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

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     Hyperloop One wants to transport commuters through a tube at close to the speed of sound, but can regular humans handle it? Photo by Hyperloop One

    Hyperloop One wants to transport commuters through a tube at close to the speed of sound, but can regular humans handle it? Photo by Hyperloop One

    Editor’s note: Tonight on the PBS NewsHour, science correspondent Miles O’Brien takes us to Hyperloop One’s new propulsion system. Check your local listings.

    Today, in the sunburnt desert north of Las Vegas, a tech firm conducted a demo of a cutting-edge propulsion system. The firm is among a handful of companies and universities vying to build the first hyperloop.

    Hyperloop is a futuristic transportation system that resembles a supersized version of a pneumatic tube at the drive-through window of a bank. Here’s how it would work. People hop into a pod, which would travel up to 760 miles per hour inside a tube. That’s a whisker shy of breaking the sound barrier.


    Photo by Hyperloop One

    This afternoon, a 10-foot-long sled zipped from zero to 60 miles per hour in one second. No tube for now, but the company says that a 200-foot-long one is getting assembled for a full-scale test later this year. Hyperloop One, founded by early Uber investor Shervin Pishevar and former SpaceX engineer Brogan BamBrogan, has raised $100 million to connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas with a hyperloop system by 2018.

    science-wednesdayThat’s a lot of cheddar, but it raises a basic question: Is hyperloop safe?

    Two minutes of Puke City

    When Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, proposed the concept in 2013 as a way to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 35 minutes, it was met with dollops of excitement and skepticism. At the time, WIRED wrote:

    THE HYPERLOOP is a totally imaginary transportation device that has captivated entrepreneur Elon Musk, who keeps talking about it. First imagined at least 100 years ago, it would basically look like some version of those green tubes on Futurama.

    Imaginary no longer, it would seem. If everything goes according to plan, Hyperloop One’s pods will carry humans and cargo at 760 mph — 30 percent faster than a 747 airplane.

    “We’re grandma-friendly, dog-friendly and vomit-free,” said Josh Giegel, Hyperloop One senior vice president of engineering. “The user experience is not going to be all that different from what they’d feel on a conventional airline.”

    But extreme speed isn’t the ticket to Puke City. It’s acceleration — those thrilling moments when your body moves from standstill to near Mach 1 — that produce nausea.

    Picture taking off in an airplane. The jet engines let loose, pinning you into your seat, straining your muscles and bones.Picture taking off in an airplane. The jet engines let loose, pinning you into your seat, straining your muscles and bones. This acceleration is typically expressed as G-force or gravitational force (Technically denoted as “g” but for the sake of easy reading, we’ll use uppercase G).

    If you’re standing on a sidewalk or sitting at a desk right now, then you’re experiencing 1 G. Commercial planes submit their passengers to an additional 0.1 to 0.3 Gs during takeoff and landing. But once a plane reaches its constant cruising speed, everyone is basically back to feeling 1 G.

    “If you’re traveling at exactly 700 mph, you can drink a Coke, you can do anything you like,” said NASA Ames research psychologist Lee Stone, who isn’t involved with any hyperloop team. “It’s just like being on a bus.”

    Elon Musk estimated that a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles hyperloop with 40 pods and two one-way tubes could be constructed for $6 billion. If those costs are spread over 20 years, he said the cost of a one-way ticket would be $20. Photo by SpaceX

    Elon Musk estimated that a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles hyperloop with 40 pods and two one-way tubes could be constructed for $6 billion. If those costs are spread over 20 years, he said the cost of a one-way ticket would be $20. Photo by SpaceX

    Hyperloop wants to mimic the experience of an airliner by only inducing an extra 0.1 to 0.3 Gs when the pod starts and stops. The required acceleration would span about two minutes.

    So, a passenger would experience airplane-takeoff levels of unease for close to two minutes … that would be the ride’s only discomfort … unless the hyperloop turns.

    “Anybody who’s turned a car on a sharp turn at 50 mph knows that you’re pulled sideways in your seat by the centrifugal forces,” Stone said. “The bottom line is the trajectory of the track will also generate G-forces that you have to pay attention to.”

    O.G. Limits


    During the early days of the space program, NASA Ames Research Center built a series of centrifuges to test how the human body reacts to high acceleration during rocket launches. Photo by NASA Ames Research Center

    Stone would know. The NASA Ames Research Center has been paying attention to these G-forces since the early 1960s. Their initial work continued military research on the experiences of fighter pilots and America’s first astronauts in the Mercury program. Over the years, the Ames Research Center built a series of giant centrifuges to test how humans and equipment respond to high acceleration. The centrifuges spin a passenger like a merry-go-round. The wildest one engineered by Ames could propel a person at up to 20 Gs or 20 times the normal forces of gravity we experience on Earth.

    During the early days of the space program, NASA Ames Research Center built a series of centrifuges to test how the human body reacts to high acceleration during rocket launches. Here, Mercury astronaut Wally M. Schirra, Jr. prepares to undergo testing in the “5 degrees-of-freedom” motion simulator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in July 1963.

    Trained humans can handle extreme acceleration. Early astronauts who rode Saturn V rockets into space hit accelerations as high as 4 Gs, Stone said. The Russian-made Soyuz descent capsule, which recently carried home astronaut Scott Kelly, can reach a mind-bending 9 Gs. (Birds like cliff swallows can bank as hard as 7.8 Gs, which tops 6.8 Gs of the toughest rollercoaster on the planet, the Tower of Terror in Johannesburg, South Africa.)

    “What shuttle astronauts were typically experiencing on launch was below 2 Gs. Matter of fact, that was part of its design because we wanted to be able to send everyday people into space,” Stone said. “These levels don’t injure you, but once you get above 4 and 5 Gs, it’s significantly challenging.”

    Astronauts sit flat on their backs during launch, so all of this acceleration goes directly into their chest.

    “Seat angles during launch and during descent are a very hot topic. The G-force will hit straight into your chest, that’s the maximally safe direction,” Stone said. “Because the best thing to do is push all your blood into your back, as long as you’re healthy and not pregnant.”

    NASA Ames designed the 20-G centrifuge in the 1960s, but the facility got an upgrade in the 1990s. Here is footage of the facility from April 2006.

    That’s because, even with optimal seating, excess Gs from turns can cause blood to slosh around inside arteries and veins. For astronauts, blood slides from the front of the body to the back as they lift off. This extreme acceleration makes it difficult to breathe and harder to reach for things. Astronauts are in peak physical health to handle these circumstances, while fighter pilots wear G suits to keep their shifting blood from causing strokes or the loss of consciousness.

    Both Hyperloop One and their competitor Hyperloop Transportation Technologies say their final pods would slow down for sharp turns, but by how much remains an open question. The pods might be propelled by magnetic levitation — the same technology used for bullet trains. The top speed of the fastest commercial bullet train, the Shanghai Maglev, hovers around 300 mph. But at this speed, it would require a banked curve with a radius of 4,400 meters to keep passengers from losing their lunch. By comparison, the hardest turns on an Amtrak train require half as much distance. So, unless hyperloop plan on making huge curves or slowing down precipitously, the track will need to be fairly straight.

    Emergency stops present similar problems, given rapid deceleration affects the body in the exact same manner as acceleration. As explained in WIRED, if the pod uses magnetic levitation, then a sudden loss of power would simply slow movement until it plops down at zero miles per hour. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has proposed reverse thrusters to reduce speed. But a sudden stop would be 10 times as bad as a 70 mph car crash.

    Outside of the turns and emergency stops, the health ramifications for average people should be non-existent, if the acceleration and deceleration max out at 0.1 to 0.3 Gs, Stone said. He said he knows of no study showing that repeated brief exposure to high G levels causes health issues.

    “Some poor businessmen fly every single day of their lives, and so clearly those levels don’t cause any problem,” Stone said.

    The post Can our bodies handle the hyperloop? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2DAOX

    Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Mark Blinch/Reuters

    Extraordinarily dry conditions have fueled the wildfire that recently tore through the western Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray. Residents evacuated as flames destroyed 10 percent of the city and halted the production of 1 million barrels of oil per day. The blaze burned through an area of 1,610 square kilometers, roughly the size of London or Houston. Officials expect the fire could be the most expensive disaster in Canadian history, with a bigger relative cost to the country than Hurricane Katrina was to the U.S.

    READ MORE: Water wars are coming

    Meanwhile, across the Pacific, Vietnam is suffering from its worst drought in almost a century. Bad weather has claimed a quarter-million acres of coffee, reducing this year’s production by an estimated 30 percent. The price of robusta coffee beans — of which Vietnam is the world’s biggest producer — has increased 17 percent since February. Coffee growers are facing similar problems from Indonesia to Brazil. The sleep-deprived should take notice: Morning caffeine hits may soon jolt your wallet.

    The link between the Vietnamese drought, the Canadian wildfire and African hunger is El Niño, a climate phase during which parts of the Pacific Ocean’s surface warm.

    And in Africa, droughts are exacerbating food insecurity for millions. In Zimbabwe, for example, the bad weather has forced millions of people to seek food aid and even prompted the government to sell off its wildlife in a quest to raise funds (and safeguard the animals). In the worst-hit country, Ethiopia, more than 10 million people — many of them children — have faced food shortages.

    The link between the Vietnamese drought, the Canadian wildfire and African hunger is El Niño, a climate phase during which parts of the Pacific Ocean’s surface warm. The climate pattern has global reach and affects everything from commodity prices to tourism. Scientists have said the current El Niño, which began in 2015, is one of the worst on record. According to the United Nations, it is responsible for extending food insecurity to 60 million people across Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. Eight countries — including Guatemala, Honduras and Zimbabwe — have declared states of emergency.

    READ MORE: Are skyscraper races a warning of economic chaos to come?

    In addition to food shortfalls, El Niño is causing ecological damage that threatens to hurt tourism. For example, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has recently suffered bleaching — likely due to El Niño — that may kill off significant stretches of coral. Losing the attraction would be a huge economic blow. According to CNN, the natural wonder brings in $3.9 billion per year in tourist spending and employs 70,000 residents.

    A tourist swims on the Great Barrier Reef in this undated file picture. Amid pressure of losing its World Heritage status, the government has decided to expand areas subject to curbs on shipping. Photo by HO/Great Barrier Reef National Park Authority/Reuters.

    A tourist swims on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by HO/Great Barrier Reef National Park Authority/Reuters.

    Similarly, the Pacific island nation of Palau is feeling El Niño’s wrath. Jellyfish Lake, where tourists once swam with millions of non-stinging jellyfish, is experiencing the mass death of the ecosystem’s primary resident. By some estimates, the jellyfish population has plunged from 8 million to 300,000. Tourism is the largest part of Palau’s economy, but with little left to see, groups are canceling tours, and scientists blame El Niño.

    El Niño likely isn’t the only culprit in these events. Scientists believe that climate change could also be playing a role. For one, some studies suggest that global warming might increase the strength of El Niño itself. And on top of that, climate change may exacerbate its effects.

    Scientists expect El Niño to die out over the next few months, but it will have lasting consequences in the form of higher commodity prices.

    Scientists expect El Niño to die out over the next few months, but it will have lasting consequences in the form of higher commodity prices. Some believe rice prices could double. Corn futures are up 9 percent, and soybean futures are up 13 percent in the past month. Overall, food prices have ticked up three months in a row after years of declines, and hedge funds are betting on further increases.

    In addition to their obvious human costs, food shortages have important geopolitical consequences. Specifically, rising food prices generate social unrest. The Arab Spring, for example, erupted as food prices spiked. And in Syria, a historic drought created food shortage that drove populations from their homes. This dynamic contributed to the country’s civil war, which provided fertile ground for the rise of ISIS.

