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

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    Young woman sitting at desk, using laptop. Related words: computer, typing, millennial, job search, Photo by Cultura RM Exclusive/Stefano Gilera via Getty Images

    While more and more people are working from home, they’re not earning a living through one of those work-from-home schemes you see advertised, writes Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Cultura RM Exclusive/Stefano Gilera via Getty Images

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

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


    Question: I recently attended a training class and overheard people discussing how work-at-home jobs have become common. The idea is that if you have a computer, companies will hire you to do work for them without coming into the office. But none of them could tell me how to get such a job. How can I find legitimate employers that hire people to work from home?

    Nick Corcodilos: This is a perennial question. It’s worth discussing now and again, although the answer never changes. While more and more people are working from home, they’re not earning a living through one of those work-from-home schemes you see advertised.

    READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Beware of pay-to-play job interview scams

    These are the two most common legitimate home-based work scenarios:

    • Your current employer lets you do it.
    • You’re an established independent consultant.

    Otherwise, it isn’t the option it’s portrayed to be — but that’s why scammers advertise such “opportunities.” People really, really want them, so they’re willing to suspend their disbelief.

    When people think of work-at-home jobs, they have visions of quick and easy money.

    When people think of work-at-home jobs, they have visions of quick and easy money, and ads for such jobs play on that fantasy. People who really do work from home successfully will tell you it’s neither quick or easy. It’s often harder than having a regular job, and the hours are usually longer simply because it’s harder to stop working when you’re already at home.

    There is no secret about the third kind of real, home-based job, except that it’s not a job. It’s your own small businesses that you run out of your house. No one’s going to hand that to you. You must start from scratch on your own.

    Anyone who says you can readily earn a living working at home using your computer is engaging in wishful thinking, or they’re trying to sucker you into a pyramid scheme in which you spend your day emailing similar offers to other potential suckers. These “jobs” are nothing but a racket. Be careful.

    You can work from home if you can start a business of your own, or if you can demonstrate to your employer that you can be relied on to do your work outside a conventional office. But beware: Few employers will let people work at home, because they don’t know how to manage remote employees. Some major companies have tried it and pulled these programs back.

    Few employers will let people work at home, because they don’t know how to manage remote employees.

    The most common work-from-home jobs are legit sales positions that require workers to be out in the field so much that it doesn’t matter where they “go to the office.” But again, these are legit jobs with good companies. If you already work in sales, you’ve probably encountered such virtual-office positions. If you don’t already work in sales, trying to learn sales by yourself at home is a long shot. I wouldn’t advise it. And if you’re being recruited for a home-based sales job and something seems funky, consider the experiences of others before you try the job: “Readers’ Forum: Your favorite scams.”

    Dear Readers: Do you know anyone who works from home for an employer? Have you encountered such opportunities — and were they legit? Horror stories welcome!


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

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

    Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

    The post Ask the Headhunter: Is finding a work-at-home job a fantasy? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, in 2015. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, in 2015. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    Facebook and Google banned fake news sites from collecting funds via their advertising platforms on Monday, after criticism that the two companies were too slow to address sites that deliberately spread misinformation before the presidential election.

    Throughout the election cycle, sites peddling false information garnered revenue through user clicks on ads featured on Facebook and Google. Critics claim that the unwillingness of the two tech giants to crackdown on those sites has enhanced political hyperpartisanism on and off social media.

    Here’s an example posted by Dan Barker, a digital analytics consultant:

    The ‘poster child’ of Facebook Fake News is this post: “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead…“. It appeared a few days before the U.S. presidential election, and was shared a phenomenal number of times (567,752 according to Facebook’s API). It turned out the “Denver Guardian” does not actually exist – the site is just a shell set up to spread fake news, registered under an anonymous domain owner.

    Facebook works with publishers that want to monetize ads through its social media network. Ads from third-party apps and sites appear on users’ newsfeeds, where clicks generate revenue for both Facebook and the publisher.

    On Monday, Facebook announced an update to its publisher agreement — called its Audience Network Policy — to ban “fake news,” though the company holds that false information on such sites has always been prohibited ad content.

    “While implied, we have updated the policy to explicitly clarify that this applies to fake news,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in a statement to the NewsHour. “Our team will continue to closely vet all prospective publishers and monitor existing ones to ensure compliance.”

    The company did not comment on what it was doing to address fake news stories shared by users.

    Earlier this month, BuzzFeed discovered a network of Macedonian-run sites that made money by generating hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook with fake news stories that often had pro-Trump slants. Six of 10 Americans get their daily news from social media, according to Pew Research Center.

    Google’s software AdSpace helps sites make money by placing Google-sponsored ads within them. The company announced Monday it now prohibits ads placed on “misrepresentative content.”

    “Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” a Google spokesperson wrote in a statement to the NewsHour.

    Like Facebook, stopping false information advertising is only part of the problem for Google. Over the weekend, the top hit on Google News was a fake story, which had President-elect Donald Trump leading the popular vote by almost 700,000 votes. Hillary Clinton currently leads the popular vote tally by almost 800,000 votes.

    Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came under fire for misinformation spread on the social media platform in the leadup to the election. He said it was “crazy” to think that fake news proliferated on Facebook influenced the outcome, the Associated Press reported.

    “There’s an entire political team and a massive office in D.C. that tries to convince political advertisers that Facebook can convince users to vote one way or the other,” former Facebook employee and author Antonio Garcia-Martinez told NPR. A batch of renegade Facebook employees reportedly formed an unofficial task force last week to tackle the issue.

    “Then Zuck gets up and says, ‘Oh, by the way, Facebook content couldn’t possibly influence the election.’ It’s contradictory on the face of it,” Garcia-Martinez said.

    The post Facebook, Google take aim at fake news by blocking ad revenue appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The supermoon rises over the United States Capitol dome in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron - RTX2THXR

    The supermoon rises over the United States Capitol dome in Washington, DC, on Nov. 13, 2016. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    The bright, white 150-year-old dome of the U.S. Capitol was revealed Tuesday, shining in the morning sun and completely restored after a three-year project.

    Announced in 2013, the $60 million project included stripping the 14 previous layers of paint off the dome before repainting it using 1,215 gallons of “Dome White” paint for three new layers, the Washington Post reported.

    The project used 1.1 million pounds of scaffolding and repaired 1,300 cracks in the dome. A foundry in Utah replaced the damaged ornaments, and Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers replaced the final piece on Oct. 27.

    The project was the dome’s first full restoration since 1959, according to the Architect of the Capital.

    “The Capitol dome restoration project is complete,” Ayers said at a media briefing Tuesday. “Our work revealed and preserved the exquisite craftsmanship that went into the construction of this great dome.”

    The national landmark as we know it was finished in 1866 during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War.

    During restoration, workers found items left behind from the original construction, including a man’s signature and a 150-year-old crowbar, according to the Washington Post.

    See photos of the Capitol dome from its inception to today:

    Photo taken Feb. 12, 1861. Photo courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

    The Capitol dome as we know it was finished in 1866 during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Photo taken Feb. 12, 1861, courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

    Capitol Dome Restoration Work 1959-1960. Photo courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

    The Capitol dome underwent restoration work between 1959 and 1960. Photo courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

    View of the Capitol Dome under restoration early this morning.

    A photo posted by Architect of the Capitol (@uscapitol) on

    After about two years the Capitol Dome restoration is finally complete on time and under budget

    A photo posted by Imagination Media LLC (@darnleyhodge) on

    This morning’s sunrise casts a pink glow on the restored Capitol Dome.

    A photo posted by Architect of the Capitol (@uscapitol) on

    The post Capitol dome restored to former glory appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C), flanked by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) (R), arrives for a news conference after his caucus meeting with fellow House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C), flanked by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) (R), arrives for a news conference after his caucus meeting with fellow House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan unanimously won his GOP colleagues’ votes for another term at the helm of the House on Tuesday. He told fellow Republicans he had President-elect Donald Trump’s support, and heralded “the dawn of a new, unified Republican government.”

    “It feels really good to say that actually,” Ryan told reporters. “This will be a government focused on turning President-elect Trump’s victory into real progress for the American people.”

    While victory was the GOP unifier, Democrats were verging on disarray. House Democrats abruptly announced Tuesday that they were delaying their own leadership elections set for Thursday until Nov. 30 to give lawmakers more time to process disastrous election results.

    It’s not clear whether the election delay might morph into a real challenge to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. She has led House Democrats for more than 12 years and has consolidated support with strong fundraising and an ability to deliver votes, but there’s long been grumbling from Democrats who say new leadership is needed at the top.

