Articles on this Page
- 12/20/15--15:14: _In Mongolia, a new ...
- 12/21/15--10:40: _Report: Home care w...
- 12/21/15--11:15: _Poet remembers the ...
- 12/21/15--11:42: _U.S. official: 6 U....
- 12/21/15--12:34: _Presidents in cars ...
- 12/21/15--12:43: _Column: These facts...
- 12/21/15--13:26: _Is the effective de...
- 12/21/15--14:32: _One answer to holid...
- 12/21/15--15:15: _Steve Martin and Ed...
- 12/21/15--15:20: _Lost history treasu...
- 12/21/15--15:25: _How a new U.S. law ...
- 12/21/15--15:30: _Popular health insu...
- 12/21/15--15:35: _Why the kerfuffle o...
- 12/21/15--15:40: _Democrats differ on...
- 12/21/15--15:45: _Bagram attack is st...
- 12/21/15--15:50: _News Wrap: San Bern...
- 12/28/15--08:20: _Activists predict a...
- 12/28/15--09:09: _Speculation startin...
- 12/28/15--09:54: _Hieu Minh Nguyen ch...
- 12/28/15--11:15: _Grand jury will not...
- 12/20/15--15:14: In Mongolia, a new generation’s rock ‘n’ roll rooted in history
- 12/21/15--10:40: Report: Home care workers need better job protections
- 12/21/15--11:15: Poet remembers the man who fought — and died — to save Palmyra
- 12/21/15--11:42: U.S. official: 6 U.S. troops killed in Afghan attack, 2 wounded
- 12/21/15--12:34: Presidents in cars getting coffee? Obama does Seinfeld show
- 12/21/15--12:43: Column: These facts about inequality can’t be whitewashed
- Between 2010 and 2013, “only families at the very top of the income distribution saw widespread income gains.” That’s the Fed’s way of saying that the top 3 percent of families receive roughly a third of all income generated in the U.S. annually.
- The top 10 percent of families received just about half of total income in 2013. Thus, total income is split evenly between the 10 percent and the remaining 90 percent.
- Between 2010 and 2013, “families at the bottom of the income distribution saw continued substantial declines in real net worth.”
- Doing so was the right thing to do in the first place in terms of maximizing my lifetime Social Security benefits;
- I was not jeopardizing an alternative strategy;
- I understood that there are two risks. One risk is that the Social Security Administration would take this request to file and suspend and simply file me for my retirement benefit and ignore my request to suspend. The other risk is that they would grant my request to file and suspend, but not permit my spouse or children to collect on my work record while my retirement benefits remain in suspension. (They could easily do this if they read the situation as me having missed the deadline.) Either way, if my spouse or ex-spouse of 10 or more years of marriage died before I reached 70, I would forfeit the ability to collect a full widow(er) benefit until 70. Instead, I’d be handed, in that grim state, just my excess widow(er) benefit, which could, in fact, be zero.
- 12/21/15--14:32: One answer to holiday travel stress? Airport dogs
- 12/21/15--15:15: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell team up for Broadway-bound musical
- 12/21/15--15:20: Lost history treasures revealed as waters recede in Nevada
- 12/21/15--15:25: How a new U.S. law protects lions in Africa
- 12/21/15--15:30: Popular health insurance co-ops ‘orphaned by politics’
- 12/21/15--15:35: Why the kerfuffle over DNC voter information matters
- 12/21/15--15:40: Democrats differ on Islamic State fight in third debate
- 12/21/15--15:45: Bagram attack is strongest sign yet of a Taliban resurgence
- 12/21/15--15:50: News Wrap: San Bernardino weapons suspect held without bond
- 12/28/15--08:20: Activists predict abortion will be a hot issue in campaigns
- 12/28/15--09:09: Speculation starting to swirl over a brokered GOP convention
- 12/28/15--11:15: Grand jury will not file charges in Tamir Rice death
LAUREN KNAPP: Mongolia is a vast landscape of just three million people. Half its population is spread out across the rural countryside, herders and heirs to a nomadic culture epitomized by 13th century ruler Genghis Khan.
The rest live in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, where a democratic revolution began 25 years ago, and ended seven decades of Soviet-style rule.
The first generation to grow up in this new society has come of age, and when I went to Mongolia, I wanted to see how their freedom expressed itself in music.
One of the first rock bands I met was Mohanik, a group of guys in their 20s performing classic rock.
But the covers are just a way to make cash. When I visited their practice space, I learned Mohanik is more interested in writing and playing their own songs.
ENERELT OTGONBAATAR: Our music sounds like it’s, we think, it’s youthful, energetic, Mongolian-flavored rock and roll.
TSOGT SAMBALKHUNDEV: We were not searching for Mongolian sound – it just came out.
LAUREN KNAPP: That Mongolian sound means traditional instruments like the horsehead fiddle, a small cello with two strings made out of horse tail hair, or a yoochin, a kind of dulcimer played with small hammers.
ENERELT OTGONBAATAR: We think definitely this part would is a Mongolian sound, like this. That sounds to me like a Mongolian melody. And we’ve got the chorus part.
We know it sounds Mongolian to us.
LAUREN KNAPP: But for Mohanik, the line between Mongolian and western is blurred.
In Mongolian rock, fusion is the operative word, and it started in the early 2000s with this band, Altan Urag, which electrified traditional Mongolian instruments. They’ve toured all over Asia and have played in Australia and the U.S.
NATSAGDORJ TSERENDORJ: If you see the other examples of other countries — like Latina music, African music, Turkish music — they are all based on the traditional musical identity, right? And that’s why they are very popular around the world. And that’s kind of a no brainer of how to really get famous in the world — just use the traditional music base.
LAUREN KNAPP: For every Mongolian rock band, fusion means something different. In the band Nisvanis, you can hear echoes of American grunge.
Bands like these didn’t happen overnight. During decades of Communist repression, western music was smuggled in. Albums by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Janis Joplin and The Beatles.
To cope with the growing popularity of western music, in the early 1970s, the former Communist government equipped some traditional musicians with electric guitars and drums called the group Soyol Erdene, which means cultural jewel.
NATSAGDORJ TSERENDORJ: This was the government band. It was funded from the government, — all the songs were strictly controlled in terms of the meaning. But Soyol Erdene, I mean they managed to start this modern rock and roll movement here.
LAUREN KNAPP: The movement saw dissidents writing and recording their own rock music and distributing it underground.
TSEDEVDAMBA OYUNGEREL: Those were songs about reality unemployment and disparity of living standards – rebellion kind of song songs.
LAUREN KNAPP: This song called “The Ringing of the Bell,” asked the people to be awakened by democracy. It became an anthem of the peaceful 1990 revolution that brought down the Communism and ushered in multi-party elections and free market reforms.
TSEDEVDAMBA OYUNGEREL: I grew up standing in line for meat and milk and bread, you know? When I heard about market economy and when I heard about freedom and human rights and all these things, I just thought, “This is it.” In the communist time, you should say only nice things about your country or about your mother or about your party. But you were not allowed to express other opinions. So that’s why the freedom of speech and rock music is very much connected.
LAUREN KNAPP: For Mohanik, the goal is making music that is original and authentic. To make their new album connected to Mongolia ina more tangible way, they recorded outdoors, in the countryside.
ENERELT OTGONBAATAR: We’re not the real nomadic Mongolian people, we’re like city people. It’s not like we grew up riding horses and doing countryside stuff.
NATSAGDORJ TSERENDORJ: Any country develops, right? And I think after some years we will have a good music industry with good radio stations they will kind of guide their population to the right path. And very talented good artists shall be recognized.
ENERELT OTGONBAATAR: I don’t really care about how many bands are there, I just want the overall general public to have a musical life. We’re making something that will last.
The post In Mongolia, a new generation’s rock ‘n’ roll rooted in history appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
A lack of oversight in the rapidly growing home care workforce could undermine new wage and labor gains for many of the nation’s 2 million workers, according to a report released Monday.
Private agencies employ the vast majority of home care workers, who provide services that are largely paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and other federal and state programs. But the companies are poorly regulated, which could hamper the enforcement of new labor standards, said the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a labor advocacy group.
Home care workers this year gained federal minimum wage and overtime protections after a lengthy battle in the federal courts. The U.S. Department of Labor is expected to begin full enforcement in 2016.
To ensure that workers can take advantage of the new benefits, stronger oversight of the industry is needed, said Sarah Leberstein, one of the report’s authors.
“We are poised to really improve things for home care workers but we need to make sure that those standards are upheld no matter what the work arrangement is,” she said.
