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

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    Cows eat hay at a dairy farm in Upton, Quebec, October 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger - RTS2VQA

    How has lactose tolerance influenced historic economic development? Photo by REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

    Editor’s Note: Here on Making Sen$e, we’ve covered the “how Europe got rich” story from multiple angles — most recently Stanford University scholar Josiah Ober explained how sound economic policy led to the glory that was ancient Greece.

    But there’s another take on how Europe got rich: milk consumption. Justin Cook is an assistant professor of economics at the University of California-Merced. In his paper, “The role of lactase persistence in pre-colonial development,” Cook explains that the transition to agriculture produced genetic adaptations, such as lactose tolerance, which led to measurable improvements in economic and health outcomes.

    We asked Cook to lay out his case.

    Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor

    Could milk consumption have contributed to Europe’s colonization of most of the world during the 16th century?

    The answer “yes” is more likely than you may think.

    From my research, it appears that the transition to agriculture, commonly referred to as the Neolithic Revolution, which first occurred roughly 10,000 years ago, produced genetic adaptations that were and continue to be favorable to the new agricultural environment and led to measurable improvements in economic and health outcomes. These genetic adaptations differ across ethnic populations and are ultimately the result of differences in historic environments. Lactose tolerance, which enables milk consumption, is a prime example.

    By examining the historic effects of milk consumption, measured by a population’s ability to digest lactose, we can understand the Neolithic Revolution’s impact on economic development.

    Lactose Tolerance

    The ability to digest lactose, a sugar found within milk, is the textbook example of a recent genetic adaptation to different agricultural practices. Prior to the domestication of cattle (and other milk producing domesticated animals, such as goats), human populations produced the enzyme associated with the digestion of lactose only in periods prior to weaning or only during early childhood when mother’s milk served as an important form of sustenance.

    Many individuals today, however, produce this enzyme throughout their lifetime and are able to consume milk regularly throughout adulthood. These individuals are said to be lactase persistent, which is more commonly known as lactose tolerant.

    Lactase persistence differs widely across the world with individuals ancestral to Northern Europe being almost exclusively lactase persistent and the opposite being the case for people ancestral to East Asia. This is shown in Figure 1, which plots historical lactose tolerance frequencies for the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa).

    Justin cook

    Figure 1. Country-level lactase persistence frequencies across the Old World. Darker areas represent more lactase persistent populations. The Americas and Oceania are absent from Figure 1 as populations from these regions never developed dairying cultures and the resulting ability to digest lactose.

    This difference in lactose tolerance across regions is due to differences in the presence of a singular genetic mutation. Individuals with this mutation produce lactase throughout their lives, while those without this mutation do not.

    Why? The selection of the lactase persistent allele, or genetic variant, coevolved with the cultural practice of dairying: Without milk, the benefit conferred by lactase persistence is non-existent. Therefore, the lactase persistence allele could only be selected after the domestication of cattle and other milk producers. Genetic studies confirm this by providing evidence for the rapid selection of the lactase persistence gene beginning roughly during the same time as the agricultural transition.

    Economic Development

    Milk’s role in influencing economic development is threefold. First, milk allowed farmers to obtain a greater quantity of calories from fixed resources — the stock of domesticated animals and the land needed to sustain these animals. In a sense, dairying represents a technological innovation, in which available resources — that is, land and domestic animals — were used in a novel way to increase output.

    Second, the composition of milk, which includes fats, proteins and other micronutrients not easily attainable in staple crops improved the average quality of a farmer’s diet. This nutritional improvement likely lessened the impacts of disease and led to more productive farmers.

    Finally, the consumption of milk increased a woman’s fertility. The infertility period after giving birth is associated with lactation. Having an easily available substitute for mother’s milk potentially reduced the lactation period and the corresponding infertility period, implying that women within lactase persistent populations had the potential for more children over their lifetimes.

    These advantages resulted in greater populations for milk-consuming societies, which in the preindustrial economy of the past equated to greater economic development. (China, with its great population, remains a major outlier in my research.) A statistically strong and robust relationship is found between the fraction of a country’s population that is lactase persistent, or able to consume milk, and economic development in 1500 C.E., a period representative of the precolonization era. And given the high frequency of lactose tolerance associated with European countries, milk consumption may have contributed to Europe’s colonization of most of the world starting in the late 15th century.

    One might assume, however, that the association between lactose tolerance and historic economic development is driven solely by a Europe versus the rest of the world effect. This is not the case. When omitting all European countries from the sample, the same positive relationship between the frequency of lactase persistence and historic economic development remains.

    Another major concern is that lactose tolerance is simply accounting for the beneficial effects of domesticated animals and not the benefits of dairying. This would imply that my proposed hypothesis is just happenstance. Yet, after accounting for a number of controls intended to capture the overall numbers of domesticated animals, the previously found association between milk consumption and historic economic development remains.

    So what’s the verdict? Did milk consumption lead to Europe’s colonization of most of the world?

    Lactase persistence’s robust relationship with precolonial population density suggests that milk consumption shaped economic development during a crucial time. And while it’s not likely milk consumption directly led to the colonization, the evidence suggests that it helped the overall economic development of Europe during the 1500s, which may have indirectly provided Europe with the wealth for colonization.

    The post Got milk? How lactose tolerance influenced economic development appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A member of the defence legal team reaches out to Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius as he holds his head while a witness testifies during the fourth day of his trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Marco Longari/Pool (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR3G431

    A member of the defense legal team reaches out to Oscar Pistorius as he holds his head while a witness testifies during the fourth day of his trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at the North Gauteng High Court on March 6, 2014. South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Thursday declared him guilty of murder, overturning that court’s conviction of manslaughter. Photo by Marco Longari/Reuters

    South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Thursday found Oscar Pistorius guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013, a move that overturns a former, less severe conviction of manslaughter.

    In South Africa, the distinction between a conviction of manslaughter and one of murder depends on whether the court rules that the suspect had intent to kill.

    Judge Eric Leach said that a lower court’s previous decision misapplied the principle of “dolus eventualis,” a legal principle in South Africa that refers to a suspect’s intent, and that by firing his gun Pistorius “must have foreseen that whoever was behind the door might die,” NBC reported.

    Pistorius, a double-amputee and Olympic sprinter, shot Steenkamp four times through a locked bathroom door on Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius’ legal team had argued that Pistorius mistook her for an intruder and did not intend to kill her.

    In 2014, a High Court judge declared Pistorius guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to five years in jail. The prosecution appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court of Appeals, who issued today’s decision.

    Leach said the previous court judgment “seemingly ignored” elements of the ballistics evidence and that the judgment was “fundamentally flawed.”

    Pistorius’ team could appeal the decision to the country’s Constitutional Court, but this is unlikely, criminal lawyer Johann Engelbrecht told the Associated Press. South Africa’s North Gauteng High Court, which tried Pistorius last year, will handle sentencing.

    A spokesman for Pistorius stated that the team is considering all his legal options.

    The post Court finds Oscar Pistorius guilty of murder, overturning previous decision appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Pope Francis (right) sits next to Tidiani Moussa Naibi, imam of the Koudoukou Mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Nov. 30. The pope urged both sides of the armed conflict to lay down their weapons and pursue peace. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

    Pope Francis sits next to Tidiani Moussa Naibi, imam of the Koudoukou Mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Nov. 30. The pope urged both sides of the armed conflict to lay down their weapons and pursue peace. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

    At the tail end of a six-day trip to Africa, Pope Francis spent roughly 24 hours in the turbulent Central African Republic. His visit didn’t last long, but humanitarian organizations are hoping it has a lasting impact.