    READ MORE: A major contributor to the Syrian conflict? Climate change

    Fortunately, food prices are not at a level researchers claim make unrest more likely. But forecasters think there is a 50 percent chance that La Niña — El Niño’s “cooler” sister — could emerge later this year. According to the Wall Street Journal, the last time El Niño switched to La Niña in 2010, “wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade rallied around 21% and soybeans rose around 39%, while the benchmark sugar contract traded in New York surged 67%.”

    El Niño is an important reminder that seemingly disparate headlines — from the Canadian wildfire to coffee shortfalls — can be linked in surprising ways. Keeping our eyes peeled for such connections is crucial for navigating uncertainty in a complex world. In this case, watching weather might just prepare us for the next storm of revolutions.

    The post Column: El Nino, the global spoilsport affecting oil, food prices and tourism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    If Medicare eligibility goes up from age 65 to 67, government spending will decline but overall national health spending could go up, according to a new study, Kaiser Health News reported. Photo by Getty Images

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

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

    I will get to as many questions as I can here, but please accept my apologies that I am not able to answer everyone’s questions.

    Dave – Pa.: I am an elder law attorney whose retired 66-year-old client recently implemented a file and suspend strategy for Social Security. [This is a claiming technic that was popularized by our Social Security book, “Get What’s Yours,” which we’re told contributed to its elimination in new laws.] Coincidentally, her long-time and only husband, who is considerably older, was recently admitted to a nursing home.

    Before filing and suspending, my client had been paying for Medicare Part B quarterly with personal checks, but she was advised by Social Security to discontinue that since her Medicare Part B would now be deducted from her Social Security monthly distributions of income. In processing this change, her Social Security payments for some reason now reference her husband’s Social Security number. This has confused and tangled her Medicare coverage, and she has been issued letters stating her Medicare coverage has ended.

    She is a retired employee of the state of Pennsylvania, which provides her a private retiree health insurance plan. The company offering this plan has canceled her coverage on the grounds that her Medicare has been canceled.

    This woman is an extraordinarily detailed person who has taken notes of every call she has made as well as her response to every letter and communication she has received on this matter. Each call has offered her assurance that there is a problem with the system and that she will eventually be okay, although it might take until June to fix things. She read her notes to me just yesterday before calling me again to tell me that she just got a letter saying that now her Social Security has been canceled!

    I intend to help her call Social Security today and have all of her notes transcribed. I’m writing because it seems that her problems might be shared by others. I’m also wondering what can be done to motivate Social Security to solve her problem and those of others similarly affected?

    My instinct is that someone somewhere within Social Security could solve this now, but is not exerting the effort to do so because of a sadistic reaction, which enjoys vindication by seeing the “undeserving file and suspenders” getting a bit of punishment. I hope I am wrong. But as a 61-year-old former government administrator, I have seen a lot.

    Phil Moeller: My heart goes out to your client and her husband for being the victims of a mess that is not of their own making. I also extend my appreciation to you for stepping up to help his client. This is the kind of support that everyone deserves from their financial advisers.

    As for Social Security, you are correct that the agency has the authority and responsibility to fix this. And while it’s admirable that your client has kept meticulous records, simply documenting the problem will not necessarily get it resolved. Her situation needs to be escalated to higher-level agency employees with the expertise and authority to fix this. Sometimes, we mistakenly think that proving that something is wrong will lead to its being fixed. After all, isn’t this still America, where truth and justice will prevail? As I’ve learned in extensive dealings with Social Security and Medicare, this may be America, but justice is often thwarted by layers of bureaucracy, reluctance of people to confess their mistakes and problems in communicating your issue to the right people. I will share this sad tale with the Social Security Administration and Medicare counselors. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this story.

    Marlene – Fla.: I turned 65 in 2015 when I started on Medicare. My premium was $104.90 for Part B. As I worked most of my career for the county I lived in, my Social Security check is small — only $98 a month. This year, I have been told that because my monthly Social Security check doesn’t cover the cost of Medicare, I now have to pay $121.80 a month. The reason why, I’m told, is that I am being billed once a year. This just makes no sense to me. Is this true? Any advice you have on how to correct this would be appreciated.

    Phil Moeller: Marlene, like Dave’s client, you have been trapped in the regulatory morass of how Social Security and Medicare can affect one another. By law, Part B premiums for most beneficiaries must be taken out of Social Security payments. Because your premiums are greater than your monthly Social Security payments, the agency apparently decided that this can’t occur, leading it to require you to pay Part B premiums directly to Medicare. Doing so, unfortunately, has brought you into conflict with the byzantine rules that kicked in last year due to there being no increase in Social Security’s cost of living adjustment for 2016. As recounted here, there is a Social Security provision known as the “hold harmless” rule. It says that benefits can’t decline from one year to the next. With a zero cost of living adjustment in 2016, Part B premiums could not increase for people whose premiums were deducted from their Social Security payments (except for wealthier folks). Thus, their premium had to stay at $104.90 a month in 2016. For people new to Medicare in 2016 and those like you whose premiums are not deducted from their monthly Social Security payments, the basic monthly Part B premium could increase, and it was raised to $121.80 a month. Is this right or fair? Of course not. You should seek relief by calling a consumer counselor at either the State Health Insurance Assistance Program or the Medicare Rights Center. Please let me know what happens, and good luck!

    Frank – Texas: I turn 65 in November of this year, and I understand that I need to sign up for Medicare then. However, for 40 years, I worked as a volunteer missionary (no salary, but expenses provided), so that means my paid work history is minimal. I’ve been working now for six years and plan to continue. I should be eligible for Social Security and Medicare coverage when I’m 69. (Even then, I plan to continue working.) What are my health insurance options after I reach 65? At the moment, I’m on an Obamacare plan. Do I need to enroll in Medicare at 65, even if I receive little or no coverage? Or will the coverage be so minimal that I should stick with my high-premium Obamacare package — and is that even possible after 65?

    Phil Moeller: Frank, you qualify for an exception to the general rule that people without group employer health coverage must sign up for Medicare when they turn 65. Because you have not worked the required quarters (40) at jobs where Social Security payroll taxes were deducted from your wages, you do not qualify for premium-free Part A Medicare, which covers hospital expenses. The premiums for this coverage may exceed $400 each month. However, people 65 and older who do not qualify for premium-free Part A may continue to get their health coverage through an Affordable Care Act state insurance exchange. When you amass enough quarters of work, you will have to get Medicare. You did not mention whether you were married, but if you are, you would qualify for premium-free Part A if your spouse had enough quarters of Social Security coverage. This rule also applies to divorced spouses, by the way, assuming the couple was married at least 10 years and the spouse wishing to qualify for premium-free Part A has not remarried.

    Ann – Colo.: If I change from AARP Medicare Complete to Kaiser Permanente, are the benefits and costs similar?

    Phil Moeller: I have absolutely no idea, but this question provides me the chance to remind people that Medicare provides great tools to answer such questions for themselves. Go online to Plan Finder, enter your home ZIP code and look for policies from multiple insurers. You can find a more detailed shopping guide in earlier Ask Phil columns. But in brief, you need to take a good look at the kind of policy you want — especially your specific prescription drug needs. These specifics are required to get an accurate picture of how different policies compare, and it’s the primary reason you are the best person to answer your own question. Good luck!

    Patricia – Calif.: Where should I start with Medicare and Social Security now that I will be turning 62 in July? Is it too early to start to put things in place? If I retire before age 66, am I still eligible for Medicare?

    Phil Moeller: Here’s another general question that I am frequently asked. With 10,000 people, on average, reaching retirement age every day, I know that many new readers need to understand these basics. The complete answers to these questions can be found in the just-revised edition of our Social Security book, “Get What’s Yours,” and my companion guide to Medicare that will be published in October. In brief, you can claim your Social Security retirement benefit as early as age 62, but if you do this, your payments will be subject to early claiming reductions. I urge people to delay claiming if they can afford to and if their health and family needs don’t argue for early benefits. Benefits deferred to age 70 are 76 percent higher each and every month for the rest of your life. While you would “lose” eight years of benefits by deferring, the typical life expectancy of a 62-year-old woman is upwards of 25 years, and there’s a good chance you will see your 90th birthday. You need to have a plan to not outlive your money, and Social Security is the best longevity insurance we have. As for Medicare, you become eligible for it when you turn 65 unless you are disabled. Even when you do turn 65, however, you generally do not need to get Medicare if you are still employed and have health insurance through your work. When you do retire, you will have seven or eight months to sign up.

    Barbara – Wis.: I am a stage four cancer patient currently on Medicaid, not Medicare. I’m concerned about how long I can be on this. I was told that I will be receiving Medicare by 2017. Am I still able to be on Medicaid while collecting Medicare? I’m confused and wonder if I was misinformed. Secondly, what is the difference between the two?

    Phil Moeller: Medicaid is health coverage for lower-income folks. Medicare is health coverage for people who either are 65, disabled or both. People on Medicaid usually will continue to qualify to keep using it so long as they meet the income requirements. Generally, a Medicaid recipient will also qualify for Medicare when they reach the age threshold for Medicare at age 65. These people are known as “dual eligibles,” meaning they qualify for both programs. Beyond these generalities, there may be very complicated state and federal rules that govern the care and costs for dual eligibles. I suggest you call the State Health Insurance Assistance Program. A counselor there should be familiar with Medicaid rules in Wisconsin and how your coverage and care might be affected should you also become covered by Medicare.

    Tom – Ariz.: I understand that if I do not sign up for Medicare Part B after reaching 65, I may be subject to permanently higher premium rates later on, unless I was covered by an employer’s health plan past the age of 65. Here is my question: Suppose that I am past 65, still working, and then I change jobs? Assume that my employer-provided health coverage from the original job ends when I leave that job and that the new job does not start for three months. The new job will provide medical coverage. Is there a grace period allowed such that a temporary period of not having employer-provided health coverage will not trigger the permanently higher Medicare Part B premium rates normally applied if one does not sign up after turning 65?

    Phil Moeller: Tom, there’s not a grace period, but there are tools to help you. To avoid being without health insurance, you should get a COBRA policy that takes effect the first day you no longer have employer insurance from your first job. Then, when you get the second job, you can sign up for private insurance through your new employer. COBRA can be complicated for people of retirement age. But because the gap between the two jobs is so short, you will not trigger late-enrollment penalties for Medicare. However, if it takes longer than three months to regain employer coverage, you might need to sign up for Medicare, and then drop it when you are covered by your second employer’s plan. COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which created it. It does not qualify as employer coverage under Medicare rules. But because your private-insurance gap is much shorter than the allowed Medicare sign-up window, you should not be dinged with late-enrollment penalties later on. Your primary concern here is not penalties, but making sure you do not lose your health coverage, even for a day.

    The post Getting trapped in the regulatory morass of Social Security and Medicare appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A new Pew Research Center study revealed that nearly nine out of 10 U.S. metropolitan areas lost middle-income households. Communities that relied heavily on manufacturing tended to lose the most ground. Photographer: Paul Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    A new Pew Research Center study revealed that nearly nine out of 10 U.S. metropolitan areas lost middle-income households. Communities that relied heavily on manufacturing tended to lose the most ground. Photographer: Paul Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    When Chuck Allen was a second grader, his father moved the family to Goldsboro, North Carolina, for a job. Forty-five years later, Allen serves as mayor of his hometown, where a shrinking middle class struggles to find work, an increasingly common problem nationwide.

    Goldsboro once reaped wealth from tobacco and manufacturing. Allen says locals have “always held our own” through good times and bad. But nowadays, this small city in East Carolina farm country relies on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for economic stability, and he said job applicants often find “they have more qualifications than they do job.”

    “The jobs for the middle class just don’t seem to be there,” he said.