For example, Leberstein said a worker may not benefit from the federal minimum wage and overtime laws if her boss calls her an independent contractor, a classification traditionally not covered by employment laws, and if no enforcement agency questions the designation.
Home care workers are among the fastest-growing occupations, according to the Labor Department.
There are different types, including home health workers who provide medical care, and personal care aides, who help with bathing, eating, shopping and other tasks.
The average wage of the largely female home care workforce is about $10 an hour and nearly 50 percent of them rely on public assistance such as food stamps, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, which does research, training and advocacy for direct care workers.
Personal care workers in particular have long been underpaid and have lacked worker protections, unless they happen to be in a union or employed by an agency with good benefits, said Susan Chapman, a professor at UCSF School of Nursing, who was not involved in NELP’s report.
Those poor working conditions, along with an improved economy, have contributed to a shortage of paid workers to care for the aging population, Chapman said.
“If you could work at a coffee house with benefits and higher pay, you would take that job over working in a home care situation,” she said. “The care is valued but the workers are seemingly less valued by our economy.”
Neither the federal nor state governments require home care agencies to report data on workers’ wages and hours, the report said. Without such transparency, they can’t determine the amount of public funds used for agency’s overhead versus employee pay, NELP said.
“As taxpayers, we really should care what is going on with the money that is supposed to be used to provide really critical services for people with disability and older adults,” Leberstein said.
The authors’ recommendations include paying workers $15 per hour and ending government contracts with agencies that have a record of labor violations. The report also recommends that home care agencies be required to produce wage and hour reports on employees.
If governments regulate the agencies more strictly and monitor them more carefully, workers would have a better chance at getting fair pay and decent working conditions, NELP said. Turnover also might be reduced and the quality of care might improve as well.
“We think it’s the federal and state governments that should take the lead in reforming the home care industry,” said Leberstein. “They have a lot of power to do this because they are paying for home care services.”
Blue Shield of California Foundation helps fund KHN coverage in California.
The post Report: Home care workers need better job protections appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
On May 13, the Islamic State began an offensive to invade the city of Palmyra, demanding the location of the city’s most valuable ancient treasures.
Syrian archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad refused to reveal the information. He had spent more than five decades leading excavations in the ancient city, uncovering previously-unseen residential areas, tombs and religious sites. In August, he was beheaded.
This story is “everybody’s grief,” poet Kaveh Akbar told me. Reading about al-Asaad in August, Akbar said he was gripped by the story for weeks.
In his poem “Palmyra,” Akar bears witness to al-Asaad’s legacy and examines the forces that killed him by providing brief, vivid flashes of the scene of his death.
“This poem is an instance where I’m kind of cracking open the window and looking at, for as long as I can bear it, what is physically unbearable,” he said.
The piece began, in part, with the idea of “wonder” — where it comes from, who creates it and who would want to fight it, Akbar said.
“Here is this man who has spent literally decades preserving artifacts — preserving physical manifestations of human wonder and human awe — and then there are these [people] who are seeking to destroy the history of that wonder that he preserved,” he said. “Any sincere interrogation of wonder, any celebration of wonder, has to account for those forces that would conspire against it.”
That same sense of wonder runs throughout Akbar’s writing process — and the way he describes it. “Writing itself is this kind of alchemy,” he said. “I put this weird rune down on a page, this letter-shaped rune, and hand it to you, and you laugh or cry or you emote … I create in you a physiological response with this series of shapes that I made. It’s really miraculous.”
In September 2014, Akbar founded the website Divedapper, where he publishes interviews that run the gamut from a discussion of race and privilege with Claudia Rankine to talking about the occult with Michael Klein.
Akbar said he is concerned with representing poets from a range of backgrounds on the site.
“If a project like Divedapper is to be successful as a representative cross-section of what is happening in contemporary poetry, I think that it has to be very vigilant about representing the myriad kinds of voices that are partaking in that conversation, especially those that have traditionally experienced barriers to access,” he said.
Hear Akbar read “Palmyra” or read the piece below.
llllafter Khaled al-Asaad
bonepole bonepole since you died
there’s been dying everywhere
do you see it slivered where you are
between a crown and a tonguelllllllthe question still
more god or lesslllllllI am all tangled
in the smoke you leftlllllllthe swampy herbs
the paper crowslllllllhorror leans in and brings
its own lightlllllllthis life so often inadequately
litlllllllyour skin peels awaylllllllyour bones soften
your rich unbecomingllllllla kind of apology
when you were alive your cheekbones
dropped shadows across your jawlllllllI saw a picture
I want to dive into that darknesslllllllsmell
the rosewaterlllllllthe sand irreplaceable
jewel how much of the map did you leave
unfinishedlllllllthere were so many spiders
your mouth a moonless system
of caves filling with dust
the dust thickened to tar
your mouth opened and tar spilled out
Kaveh Akbar is the founder and editor of Divedapper, a home for feature interviews with the most vital voices in contemporary poetry. His poems are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Iowa Review, Narrative, The Adroit Journal, Puerto del Sol, Bennington Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. Kaveh is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University, where he teaches and serves as Book Reviews Editor for the Southeast Review. This poem was originally published at The Offing.
The post Poet remembers the man who fought — and died — to save Palmyra appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — A U.S. official says six American troops were killed in a suicide attack near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Two others were wounded along with an Afghan.
The troops were killed Monday when an attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into their patrol in a village near the airfield. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.
The official was not authorized to discuss the incident publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The attack comes just days after Defense Secretary Ash Carter stopped in Bagram. A recent Pentagon report said that violence in Afghanistan has increased.
The post U.S. official: 6 U.S. troops killed in Afghan attack, 2 wounded appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
HONOLULU — President Barack Obama will be Jerry Seinfeld’s first guest when the seventh season of his online talk show, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” opens Dec. 30.
The show features the New York comedian picking up fellow comics in classic cars and taking them out for coffee and conversation.
Obama and Seinfeld spoke at the White House earlier this month. The White House says they took turns circling the South Lawn in a 1963 Corvette Stingray split window coupe before chatting over coffee in a basement dining room. They spoke about what makes White House life both remarkable and routine.
The appearance is another example of Obama trying to appeal to new audiences.
The interview is scheduled to be released Dec. 30 on Crackle, the Sony Pictures’ online network, and at Comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com.
The post Presidents in cars getting coffee? Obama does Seinfeld show appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Consider these facts from a recent Federal Reserve report:
As incredible as it sounds, 90 percent of Americans own just 25 percent of the country’s wealth while the remaining 10 percent own 75 percent of it. The dismal science does not get much drearier than that. Of course, the 1 percent has always wanted to whitewash this inconvenient truth that the market distributes income and wealth in such a morally indefensible manner.
I am nonetheless bewildered by an essay last week by Marty Feldstein, an AAA-rated Ivy-League economist, advisor to presidents and presidential hopefuls, mentor to a dozen crème-de-la-crème economists and member of the board of directors of the American Insurance Group for 22 years. Feldstein claims that the wealth distribution is not as bad as it looks. After all, the have-nots still have Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security! All we have to do is to count those benefits as part of our private wealth as though they were in our safe-deposit boxes, and the obscene distribution becomes quite tolerable.
So alright then, I’ll ask my banker if she’ll take my rights to Medicare as down payment for a house, and after that I’ll cash in my future Social Security payments to pay for a trip to the Caribbean. No? What do you mean I can’t do that?
Feldstein defines wealth as “the ability to spend more than one’s income.” But he forgets the time dimension. A diamond ring could be converted immediately into cash at the local pawn shop, and then I could spend more than my income. However, my Medicare entitlements do not enable me to do so. I have to wait until I get sick in order to receive any benefits, and the benefits won’t enable me to spend more than my income; instead, they’ll just help me get over my ill fate of having become sick, and then I still have my co-payments to worry about.
And as far as Social Security is concerned, for more than 10 million people it does not enable them to spend more than their income either; in fact, it is their only income.
Ask a 20-something-year-old if they think they feel wealthier because of the existence of Social Security. I bet they’d look at you askance. After all, half of millennials do not believe that they will receive any benefits by the time they retire. They are paying taxes now and are poorer for it, not wealthier. Will future generations be honor-bound to continue Social Security payments by the time they retire? There is no generational contract, no pledge, no promise that they’ll have retirement benefits waiting for them. With such an uncertain economic future, we can hardly blame them for being incredulous. I doubt that they consider their future benefits as part of their portfolio while burdened by taxes for their grandparents’ generation’s retirement.
Moreover, just 6 percent of millennials (and 9 percent of members of Generation X) believe that Social Security benefits will remain at their current levels. And the benefits are pretty low to begin with. The average monthly Social Security payment is but $1,300, which is about the hourly wage of a typical 1 percenter. In other words, Social Security income is just $135 above the official poverty threshold for a family of two over the age of 65. That’s nowhere near wealth.
