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

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    President-elect Donald Trump disavowed the alt-right in an on-the-record interview with the New York Times on Tuesday. He also responded to questions about the possibility of prosecuting Hillary Clinton, his commitment to the First Amendment, his plans for Syria, and infrastructure investment in the United States.

    The question about the alt-right comes after Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his chief White House strategist. Bannon himself has called Breitbart “the platform for the alt-right.”

    The alt-right is a white nationalist group that aims to preserve white identity, block multiculturalism and promote so-called “European” values. The group holds bigoted views and is associated with Neo-Nazism.

    Trump initially cancelled the meeting with the New York Times in an early morning tweet Tuesday, saying “the terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last moment.” But after an exchange of Tweets, messages and statements, Trump and several members of his team attended a meeting with reporters, editors and columnists at the newspaper’s headquarters around 1 p.m. ET.

    While no audio, video or a transcript of the meeting is available at this time, several staffers at the newspaper live-tweeted the meeting. Here are some highlights:

    We compiled tweets from the meeting here:

    New York Times politics editor Carolyn Ryan, who attended the meeting, also took questions live on the newspaper’s Facebook page.

    The post Trump disavows alt-right in New York Times interview appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Abbey Oldham.

    Donald Trump’s victory has sparked concerns among many women, including Juliette Bell, over the future accessibility and cost of contraception. “It’s something that I value,” said Bell, who lives outside of Washington, D.C. “I want to protect myself while I can.” Photo by Abbey Oldham.

    Two days after Donald Trump won the presidential election, Mary Ellison, a single mother in Champaign, Ill., called her gynecologist’s office to explore her birth control options.

    “I know what you’re going to ask,” Ellison’s gynecologist told her. “I will have all the information regarding IUDs ready, so you can make an educated decision and not a scared decision.”

    Ellison isn’t alone. Now that President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act could become a reality, women around the country have expressed growing concerns about their ability to afford and access birth control while Trump is in office. And in the past two weeks, many have taken steps to alter their contraceptive care.

    The 2010 health care law, which is better known as Obamacare, required private and public insurers to eliminate co-pays for a majority of birth control options, effectively making birth control free or low cost.

    Today, daily birth control pills require prescription renewals and, without insurance coverage, monthly co-pays. Intrauterine devices, however, commonly known as IUDs, can last three to 10 years — that’s one or two presidential terms. IUDs and birth control pills are free now under most plans offered through the health care law; out-of-pocket costs currently range from $50 to $1,000 per device.

    All of this could change once Trump takes office, though quickly repealing and replacing Obamacare, as the president-elect has promised to do, would be a challenge. Trump has said since the election that he would like to keep the parts of the plan that ensure coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and extend insurance for people up to age 26.

    “Women around the country have expressed growing concerns about their ability to afford and access birth control while Trump is in office.”

    Trump’s current health care plan does not mention women’s health care in general or female reproductive care access in particular. But during the campaign, Trump promised to defund Planned Parenthood. He also said that he supported punishing women who had abortions, though he later walked the comment back after a wave of criticism.

    Gretchen Borchelt, the vice president for reproductive rights and health at the National Women’s Law Center, said Trump’s victory has brought health care and contraception policy into sharp focus for many women.

    “Those concerns are out there, and those concerns are valid,” Borchelt said.

    Dismantling the health care law would compromise the “tremendous progress” made under President Obama, Borchelt said, often in the face of attempts by state legislatures “to restrict and keep women from accessing abortion and birth control.”

    Bracing for change

    The health care law was a game-changer for women like Ellison, 26, who cannot afford the private insurance offered by the hospital where she works.

    Ellison signed up for Obamacare and depends on the health care law to pay for her birth control. Ellison suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome, an endocrine disorder. Treatments other than the pill caused her more pain and put her at greater risk for cystic ruptures, she said. She has serious concerns that a Trump presidency would compromise her ability to manage her disorder, she said.

    “No one has heard of a plan yet. You’re saying you’ll take away” Obamacare, Ellison said of Trump, “but you’re not telling what you’ll do to replace it.”

    After speaking with her gynecologist, Ellison scheduled an exam next month to explore her options.

    The day after the election, Juliette Bell also placed a call to her gynecologist.

    Bell, who lives in a Washington D.C. suburb, started taking contraceptives in high school to alleviate debilitating menstrual pain, and recently switched to the Skyla IUD, which lasts for three years.

    “I know I’m covered at an affordable price for three years,” said Bell, who is covered under the Maryland Health Exchange, which was created through the health care law. “So it’s something that I value, and I want to protect myself while I can.”

    Photo by Spencer Fields.

    Cerise Castle, 23, believes federally subsidized health insurance should include coverage for contraception. “I am not a sponge of the system,” Castle said. “I consider myself a hard working, ambitious and valued worker.” Photo by Spencer Fields.

    And across the country, in California, Cerise Castle said she also started exploring new birth control options after Trump won the election.

    Castle takes hormonal birth control to manage her endometriosis, a disorder that causes the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus to grow outside of the uterus. Her contraception is covered through Obamacare.

    Castle said she believed the federal government should continue providing the service. “I am not a sponge of the system,” Castle said. “I consider myself a hard working, ambitious and valued worker.”

    Presidential elections often bring changes in health care, especially when one party replaces another in the White House, said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

    The health care policy changes from President Obama to Donald Trump could be stark.

    In 2005, after George W. Bush won re-election, the Food and Drug Administration battled to limit over-the-counter sales of emergency birth control, commonly referred to as the morning-after pill, stalling approval of the drug for several years. The agency approved a version of the drug in 2010, two years after Bush left office, and in 2013, the Obama administration ended age restrictions for the morning-after pill.

    The health care policy changes from President Obama to Donald Trump could be stark, Miller said. The president “has one of the biggest bully pulpits anywhere,” said Miller, “to set [the] tone and tenure of this discourse.”

    Contraception access part of broader debate

    Any changes in contraception access under Trump will likely be part of a broader debate over abortion and the direction of the Supreme Court. Trump has vowed to fill Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat with a conservative justice who opposes abortion and might rule in favor of rolling back Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion.

    A more conservative Supreme Court could also take up non-abortion related cases that restrict access to contraception. In the 2014 case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that closely-held for-profit corporations with religious affiliations were not required to pay for contraception coverage for employees.

    The Supreme Court also took up Zubik v. Burwell, a separate case that would have extended the religious exemption to a wider range of non-profit organizations, last year. The court sent the case back to several courts of appeals for reconsideration.

    During the campaign, one of Mr. Trump’s few comments about reproductive health came in the form of a graphic condemnation of abortion in the final presidential debate. “In the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” Trump said.

    Health care providers said Trump’s descriptions of abortion at the debate were medically incorrect. Nevertheless, the debate, and Trump’s subsequent victory, have energized pro-life organizations and others who oppose federally subsidized birth control through Obamacare.

    Ann Scheidler, the vice president of the Pro-Life Action League, said if Trump removed birth control coverage from the health care law, the change would “be a positive” step in the right direction.

    “I know sometimes people say more contraception will mean less abortions. But that’s just not what happens. What turns out is the more contraceptives there are, the more abortions there are,” Scheidler said.

    Scheidler’s view stands in contrast to studies showing that access to birth control lowers abortion rates.

    PROVIDENCE, RI -- 11/10/2016 Ramona Santo, at right, and her daughters Ester, 20, and Rachel, 11. Women react to Donald Trump's election. Ramona Santos said no longer feels welcome in the US after the election. An immigrant from the DR and a single mom with a child w/ special needs she said: "Donald Trump hit us in a lot of different ways." The Providence Journal/Sandor Bodo 1010523227 ri_pvd_Women

    Romona Santos, far right, with her daughters Esther, 20, and Rachel, 11. Santos said she was worried contraception costs will rise in coming years. Photo courtesy of The Providence Journal/Sandor Bodo

    With Trump’s inauguration less than two months away, both sides are lining up for the coming fight over contraception and abortion rights. But it could take several months, if not longer, for the Trump administration’s health care policies to take effect.

    In the meantime, policy experts said they were already worried that any changes in health care coverage would disproportionately affect women of color and immigrants.

    Obamacare “allowed people who have never had affordable health care coverage to finally have it for themselves and their families,” said Marcella Howe, the executive director of the advocacy group National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.

    Mona Huron, a 23-year-old nursing assistant who lives in Los Angeles, is single and said she takes birth control because she’s sexually active. But Huron, who is Latina and grew up in a low-income family, said she would have difficulty affording birth control on her own.

    “I won’t take birth control pills if I have to pay for it,” Huron said.

    And Ramona Santos, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic whose family is covered under Obamacare, said she worries for her eldest daughter, who is 20. Santos, who lives in Rhode Island, said she was already planning alternatives ways to ensure that her daughter has access to contraception.

    “If I have to go to the Dominican [Republic] and buy them, I will,” Santos said. “I’m going to make sure that she gets it one way or another.”

    The post Trump’s vow to repeal Obamacare spurs women’s rush to get birth control appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX2T38I

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 10, 2016. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump promises big tax cuts, a border wall and massive spending on infrastructure. That’s a recipe for bigger deficits that fiscally minded conservative Republicans have railed against during President Barack Obama’s tenure.

    Trump’s agenda runs counter to years of promises by congressional Republicans to try to balance the federal budget.

    It’s a marriage of conflicting priorities — on the budget at least — and that means that neither partner will get everything their own way.

    Trump’s tax cut, estimated to cost almost $5 trillion over 10 years, looks sure to be pared way back. Top lawmakers like House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and No. 3 Senate Republican John Thune of South Dakota say the GOP’s tax plans shouldn’t add to the deficit. That would mean tax rates couldn’t be cut nearly as sharply as Trump wants.

    “We know we’re going to have to pay for this,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican. “The question is whether we do it now or whether we send it to our kids and grandkids and make them pay for it. So that’s an important point that we need to achieve some consensus on.”

