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

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    A new study released Tuesday by Georgetown University ranks 1,400 four-year colleges and universities by how much money students earn ten years after starting classes.

    In Table 1, below, a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will put an alum over $90,000 in yearly earnings. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Harvard, and Georgetown, the next three on the list, have students earning $80,000-plus.

    More than half of the spots in the top 20 salary earners went to schools with significant science, technology or engineering programs, including Stevens Institute of Technology, California Maritime Academy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Colorado School of Mines.

    table 1

    Table 1 focuses solely on earnings, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

    The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce based their findings on the U.S. Department of Education’s Scorecard, a web tool released in September 2015 designed to help students choose the right college and get an idea of how much debt they would accrue.

    According to the Center’s report, the choice of major or type of program a student chooses has significant effects on their level of income. “For example, petroleum engineering majors earn $136,000 annually at mid-career, while early childhood education majors earn $36,000,” the report says, and colleges vary greatly in terms of the majors they offer to students.

    In Table 2 below, the Center looked at whether it’s possible to tell if a student’s high earnings are a result of the quality of education or by the large number of students who enrolled in majors that tend to lead to high earnings. In order to look at the quality of the education, researchers adjusted for differences in the majors or programs.

    table 2

    Table 2 adjusts for choice of major or program, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

    Students from a wide array of schools including Harvard, Providence College and Carnegie Mellon had higher earnings than would be expected based on their majors. MIT students fell to fourth place and many of the maritime academies dropped out of the top 20 all-together. In other words, if a school ranks high strictly in earnings but much lower after adjusting for choice of major, it would show that the type of major a student chooses is of significant importance.

    Lastly, in Table 3, below, the Georgetown Center takes into account academic preparation and the likelihood of students earning a graduate degree. While the results, similar to Table 2, showed that several of the same schools still made it into the top 20, some shifts also took place. University of Colorado-Denver students earned the most above their expected earnings, which were set at $47,600. Instead, the former lynxes earned a median income of $73,800.

    table 3

    Table 3 accounts for differences in a student’s academic preparation and whether they earn a graduate degree, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

    In the midst of the Ivy Leagues or top-tier schools including Duke, Stanford, and University of Pennsylvania, sits the all-men’s Catholic Saint John’s University in Minnesota, California State University-Bakersfield, and Molloy College in Long Island, New York.

    In a statement, the Georgetown Center says students who earn a graduate degree lead to 28 percent higher earnings than a Bachelor’s degree alone.

    The post New study ranks the colleges that produce the highest paid graduates appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Aidan Solis, 11, kneels by a pop-up memorial in San Bernardino, California December 4, 2015, following Wednesday's attacks. The FBI is investigating the fatal shooting of 14 people in California by a married couple as an "act of terrorism," officials said on Friday, noting the wife was believed to have pledged allegiance to a leader of the militant group Islamic State. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - RTX1X9XW

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Americans today weighed the president’s Sunday night address on terror abroad and at home.

    At the same time, investigators in Southern California sought to shed new light on the attack by a husband and wife who turned to militant Islam.

    San Bernardino County leaders called for unity this morning, as thousands of employees returned to work for the first time since last week’s shootings.

    TRUDY RAYMUNDO, Public Health Director, San Bernardino County: Today, I want to ask the community to mourn with us. I ask that you come together and hold each other strong, because it is this strength that will help us heal.

    GWEN IFILL: Public Health Director Trudy Raymundo was at the holiday lunch where Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire, killing 14 people and wounding 21.

    A focus of the probe now is whether Malik radicalized her husband and if she was, indeed, the driving force behind the rampage. The FBI’s David Bowdich said today the couple trained by taking target practice, but it’s not clear who led the way to violence.

    DAVID BOWDICH, Assistant Director, FBI Los Angeles Field Office: We have learned and believe that both subjects were radicalized and have been for quite some time.

    Now, how did that happen? The question we’re trying to get at is, how did that happen and by whom and where did that happen?

    GWEN IFILL: As the attack began last week, Malik pledged allegiance online to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, overall leader of the Islamic State group. The militants say she was a supporter, but have not claimed any direct link to the attack.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.

    GWEN IFILL: Last night, President Obama sought to reassure the nation.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our success won’t depend on tough talk or abandoning our values or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless.

    GWEN IFILL: The president did not announce a new strategy to defeat the Islamic State, but he did call for greater gun control measures. They would include not allowing people whose names appear on no-fly lists to buy firearms.

    In San Bernardino, reactions at a makeshift memorial were lukewarm.

    MAN: He has to walk a fine line, but it probably comes across as a little weak, but that is kind of Obama’s style.

    WOMAN: It wasn’t strong enough. It appears to me, every time that he talks on camera, that this is like a bothersome thing for him, that he really just does not want to have to deal with this.

    GWEN IFILL: Back in Washington, the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, said today he will announce changes to the national terror alert system in the coming days.

    The post FBI probes how San Bernardino suspects were radicalized appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    People leave flowers at a makeshift memorial after last week's shooting in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 7, 2015. Homeland Security said the department was reviewing its K-1 visa program, known as “fiancé visas,” after one of the two gunmen in the San Bernardino shooting moved to the United States to marry Syed Farook, her husband and accomplice in the massacre last week. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon /Reuters

    People leave flowers at a makeshift memorial after last week’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 7, 2015. Homeland Security said the department was reviewing its K-1 visa program, known as “fiancé visas,” after one of the two gunmen in the San Bernardino shooting moved to the United States to marry Syed Farook, her husband and accomplice in the massacre last week. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon /Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Tashfeen Malik, the wife accused in the California shootings, was one of just 519 Pakistanis allowed into the country last year specifically to marry a U.S. citizen.

    Malik’s path to the United States immediately highlighted the U.S. government’s immigration vetting practices after she was identified as one of two attackers in San Bernardino, California. The FBI said Monday she and her American husband had been radicalized for some time. That raised the prospect that Malik’s anti-American sentiments could have surfaced before U.S. officials evaluated whether she should be allowed to move here.

    PODCAST: How Chinese millionaires buy U.S. citizenship

    The Obama administration is reviewing the program, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday. He did not say what changes were being considered.

    The K-1 visa program is among the smallest visa categories managed by the government. Of more than 9.9 million visas issued in fiscal 2014, just 35,925 — roughly 0.3 percent — were fiancé visas, according to State Department figures.

    Much of the focus is on rooting out marriage fraud. A couple must prove they have physically seen each other within the past two years, unless meeting in person would violate “strict and long-established customs” or cause an “extreme hardship.”

    “This visa has been totally under the radar,” said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Center. “The issue of marriage fraud has definitely gotten a lot of attention, just not as a security vulnerability.”

    Applicants are subject to a vetting process that includes at least one in-person interview, fingerprints, checks against U.S. terrorist watch lists and reviews of family members, travel history and places where a person has lived and worked. But checks for information about an applicant against entries in intelligence databases and criminal records can be hampered if the underlying information is incomplete.

    DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said officials from DHS and the State Department are reviewing the fiancé visa program “to assess possible program enhancements.” The administration is also reviewing the Visa Waiver Program, which allows most citizens from 38 countries to travel to the United States without applying for a visa.

    Foreigners applying from countries recognized as home to Islamic extremists, such as Pakistan, undergo additional scrutiny before the State Department and Homeland Security Department approve permission for a visa. Malik had been living in Pakistan and visiting family in Saudi Arabia before she passed the background check and entered the U.S. in July 2014 with Syed Farook, a U.S. citizen whose family was originally from Pakistan.

    The vetting process is similar to but less stringent than the process used to approve refugees from Syria. It is far more extensive than checks made for traditional tourist visas, Rosenblum said.

    Speaking from the Oval Office for just the third time during his presidency, but offering few new proposals, President Barack Obama on Sunday pledged to continue his current strategy against the Islamic State overseas, while also encouraging American Muslims to root out extremism in their own communities. Video by PBS NewsHour

    The FBI said last week that the shooting that killed 14 people and wounded nearly two dozen others is being investigated as a terrorist attack. Malik pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and its leader under an alias account on Facebook just moments before she and Farook opened fire on a holiday banquet for his co-workers. Malik and Farook died in a gun battle with police hours later.