MORE FROM JOHN KOMLOS
Social Security might meet your basic needs if you limit your needs to the bare minimum. Note that U.S. Social Security benefits are well below Organisation Economic Co-Operation and Development average relative to income.
Thomas Pikkety, the celebrated author of the best-selling “Capital in the 21st Century,” defines wealth as “the total market value of everything owned… provided that it can be traded on some market. It consists of the sum total of nonfinancial assets… and financial assets… less the total amount of financial liabilities (debt).” In other words, wealth can be transferred. Entitlements cannot be.
In fact, the state of our finances is even worse than the Fed’s data show. The Census also collects wealth data and shows what the have-nots owe. The Census reveals that the bottom 20 percent of U.S. households is underwater with an average net worth of -$32,000, that is, the debts of about 60 million people are greater than all their assets combined. No automobiles, no equity in a house, no checking account balances, no diamonds. Nothing owned outright. If you combine the first and second quintiles of the wealth distribution, it’s apparent that 120 million people’s average net wealth is still below zero at minus $11,000.
And let us not forget that the picture is even more dismal among minorities. Among African American households, average wealth is still negative in the bottom 60 percent of the wealth distribution. And the average wealth among 80 percent of African American households is a meager $10,000. I wish I could whitewash these facts somehow, but using Social Security to offset this picture just won’t do.
The inconvenient truth is that these government programs are not wealth at all. Rather, they are simply transfer payments from currently 166 million workers to 59 million retirees and people with disabilities. In contrast, Feldstein writes: “The Social Security trustees estimate that Social Security ‘wealth’ — the present actuarial value of the future benefits that current workers and retirees are projected to receive — is $59 trillion.” No such thing. The Social Security Administration actually calls these estimates “future costs” and not “wealth.” So the Social Security Administration does not consider these taxes wealth, the Fed does not consider them wealth, the Census does not consider them wealth and the participants do not consider them wealth. It looks like they’re wealth only in Professor Feldstein’s imagination.
The post Column: These facts about inequality can’t be whitewashed appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s Note: Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff has spent every week, for over three years, answering questions about what is likely your largest financial asset — your Social Security benefits. His Social Security original 34 “secrets” and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we feature “Ask Larry” every Monday. Find a complete list of his columns here. And keep sending us your Social Security questions.
Kotlikoff’s state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its “basic” version. His new book, “Get What’s Yours — the Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security Benefits,” (co-authored with Paul Solman and Making Sen$e Medicare columnist Phil Moeller) was published in February before the changes from the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 went into effect.
For the past few weeks, Social Security expert Larry Kotlikoff has been keeping readers updated on how the budget act changes a number of Social Security rules. We’ll continue publishing updates on what this new law means for your Social Security benefits. Stay tuned.
Avram Sacks is an outstanding attorney and an expert on Social Security provisions. He’s been in touch with me in recent days with an interesting perspective on the deadline for filing and suspending. He believes that the effective deadline may be four months beyond the April 29, 2016 deadline that I’ve written about. He thinks that, legally speaking, one can go into the local Social Security office within four months of turning 66, provided you go by April 29, 2016 and say: a) “I’m going to turn 66 within four months of today,” b) “Yes, the date at which I will turn 66 will be after April 29, 2016, so it would seem from reading the Program Operating Manual System (POMS) that I cannot file and suspend under the new law,” c) “But the actual law passed by Congress, not the POMS, is definitive,” d) “And I believe that legally I can file for and also suspend my benefit in advance,” e) “Hence, I am hereby formally submitting a request to file for my retirement benefit the day I turn 66 and also suspend it the same day,” so f) “Please sign and time-stamp this written request so that if I need to take Social Security to federal court on this matter, I will have documentation of having submitted my request.”
I wouldn’t count on Avram’s view holding up in an appeal’s process. I would only try to file and suspend if:
That all said, below is an extract of Avram’s email to me describing why he thinks the effective deadline for file and suspend is four months later than everyone thinks.
Avram Sacks: In the wake of recently enacted budget legislation that is phasing out several Social Security benefit claiming strategies, much has been written about when the new law will take effect and who can still exercise a strategy known as “claim and suspend” until then.
Claim and suspend is a strategy that permits an individual at or after reaching full retirement age (currently age 66) to claim a Social Security retirement benefit and then immediately suspend the claim. By doing so, a worker allows their own benefit to grow by accruing delayed retirement credits that increases their benefit until age 70 (at the rate of two-third percent per month for each month during which payment was delayed) while enabling a spouse, minor child or a disabled adult child to claim a benefit on the worker’s account. Claim and suspend also allows a worker who exercised the strategy at full retirement age to retroactively collect, at a later date, all of the benefits that would have been paid if the individual then needed the money or had a changed circumstance, such as a diagnosis of a terminal illness that would result in the individual collecting little, if any, of their benefit if the worker stuck to the original plan.
Under the new legislation, a worker is still able to suspend a benefit. However, once suspended, no one else may collect a benefit on that worker’s account during the time the benefit is suspended. This, of course, defeats the purpose of the claim and suspend strategy.
The new law takes effect on April 30, 2016. However, that does not mean, as some experts are saying, that a worker must be 66 (full retirement age) by then in order to exercise claim and suspend. I believe that an exact reading of the legislation along with existing federal rules and regulations would allow a worker who reaches age 66 by August 31, 2016, to still exercise claim and suspend under the old rules. Here’s why:
The Social Security Act and governing regulations permit people to file for Social Security benefits prior to the month in which all factors for entitlement are met. An internal agency rule says that an application may be filed as much as four months in advance of that time. This means that a worker reaching age 66 in August 2016 can file an application for full retirement benefits in April 2016. (And because one attains a given age under the Social Security Act on the day before the anniversary of one’s birth, individuals born on September 1, 1950 will reach age 66 by August 31, 2016.)
It’s clear that a worker can file in April 2016 for a benefit to begin in August 2016, but can that worker also suspend the benefit in April 2016? Social Security staff is likely to say that you can’t suspend a claim in April 2016 unless you have already reached age 66. That is because the internal operating guidelines of the Social Security Administration, the POMS (Program Operations Manual System), state that one must be at full retirement age in order to suspend a benefit. (See POMS GN 02409.110.) But the U. S. Supreme Court has held that the POMS has “no legal force” and “does not bind the SSA.” The POMS is entitled to deference only to the extent that it does not contradict a law or regulation.
In this case, I believe the POMS requirement that one must be at full retirement age in order to request that a benefit be suspended, contradicts a regulation. The regulation states: “If you apply for benefits, and we have not made a determination that you are entitled to benefits, you may voluntarily have your benefits suspended for any month for which you have not received a payment.” (See 20 CFR §404.313.) The regulation says that if you are not yet entitled to a benefit, you may still request that benefits be suspended. There is no law or regulation that limits requests like this to those who are already at full retirement age. That limitation is arbitrary and capricious, taking away rights you have under the law and regulations, and none of this is changed under the new law so long as you reach age 66 before September 1, 2016.
So if your 66th birthday falls at any time between May 2, 2016 and September 1, 2016, and you want to exercise file and suspend so that another person, such as a spouse, minor child or disabled adult child can get a benefit on your account while your own benefit accrues delayed retirement credits, what should you do? You should hand deliver a letter to your local Social Security field office that is addressed to the Social Security Administration, states your name, address and Social Security Number and that you want to file for your Social Security retirement benefits to begin in the month you reach full retirement age. Do this no more than four months prior to the month of your 66th birthday. You should also state that you want to suspend the benefit as of that same month, making clear that no benefit should be paid at this time. Keep a copy of the letter for yourself and make sure that the copy you keep is date stamped by the field office staff as having been received. If the request is denied, you have a right to appeal the denial, all the way up to federal district court if necessary.
If the Social Security Administration denies your request to suspend benefits, the appeal could be a long process and may take years to resolve. However, there is nothing to lose from trying this, and much to gain; namely, the potential for tens of thousands of dollars in additional retirement benefits. If you can’t convince the Social Security Administration that the law allows this, once the matter gets to federal court, a judge might be more unbiased in adjudicating this than a Social Security employee who may be unwilling to disregard internal agency guidelines even if they are contrary to law.
The post Is the effective deadline to file and suspend later than everyone thinks? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
More than 38 million people are projected to travel this holiday season, and they could soon find themselves with a new adorable way to de-stress.
More than 200 dogs will join frazzled travelers in airports this Monday through Wednesday with the United Paws program, a venture by United Airlines. From Monday to Wednesday, the program is sending dogs to United hubs including Los Angeles, Cleveland, Denver, Newark, Washington, Houston and Chicago, where United Airlines is based.