    As for Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican still has to win a floor vote for speaker in January, when all members of the House will cast ballots, including Democrats.

    But he secured the nomination at a closed-door GOP conference vote Tuesday afternoon with the strong backing of his fellow House Republicans, even though a few conservative dissenters pushed unsuccessfully to delay the balloting.

    Those grumblings of dissent could hardly be heard over the buzz of enthusiasm as House Republicans convened for their first regular conference meeting since Trump won the presidential election. Even though a number of House Republicans, including Ryan, had opposed Trump or were critical along the way, most said they’re now firmly on board and prepared to try to enact Trump’s agenda on immigration, infrastructure, energy and jobs.

    Lawmakers trooped out of their morning meeting in the basement of the Capitol smiling, pledging quick action to roll back President Barack Obama’s accomplishments and clutching red “Make America Great Again” hats.

    “That was a nice fun touch. Now here’s my problem: Every member wants it autographed,” said GOP Rep. Chris Collins of New York, one of Trump’s earliest congressional backers, who has been tapped as congressional liaison to the transition team. “I’m going to have to say, ‘President-elect Trump, bring out your Sharpie, we’ve got to do a lot of autographing.'”

    During the meeting, Ryan told colleagues that he’d spoken Tuesday morning with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who said that he and Trump “are very supportive of the leadership team and are looking forward to working with them,” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

    Coming after a campaign full of very public GOP infighting and clashes between Ryan and Trump, it’s “a validating moment,” said Lummis, a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus.

    Republicans had widely been forecast to lose the Senate and suffer major losses in the House, but instead lost just two Senate seats and a half-dozen in the House, giving them full-scale control of Washington for the first time in a decade.

    For Democrats, ill-feeling was only magnified in defeat.

    “Everything’s not good. Business as usual is not gonna work,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. “This is about our constituents. Saying we have heard you. We have clearly missed the mark with regard to legislation and messaging.”

    For Republicans, though, it was heady times after they’ve spent years watching their legislative priorities get stymied, if not by Democrats in the Senate then by Obama’s veto pen.

    The situation also brings stark risks since Republicans will have no one to blame but themselves if they can’t deliver on Trump’s promises. Already GOP leaders and Trump himself have been shifting on some of his pledges, including the border wall and a full repeal of Obama’s health care law.

    Ryan refused to answer directly when Congress would go along with Trump’s plan to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. “These are things we’re working on. … The point is Donald Trump wants job,” he said.

    Ryan also avoided a direct answer on Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon to a senior White House role. Bannon’s Breitbart website, which embraces white nationalist currents, has frequently singled out Ryan himself for attacks.

    “Look, I would just simply say that the president is going to be judged on his results,” Ryan said. “I’m not looking backwards, I’m looking forward.”

    In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats were meeting separately Wednesday to pick their leadership teams.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is keeping his job in a chamber that Republicans will control by 52-48. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is retiring after a 30-year Senate career and will be replaced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

    Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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

    The post House GOP unanimously nominates Paul Ryan as speaker appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 11/15/16--11:52: America, I sing you back
  • Allison Adelle Hedge Coke is a poet, performer, teacher and literary activist. She currently teaches at the University of California Riverside.

    Allison Adelle Hedge Coke is a poet, performer, teacher and literary activist. She currently teaches at the University of California Riverside.

    Allison Adelle Hedge Coke considers her poem “America, I Sing You Back” to be an extension of two famous poems about the identity of America: Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” and Langston Hughes’ “I, Too”.

    “Those poems were written by men— one white and one black— and I wanted to represent the voice of a woman, and an indigenous person. We all see our country from different perspectives culturally.”

    Indigenous people want to see harmony restored to the Earth, said Coke, who is part Cherokee. Coke uses the imagery of a mother singing to her child, and then waiting for the child to mature and enter a time of reason.

    “During the disruption of the land, the mother is waiting for the child to accept advice. The child is going through its toddler or adolescent stage when it’s acting out. But the mother knows the child will accept reason. And then it will be time to reclaim the of the Earth, the reverence, the peace and harmony.”

    She says the poem was born not out of anger but concern for what she saw happening in the United States 12 years ago. She said she was especially alarmed by the greediness of politicians to take natural resources from the land.

    “It was as if the government was acting like a child: ‘I want, I want, I want.’ And the indigenous people were just watching like worried parents without having any control over them.”

    This past week, Coke found herself comforting students and colleagues at the university where she teaches, following the results of the presidential election. She said she tried to provide a calming presence and remind people to take a longer view. And she said her poem took on a new meaning.

    “There’s always something at work beyond us. No matter how bad things get, there’s a way to make things over. There’s a way to add love, to restore balance again.”

    America, I Sing You Back

    for Phil Young and my father Robert Hedge Coke;
    for Whitman and Hughes

    America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
    Sing back the moment you cherished breath.
    Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.

    Before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep,
    held her cradleboard, wept her into day.
    My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,
    held her severed cord beautifully beaded.

    My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps,
    nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong.
    My song comforted her as she battled my reason
    broke my long-held footing sure, as any child might do.

    As she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself,
    as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall.

    My blood-veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries
    circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine.

    But here I am, here I am, here I remain high on each and every peak,
    carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing—

    and sing again I will, as I have always done.
    Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing
    the stoic face, polite repose, polite while dancing deep inside, polite
    Mother of her world. Sister of myself.

    When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle.
    Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,
    day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision—
    then, she will quake herself over. My song will make it so.

    When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,
    I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh I will—I do.
    America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.


    Allison Adelle Hedge Coke is a distinguished professor of creative writing for the University of California, Riverside. Her books include: “Streaming,” “Blood Run,” “Off-Season City Pipe“, “Dog Road Woman“, “Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas“, “Effigies I/II“, and “Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer.” She has worked in fields, factories and waters and is from mixed heritage including Huron, Metis, Cherokee, Luso and French Canadian ancestry.

    The post America, I sing you back appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    These days, people are using 3-D printing to produce everything from shoes to human organs. The Bay Area-based architect-designer-artist team of Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello are thinking about 3-D printing on a much larger scale.

    The duo’s Emerging Objects studio on the University of California, Berkeley campus is experimenting with that technology with a view to building homes and work spaces out of a range of organic materials like sand and coffee grounds. One of the projects Rael and San Fratello are dreaming up is a 3-D-printed, solar-powered mobile unit using clay.

    READ MORE: Video artist, MacArthur fellow Mary Reid Kelley on recovering history’s lost narratives

    “All over the world there are materials that can be found locally that can make buildings,” San Fratello says. “If we can take this technology to a particular place, the people building in that area could work in collaboration with the machine to design for local contexts using local materials,” Rael says.

    In addition to using eco-friendly building materials, 3-D printing allows for mass customization and more complex structures. “Can we print the insulation into a building component?” Rael says. “Can we allow it to passively cool a space? Can it last longer because it resists seismic loads? So that the building can contribute rather than deplete resources.”

    Rael and San Fratello see their work on the frontiers of 3-D printing as an extension of what they’ve always been doing: designing things, integrating technology and thinking about traditions and materials. “3-D printing just happens to be one of the tools we use,” Rael says. “It could have been a hammer. It could have been a saw. It just happens to be a printer.”


    This report originally appeared on PBS member station KQED. Local Beat is an ongoing series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.

    The post Designers try building an eco-friendly house by 3-D printing bricks and tiles appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Gwen Ifill speaks after winning a Peabody for her show "Washington Week" in 2009. Photo by Lucas Jackson/File Photo - Reuters

    Gwen Ifill speaks after winning a Peabody for her show “Washington Week” in 2009. Photo by Lucas Jackson/File Photo – Reuters

    We at the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week lost our dear colleague, Gwen Ifill, to cancer on Monday. During her life, she often was called upon to discuss journalism, but other topics, too: among them, race, music and advice for young journalists.

    In a 2009 interview with Julian Bond for the University of Virginia’s Explorations in Black Leadership series, Gwen discussed how she approached moderating two vice-presidential debates and covering Boston school desegregation in the 1970s:

    “If it were about me, then I’d ask a smart question and kind of preen and chase them around the table: ‘why didn’t you answer my question, Mr. Senator?’ That doesn’t really add anything to the conversation. In fact, it detracts, because it makes me the story.”
    In Boston, “I found it was a test for me to talk to people who I had nothing in common with whatsoever, members of the Boston school committee, who were adamantly against busing and if given the chance would have denied me every opportunity I ever had in education. But I wanted to hear what they had to say.”

    You can read the full transcript of the interview here.


