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- 12/10/16--13:08: _Red Cross study sho...
- 12/10/16--13:12: _How similar are Tru...
- 12/10/16--14:12: _Congress sends bill...
- 12/10/16--15:07: _Russia aimed to hel...
- 12/11/16--06:17: _Republican John Ken...
- 12/11/16--07:21: _In a land of thunde...
- 12/11/16--08:33: _Republican senators...
- 12/11/16--09:28: _Nigerian church col...
- 12/11/16--10:03: _Protests continue i...
- 12/11/16--10:52: _ISIS recaptures anc...
- 12/11/16--11:41: _‘Not That Jewish’ i...
- 12/11/16--11:44: _U.S. builds first o...
- 12/11/16--11:57: _What’s next for U.S...
- 12/11/16--12:01: _Trump says executiv...
- 12/11/16--13:32: _2,000 ISIS fighters...
- 12/11/16--14:18: _Netanyahu hopes to ...
- 12/12/16--06:55: _Supreme Court leave...
- 12/12/16--09:37: _Women’s March gets ...
- 12/12/16--09:53: _Here’s the first we...
- 12/12/16--11:30: _Column: Why the Fed...
- 12/10/16--13:08: Red Cross study shows shifting global views on war
- 12/10/16--13:12: How similar are Trump and Reagan?
- 12/10/16--14:12: Congress sends bill to Obama on civil rights-era killings
- 12/10/16--15:07: Russia aimed to help Trump through hacking, CIA finds
- 12/11/16--06:17: Republican John Kennedy wins Louisiana Senate race in runoff
- 12/11/16--07:21: In a land of thundering reindeer, suicide stalks the indigenous Sami
- 12/11/16--08:33: Republican senators join Dems to condemn Russian political hacking
- 12/11/16--09:28: Nigerian church collapses on worshippers, killing 160 people
- 12/11/16--10:52: ISIS recaptures ancient city of Palmyra
- 12/11/16--11:41: ‘Not That Jewish’ is a comic roadmap to Jewish-American life
- 12/11/16--11:44: U.S. builds first offshore wind farm
- 12/11/16--11:57: What’s next for U.S. monetary policy
- 12/11/16--12:01: Trump says executives will run business empire with his children
- 12/11/16--13:32: 2,000 ISIS fighters killed in Mosul, U.S. commander says
- 12/11/16--14:18: Netanyahu hopes to work with Trump to undo Iran deal
- 12/12/16--06:55: Supreme Court leaves $1B NFL concussion settlement in place
- 12/12/16--09:37: Women’s March gets spot for post-inauguration rally
- 12/12/16--09:53: Here’s the first weather report for an exoplanet
- 12/12/16--11:30: Column: Why the Fed may aggressively raise rates in 2017
The post Red Cross study shows shifting global views on war appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — Congress has sent legislation to President Barack Obama’s desk that would continue reviews of racially motivated killings in the civil rights era that are now cold cases.
The legislation passed by voice vote at the end of the congressional session early Saturday. It would indefinitely extend a 2007 law that calls for a full accounting of race-based deaths, many of which had been closed for decades. The law expires next year.
More than 100 cases from the 1960s and earlier have been checked out so far, with one conviction. But new racially suspicious deaths have been identified for investigation. In many cases such crimes were poorly investigated and prosecutions were rare.[Watch Video]
The bill is named after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy killed in 1955 after whistling at a white woman. His killers were acquitted of murder but later admitted their crimes to a reporter and couldn’t be retried.
North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard Burr and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill sponsored the bill in the Senate. In the House, the bill was negotiated by civil rights icon John Lewis, D-Ga.; John Conyers, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee; and Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.
The law provides federal resources to local jurisdictions to look into the cases. The bill would also require the Justice Department and the FBI to consult with civil rights organizations, universities and others who had been gathering evidence on the deaths. It also extends the time span of cases to be considered to December 31, 1979.
This version corrects Conyers’ title to top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
The post Congress sends bill to Obama on civil rights-era killings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
The post Russia aimed to help Trump through hacking, CIA finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana voters chose Saturday to send Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy to the U.S. Senate, filling the nation’s last Senate seat and giving the GOP a 52-48 edge in the chamber when the new term begins in January.
Kennedy had always been the runoff election’s front-runner in a state that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump. He defeated Democrat Foster Campbell, a state utility regulator whose chances were seen as such a long-shot that national Democratic organizations offered little assistance to Campbell’s campaign.
As he celebrated the victory, Kennedy said he represented change in Washington.
“I believe that our future can be better than our present, but not if we keep going in the direction the Washington insiders have taken us the last eight years,” he said. “That’s about to change, folks.”
Voters also filled two open U.S. House seats Saturday, choosing Republican Clay Higgins, a former sheriff’s captain known as the “Cajun John Wayne,” in the 3rd District representing southwest and south central Louisiana and Republican state Rep. Mike Johnson in the 4th District covering northwest Louisiana.
Louisiana has an open primary system in which all candidates run against each other. In the contests for the open congressional seats, the November primary ballots were packed with contenders, so the top two vote-getters advanced to Saturday’s runoff.[Watch Video]
The Senate runoff drew national attention, with President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence each traveling to Louisiana to rally for Kennedy. The national GOP provided resources and staff to assist Kennedy’s campaign, while national Democratic organizations largely abandoned Campbell, assuming an easy Republican win.
Though Campbell’s chance appeared slim, donations had poured in from around the country, and several Hollywood celebrities championed his candidacy aiming to bolster resistance to the Trump presidency. Campbell said the support he received across the country was “phenomenal.”
“We worked as hard as possible. We left no stone unturned,” Campbell said in his concession speech. “I make no excuses. We did everything humanly possible.”
The co-chair of the Republican National Committee, Sharon Day, described Kennedy’s win as capping “a year of historic Republican wins up and down the ballot.
“With 52 seats in the U.S. Senate, we are excited for Republicans to confirm a conservative Supreme Court justice and begin working with President-elect Trump to pass an agenda of change for the American people,” Day said in a statement.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat and ardent Campbell supporter, congratulated Kennedy and pledged to work with him to “deliver great things for the people of Louisiana.”
The Senate seat was open because Republican David Vitter decided against running for a third term after losing the governor’s race last year. Both men vying for the seat are well-known figures, involved in Louisiana politics for decades.
Kennedy, an Oxford-educated lawyer from south Louisiana, is in his fifth term as treasurer, a role in which he repeatedly drew headlines for his financial clashes with Louisiana’s governors.
He sprinkled speeches with examples of government-financed contracts he considered outrageous, like money “to study the effects of Swedish massage on bunny rabbits.” In the runoff, he ran a safe, TV-focused effort highlighting his support for Trump and his opposition to the federal health overhaul.
Campbell, a cattle farmer and former state senator from north Louisiana, is a populist who railed against “Big Oil,” wanted to increase the minimum wage and talked openly about man-made climate change. He pledged that in Washington he wouldn’t “be in anybody’s shirt pocket.”
