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

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    BOOK OF DREAMS

    What a year we just completed! Slow growth and widening inequality spurred populist uprisings around the world. Globalization is in retreat. Europe continued to crumble and the U.S. dollar strengthened, dampening the price of gold and other commodities. Bitcoin rose as the global scramble for non-printable currencies accelerated. And of course, it’s impossible to talk about 2016 without discussing the unprecedented U.S. election. On the back of Donald Trump’s ascension as the 45th president of the United States, pundits now describe a “post-fact” world in which every possible idea, no matter how preposterous, can find validation somewhere.

    Radical uncertainty abounds, conflicting realities are everywhere, and seemingly structural trends appear to have reversed on a dime. How can we possibly navigate this chaotic world? As I mentioned in last year’s version of this post, some use a Magic 8 ball, while others turn to Ouija boards. I strive to be more self-reliant.

    READ MORE: Column: I’m predicting an economic recession in 2017. Are you ready?

    Despite the inherent uncertainty, I believe that if one considers scenarios on a five-year view, it is easier to accurately predict change. Analyzing structural signals offers hope. In January 2015, I made 15 predictions for 2015-2020. And in January 2016, I made 16 predictions for 2016-2021. It’s too early to tell how these predictions have fared. But as noted by the late Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be!” So although I’ve kept a handful of my predictions from the last two years, I’ve also updated some and added others.

    Predictions for 2017 to 2022

    1. As inequality increases, the global wealthy voluntarily adopt massive redistribution policies (socialism lite) in a quest to keep capitalism alive. Labor markets remain stubbornly stagnant in the face of continued technological progress, leading to discussion of when and how to implement basic income schemes. After years of retreating, globalization returns with a vengeance as citizens everywhere learn it’s hard to lift one’s boat when the tide is going out.
    2. The Fed continues to raise rates, driving the U.S. dollar to disruptive heights and tipping the U.S. economy into a recession. (That’s because higher rates draw more investors to put their money into dollar-denominated assets like U.S. bonds and stocks.) The recession ends when the Trump-promised infrastructure boom takes hold in the United States, funded by global capital. But as capital heads to America, it leaves several emerging markets in crisis and lowers global growth. U.S. multinationals report disappointing earnings and profitability sputters, revealing overly optimistic stock market valuations. European financial systems are tested.
    3. The defense industry booms as tensions mount in the Middle East, the South China Sea, Turkey and the Arctic. The militarization of space accelerates as China deploys increasingly capable anti-satellite technologies; the U.S. Navy is seen as prophetic for having retaught celestial navigation to its officers. North Korea’s supposedly primitive missile technology proves adequate for threatening an EMP attack on Japan, China or the United States.
    4. Global warming reveals toxic and potentially lethal pathogens (such as anthrax, the Spanish flu, smallpox or the bubonic plague) from a prior era as long-frozen permafrost melts. Water wars spur the development of a multi-billion dollar commercial freshwater-gathering industry that uses Siberia, Canada and the Antarctic as their primary sources of supply. Desalination alleviates some pressure, but only for those countries with plentiful access to cheap energy.
    5. Animal protein demand skyrockets as an emerging global middle class adopts increasingly Western diets. For economic reasons, edible insects, lab-produced meats, and genetically engineered animals become a part of global diets. The combination of growing developing-market protein consumption and an aging developed-world population drives cardiovascular disease and diabetes rates ever higher, leading to a flood of medical tourists.
    6. Saudi Arabia teeters on the edge of instability as Mohammed bin Salman attempts to wean the kingdom off oil. Domestic unrest and regional conflict lead to an increasingly militaristic approach to both internal and external matters. The country’s military budget, which was larger than Russia’s in 2015, contracts briefly before again expanding.
    7. Cyber risks become the top concern for global boardrooms. Financial regulators mandate independent information audits comparable to today’s financial audits. Mass consolidation takes place in the cyber security market and several dominant players emerge, focused not just on prevention, but also on quick identification and rapid containment of cyber breaches.
    8. In the face of persistently anemic economic growth, governments everywhere begin relying on fiscal stimulus to drive their economies. Debt levels skyrocket, leading to increasingly unsustainable debt levels. The fiscal gap in the United States rises above $215 trillion. Ratings agencies downgrade the United States, paradoxically leading to a buying binge of U.S. treasuries as investors scramble for “safe” assets.
    9. South Africa endures a multi-year economic recession that generates domestic unrest and a political crisis that removes the once dominant ANC from powerPlatinum markets are disrupted, sending prices to all-time highs. Capital leaves South Africa for Zimbabwe, where economic reforms in the post-Mugabe era lead to 10 percent+ annual economic growth.
    10. Currency wars intensify, leading to a global investor stampede for non-printable currencies like gold and Bitcoin, both of which surge to all-time highs. The Chinese yuan plunges against the dollar while the Japanese yen steadily depreciates. Italy reintroduces the lira.
    11. Latin America rebounds on the back of a boom in agricultural commodities. As the global population exceeds 8 billion, the Pacific Alliance, a trading bloc centered on Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, emerges as Asia’s preferred economic entry into Latin America. The ending of Colombia’s 50+ year civil war spurs an infrastructure and tourist boom, while Chile’s economy rebalances as the demand for fish, lithium and wine outpace copper markets.
    12. Technological innovation accelerates. The sharing economy vertically integrates as Uber builds a fleet of driverless cars, Facebook begins producing content and Airbnb buys buildings. Drones become commonplace. Virtual and augmented reality, led by Florida startup Magic Leap, enters the mainstream, destroying demand for physical goods. As a result of cyber security concerns, the Internet of Things grows more slowly than expected.
    13. China’s economy continues to decelerate while the fragility of its financial system gains increasing global attention. The One Belt, One Road development program fails to fully utilize the extra capacity in China’s steelmaking and construction sectors, but it does provide strong support to industrial commodities such as iron ore, lead, copper and zinc. Domestically, decreased economic opportunity generates increasing labor unrest, creating an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party.
    14. Superbugs are acknowledged as the single most serious threat to global health, representing a $100 trillion risk. Public health officials mandate doctors to explore treatments other than antibiotics (including diligent monitoring) before prescribing them. Consumers begin demanding livestock be raised without the use of antibiotics.
    15. Rapidly rising populations in Africa and India threaten to derail per capita economic gains. Despite widespread beliefs that a democratic nation would never do so, India implements demographic constraints (a one-child policy?) to contain its runaway population, while some African governments mandate family planning education in elementary schools. The rapidly shrinking population of Japan, however, enables the rapid adoption of automation without displacing workers.
    16. OPEC agrees to again cut oil production, and tensions escalate in the Arctic over seemingly large resources. Fusion emerges as a viable niche-application alternative energy source, and the rapidly plunging cost of accessing methane hydrates presents the possibility of energy prices staying low for hundreds of years.
    17. The meteoric rise of passive investing strategies continues to unsustainable heights. Passively managed assets under management exceed those that are actively managed. Asset prices move in lockstep with fund flows, negating the very price mechanism upon which passive strategies rely. Passive investing begins losing its appeal as active managers take advantage of these distortions to outperform indices.

    A final word of caution, however.  Every time I make predictions, I recall the prescient words of John Kenneth Galbraith: “There are two types of forecasters: those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know.” I’ll let you decide which I am, but if nothing else, I do hope the very act of considering possibilities helps generate thought!

    The post Column: 17 predictions to watch for in 2017 (and the next five years) appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An independent study confirms NOAA didn't "cook the books" to dismiss claims of a global warming hiatus. Photo by viperagp/via Adobe

    An independent study confirms NOAA didn’t “cook the books” to dismiss claims of a global warming hiatus. Photo by viperagp/via Adobe

    Various studies have debunked the idea of a pause, or hiatus, in global warming—the contention that global surface temperatures stopped rising during the first decade of this century. The arguments for and against “the pause” were somewhat muted until June 2015, when scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a paper in Science saying that it had slightly revised the sea surface temperatures it had been citing for the 1900s. The measurement methods, based on sensors in the engine intake ports of ships, had been flawed, NOAA said. The revised methodology also meant that sea surface temperatures during the 2000s had been slightly higher than reported. NOAA adjusted both records, which led to a conclusion that global surface temperatures during the 2000s were indeed higher than they had been in previous decades. No hiatus.

    Critics attacked NOAA, claiming it had cooked the books to dismiss claims of a pause. Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas opened a congressional investigation of NOAA scientists, including demands that they turn over their emails, which they have not.

    Now independent scientists have weighed in. A study published Wednesday in Science Advances shows that the adjustments NOAA made were justified. A team led by Zeke Hausfather at the University of California at Berkeley and Kevin Cowtan at the University of York analyzed raw data from buoys, satellites and robotic sensors around the world’s oceans. They concluded that the old methods had indeed overestimated sea surface temperatures in the past—but that the newer calculations had underestimated temperatures for the 2000s.

