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

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    In most states, the big elections will come next year. But on Tuesday, voters in a few states elected governors and legislators, some cities selected mayors, and a variety of major issues were being settled at the ballot box.

    The elections were expected to be low-turnout affairs, but nonetheless could provide a test of public opinion on such topics as marijuana, gay rights and the emerging “sharing economy,” which includes services that allow individuals to rent out rooms in their homes via the Internet.

    A look at some of the offices and issues at stake:


    Businessman Matt Bevin becomes only the second Republican in four decades to win the governor’s seat in Kentucky, defeating the Democratic attorney general in a race that acted as something of a referendum on health care and gay marriage.

    He will succeed Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who is termed out of office.

    Bevin describes himself as a Christian conservative and defended Kim Davis, the county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

    He opposed the state’s expansion of Medicaid, the government health insurance program for lower-income people, which was made possible by President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Bevin wants to replace it with a health care plan requiring more money from participants.

    His Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, supported the Medicaid expansion. As attorney general, Conway also opted not to appeal when a federal judge ordered Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriage, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it nationwide.

    In Tuesday’s only other gubernatorial race, Republican Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant won re-election to a second term after spending $2.7 million in his campaign against Democrat Robert Gray, a truck driver who spent just $3,000.


    Just three states had general legislative elections Tuesday, although at least 10 others held special elections to fill vacant seats.

    The biggest battle was for control of the Virginia Senate, where Republicans held off an attempt by Democrats to win a majority and maintained their 21-19 edge. A gain of just one seat by Democrats could have flipped control because Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam would serve as the tiebreaker.

    The Senate races were expected to be among the most expensive in Virginia’s history, with candidates and outside groups spending more than $10 million and running more than 20,000 TV ads.

    Republicans were expected to maintain majorities in the Virginia House and in Mississippi’s two chambers, while Democrats held on to their majority in the New Jersey Assembly and actually picked up a seat.

    In Michigan, former state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat lost bids to regain their old seats, just months after they left office following revelations they had an extramarital affair and concocted a strange story to make the truth seem less believable.


    More than 300 cities held mayoral elections, including the nation’s fourth and fifth largest cities of Houston and Philadelphia.

    In Houston’s nonpartisan election, seven candidates campaigned to succeed term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, with two moving on to a Dec. 12 runoff. State Rep. Sylvester Turner, the top vote-getter, will face businessman Bill King.

    In Philadelphia, where Democrats hold a 7-to-1 voter registration edge over Republicans, Democrat Jim Kenney, a former city councilman, defeated a Republican business executive to succeed term-limited Mayor Michael Nutter. Kenney had pledged to step up the fight on poverty and provide universal pre-kindergarten.

    Other large cities holding mayoral elections included San Francisco and Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

    In Salt Lake City, two-term incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker faced a stiff challenge from former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski, who would become the city’s first openly gay mayor if elected. The race remained too close to call, and the Salt Lake County clerk said thousands of mail-in ballots dropped off at polling places on Tuesday remain to be counted.


    Democrats won all three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a race that attracted at least $11.5 million in campaign contributions.

    Democrats now lock in a majority for at least the next 10 years. That potentially could influence the next round of legislative and congressional redistricting in an important swing state.


    Ohio voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational use by adults 21 and older and allowed for medicinal use by others. The initiative would have authorized 10 particular facilities to grow marijuana. A separate measure, referred to the ballot by legislators, sought to nullify the marijuana proposal by adopting a ban on constitutional amendments that create an economic monopoly.

    Colorado voters, who approved the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, decided to let the state keep $66 million in marijuana tax revenue to be spent on schools and other projects. A Colorado law requires new tax revenue to be refunded when overall state income exceeds projections.


    Houston voters rejected a city ordinance that sought to provide non-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people. The City Council approved the ordinance in May 2014, but a legal challenge led to Tuesday’s ballot question. Opponents included a coalition of conservative pastors who said it infringed on their religious beliefs against homosexuality. With same-sex marriage now legal nationwide, nondiscrimination laws have become the new priority for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups.


    San Francisco voters rejected an initiative that sought to limit the “sharing economy” services in which people rent rooms directly from others through Internet bookings. The ballot measure would have capped short-term housing rentals at 75 days a year and required Internet hosting companies such as San Francisco-based Airbnb to pull listings that violate the limit. Airbnb had poured millions of dollars into the opposition campaign.

    A separate $310 million bond for affordable housing that required two-thirds approval remained undecided. In Maine, voters approved a $15 million bond issue for housing for low-income seniors.


    Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that is expected to raise about $2.5 billion a year for road and highway improvements starting in 2017. The measure will divert general and vehicle sales tax revenue toward a highway fund when collections exceed certain thresholds. Additional money will become available in 2019, if tax revenue from vehicle sales and rentals exceeds a certain threshold.

    The passage comes just one year after Texas voters approved an amendment diverting $1.7 billion of oil and gas tax revenue from the state rainy day fund to highways.

    Maine voters passed an $85 million bond issue for roads, bridges and other modes of transportation. It is projected to draw more than $120 million in additional federal funding.


    In Mississippi, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required “an adequate and efficient” public school system and granted the courts power to enforce it. The measure came as state funding for schools has fallen short of what is called for under state law.


    Washington voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and various animal-rights groups that will make it a state crime to buy, sell or trade products coming from certain wild animals. The ban targets endangered species of elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, pangolins, marine turtles, sharks and rays. In Texas, voters approved a ballot measure that creates a constitutional right for people to hunt, fish and “harvest wildlife.”

    Associated Press correspondent David A. Lieb wrote this report.

    The post Election roundup: Big night for Republicans; marijuana, gay rights, Airbnb ballot initiatives fail appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Houston Mayor Annise Parker, seen in this 2014 file photo, says that despite the failed passing of an ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people, she will continue to fight for LGBT rights. Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

    Houston Mayor Annise Parker, seen in this 2014 file photo, says that despite the failed passing of an ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people, she will continue to fight for LGBT rights. Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

    HOUSTON — Houston Mayor Annise Parker has rallied supporters of a defeated ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in the city, telling them the fight isn’t over.

    The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was soundly rejected Tuesday by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent, following a nearly 18-month battle in the nation’s fourth-largest city that spawned rallies, legal fights and accusations of religious intolerance and demonization of the LGBT community.

    But Parker, who is gay and championed the ordinance, led a crowd of more than 100 people at an election night watch party in downtown Houston in a chant that referenced the ordinance’s nickname, HERO, yelling, “A hero fights for justice.”

    “I guarantee that justice in Houston will prevail. This ordinance, you have not seen the last of. We’re united. We will prevail,” Parker said.

    Still, the future of the ordinance looked uncertain. Parker is finishing her final two-year term, and it’s unclear if the next mayor and city council will revisit the issue.

    The ordinance would have applied to businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants and hotels, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting. It would have allowed residents to file a complaint if they felt they had been discriminated against based on protected categories. Religious institutions would have been exempt. Violators would have faced fines up to $5,000.

    Supporters said it would have offered increased protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and would have protected against discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion and other categories.

    Opponents, including a coalition of conservative pastors, said it infringed on their religious beliefs regarding homosexuality. But in the months leading up to Tuesday’s vote, opponents focused their campaign on one part of the ordinance related to the use of public bathrooms by transgender men and women that opponents alleged would allow sexual predators to use women’s restrooms.

    Parker, a Democrat, and other supporters described the “bathroom ordinance” campaign as “fear mongering.”

    The state’s top two elected leaders — Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans — praised the defeat, with Abbott saying voters “showed values still matter.”

    Patrick, who vaulted to power on the basis of an ardent tea party following, described the ordinance as “pandering to political correctness.” He said it was only about allowing men to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms “defying,” in his words, “common sense and common decency.”

    Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative political advocacy group, said in a statement that Tuesday’s defeat of the ordinance made Houston “a rallying cry for Americans tired of seeing their freedoms trampled in a politically correct stampede to redefine marriage and sexuality.”

    The ordinance was initially approved by the Houston City Council in May 2014, but a lawsuit to have residents vote on the measure eventually made it to the Texas Supreme Court, which in July ordered the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot.

    Tuesday’s referendum drew attention from around the nation, with the measure getting high-profile endorsements last week from the White House, high-tech giant Apple and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. It also received support from other members of Houston’s religious community.

    Kristen Capps, a Houston attorney who supported the ordinance, remained optimistic.

    “It’s just like every civil rights movement. We’re just going to keep on doing it until it’s done,” she said.

    The post Mayor: Fight not over for Houston nondiscrimination measure appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    John Irving, whose new book “Avenue of Mysteries” comes out this week, has always considered himself old-fashioned.

    Irving began reading 19th-century novelists, including Charles Dickens and Herman Melville, as a teenager, he told the NewsHour’s chief arts and culture correspondent Jeffrey Brown. Those authors formed his idea of what it meant to be a novelist.

    “If I’d not read them at an impressionable age – 15, 16 – I’m not so sure I would have felt the conviction as young as I did that I wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to be a novelist like that,” he said. “In other words, I was already kind of old-fashioned before I had written the first word.”

    “Avenue of Mysteries” follows the story of the a fiction writer named Juan Diego throughout his life, from his childhood as an orphan working in an Oaxacan dump, to an adolescence spent teaching himself to read, to adulthood. The book introduces a mix of vivid characters into a narrative that combines realism and magic, Irving said.

    Irving said he is conscious of distinguishing his own voice from his idols. “My heroes were so long-dead,” he said. “In retrospect, I can see that I was fortunate because there’s no danger imitating a writer from another century. The language has changed. I couldn’t sound like Melville or Dickens if I tried. If you model yourself too closely, if your literary heroes are too close to your own generation and your own time, there is the danger that you will sound like an imitator.”

