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

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    Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos gives a speech after signing a new peace accord with Marxist FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, in Bogota, Colombia on Nov. 24. Photo by Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters

    Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos gives a speech after signing a new peace accord with Marxist FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, in Bogota, Colombia on Nov. 24. Photo by Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters

    The Colombian Congress ratified a revised peace agreement between the government and FARC rebels Wednesday night.

    The public narrowly rejected the original peace agreement in an October referendum. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos skipped the public vote this time and brought the revised version directly to Congress.

    The 310-page agreement passed unanimously. Opponents of the deal, led by former President Alvaro Uribe, boycotted the vote, reported the Associated Press.

    Changes from the original version include a prohibition on foreign magistrates judging alleged crimes by government or FARC troops, and a commitment from rebels to forfeit assets to help pay back victims, according to the AP.

    The goal of the agreement is to end the 52-year civil war between the government and rebel groups, and to reintegrate former fighters into society.

    PBS NewsHour correspondent John Yang speaks with special correspondent Nadja Drost about the changes in the latest deal and how the Colombian people are reacting to it.

    The post Colombia’s Congress ratifies retooled peace deal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Image of a 1.4 km sized crater (left center) on the rim of a much larger crater near the Mars equator. It was acquired at 7.2 meters/pixel. The images are very sharp and show the instrument is working extremely well at its nominal data acquisition rates. Photo by ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

    Image of a 1.4 km sized crater (left center) on the rim of a much larger crater near the Mars equator. It was acquired at 7.2 meters/pixel. The images are very sharp and show the instrument is working extremely well at its nominal data acquisition rates. Photo by ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

    Scientists are collecting new snapshots of the Red Planet. CaSSIS – the camera on the freshly arrived ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – beamed back its first high resolution images of the planet on November 22.

    The orbiter repeats a pattern of getting close to Mars’ surface – about 143 miles away – then heading more than 62,000 miles from the planet. During the brief periods near Mars, the camera can capture images that will allow scientists to build 3D models of the planet.

    These first images from the European Space Agency satellite were just a test, CaSSIS team leader Nicolas Thomas said in a statement. They were unable to capture color on this first pass due to high levels of dust at the image site. However, the orbiter did spot different landmarks in high detail.

    The first stereo reconstruction of a small area in Noctis Labyrinthus. The image gives an altitude map of the region with a resolution of less than 20 meters. Photo by ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

    The first stereo reconstruction of a small area in Noctis Labyrinthus. The image gives an altitude map of the region with a resolution of less than 20 meters. Photo by ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

    “We saw Hebes Chasma at 2.8 meters per pixel,” Thomas said. “That’s a bit like flying over Bern [Switzerland] at 15,000 kilometers per hour [9,300 miles per hour] and simultaneously getting sharp pictures of cars in Zurich.”

    A structure called Arsia Chasmata on the flanks of one of the large volcanoes, Arsia Mons. The width of the image is around 25 km. The formation is volcanic in origin and pit craters (possibly caused by subsidence) can be seen. Photo by ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

    A structure called Arsia Chasmata on the flanks of one of the large volcanoes, Arsia Mons. The width of the image is around 25 km. The formation is volcanic in origin and pit craters (possibly caused by subsidence) can be seen. Photo by ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

    Future shots by the CaSSIS camera will also represent some of the first images depicting the natural color of the Red Planet. Get ready for the rad artistic renderings!

    The post ExoMars orbiter gets up close to the Red Planet appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Retirees in Enemy Territory Go Door-to-Door on Obamacare. Medicare

    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.

    Howard: I am a healthy 64-year-old and just enrolled in Medicare effective Jan. 1, 2017. I am leaning toward the high-deductible Medigap Plan F for its affordability ($56 a month from Mutual of Omaha), but I am concerned that the cost of this plan will skyrocket after 2020. One agent told me that the high-deductible Plan F will still be available to new enrollees after 2020, but I am finding conflicting information about this on the web. Do you know whether the high-deductible Plan F will still be available to new enrollees after 2020? If that is true, then hopefully rates for that plan won’t skyrocket after 2020.

    Phil Moeller: Howard’s question stems from changes to the two most popular Medigap plans — the letter C and F plans — that were approved last year by Congress as part of MACRA, short for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.

    These are the only two plans that provide what’s called first-dollar coverage of the annual deductible for Medicare Part B coverage, which covers expenses for doctors, outpatient services and durable medical equipment. This deductible is $166 this year and will rise to $183 in 2017. Before Medicare’s Part B insurance coverage, people must first pay the deductible. C and F plans pay Part B deductibles, but Congress decided to end this coverage for plans sold to new customers beginning in 2020. People who now have these plans or buy them before 2020 can keep this coverage if they renew them. But if they drop the plans and later want to buy them again, they will not have first-dollar coverage for the Part B deductible.

    The high-deductible letter F plan carries a $2,180 deductible before the plan begins paying covered expenses. In most cases, people would pay their Part B deductible as part of this amount, so perhaps that’s why Howard heard that this plan would still be sold to newly eligible beneficiaries after 2019.

    However, they will not be permitted, according to a spokeswoman for UnitedHealthcare, a big seller of Medigap plans, including AARP plans. The reason is that it’s possible the entire deductible for what are called HDF plans might be met through Part A covered hospital expenses. If that were the case, the plan would end up paying the Part B deductible. Because this will be against the law, the high-deductible F plans will not be sold to new beneficiaries after 2019. Here’s a helpful chart of what the Medigap landscape will look like in 2020.

    Howard’s question about what will happen to Plan C and F premiums after 2020 is harder to answer. If you have one of these plans now and plan to renew it in 2020 and beyond, don’t be surprised if premiums rise more than normal. This would be a logical consequence if the pool of people buying the plans will no longer include new enrollees, who will be younger and probably healthier than the older folks who already have the plans. If this is the case, insurers would need to raise premiums to reflect the higher per-capita health expenses of those people still on the plans.

    Letter G plans cover everything that F plans do, including any Part B excess charges from doctors who do not accept Medicare’s payment rates (C plans do not cover these excess charges). The G plans are positioned to benefit from the MACRA changes. And while first-dollar coverage is a nice benefit, anyone who can afford the generally higher premiums of C and F plans should be able to handle their own Part B deductible payments. Also, there is a high-deductible G plan (HDF in Medigap lingo), and it will continue to be offered to new enrollees after 2019.

    Jeff – Ky.: I just bought and read your book. Excellent. I joined Medicare at age 65 in 2016. I am re-examining my stand-alone Part D plan using your guidelines. My question concerns my Medigap policy. I live in Louisville, but want possible access to, say, a Cleveland clinic. I am with Omaha Insurance and have Plan G.  I have been satisfied with them, although I did get a premium increase last summer to $118.06 a month. What are your thoughts on that company? Should I stay put or actively look at other Medigap companies, and if so, when I should do this?

    Phil Moeller: I’m glad my suggestions about shopping for Part D drug plans have been helpful. 

As far as Medigap is concerned, coverage cannot vary among the same Medigap letter plan. So all Plan G’s must have identical coverage. Premiums can and do vary, so it’s always a good idea to at least window shop during Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which began Oct. 15 and ends next week until Dec. 7.

    You can use Medicare’s Medigap Plan Finder online tool to see if there are better Plan G premiums in Louisville. The quality of customer service where you live also may vary among insurers. Medigap policies are regulated by the states, and Kentucky has a Medigap guide as well as its own premium comparison tool for policies sold in Kentucky.

    If you do decide to change your Medigap, either to a different insurer, a different letter plan (there are 10 besides Plan G) or both, you need to make sure you can find a new plan on favorable terms. 

During the six months after enrolling in Medicare (getting Parts A and B), there is favored enrollment period for Medigap. Within this period, you have what are called “guaranteed issue rights.” This means insurers offering Medigap policies where you live must sell you a plan, must cover any pre-existing health conditions you may have and can’t charge you higher premiums because of your health. After this period ends, insurers may not have to do these things. You need to find out before ending your current Medigap plan.

    If you do contemplate a change, you also need to understand how a new insurer would determine your premiums. There are three so-called “ratings” systems for Medigap plans — community-rated (also called “noagerated”), issueagerated (also called “entryagerated”) and attainedagerate. These ratings systems and how they can affect future premiums are explained on page 18 of Medicare’s annual guide to Medigap policies.

    Susanne – N.C.: I just finished reading one of your articles and have one question (really a lot more, but one that should be easy to answer). It was recommended as a reference on Social Security, Medicare and health savings accounts (HSA). You quoted what Medicare had to say:

    When he applies for Social Security and Medicare coverage, his Social Security entitlement and Part A coverage will be retroactive for 6 months, as outlined in law. He can’t apply just for Social Security benefits and not also get Medicare Part A as he is over age 65. IRS rules for the HSA state that someone can’t contribute to an HSA when they have Medicare, so the individual will need to stop contributing 6 months in advance of applying for Social Security benefits and Medicare. If he contributes to the HSA after Medicare coverage begins (not when he applies for Social Security/Medicare), he may be subject to IRS penalties.

    Does the highlighted portion mean as long as an individual does not collect on Social Security or Medicare — even though they may have registered at 65 — is still working and using the company insurance? Or do they need to roll back even if they have not used Medicare or Social Security?

    Phil Moeller: The key point with HSAs is whether or not you have signed up for Part A of Medicare. Doing so makes it illegal to continue tax-free contributions to an HSA. 

However, if you turn 65 and Medicare sends you a Part A membership card, this does NOT mean you have signed up. You are free to call Medicare and reject Part A. 

So long as you or your spouse are still working and your employer has 20 or more employers, you do not need to sign up for Medicare and can continue using your employer group insurance. (There’s some fine print here. Your employer plan must be comparable to the coverage that Medicare would offer. Nearly all employer plans are.)

    Another way to get Part A is if you file to receive Social Security benefits. This is the surprise that trips up many HSA participants. By law, you must get Part A if you receive Social Security.

    Susan: I was born at the end of 1950. I was married 10 years, got divorced and eventually remarried. I was married to my second husband (much younger than me and not yet eligible to collect his Social Security) also for 10 years, and I am now divorced and unmarried. Can I collect on my first husband’s Social Security? I plan to wait to collect mine until I am 70. May I collect, as you recommend in the book, on my first husband’s Social Security and continue to allow mine to accrue until I am 70? How exactly do I need to word it if it is possible? Thank you SO MUCH for your help!