    At Morehouse College, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta, Gwen delivered the commencement address in 2011:

    “To me, race is not all about grievance. It is also about pride and empathy and humanity and understanding the value of difference. But along with that, there are also expectations that we should set for ourselves and for others. We should expect to be treated as equal citizens. Our children should not expect to be inferior. We should all expect that anything is achievable, if not now then soon.”

    Gwen enjoyed talking to young people and encouraging young journalists. In September, she shared her love of politics and journalism with students at Colorado College:

    “I believe if we only are talking to people who agree with us we are failing in some way to understand our world and our country. We have to make sure that everything we’re finding out isn’t just what happened around the corner, what happened with only our friends, what happened with only the politicians or radio hosts we like to listen to. Otherwise, we stay stuck in the bubble.”

    Gwen on Queen Latifah’s portrayal of her on Saturday Night Live after the second vice-presidential debate: “It was a hoot!”


    In a speech accepting the 2008 Peabody Award for “Washington Week,” Gwen said, “How we do it is with more light than heat.”


    Gwen took to Facebook earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of “Washington Week.” She fielded questions about the 2016 presidential race, her book and why few people saw Donald Trump’s candidacy coming. (It’s worth cranking up the audio.)


    And finally, she spoke about her influences with her friend and fellow journalist Michele Norris, for a 2015 episode of the PBS series “The History Makers.”

    “Every now and then … I just get caught up in whatever the day’s work is. And, invariably, somebody will come up to me and tell me the story of their little girl. And it always stops me in my tracks, because, as long as I remember that there is someone on the other side of the piece of equipment, the camera, who is watching me with expectation, and it can shape what they do next, I just take what I do seriously every single day.”

    The post Gwen’s Take on journalism, race and Queen Latifah appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Adobe stock photos.

    Photo by Adobe stock photos.

    Fewer teens are giving birth nationwide, but new government data reveals that teen births are much higher in rural areas than urban ones.

    In urban counties with large populations, 18.9 teens per 1,000 females age 15 to 19 gave birth in 2015, far lower than in rural counties with populations of fewer than 50,000 people that reported a significantly higher 30.9 teen birth rate, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

    Nationwide, the teen birth rate is 22.3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this year.

    This latest report marked the first time the government looked for patterns (and differences) in teen birth rates in rural communities versus urban ones, said Brady Hamilton, a statistician and demographer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the study’s lead author.

    The results surprised him, he said.

    “This is more of a broad perspective that still shows this striking difference in teen birth rates,” Hamilton said.

    For more than 70 years, researchers such as Hamilton explored data from birth certificates, which include information about a mother’s hometown and racial or ethnic background. That way, researchers can better track trends and understand fluctuations in county, state and national birth rates across the United States.

    And those disparities have endured over time. Since 2007, the teen birth rate dropped by about half nationwide and in urban counties. But in rural counties, the rate of teen moms fell by a little more a third.

    The numbers point to problems with access to health care services and contraception, said Ginny Ehrlich, chief officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

    “Women may have health coverage by virtue of ACA, but that doesn’t mean they have access to health services,” Ehrlich said.

    About nine out of 10 Americans say birth control is “morally acceptable,” according to a Gallup poll in June. That overwhelming support emerged in a new poll released today by Ehrlich’s organization. She said sharing that message with youth in tight-knit communities could remove stigma from asking about contraception and help narrow the gap between rural and urban teen birth rates.

    Why is it important? Economic opportunity, poverty and teen birth “seem to be a chicken-and-egg question,” Ehrich said.

    The post Why is the teen birth rate so much higher in rural areas? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Bollman Factory in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. Photo by Christopher Booker/PBS NewsHour

    The Bollman Factory in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. Photo by Christopher Booker/PBS NewsHour

    Editor’s Note: Edward Alden, former Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times, is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he specializes in U.S. economic competitiveness. The first excerpt from his new book, “Failure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy,” ran here on Making Sen$e on Nov. 2. This is the follow-up.


    The states that put Donald Trump over the top to win the presidential election were all hit incredibly hard by global competition in manufacturing. From 2000 to 2010, following China’s admission to the World Trade Organization, Ohio lost 368,000 manufacturing jobs, North Carolina lost 360,000 manufacturing jobs, Michigan lost 340,000, and Pennsylvania lost 314,000. While unemployment rates in each have since fallen to near the national average, many of the new jobs pay those once mostly unionized workers far less than what they were earning before.

    The U.S. government has long recognized that while freer trade would bring broad benefits to Americans through lower prices on everything from clothing to TV sets, there would be real costs.

    The U.S. government has long recognized that while freer trade would bring broad benefits to Americans through lower prices on everything from clothing to TV sets, there would be real costs. And they would be concentrated in certain parts of the country, and among certain workers, especially in manufacturing. The government promised to help, but rarely did so.

    The program of trade “adjustment assistance” for workers who lost their jobs to import competition began with President John F. Kennedy. His signature trade legislation, the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, was a more ambitious version of authority that had been available to presidents since the mid-1930s, when Congress had renounced the protectionism of the infamous 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and authorized President Franklin D. Roosevelt to negotiate with other nations on mutual tariff reductions. But the 1962 act contained one radical innovation. It proposed for the first time a trade adjustment assistance program aimed at helping both companies and workers harmed by import competition. Prior to the 1962 act, the federal government had only a single tool for aiding such workers or industries: temporary trade protection in the form of higher tariffs or quotas. Kennedy wanted another option, a means to continue trade liberalization while protecting American workers and companies from some of the negative consequences.

    READ MORE: Column: How cities and states are leading the fight for more beneficial trade

    Kennedy was a committed free trader. Increasing imports would help U.S. allies in Asia and Europe and keep them out of the Soviet orbit, he argued. At home, the tariff cuts would help the economy through lower-priced imports, which would benefit American consumers and force American companies to become more efficient, productive and competitive. But imports would also likely hurt some sectors, driving companies out of business and forcing employees to scramble for new work. Those harmed were deserving of government support, Kennedy argued. “When considerations of national policy make it desirable to avoid higher tariffs, those injured by that competition should not be required to bear the full brunt of the impact,” Kennedy said in introducing the legislation.

    Under Trade Assistance, workers who lost their jobs or faced significant reductions in working hours due to import competition would be eligible for income assistance and retraining.

    Under Trade Adjustment Assistance, Kennedy proposed, industries lagging in the face of import competition would be eligible for government assistance, including tax breaks, technical assistance, loans and loan guarantees for new investments that would help the company retool to meet the competition or to find other lines of business. Similarly, workers who lost their jobs or faced significant reductions in working hours due to import competition would be eligible for income assistance and retraining. His proposal called for these workers to receive 65 percent of their wages for up to a year, vocational education or other retraining to develop “higher and different skills” and moving expense payment if they needed to relocate to find new employment. The goal, as suggested by the name, was not temporary income support but more lasting adjustment. The program, Kennedy insisted, “cannot be and will not be a subsidy program of government paternalism. It is instead a program to afford time for American initiative, American adaptability and American resiliency to assert themselves.” The aim was “to strengthen the efficiency of our economy, not to protect inefficiencies.”

    The theory underlying Kennedy’s trade adjustment assistance program was one long embraced by economists — that trade creates many winners but also some losers. In their classic model first published in 1933, Swedish economists Eli Hecksher and Bertil Ohlin had posited that as a country moved from autarky to freer trade, overall national welfare would rise and consumption would increase due to falling prices as countries specialized in the production of goods in which they enjoyed an advantage.

    The program “cannot be and will not be a subsidy program of government paternalism. It is instead a program to afford time for American initiative, American adaptability and American resiliency to assert themselves.”

    Later additions by American economists Wolfgang Stolper and Paul Samuelson, as well as others working with the same model, demonstrated that within any country, there would be winners and losers depending on the country’s particular comparative advantage — its “abundant factors of production.” In a highly developed country like the United States, the main advantages were ample capital for investment and a highly educated and trained workforce (the United States was triply blessed because rich soil and a mild climate also gave it an advantage in agriculture).

    For developing countries, in contrast, or even for fairly wealthy countries that were not at the level of the United States, the primary advantage was lower-skilled, lower-wage labor. The theory suggested that as the U.S. economy opened to the world, returns to capital were likely to increase, and higher-skilled Americans were likely to see their wages rise, because markets would grow for capital-intensive and highly skilled sectors. Lower-skilled Americans, however, were likely to see wages fall and work opportunities diminish, because they could not compete with the many similarly skilled workers available in other countries who were paid much less. While wages for those workers in poorer countries would rise, there would be a long transition period — likely many decades — before their wages began to approach U.S. levels.