    For more on Irving’s work, watch his full conversation with Jeffrey Brown.

    The post How novelist John Irving picked his literary heroes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Illustration by Getty Images

    Medicare Maven Phil Moeller answers your Medicare questions. Illustration by Getty Images

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

    The Ask Phil mailbox has been overflowing with questions since I took a break from answering your queries three weeks ago to focus on Medicare’s annual open enrollment season, which began Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. I’m not surprised that many of these questions dealt with open enrollment. On the very slim chance that this series did not address absolutely every reader’s question with total accuracy and clarity, please let me know.

    I also received loads of questions about the feared 52 percent rise in Part B premiums next year. Fortunately, this worst-case scenario will not come to pass. Uncle Sam agreed in the debt ceiling law signed late last week by President Obama to float Medicare a $7.5 billion loan. This will allow the agency to limit the damage to a 15 percent increase. That’s still very steep, but not disastrous. Here are the details, as explained in last week’s Ask Phil.

    And now, to your questions.

    Mike: My wife’s drug premium increased for 2016 from $29.50/mo. to $62.90/mo. or 113 percent more. Her annual deductible increased from $0 to $250 or 250 percent more. Please explain why.

    Phil Moeller: Rising drug prices have led many Medicare drug plans to raise premiums, deductibles and other costs by large amounts. They are free to do this. And you are free to take your business elsewhere. This situation is why open enrollment can be such a powerful way to help you and send a message to insurers who are no longer giving you your best deal.

    If you haven’t done so already, go to Medicare’s Plan Finder site, enter your ZIP code and your wife’s prescription needs. Then shop for a cheaper plan. As I’ve explained, you need to make sure a new plan includes the drugs your wife needs and that it includes convenient participating pharmacies.

    Anna: My doctor does not accept Medicare. Can I see him as a private care patient, pay him the entire bill and just leave Medicare out of the picture?

    Phil Moeller: Your question is so interesting. Many readers have asked similar ones that reflect concern over how much Medicare can control their health care decisions. While Medicare is mandatory, in practical if not always legal terms, there is nothing that prevents you from seeing a doctor who does not participate in Medicare and paying his full fee.

    However, there could be some complications should you need more than just an office visit.

    For example, there is a new Medicare rule taking effect next year that says Medicare Part D drug plans won’t cover prescriptions written by health care professionals who don’t participate in Medicare.

    Also, if your doctor ever needs to provide care for you in a hospital or other in-patient setting, any fees he charges you would not be covered by Medicare.

    So, by all means, go ahead if you wish. But be aware of these potential downsides and develop contingency plans as needed.

    P. Moeller: I now take five cheap generic drugs that most plans cover and for which I could pay a low premium. I can sign up for a drug plan with only a $12 premium, higher co-pays and an estimated annual drug cost for my medications of only $590. That’s about half of the same company’s “Plus” plan, which has a monthly premium of $66, lower co-pays and an annual drug cost of more than $1,000 for me. But what if next March or September I am diagnosed with something that requires top-tier pricey drugs? How does one address that possibility when choosing a plan? Am I missing something obvious? Or is this truly a hidden factor that people only learn about if it occurs?

    Phil Moeller: Anyone named P. Moeller [no relation that I know of] goes to the head of the line when I answer questions!

    Of course, there is no way for you to know how different insurance plans would charge you for drugs you don’t even know if you’ll need. So the best you can do is general research on how Part D plans cover you in what’s called the donut hole.

    All Medicare drug plans have catastrophic protection. It doesn’t totally cap your exposure, but after you’ve spent $4,850 on covered drugs in 2016, you’re on the hook only for small amounts or 5 percent of the cost per prescription, whichever is greater.

    Realistically, I’d go with a low-premium plan and comfort myself with the knowledge that it still provides catastrophic coverage. If your drug spending changes enough, you can pick a new plan in 2017 during next year’s open enrollment season.

    Ted: When I first signed up for Medicare several years ago, I received free counseling from an expert who recommended a supplementary medical insurance [Medigap] plan. That person is no longer available for consultation, and my premiums are going up exponentially every year! I’m wondering if you could recommend someone in my area with whom I could speak directly about my situation and who might be able to recommend a better alternative?

    Phil Moeller: Gee. With those premium increases, I wouldn’t lament that your “consultant” is no longer available!

    Seriously, I’m sorry about your escalating premiums. Unfortunately, I have made it a rule never to recommend consultants or financial advisers. It is just not something I feel comfortable doing as a journalist. Maybe no one believes we really are objective and impartial, but I sure try to be!


    Which Medigap plan should you get?

    There are three different underwriting standards for Medigap policies, which I recently explained in a piece I did for Money Magazine. It sounds like you need to get a new policy that charges premiums that will not increase so much. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as the piece explains.

    Another possibility is to switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan. These plans have caps on your health spending, so you wouldn’t require a Medigap policy. On the downside, they usually require you to use their network of doctors and hospitals. You’d need to call your important doctors and make sure they’re in the network of whatever plan you like. Last week’s Ask Phil column was about shopping for Medicare Advantage plans. Maybe it will be of some help.

    Arthur: At age 71, I have only Medicare Parts A & B. During open enrollment, I wish to add Part D or perhaps switch to a Medicare Advantage plan that includes Part D coverage. One question that I hope that you might address is whether we could transfer our Medicare Advantage plan to a different geographic area should we move in the future?

    Phil Moeller: If you move out of the area, you cannot continue using the Medicare Advantage policy where you now live. However, the act of moving will qualify you for a special enrollment period to find a comparable Medicare Advantage plan offered in your new hometown. If there is not a plan that meets your needs, you’d then be able to leave Medicare Advantage and go back to Original Medicare.

    Correction: An earlier Ask Phil column included misleading advice to Linda in Seattle. It referred to the existence of Part D drug plans with zero premiums. There are zero premium Medicare Advantage plans that include drug coverage (known as MA-PD plans). But I’ve not been able to find any stand-alone zero premium Part D plans. Part D expenses may be waived for some low-income beneficiaries, but that was not Linda’s situation. The Maven has agreed to read six of his really long past columns aloud as penance.

    The post Big hikes in drug prices make Medicare open enrollment shopping a must appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    "Black Millennials in America" report issued by the Black Youth Project at the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, reflects starkly different attitudes among black, Latino, Asian and white millennials when it comes to policing. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    “Black Millennials in America” report issued by the Black Youth Project at the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, reflects starkly different attitudes among black, Latino, Asian and white millennials when it comes to policing. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Years before the high-profile deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, more than half of African-American millennials indicated they, or someone they knew, had been victimized by violence or harassment from law enforcement, a new report says.

    The information, from the “Black Millennials in America” report issued by the Black Youth Project at the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, reflects starkly different attitudes among black, Latino, Asian and white millennials when it comes to policing, guns and the legal system in the United States. Researchers, who have surveyed millennials several times during the past decade, point out that the disparities existed well before the “Black Lives Matter” movement began.

    In the 2009 Mobilization and Change Survey, 54.4 percent of black millennials answered yes to the question “Have you or anyone you know experienced harassment or violence at the hands of the police?” Almost one-third of whites, 1 in 4 Latinos and 28 percent of Asian-Americans surveyed said yes to the same question.

    This study, released to The Associated Press on Wednesday, comes as the United States grapples with concerns over policing in minority communities following the deaths of Martin, 17, in Florida three years ago, Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri, last year and Gray, 25, in Baltimore earlier this year. Their deaths, as well as those of other black men and women, have inspired nationwide protests under the “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” monikers.

    But even while being the wellspring of those movements, a clear majority of black millennials — 71 percent — said in that same survey they believe police in their neighborhood were “there to protect you.” Eighty-five percent of whites, 76 percent of Hispanics and 89 percent of Asians also said police were in their neighborhood to protect them.

    “We know that young blacks are more likely to be harassed by the police. We know that they are more likely to mistrust their encounters with the police,” said Cathy Cohen, chair of the political science department at the University of Chicago and leader of the Black Youth Project. “But we also know from actually collecting data that a majority of them believe that police in their neighborhood are actually there to protect them, so I think it provides us with more complexity.”

    Another survey done by the project in 2013, the Black Youth Project Quarterly Survey, showed that the percentage of blacks and Latinos who said they knew people who carried guns had declined, but more of them knew someone who was the victim of gun violence. Twenty-four percent of blacks and 22 percent of Latino millennials said they or someone they knew “carried a gun in the last month.” Almost half of white millennials — 46 percent — said they knew of someone who carried a gun.

    However, 22 percent of black millennials and 14 percent of Latino millennials said they or someone they knew were the victim of gun violence in the last year, compared to 8 percent of white millennials.

    It’s not surprising that young blacks and whites feel differently on these issues, given the different experiences the groups are reporting, said Jon Rogowski, an assistant political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis. For example, white millennials don’t report having to explain themselves to police, while millennials of color report that officers stopped them simply to question them about what they were up to, he said.

    “We see story after story about how this leads into a more combative situation which has escalated and led to, in some instances, tragic outcomes,” said Rogowski, who co-authored the Black Millennials In America report. “So the experiences that these different communities have had based on where they live and the kinds of policing procedures that are in place there, we would argue, lead to these different patterns.”

    After arrest, black millennials also don’t believe everyone gets fair treatment from the legal system in the United States. They’re not alone in this feeling, with only 38 percent of all millennials agreeing with the statement that “the American legal system treats all groups fairly” in the 2014 Black Youth Project survey.

    Black millennials are the most pessimistic about the American legal system, with only a little more than 1 in 4 — 26.8 percent – agreeing that the legal system is fair to all. More than a third of other young Americans surveyed — 41 percent for whites, 36.7 percent for Latinos and 38.1 percent for Asians — agreed that everyone gets treated fairly by the legal system.

    But they are also the most optimistic about bringing about change through politics.

