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

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    U.S. President Barack Obama participates in his last news conference of the year at the White House before leaving for his annual Hawaiian Christmas holiday in Washington, U.S., December 16, 2016.     REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst  - RTX2VEAG

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now: the administration’s imposition of sanctions against Russia for trying to influence the vote during the presidential election.

    I spoke earlier today with Lisa Monaco, the assistant to President Obama for homeland security and counterterrorism.

    I began our conversation asking her about the impact of these new sanctions.

    LISA MONACO, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism: So, the impact is to make clear that we are imposing consequences for Russian aggression and their interference, their attempts to interfere in our political process.

    Specifically, the impact is for the individuals who have been sanctioned. It imposes a travel ban and inhibits anybody from doing and bars anybody from conducting financial transactions with them.

    Importantly, also, what we often see is the international financial system and European banks and others from — who will take steps to follow our lead when we take these types of actions, so it can have a ripple effect and impose some real consequences.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, considering that these are the actions that you have decided to publicize, are these enough of a proportionate response to Russian meddling in the U.S. election?

    LISA MONACO: Well, look, I think we should always be asking the question, are we hitting the right balance?

    And we have decided to take these actions quite deliberately, and we have done so with precision, consistent with what’s going to be in our national interest and consistent with what’s going to protect our national security.

    What I think you really should be very clear about is the actions taken today are done in response to a range of Russian aggressive behavior, both harassment and mistreatment of our personnel in Moscow, and, of course, the accomplishes cyber-activities against our — and efforts to interfere in our election process.

    But these actions today follow very clear steps that we took earlier this year, the unprecedented disclosure and attribution to the highest levels of the Russian government. That was done in the statement from the DNI and from the secretary of homeland security back in October, making quite clear that we attribute the efforts to interfere in our election to the Russian government.

    And these actions today also follow repeated both public and private warnings to the Russian government, including at the level of the president. And these actions also follow extensive outreach to state and local governments to shore up their cyber-defenses ahead of the election, because, of course, we were focused very keenly on maintaining the integrity of our election process.

    And these are actions also follow our extensive briefing of Congress.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How much is based on concern that the incoming administration might not take this step?

    LISA MONACO: So, these actions are taken deliberately, as I said, and with precision, and because we feel it is very important to make clear both to Russia and to any other actors that there will be consequences for violating norms of international behavior, both with respect to mistreatment of our diplomatic personnel and with respect to malicious cyber-activity.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You mentioned in this long report that there were government organizations, critical infrastructure entities, think tanks, universities, political organizations and corporations that were all hacked. So besides the DNC, who else was hacked? Was the RNC or were the Republicans hacked as well?

    LISA MONACO: So, I will leave that to the intelligence and law enforcement experts to detail in their reporting and in their investigation,.

    But what you’re referencing there is the statement that we have made already, both from the intelligence community and elsewhere, that Russia has become an increasingly aggressive actor, and has engaged in a years-long campaign in influence operations and malicious cyber-activity across a range of public and private sector institutions.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, since you have laid out that you know who is doing this, you know how they’re doing this, can you say with any certainty that either the hacks have stopped and that we have defended against them?

    LISA MONACO: Well, what we did over the summer was to be very clear about what the threat is, and we did that by briefing both Congress and state and local officials, who, of course, own and operate and manage the electoral infrastructure in this country.

    And we enabled them to take steps to defend themselves and provided them assistance in shoring up their defenses. So, we also were very clear, during the election season and on Election Day, that we were monitoring and making sure that there had not been an increase in that malicious activity, and we didn’t see an increase.

    And, indeed, we are confident in the outcome that there wasn’t a malicious cyber-meddling, such that it affected the vote count or the voting operations.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, have all of these think tanks and universities and important infrastructure entities, have they all been alerted of the types of attacks and what they need to do? And are we safer now that this information is out there?

    LISA MONACO: I think one of the steps we are taking today in the responses that we are issuing is, very importantly, to expose Russian activity.

    And so one of the elements of the announcement that we made today is a report by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI that provides technical information that will allow network defenders — that’s the owners and the operators of systems both in the public and private sector — to use that information to defend themselves.

    So we’re exposing the Russian tactics, techniques and procedures that they use to infiltrate our systems, allowing network defenders to defend themselves, and, importantly, making it harder and more complicated for these malicious, bad actors to undertake these activities. We’re basically forcing them to reengineer their approaches.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Lisa Monaco from the White House, thanks so much.

    LISA MONACO: Thank you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This evening, in a statement, President-elect Trump said: “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”

    But he said that, in the interests of the nation, he will meet with intelligence chiefs next week on the Russian hacking.

    The post U.S. retaliation meant to expose, dissuade increasing Russian aggression appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow. Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool/ Reuters

    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow. Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool/ Reuters

    President Vladimir Putin castigated the United States Friday for bringing sanctions and expelling Russian diplomats amid allegations of Russian meddling in the American presidential election, but said no U.S. diplomats will be ousted in reprisal for Washington’s moves in the wake of hacking attacks.

    In a burgeoning controversy surrounding complaints from the Obama administration about a cyber assault against America’s political system, the White House on Thursday unleashed a string of sanctions and coupled them with an order that 35 Russians be expelled.

    In a statement Friday on the Kremlin’s web site, Putin referred to the sanctions as a “provocation aimed to further undermine Russian-American relations.” But he also said that Moscow would not be ousting American diplomats.

    “The Russian diplomats returning home will spend the New Year Holidays with their relatives and dear ones,” Putin said. “At home. We will not create problems for U.S. diplomats. We will not expel anybody.”

    “The Russian diplomats returning home will spend the New Year Holidays with their relatives and dear ones. At home. We will not create problems for U.S. diplomats. We will not expel anybody.”

    The diplomatic confrontation between Washington and Moscow, which had been festering even before the Nov. 8 presidential election elevated Donald Trump to the presidency, puts pressure on the billionaire businessman not to let Russia off the hook after he takes office on Jan. 20.

    Russia’s government had threatened retaliation, and it continues to deny U.S. accusations that it hacked and stole emails to try to help Trump win.

    Trump said the U.S. should move on, but in a sign he was no longer totally brushing off the allegations, he plans to meet with U.S. intelligence leaders next week to learn more.

    Putin’s statement came hours after Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested a tit-for-tat expulsion in televised remarks. He said early Friday that Russia’s foreign ministry and other agencies had suggested that Putin order expulsion of 31 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and four diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg. Another suggestion is to bar American diplomats from using their summer retreat on the outskirts of Moscow and a warehouse south of Moscow.

    But in the web site remarks, Putin said, Russia would not prevent the families and children (of diplomats) from using the customary rest and leisure facilities and sites during the New Year holidays. “Moreover, I am inviting all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas parties in the Kremlin,” he said.

    President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered sanctions against the GRU and FSB, leading Russian intelligence agencies the U.S. said were involved. In an elaborately coordinated response by at least five federal agencies, the Obama administration also sought to expose Russia’s cyber tactics with a detailed technical report and hinted it might still launch a covert counterattack.

    “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions. Such activities have consequences.”

    “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” said Obama, who was vacationing in Hawaii. He added, “Such activities have consequences.”

    He said the response wasn’t over and the U.S. could take further, covert action — a thinly veiled reference to a counterstrike in cyberspace the U.S. has been considering.

    Yet the sanctions could easily be pulled back by Trump, who has insisted that Obama and Democrats are merely attempting to delegitimize his election.

    Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged earlier Friday that Washington has become immersed in “anti-Russian death throes.”

    Medvedev, who focused on improving U.S.-Russia ties when he was president from 2008-2012, called the latest diplomatic breach “sad” in a Twitter post.

    As part of the punishment leveled against Moscow, the U.S. kicked out 35 Russian diplomats, in response to Russia’s harassment of U.S. diplomats. They also shut down Russian recreational compounds in New York and Maryland that U.S. officials said were being used for intelligence.

    It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack, and more comprehensive than last year’s sanctions on North Korea after it hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. The new penalties add to existing U.S. sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, which have impaired Russia’s economy but had limited impact on Putin’s behavior.

    Russia called the penalties a clumsy yet aggressive attempt to “harm Russian-American ties.” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would take into account the fact that Trump will soon replace Obama as it drafts retaliatory measures.

    U.S. relations with Russia have suffered during Obama’s years in office as he and Putin tussled over Ukraine, Edward Snowden and Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, took to Facebook to call the Obama administration “a group of foreign policy losers, angry and ignorant.”

    It was unlikely the new sanctions, while symbolically significant, would have a major impact on Russian spy operations. The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets and block Americans from doing business with them. But Russian law bars the spy agencies from having assets in the U.S., and any activities they undertake would likely be covert and hard to identify.

    “On its face, this is more than a slap on the wrists, but hardly an appropriate response to an unprecedented attack on our electoral system,” said Stewart Baker, a cybersecurity lawyer and former National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security official.

    Indeed, senior Obama administration officials said that even with the penalties, the U.S. had reason to believe Russia would keep hacking other nations’ elections and might well try to hack American elections again in 2018 or 2020. The officials briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity.

    Though the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint report on “Russian malicious cyber activity” — replete with examples of malware code used by the Russians — it still has not released a broader report Obama has promised detailing Russia’s efforts to interfere with U.S. elections.

    The report has been eagerly anticipated by those hoping to make it politically untenable for Trump to continue questioning whether Russia was really involved. But U.S. officials said those seeking more detail about who the U.S. has determined did the hacking need look only to the list of sanctions targets, which includes the GRU head, his three deputies, and two Russian nationals wanted by the FBI for cybercrimes.

    The move puts Trump in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office, and U.S. officials acknowledged that Trump could use his executive authorities to do so. Still, they suggested that building the case against Russia now would make it harder for Trump to justify easing up.

    U.S. allegations of hacking have ignited a heated debate over Trump’s approach to Russia and his refusal to accept the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia’s government was responsible and wanted to help him win. Though U.S. lawmakers have long called for Obama to be tougher on Russia, some Republicans have found that position less tenable now that Trump is floating the possibility of closer ties to Moscow.

    “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

    U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was trying to help Trump when hackers connected to the government breached Democratic Party computers and stole tens of thousands of emails that were then posted on WikiLeaks, some containing embarrassing information about Democrats. Clinton aide John Podesta’s emails were also stolen and released publicly in the final weeks of the campaign.

    Associated Press reporters Josh Lederman and Nataliya Vasilyeva wrote this report.

    The post Putin says Russia won’t expel U.S. diplomats in response to sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A Baton Rouge police officer is consoled by a mourner before funeral services for Baton Rouge Police Department officer Montrell Jackson at Living Faith Christian Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman - RTSJJVU

    A Baton Rouge police officer is consoled by a mourner before funeral services for Baton Rouge Police Department officer Montrell Jackson at Living Faith Christian Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman – RTSJJVU

    Ambushes in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and other shootings around the country led to a sharp increase in the number of police killed in the line of duty this year.

    From Jan. 1 through Wednesday, 135 officers lost their lives. Some died in traffic accidents, but nearly half were shot to death. That’s a 56 percent increase in shooting deaths over the previous year.

    Of the 64 who were fatally shot, 21 were killed in ambush attacks often fueled by anger over police use of force involving minorities.

    “We’ve never seen a year in my memory when we’ve had an increase of this magnitude in officer shooting deaths,” said Craig Floyd, president and chief executive of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. “These officers were killed simply because of the uniform they wear and the job they do. This is unacceptable to the humane society that we are.”

    “We’ve never seen a year in my memory when we’ve had an increase of this magnitude in officer shooting deaths. These officers were killed simply because of the uniform they wear and the job they do. This is unacceptable to the humane society that we are.”

    In Dallas, a sniper on July 7 attacked at the end of what had been a peaceful rally against police brutality. He killed five law enforcement officers and wounded nine others — the largest death toll among law enforcement from a single event since the 9/11 attacks, which killed 72 officers. Months later, Dallas businesses and residents still display blue ribbons and banners declaring, “We support our Dallas police officers.”

    But even amid community support, the police department remains unsettled. Hundreds of officers have retired or left the force over the past six months as the city struggles to find a way to increase pay and save a failing police and fire pension system. Former Chief David Brown, who became a national figure in the aftermath, was among those who opted to retire. And interim Dallas Police Association president Frederick Frazier said that morale is “almost nonexistent.”

    “A lot of us are going through the motions at work. We’re hoping things will get better with our struggle,” he said. Frazier added that the attack was a “game changer. It changed the perception of law enforcement. It reversed the role after Ferguson. We were the pursuer and now, we’re being pursued.”