    The FBI said Monday that Malik and Farook were radicalized and had been “for quite some time,” though investigators are still trying to determine where, when and how that happened, and if anyone influenced them.

    Now the question is: Did the government miss signs that Malik had been radicalized before she was approved for her visa?

    Johnson said Monday it is too soon to know.

    “That assumes, and this investigation is still under way, that there were flags that were raised or should have been raised in the process of her admission to the United States, and I am not prepared to say that and I’m not prepared to make that declaration,” Johnson said.

    The post U.S. reviewing fiancé visa program after San Bernardino shooting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd at a Pearl Harbor Day rally aboard in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, on Dec. 7, 2015. Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd at a Pearl Harbor Day rally aboard in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, on Dec. 7, 2015. Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters


    WASHINGTON — Amid fear of terrorism, Republican presidential candidates for months have escalated their rhetoric about the place of Muslims in the United States.

    A Muslim shouldn’t be president. Muslims fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq should be barred from the country. Mosques should be placed under surveillance and shut down if people are radicalized in them.

    Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s call Monday for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” was the latest salvo for a party aggressively testing the boundaries between concerns about security and discrimination against a religious group.

    For most of Trump’s rivals in the 2016 race, as well as numerous other Republicans, it was also the proposal that finally crossed that line.

    “Donald Trump is unhinged,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said via Twitter. “His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.”

    South Carolina Republican Chairman Matt Moore, whose state is third on the primary voting calendar, said that “as a conservative who truly cares about religious liberty, Donald Trump’s bad idea and rhetoric send a shiver down my spine.”

    The nearly unanimous condemnation from fellow Republicans, Democrats and legal and immigration experts showed no sign of affecting Trump. He reiterated his proposal to keep Muslims out of the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” at a Monday night rally in South Carolina and again in a round of television interviews Tuesday morning.

    Trump has faced pushback from within his party for earlier comments about Muslims, but never with such speed and force.

    Some rivals challenged his debunked assertion that thousands of Muslims living in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks. The GOP field largely condemned his support for the idea of a database to track Muslims living in the U.S., but his comments were vague enough that Trump was able to walk them back without much harm to his campaign.

    Trump’s comments Monday came as his lead in preference polls in Iowa, the state that kicks off the nominating contest, appeared to be challenged by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. If the real estate mogul’s goal was to shift focus away from Cruz and back onto his candidacy, he no doubt succeeded.

    Trump’s comments seem aimed squarely at Republican primary voters wary of Muslims, particularly those with direct ties to countries in the Middle East that have spawned violent extremist groups.

    While Trump’s rhetoric may be more bombastic, his rivals have proposed their own ideas for keeping tabs on Muslims in the United States. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll showed Republicans view Muslims more negatively than they do any other religious group, and significantly worse than do Democrats. Following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, responsibility for which was claimed by the Islamic State group, surveys showed Americans increasingly opposed to accepting refugees from Syria, the predominately Muslim country where IS has a stronghold.

    For Americans, the fear of Islamic State-inspired attacks drew even closer last week when a married couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. The FBI said both had been radicalized for some time and the woman claimed allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook shortly before the attack.

    While Trump’s rhetoric may be more bombastic and his proposals more aggressive, his rivals have proposed their own ideas for keeping tabs on Muslims in the United States and blocking those who want to come here.

    In September, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said he did not believe a Muslim should serve as president of the United States. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” Carson said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

    Following the Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead and hundreds more wounded, GOP candidates rallied around proposals to limit Muslim refugees coming to the U.S. Their calls were echoed by Republican governors who vowed to keep Syrian refugees from being resettled in their states.

    Cruz proposed legislation banning Syrian Muslims from coming to the U.S. Bush said American assistance to Syrian refugees should focus primarily on Christians. And Carson compared handling refugees fleeing Syria’s intractable civil war to dealing with “rabid dogs.”

    After Trump said he wanted surveillance of “certain mosques” and would considering shutting down some of those houses of worship, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he, too, would be willing to shut down mosques and any other places that radicalize people.

    While Trump has been at the forefront of his party’s aggressive posture on Muslims, Democrats say the comments from other candidates give Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton a ripe opportunity to cast the entire GOP field as out of step with American values of religious tolerance.

    “Given how far he’s pushed the party, Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, are going to have no problem tying all of the candidates to Donald Trump in one nice little extremist package bow,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist.

    But for some Republicans, the most pressing challenge isn’t keeping Trump from negatively branding Republicans in the general election — it’s making sure he’s not the candidate representing the party in next November’s White House race.

    “So far, every boundary he has pushed has worked out for him,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary for former President George W. Bush. “I hope GOP voters recognize this time he’s gone too far.”

    Associated Press White House Correspondent Julie Pace wrote this report.

    The post Donald Trump’s comments escalate GOP rhetoric on Muslims appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Participants are seen in silhouette as they look at a screen showing a world map with climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 8, 2015.  REUTERS/Stephane Mahe      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY  - RTX1XPHY

    Participants are seen in silhouette as they look at a screen showing a world map with climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 at Le Bourget, France on Dec. 8. Photo by Stephane Mahe/Reuters

    Editor’s note: We’ve asked several climate experts to answer the question, “What would constitute success at the Paris climate talks?” This column is part of a series that will run over the next few days. Rachel Kyte is World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change and oversees work on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and climate finance.


    In Paris, in addition to negotiators, there are thousands of mayors, CEOs, community leaders, financiers and more. They are all focused on delivering the business models and solutions that will put into action the national plans filed with the UN that describe the contribution each country will make to tackling climate change. Those plans, when taken together, the UN calculates, will cap warming at 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels. That is fatal for many farming communities and cities, small islands and delta peoples around the world. But it’s a start.

    We are the first generations that have truly had the opportunity to end poverty, and we are the last generations to be able to stop climate change.

    What we need from Paris, then, is an agreement that includes all countries and leaves no one behind. This means that it should be clear in its ambition, sending the strongest signal possible to all economic decision makers that we are determined to engineer the necessary economic transition. This is a transition to a world where jobs and competitiveness do not depend on carbon and where carbon is priced to reflect the devastation of its pollution. This will make us more efficient, save health-care costs and increase the productivity of our cities and our agriculture. This world is one where we also marshall resources to build our resilience to the shocks of climate change, especially that of the poorest and the marginalized — the most vulnerable.

    READ NEXT: In Paris, too much focus on the ‘politically feasible,’ too little on the environment

    The plans that have been filed in the run up to Paris will have to be revised regularly to take into account progress, technological breakthroughs, financing, business models, what has worked and what has not. The ambition of these plans will have to be revised upward. That process must be agreed in Paris.

    As we put these plans into action, we will need to support those that will find this transition hard. For example, those who for generations have proudly worked in industries that powered the success of the developed world, but now cannot be part of our future. We will need to agree that as an international community, we will work with those developing countries that have economies dependent on highly polluting energy to smooth their transition.

    We are the first generations that have truly had the opportunity to end poverty, and we are the last generations to be able to stop climate change. If the negotiators are blocked by that pressure, they can look up and see that remarkable array of community leaders, mayors, pension fund managers, investors and project developers determined to succeed and prosper in a low-carbon economy. They represent trillions of dollars of investment finance seeking steady returns in a volatile world. They represent the future.

    The post Column: We are the last generations able to stop climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Two demonstrators hold a sign during a rally in support of the state's upcoming Proposition 37 ballot measure in San Francisco, California, on Oct. 6, 2012. The country's largest food companies are urging Congress to stop mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    Two demonstrators hold a sign during a rally in support of the state’s upcoming Proposition 37 ballot measure in San Francisco, California, on Oct. 6, 2012. The country’s largest food companies are urging Congress to stop mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Food companies are mounting an aggressive year-end push to head off mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.