    More black millennials — 71 percent — believe that they can make a difference through participating in politics than whites at 52 percent or Latinos at 56 percent, according to their June 2014 survey.

    The 2009 survey was taken between October and November 2008, May and July 2009 and November and January 2010 and included 4,345 people 18 years old and older. The 2014 Black Youth Project Survey consisted of four surveys conducted between 2012 and 2014 and included 6,118 people.

    The surveys were done by GfK Knowledge Network using GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

    Jesse J. Holland covers race, ethnicity and demographics for The Associated Press.

    The post New report reveals half of black millennials know victim of police violence appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday that new rules on toxic pesticides would make working conditions safer for millions of agricultural workers. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. The Senate voted Wednesday to scrap EPA rules to protect streams and wetlands from development. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Despite White House objections, the Senate voted for a resolution Wednesday to scrap new federal rules to protect smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands from development and pollution.

    Senators voted 53-44 in favor of a “resolution of disapproval,” a measure that would void the regulations if also passed by the House and signed by the president. The White House has already said it would veto the resolution.

    On Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked a separate bill that would have required the agencies to withdraw and rewrite the rules. The House had passed similar legislation.

    The Obama administration says the rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May would safeguard drinking water for 117 million Americans. In its veto threat, the White House said that more than 1 in 3 Americans get their drinking water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that are at risk of pollution from upstream sources.

    Republicans and some rural Democrats say the regulations are costly, confusing and a government power grab, giving federal regulators unprecedented control of small bodies of water on private land.

    “I’ve heard from constituents across the state of Iowa who have grave concerns with the ambiguity of this rule,” said Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican sponsor of the resolution. “They are holding off on making conservation improvements to their land, for fear of being later found out of compliance.”

    Federal courts have already put the regulations on hold as they consider a number of lawsuits against the water regulations.

    The rules clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection after two Supreme Court rulings left the reach of the Clean Water Act uncertain. Those decisions in 2001 and 2006 left 60 percent of the nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands without clear federal protection, according to the EPA, causing confusion for landowners and government officials.

    The EPA says the new rules would force a permitting process only if a business or landowner took steps that would pollute or destroy the affected waters — those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected. For example, that could include tributaries that show evidence of flowing water.

    Farm and business groups are among the rules’ chief opponents, and more than half the states have sued the government in an attempt to block them. Officials from states such as Georgia, New Mexico and Wisconsin have suggested the regulations could be harmful to farmers and landowners who might have to pay for extra permits, face work delays or redesign their property to manage small bodies of water on their private land.

    The EPA has argued the criticism is overblown. Since the rules were originally proposed last year, the agency has been working to clear up some misconceptions, like some critics’ assertions that average backyard puddles would be regulated. Current exemptions from the Clean Water Act for farming practices, including plowing, seeding and the movement of livestock, among other things, will continue.

    The post Senate backs resolution to get rid of EPA clean water rules appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Jeff Daniels performs his original song “Wicked World” at the Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks, M.I. on Oct. 23. Video shot by Reid Riddell and edited by Steve Mort.

    Jeff Daniels has appeared in more than 50 Hollywood movies that range in scope from Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” to “Dumb & Dumber” with Jim Carrey. He starred in the Tony Award-winning play “Gods of Carnage” and won an Emmy for his portrayal of a news anchor in the HBO series “The Newsroom.”

    But many people don’t know that Daniels is also a prolific songwriter. He started writing songs just after college when he moved to New York and told the NewsHour that music kept him sane during all the craziness of looking for acting gigs.

    Even now, songwriting still keeps him balanced, he said. “Jim Carrey and I talked about this on the set of ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ — he sculpts and paints to stay sane. I write,” he said. “We’re like sharks: we gotta keep moving, we gotta keep creating.”

    The other thing that Daniels said keeps him balanced: his deep Midwestern roots. Born and raised in Chelsea, M.I. — a rural town of 5,000 people an hour west of Detroit — Daniels and his wife Kathleen made a decision early in his career to forego a life in Los Angeles or New York. Instead, they raised three children in a lakefront home just outside Chelsea.

    Daniels also started a professional theatre company 25 years ago — the Purple Rose Theatre, which draws approximately 45,000 people each year and helps fuel $4 million of business for the town. Daniels does not perform there, but has written 16 plays that have premiered at the theater. His current play, “Casting Session,” is about two out-of-work actors who are desperate to audition for a new play, a story that Daniels said is all too familiar. “You’re just trying to get the next gig, the next job that pays $125 a week,” he said. “And maybe someone will come and see it and get you a better job, but you gotta get this one.”

    He certainly hasn’t had a problem getting jobs lately; this fall, he starred in two major motion pictures, “Steve Jobs” and “The Martian.” Daniels also embarked on a nationwide tour performing his songs with a band that includes his son Ben on guitar. His performances are sprinkled with homespun tales of life in Michigan, and many of the lyrics for his songs were inspired by truisms from his father, who owned a lumberyard in Chelsea.

    For more on Jeff Daniels, watch the PBS NewsHour tonight.

    The post WATCH: Jeff Daniels shows his folk-country roots with original song appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: We look at Rabin’s legacy today, two decades later, with Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East peace envoy, who served in Republican and Democratic administrations, Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist based in Amman, Jordan, and Ari Shavit, an Israeli columnist and author.

    Ari Shavit, 20 years later, do you wonder whether things could have been different had Yitzhak Rabin not been killed?

    ARI SHAVIT, Israeli columnist: Yes, I think there is a chance they would have been different, but I think that the romantic approach that we would have had a perfect ideal peace is somewhat flawed.

    Let me say, first of all, as an Israeli, that Rabin’s murder is a traumatic experience in our nation’s history. In the way, it’s a combination of the murder of Abe Lincoln, John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.

    Rabin wasn’t a saint. He wasn’t a sacred man. He had flaws. But he had an amazing — he wasn’t only courageous, intelligent, and authentic person, but he really tried to end the conflict, the tragedy of the conflict. And he represented a benign, decent, benevolent Israel, something we all yearn for so much today.

    GWEN IFILL: Daoud Kuttab, what of that do you accept and what do you reject?

    DAOUD KUTTAB, Palestinian Journalist: Mr. Rabin was — as Ari said, was no angel. He was the person who spoke very toughly and acted very toughly against the Palestinian intifada. He encouraged the soldiers to break the arms of stone throwers.

    He was a very tough military man, but he did see — did clearly make a conversion in his last days, and he was really interested in trying to find a peaceful solution. And he had that combination of a security man that has been converted and understood the needs for a political resolution to the conflict.

    In that sense, I think he was a rare species that we do not see in these days in the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

    GWEN IFILL: Dennis Ross, you wrote in an op-ed peace in The Los Angeles Times that the last thing that Dennis — that, I mean, Yitzhak Rabin said to you was, “Dennis, expect anything.”

    Twenty years later, what did you expect that was fulfilled and what did you expect that wasn’t?

    DENNIS ROSS, Former Middle East Peace Negotiator: Well, 20 years ago, I didn’t believe, A, that he could be assassinated, because I had a very hard time fathoming that Yitzhak Rabin, who was the embodiment of the Israeli experience, who fought his whole life for Israel, was someone who could be assassinated by an Israeli, number one.

    Number two, had I been able to fathom that, I wouldn’t have believed that, 20 years from that moment, we would be where we are today. I would have believed that, somehow, even if we didn’t have an agreement, we would have found some kind of greater basis for coexistence, some kind of greater basis for separation of these two peoples.

    There are, after all, two national movements competing for the same space. And I suspect that some kind of greater basis of stability between the two — to be fair, I also didn’t expect that we would be seeing within the Middle East as a whole a breakdown of the state system, Arab states themselves being really put at risk.

    The region as a whole is not what I expected at that point, certainly, when I was thinking back 20 years ago.

    GWEN IFILL: Ari Shavit, as you look back and you look forward, do you see — do you think that Israelis believe anymore, just in general — I know you can’t speak for everyone — that a two-state solution is possible?

    ARI SHAVIT: I think that most Israelis still want a two-state way. They want to move forward. They want some sort of peace.

    But they are traumatized by the failures of all the previous attempts to bring about a comprehensive, complete, idyllic, utopian peace. And in this sense, the Rabin legacy, so to speak, is really relevant, because Rabin wasn’t a utopian. The fact that he was a general, he was tough, he was a skeptic, he was — he didn’t come with a kind of Mother Teresa approach to the conflict, that gave him a lot of credibility within Israel.

    And I think that would have given him the ability to deal much better with the conflict. And in a sense, what we need today in Israel is a Rabin-like of leadership, because the right went — became an extreme right, and the left endured some sort of romantic view of peace, which most Israelis do not buy.

    GWEN IFILL: Daoud Kuttab, that’s a tall order that Ari Shavit just laid out there.

    From the Palestinian point of view, where is the leadership coming from, and does it — can it — can it achieve what we just heard outlined there, or is that even something you want?

    DAOUD KUTTAB: My generation might still be interested in a two-state solution, but my son and their generation, they’re not interested in two-state solution.

    They look at us as being stupid and being fooled by the Israelis who kept us going for a long time, and at the same time they were building Jewish settlements. I mean, since Rabin’s death, we have had twice or three times the size of the Jewish settlements.

    So they’re saying there should just be one state, and we should find some kind of a solution where there is equal rights for everybody. So there is a big problem right now among Palestinians, in the fact that they feel that the idea of two-state solution was just a farce, and that we were giving too many opportunities for this idea of peace talks, and they went nowhere. Yet we were losing our land in the meanwhile.

    GWEN IFILL: Dennis Ross, you have been at more of these negotiation tables than you can probably count. Do you harbor any hope or expectation of interests converging? And does the U.S. play a role in that anymore?