    Phil Moeller: Yes, you can, assuming your first ex-spouse is at least 62 years old. But you need to wait until you turn 66 at the end of this year. This is what’s known as your full employment age, and you can’t do what you suggest if you filed before this birthday. Your ability to do this is guaranteed to you by a provision of the new Social Security laws that grandfathered the right to file what’s called a restricted application (for just a spousal or ex-spousal benefit) for anyone who turned 62 on or before Jan. 2 of this year and who waits until their full retirement age to file this application.

    Jerry Lutz is a retired Social Security claims representative who helps me understand how these things work. Here is his guidance about how you should file a restricted application:

    To file a restricted application, I tell people to make sure that the remarks on the application contain a statement such as: “I wish to exclude retirement benefits on my own record from the scope of this application.”  If they file online, they need to enter this themselves. If they file by phone or in person, they need to review their copy of the application to make sure that the SSA rep included the remark.

    When you turn 70, you should contact Social Security and apply for your own retirement benefits. Keep in mind that if your ex-husband’s benefits are larger than your own, then you should do nothing and continue receiving them. Also, when either of your ex-spouses pass away, you might be eligible for ex-spousal survivor benefits. They will be larger than the ex-spousal benefits and might be larger than your own retirement benefits.

    Arthel – Ore.: I am 69. I am working full time and drawing Social Security. I have signed up for Part A. My last working day would be Dec. 31, 2016 or Jan. 31, 2017. I have my letter from my employer for my special Medicare enrollment period. When I retire, I will have to sign up for Part B. My question is which date would be most financially advantageous from a Medicare standpoint? As I understand it, I would pay $149 per month as a new Part B consumer. If I signed up on Dec. 31, 2016, is that considered to be 2016 or 2017? If Dec. 31, 2016 is considered to be 2016, would I pay the $121.80 that new enrollees paid this year? How long would I be paying the higher amount before the other payees would catch up?

    Phil Moeller: In order to be held harmless in 2017, you need to begin having your Medicare Part B premiums paid out of your Social Security payments beginning no later than December of this year. To do this, you would need to sign up for Medicare in November, as there is a one-month lag between when you sign up and when your first premium is paid out of your Social Security.

    Now, you do not need to wait until the end of the year to sign up for Medicare. You have been eligible since you turned 65, but like nearly everyone still on employer coverage, it didn’t make sense for you to have Medicare.

    Because you’re already drawing Social Security, I think it would make sense for you to sign up for Medicare right away and thus qualify to be held harmless in 2017.

    Having said this, there is no way of telling how much time will pass before Part B premiums are equalized. It depends on the size of future cost of living adjustments (COLAs). Right now, there is little sign of any serious boost in consumer prices. Should we remain in a low-inflation environment for several years, different Part B premiums will persist, unless Congress changes the laws.

    Renee – Calif.: I am 57 and currently on Medicare and Social Security disability because of my rheumatoid arthritis. I get help making my payment through a county program in Sacramento. My boyfriend lives in Colorado and would like to marry and put me on his insurance. Would it affect my insurance? He works with more than 20 employees.

    Phil Moeller: Unfortunately, Renee, even simple Medicare questions may not have simple answers. Most likely, you would have the choice to go on your new husband’s plan and drop your Medicare. I say “most likely,” because private employer plans are changing all the time. Perhaps his plan has some restriction that would prevent you from participating. I don’t think it should, but I am leery of making blanket pronouncements here.

    Also, there could be reasons to take his plan and keep your Medicare. It might cost you more money but might provide better coverage, especially if you have steep rheumatoid arthritis-related medicine and other costs. I’m assuming you will be moving to Colorado, meaning that you would need to drop your Medicare plan in California. However, while your current Medicare plan is subsidized, you should check whether his income would make you ineligible for support in a comparable Medicare plan in Colorado.

    These are things you should research before you change coverage.

    The post Don’t forget to do some last minute Medicare shopping appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    File photo of White House by Getty Images

    File photo of White House by Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The sons of convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg returned to the White House on Thursday, more than 50 years after pleading unsuccessfully to spare her life, in a last-ditch appeal to President Barack Obama to exonerate her amid new evidence.

    Rosenberg was executed in 1953 along with her husband, Julius, after being convicted of conspiring to pass secrets about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. But court records made public last year through a judge’s order cast doubt on the conventional narrative of a Cold War espionage case that captivated the country.

    “This is our mother we’re talking about,” Robert Meeropol, one of Rosenberg’s two sons, said as he stood outside the White House gates. “Since we can’t bring her back to life, there could be nothing more satisfying to us than to have the government acknowledge that this shouldn’t have happened, that this was wrong.”

    The new documents showed that Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, whose damning trial testimony against her and her husband helped secure the couple’s conviction, had never implicated his sister in an earlier appearance before a grand jury. The brother, David Greenglass, offered the grand jury no evidence of his sister’s direct involvement and said he never discussed such matters with his sister.

    As young boys, Robert and Michael Meeropol visited the White House in 1953 in a failed bid to get President Dwight Eisenhower to prevent their parents’ executions. Half a century later, the brothers approached a guard booth outside the White House and asked to deliver their letter to Obama.

    They were turned away by U.S. Secret Service. “Ok, well, we tried,” Michael Meeropol said as he stood in the sun, peering through the gate at the West Wing. “Thank you very much, anyway.”

    No matter, the brothers said. They’ve already sent a hard copy to Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and are hoping Obama will act before leaving office. The White House declined to comment.

    Both brothers argued that a national reckoning over an erroneous execution is crucial, perhaps now more than ever.

    “We have gone through cycles in our history of hysteria, targeting people, over punishing, framing people. We’re in danger of that happening again,” Michael Meeropol said. “Recognizing that in the past we’ve done things we shouldn’t have done might be a cautionary tale.”

    The Meeropols are not seeking a presidential pardon, saying that would suggest their mother was guilty. They instead are seeking a public exoneration, akin to a 1977 statement by then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis on behalf of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants who were convicted in a 1920 murder. That proclamation said “any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed” from their names.

    It’s not clear what action, if any, the Obama administration will take in its waning weeks. But Rosenberg’s supporters believe their prospects are dim once President-elect Donald Trump takes office, in part because Roy Cohn, once a lawyer for Trump, was a member of the Justice Department’s prosecution team against the Rosenbergs.

    “The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg is going to haunt the White House once Donald Trump takes office,” Robert Meeropol said.

    The Rosenbergs both maintained their innocence, though they requested only Ethel’s exoneration. The sons said that’s because they believe their father was guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage, though they argue he didn’t engage in atomic spying and shouldn’t have been executed.

    Ethel Rosenberg’s supporters believe their cause was helped by the July 2015 release of Greenglass’ grand jury testimony, which a federal judge in New York unsealed in response to a request from historians and archivists following Greenglass’ death.

    That 1950 testimony conflicted with statements made a year later during the couple’s trial by Greenglass, who was indicted as a co-conspirator and was himself sentenced to 10 years in prison.

    Greenglass said he had given the Rosenbergs research data he had obtained while working as an Army machinist at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, headquarters of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. He said he recalled seeing his older sister transcribing handwritten notes to give to the Soviets on a portable typewriter at the Rosenbergs’ New York apartment in 1945.

    But the grand jury records show no mention of that and indicate he appeared to minimize his dealings with his sister.

    Greenglass told the grand jury that Julius Rosenberg was adamant that he should continue with his Army service so he could “continue giving him information, but when asked whether his sister, Ethel, was similarly insistent, he replied, “I said before, and say it again, honestly, this is a fact: I never spoke to my sister about this at all.”

    Decades after the trial, Greenglass was quoted by a New York Times journalist as having admitted to lying at trial about his sister in order to protect his wife. In a May decision that ordered the records unsealed, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein noted that Greenglass said in his new statements that it was likely his wife, Ruth Greenglass, rather than Ethel Rosenberg, who typed up the notes that were passed to the Soviets.

    The brothers were adopted following their parents’ executions and changed their last name.

    The post Sons of Ethel Rosenberg plead with Obama to exonerate mother appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    File photo of a Chinese ship by Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

    File photo of a Chinese ship by Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — American consumers and businesses would pay — literally — if President-elect Donald Trump followed through on his campaign pledge to slap big taxes on imports from China and Mexico.

    Trump said during the campaign that he’d impose tariffs of 35 percent on Mexican imports and 45 percent on Chinese imports to protect American jobs from unfair foreign competition. Companies that import those goods would pay the tax at the border.

    Many of those firms would likely try to heap as much of the cost as possible on their customers. The result is that American consumers could end up paying more for foreign-made clothing, tablet computers and other electronics.

    A 45 percent tariff on Chinese-made goods could drive up U.S. retail prices on those goods by an average of about 10 percent, Capital Economics has calculated. Consumers would find it hard to escape the price squeeze.

    “There are few alternative sources for the main products the U.S. buys from China,” says Mark Williams, Capital Economics’ chief Asia economist. He notes, for example, that China supplies about 70 percent of the world’s network equipment, cellphones, laptops and tablet computers.

    Since Trump’s election, his team has de-emphasized the use of tariffs, describing them as a potential tool to be used to pry concessions from America’s trading partners.

    “Everybody talks about tariffs as the first thing,” Wilbur Ross, an investment banker who is Trump’s choice for Commerce secretary, told CNBC Wednesday. “Tariffs are part of the negotiation.”

    They would also be risky. Tariffs could ignite a trade war if, as expected, China and Mexico retaliated by imposing tariffs or other sanctions of their own on the United States.

    Analysts say Trump might rethink his tough trade talk once he fully weighs the costs — not all of which would be economic. A trade war would likely have diplomatic consequences, making it harder, for example, to enlist China’s help in trying to defuse the threat from North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

    “It will only result in collateral damages to both sides,” says economist Song Lifang of Renmin University in Beijing.

    Even without a broader conflict, tariffs can damage corporate America. Back in 2002, President George W. Bush imposed tariffs of up to 30 percent on imported steel. American steel producers took advantage of the tariffs to raise their own prices, thereby squeezing U.S. industrial companies that buy steel. The Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition, representing steel buyers, has said the tariffs cost thousands of U.S. jobs.

    “That was an awful thing for us,” says Bill Smith, president of Termax Corp. of Lake Zurich, Illinois, which makes fasteners for the auto industry. “We are pretty nervous here at Termax” that Trump will target Chinese steel with tariffs again.

    Smith says Termax wouldn’t be able to pass along the higher cost to its automaker customers — “They can just choose to use a different (foreign) manufacturer” — and would have to absorb the costs itself.

    Ford Motor CEO Mark Fields warned on CNBC last month that a 35 percent tariff on imports from Mexico, where Ford is building its Focus compact car, “would affect the entire auto sector.”