    On the spending side of the ledger, Trump’s promises of a huge infrastructure plan are already running into difficulty with Republicans.

    “We are not going to vote for anything that increases the national debt,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. “Fiscal conservatives in the House are not going to support anything that is not paid for.”

    Asked during an interview with The New York Times about possible pushback by GOP leaders on his costly infrastructure goals, Trump said, “Right now, they’re in love with me,” according to a tweet by Times reporter Maggie Haberman.

    The flip side involves longstanding promises by Capitol Hill Republicans to balance the budget by repealing the Affordable Care Act, sharply cutting social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and student loan subsidies. Trump promises to replace the so-called “Obamacare” and assured voters during the campaign that he wouldn’t cut Social Security and Medicare — and he’s on record as saying that 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s choice of now-Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., “was the end of the campaign.”

    “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ — because he represented cutting entitlements, etc., etc. The only one that’s not going to cut is me,” Trump said at a February campaign stop.

    Major reforms require presidential leadership — and as a candidate Trump didn’t show much interest in attacking the budget.

    “It’s clear that deficits and spending retrenchment and entitlement reform was not what this election was about,” said Neil Bradley, a former top House GOP aide who is skeptical of the party’s ability to deliver major spending cuts.

    The deficit, said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., “wasn’t talked about in the campaign.”

    The math is also daunting. The most recent House GOP budget plan, for instance, promised to balance the budget over a decade by cutting spending by $6.5 trillion — roughly 13 cents of every dollar spent — over the next 10 years. But their budget plans have kept Social Security, the Pentagon, veterans programs and interest payments immune from cuts, so they’ve doubled down on cuts to the Medicaid health program for the poor and disabled, along with cuts to domestic programs like education, farm subsidies, housing vouchers and scientific research.

    Recently, however, the focus in Washington has been to reverse cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies imposed by a 2011 budget deal. Along the way, Obama and top Republicans sought modest cuts to the federal crop insurance program and the generous military pensions paid to veterans in their 40s and 50s — only to have to reverse course after bipartisan squealing from rank-and-file lawmakers.

    Given the inability to preserve such tiny spending cuts in recent years, one couldn’t be faulted for doubting whether lawmakers could stomach the far, far larger cuts demanded by Ryan’s balanced budget plans.

    One option for both spending and taxes is to enact a one-time tax break on overseas profits that multinational corporations “repatriate” back to the United States. That could produce $100 billion or so over 10 years by some estimates and the windfall is being eyed for both an infrastructure package and a tax reform bill.

    “I think the American people will support spending when they get something concrete and tangible for our efforts,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. “There is a feeling that there’s enough money there to pay for a big infrastructure program to get the economy going again and pay for stuff and also use part of the repatriation as a way to finance tax reform.”

    The post Will Trump’s big agenda put GOP budget goals out of reach? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his lunch meeting with formerly incarcerated individuals who have received commutations from his and previous administrations in Washington March 30, 2016. Flanking Obama are former inmates Romana Brant (L) and Phillip Emmert. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTSCW3K

    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his lunch meeting with formerly incarcerated individuals who have received commutations from his and previous administrations in Washington. Obama surpassed the 1,000 mark for commutations granted during his presidency on Tuesday after shortening sentences for 79 people. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama surpassed the 1,000 mark for commutations granted during his presidency on Tuesday after shortening sentences for 79 people.

    Obama has been granting commutations at rapid-fire pace in his final months in office. All told, he’s commuted more sentences than the past 11 presidents combined, the White House said.

    Most of those who have received clemency are nonviolent drug offenders, though many were also convicted of firearms violations related to drug crimes. A significant portion had been serving life sentences.

    “It makes no sense for a nonviolent drug offender to be serving decades, or sometimes life, in prison,” Obama wrote in a Facebook post. “That’s not serving taxpayers, and it’s not serving the public safety.”

    Yet Obama’s call for clemency has run into opposition from some corners, including from President-elect Donald Trump. Though Obama is expected to grant more commutations in his final weeks, officials acknowledged a large number of applications will be pending when Obama leaves office.

    That means it will be up to Trump’s administration to decide whether to grant or reject them, said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

    Trump, during the campaign, warned Americans that their safety could be at risk because of Obama’s move to set prisoners free ahead of schedule. That critique fits into Trump’s broader call for restoring “law and order” in the U.S. and cracking down on crime.

    “Some of these people are bad dudes,” Trump said in October after another batch of Obama commutations. He said those individuals were out “walking the streets,” and added, “Sleep tight, folks.”

    Not all of those receiving commutations will be set free right away. Some will see their sentences end in 2017 or 2018 — long after Obama leaves office — and in some cases on the condition they participate in drug treatment programs.

    Shauna Barry-Scott of Ohio said her experience of having her sentence shortened in 2015 was surreal. She described her initial reaction as “shock, overwhelming joy, fear of the unknown.”

    “I had to pinch myself,” said Norman Brown, a Maryland man whose life sentence for cocaine distribution Obama commuted last year. He said after lawyers informed him of the decision, he sat speechless for three minutes as he absorbed what it would mean to have a second chance.

    Obama’s bid to lessen the burden on nonviolent offenders reflects his long-stated view that decades of onerous sentencing requirements put tens of thousands behind bars for far too long. He has used the aggressive pace of his commutations to increase pressure on Congress to pass a broader fix while using his executive powers to address individual cases where possible.

    Though both parties in Congress have called for a criminal justice overhaul, momentum has petered out, creating dim prospects for a legislative breakthrough in the near future.

    Obama has been calling for years for phasing out strict sentences for drug offenses, arguing they lead to excessive punishment and incarceration rates unseen in other developed countries. With his support, the Justice Department in recent years directed prosecutors to rein in the use of harsh mandatory minimums.

    The Obama administration has also expanded criteria for inmates applying for clemency, prioritizing nonviolent offenders who have behaved well in prison, aren’t closely tied to gangs and would have received shorter sentences if they had been convicted a few years later.

    The post Obama has granted over 1,000 commutations during his presidency appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Miami, Florida U.S. November 2,  2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTX2RKM3

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Miami, Florida on Nov. 2, 2016. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump appears to be softening his tone on whether climate change is real and on his stated plans to scrap the recent multinational agreement to limit carbon emissions.

    In a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday with editors and reporters at The New York Times, Trump said he would “keep an open mind” about the Paris accord, which he has repeatedly said he planned to either renegotiate or cancel if elected.

    Trump was also reported to have affirmed in the interview held two weeks after the election that human activity and global warming may be linked. “I think there is some connectivity,” he said. “Some, something. It depends on how much.”

    That’s a significant shift from Trump’s past statements that climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive. Trump has also cited winter cold snaps as evidence that climate change is a “con job” and a “myth.”

    “The entire country is FREEZING — we desperately need a heavy dose of global warming, and fast! Ice caps size reaches all time high,” Trump tweeted during a 2014 blizzard.

    If he doesn’t change course, Trump would become the only head of state on the planet to deny the reams of scientific evidence that the Earth is warming, according to a Sierra Club compilation of public statements by the leaders of the 195 nations recognized by the State Department.

    While Trump’s climate-change denial has become orthodoxy within the Republican Party, it is at odds with the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists. According to NASA, 97 percent of the climate scientists agree that the world is getting hotter and that man-made carbon emissions are to blame.

    Ten of the warmest years in history have occurred in the past 12, with 2016 on pace to be the hottest ever recorded. Studies show the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass, while the world’s oceans have risen on average nearly 7 inches in the last century.

    Despite his public stance as a politician, there is evidence that Trump the billionaire businessman was already hedging his bets. Earlier this year, the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Ireland cited the threat of sea-level rise in a permit application to build a nearly two-mile-long stone wall between it and the Atlantic Ocean.

    The post In shift, Trump says humans may be causing global warming appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President elect Donald Trump walks up a staircase to depart the lobby of the New York Times building after a meeting in New York, U.S., November 22, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RTSSUCX

    President-elect Donald Trump leaves The New York Times building after a meeting. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    Top Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday pushed back against criticism that the president-elect has not done or said enough to distance himself from the alt-right, arguing that it was “truly unfair” to hold him responsible for the statements and actions of all his supporters.

    In an interview with PBS NewsHour, Conway said the president-elect “never asked” for support from the so-called alt-right, a white nationalist movement with Neo-Nazi ideology.

    “Assigning to him everything that’s ever been said or done by anyone who supports him is truly unfair,” Conway, a senior adviser on Trump’s transition team, told the NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff.

    The interview came hours after Trump distanced himself from the alt-right in a meeting with the New York Times. “I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn,” Trump said.

    Trump has been under increasing pressure since the election to take a firmer stand against the alt-right, which supported his campaign. Trump supporters drew headlines over the weekend by using Nazi salutes to celebrate his victory at an alt-right conference in Washington, D.C.

    Conway claimed that Trump has “been very clear in disavowing” people and groups associated with the alt-right. But Trump refused to do so during the campaign, once famously saying during an interview on CNN that he would not disavow the support of David Duke, a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan.

    At the New York Times meeting, Trump said he would not have named Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his White House chief strategist if he believed Bannon’s news site was a platform for the alt-right.

    The claim stands in contrast to Bannon’s comment, in an interview with Mother Jones at the Republican National Convention in July, that Breitbart News is “the platform for the alt-right.”

    In the PBS NewsHour interview, Conway also touched on several policy areas, saying Trump remained committed to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

    After a meeting with President Obama last week, Trump said he was open to keeping parts of the law that ensure health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and extend coverage for people up to the age of 26.

    Conway said Trump’s replacement plan would allow patients to buy health insurance across state lines, create health savings accounts for all Americans, and turn Medicaid, which covers the poor and uninsured, into a state-based block grant system.