    Hausfather and Cowtan explain their review in a guest blog Wednesday on Scientific American’s Website, and make a case for why such investigations should be done by independent scientists, not politicians. Hausfather also describes the details of his team’s analysis in a clear and interesting video, below.

    “The bottom line,” Hausfather says, “is that NOAA got it right. They were not manipulating the data for any political purpose. Warming has continued.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from Scientific American. It was first published on Jan. 4, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post Global warming hiatus didn’t happen, study finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called for a smooth handover of control of the U.S. military to incoming commander in chief Donald Trump, as the outgoing president met Wednesday with military leaders for the last time.

    “We’ve got to make sure that during this transition period that there is a seamless passing of the baton, that there’s continuity,” Obama said. He said it was critical to ensure that “we are doing everything we can to make sure that the next president will benefit from the same kinds of outstanding advice and service that these people around the table have provided me.”

    Obama’s comments as he sat down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military’s combatant commanders came amid concerns in military and diplomatic circles about how Trump may handle national security challenges. Over the last few days, Trump has disputed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments about Russian hacking, insisted without explanation that North Korea won’t develop a nuclear weapon that could hit the U.S. and questioned the worth of the United Nations.

    Obama pointed to a handful of conflicts that Trump will inherit when he takes office on Jan. 20, including the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the biggest IS stronghold in Iraq and last major Iraqi city where the extremist group still has control. He also noted that the conflict in Afghanistan “is still active.”

    President Barack Obama attends a military full honor review farewell ceremony given in his honor, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford (L) and Defense Secretary Ash Carter (R) at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    President Barack Obama attends a military full honor review farewell ceremony given in his honor, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford (L) and Defense Secretary Ash Carter (R) at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    In praising the military, Obama appeared to call attention to traditions that Democrats are most concerned that Trump may not uphold. Trump has nominated retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis for defense secretary despite the prohibition on recently departed military members running the civilian-led Pentagon, and at one point in the campaign, Trump called for reinstating waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques.

    Obama said he was optimistic about the country’s future because the military upholds “the values of rule of law and professionalism and integrity, and recognizes our constitutional structure and maintains strict adherence and respect for civilian authority and democratic practices in determining how we use the awesome force of the American military.”

    The president was also honored at a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, a short drive from the White House.

    Addressing a room of men and women from the various branches of the military, Obama praised their service and sacrifice. He said there is “no greater privilege and no greater honor” than serving as commander in chief.

    “As I reflect on the challenges we have faced together and on those to come, I believe that one of the greatest tasks before our armed forces is to retain the high confidence that the American people rightly place in you,” Obama said. “We must never hesitate to act when necessary to defend our nation, but we must also never rush into war because sending you into harm’s way should be a last and not first resort.”

    Prior to his remarks, Defense Secretary Ash Carter presented Obama with the Medal of Distinguished Public Service as a token of appreciation for his service as commander in chief.

    Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Vivian Salama wrote this report. AP writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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

    The post In farewell to U.S. military, Obama calls for ‘seamless’ transition of power to Trump appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Images of Kristi Loyall's amputated foot, cleaned and articulated by Skulls Unlimited. Photo by Kristi Loyall / OneFootWander on Instagram.

    Images of Kristi Loyall’s amputated foot, cleaned and articulated by Skulls Unlimited. Photo by Kristi Loyall / OneFootWander on Instagram.

    When Oklahoma native Kristi Loyall had her foot removed, she got it back in a plastic bag.

    In 2011, Loyall noticed that her right pinky toe was numb. Despite a series of doctors’ visits, the numbness spread and grew painful. It turned out her foot and lower leg had cancer. As soon as her new oncologist suggested amputation, Loyall asked about keeping the severed limb.

    “He thought I was joking, and I was like no, I really want it back,” the 25-year-old Loyall told NewsHour.

    Maybe you’ve had a part of your body removed, a kidney stone or a frostbitten toe, and the hospital disposed of it after the procedure. But what if you had wanted to keep it for your mantle or to scare your friends at Halloween?

    Sometimes, doctors refuse to give back the body parts, saying that it’s “a biohazard” or “illegal.” Yet, neither of these are completely true. Keeping your own body part isn’t inherently any more dangerous than keeping a steak, experts say.

    “The only issue would be if there was some communicable disease and your tissue had some sort of virus or bacteria,” Boston University bioethicist George Annas said. “Then state and public health officials would intervene, if it puts the public at risk.”

    A wet specimen of a leg from the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Photo by Kristin Hugo.

    A wet specimen of a leg from the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Photo by Kristin Hugo.

    If the body part is pathogen-free, then it just needs to be frozen or properly preserved before being released into the wide world. While Loyall’s oncologist was surprised by her desire to keep the foot, he said that the hospital had a release form for such an occasion. She signed and told everyone involved in handling the leg to not throw it away. The surgeons sent the amputated leg to a pathology lab, where technicians used chemicals to preserve it.

    Here’s how body parts are preserved. Wet specimens are human or animal bodies kept in liquid preservatives. Formalin, a mixture of water and formaldehyde, is the most popular preservative for fixing wet specimens, which collectors usually keep in alcohol for storage. But formaldehyde is known to cause cancer in humans. Amateur handling of formalin could be dangerous, but hospitals can give back preserved body parts if they are properly prepared.

    After about a month of examining and preserving Loyall’s leg, the pathology lab sent it back to her. She passed it onto Skulls Unlimited, a company in Oklahoma that cleans and sells the skeletons of humans and animals. Cleaned bones, skins and mummified remains are called dry specimens.

    Nipple for sale?

    As far as legislation goes, there is no U.S. federal law preventing the ownership of body parts, unless they’re Native American. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act makes it illegal to own or trade in Native American remains. Otherwise, a few states restrict owning or selling human body parts. Louisiana, for instance, enacted a ban in 2016 on private ownership of human remains, with some exceptions. Georgia and Missouri have similar laws.

    “The general rule is you have custody of it it, you are considered the owner of your body parts as long as they’re inside of you,” Annas said. “Once it’s taken out, we have some reasonable expectation about what’s going to be done with it.”

    It’s uncommon for surgery patients to ask, Annas said, but in general, those body parts are still considered their property.

    So, why would a doctor or hospital administrator try to deny a request? They might not want to bother with retrieving the part.

    “When they don’t want to do something, they’ll tell people it’s illegal. That doesn’t mean it’s illegal,” Tanya Marsh, a funeral lawyer and author of The Law of Human Remains, said. “A lot of people just cave when they’re told it’s not permitted.”

    Other barriers may get in the way of amputation ownership. Some hospitals have internal policies forbidding the return of excised body parts. Alternatively, the body part may not stay intact after removal. Surgeons often destroy a kidney stone or cut up an organ to remove it more easily. After that, the body part might head to a pathology lab, where it could be sliced further into scientific specimens.

    Despite the possible hassle, Loyall had personal reasons for keeping her foot.

    Skeleton of a person with kyphosis, cleaned, articulated and displayed by Skulls Unlimited. Courtesy of SkullsUnlimited.com.

    Skeleton of a person with kyphosis, cleaned, articulated and displayed by Skulls Unlimited. Photo courtesy of SkullsUnlimited.com.

    “I’m kind of weird like that,” Loyall said. “My parents tried to convince me not to keep it, but I thought I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t.”

    She isn’t alone. Some patients request their excised body parts for religious reasons, Loyall’s oncologist told her, so that they can be buried after death with all their body parts.

    There is also a marketplace for former body parts. While it’s illegal in the U.S. to peddle your organs for transplants, there are few restrictions on selling them as oddities or for research studies. People sell just about every human body part on Facebook, from eyelashes and skulls to nipples and hands. In November, a Facebook user sold a 12-week gestated human fetus for $2,000. Another user in the same Facebook group sold small bottles of six human gallstones each for $25 per bottle. The parts usually come from decommissioned medical collections, according to the sellers.

    Loyall isn’t planning to part ways with her foot. Skulls Unlimited defleshed the foot, dried it, put it in a tank with flesh-eating dermestid beetles. Next, they whitened the bones and strung them together in order. The process cost her $650 and took four months. Now Loyall has a skeleton foot. She takes it with her on her travels, snapping pictures for her Instagram, OneFootWander.

    “You have to just keep reminding everyone that you are getting it back, and they cannot dispose of it,” Loyall said. “Be adamant that you want it back.”

    The post She took her amputated leg home, and you can too appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Tom Grill/The Image Bank via Getty Images Medicare, old, medicine, pills

    Photo by Tom Grill/The Image Bank via Getty Images Medicare, old, medicine, pills

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


    Bill: I am relatively healthy and on a $4 per month blood pressure medication. I have decided on traditional Medicare plus a Medigap letter plan N. I’d also sign up for an inexpensive Part D drug plan except my income is high enough to trigger Medicare’s high-income surcharge. So I plan on skipping Part D. If I develop a need for hugely expensive meds, then I’d immediately sign up for a 5-star rated drug plan and then pay the late-enrollment penalty. Do you see any problem with this? I am a retired physician.