    Trump’s proposed tariffs reflect frustration over the trade deficits in goods the United States runs with China ($367 billion last year) and Mexico ($61 billion). The deficit is the gap between the value of the goods the United States exports and the larger value of the goods it imports.

    China’s Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, speculated that if Trump’s proposed tariffs are enacted, “China will take a tit-for-tat approach.”

    “A batch of (U.S.) Boeing orders will be replaced by (Europe’s) Airbus,” it said. “U.S. auto and iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and U.S. soybean and maize imports will be halted.”

    Farmers in Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas would suffer if China targeted American soybeans in retaliation for any Trump tariffs, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. It said rural Sharkey County, Mississippi, could lose up to 40 percent of its jobs.

    Beijing could also restrict access to finance and other service industries, says Zhou Nianli, a professor at the China Institute for World Trade Organization Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

    “If he really put what he claimed during the campaign into practice,” Zhou says of Trump, “China may create trade barriers for U.S. service industries that are thirsty to get into China’s markets.”

    At Termax, which employs 435 U.S. workers, Smith also worries that a trade dispute with China would jeopardize his company’s access to rare earth magnets it buys exclusively from China.

    The Trump transition team declined to respond on the record. But his team has argued that fears of a destructive trade war are overblown. Trump advisers Ross and Peter Navarro, an economist at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in September that the “fear-mongering fails to understand the negotiating power of the U.S.”

    The threat of tariffs, they wrote, is a tool to compel others to abandon unfair trade practices: “All of the countries now running major trade surpluses have far more to lose by disrupting trade.”

    Navarro and Ross disputed the Peterson report that predicted big potential losses for U.S. soybean farmers.

    “We are world’s largest producer, and they are the world’s largest consumer ,” they wrote of China. “If China cuts off American farmers, Chinese people will go hungry.”

    Tariffs are meant to give American-made products a price advantage by making their foreign competition more expensive. They have had a disreputable image since the United States’ Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 disrupted trade during the Great Depression.

    Economist Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley, has argued that tariffs aren’t necessarily flawed policy. At times when inflation is too low — as it’s been in the United States and Europe since the Great Recession began in 2007 — tariffs can raise prices and encourage consumers to spend to avoid paying more later. Such spending helps drive economic growth. Higher inflation can also make it easier for consumers and businesses to repay loans.

    Still, even Eichengreen cautions that there are more effective ways than tariffs to lift prices — notably old-fashioned stimulus through tax cuts and stepped-up government spending, both of which Trump is also proposing.

    Many analysts say the United States should also develop more efficient ways to help American workers who lose jobs to foreign competition — in part through expanded training programs — rather than punishing foreign competitors.

    Tariff disputes can take unexpected turns.

    In 2009, the Obama administration imposed tariffs on tires from China, charging that a surge in Chinese imports was hurting American tire makers. Beijing fired back by imposing a tax of up to 105 percent on U.S. chicken feet — a throwaway item in the United States that’s considered a delicacy in China.

    Gary Hufbauer and Sean Lowry of the Peterson Institute found that the tire tariffs probably saved 1,200 jobs in the tire industry. But consumers paid more than $900,000 in higher prices for every job saved.

    Overall, Peterson estimates that Trump’s policy could trigger a trade war that would throw the United States into recession and wipe out 4 million jobs.

    “A lot of us are hoping that his overriding need to grow the economy and create jobs will soften and mitigate some of the more harmful actions he could take on the trade front,” says Joshua Meltzer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.


    McDonald reported from Beijing. AP auto writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.

    The post For Americans, Trump’s tariffs on imports could be costly appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Jovenel Moise addresses the media next to his wife Martine in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after winning 55.67 percent of the vote in the Nov. 20 presidential election, according to the electoral council. Photo by Jeanty Junior Augustin/Reuters

    Jovenel Moise addresses the media next to his wife Martine in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after winning 55.67 percent of the vote in the Nov. 20 presidential election, according to the electoral council. Photo by Jeanty Junior Augustin/Reuters

    Jovenel Moise, known as “Banana Man” because he exports produce, won Haiti’s Nov. 20 presidential election with more than half of the vote, Haiti’s electoral council announced this week.

    The 48-year-old entrepreneur, who was former President Michel Martelly’s handpicked successor, appeared to win among a field of 27 candidates. The vote, however, will not be certified until late December.

    Moise won most of the votes during Haiti’s first attempted election in 2015. But he didn’t get a majority, so run-off votes were subsequently scheduled and postponed for various reasons, including accusations of fraud and the effects of Hurricane Matthew.

    Martelly was constitutionally required to step down at the end of his term in February, and an interim president, Jocelerme Privert, took his place.

    On Nov. 20, Moise won 55 percent of the vote. As president, he will face a divided government and a country that continues to rebuild from a 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew earlier this year.

    Moise said in an interview with the Associated Press that he also wants to improve the economic conditions of the rural poor. “It’s really important to change the lifestyle of these people,” he said.

    The post Banana exporter Jovenel Moise wins Haiti’s presidential election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The United States could look to the United Kingdom's new Snoopers Charter as a model for expanding electronic surveillance, experts say. Photo by Kar Tr via Adobe

    The United States could look to the United Kingdom’s new Snoopers’ Charter as a model for expanding electronic surveillance, experts say. Photo by Kar Tr via Adobe

    The United States could look to the United Kingdom as a model for expanding electronic surveillance after the European nation enacted a law Tuesday giving it unprecedented authority to gather private citizens’ data.

    The Investigatory Powers Act requires communications service providers to store up to 12 months of user’s browsing history and phone data…

    Nicknamed the “Snoopers’ Charter,” the Investigatory Powers Act requires communications service providers to store up to 12 months of user’s browsing history and phone data for potential review by law enforcement. The law also empowers intelligence officials to monitor residents’ communications and even hack their correspondences if the Secretary of State grants a warrant to do so.

    Currently, agencies can request past communications, such as old phone bills, but the new provision overturns a ban on monitoring digital communications for an extended period of time. The Snoopers’ Charter also consolidates all U.K. surveillance under the newly created Investigatory Powers Commission, which oversees and directs all reconnaissance.

    Members of the U.K. government argue the law offers more transparency and has adequate checks to prevent abuse. U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd called it “world-leading legislation that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection.”

    But many opponents say this is the first surveillance setup of its kind. No other European country, Canada, Australia or the United States has legal obligation to retain digital communication records for that amount of time, BBC reported.

    Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May Photo by Adnan Abidi/Reuters

    Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May championed the U.K.’s Snoopers’ Charter during her tenure as Home Secretary. Photo by Adnan Abidi/Reuters

    Other critics call the bill wide-reaching and unnecessarily intrusive. A petition to repeal the Snoopers’ Charter has more than 150,000 signatures.

    While the new British law does not directly impact the United States, its wake could make ripples across the Atlantic Ocean.

    “The bill itself is the most extreme surveillance law we’ve ever seen in terms of what it’s requiring,” said Daniel Castro, vice president of Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.

    The demands the U.K. government can now make of private companies under this legal structure are more in line with repressive governments like China or Russia, said Danny O’Brien, international director at the digital privacy advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation.

    “Now we are getting similar demands from governments closer to home,” O’Brien said.

    While the new British law does not directly impact the United States, its wake could make ripples across the Atlantic. Donald Trump’s embrace of “Brexit” rhetoric has privacy advocates worried the United States will follow in the UK’s footsteps when it comes to surveillance.

    “It’s something that was unthinkable in the U.S. When the U.K. [Investigatory Powers] Act passes, it really calls into question whether that could happen here,” Castro added.

    Mike Pompeo and Jeff Sessions, the two men President-elect Trump has appointed to run the CIA and Justice Department respectively, have records that favor increased surveillance.

    Rep. Pompeo co-wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year advocating the “collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.” The “collection of all metadata” is tantamount to reinstating the mass surveillance system that former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden exposed in 2013.

    In the op-ed, he also lamented the barriers preventing the government from gathering phone metadata and monitoring the contents of a specific target’s communication. Congress banned those measures, which were once part of the Patriot Act.

    Protesters demonstrate outside an Apple Store as they object to the US Government's attempt to put a backdoor to hack into the Apple iPhone, in Los Angeles, California on February 23, 2016. Photo  Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

    Protesters demonstrate outside an Apple Store as they object to the US Government’s attempt to put a backdoor to hack into the Apple iPhone, in Los Angeles, California on February 23, 2016. A federal regulation approved on Tuesday expanded the FBI’s hacking powers. Photo Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

    In 2015, Pompeo proposed a bill that would give the National Security Agency access to business records collected through the Patriot Act. That bill did not pass.

    As a senator, Sessions has consistently voted for extending surveillance capabilities. He voted for extending the Patriot Act’s wiretaps, for removing warrants required to wiretap abroad and against court warrant requirements to monitor U.S.-to-foreign phone calls.

    Neither Sessions nor Pompeo responded immediately to request for comment.

    It’s too early to tell what the Trump administration’s stance on surveillance will be in the tug-of-war between privacy and national security until the cabinet fills out. But, Congress may already be tilting toward national security.

    In April, the Supreme Court adopted changes to Rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure, which allows judges to issue warrants for any computer, regardless of jurisdiction. Privacy advocates argue this move would expand the FBI’s hacking capabilities, Reuters reported. The rule went into effect Thursday, despite bipartisan efforts to extend the time Congress has to make a decision until July.

    Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the co-sponsors of the move to extend Congress’ deliberation time, called it “one of the biggest mistakes in surveillance policy in years.”

    “[T]he vast majority of the affected computers would belong to the victims, not the perpetrators, of a cybercrime,” the senator said in a statement.

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    A synthesized version of the substance naturally found in hallucinogenic mushrooms shows promise in treating anxiety and depression in cancer patients, new studies find.  Photo by  Roger Cremers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    A synthesized version of the substance naturally found in hallucinogenic mushrooms shows promise in treating anxiety and depression in cancer patients, new studies find. Photo by Roger Cremers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    It was mid-morning when Carol Vincent, the owner of a small marketing firm in Victoria, British Columbia, sat down and swallowed a capsule full of pure, synthesized psilocybin. Many people are familiar with the “natural” version, found in so-called magic mushrooms, which have effects similar to LSD and are banned under federal law. Vincent, though, was part of a formal scientific experiment, run by a team from Johns Hopkins University, to see if the drug might relieve psychological distress in patients fighting cancer.

    Six years earlier, she’d been diagnosed with follicular non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a slow-growing form of blood cancer that is considered treatable but not curable. “After a few years, my health was okay, but I just felt like I was walking around with an anvil over my head,” Vincent recalls. “I was in this permanent state of low-grade anxiety and depression. It just felt like life is never going to be fun anymore.”