    “A lot of us are going through the motions at work. We’re hoping things will get better with our struggle.”

    Less than two weeks after the Dallas attack, a lone gunman in Baton Rouge shot and killed three officers and wounded three others outside a convenience store in the weeks after a black man, 37-year-old Alton Sterling, was shot and killed by police during a struggle.

    Baton Rouge Police Cpl. Lester Mitchell was partners with Matthew Gerald, one of the three slain officers, and was among the officers who raced to the scene of the shooting that also killed sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola and officer Montrell Jackson. Mitchell has daily reminders of the deadly shootout, driving past the scene on his way to police headquarters.

    “Just passing there, you can’t help but replay it over and over again,” he said.

    Mitchell said the shooting has made him more alert and aware of potential dangers on patrol, sometimes in situations that wouldn’t have alarmed him before, like a hand in a pocket. “You learn to cope with it, because if you don’t, you can drive yourself crazy,” he said.

    The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s Floyd said the impact of this year has been profound on law enforcement. Agencies are struggling to recruit officers to their ranks and those who continue to serve “talk about how their head is now on a swivel.”

    “They’re always looking over their shoulder, always worrying about the next attack that could come at any time from any direction.”

    “They’re always looking over their shoulder, always worrying about the next attack that could come at any time from any direction,” Floyd said.

    That was underscored by the slaying in November of a San Antonio detective who was fatally shot and killed outside police headquarters as he was writing a traffic ticket. The man accused of shooting him said he was angry about a child-custody battle and simply “lashed out at somebody who didn’t deserve it.”

    The post Number of police officers shot, killed on the job rose sharply in 2016 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo illustration by REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

    Photo illustration by REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. has released its most detailed report yet on accusations that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election by hacking American political sites and email accounts.

    The 13-page joint analysis by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI is the first such report ever to attribute malicious cyber activity to a particular country or actors.

    It was also the first time the U.S. has officially and specifically tied intrusions into the Democratic National Committee to hackers with the Russian civilian and military intelligence services, the FSB and GRU, expanding on an Oct. 7 accusation by the Obama administration.

    It was also the first time the U.S. has officially and specifically tied intrusions into the Democratic National Committee to hackers with the Russian civilian and military intelligence services.

    The report said the intelligence services were involved in “an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.” It added, “In some cases, (the Russian intelligence services’) actors masqueraded as third parties, hiding behind false online personas designed to cause the victim to misattribute the source of the attack.”

    Last summer, stolen emails from Democrats were posted by an online persona known as Guccifer 2.0, believed by U.S. officials to be linked to Russia. Outrage over documents that appeared to show favoritism for Hillary Clinton forced the DNC’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to resign.

    The U.S. released the technical report Thursday as President Barack Obama sanctioned the GRU and the FSB, the GRU’s leadership and companies which the U.S. said support the GRU.

    The report said the intelligence services were involved in “an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.”

    The sanctions were the administration’s first use of a 2015 executive order for combatting cyberattacks against critical infrastructure and commercial espionage. Because election systems aren’t considered critical infrastructure, Obama amended the order Thursday to allow for sanctions on entities “interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”

    The retaliation against Russia, just weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, culminated months of political handwringing about how and whether to respond to Moscow’s alleged meddling. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous. Trump said Thursday the U.S. should move on, but that he would meet with the intelligence community’s leaders next week for an update on the situation.

    The report did not go far beyond confirming details already disclosed by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which was hired to investigate the DNC hacks.

    It described the intelligence services’ use of “spearphishing” — fake emails intended to trick victims into typing in their user names and passwords. At least one person opened attachments with malicious software. The report noted that actors “likely associated” with Russian intelligence services are continuing to engage in spearphishing campaigns, including one launched just days after the U.S. election.

    The DNC was infiltrated by the FSB in summer 2015 and again by the GRU in spring 2016 using spearphishing emails that often appeared to come from legitimate or official organizations, the report said.

    Russian officials have denied any involvement in hacking U.S. political sites and emails.

    Russian officials have denied any involvement in hacking U.S. political sites and emails.

    The report provided clues, or pieces of code left behind by hackers, cybersecurity workers in the private sector could look for to identify compromised systems and prevent more intrusions. The Department of Homeland Security said it has already included this information within its own cyber threat information-sharing program, which automatically flags threats in real time for participating companies and agencies.

    Releasing such a report was a political twist on the administration’s strategy of “name and shame,” in place since 2012 and used to bring indictments against Chinese military hackers for economic espionage and Iranian hackers for an attack on banks and a small dam in New York. It was also a far more detailed and sophisticated telling of Russia’s hacking, with technical indicators of compromise, compared to the spare technical details released after the Obama administration publicly blamed North Korea for a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

    U.S. officials also provided antivirus vendors with two malicious software samples used by Russian intelligence services.

    Associated Press reporter Tami Abdollah wrote this article.

    The post This U.S. report details how Russia allegedly meddled with the presidential election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Actresses Debbie Reynolds (L) and Carrie Fisher pose in the press room at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/via Getty Images

    Actresses Debbie Reynolds (L) and Carrie Fisher pose in the press room at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/via Getty Images

    The death of actress Debbie Reynolds Wednesday night, one day after her daughter and fellow actress Carrie Fisher passed away after being stricken during a long plane flight, has sparked assorted questions among fans stunned by the timing.

    Is it a coincidence that a mother would die so soon after the unexpected loss of her daughter, or could grief have played a role? Can the bond among loved ones be so tight that it’s possible to die from a broken heart? And did air travel and Fisher’s bipolar disorder diagnosis — a mental illness she has been praised for speaking out about — increase her risk of cardiac arrest.

    Here’s what the science says.

    Is there a connection between grief and illness?

    It’s not clear yet what led to Debbie Reynolds’ death just one day after her daughter’s. But research has suggested that there’s a possible connection between grief and serious illness.

    A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 found that people who had lost a loved one in the past month were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as their peers who weren’t grieving. It happened quite rarely, though — just 0.16 percent of those in the grieving group had a heart attack or stroke, compared to 0.08 percent in the control group. Another study, published in April 2016, found that an irregular heartbeat may also be a manifestation of emotional stress.

    “Losing a loved one represents a tremendous shock to one’s system,” said Dr. David Mischoulon, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

    READ MORE: Heartbreak in the Flutie family: How grief and loss can lead to death

    Doctors have also reported cases of stress-induced cardiomyopathy, a temporary enlargement of the heart that’s also been dubbed broken heart syndrome. It’s a temporary condition that can crop up after intense stress, whether caused by elation or sadness. It’s thought that the temporary disruption to the heart might be caused by an increase in stress hormones flooding the body. The symptoms can mimic a heart attack but in most cases, patients recover from the condition without permanent heart damage.

    That shock comes from the body’s reaction to stress or trauma — what’s known as the fight or flight response. It starts in the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain that signals to the hypothalamus that there’s some type of stress or threat. That triggers the release of a slew of hormones, which ready the body’s response: Muscles tighten, heart rate speeds up, and blood flow increases.

    Mischoulon recommended anyone who experiences a sudden loss check in with their primary care doctor and also consider reaching out to a therapist.

    “Grief, if unchecked, can exacerbate existing medical illnesses,” Mischoulon said. “That could have some serious consequences, especially if you’re up in years.”

    Does flight increase the risk of cardiac arrest?

    Every year, thousands of passengers have medical emergencies in mid-air. One study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, found that between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2010, there were 11,920 in-flight medical emergencies among about 744 million passengers, with just over 2,800 people transferred to a hospital upon landing. People with stroke, respiratory symptoms or cardiac symptoms were most likely to be hospitalized, the study found.

    Fisher apparently went into cardiac arrest, a more serious condition often mistakenly conflated with a heart attack. In cardiac arrest, the heart stops completely and must be restarted with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, said Dr. Clifton Callaway, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. A fellow passenger with medical training apparently performed CPR on Fisher. The plane was close to landing in Los Angeles, after an 11-hour trip from London, so it was not diverted to another airport.

    READ MORE: ‘Is there a doctor on board?’ Stories of medical emergencies at 30,000 feet

    Only 11-12 percent of cardiac arrest patients survive to leave the hospital, Callaway said. Some, like Fisher, linger for several days in the hospital before their organs give out.

    There’s no indication that air travel puts more stress on the heart or increases someone’s risk for cardiac arrest, heart attack or stroke, Callaway said. “These are common diseases, they’re happening around us all the time.”

    Is there a link between bipolar disorder and heart disease?

    Fisher, who died four days after going into cardiac arrest, was open about her diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings and compulsive behavior. While Fisher’s full medical history is not known, there’s scientific evidence for a connection between bipolar disorder and cardiac arrest.

    People with psychiatric disorders have a shorter lifespan overall, due in part to a greater-than-average susceptibility to heart disease. A study from Denmark found a physiological relationship between the two conditions, with bipolar disorder affecting the heart in significant ways. Patients with bipolar disorder had lower heart-rate variability than people without the condition.

    Time intervals between a person’s beats — their heart rate — usually vary depending on factors such as stress and physical activity. Most people have lower heart rates when sitting at home than when exercising or running errands. High variability between those rates is ideal; low variability is indicative of greater stress and reduced physical resiliency.

    David Bowie died days after his birthday and album release. Did he delay death?

    “People with high heart-rate variability are people with emotional stability and more of an ability to cope, whereas people with bipolar disorder don’t have that,” said Dr. Helen Farrell, a psychiatry professor at Harvard who was not involved with the research.

    But not all experts are convinced there’s such a direct connection. Dr. Mark Link, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said cardiologists aren’t convinced the connection between heart-rate variability and bipolar disorder is so clear-cut.

    “It’s largely thought among cardiologists that it’s not bipolar disorder but the treatment of it,” he said. “Certain antidepressants and anti-psychotic meds increase the QT interval,” the time the heart muscle takes to recharge between beats, “and increase the risk for sudden death.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Dec. 29, 2016. Find the original story here.

    The post How the shock of a lost loved one might cause serious illness appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Barack Obama holds his annual year-end news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    U.S. President Barack Obama holds his annual year-end news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    HONOLULU — President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers will strategize next week about how to prevent Republicans from destroying “Obamacare.” The president also plans to give a major valedictory speech next month in Chicago, his hometown, 10 days before his presidency ends.

    Obama will travel to the Capitol on Wednesday morning for the meeting with House and Senate Democrats, according to an invitation sent to lawmakers. The White House cast the meeting as an effort to unite Democrats behind a plan to protect the law, known as the Affordable Care Act, before Republicans have a chance to settle on their own strategy for repealing it.

    Democrats are on edge over the future of the law, Obama’s signature legislative achievement, given the GOP’s disdain for it and President-elect Donald Trump’s vows to gut it. Though Republicans are united behind the notion of repealing the law, they’re split over how best to replace it. Some want to strip out unpopular provisions while leaving others intact, while other Republicans prefer a start-from-scratch approach.

    It’s that lack of unanimity among Republicans that Obama and Democrats hope can be exploited, if they can lay the groundwork even before Trump takes office. To that end, Obama also planned to answer questions about Obamacare on next Friday during a livestreamed event at Blair House, just across Pennsylvania Ave. from the White House.

    Blair House, the historic government guest house, is traditionally inhabited by incoming presidents in the days before they’re inaugurated, making it a particularly poignant place for Obama to push back on Trump’s plans for his health law.

    The Obamacare push will likely be one of the president’s final efforts to influence the direction of U.S. policy before he leaves office on Jan. 20. Already, the White House is starting to ramp down operations, with Obama aides set to start “offloading” after New Year’s as Trump’s team prepares to take over.

    Obama’s speech in Chicago on Jan. 10 is expected to serve as his closing words to the nation as president. His appearance will be open to the public and followed by a “family reunion” for alumni of Obama’s former campaigns, according to a save-the-date notice sent to Obama alumni and obtained by The Associated Press.

    The White House has not confirmed Obama’s speech or trip to Chicago.

    The post Here’s what President Obama is doing to protect the Affordable Care Act appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper speaks to supporters at a victory rally the day after his Republican opponent and incumbent Pat McCrory conceded in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

    North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper speaks to supporters at a victory rally the day after his Republican opponent and incumbent Pat McCrory conceded in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

    RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina judge granted a small victory to the state’s incoming Democratic governor on Friday, temporarily blocking a law by Republican lawmakers stripping him of control over elections in a legislative power play just weeks ago.

    Wake County Superior Court Judge Don Stephens blocked the new law, which would end the control governors exert over statewide and county election boards, as Gov.-Elect Roy Cooper is set to take office Sunday. Stephens ruled that the risk to future free and fair elections justified the temporary block and said he plans to review the law more closely Thursday.