    Phil Moeller: This is a clever work-around, although I am not a fan of gaming the system, and I see your strategy as doing just that. The late-enrollment penalty for Part D would tack on 1 percent to your Part D premium for each month you’re late in enrolling. The average Part D premium is less than $40 a month, and many plans charge less. So doing a little math, even signing up five years late would boost that hypothetical premium by 60 percent, costing you an extra $24 a month for the rest of your life.

    READ MORE: Here’s how to find the Medicare Part D drug plan right for you

    Assuming you would have been paying high-income surcharges for the entire five years, that’s 60 months at $34 a month. So it would take you about seven years — 12 years from now — before your penalties equal your savings. And this rough calculation ignores the reality that a dollar saved today is worth more than a dollar spent in the future.

    The biggest problem I see with your strategy is the potential delay in the effective date of the Part D plan you’d wind up selecting. This enrollment process is not like going to Starbucks for a latte. There may be coverage delays, and you might have to foot the full cost of these drugs for up to a couple of months.

    To be safe, I would identify one or more 5-star plans offered where you live. There aren’t a lot of 5-star plans yet, so you need to do this anyway and make sure you can even get one. Assuming you can, I’d call the plan and ask them how long the gap can be between when you applied and when your coverage was effective.

    I would lecture you about avoiding lifetime late-enrollment penalties, but you have already factored these into your strategy.


    James – Va.: I do not yet receive Social Security, so my Part B premiums for Medicare have been increasing. Will my premiums decrease when I begin Social Security, or will they stay the same and continue to be different and out of sync with those who have been receiving Social Security and have had no increases?

    Phil Moeller: Your premiums will not necessarily decrease when you begin Social Security. What will happen is that you will become subject to the program’s “hold harmless” rules. The exception is that people with high incomes who are subject to surcharges are not held harmless. If you are in the hold harmless group, you would not be subject to the kinds of increases you’ve experienced in the past two years.

    READ MORE: How plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act could affect Medicare

    But in order for your premiums to actually decline, future increases in Social Security’s annual cost of living adjustment would have to be large enough for the program to raise premiums on the people who were held harmless in 2016 and 2017. As their premiums go up again, yours might go down. I say “might” because Medicare costs will continue to increase, requiring the agency to raise premiums. So it’s possible any downward adjustments to which you’re entitled could be exceeded by annual premium increases. Is your head spinning yet?

    Program rules envision everyone (except high-income beneficiaries) eventually paying the same Medicare premiums. But no one knows whether this will happen in one year or take several years. It all depends on future rates of inflation.

    And, of course, Congress could step in and change these rules. No one is very happy with the unforeseen consequences of the hold harmless rule. I wouldn’t be surprised if changes were proposed, although opening up either Medicare or Social Security to even a modest rule change risks a much broader debate that defenders of both programs aren’t eager to have at this time.


    Qa: My wife has been getting Medicare since she turned age 65 last year and receiving Medicare under her own Social Security number. She recently signed up for a spousal benefit on my record and recently got a letter confirming this benefit.

    Although she submitted her spousal benefit request under her own Social Security number, we noted that the Social Security number on the award letter was mine, not hers, and the award letter mentioned that she would be getting a new Medicare card. When it arrived, it also had my Social Security number on it. Is this because she’s getting the spousal benefit under my account? Does this affect either of our benefits in any way?

    READ MORE: Column: Social Security needs to be reformed, not have its funding cut

    Also, since she plans to defer filing for her own benefit until age 70, what happens then? Will she have to contact Medicare then to “get back” her own Social Security number?

    Phil Moeller: This change in Medicare numbers occurs when a person with a Medicare number begins claiming Social Security benefits based on the earnings record of another person. It is not supposed to affect either party’s Social Security or Medicare benefits in any way.

    However, I have heard from multiple people that there have been adverse effects involving a person’s subsequent Medicare coverage. In one case, a person’s private Medicare Advantage insurer dropped them from coverage, because her Medicare number had changed and no longer appeared in their records as being a plan member. They were able to fix the problem, but it took a long time and was very stressful.

    Here is what a Social Security spokeswoman has to say about this situation:

    This change occurs when a Medicare-only entitlement on a SSN [Social Security Number] converts to a monthly benefit entitlement on a different SSN. However, the start date of entitlement to the Medicare coverage on the old record does not change when it converts to the new SSN. Additionally, a new health insurance card is issued when an individual status changes.

    My recommendation is that your wife confirm with Medicare and any private Medicare insurers that her plan status is unchanged by this number change.

    When she later files for her own Social Security benefit, her filing status should change again, and she should be issued a new Medicare card with her Social Security number. Again, however, I would be reluctant to take this for granted and would contact Social Security to confirm that this is the case. Social Security, by the way, is in charge of issuing new Medicare cards.


    John – N.Y.: I am 69 years old. I am retired. I live in New York City. I have Medicare Parts A and B, a Medigap letter N policy and a Part D drug plan. My wife is 58. She has health insurance through her employer.

    We are hoping to pack up within the next year and move to Amsterdam, Netherlands for the next year or so in order to travel in Europe. We plan to return to the United States when we have satisfied our travel lust, but are not sure whether we will return to New York or look to live somewhere else where the weather is warmer.

    READ MORE: I’m retiring abroad. What Medicare plan should I get?

    I am aware that Medicare does not cover medical care outside of the United States. My wife and I are planning to purchase health care coverage in the Netherlands to cover our stay there (and hopefully if we need care in any other country while travelling).

    My concern is that it is my understanding (or impression) that if I drop out of Medicare while we are living abroad, I will run into hurdles in trying to re-enroll in Medicare upon our return to the U.S., including waiting periods, increased costs and exclusion of pre-existing conditions. I have hypertension and a history of prostate cancer.

    I am considering keeping my Medicare coverage intact while we are abroad in order to avoid any of these problems upon our return. This would, of course, make it necessary for me to pay for two different coverages while we are abroad. I would appreciate any thoughts and suggestions you can offer.

    Phil Moeller: Your concerns are well-founded. If you stop your Medicare coverage when you are out of the country, you are exposing yourself to late-enrollment penalties for Parts B and D when you reacquire Medicare coverage upon your return.

    Also, it is possible that getting a new Medigap Plan N would be much more expensive. Once you’ve left your initial enrollment period for Medigap, insurers may be able to charge you higher rates based on your health or may even refuse coverage altogether. Medigap is a state-regulated product, so you should see if the state of New York has any safeguards that might help you out. And if you did relocate to another state, you would need to check its Medigap rules.

    I am curious, however, about whether you might qualify to be covered by your wife’s employer group policy? If you are, perhaps you could switch to her policy and end your Medicare plans? Doing do could permit you to start over fresh when you rejoin Medicare — no late-enrollment penalties and no adverse Medigap underwriting.

    This only works if your wife somehow can keep her employer policy while the two of you are traveling. If not, you would need to re-enroll in Medicare when her employer coverage ends. And you might be right back where you are now — facing re-entry problems if you don’t have Medicare coverage while you’re outside the country.

    If you did move onto your wife’s policy, you’d have an eight-month special enrollment period that begins when her group coverage ends. If you took most of this period before re-enrolling, you could re-enroll while you’re in Europe (you’d probably need to maintain a U.S. address), and you could avoid Medicare premiums for much of your travel period.

    I would not make these moves without discussing them fully with your wife’s employee benefits office and with Medicare. Most likely, I would play it safe and just pay to keep my current Medicare coverage. For a longer discussion of Medicare issues for people living outside the U.S., see this Ask Phil column.


    Roger: I will turn 65 in two months. I get health insurance through my job and plan to work until I hit 70. My company only has 17 employees. Am I going to get hit with the 10 percent Part B late-enrollment penalty even though I want to keep my employer insurance through my company? By the way, my boss is 68 and has our insurance instead of Part B.

    Phil Moeller: Roger’s question involves the 20-employee cut-off point for determining whether you’re on a small or large employer health plan. If you have a small-employer group plan, the Medicare rules say that when you turn 65 that you need BOTH — Medicare and your employer plan. Medicare becomes the primary payer of covered claims, and your employer plan becomes the secondary payer.

    Column: What can we do to protect Medicare and Social Security?

    So if your boss is keeping his employer plan, he also should be getting Medicare. If he does not need Medicare, the only reason I can think of is that your insurance is part of a larger group policy. Sometimes, smaller employers participate in affinity programs (say, through a trade group or local chamber of commerce) that allows their plan to be regulated as a large-employer plan. If this is the case, then you would not need Medicare at 65 and can simply use your existing coverage.