    READ MORE: Trade debate masks America’s competitive disadvantage

    Despite these losses for some, the theory went, the total gains to the economy from freer trade far exceeded the losses to disadvantaged workers. The jobs and wages of lower-skilled Americans could be protected through higher tariffs but at a large cost to the overall economy. Therefore, rather than continuing to protect some industries through tariffs or quotas, which would reduce overall economic gains, the correct response, economists argued, was for the winners to “compensate” the losers through progressive taxation or subsidies or other forms of income transfer.

    Enter Richard Nixon, stage right

    In a long 1971 memo to President Richard Nixon warning of the coming storm from increased global competition, Pete Peterson, the president’s top advisor on international economic policy, had embraced the same formula and recommended an acceleration of adjustment efforts.

    “It is unreasonable to say that a liberal trade policy is in the interest of the entire country and then allow particular industries, workers, and communities to pay the whole price.”

    “A program to build on America’s strengths by enhancing its international competitiveness cannot be indifferent to the fate of those industries, and especially those groups of workers, which are not meeting the demands of a truly competitive world economy,” Peterson wrote. “It is unreasonable to say that a liberal trade policy is in the interest of the entire country and then allow particular industries, workers, and communities to pay the whole price.”

    Peterson recommended that the U.S. government set as a broad national policy the goal of “helping to facilitate the processes of economic and social change brought about by foreign competition.” The adjustment program should encourage capital resources and workers to redeploy “from activities no longer economically viable to those that are.” Assistance to displaced workers would have to be accelerated and in some cases even extended to whole communities. Peterson particularly stressed the need to bring organized labor on board. “Union support is critical to the program’s success,” he wrote. “Unions standing to lose membership through the retraining of their members for new crafts will have to be convinced that their workers will enjoy real benefits as a result.”

    READ MORE: Yes, trade with China took away blue-collar jobs. And there’s no getting them back.

    The concept of adjustment assistance was in theory a significant advance over the economists’ idea of compensation. Compensating the unemployed for not working, through welfare or disability programs or other schemes, might be a fair and reasonable way to redistribute the gains from trade, but would produce no lasting benefits for the economy. In contrast, retraining workers in ways that provided them with new skills and moved them as quickly as possible back into the workforce would enhance the economy’s competitiveness.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, as U.S. integration into the global economy was accelerating, the idea of government assistance for workers harmed by global competition was embraced in theory by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Business went from being a skeptic in the 1960s to a supporter by the early 1970s. Fred Bergsten, the top economic aide to Nixon’s national security advisor Henry Kissinger, had left the government in 1972 and headed up a Chamber of Commerce task force that in 1973 recommended a massive expansion of manpower training and other assistance in response to an increasingly competitive international economy.

    “Freer trade causes dislocation for a few in order to benefit all,” Bergsten testified to the House Ways and Means Committee in 1973. “The personal hardships that result are often severe and must be alleviated. Those who are hurt by a policy that is thus pursued in the general interest should be compensated adequately for their losses, and the opportunity should be seized to enable them to increase their contribution to the national welfare.”

    Donald Kendall, the chief executive of Pepsi and the chairman of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, lead the fight in the early 1970s against the Burke-Hartke bill, a union-backed measure that would have imposed higher tariffs and rigid quotas on imports. “It is inexcusable that instead of a national program of industrial adaptation that would allow the worker to retain pension and other rights, our economy offers only inadequate training or the dole,” he said. “It is easy to understand why labor leaders call the present system of adjustment ‘burial insurance.’”

    By 1972, when Kendall made those comments, organized labor had already moved from strong support for freer trade to deep skepticism, in part because adjustment assistance had failed to deliver on its promises. In the first six years of the program, for example, 25 petitions were filed with the government commission overseeing Trade Adjustment Assistance seeking benefits for thousands of workers.

    When President Ronald Reagan came to office in 1981 on a promise to slash government spending, Trade Adjustment Assistance was one of the first programs to be targeted.

    But the commission interpreted the law so narrowly that not a single worker received benefits. And when President Ronald Reagan came to office in 1981 on a promise to slash government spending, Trade Adjustment Assistance was one of the first programs to be targeted. Payments to workers were reduced, eligibility time was cut, and the criteria tightened. While the budget for Trade Adjustment Assistance has ebbed and flowed over the decades since — growing in particular as a result of the massive stimulus package approved by Congress following the 2008 financial crisis — it has never touched more than a fraction of the workers potentially eligible for assistance.

    In 2015, Democratic opponents of further trade agreements had become so frustrated that they voted to kill the Trade Adjustment Assistance program in an effort to keep President Barack Obama from winning new trade-negotiating authority. While that vote was later reversed, it showed how deep the anger has become over the failure of the U.S. government to offer more than token help for workers hurt by import competition.

    The tragedy of Trade Adjustment Assistance

    The failure to help American workers adjust to the new scale and intensity of global competition is one of the bigger mistakes of U.S. government economic policy in the last half century, one that has resulted in an enormous waste of human capacity and in eroding popular support for international trade and U.S. engagement with the world.

    READ MORE: Column: Trump’s trade policy is a recipe for recession, history says

    While many other countries have overhauled, refined and expanded their labor market adjustment schemes, the basic structure of U.S. federal programs remains unchanged since the creation of unemployment insurance in 1935 as part of the New Deal. That program was designed for an economy in which most unemployment was cyclical and the result of inadequate demand during temporary economic recessions; unemployment insurance payments were supposed to bridge the gap for laid-off workers until the economy picked up, and they were rehired by their former employers or others in the same industry. Unemployment insurance is a short-term income supplement, with no requirement that recipients retrain or upgrade their skills. Other federal job-training programs cover only a small fraction of dislocated workers, fewer than 10 percent.

    As both Kennedy and Nixon recognized, the challenge in an era of global competition was to redeploy workers from sectors that were uncompetitive internationally to ones that were more competitive. That required not just temporary compensation, but new education and retraining to allow individuals to move into entirely new fields of work. Governments, companies and labor unions would all need to be engaged in promoting that transition.

    Denmark spends more than 2 percent of its GDP helping unemployed workers back into the workforce, about 20 times as much as the United States.

    Other advanced countries have done far more to help their citizens adjust to competition. Denmark spends more than 2 percent of its GDP helping unemployed workers back into the workforce, about 20 times as much as the United States. France and Germany spend five times as much. Every other major economy spends at least twice what the United States does. Denmark’s worker-retraining program is available throughout a career; if a factory closes, government counselors meet with each unemployed worker, drawing up individual plans for retraining and following up to make sure the goals are met. In 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported on the closing of a Danish meatpacking plant that had 500 workers. Within 10 months, all but 60 were back at work, one as a golf course landscaping apprentice, another as a math and science teacher. Such interventions are unheard of in the United States.

    The result has been pretty much what the economists would have predicted: Lower-skilled American workers have seen a steady fall in both employment and wages since the early 1970s. Many of those who lost jobs in uncompetitive industries were unable to find new work at all. A 1986 task force set up by the secretary of labor looked at the plight of nearly 11 million workers who had lost their jobs as a result of plant closures in the previous five years, during the height of Japanese import competition. The findings were grim. One-third were either still unemployed in 1986 or had dropped out of the workforce entirely. Of those who found new jobs, the average loss in earnings was 10 to 15 percent, while nearly 30 percent of blue-collar workers took wage cuts of 25 percent or more. Help for these workers, from either governments or companies, was “spotty and narrowly focused,” the task force reported.

    Lower-skilled American workers have seen a steady fall in both employment and wages since the early 1970s. Many of those who lost jobs in uncompetitive industries were unable to find new work at all.

    Two decades later, when another round of mass layoffs followed a surge in Chinese imports, the result was little different. A landmark series of studies by economists David Autor, Gordon Hanson and David Dorn looked at the impact of Chinese competition in U.S. communities that were competing most directly with Chinese imports, such as San Jose, California, Providence, Rhode Island, Manchester, New Hampshire and a raft of southern cities, including Raleigh, North Carolina. They examined the effects of import competition over a 15-year period, from 1992 to 2007, during which Chinese imports to the United States were growing very rapidly (and prior to the Great Recession). From 2000 to 2007, imports from all low-wage countries rose from 15 to 28 percent of total U.S. imports, with China accounting for almost all of the growth. The findings were striking: Employees in the most trade-exposed industries suffered much higher unemployment and loss of earnings than those in less exposed industries.

    “The effects are very concentrated and very visible locally,” said Autor. “People drop out of the labor force and the data strongly suggest that it takes some people a long time to get back on their feet, if they do at all.”