Handlers will lead the dogs through the terminals and will allow travelers to pet and nuzzle them.
The program began last year by providing dogs in several airports. Los Angeles Airport, which will receive 13 United Paws pups, offers a similar service throughout the year called “Pets Unstressing Passengers,” or “PUP.”
The post Steve Martin and Edie Brickell team up for Broadway-bound musical appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
The post Lost history treasures revealed as waters recede in Nevada appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: Next: The Obama administration today took steps in this country to protect lions in Africa under the Endangered Species Act.
Jeffrey Brown has that.
JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Central and West African lions as endangered, generally prohibiting importation of lion trophies from that region into the U.S. Lions in Southern and Eastern Africa are now classified as threatened, which will allow U.S. trophy imports only under certain conditions.
The move comes five months after an American hunter killed a lion named Cecil outside a national park in Zimbabwe, and almost five years after U.S. conservation groups petitioned for greater protections for lions.
For more, I am joined by Daniel Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
And welcome to you.
DANIEL ASHE, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Thank you, Jeff.
JEFFREY BROWN: Why now? Is it right to see the killing of Cecil as a kind of game changer that galvanized public attention and now government action?
DANIEL ASHE: Well, we have been considering the listing of the lion for more than five years. We were petitioned under the Endangered Species Act, so that’s been our responsibility.
And we proposed listing the lion back in October of 2014, before the controversy over Cecil the lion, but Cecil and that controversy certainly have galvanized public emotions about lions and I think brings us to where we are today.
JEFFREY BROWN: Advocacy groups have wondered what took so long.
DANIEL ASHE: Well, we are a scientific organization. And we’re dealing with what many scientists call the sixth mass extinction.
So we have many, many priorities, a lot of work under the Endangered Species Act. This is one of those things. And we have had lots of comment and lots of science to pore through.
JEFFREY BROWN: Why would a U.S. — explain this to people. Why would a U.S. law or a designation have such a big impact on what happens in Africa and in what ways would it have an impact?
DANIEL ASHE: That’s one of the great successes of the U.S. Endangered Species Act is that it projects U.S. leadership into world conservation.
The economy of the United States oftentimes causes species’ extension and decline. But, in this case, we can use the power of the U.S. economy and our position as a trade leader to influence conservation of species like the lion.
JEFFREY BROWN: Explain the distinction that I mentioned here between them and the reasons for the distinction between putting some lions on the endangered list and some on the threatened list.
DANIEL ASHE: So, the law allows us to protect subspecies, as well as species. And so the science tells us that there are two species of lion, one, the Asiatic line.
What used to be considered Asiatic lion closely related to lions in Northern and Western Africa, and then another distinct subspecies in Southern and Eastern Africa.
JEFFREY BROWN: But why not go further? Why not go further with the other species?
DANIEL ASHE: Well, the one species, Panthera leo leo, is — only 900 of them remain in the wild, so severely endangered and in very small populations.
The other subpopulation, leo melanochaita, is — there are about 17,000 to 20,000 of them in the wild. So, they’re in better condition. And some of those populations have actually been increasing during the last decade.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that raises the question, how dire is the population problem? What is the real problem here at the core?
DANIEL ASHE: Well, at the core, this problem is human conflict with lions.
So, we’re seeing human and human economies occupying the same habitat that lions need to prosper. And so, as populations increase and become more affluent in Africa, we’re seeing more conflict with lion. And so the future for lion is bleak at this point in time and we could be looking at a future where there is nothing called a lion in the wild, unless we take important actions. And that’s what we’re doing today.
JEFFREY BROWN: The hunting industry, of course, has argued for a long time that, A, ~hunting can be controlled, and, B, that the money that comes from these hunts provide resources for conservation in countries that often do not have enough money, enough funds.
DANIEL ASHE: And that argument in general is a good argument. And we see that here in the United States, where hunting, well-regulated and managed hunting, can ensure prosperous wildlife populations.
But I think, in Africa — and as we think about the plight of the lion and the drastic declines that~ we have seen, I like to think of a Zimbabwean proverb that says, until the side of the lion can be told, the story of the hunt always glorifies the hunter.
And what we need to do in the United States is, we need to do better. The United States needs to do better and can do better. The hunting industry needs to do better and can do better. And the American hunter in particular needs to do better and can do better. And our listing today, we think, is going to provide that kind of incentive.
JEFFREY BROWN: Daniel Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, thanks so much.
DANIEL ASHE: Thank you, Jeff.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As the drought drags on in the Western part of the country, Lake Mead in Nevada is sitting with water at its lowest point since the 1930s. But there has been one silver lining of late for that area: Lake Mead has been revealing some of its deepest secrets as the water levels drop.
GWEN IFILL: But, first, the demand for health insurance and concerns over choice.
The federal government reported higher demand this year for people trying to enroll on insurance exchanges for coverage. Six million had signed up by last week for coverage that begins next month. More than two million of them were new customers.
But, in 11 states, there’s one change that’s complicating the picture this year: Half of the state-run health co-ops were forced to shut down.
Special correspondent Mary Jo Brooks looks at what happened in Colorado.
MARY JO BROOKS: It’s been a tough year for 36-year-old Jessica Peck, a Denver attorney and divorced mother of two. Peck suffers severe vascular and neurological ailments which over the years led to soaring medical bills.
In 2014, she signed up with a brand-new health insurance company called Colorado HealthOP.
WOMAN: The co-op provides health insurance that is built around all needs.
MARY JO BROOKS: It was a nonprofit co-op formed under the Affordable Care Act and funded with loans from the federal government. Peck says she chose it because the price was right.
JESSICA PECK, Colorado HealthOP member: At least 50 percent in terms of premiums and out-of-pocket co-pays from the year before.
MARY JO BROOKS: Fifty percent.
JESSICA PECK: Fifty percent. So this cost saving was a difference. When I was at my sickest of being able to pay my bills, to be able to put gas in my car, and at one point having the difference in premiums was probably the only thing that kept me afloat.
MARY JO BROOKS: At her sickest last year, Peck was forced to have her right leg amputated and was hospitalized for more than 23 days. Peck is the first to admit that the co-op wasn’t perfect, including some billing errors she is still trying to sort out. But she was dismayed when she heard the news that the co-op was being shut down.
JESSICA PECK: Now I have to go back into a marketplace of players that I have worked with before, the big, big guys out there, who hurt me before, who sent me to collections on bills, who denied care that was absolutely 100 percent essential. And I have to go back into that marketplace and pay twice as much as what I’m paying right now.
Colorado HealthOP was one of 23 co-ops started around the country as a concession to Democrats who wanted the ACA to include an alternative to private insurers.
Michele Lueck heads up the policy research group Colorado Health Institute.
MICHELE LUECK, Colorado Health Institute: There were a number of politicians and legislators who wanted to have a government choice, something like Medicare that people could opt into.
And when that wasn’t politically feasible, an olive branch essentially that was offered to the left was this idea of creating co-ops, that this would be something that was owned and operated by the people who needed it the most.
MARY JO BROOKS: Offering some of the lowest-priced plans in the state, the co-op quickly became very popular. By 2015, it had 83,000 policy holders, which represented 40 percent of all policies sold on the Colorado health exchange.
Still, it was tough to compete against long-established companies. For one thing, most of the patients who signed up with the co-op had been previously uninsured, which meant they had greater needs.
CEO Julia Hutchins.
JULIA HUTCHINS, CEO, Colorado HealthOP: People who signed up for health insurance in 2014 had a lot of pent-up demand. And it wasn’t hospital care. These are procedures. When you’re uninsured or underinsured for a long time and then have insurance, there is a lot of care that needs to be provided. So we spent more on claims in our first year than we projected.
MARY JO BROOKS: The government was supposed to offset costs of those high-risk patients, but the Republican-led Congress sharply curtailed funding. In October, the administration announced it would only be able to pay 13 percent of the $3 billion it owed insurers across the country. Colorado HealthOP was counting on $40 million.
SCOTT LLOYD, Colorado Division of Insurance: And when that money did not come in, that’s what really put them under.
MARY JO BROOKS: Scott Lloyd with the Colorado Division of Insurance said without the federal money, the co-op didn’t have enough capital on hand to be recertified.
SCOTT LLOYD: If your capital drops to a certain point, it’s called mandatory control level, so we’re mandated as a state to take control of an entity when that capital drops below that. We can’t wait around to see if it turns are going to around, because the longer you wait, the worse the situation could become.
JULIA HUTCHINS: When we heard the news, we — I really felt sick to my stomach.