    READ MORE: Using Ecstasy to treat PTSD: ‘I felt like my soul snapped back into place’

    That morning in Baltimore was Vincent’s first psychedelic experience. As two experienced guides sat across from her, she pulled down her eyeshades, put on headphones and lay down to await whatever came next.

    According to Roland Griffiths, the neuropharmacologist who heads the Hopkins research team, as many as 40 percent of cancer patients suffer from a mood disorder, like anxiety or depression. Two studies published Thursday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggest that psilocybin may offer a dramatic helping hand. Vincent was the last of 51 cancer patients taking part in the trial at Hopkins. Six months after a single dosing session, the study found, more than 80 percent maintained “clinically significant” improvement in their mood and anxiety levels.

    As two experienced guides sat across from her, she pulled down her eyeshades, put on headphones and lay down to await whatever came next.

    A similar study at New York University included 29 volunteers; at follow-up, between 60 and 80 percent showed meaningful improvement on various measures of psychological well-being.

    To Griffiths, “What makes the studies so unique is that this represents a single intervention: a period of four to six hours that produces rapid and enduring changes.”

    While the papers are written in the meticulous language of academic science, testimonies from patients offer a bracing view of what the treatment is like, and a hint of the challenge the approach poses to the usual methods of psychiatry.

    A day before her drug session, Vincent had met with Mary Cosimano and Taylor Marcus, the Johns Hopkins researchers who would sit with her during the trip. “They coached me, and said that sometimes people experience scary things,” Vincent recalls. “They said, ‘If you have that happen, don’t run away – just walk right in. Do you think you can do that?’ And I said, ‘I skydived for ten years, and I was scared, but I could still jump out.’”

    As the drug took hold, Vincent says, “It was very much like a deep-space experience… Not the kind of starry, starry night, but black, deep space… very awe-inspiring, but very dark, impersonal… Then I started getting technicolor everything, then things on Earth, like this incredible crystal turquoise… Half the time I was laughing, half the time I was crying, but it was all so beautiful.”

    Patrick Mettes, a volunteer in the NYU study, also made careful notes about his experience. “More than once, I felt as if my journey and the overall experience of psilocybin contained the elements of a classic story arc (exposition, climax, resolution),” he wrote. “I could feel my physical body trying to vibrate in unity with the cosmos… I was being told (without words) to not worry about the cancer. It’s minor in the scheme of things. Simply an imperfection of your humanity, and that the more important matter, the real work to be done, is before you.”

    it was a complete new paradigm of care, with the idea of mystical states at its core.

    In many ways, the studies harken back to an earlier era: not the tune-in, turn-on world of the sixties counterculture, but a period of medical research that was nearly buried forever. Between Albert Hofmann’s 1943 discovery of LSD and the early 1970s, more than a thousand research papers were published on potential uses of LSD, psilocybin and similar drugs.

    Dr. Stephen Ross, the psychiatrist who led the NYU study, says he knew nothing of that history until a colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Guss, brought it up just a few years ago. “When I took a closer look, it astounded me,” says Ross. “It involved some of the best psychiatric minds of the day, and it was a complete new paradigm of care, with the idea of mystical states at its core.”

    While the notion of a “mystical state” sounds fuzzy, researchers have developed a scale, the Mystical Experience Questionnaire, or MEQ30, to try and quantify it.On the MEQ30, participants are asked questions such as whether they’ve had “experience of unity with the ultimate reality,” or “awareness of the life or living presence in all things.” In the recent studies, a higher score on the MEQ30 – more mystical, as it were – correlated strongly to improvement.

    In an earlier study at Hopkins, a majority of healthy volunteers who took psilocybin rated the occasion among the five most meaningful experiences of their life. These people were simply spending the afternoon in a room at a medical clinic, accompanied by two near-strangers. And yet, the sense of deep meaning comes up again and again.

    “I scored it right up there,” says Vincent. “First, birth of my son. Then both my marriages. And honestly, this [the dosing session] would be next.”

    The NYU and Hopkins projects were both supported financially by the Heffter Research Institute, a non-profit that vets and funds research involving psychedelics. George Greer, Heffter’s Medical Director, says they were largely inspired by the work of Dr. Stanislav Grof, a Czech émigré and psychelic pioneer who conducted more than 4,000 LSD therapy sessions and reported that LSD could relieve anxiety and despair in (terminal cancer patients.)

    The next step, says Greer, is to try and repeat the findings in a larger study. He said another group, the Wisconsin-based Usona Institute, is working to design the next round of psilocybin trials, but Malynn Utzinger, Usona’s CEO, said plans are still in the early stages.

    A parallel effort is underway in Europe, where COMPASS, a UK-based medical research organization, has met with regulators from the European Medicines Agency to discuss the feasibility of clinical trials to enable patient access to psilocybin therapy, “in areas of significant unmet medical need.” A number of European academic institutions are planning their own studies with the drug.

    The effort behind psilocybin is part of a broader flowering of what’s sometimes called “psychedelic medicine.” The FDA is already working out details of a Phase 3 study to test MDMA – better known as Ecstasy – as part of a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Smaller studies have been conducted or are underway testing psilocybin against depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety in adults with autism and against alcohol, cocaine and tobacco addictions. A handful of studies in Europe are testing LSD and other psychedelics for similar uses.

    “I scored it right up there. First, birth of my son. Then both my marriages. And honestly, this [the dosing session] would be next.”

    Beyond the strangeness quotient, psychedelic studies present certain unique challenges. In medical research, a drug’s effects are typically compared against those of a placebo. In a “blinded” study, neither the subject nor the researcher is aware of whether the subject has received the placebo or the study drug. When the study drug can produce potent mystical experiences and mind-bending hallucinations, maintaining the “blind” can be difficult to the point of absurdity.

    NYU and Johns Hopkins took two different approaches to the problem. At NYU, participants received a dose of Niacin, a vitamin that produces a modest jolt of alertness and a slight tingling sensation. At Johns Hopkins, researchers used a low dose of psilocybin, with barely perceptible effects. Griffiths said his team tried hard to maintain the illusion, proceeding as if every session was using the higher dose. In one intriguing finding, 24 percent of patients getting not the active drug, but the placebo – the miniscule dose of psilocybin – rated that among the most meaningful events of their lives. That result suggests that the sense of ritual, not just the drug alone, is a vital part of the experience.

    With regard to safety, most experts see little danger in taking the drug in a controlled setting. “You can’t overdose, and you can’t get addicted,” says Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chair of the psychiatry department at Columbia University and a past president of American Psychiatric Association, who is not associated with the studies but who wrote a commentary that accompanied their publication. Even for recreational users, he says, “The only risk is that someone intoxicated will do something stupid, and that a very small number will have a more sustained adverse reaction to taking [psychedelics].”

    Psilocybin does tend to raise blood pressure during the trip, and patients with heart conditions were excluded from the NYU and Hopkins studies, as were those with any history of mental problems, even in their extended families. Griffiths calls the latter decision, “probably an overabundance of caution.”

    Carol Vincent says that the day she knew her improvement would last occurred a couple of months after flying home to British Columbia. “I was driving to a meeting on a beautiful sunny day, music in my car, singing along, and I suddenly thought – oh my God, I’m happy. I hadn’t had that.”

    Patrick Mettes, the NYU volunteer who wrote about vibrating with the cosmos, had been dealt a tough hand. He’d felt perfectly healthy when his wife, Lisa Callaghan, spotted a yellowish tinge in his eyes. He lived just a block from an ER, so after a leisurely stop at Starbucks he strolled over to find out what was wrong. He learned that his bile ducts – small tubes inside the liver – were full of cancer. Before finding the study, he battled the disease for four years, slowly losing ground.

    Callaghan says he was searching for a sense of meaning behind illness. In the notes he wrote after his session, it sounds like he found one: “My life has changed in ways I may never fully comprehend. But I now have an understanding… An awareness that goes beyond intellect… that my life, that every life, and all that is the universe, equals one thing… live. And it is good!”

    Thirteen months later, Mettes suffered a massive heart attack. He lived another two months, barely eating, before he died. His wife says he was at peace. “He knew he was going somewhere, even if he didn’t know where it was,” she recalls. “He just said, ‘I wish you could come with me.’

    She says the experience changed her, as well. “As far as death goes, I have no fear of it now. None.”

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    The U.S. Capitol stands in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    The U.S. Capitol stands in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Senate moved decisively Thursday to renew a decades-old sanctions law that lawmakers said gives the United States the clout to punish Iran should it fail to live up to the terms of the landmark nuclear deal.

    Senators passed the bill unanimously, 99-0, two weeks after the House also approved the legislation by an overwhelming margin of 419-1.

    The bill to grant a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act will be sent to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it. Although the White House said the bill is still being reviewed, Obama administration officials said they’ve determined it doesn’t breach the international accord meant to slow Iran’s ability to make nuclear arms. That satisfies a key condition Obama had established for his approval. The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    “We’ll let you know what the president decides to do with it,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.

    Lawmakers view the sanctions law, which is set to expire at the end of the year, as an important tool for holding Iran accountable for any violations of the nuclear agreement and also as a bulwark against Tehran’ aggression in the Middle East. The law, first passed by Congress in 1996 and renewed several times since then, allows the U.S. to slap companies with economic sanctions for doing business with Iran.

    The White House had previously laid out a litmus test for the law’s renewal, saying Obama would reject if it would undermine the nuclear agreement reached last year. In exchange for Tehran rolling back its nuclear program, the U.S. and other world powers agreed to suspend wide-ranging oil and trade sanctions that had choked the Iranian economy.

    While the sanctions renewal bill passed by the House and Senate doesn’t violate the terms of the nuclear deal, the Obama administration has said it considers the renewal unnecessary given the president’s other authorities to sanction Iran.

    But congressional Republicans and Democrats view the law as valuable leverage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that preserving the sanctions law is critical to blunt Iran’s “persistent efforts to expand its sphere of influence” throughout the Middle East. He also criticized the administration for allowing itself to be “held hostage” by Iran’s threats to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

    Congress approved the Iran Sanctions Act 20 years ago to block major foreign investment in Iran’s energy sector. The goal was to deny Tehran the ability to financially support terrorism and build nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

    Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has argued that keeping the law on the books is necessary if the U.S. wants to retain “a credible deterrent” of putting sanctions back into place should Iran cheat on its obligations under the nuclear agreement.

    Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

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

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    Uninsured patient Donaji Cruz, 3, has her height measured during a health check-up at Venice Family Clinic in Venice, California, June 25, 2009. Some 47 million Americans are uninsured and have little access to the healthcare system. Insurance costs have doubled in under a decade, prompting businesses that provide much of the coverage to complain it threatens U.S. global competitiveness.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES POLITICS HEALTH IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR251D5

    Americans are not standing tall, and our malign neglect of the mixed economy bears a great deal of the blame, write Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

    Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the new book “American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper” by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. For more on the topic, tune in to tonight’s Making Sen$e segment, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour.

    Americans pride themselves on standing tall: rising to the challenge, achieving the once unattainable, raising the bar of social success. Yet as we have faltered in harnessing the enormous positive potential of public authority, we have also fallen behind the pace of social improvement in other rich nations as well as the pace we set in our own past. In area after area where we once dominated, we are falling down the rankings of social success. In area after area where new threats loom, we are failing to rise up to the challenge. We are not standing tall — literally, we shall see — and our malign neglect of the mixed economy bears a great deal of the blame.

    Losing Ground 

    For much of U.S. history, Americans were the tallest people in the world by a large margin. When the 13 colonies that occupied the Atlantic seaboard broke from the British Empire, adult American men were on average 3 inches taller than their counterparts in England, and they were almost that much taller than men in the Netherlands, the great economic power before Britain. Revolutionary soldiers looked up to General George Washington, but not, as often assumed, because he was a giant among Lilliputians. David McCullough, in his popular biography of John Adams, describes Washington as “nearly a head taller than Adams — six feet four in his boots, taller than almost anyone of the day.” Those must have been some boots, for Washington was 6-foot-2. At 5-foot-7, Adams was just an inch below the average for American soldiers and significantly taller than a typical European soldier.

Americans were tall because Americans were healthy.

Americans were tall because Americans were healthy. “Poor as they were,” notes the colonial historian William Polk, “Americans ate and were housed better than Englishmen.” Sickness and premature death were common, of course, especially outside the privileged circle of white men. Still, European visitors like Tocqueville marveled at the fertility of the land and the robustness of its settlers, the relative equality of male citizens and the strong civic bonds among them. J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur wrote in 1782 of the American settler in “Letters from an American Farmer,” “Instead of starving he will be fed, instead of being idle he will have employment, and there are riches enough for such men as come over here.”

    The cause of the American height advantage could not have been income alone. According to most sources, the average resident of the Netherlands or England was richer than colonial Americans but also substantially shorter. Indeed, as the United States matched and then surpassed Europe economically in the 19th century, the average height of American men actually fell, recovering back to colonial levels only around the dawn of the 20th century. These ebbs and flows, which played out in other industrializing nations as well, are a reminder that economic growth and population health are not one and the same. (We shall unravel the mystery of their interdependence in the next chapter.)

    Nonetheless, Americans remained far and away the tallest people in the world throughout the 19th century, and average American heights rose quickly in the early decades of the 20th century. When the United States entered World War II, young American men averaged 5 feet 9 inches — almost 2 inches taller, on average, than the young Germans they were fighting.

    While people know that height is a strong predictor of individual achievement (test scores, occupational prestige, pay), it is also a revealing marker of population health. Height has a lot to do with genes, but height differences across nations seem to be caused mostly by social conditions, such as income, nutrition, health coverage and social cohesion. Indeed, one reason for the correlation between height and achievement is that kids whose mothers are healthy during pregnancy and who grow up with sufficient food, medical care and family support tend to be taller adults. An average U.S. white girl born in the early 1910s could expect to reach around 5-foot-3; an average U.S. white girl born in the late 1950s could expect to exceed 5-foot-5. Evolution just doesn’t happen that fast.

    So it’s striking that Americans are no longer the tallest people in the world. Not even close: Once 3 inches taller than residents of the Old World, on average, Americans are now about 3 inches shorter. The average Dutch height for men is 6-foot-1 and, for women, 5-foot-8 — versus 5-foot-9 for American men and 5-foot-5 for American women. The gap is not, as might be supposed, a result of immigration: White, native-born Americans who speak English at home are significantly smaller, too, and immigration isn’t substantial enough to explain the discrepancy in any case. Nor can the growing gap be explained by differences in how height is measured. Though some countries rely on self-reported heights for their statistics — and, yes, men tend to “round up” — Americans look shorter even when the only countries in the rankings are those that, like the United States, measure heights directly.

    Americans are not shrinking. (Overall, that is — there is some evidence that both white and black women born after 1960 are shorter than their parents.) But the increase in Americans’ average stature has been glacial, even as heights continue to rise steadily abroad. To really see our lost height advantage, you have to break the population into age groups, or what demographers call birth cohorts. People in their 20s, after all, are as tall as they will ever be. Changes in average height come from changes in the height of the young (and deaths among older cohorts). And, indeed, the adult heights of those born during a given period provide a powerful image of the living conditions experienced by infants and adolescents at the time. The fall in average heights among those born in the mid-1800s, for example, signaled the costs as well as benefits of the country’s industrial and urban shift, which brought increased infectious disease as well as higher incomes, harsher lives for the masses as well as better lives for the elite. (The privileged American men who applied for passports in 1890 were, on average, more than an inch and a half taller than army recruits at the time.)

In general, heights are converging among affluent nations, and the biggest gains have occurred in countries admitted most recently to the rich-nation club. Within countries, younger age groups are generally much taller than older age groups — which makes sense: Older people spent their growing years (including their growth within the womb) in poorer societies with more limited health technology and knowledge. But the United States is a conspicuous exception to these patterns: Average heights have barely budged in recent decades, so young Americans — again, even when leaving out recent immigrants — are barely taller than their parents. Older Americans are roughly on par with their counterparts abroad; younger Americans are substantially shorter. The United States is the richest populous nation in the world. Nevertheless, its young are roughly as tall as the young in Portugal, which has a per capita gross domestic product less than half ours.

On Rankings and Ratings

Because height is a powerful indicator of social and individual health, America’s relative decline should ring alarms. Our young are coming up short — relative not just to gains in stature of the past but also to gains in stature in other rich nations.

Still, if shorter kids were the only sign of trouble, we might safely ignore the alarms. For all but aspiring basketball players, tallness is not an end in itself. It can even create problems: The Dutch have had to rewrite their building codes so men don’t routinely smash their heads into door frames. Unfortunately, America’s journey from tallest to smallish has played out in area after area. When it comes to health, education and even income — still our strongest suit, though we’re holding fewer high cards than in the past — we are falling down the rankings of social success.

    When it comes to health, education and even income — still our strongest suit, though we’re holding fewer high cards than in the past — we are falling down the rankings of social success.

We often miss this and not just because triumphant cries of American exceptionalism drown out the alarms. Comparing countries on indicators of social health is tricky, and the temptation to stack the deck is strong. Moreover, our standard statistics frequently understate how poorly the United States is doing at harnessing the combined energies of government and the market. To get an accurate picture, we have to spend a little time sifting through the best available data, separating the meaningful from the misleading. We also have to focus on the experiences most relevant for understanding not how we’ve done in the past but how we are doing now — and unless we change course, how we are likely to do in the future.

Put another way, not all performance assessments are equally valid or instructive. Each year brings scores of scores purporting to rank almost every conceivable object of interest — schools, businesses, cities, states, regions, countries — across almost every conceivable category, from college completion, to wine consumption, to online porn viewing. (For the record, Washington, DC, tops U.S. state rankings in all three.) But sensibly comparing states, countries, or anything else requires following a few simple ground rules. The first is to compare apples to apples. Washington, DC, isn’t actually that comparable to the 50 states because it’s essentially a big city (hence the porn-wine-college trifecta). For cross-national analysis, comparing apples to apples means comparing countries at similar levels of economic development. It also means using indicators that are as close to the same as possible across nations. And it requires transparency: Proprietary data and secret formulas are anathema to serious comparison (but endemic to many special-interest rankings).

So we should compare apples to apples. But which apples should we be comparing? A good place to begin is the three core components of the UN’s Human Development Index: health, education and income. The index captures the idea that development is about “advancing the richness of human life” — to quote its intellectual father, the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen — and not just “the richness of the economy in which human beings live.” The index itself isn’t all that useful for ranking rich nations. It often sets the bar low (can people read and write?), and it’s limited to a few basic indicators available for all countries. Nonetheless, the UN’s pioneering investigations provide a solid jumping-off point for asking how well the contemporary United States is doing relative to other rich nations in fostering citizens’ well-being.


When asking that question, the issue isn’t merely how well we are doing today. It’s also whether we are pulling ahead or falling behind. One data point gives us a level; two or more give us a trend. And, in general, it’s trends that reveal the most about our relative performance. To be sure, we should be careful not to read too much into short-term fluctuations. Nor should we forget that on many metrics, there is a natural process of “reversion to the mean”: Relative to other countries, the highest-performing nations are more likely to fall toward other nations’ performances and the lowest performing to rise toward other nations’ performances.

Still, trends matter most. And that means we should be at least as interested in the direction social indicators are heading (and at what pace) as in their level. It also means we should pay special attention to one particular group: the young. Most cross-national analyses look at countries as a whole, comparing several generations of people in one nation with several generations in another. Sometimes that’s appropriate. If we want to know which countries are good at getting all citizens flu shots, we are interested in national averages. Usually, however, the experience of the young is most revealing, and not just because the young are most affected by current conditions. The young tell us about trends. If, for example, we’re falling behind in getting young adults through college (and we are), looking at the average educational level of the entire population will provide false reassurance. Typically, then, the critical comparisons across nations concern the young. Unhappily, these are also the comparisons where the most troubling image of American performance emerges.

A final issue to keep in mind: Investment (or lack of investment) does not bear its (bitter) fruit immediately. Supporting science, technology and education, for example, reaps big returns. But it takes time — sometimes a long time — to see the payoffs. The high-tech expansion of the last few decades rested on scientific and technical advances seeded more than a generation earlier. The opposite problem arises in cases of deferred maintenance: failing to upgrade critical infrastructure, for example, or to seed technological advances that will blossom in the future. The costs, though real, won’t be fully apparent for some time.

    Copyright © 2016 by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.

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    Two female detainees sleep in a holding cell at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Arizona, in this June 18, 2014 file photo. Photo by Ross D. Franklin/Reuters

    Two female detainees sleep in a holding cell at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Arizona, in this June 18, 2014 file photo. Photo by Ross D. Franklin/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A government advisory panel recommended Thursday that the Homeland Security Department continue using private, for-profit jails to house immigrants facing deportation.

    The panel, part of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, wrote in its first of 14 recommendations that ICE “will continue” to use private jails. The group also recommended that Immigration and Customs Enforcement improve oversight of private jails and try to limit the time detainees are held in county jails to no more than 72 hours.