    “The seeds of hope have been planted and we hope they grow and flourish,” said LeAnn Hager, Catholic Relief Service’s country representative based in the capital, Bangui.

    The former French colony has flipped back and forth from military to civilian rule since gaining its independence in 1960, and in the past few years the conflict has taken on religious tones.

    In March 2013, a Muslim rebel coalition known as Seleka overthrew the president, a Christian, and in response a Christian and Animist band of fighters called Anti-balaka formed and conducted retaliatory attacks on the minority Muslim population. Amnesty International has reported on atrocities on both sides.

    About 6,000 people have died, and nearly 450,000 are displaced inside the country, including 19,000 holed up next to the airport. Another 456,000 people have fled to other countries including Cameroon and Chad.

    Pope Francis kisses a child at the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, on Nov. 29. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

    Pope Francis kisses a child at the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, on Nov. 29. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

    Pope Francis brought a message of peace and reconciliation to the war weary country earlier this week. He visited a refugee camp and celebrated Mass at a stadium in the capital. He sat with an imam at Koudoukou central mosque.

    The pope urged both sides to lay down their weapons and, although it is difficult, forgive one another.

    “Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace. Salaam,” he said, using the Arabic word for peace.

    The reconciliation process has been an arduous one, interrupted by episodes of violence. In 2014, Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders formed the Inter-Religious Platform to try to diffuse the tensions through training workshops that bring people together to find their commonalities.

    A crowd greets Pope Francis after he arrived at the Notre Dame Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Bangui on Nov. 29. He spent 24 hours in the Central African Republic during a trip to Africa. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters

    A crowd greets Pope Francis after he arrived at the Notre Dame Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Bangui on Nov. 29. He spent 24 hours in the Central African Republic during a trip to Africa. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters

    Hager, whose organization is assisting with the initiative, said reconciliation has to start with individuals healing themselves first and then working to forgive others. The third phase is easing Christians and Muslims back together in their formerly blended communities, but they haven’t gotten there yet, she said.

    During the three days of training workshops, participants build up the courage to tell their stories of trauma. Hager described a priest who was so angry he bought a gun, though he never used it.

    “He had so much hatred in his heart,” she recalled. “But he said, ‘I’m putting that aside, I’m asking for forgiveness for having those thoughts. And my goal and my mission now is to try and work toward peace.’”

    Hager said reconciliation advocates like herself hope the national leaders and commanders of the armed elements take the pope’s message to heart and that it strengthens their resolve for a healing dialogue.

    The post Pope’s visit sows ‘seeds of hope’ in Central African Republic appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Migrant Offshore Aid Station founder Christopher Catrambone, left, and Will Turner of Doctors Without Borders just before they departed on a six-month mission to search for and rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. Photo by Darrin Zammit/Reuters

    Migrant Offshore Aid Station founder Christopher Catrambone, left, and Will Turner of Doctors Without Borders just before they departed on a six-month mission to search for and rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. Photo by Darrin Zammit/Reuters

    This is a podcast. That you listen to. Click on this link to subscribe.

    In 2013, Louisiana native Christopher Catrambone was doing well for himself. His war-zone insurance company had made him rich, and he was able to take some time for a luxury cruise on the Mediterranean Sea with his Italian wife Regina.

    But during that vacation, when they spotted a winter jacket floating in the water, Cantrambone realized that one of the most beautiful places on earth had become a mass grave.

    “The reality started to sink in that basically, this beautiful water that we were enjoying was a hell for so many.”

    So Catrambone and his wife decided to take action. They bought a boat, hired a crew, and in 2014, launched the Migrant Offshore Aid Station. Now, his crew trawls the ocean, rescuing migrant boats, and they’re expanding to Asia.

    This week on Shortwave, we speak with Cantrambone about his work, his life and what’s next for his unique organization.

    This is a podcast. That you listen to. With your ears. Click on the link above.

    The post Meet the millionaire who’s spent a fortune rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Today marks the 500th day that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has spent in prison in Iran.

    On July 22, 2014, Rezaian was arrested in Tehran and accused of spying, which the Washington Post maintains is groundless. Rezaian was convicted in October of this year and sentenced in November to a prison term, but the specifics of his sentencing remain unclear.

    Today, Ali Rezaian, the reporter’s brother, presented the United Nations with a petition containing more than 500,000 signatures requesting Rezaian’s freedom. The petition is directed to the Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran.

    The Washington Post’s publisher, Fred Ryan, released a statement Thursday morning on Rezaian’s incarceration. “This blatant violation of Jason’s basic human rights must end now,” the statement said. “It is time for Jason Rezaian to come home.”

    Across the nation and the globe, other institutions and individuals marked the milestone in their own ways. The National Press Club announced on Twitter that they will host a 24-hour reading of Rezaian’s work beginning on Friday morning to honor the reporter in Washington, D.C.

    Noam Chomsky and other supporters published an open letter in The New York Review of Books expressing anger over the incarceration and requesting Rezaian be released.

    Some took to social media to vent their feelings over the situation, with co-workers, other journalists, and political figures sharing that they were thinking of Rezaian, and requesting his release.

    The Washington Post tweeted out a very simple message. “500 days,” it reads. “#FreeJason.”

    The post Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has spent 500 days in Iranian prison appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Defense Secretary Ash Carter told PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill on Thursday that he decided to let women serve in all aspects of the military because with an all-volunteer force, he needed to draw on the entire population.

    “We have an all-volunteer military, and in order to have as we have in the future what we have today, which is the finest fighting force the world has ever known, I need to be able to reach into the entirety of the American population,” he said. “So I want to recruit from all pools.

    READ MORE: Ash Carter calls homegrown terrorists ‘losers with a keyboard’

    “Now that doesn’t mean that you get to do whatever you want if you’re a female, any more than you get to do what you want if you’re a male. There are standards, physical, mental, emotional, and so forth associated with each of our specialties.”

    He cited loading artillery as an example requiring “physical endurance and raw physical ability” as a specialty that would have more men. “Data shows very clearly that on average, women in that age cohort don’t have those physical abilities in as great a proportion as men do.

    “We’re focused here on mission effectiveness, protecting our country and protecting our people. That’s the principal reason to do this, and so we’re going to need to do it according to standards and no quotas.”

    Carter said he received recommendations from all branches of the military, and the then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Joseph Dunford, who is now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered the only objection to women performing in some roles. “I came to a different conclusion,” he said.

    Their full interview airs on Thursday’s broadcast.

    The post WATCH: Ash Carter says ‘No quotas’ for women in military appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Defense Secretary Ash Carter defended the military’s approach to fighting the Islamic State group, saying the military is looking for every possible way to attack and defeat the militants whose ideology is appealing to “losers with a keyboard” in the United States.

    PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill asked him in an interview airing on Thursday’s broadcast how the military deals with an enemy that is radicalizing recruits around the world in places “boots on the ground” can’t approach.

    READ MORE: Defense Secretary Ash Carter: ‘No quotas’ for women in military

    “This is the first ever social media enemy.”
    Carter agreed that the fight is changing around the world. “Right here in the United States where we’ve had people, some of whom just losers with a keyboard who get excited by ISIL (Islamic State) propaganda and decide to take off against our fellow citizens.