    For nearly two decades, Goldsboro has endured some of the nation’s steepest declines in economic status, according to a new Pew Research Center study. And the city’s losses are part of a “pervasive trend” that first unfolded across the United States four decades ago, explained Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of research at Pew Research Center.

    The middle class shrank in 203 out of 229 U.S. metropolitan areas, representing three-quarters of the U.S. population, based on analysis of Census Bureau data from 2000 to 2014, Kochhar said.

    “The share of people in the lower-income tier or the upper-income tier were on the rise in the vast majority of metropolitan areas,” he said. “We observed nationally a polarization of Americans into opposite sides of the income distribution” over the last four decades.

    In 2014, one person living alone needed to earn between $24,000 and $72,000 to be considered middle class. The Midwest and the Northeast fared best in preserving their middle-income households. Maintaining education and service-sector jobs made a difference. Northeastern metropolitan areas also held the largest share of upper-income households, while the largest lower-income communities tended to be in the South and Southwest.

    Some communities lost economic standing due to global manufacturing competition, Kochhar said, while others, such as Midland, Texas, made gains thanks to a rise in oil prices.

    This study digs deeper into Pew Research Center’s December report that initially revealed that America’s middle class were no longer the country’s economic majority.


    The post Are you in America’s shrinking middle class? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) talks to the media outside of his Senate office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    Former Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) talks to the media outside of his Senate office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz says he wants another term in the Senate.

    The Texas lawmaker said in a statement Wednesday that he had filed the official paperwork for a re-election bid in 2018. The move reactivates his Senate campaign committee that would collect money for his run.

    Cruz quit the presidential race last week after a crushing defeat in Indiana. He said in his statement that he will continue fighting for “jobs, freedom and security … for 27 million Texans and all Americans.”

    He added that the conservative movement remains strong and vibrant.

    Cruz has alienated several of his Republican colleagues during his time in the Senate, helping engineer a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013 and calling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.

    SUBSCRIBE: Get the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks delivered to your inbox every week.

    The post Cruz files paperwork for a 2018 re-election bid appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the latest addition to the “NewsHour” Bookshelf.

    Jeffrey Brown explores a new take on a classic novel.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There’s a well-off bachelor, a Mr. Bingley, moving to town, and Mrs. Bennett would just love to marry off one of her five daughters, preferably the eldest, Jane.

    Oh, and Bingley has a friend named Darcy. Maybe you have heard this story. Jane Austen’s novel of manners, “Pride and Prejudice,” was first published in 1813. It has been read and played with in many forms, including films, ever since.

    And now comes “Eligible,” part of the Austen Project, which asks six contemporary novelists to rewrite six of Austen’s books.

    Author Curtis Sittenfeld’s previous bestsellers include “Prep” and “American Wife.”

    And welcome to you.

    CURTIS SITTENFELD, Author, “Eligible”: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Was this scary or fun to take on? Because you’re inevitably going to be compared to Jane Austen and to a beloved book.

    CURTIS SITTENFELD: I would say it was scary and fun.

    It was — I mean, I always knew that I was writing this as an act of admiration and not as an attempt to improve upon “Pride and Prejudice,” which, of course, we all know is perfect.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, what was the mission? What did you set yourself?

    CURTIS SITTENFELD: Well, it was just supposed to be fun. I wanted it to sort of show this admiration for “Pride and Prejudice,” but also update it, and not be so similar that you would know at every twist and turn what would happen.

    It’s supposed to be entertaining and sizzy and engaging and kind of — it can make you think about “Pride and Prejudice” or go back to the original. And, honestly, some people have said, you know, Jane Austen would love this, or Jane Austen would be rolling in her grave, which I feel like probably neither. But it’s OK that it’s for some people. It’s not for everyone.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so you set your novel in Cincinnati, first of all. Why?

    CURTIS SITTENFELD: Well, it’s my hometown.


    CURTIS SITTENFELD: So, it was tempting. And I had never set fiction there, even though I had written four previous novels.

    But it also — I feel like Cincinnati and a small English village in the early 1800s have certain things in common, in that outsiders might not think they’re very interesting, but, if you live there, you know that there’s drama and…

    JEFFREY BROWN: There’s a lot going on.

    CURTIS SITTENFELD: Yes. People’s lives are always exciting to them, and people always have crushes and intrigue.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so here, Jane Bennet is a yoga instructor. Lizzie is a magazine writer. The two silly younger sisters are — they spend a lot of their day doing cross-fit workouts.

    I mean, I can go on and on, right? Darcy is a haughty neurosurgeon now. Did you have great fun looking for comparisons to our time?

    CURTIS SITTENFELD: Yes, I did have great fun. I felt like, sitting at my desk, I was basically enjoying myself quite a lot.

    And from the beginning, when these editors approached me and asked me if I would be interested in this, I said let me reread “Pride and Prejudice” and see if I can come up with ideas for modern parallels. And almost right away, from the first page, I thought this would be fun. I could do this. I have many ideas.

    And so, yes, it was — I thought in terms of structure or plot or things that happened. It wasn’t — it was more like trying to find the parallels and trying to borrow the architecture of “Pride and Prejudice,” and as opposed to just almost thinking, what are modern things that I can insert this old book?

    JEFFREY BROWN: But what are — I’m curious, what are the similarities or differences that you found in her time and ours? Because so much of that period and those books are about the class society, right, gender relationships? Is it similar or different?

    CURTIS SITTENFELD: Yes. Don’t you think, in 2016, like, class is still…


    CURTIS SITTENFELD: It’s always sort of unspoken, but always relevant.

    Like, I think some of it — to me, I think maybe the biggest questions in “Pride and Prejudice” are, will I find my soul mate? Will my soul mate recognize that we’re soul mates? Why is my family so annoying? That’s always like an eternal question. Do I have a financially secure future? Those are eternal, timeless questions.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Except, nowadays, in relationships, there would be — well, in your book, there’s sex, for example, right?


    CURTIS SITTENFELD: I know, I know, I know.

    So, here’s the thing. I tried to be respectful of Jane Austen and her legacy and not be kind of over the top in that category. But I do think — the book is set in 2013. “Eligible” is set in 2013. And it seemed like — I have aged Jane and Lizzie about 20 years. They’re both approaching 40.

    It seemed rather unlikely that these almost-40-year-old women would have totally chaste relationships. So, to me, it seemed relevant to the plot and not provocative for the sake of being provocative.

    JEFFREY BROWN: When you first read Jane Austen, when you went back as a writer, what makes Austen, Austen?

    CURTIS SITTENFELD: Well, it’s interesting, because I think a related question is, why do people love “Pride and Prejudice” above all her books?

    She’s written so many — six wonderful novels, and people love all of them, but there’s really a special place in people’s heart for “Pride and Prejudice.” And I think she’s — in “Pride and Prejudice,” she’s kind of addressing a lot of themes that she addresses in the other books, but she just — she achieves this incredible, seamlessness and this balance.

    And she’s just at the top of her game in terms of character development and language and insights about the human condition, and the romance is so romantic. So, it’s almost like everything comes together so beautifully.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And have you thought about why the endless remakes and twists? We were talking before we started about the famous Colin Firth on television, right, which a lot of people remember. Zombie movies get made. All kind of films get made out of this, right?


    JEFFREY BROWN: “Bridget Jones.” I mean, you can go on and on and on.


    No, I have thought about this and wondered, is there something almost Darwinian in us that loves to watch a romance? Like, I feel like to me, as a reader or as a viewer of television, if there’s a couple, and there’s such palpable, romantic tension or sexual tension between them that I’m thinking to myself, kiss, kiss, like, I love that. That’s my favorite experience as a sort of consumer of a book or a TV show.

    And so I think that she does that just magnificently, where you think, like, Darcy, Lizzie, you’re meant to be together. And don’t you know it? Can’t you recognize it?

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, “Eligible” is part of the Austen Project.

    Curtis Sittenfeld, thanks so much.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s been nearly a year since the secretary of defense declared the military’s ban on transgender soldiers — quote — “outdated,” but the Pentagon has yet to issue any new directives, despite deadlines.

    William Brangham explores what it means to be transgender in the armed forces.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In 2014, Lieutenant Blake Dremann was going to be one of the first women to serve on a U.S. Navy submarine.

    LT. BLAKE DREMANN, U.S. Navy: We got invited to the White House, and this is me with the president and the first 24 females on a submarine.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But by the time that vessel launched in late 2013, Blake was physically transitioning to the male gender, and giving himself weekly hormone injections.

    LT. BLAKE DREMANN: I took my first shot the week before we got under way, and I took them under way with us.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Blake is a transgender man. His sex at birth was female, but he’s long identified himself as male.

    LT. BLAKE DREMANN: I probably knew when I was like 5, right, that something was amiss. But you grow up in the church, you grow up in Bible college, that type of environment, and you just learn to ignore it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Blake is now stationed at the Pentagon. He says most of the other officers treat him like any another colleague.

    LT. BLAKE DREMANN: The senior officers have been very receptive about it. And I have talked to all kinds of them for sometimes an hour or an hour-and-a-half at a time just kind of answering questions. And if you ask, I’m very open.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The tide has slowly been turning for transgender service members like Blake. Until last year, if a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine changed their gender identity, Pentagon policy was to give them a medical disqualification and discharge them from service.

    This was policy, but it wasn’t always strictly enforced. But last July, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stopped these dismissals, and ordered the Pentagon to draft plans to allow transgender people to serve openly.

    But that change came too late for some. As a man, Brynn Tannehill graduated with honors from the Naval Academy in 1997. She went on to serve as a Navy pilot for over a decade.

    LT. CMDR. BRYNN TANNEHILL, U.S. Navy Reserve: I was flying an SH-60B helicopter full of sub hunting gear and surface search radars and infrared cameras. We could carry anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: She served in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. And after leaving the Navy, she joined the Reserves, but she soon realized she couldn’t keep flying.

    LT. CMDR. BRYNN TANNEHILL: I left the military in 2010, left the Reserves, because I was dealing with gender dysphoria. I was dealing with the fact that I didn’t identify with the gender I had been assigned at birth.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: She’s now a military consultant. In her free time, she makes her own medieval-style body armor and participates in popular one-on-one mock combat.

    Gender dysphoria, according to the current thinking among mental health professionals, is the real deep-seated sense that the gender you were born with isn’t really who you are. A survey of over 6,000 transgender Americans found that 20 percent — that’s one in five — had served in the military. That’s more than twice the percentage of the general population.

    Another study, by the UCLA School of Law, estimates that about 15,500 trans people serve in the U.S. armed forces, out of a total force of 1.5 million. The same study found that there are about 130,000 trans veterans, out of 22 million total veterans.

    DR. GEORGE BROWN, East Tennessee State University: You have to live a double life. You have to live secretly. And there are many problems that arrive out of that type of existence.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: George Brown is associate chairman for veterans affairs at East Tennessee State University. He spent 15 years as an Air Force psychiatrist. Since the 1980s, Dr. Brown has treated hundreds of transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. And he’s developed a theory about why so many trans men and women serve.

    DR. GEORGE BROWN: Ninety percent of the people I interviewed would say, you know, when I was 17, 18, 19 years old, I knew there was something different about myself, and I really wanted to run away from this. And I thought, if I joined the military, I could become a real man.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: However trans men and women end up in the military, Brynn Tannehill wants them to be treated the same way that all other federal government workers are treated.

    LT. CMDR. BRYNN TANNEHILL: The federal work force already has policies in place that allow other federal workers to transition, to change their names, change their gender markers, to use bathrooms, to use locker rooms. All of this has been worked out with every other federal agency.

    So the military is really kind of a little bit behind the curve on this one.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: She says VA hospitals have been providing hormones and therapy to trans veterans since 2011. But that’s not the case for service members on active duty or in the Reserves. Tannehill says, if a woman needs hormone replacement therapy to address menopausal symptoms or after cancer treatment, she can get it through the military health care system, but not women like her.