    Trump is also considering House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposal to partially privatize Medicare by turning it into a premium support system, Conway said. “He is open to hearing different positions and better ways of doing things,” Conway said, adding that Trump would “take a look at Speaker Ryan’s proposals.”

    Republicans have long sought to cut spending on entitlement programs. After his re-election in 2004, President George W. Bush proposed privatizing Social Security. But the plan never gained traction on Capitol Hill, even though Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress.

    Now Republicans control both chambers of Congress again. Conway argued that the balance of power would help Trump enact his agenda on issues from health care to immigration.

    Conway also touched on climate change, in response to a Trump comment to the New York Times that he believed there was “some connectivity” between human activity and global warming. The statement represents a sharp shift for Trump, who has said in the past that climate change was a “hoax.”

    At the Times meeting, Trump also appeared to suggest that he might soften his opposition to the Paris accord, the international deal aimed at lowering global carbon emissions. “He will take a look at it and he will make his decision,” Conway said.

    The post Conway says Trump unequivocally disavows alt-right in PBS NewsHour interview appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 02:  South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley addresses a Newsmaker Luncheon at the National Press Club September 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. Governor Haley spoke on "Lessons from the New South."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley addresses a Newsmaker Luncheon at the National Press Club on Sept. 2, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump has chosen South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the first woman tapped for a top-level administration post during his White House transition so far.

    It will be a Cabinet-level position, and Haley has accepted.

    “Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a release Wednesday. “She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”

    Haley, an outspoken Trump critic throughout much of the presidential race, would become his first female — and first nonwhite — Cabinet-level official if confirmed by the Senate. She’s the daughter of Indian immigrants and is the second Asian-American to serve as a U.S. governor.

    “Our country faces enormous challenges here at home and internationally, and I am honored that the president-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love as the next ambassador to the United Nations,” Haley said in Trump’s release.

    Not all presidents have treated the ambassadorship to the U.N. as a Cabinet-level position, and Republicans have tended not to grant that status.

    After secretary of state — a job Trump has not yet filled — the ambassadorship is highest-profile diplomatic position, often serving as the voice for U.S. positions on the international stage. As part of the Cabinet, Haley would have more opportunity to shape U.S. policies, rather than simply defend the administration’s positions.

    Yet it could be an awkward role at times. Trump campaigned on the theme of “America first” and said he is skeptical about “international unions that tie us up and bring America down.” Trump has also described the United Nations as weak and incompetent.

    Haley would be the third consecutive female U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, after Susan Rice and Samantha Power, the current ambassador.

    Haley’s new job clears the way for Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster to step into the role of South Carolina governor. McMaster was an early Trump endorser, backing him before the state’s GOP primary in February.

    At the time, Haley campaigned for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, before going on to support Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

    Bad blood between Trump and Haley was evident in interviews and on social media. “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” Trump wrote on Twitter in March. Haley denounced several of Trump’s campaign comments and urged voters to “reject the siren call of the angriest voices.”

    Still, Haley met with the president-elect last week at Trump Tower. Afterward, she said they’d had a “very nice” conversation.

    A week ago while meeting with other Republican governors in Orlando, Haley described herself as “giddy” over the prospect of joining the Trump administration. She said she was heartened by his tone and inclusiveness after winning the election. “I hope he continues to do that, and I hope he continues to be disciplined in his comments.”

    Trump is spending Thanksgiving with his family at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

    This report was written by Julie Bykowicz of the Associated Press. Associated Press writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report from Miami.

    The post Trump taps SC Gov Nikki Haley to be ambassador to UN appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A protester displays a placard reading "Stop corporate greed. Close private prisons" as he takes part in an Occupy Phoenix demonstration in Phoenix, Arizona October 17, 2011. Occupy Phoenix is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last month with a few people and expanded to protest marches and camps across the US and abroad. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR2SRW7

    A protester displays a placard reading “Stop corporate greed. Close private prisons” as he takes part in an Occupy Phoenix demonstration in Phoenix, Arizona, on Oct. 17, 2011. Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters

    BOISE, Idaho — President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to deport millions of immigrants in the country illegally and his selection of tough-on-crime Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general could mean big money for the private prison industry.

    Some analysts believe the prison population could climb under the Trump administration, and the stock market seems to agree.

    A day after the election, CoreCivic Co., formerly Corrections Corporation of America, saw the biggest percentage gain on the New York Stock Exchange with shares climbing 43 percent.

    Geo Group, another private prison company, saw its shares jump 21 percent.

    The federal prison population had been trending down for nearly a decade when the Obama administration announced in August that it would phase out its use of some private facilities.

    READ NEXT: Justice Department will not renew contracts with private prisons

    The announcement followed a Justice Department audit saying private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run lockups.

    The policy change did not cover private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However federal officials have also said they would consider phasing out private contactor immigration facilities.

    Trump, however, said during his campaign that the nation’s prison system was a mess and voiced support for private prisons.

    “I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better,” Trump told MSNBC in March, though he didn’t offer any details on what that might mean for the federal prison system.

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds up to 34,000 immigrants awaiting deportation.

    Forty-six of the roughly 180 facilities in which ICE holds those immigrants are privately run, with about 73 percent of detainees held in the private facilities, the agency says.

    “Trump was saying during his 100-day plan that mandatory minimums for people re-entering the country would be set at two years — that’s going to require a longer-term need for beds,” said Michael Kodesch, a senior associate with financial services firm Canaccord Genuity Inc.

    Immigration detention centers are particularly profitable for private prison companies because they command a higher rate for each inmate bed, he said.

    Yet what’s good for investors isn’t good for the country, said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a national nonprofit group that works to reduce incarceration and detention rates.

    “”They’re handing the keys to a deportation machine over to the Trump administration,” Libal said. “And I think there’s no reason to believe that the Trump administration won’t drive that machine forward through human rights protections or due process protections people in the detention system.”

    Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, was among a handful of Republican senators blocking a bipartisan bill that would reduce lengthy sentences for low-level drug offenders.

    McLaurine Klingler, a spokesperson for Sessions, said no one on Sessions’ staff was immediately available to talk about his feelings on the DOJ’s use on private prisons.

    CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns said the company doesn’t take positions on proposals, legislation or policies that would determine the basis of an individual’s incarceration or detention.

    He said the company instead works to “educate lawmakers on the benefits of public-private partnership generally and the solutions CoreCivic provides.”

    Associated Press writers Sadie Gurman in Denver and Astrid Galvan in Phoenix contributed to this report.

    The post Trump stance on illegal immigration may aid private prisons appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack delivers keynote remarks at the public launch of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba while at the National Press Club in Washington, January 8, 2015.  REUTERS/Larry Downing  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS AGRICULTURE) - RTR4KMYV

    U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack delivers keynote remarks at the public launch of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba while at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 8, 2015. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — No one listened to Tom Vilsack.

    As agriculture secretary during the entire Obama administration, the former Iowa governor has for years been telling anyone who will pay attention — farmers, members of Congress, even Hillary Clinton — that Democrats need a better message for rural America. And he’s spent most of his tenure focusing on rural development, trying to revitalize areas that ultimately voted for Republican Donald Trump in this year’s presidential election.

    “The Democratic Party, in my opinion, has not made as much of an effort as it ought to, to speak to rural voters,” Vilsack said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “What’s frustrating to me is that we actually have something we can say to them, and we have chosen, for whatever reason, not to say it.”

    Vilsack is a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton and was close to becoming Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate. She chose Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine instead. Clinton ultimately won Virginia but lost, deeply, in many rural areas of the country.

    Vilsack says he understands why party leaders chose a different path to try for electoral victory, focusing on expanding populations like Hispanics and African-Americans who had come out in large numbers to vote for Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, in 2008 and 2012.

    The problem, he said, is those groups represent around the same percentage of the population as rural voters. And he says Democrats didn’t have enough of a counter argument to powerful Republican themes of less regulation and lower taxes.

    “There wasn’t an overarching theme that a person in a small town could go, ‘Oh, they’re talking about me,’ ” Vilsack said.

    [Watch Video]

    According to exit polls conducted for AP and television networks by Edison Research, about 17 percent of voters in this year’s election were from small cities or rural areas, and 62 percent of them said they voted for Trump.

    Since the election, Democrats in Congress have also been talking about how to turn around the rural vote. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan is challenging California Rep. Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader, saying that the party’s message needs to be heard beyond the two coasts.

    “We lost those voters,” Ryan said last week. “We’ve got to find a way to get back in, and that starts with a message that resonates in the flyover states.”

    Vilsack says the party should have had a tougher counter-message to Trump’s positions on deporting immigrants who make up some of the farm workforce and opposing trade deals that are good for agriculture.

    “If you have no market and no workforce, what good does it do,” Vilsack said. “My guess is, if you confronted the average farmer with that dilemma, they’d go, “Well, let me think about that.'”

    He said Democrats didn’t do that “because we didn’t think we’d have to,” because Clinton appeared to be on track to win the election.

    Vilsack is the only remaining member of Obama’s original cabinet. As secretary, he’s focused on rebuilding rural communities, increasing the diversity of types of agriculture, boosting innovation and research and making school meals healthier. He’s also worked to resolve civil rights claims against the department.

    He said he thinks the Obama administration’s work on many of those issues will hold, particularly because of millennials’ deep interest in food issues and because the agriculture and food industries have already adapted to many regulations.

    As for his successor, he says he hopes the person has some executive experience, like being a governor as he was. He says he hasn’t talked to Trump or the transition.

    “Rural America is now getting some attention,” he says. “The question is whether that will translate into positive policy.”

    The post Vilsack says Democrats need better message for rural America appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill Wednesday that bans most abortions after 20 weeks. Photo by Grace Beahm/Pool via Reuters

    South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for UN ambassador. Photo by Grace Beahm/Pool via Reuters

    COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the 44-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants, would bring limited international experience to one of the U.S. government’s most important international assignments: U.N. ambassador.