    North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin also could appoint a three-judge panel to hear Cooper’s challenge to the law’s constitutionality.

    Cooper sued on Friday to block the law, which passed two weeks ago. He said the GOP-led General Assembly’s action is unconstitutional because it violates separation of powers by giving legislators too much control over how election laws are administered. Under current law, all elections boards would become controlled by Democrats in 2017 — unless the legislation in question takes effect.

    Though that law creates a new body described as independent, Stephens got a lawyer representing Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore — both Republicans — to admit that legislators would exert the greatest control on the new, combined elections and ethics board.

    “That’s what I thought the answer was,” Stephens said during an emergency hearing Friday.

    The new law came as part of two special General Assembly sessions this month. In the first, legislators passed a package of laws limiting Cooper’s power in several ways. In the second, legislators came together to repeal the law known as the “the bathroom bill.” The controversial legislation directs transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates and limits other protections for LGBT people. But the deal to repeal it was thwarted, dealing Cooper another blow before he even took office.

    The changes to the law at the center of Cooper’s Friday lawsuit convert the five-member state elections board from one with a partisan majority matching the governor’s into a bipartisan body with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. County election boards would have two members from each party, rather than the current three members with a majority from the governor’s party

    Cooper argued that the new law could create longer lines at polling places, less early voting and general difficulty for voters.

    “This complex new law passed in just two days by the Republican legislature is unconstitutional and anything but bipartisan,” he said in a statement. “A tie on a partisan vote would accomplish what many Republicans want: making it harder for North Carolinians to vote.”

    But Berger said Cooper was trying to preserve his own power.

    “Given the recent weeks-long uncertainty surrounding his own election, the governor-elect should understand better than anyone why North Carolinians deserve a system they can trust will settle election outcomes fairly and without the taint of partisanship,” Berger said in a statement.

    Cooper won the November election against outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory by about 10,000 votes out of 4.7 million. The transition was made bumpier by a protracted debate over vote-counting. McCrory didn’t concede until a month after the election.

    The state Republican Party and its allies filed dozens of formal complaints about alleged voter fraud. Almost all of the protests were dismissed or sidelined by elections boards on which Republicans held the majority.

    Cooper’s lawsuit makes good on his previous threats to take Republicans to court over laws cutting his powers passed during a surprise special session two weeks ago.

    Another of the laws requires Cooper’s Cabinet choices to be confirmed by legislators. The state constitution gives the Senate the ability to “advise and consent” to the governor’s appointees by a majority vote, but that provision hadn’t been used in at least several decades.

    Cooper attorney Jim Phillips Jr. told Stephens that more legal challenges are planned next week against the laws diminishing the incoming governor’s powers.

    Lawmakers themselves will face unexpected elections in 2017 after a panel of federal judges ruled that Republicans unlawfully clustered black voters when drawing legislative districts to diminish their influence. The judges ordered North Carolina lawmakers to redraw districts by March 15 and to hold new elections in November.

    Also Friday, outgoing Gov. McCrory told The Associated Press in an interview that he had a cordial meeting with Cooper a day earlier and showed him around the governor’s mansion. But McCrory also complained that his administration had to work through the holidays to prepare for a handover because of Cooper’s decision to be sworn in minutes after midnight Jan. 1.

    Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew contributed to this report.

    The post Judge temporarily blocks new law limiting power of incoming North Carolina governor appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A baby sits on his mother's lap in their apartment at a public housing facility in the Rockaway section of the Queens borough of New York November 17, 2012. Some residents have struggled to get their lives back to normal more than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy with some essential services still yet to return to some areas of the city. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT) - RTR3AJRT

    DC’s new paid family leave is one of the most generous in the nation. But economist Harry Holzer worries the policy could have unintended consequences and hurt the women it’s trying to help. Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters

    Editor’s Note: Last week, the District of Columbia passed a new paid family leave policy, allowing new parents to take eight weeks leave, workers caring for sick family members six weeks and workers who are sick themselves up to two weeks.

    The policy is a generous one for the United States, a global outlier as the only industrial nation in the world to not offer paid family leave. While other countries have successfully implemented such policies, they remain largely uncharted territory in the U.S.

    Will D.C.’s new paid family leave policy help or hobble business? Will it help workers or unintentionally hurt them?

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman posed that question to two different economists: Heather Boushey of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth who is in favor of the new policy and Georgetown University economist Harry Holzer who is concerned the policy will do more harm than good. You can read Paul’s conversation with Boushey here and his conversation with Holzer below. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

    — Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor


    PAUL SOLMAN: So you opposed the original version of the bill here in D.C., right?

    HARRY HOLZER: I did.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Why?

    HARRY HOLZER: It was extremely generous. It provided up to 16 weeks of parental leave and up to 16 weeks of family leave. And I thought that would have been extremely costly a) to the taxpayer and b) to employers.

    There were at least two big risks. Number one, I thought the plan would be underfunded, meaning that the tax revenues they raised wouldn’t be sufficient to cover all the leave they were promising to pay out. And secondly, I thought this would be very costly to employers, even if they’re not paying directly out of pocket for all the leave. It would cause a lot of disruption. They wouldn’t know when the disruption was coming. And I was fearful that they would cut back on employment, especially of young, less educated women because of that.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Disruption? What kind of disruption?

    HARRY HOLZER: Disruption to the workplace. You know, if I’m an employer, I was counting on having this employee here, working full time. All of a sudden, she or he disappears for 16 weeks, and especially if I have to keep that job open, I can’t replace them with a permanent worker. It’s hard for businesses to plan when you have a lot of that kind of disruption going on.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But the bill that passed is not 16 weeks.

    HARRY HOLZER: No. The bill that actually passed was scaled back even from what the council was proposing just a few days ago. And now they’re going to provide eight weeks of parental leave, six weeks of family, two weeks of personal sick leave. So that does make it much more affordable. I still do have some concerns, even about the bill that was passed. They’re providing 90 percent wage replacement up to close to $1,000 a week. You’re giving the worker almost no incentive to limit the amount of time they ask for. Other states that have done this provide 60 percent, maybe 70 percent. So I think the incentives are not there for workers to try and limit this and that will then generate more leave perhaps than necessary.

    PAUL SOLMAN: How do we determine how much leave is necessary?

    HARRY HOLZER: Well, there’s not an absolute number. I do believe that there are important benefits. I’m a supporter of paid family leave, certainly to the moms. It enables them to stay attached to their employers and to the labor force, to the kids and, in some cases, even to employers, because it cuts down on unnecessary turnover and things of that nature.

    “In economics, we’re always looking for that right balance between benefits and costs.”

    But in economics, we’re always looking for that right balance between benefits and costs. We want employers to stay in D.C. We want them to keep thinking that it’s profitable to hire workers. When we make it so costly for them to hire workers, especially from a particular part of the population, they could cut back on their hiring. That doesn’t do anybody any good. So we’re looking for that right balance between the benefits and the costs.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So you’re worried that employers would leave D.C. or replace workers with what?

    HARRY HOLZER: They have a lot of different options if they want to. The first option is not to reduce overall employment, but to cut back on hiring the particular employees most affected by this. So number one, they could simply cut back on less-educated young women in the childbearing age and just replace them with other employees. That’s one possibility.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But the other employees would be more expensive.

    HARRY HOLZER: But they would presumably try to hire employees who would take less leave. So for instance, young men of the same age are less likely to take leave, because they’re less likely to have custody of the kids, and in general, the men take leave less frequently. They would try to hire anyone that they think might take less leave — somewhat older people, somewhat more educated workers, maybe men instead of women.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So you’re particularly worried about young, relatively low-wage women.

    HARRY HOLZER: That’s right. And the employers often have stereotypes about who is likely to stick around anyway and who’s likely to have a lot of kids. I fear that many employers in the low-wage labor market will see young, less educated minority women and assume that, number one, they’re not going to stick around for than six months or a year, and number two, now they’re going to take a lot of family leave and be disruptive even more. So my concern is that they would really try to discriminate against them in their hiring.

    “So my concern is that they would really try to discriminate against [young, less educated minority women] in their hiring.”

    Another concern is that employers in Washington, D.C., simply might move across the river to Arlington, Virginia, because the state of Virginia is not imposing a paid family leave policy on employers in the state. And this is especially true after the city of Washington has imposed many costs on employers, like a $15 minimum wage, and all kinds of other restrictions in their hiring policy, each of which makes employment costlier in the city, and there might be a cumulative effect of all these policies together.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But doesn’t paid family leave make Washington, D.C., a more attractive place for people to come and work?

    HARRY HOLZER: It might make it a more attractive place for people that don’t have that policy already, but if employers aren’t willing to hire them, then that doesn’t matter, and the jobs won’t be there. My fear is that we will be driving employers either out of D.C. or at least out of the hiring activities for this low-wage earning group. I’m worried about the low end of the job market where employers don’t have that much trouble finding the people they need, and if we make it so much costlier for them to do so, they will simply do less of it, one way or the other.

    And of course another possibility is they can stay here and simply hire fewer low-wage, less educated workers. In fast food restaurants or coffee bars, they can use a lot more robots over the next five to 10 years.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So you’re afraid this will accelerate the move towards automation.

    HARRY HOLZER: I think it could if it’s costly. The automation is coming anyway. This will create incentives for it to happen faster than it otherwise would and make the robots look that much more attractive in comparison to workers.

    The post Will D.C.’s new paid family leave policy unintentionally encourage discrimination? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Young woman stretching at desk

    Nearly a decade after she was hired as the first woman to run the Council Bluffs, Iowa, school district, Mary Martha Bruckner is often one of the only women in the room.

    That was the case in October when about two dozen superintendents and finance officers from Iowa’s urban school systems met to set their legislative agenda for the coming year.

    Surveying the room, Bruckner spotted two other women.

    “It was like, ‘Wow, things haven’t changed much at all,'” said Bruckner, who is used to being a pioneer. In 1986, she became the first female high school principal in the Ralston, Nebraska, district.

    Even though K-12 education is largely a female enterprise, men dominate the chief executive’s office in the nation’s nearly 14,000 districts, numbers that look especially bleak given that the pool of talent is deep with women. Women make up 76 percent of teachers, 52 percent of principals, and 78 percent of central-office administrators, according to federal data and the results of a recent national survey. Yet they account for less than a quarter of all superintendents, according to a survey conducted this summer by AASA, the School Superintendents Association. But that number represents improvement since 2000, when 13 percent were women.

    Even though K-12 education is largely a female enterprise, men dominate the chief executive’s office in numbers that look especially bleak given that the pool of talent is deep with women.

    In Utah, the number of women in superintendent’s offices can be counted on one hand. Schenectady, New York, hasn’t had a woman in charge in the district’s 162-year history. Just two years ago, Richmond County, Georgia’s second-largest district, hired its first female superintendent.

    “It’s a huge problem,” said Margaret Grogan, the dean of the college of educational studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. “If we have talented administrators, wouldn’t you want all of the talented administrators to move into the superintendency? After all, that’s the position that has the most power to facilitate the growth and development of all of the children and families in the district.”

    An unappealing job?

    Though only a small number make it to the helm, women currently run some of the largest school systems, including those in New York City, Los Angeles, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    So why do so few women occupy the top job?

    Some simply don’t want it. They prefer teaching and being close to students. The hours are punishing, school board politics can be brutal, and public scrutiny is intense. The average superintendent stays on the job less than five years. For some women, that uncertainty is not worth uprooting their families.

    The search for superintendents also traditionally has pulled from districts’ pool of secondary school principals. Women, who were more likely to be elementary principals, were less likely to be immediately tapped. Part of the problem stems from districts’ lack of planning for long-term leadership, which makes it difficult to spot talented educators, including women, who could be groomed to be in charge. Educators also see subtle biases in how school boards and search firms recruit candidates, and negative stereotypes about women’s abilities to lead large institutions are still pervasive.

    And with so few women in the top job, prospective female leaders have limited opportunities to network—losing out on mentors who can advise them on applying for the job, getting the right experience, and navigating difficulties.

    While educators and scholars say it’s crucial that more women occupy the top leadership positions in K-12, the more than one dozen current or former women superintendents interviewed by Education Week are adamant that they want to be hired because they are qualified.

    “I don’t want to be offered a position because I am a woman; likewise, I don’t want to lose a position because I am a woman,” said Julie Mitchell, the superintendent of the Rowland Unified district in Southern California. “It’s really about what you can contribute to the organization, and what you can contribute to the work that can be done, regardless of what your gender is.”

    At the same time, Mitchell acknowledged: “I think it would be naïve to think there are not some stereotypes that exist.”