    James: I am 66 years old and have an opportunity to participate in a health savings account (HSA), with the employer kicking in $1,300 of contributions per year. I am a low-wage earner, so I do not contemplate making my own contributions for the tax benefits. In order to participate, I was informed by Social Security that I could withdraw from Medicare Part A (one time only) using SSA Form No. 521. I am not enrolled in Part B, have never used Medicare services and am not drawing Social Security benefits. My medical plan covers 80 percent of hospitalization after a $3,000 deductible is met. My question is this: Would I be better off sticking with Part A as secondary payer in the event of hospitalization or putting $1,300 in savings? (I understand that Part A participants cannot have an HSA.)

    Phil Moeller: That’s a terrific question and one that you are as well positioned to answer as me.

    I don’t know the condition of your health and how likely you are to be hospitalized for a medical procedure. Given that even a brief hospital stay can cost more than $100,000, I’d weigh my exposure versus that $1,300 annual savings. Perhaps your employee benefits office can help quantify a worst-case situation for you so you can put a price tag on the value of keeping Part A.

    For me, the $1,300 savings is a small gain versus the exposure of a big hospital bill. But as a low earner, I appreciate that being able to get that $1,300 and spend it on medical care would be attractive.

    It’s a trade-off and, as earlier noted, one that you are the only true “expert” in evaluating.

    The post My meds are cheap. Do I really need a Medicare Part D drug plan? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video by PBS NewsHour

    On Tuesday, PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff sat down with John Brennan, outgoing director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to discuss the agency’s imminent report over suspected Russian hacking into the U.S. election.

    President-elect Donald Trump has questioned the forthcoming intelligence report and expressed doubt that U.S. intelligence can definitively point to Russia as a source of the hacks, but Brennan told the NewsHour that doubters should “wait and see” for the full report “before they make those judgments.”

    Brennan also addressed claims made by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and possible regrets over the agency’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.

    READ MORE: CIA chief addresses ‘doubters’ of Russian hacking report

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: why some engineers and investors are making big bets to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors.

    Miles O’Brien has the story. It was a co-production with our friends at PBS “NOVA” tied to the January 11 documentary “The Nuclear Option.”

    His story is part of our weekly series the Leading Edge.

    MILES O’BRIEN: This is where nuclear power began. Welcome to the Idaho National Laboratory. It covers a vast swathe of high desert nearly the size of Rhode Island.

    It is dotted with experimental nuclear reactors that wrote the textbooks on how to generate power by splitting atoms. And now a new chapter is being written here.

    MARK PETERS, Idaho National Laboratory: If we’re going to mitigate climate change, we have to think about how to develop new nuclear.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Laboratory director Mark Peters says concerns about climate change have brought his industry out of a long nuclear winter.

    MARK PETERS: We’re restarting and testing infrastructure to start to develop the next generation of nuclear power. So I’m just incredibly excited about the fact that we’re finally starting to get a public dialogue going now that it’s important to build the next generation.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The Bush and Obama administrations and Congress have concurred on that point. Together, they authorized tens of billions in loan guarantees for nuclear plant construction, and tens of millions in funding to develop what’s known as Generation IV technology.

    MARK PETERS: Generation IV are future reactors that are based on different concepts, different core designs, different coolants.

    MILES O’BRIEN: And perhaps his most promising client is an innovator from another industry. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is among a handful of entrepreneurs with seemingly bottomless pockets making big bets on nuclear power.

    In a 2010 TED Talk, he announced he had co-founded a company called TerraPower. His partner is his former chief technology officer at Microsoft, Nathan Myhrvold.

    NATHAN MYHRVOLD, TerraPower: We need to have base load carbon-free power, and nuclear is a great example of something that is base load carbon-free power. Base load means seven by 24, day and night, whenever, it’s going to be there.

    MILES O’BRIEN: TerraPower’s reactor uses a design that dates back to the first ever nuclear power plant, built here in Idaho. It illuminated its first lightbulbs in 1951.

    It’s an entirely different design than the vast majority of nuclear reactors currently operating. The fuel wasn’t cooled with water, but, rather, liquid metal, sodium mixed with potassium, which has a lower melting point, absorbs more heat, and has a much higher boiling point than water. It had some inherent safety advantages over water-cooled reactors, which cannot safely shut down without electricity from the grid to keep cooling pumps running.

    This is what happened at Fukushima in 2011. An earthquake and tsunami caused a station blackout that also destroyed backup generators and batteries. The reactors overheated and three melted down.

    MAN: It’s now about five minutes until test time.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Twenty-five years earlier in Idaho, engineers staged a prescient demonstration of the Fukushima scenario in a sodium reactor. They deliberately shut off the coolant flow. In a water-cooled reactor, like Fukushima, this would have caused an explosion, but this reactor safely shut itself down.

    MARK PETERS: It reaches a certain temperature, and the reaction automatically shuts down, and the reactor cools down by itself.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Sodium reactors do not need the equivalent of premium gas, refined or enriched uranium. In fact, TerraPower says it can run its reactors on the leftovers from enrichment, depleted uranium.

    The biggest stockpile in the U.S. is here in Paducah, Kentucky, at a uranium enrichment plant.

    NATHAN MYHRVOLD: With our reactors, Paducah, Kentucky becomes the energy capital of the United States, because Paducah alone has enough of this low-level nuclear waste, the depleted uranium, that we could run all of America’s electricity needs for 750 years.

    MAN: This is a model of the Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The seeds of the decline for liquid metal reactors were planted by Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy.

    MAN: This is the reactor or the atomic pile. There is uranium in here.

    MILES O’BRIEN: He selected nuclear reactors cooled with water to propel the Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine. For utilities, adapting the nuclear Navy technology for use on land offered the fastest path to market.

    Water-cooled nuclear reactors quickly became the norm all over the world.

    EDWIN LYMAN, Union of Concerned Scientists: I think that there was a victory on the merits here, and the other reactor designs did have the opportunity to prove themselves, and they fell short.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Physicist Edwin Lyman is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says the promise of this new generation of nukes should be tempered by the uncertainties.

    EDWIN LYMAN: Some non-water-cooled systems have a lower risk of certain types of accident, but they have greater risks of other kinds of accidents, or they introduce other security or safety issues, so there’s really no free lunch here.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But the private sector is apparently not dissuaded. A D.C.-based think tank, Third Way, found more than 40 startups across the U.S. developing advanced nuclear power designs.

    These atomic business plans have lured more than a billion dollars in investment.

    LESLIE DEWAN, Transatomic Power: I think a lot of it might just be the changing demographics of nuclear engineers, that now there are a large number of young nuclear engineers who think, I have a really good idea. I’m going to raise some funding. I’m going to see if I can do this on my own.

    How much do you have to worry about free fluorine?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Leslie Dewan is one of the young entrepreneurs leading this revolution. She became enamored with some nuclear technology first developed 50 years ago at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It’s called a molten salt reactor, not table salt, liquid fluoride salts.

    LESLIE DEWAN: A molten salt reactor uses liquid fuel, rather than solid fuel.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Having uranium dissolved in liquid offers some safety advantages. If the fuel gets too hot, the liquid expands, and the uranium atoms become too dispersed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction. It shuts itself down.

    And in the case of a station blackout, like Fukushima, the liquid fuel drains into a larger tank, where it cools down passively, no electricity needed. At Oak Ridge, they successfully ran and tested a molten salt reactor for four years, and it worked.

    But building a reactor that can withstand something as corrosive as a very hot bath of salt is a huge engineering challenge. At Oak Ridge, the funding ended before they could work on that. So, the corrosion problem is the focus of early testing for Leslie Dewan’s startup company, Transatomic.

    LESLIE DEWAN: We can make something that works for five years, that works for 10 years. Like, that, we certainly know. What we are trying to figure out now is whether we can use newer materials or new methods of corrosion control to extend the lifetime of the facility, because, ultimately, we care about making this low-cost.

    If you have to replace your key components every 10 years, it’s not going to be cheaper than coal. And if it’s not cheaper than coal, then it’s not worth doing.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Without a tax, or a cap, on carbon emissions, matching the cost of fossil fuels will likely be an impossible order for these new nuclear designs.

    EDWIN LYMAN: We don’t put a lot of stock in seeing an alternative to a water-cooled reactor being developed anytime soon, certainly not quickly enough to make a dent in the greenhouse gas problem.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But, in Idaho, they are pressing forward with urgency. In the U.S., there are currently about 100 nuclear reactors in operation. The majority of them are slated for retirement in the 2030s. What will replace them? Wind and solar? Not without a breakthrough in battery technology to store power on the grid.

    NATHAN MYHRVOLD: The fate of the whole planet depends on us renewing our energy system with renewables and with nuclear. And if we step back from that, we are going to create a tremendous problem for future generations.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Worries about waste, weapons proliferation and safety nearly derailed nuclear energy in the past. But the quest to meet rising demand for energy, without wrecking the planet, has put new nuclear technology back on the agenda.