    LT. CMDR. BRYNN TANNEHILL: If a transgender woman needs that same estrogen in the same doses, she can’t get it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: According to a recent study in “The New England Journal of Medicine” by Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center — they’re a research and advocacy group that focuses on transgender issues — it would cost the military about $5.6 million to pay for hormones and other transition-related treatments annually. According to the same estimate, about 188 soldiers would transition each year.

    While this represents just a sliver of the Pentagon’s personnel, and its nearly $600 billion annual budget, for retired Marine Colonel Gary Anderson, his concerns about trans service members go beyond just money.

    COL. GARY ANDERSON (RET.), U.S. Marine Corps: I have nothing personally against women in combat, gays in the military, transsexuals in the military, or gay pregnant whales in the military, as long as somebody can show me that there is value added and not value taken away from the military readiness.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Anderson says that letting transgender people and gays serve has damaged morale. He claims it’s the lowest it’s been in decades. The cause? Changing attitudes about the LGBTQI community.

    COL. GARY ANDERSON: I think progressive fascism is a fair description. I think we have got people who — quite frankly, diversity in this particular Pentagon and this particular time frame has become a religion.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In the past, the Pentagon has said that the impact of letting gays and lesbians serve openly has been — quote — “negligible.” They have not yet studied the impact of transgender service members.

    But Anderson also says that transgender service members present logistical challenges.

    COL. GARY ANDERSON: Will there be a requirement for a third bathing and sanitary facility aboard submarines, on fire bases and so forth?

    LT. BLAKE DREMANN: We got stalls. We’re mature enough to not — you know, you shut the door. Everybody knows. It’s not like there’s any secret to what going on when you walk into the bathroom.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: According to the Palm Center, 18 countries, including Canada, the U.K. and other NATO allies, have allowed transgender soldiers to serve. And Tannehill says there’s no evidence those militaries suffered any problems or setbacks.

    LT. CMDR. BRYNN TANNEHILL: They have dealt with all the same issues that the DOD is looking at, and they dealt with them 15, 16 to 20 years ago, including facilities, including medical care, including nondiscrimination and non — anti-harassment policies.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Tannehill and others who watch the issue are expecting Defense Secretary Carter to make an announcement about the Pentagon’s strategy by midsummer. They hope it will put to rest the uncertainty of serving while transgender.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m William Brangham.

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    The Uber logo is seen on a vehicle near Union Square in San Francisco, California, U.S. May 7, 2015.    REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/File Photo - RTX2C0YV

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now we turn to Uber. The ride-sharing giant’s rise has spurred a number of fights across the country.

    The latest move, an agreement to create a drivers association representing about 35,000 drivers in New York City. That follows a recent settlement with drivers in California and Massachusetts, and a decision to suspend service in Austin, Texas.

    Mike Isaac covers this landscape for The New York Times, joins us now from San Francisco.

    How significant was this agreement that Uber made in New York?

    MIKE ISAAC, The New York Times: So, it’s probably the largest to date that Uber has had in a sort of positive agreement with any sort of recognized labor unions.

    It’s the first time that Uber is actually recognizing a group of drivers. They’re not calling it a union because they lack some really fundamental issues that — issues and abilities that unions have, which includes the ability to collectively bargain with Uber on pay.

    But, as far as overall significance, it’s the first time Uber is actually willing on agree to talk to one of these groups.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is this a step to try to prevent unionization or to have to call drivers employees?

    MIKE ISAAC: You know, it’s — Uber has never really had good lines of communication with any of the drivers that work for them.

    One of the biggest complaints has always been, you know, for drivers, that they can’t get in touch with Uber. If they have been deactivated driving for Uber, they don’t know why often. It’s sort of this first olive branch from the company saying, OK, we’re going to start listening to you and essentially give you a voice.

    Now, that also serves another purpose, to, you know, sort of give a quasi-union-style thing to drivers without actually making them employees, which would cost Uber, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars more in overhead.

    So, it’s kind of a — it’s serving more than one purpose at the same time.


    Now, what are the fights going on in the other parts of the country we mentioned? Right in your home area, in California, what was the settlement there about?

    MIKE ISAAC: So, in California and in Massachusetts, there was a class-action lawsuit going on where a number of — tens of thousands of workers were essentially suing Uber to — for back wages, for overtime, for expenses, essentially things that you would receive if you were a full-time employee.

    Now, Uber, you know, continues to call their drivers their partner — driver partners and has no real incentive to employ these people. So, that had been going on for a while. But Uber finally settled with the class-action — or agreed to settle the class-action for up to $100 million and some of the concessions that you’re seeing in this new union — union-esque group formed in New York recently.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I say Uber all the time, but it’s almost a shorthand for Uber, Lyft, other ride-sharing companies. They just pulled out of Austin.

    It seems the strategy sometimes for these companies is to ask forgiveness, rather than permission. What happened in Austin, and why did they have to leave?

    MIKE ISAAC: Well, Austin was an interesting battle for them.

    They essentially were going up against the slate legislature over background checks. And, basically, Uber has this process where they have an outside company performing these background checks for drivers. They’re usually turned around in a few days, and drivers can get on the platform and start driving really quickly.

    Now, the point of contention there was, taxi drivers and cab drivers generally have to go through a fingerprint-based background check, which many people believe is much more comprehensive than the type of background checks that Uber is — Uber and Lyft and other ride-sharing companies are requiring.

    So, Uber spent, I believe it was $9 million fighting that in the state legislature, saying, our background checks very safe. But a law passed that essentially sort of made their argument moot, so Uber decided to call their bluff and pull out and see if the drivers in Austin complained loud enough for them — for the state to cave.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Mike Isaac of The New York Times joining us from San Francisco, thanks so much.

    MIKE ISAAC: Thanks for having me.

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    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Charleston, West Virginia. Photo by Chris Tilley/Reuters

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Charleston, West Virginia. Photo by Chris Tilley/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Donald Trump told The Associated Press this week “there’s nothing to learn” from all those income tax returns he won’t release until an ongoing audit wraps up.


    Tax experts say the feet-high stack of returns that he’s posed with for photos could provide significant insights about the presumptive GOP nominee — new details on his income and wealth, how much he gives to charity, the health of his businesses and, overall, how Trump plays the tax game.

    Some information that may be embedded in Trump’s tax returns:


    Trump’s tax returns wouldn’t give a full picture of his wealth, since people don’t have to report assets. But they would provide fresh clues about the financial life of the richest-ever presidential candidate, who’s admitted he’s prone to “truthful hyperbole.” Tax returns could help determine whether Trump has been overstating — or understating — his income. On a press release with his financial disclosure form released last year, for example, Trump put his 2014 income at $362 million, excluding certain items like interest and dividends. But that figure appeared to include revenue that wouldn’t count as taxable income. For example, Trump’s disclosure form included $4.3 million in “golf-related revenue” over 18 months from his course in Scotland. But the course lost more than $2 million in 2014 after its costs were taken into account. Depending on how it’s reported, a significantly smaller income figure on Trump’s Form 1040 than on his financial disclosure could be a fresh sign that his personal fortune, too, is less than the “more than $10 billion by any stretch of the imagination” that he’s claimed.


    Trump, with trademark modesty, told the AP that “nobody knows more about taxes than I do — maybe in the history of the world.” And he’s been clear that he tries to pay “as little as possible.” Tax experts say he might even have owed no income taxes in one or more recent years by using real estate depreciation provisions and carrying forward business operating losses from previous years. Such losses can be carried forward up to 20 years on personal taxes. Author David Cay Johnston, in his book “Temples of Chance,” found that Trump reported negative income early on in his business career. According to documents unearthed by Johnston, Trump in 1977 made $118,530 and paid $42,386 in taxes; in 1978 reported negative income of $406,379 and paid nothing, and in 1979 reported negative income of $3.4 million and again paid no taxes. In response to a question about whether Trump had paid no taxes in recent years and how long the negative tax liability of the late ’70s continued, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks emailed: “You must be kidding, that is more than 35 years ago when we had an entirely different tax system.”


    People can play it safe with their taxes or take aggressive steps to limit their liability. Trump has said only a “really stupid person is paying a lot of taxes.” His overall approach to his tax returns will show “how he plays the game with taxes,” says to Joseph Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at the nonprofit Tax Analysts. “It’s a big piece of someone’s financial life. It’s completely opaque to us at this point.”


    A big chunk of Trump’s personal wealth is tied up in the value of the Trump brand name, which he licenses far and wide. The billionaire estimated his personal brand and marketing deals at $3.3 billion when he announced his candidacy last year, but Forbes magazine knocked that down to a much more modest estimate of $125 million. Trump’s tax returns could offer information about how much licensing income he receives, providing new clues about the true value of his brand, according to Thorndike. “It sheds light on the issue but it’s not going to be a slam-dunk answer,” he says.


    Charitable donations — who people support and how much they give — can tell a lot about their values. Trump told the AP he does most of his philanthropic giving in his own name rather than through his foundation, but he didn’t detail to whom or how much he donates. Itemized charitable donations on his tax returns would sketch that out in detail. Onetime GOP rival Ted Cruz, without providing any evidence, has speculated that Trump could be hiding donations to “liberal groups like Planned Parenthood.” Trump’s Foundation, which is financed by contributions from other people, has donated to diverse organizations ranging from the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. Trump has said he’s donated $102 million over the past five years, but a partial list of donations that his campaign provided appeared to correspond to gifts from the foundation — not necessarily from Trump’s own pocket. The Trump Organization’s website used to refer to Trump as an “ardent philanthropist.” Trump’s tax returns could help show whether the description fits.


    Tax returns could reveal whether Trump has gotten a whopper of a tax break by promising not to build luxury houses that he never seemed interested in building to begin with. The land in question is a driving range at the Trump National Golf Course in Los Angeles. Tax attorneys say that by making a formal pledge to a land conservancy that he will never to develop homes there, Trump could be entitled to a sizable tax deduction for the golf easement.


    Trump’s taxes could tell a lot about how much of his high-flying lifestyle is being written off as business expenses. The bills for his giant yacht, for example, were written off as a casino expense, according to former casino manager John O’Donnell. Trump’s returns probably wouldn’t itemize every fuel receipt for his jet or the like, but they would likely include total deductions for different types of expenses such meals, travel and more.


    Trump reported in his financial disclosures last year that he has nearly 500 businesses, more than 90 percent of them owned entirely by him. Tax experts say many of those companies may well be “pass-through” entities that would be part of his personal tax return. So Trump’s tax return could tell how much income they made, offering fresh information about the financial health of his organization, according to Robert Kovacev, a lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson and former Justice Department Tax Division official who represents taxpayers in high-profile tax disputes with the IRS.


    Experience with other candidates indicates there’s no telling what else could show up in those returns. President Richard Nixon ended up paying an extra $465,000 after he released his tax returns and they turned out to contain errors and mischaracterizations, says Thorndike. The Clintons’ tax returns offered details about Hillary Clinton’s lucrative trading in cattle futures when she was first lady of Arkansas. Bernie Sanders attracted some attention for deducting nearly $9,000 in business meals last year. GOP 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, in a Facebook post Wednesday urging the release of Trump’s returns, suggested all sorts of possibilities: “While not a likely circumstance, the potential for hidden inappropriate associations with foreign entities, criminal organizations, or other unsavory groups is simply too great a risk to ignore for someone who is seeking to become commander in chief,” he wrote.

    Associated Press writers Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day contributed to this report.

    SUBSCRIBE: Get the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks delivered to your inbox every week.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, we are kicking off a weekly series tonight that will expand our coverage of science and technology on our broadcast and online.

    Our science correspondent Miles O’Brien will frequently be our guide on Wednesdays, as he reports on a wide variety of subjects, including the environment, space and technology, and takes us to the leading edge of research and thinking in these fields.