He also ran as a Louisiana Democrat — strongly opposed to abortion and supportive of gun rights.
Kennedy hit Campbell for supporting Clinton. Campbell called Kennedy a flip-flopper during prior Senate bids, because the treasurer ran in 2004 as a liberal Democrat and the most recent two times as a conservative Republican.
In the 3rd District race, Higgins traded blistering attacks with his fellow Republican opponent, Scott Angelle, a member of the Public Service Commission and well-known public official for nearly 30 years.
Angelle had been the presumed front-runner. But Higgins — a local celebrity known for attention-grabbing Crime Stoppers videos he filmed when he was a sheriff’s captain — capitalized on disenchantment with career politicians to defeat Angelle with only a fraction of his money and a bare-bones organization.
In the 4th District, Johnson defeated Democrat Marshall Jones in a competition that was less attack-laden.
Johnson focused on his work on conservative issues as a constitutional attorney and on his two years as a state lawmaker. Jones, also a lawyer, downplayed his party affiliation, running as an anti-abortion, gun-rights Democrat who could work with Trump.
The House seats were open because Republicans Charles Boustany and John Fleming unsuccessfully sought the Senate seat instead of re-election.
The post Republican John Kennedy wins Louisiana Senate race in runoff appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
LOWER SOPPERO, Sweden — Hundreds of reindeer gallop around the corral, their hooves and knees popping with the sound of a fire crackling. It’s late, but here in the land of the midnight sun, the sky is silvery and bright. A mist rolls over the Arctic tundra, framing the herders and their animals in ghostly silhouettes.
This is a community wrapped tight in tradition: The indigenous peoples of northern Scandinavia — the Sami — have herded reindeer for generations. But it is also a community in crisis. Climate change has put enormous strain on these powerful animals — and on the men and women who care for them.
With that strain has come a mental health crisis. A crisis of suicide.
The Marainen family knows it too well.
Framed photos of Gustu and Heaika Marainen sit on their parents’ kitchen counter, flanked by candles and tiny silver reindeer figurines. The brothers committed suicide within months of one another in 2014.
“That year, time stood still,” Randi Marainen, their mother, says through a translator. “Just grief.”
Sweden had one of the highest suicide rates in the world during the 20th century, but that number steadily declined over the decades, thanks to better treatment options and less stigma around mental health. Among the Sami, however, suicide is a growing problem.
About 80,000 Sami live in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and parts of Russia, including 20,000 in Sweden. That’s a tiny fraction of the national population of 9.85 million Swedes.
Half of Sami adults in Sweden suffer from anxiety and depression, says Petter Stoor, a Sami psychologist and researcher. According to his research, 1 in 3 young indigenous reindeer herders has seriously contemplated or attempted suicide. That’s more than double the rate among their Swedish peers. Other researchers have found rates of suicidal ideation to be nearly four times higher among Sami than among other Swedes.
For many Sami, suicide offers an escape on their terms from the inexorable force of climate change, which is eroding the traditional way of life in the Arctic.
“We are the nature people,” says Frøydis Nystad Nilsen, a Sami psychologist. “When you lose your land, you lose your identity.”
“It’s very important for us to protect nature,” she adds. “But it’s not easy.”
While nature is a major stressor in Sami life, nature may also be the cure.
Nilsen is the head doctor at an organization called SANKS (Sami Norwegian National Advisory Board on Mental Health and Substance Abuse), run by the Norwegian government. The counselors at SANKS integrate the Sami reverence for the environment and tradition into mental health treatment that addresses concerns about global warming head-on. They even offer a therapeutic camping program for families, allowing them to talk and heal over campfires, during fishing trips, on horseback rides, and while creating traditional handicrafts.
The only problem? Patients have to travel all the way to Norway to be seen. No similar programs exist in Sweden. And that can be a huge barrier to Sami in distress.
One icy January morning, Gustu was preparing to go to the mountains to check on his reindeer herd. Before he left, he paused for a moment.
“Mom, I love you,” he said.
They were the last words he would say to his mother. Three days later, after an extensive search, his body was found on the mountain. Gustu had taken his own life, guarded by his dog and surrounded by the reindeer he’d loved so much. He was 29.
The reasons, as with every case of suicide, were very complicated. But his family says he had grown more and more stressed about the fate of reindeer herding in a changing environment.
That final morning, when they were talking over breakfast at the kitchen table, Gustu told his parents that he didn’t see a bright future.
Reindeer herders in the Arctic live at ground zero of climate change. Storms, like the one that killed a herd of 300 reindeer in Norway in August, are growing in intensity and frequency. Predators are becoming more aggressive, and disease-carrying insects like ticks are moving farther north.
But perhaps the biggest threats have to do with unpredictable temperatures and extreme weather. During winter, unexpected sunny days can melt snow, followed by cold snaps that freeze the slush in layers of ice that are nearly impossible to penetrate. The reindeer exhaust themselves digging through meters of snow and ice layers to reach lichen, their primary food source. Many don’t make it through winter.
“It used to be much more stable; the winters were cold and the summers were warm,” Randi says. “Now you can have rain in the middle of the winter, and it can even start snowing in August.”
Ice bridges that link grazing lands across rivers form later in the year — and when they do finally appear, often they are unstable and collapse beneath the hooves of migrating reindeer. Spring sometimes arrives much earlier or much later, obscuring food and delaying migration.
“All of this affects the reindeer, and Gustu didn’t see a solution for this. He knew it was tough and heavy work, but it was working with reindeer that was closest to his heart,” Randi says.
The Marainen family and the Sami community reeled after Gustu took his own life. And their pain didn’t stop there.
The autumn after Gustu’s death, 21-year-old Heaika began a new job working with tourists interested in reindeer herding. Randi says he seemed happy — but Heaika had a history of depression and anxiety.
“He saw a lot, and he felt a lot, and he couldn’t take it,” Randi says.
The one activity Heaika could always rely on to cheer himself up, fishing, had more or less disappeared as well. Rising temperatures in the river winding past the Marainen home allowed bacteria to multiply, Heaika said, and fish began succumbing to disease and death.
“It’s just not fun anymore,” Heaika told his parents. With no way to relax, and with thoughts of his older brother’s death replaying in his mind, Heaika’s depression and anxiety grew dramatically worse. He told friends that he felt his brother beckoning him from the other side.
Heaika joined Gustu in November. He was 21 years old.
“It was like a bad rerun,” Randi says, wiping away tears. “We couldn’t understand that Heaika was gone as well.”
Randi wishes her sons could have sought treatment when they first became depressed — therapy that would have taken into account all of the pressures facing them as reindeer herders. They could perhaps have gone to the SANKS center in Norway. Health care is covered by the government, so treatment would have been free.
But getting there would have required taking weeks off work to travel for hours over lonely Arctic roads — simply not an option for many herders, she says. The center has treated just a handful of patients from outside Norway in the past few years.
“There’s absolutely a need for a Sami [psychology] center in Sweden,” Randi says. “The need is very big.”
