to poke their heads up from this equilibrium, from this status quo, and determine what’s in their best interest.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Another custom moving quickly from locally accepted to globally rejected, child labor, an illegal, but persistent practice in India’s rug industry.

    CHILD (through interpreter): We work from 8:00 a.m. until midnight.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Engineer-turned-children’s-rights-activist Kailash Satyarthi, who shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, had been rescuing children from virtual slavery for decades, but, says Osberg:

    SALLY OSBERG: Kailash understood that rescuing children wasn’t going to do the job, 20 kids at a time, when there were 200 who were being trafficked and brought into these camps, their tiny little fingers, you know, tying the knots in these rugs? He came up with the idea for a label that would send a clear signal to consumers that this rug was made without child labor.

    Target, for example, has just committed to sourcing all its handwoven rugs with the GoodWeave label. That’s an equilibrium change in motion.

    MAN (through interpreter): I am free.

    SALLY OSBERG: In fact, child labor in the handwoven carpet industry in India has come down from a million children to something around 200,000.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And there are plenty of higher-tech examples, like Kiva.

    SALLY OSBERG: The founders of Kiva were among the first social entrepreneurs to try to create a technology platform for micro-lending, creating that opportunity for ordinary people to invest $25, $100, $500 in the micro-entrepreneurs who were bootstrapping themselves out of poverty in the developing world.

    And that actually is what enabled Kiva to scale.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Scale, you mean to go from small to…

    SALLY OSBERG: Right.

    PAUL SOLMAN: … big with a huge impact.

    SALLY OSBERG: From 20,000 people on the platform, to today millions of people on the platform, millions of lenders, millions of borrowers, and, of course, dozens and dozens of micro-finance institutions sitting in the middle.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And speaking of scale, consider APOPO, the lifesaving non-governmental organization that grew out of Bart Weetjens’ childhood fascination with rodents and his grown-up realization that the African giant pouched rat could be trained to detect land mines.

    These are suicide rats?

    (LAUGHTER)

    SALLY OSBERG: Actually, they’re not, because the rats are much lighter than, for example, dogs, who also do this work, but are — who are heavy enough to set off the explosives, or humans, who are exposing themselves to risk with, you know, handheld mine detectors.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So, there are economies of scale to raising trained rats?

    SALLY OSBERG: There are indeed, because rats multiply quickly, which is why this solution is scaling, and why it’s gotten to the point that a country like Mozambique has declared itself just this past September mine-free.

    PAUL SOLMAN: As I understand it, the movement within development these days is to be able to measure whether or not a project is successful. How do you measure your projects?

    SALLY OSBERG: Actually, we rely upon the social entrepreneurs to measure the difference that they are making.

    So, a Molly Melching, 7,000 Senegalese villages who have publicly renounced the practice of female genital cutting, that’s evidence. APOPO’s unit of analysis, a cleared square meter of mined land. That’s evidence.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But if you’re relying on the social entrepreneurs, and they’re asking you for money, aren’t they going to tell you what you want to hear?

    SALLY OSBERG: They don’t. People think there’s no accountability for philanthropy.

    But when you’re working with social entrepreneurs, they will tell us when we’re undercapitalizing them, they will tell us when our expectations for measurement or for — for documentation are out of line. They give us feedback no-holds-barred.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Is that because they already know they’re doing something so virtuous that they don’t need to be defensive in asking you for more money for it?

    SALLY OSBERG: Actually, they understand that there is no argument for philanthropy without what they are doing, without their work on the front lines driving change. And they’re right.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Sally Osberg, thank you very much.

    SALLY OSBERG: Thank you, Paul.

    The post How social entrepreneurs are changing the world appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Young man sleeping in bed

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: But, first, just how much sleep do you really need? There’s been plenty of concern, as people spend more time looking at their screens ever later into the night.

    Previous research has shown that a lack of sleep is associated with a series of problems, ranging from lack of concentration to health effects like obesity and heart disease.

    But a new study out today finds seven or eight hours a night may not be as essential as we think.

    I went to California to learn more.

    They are among the last hunter-gatherers in the world, the Hadza of Northern Tanzania, the San of Namibia’s Kalahari Desert, and in the Andean foothills of Bolivia the Chimane.

    By studying the sleep habits of these three groups, who still live the way humans have for thousands of years, a team of scientists led by UCLA’s Jerry Siegel is challenging conventional wisdom about how much sleep we need.

    JERRY SIEGEL, Director, UCLA Center for Sleep Research: It’s absolutely incorrect to think that the more you sleep, the healthier you’re going to be.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The study, reported today in the journal “Current Biology” says we in the industrialized world sleep as much as our ancestors did.

    JERRY SIEGEL: There’s been speculation that humans basically used to sleep when it got dark, which would mean they’d sleep 10, 11, even 12 hours. But it turns out that’s not the case. These groups sleep five, six, seven hours. None of them average over eight hours of sleep.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Just like us, when the sun sets, these people do not go right to sleep.