    Tonight, we start with an ambitious dream to create a tube-based high-speed transportation system of the future, one that would cost billions. You may have heard of it, the Hyperloop.

    Here’s Miles.

    MILES O’BRIEN: No rest for the weary on Saturday mornings at MIT.

    Sandwiched cheek to jowl between grad students building a high-performance electric race car and a solar-powered endurance vehicle, you will find the Hyperloop team hard at work.

    On this morning, they were attaching the outer shell, or fairing, for the first time.

    JOHN MAYO, MIT Hyperloop Team: I trusted it would fit. I trust our team. Our team is really good. So, it’s great to actually see if there on the pod.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Measure twice, cut once, right?

    JOHN MAYO: Yes.

    MILES O’BRIEN: John Mayo is on the cusp of getting his master’s in mechanical engineering. He is project manager of a 30-member team that he hopes is on the cusp of helping devise a fifth mode of transportation, to take its place beside planes, trains, automobiles and boats.

    Hyperloop is a cross between the pneumatic tube you use at the drive-up teller, an air hockey table and a bullet train. Oh, and throw in Concorde too.

    JOHN MAYO: One of the big differentiators here is that tube, because you have less aerodynamic drag, so you can go faster with less resistance.

    MILES O’BRIEN: They are building this scale model to compete with about 30 other college teams in a totally tubular challenge this summer to demonstrate the best prototype.

    MAN: The winning team, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the MIT Hyperloop team.

    MILES O’BRIEN: They are the team to beat after winning the design phase earlier this year at Texas A&M. The basic concept is not new. A short pneumatic train line was built beneath Manhattan in 1870, but the idea was just a novelty then, and has remained in the realm of George Jetson’s Dream-O-Vision ever since.

    But, in 2013, this white paper changed the equation. It’s a technical description of a supersonic Hyperloop that would carry people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 30 minutes, a proposal like this would normally be dismissed, but the author was the real-life Iron Man, Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, electric car manufacturer Tesla, and SpaceX, the private company that launches rockets into low-Earth orbit and, lately, lands the spent first stages onto small barges in one piece.

    JOHN MAYO: Elon has his way of making everybody excited about these seemingly outlandish ideas, but we have all the technology there to do it. It’s just, you need the excitement and you need some funding behind it and you need people to push it. And Elon is the pusher.

    MILES O’BRIEN: At that awards ceremony in College Station, Texas, the pusher surprised his pushees with an appearance. He got a rocket star welcome from his biggest fans. It was nerd nirvana.

    ELON MUSK, Hyperloop Proponent: It’s clear that the public and the world want something new, and I think you guys are going to bring it them. So, congratulations. Yes.


    MILES O’BRIEN: Musk says he was disappointed by California’s high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco now under construction. He believes the trains just aren’t good enough. Their advertised top speed? A measly 220 miles per hour.

    ELON MUSK: What inspired me is, I was stuck in L.A. traffic.


    ELON MUSK: And I was an hour late for a talk. And I was thinking, man, there has got to be some better way to get around.

    MILES O’BRIEN: When Musk got back to his desk, he started doing the math. His first thought, those pneumatic tubes. But using giant fans to create a supersonic gust of wind for 350 miles would create way too much friction. So what if the tubes were sealed up tight, a vacuum, and the pods were lifted with magnetic levitation?

    With no friction or wind resistance, there would be nothing to stop the pod from going extremely fast. But sealing a 350-mile-long tube tight enough to hold a vacuum is also a nonstarter.

    The MIT team believes magnetic levitation is the answer, but with no vacuum required, just very low air pressure inside the tube. They are testing arrays of common magnets that would levitate the pod over an aluminum track. The engineering challenge? The magnets provide lift, but also drag.

    Philippe Kirschen is an aerospace and astronautics grad student.

    PHILIPPE KIRSCHEN, MIT Hyperloop Team: The drag is just the price that you pay. You can’t get the free lift, so you pay the price in drag, and our goal essentially is just to minimize the drag.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Philippe is betting his career on this technology. As soon as he graduates, he will take a job at Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One, a leading start-up in this new field. Its co-founder and chief technology officer is former SpaceX engineer Brogan BamBrogan.

    BROGAN BAMBROGAN, Hyperloop One: It’s going to be absolutely turbulence-free. It’s going to be smooth. We’re talking grandma-friendly, dog-friendly, child-friendly. It’s absolutely just a simple elevator ride away. You get in, and you arrive at your destination. Ding.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The hype over Hyperloop One has brought the company $100 million in investment. And while it’s an important step to demonstrate its electric propulsion system works, it’s likely the journey to reality will be a lot slower than a speeding capsule.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, one key part of the Hyperloop dream was put to the test today. Just how viable the propulsion system will be?

    Miles was there for that demonstration, which took place about 30 miles outside Las Vegas, and he joins me now.

    Welcome, Miles.

    So, tell us, what exactly were they trying to prove today, and how did it go?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, I think if you were to put it in Wright brother terms, this wasn’t the Kitty Hawk powered flight moment. This was probably one of the glider tests that we’re less familiar with that the Wright brothers did before that moment.

    It was an opportunity for them to test out their linear electric motor, which will help drive this capsule eventually. They went from zero to about 105 miles per hour in all of about five seconds. It was a success, but in the grant scheme of things, an incremental success with many more steps to go.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what do the owners of this venture, what are they saying at this point?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, they’re trying to attract some investment, and they’re doing a pretty good job so far. They have got about $100 million so far, attracting some serious deep-pocketed investors.

    There’s a lot of enthusiasm over this idea, and, thus far, what the engineers tell me is, there’s no technological stumbling blocks that they foresee. Where it comes down to are the meddlesome issues of right of way and finding a way to make the tubes as straight as possible, because the straighter it is, the faster you go.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But that’s going to involve some technology, too. So, I mean, just how practical a thing are we talking about?

    MILES O’BRIEN: You know, it’s hard to say right now, because there’s a lot of thing that have to fall into place to make this happen.

    Given the level of enthusiasm that people have and given the fact that traffic’s not get anything better, the ideal of traveling 350 miles in all of a half-hour has quite an allure. Getting the rights of way, building the tubes, making sure there aren’t too many sharp turns, so it slows down so much that it ruins its allure, is really something that remains to be seen. But given the enthusiasm, you know, we have to say this is something to watch for now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You know, Miles, I have to tell you, traveling in China last year, I rode on the maglev train in Shanghai between downtown and that city out to its airport. It’s only a matter of a few miles, but it went almost 300 miles an hour. How different is this from that?

    MILES O’BRIEN: It’s basically taking the train you were on in Shanghai, which is one of the most — the fastest, most sophisticated maglevs in the world, and putting it inside a tube.

    You’re essentially taking away the resistance of the air, for all intents and purposes. And that allows you to pretty much double the speed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Miles, finally, we just want to say we’re looking forward to seeing you on Wednesdays going forward, a new segment we’re calling The Leading Edge. And I think we’re all looking forward to learning a lot from you.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, Judy, I guess you could say I’m kind of hyper about this experience.

    I’m very excited to be back more frequently on the “NewsHour” doing science reporting. No one else is doing it like the “NewsHour.”

    And we look forward to your suggestions. If folks out there have any ideas for science and technology stories that we can bring to you, by all means, let us know.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Miles O’Brien, it’s great to have you with us. Thank you.

    MILES O’BRIEN: You’re welcome, Judy.

    The post L.A. to San Francisco by train in 30 minutes? A pipe dream indeed appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An Afghan man walks through a poppy field in the Gereshk district of Helmand province, Afghanistan April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Abdul Malik - RTX2A21J

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s been 15 years since the fight began in Afghanistan. There are signs that the Taliban is now strengthening again. And ISIS is making its presence felt, too.

    The U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014, but thousands of foreign troops remain to aid in the fight.

    We’re joined now by special correspondent Jennifer Glasse in Kabul.

    Jennifer, we have noticed an increase in the number of headlines about violence, the car bombs and so forth from Afghanistan. Put this in perspective. How active is this fighting?

    JENNIFER GLASSE: Well, Hari, we have seen fighting around the country. The Taliban announced their spring offensive in April.

    And, of course, we have seen them fighting in the north in Kunduz. There was a large attack here in Kabul about a week after they announced the spring offensive. But just in the last 10 days or so, we’re seeing an uptick in fighting in their heartland, in Helmand in the south of the country.

    We spoke to people in Lashkar Gah. That’s the provincial capital of Helmand province. And they are very concerned. They say there’s been a lot of fighting, especially in the last nine or 10 days. They can actually hear the gunfire in the center of the city.

    They say the Taliban have tried to attack a number of areas around the city, in the ring of security around the city. They have managed to take a few checkpoints, and, yesterday, 15 Afghan policemen were killed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so it seems that multiple forces here, Taliban on one side, maybe ISIS on the other. Any idea of the scale of how large this opposition is?

    JENNIFER GLASSE: We don’t know exactly how many fighters there are. The Taliban claimed to have thousands of fighters ready to launch an offensive this year.

    They usually exaggerate their numbers. What is clear then is the Taliban can inflict very, very large damage. Last year, Afghan security forces took very heavy casualties, 5,500 killed. That’s about 15 a day, and 14 — about 14,000 injured. That was 2015 alone, and they’re bracing for another difficult year.

    The Taliban have been effective in the kind of attacks they have carried out. So, even when they took Kunduz for three days last year, the first time they took a city, they only went in, stayed for three days, and went out. It really created a lot of fear. It was very effective, and yet they have been able to hold a lot of area in the country.

    And things have really picked up just in the last 10 days or so because it’s the end of the poppy harvest season, the opium harvest season in the south. A lot of Taliban fighters take part in that opium harvest. We’re told it’s going to be a bumper crop. And so, of course, that’s a lot more money for the Taliban.

    As for ISIS, they are largely in the east of the country, and their numbers are estimated to be in the hundreds, but it’s very hard to tell.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How involved is the American military in these battles?

    JENNIFER GLASSE: Well, there are about 10,000 U.S. forces still here. They have got two missions, train, advise, and assist, and a counterterrorism mission.

    Now, we know that Afghan special forces have been fighting alongside Afghan forces. We just learned recently that in the — in Kunduz last September and October, when the Taliban took the city for three days, American special forces were fighting very actively in Kunduz.

    We know that there are also American special forces guiding Afghan special forces in Helmand province, and about several hundred, about 500 or more U.S. army troops from the 10th Mountain Division are in Helmand province now. They got there in February. Now, that’s a big mission. They’re trying to reform and retrain the army 215 Corps.

    They have fired all the commanders and all the leaders there. They are trying to get the Afghans to be a little bit more aggressive, to get off checkpoints and to engage the Taliban more effectively.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, there has also been some change in military leadership on the American side. Has there been any sort of a strategy or a vision laid out on what might change in the near future?

    JENNIFER GLASSE: Well, we know that the new commander here, General Nicholson, is conducting a 90-day review as to what should happen next.

    Right now, there are 9,800 U.S. forces in country. That right now is scheduled to go down to 5,500 by the end of the year. And we know that General Nicholson is reviewing that, checking to see what is going on here. And he’s expected to give President Obama his advice in the next month or so, when he finishes that review, as to whether he believes those forces should remain — those 10,000 forces should remain in Afghanistan.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Jennifer Glasse joining us from Kabul tonight, thanks so much.

    JENNIFER GLASSE: Good to be with you.

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    People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili - RTX2DRVU

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I’m Judy Woodruff.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On the “NewsHour” tonight: The GOP wrestles with Donald Trump — a look at the divisions among Republicans, as the presumptive nominee prepares to sit down with Speaker Paul Ryan tomorrow.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Also ahead this Wednesday: instability in Afghanistan, as the fight rages on against the Taliban in Helmand Province.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And testing transportation that may be in our future. Miles O’Brien explores the Hyperloop and visits the people working to make high-speed tube rides a reality.