    It wasn’t always that way, said Thomas Glass, a retired professor of education leadership at the University of Memphis.

    K-12's Glass Ceiling, National Center for Education Statistics

    In 1930, when the education profession was even more female-dominated than now, the American school system was mostly rural, and women ran many of the nation’s countywide districts, Glass said. With the end of World War II, and male veterans’ taking advantage of the GI Bill, more men started entering the profession.

    “Women kind of got shoved to the back of the bus in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” Glass said.

    Qualifications, not gender

    When they do get the job, women often face scrutiny men don’t, some superintendents said. That includes being told to smile more, having their appearances critiqued and facing harsh treatment when they assert their authority.

    Deborah Jewell-Sherman, a former superintendent in the Richmond, Virginia, district, recalled a searing moment when she rebuked a colleague at a meeting.

    “I heard somebody pulling him off to the side, and I heard the B-word,” said Jewell-Sherman, now a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

    “I think [it] was, in part, that I had the audacity to challenge something he was saying,” she said. “Part of it, I think, is race and gender. I think there is an additional burden for women of color in that role.” Jewell-Sherman is African-American.

    Gender is not a consideration when hiring a superintendent, some school board members said.

    “We only pay attention to the qualifications of the candidates,” said Judy Nieh, a former school board member in California’s Rowland Unified, who was on the board in 2005 when it hired its first female superintendent, Maria Ott.

    “As long as the person is a good match with the district, I think that’s far more important than whether they are male or female,” Nieh added.

    But Chapman University’s Grogan said board members who don’t look for diverse backgrounds when they consider candidates are compounding the problem, which also plagues other sectors trying to address underrepresentation of women, African-Americans, Latinos and other groups. Top executive positions in most fields are defined by what worked for the people who’ve held the jobs in the past: men. Two prime examples: long and inflexible hours and the types of previous job experiences believed to be stepping stones.

    School boards also have more authority than they might think to attract more female candidates to seek superintendents’ jobs, said Jacinda “Jazz” Conboy, the general counsel for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

    “They can say, ‘we value diversity, we want women applicants, we want minority applicants,'” she said.

    It’s not that women are better leaders or get better results for students, Grogan and others say. But they may bring attributes that can be huge assets. The majority of women superintendents started their careers in classrooms and bring an expertise on good instruction, and because so many were principals, they know how to set goals and work with many players to achieve them, Grogan said.

    Barbara Jenkins, the superintendent of Florida’s Orange County district, said those asking for better representation for women are not seeking special preference. The issue, she said, is making sure well-qualified women have a fair shot at landing the job and the right supports to get there.

    Jenkins credits Ronald Blocker, her predecessor in Orange County, with persistently pushing her.

    “He’d say ‘Snatch the pebble from my hand, it’s time. It’s time for you to take on that role,'” she said, quoting the 1970s “Kung Fu” television show.

    Women often must make extraordinary personal sacrifices, and having supportive families and friends is essential, superintendents said. Marian Kim-Phelps, the superintendent in California’s Westminster Unified district, commutes weekly from San Diego, where her husband and daughter live.

    ‘She meant business’

    In Bruckner’s case, she was at the right place at the right time.

    In 2007, after serving five years as the associate superintendent in the Millard school system in Omaha, Nebraska, she told her superintendent she was ready for the top job herself in another district.

    “I hear a lot from women that they are still being asked inappropriate questions in interviews like, ‘Do you have children? How do you think you can do this job if you have children?'”

    “I didn’t have as much influence as I wanted to, and I realized that the only way I was going to have more influence was to become a superintendent,” said Bruckner.

    At the same time Bruckner was ready to move up, Council Bluffs, a district of about 9,000 students across the Missouri River from Omaha, was looking for a superintendent. It had one of the lowest graduation rates in Iowa. Bruckner officially applied and was the only woman among eight finalists.

    The school board hired her.

    “We needed somebody who could help us as a community turn that around, and she just came across as somebody who would be able to do that,” said school board member David Coziahr. “To be kind of blunt, she meant business.”

    Council Bluff’s graduation rate has increased during Bruckner’s tenure, climbing from 68 percent to 88 percent over eight years. In 2015, she was named Iowa’s superintendent of the year.

    Coziahr thinks other Iowa districts may be more willing to hire women based on Bruckner’s success.

    Bruckner herself credits a cast of mentors and former supervisors—some of them men—for encouraging her, and she said the men she works with do not treat her differently. If her gender has been an issue, she hasn’t dwelled on it, she said. Her salary, however, which is $225,000 annually, draws attention every year from local news media and the community.

    “There are people in my life who believe that if I were a male receiving a nice salary, it wouldn’t be as big of a story,” she said. “That may or may not be true. I don’t know. I know I make more money [than most people] in a school district that’s 70 percent free- and reduced lunch. But I know I make less money than the bank presidents and big corporate leaders. I make less money than other superintendents in Iowa, but … [I] just wonder if part of the pushback is [from thinking that] females don’t deserve that salary.”

    Some states—New Hampshire, California and New York—have higher-than-average percentages of female superintendents. In sheer numbers, California leads the country, but the state also has the second-largest number of districts, more than 1,000. When the ASSA conducted its survey this summer, California had 335 women running districts.

    Finding solutions

    This year, the AASA launched an initiative to find women who are prospective leaders, match them with mentors, and help them become superintendents. The program has enlisted women leaders from education and business to dig deeper into the barriers that women face and how those hurdles can be overcome.

    And there are other efforts underway to bring more gender balance to the superintendent’s office. In California, the Association of California School Administrators added a component to its leadership conference that includes mock interviews for women who are ready to make the leap, resume reviews and advice about things like maintaining healthy work-life balance. In New York City, Chancellor Carmen Fariña launched a leadership development program for stellar principals and others who want to move up. Ten of the 12 fellows currently are women.

    Conboy, who is on the AASA’s panel, has been spearheading a similar effort in New York state, where about 30 percent of superintendents are women. It grew directly from what Conboy was hearing from women about the challenges they faced, including blatant bias.

    “I hear a lot from women that they are still being asked inappropriate questions in interviews like, ‘Do you have children? How do you think you can do this job if you have children?'” she said. Through the initiative, Conboy hopes to identify future district leaders and find ways for them to fill gaps in their experience.

    Superintendents of both genders say men must be part of finding solutions. In New York, male district leaders are key allies, signing up female technology coordinators, teacher-leaders and other women to be part of the women’s leadership development program. Rich Calkins, the superintendent of the 627-student Alfred-Almond district, about 80 miles south of Rochester, New York, has recruited five of the district’s female teacher-leaders for the initiative.

    “We have a huge amazing force of women who are working each and every day and doing great things in the classrooms,” Calkins said, “and I know with the right support and the right leadership, … they will be great leaders in the district.”

    This story was produced by Education Week, a nonprofit, independent news organization with comprehensive pre-K-12 news and analysis. Read the original post here.

    The post Few women run the nation’s school districts. Why? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pocket your phone without worry. Photo by Bits and Splits/via Adobe

    Pocket your phone without worry. Photo by Bits and Splits/via Adobe

    A minor craze in men’s underwear fashions these days seems to be briefs that shield the genitals from cellphone radiation. The sales claim is that these products protect the testicles from the harmful effects of the radio waves emitted by cellphones, and therefore help maintain a robust sperm count and high fertility. These undergarments may shield the testicles from radiation, but do male cellphone users really risk infertility?

    The notion that electromagnetic radiation in the radio frequency range can cause male sterility, either temporary or permanent, has been around for a long time. As I describe in my book “Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation,” during World War II some enlisted men would consistently and inexplicably volunteer for radar duty just prior to their scheduled leave days. It turned out that a rumor had been circulating that exposure to radio waves from the radar equipment produced temporary sterility, which the soldiers saw as an employment benefit.

    The military wanted to know whether there was any substance to the sterility rumor. So they asked Hermann Muller – a geneticist who won the Nobel Prize for showing that x-rays could cause sterility and genetic mutations – to evaluate the effects of radio waves in the same fruit fly experimental model he had used to show that x-rays impaired reproduction.

    Muller could find no dose of radio waves that produced either sterility or genetic mutations, and concluded that radio waves did not present the same threat to fertility that x-rays did. Radio waves were different. But why? Aren’t both x-rays and radio waves electromagnetic radiation?

    The electromagnetic spectrum, tiny wavelengths on the left, longer wavelengths on the right.  Photo by Inductiveload (CC BY-SA)

    The electromagnetic spectrum, tiny wavelengths on the left, longer wavelengths on the right. Photo by Inductiveload (CC BY-SA)

    Yes, they are – but they differ in one key factor: They have very different wavelengths. All electromagnetic radiation travels through space as invisible waves of energy. And it’s the specific wavelength of the radiation that determines all of its effects, both physical and biological. The shorter wavelengths carry higher amounts of energy than the longer wavelengths.

    X-rays are able to damage cells and tissues precisely because their wavelengths are extremely short – one-millionth the width of a human hair – and thus are highly energetic and very harmful to cells. Radio waves, in contrast, carry little energy because their wavelengths are very long – about the length of a football field. Such long-wavelength radiations have really low energies – too low to damage cells. And it’s this big difference between the wavelengths of x-rays and radio waves that the infertility theorists fail to recognize.

    X-rays, and other high-energy waves, produce sterility by killing off the testicular cells that make sperm – the “spermatogonia.” And x-ray doses must be extremely high to kill enough cells to produce sterility. Still, even when the doses are high, the sterility effect is usually temporary because the surviving spermatogonia are able to spawn replacements for their dead comrades, and sperm counts typically return to their normal levels within a few months.

    So, if high doses of highly energetic x-rays are needed to kill enough cells to produce sterility, how can low doses of radio waves with energies too low to kill cells do it? Good question.

    Don’t fall for the phone-cooking-egg hoax.

    At this point you may be thinking that you’ve seen videos of cellphones cooking eggs. And you’ve even experienced your cellphone getting pretty warm when it’s used heavily. But this doesn’t show that cellphones put out a lot of radiation energy. The cooked egg video is a prank, and the phone gets hot because of the heat generated by the chemical reactions going on within the battery, not from radio waves.

    Still you protest: What about those sporadic reports claiming that cellphones suppress sperm counts? For the moment, that’s all they are – sporadic reports, unconfirmed by other investigators. You can find all kinds of random assertions about the effects of radiation on health, both good and bad, most of which imply that there is some type of validated scientific evidence to support the claim. Why not believe all of them?

    If we’ve learned anything over the years about scientific evidence, it’s that isolated findings from individual labs, reporting limited experimental data, do not a strong case make. Most of the very limited “scientific” reports of infertility caused by cellphones, often cited by anti-cellphone activists, come from outside the radiation biology community, and are published in lower-tier journals of questionable quality. Few, if any, of these reports make any attempt at actually measuring the radiation doses received from the cellphones (probably because they lack either the expertise or the equipment required to do it).

    Human sperm, unconcerned by what’s in your pocket.  Photo by Doc. RN Dr. Josef Reischig, CSc., (CC BY-SA)

    Human sperm, unconcerned by what’s in your pocket. Photo by Doc. RN Dr. Josef Reischig, CSc., (CC BY-SA)

    And none actually measure fertility rates – the health endpoint of concern – but rather measure sperm counts and other sperm quality parameters and then infer that there will be an impact on fertility. In fact, sperm counts can vary widely between normally fertile individuals and even within the same individual from day to day. For example, men who frequently ejaculate have lower sperm counts, as you might expect, because they are regularly jettisoning sperm. (Men who ejaculate daily can have sperm counts 50 percent lower than men who don’t.) Perhaps the allegedly lower sperm counts of cellphone users just means that they are having more sex!

    But seriously, the point is this: There are so many things that can affect sperm counts in big ways that minor fluctuations in sperm counts have no practical impact on whether a man will produce babies, even if it were true that cellphones can modestly suppress sperm counts.

    It is clear that these infertility claims are not the consensus of the mainstream scientific community – a community that demands more rigorous evidence. There are many excellent laboratories around the world that study radiation effects, and it isn’t difficult to study infertility in fruit flies, mice and even people. (It’s fairly easy to find men willing to donate sperm samples.) If the sterility story were true, there would be a chorus of well-respected laboratories from around the world singing the cellphone infertility song, not just a few.

    Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio. Photo by Smithsonian Institution

    Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio. Photo by Smithsonian Institution

    The fact is, the current data suggesting that cellphones cause infertility are too weak to challenge the dogma of over 100 years of commercial experience with radio waves. Radio waves are not unique to cellphones. They have been used for telecommunication ever since Marconi first demonstrated in 1901 that they could carry messages across the entire Atlantic Ocean. Early radio workers received massive doses of radio waves, yet there is no indication they had any problems with their fertility. If they didn’t experience fertility problems with their high doses, how can the relatively low doses from cellphones have such an effect? Hard to understand.