    The food industry wants the labeling to be voluntary, and it hopes to get a provision in a massive spending bill that Republicans and Democrats want to wrap up this week. If that becomes law, states could not require companies to disclose whether their products contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

    The House passed similar legislation earlier this year, but the Senate has not yet acted. Even so, food companies and farm groups say Congress must step in before Vermont becomes the first state to require GMO labels next summer.

    “It is imperative that Congress take action now to prevent a costly and confusing patchwork of state labeling laws from taking effect next year and spreading across the country,” a coalition of groups representing growers and the food industry said in a letter to House and Senate leaders.

    The country’s largest food companies say genetically modified foods are safe and that labels would be misleading. Supporters of labeling counter that consumers have a right to know what’s in their foods, and Congress shouldn’t be trying to pre-empt the states.

    Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil. The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients.

    The Food and Drug Administration has said GMOs are safe, and the federal government does not support mandatory labels.

    “What’s at stake for farmers and consumers without action is that American farmers and food companies will be faced with uncertainty,” said Claire Parker of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, the group that wants Congress to step in.

    Supporters of labeling are trying to fight the industry effort with an ad in the Washington area and in Vermont that reminds consumers about the FDA’s recent approval of genetically modified salmon, which would not be labeled.

    “If your state wants to label GMOs, Congress is trying a year-end sneak attack to block your right to label,” the ad says.

    Seeds are big business in Hawaii, where large biotech companies develop genetically modified crops. NewsHour Weekend’s Megan Thompson reports on a battle being waged on the island of Kauai by residents who say growing practices like pesticide use are hazardous to public health. Video by PBS NewsHour Weekend

    Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she thinks the issue is too controversial for the year-end spending bill, which lawmakers must pass before leaving for the holidays. She and North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican, have been working to find a compromise.

    “We have a lot of folks on our side of the aisle that are very opposed,” Stabenow said.

    Advocates of labeling say people have a right to know what is in their food and criticize efforts to take away states’ ability to require the labels. They have supported several state efforts to require labeling, with the eventual goal of having a federal mandatory label set by the FDA.

    “It’s about states having the right to do this,” said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, the group behind the ad.

    If passed, the industry-backed legislation would pre-empt any state labeling requirements. So far, Vermont is the only state set to require labeling. Its law would take effect in July 2016 if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry. Maine and Connecticut have also passed laws requiring labeling, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit.

    The legislation would also step up FDA oversight by requiring that any new genetically engineered products be reviewed by the agency before they can be sold. That process is now voluntary for most modified foods. It would also create a new certification process at the Agriculture Department for foods that are labeled free of GMOs.

    The post Food industry pushing to thwart GMO labeling by end of year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) exits the Great Hall at the Library of Congress after delivering a policy speech in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3, 2015. The House will pass a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) exits the Great Hall at the Library of Congress after delivering a policy speech in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3, 2015. The House will pass a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The House will pass a short-term bill to prevent the government from shutting down this weekend, Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday.

    The announcement from the Wisconsin Republican came as talks on a sweeping $1.1 trillion governmentwide spending bill continue slowly.

    The government is currently operating under a short-term spending bill that expires at midnight on Friday. The new stopgap spending bill will buy time for talks on the bigger measure.

    “We need to get it right,” Ryan said of the broader measure. “I don’t want us to go home until we get this done.”

    The full-year spending bill is the main unresolved item on the congressional agenda as lawmakers look to wrap up the session and head home for the holidays. Democrats, backed up by President Barack Obama, have adopted a hard line against numerous GOP policy provisions woven into the 12 spending bills that serve as the template for what promises to be one huge bill known as an omnibus in Washington-speak.

    Republicans are holding out for policy “riders” that would, for instance, block new rules on power-plant emissions, stall a new Labor Department rule requiring financial advisers to avoid conflicts of interest when structuring retirement accounts, and curb new clean water rules.

    “I think they’re trying to jam us,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.

    Another key item involves extending several dozen popular tax breaks for individuals and business. House GOP leaders unveiled a two-year measure extending tax breaks such as the research and development tax credit. Talks on a more ambitious tax measure permanently extending some of the tax breaks have stalled.

    The post Short-term spending bill needed to prevent shutdown, Ryan says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President George W. Bush speaks about the No Child Left Behind Act during his visit to General Philip Kearny School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 8, 2009. The Senate voted Tuesday to end debate on No Child Left Behind, making way for new legislation that makes changes to the widely criticized education law. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    U.S. President George W. Bush speaks about the No Child Left Behind Act during his visit to General Philip Kearny School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 8, 2009. The Senate voted Tuesday to end debate on No Child Left Behind, making way for new legislation that makes changes to the widely criticized education law. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A long-awaited rewrite of federal education law appears headed toward final congressional approval.

    The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to end debate on a widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act, setting up a final vote Wednesday. The sweeping legislation would give the states greater control over the nation’s public schools but still maintain annual testing to gauge student progress.

    The federal government would see its influence in education policy substantially limited and would no longer be able to tell states and local districts how to judge the performance of schools and teachers.

    Under the legislation, which easily passed the House last week, states and districts would come up with their own goals for schools, design their own measures of achievement and progress, and decide how to turn around struggling schools. That’s instead of Washington mandating what critics had dubbed a one-size-fits-all approach to governing the country’s 100,000 public schools.

    The White House has indicated that President Barack Obama would sign the measure into law.

    “It’s the biggest step toward local control of schools in 25 years,” Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said in an interview. He was a chief architect of the bill along with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.

    “Keeping higher standards and real accountability comes from communities and states and not from Washington,” said Alexander, a former education secretary.

    Murray, a former preschool teacher, said the legislation would still hold under-performing schools responsible, but would leave it to the states to decide how to do that. Murray also praised the bill for including a key priority for her — a focus on early childhood education.

    “For the first time ever, our federal education law will recognize the importance of early learning with the grants program that we have put in place. It’s a very good beginning state for our nation,” Murray said in an interview.

    The grants program will use existing funding to help states improve quality and access to early childhood education.

    The No Child Left Behind Act passed with broad support in Congress and was signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. It was praised for its main intent, which was to use annual standardized tests to identify achievement gaps in learning and identify failing schools in need of support.

    But it was later criticized for a heavy-handed federal approach that imposed sanctions when schools came up short in annual testing progress — leading teachers, administrators and others to worry that the high stakes associated with the tests was leading to a culture of over-testing and hurting classroom learning.


    No Child has been up for reauthorization since 2007, but previous attempts to renew the law have gotten caught in a broader debate over the federal role in public education.

    The new bill, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, would keep the key feature of the No Child law: annual reading and math testing of children in grades three through eight and once in high school. And it would require schools to report the results by students’ race, family income, and disability status.

    It would also encourage states to set limits on the total amount of time kids spend taking tests and would end federal efforts to tie test scores to teacher evaluations.

    But instead of federal mandates on what targets schools needs to be meeting, states would be responsible for working with schools and local districts to develop achievement goals and accountability plans. States, however, would be required to intervene in the nation’s lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, in high school “dropout factories” and in schools with persistent achievement gaps — something Democrats insisted must be part of any education overhaul.

    On Common Core, reviled by many conservatives, the bill says the Education Department may not mandate or give states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of academic standards.

    The Common Core college and career-ready curriculum guidelines were created by the states, but have become a lightning rod for those worried that Washington has too much influence in public schools. Since 2012, the administration has offered grants through its Race to the Top program for states that adopted strong academic standards for its students.

    The bill also ends the waivers the Obama administration has given to more than 40 states, exemptions granted around the more onerous parts of No Child when it became clear that requirements such as having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014 would not be met.

    The post No Child Left Behind rewrite seeks final approval appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video produced by Carrie Saldo.

    Native American comics are working to bring fresh attention to Native cultures and people in a country where many people have limited or inaccurate knowledge about them.

    Arigon Starr launched “Super Indian,” as a webcomic in April 2011. The comic’s tagline is “Once a Rez boy… now a super hero!”