In addition to family counseling, SANKS offers individual therapy and substance abuse care. Counselors are trained in disciplines from cognitive behavioral therapy to trauma therapy to psychiatry. And nearly all specialize in the Sami language.
“It is much easier to talk about hard problems in your own language,” says Nilsen, the head doctor at SANKS. She’s Sami herself and grew up speaking the language. The therapy she offers has a comforting familiarity; reindeer herders aren’t seen as exotic or treated as different. “I didn’t need to learn about Sami culture,” she says. “I am part of it.”
Programs like SANKS have helped drive down the suicide rate among Sami living in Norway in recent decades. Among adolescents, there’s no difference in the rate of suicide attempts among Sami and their non-Sami peers.
Yet opening a similar organization in Sweden would bring its own complications. For instance, Swedish law forbids doctors from asking about a patient’s ethnicity, and some argue that providing care customized to an indigenous population would also violate that rule.
The Marainens received no counseling after Gustu died, but after Heaika passed, they sought it out. The counselor was Swedish, though, and Randi and Thomas felt the impossible burden of explaining Sami life.
“I can’t explain all of my life story for them to understand,” Randi says.
Although suicide is widespread among the Sami community, mental health is still a taboo topic. Some of the Marainens’ old friends have kept a distance; sometimes they meet on the streets of Kiruna and just walk by. Maybe they are ashamed to know a family touched by suicide, Randi thinks. Maybe they don’t know what to say.
“But we are the same people we were,” she says.
Randi urges other families to talk about depression and anxiety before it’s too late. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone,” she says. “It’s not supposed to be like this.”
Randi and Thomas still struggle with grief over their sons’ deaths. But they say they have made their choice: to live.
“We have a heavy burden of sorrow, but we see a spot of light,” Randi says. She nods toward her grandchildren, playing on the kitchen floor. “I see life and hope in the small ones.”
However, the ripple effect of suicide still worries them.
“Sometimes, I still wonder: Who will be the third?” Randi says.
She and Thomas gaze out the kitchen window at the glossy river stretching by their house, cutting through summer-lush meadows under troubled skies. Along its banks, Simon Issat — their only living son — works in the yard.
Simon Issat Marainen, 36, is quiet and thoughtful. He doesn’t talk much as he works in the yard between his parents’ house and the home he shares with his partner, Beatrice, and their young daughter. But later, when Simon and his family drive out to the tundra to tend the herd, he begins to open up. Being around the herd is like being with Gustu again.
“I think that I have never been closer to him,” he says. “He’s always in my thoughts. Everything I do in the forest, everything I do on the mountain, it’s like my brother is with me.”
“They are special to me,” Simon says, watching his herd. “It’s a part of my brother.”
The reindeer are nervous this overcast evening. Their snorts and barks mingle with shouts from the herders scattered throughout the pen, standing ready with lassos to capture and mark the calves born in the spring. There aren’t as many calves as there should be.
“It’s not a good calf year,” Simon says. “When it’s deep snow, it’s very hard for the reindeer to smell where the food is.”
Many in the herd neared starvation last winter. When that happens, Simon explains, pregnant reindeer often miscarry. It’s how they conserve energy and survive. But it means fewer calves joined the herd in spring to replace reindeer sold for meat — the backbone of the herding economy.
To live as a reindeer herder is to experience constant uncertainties and stresses like these. They begin to take a toll. The herd was Gustu’s pride and joy, but also the source of his greatest trouble. In early 2014, he was struggling under the added weight of a bad business investment.
“I tried to help him in every way I could,” Simon says. He told his brother he’d be happy to lend him money. But Gustu demurred, saying, “You don’t have to take my problems on your shoulders. I don’t want that.”
“I think it’s a part of the Sami culture,” Simon says, his eyes still carefully fixed on the animals around him. “You have to be hard, you have to be strong, and you have to stand on your own feet. You don’t want too much help.”
Gustu is the one who taught him to herd. Now, Simon has full responsibility for Gustu’s animals.
“I am still helping my brother and he needs me, even if he isn’t here,” Simon says, speaking of his brother in the present tense.
Simon finds strength in nature and tradition, in reconnecting with the way his ancestors lived for thousands of years.
“When one generation stops with reindeer husbandry, it will stop forever,” he says. “Without it, we would be just like any other Swede.”
Later, at home, Simon walks out to the edge of the property and calls for his dog, a sharp ululation against the night air. The dog used to belong to Gustu; he stood guard over his master’s lifeless body for three days on the mountain, and he cried for months the winter Gustu left. Now, he’s part of Simon’s family.
The night sky has shifted into a muted blue. Once again, a fog moves in over the land.
Wisps of mist clinging to their forms, the pair turns back, toward the light and warmth of home.
Melody Schreiber and photographer Camilla Andersen reported from Sweden and Norway on a fellowship with the GroundTruth Project. This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Dec. 9, 2016. Find the original story here.
The post In a land of thundering reindeer, suicide stalks the indigenous Sami appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — The Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee are joining with Democrats in calling for an examination of reports that Russia interfered in the presidential election.
Chairman John McCain, incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and others said in a joint statement Sunday that the CIA’s report of Russia’s efforts in the election “should alarm every American.”
The leaders said they will push “to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.” Russia was the only country mentioned in the statement.[Watch Video]
President Barack Obama ordered a full review of campaign-season cyberattacks to be completed before he leaves office. President-elect Donald Trump has dismissed the CIA’s assessment that Russia powered his defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The post Republican senators join Dems to condemn Russian political hacking appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Mortuaries in the southern Nigerian city of Uyo were overflowing on Sunday as rescuers pulled bodies of more than 160 people from the debris of a church that collapsed during a service on Saturday.
The evangelical Reigners Bible Church International was still under construction in the capital of the major oil-producing state Akwa Ibom, but on Saturday, the local bishop Akan Weeks was being ordained, according to the Associated Press. Hundreds of people, including Gov. Udom Emmanuel, were inside for the ceremony when the corrugated iron roof caved and the metal girders came crashing down.
PHOTONEWS: At least 100 Dead as church building collapsed on Gov. Emmanuel Udom and worshippers on Uyo, Akwa Ibom state pic.twitter.com/7dvM4icfgd
— Sahara Reporters (@SaharaReporters) December 10, 2016
Etete Peters of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital told the AP that at least 160 people had been killed and officials feared the toll would continue to rise. Emmanuel and Weeks were able to escape without getting hurt.
“We have never had such a shocking incident in the history of our dear state,” Emmanuel wrote on his Facebook page.
He also declared Sunday and Monday days of mourning in Akwa Ibom.
— Udom Emmanuel (@MrUdomEmmanuel) December 11, 2016
Corruption in Nigeria has led to collapses in the past because contractors are able to bribe inspectors and build without meeting government standards.
Two years ago, the guesthouse of another church in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, collapsed and killed 116 people. Two structural engineers were charged with criminal negligence and involuntary manslaughter, citing structural failures, though they have not yet stood trial.