    Nevertheless, people can spend their money as they please and wear any underwear they want. But if you are still concerned about radio waves affecting your fertility, why not just carry your cellphone in your shirt pocket rather than your pants, and let your testicles be?

    The Conversation

    Timothy J. Jorgensen is director of the health physics and radiation protection graduate program and associate professor of radiation medicine at Georgetown University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    The post Column: Why you can’t fry eggs (or sperm) with a cellphone appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen,  Northern Ireland June 17, 2013.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque   (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTX10R8R

    President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland in 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    WASHINGTON — U.S. relations with Moscow during and after the Cold War have been marred by diplomatic dustups ranging from espionage scandals to an Olympics boycott.

    Current tensions, highlighted by President Barack Obama’s decision to impose sanctions and expel 35 Russia diplomats, is exceptional because it stems from U.S. allegations of Russian cyber meddling in the presidential election and because it is playing out during a White House transition. It also coincides with a collapse of military-to-military relations and nervousness in Europe over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.

    Some of the more significant episodes of the past three decades:

    May 2013: A U.S. diplomat was expelled after the Kremlin’s security services said he tried to recruit a Russian agent, and they displayed tradecraft tools that seemed straight from a spy thriller: wigs, packets of cash, a knife, map and compass, and a letter promising millions for “long-term cooperation.” The FSB, the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB, identified the diplomat as Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

    The Fogle case was a reminder that years after the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia and the United States still spy on each other and maintain active counterespionage operations.

    December 2012: President Vladimir Putin signed into law a ban on adoptions of Russian children by American citizens. The ban was a blow to U.S.-Russian diplomatic relations and was imposed in response to Russian accusations of abuses of adopted Russian children in the United States. It was included in a broader Russian law retaliating for U.S. passage of the Magnitsky Act, an effort to punish Russian human rights violators.

    July 2010: In the biggest spy swap since the Cold War, 10 confessed Russian agents who infiltrated suburban America as “sleeper” agents were ordered deported in exchange for four people convicted of betraying Moscow to the West. The agents, many speaking in heavy Russian accents despite having spent years in the U.S., pleaded guilty to conspiracy, were sentenced to time served and ordered out of the country. The 10 were accused of embedding themselves in ordinary American life while leading double lives complete with false passports, secret code words, fake names, and encrypted radio.

    February 2001: A veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, Robert P. Hanssen, was arrested and charged with committing espionage for Russia and the former Soviet Union by providing highly classified national security information to intelligence officers assigned to the Soviet embassy in Washington. In the aftermath, the U.S. expelled 50 Russian diplomats. The FBI has called Hanssen the most damaging spy in the bureau’s history.

    February 1994: The U.S. expelled Russian senior intelligence officer Alexander Lysenko, saying he was in a position to be responsible for the spying of CIA agency Aldrich Ames. This was just days after Ames and his wife, Rosario, were arrested on charges of selling secrets to Moscow from at least 1985 to 1993. Even in expelling Lysenko, the administration of President Bill Clinton softened the blow by emphasizing the importance of strong ties with Russia and the continuation of reforms under Boris Yeltsin, who was seen as key to Russia’s move toward democracy.

    October 1986: In one of the more memorable tit-for-tat expulsions for alleged espionage activities, President Ronald Reagan ordered 55 Soviet diplomats in Washington and San Francisco to leave the U.S., shortly after expelling 25 others from the Soviet mission to the United Nations. The Soviets retaliated each time, kicking out American diplomats and announcing that the U.S. missions in Moscow and Leningrad could no longer employ Soviet workers.

    March 1980: In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter announced the United States would boycott the Summer Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Moscow. He acted when the Soviets refused to comply with Carter’s ultimatum for the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan by February. The Soviets retaliated by leading a communist-bloc boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. The Soviet army did not leave Afghanistan until 1989.

    Associated Press writer Lynn Berry in Washington and AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.

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    2016-2

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: But first: a broader look at music and some of the best work of this past year.

    As we say goodbye to 2016, we also finish our week-long series on the best of arts.

    Jeffrey Brown is our guide once again.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Of all the popular art forms we have talked about this week, delving into the huge and diverse world of music necessarily means touching on just a slice of the large pie.

    Two music critics are here to help us with some of their own best of the year.

    Ann Powers of NPR and Mikael Wood of The Los Angeles Times.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Ann, let’s just start with — a few albums really dominated the year. We might as well start there.

    ANN POWERS, NPR: Absolutely.

    Well, Beyonce’s “Lemonade” was a multimedia phenomenon with the visual side, a wonderful album and people talked about it all year, very political album.

    Right next to that was David Bowie’s “Blackstar” as equally lauded and celebrated. Of course, we lost David Bowie this year. So it was an interesting mix of a young artist at the top of her game and an elder making a final statement.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mikael Wood, let’s start to fill out your list here. Give us a few of your — what stood out for you.

    MIKAEL WOOD, The Los Angeles Times: Beyonce and Bowie are both on my list.

    You have also got the young country singer Maren Morris, who was doing a lot of interesting things, sort of taking country into an old-fashioned way, but also making it very contemporary at the same time.

    You had a couple of great hip-hop records from Kanye West, who everybody knows, of course, but a younger rapper too from Chicago called Chance the Rapper, who made a sort of gospel rap record that’s very personal, but also sort of clearly situated in his hometown and all of its various struggles, really interesting record.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, Ann, I made you start with the ones everybody knows. But fill out a little more of your top five list or so.

    ANN POWERS: Well, speaking of country singers, there’s a wonderful young singer out of Nashville, Margo Price, who made a very traditional country record called “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” with contemporary verb and voice. And that’s one of my favorites of the year.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That has a good title, too, right, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.”

    ANN POWERS: Yes. She is a Midwest farmer’s daughter.

    And Jack White’s record label Third Man put it out. So, it is country and cool.

    I really love Chance the Rapper, which Mikael mentioned.

    Also, Beyonce’s sister Solange Knowles released a very beautiful, introspective album called “A Seat at the Table” that again reflected the political moment in a very different way. If Beyonce was forceful and out there, Solange was quiet and thinking and meditating and dreaming. And that was actually NPR Music’s number one record of the year.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Mikael, so we’re talking. I want to bring in performances. We’re talking mostly about recordings.

    But is there a performance or two that stood out for you this year?

    MIKAEL WOOD: I think Beyonce at the Super Bowl was — just sort of blew everybody…

    JEFFREY BROWN: She’s inescapable, isn’t she, in this conversation, right?

    MIKAEL WOOD: Oh, she’s the essence of inescapability.

    I mean, think of it like this. It wasn’t actually’s Beyonce’s Super Bowl this year. It was Coldplay’s.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That’s right.

    MIKAEL WOOD: And all anybody remembers is Beyonce, which shows you how she stole the show.

    I think Adele’s tour as well. I saw her here in L.A. And what an interesting tour. In a year when pop was technologically forward-looking and engaged with politics, here comes Adele with just a super old-fashioned show.

    I saw her in the same week that I saw Barbra Streisand. And the two had some very — real similarities. She’s standing on the stage with a sort of small orchestra. She wears one dress throughout the night. There’s very little spectacle. She’s just standing there singing these incredible songs and making a huge impact with all her tens of thousands of people who came to see her, just an outlier, but also so interestingly old-fashioned.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Ann Powers, some performances you saw?

    ANN POWERS: Well, actually, along similar lines to Adele, I think the Dixie Chicks’ comeback was a huge story of the year, again, not a technological, futuristic show, but a triumphant return of a band who had, of course, been somewhat banished from country music after their lead singer, Natalie Maines, had made some remarks about then President George W. Bush.

    They have come back, roaring back. I saw them play here, a hometown show, tens of thousands of people, mostly women, singing along. And of course, the Dixie Chicks, because I got to mention her again, brought Beyonce on at CMA Awards to do Beyonce’s song “Daddy Lessons,” and that was maybe the televised moment of the year, really just a super women power moment.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What about — Mikael, I will start with you on this — that when you think about trends in the music world, and, again, Beyonce, we will have to mention her, because this continuing evolution of the distribution of music, she was part of that this year, but other people, too.

    MIKAEL WOOD: Yes.

    No, streaming, this — 2016 was the year that streaming became the dominant sort of way that people are experiencing music, at least young people. And you saw that with record after record, whether it was Kanye, whether it was Beyonce, whether it was Rihanna, whether it was Drake.

    People were finding out about music and listening to it, engaging with it through streaming. We will sort of see where that takes everything. We will sort of see what that does to the way people listen.

    But there was just absolutely no doubt that that was the dominant distribution model this year. And, also, it leads to all kinds of interesting conversations about, you know, various exclusives. The singer Frank Ocean, for instance, you could only go to one place to hear his record, which just sort of changes the whole economy of pop music, which I think is going to be huge in the next few years.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Ann, finally, just the one thing you alluded to with the passing of David Bowie, but this was a year in which a number of major musicians, major stars were lost.

    ANN POWERS: Absolutely, Bowie’s death at the beginning of the year.

    Of course, the greatest musician of my generation, Prince, died this year, and we’re still feeling that. Leonard Cohen, we lost, and many others, the soul singer Sharon Jones, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard here in the country world in Nashville.

    But one great thing about when we mourn these singers is that we also celebrate and archive their work. And we’re seeing that. There is more David Bowie material available online than ever before. So, though he is lost, his music lives on. And we are preserving it as fans. And that, to me, is a great legacy.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, music of the past and of 2016.

    Ann Powers of NPR, Mikael Wood of The L.A. Times, thank you both very much.

    ANN POWERS: Thanks so much.

    MIKAEL WOOD: Happy to do it.

    The post In 2016, what stood out in music appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Next, to the analysis of Brooks and Corn. That’s syndicated New York Times columnist David Brooks, and “Mother Jones” Washington bureau chief David Corn.

    All right, David Brooks, let’s start some of the unilateral steps that President Obama has taken just in the last few weeks. We are talking about everything from the Russian sanctions to the U.N. Security Council condemnation — or allowing the U.N. Security Council to go forward in the condemnation of the Israeli settlements, preserving large swathes of land.

    As the paper of record, The New York Times, said, is this about boxing Trump in?

    DAVID BROOKS: I guess a little. But what can be done by a president can be undone by a president.

    What’s sort of remarkable is that, especially in the Israel and the Russia cases, you have got a U.S. citizen, Donald Trump, siding with a foreign leader against the U.S. president.

    There is a reason why president-elects have tried to remain mute during their transitional periods, relatively, because you just don’t want to be for somebody — some other country against your own government, and especially when you’re about to take the helm of that government.

    And there will be a lot of permanent people who are just going to be stuck there who are now in a war between the president-elect and the guy they’re currently serving.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: David Corn, does this violate the spirit of that smooth transition that both gentlemen had that photo-op in the White House?

    DAVID CORN: Well, President Obama is still president until January 20, and the world keeps turning.

    Now, the Republicans wanted to call his presidency over last February, when he nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. The U.N. sanction vote came up. It wasn’t scheduled by Obama. And a lot of people think he should have responded to the Russian hacking of the U.S. elections weeks ago, months ago.

    So these happened on his watch. There’s nothing wrong with him dealing with it. The Trump side now seems to be whining that he’s violating the smooth transition and trying to delegitimize Trump. But coming from Trump, who pushed the racist birth conspiracy theory for years against Barack Obama, I think Obama has been very much a gentleman. And he has a lot of reason to just not even bother to deal with Trump.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How different is this from previous presidents on their way out? Is it fairly traditional to leave an exclamation point at the end?

    DAVID CORN: Well, it’s kind of.

    And I think, depending what is happening — when George W. Bush left, he left Barack Obama two raging wars. And the biggest fight he had was inside his own government about whether or not to pardon Scooter Libby. And he was sort of consumed fighting with Dick Cheney about that, and didn’t do a lot I think externally.

    And I think he was focused on trying to, from a national security perspective, bring Obama and his people up to speed, so they could take control of these wars.

    Bill Clinton had the controversy with pardons when he was walking out the door, Marc Rich and others, that certainly tarnished his reputation. But I think Obama is just doing what he should be doing at this point.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: David Brooks, it almost seems like there is a first 100 day strategy and at the end of four or eight years the last hundred days, to do all the things that you wish you could have done, but this is on your way out.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    That is not abnormal. If you look at regulations that come out of White Houses, even Republican White Houses, there is a ton right at the end as they try to jam everything in at the end. That’s reasonably standard.