MARY JO BROOKS: In spite of the news, Hutchins was confident they could raise the needed money elsewhere. She had three interested investors, but didn’t have the cash in hand to meet the insurance deadline. So at the end of the year, the co-op will shut down. Many of the 80 employees have already begun packing up the office.
JULIA HUTCHINS: It’s unfortunate that we were part of a health care program that’s been so politicized. We were orphaned by politics.
MARY JO BROOKS: Who are you most angry at?
JULIA HUTCHINS: Obama.
MARY JO BROOKS: Why?
JULIA HUTCHINS: Because so many different ways that the administration made the Affordable Care Act work, but they really abandoned the co-op program at the time when it was most important.
MARY JO BROOKS: In fact, more than half of the co-ops nationwide have announced they are shutting down. That has left members scrambling to find new policies for next year.
At health fairs like this one in Littleton, Colorado, insurance companies are trying to attract those members, but their higher-cost plans are a tough sell.
PATRICIA PUTNAM, Colorado HealthOP member: Everybody has these $6,000, $7,000 max out of pockets. And when you’re on disability, you can’t — you don’t have $6,000, $7,000 to pay every year.
MAN: It is a compromise, isn’t it?
PATRICIA PUTNAM: It’s not compromise for me, because I don’t have that.
MARY JO BROOKS: So, what could the co-ops have done differently? Michele Lueck says perhaps they shouldn’t have relied so heavily on the government.
MICHELE LUECK: Other states, like Connecticut and New Jersey and Maine, didn’t rely on that money. They thought that they had higher premiums to create the necessary reserves, but they didn’t rely on this promised payment from the federal government. And those are the ones, by and large, that are still in existence today.
MARY JO BROOKS: But Julia Hutchins says she’s not sure anything could have helped.
JULIA HUTCHINS: It says something when you have a local company who was doing all the right things and was still able to offer the lowest cost and said to be profitable, and that we couldn’t figure out how to navigate the powers that be in health insurance to survive.
It’s important to recognize that this isn’t just a co-op story. This is a small health plan story. And we really haven’t seen any good solutions to reduce costs from the big health plans.
WOMAN: These have larger premiums.
MARY JO BROOKS: Coloradans will get another chance to experiment with an alternative health insurance plan next November, when they vote on a ballot measure that would create a statewide single-payer insurance system.
In Denver, I’m Mary Jo Brooks for the PBS NewsHour.
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GWEN IFILL: For more about all this, I’m joined by our Politics Monday panel, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and joining us tonight from New Hampshire, Tamara Keith of NPR.
Tam, you’re on the trail, so we’re going to start with you.
Let’s start by saying farewell today to Lindsey Graham. What did he or not bring to this race?
TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Lindsey Graham was the hawkish candidate on defense. He also was in favor of immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, which is — what he was selling is basically not what primary voters were buying on the Republican side this time around.
And I just have a quick story from New Hampshire, from — about a month ago, I was here. And I was here to cover a Donald Trump event at this hotel, and the line to get into that event was winding around the hotel. And then I walk into the hotel restaurant, and Lindsey Graham is sitting alone in the restaurant basically surrounded by a line of people going to see Donald Trump.
GWEN IFILL: I had something like that happen with George~ Pataki once. I saw him sitting alone in a restaurant in the middle of a big moment.
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: But that sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?
GWEN IFILL: It does.
AMY WALTER: Right? The candidate who came into the race to be the candidate that at least is not going to be the nominee, but at least he wanted to inject these issues into the debate.
Now, to be fair, we’re talking a lot about immigration and we’re talking a lot about national security, but not necessarily in the ways that Lindsey Graham would like Republicans to be talking about them.
GWEN IFILL: Or perhaps he has a couple of supporters in North Carolina who can be of help to other candidates.
AMY WALTER: Absolutely.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about the debate, that interesting moment where, Amy, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton kind of kissed and made up.
What was that?
AMY WALTER: Yes.
Well, I think it was a very smart decision for Bernie Sanders’ campaign to stop this controversy before it even began. This started late on Friday, where the DNC said, we’re cutting off access to the Bernie Sanders campaign to our joint voter file database because there is evidence that his campaign accessed Hillary Clinton’s data and may be holding on to it right now.
There was a kerfuffle. Got a little dramatic. They since have worked things out. It’s not completely over at this point, but I think it was smart for the Sanders’ campaign, which is — and Sanders himself, who positioned himself as honest and authentic, and just come right out and say, listen, I apologize, it’s not who we are. Let’s go talk about the issues that we know he wants to talk about, income equality.
GWEN IFILL: Well, Tam, let’s talk about what the distinction between what the candidates say and what their staffs say, because there was some really harsh rhetoric being exchanged among the staff that wasn’t as sweet and apple pie as what happened between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on stage.
TAMARA KEITH: Absolutely.
That harsh rhetoric was in full force in the spin room before and after the debate. And, in fact, just because the candidates out on stage said sorry and I accept, more or less, just within the last hour, I got an e-mail from Sanders’ campaign manager, a new statement, calling on the Clinton campaign to support that independent review.
So, the Sanders’ campaign isn’t really letting this go, and I think this Clinton campaign isn’t really letting it go either. And the remarkable thing about the Sanders campaign is that campaign got access to and took data that wasn’t theirs and they have remarkably turned it around and made it the establishment, the Democratic National Committee trying to keep Sanders down.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you, Tam. What’s true and what’s not and does it matter? It’s a pretty obscure fight.
TAMARA KEITH: It’s an extremely obscure fight. Most people didn’t even know that this voter file existed. And even fewer people have any idea how it works.
There is a very small select people that know how it works. But it does — the theft potentially of data does create this image of sort of cloak and dagger politics that we sort of imagine when we think of underhanded politics.
GWEN IFILL: It’s like every bad movie you have ever seen about politics out of Hollywood.
AMY WALTER: Well, that is probably true. But it’s actually more fundamental than that, which is, this is the voter information. This is the most important thing that any candidate has, right?
GWEN IFILL: Right.
AMY WALTER: And they all have something unique about what their strategy is to win these two states, especially Iowa and New Hampshire.
And when another campaign sees your playbook, that can be very damaging.
GWEN IFILL: When this becomes a one-on-one fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, standing on the side there was Martin O’Malley, who seems to have a hard time getting any traction on the debate stage and off, Amy.
AMY WALTER: Well, there’s not really a lane for Bernie Sanders.
We started this campaign knowing a couple of things. The Republican electorate, what they wanted was very different than what the Democratic electorate said they wanted out of a nominee. Republican electorate said, we don’t like Washington, we don’t like the establishment, we don’t like the idea of having another Bush necessarily.
Democrats felt very different. They liked the idea of experience. They were very happy with a Clinton, another Clinton potentially in the White House, so not that easy lane there for Martin O’Malley. And he hasn’t been able to capture the aspirational message, like Barack Obama did in 2007 and like Bernie Sanders has been able to do this time around.
GWEN IFILL: Tamara, both Republicans and Democrats have spent a lot of time in this campaign talking about America’s role in the world. And on that — just on that point, there really was a distinction to be drawn between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and actually from the Republicans as well.
TAMARA KEITH: Yes, and also Martin O’Malley.
Both O’Malley and Sanders came back to this idea a couple of times in the debate that Hillary Clinton, they say, may be a little too quick to support regime change. And O’Malley even mentioned Libya as an example.
And then you take that to the Republican side, and Marco Rubio is more in favor of regime change and wants Assad out, where Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are less interventionist. So, there is a divide and it’s a pretty interesting one.
GWEN IFILL: It is interesting and it crosses parties.
AMY WALTER: That’s the thing. And it crosses party lines.
GWEN IFILL: Yes.
AMY WALTER: It’s not often that you say Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio agree on something, or — and this is even stranger — Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders agree more on the role of America in terms of foreign policy toward Syria than Hillary Clinton and the rest of the field.
GWEN IFILL: Last debate of the year, finally. And as we get into the holidays, things kind of freeze in place.
AMY WALTER: They do.
GWEN IFILL: So, Tamara, what do you have a sense of is going to happen next? Or are we just waiting until mid-January, when everybody gets revved up again?
TAMARA KEITH: I think it will be a little bit before mid-January, but, yes, I think that things do sort of freeze in place.
And the real question for Bernie Sanders becomes, can he win New Hampshire? And that — the polls show it’s close. And can he win Iowa? That’s less close. He’s going to be working very hard in both of those states, because they are critical to him making a case that he is a strong opponent to Hillary Clinton.
GWEN IFILL: Amy?