    “This is the first ever social media enemy. And so it’s new. Not something we can defeat, but we have to be ingenious, and that’s why I’m committed to thinking and working and adapting so that we change our techniques and our avenues of attack so they don’t know we’re taking them by surprise and we’re doing new things to defeat them. That’s why I say it’s a dynamic campaign.”

    Carter testified at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that more troops will be needed to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces conduct raids, gather intelligence and capture Islamic State fighters.

    Critics, including Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, called it a “gradual approach” that won’t make a significant difference on the ground and was reactionary.

    “We’re not reacting, we’re actually on the initiative,” Carter told Ifill. “We’re looking for every way we can to attack and destroy ISIL.

    “As far as the White House is concerned, the president tells me the same thing I tell our military commanders, which is when you have another way of going at this, we’re going to do it,” Carter said.

    The post WATCH: Ash Carter calls homegrown terrorists ‘losers with a keyboard’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The remains of a SUV involved in the Wednesdays attack is shown in San Bernardino, California December 3, 2015. Authorities on Thursday were working to determine why a man and a woman opened fire at a holiday party of his co-workers in Southern California, killing 14 people and wounding 17 in an attack that appeared to have been planned. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni  - RTX1X3GE

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This morning, a bullet-riddled SUV still sat in a San Bernardino street, stark evidence of Wednesday’s violence. The two suspects, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, died there in a gun battle with police after a chase.

    Hours earlier, the pair opened fire at a social services center during a holiday luncheon. Police swarmed in to track the husband-and-wife team, ending in the final shootout a few miles away.

    Police Chief Jarrod Burguan says the couple had an arsenal in the SUV, including two rifles and two handguns — all legally purchased — and bullets that could punch through police vests.

    JARROD BURGUAN, San Bernardino Police Chief: Suspects are believed to have fired about 76 rifle rounds at the officers at the termination of the pursuit.

    MAN: How many?

    JARROD BURGUAN: 76 is our number we have right now. However on them, on their person, on their body and in the vehicle, they had over 1,400 .223 caliber rounds that were available to them and they had over 200 .9 mm rounds on their persons as well.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In addition, investigators found three pipe bombs at the social services complex, attached to a remote controlled car that malfunctioned. FBI and police also searched a home in nearby Redlands. What they found inside was another arsenal.

    JARROD BURGUAN: The search that took place revealed that there were 12 pipe bomb-type devices found in that house or in the garage of that house. There were also hundreds of tools, many of which could be used to construct IEDs or pipe bombs. And in addition to that, they had other material to produce some additional bombs as well.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: As the search proceeded, authorities began to piece together more on the shooters. Sayed Farook was 28 years old, born in the U.S. and worked as a county restaurant inspector. His wife, Tashmeen Malik, was in the country on a visa and had a Pakistani passport. The couple also had a six-month-old child. Last night, Farook’s brother-in-law said he couldn’t fathom why they did this.

    FARHAN KHAN, Suspect’s Brother-In-Law: I have no idea. I have no idea why he would do that, why would he do something like this. I have absolutely no idea. I am in shock myself.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Lori Noble lives nearby and was getting her Christmas tree today. For her, the attack was personal.

    LORI NOBLE, San Bernardino Resident: I have a disabled daughter and she gets services from there, and know quite a few people in that building so it’s tough. You don’t expect it to happen here, but it did.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Nearby at the Original Mommie Helen’s Bakery, they were on lockdown yesterday.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Does it make you feel less safe?

    TEDRA ROSE, Employee, Mommie Helen’s Bakery: Yes, it does, that it is so close to home. It does make me feel unsafe. You have to have your guard up at all times, you just never know.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, President Obama appealed again, from the Oval Office, for the country to find a way to curb gun violence.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So many Americans sometimes feel as if there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re going to have to search ourselves as a society to make sure we can take basic steps that would make it harder, not impossible, but harder for individuals to get access to weapons.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This is still a community that is in its early stages of grieving. Just today, the coroner’s office started making public the names of those 14 people murdered yesterday. That means this town will feel the ripple effects of their loss that much more acutely.

    There are vigils planned tonight to try to remember those who were affected by this, including one at the San Bernardino mosque, the largest one here.


    GWEN IFILL: Thanks, Hari.

    The post Police still searching for motive in San Bernardino case appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    After Hurricane Sandy hit Assateague Island National Seashore in 2012, parts of the park's Bayside Picnic Area and nearby parking were swept out to sea with the rising waters and storm surge. A new study issued by climate specialists with the National Park Service projects how rising temperatures fed by climate change could affect the park system's visitorship for years to come. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/Flickr

    We turn to economists and co-authors of “Climate Shock” Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman for how economics might be able to tackle the immense problem that is climate change. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/Flickr

    Editor’s Note: One hundred and fifty world leaders are in Paris this week for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Their goal? To limit global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

    We turn to economists Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund and Martin L. Weitzman of Harvard University for how economics might be able to tackle the immense problem that is climate change. The co-authors of “Climate Shock” last took to Making Sen$e to make their case for insuring ourselves against global warming by pricing carbon dioxide pollution. Below, Wagner and Weitzman discuss the 2 degree Celsius threshold and offer steps world leaders can take to combat climate change.

    For more on the topic, tune into tonight’s Making Sen$e on the PBS NewsHour. The following text has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor

    Everyone is talking about 2 degrees Celsius. Why? What happens if the planet warms by 2 degrees Celsius?

    Martin L. Weitzman: Two degrees Celsius has turned into an iconic threshold of sorts, a political target, if you will. And for good reason. Many scientists have looked at so-called tipping points with huge potential changes to the climate system: methane being released from the frozen tundra at rapid rates, the Gulfstream shutting down and freezing over Northern Europe, the Amazon rainforest dying off. The short answer is we just don’t — can’t — know with 100 percent certainty when and how these tipping points will, in fact, occur. But there seems to be a lot of evidence that things can go horribly wrong once the planet crosses that 2 degree threshold.

    In “Climate Shock,” you write that we need to insure ourselves against climate change. What do you mean by that?

    Gernot Wagner: At the end of the day, climate is a risk management problem. It’s the small risk of a huge catastrophe that ultimately ought to drive the final analysis. Averages are bad enough. But those risks — the “tail risks” — are what puts the “shock” into “Climate Shock.”

    Martin L. Weitzman: Coming back to your 2 degree question, it’s also important to note that the world has already warmed by around 0.85 degrees since before we started burning coal en masse. So that 2 degree threshold is getting closer and closer. Much too close for comfort.

    What do you see happening in Paris right now? What steps are countries taking to combat climate change?

    Gernot Wagner: There’s a lot happening — a lot of positive steps being taken. More than 150 countries, including most major emitters, have come to Paris with their plans of action. President Obama, for example, came with overall emissions reductions targets for the U.S. and more concretely, the Clean Power Plan, our nation’s first ever limit on greenhouse gases from the electricity sector. And earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a nation-wide cap on emissions from energy and key industrial sectors commencing in 2017.

    It’s equally clear, of course, that we won’t be solving climate change in Paris. The climate negotiations are all about building the right foundation for countries to act and put the right policies in place like the Chinese cap-and-trade system.

    How will reigning in greenhouse gases as much President Obama suggests affect our economy? After all, we’re so reliant on fossil fuels.

    Gernot Wagner: That’s what makes this problem such a tough one. There are costs. They are real. In some sense, if there weren’t any, we wouldn’t be talking about climate change to begin with. The problem would solve itself. So yes, the Clean Power Plan overall isn’t a free lunch. But the benefits of acting vastly outweigh the costs. That’s what’s important to keep in mind here. There are trade-offs, as there always are in life. But when the benefits of action vastly outweigh the costs, the answer is simple: act. And that’s precisely what Obama is doing here.