    Haley is the first woman and first minority chosen by President-elect Donald Trump for his Cabinet. The Senate must confirm the nomination, which Trump announced in a statement Wednesday.

    The second-term governor was a Trump critic during the White House campaign, endorsing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ahead of South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary. Trump, she said, was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” After Rubio dropped out, she backed Ted Cruz. Once Trump became the nominee, she said she would vote for him over Democrat Hillary Clinton, though the choice turned her stomach.

    Last week, addressing conservative lawyers in Washington, Haley acknowledged she was not Trump’s biggest cheerleader, but was “absolutely thrilled” by his election because of the opportunities it offered Republicans.

    Haley, the second U.S. governor of Indian heritage, is the first South Carolina governor who is not a white man.

    She has had little exposure on the world stage, and almost all of that has been in pursuit of luring jobs to South Carolina.

    Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, Trelleborg and Giti Tire all have announced new or expanded facilities in recent years, bolstering South Carolina’s reputation as the nation’s tire capital.

    Her trips abroad to lure jobs include a 2015 secretive trip to Sweden, which was followed weeks later by an announcement that Volvo would build its first U.S. auto plant in South Carolina in exchange for more than $200 million in state incentives.

    In 2014, Haley took an economic development trip to India, her first visit to her parents’ native country since she was 2 years old. Her parents emigrated from India in the early 1960s.

    Haley was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in rural Bamberg, South Carolina.

    She was raised a Sikh but says she converted to Christianity before marrying her husband, Michael, in 1996. They have two children.

    Haley has recalled that as a youngster, she and her sister were disqualified from the segregated Little Miss Bamberg Pageant because organizers couldn’t figure out whether the girls should compete in the white or black contest.

    Decades later, Haley drew wide praise for her leadership after the June 2015 slaying of nine black parishioners of historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, as she conveyed the state’s grief and successfully led calls to bring down a Confederate flag that had flown on Statehouse grounds for 54 years.

    Dylan Roof, the white man charged with the killings, could be seen in photos brandishing that flag.

    She has said the shootings were motived by “pure hate” and will “forever change the way I live my life.”

    Haley graduated from Clemson University in 1994 with an accounting degree. But she says her business experience started at age 13, when she became the bookkeeper of her family’s clothing store — a job she returned to after college.

    In 2010, she was a three-term state House member, but little known across the state. Still, Haley won the GOP primary for governor that year against a South Carolina congressman, attorney general and lieutenant governor.

    She prevailed in the general election and then was easily re-elected four years later. Haley confronted religious slurs over her Sikh roots during that first campaign.

    The post Trump’s UN pick brings limited foreign experience to job appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An image of the Arctic sea ice on February 25, 2015 when the ice reached its maximum annual extent. The 2015 maximum is compared to the 1979-2014 average maximum shown in yellow. A distance indicator shows the difference between the two in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan. Photo by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

    An image of the Arctic sea ice on February 25, 2015 when the ice reached its maximum annual extent. The 2015 maximum is compared to the 1979-2014 average maximum shown in yellow. A distance indicator shows the difference between the two in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan. Photo by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Emerging victorious from a campaign in which he called climate change a hoax, promised to reinvigorate coal mining and vowed to overturn major international agreements and domestic regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, President-elect Donald Trump’s next target in his political denial of human-driven global warming might be NASA’s $2-billion annual budget for Earth science.

    Trump himself has been relatively mum about his plans for NASA. But in an op–ed published weeks before the election, two Trump space policy advisors—the former congressman Robert Walker and the economist Peter Navarro—wrote that the agency is too focused on “politically correct environmental monitoring” of climate change.

    Under a Trump administration, they wrote, NASA would prioritize “deep-space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies,” such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    “Budgets would have to be realigned to handle that transfer,” Walker tells Scientific American. “We would also anticipate that any new [Earth science] programs would be funded by those agencies.”

    With a budget about a quarter of NASA’s, NOAA spends the bulk of its funds on weather forecasting and environmental monitoring. It contracts with NASA to use the space agency’s Earth-observing satellites, and relies on NASA’s help in building and launching satellites of its own. The NSF has a budget roughly three times smaller than NASA’s, and has essentially no involvement in building, launching or operating satellites. In recent years Republican lawmakers have sought budget cuts to climate change–related Earth science programs at all three agencies.

    The year 2014 ranked as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists. Photo by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

    The year 2014 ranked as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists. Photo by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Now set to hold majorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans appear likely to support forthcoming Trump administration proposals to pare back NASA’s Earth science budget, which grew by some 50 percent under the Obama administration. That boost, which gave Earth science the lion’s share of NASA’s science funding, has sustained a growing fleet of satellites that collect data demonstrating climate change’s reality: rising surface temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions, retreating glaciers and ice sheets, and shifting patterns of rainfall and vegetation growth, to name a few.

    “Earth science’s preferred growth under Obama—the fact that it has grown over all of NASA’s other science—has created a big political target on its back and validated, in a sense, Republican interpretations of its partisan nature,” says Casey Dreier, director of space policy for The Planetary Society. “And this is taking place in a new political dynamic of strong, near-universal condemnation and skepticism of climate change by the Republican Party, without a Democratic president and key members of Congress that used to push back. That’s a bad double whammy for Earth science.”

    “NASA’s Earth-observing satellites are maybe the single biggest advance in weather forecasting accuracy over the last couple of decades, and climate is really just the day-to-day accumulation of weather.”

    Because he is not a member of the transition team now laying the groundwork for a Trump administration, Walker says he cannot speculate about what near-term space policy decisions the president-elect will soon make. Even so, he insists that climate-change denial is not behind the platform he laid out for the Trump campaign, and he notes that he co-sponsored the first climate bill ever passed into law—the National Climate Program Act signed by Pres. Jimmy Carter in 1978.

    “This is not ideological,” Walker says. “When we talk about ‘deep-space activities,’ we’re talking about planetary science and space-based telescopes and all those kinds of things. There have been concerns among some of us that those sorts of NASA programs were robbed in order to concentrate on Earth science, and we want to reestablish the emphasis of NASA itself on the things that go beyond Earth orbit and Earth-observation activities.”

    Amid the acrimony over NASA’s attention to climate change, the researchers who rely on funding and data through the agency’s Earth science program argue that they study much more. They and the satellites they use also provide critical insights for a broad range of public and private activities that enjoy bipartisan support, such as weather forecasting, agricultural reporting, and disaster response and preparedness.

    NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument is able to peel back cloud cover to reveal 3-D data of a storm's water vapor content, information that can be used to improve weather forecast models. Photo by NASA/GSFC

    NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument is able to peel back cloud cover to reveal 3-D data of a storm’s water vapor content, information that can be used to improve weather forecast models. Photo by NASA/GSFC

    According to a recent report from NASA’s Office of the Inspector General, these sorts of services are so crucial to modern society that the agency now delivers about 1.5 billion Earth science data products to users each year, up from just eight million in the year 2000. But distinguishing them as unrelated to a phenomenon as multifaceted and omnipresent as climate change is difficult, and perhaps foolhardy.

    “NASA’s Earth-observing satellites are maybe the single biggest advance in weather forecasting accuracy over the last couple of decades, and climate is really just the day-to-day accumulation of weather,” says Steve Running, an ecologist at the University of Montana and chair of the Earth Science Subcommittee for the NASA Advisory Council. “Our five-day forecasts are really quite good now just from tracking atmospheric dynamics, but once you reach for 10-, 30-, or 60-day forecasts you have to integrate much more information from the whole Earth system. … Any politically tinged effort to hamstring climate science would almost certainly have the unintended consequence of degrading our development of better midrange forecasting.”

    Waleed Abdalati, a geographer at the University of Colorado and former NASA chief scientist, cites the agency’s monitoring of declining Arctic sea ice as an example of the complex interplay between climate, weather and commerce.

    “We are on our way to a seasonally ice-free Arctic, and [NASA’s] observations of the rate at which this is occurring have implications beyond climate,” Abdalati says. As the sea ice wanes, it won’t just affect local ecosystems, global precipitation patterns, ocean circulation and weather—it will also create new shipping routes and unlock new seafloor oil and gas fields, altering the global economy.

    “A loss of our observational capabilities would be like closing our eyes,” Abdalati says, “handicapping our ability to know what tomorrow, next week or next decade will bring.”

    A large pool of melt water over sea ice, as seen from an Operation IceBridge flight over the Beaufort Sea on July 14, 2016. Photo by NASA/Operation IceBridge

    A large pool of melt water over sea ice, as seen from an Operation IceBridge flight over the Beaufort Sea on July 14, 2016. Photo by NASA/Operation IceBridge

    Along with William Gail, the chief technology officer of the Global Weather Corporation, Abdalati is leading the U.S. National Academies’ “decadal survey” on Earth science. Conducted once every 10 years, this poll of U.S. Earth scientists produces a wish list of future research priorities to guide policy makers setting the multibillion-dollar budgets for NASA and other science agencies.

    The survey’s final report is expected in the fall of 2017. It will likely include recommendations for new generations of satellites and instruments to monitor Earth with unprecedented clarity as well as suggestions meant to lower costs. But confronted with the possibility of a president and Congress hostile to NASA’s Earth science programs, no one—Abdalati and Gail included—can muster much confidence that many of those recommendations are likely to become reality.

    “I think the [Earth science] community has concerns that are inherent to any kind of change, and certainly the rhetoric that has occurred to date does make people wonder what the implications will be,” Abdalati says. “But we also recognize how important these activities are, and how incumbent it is upon us to make the case for what these investments mean for the taxpayer, for society as a whole and for science.”

    Jeff Dozier, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and former senior project scientist for NASA’s Earth Observing System of satellites, agrees that the decadal survey’s present efforts “might be fruitless.” Even so, he says, “we soldier on, recognizing that funding will certainly disappear if we lack a clear articulation of how to best spend it.”