A spokesman for Emmanuel told the AP that the state will investigate whether the builders were responsible for Saturday’s catastrophe.
The post Nigerian church collapses on worshippers, killing 160 people appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
On Sunday, South Korean prosecutors indicted former senior economic aide Cho Won-dong and former vice culture minister Kim Chong during an ongoing investigation of President Park Geun-hye, according to Reuters.
The indictments follow the South Korean parliament’s decision on Friday to impeach Park, the nation’s first woman president as well as the daughter of the country’s former dictator, Park Chung-hee. Embroiled in a corruption scandal involving her informal adviser and long-time friend Choi Soon-sil, Park has faced mounting political pressure as millions of South Korean citizens took to the streets in protest.
On Friday, 10,000 protesters gathered in front of South Korea’s National Assembly to demand that Parliament impeach Park. Some of the protesters had traveled from other cities and spent the night on the streets, while some anti-Park farmers drove their tractors to the city. When Park’s impeachment was announced, many of the protesters began laughing and cheering, according to the Associated Press.
The bill to impeach Park passed with 234 votes for and 56 votes against, reaching the two-thirds requirement, according to the Associated Press. And the large margin of the vote indicates that more than 60 members of Park’s own conservative party — the Saenuri Party — voted to impeach her, according to Reuters.
“I solemnly accept the voice of the parliament and the people and sincerely hope this confusion is soundly resolved,” Park said in a Cabinet meeting, according to Reuters. “I wholeheartedly offer words of apology to the people as my lack of virtue and carelessness have caused great confusion at a time when the nation faces challenges over national security and the economy.”
The vote means that Park will be stripped of all presidential power and that South Korean prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will temporarily take on the president’s duties.
The country’s Constitutional Court now has 180 days to rule on whether the parliament reached the decision to impeach Park through due process. This ruling could take up to six months to make, during which Park will remain in the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential palace, according to the Associated Press. If six of the court’s nine justices vote to support Park’s impeachment, Park will be officially removed from the presidency and a presidential election held within 60 days to replace her. However, if six justices vote against her impeachment, then Park will be immediately reinstated and could serve the rest of her five-year term, which was supposed to end in February 2018, according to the Guardian.
The allegations against Park claim that she used her position to help her informal adviser Choi, who is the daughter of a religious sect leader, extort millions of dollars from major South Korean companies to fund Choi’s foundations, and that Park allowed Choi excessive influence over matters such as selecting top government officials, according to The New York Times.
Over the past few months, Park’s approval ratings have plummeted to just 4 percent — a record low, according to the Guardian.
On Saturday, approximately 15,000 people rallied in Seoul in support of Park, waving South Korean national flags and holding up banners that read “President Park, Don’t Cry” and “Nullify Impeachment.” On the same day, a much larger crowd of about 200,000 people celebrated the parliament’s decision to impeach and also demanded that the court officiate Park’s removal from the presidency, according to the BBC.
See more photos of this weekend’s protests below.
The post Protests continue in South Korea as prosecutors indict two ex-officials appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
The Islamic State retook the ancient city of Palmyra on Sunday, wresting control from the Syrian government just months after their forces captured the UNESCO World Heritage site from the self-proclaimed caliphate.
The Syrian army abandoned its positions in the city and re-positioned on the perimeter, even as Russian officials said their airstrikes killed hundreds of Islamic State militants, Reuters reported. The Islamic State began its advance around Palmyra on Thursday, before an estimated 4,000 fighters moved into the city center.
“The army is using all means to prevent the terrorists from staying in Palmyra,” one Syrian official said.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-affiliated group monitoring the war, Syrian soldiers retreated to orchards outside the city as “regime forces are bringing huge military reinforcements to the south of the city and to its western perimeter.”
“Russian warplanes continued the intense and violent bombing, they carried out tens of raids since yesterday night and until after the midnight on areas in Palmyra city after the Islamic State controlled it almost entirely overnight,” the group said in a statement released on Sunday.
In March, the Syrian government took the city from the Islamic State, which had destroyed temples dating back to the Roman empire after capturing Palmyra in May 2015. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his government would rebuild the temples that had been demolished.
MONICA PIPER: This was us. We were suns of the sunset. There’s Robin there…
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Whether performing with a young Robin
Williams, touring with Jerry Seinfeld or writing for such shows as Roseanne or Nickelodeon’s Rugrats – Monica Piper has worked in nearly every corner of comedy.
MONICA PIPER: The great thing about stand-up as opposed to almost other art is that you know immediately whether it’s good or not.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: But after nearly 40 years making people laugh, the Bronx raised Piper has lent her comedic pen to a one woman, Off-Broadway show called Not That Jewish.
MONICA PIPER: To make people laugh … Seinfeld said it’s powerful and addicting, and it is, but to see them laughing in this broader context is a whole new thing.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Performing in New York’s New World stages, Piper chronicles not only the origins of her life in comedy, but her quest to understand what it means to be a Jewish American woman.
MONICA PIPER: “When I was growing up we didn’t belong to a temple, but on the high holy days me mother would make us dress up and stand in front of the apartment building so it looked like we just got home from temple.”
MONICA PIPER: I was very determined for this to really be a play and not just stand-up with furniture.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: While the show is threaded with some of the same jokes that carried her comedy routine, Piper takes the audience through failed romances, the death of her parents and her life as a single mom to an adopted son.
MONICA PIPER: So if I talk about the men that I’m meeting, which in stand-up would be, “Then I went out with this guy.” But this now has meaning in a greater sense.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Is that frightening to not only change the format, but also to change the format in a way that you’re revealing so much more about yourself?
MONICA PIPER: No, I would not say it’s frightening; I would say it’s really freeing.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Within this freedom, Piper bares all. Her revelations that her marriage is over, a battle with breast cancer and her struggles to raise an adopted son born of Christian mother to be a Jewish man.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Piper traces much of her comedic instincts to her father, who, in his early years, also worked as a comedian. Ultimately, the undertow of the entire play comes by way of Piper’s revelation that this comedic instinct has not only passed down from from her father to her, but onward to her son Jake.
MONICA PIPER: There’s a line in the play earlier, right before his Bar Mitzvah, when I say to my father, “This is crazy. Every time I turn around, it’s a thousand bucks.” My father says, “Don’t turn around.” That’s my father. So I tell Jake that, and he laughs. Now, that was when he was 13. Now he’s 18 telling me he’s not Jewish and I’m doing the dishes, and he comes in the kitchen. And I say, “This is unbelievable, every time I turn around, there’s another dish in the sink.” He says, “Don’t turn around.” And we don’t even say anything, we just look at each other, the humor, the spirit, the— his grandpa’s words.
MONICA PIPER: That’s what I love about the play. The first third, not even, is my childhood and my relationship with my father, my father being funny. Then me being funny. And now my son being funny. That’s what we’re passing down, you know.