AMY WALTER: And on the Republican side, I think going into the end of this year, Ted Cruz looks like the front-runner at this point. I would argue the person…
GWEN IFILL: The person — well…
AMY WALTER: Yes. I would say the person that is best positioned, how about that, to…
GWEN IFILL: To take down the actual front-runner?
AMY WALTER: To take down the person who is at the front of the national poll, yes, named Donald Trump.
GWEN IFILL: You don’t consider Donald Trump to be the front-runner?
AMY WALTER: I consider him to be a front-runner, but I do not consider him to be likely to be the nominee.
GWEN IFILL: OK.
I have a challenge for both of you for the post-Christmas Politics Monday. Put on your Santa hats. You can put your Santa sweaters away. I know you planned to where them tonight. And tell us what happens during this little hammocked period between Christmas and New Year’s.
You don’t have to answer me now. Going to come back to you with that again next Monday. Give you some time to think about it.
AMY WALTER: All right.
GWEN IFILL: Have a happy holiday, both of you.
AMY WALTER: Thank you.
TAMARA KEITH: Happy holidays.
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GWEN IFILL: And now it is time for Politics Monday, following a busy campaign weekend.
Political director Lisa Desjardins catches us up, starting with the strong contrasts that emerged in Saturday’s Democrat debate.
LISA DESJARDINS: The Democrats walked in ready to talk security. Topic one: how to fight the Islamic State. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued the U.S. must move Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out.
HILLARY CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate: We will not get the support on the ground in Syria to dislodge ISIS if the fighters there who are not associated with ISIS, but whose principal goal is getting rid of Assad, don’t believe there is a political, diplomatic channel that is ongoing. We now have that.
LISA DESJARDINS: But Clinton’s main rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, said any focus on Assad is a distraction.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, Democratic Presidential Candidate: Yes, of course, Assad is a terrible dictator. But I think we have got to get our foreign policies and priorities right. The immediate — it is not Assad who is attacking the United States. It is ISIS.
LISA DESJARDINS: That was an opening for former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a distant third in the polls, to take his own swipe at Clinton.
MARTIN O’MALLEY, Democratic Presidential Candidate: I believe that we need to focus on destroying ISIL. That is the clear and present danger. But we shouldn’t be the ones declaring that Assad must go.
LISA DESJARDINS: Even as her fellow Democrats differed with Clinton, some Republican candidates agreed with her approach. On CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Florida Senator Marco Rubio called for helping Syrian rebels oust Assad.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, Presidential Candidate: The argument that Assad, and we have no vested interest, and he’s not an enemy of America is wrong. For example, Assad is the reason why there’s a refugee crisis.
LISA DESJARDINS: And in a YouTube video today, another anti-Assad candidate, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, again stressed the issue, even as he dropped out of the race.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, Republican Presidential Candidate: I’m suspending my campaign, but never my commitment to achieving security through strength for the American people.
LISA DESJARDINS: Of course, security wasn’t the only topic at Saturday’s debate. Candidates talked Wall Street as well.
QUESTION: Should corporate America love Hillary Clinton?
HILLARY CLINTON: Everybody should.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HILLARY CLINTON: I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving and the successful. But I also want to create jobs, and I want to be a partner with the private sector.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Hillary and I have a difference. The CEOs of large multinationals may like Hillary. They ain’t going to like me and Wall Street is going to like me even less.
LISA DESJARDINS: But the two rivals did have a moment of detente following news that the Sanders staff had accessed secret Clinton data.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Not only do I apologize to Secretary Clinton, and I hope we can work together on an independent investigation from day one. I want to apologize to my supporters. This is not the type of campaign that we run.
HILLARY CLINTON: I very much appreciate that comment, Bernie. It really is important that we go forward on this.
LISA DESJARDINS: The debate drew more than eight million viewers. That was on the Saturday before Christmas. That’s less than half the number that tuned in for the prime-time GOP showdown last Tuesday.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: Afghanistan and the deaths of six Americans, amid a renewed Taliban offensive. It happened near Bagram air field, outside Kabul, when a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle into a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol.
The Bagram attack was even worse than this one last August, when three American security guards died in a suicide attack in Kabul. And it came just three days after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was in Afghanistan.
ASHTON CARTER, Defense Secretary: We have made gains that will put Afghanistan on a better path. More work lies ahead, and the national security of both our nations remains very much at stake. But we will succeed. The Taliban’s advances in some parts of the country, even if only temporary, underscore that this is a tough fight, and it’s far from over.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Indeed, Taliban fighters are pressing the Afghan army hard across the country. In late September, the militants managed a three-day takeover of Kunduz, a provincial capital in the north. And now government forces are falling back in Helmand Province in the south.
Officials there say the Taliban seized the strategically important Sangin district last night. More than 90 Afghan soldiers were killed in Helmand in two days of fighting. But some at least still sounded defiant.
MAN (through interpreter): The operation is going on by Afghan security forces in this area. The enemies cannot defeat us. We have a strong resolve to defeat them and defend our country, Afghanistan.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And they will have American help for a while longer. Two months ago, President Obama reversed course and announced that some 5,500 U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan beyond 2016.
Late today, Defense Secretary Carter said the Bagram attack is a “painful reminder” of the dangers U.S. troops face in Afghanistan. And in a related development, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously today to extend sanctions against the Taliban for 18 more months.
For more on the situation in Afghanistan, we turn now to freelance journalist Sune Engel Rasmussen in Kabul. I spoke with him a short while ago.
Thanks very much for joining us.
How did this suicide bomber get close enough to these American troops to kill them? What happened?
SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN, Freelance Journalist: Well, the American troops were carrying out a patrol on foot close to Bagram with a unit of Afghan national police. And as they were walking, the suicide bomber drove up to them on a motorbike laden with explosives and then rammed into them and detonated himself.
And that killed six American soldiers, is what we’re hearing, and injured another three and injured three Afghan police. So, it didn’t seem that difficult for him to get close to the soldiers apparently because they were walking on foot.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it common for U.S. or other NATO troops to be so vulnerable that way so close to this big air base?
SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN: Well, I don’t know the details of how vulnerable they were, but I know they are conducting patrols, not just U.S. soldiers, but also soldiers from other nations around Bagram.
And this is something they have doing for a long time and will probably continue to do as part of their, train, advise and assist mission, where they go out with Afghans and assist them on the ground.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know that there are something like 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan right now. What is their mission right now? Is it to defend? Is it to go after the Taliban? How would you describe it?
SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN: Well, NATO and the U.S. call it a train, advise and assist mission.
So, broadly speaking, that means training the Afghan security forces to take over security themselves. Advising is often also on the ground, for example, with Afghan special forces, when they try to the districts in, for example, southern Helmand province or in Kunduz, which fell a couple of months ago.
And then there’s the assist part, which is a little more difficult to define exactly what that is, but that is, for example, fighting underground alongside Afghan troops. Now, the U.S. military says they don’t conduct their own operation~s, but they are assisting the Afghans.
They’re also carrying out airstrikes. They’re also fighting a counterterrorism mission, as they say here. Now, that sometimes veers into what the rest of us might define as counterinsurgency, where they actually go out and they do patrols in villages that they think are influenced — or where there is a terrorism presence.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I ask because I think Americans don’t hear as much about what’s going on in Afghanistan. But you mentioned Helmand province in the south. The Taliban is putting up quite a serious fight there, aren’t they?
SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN: They are. And they have been doing for quite a while now.
The Taliban launched what they call a spring fighting season in the spring, but it’s been going pretty much continually since then for almost a year now. Sangin has been contested for a couple years actually, but it hasn’t been as bad as we have seen over the past 48 hours now.
Lashkar Gah, the provisional capital in Helmand, looks seriously threatened now, as it hasn’t done at any point actually during the war. The Taliban have managed to take a lot of districts surrounding the capital. And that’s also why we have seen a recent arrival of both the U.S. and U.K. special forces in Helmand to help out the Afghans secure the province.
Eventually, the Afghans will have to take control of security themselves, but both the regular Afghan forces, but also the special Afghan forces, which are actually quite competent fighting, are stretched in the province, as it looks now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, very tough, especially as we get so close to Christmas.
Sune Engel Rasmussen, we thank you.
SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN: You’re welcome.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. military has suffered its worst single day in Afghanistan in a year-and-a-half. Six soldiers were killed and two wounded today in a Taliban attack. It was the strongest sign yet of the militants’ resurgence. We will have details and a full report on the state of the fight against the Taliban right after the news summary.