    For the time being, the U.S. fleet of Earth-observing satellites remains by far the most advanced and robust in the world. Perhaps, Dozier speculates, that supremacy could appeal to a new president eager to shore up the nation’s strengths. “The European Space Agency and the space ministries of Japan, China and India won’t give up on Earth science from space,” he says. “So it would seem that ‘making America great again’ could imply making American Earth science greater than those of our international competitors and partners.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from Scientific American. It was first published on Nov. 23, 2016. Find the original story here.

    The post Under Trump, NASA may lose climate research appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    Donald Trump’s victory has put our entire health care system in play. Among the big questions: How might ACA changes affect Medicare and Medicaid? Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    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.


    Medicare’s annual open enrollment period has two more weeks to run until it expires Dec. 7. I would normally focus here on urging you to take advantage of this annual “do over” chance to improve your coverage and perhaps even lower your premiums. If you have private insurance for Medicare Advantage, Part D drug coverage or a Medigap plan, you can use Medicare’s online Plan Finder tools to see if there are better deals out there.

    While open enrollment is a big deal, it’s being overshadowed by who else? The Donald-elect. His victory has put our entire health care system in play, if not up for grabs. Will Trump and a Republican Congress follow through on pledges to end the Affordable Care Act? In practical terms, what does this even mean? How might ACA changes affect Medicare and Medicaid?

    Further, will House Speaker Paul Ryan have a green light to move ahead with plans to reshape Medicare? At the extreme, there are concerns that Medicare as we know it could be replaced with private insurance that seniors would have to buy, paid for in part – but only in part — by government vouchers of unknown size.

    The “I’m right — you’re wrong” school of debate continues to dominate social media discourse on the Affordable Care Act. There are plenty of health care experts who have well-informed and sincere issues with our current health care system. We’ll have to wait and see whether any of them will be appointed to prominent positions in a Trump administration. Here’s the best summary I’ve seen of how the ACA could change.

    Most Ask Phil Medicare questions continue to deal with specific problems people face in signing up for and using Medicare policies. But readers are also worried about how “their Medicare” could be changed and what they can do about it:

    “I am scared about possible cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with him [Trump] winning,” Greg writes. “I have a disability and depend on my Social Security disability check. I also have depended on Medicare and Medicaid. My mother also depends on Social Security retirement, Medicare and full Medicaid. She gets a really low Social Security check. Mine is a little higher, which is why I don’t get full Medicaid … I am not the only one who is worried about it.”

    J.B. says, “I’m concerned about Ryan’s plan for the privatization of Medicare. Do you have any thoughts or comments on how this will unfold? Or how to help stop it?”

    Paula from Montana: “Will Trump cut Social Security?”

    Dennis from Arizona: “Now that we will have a new president with a negative focus on health care, what will happen? I am 70 and currently employed with a good job and good health care. I had planned to retire in March of 2017, but have put everything on hold due to uncertainty. Is my concern a valid concern? What are your thoughts on this issue?”

    Lastly, there are Deborah and David. They live in California, but perhaps not for long. “The number of expat retirees are sure to grow over the next six months as a result of the presidential election. We have family in Melbourne, Australia and have plans in place to move there when I retire in early in 2017. The election results increased our resolve for moving as soon as possible … We will start our Medicare next year and maintain it until we move to Australia as permanent residents with medical coverage there. What are the options for stopping all or part of Medicare once we move? What are the options and impacts if we move back in 10 or more years and need to start Medicare again?”

    By way of a spoiler alert, I have no idea what will happen nor do I think others do. There are too many unknowns right now. However, when Trump’s key appointments are in place, and both Republicans and Democrats have crafted their health care strategies, these are the important Medicare issues that will be moving front and center:

    ACA and Medicare. The Affordable Care Act is largely a good thing for Medicare. I do not know where Speaker Ryan has been getting his “facts,” but his recent statement that the ACA is bankrupting Medicare is just not true. To the contrary, the ACA included additional taxes that higher-income taxpayers have had to pay to Medicare, which has helped fund Medicare’s trust fund, reduced subsidies to Medicare Advantage insurers and mandated other savings.

    Before the passage of the ACA, the Medicare trust fund that pays claims for Part A hospital and nursing home expenses had been projected to run short of funds by 2017. The ACA has pushed that date out more than 10 years. Medicare certainly faces financial challenges, but they haven’t been caused by the ACA, and in fact, Medicare would face large revenue cuts if the ACA is repealed.

    The ACA includes a substantial expansion in free and reduced-price wellness provisions for Medicare enrollees. It also has been reducing out-of-pocket drug prices in Part D plans through the elimination of the so-called “donut hole” by 2020. These are popular changes that are unlikely to be rolled back.


    Who pays for Medicare and how much?
    Medicare is a terrific program, but there is no denying that there have been big problems with it, and there will be more to come. However, since its creation in 1965, Medicare arguably has been the nation’s most successful effort to help its citizens. Still, providing health insurance to more than 55 million people is not cheap and represents a huge and growing drain on the federal budget. Here’s the current projection of the federal Congressional Budget Office:

    In 2016, federal spending for the major health care programs will amount to 5.5 percent of GDP [Gross Domestic Product], CBO estimates: Medicare spending (net of offsetting receipts) will equal 3.2 percent of GDP and federal spending on Medicaid and CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance Program], combined with outlays for the subsidies for health insurance purchased through the marketplaces and related spending, will equal 2.3 percent. In CBO’s extended baseline, federal spending for those programs rises to 8.9 percent of GDP in 2046, about 60 percent greater than it is estimated to be in 2016; net Medicare spending accounts for 5.7 percent of GDP, and spending on Medicaid and CHIP, combined with outlays for the marketplace subsidies and related spending, accounts for 3.1 percent.

    When the CBO says these figures are “net of offsetting receipts,” it means that all those payroll taxes for Part A, premiums for Part B and everything beneficiaries pay for other parts of Medicare already have been subtracted from what Washington spends. Whether these rising deficits are “worth it” is, of course, the key question. And while Trump said during the campaign he did not want to touch Medicare, Speaker Ryan is hardly the only powerful voice in Congress that thinks the nation can’t afford to continue spending this much money on Medicare.

    I don’t think anything will happen quickly, but the trend lines are clear: Medicare beneficiaries will be required to pay a growing share of their health care bills. Assuming otherwise would be a mistake. Expecting increased efficiency, innovation and other unproven benefits of more private-sector involvement in Medicare also would be a mistake. We’re going to pay for this, one way or another.

    What does Medicare cover?
    Trump says he won’t touch the ACA ban on insurers using pre-existing conditions as a basis for denying coverage or charging people higher premiums. I still think there will some Congressional support for allowing insurers to go back to using pre-existing conditions as an underwriting tool, perhaps on a limited basis. Whatever happens, I don’t see this debate involving Medicare. The program would fall apart if it did not guarantee people access regardless of their health. But I can certainly see Medicare becoming less generous with how much of our health care expenses it covers.

    If Ryan’s plan for a voucher system ever came to pass, it likely would lead to a multitiered Medicare system. Lower-income enrollees would get one level of coverage with their voucher and would not be able to afford more. People with more money would be able to augment their coverage with addition policies with private health insurers. This happens now with Medigap plans, which are supplemental policies that help pay for things not fully covered by basic Medicare. But a voucher system would create more pronounced differences in coverage linked to people’s financial resources.

    How will private insurance plans change? Medicare Advantage plans already reflect the future shape of Medicare under a GOP administration and likely will benefit from any voucher and privatization efforts undertaken in a Trump administration. Nearly a third of Medicare enrollees already use Medicare Advantage. Dealing with a single insurer for all Medicare claims is easier than dealing with a government contractor for basic Medicare (Parts A and B), a private insurer for a Part D drug plan and yet another private insurer for a Medigap plan.

    The plans often are cheaper than basic Medicare and frequently cover more things as well. The reason they can afford to do so is that most plans require enrollees to restrict their health care providers to doctors and hospitals in their plan’s provider network. This is a cheaper way for the plans to offer health care services, and so-called “narrow networks” will likely become more prevalent either to combat rising health care costs or should a voucher system be adopted.

    Is it possible to deregulate Medicare?
    This topic doesn’t get much attention, but it could be the most important practical factor in determining the timing and extent of any changes to Medicare. The air has been thick with talk in Republican circles about getting rid of government regulations and freeing up the private sector to find better and cheaper ways to solve problems. But there is no free market for senior health care in this country. Medicare was created to provide government-run health care. It is hard to see how it even could function without layers and layers of regulation that have evolved over more than five decades. This reality will continue to be a source of frustration for those who would like to deregulate the program and a source of comfort to those who would not.

    Details of Ryan’s “Better Way” Medicare proposals. As set forth in a series of proposals released in June, Speaker Ryan would make major changes to Medicare. These include combining Parts A and B into a new fee-for-service program, raising the age of Medicare eligibility to match that of Social Security (now 66 and scheduled to rise to 67 beginning in 2020), creating a premium support program to cap government spending and changing Medigap policies to limit the extent to which they can fill holes in basic Medicare. I will be returning to these items in depth in future columns, but for now, here are verbatim descriptions of these four proposals from the “Better Way” health care proposal:

    It would combine Medicare Parts A and B [fee for service Medicare, or FFS] and would have a unified deductible. For example, rather than require the $1,288 deductible for a hospital stay and a separate $166 deductible for a physician visit, the beneficiary would be charged a combined deductible. Further, the policy would institute an annual maximum OOP [out of pocket] cap on the amount of money a beneficiary pays each year. This new feature of the FFS program would create parity between FFS and MA [Medicare Advantage private insurance plans] — as MA plans are required by statute to provide an OOP cap for beneficiaries. Our policy would also institute a 20 percent uniform cost-sharing requirement for all services.