The post ‘Not That Jewish’ is a comic roadmap to Jewish-American life appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
MIKE TAIBBI: At ground level, in their outsized elegance, they looked like the components of some futuristic space complex. But in fact they’re the blades that will spin atop America’s first offshore wind turbines. This demonstration project, a decade in the making, borrows renewable energy technology from land-based wind farms and takes that technology out to sea in a patch of the Atlantic Ocean off tiny Block Island, Rhode Island.
Jeff Grybowski is the CEO of the company behind the project, Deepwater Wind.
JEFF GRYBOWSKI: We lift all this equipment about 450 feet up in the air and bolt together.
MIKE TAIBBI: And these are, like, 25 tons apiece?
JEFF GRYBOWSKI: 29 tons, each blade. Each is about 241 feet long.
MIKE TAIBBI: Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo came to the Port of Providence to take a “victory lap.”
GOVERNOR GINA RAIMONDO: It means a cleaner source of energy. Ultimately, it means a lower cost of energy. I love that. I love it when Rhode Island is the first.
MIKE TAIBBI: The first to start an industry in the U.S. that’s already established and growing in Europe, where some three thousand offshore turbines supply power for more than seven million homes.
In Denmark, for example, as Newshour Weekend reported last year, offshore wind turbines, combined with land-based turbines already provide 40 percent of the country’s electricity and are turning toward a goal of 50 percent by 2020. By comparison, in the U.S. today, wind power accounts for only about five percent of all electricity generation.
To take this step in U.S. waters, planting a mere five turbines on the shallow continental shelf south of Block Island, Deepwater Wind had to overcome several court challenges, obtain state and federal permits, and beat back arguments that the windmills are an eyesore.
Block Island only has about a-thousand year round residents, but tens of thousands of admirers, mostly tourists and seasonal visitors, flock here in the summer.
RoseMarie Ives and her husband, Jonathan, own a home on Block Island and have been spending their summers here for decades.
ROSEMARIE IVES: Instead of one coming to the island and looking out at this wonderful, amazing view where the ocean does rise to meet the sky. You’re focused on a manmade industrial installation and I don’t like it.
MIKE TAIBBI: It cost 300 million dollars to build this project, all coming from private investment. Though Deepwater Wind is also getting a federal tax credit. But there is uncertainty about how much the energy generated from the wind farm will cost the ratepayers who’ll use that energy. The company that’s buying and distributing the electricity, National Grid, will pay Deepwater Wind a price for the wind farm’s renewable energy that’s higher than today’s market prices from traditional sources.
National Grid says that’s because: “Renewable energy can be more expensive than traditional sources based on energy markets today; however, it is an important part of our energy future, and prices could come down as the renewable energy industry advances. As part of the deal, National Grid will be paying Deepwater Wind annual cost increases of three-and-a-half percent every year, for the next 20 years. Critics say that could result in higher electricity bills for all one million Rhode Island residents.
MIKE TAIBBI: Al Lubrano, who owns a home on Block Island, used to run a manufacturing tech company on the mainland.
AL LUBRANO: This is going to be much more expensive. I would love to start a company where the state not only guaranteed me annual increases in what I could charge customers, but also guaranteed me profitability. And that’s basically what happened here.
ROSEMARIE IVES: I don’t think anybody has a problem with making investments in R & D and renewables, whether it’s solar, wind, or something else that’s out there.
MIKE TAIBBI: I hear the “but…”
ROSEMARIE IVES: However, if you ask the public do they want to pay 100 percent more or do they want to pay 300 percent more, I think they would say “Hell no!”
MIKE TAIBBI: While the rates almost certainly will rise across Rhode Island, most year-round Block Island residents don’t believe their electricity bills will rise that much. That’s in large part because the island already pays some of the highest electricity rates in the country…because it depends for all its power on shiploads of fuel oil from the mainland — and an old inefficient diesel power plant. In tough times, as when oil prices soared to well over a hundred dollars a barrel in recent years, islanders have endured electric bills double or triple the national average.
In better times, right now, for example, with oil prices way way down, Deepwater Wind’s project not only powers Block Island but also includes a 20 mile cable to carry the excess energy its turbines produce straight into the mainland electric grid.
That’s stability, says the island’s former town council leader Kim Gaffett.
KIM GAFFETT: Even if the cost of fuel comes so low that the savings are flat, we have no savings, it just costs the same, so what? We end up with renewable energy. We end up with a stable cost. It’s not going to fluctuate month to month.
MIKE TAIBBI: The winds here are steady and dependable. But with other large scale proposals to exploit those winds rejected or stalled up and down the East coast, Deepwater and Grybowski made a strategic decision eight years ago: instead of trying for the much larger wind farm, they went for a mere demonstration project: just thirty megawatts of power from these five turbines.
JEFF GRYBOWSKI: That really was a focus of our company’s philosophy on how to build this industry up. Let’s start with something small that’s manageable, where we can control the risk. And let’s gradually make these projects larger and larger to the point where we can eventually do really utility-scale stuff.
MIKE TAIBBI: Bottom line, they’re here. And wind power dreamers all along the 12 thousand miles of continental U.S. coastline — the Atlantic, the Gulf coast, the Pacific — are looking at little Rhode Island and saying, ‘It’s on!’”
GOVERNOR RAIMONDO: I think it’s the beginning of something really big. It’s a pilot, but it’s the beginning of an industry, and now we’re starting to hear from Massachusetts, hear from New York, hear from our neighbors.
MIKE TAIBBI: In fact, the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, has signed legislation paving the way for the development of enough offshore wind generation to power about half a million homes.
Across the country, in California, a veteran engineer named Alla Weinstein saluted Rhode Island and said success there makes her own proposal for floating turbines anchored in deeper Pacific waters much more do-able.
ALLA WEINSTEIN: Just to get to the point of flipping the switch and getting energy from offshore wind is going to be a significant event. I can point and say, “Here, we do have it in the United States!”
MIKE TAIBBI: Weinstein’s company, Trident Winds, hopes to plant 100 floating turbines, based on prototypes tested and manufactured overseas, in the deep waters off Morro Bay, just down the west coast from Big Sur and Hearst Castle.
The turbines, essentially ships with towers and blades all turning with the wind 20 to 30 miles offshore, would be pinned to the ocean floor by massive anchors. Floating turbines can be fully assembled on land rather than out at sea, making the production process more efficient and scalable.
ALLA WEINSTEIN: You basically pre-fabricate all the pieces ahead of time and then you have a serial production line where you assemble them all together.
MIKE TAIBBI: Mass production?
ALLA WEINSTEIN: Exactly!
MIKE TAIBBI: But while the estimated cost of the project is $3.5 to $4 billion dollars, Weinstein says that’s no more than the cost of a new oil, coal or nuclear power plant.
ALLA WEINSTEIN: It has to work economically. It’s a balancing act again of looking at the market, looking at the demand, looking at the time it’s going to take you to permit a project of this sort, and doing it at the right time.
MIKE TAIBBI: 200 miles east of Morro Bay, the technicians tending to one of the world’s largest land-based wind farms, the Mojave wind farm in the Tehachapi Pass, say it is the right time for offshore wind, and the Block Island pilot project is the trigger.