    DENNIS ROSS: I’m pessimistic in the near term, because, in a sense, what Daoud just described as a reality on the Palestinian side in some ways is mirrored by the Israelis side, not in the sense of wanting a one-state outcome, but in the level of disbelief that exists on the part of both populations.

    Israelis don’t believe that the Palestinians will ever accept a two-state outcome that accepts Israel as a state of the Jewish people. Palestinians don’t believe that Israelis will ever accept a genuinely independent Palestinian state. And the starting point has to be change the realities on the ground, begin to restore a level of belief on each side that shows that a two-state outcome actually could be possible.

    I think the U.S. can play a role, but I also think one of the things that’s going to have to change, given the weakness and dysfunction on the Palestinian side, I think that the Arab states are going to have to play a different kind of role. They’re going to have to play a role where they provide a kind of cover for Palestinians to be able to make adjustments or compromises, and they also provide a response to the Israelis, where the Israelis feel, if they make basic compromises or concessions towards the Palestinians, the reciprocation will come as much, if not more, from the Arabs than it will come from the Palestinians.

    It’s a tall order, and, basically, I don’t think many in the region right now are looking at the U.S. administration to be able to manage something like that.

    GWEN IFILL: Dennis Ross, Daoud Kuttab, and Ari Shavit, thank you all for sharing with us.

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    Portrait taken on August 24, 1993 shows Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as he inaugurates a new water desalination plant in the occupied Gaza Strip. The plant, built by the Israeli Civil Adminsitration, will add 20% to the city's water supply.   AFP PHOTO SVEN NACKSTRAND        (Photo credit should read SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

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    GWEN IFILL: Now: the elusive goal of peace in the Middle East.

    Two decades ago, there was a moment of hope.

    But, as chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports, the assassination that shattered that momentum still resonates today.

    MARGARET WARNER: One hundred thousand people swelled the crowd at a Tel Aviv peace rally 20 years ago tonight, as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took the microphone to speak.

    YITZHAK RABIN, Prime Minister, Israel (through interpreter): We know how to make peace, and not just sing about peace.

    MARGARET WARNER: But minutes later, he was fatally gunned down by a 27-year-old Jewish ultra-nationalist opposed to his peace efforts with the Palestinians.

    Rabin was nearing the end of a reelection campaign and pressing forward with peace initiatives on several fronts. He’d already signed the historic Oslo accords in Washington in 1993, famously shaking hands with Yasser Arafat, head the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO.

    For the first time, Israelis and Palestinians agreed to acknowledge each other’s right to exist.

    YITZHAK RABIN: We, who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears, enough.


    MARGARET WARNER: A year later, Rabin signed yet another historic agreement, this one with King Hussein of Jordan, to normalize relations between the two countries. His actions stirred a fierce backlash from right-wing Israelis and Jewish settlers, who saw them as steps toward forfeiting the occupied territories.

    The vilification of Rabin came despite his war hero background; 27 years a soldier, he began with an elite Jewish strike force in the 1940s. And after Israel’s founding in 1948, he rose through the ranks to become the military’s chief of staff.

    Rabin went on to oversee Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, winning control of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. As defense minister in 1987, he put down the first Palestinian intifada, instructing his troops to use — quote — “force, power, and blows.”

    He was elected prime minister twice, first in 1974 and then again in 1992, campaigning on the possibility of peace.

    YITZHAK RABIN: I believe that within six to nine months, it will be possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinian delegation about establishment of autonomy.

    MARGARET WARNER: That vision was praised at his funeral attended by 80 heads of state, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, President Bill Clinton, and King Hussein of Jordan.

    KING HUSSEIN BIN TALAL, Jordan: He had courage. He had vision, and he had a commitment to peace. And standing here, I commit before you, before my people in Jordan, before the world, myself to continue to do my utmost to ensure that we leave a similar legacy.

    MARGARET WARNER: But within six months, right-wing party leader Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister after campaigning on a promise not to hand back captured land to Arabs. He began a second stint as prime minister in 2009.

    All post-Rabin efforts to forge peace encouraged by the United States have foundered. Last weekend, Israelis marked the assassination anniversary with a memorial rally in what is now Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Thousands attended, including former Israeli President Shimon Peres and former President Clinton.

    PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: The next step will be determined by whether you decide that Yitzhak Rabin was right, that you have to share the future with your neighbors, that you have to give their children a chance, too, that you have to stand for peace, that the risks for peace are not as severe as the risk of walking away from it.

    MARGARET WARNER: But with a new wave of Palestinian-Israeli violence under way, it’s not clear that anyone will take that risk any time soon.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Margaret Warner.

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    GWEN IFILL: But, first, natural gas is often considered a cleaner fuel than coal. It emits about half as much carbon dioxide. But the main component in natural gas is another greenhouse gas: methane.

    As special correspondent Kathleen McCleery explains, that’s why both environmentalists and the energy industry are trying to find ways to capture leaks from oil and gas facilities.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: You can’t see it with the naked eye, but methane gas is escaping into the air around this well in Northwestern New Mexico.

    MAN: Oh, yes. Yes, boy, it’s just blowing up out of the — off the side of it here.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: You can see the methane, along with other emissions, with the help of an infrared camera, this one operated by the environmental group Earthworks.

    WOMAN: There’s a lot of leaking coming from both of those valve boxes.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Methane is the primary component of natural gas. It’s also a greenhouse gas. Like carbon dioxide, it traps energy in the atmosphere, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, contributes to climate change. CO2 is far more prevalent, but methane is much more potent.

    MANVENDRA DUBEY, Los Alamos National Laboratory: Methane is about 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas on a 100-year horizon than CO2.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Los Alamos atmospheric scientist Manvendra Dubey was measuring carbon dioxide, not methane, last year when NASA released satellite images, including this one showing a 2,500-square-mile hot spot centered over the Four Corners area, where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet.

    MANVENDRA DUBEY: They showed that, over Four Corners, methane was enhanced. It was the — kind of the hottest methane spot in the whole of continental U.S.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Now, Dubey and others are tracking methane through ground and aerial investigations aimed at finding the sources of the hot spot. Some emissions seep out of coal beds here in the San Juan Basin. Some come from agriculture, including cows. Winds allow the gas to pool in the river basin surrounded by mountains.

    Nationwide, the EPA traces the largest amount, about 30 percent, to natural gas and petroleum. But the industry doesn’t accept that figure yet.

    Wally Drangmeister, vice president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, wants the ongoing research to examine all sources.

    WALLY DRANGMEISTER, Vice President, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association: There are natural outcroppings. There’s coal mining. There’s a lot of other activities, and so we’d really like to see the science completed, so that we’re not just the only industry or the only source that’s getting blamed.

    JANE SCHREIBER, Owner, Devil’s Spring Ranch: We’re in the middle of nowhere, but, yes, basically, we’re kind of in the middle of that hot spot.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: At Devil’s Spring Ranch, Don and Jane Schreiber worry about the natural gas wells on their property. They took us along on a tour in their retrofitted school bus when the Earthworks team visited recently.

    BRUCE BAIZEL, Energy Program Director, Earthworks: If you see leakage coming on this camera, there is leakage, and there’s really no argument about it anymore.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: The Schreibers’ concern goes beyond climate change to the air they’re breathing, because other chemicals like benzene are emitted along with the methane.

    DON SCHREIBER, Owner, Devil’s Spring Ranch: It’s got to be bad, and now we know it is, and it’s in that cloud, and it’s a very, very sobering thing.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Companies can drill here because of a law called split estate. The Schreibers own the land above ground, but the mineral rights below, in this case owned by the federal government, can be leased to oil and gas companies.

    More than 120 wells dot the Schreibers’ ranch, just a fraction of the tens of thousands in the nation’s second largest natural gas field.

    JANE SCHREIBER: We went to three wells today. Every one of them were either venting or leaking. And those were, you know, less than a mile from our house.

    DON SCHREIBER: Well, there are 20,000 existing wells here now, most of them acting just exactly like the wells we saw today.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: The Environmental Defense Fund has spearheaded multiple studies on methane emissions. Its energy policy manager says the problem is not a tough one to solve.

    JON GOLDSTEIN, Energy Policy Manager, Environmental Defense Fund: Literally, the problem is being looked at by rocket scientists. But the solutions are largely plumbing. We are talking about fixing pipes, stopping them from leaking at natural gas production sites, and that’s stuff that we know how to do.

    TOM MULLINS, CEO, Synergy Operating, LLC: Anywhere that we have methane usage, you would be concerned if you have leaks.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Industry is hunting and fixing methane emissions, says Tom Mullins, who owns part of an oil and gas company in Farmington. We met on the campus of San Juan College’s School of Energy, which offers hands-on training.

    TOM MULLINS: We have been applying technology, you know, identifying leaks that are out there. You know, we do that on a daily basis, as all good industry folks would do.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: For industry, doing green is nice. Seeing green is even better. Captured methane can be sold, since it’s essentially natural gas. That’s good for companies and taxpayers.

    TOM MULLINS: We’re in the business of producing methane, and we would like to get paid for it, and we would like the public to get paid for their share of that methane. Here in New Mexico, the — basically the entire public school system, both at K-12 and then the higher educational system, is funded from the revenues from oil and gas royalties.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: The desire to recoup emissions has sparked technological innovations. Jason Libersky’s company, Quantigy Engineering, designs compressors that vacuum vapors off storage tanks.

    JASON LIBERSKY, CEO, Quantigy Engineering: What we do now is basically provide suction to these tanks that just suck off the gases that would be normally be released to the atmosphere.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: And so this essentially is a vacuum cleaner?

    JASON LIBERSKY: Exactly, a high-dollar vacuum cleaner.


    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: That vacuum can cost upwards of $50,000. Infrared cameras can be twice that. Even this tiny control valve has a stiff price tag for small producers.