    And what steps should the countries in Paris this week take to combat climate change?

    Martin L. Weitzman: If it were entirely up to me, I would have a very simple solution: negotiate one uniform price on carbon dioxide applicable to everyone. That doesn’t mean some imaginary world government would be in charge — not at all. Every country — every government — can implement their own policy, keep the revenue and decrease taxes elsewhere. But the price is universal across the world.

    Gernot Wagner: Pricing carbon, of course, is indeed the answer. It’s the obvious one or at least it should be. Now, the negotiations themselves, of course, are messy, and there currently is no negotiation around a uniform, globally applicable carbon price. Instead, what’s happening is many large countries — the U.S., the EU, and chief among them China — are putting forward internal policies that will put a price on carbon and other greenhouse gases. That’s also where Paris comes in: putting a framework on all these country actions.

    Are you hopeful?

    Gernot Wagner: I am. The climate problem is, in fact, a lot worse than many people realize. The climate shock is real. But there are solutions. They work. They are getting better and cheaper by the day. And we are largely moving in the right direction.

    Martin L. Weitzman: Climate change is an extremely difficult problem to solve, certainly among the most difficult I have seen in my lifetime. But I’m guardedly optimistic, yes.

    Gernot Wagner:  In the end, it’ll take Washington, Wall Street and Silicon Valley to make this right by pricing carbon, deploying clean technologies at scale and investing in research and development that will lead to new, even cleaner technologies we can’t yet even imagine. A lot is happening on all these fronts. A lot more, of course, needs to be done.

    [Watch Video]

    The post An economist’s take on how to combat climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The U.S. Capitol. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    The Capitol Christmas Tree seen on Dec. 2, 2015. After many hours of debate, the Senate passed a bill Thursday night that would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act and also eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Openly welcoming a preordained veto, Republicans drove legislation to Senate passage Thursday aimed at crippling two of their favorite targets: President Barack Obama’s health care law and Planned Parenthood.

    With a House rubber stamp expected in days, the bill would be the first to reach Obama’s desk demolishing his 2010 health care overhaul, one of his proudest domestic achievements, and halting federal payments to Planned Parenthood. Congress has voted dozens of times to repeal or weaken the health law and several times against Planned Parenthood’s funding, but until now Democrats thwarted Republicans from shipping the legislation to the White House.

    Thursday’s vote was a near party-line 52-47.

    Republicans said an Obama veto — which the White House has promised — will underscore that a GOP triumph in next year’s presidential and congressional elections would mean repeal of a statute they blame for surging medical costs and insurers abandoning some markets. They lack the two-thirds House and Senate majorities needed to override vetoes, assuring that the bill’s chief purpose will be for campaign talking points.

    “President Obama will have a choice,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “He can defend a status quo that’s failed the middle class by vetoing the bill, or he can work toward a new beginning and better care by signing it.”

    Republicans blame the bill for surging health care costs and insurers abandoning some markets. Government officials said this week that health care spending grew at 5.3 percent in 2014, the steepest climb since Obama took office.

    Democrats noted that under the law, millions of people have become insured and said their coverage has improved, with policies now required to insure a wide range of medical services.

    “Do they talk to their constituents? Do they meet with them?” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of Republicans.

    With just a 54-46 edge, Republicans had until now been unable to push such legislation through the Senate. This time, they used a special budget procedure that prevents filibusters — delays that take 60 votes to halt — and lets them prevail with 51 votes.

    Party leaders initially encountered objections from some more moderate Republicans leery of cutting Planned Parenthood’s funds and from presidential contenders, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, who threatened to oppose the measure if it wasn’t strong enough.

    In the end, Cruz and Rubio voted “yes.” Moderate GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois voted no, the only lawmakers to cross party lines, while Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., did not vote.

    The Senate bill would all but erase the health care overhaul by dismantling some of its key pillars, such as requirements that most people obtain coverage and larger employers offer it to workers.

    Also eliminated would be its expansion of Medicaid coverage to additional lower-income people and the government’s subsidies for many who buy policies on newly created insurance marketplaces, such as HealthCare.gov. And it would end taxes the law imposed to cover its costs, including levies on higher-income people, expensive insurance policies, medical devices and indoor tanning salons.

    The bill would also terminate the roughly $450 million yearly in federal dollars that go to Planned Parenthood, about a third of its budget. Federal funds can be used for abortions only in rare cases.

    A perennial target of conservatives, the group has been under intensified GOP pressure this year for its role in providing fetal tissue to scientists. Citing secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing such sales, some abortion foes have accused the organization of illegally providing the tissue for profit. The group says the videos were deceptively doctored and say it’s done nothing illegal.

    As they worked through the bill, senators voted on over a dozen amendments — all symbolic, since the measure was destined to never become law.

    Senators rejected a pair of similar amendments that would have restored the Planned Parenthood money. They also blocked proposals for tightening gun curbs, a response to Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, last week’s fatal attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and last month’s terrorist massacre in Paris.

    On another, senators voted 90-10 to permanently repeal taxes on high-priced “Cadillac” insurance policies, sending a strong signal of growing congressional momentum for erasing that levy.

    GOP lawmakers said the overall bill could serve as a bridge to a future Republican health care law. Though Obama’s overhaul was enacted five years ago, GOP members of Congress have yet to produce a detailed proposal to replace it.

    “They’ve never been in a position where they want to change it and fix the law, it’s either repeal or nothing,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who heads the Senate Democratic campaign committee, said of the GOP’s failure to propose an alternative health law. “I’ll take that to the polls and we’ll talk about it until the cows come home.”

    Republicans argued the voters were on their side.

    “We’ve reached a pretty scary time in our nation’s history where we have Americans writing and calling their elected representatives saying they need relief from their own government,” said No. 2 Senate Leader John Cornyn of Texas. “We have a mandate, I believe, to repeal this terrible law.”

    The post Senate OKs Republican bill unraveling health care law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Attendees hold candles with a hand written message as they reflect on the tragedy of Wednesday's attack during a candlelight vigil in San Bernardino, California. The Dec. 3 shooting in San Bernardino threw politicians off their talking points as more details about the suspects -- stockpiling weapons, possible links to extremists -- came to light. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    Attendees hold candles with a hand written message as they reflect on the tragedy of Wednesday’s attack during a candlelight vigil in San Bernardino, California. The Dec. 3 shooting in San Bernardino threw politicians off their talking points as more details about the suspects — stockpiling weapons, possible links to extremists — came to light. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    Bullets were still flying in San Bernardino when President Barack Obama, sitting for a scheduled television interview, issued a now-familiar call for more gun control. Around the same time Wednesday night, in an interview at his golf course in Northern Virginia, Donald Trump labeled such shootings a mental health problem.

    By Thursday, both politicians were changing their tone and their takeaways from another mass shooting in America. The details of the California massacre at a holiday party — pointing at a possible link to Islamic militants and raising questions about domestic extremism — quickly knocked both Republicans and Democrats off their talking points, upending what has become a grim and predictable ritual in American politics.

    Revelations that the suspects may have communicated with extremists and stockpiled weapons awkwardly shifted the conversation from familiar arguments about gun laws to what, if anything, could be done to block radicalized, homegrown attackers from striking targets at home?