Neal Emmerton monitors the turbines owned by the company Everpower.
NEAL EMMERTON: I think it’s tremendous. It’s huge. It’s nothing if you’re from Europe, because they’ve had them out in the water for 15, 20 years but here in the United States, it is. The first one to do it is also the most expensive, but once it’s been done the costs are going to drop like the crazy, and then it gets to be cost competitive.
MIKE TAIBBI: That’s what happened with land-based wind power: The oldest turbines here that go back 20 and 30 years were small and inefficient, by today’s standards, their useful life mostly over.
Today, the wild mustangs that have roamed these vast acres for generations pick their way among more than 5,000 modern towers with space-age blades capable of sweeping more usable energy from the steady winds than ever before.
MIKE TAIBBI: Right now wind provides about eight percent of California’s energy needs. But to meet the target of fifty percent renewable energy by the year 2030, wind is going to have to do a lot better than that. So Alla Weinstein sees her proposal for floating offshore turbines in the Pacific as realistic and on track.
ALLA WEINSTEIN: If we don’t innovate, if we don’t look beyond the horizon, if we don’t take the risks, we’ll not be advancing.
MIKE TAIBBI: Back in Rhode Island, some residents, like Al Lubrano and Rosemary Ives, remain skeptical how much those advances will cost them and their view.
But Jeff Grybowski thinks his company has harnessed the wind in a way that was inevitable.
JEFF GRYBOWSKI: It is awe-inspiring. It’s remarkable that we’re actually here at this moment. It’s actually going very fast now. That’s what really strikes me, how quickly it’s going.
ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve board begins a two-day meeting, its last for 2016, and it is widely anticipated that Fed Chair Janet Yellen will announce an interest rate increase. Also at play is the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration and what that might mean for monetary policy moving forward.
Joining me from Washington, D.C. for some insight is Binyamin Appelbaum of “The New York Times”.
The Fed has signaled it plans to raise interest rates. Why?
BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, THE NEW YORK TIMES: They’re ready to raise interest rates for the first time in almost a year because they think the economy is doing better. We’ve had slow but steady growth for quite some time now. A lot of people have found jobs, the employment rate unemployment rate is down to 4.6 percent, and the Fed thinks the economy is ready to handle slightly higher interest rates.
ALISON STEWART: Fed Chair Janet Yellen said this decision had nothing to do with the election. But going forward, obviously, monetary policy is going to have a lot to do with the Trump administration and its economic policy. What are some of the unknowns out there?
BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: Yes, that’s right. This is sort of the last Fed decision that probably won’t be influenced by Donald Trump. You know, it reality has complicated the Fed’s outlook. The Fed was expecting before the election that growth would remain slow and steady and there are now at least two other options. One is Donald Trump and congressional Republicans succeed in passing legislation such as tax cuts or infrastructure spending, that boosts economic growth and that jolts us out of this sort of prolong malaise that the economy has been in.
And the other possibility is that rapid change turns to be a bad thing and that the economy tips backwards into potentially a recession. The Fed now needs to be much more mindful of both of those possibilities. The degree of uncertainty has really increased.
ALISON STEWART: When Donald Trump was campaigning, he said during the first debate, some pretty harsh words about the Fed, accusing it of being political and trying to keep interest rates down to benefit President Obama’s legacy. And then he said, quote, in the first debate, “We have a Fed that is doing political things. This Janet Yellen. The Fed is doing political”, that said in context.
For the record, let’s fact check this. The Fed is not a political organization, correct?
BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: The Fed is an independent agency. Its members are certainly appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress. But they are intentionally insulated from short term political pressure and there is no evidence that any of their decision-making is the result of political pressure.
ALISON STEWART: Fed Chair Janet Yellen says she will remain until the end of her term, which is 2018. Donald Trump, though, will have opportunity to make appointees to the board of governors, right?
BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: That’s right. He’ll immediately be able to fill two seats, the Obama administration, and nominated two people to the board of governors. But congressional Republicans refused to hold hearings on those nominations, so those two vacancies are still there.
The interesting question is who he wants on the Fed. You know, Donald Trump is by nature and by his long career, a borrower — the kind of guy who generally would be thought to favor lower interest rates. He now leads the party of lenders, the Republican Party, which has long thought that fiscal and monetary policy should be a little bit tighter. And that would tend to argue for the type of governor who might want to raise interest rates a little more quickly.
So, how that balance plays out between who Donald Trump is as a person and some of the political imperatives of leading the Republican Party is going to be very interesting to watch.
ALISON STEWART: Binyamin Appelbaum from “The New York Times” — thank you so much.
BINYAMIN APPELBAUM: My pleasure.
NEW YORK — President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview Sunday that his executives would run his business empire alongside his children, pushing back against charges that his vast real estate holdings would pose a conflict of interest for him in the White House.
Trump has said he will leave day-to-day control of his business but has not yet offered details of how he intends to separate himself. He is planning to hold a news conference on Thursday to discuss the future of his company.
In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Trump said he would not be “doing deals at all.”
“My executives will run it with my children. It’s a big company, it’s a great company. But I’m going to have nothing to do with management,” Trump said. He also noted that when he ran for president, “everybody knew that I was a very big owner of real estate all over the world.”
But in a sign of how Trump continues to play a role with his company while he fills out his Cabinet, the incoming president said he had turned down “seven deals with one big player, great player, last week because I thought it could be perceived as a conflict of interest.”[Watch Video]
Since his victory last month, government ethics lawyers have pressured Trump to sell his assets and put the money in a blind trust overseen by an independent manager not related to him. They contend that approach is the only way to avoid conflicts between his sprawling business holdings of roughly 500 companies in more than a dozen countries and his work as president.
Trump owns golf clubs, office towers and properties in several countries and has struck licensing deals for use of his name on hotels and other buildings around the world. One of Trump’s lenders, Deutsche Bank, is in settlement talks with the Justice Department over its role in the mortgage blowup that sparked the 2008 financial crisis.
Presidents are not required to set up blind trusts. While federal ethics rules place strict limits on nearly all government employees and elected officials, the rules do not apply to the president.
Trump, in the interview, gave no indication that he was considering taking steps to sell assets or create a blind trust. The Trump Organization has said previously that the future president intends to transfer control of the company to his three adult children.
Asked about his children’s roles, Trump said, “It’s totally different. They’re not president.” He added that his children are “not making deals either, for my company.”
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly assailed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ties to foreign governments and corporations that had donated money to her family’s charity, the Clinton Foundation, and asserted that it had created a massive conflict of interest.
Pressed on his company profiting from foreign countries booking events at Trump’s new Washington hotel, Trump argued that the circumstances — and his deal-making — were different. “You know, under the law, I have the right to do it. I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do deals, because I want to focus on this.”
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More than 2,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed in and around Mosul by Iraqi forces and their allies since October, according to U.S. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend.
Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said as many as 5,000 Islamic State fighters remain after a military campaign led by Iraqi troops began on Oct. 17, the Associated Press reported.
The militants have held Iraq’s second-largest city for nearly two years. Mosul is located about 250 miles from Baghdad, where 12 people were killed on Sunday during a six bombings, two of which were claimed by ISIS, according to the AP.
“By our calculations, we think we have killed or badly wounded over 2,000,” Townsend said during a press conference at an air base in the Iraqi town of Qayara.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis are leaving the city, a perilous journey that includes navigating landmines, the U.N. refugee agency told the PBS NewsHour.
Only a sliver of Mosul has been retaken by Iraqi troops and U.S.-backed coalition forces despite the sustained military campaign. On Sunday, they came under mortar fire as they worked to clear towns and villages on the outskirts of Mosul to open up supply lines, according to the AP.
“This is a major urban area. Any army on the planet, including the United States Army, would be challenged by this fight,” Townsend said. “The Iraqi army has come back from near-defeat two years ago, and now they are attacking this major city.”
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JERUSALEM — President-elect Donald Trump will be a good friend to Israel and hopefully the two countries can work together to dismantle the international nuclear agreement with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview Sunday.
While the two countries are close allies, relations were sometimes tense between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama because of their vastly different world views on the Iran deal and other issues.
There is sentiment in the nationalist Israeli right wing that Trump’s election could usher in a new era of relations with the United States.
“I know Donald Trump,” Netanyahu told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in an interview that will air later Sunday night. “And I think his attitude, his support for Israel is clear. He feels very warmly about the Jewish state, about the Jewish people. There’s no question about that,” Netanyahu said.
His remarks were significant because critics have accused Trump of tolerating anti-Semitism among some of his supporters.
Netanyahu said he “had differences of opinion” with President Obama the “most well-known, of course, is Iran.”
The Israeli prime minister has been one of the fiercest critics of the nuclear deal and butted heads with Obama over the issue.
Iran has long backed armed groups committed to Israel’s destruction and its leaders have called for it to be wiped off the map. Israel fears that Iran’s nuclear program is designed to threaten its very existence.
Netanyahu said there are “various ways of undoing” the 2015 deal, in which Iran agreed to limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions on its oil industry and finances.
“I have about five things in my mind,” Netanyahu said, declining to go into further detail.
During his campaign, Trump was harshly critical of the nuclear deal.
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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has rejected challenges to the estimated $1 billion plan by the NFL to settle thousands of concussion lawsuits filed by former players.
The court’s action on Monday clears the way for payouts to begin to former players who have been diagnosed brain injuries linked to repeated concussions.
The settlement covers more than 20,000 NFL retirees for the next 65 years. The league estimates that 6,000 former players, or nearly three in 10, could develop Alzheimer’s disease or moderate dementia.
Players could receive up to $5 million each in the case of severe brain trauma.
Some former players and relatives of players who have died objected to the settlement.
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A women’s march that is expecting more than 100,000 attendees the day after the Jan. 20 inauguration has secured a location for its demonstration. More than a dozen other groups planning protests are still waiting on permits.
The Women’s March on Washington will begin at Independence Avenue and Third Street, Southwest, and walk west along the edge of the National Mall. More than 143,000 people have indicated on Facebook that they plan to attend.
The group does not mention President-elect Donald Trump by name, but says, “The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us — women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.”
The organizers had hoped to hold the event at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
But the National Park Service, which issues the permits, holds prime locations, including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Ellipse by the White House and portions of the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue, for the Presidential Inaugural Committee during the period covering the date of the inauguration, according to National Parks Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson. Once the committee chooses the locations it wants to use, the National Park Service is able to release permits to other event organizers on a first-come, first-served basis.
Rather than wait indefinitely for their chosen spot, the Women’s March organizers went with another choice.
According to National Park Service records, 20 groups have requested permits, which is about four times the number of groups that have asked in past inaugurations, said park service spokesman Mike Litterst, reported the Associated Press.
“This is public land. This land belongs to all of us. The park service’s role is only to act as a neutral administrator and steward of public land,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, according to the AP. She is representing the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER, Coalition, which is planning a protest on Inauguration Day and a march the following day.
“They have done a massive land grab, to the detriment of all those who want to engage in free speech activities,” she said.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee did not respond to a request for comment. The committee’s spokesman Alex Stroman told the Washington Post,”We’re moving as quickly as possible. We are figuring out what events we are doing.”
While the committee decides, event organizers are turning to alternative locations. ANSWER is planning its Jan. 21 march starting at the Trump International Hotel and going up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
That way, they won’t need a permit from the National Park Service because the street is under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Department, the group said.
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Today’s forecast for “HAT-P-7b ,” an exoplanet located 1,040 light years from Earth, may call for cloud cover and blustering winds.
This estimation is based on a study published Monday in Nature Astronomy, the first report to detail persuasive evidence of weather on a planet outside of our Solar System. This new technique for measuring weather patterns on foreign worlds using Earth-based telescopes could aid the search of hospitable planets.
“Our study shows the universe is full of strange and diverse planets, beyond anything we see in our own solar system,” said David Armstrong, study co-author and astrophysicist at the University of Warwick. “This study confirms that exoplanet atmospheres are variable, and gives us some idea of what to look for in the future.”
HAT-P-7b is a gas giant, approximately the size of Jupiter, and it is hot. The exoplanet orbits so close to its star that a single year takes about two Earth days to complete. HAT-P-7b is also tidally locked with its star, meaning the same is always in the sunshine. The dayside is much hotter than the nightside — 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit — and researchers like Armstrong had suspected strong winds might circle the planet in jet streams. But how do you spot winds on a planet that’s a quadrillion miles away?
NASA’s Kepler mission, that’s how. The Kepler space telescope spent four years pointed at HAT-P-7b as the exoplanet circled its star.
“What we study is light from the planet, either reflected from its star or emitted by the planet itself,” Armstrong said. “What we were able to see is the peak of the light from the planet changed location over time – moving from one side of the planet to the other.”
Using a math model inspired by atmospheric variability for planets in our Solar System and Brown Dwarfs elsewhere in the cosmos, the team determined the reason for the shifts in light intensity on HAT-P-7b were due to changes in the cloud cover on the planet.
“We expect clouds to form on the cold night side of the planet, but they would evaporate quickly on the hotter dayside,” Armstrong said. “When the winds are strong though, they can push clouds from the nightside on to the dayside, leading to huge cloud formations building up before dying away.”
These winds are probably moving fast, like a rate of several thousand miles per hour. And by the way, clouds on exoplanet HAT-P-7b are potentially made of corundum, the mineral that forms rubies and sapphires, the study says.
Princeton astrophysicist James Owen said other labs had made similar atmospheric observations before, but they had used different telescopes and different techniques.
“No one was really sure if the observations were intrinsically due to the exoplanet, or due to the different ways of taking the data,” said Owen, who wasn’t involved with Armstrong’s project. “This is really first time that weatherlike phenomena have been seen or convincingly seen in exoplanets.”