    TOM MULLINS: The little item is a $400 item, so you can see that this items has — there’s two of those on this particular unit, so that’s an $800 item. Some of our marginal type wells might not make $800 profit in a year.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Oil and gas prices are low right now. But natural gas production in the U.S. is on the upswing, and is expected to grow more than 50 percent over the next 25 years. That means emissions are likely to increase, too, unless measures are taken to reduce them.

    Last year, Colorado, New Mexico’s neighbor to the north, became the first state to clamp down on methane emissions. Now federal rules are in the works. Proposed EPA standards, when combined with other federal actions, could cut emissions from 2012 levels by 40 to 45 percent by the year 2025 and require semi-annual inspections of production facilities.

    The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees public lands, mostly in the West, has drafted a new rule aimed at reducing wasteful flaring, venting and leaking of natural gas. But the details and timetable aren’t known yet.

    Industry doesn’t want more regulation.

    WALLY DRANGMEISTER: A good example might be something like the fact that they call for using of infrared cameras many times a year on every well. Well, that’s something that could cause low-producing wells that are late in their life to just become uneconomical and have to plugged.

    Environmentalists say the EPA proposals are a good start, but don’t go far enough.

    BRUCE BAIZEL: It wouldn’t cover a well like this because it’s — this is an existing well. It will only cover new wells. But you have got to get some kind of regulation in place in the first instance, and I’m real glad they’re doing that.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: Still, no matter the method, cutting methane emissions is a goal shared by industry, government and environmentalists.

    JON GOLDSTEIN: If you are concerned about climate change, it’s important for those reasons. If you’re concerned about waste of a natural resource, it’s important for those reasons as well. It’s really a win-win issue.

    KATHLEEN MCCLEERY: I’m Kathleen McCleery, for the “PBS NewsHour” in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.

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    Man on the edge of pier

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Death rates in the United States have declined steadily for decades. But a study out this week found a disturbing reversal in mortality rates for white Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 who do not hold a college degree.

    For that group, the rate of death has climbed since 1999, even as rates for people of different ages, races and education levels have continued to fall. The causes of death driving the reversal were suicide, alcohol-related liver diseases, and prescription opioids and heroin overdoses.

    I’m joined now by one of the study’s authors, Anne Case. She is a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University. And by Dante Chinni. He’s a data reporter and he’s director of the American Communities Project, a political science and journalism program at Michigan State University that uses data to look at social, political and cultural divides.

    And welcome to you both.

    Professor Case, let me begin with you.

    You have said that when you and your husband, who is Professor Angus Deaton — he’s the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize, and he was the co-author of this study — that when you came across these numbers, you basically stumbled across this information, and that he said you practically fell out of your chairs. It was that surprising?

    ANNE CASE, Princeton University: It is that surprising.

    After so many decades in which mortality rates fell at 2 percent a year, and the fact that in all of the sister countries that we compare ourselves to, all the wealthy countries of Europe and all the English-speaking countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, with their mortality rates also falling at 2 percent a year, to suddenly see this reversal was really stunning.

    And it has been stunning to all of the medical people, the epidemiologists that we have talked to as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s already — Professor Case, it’s already being labeled by some as despair-related deaths. What is it particularly about this — these mortality — this mortality rate that stood out to you?

    ANNE CASE: The fact that there are several parts of this that are puzzles that we have to dig into further, the fact that it’s men and women, mortality rates by suicide, by drug overdose, by alcohol-related deaths rising for all of — for both men and women, the fact that it’s not happening in the African-American community, it’s not happening in the Hispanic community, and it’s not happening abroad.

    So, all of those things stood out to us as puzzle pieces that we have to look into further to figure out, what are the root causes of this? We know the proximate causes, drug overdose, availability of prescription opioids. But I think the next round of research will be to look at the deeper causes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Dante Chinni, how does this square with what you have been seeing as you have looked at the American — Americans everywhere and as you think about this cohort we’re talking about, middle-aged Americans, 45-54, white? What have you seen?

    DANTE CHINNI, American Communities Project: Well, the way I look at the country, the breakdown we do at the American Communities Project, is there are large segments of America that are made up of large chunks of this population.

    So, they tend to be rural, white, not high education levels, or high school, no bachelor’s or even a community college degree. And the places those populations are heavily based are the Bible Belt, what we call evangelical hubs, the Appalachian America, which is what we call working-class country, and then graying America, which is kind of more based in the North and the West, but populations, again, elderly — more — I don’t want to say elderly, but older people and people without a lot of college degrees, overwhelmingly white.

    What do we know about those places? Higher unemployment rates than the national average, higher unemployment rates than other kinds of communities in the country.

    The other thing that really sticks out about them is, beyond the unemployment rate, which can be a little bit deceptive, there is the work force participation rate. In these places, you’re talking about all these communities I just outlined, 44 percent, 45 percent of the population not in the work force.

    Now, look, some of that is probably due to people have retired or they want to stay at home. But I think when you combine that with the higher unemployment rates in those areas, I think what you’re really seeing is, in terms of the difficulty of finding a way to make a living, right?

    It’s a much — it’s a tougher life in these places now. I think a lot of this has to do with the decline of small manufacturing in these places. Tougher rural life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you think about — Professor Case, you think about what’s happened in this country to the economy over the last 15 years, we can’t, of course, jump to any conclusions, but we know jobs — there’s been a huge change in the job picture.

    We know American manufacturing has taken a big hit. What sorts of questions does all this raise for you?

    ANNE CASE: It’s — one of the questions is why it is the case that the employment-to-population ratio has fallen so dramatically, especially among women.

    In our surveys, we were able to look at morbidity, as well as mortality, so we can actually find out how people are, what their general health is like, what their mental health is like, and there’s been a doubling in this 15-year period among people aged 45-54 who report that they’re unable to work.

    So, this used to be the period of time when people were at their highest earnings capacity. And to see these people, upwards of 10 percent of the white population, saying that they’re not able to work is really troubling.

    It used to be the case that, with a high school degree, you could get a good job, you could get a job with benefits, you could get a job that was stable, that you had job security. And I think people’s narratives of their own lives had in them having a job, and the fact that these jobs are gone and they’re not coming back any time soon leads people to despair.

    And they report themselves in worse health. They report lower mental health, a lot more stress, a lot more distress. And I think these mortality rates just reflect that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Dante Chinni, I mean, I — you’re nodding your head as she’s saying all this. I mean, this does seem to dovetail with at least the circumstances that you find in your research.

    DANTE CHINNI: Yes, absolutely.

    I mean, I can’t — I would love to get the professor’s data and run a geographic analysis on it to see if we’re seeing these things fall in line with what I’m expecting. But this is exactly what we’re talking about.

    Look, in a lot of these places, when you lose a job, particularly if you’re in your 40s, there’s not a lot of places to go. There’s certainly not a lot of places to go to get a job where you can earn similar to what you were earning before. Maybe the benefits go away. Maybe the health insurance goes away.

    If you go out to some of these places, not just rural America, but there’s a category that we look at call the middle suburbs, and they’re based — they’re overwhelmingly white. They’re primarily based in the Industrial Midwest, the Northeast, around Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit. Milwaukee, you see some of it.

    You have large white populations. A lot of these were high school-educated people who did make a really good living. They had a good life. Their parents had a good life. They had a good life. And all of a sudden, the rules changed, right? And the idea that a high school education was good enough, it wasn’t good enough anymore. It wasn’t good enough to have the cabin up north anymore.

    And, suddenly, it wasn’t good enough to have a job anymore. And that’s a very hard thing to deal with. We will see. Again, we have got to take another couple cuts at this data, right, and see what’s there. But it certainly does fit the profile.


    Well, it’s clear that there is going to be more research. At least, it looks as if there is going to be more research based on what you have done.

    Professor Case, thank you very much for joining us. Professor Anne Case at Princeton and Dante Chinni here in Washington, we appreciate it.

    DANTE CHINNI: Thanks.

    ANNE CASE: Thanks very much.

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    Increasingly, more and more states are moving toward some form of early voting. Photo by Flickr user Erik Hersman

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    GWEN IFILL: From a significant win in a key governor’s race to a number of ballot initiatives, conservatives had a big day at the polls yesterday.

    It was one of the night’s headline issues. Supporters hoped Ohio would be the first Midwestern state to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. But by nearly 2-1, voters gave that a resounding no. The same conservative wave cost Kentucky Democrats their longtime hold on the governor’s mansion. Attorney General Jack Conway lost to Republican Matt Bevin, who opposed the federal health care law and gay marriage.

    MATT BEVIN (R), Kentucky Governor-Elect: I’m grateful that you all went to the ballot box. And those that are watching, and those that have collectively decided that we want a fresh start, that we want to turn the page, this is your Kentucky.

    GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, in Houston, an ordinance to curb discrimination against gays and transgender people went down to defeat.

    Outgoing Mayor Annise Parker, the nation’s only lesbian mayor, lamented the outcome.

    ANNISE PARKER (D), Mayor of Houston, Texas: I fear that this will have stained Houston’s reputation as a tolerant, welcoming global city. And I absolutely fear that there will be a direct economic backlash as a result of this ordinance going into defeat.

    GWEN IFILL: But the Family Research Council and other conservative groups praised the result. Council President Tony Perkins called it “a rallying cry for those tired of seeing their freedoms trampled in a politically correct stampede to redefine marriage and sexuality.”

    In San Francisco, it was freedom to rent that topped the ballot. Voters handed a victory to the online site Airbnb, which was founded in the city by the bay, refusing to limit how often home owners may rent out rooms.

    For more on last night’s results, we turn now to Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report, and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Houston bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times.

    Stu, the Republicans or conservative causes had gains on issues. They had gains on candidates. Let’s start in Kentucky. How did Matt Bevin confound the polls?

    STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report: Well, Gwen, you’re right. Almost all the pollsters got it wrong, and there are a number of possible explanations.