    The effects are also long-lasting. “Labor market adjustment to trade shocks is stunningly slow,” Autor, Hanson, and Dorn wrote in a separate paper, “with local labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and local unemployment rates remaining elevated for a full decade or more after a shock commences.”

    “People drop out of the labor force and the data strongly suggest that it takes some people a long time to get back on their feet, if they do at all.”

    Trade adjustment assistance did little to help; instead, nearly 10 percent of unemployed workers applied for and received Social Security disability payments, under which injured workers can receive early retirement and Medicare benefits if they persuade a doctor that they are unable to go back to work. Few of those ever return to the workforce, instead collecting benefits until they die. In the U.S. regions most exposed to Chinese competition, the authors found, the increase in per capita Social Security disability payments was 30 times as large as Trade Adjustment Assistance payments. The total costs of these government benefits were so high as to negate much of the broader economic gains coming from lower-cost imports. But instead of using government money to help people back to work, Washington and the states are paying people to stay out of the workforce — at huge cost to the overall economy.

    “We do not have a good set of policies at present for helping workers adjust to trade or, for that matter, to any kind of technological change,” said Autor. “We could have much better adjustment assistance — programs that are less fragmented, and less stingy.” Such programs, he said, should be “directed toward helping people reintegrate into the labor market and acquire skills, rather than helping them exit the labor market.”

    The post Column: How to help workers laid low by trade — and why we haven’t appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX2SVNW

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    NEW YORK — President-elect Donald Trump hadn’t been seen in public for days when he walked into New York’s 21 Club to applause from fellow diners. The unannounced evening out with family was a contrast to the behind-the scenes machinations that suggested a struggling transition as names surfaced and sank for top administration positions.

    Not to worry, Trump suggested in a Tuesday night tweet: “Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”

    Before dinner at the midtown Manhattan restaurant — he broke with protocol and left his press contingent behind — Trump met with the head of his transition team, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, but another day passed without a Cabinet announcement.

    Arriving at Trump Tower on Wednesday morning, son Eric Trump said “likely” when reporters asked if any appointments would be made during the day.

    Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and a top Trump economic adviser, told reporters that the transition team was working on plans for regulatory changes, the creation of an infrastructure bank to pay for improvements to roads and bridges and changes to the tax code.

    “Right now we’re still in the planning stages. We want to be in a position where in the first 100 days we can execute the economic plan,” Mnuchin said.

    Strains were showing within the process. Trump’s allies engaged in an unusual round of public speculation about his potential appointments. Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a respected Republican voice on national security issues, quit the transition effort. And an apparent clerical oversight temporarily halted the Trump team’s ability to coordinate with President Barack Obama’s White House.

    Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani seemed to be angling for secretary of state. But Trump’s transition team was reviewing Giuliani’s paid consulting work for foreign governments, which could delay a nomination or bump Giuliani to a different position, according to a person briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly about it.

    Giuliani founded his own firm, Giuliani Partners, in 2001, and helped businesses on behalf of foreign governments, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. He also advised TransCanada, which sought to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and helped the maker of the painkiller drug OxyContin settle a dispute with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

    A Trump official said John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, remained in contention for secretary of state. Bolton has years of foreign policy experience, but he has raised eyebrows with some of his hawkish stances, including a 2015 New York Times op-ed in which he advocated bombing Iran to halt the country’s nuclear program.

    Businessman Carl Icahn disclosed on Twitter, based on conversations with the president-elect, that Trump was considering Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, and Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, to lead the Treasury and Commerce departments.

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had spent months running transition operations before his demotion last week. The switch to Pence, however, slowed Trump’s ability to coordinate with the White House. Not until Tuesday evening did Pence sign a memorandum of understanding facilitating interactions between his team and Obama administration officials. Christie had signed the document, but Pence’s promotion made it invalid.

    A person familiar with the transition efforts said different factions in Trump’s team “are fighting for power.”

    Indeed, Trump effectively created two power centers in his White House even before taking office. He named Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and flame-throwing media mogul Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, but called them “equal partners.” Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is also deeply involved in the transition, creating another layer of uncertainty about who’s making decisions.

    “That organization right now is not designed to work,” according to the person close to the efforts, who like others involved in the transition, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal process.

    Former GOP national security official Eliot Cohen blasted Trump’s team on Twitter, calling them “angry, arrogant.” Cohen opposed Trump during the campaign, but in recent days, he said those who feel duty-bound to work in a Trump administration should do so. But he said Tuesday that after an exchange with Trump’s team, he had “changed my recommendation.”

    With Trump’s team divided, emboldened Republicans on Capitol Hill moved forward with a united front. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a lukewarm Trump supporter during the campaign, unanimously won his GOP colleagues’ votes for another term at the helm of the House. He told fellow Republicans he had Trump’s support, and heralded “the dawn of a new, unified Republican government.”

    Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Jill Colvin, Josh Lederman, Robert Burns and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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    Insurers said Obama's health care law has been a burden financially, leading health insurance analysts to predict premium hikes for 2017. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

    Health coverage sign-ups through the Affordable Care Act show steady sign-ups, but no enrollment surge. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

    WASHINGTON — A little more than 1 million people renewed health coverage or signed up for the first time through HealthCare.gov around the start of open enrollment, which coincided with a GOP election sweep that’s likely to scramble President Barack Obama’s signature law.

    The figures released Wednesday by the Obama administration represent steady sign-ups but no enrollment surge so far.

    The overall number is fairly comparable to early sign-ups last year, but the share of new customers is down. They accounted for 24 percent of the total so far this year, compared with 34 percent in the first two weeks of last year’s open enrollment season. Nearly 1.1 million people had enrolled last year by about the same time.

    The 2017 early sign-up figures are for Nov. 1-12, while the closest numbers from last year cover a full two weeks.

    Even before the election that put Republicans in charge, the health care law was facing strong headwinds in 2017. The remaining uninsured are harder to reach and persuade. Premiums for a standard plan are going up an average of 25 percent in the 39 states served by HealthCare.gov, and insurer exits have left about one-third of U.S. counties with only one carrier.

    President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress are pledging to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, although it has reduced the nation’s uninsured rate to a historic low of about 9 percent.

    It’s shaping up as the most volatile open enrollment season since HealthCare.gov went live in 2013 and the computer system didn’t work.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has set a goal of signing up 13.8 million people through the federal HealthCare.gov and state-run insurance markets, which offer taxpayer-subsidized private coverage to people without access to health care through their jobs. That would be an increase of about 1 million from the last open enrollment, so attracting new people is crucial.

    The White House is hoping that robust numbers will translate into a strong closing argument for keeping many of the law’s essential parts.

    Even though premiums are going up significantly, administration officials say most people will be cushioned from the impact because they receive subsidies designed to rise as their insurance costs increase. But an estimated 5 million to 9 million people who buy individual policies outside the law’s markets face the full brunt of increases.

    During the campaign, Trump said the health overhaul was a “disaster,” but now he is signaling that he doesn’t want to take away coverage from the millions of people who have benefited. Independent studies estimated that Trump’s campaign plan would have caused 18 million to 20 million people to lose health insurance.

    Republicans in Congress are puzzling over how to follow through on their promise to repeal the health care law while at the same time maintaining popular provisions, including protections for people with medical problems and allowing young adults to stay on parental coverage until age 26. Stripping away coverage could trigger a political backlash.

    Open enrollment season for 2017 ends Jan. 31, but consumers who want their coverage to take effect at the start of the year have to act by Dec. 15.

    The 2017 early sign-up figures are for Nov. 1-12, while the closest numbers from last year cover a full two weeks. The administration said 53,000 more customers signed up in the first 12 days this year than in the same period last year.

    The post Early sign-ups for health care law are steady, but no surge appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Chances of seeing Dylan in Stockholm are blowin' in the wind. Photo by Paolo Cocco/Reuters

    Chances of seeing Dylan in Stockholm are blowin’ in the wind. Photo by Paolo Cocco/Reuters

    In a simple twist of fate, Bob Dylan is not going to claim his Nobel literature prize after all.

    The Swedish Academy announced today that the 75-year-old American musician will not come to the Dec. 10 ceremony in Stockholm to retrieve his 2016 Nobel Prize for literature, ending weeks of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation over his attendance.

    The Academy said in a statement that it received a “personal letter” from Dylan, who cited “pre-existing commitments” for his absence. Dylan added that he wished he could pick up the prize in person.

    The Academy said, while the decision is “unusual,” Dylan isn’t the only laureate that hasn’t attended the ceremony. Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter and Elfriede Jelinek, for various reasons, have skipped the event.

    “The prize still belongs to them, just as it belongs to Bob Dylan,” the Academy said.