    Starr said the work can help counter mainstream views of Native cultures that see them as belonging to the past. “We’re considered by many [to be] defeated, extinct, nonexistent, invisible,” she said.

    Lee Francis IV, head of the Indigenous Narrative Collective, said this is a misconception that is often introduced in U.S. classrooms. “Native folks are very historicized,” he said. “There’s a period that we study in history where it’s Native folks all the way through, and then they stop being mentioned, as if we cease to exist.”

    In many cases, characters with a Native background are described as half Anglo, and their Native heritage functions only as a device in the story — which also does disservice to that history, Francis said. Those stories become more of a “caricature than an actual exploration of Native identity and what that means,” he said.

    Native comic book artists can counter those stereotypes by bringing Native protagonists to the center of contemporary stories, increasing representation and providing role models for young Native people, Starr said. “My goal, ultimately, is to have Native kids come to these [conventions] dressed as Super Indian,” she said.

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

    The post These comics put Native American stories at the front and center appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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

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

    WASHINGTON — Thirteen of the nation’s busiest air traffic control facilities are suffering from a shortage of air traffic controllers, a problem that demands “urgent attention,” a government watchdog told lawmakers on Tuesday.

    The number fully qualified controllers are “below the minimum staffing requirements” the Federal Aviation Administration has set for the facilities, Matthew Hampton, a Department of Transportation assistant inspector general, told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee. He didn’t provide a list all 13, but cited facilities in New York, Dallas, Denver and Chicago as some examples.

    The facilities are also under stressed because a large share of their controllers are still being trained and are not yet competent to work on their own, he said. Many of their more experienced controllers are also eligible to retire, Hampton said.

    He cited several reasons for the understaffing: a lack of precision in the FAA models for estimating staffing requirements, a failure to fully utilize systems to determine optimal controller schedules, a lack of accurate and complete data on planned retirements, and poor communications between FAA headquarters and field offices.

    Officials with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing controllers, also complained that many of the busiest facilities are understaffed. Paul Rinaldi, the union’s president, described to lawmakers how difficult it can be to move an experienced controller from a lower-level facility like the Raleigh-Durham Airport to busier facilities. The head of the lower-level facility might not want to let the employee go because then that facility would be short an employee, he said. And the employee may not want to move despite higher pay to an area where the cost of living is higher, which is an especially difficult problem in New York, he said.

    Additionally, it takes a controller who was doing fine at a less busy facility an additional two or three years of extra training at the new facility before the controller is capable of directing traffic without the direct supervision of a more experienced controller, he said. Even then, attrition rates are high, he said.

    Trish Gilbert, the union’s vice president, said the understaffing problem is getting worse because a third of FAA’s 10,900 controllers are eligible to retire and because the failure rates of newly hired controllers are very high.

    The FAA’s mandatory retirement age for controllers is 56. The agency also won’t hire new controllers older than age 31, which eliminates many air traffic controllers leaving the military, Gilbert said.

    FAA officials said they are working on the problem and expect to meet their new controller hiring goals for this year.

    The post Busy air traffic control facilities lack enough controllers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Congressional Democrats highlight their efforts to prevent violent extremists from obtaining guns, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Congressional Democrats highlight their efforts to prevent violent extremists from obtaining guns, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Democrats took to the floors of the Senate and House on Tuesday to draw attention to their drive to prevent suspected violent extremists from obtaining guns, an issue they believe has gained potency from last week’s shooting massacre in California.

    Facing certain defeat, Democrats in both chambers unsuccessfully tried forcing votes on legislation that would let the government prohibit firearms sales to people suspected of terror acts. Debate, livid at times, came days after a Muslim couple who federal authorities say adopted extremist views killed 14 people last week in San Bernardino, California.

    Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it “absolute insanity” that suspected violent extremists are not already among the categories of people barred from purchasing firearms from gun dealers. Without naming them, he blamed the gap on the National Rifle Association, which for years has used an alliance with gun-rights lawmakers, mostly Republicans, to block gun control legislation in Congress.

    “We can’t let a small group, an influential, powerful lobbying group, make Americans less safe,” Schumer said.

    No. 2 Senate Republican leader John Cornyn blocked debate on the legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a longtime advocate of gun curbs.

    He offered his own plan giving the government 72 hours to delay gun sales to those suspected of terror acts and persuade a judge to block that sale, and letting the government immediately arrest the suspect. Democrats blocked that.

    Cornyn said Democrats were trying to “capitalize” on last week’s California shootings “to justify this unconstitutional attempt to deny American citizens their core constitutional rights,” such as gun ownership.

    The Senate last week rejected Feinstein’s proposal and a Cornyn proposal similar to Tuesday’s.

    Republicans have reacted to the San Bernardino killings by emphasizing national security, pushing legislation stiffening restrictions on refugees and travel to the U.S.

    In the House, Democrats led by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., a leading gun control advocate, forced a series of procedural votes to protest GOP leaders’ refusal to allow debate on legislation by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., that is similar to Feinstein’s.

    Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., drew boos and catcalls from Democrats when he railed against the “fool’s errand” of their push for a gun control vote.

    “They have no idea what it takes to get on the no-fly list,” Perry said. He said that list is maintained by “the same administration that persecutes its citizens” with the Internal Revenue Service, a reference to the 2013 outcry over that agency’s intense scrutiny of some conservative groups seeking tax exemptions.

    “We’re just asking for terrorists not to be able to walk into a gun shop and buy a gun,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

    Thompson is circulating a petition he hopes would force debate on King’s gun measure. That petition effort is likely to fail.

    The post Democrats in Congress lay out steps to prevent gun access by suspected extremists appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pope Francis greets retired Pope Benedict XVI at the start of the Holy Year of Mercy.

    Pope Francis opened the Jubilee of Mercy, a special holy year for Catholics, on Tuesday by speaking of God’s mercy toward sinners.

    “This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves,” he said. “Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy.”

    To mark the occasion, Pope Francis pushed open the heavy bronze doors at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City before tens of thousands of pilgrims, who also had the opportunity to walk through the Holy Door after Mass. The door is a symbol of God’s justice.

    Pope Francis was accompanied by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who retired in 2013 just before his 86th birthday, citing his declining health.

    A faithful kisses the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica after Pope Francis opened it to celebrate the Holy Year of Mercy on Dec. 8, which is also the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Max Rossi/Reuters

    A faithful kisses the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica after Pope Francis opened it to celebrate the Holy Year of Mercy on Dec. 8, which is also the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Max Rossi/Reuters

    “How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy,” said Pope Francis at Tuesday’s Mass.

    “We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love.”

    The Jubilee of Mercy lasts until Nov. 20, 2016. The tradition of a Jubilee, or holy year, in Christianity dates back to 1300 and generally has been celebrated every 25 or 50 years. The last holy year was celebrated in 2000 and usually involves a pilgrimage of the faithful to Rome.

    The post VIDEO: Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict launch Holy Year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user EKavet

    Photo by Flickr user EKavet

    WASHINGTON — The government on Tuesday announced plans to update its safety rating system for new cars to include whether the car has technology to avoid crashes, in addition to how well it protects occupants in accidents.

    The 5-star rating system now uses crash tests to assess how well people inside are shielded from injury or death in front, side and rollover crashes.

    While that will remain a big factor in the ratings, they also will take into account whether the vehicle has sensors that can detect an imminent frontal collision and apply the brakes, or warn drivers about vehicles in their blind spots or that they’re drifting into another lane.

    In addition, the crash tests will be improved to include accidents in which cars collide at an angle, and they will use improved crash-test dummies that better represent how accidents impact the human body. And the rating system will reward cars designed to protect pedestrians who are struck by them.

    “We’re going to raise the bar when it comes to protecting vehicle occupants,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

    The rating system posts a rating of one to five stars on the window stickers of new cars to help shoppers identify the safest vehicles.

    The changes proposed for the system are subject to a 60-day public comment period, and final rules are to be issued next year. Consumers would begin seeing the new ratings on cars in model year 2019.