    JERRY SIEGEL: There’s a thin yellow line here that indicates the light level, and you can see also that they remain awake.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In fact, regardless of what time they go to bed, all three groups, on different parts of the planet, wake up exactly when one very specific thing happens. And, no, it’s not the sunrise.

    JERRY SIEGEL: They’re sleeping as the temperature falls, and they seem to quite consistently wake up at the lowest point of temperature in the day. So, when the temperature stops falling, that’s when they wake up.

    There’s been a lot of emphasis on light and the effects of light, and there’s no question that light affects sleep. But light may have been connected to sleep largely because of its connection to temperature.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Temperature swings are a thing of the past. Now we just have to turn a dial.

    The connections between sleep and many things have been thoroughly studied. Thanks to a smartwatch, I have been a student for the past year-and-a-half, trying to figure out ways to get a better night’s rest. Between late-night check-ins at hotel rooms and early-morning flights, I have become a lousy sleeper.
    My smartwatch tracks when I’m in deep sleep, light sleep, REM sleep, when I move around, and how many interruptions I have, and it even gives me a score for the night. But there are much more accurate ways to measure sleep in a lab.

    So, for the good of the story, I put on a hospital gown and pajamas and got wired up at the UCLA Sleep Disorder Center.

    That’s a lot of wires.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JOEL RECTOR, UCLA Sleep Disorder Center: Yes, I believe 32.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Lab manager Joel Rector placed sensors on specific parts of my head to measure electrical activity in my brain, stuck some near my eyes and on my legs to measure even the slightest twitches, and strapped sensors around my chest and stomach to gauge my breaths.

    JOEL RECTOR: I’m going to put this over your shoulder.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Doesn’t feel like the most natural way to go to sleep.

    And I did something I have never done at work. I tried to fall asleep on the job.

    So, just to run through this, all these are measuring my brain waves. This is measuring my breath and oxygen. This is measuring how much I’m moving here and here and on my legs. And this is measuring my oxygen.

    JOEL RECTOR: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

    JOEL RECTOR: All righty. Well, I will get the lights off.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Good night.

    While I napped, Rector monitored my patterns.

    JOEL RECTOR: He’s in stage two sleep, which is what most people are in for the majority of the night. He’s kind of just sleeping quietly.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: When I woke up, I had a chat with neuroscientist Alon Avidan, who runs the sleep disorders lab, to tell me what he saw.

    DR. ALON AVIDAN, Director, UCLA Sleep Disorder Center: Typically, when we ask someone to fall asleep, we don’t see them fall asleep in less than eight minutes. You fell asleep in less than a minute, which means that…

    (LAUGHTER)

    DR. ALON AVIDAN: … you are probably sleep-deprived.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What can happen if you’re chronically sleep-deprived?

    DR. ALON AVIDAN: The data shows that in people who are chronically sleep-deprived, the immune system doesn’t work as well. You’re more prone to develop obesity, diabetes. Cognitive function tends to become depressed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But what constitutes sleep deprivation?

    Max Hirshkowitz is chair of the National Sleep Foundation, and a guest lecturer at Stanford Medical School. He recently convened a panel of experts to recommend how much sleep we should get.

    MAX HIRSHKOWITZ, National Sleep Foundation: About seven to nine hours. It’s a range. Now, six may be appropriate under unusual circumstances, but, otherwise, seven to nine, somewhere in there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There is no shortage of pills that try to deliver those seven to nine hours.

    NARRATOR: Sleep better, sleep longer.

    NARRATOR: There’s a land of restful sleep. We can help you go there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And that concerns Siegel.

    JERRY SIEGEL: The thing that alarms me is this thought that — and this was the motivation for undertaking the study, to find out if this true — that we used to sleep much more, and that we need to increase our sleep from whatever number we get to be closer to 10, 11 hours of sleep. The data that we have gathered indicates that’s not the case.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In fact, these people Siegel studied average less than six-and-a-half-hours, and they seem fine.

    JERRY SIEGEL: In general, the adults are more healthy than those in our society. They may for some reason need less sleep, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be any negative consequence resulting from their sleep pattern.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: They also don’t appear tired during the day. They hardly nap and they sleep soundly when they do.

    JERRY SIEGEL: One thing we found is that these groups have very little insomnia, maybe at a 10th the incidence we have, and so there’s something different there that’s going on.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That something will take more research to figure out.

    So, back to the lab, or, in this case, back to bed.

    The post These hunter-gatherer tribes sleep less than you, and sleep better appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The post Stopping the revolving prison door appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    brokenjustice

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s perhaps no greater bipartisan push today than the effort to reform the American criminal justice system. One of those reforms is trying to cut back on recidivism, where criminals serve their time, but then wind up back behind bars soon after their release.

    For the past few months, the NewsHour was granted rare access to a maximum security prison in Maryland where a unique pilot program is trying to stop the revolving door from spinning.

    William Brangham has the story.

    CARLOS COLON: Mostly, I’m a thief. I’m a car thief. I mean, I’m not 100 percent proud, but at the same time, I had a good run, I mean, pretty decent.