    BROGAN BAMBROGAN, Hyperloop One: We’re talking grandma-friendly, dog-friendly, child-friendly. It’s absolutely just a simple elevator ride away. You get in, and you arrive at your destination. Ding.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.”


    HARI SREENIVASAN: Baghdad was rocked today by the worst violence this year. Three car bombings killed at least 93 people and wounded 165 more. All of the attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group.

    Sirens blared throughout much of a long and bloody day in the Iraqi capital. The first attack was the worst. A truck bomb exploded at a busy market in Sadr City, a mainly Shiite district. The blast left burned-out cars, charred wreckage and smoldering shops and crews washing down the streets.

    MAN (through interpreter): You can see blood everywhere. They were poor people who were here to earn their living and were killed in cold blood.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Witnesses say the victims included brides and grooms-to-be at a beauty salon and barber shop getting ready for their weddings.

    And hours later, two more bombings, one at a police station in the north and another on the western side of the city, all of this on a day when Iraqi officials announced ISIS now controls 14 percent of the country, down from 40 percent in 2014.

    The commander of U.S. ground forces in the anti-ISIS campaign said the group is clearly on the defensive.

    MAJ. GEN. GARY VOLESKY, U.S. Army: As the enemy loses more and more terrain, they resort to some of these desperate acts. The security forces in Baghdad have the situation under control.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But for many in Baghdad, the bombings are in fact proof that security forces do not have things under control.

    MAN (through translator): They say that they have metal detectors to detect explosives. Where are they? How can such car bombs go though checkpoints?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s all fueling deep resentment of the Iraqi government, as political leaders remain distracted by a struggle over fighting corruption.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Islamic State fighters in Syria are also advancing again on the ancient city of Palmyra. Activists report ISIS seized a deserted rocket-launching site about 40 miles away, cutting a highway to Homs, the provincial capital. The militants destroyed temples and other treasures dating back 1,800 years during a 10-month occupation. Government troops recaptured Palmyra in March.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: ISIS is losing its allure for Americans, according to the head of the FBI. James Comey said today the number trying to join the group has fallen to about one a month. That’s down from six to 10 a month in the previous year-and-a-half.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Brazil, senators debated today whether to suspend President Dilma Rousseff on charges she violated budget laws. A simple majority of the 81 lawmakers could remove Rousseff for up to six months, pending a trial that might make it permanent.

    ANA AMELIA, Senator, Progressive Party (through interpreter): This event and this moment in history show once again that no one, not even a president of the republic, is above the law. The law is for all, and we have the obligation and duty of respecting it. And that is exactly why I will give my vote for the impeachment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Brazil is facing its worst economic downturn in decades and a sweeping corruption scandal. Members of Rousseff’s ruling party argued today she’s being made the scapegoat.

    PAULO PAIM, Senator, Worker’s Party (through interpreter): Let’s say that she is removed permanently. What will happen? It will not solve the crisis. The crisis will only be solved by elections. That’s why I say that the ideal for Brazil would be to call for elections, together with the mayoral elections on October 2.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: If the Senate votes tonight to suspend Rousseff, the country’s vice president will become acting president.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in this country, a Colorado judge ruled today that the man accused of attacking a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado is not mentally fit to stand trial. Instead, Robert Lewis Dear will undergo treatment at a state psychiatric hospital until he’s deemed competent. Dear allegedly killed three people and wounded nine others at a clinic in Colorado Springs last November. He’s charged with murder and attempted murder.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A former police officer in South Carolina, Michael Slager, now faces federal civil rights charges, in addition to state murder charges, for a shooting that left an unarmed black man dead. The indictment was unsealed today in Charleston.

    Slager allegedly fired eight times as Walter Scott ran from a traffic stop last year. Cell phone video captured the incident. Slager remains free on bail.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There’ll be no more payday lending ads on Google starting in July. The Internet giant says it’s banning the ads because the industry is — quote — “deceptive and harmful,” often charging triple-digit interest. Google dominates Internet searches and controls the Internet’s largest advertising platforms.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It was easy come, easy go on Wall Street today. Retail stocks dragged the rest of the market down, erasing almost all of yesterday’s gains, the most in two months. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 217 points to close at 17711. The Nasdaq fell 49 points, and the S&P 500 dropped nearly 20.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And a small painting that turned up in a basement and turned out to be a Rembrandt went on display today at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It’s titled “The Unconscious Patient,” and it’s one of the Dutch master’s earliest works. Two people found it last summer as they cleaned out their family’s home in New Jersey. No word on how the painting got there.

    Still to come on the “NewsHour”: Donald Trump prepares to meet with Speaker Paul Ryan. Can they find common ground?; Taliban gains in Afghanistan’s largest opium-producing region; public transportation that goes up to 800 miles per hour; and much more.

    The post News Wrap: ISIS car bombs rock Baghdad, killing at least 93 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at a news conference following a closed Republican party conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo - RTX2DWGU

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the latest from the presidential campaign:

    Republicans showed some tentative signs today of trying to unify, ahead of a closely watched sit-down in Washington.

    REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), Speaker of the House: Anyone have any questions?

    QUESTION: Mr. Speaker?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, the questions at the Capitol this morning were all about Donald Trump. The party’s presumptive presidential nominee meets tomorrow with the nation’s most powerful elected Republican.

    Last week, Ryan said he wasn’t ready to support Trump. Today, he said he’s trying to be — quote — “as constructive as possible.”

    REP. PAUL RYAN: We come from different wings of the party. The goal here is to unify the various wings of the party around common principles, so we can go forward unified.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For his part, Trump also played down any rift with Ryan this morning when he phoned into FOX News.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: And I have a lot of respect for Paul Ryan. If we make a deal, that will be great. And if we don’t, we will trudge forward like I have been doing, and winning, you know, all the time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Trump easily won yesterday’s GOP primaries in West Virginia and Nebraska, while West Virginia’s Democratic voters handed a primary victory to Bernie Sanders. That did little to cut Hillary Clinton’s big lead in delegates, but Sanders was undeterred.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: Let me be as clear as I can be. We are in this campaign to win the Democratic nomination.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Clinton kept her focus on Trump, as she campaigned today in Camden County, New Jersey, one of the states voting June 7.

    HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: I will stand up and fight for and speak out for every American that he attacks and he insults.


    HILLARY CLINTON: How do you explain to your children when someone running for president encourages people to be beaten up, encourages violence?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Clinton also challenged Trump to release his tax returns. The New York billionaire said Tuesday he is waiting for an audit of his finances that won’t be ready before the November election.

    No matter what comes out of his meetings on Capitol Hill tomorrow, presumptive nominee Donald Trump has already created deep divisions within his own party.

    We get two different Republican viewpoints on the future of the GOP from strategist and NBC News political analyst Mike Murphy and from Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho.

    Gentlemen, we welcome both of you.

    The two of you do represent part of the spectrum of viewpoints inside the Republican Party.

    Let me start with you, Congressman Labrador.

    Why did you decide, coming from where you do, to support Donald Trump?

    REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), Idaho: Well, it was pretty simple. We have two choices, unfortunately, right now. We have Donald Trump and we have Hillary Clinton. I’m not going to support Hillary Clinton. I know everything that she’s going to do. I know the kind of people that she’s going to nominate to the Supreme Court. I know the kind of people that are going to be her V.P.s.

    I know the kind of people that are going to be on her Cabinet. And I know the policies that she’s going to push. With Donald Trump, at least we have an opportunity to work with him and we have an opportunity to sit down with him. And he’s going to try to do some things that Republicans want.

    So, it was a pretty simple decision. Donald Trump wasn’t even on my top 10 list of people that I wanted for the nomination. But now he won the nomination fair and square, and I think it’s time for all of us to unify.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mike Murphy, you’re a Republican who has probably never supported a Democrat, but why isn’t Donald Trump someone you can get — you can go along with?

    MIKE MURPHY, Republican Strategist: Well, to be clear, I’m not supporting Hillary Clinton. I think she would be an awful president.

    The problem is, I know Trump would be an awful president, too, and to support him, in my view, crosses a moral line and sells out every principle our party believes in. He is not a conservative. He is not a good businessman. I don’t think he believes in anything other than himself. And he is not qualified to be president of the United States, both by some of the things he’s said and by the clear lack of comprehension he has on a lot of complicated, important issues.

    So Republicans like me are going to be focusing down-ballot, where we have a Senate to reelect, and House races and gubernatorial races we care a lot about, but no way I am going to vote for Trump.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Labrador, let’s just tackle part of that. We heard Mike Murphy say he’s not qualified to be president.

    REP. RAUL LABRADOR: You know, he might not be qualified. That’s up to the people to decide whether he’s qualified or not.

    But the reality is that we know what makes Hillary Clinton disqualified. And on this race, we only have two choices. I’m also going to be concentrating down-ballot. I’m also going to be worried about the Senate and the House. But the reality is that we have a very important decision that needs to be made about who the next Supreme Court justice is.

    There is only one person who is going to make that decision, and it’s going to be the next president of the United States. So I’m hoping that we can influence Donald Trump to pick the right person for the Supreme Court, to pick the right person to be his vice president. All those are very important decisions.

    And even though I disagree with him a lot, I think I’m going to disagree with Hillary Clinton a lot more.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why isn’t that an argument to at least try to work with Donald Trump, Mike Murphy?

    MIKE MURPHY: Well, because everything we know about Trump’s history, which tends to predict the future, is bad.

    He’s been a liberal Democrat. He’s pretended to be a conservative. The Supreme Court is important, but Trump will put Gary Busey on it. I mean, he’s totally uncontrollable. So taking a 100-to-1 bet that the one issue Trump will be trustworthy and responsible on is the Supreme Court in exchange for handing him the presidency — although, frankly, I think he can’t win and he’s going to bring disaster to the party nonetheless — I think is a fool’s bet.

    And the moral compromise you have to make to support a guy like that is a price too high to pay. The Republican Party can outlast four years of Hillary Clinton if we have to and rebuild a party that is worth voting for in four years. I don’t like the idea of Hillary Clinton as president, but I just abhor Trump too much to support him.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Labrador, just today or yesterday, Donald Trump said once again he stands by his comments that Senator John McCain is not a hero for having been shot down in North Vietnam, having served as a prisoner of war. Is that something you’re comfortable with?

    REP. RAUL LABRADOR: You know, I am not comfortable with a lot of things that Donald Trump said.

    In fact, I have said that he needs to grow up. He acts like a child many times. There are many things that he has to do. But I can tell you for sure that I know that what Hillary Clinton is going to do is going to be bad for the United States. With Trump, at least we have an opportunity, and I don’t think you need to make a moral compromise.

    What you need to say is, I’m going to vote for a person, but I’m also going to hold him accountable. Maybe for the first time, Congress starts acting like Congress. I think too many times, we put on our jerseys and Republican members of Congress actually go with the Republican president and allow the Republican president to do things that they shouldn’t be doing.

    And then the Democrats do the same thing. Maybe, for once, the Republicans in Congress will actually stand up to a president of their own party, and I think that’s pretty healthy. So I don’t think I have to have any moral compromise. I actually have to make sure that I hold him accountable, just like I held Barack Obama accountable.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mike Murphy, what about holding Donald Trump accountable?

    MIKE MURPHY: Well, I have to admit I’m amused that the first time I think in his political career that Congressman Labrador has ever talked about compromise is to sell our party out to a guy like Donald Trump.