    Miles O’Brien, the “PBS NewsHour,” at the Idaho National Laboratory.

    The post Demand for clean energy inspires new generation to innovate nuclear power appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) waits for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to exit his plane after arriving for stop on his USA Thank You Tour event in Mobile, Alabama, U.S., December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RTX2VHFQ

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    ALISON STEWART: The confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s controversial pick for U.S. attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, are next week, but already his detractors are making themselves heard.

    The NAACP mounted protests across Alabama on Tuesday against the Sessions nomination. In Mobile, the group’s national president, Cornell Brooks, and five others staged a sit-in at the senator’s local office. They were finally arrested for trespassing, when they refused to leave as the office closed last night.

    Meanwhile, more than 1,100 law professors wrote to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and said, in part — quote — “Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal judge.”

    Sessions’ own Senate career began 20 years ago, but that failed confirmation battle still echoes in this new fight. The NAACP and others cite at least three reasons to disqualify him as attorney general, on voting rights, his support for stricter I.D. laws and criticism of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, on civil rights, claims Sessions has repeatedly supported attempts to overturn desegregation.

    On criminal justice reform, the NAACP Highlights his opposition to consent decrees to reform police departments. All of this comes to a head next week, at Sessions’ confirmation hearings.

    The big question is, what kind of attorney general could Sessions be?

    For an idea, let’s take closer look at his record in the Senate, as well as his career as a prosecutor in Alabama.

    We are joined by John Sharp, a reporter for the Alabama Media Group, and Sari Horwitz. She covers the Department of Justice for The Washington Post.

    John, I want to start with you.

    Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has never lost an election. So over the course of his career as a prosecutor, as Alabama’s attorney general, and as a senator, what contributes to his popularity back at home in Alabama?

    JOHN SHARP, AL.COM: Well, he stayed true to his roots over the years. He’s an ultra-conservative politician, and he’s never really wavered from that.

    And Alabama is one of the reddest of the red states. It has supported a GOP presidential candidate since 1980. It’s only getting redder. Donald Trump’s returns on November 8 were the most that a presidential candidate’s had in Alabama since Richard Nixon in 1972.

    So Senator Sessions has — you know, he’s been a darling for the conservative movement in Alabama. And he has a spotless election record. His conservative viewpoints on anything from gun control to immigration reform to religious liberty has really sold well with the conservative voters here in this state who turn out and dominate on Election Days.

    ALISON STEWART: What’s an example of a way he stayed true to his roots on the local level?

    JOHN SHARP: Back in the early 2000s, he — The Mobile Press-Register at the time ran a series of stories about dental services in underserved areas, in small rural counties.

    And Senator Sessions, he saw those stories. He was interested in them. And he traveled around to various county where’s these clinics were located and people weren’t receiving dental services. And, you know, he made quite a high-profile splash at the time, at least on a local level, about wanting to get federal money set aside for some of these clinics to help support them and provide services for folks at the time that were not receiving them.

    ALISON STEWART: Sari, when Sessions was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, he was described by one paper as an in-the-trenches prosecutor. On the national level, how does he work as a senator?

    SARI HORWITZ, The Washington Post: Well, he’s very respected by his colleagues. He’s courteous and friendly. And he works well in the Senate. He’s been there for 20 years.

    But he’s really known for some very extreme views on immigration, hard-line views on immigration. And, in some cases, he’s actually struck out in opposition to his Republican colleagues and spoken out against legislation, especially on immigration, that was supported by his Republican colleagues.

    ALISON STEWART: John, when Sessions was up for a federal judgeship in the 1980s, he had some very tough hearings. There was testimony that he called another attorney, a black attorney boy, that he joked about the KKK, that he had disparaging words about the NAACP and the ACLU. He obviously didn’t get that post.

    How did that play pack home?

    JOHN SHARP: Well, that was an initial setback for Senator Sessions, but it played — it played really well back at home.

    At the time, the people that were opposing Senator Sessions were some of the big names of the Democratic Party back then, Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Senator Paul Simon from Illinois.

    And folks back home in Alabama saw that and looked upon the whole situation as, well, it’s us vs. them.

    ALISON STEWART: Jeff Sessions was one of the first senators, if not the first senator, to support candidate Trump. And it’s such an interesting mix. You have this millionaire from New York and this down-to-his-roots son of the South. Where do they meet?

    SARI HORWITZ: You’re right. He was actually the first senator in February to endorse Donald Trump.

    They met several years ago. Donald Trump came to testify on Capitol Hill, and they really hit it off. They’re both — they both have deeply conservative views. They see the world the same way. They see the world as sort of divided between working class and the elites.

    Senator Sessions refers to the elites as masters of the universe. I think both Donald Trump and Senator Sessions see themselves, they position themselves as champions of the working class.

    ALISON STEWART: Sari, almost two years ago, Jeff Sessions was on the Hill, and he was addressing attorney general candidate Loretta Lynch, and he said this:

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-Ala.): You will have to tell the president yes or no on something that he may want to do. Are you able and willing to tell the president of the United States no if he asks to — permission or a legal opinion that supports an action you believe is wrong?

    ALISON STEWART: Sari, has Jeff Sessions ever been in that position, when he’s had to go against the grain, when he’s had to say no or yes to something like that?

    SARI HORWITZ: I remember that moment when he said that to Loretta Lynch, and he actually ended up voting against Loretta Lynch, partially because of her answer, which was that she supported President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

    Jeff Sessions himself has gone against the grain, but it’s really been in the Senate, again, against his own party, when he took on views on immigration that were opposed by other Republicans. As I said, the Republicans backed and Democrats in 2013 backed an immigration bill, and he spoke out strongly against it.

    So he has gone against the grain when he really, deeply believes in something, as he does on immigration.

    ALISON STEWART: Sari, Senator Sessions has described the attorney general’s position as, he or she set the tone for law enforcement in America.

    Do we have any idea what his tone might be based on his actions as senator?

    SARI HORWITZ: You know, it’s hard to say how he will be as attorney general, but civil rights groups are very concerned.

    And this is what we have seen in the last couple of days, the NAACP Staging a sit-in in Mobile, Alabama, six people arrested, the ACLU today coming out with a big report critical of Jeff Sessions. They don’t take a position a candidate, for or against, but very critical, because they’re worried about what he will be like as attorney general, especially in the area of civil rights.

    They’re worried about the Civil Rights Division that under Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch enforced strongly the Voting Rights Act and oversight of police departments. The Justice Department in the last couple years has sued many police departments across America and forced reforms in civil liberties for police departments.

    And they have sued two states, specifically North Carolina and Texas, on the Voting Rights Act.

    ALISON STEWART: Sari Horwitz of The Washington Post, and John Sharp from the Alabama Media Group, thank you so much.

    The post Why the NAACP and others are protesting Trump’s attorney general pick appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A displaced man, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, carries a child in the Mithaq district of eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani - RTX2XJIY

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    ALISON STEWART: But first: For nearly three months, Iraqi forces backed by the U.S. have been fighting to retake the ISIS-held city of Mosul. The militants still hold much of the city and its nearly one million residents.

    Almost 130,000 people have fled Mosul since the battle began. Security officials are now trying to harbor the displaced, while also containing the spread of ISIS. But the process of screening and detaining men and boys who have left to ensure they are not extremists is fraught and controversial.

    From Northern Iraq, special correspondent Marcia Biggs and videographer Eric O’Connor report.

    MARCIA BIGGS: It’s a slow and steady exodus, civilians fleeing the battle for Mosul. Those who make it to the relative safety of Iraqi checkpoints tell harrowing stories.

    SAED GHAZI, Displaced Iraqi (through translator): A mortar landed on my house, destroyed it, and killed my wife. We had no place to bury her, and now our daughter has no mother.

    MARCIA BIGGS: The danger of Mosul behind them, they are first screened by Iraqis, then boarded onto buses for a journey into the unknown.

    WOMAN (through translator): The shelling destroyed us. All our houses are gone now. Nothing remains for us.

    MARCIA BIGGS: Do you know where you’re going?

    WOMAN (through translator): I don’t know, but they are saying that they are taking us to the tents.

    MARCIA BIGGS: They’re heading to a handful of camps for internally displaced people here in Iraqi-held Kurdistan. It’s a long wait. They’re facing a bottleneck from previous buses as the newly arrived register and receive supplies, and, at every stage, more screening.

    Both Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish authorities have a mandate to keep members of ISIS from escaping through the mass of civilians fleeing the battle, and they have gathered intelligence on tens of thousands of ISIS suspects, creating a database with a list of names. Everywhere we went in the camps, we heard the same story.

    WOMAN (through translator): I only have one son. They took him 20 days ago. We don’t know where he is. He went to get gas and they just took him. He’s innocent.

    MARCIA BIGGS: Aziza says she and her 18-year-old son, Radwan, escaped Mosul, only to be ripped apart by local authorities once they arrived at the camp.