    Several members of the panel objected to the report’s overall findings and voted to approve it only after a lengthy discussion about their concerns. One member of the group that wrote the report objected in writing to the conclusion that the government “should, or inevitably must” continue to rely on private jails.

    The recommendation to stick with private jails comes months after the Justice Department announced that the Bureau of Prisons would phase out the use of such facilities as contracts expire.

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had asked the advisory panel to review the policy amid pressure from critics of the jail system and because of the Justice Department’s decision.

    Karen Tandy, a Motorola Solutions executive who led the group that reviewed ICE jails and made the recommendations, said the cost of converting the immigration detention system to one that’s wholly government run would cost billions of dollars and not be a good use of resources.

    She said while the final recommendation is to continue using private jails, she cautioned that the group that reviewed the complex immigration enforcement system had only two months to investigate and review it. She said additional studies should be done to review other components.

    ICE said in a statement that the agency will “review and consider the council’s recommendations and will implement any changes, as appropriate.”

    The advisory panel noted that the immigration detention system has evolved over several decades into a private-public system in which only about 10 percent of immigration detainees now are held in government-owned facilities. Even in those places, many day-to-day functions are carried out by contractors.

    Critics of the government’s use of private jails for immigration detention have argued that the jails are unsafe and don’t offer adequate protections for people who face not criminal charges, but rather civil immigration violations and deportation proceedings.

    Three people have died in custody since Oct. 1, the most recent last month at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. Fifteen migrants have died at that jail since 2004, according to ICE. This summer the center became the epicenter of a large measles outbreak after some facility workers refused to get vaccinated.

    The advisory panel’s report cited budget concerns and “the need for realistic capacity to handle sudden increases in detention” as among the reasons for its recommendation. Its authors noted that unlike the Bureau of Prisons, ICE’s detention ranks can swell or shrink on a nearly daily basis.

    In recent months ICE has seen a spike in the number of immigrants detained and has routinely exceeded 40,000. Congress has approved enough money for the government to maintain 34,000 detention beds.

    President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to deport as many as three million immigrants in the country illegally, focusing first on criminals. If he follows through on that and on another promise to detain and quickly deport people caught crossing the border illegally, immigration detention space is likely to continue to be needed.

    WATCH: Justice Department will not renew contracts with private prisons

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    Tabulators work on recounting presidential ballots in Dane County on in Madison, Wisconsin. Green Party candidate Jill Stein has requested Wisconsin and other states to recount the U.S. presidential election. Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images

    Tabulators work on recounting presidential ballots in Dane County on in Madison, Wisconsin. Green Party candidate Jill Stein has requested Wisconsin and other states to recount the U.S. presidential election. Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images

    MADISON, Wis. — The tedious task of recounting Wisconsin’s nearly 3 million votes for president began Thursday with scores of hastily hired temporary workers flipping through stacks of ballots as observers watched their every move.

    The action in Wisconsin could soon be duplicated in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was pushing for recounts. Donald Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton in all three states, but recounts were not expected to flip nearly enough votes to change the outcome in any of the states.

    The Wisconsin recount marked the first time in 16 years there was a candidate-driven recount of a presidential recount. But it does not carry the same drama as the Florida presidential recount of 2000, when the outcome of the election between Al Gore and George W. Bush hung in the balance.

    “This is certainly not Bush v. Gore,” said Wisconsin’s chief elections administrator, Mike Haas.

    Even so, the campaigns for Trump, Clinton and Stein all had observers spread throughout the state to watch the process. The recount will have to move quickly. The federal deadline to certify the vote to avoid having the fate of Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes decided by Congress is Dec. 13. Even if that were to happen, the votes would almost certainly go to Trump, since Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

    Most counties will manually recount the ballots, although Stein lost a court challenge this week to force hand recounts everywhere. The state’s largest county, Milwaukee, was recounting the ballots by feeding them through the same machines that counted them on election night. In Dane County, where Clinton won 71 percent of the vote, the ballots were being counted by hand.

    Workers in Dane County are being paid $20 an hour and will work two shifts over about 12 hours a day to get the recount done by the deadline, said County Clerk Scott McDonell. He didn’t expect much change in the results.

    The federal deadline to certify the vote to avoid having the fate of Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes decided by Congress is Dec. 13.

    “I think we will be very close to what was reported on election night,” McDonell said Thursday.

    Clinton lost to Trump by about 22,000 votes in Wisconsin, or less than a percentage point.

    Stein has argued, without evidence, that irregularities in the votes in all three states suggest that there could have been tampering with the vote, perhaps through a well-coordinated, highly complex cyberattack.

    “Verifying the vote through this recount is the only way to confirm that every vote has been counted securely and accurately and is not compromised by machine or human error, or by tampering or hacking,” Stein said in a statement Thursday.

    Stein’s critics, including the Wisconsin Republican Party, contend that she is a little-known candidate who is merely trying to raise her profile while raising millions of dollars. Stein has taken in nearly $7 million for the recounts, which is about twice as much as her longshot presidential campaign took in.

    The Wisconsin recount was estimated to cost about $3.9 million. Stein paid $973,250 for the requested recount in Michigan.

    [Watch Video]

    While they do not anticipate the outcome of the election will change, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has agreed to participate in an effort to recount ballots in states that were crucial to President-elect Donald Trump’s win. NPR’s political reporter Tamara Keith joins Alison Stewart for more analysis.

    Trump on Thursday objected to a recount of Michigan’s presidential votes, at least delaying the planned Friday start of the recount there until next week.

    The Board of State Canvassers will meet Friday to hear arguments. The Michigan Bureau of Elections said the recount cannot proceed until two business days after the four-member, bipartisan board resolves the objection.

    Trump’s attorneys said Stein, who finished fourth in Michigan, is not “aggrieved” by any alleged election fraud or mistake, that a recount could not be finished on time and that her petition was not properly signed. They said Stein is asking for an expensive, time-consuming recount “on the basis of nothing more than speculation.”

    Stein countered that Trump’s “cynical efforts to delay the recount and create unnecessary costs for taxpayers are shameful and outrageous.”

    In Pennsylvania, a hearing is scheduled for Monday on Stein’s push to secure a court-ordered statewide recount, a legal maneuver that has never been tried, according to one of the lawyers who filed it.

    Stein’s attorneys want a forensic analysis of electronic voting machines in Pennsylvania to see if there any evidence that their software was hacked. But counties where Green Party-backed voters have sought a recount are refusing to do such forensic examinations.

    Associated Press writer David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.

    READ MORE: How would Wisconsin’s recount be done and other FAQs

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    Participants of the "Start Up Chile" program work at their headquarters in Santiago, August 10, 2015. Drawn in by equity-free financing and promises of hands-on mentorship, dozens of female entrepreneurs will head to Chile in the coming weeks to participate in what the government says is the world's first state-run start-up program aimed exclusively at women. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

    Participants of the “Start Up Chile” program work at their headquarters in Santiago, August 10, 2015. Drawn in by equity-free financing and promises of hands-on mentorship, dozens of female entrepreneurs will head to Chile in the coming weeks to participate in what the government says is the world’s first state-run start-up program aimed exclusively at women. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

    Latin American and Caribbean nations continue to languish in a recession, and a recent report says policies that promote greater entrepreneurship could give economies a needed boost.

    In a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, researchers asked how inclusive and sustainable is economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean. What jobs are available for young people ages 15 to 29, who make up one quarter of the region’s population? What skills do they bring to the workplace and how much room for innovation remains?

    Steep regulation and financing, paired with inadequate workforce education and access to export markets, built barriers to entrepreneurship and new jobs for young people in Latin America and the Caribbean, said Angel Melguizo, an economist who leads the organization’s research for the region. The problem is greater than elsewhere in the developed world, he added.

    Latin American and Caribbean nations fall short of the average industrialized nation, according to this OECD index.

    Often, Latin American and Caribbean entrepreneurs become self-starters because there are simply no other jobs, Melguizo said. Entrepreneurship borne out of necessity, rather than opportunity, can eat away at long-term job creation and stable economic growth, he said.

    Over the next two years, more than a dozen presidential elections will pop up across Latin America and the Caribbean. Melguizo said people should take advantage of this moment to push policies more friendly toward entrepreneurs.

    “This is a huge opportunity to fight economic slowdown and strengthen social programs and gain political capital if we empower youth with the right skills and right entrepreneurship policies,” Melguizo said. “They are at the center of the equation.”

    Chief economist Daniel Lederman said large formal firms in Latin America should do more to generate jobs “so that small entrepreneurs don’t have to rely on the food truck on the corner to survive.”

    Understanding why large firms don’t do more to innovate is “a daunting task,” Lederman said in a 2014 World Bank report.

    “We have way too many self-employed subsistence entrepreneurs and our superstar firms don’t innovate enough,” he told the NewsHour.

    But despite the economic recession that tests Latin America, Lederman said he remains optimistic.

    “Entrepreneurship seems to flourish under difficult circumstances,” he said.

    The post To break recession, Latin America and Caribbean nations must support its self-starters, study says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Obama administration said it supported a position that required women to register for the military draft. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

    The Obama administration said it supported a position that required women to register for the military draft. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration declared its support Thursday for requiring women to register for the military draft, a symbolic but significant shift that reflects the U.S. military’s evolution from a male-dominated force to one seeking to incorporate women at all levels.

    President Barack Obama has been considering whether to adopt the position since last December, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the military to open all jobs to women, including the most arduous combat posts. Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said Obama believes women have “proven their mettle,” including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    “As old barriers for military service are being removed, the administration supports — as a logical next step — women registering for the Selective Service,” Price said, using the formal name for the military draft.

    The White House emphasized that the administration remains committed to an all-volunteer military — meaning women, like men, wouldn’t be forced to serve unless there were a national emergency like a major world war. Changing the policy would require an act of Congress, and there are no signs that lawmakers plan to move swiftly to enact the change.

    The Defense Department echoed Obama’s position, first reported by USA Today. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said that Carter believes the inclusion of women in combat roles has strengthened the military’s might.

    “He thinks it makes sense for women to register for Selective Service, just as men must,” Cook said.

    Under current law, women can volunteer to serve in the military but aren’t required to register for the draft. All adult men must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday.

    The new posture from the Obama administration comes amid a disagreement in Congress about whether to add women to the draft. Earlier this week, House and Senate negotiators agreed to strip a provision from the annual defense policy bill that would have required young women to register.