    ASHLEY WILSON: I was arrested for prostitution, possession of paraphernalia, possession of heroin, possession of marijuana, issuing false documents, felony theft, misdemeanor theft and forgery.

    JORDAN TAYLOR: Conspiracy to commit robbery, wrong place, wrong time, so I got conspiracy for it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: These three prisoners are among the more than 2.2 million people behind bars in the U.S. That’s more people locked up than in any other country.

    And like most prisoners, they will be released back into society, so making sure they’re ready and that they won’t commit more crimes has become a hugely important public policy issue. Over the last few months, we followed these three prisoners, Jordan Taylor, Carlos Colon, and Ashley Wilson, to see whether one pilot program can defy the odds, and stop them from ending up right back in jail.

    ROBERT GREEN, Montgomery Co. Dept. of Correction and Rehabilitation: In this facility today, we have 500 or so individuals. It could be a lower-level misdemeanor crime, driving while intoxicated, something of that level, to individuals who have allegedly killed multiple or allegedly killed multiple people.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Robert Green is the director of the Montgomery County maximum security facility in rural Maryland. He’s been in corrections over half his life, and he’s the driving force behind the program to try and stop prisoners from going right back to a life of crime.

    ROBERT GREEN: This idea that solely, solely taking someone’s freedom away changes behavior, in many cases, it changes it for the worse. And that’s not what America’s correctional facilities were founded on.

    Why would you not want to put people back on the streets in your community better than they came in the door?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He oversees a program in the jail called the American Jobs Center. It’s received some pilot federal funding. It’s based on research that shows that one of the best ways to reduce recidivism is to help prisoners find legitimate work immediately upon their release. So, they’re taught how to write an effective resume and how to handle a job interview.

    WOMAN: So tell me what job you’re looking to interview for today.

    MAN: Well, buddy, you got the job.

    JORDAN TAYLOR: All right, thanks.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In this program, inmates are called customers, and the program leaders are called coaches.

    CARLOS COLON: These people, they actually care, but — and they show it. And that’s the reason I’m even trying to work it 100 percent.

    DONNA ROJAS, American Jobs Center: We’re helping them to go from job-ready to life-ready, because getting the job is not the most difficult part. The hard part is the life-ready piece. How do I live my life when I go back into the same community where I may have been selling drugs and making $1,000 a week, and now you’re sending me out there to make $8.25 an hour?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The grim details of Ashley Wilson’s life give you a sense of the huge challenges she’s going to face when she gets out.

    ASHLEY WILSON: I was like a really good student and all that. So, perfect poster child, right? But I had some traumas in my childhood and some problems within me.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Like three out of four incarcerated adults, Ashley has a history of substance abuse. She was 10 when she started stealing her parents’ vodka. She left home at 15. A year later, she was shooting heroin.

    ASHLEY WILSON: First time, I had someone inject it to me. And from there, it was just off to the races.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: She began having sex for money to pay for her habit, and then she overdosed, twice, in between stints in rehab. Pregnant at 18, she tried to stay clean for the baby, but she relapsed again.

    ASHLEY WILSON: I had a young infant, no job, behind on rent, very little support.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Police caught her in a sting at 19 and a judge sentenced her to 18 months in jail. Ashley’s incarceration was part of the nation’s war on drugs, an unprecedented 10-fold increase in arrests and prosecutions for nonviolent drug crimes.

    But now, because of good behavior, Ashley will soon be transferred to a halfway house, where she will serve the remainder of her sentence.

    What plans do you have?

    ASHLEY WILSON: I need to get a job. I need to maintain that job. I need to maintain my sobriety. I need to get a good, sober support system to help me. But along with that comes the fear, the fear of the unknown, the fear of inadequacy, that I can’t do it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Staffing a jobs center, educating prisoners, treating their addictions, it’s labor-intensive work. And while there’s a growing bipartisan support for these types of programs, getting prisoners ready for life after prison is not cheap.

    I have got to imagine that there are plenty of people outside these walls who look at the services you offer here and think, I would love that in my community college, I would love that in my public school, and yet you’re here giving it to people who have done real harm in the community.

    What do you say to that?

    ROBERT GREEN: If we lessen the burden of the criminal justice system, doesn’t that give us more money to put into our schools? Doesn’t that give us more money to put into education and our community?

    JORDAN TAYLOR: I consider myself a normal person, just played sports when I was growing up. Went to school, just like everybody else did. I got into some trouble, just like everyone else did.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jordan Taylor is near the end of his one-year sentence. He violated probation after serving time for conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Two-thirds of young black men who don’t finish high school will serve time in jail. And Jordan became another one of those statistics. He was arrested just three weeks before his high school graduation.

    JORDAN TAYLOR: You realize who you are when you’re in the cell, because you have no — nothing but time, time to think about what you’re going to do when you get out, time to think about anything. There’s nothing but time.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jordan’s been part of the jobs program for two months. His release date is just days away. He says he wants to get his GED, a job on day one, and, long term, study to become an electrician like his grandfather.