    The fact is, Trump is a wild card. I mean, this is presidential politics. We’re not electing a second-class ward heeler in a city here. This is the big job. This defines who we are in our party. And to roll over for that and the idea that now you have a Republican president you can oppose, instead of a Democratic president you can oppose, is specious to me. I don’t buy that logic one bit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Labrador, I want you to respond to that and also to this new controversy that’s arisen, Donald Trump saying yesterday that he will not release his tax returns before the election after all.

    Today, Mitt Romney put out a statement saying that’s a disqualifier for the Republican Party nominee for president.

    REP. RAUL LABRADOR: You know, it’s funny to have Mike Murphy actually talk to me about compromise. I’m actually the leader in the House on any kind of compromise on criminal justice reform. I have been working on immigration reform. I’m actually working on the Puerto Rico bill right now.

    So it shows that he’s pretty ignorant about who I am and the things that I stand for. Just because I don’t like the things that he wants to do to the party, which is to make it a centrist party that stands for nothing, I think, is one of the problems that we have, and it’s the main reason that we have Donald Trump right now, is because people like Mike Murphy who actually kept telling us to capitulate to this president, to compromise, to do things that went against our principles, is why we have Donald Trump.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Congressman Labrador, very quickly, I want to come back to this question of tax returns. Does it concern you that Donald Trump will not release them before the election?

    REP. RAUL LABRADOR: It does concern me. There are a lot of things that concern me about Donald Trump. There is a lot of issues that he has said, that he has raised that are concerning.

    I think his reaction to certain people, it’s actually concerning. And I think he should release his tax returns. I think he’s using some excuse right now that he can’t do it because he’s under an audit. I think that’s preposterous. I think he needs to come clean. And I think the American people need to know more about him, if he wants to win the election.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mike Murphy, how…

    MIKE MURPHY: This, we agree.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

    MIKE MURPHY: I’m with the congressman on this.

    This tax thing is a huge issue, and Trump has to come clean on it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Final thing for both of you.

    Donald Trump’s comments about women, The Washington Post ran just a few of them, statements he’s made years ago that were derogatory toward women.

    Congressman, I can’t repeat any of them here. How do you accept that and still support him?

    REP. RAUL LABRADOR: You know, I think he’s done a lot of things that are terrible, but I think Hillary Clinton has said and done a lot of things that are terrible.

    Unfortunately, we’re picking between the lesser of two evils. I wish we had a nominee — I first supported Rand Paul. Then I supported Ted Cruz. I think if more people in the party would have gotten behind a real constitutional conservative like Ted Cruz, I think we would have a different conversation right now.


    REP. RAUL LABRADOR: But I am going to choose the person who I think will give us the best possibility to have a Supreme Court nominee that can actually be good.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mike Murphy, final word here.

    MIKE MURPHY: It is a choice between two evils. And the way you fight evil is to never choose it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will leave it there.

    Mike Murphy joining us from Los Angeles, Congressman Raul Labrador joining us from Capitol Hill, we thank you both.

    The post Donald Trump, Paul Ryan play down rift ahead of Thursday’s summit appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Coal is excavated at the Jim Bridger Mine outside Point of the Rocks, Wyoming. Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters

    Coal is excavated at the Jim Bridger Mine outside Point of the Rocks, Wyoming. Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters

    America’s coal industry is hurting. In the past year, thousands of workers have been laid off and a majority of the country’s major coal companies have filed for bankruptcy. Coal production is at 30-year low.

    Here’s what three decades worth of U.S. coal production looks like:
    The drop off in the past year (the orange portion of the graph) is staggering. But what does it sound like? Listen to this audio clip to hear coal production fall off a cliff.

    So what happened to coal? In the 1980s, coming off the 1970s energy crisis and the newly updated Clean Air Act, production fluctuated. But it hovered at an average of 17 million tons a week from 1984 to 1988.

    Then, starting in the late 1980s, cheap, low-sulfur Wyoming coal burst on to the scene. Wyoming coal was desirable because it helped coal-fired power plants meet air quality requirements without installing expensive scrubbers. During the 1990s, production soared, rising 13 percent, from 19.2 million tons a week in 1992 to 21.6 million tons a week in 1998.

    And it kept on soaring. In the 2000s, America experiencing a housing boom. Construction of millions of new homes required lots of electricity. Natural gas prices were high, making burning coal the most economic way to feed the housing boom’s hunger for electricity. In 2008, coal reached a peak – averaging 23 million tons a week.

    But then, everything changed. The U.S. natural gas industry took off, with the expansion of hydraulic fracturing techniques, and natural gas was cheap and abundant. Dozens of old coal-fired power plants have been retired and replaced with natural gas and renewables.

    Coal has been up and down since 2010, with more downs than ups. And in the past year, it fell off a virtual cliff. Weekly U.S. coal production plunged from 20 million tons a week at the beginning of 2015 to just 10 million tons in the week of April 23, 2016. If we take out holiday weeks (like the Fourth of July and New Year’s), the six worst weeks for coal – ever – have been in 2016.

    For coal, it’s back to the 1980s. What took three decades to build up has taken a year to undo. Which means communities whose economies rely on coal, like Wyoming, are figuring out struggling to figure out what comes next. For more on this topic, check out Leigh Paterson’s look at life after layoffs in Gillette, Wyoming, and ideas for how to diversify Wyoming’s economy, gathered at a recent Inside Energy event in Laramie.

    How did we turn coal data into sound?

    You are able to listen to coal production data through a process called sonification, where we map numeric data to musical tones. Here’s how we did it:

    Inside Energy downloaded weekly coal production data from the Energy Information Administration from 1984 through 2016.
    We removed short weeks (the Fourth of July and the weeks at the very beginning and end of the year), which represented blips in the data.

    Using a software package called MIDITime developed by Mike Corey of Reveal, we turned each weekly data point into a tone ranging over five octaves, with the pitch scaled to the highest and lowest data points.

    The weeks are then played at a rate of roughly nine weeks each second to get 32 years of coal data in just over three minutes.

    Here’s the full sonification, without narration:

    This article was first published on Inside Energy’s website on May 3, 2016. Find the original story here.

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    A bathroom sign welcomes both genders at the Cacao Cinnamon coffee shop in Durham, North Carolina May 3, 2016. The shop installed the signs after North Carolina's "bathroom law" gained national attention, positioning the state at the center of a debate over equality, privacy and religious freedom.   REUTERS/Jonathan Drake        - RTX2CPEL

    A bathroom sign welcomes both genders at the Cacao Cinnamon coffee shop in Durham, North Carolina May 3, 2016. Photo by Jonathan Drake/ Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration made clear Thursday it won’t withhold money for North Carolina while a legal fight plays out over the state’s law on bathroom use by transgender people.

    The Justice Department sued North Carolina over the state’s bathroom law on Monday alleging the law violates the Civil Rights Act. The law says transgender people must use public bathrooms, showers and changing rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.

    On a separate track, another review involving multiple agencies is taking place to determine whether federal money should be withheld to comply with a provision of the 1964 civil rights law.

    [Watch Video]
    PBS NewsHour’s John Yang covered the North Carolina measure restricting protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people on March 24, 2016.

    “The administration will not take action to withhold funding while this enforcement process is playing out in the courts,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told journalists during the daily press briefing.

    President Barack Obama has said he believes the law is “wrong and should be overturned.”

    North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has argued that the state law is a “commonsense privacy policy” and that the Justice Department’s position is “baseless and blatant overreach.” His administration also filed a lawsuit Monday against the federal government.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now the latest edition in our Brief But Spectacular series.

    Tonight, Laurel Braitman on the emotional depths of a howl. A writer-in-residence at Stanford Medical School, Braitman’s book “Animal Madness” explores mental illness in all creatures.

    And her latest project discovers how music can be good for even the wildest souls.

    LAUREL BRAITMAN, Author & Anthropologist: I think communicating with other animals is exactly like communicating with other human animals.

    The way to woo a dolphin is usually just to be like super sexy and really outgoing. Dogs too, you know, they will seem to be the most curious and most attracted to the person that’s least interested in them.

    Humans and animals can have really similar behavior and even emotional experiences. Animals can have almost all of the same kinds of mental illnesses or at least similar to those in people, so, everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to mood disorders like depression.

    Lots of other creatures have also wound up on these drugs, Zoloft, Lexapro, all kinds of anti-anxiety, antidepressants, even antipsychotic drugs. And a few great apes even in the United States even have their own psychiatrists.

    We think about them as entertainment, like going to the zoo and watching the elephants. And one thing that makes me sad is that we don’t usually think about what entertains them.

    One of my favorite emotional experiences is to listen to music. I wanted to put on concerts for other animals, because I had a feeling that there was a lot that we could learn by watching other animals listen and respond to music.

    The first music for animal show I did was actually for a very lonely miniature donkey. He hated it. He ran away. He ate thistles and he only came back when we started playing bluegrass standards and Nina Simone.

    One of the most recent concerts was for wolves at Wolf Haven sanctuary in Southern Washington. And that one was awesome, because these wolves, most of them, they spent more than a decade on a 10-foot chain. They were part of a roadside attraction in Alaska.

    I thought these wolves deserved a concert. So I worked with the band Black Prairie. My collaborator Aubree Bernier-Clarke made a really beautiful film of it. They came from very far away to as close as they possibly could be to see the band.

    And then, at the end, the band howled, and the wolves responded.


    LAUREL BRAITMAN: I’m just fascinated by all this stuff. I think it makes us better people to realize that we’re animals just like everyone else.

    By looking into their eyes and seeing what they’re doing, we really begin to understand ourselves.

    My name is Dr. Laurel Braitman, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on animal madness.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Maybe they will end all their concerts like that, with a howl?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I was about to say, they can’t applaud, but they can howl.



    You can find more of our Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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    Workers clear the track next to the snowboard cross course during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 17, 2014. Photo by Dylan Martinez/REUTERS

    Workers clear the track next to the snowboard cross course during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 17, 2014. Photo by Dylan Martinez/REUTERS

    Many of Russia’s biggest stars from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were part of a state-run, performance-enhancing drug ring, according to The New York Times.

    The allegations come from Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of the nation’s drug testing lab. A third of the country’s leading medalists may have been implicated, including gold medalist Alexander Legkov and 13 other members of the cross-country skiing team. Veteran bobsledder and gold medalist Alexander Zubkov is listed as well as the entire women’s hockey team, which finished in sixth place.

    Rodchenkov said he “developed a three-drug cocktail of banned substances that he mixed with liquor and provided to dozens of Russian athletes,” in one of the most elaborate drug rings in Olympic history. He estimates that as many as 100 tainted urine samples were swapped during the Games. The news story supports claims made by the World Anti-Doping Agency last autumn.

    In the story, Ruiz and New York Times reporter Michael Schwirtz wrote:

    Dr. Rodchenkov’s account could not be independently verified, but it was consistent with the broad findings of a report published last year by the World Anti-Doping Agency. He provided The Times with emails detailing doping efforts and a spreadsheet that he said was sent to him by the sports ministry before the Sochi Games. It named the athletes involved in the doping program

    Back in Russia, two of Dr. Rodchenkov’s close colleagues died unexpectedly in February, within weeks of each other; both were former antidoping officials, one who resigned soon after Dr. Rodchenkov fled the country.

    Following an investigation by CBS 60 Minutes on Sunday, the World Anti-Doping Agency decided to probe the Russian doping allegations.

    “WADA will probe these new allegations immediately,” WADA President, Sir Craig Reedie said in a statement. “The claims made in the program offer real cause for concern, as they contain new allegations regarding attempts to subvert the anti-doping process at the Sochi Games.”

    The post In elaborate ploy, Russia doped its Olympic athletes, report says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally tonight, our “NewsHour” Shares: something that caught our eye that might be of interest to you, too.

    Scientists often travel to the ends of the Earth in the name of research, but Ph.D. student Kiya Riverman’s work requires her to climb directly into the heart of glaciers.