    The post Auto safety ratings to include collision prevention systems appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Anxious woman during business interview

    Ridiculous screening practices tell you a lot about an employer and what it would be like to work there.

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

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


    Question: I’m a senior at a big, state university in the Midwest. I have applied for many jobs and gotten a few leads, and some employers are inquiring via my LinkedIn account. The problem is that some of these employers require me to take silly numerical assessments that have nothing to do with the job, and I have to invest time in them before I can even have an interview.

    Recently I was sitting before a group of managers and was asked to use mental math on a series of frivolous arithmetical questions. I offered very close approximations, but was prompted to “be more specific.” I stopped and said, “Look, if I’m making decisions on the fly, I’m estimating. I’m not a human calculator. I’m here to do my job well, and this isn’t a tool I’ll utilize.”

    I was escorted out. Did I make the right move? Are some interviews just a form of hazing that we are supposed to tolerate just because we’re applying for our first jobs?

    Nick Corcodilos: I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, but I think you made the right move. I think some people would disagree, and suggest that you take whatever employers shovel at you, because you’re a new grad and need to get a job.

    Sadly, this sort of new-grad employment hazing is common. The attitude among some employers seems to be that since you have no real experience that they can judge you on, anything goes. Why are manhole covers round? How many barbers do you think are in Chicago? What animal would you be, if you could be any animal? Or, do some quick math out loud so we can see whether you’re smart.

    These are excuses for employers’ failure to learn how to assess whether a person can do a job. (See “What is the single best interview question ever?”) I think your instinct is correct. These are not legitimate interview practices. HR buys these lame “screening tools” from “HR consultancies” run by failed HR people. It’s really stupid. I compliment you for coming out of school and questioning what seems to be standard procedure that isn’t legit, smart or acceptable.

    Such ridiculous screening practices tell you a lot about an employer and what it would be like to work there. Smarter companies are coming to realize how this kind of nonsense reflects on them. Google, for example, recently announced it would stop using silly questions to assess candidates, because the company did an outcomes analysis and found such questions don’t predict an employee’s success. (See “4 HR Practices That Kill ROI.”) More employers need to reconsider their screening methods.

    As I mentioned above, you’ll find that many people will advise you to shut up and play ball, and to never question the people who control the job offer. But I’ll tell you to never hesitate to judge the managers who are interviewing you.

    In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers (p. 28), I offer this advice:

    Judge a manager’s sincerity about working together. Does she want to hire you because you can add something to the way the work is done, or does she want another interchangeable part for her machine? Listen carefully to what the manager says. You will hear either a mind interacting with your own, or a machine waiting to grind you up.

    Too often, in an effort to impress a manager, candidates calculate their answers so they’ll add up for the manager — but not for the candidate. Consider that if you need to calculate your answers this way, there’s a good chance you’re playing to the interview rather than setting the stage for an honest, accurate judgment.

    What would happen if you answered simply, directly and honestly? Perhaps the manager would not like your answer. Perhaps your answer would cost you the job. That’s good. Because, do you want to work with a manager who can’t deal with you?

    It’s your choice. Every question a manager asks tells you something about the manager. Every reaction to your answers tells you something, too. The manager is judging you. Don’t forget to judge the manager.

    Consider that out of dozens of interviews, only one might turn into a job offer. Likewise, out of dozens of employers, only one might turn out to behave professionally enough to be worth working for. It’s up to you to use your good sense to judge who’s worthy. The idea that you should sit back and take whatever an interviewer throws at you — that’s about as reasonable as you tossing silly questions at employers and expecting them not to kick you out of interviews.

    If you’re going to be shown the door — like you were — let it be because you have higher standards than an employer whose idea of interviewing is silly hazing. (See “Raise your standards.”)

    When you find a good employer, you’ll know it. There are some excellent ones out there who will engage you in discussion about the work they want done, and who know how to assess your abilities respectfully and intelligently. They’re worth looking for. Meantime, there’s no need to kiss frogs. Throw them back and move on.

    Dear Readers: How do you handle silly interview questions? Do you have ways of helping keep interviews on track? Have you ever been rejected because you couldn’t explain what animal you would be, if you could be any animal?


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

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

    Copyright © 2015 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

    The post Ask the Headhunter: Should I bother with job interviews that feel like hazing? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will travel to Jordan next month. Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Reuters

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will travel to Jordan this month. Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Associated Press has learned that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump plans to visit the majority-Muslim kingdom of Jordan at the end of December. The disclosure comes one day after Trump’s controversial proposal to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States to protect the nation from Islamic terrorism.

    READ MORE: Trump calls for ban on all Muslims entering U.S.

    Trump’s visit to Jordan would take place during his trip to Israel, which he previously disclosed during an interview last week with the AP. It was not immediately clear whether Trump would meet personally with King Abdullah there, but his campaign told U.S. government officials he wants the meeting.

    Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to questions about the trip. The U.S. government was making preparations based on Trump’s plans. Trump has Secret Service protection for his safety.

    The post Trump plans visit to majority-Muslim kingdom of Jordan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    At the end of the day, genetics and DNA hold your potential, but epigenetics determines what you're going to do with that potential. Photo by thierry ehrmann/via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    At the end of the day, genetics and DNA hold your potential, but epigenetics determines what you’re going to do with that potential. Photo by thierry ehrmann/via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Editor’s note: This story is part of a joint series by the PBS NewsHour and The Detroit News examining the latest research on the role chronic stress may play in the growing childhood asthma epidemic. Read more on The Detroit News’s website, and watch the full segment on Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour.


    It’s natural to wonder if your environment is changing you. It’s no secret that smoking and pesticides are bad for your lungs and that exercise is good for your heart. But these things may actually change the function of our genes in ways that can be passed on to our children and grandchildren.

    Enter epigenetics, a bridge for this burning question of nature versus nurture.

    While genetics typically refers to the physical structure of DNA, epigenetics is a process. Epigenetics describes how environmental factors like stress, environmental toxins and nutrition can alter our DNA, the production of proteins and ultimately how a cell behaves. Unlike a genetic mutation, which adds or deletes DNA building blocks, an epigenetic change ornaments the building blocks of DNA. And those ornaments may have profound consequences on a life’s trajectory, especially if they happen early in development. But unlike a genetic mutation, which is permanent, an epigenetic shift is reversible.

    science-wednesday

    As a field, the research is young, but early results suggest that epigenetics may chart the outcomes of autism, obesity, cancer and psychiatric disorders.

    “At the end of the day, genetics and DNA hold your potential,’ said pediatric geneticist Lisa Joss-Moore of the University of Utah. “DNA is static, and it gives you what you can do. Epigenetics determines what you’re going to do with that potential.”

    READ NEXT: Why stress may be fueling the childhood asthma epidemic

    Plus, research argues that epigenetic changes can cross generations, meaning an organism’s environment might leave a lasting legacy. Emerging technologies could allow doctors to one day tweak an epigenetic malfunction and reverse a disease. Such tweaks are already happening with certain types of cancer. However, epigenetics runs the risk of being overblown, like stem cells or gene editing, before its full potential is validated.

    The basics of epigenetics

    DNA (purple) winds tightly around histones (blue) until chemical modifications (yellow) -- like methylation or acetylation -- free the DNA, permitting the expression of genes. Photo by the National Institutes of Health

    DNA (purple) winds tightly around histones (blue) until chemical modifications (yellow) — like methylation or acetylation — free the DNA, permitting the expression of genes. Photo by the National Institutes of Health

    DNA is shaped like a helix, and our bodies contain a lot of it. If placed in a single line, DNA in your body would stretch hundreds of times between the Earth and the sun. To fit inside a cell, DNA is spooled like yarn around blocks of proteins, called histones. These histones keep DNA packed tight and serve as brakes that regulate when and how often DNA genes get translated into proteins, allowing our cells and bodies to function normally. The first step of that process involves unraveling the DNA off the histones. To do so, histones are equipped with chemical tags that serve as switches. Two examples are acetylation and methylation. Chemically adding acetyl tags — acetylation — tends to unwind DNA and activate genes, whereas adding methyl tags — methylation — can activate or repress a gene.