    WOMAN (through translator): Oh, my son. I feel safe here, but I feel sad because he’s not here. The tent is empty. It’s been 20 days since they took him. I’m cold and empty without him.

    MARCIA BIGGS: This man wouldn’t let us show his face, but says his cousin was arrested, based on what he says was the word of an informer in the camp.

    BELKIS WILLE, Human Rights Watch: In Mosul, we have got thousands of individuals being screened, subsequently being detained, and disappearing.

    MARCIA BIGGS: Belkis Wille is with Human Rights Watch, based in Iraq.

    BELKIS WILLE: Now, all of them might be in official detention facilities, and maybe the moment the operation is done, we will see a lot of these people released. But, for the moment, we don’t know that, and all their families know is that they have gone missing.

    MARCIA BIGGS: General Najim al-Jabouri is one of Iraq’s top commanders in the battle for Mosul, and his men are the first line of screening for civilians coming out of ISIS control. They detain anyone who appears on the list, even though he knows some may not be hard-line is members.

    GEN. NAJIM AL-JABOURI, Iraq: I hope the prime minister give amnesty to the majority of the people, join ISIS, but they not kill, they not involved in very bad thing. They just to took some salary to keep them and families from revenge of ISIS. You know, ISIS don’t have any mercy.

    MARCIA BIGGS: They’re just trying to stay alive and feed their families.

    GEN. NAJIM AL-JABOURI: Yes, yes.

    MARCIA BIGGS: Is there ever anyone that’s on that list that you say he’s just someone who’s trying to get by, let’s let him go?

    GEN. NAJIM AL-JABOURI: Yes, sure. Yes, sure. But the judge will decide that, not me. I fight in the field. Anyone stand in front of me and fight me, I kill him. But after the field, this the mission of the judge.

    MARCIA BIGGS: We traveled south of Mosul to Qayyarah, where, under the black cloud of oil fires set by ISIS, we found one of those judges, whose job is to investigate the cases of ISIS suspects and prepare them for trial.

    How many people are on the list? We heard 40,000?

    AMER ABDULLAH KHODIR, Judge (through translator): No, there are more than 40,000 who are not arrested yet.

    MARCIA BIGGS: How do you differentiate between someone who is just trying to make ends meet in occupied Mosul, and someone who is an ISIS terrorist?

    AMER ABDULLAH KHODIR (through translator): We have people who are helping us identify the individuals who were just doing their job, without being members of ISIS.

    BELKIS WILLE: The real question for us is, how do you get onto that list? It’s allegations that you are affiliated with ISIS, but they could be made by your neighbor, your neighbor who envies your land or your neighbor who had a feud with you for many years.

    MARCIA BIGGS: The judge denies that charges can be based solely on witness testimony, but admits that the system is bogged down.

    AMER ABDULLAH KHODIR (through translator): It will take a long time to complete these cases. In most of the cases, the victims’ bodies are missing. They were kidnapped by ISIS terrorists, killed and disappeared. We have to find the bodies, but this will prolong the investigations.

    MARCIA BIGGS: For the families of those that languish in detention, it’s a reminder of abuses against Sunnis that took place last spring, when Iraqi forces retook Fallujah from ISIS, but then allowed Shia militias to control those villages.

    BELKIS WILLE: We know the history of previous operations, and we know that hundreds of people have gone missing. We’re not saying let everybody go. What we’re saying is, there are simple things you can do to try and decrease the chance of abuse afterwards.

    One of those things is informing family members of where their loved ones are. The other is putting out public numbers. Why have we not seen the authorities put out a single public number on how many people are being detained in this operation?

    MARCIA BIGGS: This is your husband, Zaojek?

    Back in the camp, 27-year-old Miad shows me the only picture she has of her husband, Ramy. She says they had been here for 10 days when he went to camp security to get permission for her to see a doctor. He never came back.

    MIAD, Lives in Camp (through translator): The night that they arrested him, I waited up until midnight, but he didn’t come. I went to the camp manager. He said it’s a normal investigation, and he will be back soon, it will only take a couple of days. That was 17 days ago.

    I remember they put his name in the database two times, and they didn’t find anything on him. He was cleared. He doesn’t have anything to do with ISIS.

    MARCIA BIGGS: She’s here alone with her two children and her 80-year-old grandmother. Diagnosed with uterine cancer, she has special permission to go to her chemotherapy appointments, but like everyone else, is otherwise forbidden to leave the camp.

    MIAD (through translator): I went to the camp security and he didn’t give me any information. They just told me, if he is innocent, we will bring him back to you. If he’s guilty, don’t ask about him.

    MARCIA BIGGS: Halkwat Rafaat is in charge of security at the camps in this area, in total hosting almost 60,000 people.

    Why they are not allowed to leave the camp?

    HALKWAT RAFAAT, Iraq (through translator): Because they have been under is control for more than two years.

    MARCIA BIGGS: And you are worried that maybe there may be ISIS fighters hiding in plaint sight?

    HALKWAT RAFAAT (through translator): Of course they are.

    MARCIA BIGGS: What do you say to the officials that say, we have got a real security problem; we can’t let people leave?

    BELKIS WILLE: If the screening processes are not working, then improve the screening processes. But once someone’s been cleared through that process, it is unacceptable to be holding them in a camp that is essentially being used as a prison.

    MARCIA BIGGS: Miad says she now wishes she had never left Mosul.

    MIAD (through translator): I need my husband by my side. When I am sick, he takes care of the kids, and makes sure we have food. But now I have no one, only God and my two kids. My life here is very hard. If I had known they would arrest my husband, I never would have left my village.

    MARCIA BIGGS: Some residents held out. Iraqi armed forces had cleared this village in North Mosul 20 days ago when we arrived, and the civilians here chose not to go to the camps. But now that the Iraqi army controls this area, checkpoints are everywhere, and no one goes in or out without special permission.

    They say they’re grateful to be rid of ISIS, but say there is no clean water, no electricity, not enough food.

    RAAFAT KHALIL SALAH, North Mosul Resident (through translator): We have received food only two times in the last two weeks. We need gas for the generators. We don’t want to go to the camps. We want to stay here to keep what is ours.

    MARCIA BIGGS: Half-an-hour later, we were at a former ISIS bomb factory looking at some vehicles that ISIS left behind. We were hustled to a nearby home to wait out the shelling.

    So we just received a mortar from around five to six kilometers away. The general believes that perhaps one of the civilians that saw us talking to all of the neighbors may have given information to ISIS that we were here, which is why we have received this mortar.

    There is no way to know for sure if someone informed on us, but it is a reminder that, even in so-called liberated areas, there is still a very real war being fought. Those who choose to stay may keep their homes and their dignity, but they now live in a state of limbo between ISIS and the Iraqi army, and with that comes suspicion and danger.

    Eight more rounds hit areas around us that afternoon. This local villager emerged from his home carrying a white flag and begging the army to let him take his family to the next village. He was told to stay in his home.

    Back in the camp, Miad may be out of the line of fire, but she faces every day alone, no information, no answers.

    MIAD (through translator): God willing, he will come back to us. I am not the only one. Too many others have been taken who have nothing to do with ISIS.

    MARCIA BIGGS: For now, all she can do is wait.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Marcia Biggs, outside Mosul, Northern Iraq.

    The post Why Iraqi boys and men are disappearing amid ISIS concerns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Republican President-elect Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. On Saturday, he tweeted a New Year's message critical of his "enemies."  Photo By Carlo Allegri/Reuters

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we explore the widening rift between the president-elect and the intelligence community.

    After we recorded the Brennan interview yesterday, Mr. Trump tweeted: “The ‘intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday. Perhaps more time need to build a case. Very strange!”

    Well, that briefing, it was widely reported, was always scheduled for Friday.

    For more on this divide, or what appears to be a divide, we turn to James Woolsey. He was the CIA director during the Clinton administration. He is now at Booz Allen,* a major defense contractor, and he is a senior adviser to the Trump transition. And Jeffrey Smith, he’s a former general counsel at the CIA. He currently serves on the Department of Defense Legal Policy Advisory Board.

    And we welcome both of you to the “NewsHour.”

    So I’m going to start with you, James Woolsey. These tweets that we’re quoting from Donald Trump are just the latest in a series of statements he’s made dismissing either the CIA or the intelligence agency. What does he — you’re advising the transition. What does he really think of the professionals in the intelligence community?

    JAMES WOOLSEY, Senior Advisor to Trump Transition: I think he’s got an open mind.

    I think we need to have some things take place which haven’t taken place yet. He needs to get to know the top people in the agency. I think they need to go the extra mile in order to present things to him in a way that he wants. He doesn’t want the morning briefing, apparently. Well, neither did Bill Clinton when I was director of central intelligence. He read the briefing and asked questions sometimes.