    One of the nation’s greatest achievements during the 20th century was the dramatic increase in the average life expectancy, increasing life spans by almost thirty years. As Americans’ health improves, extending their lives, many enjoy the benefits of employment later in life. As recognized by the Social Security program, and in order to further ensure Medicare’s long-term sustainability, our plan would gradually increase the Medicare retirement age beginning in 2020 to correspond with that of Social Security.

    “Beginning in 2024, Medicare beneficiaries would be given a choice of private plans competing alongside the traditional FFS Medicare program on a newly created Medicare Exchange. Our plan would ensure no disruptions in the Medicare FFS program for those in or near retirement, while also allowing these grandfathered individuals the choice to enroll in the new premium support program. Medicare would provide a premium support payment either to pay for or offset the premium of the plan chosen by the beneficiary, depending on the plan’s cost. The Medicare recipient would choose, from an array of guaranteed-coverage options, a health plan that best suits his or her needs. This is not a voucher program. A Medicare premium support payment would be paid, by Medicare, directly to the plan or the fee-for-service program to subsidize its cost.

    Beneficiaries often purchase Medigap plans because of the certainty these plans bring: predictable copays instead of coinsurance and protection against high out-of-pocket (OOP) costs. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) has found that Medicare spending is 33 percent higher when beneficiaries have Medigap insurance and 17 percent higher when beneficiaries have job-based coverage. Our policy would begin in fiscal year 2020. It would restrict Medigap plans from covering cost-sharing below a combined and limit the plan from covering no more than half of the cost sharing between the deductible and the OOP cap.

    Lest I forget, here are some specific thoughts on Social Security for Greg and Paula. Congress will have not have much appetite for messing with Medicare and even less when it comes to Social Security. There certainly will be discussion of privatizing the program. But while Democrats are in the minority, their voices will be plenty loud enough to alert seniors, including many Trump voters, of the damages that would occur if such a change was enacted or if benefits were cut.

    Further, I have never seen plans to change Social Security, even from scorched-earthers, that have a large effect on benefits for anyone age 55 and older. There could be some heartburn if a new formula was adopted to calculate the program’s annual cost of living adjustment. But even under the current formula, the COLA was zero in 2016 and will be only 0.3 percent in 2017. While higher rates of inflation may be on the way, it will take time for them to get here, so even a stingier COLA would not amount to a meaningful haircut for several years.

    The post Column: Under a President Trump, Medicare reforms are a matter of when, not if appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Barack Obama pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey during the 68th annual presentation of the turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1VUH9

    U.S. President Barack Obama pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey during the 68th annual presentation of the turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington November 25, 2015. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    Since 1989, when President George H. W. Bush first formally instituted the practice, U.S. presidents have pardoned a turkey shortly before Thanksgiving each year.

    Although the turkeys offer no offense, their presidential pardoning invites the question: What is the significance of such a public rite of forgiveness?

    As a researcher of the history of race and religion, I have long been interested in the ideas and ceremonies that make forgiveness possible. The presidential turkey pardon draws on the long traditions of forgiveness in the world’s religions. A very public act of pardoning, as in this case, reminds us about the important role rituals themselves play in society.

    The many ways of forgiveness

    Different religious traditions conceive, articulate and express forgiveness in diverse ways.

    For example, the Islamic community treats forgiveness as a process that takes place in front of and with the support of other Muslims. It is not a solitary endeavor. Muslims expect the offender to display remorse and directly request forgiveness from the harmed party so that justice can be restored. The community does not expect that forgiveness be offered until after justice has been realized. Nonetheless, Muslims are encouraged to forgive because it represents a more virtuous path.

    The Jewish rabbinical tradition also links forgiveness with justice. As in the case of Islam, forgiveness is conceived as unfolding within the community. It is the offender’s responsibility to approach those who have been harmed. Jews celebrate their highest holiday, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, by seeking forgiveness from others and from God.

    Within the Christian tradition, the expectation is that believers will offer forgiveness whether or not those who have harmed them have repented. Forgiveness from God is not contingent upon how an adherent has acted but rather on the believer’s faith that he has been saved from God’s judgment through the intervention of Jesus Christ.

    According to this belief, human failings so offend God’s sense of justice that only the death of God’s own son in the person of Jesus of Nazareth will right the balance. Christians forgive because they, too, see themselves as forgiven. These are traditional Protestant values. In contrast, Catholics emphasize the fulfillment of religious observances such as reciting a set number of prayers along side belief in forgiveness from God.

    Buddhists place less value on the idea of forgiveness itself and more on the renunciation of anger and desire for revenge. As in the case of Christianity, there is no expectation that these twin renunciations are in any way dependent upon the attitude and actions of the offender. In other words, whether or not the offender seeks repentance is irrelevant.

    Many Native American communities, especially those in the Southeast, ritualize the practice of forgiveness in the Green Corn Ceremony. In this annual ritual, also known as “itse selu” or “Busk,” tribal members forgive and reconcile wrongs ranging from debts to adultery. Murder is not addressed through this ritual, indicating that special attention is required in the case of deeper harm.

    The value of rituals

    The Thanksgiving Day turkey pardoning draws its meaning from different religious traditions. But why does such an action take place in public?

    The answer can be found in the role that ritual plays in binding societies. Late 19th-century sociologist Émile Durkheim observed that all rites serve to periodically reaffirm a social group’s identity through its appeal to collective values. By observing even the most common of rituals, the community expresses what is important in its collective life. Even the seemingly inane pardoning of a turkey emphasizes that the idea that public forgiveness is possible.

    French historian and philosopher René Girard took that observation a step further by arguing that public rituals of sacrifice deflected social violence that would otherwise be released internally within the group.

    In the particular instance of pardoning a turkey, the rite may seem so trite as to not apply. Yet, British anthropologist Victor Turner reminds us that the drama of ritual depicts both human experience and its response to it. Turner contends that such rites reduce social turmoil – both by presenting emotions and then by releasing them.

    The ritualized pardoning of a turkey draws our attention. It connects with our desire for forgiveness from expected punishment and to a possibility that we, too, might one day be pardoned. Whether we as a nation or as individuals act on that desire is a question for our collective reflection over the upcoming holiday meal.

    Tobin Miller Shearer is Director of the African-American Studies Program and an Associate Professor of History at the University of Montana. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    Dana Zzyym intersex. Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal

    Dana Zzyym. Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal

    A federal judge ruled Tuesday in favor of Dana Zzyym, an intersex Navy veteran who sued the State Department for a passport that would reflect a gender other than “male” or “female.”

    “I find that the administrative record contains no evidence that the Department followed a rational decision-making process in deciding to implement its binary-only gender passport policy,” U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote. “Therefore, the proper next step is to remand the case to the Department to give it an opportunity either to shore up the record, if it can, or reconsider its policy.”

    Zzyym was born intersex, uses the pronoun “they” and does not identify as male or female. As a child, Zzyym was raised as a boy after receiving surgeries that “traumatized [them] and left them with severe scarring,” according to Lambda Legal, who represents them.

    In 2014, they applied for a U.S. passport to attend the International Intersex Forum in Mexico City but were denied because they did not select “male” or “female” on their application. The suit, filed by Lambda Legal, claimed that the denial violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses in the U.S. Constitution.

    “Dana was denied a passport because of personal characteristics, and that’s discrimination pure and simple,” Paul Castillo, Zzyym’s lawyer, told the NewsHour on Wednesday. “We call on the State Department to do the right thing and provide the equal opportunity for Dana, and others who are neither male nor female, to obtain an accurate passport that reflect who they truly are.”

    The State Department can now appeal the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the department does not choose to appeal, it must reconsider its current passport policy with the possibility of adding a third gender marker, Castillo said. Several other countries allow a third gender option on passports, typically marked by an “X,” which is permitted by the International Civil Aviation Organization, an arm of the United Nations that helps ensure safe aviation.

    “Today’s decision is great news, but I realize it is the first step in a long battle,” Zzyym, who is based in Fort Collins, Colorado, said in a statement. “Every day, I am forced to suffer the consequences of decisions made for me as a child. I shouldn’t have to suffer at the hands of my government – a government I proudly and willingly served – as well. It’s a painful hypocrisy that, simply because I refused to lie about my gender on a government document, the government would ignore who I am. I hope the State Department will do the right thing now.”

    The decision comes as activists in several states have legally changed their gender to non-binary, a gender that is neither male nor female, prompting state agencies to reconsider the options on other identifying documents. In Oregon, Jamie Shupe became the first legally non-binary person in the U.S. in June, leading the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles to review the options for sex markers on driver’s licenses.

    In September, Shupe received confirmation that the Oregon DMV would draft new rules allowing them “to capture and print an identifier for sex other than M for male and F for female on the driver license, permit, and ID card.”

    READ NEXT: In California, non-binary activists pushing for ID options reach new frontier

    In Santa Cruz, California, Kelly Keenan became legally non-binary in September. Keenan is followed by others who plan to legally change their gender to non-binary in San Francisco, Santa Clara County, Alameda County and Sacramento County, according to attorney Toby Adams of the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project, which is helping them file the petitions.

    A California DMV spokesman told the NewsHour via email in late October that it was “in the early stages of assessing this matter” and could not comment on whether it would eventually add a new option for sex on IDs.

    Not all people filing to change their gender to non-binary have successfully done so. A judge in Medford, Oregon denied a similar petition by Amiko-Gabriel Oscar Blue on Nov. 17, according to the Associated Press.

    But the success of some cases in Oregon and California highlight a growing movement for legal recognition for people who do not identify as male nor female, Castillo said.

    “On both the federal and state level, there are an increasing number of individuals seeking accurate identification,” Castillo said. “It serves no purpose for either the state or federal government to require people to lie about who they are or to require gender diverse individuals to carry inaccurate identification documents.”