    To some extent, they always had Jack Conway, the Democrat, running in the mid-40s, but with a two- to five-point lead. He ended up losing, but he also got in the mid-40s, just what they predicted. It could have been that the undecided voters swung, swung dramatically to the Republican.

    On the other hand, I think it’s more likely that it was a late break in cultural issues, social issues, issues like Planned Parenthood funding that’s — that’s been a big issue — same-sex marriage, religious liberty. Cultural issues seem to take hold.

    And, also, there’s one other thing I think you have to consider. That is, Kentucky has been moving Republican over the past few decades. And it is now reliably Republican in federal races. State races tend to be different. The minority party, the wrong party, can sometimes win statewide offices.

    But in this case, Republicans did go to the Barack Obama well again and again, and it may well be that these Republicans voters just decided they couldn’t vote for a Democrat for governor.

    GWEN IFILL: You talk about trends. There was, obviously, a trend towards Republicans in Kentucky. But on social issues like in Ohio, the marijuana legalization vote, there have always been — we have always been headed in the other direction, and Ohio said no resoundingly.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, in Ohio, it might have been just too much, too fast in terms of recreational marijuana usage.

    But it was more than that. It was the ballot measure itself. Sometimes, the actual structure of the measures matter. And in this case, I think that folks in Ohio were unhappy that a select group of growers and investors were going to get, in fact, a monopoly on this in Ohio on marijuana.

    And that was a significant factor. And it’s funny. There are people who supported legalization of marijuana who opposed this initiative.

    GWEN IFILL: Because of the way it was structured.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Because of the structure of the measure.

    GWEN IFILL: You know, we don’t pay enough attention to what happens in statehouses, but in Virginia last night, there had been a big push for Democrats to try to take control of the statehouse, and it didn’t work out.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: It didn’t because the Republicans held their seats and the Democrats held their seats, and so the Republicans still have a 21-19 advantage in the Virginia State Senate.

    On one level, that’s so — what else is new? Nothing’s new, really. But this was a bit of a black eye for the governor, Terry McAuliffe, known as a great fund-raiser and a savvy political operative, a friend of the Clintons, all the Clintons. He could not work his magic and flip a seat, so that the Democrats control the Senate.

    It doesn’t — I don’t think it fundamentally changes the dynamic of the politics there. But it is an embarrassment for the governor.

    GWEN IFILL: Molly Hennessy-Fiske, how did the Houston discrimination ordinance, or anti-discrimination ordinance, how did it rise and how did it fall?

    MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE, Los Angeles Times: Well, it lost pretty resoundingly 61 to 39 percent.

    Both sides had thought that it was going to be a very close race. The mayor had championed it, made it a personal cause of hers, Mayor Annise Parker. The city council had already voted for it and approved it, and then there was this protracted legal battle and political battle that led to it being placed on the ballot.

    So it was a pretty big victory for the conservatives who had petitioned and sued to get it put on the ballot, put to a vote, and now they’d like to have it all put to rest, but some folks are still vowing to fight for it.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, let’s be clear. This was an ordinance that would have prohibited discrimination against gays and — LGBT individuals…

    MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE: That’s right.

    GWEN IFILL: … which had passed in other cities around Texas, but this became defined differently.

    And let’s listen to a little bit of one ad that we heard. It was Houston Astros star Lance Berkman. Let’s listen.

    LANCE BERKMAN, Houston Astros: I’m Lance Berkman. I played professional baseball for 15 years, but my family is more important. My wife and I have four daughters. Proposition 1 would allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women’s bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms. It’s better to prevent this danger by closing women’s restrooms to men, rather than waiting for a crime to happen.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Molly, this was about transgender issues, not really about anti-discrimination in the end. It was redefined.

    MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE: Well, it depends who is talking about it.

    I would say both sides would probably say it’s more complicated than that. This measure did end up getting dubbed the bathroom ordinance, like you heard in that ad by a former Houston Astro. But even the conservatives who scored a victory with this said it means more to them than that. They felt like the other thing that was at issue was religious liberty, that if, for instance, a florist was asked by a same-sex couple to do the, you know, flowers for their wedding, that if they said no, under this ordinance, they could face penalties or be sued.

    And the pro-ordinance campaign has said it was about way more than bathrooms. In fact, the mayor repeatedly said that the ordinance didn’t specifically talk about bathrooms, and she felt like that was a lot of fear-mongering and a scare tactic that spread a lot of misinformation, and that today she even said at a press conference that she felt like the voters weren’t really voting about what the ordinance was really about.

    GWEN IFILL: But in the end, that’s what redefinition — redefining things does. But in the end, they also were able to appeal to black churches, for instance, to take the side against the ordinance, which you would think an anti-discrimination ordinance would be appealing to African-Americans.

    MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE: That’s right. And I talked to some of those pastors as the campaign was going on who were very upset, not just because of the ordinance and what it says and what they feared it might do, but also because, in the process of the legal battle, the city had subpoenaed some of their sermons.

    And they really got their backs up about that, felt like that was an infringement on freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, and even though the city backed off, they felt like they were under attack and they had to work to lobby against this.

    GWEN IFILL: And there is a mayoral runoff which is also — this may get played out against in Houston.

    Stu, it’s always possible to overreach and overinterpret these from a national point of view, but I wonder what the parties, the individual parties and the wings of those parties are taking from all these results yesterday.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, the Republicans, at least in their P.R. releases, are saying something big happened, a string of Republican victories in Virginia. They’re predicting that this shows the turnaround, Virginia’s coming back the Republican column.

    I’m hesitant to read very much outside of Kentucky, the particular circumstances in Ohio and Houston, example. Look, next year, we’re going to have a different kind of election with a different kind of electorate, where the election will be about — I’m not sure what it’s going to be about, but it could be about Hillary Clinton or the Republican nominee or the Middle East or health care.

    And once we know that, then we will have a better sense on the ebb and flow of the campaigns and the general lay of the land of the election.

    GWEN IFILL: Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report, and Molly Hennessy-Fiske of The L.A. Times, thank you both very much.


    The post Who voted for what and why on Election Day appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The remains of a Russian airliner are inspected by military investigators at the crash site at the al-Hasanah area in El Arish city, north Egypt, November 1, 2015. Russia has grounded Airbus A321 jets flown by the Kogalymavia airline, Interfax news agency reported on Sunday, after one of its fleet crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany - RTX1U8XA

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s growing talk tonight that a bomb brought down that Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The Metrojet passenger plane broke up and crashed Saturday on a flight from Sharm el-Sheikh to Saint Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board.

    Now the Associated Press and others say U.S. intelligence believes Islamic State militants may have planted the bomb.

    That follows similar reports out of Cairo and London, as we hear from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

    ALEX THOMSON: After days of inevitable speculation based upon not much, today, something altogether more substantial appears to be building.

    Early this afternoon, Egyptian media reports indicated the plane had suffered an explosion in one engine. They sourced this to black box flight recorder investigations, which continue, then the statement from Downing Street that, as more information has come to light — quote — “We have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.”

    PATRICK MCLOUGHLIN, British Transportation Secretary: As a precautionary measure, we have decided that flights due to leave Sharm el-Sheikh this evening for the U.K. will be delayed. And that will allow us time to ensure that the right security measures are in place for flights.

    ALEX THOMSON: Extra consular staff has also been sent to Sharm’s airport to assist British holiday makers. There are currently around 15,000 tourists in the resort from Britain.

    Downing Street said it recognizes these moves will cause some anxiety, but its travel advice for Sharm remains unchanged. Essentially, The Foreign Office advises Red Sea resorts are fine, but many other areas, Sinai in particular, where the Russian plane came down, should be considered off-limits.

    GWEN IFILL: At least 36 people died in a cargo plane crash in South Sudan today. The Russian-built plane went down shortly after taking off from the capital, Juba, headed for a region of oil fields. Wreckage was strewn across a wide area along the banks of the Nile River. Early indications were that security officials may have allowed too many people on board.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Malaysia, disputes over China’s claims in the South China Sea dominated a meeting of U.S. and Asian defense ministers. The gathering ended without a public statement, when China insisted there be no mention of territorial disputes.

    Later, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter played down the tensions, but acknowledged China’s neighbors are worried.

    ASHTON CARTER, Secretary of Defense: I had no expectation that everyone would agree on the South China Sea or any other issue. That’s the reason for this forum, is to discuss these issues, and that reflects, I, think the level of concern that was reflected in the conversation about activities in the South China Sea.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Carter also defended U.S. Navy patrols in the contested waters. To underscore the point, he will be on the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt as it transits the South China Sea on Thursday.

    GWEN IFILL: Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was sworn in today. He took office during a ceremony in Ottawa, becoming, at the age of 43, the country’s second youngest prime minister ever. Trudeau succeeds Conservative Stephen Harper.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the U.S. presidential race, the filing period opened for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary in February. Donald Trump was the first major candidate on the Republican side to submit his papers and pay the $1,000 filing fee. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley registered on the Democratic side. He’s been a distant also-ran, but he said voters are just starting to focus on the election.

    GWEN IFILL: The chair of the Federal Reserve is suggesting again that short-term interest rates could rise before year’s end. Speaking at a House committee hearing today, Janet Yellen said the Fed has yet to make a final decision. She told lawmakers it all depends on whether the economy is still performing well, as well as other key factors.

    JANET YELLEN, Chair, Federal Reserve: If the incoming information supports that expectation, then our statement indicates that December would be a live possibility, but, importantly, that we have made no decision about it.

    GWEN IFILL: Separately, Yellen warned that the nation’s biggest banks still aren’t doing enough to guard against serious financial shocks.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest look at Europe’s economy shows it’s growing only modestly. A closely-watched monthly survey, out today, found that economic activity across the Eurozone isn’t enough to make a dent in unemployment. That could push the European Central Bank to increase its stimulus efforts.