    But there certainly is a pattern of administrations that have good transitions, George W. Bush to Barack Obama, and administrations that have really bad transitions, I would say Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy.

    I would say this is beginning to look like a bad transition, as they begin to argue even at the presidential level, which is more or less unprecedented.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s start talking a little bit about Russia.

    Will the sanctions that we have imposed keep the Russian hackers out?

    DAVID BROOKS: No. No.

    It’s so disproportionate. They interfered in our elections, and we like penalized a few of them. Whatever they’re doing underground, we don’t know. No, this is going to be a big issue.

    And I have to say the Obama — the Trump position is, A, mystifying, but, B, doomed. He has a nice little Putin romance going on right now. I think we’re going to get out the hankies, because this is going to turn into an ugly relationship within a year or two.

    The things that make them similar — their machismo, their expansionary braggadocio — is going to turn them I think into bitter and dangerous enemies. We will look back on this moment where we thought Putin and Trump were sort of close as a moment of bitter irony, when they get into a schoolyard display against each other, amping up each other’s worst tendencies and putting the two countries in some sort of scary position.

    That’s just my feel of how things are going to get in the next year.

    DAVID CORN: That may be the best-case scenario.

    I don’t necessarily see things going that way. I still am mystified, to use your word, about why Trump is out there tweeting praise of Vladimir Putin these days, and still kind of denying and dismissing whether the hacking happened or the seriousness of it.

    And people out there keep asking, what is behind this bromance? Before the election, I reported on a story about a counterintelligence officer from another service sending reports to the FBI saying that his sources in Russia were saying that Moscow tried for years to cultivate and co-opt Donald Trump.

    I’m not saying that happened. I’m saying I hope the FBI took a strong look, because it is really hard to believe that a president-elect would be so callous in how he approaches this issue and so dismissive of the seriousness of it.

    And so maybe he will turn on Putin, as you suggest, but maybe there is something else there in which he is enamored with Putin for some reason that we really don’t understand yet.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the president-elect’s position that we have got to move on, these are all essentially ploys to try delegitimize my win?

    DAVID CORN: Well, I think he should be delegitimized for many reasons.

    And his response to this hacking is also cause for delegitimization. But to say we should move on, when the bedrock of American democracy, the sanctity of our elections, has been messed with, just raises suspicions.

    It would be so easy for him to say the obvious thing: This is terrible. We’re going to look into it. And then we’re going to try to prevent this from happening again in the future.

    But his denial of it happening or its seriousness shows that there is something really amiss from his end of it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: David Brooks, what happens in that conversation with intelligence officials that Donald Trump said he is going to take in order to get to the bottom of this or get to a common set of facts? It’s already a fairly tense relationship with the intelligence community.

    DAVID BROOKS: Of course I don’t know what’s going on in that meeting on in the mind of Donald Trump.

    But I do know one of the things President Obama was struck by was how much time he spent on cyber-security as president. It was one of the big surprises as president. And one of the things he said was that, in the years ahead, the next president will be spending even more time.

    And cyber-security isn’t a thing that goes away after this election. It’s a constant flow. And Russia has a very sophisticated, advanced attack on U.S. businesses and U.S. government and U.S. institutions. And it’s not like Donald Trump is going to be walking away from this. He will be spending a lot of time on it, if he’s any sort of normal president.

    DAVID CORN: Well, maybe, but we don’t know.

    He keeps dismissing the seriousness and even tweets out or puts a statement saying, you know, computers, it’s kind of complicated. You know, a lot of things happen.

    It remains to be seen what he is serious about on any policy level.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, speaking of policy level, one of the things that we saw was that the U.N. Security Council was allowed to go forward with the condemnation of Israeli settlements, that the United States didn’t use its veto power.

    Right move?

    DAVID CORN: I think it’s a policy that’s very defensible, in that, right now, the settlements are a complete obstacle or a threat to a two-state solution.

    Now, I think Netanyahu and the far right of Israel don’t believe in a two-state solution, and they just can’t come out and say it yet. Now, Donald Trump’s designated ambassador to Israel has said that quite clearly.

    But if there’s no two-state solution, then Israel is on the path to being an occupying nation without full political rights for all its inhabitants. And, you know, there have been other Israeli leaders who have talked about the prospect of a form of apartheid in Israel.

    So, I think the Obama position and the majority position of American Jews and a lot of Americans is a two-state solution. Settlements get in the way of that. If they’re not stopped soon, there is no prospect for that type of solution.

    DAVID BROOKS: Now we disagree.

    I think it’s a completely indefensible policy. Settlements are an obstacle to peace and to a two-state solution. There’s no question about that. They are about the fifth or sixth most important obstacle right now.

    The fact that there could be an ISIS West Bank, the fact that the Palestinian government in Gaza doesn’t even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, the fact of constant terror, delegitimization campaigns in the Palestinian schools, these are all much bigger facts.

    And for the Obama administration to focus on this one fact, almost, not to the expense, but to diminish some of the others which are much more important, is to cast all the blame on Israel and to take the U.N. policy toward Israel, which has been longstanding, and sort of surrender to it.

    Netanyahu, Bibi Netanyahu, froze the settlements and offered to go toward a two-state solution. The Palestinians didn’t take him up on it. Historically, we have had a series of these offers. And the settlements themselves are not the keystone here.

    And it seems to me myopic and bizarre that at the last moment, the Obama administration would surrender the whole balanced array of policies that are obstacles to peace and focus on the one that is most detrimental to Israel.

    DAVID CORN: Well, I think John Kerry’s speech was not just about settlements. It was about the whole large path to peace and what’s been happening to it.

    And it was one of the — I think one of the most thorough policy statements that you have seen from any secretary of state on a contentious issue. So, I think that it’s not just myopia.

    The vote obviously was not scheduled by the administration. I’m sure they would rather it had not happened. But I think they also wanted to send a clear signal, because they don’t believe Netanyahu is serious about a two-state solution. And the rapid expansion of the settlements is something that actually could be stopped, and may not even be up for negotiation, but would be a good unilateral move on Israel’s part.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the choice of David Friedman as the ambassador? What does that do to the situation?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, that just shows how polarized the whole situation has become, because the Obama administration has focused the onus on Israel and the settlements.

    And then the Trump potential administration apparently is pro-settlement, and almost against a two-state solution. So we have got two polar opposite Israel policies, which really break what had been a pretty decent bipartisan consensus that we have got to have a two-state solution, we sort of know what the border is going to look like, we sort of know what East Jerusalem is going to look like.

    And no administration has ever said, as the Obama administration sort of implied, that Israel wouldn’t have access to the Western Wall, to the East Jerusalem. And that was also in the resolution. And all administrations have not really gone on the U.N. train.

    And so what we’re seeing is a complete bifurcation to two wrong Israeli policies.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, finally, staying in the neighborhood, does it matter that the U.S. is not a part of whatever this cease-fire in Syria is at the moment?

    DAVID BROOKS: I think it matters, in that, if you withdraw from the game, you’re out of the game. And we have withdrawn from the game. And we said Assad has to go. He’s going to stay. So we’re out of the game. And they don’t have to deal us in when it comes to finding a solution.

    But that was our choice. That was our choice to withdraw from that particular game.

    DAVID CORN: We were behind two cease-fires this year, one in February that lasted a few months, and one in September that lasted about a week.

    We have no idea how long this is going to last. There’s a great possibility that some on the rebel side will start fighting amongst themselves, because some of the rebel groups, the more fundamentalist, are not part of the cease-fire.

    So, if there is anything that stops the fighting and stops the civilian casualties, that’s a good thing now for a pause. But I’m not very optimistic this is going to last.

    And I do think John Kerry has tried awfully hard to work with Russia and others to have a lasting, significant cease-fire.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, David Corn of “Mother Jones,” David Brooks of The New York Times, David and David, thank you very much.

    DAVID CORN: Happy new year.

    DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Happy new year.

    The post Brooks and Corn on Obama’s active final weeks and the Trump-Putin ‘bromance’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Russian President Vladimir Putin (C)  looks back at U.S. President Barack Obama (L) as they arrive with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit plenary session at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake, in Beijing, November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR4DNDH

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We now turn back to the latest in U.S.-Russia relations.

    For insight into Putin’s reaction to the Obama administration’s leveling of sanctions against Russia yesterday, we turn to Andrew Weiss. He was director of Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs at the White House National Security Council staff. He’s now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    So, what do you make of Putin’s reactions?

    ANDREW WEISS, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Vladimir Putin is an opportunist, and he loves being the center of attention.

    So here he has got the entire world talking about his incredible magnanimity in not returning the favor by expelling U.S. diplomats or responding to these sanctions. A couple of months ago, when Putin was talking about the hacking scandal, he basically said, a few years ago, no one talked about Russia. Now that’s all people want to talk about. They say bad things, but it’s good for us. It’s all very pleasant.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And do any of the sanctions create deterrents enough for Russia to stop doing what they have been doing?

    ANDREW WEISS: Establishing deterrents for a country like Russia to deter it from conducting offensive cyber-operations against the United States is practically an impossible task.

    What you can do is, you can expose, you can name and shame, you can hit a few key individuals or key institutions, like the Obama administration did yesterday, that might sort of expose what Russia is doing, provide public education, especially on the eve of important European elections.

    That’s what governments are doing around the world, is they’re trying to say, we know what the Russians are up to. We can explain it to our publics. And hopefully it will not have the effect it had in the United States.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What is the invitations of the diplomats’ children to the Kremlin holiday party? What is that trying to fix?

    ANDREW WEISS: I think it’s cheap theatrics at this point. It’s basically a stunt.

    We have had a pattern of harassment of U.S. personnel in Moscow that goes back several years. People’s apartments are broken into. Diplomats are followed. Children are bothered.

    This has been I think an extreme period, a very unusual period of Cold War-style pressure against our people stationed in Moscow.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, really, even in this moment, he sees the long game.

    ANDREW WEISS: Putin looks ahead and I think sees continued opportunities.

    He has a new U.S. administration taking office obviously on January 20. President-elect Trump has been saying all sorts of flattering things, including as recent as this afternoon, about how brilliant Putin is, what an effective leader he is.

    He has seen all sorts of Western leaders basically disappear from the scene, most obviously Barack Obama, who has been a nemesis for him. So if he looks ahead, he sees Russia’s got the upper hand in Syria, he’s transformed the battle on the ground inside Syria.

    He sees a weak Ukraine. He sees Western Europe divided, a weakening E.U. He has got, I think, a sense of wind at his back and more confidence that the more audacity, the more surprise, the more the West is going to back off.

    And a lot of the kind of aggressive Russian tactics we have seen are aimed at exactly that, be intimidating, be unpredictable, and your enemies will back off.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There was some dissension among the ranks.

    Early in this morning, you started getting alerts on your phone that said Foreign Minister Lavrov wanted to go ahead and retaliate by kicking out U.S. diplomats, and then within minutes, Vladimir Putin has said, no, not going to do that.

    ANDREW WEISS: I think the Russians have really got — you have got to hand it to them.

    They have become masters at the art of surprise. Just, I guess, about 14 months ago, you had President Putin was coming to the U.N. General Assembly. He was going to be basically isolated, not get any meetings. They announced their dramatic military intervention in Syria.

    And then Russia was as at the center of attention and there was a showdown between Obama and Putin in New York. This is part of that same script. It’s part of the playbook where if you force surprises on people, you invade Crimea, you start a covert war in Ukraine, suddenly the world has to respond to the facts that you’re creating.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the prospects for the relationship with the United States?

    ANDREW WEISS: Well, we don’t know.

    President-elect Trump has talked about how he’s going to reset the reset, he’s going to team up with Russia to “knock the hell out of ISIL.” Those are what explains that are sort of the core interests that might unite the United States and Russia.

    I’m personally rather skeptical that he’s going to be able to have those kinds of quick wins. There have been many efforts over the past year or so between the Obama administration and the Russian government to find some ways to cooperate on the ground in Syria. We have serious definitional challenges, where there are groups that the United States has supported on the ground in Syria that the Russians want to basically paint with one big brush and say, oh, they’re all terrorists.

    So, I think it’s going to be very hard, given the corrosive mistrust between the two governments. There’s basically no trust left between the national security establishment, the career people who will be serving under a President-elect Trump and their Russian counterparts. It is going to be very hard to build that trust out of the barren landscape that they’re inheriting.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What does that win in Syria or ISIL, what is the cost of that? Is it Crimea? Is it Ukraine?

    ANDREW WEISS: We don’t know.