    That is a far more complex debate with fewer clear-cut policy prescriptions. The president has said he worries about the difficulties of preventing a homegrown or ‘lone-wolf’ attacker on U.S. soil — and the limits of security measures to prevent them. For Republicans, the issue could become quick campaign fodder — although they risk politicizing a national security threat, without offering a clear alternative.

    On Thursday, the president walked a fine line in the discussion, mindful of an ongoing investigation and shifting circumstances. He asked for patience, assured Americans they were safe and, notably, toned down his typically full-throated call for congressional action on gun control.

    After a briefing from his national security team, Obama asked the American people and “legislatures” to find a way to make “it a little harder” for people to get guns.

    “And we’re going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure that we can take basic steps that would make it harder — not impossible, but harder — for individuals to get access to weapons,” he said.

    For his part, Trump initially cast such shootings “a mental health issue, to a large extent,” in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday night. He offered another explanation Thursday.

    “Our president doesn’t want to use the term,” he said. “But it turns out it probably was related — radical Islamic terrorism.”

    Obama’s comments were a far cry from the frustrated rants he has unleashed in the wake of other mass murders. Last week, the president decried the shooting and hostage taking at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility with a statement that declared “enough is enough.”

    In October, after 9 people were killed by a gunman at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., Obama promised to come out and speak every time such incidents occurred and said he wasn’t afraid of politicizing the debate.

    “I’m going to talk about this on a regular basis. And I will politicize this. Because our inaction is a political decision that we’re making,” Obama said at a news conference. “Unless we change that political dynamic, we’re not going to be able to make a big dent in this problem.”

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that Obama was not backing off his push to drive a conversation about gun measures. White House lawyers are continuing to search for ways Obama can expand required background checks without congressional approval. Earnest argued that the shooters in San Bernardino, regardless of their motives, could have been stopped if the gun laws were changed.

    But Earnest conceded the proposals Obama has pushed — expanding background checks or barring people on a federal no-fly from buying guns — would not necessarily have prevented this massacre.

    “This discussion is about what we can do to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Earnest said.

    Searching for a rebuttal to the Democrats’ case on guns, Republicans have zeroed in on mental health.

    “All the themes we see underneath these events, that’s one thing that really has to get addressed,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.) said Thursday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Ryan was cautious not to label the shooting, before the facts were known.

    But some his fellow Republicans vying for the White House were not.

    Along with Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas) evoked the Paris attacks and said the shooting was a reminder the U.S. is at war. Cruz told a crowd of Jewish activists that “all of us are deeply concerned that this is yet another manifestation of terrorism, radical Islamic terrorism here at home.”

    White House correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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    A stranded migrant sits inside his tent at a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border near to the Greek village of Idomeni on Nov. 30, 2015.  The U.S. is set to give $24 million in new money to the U.N. refugee agency's provisions of food, water and shelter. Photo by Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters

    A stranded migrant sits inside his tent at a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border near to the Greek village of Idomeni on Nov. 30, 2015. The U.S. is set to give $24 million in new money to the U.N. refugee agency’s provisions of food, water and shelter. Photo by Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters

    ATHENS, Greece — The United States is giving $24 million in new money to help refugees as the European winter approaches.

    The aid will go to the U.N. refugee agency’s provisions of food, water and shelter.

    It will help governments screen and process refugees as they arrive in Europe.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement as he visited Athens Friday.

    Greece has been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of Syrians and other refugees who’ve reached the country’s shores this year.

    The U.S. has provided $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011.

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    HOLLYWOOD, FL - OCTOBER 12: Singer Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots  performs at Hard Rock Live! in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on October 12, 2010 in Hollywood, Florida.  (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)

    Singer Scott Weiland performs with the Stone Temple Pilots at Hard Rock Live! in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Oct. 12, 2010 in Hollywood, Florida. Weiland died on Thursday night at the age of 48. Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

    Scott Weiland, who fronted the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, died on Thursday at 48, his wife Jamie Weiland confirmed to the L.A. Times.

    A post on the musician’s Facebook page said Weiland “passed away in his sleep while on a tour stop in Bloomington, Minnesota” and asked that his privacy be respected.

    Weiland was in Bloomington, Minnesota, on tour with his band Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts. The group was scheduled to tour during December, making stops in Dallas, Houston, Napa and several other cities.

    In the 1980s, Weiland joined guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz to form the alt-rock band Stone Temple Pilots. Its 1992 debut album, “Core,” hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling 8 million albums in the U.S. The group’s second album “Purple,” released in 1994, spawned the lasting hits “Vasoline” and “Interstate Love Song.”

    Video by STP

    Weiland struggled with opiate addiction; he was arrested in 1995 for crack and heroin possession. In 1998, the singer was charged with a felony heroin possession. This contributed to Stone Temple Pilot’s problems, he wrote in “Not Dead & Not For Sale,” a memoir he released in 2011.

    “We were written off as the band of disastrous dysfunction with too many personal problems to survive,” he wrote. “Or rather, I was written off as the guy whose hopeless addictions had – and would always – ruin everything for everyone.”

    Video by STP

    Stone Temple Pilots went on to release four more full-length albums and sell 13.5 million albums in the U.S., but went on hiatus in 2001 and eventually broke up in 2003.

    Meanwhile, ex-Guns N’ Roses members Slash, on guitar, Duff McKagan, on bass, and Matt Sorum, on drums, were looking for a new frontman to help them lead a new project, hard rock supergroup Velvet Revolver. Scott Weiland joined the group as its frontman in 2003 and along with second guitarist Dave Kushner, the group released its first full-length album, “Contraband” in 2004. Weiland went on to record a second album with Velvet Revolver, “Libertad,” before his departure in 2008.

    Stone Temple Pilots, though, returned in 2008 with Weiland as its frontman again. The reunited band released another album together before they fired Weiland in 2013.

    Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction, Slash and other rock musicians reacted to the news on Twitter.

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

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

    In a 1998 interview with the Los Angeles Times surrounding the release of his first solo album “12 Bar Blues,” Weiland described how he came to terms with his success.

    “I used to feel guilty about my success, but I’m over that now. It’s like, hey, some people cook for a living and some people milk cows. I write songs,” he said.

    Justin Scuiletti contributed to this report.

    The post Scott Weiland, former frontman for the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, dead at 48 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    FBI said Friday there were several pieces of evidence that prompted the agency to officially investigate the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting as an “act of terrorism.”

    The shooters crushed their cell phones and attempted to destroy their digital fingerprints, said David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles division, adding that authorities continue to investigate “these horrific acts.”

    [Watch Video]PBS NewsHour will live stream updates from San Bernardino today.

    One of the two shooters accused of fatally shooting 14 people at a holiday party San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday posted online messages that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, a U.S. law enforcement offical told the Associated Press.

    READ MORE: Everything we know about the San Bernardino shooting

    Tashfeen Malik, 27, used an alias on Facebook to show support for the extremist group’s leader, but deleted the message before Wednesday’s attack. A separate anonymous U.S. official told the AP that it appeared there was no indication that ISIS made contact with her. More specific details of Malik’s appeals to ISIS were not immediately given.

    Although officials, including President Barack Obama, have shied away from labeling the San Bernardino mass shooting a terrorist attack, these developments are the first significant details to understanding why Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, allegedly opened fire in a room of his county co-workers at the Inland Regional Center.