    The measure had roiled social conservatives, who decried it as another step toward the blurring of gender lines akin to allowing transgender people to use public lavatories and locker rooms. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, spoke for a number of Republicans when he described the provision as “coercing America’s daughters” into draft registration.

    But proponents of including women in the draft pool viewed the requirement as a sensible step toward gender equality. They pointed to the Pentagon’s decision last year to open all front-line combat jobs to women as removing any justification for gender restrictions on registration.

    Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

    READ MORE: Generals say women should have to register for draft

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    Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE. Photo by Stephanie Branchu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

    The massive crowds greeting the couple as they stepped off Air Force One. The pink suit and matching pillbox hat. The red roses. The motorcade.

    Then, the shots. The shock. The boy saluting his father’s casket. The grieving widow dressed in all black — a parallel for the pain and loss of the nation.

    Fifty-three years after JFK’s assassination, the events of that week have been seared into Americans’ minds through videos and photographs. So has the woman at the center of those events, Jacqueline Kennedy.

    “We still see her as this almost mythic character,” said Lisa Kathleen Graddy, the curator of the first ladies collection at the National Museum of American History. “Some of that is because she was so private. We really don’t know a lot of what she was thinking, so she becomes an iconic figure that everyone can put their own ideas on.”

    A new film “Jackie,” which opens in theaters Friday, aims to shed fresh light on this elusive First Lady.

    The movie, on its surface, portrays Jackie Kennedy in the days after the assassination in Dallas. Underneath, it lays bare a wife’s struggle to preserve her husband’s legacy.

    Natalie Portman, who plays Jackie, mimics the first lady’s proper way of speaking but also branches out beyond her public image as American royalty.

    Left: American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929 - 1994), in a red dress, stands in before a dining room table in the White House during the filming of a CBS News Special program called 'A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy,' Washington DC, January 15, 1962. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images) Right: Natalie Portman on the set of JACKIE. Photo by Pablo Larrain. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

    Left:Jacqueline Kennedy filmed a CBS News Special tour of the White House in 1962. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
    Right: Natalie Portman on the set of JACKIE. Photo by Pablo Larrain. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

    “It shows such a raw, distraught Jacqueline Kennedy,” Graddy, who watched the film before its wide release, said. “There are snippets about how she is dazed on the plane [after the assassination] and she has to pull herself together. You really get this view of a shattered woman.”

    In addition to keeping her own life together, Jacqueline Kennedy did everything she could to make sure JFK was not forgotten. The movie shows, for example, how she meticulously planned Kennedy’s funeral to mirror another great American president.

    “There was a strong idea that John F. Kennedy was a modern-day Abraham Lincoln,” said James Piereson, a senior fellow at the conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute.

    Piereson, who wrote a book on the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, credits Jackie with burnishing Kennedy’s civil rights legacy. Though it is now believed that Kennedy’s assassin was motivated by Cold War politics, in the years immediately after Kennedy’s death, many Americans believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was primarily driven by racism and his opposition to the president’s support for civil rights.

    Jackie Kennedy also played a role in crafting her husband’s story in an interview she gave to Life magazine’s Theodore H. White, when she likened his time in office to the story of King Arthur and his castle, Camelot.

    “The Arthurian idea was that John F. Kennedy was a peacemaker, able to transcend global fights,” Piereson said.

    Kennedy was well-liked in his own country and around the world. The February before he died, he enjoyed a 70 percent approval rating.

    Left: Kennedy Family leaves Capitol after Ceremony. Photo by Abbie Rowe White House Photographs Right: Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE. Photo by William Gray. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

    Left: The Kennedy family leaves the Capitol after a ceremony following JFK’s death. Photo by Abbie Rowe White House Photographs
    Right: “The movie portrays the struggle that Mrs. Kennedy must have felt between playing this public role of the first lady, standing strong for the nation, and a grieving widow protecting her children and herself,” said Lisa Kathleen Graddy, the curator of the first lady’s collection at the National Museum of American History. Photo by William Gray. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

    But he was also heavily criticized for the failed Bay of Pigs operation to overthrow Fidel Castro, and many of the goals he set out, such as putting a man on the moon or the signing of the Civil Rights Act, were not accomplished during his presidency.

    The film does not shy away from these challenges. At one point, Bobby Kennedy, one of JFK’s brothers and his attorney general, laments to Jackie that all they will be remembered for is being “beautiful people.”

    Though “Jackie” is one of many Hollywood representations of the Kennedys, it could influence a new generation’s view of the former first lady.

    “Film helps us get a visual of history,” said Michelle Pautz, an associate professor at the University of Dayton who studies how government is portrayed in films. “We weren’t there, but we feel like we were there.”

    About one-fourth of the people who watched recent movies that depicted historical events (such as Argo or Zero Dark Thirty), changed their opinions, Pautz found in a study she conducted in 2014. Moviegoers are open to being influenced, Pautz said.

    “Most of us let our guard down when we go to a movie,” Pautz said. “It’s different than reading the news or even watching a documentary.”

    And because the vast majority of people who will watch “Jackie” were not alive when the events took place, audiences are more likely to be a blank canvas on which Hollywood can paint its magic.

    The post In ‘Jackie,’ complex portrait emerges of iconic first lady appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Tabulators work on recounting presidential ballots in Dane County on in Madison, Wisconsin. Green Party candidate Jill Stein has requested Wisconsin and other states to recount the U.S. presidential election. Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images

    A federal lawsuit filed late Thursday contends that Wisconsin’s recount is unconstitutional, because it doesn’t satisfy equal protection requirements under the law. Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images

    LANSING, Mich. — Supporters of Republican Donald Trump filed a federal lawsuit trying to halt Wisconsin’s ongoing presidential recount, and Michigan’s attorney general on Friday sued to stop a recount from happening in his state.

    The Wisconsin lawsuit and motion for a temporary restraining order was filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Madison by the Great America PAC, the Stop Hillary PAC and a Wisconsin voter, Ronald R. Johnson. The legal filings contend that the recount is unconstitutional because it doesn’t satisfy equal protection requirements under the law and may not get done by the Dec. 13 federal deadline to certify the vote, putting Wisconsin’s electoral votes in jeopardy.

    No court hearings had been scheduled as of Friday morning. The Wisconsin Department of Justice was reviewing the lawsuit, said Johnny Koremenos, spokesman for Attorney General Brad Schimel.

    Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who requested both recounts and a third in Pennsylvania, has suggested that Trump and his backers would try to delay the recounts to make them hard or impossible to complete by the deadline for states to certify their election results or have their electoral votes be decided by Congress, which is controlled by Republicans. A spokeswoman for Stein’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

    With workers in Wisconsin busy re-counting votes for a second day, Michigan’s state elections board was meeting about the Trump campaign’s request to deny Stein’s recount request. The board deadlocked, with both Republican members voting to prevent the recount and both Democrats voting to allow it, meaning it will begin Tuesday or Wednesday unless the courts intervene.

    In his request to the Michigan Supreme Court to block the hand recount, Attorney General Bill Schuette, like the Trump campaign, argued that Stein cannot seek the “frivolous” recount because she was not “aggrieved” to the point at which a potential miscounting of votes could have cost her the election. She garnered 1 percent of the vote in Michigan.

    In Pennsylvania, a hearing is scheduled for Monday on Stein’s push to secure a court-ordered statewide recount there. Republican lawyers filed a motion late Thursday accusing Stein of engaging in legal antics and saying her recount request endangers Pennsylvania’s ability to certify its electors by the federal deadline.

    Trump won all three states by narrow margins over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

    Stein has argued, without evidence, that irregularities in the votes in all three states suggest that there could have been tampering with the vote, perhaps through a well-coordinated, highly complex cyberattack.

    Elections officials in the three states have expressed confidence in their results. Even if all three recounts happen, they aren’t expected to flip enough votes to change the outcomes in any of the states.

    In the lawsuit seeking to halt the recount in Wisconsin, which started Thursday, the plaintiffs say there is a “realistic risk” that it may not be completed by the deadline and that the “chaotic rushing necessary” to meet the deadline “creates an imminent unreasonable risk of error that can lead to votes being erroneously counted, disregarded, or diluted.

    Trump defeated Clinton in Wisconsin by about 22,000 votes, or less than 1 percentage point. His margin of victory in Michigan was even slimmer, at about 10,700 votes out of 4.8 million cast.

    Echoing arguments made against the other state recounts, Trump campaign lawyers said Michigan’s would be impossible to finish by the deadline, putting Michigan voters at risk of being disenfranchised if the 16 electoral votes were not cast.

    “You’re not aggrieved if you want on a lark to foist the taxpayers” with a $5 million bill and “the elections officials to go on a wild goose chase,” attorney Gary Gordon told the board.

    Stein lawyer Mark Brewer said “95 percent of what you have heard is legally irrelevant” because Stein met all the legal requirements for a recount. Noting GOP criticism that Stein has made baseless allegations of fraud or errors with machines that scan paper ballots, Brewer said: “The original source of the claim that this election was rigged is Mr. Trump.”

    The post Lawsuits seek to block Wisconsin, Michigan recounts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images

    A look at how various teachers teach in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images

    Editor’s note: Teachers across the country continue to deal with a variety of emotional reactions from students following the presidential election. We asked teachers to provide us with some examples of how the election has impacted their instruction and how they approach these discussions with students.

    Disagreement on policy is okay, personal attacks are not

    The negativity and vitriol that have been employed on both sides of the 2016 presidential election have given my students and I pause. During the past two years, I have had to reinforce conversational norms, especially in the context of what a candidate says does not mean it is appropriate for you to do. Disagreement on policy is okay, but personal attacks on students for their point of view are not. Be respectful.teacherslounge

    As I watched the election returns come in on election night, I knew there would be much to debrief, and student emotions would be varied. Some students came in jubilant that Donald Trump had won, and others were saddened and concerned by Hillary Clinton’s loss. Some of my students came in fearful about certain topics under a Trump administration, including immigration, LGBT rights, abortion and climate change.

    In attempting to alleviate fears, we discussed that we have a Constitution and a system of checks and balances to which Trump will be held, which much of his campaign rhetoric will not pass. Additionally, I reiterated the sentiment of President Obama: “Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we are actually all on one team.”

    — Liz Ramos, high school social studies teacher at Alta Loma High School, Southern California

    Even remarks made in jest can be misconstrued

    I won the first three campaigns that I worked on, and it was an incredible feeling. Making phone calls, canvassing, persuading voters, and winning is validating and exhilarating. I’ve also worked on losing campaigns, and those feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. The pain and anger of losing an election stays with you for a good while. The important thing to take away from any election is that the winning side needs to demonstrate dignity and empathy, while the losing side needs to mourn and be open to reconciliation.