    The post Judge rules in favor of intersex veteran who was denied passport appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (C) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence (L) emerge with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSSFF3

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, center, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, left, emerge with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Nov. 19, 2016. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump has selected a charter school advocate and GOP donor from Michigan to be education secretary.

    Betsy DeVos becomes the second woman chosen to fill a spot in Trump’s Cabinet. Earlier Wednesday, Trump named South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations earlier in the day.

    Both selections require Senate confirmation.

    Trump calls DeVos “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.”

    DeVos heads the advocacy group American Federation for Children. She’s known for supporting charter schools and vouchers.

    Before Trump’s announcement, some conservatives were complaining about DeVos’ ties to the political establishment. They also warned that she previously supported Common Core standards that Trump railed against during the campaign.

    The 58-year-old DeVos is a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman. Her husband, Dick, is an heir to the Amway fortune and a former company president.

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    An early Thanksgiving meal is served to the homeless at the Los Angeles Mission in California. Experts say poverty is an issue that people on both sides of the political aisle agree needs to be addressed. Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters.

    An early Thanksgiving meal is served to the homeless at the Los Angeles Mission in California. Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters.

    As part of a long-standing White House tradition, President Barack Obama is widely expected today to pardon two turkeys — Tater and Tot. And while only one of them — Tot — will earn the title of “National Thanksgiving Turkey,” both will enjoy a future living in Virginia Tech’s Animal and Poultry Sciences Department where students and veterinarians will tend to their needs.

    The practice of freeing birds from the White House butcher block is not new. In fact, it goes back to 1863 (before Thanksgiving was acknowledged as an official U.S. holiday), when President Abraham Lincoln granted his son Tad’s wish to save a holiday turkey’s life. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Ronald Reagan was the first president to use the word ‘pardon’ in connection with a Thanksgiving turkey,” and it was President George H. W. Bush who began a yearly tradition of freeing a holiday bird.

    Despite the relatively recent fascination with the White House pardons, the turkey has had a firm spot in the minds of American leaders since the country’s independence. Benjamin Franklin actually proposed the turkey be the official bird of the United States. When the bald eagle was chosen instead, Franklin penned a note to his daughter lamenting the choice, suggesting “the turkey is a much more respectable bird” and contrasting it with the eagle’s “bad moral character.”

    Of the more than 212 million turkeys raised and consumed in the United States during 2015, few look forward to the bucolic settings that await Tater and Tot. According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans consumed about 46 million turkeys last year during Thanksgiving. And given the average bird weighed 16 pounds, Americans appear to have eaten a grand total of approximately 736 million pounds of turkey at Thanksgiving dinner last year.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects a shocking 35 percent of turkey meat does not get eaten during Thanksgiving.

    But such calculations can be deceptive. You see, not all of the purchased meat was actually consumed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects a shocking 35 percent of turkey meat does not get eaten during Thanksgiving. Where does it go? Into trash cans. That equates to over 200 million pounds of turkey that finds its way into landfills. And while this number might seem high, it’s not far from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s estimate that one-third of global food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

    Food waste impacts global hunger, has meaningful costs and affects the environment. The 1.3 billion tons of food wasted globally is enough to feed the roughly 1 billion people who are regularly hungry. And we Americans are particularly wasteful. The amount of food wasted in the United States in 2010 was enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times! Merely reducing this waste by 20 percent, notes the National Resource Defense Council, would generate enough food to feed 25 million people. Minimizing food waste on a global scale could feed hundreds of millions of hungry people.

    Food waste is also expensive. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs estimates that global food waste has an economic cost of $1 trillion. Within America, food waste costs an average family of four approximately $600 per year, according to research conducted at the University of Arizona. Further, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that it cost $1.3 billion to dispose of food waste in landfills in 2008. None of these figures incorporates the opportunity costs of producing food. National Geographic noted that “an area significantly larger than Canada was plowed to grow food…that no one would eat.” Think of how that land might otherwise have been used!

    And when it comes to the environment, food waste is not an innocent bystander. Because of the anaerobic process by which food waste decomposes, landfills are big producers of methane. Research from Princeton University notes that methane is “30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas” than carbon dioxide. The result: Food waste is a significant contributor to climate change. In fact, the United Nations highlighted the magnitude of the problem: “waste generates about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.” And if you were to aggregate food waste into a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases behind the United States and China.

    Global food waste has an economic cost of $1 trillion.

    So what can be done? Despite the daunting challenge that food waste presents, there are actions we can take to help reduce the problem. We need to begin by acknowledging the severity of the problem and capturing more comprehensive data. As the old management adage goes, you can’t measure what you don’t measure. We can also improve infrastructure related to food systems. This will reduce losses that take place in the supply chain due to spoilage or damage. And we might consider feeding food waste to livestock. Doing so would save enough grain to feed 3 billion people, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

    We can also work on clarifying the meaning of food date labels. Research conducted by the Natural Resource Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic found “the current system of expiration dates misleads consumers to believe they must discard food to protect their own safety,” despite the fact that dates are merely guides by manufacturers suggest likely peak quality. The result of this “dating game” is that an estimated $165 billion of edible food is thrown away. Simple standardization might prevent waste-inducing misinterpretation of food dates.

    But there are also seemingly small tweaks to our daily lives that can add up to have big impact. Consider that “scores of US colleges have cut by 25% to 30% the amount of food that students take, and waste” by merely removing cafeteria trays, notes National Geographic. This Thanksgiving, rather than plating individual meals, you might offer family and friends food via a buffet — thereby allowing them to take only what they want. And of course, you can always reduce portion sizes, a move that will both ease the pressure on your waist and reduce waste.

    Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving!

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    Donald Trump  stands with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey on November 19, 2016.  Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    Donald Trump stands with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey on November 19, 2016. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday nominated Betsy DeVos as education secretary, picking a prominent charter school advocate and Republican Party donor.

    DeVos, 58, was Trump’s second female cabinet pick. The president-elect also nominated Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The rest of his nominations and appointments thus far have been white men.

    “Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a statement. “Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.

    In selecting DeVos, Trump opted for a longtime supporter of charter schools and school voucher programs, two policies he promoted during the campaign. DeVos is the chair of the American Federation for Children, a pro-charter school group based in Washington, D.C.

    But DeVos also supports the Common Core education standards, which are deeply unpopular among conservatives and many Republicans in Congress. Devos is a former board member of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a think tank created by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that supports the Common Core.

    Trump criticized Common Core regularly during the campaign, arguing that the system should be replaced with state-based education standards. Trump used the issue to attack Bush, who left the race in February after failing to gain traction with the party’s conservative base.

    Trump didn’t mention Common Core on Wednesday. Neither did DeVos in a statement accepting the nomination.

    “The status quo in education is not acceptable,” DeVos said. “Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”

    Some conservative groups and websites slammed the nomination, accusing Trump of abandoning his campaign promise to oppose Common Core.

    Breitbart News, the alt-right site that was run until recently by Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief White House strategist, ran a headline that read: “Donald Trump Announces Pro-Common Core Betsy DeVos As Education Secretary.”

    At the same time, Trump also drew criticism from teachers unions and some education groups for nominating someone who supports charter school expansion.

    “We believe that the chance for the success of a child should not depend on winning a charter lottery, being accepted by a private school, or living in the right ZIP code,” Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said in a statement.

    “Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against these values, and her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students,” she added.

    DeVos, who comes from a prominent Michigan business family, is the chair of the Windquest Group, a privately-held investment group. She was a GOP official in Michigan for many years and served as the chairwoman of the state’s Republican Party in the late 1990s.

    Over the years DeVos has donated more than $2.6 million to Republican candidates and conservative groups, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign finance.

    The post Who is Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. secret service agents stand guard outside Donald Trump's Trump Tower in New York onNovember 12, 2016.  Photo by  Eduardo Munoz/ Reuters

    U.S. secret service agents stand guard outside Donald Trump’s Trump Tower in New York onNovember 12, 2016. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/ Reuters

    NEW YORK — After Ivanka Trump appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” wearing a $10,800 bracelet from her jewelry line, someone at her company sent photos from the interview to fashion writers to drum up free publicity. A firestorm of criticism erupted over the impropriety of profiting off the presidency, and the company apologized.

    If only the bracelet brouhaha was the end of it.

    Experts on government ethics are warning President-elect Donald Trump that he’ll never shake suspicions of a clash between his private interests and the public good if he doesn’t sell off his vast holdings, which include roughly 500 companies in more than a dozen countries. They say just the appearance of conflicts is likely to tie up the new administration in investigations, lawsuits and squabbles, stoked perhaps by angry Oval Office tweets.

    “People are itching to sue Donald Trump and stick him under oath,” said Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush.

    In an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday, Trump insisted that the “law’s totally on my side,” and ethics experts agree that federal conflicts of interest rules largely exempt the president from running his businesses the way he pleases while in office. His company, The Trump Organization, had no comment on the conflicts issue, other than a statement reiterating its plans to transfer control of the company to three of the president-elect’s adult children.

    Painter doesn’t think that goes far enough. In a letter to Trump last week, he joined watchdog groups and ethics lawyers from both Democratic and Republican administrations in predicting “rampant, inescapable” conflicts that will engulf the new administration if the president-elect does not liquidate his business holdings.

    A look at five areas where conflicts may arise:

    NEW HOTEL

    For use of the government-owned Old Post Office for his new Washington hotel, Trump agreed on annual rent to the government in a contract that was signed more than three years ago.

    So what possibly could be the problem now?

    Plenty, according to Steven Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at George Washington University who has studied the contract. In addition to base rent, the president-elect agreed to additional annual payments based on various financial measures of how well the hotel is doing. Schooner says such payments typically require drawn out negotiations each year.

    “How can anyone expect a government employee to negotiate with the Trump family at arm’s length and treat the Trump family like any other contractor?” Schooner asks.