    Following the aftermath of the shooting, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan told reporters there was “some degree of planning.” Not long after, police found a dozen pipe bombs, more than 4,500 rounds of ammunition and hundreds of bomb-making tools in the garage of a California home rented by the couple.

    Weapons confiscated from last Wednesday's attack in San Bernardino, California, are shown in this San Bernardino County Sheriff Department handout photo from their Twitter account released to Reuters on Dec. 3, 2015. Photo provided by San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department/Handout

    Weapons confiscated from last Wednesday’s attack in San Bernardino, California, are shown in this San Bernardino County Sheriff Department handout photo from their Twitter account released to Reuters on Dec. 3, 2015. Photo provided by San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department/Handout

    Farook, who had no criminal record, was born in Illinois and raised in Southern California. He worked for the county’s health department for five years as an environmental inspector. Bowdich said Malik, a Pakistani, entered the U.S. on a fiancee visa in 2014. They would later marry and have a daughter, who is now 6 months old, who they dropped off with Farook’s mother on the morning of the attack.

    Police also detonated three bombs that were attached to a remote control car that didn’t set off. Police found the device in a bag at the scene.

    Authorities said they had assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns, and were dressed in “assault-style clothing” when they entered the center. The suspects fired between 65 and 75 rounds and fled in a dark-colored SUV. A car chase ensued that ended when the suspects exchanging gunfire with police. Farook and Malik were killed, and two officers sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the confrontation.

    PBS NewsHour will live stream updates in our live stream player above. And of course you can watch the PBS NewsHour at 6 p.m. EST in the same player. We always announce when we will air a live stream via our Twitter account, @NewsHour.

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    Pope Francis traveled to a war zone for the first time, world leaders congregated on the climate and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a historic change. Test your knowledge of these events and more in our 5-minute quiz.

    The post World news quiz: Pope visits war zone and military makes historic shift appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A viral story claims Christmas lights wage war on your WiFi. Here’s the science behind whether or not it's true and ways to fix it if so. Photo by Andy Melton/Flickr

    A viral story claims Christmas lights wage war on your WiFi. Here’s the science behind whether or not it’s true and ways to fix it if so. Photo by Andy Melton/Flickr

    Christmas lights may be crippling your WiFi, or at least that was the takeaway from headlines circulating earlier this week.

    The claim isn’t simply fodder for the #WarOnChristmas debate. It’s based on some basic principles of physics.

    But how bad is the problem and should you toss those twinkle lights in the trash so you can stream Love Actually without interruption? The answer depends on where your WiFi router is in relationship to the holiday lights and the size of those sparkling strands.

    WiFi uses radio waves to communicate. Radio waves fall into a family of radiant energy known as the electromagnetic spectrum. Microwaves, infrared beams, visible light, ultraviolet rays and gamma rays are all part of this family. Like relatives arguing at the holiday dinner table, sometimes these waves interfere with each other.

    The biggest pest for WiFi tends to be microwaves. If you stick your router next to a microwave oven and warm up a bowl a soup, you might notice a few connectivity issues. That’s because high-powered microwaves often operate at a frequency — 2.4GHz — used by most WiFi devices. Switch on the microwave, and your laptop can no longer distinguish between the WiFi signals and energy being produced by heating your Hot Pocket. Cell phones, bluetooth gadgets, some baby monitors, and cordless phones (remember those?) can create the same problem and interfere with your download speed.

    Back to holiday lights. Their incandescent and LED bulbs emit light. Also, their wires are typically unshielded, meaning the electromagnetic radiation created by electricity pulsing through the cord can produce a very weak electromagnetic field.

    More lights may mean a stronger field, thanks to a physical concept called linear superposition. Light waves, like all forms of electromagnetic radiation, moves in waves like water.

    An animation of a beam of white light being dispersed by a prism into various waves of colored light. Photo via wikimedia.

    An animation of a beam of white light being dispersed by a prism into various waves of colored light. Photo via wikimedia.

    If two of those waves arrive at the same point at the same time, their amplitude or strength can combine. When that merger is constructive, the resulting wave looks bigger — ocean waves would look taller and light waves would create a stronger magnetic field.

    The animation shows two wave pulses traveling in opposite directions. When they converge, their collective amplitude is greater than that of the individual waves. Animation courtesy of Dr. Dan Russell, Grad. Prog. Acoustics, Penn State.

    The animation shows two wave pulses traveling in opposite directions. When they converge, their collective amplitude is greater than that of the individual waves. Animation courtesy of Dr. Dan Russell, Grad. Prog. Acoustics, Penn State.

    It’s hard to predict the points where electromagnetic waves from twinkle lights may constructively merge, but electromagnetic field strength diminishes with distance, so you may want to move your WiFi router or laptop desk if they are placed right next to a festivus tree decked in fairy lights.

    If you want to find the best spot for your router, then you could move it to different areas in your house and then check your connection speed here. Another option is a new WiFi-checking app from Ofcom — the United Kingdom’s communications regulator. A press release announcing the app this week set off a media storm about fairy lights and WiFi. Note: This new app only works in the United Kingdom.

    Engineers are also designing materials that can protect WiFi and other communication devices from electromagnetic issues. These shields would only permit intended WiFi signals to interact with a device while blocking all other interference. NASA has a facility dedicated to creating these materials for satellites, and the National Science Foundation sponsors a nationwide research collective of three universities and 20 companies to achieve the same goal.

    Why the fuss? Well, electromagnetic interference isn’t just a household nuisance; it can also be harnessed as a weapon. As William Radasky explains for IEEE Spectrum, a briefcase-sized radio weapon could cripple a communications network:

    And, unlike other means of attack, EM weapons can be used without much risk. A terrorist gang can be caught at the gates, and a hacker may raise alarms while attempting to slip through the firewalls, but an EM attacker can try and try again, and no one will notice until computer systems begin to fail (and even then the victims may still not know why).

    However, if you’re mainly worried about the worst interferers of household WiFi, check out this great list by Samuel Gibbs in The Guardian.

    The post Too many Christmas lights may paralyze your WiFi, but here’s how to fix it appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Obama Administration will revisit changing the selective service law so that women could be eligible for the draft, the Associated Press reported Friday. Photo by Larisa Epatko

    The Obama Administration will revisit changing the selective service law so that women could be eligible for the draft, the Associated Press reported Friday. Photo by Larisa Epatko

    WASHINGTON — The government is deliberating whether to propose Selective Service changes that would make women eligible for the military draft, the White house said Friday, a day after the Pentagon said it would no longer bar women from combat jobs.

    The Defense Department has prepared an analysis of how the Pentagon change could affect the U.S. Military Selective Service Act, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

    “We’re going to work with Congress to look at that analysis, to review it, to get others’ opinions and determine if additional reforms or changes are necessary in light of this decision,” Earnest said.

    Earnest said President Barack Obama has not expressed his views to the Pentagon.

    The comments came a day after Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced he was ordering the military to open all military jobs to women, including the most dangerous commando posts.

    Carter’s move opens up a total of about 220,000 jobs that were previously closed to women. They include some of the most demanding roles, including special operations forces. In announcing the historic change, Carter said the military could no longer afford to bar half the population from key posts solely because of gender.

    The Selective Service Act requires eligible men to register for the draft when they turn 18 or face fines. Registrants can be called up for compulsory service until they are 26 years old, though none have been drafted in decades.

    Carter has previously said he supports a review of the draft based on the growing role women play in the military.