GWEN IFILL: President Obama now says there’s legitimate criticism of his efforts to battle the Islamic State group. In a year-end interview with NPR airing today, he said he’s failed to keep the public fully informed about thousands of airstrikes and recaptured territory. The president also urged Americans to keep the threat in perspective.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: While I understand why people are worried, the most damage they can do, though, is if they start changing how we live and what our values are. And part of my message over the next 14 months or 13 months that I remain in office is to just make sure we remember who we are and make sure that our resilience, our values, our unity are maintained.
GWEN IFILL: The president also criticized Republican presidential candidates who’ve accused him of not doing enough to fight terror. He said it’s important not just to shoot, but to aim.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The man who allegedly bought the weapons used in the San Bernardino shootings was ordered held without bond today. Enrique Marquez is accused of conspiring to aid terrorists, among other federal charges. Authorities say he bought the assault-style rifles that Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik fired at a holiday party, killing 14 people.
GWEN IFILL: The first of six Baltimore police officers in the Freddie Gray case will go on trial next June 13 for a second time. A judge set the new date today for officer William Porter on manslaughter, assault and other charges. His first trial ended last week in a hung jury. Gray died in custody last April, touching off violent protests.
JUDY WOODRUFF: World soccer moved to rid itself today of two leaders engulfed in a corruption scandal. The leader of the sport’s governing body, FIFA, Sepp Blatter and his heir apparent, were banned for eight years. It stems from a payment of more than $2 million that’s now part of a criminal probe.
Steve Scott of Independent Television News has our report.
STEVE SCOTT: Unshaven, with a plaster covering the after-effects of some minor surgery, Sepp Blatter fought his way through the attention to deliver a typically defiant message shortly after hearing of his eight-year ban.
SEPP BLATTER, President, FIFA: I’m really sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry that I am still somewhere a punching ball, that I am sorry that I am, as president of FIFA, this punching ball, and I’m sorry for pro football. But I’m also sorry about me.
STEVE SCOTT: Sepp Blatter claims the 1.3 million pounds payment to Michel Platini in 2011 was part of a salary deal between the pair in 1998. Platini, Blatter’s adviser at the time, agreed to take some of the wages then and guest the rest later. Blatter claims the 2011 payout settled that debt, but FIFA rules that it breached its ethics code, as the payment wasn’t correctly accounted for in FIFA’s books.
For Platini, the consequences of today’s verdict could not be worse. Six months ago, the front-runner to take over the presidency, that ambition now looks dead. He said today: “The FIFA ethics commission’s procedure against me is a true mockery. It was orchestrated to tarnish my reputation.”
While Blatter will now not get the dignified handover of power he so wanted, muted or not, he won’t give up.
SEPP BLATTER: But I will fight. I will fight for me and I will fight for FIFA. Suspended eight years, for what? But I will be back. Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Switzerland’s attorney general is investigating the case. They’re also looking into alleged corruption in FIFA’s award of the next two World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar.
GWEN IFILL: Rescuers in Southern China have spent a second day digging through a mudslide, searching for 85 missing people. Buildings crumbled as a pile of excavated dirt and construction waste, 330 feet high, collapsed Sunday at an industrial park in Shenzhen. It buried or damaged 33 buildings, including factories, offices and dormitories. At least 16 people were injured, but no deaths have been confirmed yet.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Spain braced today for weeks of political limbo, after no party won outright in Sunday’s election. The ruling Conservatives celebrated winning the most votes, but failed to keep their majority in Parliament. And left-wing parties are refusing to join in a coalition. Spain has been roiled by a backlash over austerity and by unemployment that tops 20 percent. The country’s stock market dropped 3 percent today on the election outcome.
GWEN IFILL: Back in this country, gay and bisexual men will be able to donate blood for the first time in nearly 30 years. The Food and Drug Administration ended the ban today, saying it’s not needed to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus. The new policy still bars donations by men who have had sex with other men within the previous 12 months.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Wall Street managed to recover a little of its losses from last week. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 123 points to close above 17250. The Nasdaq rose nearly 46 points, and the S&P 500 added 15.
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NEW YORK — With a deeper-than-ever split between Republicans and Democrats over abortion, activists on both sides of the debate foresee a 2016 presidential campaign in which the nominees tackle the volatile topic more aggressively than in past elections.
Friction over the issue also is likely to surface in key Senate races. And the opposing camps will be further energized by Republican-led congressional investigations of Planned Parenthood and by Supreme Court consideration of tough anti-abortion laws in Texas.
“It’s an amazing convergence of events,” said Charmaine Yoest, CEO of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life. “We haven’t seen a moment like this for 40 years.”
In the presidential race, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is a longtime defender of abortion rights and has voiced strong support for Planned Parenthood — a major provider of abortions, health screenings and contraceptives — as it is assailed by anti-abortion activists and Republican officeholders.
In contrast, nearly all of the GOP candidates favor overturning the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Some of the top contenders — including Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — disapprove of abortions even in cases of rape and incest.
“We may very well have the most extreme Republican presidential nominee since Roe — a nominee who’s not in favor of abortion in any possible way,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. The organization, which supports female candidates who back abortion rights, says it is en route to breaking its fundraising records. A similar claim is made by some anti-abortion political action groups.
What’s changed for this election? One factor is the increased polarization of the two major parties. Only a handful of anti-abortion Democrats and abortion-rights Republicans remain in Congress, and recent votes attempting to ban late-term abortions and halt federal funding to Planned Parenthood closely followed party lines.
Another difference: Republicans in the presidential field and in Congress seem more willing than in past campaigns to take the offensive on abortion-related issues. Past nominees George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney opposed abortion but were not as outspoken as some of the current GOP candidates.
“Abortion will bubble over into the general election,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports female candidates opposed to abortion. “If you don’t know how to handle this issue, you will be eviscerated.”
As the campaign unfolds, other factors will help keep the abortion debate in the spotlight.
The Supreme Court will be hearing arguments, probably in March, regarding a Texas law enacted in 2013 that would force numerous abortion clinics to close. One contested provision requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers; another says doctors performing abortions at clinics must have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
The Texas dispute will have echoes in other states as social conservatives lobby for more laws restricting abortion. Americans United for Life plans a multistate push for a package of bills called the Infants’ Protection Project; one measure would ban abortions performed because of fetal abnormalities such as Down syndrome while another would ban abortions after five months of pregnancy.
Also unfolding during the campaign will be a new investigation launched by House Republicans to examine the practices of Planned Parenthood and other major abortion providers. The panel’s chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, says its work will likely continue past Election Day.
The investigation — denounced by Democrats as a partisan witch hunt — is among several congressional and state probes resulting from the release of undercover videos made by anti-abortion activists. They claim the videos show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue in violation of federal law; Planned Parenthood denies any wrongdoing and says the programs in question at a handful of its clinics entailed legal donations of fetal tissue.
Cruz is among many Republicans who have already passed judgment on Planned Parenthood, calling it “an ongoing criminal enterprise.” He welcomed the endorsement of anti-abortion activist Troy Newman, who helped orchestrate the undercover video operation.
Donald Trump, who leads the GOP presidential polls, has been harder to pin down on the issue. He describes himself as “pro-life” and open to defunding Planned Parenthood, while acknowledging that he held different views in the past.
Planned Parenthood’s leaders say a majority of U.S. voters oppose efforts to cut off its federal funding, most of which subsidizes non-abortion health services for patients on Medicaid. Planned Parenthood’s political action fund hopes to spend a record amount — more than $15 million — on election-related advocacy.
The fund’s executive vice president, Dawn Laguens, contends that some GOP presidential hopefuls, including Cruz and Rubio, may have hurt their general election prospects by making strong bids for anti-abortion votes in the primaries.
“They’ve gone so far out on the limb that they won’t be able to crawl back,” she said.
National polls over the years show the American public deeply divided on abortion. An Associated Press-GfK poll released Dec. 22 found 58 percent of U.S. adults saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and 39 percent saying it should be illegal in most or all cases. Forty-five percent viewed Planned Parenthood favorably; 30 percent unfavorably.
Abortion and Planned Parenthood are likely to surface as divisive issues in several of the races that will decide control of the Senate.
New Hampshire features an intriguing race between two women. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, a supporter of abortion rights, hopes to unseat GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte, who is endorsed by anti-abortion groups and favors halting Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.
Other key Senate races likely to feature sharp divisions over abortion include those in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin and the crucial presidential battleground of Ohio, where GOP incumbent Rob Portman is expected to be challenged by former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
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WASHINGTON — ‘Tis the season — no, not THAT season.
It’s that point in the presidential election cycle when speculation starts swirling that the primaries won’t produce a clear winner and one of the parties’ big nominating conventions will dissolve in chaos.
This time, it’s the Republican side of the race that’s looking particularly unsettled.