    GWEN IFILL: Volkswagen stock plummeted nearly 10 percent in European trading today after a new revelation. The company acknowledged Tuesday it understated dioxide emissions for some 800,000 cars, most of them in Europe.

    And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 50 points to close below 17870. The Nasdaq fell two points, and the S&P 500 slid seven.

    The post News Wrap: Talk grows of Islamic State bomb on downed Metrojet plane appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Home finances. related words: seniors, Social Secuirty, bills, personal finance Photo by  Izabela Habur/Getty Images

    The budget compromise forged by Congress and the Obama administration at the end of last month makes two fundamental changes in Social Security. Unfortunately, neither of these changes gets to the root issue: that spousal and survivor benefits are unfair. Photo by Izabela Habur/Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: The budget deal signed into law on Monday includes a number of changes to Social Security and cuts benefits to millions of Americans.

    We asked Eugene Steuerle, Richard Fisher Chair at the Urban Institute, to comment on the changes to Social Security. Steuerle, a former deputy assistant secretary of the treasury for tax analysis and author of the book “Dead Men Ruling,” chaired the 1999 Technical Panel advising Social Security on its methods and assumptions.

    Below, Steuerle argues that the recent reform to Social Security replaces one unfair structure of spousal benefits with another. In the Social Security system, those who pay the most, he argues, are single individuals and married couples with roughly equal earnings.

    We’ll continue publishing updates on what this new law means for your Social Security benefits. Stay tuned.

    Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor

    The budget compromise forged by Congress and the Obama administration at the end of last month makes two fundamental changes in Social Security. First, it denies a worker the opportunity to take a spousal benefit and simultaneously delay his or her own worker benefit. Second, it stops the “file and suspend” technique, where a worker files for retirement benefits then suspends them in order to generate a spousal benefit.

    Unfortunately, neither of these changes gets to the root issue: that spousal and survivor benefits are unfair, although the reform redefines who wins and who loses. Social Security spousal and survivor benefits are so peculiarly designed that they would be judged illegal and discriminatory if private pension or retirement plans tried to implement them. They violate the simple notion of equal justice under the law. And as far as the benefits are meant to adequately support spouses and dependents in retirement, they are badly and regressively targeted.

    As designed, spousal and survivor benefits are “free” add-ons: a worker pays no additional taxes for them. Imagine you and I earn the same salary and have the same life expectancy, but I have a non-working spouse and you are unmarried. We pay the same Social Security taxes, but while I am alive and retired, my family’s annual benefits will be 50 percent higher than yours because of my non-working spouse’s benefits. If I die first, she’ll get years of my full worker benefit as survivor benefits.

    Today, spousal and survivor benefits are often worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the non-working spouse. If both spouses work, on the other hand, the add-on is reduced by any benefit the second worker earns in his or her own right.

    An historical artifact, spousal and survivor benefits were based on the notion that the stereotypical woman staying home and taking care of children needed additional support. That stereotype was never very accurate. And today a much larger share of the population, including those with children, is single or divorced. Plus, many people have been married more than once, and most married couples have two earners who pay Social Security taxes.

    Where does the money for spousal and survivor benefits come from? In the private sector, a worker pays for survivor or spousal benefits by taking an actuarially fair reduction in his or her own benefit. In the Social Security system, single individuals and married couples with roughly equal earnings pay the most:

    • Single people and individuals who have not been married for 10 years to any one person pay for spousal and survivor benefits, but don’t get them. This group includes many single heads of households raising children.
    • Couples with roughly equal earnings usually gain little or nothing from spousal and survivor benefits. Their worker benefit is higher than any spousal benefit, and their survivor benefit is roughly the same as their worker benefit.

    The vast majority of couples with unequal earnings fall between the big winners and big losers.

    Such a system causes innumerable inequities:

    • A poor or middle-income single head of household raising children will pay tens of thousands of dollars more in taxes and often receive tens of thousands of dollars fewer in benefits than a high-income spouse who doesn’t work, doesn’t pay taxes and doesn’t raise children.
    • A one-worker couple earning $80,000 annually gets tens of thousands of dollars more in expected benefits than a two-worker couple with each spouse earning $40,000, even though the two-worker couple pays the same amount of taxes and typically has higher work expenses.
    • A person divorcing after nine years and 11 months of marriage gets no spousal or survivor benefits, while one divorcing at 10 years and one month gets the same full benefit as one divorcing after 40 years.
    • In many European countries that created benefit systems around the same stereotypical stay-at-home woman, the spousal benefits are more equal among classes. In the United States, spouses who marry the richest workers get the most.
    • One worker can generate multiple spousal and survivor benefits through several marriages, yet not pay a dime extra.
    • Because of the lack of fair actuarial adjustment by age, a man with a much younger wife will receive much higher family benefits than one with a wife roughly the same age as him.

    When Social Security reform eliminated the earnings test in 2000 and provided a delayed retirement credit after the normal retirement age, some couples figured out ways to get some extra spousal benefits (and sometimes child benefits) for a few years. After the normal retirement age (today, age 66), they weren’t “deemed” to apply for worker and spousal benefits at the same time, allowing them to build up retirement credits even while receiving spousal benefits. Other couples, through “file and suspend,” got spousal benefits for a few years while neither spouse received worker benefits.

    These games were played by a select few, although the numbers were increasing. Social Security personnel almost never alerted people to these opportunities and often led them to make disadvantageous choices. Over the years, I’ve met many highly educated people who are totally surprised by this structure. Larry Kotlikoff, in particular, has formally provided advice through multiple venues.

    So is tightening the screws on one leak among many fair? It penalizes both those who already have unfairly high benefits and those who get less than a fair share. It reduces the reward for game playing, but like all transitions, it penalizes those who laid out retirement plans based on this game being available. It cuts back only modestly and haphazardly on the long-term deficit. As for the single parents raising children — perhaps the most sympathetic group in this whole affair — they got no free spousal and survivor benefits before, and they get none after.

    The right way to reform this part of Social Security would be to first design spousal and survivor benefits in an actuarially fair way. Then, we need better target any additional redistributions on those with lower incomes or higher needs in retirement, through minimum benefits and other adjustments that would apply to all workers, whether single or married, not just to spouses and survivors.

    As long as we keep reforming Social Security ad hoc, we can expect these benefit inequities to continue. I fear that the much larger reform required to restore some long-term sustainability to the system will simply consolidate a bunch of ad hoc reforms and maintain these inequities for generations.

    The post Column: Recent Social Security reform doesn’t fix unfair spousal benefits appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will hold his first formal weekly news conference from the Capitol, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. EST. Watch a live stream above.

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    In a new biography that's being released next week, former President George H.W. Bush criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfield, who were major influences within his son's administration. Photo by Donna Carson/Reuters

    In a new biography that’s being released next week, former President George H.W. Bush criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfield, who were major influences within his son’s administration. Photo by Donna Carson/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Former President George H.W. Bush is publicly criticizing for the first time key members of his son’s administration.

    A biography of the nation’s 41st president to be published next week contains his sharply critical assessments of former Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

    In interviews with biographer Jon Meacham, Bush, now 91, said that Cheney acted too independently and asserted too much “hard-line” influence within George W. Bush’s administration, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks. He had even harsher words for Rumsfeld, saying he “served the president badly.”

    The book, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” also contains the elder Bush’s ruminations about his son, whom he praised but also called responsible for empowering Cheney and Rumsfeld.

    Of Cheney, who was a member of the elder Bush’s cabinet, Bush said, “He just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with.”

    Bush said he thinks the Sept. 11 attacks changed the vice president, making him more hawkish about the use of U.S. military force abroad.

    “I think [Rumsfeld] served the president badly. I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything,” Bush said. “His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East,” Bush said.

    Talking about Rumsfeld, the elder Bush used stronger, more personal criticism, the newspaper reported.

    “I think he served the president badly. I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything,” Bush said.

    The elder Bush did not suggest in the book that he disagreed with his son about the invasion of Iraq.

    Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein “is gone, and with him went a lot of brutality and nastiness and awfulness,” Bush said.

    He said he worried that the younger Bush used rhetoric that was at times too strong, citing as an example the 43rd president’s 2002 State of the Union address, during which he described an “axis of evil.”

    “You go back to the ‘axis of evil’ and these things and I think that might be historically proved to be not benefiting anything,” he said.

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    A school girl walks past damaged buildings in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria on Oct. 28, 2015. According to a new poll by the Associated Press, more than six in 10 Americans now reject President Barack Obama's approach to fighting the Islamic State militants. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

    A school girl walks past damaged buildings in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria on Oct. 28, 2015. According to a new poll by the Associated Press, more than six in 10 Americans now reject President Barack Obama’s approach to fighting the Islamic State militants. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Americans are souring on President Barack Obama’s approach to fighting the Islamic State, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that also found deep pessimism about U.S. prospects for success in Afghanistan and uncertainty about Obama’s plan to leave thousands of troops there when he leaves office.

    More than 6 in 10 now reject Obama’s handling of the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where Obama has been escalating the U.S. military’s involvement in a bid to break a vexing stalemate. Support for his approach has followed a downward trajectory since the U.S. formed its coalition to fight the group in late 2014. Last September, Americans were roughly split, yet disapproval has jumped 8 percentage points just since January.

    Those concerns mirror broader trepidation about Obama’s management of foreign policy, which garnered approval from just 40 percent of Americans in the AP-GfK poll. They come as Obama struggles to demonstrate progress advancing U.S. interests in the Middle East, where Obama hoped to disentangle the U.S. military after a decade-plus of war but will likely leave three military conflicts ongoing when his presidency ends in 2017.