    The post Obama administration weighs making women eligible for military draft appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Every morning, as Christine Janumala prepares for her classes at Columbia University, she makes sure her bag is packed with all the essentials. Textbooks. Note pads. Pens. And at least one empty tub of Tupperware.

    While the school supplies will help her get through her coursework, it’s the Tupperware that will get her through her day. After paying for tuition and other living expenses, Janumala often has no money left for food. She darts to club meetings between lectures to scoop up uneaten pizza or sandwiches. If she gets there early, she can grab enough to stow away for later.

    Christine Janumala, a student at Columbia University, says she scrounges free food to avoid going hungry. Photo by Anna Demidova.

    Christine Janumala, a student at Columbia University, says she scrounges free food to avoid going hungry. Photo courtesy of Christine Janumala.

    “Being food insecure is so alienating to begin with, but there’s an extra layer of ‘I don’t belong’ when you go to such a prestigious university, where food is usually an afterthought for most people,” said Janumala, a 21-year-old junior from Santa Ana, California majoring in creative writing and the daughter of immigrants from India who is the first in her family to go to college in the United States. “Making sure I get three square meals a day requires a lot of planning.”

    It may come as a surprise that an affluent school like Columbia, which has a $9.2 billion endowment and just raised another $1 billion for financial aid, has students who can’t afford to eat. But as more low-income students seek a higher education even as the cost of tuition soars, hunger is a problem that is seeping onto even the wealthiest and most elite campuses.

    Related: Nonprofits step in to help students that colleges allow to ‘slip through the cracks’

    A few community colleges have tackled the issue of hunger head on, but other higher-education institutions have left it up to student groups to take the lead in creating meal-share programs or food banks, or even shine a light on the problem. One exception is the University of California system, which allocated $750,000 earlier this year to answer the surreal question of how many of its students didn’t have enough food, and recommend what to do about it.

    More than 200 food pantries have popped up on college campuses—50 of them this year alone.

    At Columbia, for example, students who don’t use up all the weekly credit from their dining hall accounts can give some of it to classmates who don’t have enough to eat; some undergraduates have created an app that also pinpoints where on campus there is free food. A student at Otterbein University in Ohio started a program to send food home on the weekends with financially struggling students who have children; it serves 85 families a week.

    Advocates say these remedies, however well-intentioned, don’t get at the root of the issue.

    Related: States moving college scholarship money away from the poor, to the wealthy and middle class

    Over the last decade, the number of students receiving federal Pell grants, which are given to the neediest of undergraduates, has grown from 5.3 million to 8.2 million. But the increase in the cost of attendance has eclipsed what these grants cover, including for such necessities as food. Meanwhile, median family income has flattened out or fallen not just for the poor, but for all but the wealthiest Americans.

    This has left the lowest-income students, in particular, with crushing loans and tough choices.

    “Historically, colleges and universities were for the middle and upper classes, and financial aid was developed to help those families go to college,” said Clare Cady, co-founder and co-director of the two-year-old College and University Food Bank Alliance. More poor people may be going to college now, she said, “but the college system in this country hasn’t caught up. Colleges and universities are systemically out of step with the needs of a large and growing segment of the students on their campuses.”

    Related: The financial aid policy that shuts out millions of students

    A little less than half of Janumala’s tuition is paid for by a Pell grant and other financial aid, which means she’s covering the rest plus all of her living expenses in New York City. As a student in the School of General Studies — a Columbia program that caters to nontraditional undergraduates who often don’t live in the dorms — she said she has many classmates who, like her, are struggling to get by. To make ends meet, they Dumpster-dive and beg the local supermarkets for day-old food that would otherwise be thrown out.

    One in three college freshmen has only inconsistent access to adequate food, according to a study by researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Minnesota released last month at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

    There has also been other research about this at individual institutions. One out of five students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa struggled with hunger, a 2009 study found. A survey by the City University of New York in 2011 said that roughly two in five undergraduates, or 100,000 students there, had trouble getting enough food.

    And “we suspect that these are undercounts,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin. “College is making students poor. They are trading off food to cover their tuition.”

    Related: Catholic colleges tell poor students: Go somewhere else

    A new report produced by Goldrick-Rab at the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, which works to lower barriers to graduation, found that more than one in five students at 10 community colleges studied have trouble getting enough to eat. About a quarter frequently skip meals because they can’t afford food.

    Yet as policymakers and the broader education community look for ways to help first-generation, low-income students get into and through college, little if any of that discussion has been focused on hunger.

    “It’s beyond dispute that in preschool and through high school, nutrition is important for learning,” said Wick Sloane, a professor of writing at Bunker Hill Community College, who said some of the advising he does with students is about how they can register for food stamps, and who wants other community colleges to do more for their students who are going hungry. “So we give those students free and reduced-priced meals. Then, after 12th grade, the whole thing falls off a cliff.”

    Fourteen percent of households nationwide are grappling with a lack of nutritious food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. The Wisconsin report suggests that hunger may contribute to the fact that only a little more than half of students graduate with degrees in even six years—a rate that is actually falling.

    It’s not just being hungry that’s a problem; students who have to work to make ends meet, or worry constantly about where their next meals may be coming from, have more pressing needs than making sure they get to class or finish their assignments on time.

    “The idea that meal shares or individual food banks are going to solve this is embarrassing,” Sloane said.

    “I applaud the food banks because they’re not sitting around wringing their hands and doing nothing,” he said. “But a monthly delivery of food is not going to help millions of hungry students.”

    This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about higher education.

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    President John F. Kennedy leaves the St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church after attending Mass on Oct. 28, 1962 in Washington, D.C., a few hours before Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev offers to retire the Soviet missiles from Cuba. Photo by STF/AFP/Getty Images

    President John F. Kennedy came under fire in 1960 for exaggerating the so-called “missile gap” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Kennedy is one of many presidential candidates who lied on the campaign trail. Photo by STF/AFP/Getty Images

    Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump claimed that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 terror attacks.

    Ben Carson said the Egyptian pyramids were built to store grain.

    In the Democratic debate last month, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stated flatly that the United States has more wealth inequality than “any major country on Earth.”

    None of these assertions were true.

    With less than two months to go before the Iowa caucuses, candidates are resorting to fuzzy math, half-truths and even outright falsehoods to compete for media attention and votes. White House contenders today appear increasingly comfortable misleading the public. Could this be a sign that precision and accuracy matter less in politics now than ever before?

    Not necessarily. In fact, the tactic isn’t new at all. Trump and his 2016 rivals belong to a long tradition of presidential candidates who have stretched the limits of truthiness on the campaign trail.

    On Monday’s PBS NewsHour, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill to tackle the question of lies and half-truths on the campaign trail.

    The worst offenses of the current election cycle (so far, at least) pale in comparison to the biggest campaign lies of the modern political era.

    Kennedy and missiles

    In the run-up to the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy claimed that the Soviet Union had more nuclear missiles than the U.S. It became an effective talking point for Kennedy, who continued warning about the so-called “missile gap,” and the possibility that the country might fall behind in its arms race with Russia, for the rest of his campaign.

    It wasn’t true.

    Seventeen days after Kennedy took office, his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, admitted that the missile gap didn’t exist. Evidence has since surfaced that the Kennedy campaign likely knew about this all along, but went ahead with its claims anyway.

    The gamble worked in part because presidential candidates in the early television age faced far less scrutiny than they do now, said Robert Shapiro, a political scientist at Columbia University.

    With less than two months to go before the Iowa caucuses, candidates are resorting to fuzzy math, half-truths and even outright falsehoods to compete for media attention and votes.