    Unlike a lot of prisoners, Jordan has two loving parents and a home to live in when he gets out.

    CARLOS COLON: Some people don’t have nowhere to go who leave here, especially my case, if you look at it, right? So I have to depend on me to take care of what I got to do.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Carlos Colon has been in and out of correctional systems since he was 9 years old. He’s now serving a three-year sentence for second-degree assault and burglary. He was a car thief. He says he was a good one.

    But those are skills that, along with his long rap sheet, don’t make him very appealing to possible employers. Carlos works in the jail’s kitchen and housing units, doling out meals to inmates. It’s unpaid work, but he can put it on his resume.

    One of the key things this jobs program does is get inmates interviews with companies even before they’re released.

    MAN: Hey. How you doing, sir?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The company interviewing Carlos today is a national firm most of us have heard of, but they would only let us film if we didn’t name them. They don’t want their brand publicly associated with convicts.

    MAN: Do you want to do it?

    CARLOS COLON: I definitely want to do it. I would love to do it. Like, I do need it. I normally don’t get these types of opportunities.

    ROBERT GREEN: We realize, and the data tells us and the research tells us, for every day of employment we lose with that individual, that the opportunity for recidivism and returning to bad choices and bad behaviors is increased.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For Carlos, Ashley and Jordan, the odds aren’t in their favor. More than two-thirds of prisoners are back behind bars within three years of their release. Carlos isn’t sure where he will go when he gets out. Several halfway houses rejected him because of a prior prison escape. Plus, he’s also broke.

    Do you worry that if you get out and you can’t find a job, you know you have these criminal skills — you’re a good car thief?

    CARLOS COLON: Yes, I already thought about that. Yes, I already thought about that.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: How are you going to resist that?

    CARLOS COLON: I’m going to resist it for as long as I can, but it’s not guaranteed, because the time comes and I’m struggling, I’m not going to be, like — you know, I’m not going to be struggling for long. So, if I have to steal a car, then that’s what it’s going to have to be.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Tomorrow, we will show you what happened to these prisoners when they got out.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m William Brangham in Montgomery County, Maryland.

    JORDAN TAYLOR: You all right, mom? You knew I was going to home. You knew I was going to home.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For an early look at what happened next, go to our Web site. Our multimedia project has additional video and an in-depth look at Ashley, Carlos and Jordan’s stories.

    Find that on our home page, PBS.org/NewsHour.

    The post Getting prisoners life-ready to prevent a return to crime appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Emergency service workers are seen next to the wreckage of Pan Am flight 103, in a farmer's field east of Lockerbie, Scotland in this December 23, 1988  file photograph. The twentieth anniversary of the bombing of the jumbo jet flight from London to New York will be marked on December 21, 2008.      REUTERS/Greg Bos/Files  (BRITAIN) - RTR22QNB

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Scottish prosecutors announced today that they have identified two Libyan suspects in the 1988 bombing of a passenger jet over the town of Lockerbie.

    Scotland and U.S. — Scottish and U.S. authorities are asking the Libyan government to allow Scottish detectives and FBI officers to interview the suspects in Tripoli, Libya. The Washington Post is reporting, according to a U.S. official, that the two individuals are Abdullah al-Senussi, a former intelligence chief for ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and Abu Agila Mas’ud, an alleged bomb-maker.

    Jeffrey Brown has more.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The development comes just two days after “Frontline” aired the final installment of “My Brother’s Bomber,” a three-part documentary by Ken Dornstein that went back and reexamined the files from the Lockerbie case.

    Here’s a short clip of part three, where Dornstein is following the trial in Libya of former Gadhafi officials by the new government.

    MAN: In Libya, a trial has begun for the sons of Moammar Gadhafi and more than two dozen of his ex-officials.

    KEN DORNSTEIN, Filmmaker, “My Brother’s Bomber”: At the same time in Tripoli, the new government was continuing its trial of former Gadhafi officials.

    MAN: The ruler’s ex-spy chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, was among the defendants fenced off behind bars from corruption to war crimes related to the 2011 uprising.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: The Libyans were interested in crimes during the revolution, but I was listening at home for details about the men on my list.

    Then, in the middle of the trial, a photo arrived by e-mail from Musbah Eter. It was poor quality and came with no explanation, but in the center of the frame was a dark-skinned man. The blue jumpsuit and prison bars made it pretty clear that he was one of the men on trial in Tripoli, so I went looking for every photo I could find of these men on trial.

    And there in one of them, behind Abdullah al-Senussi, the former intelligence chief, was the dark-skinned man. The more I looked, the more photos I found of him.

    I captured these images and sent them to Musbah Eter in Berlin. He said this was indeed will bomb expert, Abu Agila, 100 percent. It was hard to believe I was now looking at the man I had been trying to find for so many years.

    But I still wanted more confirmation. So, I connected with a human rights worker who’d been monitoring the trials in Libya.

    WOMAN: Hi, ken.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: Hey, how are you?