After a crazy year in which Donald Trump’s ability to stay on top in a supersized pack has repeatedly confounded the conventional wisdom, the what-if chatter is wilder and louder than usual.
What if no one gets a majority of delegates in the primaries and caucuses? What if Trump leads the delegate count but party elites want to derail his route to the nomination? What if delegates to the Cleveland convention deadlock on multiple votes and then try to turn to someone completely new, perhaps House Speaker Paul Ryan?
Ridiculous, says Ryan.
Silly, says Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” says Trump.
Veteran politicos agree such scenarios are unlikely.
The outlook will clarify once people start voting in February, they insist.
But they also acknowledge that the chances of an unsettled outcome are higher than usual in the current unconventional political environment.
Ben Ginsberg, the lawyer who served as counsel to the Mitt Romney and George W. Bush presidential campaigns, says that because this GOP election cycle offers three lanes of candidates instead of two — a “Trump” lane in addition to the traditional “establishment” and “conservative” lanes — “it becomes more likely that no one will have a majority of delegates.”
“The odds are still really small,” Ginsberg continues, then offers this caveat: “I did say on the day before the 2000 election that there would never be another presidential recount.”
This from the man who went on to play a central role in the Florida recount at the heart of the Bush v. Gore battle for the presidency.
The large field of GOP candidates and Trump’s wildcard candidacy aren’t the only factors at play in speculation that the 2016 primaries could end in uncertainty.
The GOP in recent years has been shifting to a more proportional way of allocating delegates from each state than the old winner-take-all approach.
And that means the momentum Romney achieved after winning a couple of big states in 2012 “is just not going to be as likely” this time, says Mark Stephenson, a Republican consultant who handled delegate strategy for Scott Walker’s short-lived presidential campaign and worked on the Romney campaign in 2008.
Even if the field of candidates has been winnowed to three or four after the first four states award 130 delegates in February, the winner in the big Super Tuesday round of voting on March 1 still might come up with just 300-400 delegates of the 600-plus to be awarded that day, says Stephenson. That’s a far cry from the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
Stephenson agrees that a contested convention is unlikely, but says that between the unusual campaign dynamics at play this year and the proportional delegate allocation rules, “as people start playing with the math, it’s certainly an interesting exercise to come up with scenarios” under which nobody gets to a majority before the convention.
This, then, is the time of joy for delegate geeks who love to nerd out on the fine print of presidential politics and speculate on the what-ifs of a divided convention.
“We do this every four years,” says Joshua Putnam, a political science lecturer at the University of Georgia whose frontloading.blogspot.com wallows in the intricacies of the primaries.
“We want it to happen just for the sheer excitement of it all,” Putnam says of a contested convention. “But the chances of it happening are pretty slim.”
The idea of a brokered convention harks way back to when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms could twist arms and party bosses could steer their preferred candidate toward the nomination. More likely these days, if still a longshot, is a contested or deadlocked convention that opens without a presumptive nominee.
The last time a Republican convention opened without a clear nominee was 1976, when Gerald Ford led in delegates but lacked a majority coming into the convention. There was plenty of drama as Ford beat back a challenge from Ronald Reagan and eked out the nomination on the first vote.
You have to go all the way back to 1952 for a true brokered convention at which delegates turned to someone new. Democrats drafted Adlai Stevenson, who won on the third ballot.
Putnam says a rule approved at the GOP convention in Tampa in 2012 could add intrigue in 2016. It requires a candidate to have a majority of delegates in eight states to win the nomination, up from the previous requirement of a plurality of delegates in five states. In a large field, this higher hurdle to the nomination could be daunting. But it’s also a temporary rule that the party can change if the outlook is muddled coming out of the last round of primaries in June.
Talk that party elites might try to derail a Trump presidency at the convention runs into all sorts of pushback against the idea of disregarding the will of GOP voters.
“I’m an ANTI-Trump guy, but if the GOP elites (of whom I might be one) attempt to smother the will of Republican primary voters, I will spring to Trump’s defense,” GOP consultant Rich Galen said in an email.
As for the Paul Ryan scenario, the House speaker declares it “dumb speculation” that should stop. Of course, it was just two months ago that Ryan was pooh-poohing pleas that he become speaker after John Boehner resigned.
Associated Press writer Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.
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Hieu Minh Nguyen‘s poems travel through time.
Nguyen, a Minneapolis-based poet who writes on race, queerness and history, dove into the past with “White Boy Time Machine: Instruction Manual.” The piece is the first in a series of poems that challenge white supremacy and trace its effect on Nguyen’s family, in particular his mother, who emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam.
Nguyen, 24, brings whiteness to the forefront with the poem’s title, but discards it immediately in the narrative, subverting literary traditions that prioritize white narrators. Whiteness is a jumping-off point for the speaker’s “time travel” to experiences of the past, he said.
“The white boy … is an object of the poem the same way that people of color have been the objects of history books forever,” Nguyen said. “I wanted this white boy to be a vehicle to get to narratives about my own history, or my family’s history.”
Told in brief declarations spread over the page, the poem is a conversation between past and present — an exploration that began with studying social justice-oriented theater, Nguyen said. “I realized that theater and performance and writing can be about you, and not something you hear and memorize from a white man,” he said.
Several vignettes show flashes of Nguyen’s family’s history. One section describes how “I bit his lip / & the ash spat back / my grandmother’s bones.” In that moment, “I tried to explain how every time I’ve been intimate with a white body, it’s felt like history was always present,” he said.
You can read the poem and hear Nguyen read it below.
White Boy Time Machine: Instruction Manual
In the beginning there was corn, a whole state
of boys, blonde as the plants surrounding them.
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllOh, but why am I here?
lllllllllllllllIt seems important to mention all the things
llllllllllllllllthat went wrong: once, my mother loved a field & fled
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllfrom the sight of its singed body.
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllOnce, my mother kissed my father
lllllllllllllll& the corners of his lips unraveled
lllllllllllllll& a child twice his size came out.
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllOnce, the child cried & cried & cried
lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllluntil someone put something in its mouth.
Near the quarry, a population of humming
lllllllllllllllboy machines—humming love songs & the National Anthem
humming drive-in movies & pick-up trucks
lllllllllllllllhumming ball caps & slow dances & pebbles at your window.
I guess I’m trying to explain what’s happening
I took his hand
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll& the geese came back
I bit his lip
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll& the ash spat back
lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllmy grandmother’s bones.
I rose from his lap
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll& the dirt sunk
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllla hundred years.
I laid in his bed
llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll& watched everyone
lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllfall into their mothers.
I went back to catch a boy who fell from a tree
& the scars folded back into my knees.
llllllllDon’t ask me how.llllllllDon’t ask if I’m a ghost.
lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllI know, I know it sounds strange
lllllllllllllllclimbing inside a boy & crawling
out into yesterday’s light.
llllllllllllllla school of metal-clad boys.
lllllllllllllllmy mother is just a girl.
llllllllllllllla white man hands her a flower
& my eyes flicker blue.
Hieu Minh Nguyen is the author of “This Way to the Sugar” (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014), which was a finalist for both a Lambda Literary Award, and a Minnesota Book Award. Hieu is a Kundiman fellow, and a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine. His poems have also appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Indiana Review, The Adroit Journal, Ninth Letter, Devil’s Lake, The Paris-American, Vinyl, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Minneapolis, where he flails his arms. This poem was first published at Devil’s Lake.
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Watch Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty at a press conference above.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said Monday that a grand jury would not file charges in the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland police officer last year.
Rice was carrying a pellet gun on Nov. 22, 2014 when he was shot by Officer Timothy Loehmann. The incident was a “perfect storm of human error,” McGinty said at a press conference Monday.
In a press conference, prosecutors laid out the chain of events that day, beginning with a caller who reported “a guy with a pistol” at the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland. The caller noted the gun was “probably fake,” a fact that the dispatcher did not relay to police, prosecutors said.
Loehmann and officer Frank Garmback drove to the recreation center to respond to the active shooter report. Both officers have stated that they saw Rice beginning to reach for a gun, a statement that has been disputed by a forensic expert the Rice family hired to investigate the killing. McGinty said in the press conference Monday that Rice may have reached for it in order to turn it over to officers.
Watch Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson and Cleveland Police Department Chief Calvin Williams make a statement.
Rice’s death drew nationwide outrage last fall, and shortly after the killing Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Cleveland Division of Police showed a “pattern and practice of using excessive force.”
In June, a Cleveland judge found probable cause on charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty against Loehmann.
Cleveland mayor Frank G. Jackson said Monday that the city was “affording due process to everyone involved in this situation.”
Rice’s family said in a statement Monday that they were “saddened and disappointed by this outcome–but not surprised.”
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