    “Kennedy’s claims were exaggerated, but at the time it wasn’t something that could be [easily] fact checked the way current claims can,” Shapiro said. Imagine trying to fact check with a rotary phone, your library card and no Internet.

    Ford and Eastern Europe

    Other scholars pointed to Gerald Ford’s disastrous truth-stretcher during a debate with Jimmy Carter in 1976.

    “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” Ford famously said in response to a question about Cold War-era politics.

    An incredulous debate moderator offered Ford the chance to walk back the statement, but he chose to double down on his position instead, opening the door for Carter to question the president’s grasp of foreign affairs.

    It’s impossible to know exactly what impact the comment had on Ford’s campaign. He faced several serious obstacles from the outset. The economy was in bad shape, voters wanted a change in Washington, and Ford had pardoned Richard Nixon — all factors that likely played a much larger role in deciding the race.

    Still, Ford never fully recovered from his reality-defying take on Soviet influence. Decades later, there is still some debate about whether it cost him support among Eastern European immigrants in states like Wisconsin that voted for Carter.

    “Candidates often say things that are not 100 percent true, or which they eventually don’t pursue,” and such things can come back to haunt them, Princeton University politics historian Julian Zelizer wrote in an email.

    Nixon and Watergate

    Nixon is a perfect example.

    Two months after the break-in at the Watergate office complex in 1972, Nixon, who was running for reelection that year, announced that the White House had nothing to do with the incident. Nixon won, but his cover-up didn’t last long.

    Bachmann and the HPV vaccine

    Former Rep. and GOP presidential nominee Michele Bachmann was roundly criticized for claiming in 2011 that the vaccine for HPV can lead to "mental retardation."

    Former Rep. and GOP presidential nominee Michele Bachmann was roundly criticized for claiming in 2011 that the vaccine for HPV can lead to “mental retardation.”

    More recent presidential candidates have shown a tendency to misrepresent facts that can easily be checked by a quick search on Google.

    Following a Republican debate in 2011, then-Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota claimed that a vaccine for the human papillomavirus virus, or HPV, can lead to “mental retardation.”

    Critics seized on the comment, and Bachmann’s staunchest conservative allies conceded that the lawmaker had veered into uncharted territory.

    “Bachmann might have blown it,” Rush Limbaugh, the radio show host and a vocal Bachmann supporter, said at the time. “There’s no evidence that the vaccine causes mental retardation.”

    Bachmann would have faced an even greater backlash if the debate had taken place this year, said Angie Drobnic Holan, who runs the website PolitiFact, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its fact-checking coverage of the 2008 presidential election.

    “I’m seeing much more coverage of false statements this cycle,” said Hanlon, whose site launched in 2007. “People are getting used to fact checking journalism, and the public has come to expect it.”

    When lying becomes strategy

    And yet candidates continue to lie.

    There are several, well-researched theories as to why — despite the rise of groups like Hanlon’s — side-stepping the truth has become such a successful strategy.

    “You have this level of emotional fervor at work that not only affects people’s opinions, but it’s also gotten to the point that it affects their perception of reality.”

    A growing number of voters don’t trust mass media. A recent Gallup poll found that just 40 percent of Americans trust the news, down from 55 percent in 1999.

    The surge of partisanship in the years since Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama took office has also made lying to voters, or reinforcing inaccurate views, far easier, according to Shapiro, the political scientist.

    “You have this level of emotional fervor at work that not only affects people’s opinions, but it’s also gotten to the point that it affects their perception of reality,” Shapiro said. “So when Trump makes claims about the behavior of immigrants, it’s information that’s consistent with the opinions that his supporters have about immigration.”

    The glut of online news and commentary hasn’t helped, either.

    “In the era of the Internet there is so much information out there, true and false, and it is virtually impossible for most citizens to separate fact from fiction,” Zelizer said. “This increases the incentive for politicians to literally say anything.”

    Trump has certainly paid notice.

    The real estate mogul said on Twitter yesterday that he would release his medical records. He couldn’t help adding a verbal flourish that can’t possibly be true.

    “I have instructed my long-time doctor to issue, within two weeks, a full medical report,” Trump tweeted. “It will show perfection.”

    The post The history of lies on the campaign trail appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

    0 0

    Earphones are seen on top of a smart phone with a Spotify logo on it, in Zenica February 20, 2014. Online music streaming service Spotify is recruiting a U.S. financial reporting specialist, adding to speculation that the Swedish start-up is preparing for a share listing, which one banker said could value the firm at as much as $8 billion (4 billion pounds). REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS SOCIETY) - RTX1971J

    Platform creators, whether in app or website form, have fallen into a pattern where they funnel millions of dollars into creating a pristine platform, 100 percent streamlined for the user, build a strong following, then flip it around and monetize it in a bait-and-switch that inevitably leaves the users less excited about the platform. Photo by REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

    There’s a trend in the tech and media world right now that concerns me. If you joined Snapchat when it was first created, watched Hulu when it was blissfully ad-free, browsed Twitter when it was only genuine tweets or even touched a computer or smartphone in the last 10 years, you’ve probably noticed it.

    Creators, whether of apps or websites, have fallen into a pattern where they funnel millions of dollars into creating a pristine platform, 100 percent streamlined for the user. After building a strong following, they flip it around and monetize it in a bait-and-switch that inevitably leaves the users less excited about the platform.

    It’s the bread and butter of the tech industry.

    There’s a simple reason for this. The prevailing doctrine in the world of selling advertising space is that you must prove you have an audience before you can sell it. Makes sense, right? Advertisers won’t buy an empty promise. In order to build that audience, you have to first provide a product for free. This has worked to an extent for all of the companies I listed, but it’s a flawed model relying on an inauthentic strategy that leaves users feeling betrayed.

    If you’re like me, you should be concerned with where the social network plans to take the platform, and how your experience as a reader will be fundamentally changed when ads are introduced.

    Look at Twitter. The micro-blogging site has lost its luster as it has stepped up its advertising game. Snapchat has still stayed mostly true to the original concept of sending self-destructing photos to friends and the public, but I am afraid it’s only a matter of time before unsolicited ads start showing up in my feed.

    Both Spotify and Hulu have become completely unbearable if you still use them without a premium subscription because of the frequency of ads. I don’t even want to touch the subject of Facebook — suffice it to say if you don’t have a massive Facebook advertising budget, you’re better off using carrier pigeons to spread the word of your events than to use a Facebook Page.

    The common thread of these companies is that they’re all making money off of ads, at least for now. But Twitter’s user engagement is falling, and the majority of Spotify’s ads are self-promoting, which leads me to think they don’t see much future in their free streaming service.

    I know as well as anyone the cost of producing and hosting great content on an awesome platform. I know that the only way to support and sustain apps or websites that provide that service is through advertising or subscriptions. I’m not calling for developers to altruistically push out apps without ever expecting to get something in return, because I know it’s a business venture. Something has to pay the bills.

    What I want to see are social media apps with a transparent design that make it clear from the beginning how the platform will create revenue. It’s a more proactive approach that will inspire true loyalty from users, instead of just sucking users in, getting them hooked, and then fundamentally altering the platform to host ads and crossing your fingers users won’t migrate to the next newfangled free app.

    It’s a higher standard of creativity that app developers should hold themselves to in order to build better relationships with their users and ultimately provide more value to their future advertising customers.

    This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

    The post The bait-and-switch strategy of app development is doomed to fail appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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