    And so far the price that Russians have been talking about in their communications with the United States are exorbitant. They’re saying the United States should recognize the annexation of Crimea. They’re saying the United States should pay a penalty for the imposition of economic sanctions after the shoot-down of a civilian airliner over Eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

    These are outlandish demands. And I think it would be unusual to expect that the Trump administration is somehow going to grant those wishes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Are there concerns that the Trump administration doesn’t see the multiple dimensions of Vladimir Putin?

    ANDREW WEISS: Well, I think we just don’t know.

    We know that this is a president-elect who has very little foreign policy experience. He’s tapped a neophyte to be his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. These are people who have records in the business community. They have got I think a lot of credentials in that area.

    But for the issues that have been at the heart of U.S.-Russian relations over the past two-and-a-half decades and which have created so mention tension and so much built-up resentment and mistrust, it’s not something that they have really had to deal with.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You called Rex Tillerson a neophyte. He’s a neophyte to government, but not necessarily to foreign affairs. Technically, he might be the person with the most connections to Russia in the Trump administration.

    ANDREW WEISS: There’s no doubt that Rex Tillerson’s access and accomplishments in Russia are dramatic.

    He’s come from a period of working in Russia at the highest levels going back to the late 1990s. He knows Putin personally. He knows Putin’s top advisers personally.

    That’s all obviously a real asset. The question is, does he know a lot about the IMF treaty, does he know a lot about the harassment of U.S. diplomatic personnel, does he follow Syria closely?

    My sense is those are issues that he has not had to delve into in great detail.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Andrew Weiss from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, thanks for joining us.

    ANDREW WEISS: Thank you.

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    A man rides a bicycle near damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria December 30, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh - RTX2WY9J

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin today slammed U.S. sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats over election hacking attacks. But he said Moscow will not toss out U.S. diplomats. Instead, he invited the children of American diplomats to holiday parties at the Kremlin.

    And in a statement, he said Russia will plan further steps to restore relations, based on the policies of the Trump administration.

    Later, the president-elect tweeted to say: “Great move on delay by Vladimir Putin. I always knew he was very smart.”

    We will return to the Putin response after the news summary.

    And in the day’s other news: A fragile cease-fire appeared to hold across Syria, despite sporadic shooting.

    Diana Magnay of Independent Television News reports.

    DIANA MAGNAY: It’s not as though there’s no fighting today. This is a regime airstrike earlier on near the city of Hama, but nothing so severe that the deal’s off yet.

    WALID AL-MOUALEM, Foreign Minister, Syria (through translator): There is a real opportunity to reach a political solution for the crisis in Syria that ends the bloodshed and establishes the roots for the future of the country.

    DIANA MAGNAY: With the front lines quiet, people in opposition areas went back onto the streets, just as they had done in the early days of the revolution, not that everyone here remembers those days, but the refrain’s familiar: a Syria without Assad, even if the outcome’s as unclear as ever.

    ABDULFAKI ALHMADO, Former Aleppo Resident: If you say that if we are happy with being Assad in power, of course we will not be happy. And I can make sure for you that all those people who are refugees now either inside Syria or outside Syria will not be back to Syria unless Assad goes away from his position as president of Syria.

    DIANA MAGNAY: That will be up to the Russians. Aleppo was part of this deal, struck between Turkey and Russia in two months of back-and-forth talks. With Aleppo now chalked up for the regime, it’s now up to Putin to see what pressure he can bring to bear on Syria’s president before talks next month in Kazakstan, if this cease-fire holds, and that’s a big if.

    Along its border, Turkey is expanding its facilities for refugees, to house the tens of thousands freshly displaced from Aleppo through this bitter winter and beyond. Russia and Turkey pitching themselves as regional power-brokers, guardians against terror, bringers of peace, high stakes if they fail, but the initiative now is with them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in this country, a North Carolina judge blocked a Republican bid to strip the incoming Democratic governor of some of his powers. Republicans passed the statute after Roy Cooper was elected. It takes away his control of election boards. Cooper sued today, saying the law is unconstitutional. The judge stopped it from taking effect on Sunday, pending a review.

    New numbers confirm that fatal shootings of police rose sharply in 2016. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial fund reports 64 were shot and killed in the line of duty, up 56 percent from last year. The total includes 21 officers killed in ambush-style attacks in Dallas, Baton Rouge and elsewhere.

    A winter storm socked New England overnight and, today, the region’s first strong nor’easter of the season. Some areas got as much as two feet of snow. Near-white-out conditions hit Maine, where snow fell at the rate of three inches an hour in some places. The storm knocked out power to more than 100,000 homes and businesses.

    And Wall Street closed out a winning year on a losing note. The Dow Jones industrial average gave up 57 points to finish at 19762. The Nasdaq fell nearly 49 points, and the S&P 500 slipped 10. But for the year, the Dow gained more than 13 percent; the Nasdaq rose 7.5 percent; and the S&P was up 9.5 percent.

    The post News Wrap: In Syria, fragile cease-fire appears to hold appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Research scientist Dan Galperin holds vials marked "Zika" during his work on Purified Recombinant Zika Enveloped Protein at the research laboratory where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus based on production of recombinant variations of the E protein from the Zika virus at the Protein Sciences Inc. headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, U.S., June 20, 2016. Picture taken June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSQMJG

    Research scientist Dan Galperin holds vials marked “Zika” during his work on Purified Recombinant Zika Enveloped Protein at the research laboratory where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus based on production of recombinant variations of the E protein from the Zika virus at the Protein Sciences Inc. headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, on June 20, 2016. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

    Over the past year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the extraordinary step of urging pregnant women to avoid travel to dozens of mainly Latin American countries to stave off infection with the Zika virus. With inclement weather prompting Americans to muse about winter vacations in sunny climes, the CDC wants to make it clear: That recommendation still stands.

    CDC Director Tom Frieden admitted he is worried that people may think the worst of Zika is over and that they can let down their guard.

    “We do want to emphasize that this will be the new normal until there’s a [Zika] vaccine. That if you’re pregnant, you should not go to a place where Zika is spreading,” Frieden told STAT in a year-end interview on the agency’s Zika response.

    “I think there’s a misconception that Zika is either over or was never a serious problem. It’s a devastating problem for families and individuals.”

    The Zika outbreak has been an extraordinarily taxing one for the CDC, Frieden noted, leading to a number of firsts for the agency.

    One notable first came on Jan. 15, when the CDC advised pregnant women to avoid 13 Latin American countries as well as a part of the United States, Puerto Rico, to avoid infection with the Zika virus.

    The recommendation was made several months before the CDC and the World Health Organization concluded there was enough scientific evidence to say that Zika infection in pregnancy was causing microcephaly — abnormally small heads and often under-developed brains — in newborns. But as early as January the agency felt certain the risk was too great to wait for definitive proof; it needed to warn pregnant women.

    “That may have been the single most important thing we did,” Frieden said.

    READ NEXT: A week of living anxiously: Maureen Dowd in a Zika hot zone
    The public’s take on Zika has been mixed, with many people dismissing it as an overblown problem. That contributes to the CDC’s concern that the lure of the beaches of the Caribbean and Central America might entice some US travelers this winter who ought to stay away.

    But Frieden said that pregnant women, as a group, are more finely attuned to health messaging and more likely to follow advice.

    Still, women often don’t know for weeks after conception that they are pregnant. And couples that may not have plans to conceive may end up doing so on a vacation. Infection in the first trimester of pregnancy appears to carry the highest risk of brain-related birth defects.

    Some people may feel the risk of infection is low, Frieden acknowledged.

    “It’s obviously a rare event, but the problem is it’s a devastating event,” he said. “It’s a life-changing event.”

    The CDC’s Zika response to Zika has involved over 2,200 staff from across the agency’s many centers, drawing in experts on infectious diseases, birth defects, reproductive health, mosquito control, and sexually transmitted diseases.

    They have rushed to do the studies that have firmed up the link between Zika infection and birth defects and with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a form of progressive paralysis that usually subsides. They have also developed tests to detect Zika infection, participated in about two dozen epidemiological investigations, and written more than 230 scientific articles and guidance documents for the public, physicians, state health departments, and the like.

    The agency also established a registry to track the pregnancies of women who were infected, another first.

    To date, the United States has recorded 39 pregnancies affected by Zika: 34 babies have been born with Zika-induced birth defects, and in five cases, birth defects are known to have been present but the pregnancy ended with either a miscarriage, a stillbirth or a termination.

    CDC scientists acknowledge that these numbers may be an underestimate because it is hard to track pregnancies that end in abortion. If a woman learned she was carrying a fetus with Zika-related birth defects and she decided to terminate that pregnancy, the case might not be recorded in the CDC’s Zika pregnancy registry.

    The latest update of findings from the registry for the 50 US states suggests that at least 1,246 pregnant women have been infected with Zika, and at least 824 of those pregnancies have come to term or have ended.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Dec. 30, 2016. Find the original story here.

    The post Zika threat isn’t over, CDC director warns pregnant women thinking about beach vacations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump sits at a table for dinner with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) and his choice for White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (L) at Jean-Georges at the  Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York, U.S., November 29, 2016.  Photo By Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump sits at a table for dinner with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) and his choice for White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (L) at Jean-Georges at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York, U.S., November 29, 2016. Photo By Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — For eight years, a leaderless Republican Party has rallied around its passionate opposition to President Barack Obama and an unceasing devotion to small government, free markets and fiscal discipline.

    No more.

    On the eve of his inauguration, Donald Trump is remaking the party in his image, casting aside decades of Republican orthodoxy for a murky populist agenda that sometimes clashes with core conservative beliefs. Yet his stunning election gives the GOP a formal leader for the first time in nearly a decade. The New York real estate mogul becomes the face of the party, the driver of its policies and its chief enforcer.

    Despite their excitement, Republican loyalists across the country concede that major questions remain about their party’s identity in the age of Trump.

    The simple answer: The modern-day Republican Party stands for whatever Trump wants it to.

    “He’s a sometime-Republican,” American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said. “Donald Trump was elected without having to really put all the details out on all these questions. We are going to see in the first six months how this plays out. Does government get bigger or does it get smaller?”

    Trump is eyeing a governing agenda that includes big-ticket items that Schlapp and other conservative leaders would fight against under any other circumstances. Yet some see Trump’s agenda as more in line with the concerns of average Americans, which could help the party’s underwhelming public standing and keep them in power.

    The president-elect initially promised a massive infrastructure spending bill to update the nation’s roads and bridges, an investment that could dwarf the infrastructure spending Republicans opposed when it appeared in Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. Trump has also vowed to put the federal government in the child care business by allowing parents to offset child care costs with tax breaks. And he has railed against regional trade deals and threatened to impose tariffs on some imports, a sharp break from the free-market approach that has defined Republican policies for decades.

    “From a policy perspective, he might be one of the more flexible Republican presidents. He’s just not encumbered with 30 years of Republican ideology,” said veteran Republican operative Barry Bennett, a former Trump adviser.

    “If there’s a win involved, he’s interested,” Bennett said.

    Republicans in Congress and elsewhere have expressed some hesitation, but most appear to be willing to embrace the incoming president’s priorities — at least at first.

    There are indications that Trump may initially avoid issues that would divide his party. That’s according to Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who said in a recent radio interview that the new administration will focus in its first nine months on conservative priorities like repealing Obama’s health care law and rewriting tax laws.

    In a post-election interview with The New York Times, Trump acknowledged that he didn’t realize during the campaign that New Deal-style proposals to put people to work building infrastructure might conflict with his party’s small-government philosophy.

    “That’s not a very Republican thing — I didn’t even know that, frankly,” Trump said.

    Trump’s confusion can be forgiven, perhaps, given his inexperience in Republican politics. He was a registered Democrat in New York between August 2001 and September 2009. And once he became a Republican, his political views were shaped from his perch in New York City, where the Republican minority is much more liberal — particularly on social issues — than their counterparts in other parts of the country.

    Trump said he was “fine” with same-sex marriage in a post-election interview in November, for example. And while he opposes abortion rights, he supported Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion-related women’s health services throughout his campaign.

    It’s unclear how aggressively Trump will fight for his priorities, but there are signs that he’s not expected to have much tolerance for detractors in either party. He has been remarkably thin-skinned, using Twitter to jab critics like former President Bill Clinton, “Saturday Night Live” and a little-known union official from Indiana.

    “You cross him at your peril,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist who worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s GOP presidential bid.

    Tyler said Trump’s leadership style as he prepares to enter the Oval Office sends a clear message: “Unless you move in my way, I’ll make your life, including Republicans, pretty miserable.”