    These tags forms your epigenetic code, which influences your ability to be different.

    “If you’ve got a crappy genome, you’re stuck with it. But if your epigenome is manipulated by the environment, then it can be manipulated both for good and for bad. That gives people back little more power to have some say in their outcome,” Joss-Moore said.

    For instance, if your genome gave you brown hair, then epigenetics may dictate when it turns grey.

    These epigenetic modifications respond to the environment, fine tuning how our DNA and cells behave when exposed to radiation, after eating a cheeseburger or when just sitting on the couch at home.

    A time machine for cancer

    Epigenetics drugs can reverse the course of blood cancers, such as acute myeloid leukemia (pictured) . Photo by The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

    Epigenetics drugs can reverse the course of blood cancers, such as acute myeloid leukemia (pictured) . Photo by The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

    Epigenetics is a potent weapon on the cancer battlefield. Cancer was formerly thought of as a disease of mutation or physical changes to DNA. Additions and deletions. These tweaks can swith on a gene called an oncogene, pushing a normal cell toward becoming cancerous. Mutations can also impair tumor suppressor genes, which keep normal cells from becoming malignant. A tumor arises through a collection of these mutations, though they differ for every type of cancer. No two cancer cells in a fully formed tumor are genetically identical.

    Epigenetics adds extra layers of complexity, turning this one-dimensional puzzle into a Jenga board.

    “The evidence for epigenetics being involved in cancer is very widespread. If you look at solid tumors and leukemias, there are tumor suppressor genes that we know are inactivated by epigenetic mechanisms in almost all of these tumors,” said Adam Karpf, a cancer biologist and epigeneticist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

    It’s believed that exposure to environmental toxins like arsenic or some pharmaceuticals can push a cell toward becoming cancerous through epigenetics, though most of this evidence has been observed outside humans. Cancer biologists are taking advantage of these epigenetic mechanisms to change the fate of tumors.

    “The evidence is very extensive at this point for epigenetics to be involved in virtually all human cancers,”Karpf said.

    This manipulation is clearest with leukemias and other blood cancers. Epigenetic patterns are easily altered by the environment. But these changes are difficult to study. That’s because once you remove a cell from the body, its epigenome begins to change almost immediately. One of the best bodily tissues for epigenetic study is blood because it’s easy to remove and quickly prep for analysis.

    Specifically, in some forms of leukemia, the enzymes responsible for DNA methylation are mutated, Karpf said.

    Karpf said there are multiple anticancer drugs for inhibiting epigenetic processes approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The first entered the market 10 years ago. They are mainly used to treat blood cancers like acute myeloid leukemia and and myelodysplastic syndrome. Studies suggest that some of these drugs may help cancer cells revert back to their normal state.

    “The hypothesis is these AML and MDS drugs are restoring normal phenotypes in the cancer-initiating cell population by reversing DNA methylation patterns,” Karpf said. “It’s very difficult to prove that mechanism in humans, but animal model experiments and clinical responses in humans suggest that’s probably what’s going on.”

    Karpf says that there is a major push by pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs for epigenetic targets, especially for solid tumors found in organs. His lab, for instance, is developing therapeutic approaches that make ovarian tumors more prone to being recognized by the immune system.

    Folate may protect against autism but no one knows how much you should take

    Spinach, beans and avocado are great sources of folate/folic acid, a nutrient that influences epigenetic markers on DNA. Photo by SweetOnVeg/via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Spinach, beans and avocado are great sources of folate/folic acid, a nutrient that influences epigenetic markers on DNA. Photo by SweetOnVeg/via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Anything you consume can modify the epigenome of a cell. Beer and cocaine consumption during pregnancy in rodents can alter the epigenome of pups, predisposing them for addiction. The antioxidant powers of vitamin-C can reprogram skin cells into stem cells in the lab, thanks to epigenetics, though it isn’t clear what that means for humans. And then there’s the case for folate, epigenetics and the prevention of autism.

    “We know that there’s a link between maternal folate consumption during pregnancy and brain development in the fetus,” said Joss-Moore. Mothers are recommended to consume extra folate because the nutrient serves as a building block for DNA. This DNA synthesis is crucial for rapidly replicating cells, which feature prominently in growing fetuses and infants. Without enough folate, a child’s odds rise for developmental disorders like congenital heart disease and neural tube defects that cause mental retardation. The rate of neural tube defects has dropped by 25 to 30 percent since the Food and Drug Administration mandated folate fortification in food in 1998, and some argue additional folate could reduce the problem even further.

    DNA synthesis is pegged as the major benefit of folate, also known as folic acid, but the compound can also spur epigenetic modifications, namely methylation.

    “There are some nice studies with older people that have had a couple of years of folate supplementation with B12 vitamins. If you then look across the whole epigenome, there are some genes that have more DNA methylation following the folate supplementation,” Joss-Moore said.

    Rodent studies have shown that folate can methylate autism-susceptibility genes, but it’s unclear if that relationship carries into humans, or if the result has a positive or negative effect. While a handful of human studies have observed a relationship where folate increases autism risk, the majority — 80 percent — argue that it decreases the chances of developing autism.

    So how much should you take? At the moment, no one knows. For instance, in the geriatric study in which patients took B12 for two years, the scientists expected that the genome in blood cells would be massively methylated at the end, Joss-Moore said. It wasn’t, suggesting there’s an upper limit to folate’s influence on epigenetics.

    Another problem is access to the organ of interest.

    “We do know with epigenetics in general that it’s specific to the organ of interest. If I’m just looking at your blood profile, then I’m not getting a picture of how the DNA methylation is altered in your liver, your fat tissue, which is a big deal today in obesity research, or your brain in the case of autism,” Joss-Moore said.

    Yet people aren’t comfortable with the idea of hacking away pieces of their body for research, and it’s doubtful if they ever will be. So for now, epigeneticists are waiting for a noninvasive technique to shine a light on our hard-to-reach organs, so scientists can further study which aspects of diet are crucial. At the moment, we don’t know, but the social value could be grand.

    “If we can really understand how to optimize prenatal health from an epigenetic standpoint, then we have the ability to potentially deal not only with neonatal disease, but also long-term disease,” Joss-Moore said.

    If you live in Michigan, your baby may be leading the epigenetics revolution

    Blood spots for newborn screening. Photo by Pranesh Chakraborty/via Getty Images

    Blood spots for newborn screening. Photo by Pranesh Chakraborty/via Getty Images

    Building the connections between epigenetics and disease will take time. Epigenetics have been implicated in diseases like autism, schizophrenia, cancer and bipolar disorders — diseases that take years, if not decades, to develop. Plus, it’s suspected that epigenetics modifications early in life or before being born might be important, so getting an accurate picture may involve studies that last multiple lifetimes.

    Toxicologist Dana Dolinoy, for instance, suspects that environmental exposures during infancy may trigger obesity later in life, and thanks to the state of Michigan, she may one day find an answer. The Michigan BioTrust for Health has conducted newborn screening for almost every child in the state since 1984. At birth, six drops of blood are collected from a baby’s heel, stored on paper cards and used to immediately screen for disorders like cystic fibrosis.

    However, the blood spot cards have been a valuable tool for long-term research too. Michigan parents give consent at a child’s birth for anonymous research on the blood spots, but they can opt-out at any time. So if a scientist wants to conduct a geographical analysis — Did lead exposure in this town influence epigenetics markers versus this other town? — they can do so without needing to know the individuals and without getting consent.

    “I’m involved with a study here in Michigan where we’re recruiting families and looking at lots of different risk factors for childhood obesity: sedentary lifestyle, video games, advertising. One of the things that we’ll ask is, ‘Could epigenetics at birth predict who will be obese later in life?” said Dolinoy, who works at the University of Michigan. That type of study requires knowledge of individual identities, and Dolinoy and her colleagues must personally request this information, but again, a parent can say no.