    So there’s not any one way to do that. But the point is that they need to find out what will help him get into this very important job quickly and effectively and plan their presentations that way, rather than complaining, frankly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeffrey Smith, what do you make of what we have heard, really just a stream of critical comments by Donald Trump about the intelligence community, the CIA and the rest of it?

    JEFFREY SMITH, Former General Counsel, CIA: I find them deeply disturbing and potentially very dangerous.

    They’re disturbing because he seems to be saying, I don’t trust the intelligence community.

    And I don’t know quite why he believes that. We all understand they have made mistakes in the past, but I think they have also understand how important it is to get it right. So I think he’s prejudging them a little bit.

    And I think they’re dangerous because he’s set in motion all kinds of potential conflicts down the road and some uncertainty with our allies.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It may go further than criticism. We are just tonight seeing, literally just in the last few minutes, Jim Woolsey and Jeffrey Smith, a report in The Wall Street Journal that a source close to Donald Trump, the Trump transition, is saying that he’s looking at restructuring the entire intelligence community, frankly, overhauling the CIA.

    Is it your understand understanding that that’s what he may be up to?

    JAMES WOOLSEY: There’s been talk about this not just within the Trump transition, but around the community now for some months, verging into years.

    Part of the reason is that the director of national intelligence, which does the sort of chairman of the board job that used to be done by the director of central intelligence, as well as managing the CIA, that sort of chairman of the board job was done more or less by 18, 19 people when I was director back in the ’93-’94 time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    JAMES WOOLSEY: It’s now done in one way or another by 2,000 or 3,000.

    And there has been a huge surge in numbers of people in the community as a whole, not just at the CIA, and I think they’re going to, understandably, take a look at that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Jeffrey Smith, we don’t know — again, this report just came out by The Wall Street Journal, and the person, the source is not named. But what would an overhaul like that mean?

    JEFFREY SMITH: Well, I agree with Jim.

    If the size of the ODNI staff could be reduced and streamlined, I think that’s good. It has become overhead that is largely unnecessary. And the story also suggests that CIA should do more in the field. I think that’s probably right.

    But I also think that it’s wise for an administration to come in and take the measure of things before they start reshuffling everything, because a huge amount of effort would be spent on reorganizing things at a time when that energy would be better spent, it seems to me, on addressing the crises that exist in the world.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But I want to come back, Jim Woolsey, to what Donald Trump has been saying. He’s siding — frankly, appears to be siding with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks over the CIA, pretty much dismissing the CIA and the entire intelligence community finding that the Russians were behind this hacking of the Democrats during the election.

    Do we have any precedent for an incoming president of the United States having this much disregard for the entire intelligence community?

    JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, I don’t know that it’s disregard. It certainly is raising issues. There’s no doubt about is that.

    Donald Trump does that in his own way. He raised issues in a way that turned out to be very successful for him politically, got him elected president of the United States, when virtually everybody that he talked to said you can’t raise issues that way.

    So I think we all need to take half a step back and look at the fact that he handles things like this differently than a lot of other people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me stop and ask Jeffrey Smith.

    What Jim Woolsey said a few moments ago was that the intelligence community needs find another way to come to Donald Trump. If he doesn’t like the way the current briefings are structured, they need to find another way to do it. Could that be a solution here?

    JEFFREY SMITH: That could help. However it’s done matters less than they need to convince the president, their new boss, that they can be trusted.

    And he needs to work to develop their trust. This has to be a mutual understanding of trust between both sides, because there’s going to be some crisis very early in the administration, and the president is going to rely on what he hears from the intelligence community. And if he has been saying before he became president that they can’t be trusted, what does he say to the American people now that I’m relying on them to make recommendations to take action?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jim Woolsey, I think that’s the question, because if something comes up and Donald Trump has declared that he doesn’t trust the CIA, what does that mean?

    JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, I think those — some things like that can be surmounted by spending some time together and so forth. I don’t think that’s the main problem.

    The main problem is that I think the entire leadership, not just the president-elect himself, but the entire leadership in the national security area needs to realize that one of the most important things you’re going to do in this job is deal with crises of one sort or another.

    And in crises, it has historically been the case that almost always the first reports are wrong. You cannot deal with them by making a quick judgment based on the first things that you hear, even though they sound — if they sound reasonable.

    The Tonkin Gulf Resolution is one example of something that was taken off of a non-occurrence.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That sounds like a warning to the incoming administration.

    What other advice would you have, just quickly, Jeffrey Smith?

    JEFFREY SMITH: Mr. Trump has had an extraordinary business career, but dealing with sovereign states with nuclear weapons is fundamentally different than building a golf course in Scotland.

    He has to understand that he has huge responsibilities. He has to be extremely careful about what he says. He has to listen to those terrific professionals in the intelligence community, the diplomatic community, the military community. They have to begin to trust him, and he has to begin to trust them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeffrey Smith, Jim Woolsey, we thank you both.

    JAMES WOOLSEY: Good to be with you, as always.

    JEFFREY SMITH: Thank you.

    *Editor’s Note: James Woolsey is no longer a partner at Booz Allen, contrary to what was stated on the PBS NewsHour on Wednesday.

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    CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "diverse mission requirements in support of our National Security", in Washington, U.S., June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas - RTX2GKQO

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    WATCH: Our entire interview with CIA Director John Brennan

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to my conversation with CIA Director John Brennan.

    Last night, we focused largely on allegations of Russian hacking of U.S. political operations during the election and the war in Syria.

    Tonight, we begin with concerns raised by European intelligence officials about possible Russian intrusion in upcoming elections there, and whether Director Brennan believes the U.S. is facing a new Cold War with Russia.

    JOHN BRENNAN, Director, Central Intelligence Agency: Well, I certainly hope not.

    And I certainly hope that, looking out over the next several years, the relationship between Moscow and Washington improves, because it is critically important for global stability for the United States and Russia to have a better relationship, absolutely, and so I fully endorse that.

    However, we see that there are still a lot of actions that Russia is undertaking that undermine the principles of democracy in so many countries. What has happened in our recent election is not new. The Russians have engaged in trying to manipulate elections in Europe for a number of years.

    We see that they take advantage of corrupt politicians. They will fund the parties and groups that support their aims. And so there’s active exploitation and manipulation of the political processes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But some now have the sense that this will all improve under a President Trump, that this may have just been a feature of the Obama administration.

    JOHN BRENNAN: Oh, I don’t think it was a feature of the Obama administration. I think it was more a feature of the Putin administration in terms of what the Russians have been doing over the last eight years, and certainly before that.

    This is not to say that we cannot find ways to be able to work together, the United States and Russia. Again, I think it’s critically important that we do. And maybe now, with a new administration, there will be opportunities to do that. I certainly hope so.

    But the facts are that the Russians tried to interfere in our electoral process recently, and were actively involved in that. And that is something that we can’t countenance, because, as you point out, there are a number of countries in Europe that are going to be having elections in this year, whether it be Germany, France, and others.

    And I must tell you, there is level of anxiety among my European counterparts about what the Russians might have up their sleeve in order to promote their objectives in these electoral processes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One other question about the president-elect and the intelligence community.

    He has been very critical of parts of the intelligence community. Has the well already been poisoned before he takes office between him and the CIA, which he has been particularly critical of? What are your colleagues saying to you about that?

    JOHN BRENNAN: The professionals at the CIA are very much looking forward to having the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, their capabilities to the incoming administration, president-elect, vice president-elect, and others.

    And so every time there’s a transition, the CIA recognizes that it has a special responsibility and obligation to make sure those who have our national security in their hands are going to be as best informed and as enlightened as possible about the complexities of world events.

    And so I know there have been a lot of things in the media and the press. And I have told our folks, just focus on your work and look forward to the opportunity to brief the incoming team. So, nothing is soured at this point. And I really do believe that agency officers are ready and looking forward to this opportunity.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A few other important parts of the world I want to ask you about.

    North Korea, over the weekend, its leader, Kim Jong-un, said that his country is — quote — “finalizing preparations of a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile,” which one assumes would mark — well, would mark an advance in Korea’s attempt to build a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States.

    Are the North Koreans as far along as it sounds like they are? How much should the United States, should the incoming president be concerned about it?

    JOHN BRENNAN: I think the incoming administration needs to be very concerned about North Korea.

    They continue to advance their ballistic missile capability, and as Kim Jong-un said, even at the intercontinental ballistic range. They continue to develop their nuclear program in terms of having nuclear capability that they could then marry with a ballistic missile. And that would be a threat and is a threat to regional states, as well as potentially to the U.S. homeland.

    Obviously, the trajectory that Pyongyang has been on over the past two decades, to include the last number of years under Kim Jong-un, has not been a good path. And we, the United States, along with our partners and allies around the world, to include China, which has an extraordinary amount of influence on North Korea, we need to work together to change that trajectory, so that North Korea doesn’t pose that threat to regional stability, as well as to global stability.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Your administration has, in effect, celebrated the nuclear agreement with Iran, holding off Iran’s ability to have a breakout capability when it comes to nuclear weapons.