    The Academy also said it was looking forward to Dylan’s Nobel Lecture, “which he must give – it is the only requirement – within six months counting from December 10, 2016.”

    In October, the Nobel committee said Dylan received the award “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

    [Watch Video]

    By any measure, Bob Dylan is one of the most important and influential popular songwriters of his era. Now he’s also a Nobel laureate in literature, a choice that came as a surprise. Jeffrey Brown talks to singer/songwriter James Taylor and others about the way Dylan’s writing helped so many navigate a changing world.

    While columnists argued over the decision to award the literature prize to a musician, Dylan himself wasn’t in a hurry to acknowledge the honor.

    There was a brief all-caps line about the award on his official website that disappeared in 24 hours. The last American to win the Nobel Prize in literature was author Toni Morrison in 1993.

    Eventually, The Telegraph was able to glean some words about the award from Dylan, who said it was “amazing, incredible. Whoever dreams about something like that?”

    In the same interview, when he was asked about attending the ceremony, Dylan said, “Absolutely. If it’s at all possible.”

    Guess it wasn’t.

    The post Bob Dylan does think twice, decides to skip Nobel ceremony in Stockholm appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, March 3, 2011. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen/File Photo - RTX2TZR3

    The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 3, 2011. Photo by Jerry Lampen/File Photo/Reuters

    Russia formally withdrew from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday with a decree from President Vladimir Putin.

    The decision follows an ICC report released Monday that mounts a legal argument for alleged crimes Russia committed during the conflict in Ukraine.

    The Crimean conflict began “when the Russian Federation deployed members of its armed forces to gain control over parts of the Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian Government” in February 2014, according to the report.

    The Russian government has countered that description of the events. Putin did not admit Russian forces were operating in Ukraine until last December and blames Kiev for ongoing instability.

    The ICC’s self-described role is to investigate and try individuals responsible for “the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.” AFP called the ICC “the world’s only permanent war crimes court.”

    The Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it signed on to the court in 2000 with “high hopes.” But the court “failed to meet the expectations to become a truly independent, authoritative international tribunal,” the statement said.

    Three African countries — Burundi, Gambia, and South Africa — also signaled last month they would exit the court. They said the court was biased against the continent, prosecuting African leaders more often than those from other countries.

    Monday’s report not only critiqued Russia, but also suggested the ICC would investigate alleged acts of torture committed by U.S. armed forces and the CIA in Afghanistan.

    The post Russia withdraws from international war crimes court appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    3D-printed model of CAS9, a DNA-cutting enzyme that features in the CRISPR gene editing system. Photo by NIH Image Gallery

    3D-printed model of CAS9, a DNA-cutting enzyme that features in the CRISPR gene editing system. Photo by NIH Image Gallery

    For the first time, a cancer patient is being treated with cells altered using a gene editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9, according to a news exclusive in Nature. The cells, which have been programmed to attack the patient’s metastatic lung cancer, could signal a new chapter in medicine.

    The Chinese team behind this clinical trial, led by oncologist Lu You at Sichuan University in Chengdu, collected immune cells from the patient’s blood. They used CRISPR-Cas9 – an enzyme that precisely cuts and edits DNA – to disable a protein called PD-1. Normally, cells in the immune system use PD-1 as an off-switch to keep from attacking the rest of the body.

    But cancer cells manipulate this protein in order to evade detection and rapidly multiply. The gene-edited cells have removed the PD-1, hopefully leading immune cells to fight the cancer.

    CRISPR has drawn mixed reviews from the public and those in the bioethics community. In April 2015, scientists used CRISPR to alter human embryos, sparking an outcry about the ethics of possible “designer babies” through gene alteration. Some nations, including China and the U.S., have banned or restricted gene-editing on embryos, and an international committee of scientists condemned gene editing on embryos until the process is deemed safe.

    There are 10 patients in total participating in Lu’s clinical trial, receiving up to four injections of the gene-edited cells. They will be monitored for the next six months to note any side effects and beyond that time to see if the treatment works to repel cancer.

    The post First human treated with CRISPR gene-edited cells in China, report says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, looks at a photo button of her son during a press conference on the state capitol grounds in Saint Paul,  Minnesota, in July. Philando Castile was fatally shot by police. Photo by Eric Miller/Reuters

    Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, looks at a photo button of her son during a press conference on the state capitol grounds in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in July. Philando Castile was fatally shot by police. Photo by Eric Miller/Reuters

    Prosecutors charged a Minnesota police officer with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop this summer outside St. Paul, the state capital.

    The St. Anthony officer, identified as Jeronimo Yanez, shot Castile after stopping the 32-year-old for a broken tail light on July 6 in the town of Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

    “Philando Castile was not resisting or fleeing … Throughout this encounter, he was respectful and compliant based upon the instructions and orders he was given,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told reporters today.

    Choi added that there was “no objective threat posed” to Yanez. “The mere mention or presence of a firearm alone cannot justify the use of deadly force,” he added.

    Castile’s girlfriend, who was also in the car with her 4-year-old daughter, used her cell phone to live stream the aftermath of the shooting using Facebook Live.

    Diamond Reynolds said her boyfriend — seen bloodied in the video — had reached for his wallet, and said he was licensed to carry a gun, before the officer shot him several times.

    In the video, Castile is slumped in the driver’s seat, moaning and shouting expletives as Reynolds tells her boyfriend to “stay with me.”

    Yanez is heard yelling in the video, “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hands up.”

    Castile died later that day at the hospital.

    Activists hold signs of Philando Castile as they protest in Los Angeles, California, against the police shootings that lead to two deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively. Photo taken in July. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters

    Activists hold signs of Philando Castile as they protest in Los Angeles, California, against the police shootings that lead to two deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively. Photo taken in July. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters

    Yanez, who is Latino, faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years for the involuntary manslaughter charge. Yanez also faces two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

    Yanez’s attorney, Tom Kelly, said the officer reacted to the sight of Castile’s gun and thought Castile matched a profile for an armed robbery suspect, the Associated Press reported.

    Days after the shooting, Kelly had told the NewsHour that he was “not concerned about criminal proceedings.”

    In a news conference a day after the shooting, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said he was “deeply, deeply offended” by Castile’s death, adding that race played a role in the fatal encounter.

    Video by PBS NewsHour

    “Would this have happened if the driver and passengers were white? I don’t think it would have,” the Democratic governor told reporters. “All of us in Minnesota are forced to confront [that] this kind of racism exists and that’s incumbent upon all of us to vow that we’re going to do whatever we can to see that it doesn’t continue to happen.”

    Dayton’s statement, however, didn’t appear to quell protesters who had gathered at the governor’s mansion to decry the deadly use of force and demonstrations that occurred elsewhere in the country, condemning police violence against black people.

    An AP analysis of police data from July revealed that black people made up almost half of the arrests in three cities — St. Anthony, Lauderdale and Falcon Heights — patrolled by St. Anthony officers this year. Only 7 percent of the residents in these cities are black, AP reported.

    The post Minnesota officer charged with involuntary manslaughter in Philando Castile death appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JiHAE as Hana Seung the Korean-American mission pilot and software engineer on the Daedalus, a spaceship in the new National Geographic Channel drama-documentary MARS. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    JiHAE as Hana Seung the Korean-American mission pilot and software engineer on the Daedalus, a spaceship in the new National Geographic Channel drama-documentary MARS. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    Editor’s note: This review is spoiler-free.

    For those who want to adventure on the first manned voyage to Mars, be prepared to be sick. The myriad trials and physical strains of this future journey percolate through ‘MARS’ — a new six-part miniseries that premiered Monday on National Geographic Channel.

    The show is part documentary, part fictional drama. The narrative cuts between genuine space exploration research sites at NASA and SpaceX to a fictional trip set in 2033 aboard the first crewed mission to the Red Planet. MARS details much of today’s cutting-edge science and engineering related to a future a Mars mission, while taking care to spotlight the technology and physical dangers associated with the concept.

    “The fiction comes close enough to reality to make me feel good about it,” said Stephen Petranek, an author and technologist who wrote the TED Book upon which the television series is based.

    In MARS, an international federation called the IMSF funds and manages the voyage. Photo by  National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    In MARS, a multinational federation called the IMSF funds and manages the voyage. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    While watching a screener of the first two episodes, I was struck by the interviews with many leaders in space exploration, such as Apollo 13 commander James A. Lovell, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The MARS film crew traveled across the U.S. and Europe to collect over 100 hours with these luminaries.