    Schooner thinks Trump should terminate the contract because, even if the Trump family acts honorably, the appearance a conflict will spread doubt throughout the contracting system. Federal rules prohibit government employees and elected officials from striking contracting deals with the government for just this reason, though the president is exempted.

    “The U.S. government pays over $400 billion in contracts a year,” Schooner says. “Why should other contractors have to follow the rule if the President of the United States doesn’t have to?”

    As president, Trump will have the authority to appoint a new head to the General Services Administration, the federal agency that signed the lease with Trump and will negotiate the rent each year.

    Business at the hotel could get a lift if foreign dignitaries decide to stay at the new hotel to curry favor with the new president.

    In addition to the Washington hotel, Trump Organization leases land from some local governments, including for a golf course in New York City and one in Florida.

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS

    Trump’s extensive operations abroad raise the possibility that his foreign policy could be shaped by his business interests, and vice versa. Trump has struck real estate deals in South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Uruguay, Panama, India and Turkey, among other countries.

    In June, Turkish media reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for Trump’s name to be removed from the Trump Towers in Istanbul because of what Erdogan characterized as anti-Muslim comments by the candidate. A NATO member, Turkey is a key ally in fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.

    In India, the newspaper Economic Times reported that Trump held a meeting in New York a week after his election with business partners who put up the Trump Towers Pune in the western part of the country. The president-elect also has a Trump-branded residential tower in nearly Mumbai with another company.

    Kenneth Gross, head of political law at the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, says Trump’s business ties will raise suspicions that he is getting special deals abroad because he is president, and that this runs the risk of violating the Emolument Clause. That is a section of the U.S. Constitution that forbids public officials from receiving gifts from foreign governments and foreign-controlled companies without the consent of Congress.

    “He can’t avoid conflicts,” said Gross, “unless he sells his assets.”

    TRUMP LENDER

    One of Trump’s biggest lenders is Deutsche Bank, a German giant in settlement negotiations with the Department of Justice on its role in the mortgage blowup that triggered the 2008 financial crisis. The hit to Deutsche could be substantial, with the government reportedly demanding $14 billion.

    Will a Justice Department under Trump go easy on the bank? It’s not clear anyone will know. Trump will nominate the head of that agency, too.

    One possible response is for Trump to make sure the Deutsche case is handled by career civil servants at Justice, and any appointee like the Attorney General is recused. A career civil servant doesn’t have to worry about being fired if he goes against Trump’s wishes, but may still worry about displeasing bosses connected to the president.

    More than 300 positions at Justice are currently held by presidential appointees.

    TAX AUDIT

    The odds that the IRS will rule against Trump may be no different than before he was elected, but it’s difficult to know for sure.

    Trump has cited a long running audit by the Internal Revenue Service in refusing to release his tax returns. If he is under scrutiny, it’s not surprising. In his Oct. 9 debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump confirmed he used a $916 million loss in 1995 to avoid paying federal taxes for years.

    The president nominates the commissioner of the IRS who, assuming the Senate approves, serves for five years.

    Trump will also get to make appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which rules on labor disputes. In July, the board ruled against Trump in a case involving workers trying to unionize at the Trump Hotel Las Vegas. The Trump Organization lists six other hotels in the U.S. on its website.

    FLURRY OF LAWSUITS

    Trump said Friday that he agreed to pay $25 million to settle three lawsuits alleging fraud at his Trump University so he could focus on preparing for his presidency. But this could also bring problems, as Trump himself has acknowledged previously.

    “When you start settling cases, you know what happens?” the president-elect said earlier this year. “Everybody sues you because you get known as a settler.”

    Painter, the ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, predicts the political divide in Washington is going to make things worse.

    “The plaintiff’s lawyers are going to get in there because they can get a good settlement, and Trump’s political enemies are going to egg it on,” says Painter. “You put that all together and you’re going to have a lot of potential for litigation.”

    Painter says Trump should sell his ownership stakes to minimize the danger the new president gets distracted by lawsuits. He adds, though, that this is just a partial fix. The famously litigious Trump already is facing numerous lawsuits.

    Asked to sum up his view on Trump’s situation, Painter replies, “A mess, a mess.”

    The post 5 Trump business ties that pose conflicts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Political discussions with relatives often get complicated on Thanksgiving. This year, after one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent memory, dinner table debates are likely to be even more heated than usual. We turned to experts across the political spectrum for advice on how to avoid a political food fight.

    New York Times columnist David Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus are regular NewsHour contributors. Susan David is a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and the author of the book Emotional Agility. Kali Holloway is a senior writer and associate editor of media and culture for the left-leaning news site Alternet. Jose Vargas is the founder and CEO of Define American, a nonprofit immigration advocacy group.

    We hope this guide will help get you and your family through Turkey Day in one piece!

    How to speak to relatives with opposing views

    Ruth Marcus: The first place to start with Thanksgiving is maybe to get people to pause and remember the name of the holiday. We’re supposed to be giving thanks, and even if you are not always thankful for some of your relatives, they are your relatives.

    Susan David: You can have compassion and feel love toward someone, and it doesn’t mean you agree with everything they agree with. We can love someone and disagree. Thanksgiving and elections are no different.

    Jose Vargas: I don’t think we, as a country, know how to have conversations anymore. We all just project instead of listening. Listening is a radical act. More than anything, we need to listen to each other.

    Setting ground rules

    Susan David: Establish a shared response. If you know there is going to be a political conversation, you could share an agreement that you maybe don’t want to talk about it, or share an agreement that the common objective is to leave the conversation with everyone feeling respected.

    David Brooks: I just try to keep in mind that what’s really important in my life is the relationships I have with the people I love. Politics we can differ about, but it will not deny any fundamental affection we have for each other.

    Jose Vargas: Everyone will have something to say. That is what family is. [I will] nod and smile and explain why I choose to say: I am home, this is my home, no president can take that away from me. No presidency changes that.

    Kali Holloway: You have to go into it knowing that mountains don’t move overnight. You can’t expect to have a conversation that is going to end up with you and who you are talking to ending up on the exact same page.

    Is talking about deep social divides productive?

    Kali Holloway: I think denigrating the personhood of a lot of Americans is the conversation we need to be having. Not having those discussions is detrimental to us as a country. I would encourage particularly white people to go home and have these difficult conversations.

    Susan David: How do we make change in a country if we can’t make change around our table? If we can’t have a civil conversation with those we love about these issues, then as a country the point of healing is only farther away than it seems.

    Being honest about your emotions helps

    Susan David: It’s really important to process those emotions by being accurate with what it is you are feeling. Recognize you feel disappointed or betrayed or sad or fearful. When you are accurate with your feelings, you can process them more effectively.

    How to end a political battle if it gets out of hand

    David Brooks: There’s a truism that you should never go to sleep mad. But I’m a believer that sometimes you just need to go to sleep. Get a good night’s sleep and have a conversation about something else the next day. Politics is not that important.

    Mark Shields: A false fire alarm is always helpful. Or announcing that the turkey is ready, even if it isn’t. The fire alarm or smoke alarm, either one. Other than that, just turn to Uncle Eugene who has a theory that left-handed Presbyterians are taking over the Federal Reserve and say, “You’re absolutely right! I never thought of that before, but that’s right.”

    Ruth Marcus: It’s never a bad idea to serve more food. And so in the middle of any political discussion, if another course is coming or another piece of pie is to be had, you might want to try that.

    Research by Courtney Norris.

    The post PBS NewsHour’s guide to holiday civility appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Barack Obama reacts after pardoning the National Thanksgiving turkey during the 69th annual presentation of the turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S. November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTST0PY

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Before the president and his family gather for Thanksgiving, today, he made time for an executive duty: his final pardoning of the turkey as commander in chief.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hey!

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The annual tradition sees two lucky birds spared from the dinner table, but only one is selected to take part in the ceremony.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Malia and Sasha, by the way, are thankful that this is my last presidential turkey pardon. What I haven’t told them yet is that we are going to do this every year from now on.

    (LAUGHTER)

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No cameras, just us, every year. No way I am cutting this habit cold turkey.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The tradition has happened every November for the past quarter-century. But there’s debate about how it all got started.

    BILL CLINTON, Former President of the United States: President Truman was the first president to pardon a turkey.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But that’s not true.

    In fact, the Truman Presidential Library says, Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table. Truman was actually the first president to receive a turkey from the National Turkey Federation.

    So, who was the first president to pardon a turkey? Lincoln, it appears, was the first on record. But it was a Christmas turkey that his son had taken a liking to.

    President John F. Kennedy was the first to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey. In 1963, despite a sign hanging around the turkey’s neck that read, “Good eating, Mr. President,” Kennedy sent the bird back to the farm.

    Richard Nixon also gave the birds a reprieve, sending his turkeys to a nearby petting zoo.

    Ronald Reagan was the first to use the word pardon when he was talking turkey in 1987.

    The turkey pardoning became formalized in 1989, with President George H.W. Bush.

    GEORGE H.W. BUSH, Former President of the United States: Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This year, the spared birds will be sent to Virginia Tech University, where they already have a prominent gobbler mascot on campus.

    The event has become a White House holiday tradition.

    BILL CLINTON: This is the eighth I have had the privilege to meet and set free in the Rose Garden.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In 2000, Jerry the turkey from Wisconsin sported a White House pass around his neck.

    Four years later, the Bush administration also had some with fun with the event. The names of that year’s turkeys were chosen in a vote on the White House Web site.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, Former President of the United States: This is an election year, and Biscuits had to earn his spot at the White House. Biscuits and his running mate, Gravy, prevailed over the ticket of Patience and Fortitude.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I hereby pardon you from the Thanksgiving table.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For his final turkey pardon naming, President Obama took suggestions from the Iowa turkey producers’ children and their classmates.

    The winners? Tater and Tot.

    The post The history of presidential pardons — for turkeys appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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