    WOMAN: We can attempt cameras, but I’m not sure it’s going to last.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: I told her who I was looking for. At first, she couldn’t find Abu Agila’s name on the list, but then:

    WOMAN: Wait, wait, wait. Wait. I have a name. It’s just written slightly differently.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: What does it look like to you?

    WOMAN: I think it’s defendant number 28 in this case. So, his first name is Abu Agila. That would be his first name. And as to my understanding, the biggest case against him seems to be bomb-making in relation to the 2011 conflict, charges of setting up bombs in vehicles.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: Wow. That sounds like him.

    WOMAN: Yes. I would say that’s for sure the same person.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: The main trial of these guys, there’s 36, 37 of them, and they’re there for what is more or less a show trial.

    MAN: Right.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: That’s Abdullah Senussi.

    MAN: OK.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: But if you look behind Abdullah Senussi…

    MAN: There’s a dark-skinned man.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: There’s a dark-skinned man. You pull all the images, and you keep finding a dark-skinned man.

    MAN: Right.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: But I still would like to know more. So, I said, is there — there’s 36 men on trial. Is there a charge sheet here?

    MAN: Yes, what are they charged with? Yes.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: Number 28 on the charge sheet. And I translate it, and you can even grab it, and put it into Google Translate, and it’s Abu Agila Mas’ud. And the charge is bomb-making.

    MAN: My goodness.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Up until now, only one person has ever been convicted in connection with the Lockerbie bopping.

    To talk about today’s development is writer and filmmaker Ken Dornstein. His older brother was killed in the attack.

    So, Ken, two new suspects, but not officially named. Do you have any information that links them to the two people that you identified that we just saw in that clip?

    KEN DORNSTEIN: I don’t have any information from the Scottish government or from the U.S. government, but everything I know about the investigation and everything I know about the 36 men being held by the Libyans would suggest to me that the two men who have been alluded to in today’s news are Abdullah Senussi, and the man who I identified as the bomb expert for the Lockerbie case, Abu Agila Mas’ud.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us a little bit about them, first with the latter, the bomb expert. What do you know about them?

    KEN DORNSTEIN: Yes.

    This is a figure who was a mystery, was a ghost. The original Lockerbie investigators had gathered information about him. There was information about him from a CIA informant who was speaking to the CIA in the months before the bombing, and in the cables that were produced from the — from the time with that informant. This person was named. And this person was named in connection with Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who I think you mentioned is the one person who had been convicted for the bombing.

    He was tied to Megrahi at several key moments in the weeks and months before the bombing, including records indicated that he had been at the airport in Malta where the bomb was said to have originated on the morning of the bombing. The CIA thought he was a technical expert, that that’s what you find in the CIA cables.

    Beyond that, they didn’t know. They had his landing card when he landed in Malta, and it had his fingerprint on it and there was a passport number, as any of us who travel to a foreign country have to fill out landing cards, where you say the flight you came in on and your passport information. And they had that passport number.

    And, really, that is what I clung to for several years to really match the fingerprint and that passport number to a flesh-and-blood real person who I felt that, if I could prove he existed and fully flesh out who he was, I thought I would solve any of the remaining questions there were about who carried out the bombing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the other figure, Abdullah Senussi, was a more known character, right, as head of intelligence in Libya?

    KEN DORNSTEIN: Yes. Abdullah Senussi is a very well-known figure. He is the brother-in-law of Moammar Gadhafi. He was arguably the second most powerful man in the country at the time, at the end of the regime.

    He had been linked to many crimes against Libyans themselves, including a massacre at a prison in the ’90s that killed 1,500 people. He also was linked to a number of foreign attacks, including the bombing of a French passenger plane. He was tried and convicted in absentia by the French for bombing a French passenger plane or for helping conceive of that.

    So, the list of charges against Senussi is long. The list of parties who are interested in having Senussi tell them the full truth is also long. And he was well-known. And the U.S. government may or may not have already spoken to him. He’s been in detention in various forms for a number of years, but it’s Abu Agila Mas’ud who really was the target of what I did and what “Frontline” just put out.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you went back to look at this, of course, in part because of the personal connection, I assume, but also through a sense that this was incomplete. Right? What happened to the investigation? Do we know whether either of these characters were ever spoken to, were ever investigated?

    KEN DORNSTEIN: They both came up in the original investigation. That’s not new to me.

    I started, from a sense, from the original investigators, most of whom are now retired, a sense from them of how unresolved the whole case was, that they had a number of people in their sights. They were only able to indict two, and after that indictment, which was way back in 1991, the FBI would continue to say that it’s an ongoing investigation, but there had been no other public announcements. There had been no other indictments in the 25 years.

    I think that was a source of frustration to some of the original investigators. And the particular character who I focused on, this Abu Agila Mas’ud, as the bomb expert, I think he was a ghost. I mean, I — on the Moby-Dick analogy, he was the white whale that everyone was pursuing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: And they never got a chance to really identify him.

    And I ultimately did.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

    Ken Dornstein, thank you so much.

    KEN DORNSTEIN: Sure. Thank you.