    The executive producers, which included Academy Award winning filmmaker Ron Howard, ventured as far as Antarctica to document research on extreme environments that mimic Mars. The temperature on Mars, for instance, ranges from -100 to -195 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The final stages landed in Morocco, where the team simulated the backdrop of Valles Marineris, a large Martian canyon.

    “It’s actually one of the potential landing spots that NASA, or anybody who is thinking about Mars right now, might actually choose,” said MARS executive producer Justin Wilkes, whose credits include the Oscar, Grammy and Emmy-nominated Nina Simone documentary. Later, their visual effects crew poured over satellite and rover images to fill in the background. “What you see in the show is fairly accurate in terms of the actual location of where that would be on Mars.”

    Some of the Daedalus crew exploring Mars. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    Some of the Daedalus crew exploring Mars. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    The dramatic portions of MARS borrow from popular TV tropes, such as reality TV-style confessionals from the six-person crew. The dialogue feels forced at times, which may be due to the actors trying to portray the gravity of their somewhat suicidal mission while also exposing the details of the science.

    Keep your eyes peeled for fleeting glimpses of the crew members’ personal belongings inside their spaceship — the Daedalus. The idea came from Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space, who explained to the producers how family trinkets or favorite sweaters kept astronauts mentally grounded during long tenures in space. Meanwhile, the spaceship’s design pulls cues from NASA’s plans for a Martian launch system and vehicle.

    The Daedalus on Mars.  Some of the Daedalus crew exploring Mars. Image courtesy of Framestore

    The Daedalus on Mars. Some of the Daedalus crew exploring Mars. Image courtesy of Framestore

    “While there are a lot of touch screens and flat panels, as you might imagine for 2033, there are also still buttons. There’s a throttle, things that are very tactile,” Wilkes said. “We found in talking to astronaut consultants, tech consultants and even fighter jets, that there’s still a need for a relationship with controls. Our flight deck design is very much based on that methodology.”

    James Garvin, NASA Goddard researcher and former chief scientist for Mars exploration, said he enjoyed how the show depicted the mission to Mars, though he noted that many of the final details on a real Mars mission will likely be different. As an example, he mentioned the early sketches of NASA’s Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

    “When the robots finally flew, they didn’t look like our cartoons. Curiosity does not look like the ‘imagineerings’ we had in 2001,” said Garvin, who wasn’t involved in the production of the MARS series. “And that’s how engineering works.”

    The early episodes of MARS also attempt to portray the brutal physicality that will likely accompany every stage of a journey to Mars.

    Studio portions of MARS were filmed in Budapest, Hungary. Photo by  National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    Studio portions of MARS were filmed in Budapest, Hungary. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    “They will lose approximately one percent of their bone mass per month. They will certainly lose a lot of muscle mass,” Petranek said. Long-term residents of the International Space Station exercise 2.5 to three hours per day to the fight the muscle wasting, but there’s no remedy for the bone loss. Or for the fluid buildup found in the retinas of 20 percent of ISS astronauts.

    Garvin found the physics in MARS and how the Daedalus astronauts responded to be more believable than the portrayal in the 2015 blockbuster The Martian.

    Many worry about how lengthy exposure to cosmic radiation might influence Mars astronauts, but Petranek believes the biggest threat will bruises and bone breaks. It’s unclear if simple wounds would heal at the same rate in a Mars low-gravity environment.

    “Somebody could fall off a cliff on Mars, and even though it’s 38 percent gravity, get really hurt,” Petranek said. “It would be absolutely crucial on the first voyage to include an emergency room physician.”

    Inside MARS' fictional spaceship, the Daedalus. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    Inside MARS’ fictional spaceship, the Daedalus. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    Garvin agreed on the radiation question, saying he believes NASA and other space agencies will eventually engineer countermeasures. Right now, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is testing methods for space radiation shields as it orbits the moon. Final options might include water wall — the hydrogen in H2O is a great radiation repellant — or artificial magnetic field to mimic our planet’s defenses. But Garvin said medical capabilities are just one of many priorities.

    “One of the models we’ve had is, quite frankly, that people don’t go outside much,” Garvin said. Instead, the first Mars explorer could stay inside engineered habitats, where they could easily pilot robotic rovers. This idea would provide more dexterity with these robots than be achieved with remote control from Earth, given the time delay in radio signals.

    Ben Cotton and Clémentine Poidatz in MARS. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    Ben Cotton and Clémentine Poidatz in MARS. Photo by National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky

    Petranek votes for sending two separate crews at once for the first Mars mission. One would serve as a rescue crew to reduce the odds of catastrophe and the potential loss of motivation toward future missions. Both Wilkes and Petranek believe such a voyage is on the horizon.

    “We’ve always looked beyond. We looked beyond the ocean. We’ve looked up at the mountains,” Wilkes said. “But really, you look up at the sky, and on some level you wonder what’s out there. It’s human nature to want to explore like that.”

    The post National Geographic makes hazardous journey to ‘MARS’ in new miniseries appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Oxford Dictionaries said the term was first used in 1992 by The Nation magazine. Photo by Flickr user emdot.

    Oxford Dictionaries said the term was first used in 1992 by The Nation magazine. Photo by Flickr user emdot.

    Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” the word of the year Tuesday for its frequented use in the 2016 political climate.

    Oxford Dictionaries defined ”post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

    In other words, truth is regarded as “less important,” Katherine Connor Martin, head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press, told the NewsHour.

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

    Use of “post-truth” increased by 2,000 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to research from Oxford Dictionaries editors. The group said in a statement that the word was most used in connection with the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election.

    “We found it really fascinating that this year there was something that resonated so strongly in both the United Kingdom and the United States with respect to different topical issues, but reflecting this overall ethos about 2016,” Martin said.

    The term made so famous this year was first used by The Nation magazine in a 1992 essay about the Persian Gulf War and Iran-contra scandal, Martin said. She also noted the “quiet language change” of the prefix “post” to mean something is less important than it used to be is becoming popular with words such as post-national and post-racial.

    Post-truth beat out other political terms, including “Brexiteer,” “glass cliff” and “alt-right.”

    WATCH: Why the ‘alt-right’ is coming out of online chat rooms to support Trump

    The post ‘Post-truth’ named word of 2016, beating out ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘alt-right’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former professional baseball player Willie Mays in 2015. Photo by Carlos Barri/Reuters

    President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former professional baseball player Willie Mays in 2015. Photo by Carlos Barri/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is honoring actors Robert DeNiro, Cicely Tyson, Tom Hanks and Robert Redford with the nation’s highest civilian honor.

    They are among 21 people Obama plans to recognize with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on Tuesday.

    Honorees from the sports world include basketball players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan, along with veteran sports broadcaster Vin Scully.

    Entertainers include Ellen DeGeneres, Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen.

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

    Other honorees are philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, polymath physicist Richard Garwin, architect Frank Gehry, designer Maya Lin, “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels, attorney Newt Minow, mathematician and computer scientist Margaret H. Hamilton, and Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College in Florida.

    Posthumous honors will go to Native American advocate Elouise Cobell and Rear Adm. Grace Hopper.

    The post Obama’s final round of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients reads like a fun celebrity dinner party appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama acknowledges applause after delivering a speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, Greece. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    President Barack Obama acknowledges applause after delivering a speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, Greece. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    ATHENS, Greece — Standing in democracy’s birthplace, President Barack Obama on Wednesday issued a parting plea to world leaders not to let the fear of globalization tugging at Europe and the U.S. pull them away from their core democratic values. He argued it wasn’t too late for a course correction.

    On his last foreign trip as president, Obama has repeatedly tried to draw lessons from Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, hoping it can serve as wake-up call in the U.S. and abroad. Conceding that many feel left behind by globalization, Obama said there was an understandable impulse toward isolationism and that if people feel their futures are at risk, “they’ll push back.”

    “People have to know that they’re being heard,” Obama said in a speech to the Greek people in Athens. But, he added, “We can’t look backward for answers. We have to look forward.”

    While fewer people in the U.S. are looking to Obama for direction now that his successor has been chosen and his agenda largely rebuked, Obama has retained significant clout abroad. His message Wednesday appeared aimed at other world leaders facing pressures of nationalist movements and economic anxiety, exemplified by Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union.

    From Greece, Obama took a short flight to Germany, which has emerged as one of the strongest voices for preserving a unified, inclusive Europe. Yet even German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces her own threat from a nationalist right-wing movement, fueled in part by anger over her generous policy toward resettling Syrian migrants pouring into Europe.

    “We cannot sever the connections that have enabled so much progress,” Obama said.

    Obama’s argument centered on the notion that economic inequality, while a growing problem, can be addressed without a full rejection of globalization. Rather, he said it demanded a “course correction.”