    Consent is a sticky issue with DNA banking. Earlier this year, the U.S. National Institutes of Health published one of the largest collections of epigenome data ever amassed, which could only be accomplished through patient consent. All 50 states conduct newborn screening, yet a 2011 review found the rules on retaining those samples and confidentiality vary from state to state:

    Information related to newborn screening is considered confidential in 26 states, but the limitations on that confidentiality vary. For example, in 1 state, information specific to individual newborns is considered confidential, but the information may be used for scientific research so long as the infant’s name is kept confidential. There is no requirement that other identifying information be omitted.

    In four states — Utah, Washington, California and Maine — newborn blood samples become property of the government, though parents can file for ownership in the latter two. Seven states can give permission for research without parental consent. Texas was formerly part of this pack, but a 2009 lawsuit over the long-term storage of blood samples for research forced the state to change their policy. The resulting settlement also led to the destruction of approximately five million samples that had been collected without parental consent. (To learn about your state’s policy, go here.)

    But Dolinoy points to multiple examples in which newborn screening provided important information on epigenetics and public health. Smoking during pregnancy is one example. Another is the “provocative” idea that a person’s lifestyle and exposure to toxins could influence their grandchild’s epigenetics. (Again, most of this research has been conducted in rodents, not people.)

    Dolinoy says that scientists are still several years away from applying epigenetics to human health in terms of interventions and treatments, but there’s a “grand hope” in the field.

    Maternal trauma may instill asthma susceptibility in a child due to epigenetics


    Watch the full segment on the role of chronic stress in the childhood asthma epidemic on Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour.

    Given that epigenetic modifications may cross generations in humans, the field lends itself to the biblical notion of “the sins of the father/mother.” Trauma is one arena where this concept may come to bear.

    Rosalind Wright, a pediatrician at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, is studying how stress and poverty might leave a lasting impression for generations.

    “There are some people who live in situations where they can’t get rid of the stressors, whether it’s financial challenges, whether you live in an unsafe neighborhood, so you are always on edge and afraid that something can happen,” Wright said. “Or perhaps a violent event has happened, and that trauma sticks and goes on and on for a person.”

    This persistent stress can trigger illness, because our bodies can’t sustain a state of constantly being on edge. Our nervous system, immune system, stress hormones and organs try compensate, but eventually a person erodes, Wright said, and one manifestation of this process is asthma.

    “An air pollutant or an allergen that’s breathed in through the nose and gets into the lungs triggers airway narrowing that manifests as asthma stress. A psychological and emotional experience sets off those same kinds of responses,” Wright said. “Our studies show that stress has an equal-in-magnitude effect on asthma, whether you are talking onset or triggering asthma attacks on par with tobacco smoke.”

    And her team and others are examining whether experiences in the womb or before conception can pass this stress-induced disposition for asthma onto their offspring. Multiple rodent studies have shown the trauma of inattentive parenting can instill a generational legacy of poor parenting that’s associated with a change in epigenetics. Exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy or early childhood can increase the risk of asthma, so perhaps chronic stress does the same?

    Epigenetics may factor into the equation, Wright said, but those investigations are ongoing.

    Epigenetics may ripen the tomatoes

    Epigenetics can ripen tomatoes and stop the negative effects of plant cloning. Photo by Mr.TinDC/via Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    Epigenetics can ripen tomatoes and stop the negative effects of plant cloning. Photo by Mr.TinDC/via Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    Epigenetics extends outside the realm of humans. For instance, eating royal jelly separates queen bees from worker bees through epigenetics.

    Another arena is crops. Emerging research shows that environmental conditions like drought shift the epigenome of plants and potentially alter their outcomes. An epigenetic mutation can stop a tomato from ripening or switch the sex of a melon.

    “These modifications are certainly involved in how plants respond to drought or extreme — high and low — temperatures,” said University of Minnesota plant biologist Nathan Springer. “It is less clear whether these changes are actually heritable and would affect the offspring.”

    However, scientists have started screening plants for epigenetic shifts to get clues about plant breeding. The best example in recent history, Springer says, is the “Karma” story with palm oil. Oil palms are grown on large farms in the tropics, but most trees have been produced using lab procedures to culture genetically uniform crops. One consequence of this is that a sizable percentage of plants exhibit something called “mantling.” Mantling is a trait seen in cloned plants in the lab, when they stop yielding a crop.

    “This trait is not visible for many years (until the plants reach maturity), however, the plants that are mantled do not produce any usable crop,” Springer said.

    In a study published earlier this year, a group of researchers profiled the epigenetics of oil palm plants to examine how lab cloning might cause mantling. They found an epigenetic marker that could predict which plants would mantle. Farmers could use this knowledge to cull the poor performers, Springer said. He continued that investigating such epigenetic traits may also reveal which plants are most susceptible to climate change.

    The dangers of epigenetics hype and disenfranchisement

    Photo by Cultura/Sigrid Gombert via Getty Images

    Overhyping the promise of epigenetics may put farmers and other members of the working class in a tough spot. Photo by Cultura/Sigrid Gombert via Getty Images

    Like any emerging field of health, epigenetics falls victim to hype. So far, no studies have shown that humans can pass an epigenetic trait onto their children that goes on to cause a disease. Yet media stories and health blogs have already argued that lifestyle choices can control the destiny of your kids.

    “We don’t have enough knowledge about human genetics to be writing prescriptions about behavior changes during pregnancy or childhood, like the ones already seen in the media,” said Eric Juengst, a bioethicist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

    He continued that unfounded hype about science tends to backfire by undermining public trust. If a genomics researcher promises a cure and doesn’t deliver, then patients begin to question why they forked over their DNA in the first place.

    With epigenetics, a socioeconomic issue of class disparities may surface too.

    “One example of parents who are the most vulnerable to epigenetic risk might be those exposed to toxins like pesticides. Well, who are the parents? They’re often disenfranchised migrant workers in California or elsewhere,” Juengst said. “To give the advice that to be good parents, they need to avoid exposure to pesticides is putting them in a pretty impossible situation, since farming is their livelihood. Also, it takes the focus off the upstream, wherein the same research suggests that maybe farm owners should reduce pesticide exposure in general.”

    He puts the responsibility on everyone disseminating messages about epigenetics — from researchers to journalists. The principle responsibility, he says, is on the scientific community to frame its messages as modestly as possible. Media reps, science journalists and public health mediators must accurately package the findings, and finally, clinicians who are trying to help parents and prospective parents must be sages in terms of their warnings.

    “Take warnings about intergenerational epigenetics in humans with a grain of salt,” Juengst said. “Look forward to more research, but don’t jump to immediately feeling responsible for your grandchildren’s genetics, to the extent that some messages might urge us to.”

    The post Don’t blame grandma yet, but your asthma may be her fault appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Editor’s note: This story is part of a joint series by the PBS NewsHour and The Detroit News examining the latest research on the role chronic stress may play in the growing childhood asthma epidemic. Read more on The Detroit News’s website, and watch the full segment on Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour.


    Detroit has the highest rate of asthma among young children in America’s 18 largest cities, a problem that experts link to urban ills that could affect their health and learning for the rest of their lives.

    In a study done exclusively for The Detroit News and PBS NewsHour, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found about 2 of every 3 Motor City children face “adverse childhood experiences,” such as household substance abuse, exposure to violence and extreme economic hardship that can trigger asthma.

    Studies have shown that such children are nearly twice as likely to have asthma — the disease that causes breathing difficulties — regardless of the impact of allergens, air quality and other contributing factors.

    READ MORE: Epigenetics may be the key to unlocking your DNA’s full potential

    It’s part of a growing trend across the nation where asthma rates have exploded since 2001, increasing by 50 percent among African-Americans. The condition has reached epidemic proportions in large urban areas including Phoenix, Philadelphia, Detroit and other major U.S. cities.

    More than 24,000 of Detroit’s roughly 193,800 children have asthma or about 12.4 percent. And the Johns Hopkins researchers found more than 77,000 Detroit children, or about 40 percent of all the city’s kids, have experienced two or more stress-fueling conditions.