    The post New suspects identified in Lockerbie bombing case appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Defense Ash Carter (L) listens as President  Barack Obama (R) announces plans to slow the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan,  in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington October 15, 2015. The plan would keep the current force of 9,800 through most of 2016 before beginning to trim levels. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTS4MBW

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We get more on today’s announcement from Washington Post reporter Greg Jaffe.

    Greg, how did he get to this decision?

    GREG JAFFE, The Washington Post: You know, in the spring, they started a review to decide what they were going to do. The plan had been to go to essentially a Kabul-based force, a small force.

    And I think most in the administration, especially the president’s inner circle, seemed to think that that’s where they were going to land. The discussions carried on through the summer. In August, General Dempsey came forward, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — he just recently stepped down — with a plan for a sustaining force of about 5,000 focused on counterterrorism.

    And it was then, it seemed to me, that the debate changed, and the president seemed open to that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what were the tensions here? Is this partly the political pressure of making a campaign promise to get the country out of this war, and then the military reality on the ground, where all his top advisers are saying something different?

    GREG JAFFE: You know, I don’t think politics played a big role in it. I think the president has a real skepticism about military forces’ ability to effect solutions in places like Afghanistan, so he’s a really hard sell on these sorts of issues, just because he doesn’t think military force fixes the problems, that they’re really political problems. No military solutions has sort of become a mantra.

    So, it took a lot of convincing to bring him around, I think.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, if you have insight to this, what was the menu card of options that the generals presented him, here’s A, here’s B, here’s C? What were his choices?

    GREG JAFFE: You know, I think that the main choices, as I understand them, were there was an option to essentially stay at 9,800, where they are, indefinitely.

    The real choice and the real focus of the debate in terms of a sustaining presence beyond 2016 into 2017 was really this 5,500 option. That was the one that sucked most of the oxygen in the room. That was the one that they really focused on.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so what were the costs and benefits of doing either one plan or increasing it to 10?

    GREG JAFFE: You know, well, 10 is where we are now. And so I think 10 felt to a lot of people lets you do things that you can’t do with five.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For example?

    GREG JAFFE: Yes, I think that, in terms of counterterrorism, I think you can pretty much do the similar things with both.
    What the extra 5,000 gets you is, it gets you out in the field with Afghans a little bit more. You know, we have been using them. Up in Kunduz, for example, special forces helped the Afghans retake that city by calling in airstrikes and providing advice.

    I think it also gives you a sense of how Afghans are performing in other places. I think we were all shocked by how fast the Iraqi forces crumbled and collapsed. On paper, they looked pretty good. On paper, the Afghan forces sometimes look pretty good. But things like will and resolve are really hard to measure.

    And if you’re present, you can get a much better sense of those things than you can if you’re, you know, hundreds of miles or thousand of miles away.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is part of this that nobody has figured out the equation on how to train up Afghan forces well enough?

    GREG JAFFE: Yes, I think not just Afghan forces, but all of these kind of indigenous forces in these broken societies, where governments are corrupt or deeply flawed.

    General Dempsey said in an exit interview — I thought it was fascinating — he essentially asked himself in this exit interview with a publication called “Joint Forces Quarterly,” you know, can we do this mission? And he answered his own question by saying, I don’t know, but I’m not sure we have a choice.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s the next step then? If we’re keeping these troop levels at the same thing, are there going to be additional perhaps deployments of special units in certain cities?

    GREG JAFFE: I think if there are problems like you saw in Kunduz, where you have the Taliban taking the cities and the Afghans have to retake it, I think you could see special forces units embedded with Afghan units to retake those kinds of places.

    You know, I think it’s interesting way the president talked about the 9800, or essentially 10,000. He said that will be the force through late 2016. You know, by late 2016, his successor will be in place. I think he could be signaling some flexibility there, too, that rather than go down to 5,500, if his successor were to say, I really would be much more comfortable at 10,000, I think it would be hard for him not to stay there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

    GREG JAFFE: Yes. Thank you.

    The post What influenced Obama’s decision to keep troops in Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-ATTACK

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now a change of course in Afghanistan and call for the United States to stay.

    It’s already the longest-running war in American history, and now U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan even longer. The word came today from President Obama during a speech in the White House Roosevelt Room.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have repeatedly argued against marching into open-ended military conflicts that do not serve our core security interests.

    Yet, given what’s at stake in Afghanistan, and the opportunity for a stable and committed ally that can partner with us in preventing the emergence of future threats, I am firmly convinced that we should make this extra effort.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The new war plan calls for keeping nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through most of 2016, drawing down to 5,500 in 2017.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now we’re finishing the job we started.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Today’s announcement is an about-face from the plan laid out last May, to leave Afghanistan completely by the end of next year. It would have left just a small embassy-based military presence in Kabul.

    But in the last few months, commanders have signaled that the Afghans need more help to beat back the Taliban and hold onto gains made over the last 14 years. Kunduz, in Northern Afghanistan, is a case in point. Taliban fighters briefly took control there last month. The New York Times compiled U.N. data with on-the-ground reporting that shows the insurgency has spread through more of Afghanistan than at any time since 2001, and more than half the country’s districts face a substantial, high, or extreme risk of attack.