    At the same time, the public’s perception of the Republican Party seems to be improving, albeit modestly.

    A NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted in December found that 37 percent of Americans have a positive rating of the GOP compared to 36 percent who have an unfavorable view. That’s slightly better than the Democratic Party, which earns positive marks from 34 percent and negative from 42 percent.

    Before Trump’s rise, the Republican Party’s message didn’t necessarily resonate with the needs of “everyday Americans,” said veteran Republican strategist Alex Conant.

    “The challenge for the party now is to adopt policies that fulfill those needs. And we have a lot of work to do on that front,” Conant said.

    The uncertainty leaves longtime Republican loyalists with more questions than answers about the future of their party.

    “The party will be what Trump wants it to be,” said Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire.

    The post How Donald Trump cast aside decades of Republican orthodoxy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Iraq bureau chief Dean Yates stands on the roof of the Baghdad bureau as he does a live rehearsal with the New York office as part of events marking the first day of Thomson Reuters April 17, 2008. Photo By Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud/Reuters

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    ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can afflict anyone who experiences or witnesses a shocking or dangerous event.  It’s particularly common among soldiers who’ve been in combat.  And now, one journalist is sharing his story about how covering shocking and dangerous events led to his personal battle with PTSD.

    Dean Yates, a news editor for “Reuters”, covered stories including the war in Iraq and a major terrorist attack and tsunami in Indonesia.  Over time, his family began to notice a change in his personality.  After denying he had a problem for years, he faced up to his issues and checked into a psychiatric hospital.  Yates told his own story in the article, “The Road to Ward 17: My Battle with PTSD,” and I spoke with him recently via Skype from his home on the Australian island of Tasmania.

    You covered major events all through the 2000ss.  Which ones stand out to you and tell us a little bit more about what it was like being a reporter covering these major events in the world.

    DEAN YATES, REUTERS:  You know, I think, Alison, for me, two really stand out.  The first was the Boxing Day in Indonesia’s Aceh province at the end of 2004.  This was a natural catastrophe on a scale no one has ever seen before.

    In Indonesia’s Aceh Province alone, 160,000 people were killed in the space of 20 minutes.  I saw what I believe was thousands of bodies during the month I spent there.  The destruction was just unimaginable, the suffering, the survivors — you can just imagine the shock that these people were in.

    And the other story for me was, obviously, the Iraq war.  I was the “Reuters” bureau chief in Iraq from 2007-2008.  And as you probably remember, 2007 was the year of the — the year of the surge.  There were extra American troops sent to Iraq, and the violence in the first six months of 2007 was the worst in the entire Iraq war.

    And during that time, in July of 2007, very tragically, we lost three staff from the “Reuters” team, two killed by a U.S. Apache helicopter, and another a translator who was killed by gunmen in the streets of Baghdad, which was a very traumatic time for myself and for all our staff, and, of course, the families of those men.

    ALISON STEWART: When did you know that this went past having an emotional reaction to something, even though we’re all reporters and we’re there to do analysis and report the facts, when did you know that those kind of more normal feelings were morphing into something else?

    DEAN YATES:  Yes, Alison, to be honest, I didn’t — I was in denial for years that I had a problem.  I was in denial that I was exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, and my sensitivity to noise, my agitation, my anxiety, that these symptoms meant that I had a medical issue.

    It really wasn’t until with my relationship with my wife at breaking point earlier this year that I agreed to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD, and it was that moment that I came to the acceptance that I had PTSD

    ALISON STEWART: There was one incident in Iraq where colleagues of yours were killed, and you had to absorb it as a reporter, but that it may have been a trigger for you?  You can tell us a little bit about that situation?

    DEAN YATES: As the bureau chief, I was responsible for everyone’s safety, of course, and when — so, we had three staff killed in two days.  The translator, it was just a random attack, a gunman on the streets.  There was really not a lot I could do about that one.  But the other two, they’d gone to just investigate reports that there had been a U.S. airstrike on buildings in east Baghdad and they found themselves in a group of men, some of whom appeared to be armed, and they were attacked by a U.S. apache helicopter and were killed, along with most of the men in that — in that group.

    And that was just — I can’t explain how difficult that was.  It was, obviously, a story at the time.  And so, I was — I was having to write the story of their deaths and I was investigating how it happened, what happened.  I was, obviously, dealing with the U.S. military because it was one of their helicopters.

    And then there was the grief within the Baghdad office.  It was just enormous.  There was so much anguish.  And we had to — obviously, there were the funerals that had to be organized and it was — it was just a very — it was the most difficult period of my life, those few days, and then weeks in the aftermath of their deaths.

    And as time went on in Iraq, while I worked there, I tried to just bury these thoughts and emotions.  And over time, I think I successfully compartmentalized that, but it eventually came back to haunt me and was really one of the major triggers, I think, for my PTSD

    ALISON STEWART: Now, that attack was released by WikiLeaks.  So, you had repeated exposure to it because you could see it happen, right?

    DEAN YATES: That’s right, Alison.  And I think for me, one of the things that I feel is a deep sense of guilt and shame because when that WikiLeaks — when WikiLeaks released that video in April 2010, I was actually on holiday in Tasmania at the time, where I live now, and I knew just about — more about that incident than anyone, and yet, I just was so — so frozen.  I was so shocked to see that, to see that come out.

    It was an — it was in a newspaper.  I picked up a newspaper, and there it was spread across a couple of pages.  I just went into I guess shut down, lockdown.  I just didn’t want to have anything to do with it.  I wanted others to deal with what was a major global story at the time because this was the first time really anyone had ever heard of WikiLeaks.

    And to this day, I just feel very guilty about that, because I could have added really important context, I think, as to what happened that day in 2007 and during the aftermath as well when we were pursuing U.S. military — we wanted that tape.  We were filing Freedom of Information Requests to the U.S. military.  They never gave us the tape.

    ALISON STEWART: Knowing now what you know about PTSD and about your own health, were there times when the PTSD kept you from doing your job in the way you wanted to do your job?

    DEAN YATES: I think in the last couple years, certainly the last two or three years, there were times when I couldn’t get out of bed.  I’d just be so depressed, I’d lie in bed and I just — I barely had enough strength to send an email to my — to my boss at the time and say, “Look, I just can’t– I can’t get out of bed.  I can’t work today.”

    And if I got really stressed, I would actually — it would feel like I was backing in my office in Iraq.  I’d feel like I was transported back to that place.  And when I got stressed, I would just react very badly.  I’d bang my fists on the table.  I’d shout.

    And, you know, I look back now and I think — I just wish I taken much more notice of those symptoms and been willing to accept that I had a problem.

    ALISON STEWART: At one point, you tried to heal yourself.  You would go on long walks on these long hikes, but you have since learned that that probably, the behavior you were exhibiting, really wasn’t safe behavior.  Tell us a little bit more about that.

    DEAN YATES: One of the things that my psychiatrist suggested to me was to do a little bit of bush walking, get out into nature.  And, of course, Tasmania has some of the world’s most incredible reign forests.  So, I did.  I took that advice, and I would go on some nice day hikes and I really enjoyed that.

    And then after a couple of months after being diagnosed, I started to do some multi-day walks, stayed down in the rainforest, stay in cabins, that sort of thing.  And I really found peace in the rainforest.  It was where my mind was still.  I could breathe.  I could just leave all of that emotional baggage at home and just look at the trees, walk these beautiful trails and feel really, really at peace.

    But with PTSD, one of the symptoms is risk-taking behavior.  And it got to the point where I was planning multi-day hikes, up to a week, a week’s walks, through some pretty rough terrain in Tasmania, on my own, in the middle of the winter.  And my wife was worried about it.  My father-in-law gave me a personal locater beacon to say, look — he said, “You really should consider this because it is quite dangerous.”

    ALISON STEWART: Being a journalist can be a very stressful position.  Do you plan to stay in it as your career and what’s next for you?

    DEAN YATES:  I think we have an obligation as journalists to talk about mental health issue because I think we’re uniquely equipped to communicate what it’s like to live with mental illness.  And I think as — I think it’s just something — it’s something I would like to really do.  And in fact, I have a Facebook page — I’ve only just recently reactivated — but I’m posting the stories that other journalists have written about their mental illness on that page, because I just think we need to do what we can to raise awareness and break down the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.

    ALISON STEWART: Dean Yates, a reporter with “Reuters”, thank you so much for sharing your story and being so candid.

    DEAN YATES: My pleasure, Alison.

    The post A journalist’s story of PTSD appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman is seen in a picture from the Library of Congress taken photographer H.B. Lindsley between 1860 and 1870.  The U.S. Treasury has decided to replace former President Andrew Jackson with Tubman on the U.S. $20 bill, and will put leaders of the women's suffrage movement on the back of $10 bill, Politico reported on Wednesday.  REUTERS/Library of Congress/Handout via Reuters   FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTX2AVQ3

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    ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  In the past decade, companies like 23andMe and ancestry.com, which offer DNA testing to help people learn more about their biological traits, have boomed.  African-Americans are increasingly using these tests to explore their genealogy and answer questions about their family histories lost during the transatlantic slave trade.

    Alondra Nelson, dean of social science and professor of sociology at Columbia University, looks at the intersection of DNA and history in her book “The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome.”

    “NewsHour Weekend’s” Hari Sreenivasan recently spoke with Nelson.

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND:  First of all, why are people doing it?  Is it for a story about themselves?

    ALONDRA NELSON, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY:  Those things are related, identities and stories, you know?  And I think that people want identities that they can use to tell a rich story, a richer story about theirs lives.  And in the case of African-Americans, part of that story has been lost.

    And so, what the attempt to use genetic ancestry testing, to find a nation state, an ethnic group, information you department have access to before, before we had new technologies that helped to us make some best guesses about where people who are of African descent in the U.S. might be from and then allow you to complete a story.  So, the identity piece and story people are actually very much connected.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  There is also a notion of ownership —

    ALONDRA NELSON: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Because for a second, this is that I am opting into it.

    ALONDRA NELSON: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And I own this.  And I will take this piece of information that I and know I have this to myself.

    ALONDRA NELSON: That’s the critical piece because we know for communities of color, that genetics has not always been a rosy space of research, and that there have been historical tragedies in the past that would lead, particularly African-Americans, to be suspicious of genetic testing.  And so, the ability to opt in, the ability to now in the 21st century to use genetics to do something powerful, to tell a powerful story about your identity and your life and to choose how you want to take that story up.

    So, sometimes people get information that they find useful or interesting, and sometimes they don’t.  But because you have opted in as a consumer, you get to choose, you get to adjudicate whether or not you think that information is useful for your story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How does this change our sense of community on who I identify with?  Because this moment, I might be African-American or Indian-American, but if I really go back through my genetic roots, wait a minute, I’m from this country, also?

    ALONDRA NELSON: We use African-American synonymously with things like Irish-American or Scottish-American, but those are countries, and Africa —

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Africa is a continent.

    ALONDRA NELSON: Africa is a continent, and there’s 54 countries on the continent of Africa.  And so, to be able to say I’m Guinean-American, I’m Nigerian-American, is actually a significant difference.  And that ethnic story, being a hyphenated American is really part of the American story.  It’s how politics happened.  It’s how we do forms of social and community organizing.

    So, it adds a level of specificity for African-Americans that might not have been there before.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Regardless of which community has decided to do this for themselves, one of the things that always concerns me is where does this information reside?

    NELSON:  Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: After they do the test, after they get my genetic cheek swab, and after the lab figures out what is it is about my story to tell me, they still have a copy of my DNA sitting in a lab somewhere, and I probably pressed “I agree” without reading the fine print.

    ALONDRA NELSON: Different companies do different things.  So, we now know that 23andMe has, you know, committed to doing pharmaceutical research and aggregating their data for, you know, potentially drug patents and these sorts of things.  So, in their fine print, it tells you that.

    Companies like African Ancestry, which is the one I spent a lot of time writing about, says that they throw out the sample.  But, you know, there’s a way in which data lives forever.  So, even if you throw out the actual tissue, the saliva, the data can still inform.

    And all of the companies, I think, if they’re smart, are using the data that comes in from customers to make their databases more robust.  So, you can get more robust findings if you have more expansive databases.  It’s on the company-to-company basis that we know what happens to the DNA.  But we can suspect that it’s being kept around, similar to when one goes to the hospital and has to give — you know, is having an operation or has to give a tissue sample that’s around.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:All right.  The book is called “The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations and Reconciliation After the Genome” — Alondra Nelson, thanks for joining us.

    ALONDRA NELSON: Thank you very much.

    The post Years after transatlantic slavery, DNA tests give clarity appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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