    Regardless of the outcome of contentious presidential elections, rhetoric and actions that are racist, sexist, homophobic and generally toxic to the fabric of our country are not acceptable, period. That is especially true in schools. Even remarks made in jest can be misconstrued by people and can prolong the agony of people unhappy with the election result and make it more difficult for us to come together as a nation.

    Where do we go from here? I’m a firm believer that civics is a lifestyle and that we need to be active and engaged citizens. Whether you are happy or enraged by the outcome of the election, get involved and stay involved. The 2018 election will be here quicker than you think. Find a candidate you agree with and work to get them elected. Register yourself, your friends and your family to vote. Find a cause that you support, and raise money, volunteer your time, and raise awareness in your community. Lastly, have faith in our Constitution, it’s a lot stronger than people realize.

    Ryan Werenka, social studies teacher and department head at Troy High School in Troy, Michigan

    ‘We would’ve voted — swear.’

    I watched with deep, burdened disquiet as Donald Trump gained the majority of America’s electoral votes. It felt like a stamp on a continuous divisive fate the rest of the country was only just waking up to. I teach 9th and 10th grade English at a public high school with a 97 percent black population in the Arkansas Delta — a school desegregated by law only in 1971. A few miles down the road is a private school with a 99 percent white population, built in 1969. After the election, we sat relaxed in class, and we talked, looked at red and blue maps, questioned the popular vote and wondered loudly why young people have no voice. (“We would’ve voted – swear.”)

    Mainly, we wrote letters: “Dear Donald, We are not our great-grandma’s and pa’s. We as the people will not take any bull from you, we will fight back,” H.W. warned from a place outside her years. M.M., another 10th grader, spoke hope into the pile with: “I know that some of you may fear for your future and the future of your children, but I beg that you do not break.” And, with poise, T.M. wrapped everybody’s feelings up with, “Dear Barack Obama, You have laughed with us when we were happy. You have cried with us when we were sad. You have been with me since the 2nd grade. I never thought you would be leaving us so soon. You said, ‘Yes we can,’ and I can say we truly did.”

    V.A. Sellarole, 9th & 10th grade English Language Arts teacher, Central High School, Helena-West Helena, Arkansas

    My students will not hit the proverbial snooze button

    My students know disappointment. I work at an urban school whose population is over 85 percent Hispanic, and I have spent the last nine years of my teaching career addressing the needs of immigrant, documented and not, first-generation college-going, and free and reduced-lunch program students. They can identify adversity without hesitation. Teaching lessons of grit and resolve after the 2016 presidential election was not out of context for me and my colleagues. One female student put it candidly: “I feel he [president-elect Trump] isn’t ready to become president of such a diverse country.”

    Surprisingly, these conversations were not all cynical. I didn’t expect their overwhelming sense of compassion for all Americans. “There is always something we can look forward to,” assured a student enrolled in JROTC courses; “he is only the face of the government. We still have constitutional rights and the American dream.”

    There are very few occasions when I have felt vulnerable when standing with my sophomores, but these circumstances provided the context for modeling acceptance and tenacity when facing overwhelming frustration. It’s been a few weeks since the election results, and I still don’t have a solution for my dissatisfaction. I do, however, feel optimistic that my students will not hit the proverbial snooze button. Instead, they may become more politically active and empowered to overcome adversity.

    Suzanne Vogt, AP world history teacher, Maryvale High School in Phoenix, Arizona

    No place in my classroom

    The 2016 Election was long and brought out the absolute worst in the American people. It highlighted the impact a presidential candidate could have on young people as teachers across the country reported increases in bullying incidents. Throughout the campaign, and throughout our month-long elections unit, it was my goal to make one thing clear: bullying, racism, misogynistic beliefs, xenophobia and homophobia had no place in my classroom.

    Let me make one thing clear. I often hear that a teacher’s job is not to be political. I agree to an extent. My job is to present my students with the information and give them the resources to think critically and make an informed decision. We have a lot of influence on our students, and we should not directly tell them whom to vote for and how to feel about an issue. I do, however, believe that it is and will always be my job to highlight social injustices that people in this country face each and every day, and I will continue to do that.

    Throughout this election season my students have analyzed the impact of Voter ID Laws in North Carolina, the ramifications of white privilege, and the police brutality crisis that continues to plague our nation. As an educator, it is my job to make sure that my students are informed citizens and critical thinkers who can go out and use what I’ve taught them to change the world. I will continue to do this no matter who our president is.

    –Ricky House, 7th grade civics teacher, Arlington, Va.

    The post Column: Helping students understand the 2016 election results appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People march in Oceti Sakowin camp during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters

    People march in Oceti Sakowin camp during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump supports completion of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline in the Midwest, based on policy and not the billionaire businessman’s investments in a partnership building the $3.8 billion pipeline, according to an aide’s memo.

    Spokesman Bryan Lanza said in a memo this week to supporters that Trump’s backing for the pipeline near a North Dakota Indian reservation “has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans.”

    The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo.

    Trump’s most recent federal disclosure forms, filed in May, show he owned a small amount of stock in Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline builder, and at least $100,000 in Phillips 66, an energy company that owns one-quarter of the pipeline.

    Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in response to an AP story last week that it is her understanding Trump recently sold his Energy Transfer stock, but she provided no details. Neither Hicks nor other Trump aides have responded to repeated requests for information since then.

    In a 17-page memo to campaign supporters and congressional staff, Trump’s transition team says Trump “intends to cut the bureaucratic red tape put in place by the Obama administration that has prevented our country from diversifying our energy portfolio.”

    The four-state Dakota Access pipeline is part of that strategy, the memo says. Then, in an apparent reference to criticism by congressional Democrats and environmental groups, the memo says those claiming that Trump’s support for the project is related to his investments “are only attempting to distract from the fact that President-elect Trump has put forth serious policy proposals he plans to set in motion on Day One.”

    While Trump’s stake in the pipeline company is modest compared with his other assets, ethics experts say it’s among dozens of potential conflicts that could be resolved by placing his investments in a blind trust. Trump said this week that he will soon announce plans to step back from his company while he is president.

    [Watch Video]

    The struggle over the Dakota Access Pipeline has intensified, as more protesters have joined the standoff and the company building the pipeline filed suit to get its last permit issued. Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, joins William Brangham to defend the project and insist it’s going forward.

    The memo also offers encouragement to protesters who have camped out near a proposed pipeline crossing in North Dakota close to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Hundreds of protesters — calling themselves water “protectors” — have shrugged off heavy snow and frigid temperatures to hunker down in a large encampment near the crossing site beneath a Missouri River reservoir.

    The government has ordered protesters to leave federal land by Monday, although it’s not clear what, if anything, authorities will do to enforce that mandate. Demonstrators insist they will stay for as long as it takes to divert the pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe believes threatens sacred sites and a river that provides drinking water for millions of people.

    The memo says Trump and his team “respect all Americans’ First Amendment right to peacefully protest, and we hope that local and federal officials continue to give support to local law enforcement so they are able to continue to protect these protesters.”

    The Obama administration said last month it wants more study and tribal input before deciding whether to allow an easement for the partially built pipeline under the Missouri River reservoir. The 1,200-mile pipeline would carry oil across four states to a shipping point in Illinois.

    Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the Obama administration should approve the easement immediately. Because of continued delays, Hoeven said he met with Trump’s transition team to urge him to support the project. Trump was meeting Friday with North Dakota’s other senator, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.

    Hoeven said he’s confident that Trump “will work to help us grow and diversify our energy economy” and create jobs in the state, the nation’s second-largest oil producer after Texas.

    READ MORE: Audio shows Standing Rock Sioux tribe objected to pipeline two years ago

    The post Trump team says he supports construction of Dakota Access oil pipeline appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Smoke plumes from wildfires are shown in the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Photo taken Nov. 28, 2016. Photo courtesy of National Park Service/Handout via Reuters

    Smoke plumes from wildfires are shown in the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Photo taken Nov. 28, 2016. Photo courtesy of National Park Service/Handout via Reuters

    The death toll from wildfires that consumed the eastern Tennessee town of Gatlinburg this week has risen to 13, state officials said Friday.

    Twelve of the victims died directly from the fire, while one woman suffered a fatal heart attack caused by smoke inhalation as she fled from the flames, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said in a news conference this afternoon.

    “It’s certainly distressing and sad to all of us, and we are extending our sympathy to all of the families that are involved,” the mayor said. “I can’t describe to you the feelings we have to this tragedy and especially the loss of lives,” he added.

    Another 85 people were mostly treated for burns at a nearby hospital, according to officials.

    The mayor also increased his report of the number of buildings damaged by the firestorm to 1,000. Many residents were allowed past checkpoints to survey the damage to their properties, the Associated Press reported.

    Video by KVUE

    More than 14,000 Gatlinburg residents were forced to evacuate the resort town Monday night, after a fire originated in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park four miles away. High winds spread the fire, carrying embers in many directions.

    John Matthews of the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency said residents should have received an initial evacuation alert on their mobile device around 9 p.m. Monday. He added that power outages and limited cellphone reception prevented that alert from reaching some people, while wildfires were ravaging the area.

    The mayor, however, told reporters that “we’re not going to get into Monday-morning quarterbacking.”

    “We did the best we could with what we had, and we’re sorry,” he said.

    Burned buildings and cars aftermath of wildfire is seen in this image released in social media by Tennessee Highway Patrol in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Picture taken on November 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Highway Patrol/Handout via Reuters

    Burned buildings and cars aftermath of wildfire is seen in this image released in social media by Tennessee Highway Patrol in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Picture taken on November 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Highway Patrol/Handout via Reuters

    Among the victims was a couple, Jon and Janet Summers of Memphis, both 61, who were vacationing in the area with their three adult sons.

    The family had tried to flee the fire by car, but when they were blocked by debris, they attempted to escape on foot, The Commercial Appeal reported.

    However, the couple was separated from their sons, who were eventually rescued and hospitalized. After days of waiting to hear about the couple’s whereabouts, the brothers’ uncle Jim Summers confirmed the couple’s deaths in a post on Facebook.

    “The boys, swaddled in bandages with tubes hanging out and machines attached, were allowed to break quarantine, and were together in the same room, briefly, when I confirmed their parents’ death,” the uncle wrote. “Their injures pale in comparison with their grief. Their extended family and friends are now their family,” he added.

    The National Park Service said the cause of the fire is under investigation but likely involved human action.

    READ MORE: How big droughts, forest fires could be the new normal in Appalachia

    The post Tennessee mayor confirms 13 dead from wildfires appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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