    There are also now concerns about the presence of Islamic State militants.

    Defense Secretary Ash Carter:

    ASHTON CARTER, Defense Secretary: We’re adjusting our presence based on conditions on the ground to give the United States and our allies the capability to sustain a robust counterterrorism platform, denying a safe haven for terrorists and violent extremist organizations.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: U.S. forces will be stationed in four locations, Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad, and Kandahar.

    President Obama said it’s the right thing to do.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This decision is not disappointing. As I have continually said, my approach is to assess the situation on the ground, to figure out what is working, and figure out what is not working, and make adjustments where necessary. This isn’t the first time those adjustments have been made. This won’t probably be the last.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The move puts the decision on how to go forward in Afghanistan firmly in the hands of the president’s successor after 2017.

    The post U.S. reverses plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama announced today he will keep American troops in Afghanistan through the end of his presidency, extending America’s longest war.

    The policy reversal comes after weeks of worsening violence and significant gains by Taliban fighters. We will have more on the details of the decision right after the news summary.

    Meanwhile, the Associated Press revealed new details today about the U.S. airstrike that killed 22 patients and staff at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. It said U.S. special operations analysts knew the Kunduz clinic was a medical site, but believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative coordinating Taliban activity. Doctors Without Borders has disputed that claim.

    At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he wasn’t aware of the AP’s report, but pledged a complete investigation.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The president’s expectation is that he will receive a full accounting of these facts, in the context of a thorough, objective and transparent report from the Department of Defense.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Pentagon officials initially said the strike aimed to protect American troops during a firefight. But the top U.S. general in Afghanistan has since acknowledged the strike was a mistake.

    Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert will plead guilty in his federal hush money case. His attorney said the plea agreement will be submitted to the judge Monday, but stopped short of detailing the specifics. The 73-year-old Illinois Republican is charged with violating banking laws and lying to the FBI in an effort to pay someone $3.5 million in a cover-up. Multiple media outlets reported the payments concealed claims of sexual misconduct with an unnamed male decades ago.

    In economic news, stocks on Wall Street recorded their steepest gains in nearly two weeks today. That was due in part to strong bank earnings and speculation the Federal Reserve will hold off on raising interest rates until next year. The Dow Jones industrial average soared 217 points to close at 17141. The Nasdaq rose 87 points, and the S&P 500 added 29.

    In Syria, government troops launched a major new offensive against rebel forces today. They targeted strongholds in central Homs province and captured the town of Khalidiya, near Hama. The push was backed by days of Russian airstrikes in the region. Amateur video today showed plumes of smoke rising above towns while residents sifted through wreckage.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today he’s perfectly open to meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to end weeks of bloodshed. That came a day after Abbas claimed Israelis executed a 13-year-old Palestinian boy involved in a stabbing attack earlier this week.

    The Israeli prime minister sharply refuted that allegation today in Jerusalem, insisting the boy is recuperating in an Israeli hospital.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel: I think President Abbas has to stop this incitement. You just saw examples of him lying, bare-faced lies. An innocent child executed by Israelis. No, he’s not innocent and he wasn’t executed. He tried to murder innocent people, almost succeeded. That’s a lie.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: At the same time, the Israeli military announced today it will deploy hundreds more troops throughout Jerusalem in the coming days in an effort to boost security there.

    Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli troops in Bethlehem. Demonstrators threw stones as Israeli forces fired back with tear gas.

    Back in this country, there’s word the FBI has begun an inquiry into the business practices of the multibillion-dollar daily fantasy sports gambling industry. Last week, an employee of the Web site DraftKings won $350,000 on rival site FanDuel, spawning allegations of insider trading. The New York Times reported the FBI probe will also assess whether the sites encourage bets from players in states where the contests are illegal.

    The preservation group World Monuments Fund announced its biennial watch list for endangered World Heritage Sites today. The 50 places, spanning 36 countries, include a Spanish mission in New Mexico badly in need of restoration, an ancient underwater city in Southern Greece at risk of pollution from passing ships, and the entire country of Nepal, struggling to protect its heritage in the aftermath of April’s devastating earthquake.

    The post News Wrap: U.S. analysts knew Kunduz target was hospital appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A U.S.-led coalition unmanned aerial vehicle flying over Kobani is pictured from Suruc in Sanliurfa province on Oct. 13, 2014. Online news site The Intercept published an 8-part series on the U.S. military's drone program, using classified documents given to them by an anonymous source. Photo by Umit Bektas/Reuters

    A U.S.-led coalition unmanned aerial vehicle flying over Kobani is pictured from Suruc in Sanliurfa province on Oct. 13, 2014. Online news site The Intercept published an 8-part series on the U.S. military’s drone program, using classified documents given to them by an anonymous source. Photo by Umit Bektas/Reuters

    For more than a decade the U.S.’s drone program has been shrouded in secrecy. But a new series Thursday in The Intercept pulls back the curtain on a number of details that, among other things, reported that nearly 90 percent of people killed in drone strikes over a 5-month period were unintended causalities.