    “In the years and decades ahead, our countries have to make sure that the benefits of an integrated global economy are more broadly shared by more people and that the negative impacts are squarely addressed.”

    [Watch Video]

    European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels on Sunday to discuss the incoming Trump administration, which could impact NATO and the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, among other agreements with foreign powers. David Sanger, national security correspondent for The New York Times, joins Alison Stewart.

    Obama argued nations must strengthen alliances and expressed his confidence that the U.S. would remain loyal to NATO despite Trump’s suggestions to the contrary during the 2016 presidential campaign.

    He elicited nervous chuckles as he acknowledged that he and the president-elect “could not be more different.” But in a message of reassurance, Obama argued that democracy is bigger than any one person.

    “As long as we retain our faith in democracy, as long as we retain our faith in the people, as long as we don’t waver from those central principles that ensure a lively, open debate, then our future will be ok,” Obama said.

    And to listeners at home fearful about Trump, he offered a path out of the wilderness, albeit a long and winding one.

    “Any action by a president, or any result of an election, or any legislation that is proven flawed can be corrected through the process of democracy,” Obama said.

    President Barack Obama tours the Parthenon at the Acropolis with Dr. Eleni Banou from the Ministry of Culture in Athens, Greece. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    President Barack Obama tours the Parthenon at the Acropolis with Dr. Eleni Banou from the Ministry of Culture in Athens, Greece. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Though Obama’s trip to Greece was planned before the election results were known, the White House hoped the setting would form a powerful reminder of the basic tenets of democracy: fair elections, a free press and tolerance for ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.

    Before his speech, Obama climbed up the Acropolis, the ancient citadel that serves as a monument to free thought and artistic expression. He strolled through the Propylaea, the complex’s monumental gateway, and gazed up at the famed Parthenon temple dating to the 5th century B.C.

    The entire site was closed to the public for Obama’s visit, which has played out amid stringent security measures. Demonstrations were banned in parts of Athens, and road and subway stations were shut down for the first official visit of a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton came in 1999.

    Obama said concepts like minority rights and equality under the law “grew out of this rocky soil” in a democratic project not yet complete. He said inequality, on more vivid display due to widespread technology, now posed one of the biggest threats to democratic nations, their stability and prosperity.

    Even in Greece, there were parallels to the deep divisions now on display in America. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras won elections last year on what critics say was a populist platform, though one on the left of the spectrum. He pushed his formerly small party to the forefront by telling Greeks weary from six years of financial crisis that he would reject austerity measures imposed in return for bailouts.

    But after the near-collapse of negotiations with Greece’s creditors, Tsipras performed a political about-face: He signed up to a new bailout and more austerity to prevent his country being forced out of the euro.

    Greece’s government hoped Obama would help persuade some of Greece’s more reluctant creditors to grant debt relief — a message they hoped he’d stress in Berlin — and also pressure other European countries to share more of the burden of the migrant crisis. Appearing receptive to Greece’s woes, Obama repeated his belief that debt relief should be granted.

    Associated Press writer Elena Becatoros contributed to this report.

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

    The post Obama urges nations not to give in to isolationist impulses appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Peter Gridley/Photographer's Choice RF via Getty Images.

    Photo by Peter Gridley/Photographer’s Choice RF via Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on aging and retirement, is here to provide the answers you need in “Ask Phil.” Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.

    Today’s column is our third and last excerpt from Phil’s new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Expenses.” The book (and Phil) owe much to the many PBS readers whose questions have helped identify problems and confusion about Medicare and how it works. You can read the first excerpt from the book here and the second here.


    Medicare Moneyball: Medicare’s great raid on the U.S. Treasury

    There is a myth afoot in the land that consumers have completely paid for their Medicare, because they fork over 1.45 percent of their pre-tax wages in Medicare payroll taxes, an amount matched by their employers. The payroll taxes that go to Social Security actually do support all of that program, but in the case of Medicare, our payroll taxes come nowhere close to paying for program expenses.

    READ MORE: Signing up for Medicare? Read this cautionary tale first

    During 2014, the most recent full year covered by official government reports, nearly $600 billion flowed into Medicare and an even larger amount flowed out — $613 billion. Of this $600 billion, how much do you think came from payroll taxes? If you said less than half, you get to keep playing the Medicare money game. Medicare collected $227 billion in payroll taxes in 2014, or about 38 percent of its revenues. That leaves $373 billion unaccounted for. Premiums represent our dollars, too, so perhaps adding what we pay in Medicare premiums will justify the notion that we pay for Medicare. What do you think? Sixty percent? Fifty? Forty? Thirty? How about 21.5 percent, which translates into $80 billion in Medicare premiums.

    It turns out that Medicare payroll taxes fully fund Part A hospital expenses (together with your share of uncovered Part A expenses), but that is literally where the buck stops. Expenses for Parts B, C (Medicare Advantage) and D (prescription drugs) are paid mostly by Uncle Sam, to the tune of nearly $250 billion. And this is, by the way, not a fixed line item in the federal budget but more of a blank check every year.

    Expenses for Parts B, C and D are paid mostly by Uncle Sam, to the tune of nearly $250 billion.

    So while I not only support and respect seniors, and in fact have become a member of the seniors’ club myself, please do not attempt to blow smoke on me or anyone else by saying that you’ve paid for your Medicare. You haven’t, and I haven’t either. I happen to think my tax dollars are relatively well spent by Medicare and that supporting the health needs of older Americans is one of the best things this country and government do. But it doesn’t come close to paying for itself, and the gap will get larger and larger as baby boomers inevitably succumb to the realities of aging bodies and rising health care expenses. This doesn’t mean I support cutting Medicare benefits. Far from it. Today’s seniors deserve quality health care.

    Medicare’s great raid on wealthier taxpayers

    If you are a wealthier taxpayer, you get a double Medicare hit. You pay more in Medicare payroll taxes because you earn more (recall that, unlike Social Security, there is no wage ceiling on Medicare taxes). But you also pay more in Medicare Part B and Part D premiums, and this enforced tithing will get worse, beginning in 2018. In April 2015, Congress passed what was popularly known as the “doc fix” bill (its formal name is the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, or MACRA). It overturned a well-intentioned but ultimately unworkable effort to permit annual increases in Medicare’s physician payment rates only if overall economic growth exceeded the rate of health care inflation. The thinking was that the earlier measure’s use of what was called the “sustainable growth rate” would help restrain the upward pressure on doctors’ rates and combat health care inflation. Instead, during the measure’s nearly 20-year life, the economy seldom grew as rapidly as health care costs, and the law mandated annual cuts in doctors’ Medicare payments. Rather than go through with the reductions, Congress each year would fashion a “doc fix” — an eleventh-hour funding bill to void the cut. Getting rid of the fix did not come cheap — a projected $160 billion increase in federal deficits over 10 years plus higher Medicare premiums for some beneficiaries.

    And of course, the great money raid on you

    We still are in the early stages of peeling back the many layers of the onion labeled “Medicare health care provider” costs. For the past several years now, the Centers on Medicare & Medicaid Services have released a growing inventory of Medicare claims information detailing what doctors and hospitals charge for various health procedures around the country. We also know how much money drug companies have been paying to physicians. We can see the relationships between these payments and the prescription patterns of physicians who receive big pharma payments. In the worst situations, they seem like payoffs, but much more work needs to be done here. These newly released databases are enormous, and as interesting as they are, they also lack many details needed to create truly actionable cause-and-effect linkages. However, it’s just a matter of time before these linkages are established beyond a doubt.

    As health care hurtles toward such game-changing capabilities, however, consumer empowerment lags far behind. To date, there is little evidence that we pay much attention. Studies show that when consumers do know the true costs of health care, they don’t engage in comparison shopping so much as simply cut back their use of health care.

    READ MORE: Are you ready to navigate the overwhelming choices of Medicare?

    For interested consumers, there are many health pricing tools. For starters, I recommend The Wall Street Journal’s “Medicare Unmasked” tools, although they may be behind a paywall. The Health Care Cost Institute is a health insurer funded effort to compare the cost of various procedures around the country. ProPublica, a nonprofit news site, is one of several consumer sites that has used the Centers on Medicare & Medicaid Services databases to build tools that are not exactly beloved by health care providers, including Dollars for Docs and Surgeon Scorecard.

    Increasingly, Centers on Medicare & Medicaid Services itself will be providing more pricing transparency. And individual state efforts are also underway, such as the Consumer Reports partnership with California to produce California Healthcare Compare.

    The post Column: Who’s paying the true cost of Medicare appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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