    We spoke with Riverman by phone recently about exploring caves of ice on Svalbard — that’s a set of islands north of Iceland — and asked what she hopes to discover.

    KIYA RIVERMAN: My name is Kiya Riverman. And I am a graduate student at Penn State University, where I study glaciers and ice sheets and how they might contribute to sea level rise.

    In a warming world, there’s this potential for ice to flow out into the ocean and contribute to sea level rise. And so understanding what controls the way that ice flows and how that changes is really of importance.

    When I am out in the field, I am first and foremost interested in understanding, what is the geometry of this glacier, how thick is the ice, what’s underneath it, because, in order to understand how it might change in the future, I have to have a good sense of what it looks like right now.

    Inside the cave systems, the main thing that I’m interested in studying is where there are waterfalls. So, where water exists underneath ice, it can have a big impact on the way that ice moves. There haven’t really been good descriptions of why there are waterfalls inside of glaciers.

    And so I map where they are and how they change through time. And so I’m specifically answering these little questions about how water cuts through glaciers, in order to say something about how increased amounts of water in the future will speed them up or slow them down.

    Every time I go in the system, I’m learning something new about how water flows through glaciers. And it’s also just a fun physical test of what can I take and learning the limits of both the science, but the limits of my own body and my ability to be in this harsh place.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And a couple of news updates before we leave you tonight.

    There is word U.S. special operations troops have been stationed at outposts in Libya since late last year. According to The Washington Post, fewer than 25 troops are trying to enlist local support for a possible offensive against ISIS.

    And the U.S. Navy has fired the commander of 10 American sailors who were captured after warning into Arabs waters this past January. The Navy said in a statement it lost confidence in the commander’s ability.

    And that’s the “NewsHour” for tonight. I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And I’m Judy Woodruff.

    Join us online and again right here tomorrow evening with Mark Shields and Michael Gerson.

    For all of us at the “PBS NewsHour,” thank you, and good night.

    The post Scientist chases waterfalls in depths of breathtaking glaciers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the latest addition to the “NewsHour” bookshelf, a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome leads one father to consider what kind of role he should play in his son’s life.

    I recently spoke with Ron Fournier, journalist and senior political columnist for “The National Journal,” about his new book, “Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations.”

    Ron Fournier, welcome.

    RON FOURNIER, Author, “Love That Boy”: Thanks for having me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Your book has struck a nerve. I think it — maybe it’s because you bring us along on your journey to understand your son. How did you decide to do that?

    RON FOURNIER: My wife said, you’re going to do this. My wife, Lori, is a remarkable woman who literally, the day we got him diagnosed, we were walking out of the doctor’s office, and all I was concerned about was how this was going to affect me, and can my boy not play sports, and all the things that a self-involved father might.

    And Lori said, it’s time to step up. You have got to step out and get him out in the world, where we can start learning things that we thought up until then — he was 12 at the time — that we thought were uncomfortable to him, but we just learned, because of the autism, was actually unnatural to him.

    And I had to step up and spend more time with him. I had spent a lot of time, as we do in this town — I’m on the road, away from the family. So she said, get out. I want you to go to presidential libraries, presidential sites.

    His fixation at the time was history. And that was the job, covering the presidency. It kept me away from him. So she sent us out on these road trips.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: People know what autism is, but they’re not as familiar with Asperger’s. Tell us what that is.

    RON FOURNIER: Asperger’s syndrome is on the high end of the autism spectrum, meaning these are young men and women who are fairly functional, but they don’t have the social graces that we’re born with.

    They don’t know naturally how to make eye contact, how to modulate your voice, how to shake hands, how to hold a conversation and read the social clues coming off of somebody.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And why did your wife, Lori, think that taking Tyler, your son, around to visit your work, why did she think that would make a difference?

    RON FOURNIER: Well, she knew that I had to be more involved in his life, in our children’s life. I had spent a lot of time working. And we had just learned from the doctor that, although the social graces aren’t inherent in Aspies, which is what they’re called, they can be learned.

    For one thing, these kids happen to be off-the-chart smart. If you get them in settings and constantly repeat to them, here’s how you shake hands, here’s how you look people in the eyes, here’s how you have a conversation, they can learn those things.

    So, we were right at the beginning of the process, literally within the first 15 minutes, and she said, get him out in the world.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You have your son meet presidents, former presidents, but you do it in a very natural way.

    What do you think makes these encounters, these sessions Tyler has with, say, Bill Clinton, feel like a real conversation?

    RON FOURNIER: I don’t think it was me. I think it was Bill Clinton and George Bush, and, to a briefer extent, he had a brief meeting with a — just a grip-and-grin at a Christmas party with the Obamas.

    It says something about the three of them, those three couples, or those three presidents and first lady Michelle Obama. I can be awfully cynical in my job. And I love holding powerful people accountable. And I’m proud of what I have done. But it’s easy to forget these are human beings who are public servants.

    And President Bush and Clinton, to different degrees, wanted to connect with Tyler. They were doing a favor, not for me. Neither one of them had anything to gain from me. But this was a young man who was struggling with autism, who had a fascination with the presidency.

    And so they did their best to connect with him. I think I have got to give them the credit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You could argue, of course, this is a book for parents of children with special needs, to some extent.

    But it’s also really for parents of all kinds, parents with all kinds of children, because you write about parents today want their children to be successful, want their children to be happy.

    RON FOURNIER: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That really comes through loud and clear, that you’re saying to these parents, wait a minute. Stop before you get carried away here.

    RON FOURNIER: What I try to do here was understand that my problem wasn’t Tyler’s autism. My problem wasn’t Tyler. My problem was me.

    I had certain expectations for my son that he couldn’t meet because of his condition. Oh, actually, he couldn’t because he’s not me. I have to help make him the best that he can be.

    So, then I — the more parents I talk to, the more child development experts I talk to, I realize that partly because of who we are and the baggage that we bring into parenthood, and partly because of the times that we live in, which are awfully scary to raise children, as you know, we have certain expectations, certain pressures that we put on all of our kids.

    We want them to be geniuses. We want them to be popular. We want them to have successful careers. We want them to follow us into our education paths. We want them to be happy, whatever that means.

    And the problem is, those expectations, if they’re misplaced, don’t just shape our kids. They can misshape our kids.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. And this desire that they all go to Harvard, that they have lot of friends, they’re popular.

    RON FOURNIER: Right. Social scientists will tell you — the science will tell you, you don’t want your kid to be popular. You don’t want your kids to have a whole — a big number of friends, because that often puts them in social situations, puts pressures upon them to stay in that A-list category. That leads them down the wrong path.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, I want to ask you, how is Tyler doing today, and what does he think about this book, about the fact that you wrote it?

    RON FOURNIER: Thanks for asking.

    He’s doing great. He is going to graduate from a public school here in Arlington very shortly here in June. And he’s looking forward to the next step in his life, which looks like it’s going to be probably a couple of community college classes, a little bit of work, a little bit of community service.

    It is going to take him a little bit longer than a “normal” child to make it on his own, but we think he’s going to get there. With the book, you know, he’s a typical — first of all, he’s kind of a typical teenage boy. He’s just involved in his own life.

    But it’s even more so with an Aspie. He’s really just into the present. So he appreciates the book. He had full veto authority over the book. He likes some of the attention he’s getting around it. We had a book party back in our hometown of Detroit last week that he got a kick out of taking part in that.

    But he doesn’t want to be a whole lot of attention. He jokes that he wants to be a covert celebrity, whatever that means.


    RON FOURNIER: So, he’s doing good. Thanks for asking.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Did he end up vetoing anything?

    RON FOURNIER: Yes, actually, there was a couple passages in the book where — in the original manuscript. But, mainly, they were stylistic, where he thought I was making myself look too smart.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I won’t ask you what you left out.

    Ron Fournier, the book is “Love That Boy,” and it really is a remarkable book. Thank you.

    RON FOURNIER: Thank you so much.

    The post A dad learns to ‘Love That Boy’ when son diagnosed with Asperger’s appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We have spent much time this year talking about the travails of the middle class. Now a new analysis shows how it’s shrinking in most U.S. metro areas.

    From Boston to Goldsboro, North Carolina, to Midland, Texas, to Seattle, there are fewer adults living in middle class households across the country than there were in 2000. The analysis by the Pew Research Center found that in 160 metro areas, there was an increase of lower-income households. And 172 metro areas saw a rise in upper-income households.

    This year, we’re teaming up with American Public Media’s Marketplace and PBS’ “Frontline” on how economic forces are affecting Americans. It’s called How the Deck Is Stacked.

    And the host of Marketplace, Kai Ryssdal, joins us again.

    Kai, just so we’re all on the same page, who is really middle class vs. who thinks they’re middle class?

    KAI RYSSDAL, Host & Senior Editor, Marketplace: So, for the purposes of this study, Hari, it goes like this.

    Anybody making from two-thirds to twice the median income in this country. So, it’s $47,000 to about $125,000, if you want to run the numbers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, those are the folks that are actually in the middle class. But we kind of feel like there are a lot of people in the middle class, a lot of people who would want to self-identify as a member of the middle class. I’m the average Joe.

    KAI RYSSDAL: Right, that’s what we are in this country. Right? We are aspirational. We want inclusive prosperity.

    If you stop seven people — 10 people on the street, probably seven of them would say I am the middle class. And that’s why this study matters, right, because what happens in this economy is that the middle class drives it. The middle class are the consumers. Right? Their upper ends are the investors. The lower end are getting by. The middle class are the consumers in this economy.

    And so what this study really says is, this is bad news for the future of economic growth in this country, and that’s why it matters.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: As we pointed out, there were some places where the middle class got smaller because people got richer and there were other places where the middle class got smaller because people got poorer. A couple of those different locations, examples?


    So, there are some really good ones in this study. So, if you look at Goldsboro, North Carolina, right, it used to be a railroad junction. It used to have a big Air Force base by it. It is an old-economy town. It is a town that is seeing the economy go away from it.

    And right in that town, you see more people sliding from the middle class to the lower class. They’re having a tougher time getting by. If you look at a place like Midland, Texas, which the Pew Research folks polled out, Midland, Texas, is an energy economy.

    The energy economy in the last 15 years in this country has been doing really well, and so people there are moving from the middle class to the upper class. It’s not a zero-sum game, but this economy is changing, and that’s what’s driving this entire study and the fate of the middle class.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, we have heard of the middle class declining in rural areas. Is there a difference when we see that this as such a big deal in metro cities as well?

    KAI RYSSDAL: Well, the root of this study is income inequality, right?

    And we have known about it for a long time in the rural areas. It is now coming to these things called metropolitan statistical areas, these big centers of population, some big, some less big, where the bulk of the population in this country lives.

    Wages have been stagnant in this economy for decades now, right, which means incomes and household wealth are stagnant, which means there is more income inequality. And when you have income inequality, you have more going to the low end, you have more going to the high end, and those drivers of prosperity in America are getting, as you said in the beginning, hollowed out.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How does this square with the people you have been talking in the series you’re working on as you report this?

    KAI RYSSDAL: Well, here’s the thing.

    I’m going out in the field next week to talk to a couple that we first met in a coffee shop about six months ago here in downtown Los Angeles. They’re both teachers. One of them has a master’s degree. They are literally the epitome of the American middle class. Right? You think, if they can’t make it on a teacher’s salary, then something is up.

    Here’s the deal. We were sitting there chatting over a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. And the husband said to me: “We have given up. We’re done. We know we’re never going to own a house. We’re never going to grow beyond the middle class. We’re buried in student debt. We don’t really know if we’re going to be able to afford to send our child to school.”

    And they have given up, and that tells what you is at root in this study.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal, thanks so much.

    KAI RYSSDAL: You bet.

    The post There’s less middle in the middle class as income inequality grows, Pew analysis finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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