    Complicating Obama’s efforts to strike the right balance, his critics include both those who feel he’s betrayed his pledge to keep U.S. troops out of combat in Iraq and Syria and those who argue exactly the opposite: that Obama is pursuing half-measures that put U.S. troops at risk but are too paltry to make a decisive difference.

    “ISIS is literally laughing at our president,” said Donald Hammond, a retired police officer and Republican from Brooklyn, Ohio. He accused Obama of tying the military’s hands out of concern about potential U.S. casualties. “If we’re going to be committed to the fight, he needs to commit seriously and stop playing patty-cake.”

    Patty Watson, a Democrat from Portland, Oregon, saw it differently. “I feel concerned that we’re getting pulled into that quagmire that just seems to never end,” said Watson, 54. She said she felt Obama was doing his best to confront a dangerous group but worries he’s pursuing a strategy in which the U.S. is “the sole force of that resolution.”

    The AP-GfK poll was conducted before Obama’s announcement last week that up to 50 U.S. special operations troops will head to northern Syria, the first time the U.S. has openly sent forces into that civil war-wracked country. But it reflected apprehension that has grown measurably over the course of 2015, during which Obama increased the number of troops in Iraq and revamped his approach against IS, including dropping a campaign to train Syrian rebels that had failed miserably.

    Video by NBC News

    The Islamic State threat and the proper U.S. response promise to play a major role in the 2016 presidential campaign, in which many of the Republican candidates have called for sending ground troops into Iraq and Syria, and even Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has called for a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone in Syria. Two-thirds of Americans say the Islamic State threat is a very or extremely important issue, the AP-GfK poll found.

    Obama’s approach has drawn flak from both parties in Congress, where lawmakers have argued current U.S. policy in Syria is too limited. Grilled by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, top U.S. diplomats defended Obama’s policy and pointed to Russia, which has unloaded a barrage of airstrikes in Syria in what the White House deems a misguided attempt to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

    “The regime continues to barrel bomb its own citizens with impunity, perhaps even emboldened by Moscow’s help,” Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, told Congress on Wednesday.

    Concerns about Obama’s strategy overseas resonate deeply when it comes to Afghanistan, where Obama abruptly dropped his plans last month to pull nearly all U.S. forces by end of 2016. Instead, Obama will keep at least 5,500 troops there when he leaves office, hoping to protect fragile gains made over the last 14 years and shore up the fledgling Afghan security forces.

    Roughly a third of Americans said they approve of that revamped plan, with one-third opposed and another third neither in favor nor against. Just 1 in 5 say it’s likely or very likely that Afghanistan can maintain a stable, democratic government once the U.S. leaves, and 71 percent predicted history will judge the Afghanistan war as more of a failure than a success.

    Jamie Atkins, a 40-year-old Democrat from Easley, South Carolina, said he has mixed feelings about Obama’s overall approach to foreign affairs. But on Afghanistan, his misgivings were clear.

    “I disapprove with him sending the troops to Afghanistan,” said Atkins, a disabled former construction worker. “They put their lives in danger, and some are killed in the line of duty.”

    The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online Oct. 15-19, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, designed to represent the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

    Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report.

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    US President Barack Obama speaks about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement during an event at the Agriculture Department in Washington, DC, on October 6, 2015.   AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

    US President Barack Obama speaks about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement during an event at the Agriculture Department in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6, 2015. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Details of a sweeping Pacific Rim trade deal released Thursday set the stage for a raucous debate in the U.S. Congress but also may provide reassurances to those who worried the agreement could gut protections for the environment, public health and labor.

    The text of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries including Japan and Mexico runs to 30 chapters and hundreds of pages. It is mind-boggling in its detail, laying out plans for the handling of trade in everything from zinc dust to railway sleepers and live eels.

    Governments of the 12 member countries released the complete text online Thursday, making public the specifics of an agreement that critics complain was forged in secrecy.

    The documents show the pact reached Oct. 5 in Atlanta after several years of talks is chock full of good intentions. Negotiators agreed to promote environmental sustainability, respect the rights and needs of indigenous peoples, and temper protections for drug patents with safeguards for public health and access to medicines.

    It also emphasizes the intention of the trading bloc to abide by earlier commitments made under the World Trade Organization and other international treaties.

    That’s no guarantee the pact won’t raise hackles with U.S. lawmakers who have questioned whether it will help U.S. exports and create jobs or just expose more American workers to low-wage competition, giving multinational corporations excessive power.

    Under a trade law passed earlier this year, President Barack Obama must give the public time to review the text before he signs the agreement and turns it over to Congress for approval. Lawmakers can’t nitpick the deal with amendments. They must simply vote yes or no. Congress is likely to take up the issue next year in the heat of the presidential election campaign.

    Obama faces fierce resistance to the deal from within his own Democratic Party. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has said she’s against it. Her opposition may make it harder for Obama to round up votes.

    If all 12 countries have not ratified the agreement within two years, provisions allow for it to take effect if six countries comprising 85 percent of the GDP of the bloc have signed. That means U.S. ratification as the world’s biggest economy is essential.

    Apart from the U.S., Japan and Mexico, countries in the trade pact are New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Peru, Canada, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.

    The White House says the deal eliminates more than 18,000 taxes that countries impose on U.S. exports. The agreement also calls for labor protections such as ensuring that workers in member countries have the right to form unions.

    Those opposed to the deal contend it will force American workers to compete even more directly than they do now with workers in low-wage countries such as Vietnam.

    They also complain that the agreement goes beyond traditional trade issues such as tariffs and import quotas and includes giveaways to powerful business lobbies.

    The input from big businesses, such as pharmaceutical companies, recording studios, agribusinesses and other multinationals is evident in the myriad details laid out in the document. But negotiators reflected an awareness of those concerns with meticulous references to the rights of each country to protect its own sovereign powers and best interests.

    In response to U.S. pressure, TPP countries agreed to give drug companies about eight years of protection from cheaper competitors for biologics, which are ultra-expensive medicines produced in living cells. The industry had sought 12 years protection.

    The agreement stresses that its provisions on patents for medicines “do not and should not prevent a Party (country) from taking measures to protect public health.”

    The agreement says it “should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of each Party’s right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.”

    While the deal allows multinational companies to challenge laws and regulations in private tribunals on the grounds they amount to unfair barriers to trade, it also includes safeguards against abusive claims and guarantees governments the right to enforce health, labor, safety and environmental regulations in the public interest.

    Countering worries that companies might be able to overturn local anti-smoking laws, countries can specifically ban tobacco companies from using the tribunals to challenge health regulations — likely to the consternation of U.S. lawmakers from tobacco-producing states.

    Kurtenbach reported from Tokyo. Martin Crutsinger in Washington contributed.

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    Two women wait outside Frady's One Stop Food Store in New Orleans, LA. Photo by Danielle Miles

    Two women wait outside Frady’s One Stop Food Store in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Danielle Miles

    Editor’s Note: The Noirlinians photo project documents African culture in New Orleans, which the project’s organizers have called the “most African city in the U.S.” In this week’s edition of Parallax, Danielle Miles, a photographer with the project, described how she set out to portray the traditions that shape the city — ones that she said are uniquely, and beautifully, African.

    Danielle Miles (as told to Corinne Segal)

    If you took all of the African-ness away from New Orleans, there would be very little left.

    I grew up in Houston, Texas. I came [to New Orleans] as a volunteer after the storm. I just fell in love with the people and I wanted to be sure that I did the work that was necessary to help people come home. Moving here, I found [New Orleans] really is the most African city. The way that people congregate is very African. They [used to] have “free day” on Sunday for the slaves to speak their own languages and trade and things like that, mainly in the Congo Square area of New Orleans. That allowed them to hold a lot of traditions that a lot of other places wouldn’t normally have.

    In this photo, I wanted to document the confluence that was happening on the corner. Any time that there’s a convergence of people, there’s a lot of exchanges of ideas and news. People get their news there. What happened yesterday? Or this happened over here, did you know this about this person? Every morning you walk outside, and everybody’s passing, asking how you’re doing, and we actually stop and wait for a response.

    The word “parallax” describes the camera error that occurs when an image looks different through a viewfinder than how it is recorded by a sensor; when one camera gives two perspectives. Parallax is a blog where photographers offer the unexpected sides and stories of their work. Tell us yours or share on Instagram at #PBSParallax.

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    Video by YouTube user sonofretrotvluver

    Twister — the hot spot! — joined the Super Soaker water gun and the puppet as the 2015 inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame.

    The Strong’s National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, made the announcement Thursday, after they whittled down their list of 12 toy finalists, which included the spinning top and the American Girl dolls, to three.

    The museum has been recognizing classic toys since 1998 for their sustained popularity and their ability to inspire creative play. Barbie dolls, the teddy bear and Crayola crayons were among the hall’s first class of inductees.

    Twister, the party game known for putting its participants in pretzel-like contortions, was once considered too inappropriate for Sears Roebuck’s catalogue. As Mental Floss pointed out, the Milton Bradley game — a spotted vinyl mat and colorful spinner — also confused retailers.

    The game was in danger of disappearing from shelves until Johnny Carson played it with actress Eva Gabor on “The Tonight Show” in 1966. The on-air demonstration sent the studio audience into hysterics and guaranteed the game longevity.

    As singer Toni Braxton documented, Twister was something you played with your boyfriend, a memory so fond that it lingered after the break-up.

    Twister also proved that even Death loses from time to time.

    Video by YouTube user uall45

    Although it was once dismissed by competitors as selling “sex in a box,” Twister was marketed as a family game. Chuck Foley, co-creator of the game, said any moral concerns didn’t matter once the game started.

    “Once you get men and women in play positions, unless you’re drinking, you forget the sex thing,” he said in 1994. “The urge to win takes over.”

    Better luck next year, coloring book.

    The post Twister finds its hot spot in the Toy Hall of Fame appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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