    In a 8-part series titled “The Drone Papers,” the online news site obtained a cache of classified documents from an anonymous whistleblower that offer a glimpse into the internal process of the U.S. military’s drone operations, which have become a tool to remotely kill al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives.

    “This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the anonymous source told The Intercept.

    “We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it,” the source said.

    President Barack Obama said in 2013 that there had to be “near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” before any drone strikes are authorized. However, in one U.S. operation between January 2012 and February 2013 in northeastern Afghanistan, 35 out of more than 200 people killed by drones were the actual intended targets, The Intercept reported.

    The documents also appear to reveal that anyone killed by the unmanned aircraft, including unintended casualties, are labeled as EKIA, or “enemy killed in action.” The designation stayed, unless evidence comes forward that proved that a person killed wasn’t an “unlawful enemy combatant,” The Intercept reported.

    The documents also paint a scenario in which the U.S. military routinely rely on unreliable intelligence about intended targets in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    In April, the White House apologized for the accidental drone killings of one American and one Italian hostage along the Afghan-Pakistan border during a U.S. operation against al-Qaeda.

    The Intercept reported another instance in 2012 where a drone was used to kill a former British citizen, Bilal el-Berjawi, after repeated attempts to capture him failed.

    The source told The Intercept that the government’s reliance on drones allowed a “clean way of doing things.”

    “It’s a very slick, efficient way to conduct the war, without having to have the massive ground invasion mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan,” the source said.

    The Intercept’s report also characterizes the twin drone programs conducted by both the CIA and the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC, as an “intense turf war.” The Intercept’s series focuses on the U.S. military’s drone program.

    The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti told the NewsHour in 2013 that there is a “redundancy” of drone operations between the two programs in places like Yemen, with neither the CIA or the Pentagon were willing to give up their role in the operations.

    The source told The Intercept that the military is able to adapt to change, but have become “addicted … to this way of doing business.”

    “It seems like it’s going to become harder and harder to pull them away from it the longer they’re allowed to continue operating in this way,” the source said.

    In September, both the CIA and the U.S. military launched a drone campaign in Syria to target high-level Islamic State operatives, The Washington Post reported.

    The lead journalist of “The Drone Papers” is Jeremy Scahill. The Intercept was founded by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, along with Scahill. They previously covered documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

    Read The Intercept’s full, eight-part series, “The Drone Papers,” here.

    The post Whistleblower releases documents into U.S. military’s drone program appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    South Korea's President Park Geun-hye and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter attend a military honors arrival ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington on Oct. 15. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter attend a military honors arrival ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington on Oct. 15. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama welcomed the leader of South Korea to the White House Friday in a show of unity between close allies looking to deter nuclear-armed North Korea while leaving the door open to negotiations.

    The visit by South Korea President Park Geun-hye follows heightened tensions this summer at the heavily militarized border between the two Koreas, and speculation that North Korea could be planning another rocket launch into space or a nuclear test explosion in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

    Park has cultivated closer relations with China as she looks to coax Beijing away from its traditional embrace of Pyongyang. Last month, she prompted handwringing in Washington when she attended a Chinese military parade marking the end of World War II that was snubbed by leaders of most major democracies.

    Friday’s Oval Office meeting and working lunch with Obama is a chance to show that the diplomatic overture to Beijing hasn’t weakened South Korea’s strong ties with the U.S., which retains 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War and the fact that it ended with a truce but not a peace treaty.

    Park and Obama were expected to compare notes on their respective recent meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. They’ll also discuss the often-touchy relations among China, Japan and South Korea, whose leaders are to hold a long-awaited summit in Seoul in early November. Park said Thursday that the summit will offer an opportunity to improve South Korea’s relations with another key U.S. ally, Japan, which would be welcomed by Washington.

    But North Korea will top the agenda at the White House, and little is likely to change in the allies’ stance: standing tough against the threat of any North Korean provocations while remaining open to aid-for-disarmament talks if Pyongyang shows it is sincere about the goal of abandoning nuclear weapons. The North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, however, has shown little appetite to engage on those terms.

    The Obama administration has reconciled with longtime adversaries Cuba and Myanmar, and forged a nuclear deal with Iran, but the administration has faced criticism from hawks and doves alike for a lack of high-level attention on North Korea. The North has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006 and is developing a mobile ballistic missile that could potentially hit the U.S.

    In August, the two Koreas threatened each other with war after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines Seoul says were planted by the North. The tensions have since eased, and the two sides have agreed to resume next week reunions of Korean families divided by the Korean War.

    The post North Korea to top agenda as Obama meets South Korean leader appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    This week, violence escalated in the Middle East and a long-awaited report revealed how Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine. Also, in California the world’s largest pumpkin was crowned.

    Take our five-minute quiz to see what you know about the week’s world news.

    The post World news quiz: From missiles to pumpkins appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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