These windy weather patterns occur on a cycle of every couple of Earth weeks, or over the course of several years on HAT-P-7b. Owen said the research will serve as a great guide for searching for weatherlike patterns on other exoplanets, including ones with the size and stature of Earth. For now, cloud cover represents the extent of what could be spotted among Kepler’s extensive data. But future missions like NASA’s James Webb Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Ariel Mission should be able to spot other weatherlike features by examining narrower portions of the light spectrum.
Wall Street expects the Fed to raise interest rates by a quarter point at its meeting Dec. 13 to 14. But there is a potential surprise: The world may learn that the Fed wants to raise rates aggressively in 2017 and 2018. This new, more “hawkish” monetary policy may become known as the “Yellen Collar.”
On Oct. 20, 1987, the Federal Reserve intervened to prop up the stock market, and the “Greenspan Put” was born. The Greenspan Put is the implicit guarantee that the U.S. Federal Reserve will print massive amounts of money to stop any stock market crash. (A “put” is a side bet in the options market that an asset will drop in value.)
Thirty years later, we are seeing the Yellen Collar, a more sophisticated side bet. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen would like to raise interest rates a dozen times or more. The Yellen Collar is an options term that combines the Greenspan Put with Chair Yellen’s desire to increase interest rates as fast as the stock market allows.
The Greenspan Put: If the stock market crashes, the Fed will bail out investors.
The Yellen Collar: The Greenspan Put plus if stock market goes up, the Fed will raise rates (a lot).
If 2017 is indeed the year of the Yellen Collar, it will be an enormous change in global financial markets. Furthermore, if the Fed is able to significantly raise rates beginning in 2017, it will be, for lack of a more nuanced term, good.
Three decades of the Greenspan Put
Alan Greenspan became chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve on Aug. 11, 1987. Greenspan was interested in the stock market and kept a keen eye on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. During early meetings as Chair of the Federal Reserve, Greenspan was puzzled by the attitude of his colleagues. They did not monitor the stock market and thought their job was to maintain a sound currency.
Just two months after becoming chair, Alan Greenspan witnessed the largest one-day stock market crash in the history of the United States. On Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 22.6 percent of its value. Even before the stock market opened the next morning, the Federal Reserve announced increased monetary stimulus. The Greenspan Put was unveiled in under 24 hours. (I wish all insurance contracts were honored so promptly.)
Born in under a day, the Greenspan Put is flourishing 30 years later. One enormous change since 1987 is that every member of the Federal Reserve now watches the stock market continuously. Any drop in the stock market is quickly greeted with Fed choruses of loose money.
The latest incident began late in 2015. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December 2015 and predicted it would raise interest rates four times in 2016. In reaction to the prospect of rising interest rates, the stock market collapsed in January and February.
To stop the stock market decline, the Fed deployed the venerable Greenspan Put. The Fed retreated from their promise of interest rate increases and even hinted at possible monetary easing. The stock market rallied and soon reached new highs.
For 30 years, the Fed has cushioned every stock market decline with loose money.
The wealth effect and the Greenspan Put
Willy Sutton robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” The Greenspan Put helps people who own stocks, because they have most of the money.
When he was chair of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke made this “wealth effect” argument explicit, by writing in an editorial, “higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.”
Ben Bernanke’s editorial argues that the Fed acts to support the stock market, not because it cares about the stock market directly and not because the Fed wants to make rich people richer, but because it wants spending by rich people to trickle down to the rest of the economy.
Whatever the true motivation of the Fed, we can be sure that future market crashes will cause the Federal Reserve to act to try to save the stock market.
The Greenspan Put is alive and well.
Janet Yellen wants to increase interest rates a lot
The Federal Reserve controls the federal funds rate, a short-term interest rate that affects all aspects of the economy. The federal funds rate currently is 0.25 percent, while the post-World War II average is just over 5 percent, and the peak was almost 20 percent. The Fed has a lot of room to raise interest rates.
Yellen announced her desire to raise interest rates a dozen times or more at the important Jackson Hole conference in August 2016. In her speech, she noted that in response to the most recent nine recessions, “the FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee] cut the federal funds rate by amounts ranging from about 3 percentage points to more than 10 percentage points.”
To understand Yellen’s motivation, consider that it has been seven years since the last U.S. recession ended. Since World War II, recessions have arrived about once every six years. Another recession is coming; the only unknown is the date.
If the next recession were to hit soon, the Fed could not respond by cutting interest rates aggressively. With interest rates still so close to zero, the Fed could cut rates back to zero, and it could unleash more printing of money (more printing is still the outcome that I expect). It could not, however, fight a recession with interest rate cuts alone.
So Yellen wants to raise rates to provide the Fed with ammunition to fight the next recession. Because the Fed has historically cut rates by between 3 and 10 percent, Yellen wonders if raising the federal funds rate to 3 percent is too little. “Would an average federal funds rate of about 3 percent impair the Fed’s ability to fight recessions?” she asked in 2016.
Accordingly, Yellen would like to raise rates a dozen times or more. The Fed needs 11 more quarter-point interest raises to reach 3 percent on the federal funds rate, the low end of the historical range. A dozen interest rate increases would get the Fed to 3.25 percent. Twenty rate increases would give the Fed a cushion of just over 5 percent.
Another recession is coming. When the storm hits, Yellen would like the Fed funds rate to be at least 3 percent. Thus, the Fed would like to raise interest rates significantly.
The Yellen Collar
The concept of the Yellen Collar has existed for several years. If implemented in 2017, it means the Fed will persistently increase interest rates as long as the stock market doesn’t collapse.
The Federal Reserve’s official mandate is to create jobs and maintain stable prices. Its actual mandate under the Yellen Collar is to stabilize the stock market. Stock market rallies will be met with higher interest rates. Any significant stock market decline will be mitigated by the Greenspan Put in the form of delaying interest rate increases, cutting rates and printing money.
Higher interest rates would help the economy
In 2014, I wrote that, in contrast to conventional wisdom, higher interest rates are good for the economy. The conventional wisdom claims that low interest rates increase the size of the “economic pie” by causing people to spend more.
The conventional wisdom misses two crucial aspects. First, the most important impact of low interest rates is not to grow the pie, but rather to take the economic pie away from senior citizens and other savers and give that pie to borrowers. In the U.S., the biggest beneficiary of low interest rates is the biggest debtor — the U.S. government. So low interest rates take money from senior citizen savers and give it to the federal government.
The second underappreciated impact of low interest rates is that it makes people poorer. Thousands of pension plans, college endowments and state retirement plans have been devastated by low interest rates. All savers have suffered because of financial repression. Furthermore, because low interest rates make people poorer, the economy has limped along with anemic growth rates.
Low interest rates have been bad for almost everyone.
As a saver who believes higher interest rates are good for economic growth, I hope that 2017 sees the positive side of the Yellen Collar in action. In particular, it would be great if the federal funds rate could soon exceed 3 percent without crashing the stock market.
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