    Dr. Elliott Attisha asks eighth grader Jalen Herron, 13, to breath deep after he received two breathing treatments and medication to help control his asthma during an appointment at Thirkell Health Center, a Henry Ford Health System clinic within Thirkell Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan on October 7, 2015. Photo by Brandy Baker / The Detroit News

    Dr. Elliott Attisha asks eighth grader Jalen Herron, 13, to breath deep after he received two breathing treatments and medication to help control his asthma during an appointment at Thirkell Health Center, a Henry Ford Health System clinic within Thirkell Elementary School in Detroit. Photo by Brandy Baker/The Detroit News

    Such experiences contribute to asthma attacks and “cause lifelong health problems,” said Dr. Christine Bethell, director of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative at Johns Hopkins.

    Stress results in the production of cortisol and adrenaline, chemicals that trigger the fight-or-flight response which is necessary to help us survive immediate, short-lived threat or danger.

    But prolonged chronic stress leads to heightened production of these chemicals that can kick the immune system into overdrive, resulting in asthma, disrupted brain development and other health problems that have lifelong consequences, scientists say.

    Children who struggle to breathe find it hard to play, learn and achieve developmental milestones.

    “It feels like I’m hurting, I’m dying,” said Malik Cole, a 9-year-old Detroit boy, about his breathing difficulties. His family was homeless for about a year.

    READ MORE: Homelessness, asthma force family to give up children

    Elizabeth Secord, division chief for allergy, asthma and immunology at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan, said it’s difficult to secure the mental health services or the proper medications to treat the severely asthmatic kids she sees in her clinic.

    “It’s almost a mandate that we have social work involved,” Secord said. “The real problem is, the kids with Medicaid (government health insurance for the poor) are the highest risk and have the most trauma, and it’s very difficult to get psychological services for this. Even those with private insurance often have to pay out of pocket.”

    Twelve-year-old Cameron Carter of Detroit still suffers from the aftermath of her cousin’s death in an Aug. 31, 2013, drive-by shooting.

    Kenis Green Jr. was 12 when an angry neighbor sprayed his front porch with bullets during a family birthday party. Cameron’s brothers, Alexander Carter, now 14, and Christian Carter, now 16, were standing on either side of Kenis when he was shot. Though Cameron was not at the party, she was hospitalized with asthma in the chaotic days after the shooting and again during the one-year anniversary of her cousin’s murder.

    Cameron Carter, 12, takes eight medications every morning to deal with her asthma.  Studies show that childhood traumas such as household substance abuse, violence and poverty can trigger asthma. Image by Daniel Mears/ The Detroit News

    Cameron Carter, 12, takes eight medications every morning to deal with her asthma. Studies show that childhood traumas such as household substance abuse, violence and poverty can trigger asthma. Image by Daniel Mears/The Detroit News

    This is not a surprise to Johns Hopkins researchers, who have studied a host of measures associated with the health and well-being of children, such as neighborhood violence and school attendance.

    They found nearly 40 percent of Detroit kids are affected by two or more traumatic or stressful experiences, more than any of the largest American cities. Philadelphia came in second with 33.1 percent of children who were similarly traumatized, followed by Phoenix with 31.1 percent.

    About two-thirds of Detroit’s kids live in neighborhoods considered safe, the study found, the lowest percentage among the cities studied. The city also has the highest percentage of children — 9.7 percent — who missed 11 days of school or more, according to the Johns Hopkins study.

    A year of therapy helped Cameron and her brothers recover from the trauma of Kenis’ death. They attended grief therapy sessions through a St. John Providence Health System program called Open Arms.

    Cameron attends weekly dance classes and is learning to better manage her asthma, Carter-Ivory said. Her brothers, Christian and Alexander, were diagnosed with asthma when they were younger but now are symptom-free. Alexander is a starting running back on the River Rouge High School football team, where he wears the No. 32 that Kenis used to wear in youth competition as a tribute to his cousin.

    Experts say asthma in Detroit and other troubled urban areas must be fought on multiple fronts, from eliminating environmental triggers such as mold and cigarette smoke, to finding ways to reduce trauma in the lives of children.

    The post Why stress may be fueling the childhood asthma epidemic appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a session of the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, on Oct. 15. Photo by Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a session of the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, on Oct. 15. Photo by Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

    Time named German Chancellor Angela Merkel its Person of the Year on Wednesday, calling her “Chancellor of the Free World” in an article that traced her success back to her upbringing in East Germany.

    Now, the leader of a unified Germany, Merkel has risen on the world stage, from enforcing austerity measures among members of the EU during the global financial crisis — “If the euro fails, Europe fails,” she said — to promising to take in 1 million refugees suffering from war.

    German politicians early in her career sometimes would underestimate her, because her calm demeanor belied her ambitiousness and resolve, the Time profile noted. Critics still contend she moves too cautiously, but she would say her methodical approach to problem-solving allows her to make course corrections.

    Merkel, 61, has given no indication whether she will seek a fourth term, but not tipping her hand is another of her personal and political traits.

    Others who made Time’s short list for 2015 included Islamic State militant leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Donald Trump, the Black Lives Matter movement and athlete-turned-reality-star Caitlyn Jenner.

    The post Time champions German Chancellor Angela Merkel as its Person of the Year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Millionaire American conservationist Douglas Tompkins stands on his land in Chile in this file photo from January 2000 during an interview with the local media in the region of Palena. He bought land in Chile to make a nature sanctuary. Photo by Leo Beca/Reuters

    Millionaire American conservationist Douglas Tompkins stands on his land in Chile in this file photo from January 2000 during an interview with the local media in the region of Palena. He bought land in Chile to make a nature sanctuary. Photo by Leo Beca/Reuters

    American millionaire businessman and conservationist Douglas Tompkins died Tuesday from severe hypothermia after his kayak capsized in a lake in southern Chile.

    He was boating with five others on General Carrerra Lake in the Patagonia region, where he worked for years to acquire land for preservation.

    He was brought by helicopter, not breathing, to a hospital in the town of Coyhaique, and doctors were unable to revive him.

    Tompkins, 72, co-founder of clothing companies North Face and Esprit, retired in 1989 and dedicated his life to conservation and environmentalism.

    He bought tens of thousands of acres of wild land in Patagonia, spanning southern Chile and Argentina. He created Pumalin Park, an area of Chile with forests, lakes and fjords, in 2005.

    “For the environmental movement, not just in Chile but internationally, (Tompkins’ death) is a huge loss,” said long-time friend Sara Larrain, quoted the Associated Press.

    The post North Face co-founder Douglas Tompkins dies while kayaking in Chile appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    "Rich Roots & Mama's Rusted House" by Asia-Vinae Palmer (2015)

    “Rich Roots & Mama’s Rusted House” by Asia-Vinae Palmer (2015)

    Editor’s Note: As this past August marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, national focus shifted to the mix of revitalization and remaining damages that define New Orleans today. New Orleans photographer Asia-Vinae Palmer told the NewsHour’s Corinne Segal why she chose to stage a fashion shoot for the Noirlinians photography project at an abandoned house adjacent to her neighborhood, and what these left-behind homes mean to her as a local artist. Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

    People in the city are affected by how much history has been lost, especially in the past year and post-Katrina, when it comes to houses that haven’t been rebuilt due to financial reasons. Often the property goes down and then somebody can buy it and turn it into something else. When it comes to the house, those are stories behind there. I thought it would be really powerful to photograph at a place that still had that energy.

    This house in particular was also next to another abandoned house which was totally in shambles. I just felt like there was a history there and I wanted to connect with it, even if I didn’t know what the history was. The house next to it … you couldn’t even get inside the windows, all the vines growing over it and the holes in the walls. My way of describing them would be almost like sister houses of abandonment.

    To see that both houses in both states are still being left to rot in the street, in between perfectly functioning houses, that strongly affects me, as an artist and person who lives in the city. That happens so often in the city. I thought it was nice to bring life to something like that — to have something that’s been forgotten about or cast aside and to bring something positive to it.

    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.

    The post What New Orleans’ abandoned homes mean to me as a local photographer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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