    Does North Korea represent a failure in that regard?

    JOHN BRENNAN: Well, North Korea has been embarked on this for the last couple of decades, it’s clear.

    And there have been a number of steps taken to try to prevent its continued march along this path in terms of sanctions and international program and criticism and isolation of North Korea. But Kim Jong-un and his father and grandfather before him were on this path.

    And it’s a — it’s an unfortunate failure of the international community to find a way to bring North Korea to its senses, so that it can focus on the health and well-being and welfare of its people, who are impoverished, and for him not to be able to continue to invest in a military capability that is only leading to North Korea’s continued isolation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How close is North Korea to being able to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon?

    JOHN BRENNAN: To me, the fact that he has a ballistic missile capability and he has said that he is going on the intercontinental side of it, and he has a nuclear capability, to me, that’s too close.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what does that mean? I mean…

    JOHN BRENNAN: It means that we cannot be — we shouldn’t feel comfortable with the continued military capabilities and the growth of those capabilities in North Korea. That needs to be addressed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What should President-elect Trump, once he’s in office, and your successor, Congressman now Mike Pompeo, be lying awake worrying about in the months to come, more than anything else?

    JOHN BRENNAN: Well, I think it’s all these things.

    It’s trying to make sure that they understand the complexities of the various challenges that are out there, whether you’re talking about a Ukraine or Iraq or Syria or North Korea or any of the issues we deal with cyber and terrorism. These are complex and complicated issues.

    And they’re not — they don’t lend themselves to easy and simple solutions. And also, in my experience, the past five, eight years or so, the number of these challenges continues to go up. And so it’s not just complexities of these issues. It’s the simultaneity of it.

    And the United States is the global superpower, remains so. And what they need to worry about is how are they going to ensure that they’re able to monitor what’s going on around the world, protect U.S. national security interests, not overcommit, and also make sure that the policy course that they stake out is one that has near-term interests in mind, but also longer-term strategic goals and objectives of the United States.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you believe they’re up to that challenge?

    JOHN BRENNAN: I believe that any administration that comes in, I think, sometimes is taken aback by the scope, the scale, the complexity of the problems.

    I was part of the incoming Obama administration, and I had served in government before. And I must tell you, once you have that responsibility, it’s rather daunting.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And where will John Brennan be?

    JOHN BRENNAN: I will be on the sidelines, will be finishing up on Inauguration Day. And this is the absolute best job that I could ever imagine. And so this will be my last job in government.

    But I will be doing what I can to support our national security from the sidelines.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John Brennan, the director of the CIA, thank you very much for joining us.

    JOHN BRENNAN: Thank you, Judy. Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can watch my entire interview with Director Brennan at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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    Christmas decorations and a small tree frame the Mother Emanuel AME Church after the federal trial of Dylann Roof who was found guilty of 33 counts including hate crimes in Charleston, South Carolina December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill - RTX2V9DY

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    ALISON STEWART: In the day’s other news: The white supremacist who killed nine black church worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina, insisted he is not mentally ill. Dylann Roof is acting as his own lawyer for the death penalty phase of his federal hate crimes trial.

    In his opening statement, he said — quote — “There is nothing wrong with me psychologically.” He didn’t address his crimes, and didn’t ask to be spared execution. The prosecution argued that Roof’s actions justify capital punishment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Turkey, authorities say they have identified the gunman in a New Year’s Eve nightclub attack that killed 39 people. But they didn’t release the name today, and the killer remained at large. Turkish police detained 20 suspects linked to the assault, all said to be Islamic State militants, including 11 women.

    And President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the nation, insisting he won’t surrender to terrorists.

    PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey (through translator): Nobody’s lifestyle is under systematic threat in Turkey. We will never allow this. We haven’t allowed this since we took the helm 14 years ago. Anyone who claims otherwise must prove it with concrete examples.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Islamic State group has said the nightclub attack was retaliation for Turkish military operations in Northern Syria.

    ALISON STEWART: A military court in Israel has convicted a soldier of manslaughter for killing a Palestinian who had stabbed another soldier. Sergeant Elor Azaria shot the attacker, who was wounded, disarmed and laying on the ground. Supporters of Azaria clashed with police outside the courtroom today, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Israel’s president to grant a pardon.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, president-elect Trump announced he has chosen Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton to chair the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Clayton is noted for his expertise in public and private mergers and public offerings.

    ALISON STEWART: Macy’s announced today its cutting more than 10,000 jobs and going ahead with plans to close 68 stores.

    And on Wall Street, retailers helped lead the way higher. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 60 points to close at 19942. The Nasdaq rose almost 48 points, and the S&P 500 added nearly 13.

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    Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi speak following a meeting with U.S.President Barack Obama on congressional Republicans' effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX2XJ34

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The battle over repealing Obamacare has been joined at the U.S. Capitol tonight. Both the sitting president and the incoming vice president were there, making their cases for reprieve or repeal.

    Lisa Desjardins has our report.

    LISA DESJARDINS: At the Capitol, President Obama and vice president-elect Pence were minutes apart in arrival, and light years apart in purpose. Mr. Obama, in a private meeting with Democrats, urged them to defend his signature health care law.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello, everybody. Happy new year.

    LISA DESJARDINS: While a few floors up, Mr. Pence rallied his former Republican colleagues in the House to dismantle it. He said afterward that Republicans are paying attention to how to avoid ripple effects of repeal, for individuals and the market.

    MIKE PENCE, Vice President-Elect: We’re working right now, the White House staff is, on a series of executive orders that will enable that orderly transition to take place, even as the Congress appropriately debates alternatives to, and replacement of, Obamacare.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Pence gave no specifics, saying it’s too soon.

    Those who will have to wrestle with the specifics, rank-and-file Republicans, focused on their energy.

    MAN: It more a pep rally.

    LISA DESJARDINS: As for a timeline on a Republican replacement plan, Trump transition team member Chris Collins and others offered this.

    REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R-N.Y.): We’re going to have to, over the next six months, put that pen to paper.

    REP. KRISTI NOEM (R-S.D.): Oh, absolutely. That’s our agreed-upon agenda, is to get it done within six months. We’re not wholly united on one idea right now, but I would say we’re definitely in a better spot than we were six months ago.

    LISA DESJARDINS: This is a good time to explain how Republicans plan this repeal. Step one, what’s happening now, is a procedural move, not the actual repeal yet. Both chambers will instruct committees to submit budget ideas by January 27.

    Then, step two, inside those budget resolutions will be the repeal of all or part of Obamacare. Why budget resolutions? They require just 51 votes in the Senate. So those budget plans will be the actual repeal. Republicans hope to do that by March.

    Step three is the replacement, and that could come in several pieces. As you heard, many Republicans want to propose something within six months. All of those decisions, affecting nearly every American, are politically precarious. President-elect Trump himself warned Republicans on Twitter today to be careful.

    President Obama didn’t speak publicly at the Capitol today. Instead, Democratic leaders did in a fiery news conference, insisting Republicans could make things worse, a point highlighted in a new Trump-inspired motto.

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, Minority Leader: The Republican plan to cut health care wouldn’t make America great again. It would make America sick again, and lead to chaos, instead of affordable care.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Democrats are, of course, in the minority in both chambers, but they were joined by one Republican this afternoon. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky voted against the first procedural move toward health care repeal, citing cost concerns. It passed without him.

    And even if Rand Paul continues to be a no vote, Republicans have enough votes to repeal Obamacare. What is not clear is if they have enough votes for any one replacement plan. There will be a lot of maneuvering and speeches over the next couple of weeks, but, Alison, what is key to watch for is the decision Republicans make as to when the Obamacare repeal should take effect, quickly or over years — Alison.

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    The cyber threats hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET. PBS NewsHour will live stream.

    WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. intelligence officials face questions at a Senate hearing that will be dominated by the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Donald Trump win.

    The Armed Services Committee’s cyber threats hearing on Thursday comes a day before the president-elect is to be briefed by the CIA and FBI directors — along with the director of national intelligence — on the investigation into Russia’s alleged hacking efforts. Trump has been deeply critical of their findings, even appearing to back controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s contention that Russia did not provide him with hacked Democratic emails.

    The committee’s session is the first in a series aimed at investigating purported Russian cyber-attacks against U.S. interests and developing defenses sturdy enough to blunt future intrusions.

    “We will obviously be talking about the hacking, but the main thing is the whole issue of cybersecurity,” the committee’s Republican chairman, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said ahead of the hearing. “Right now we have no policy, no strategy to counter cyberattacks.”

    Slated to appear before the Armed Services Committee are James Clapper, the national intelligence director; Marcel Lettre, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and Adm. Michael Rogers, National Security Agency chief and the top officer at the U.S. Cyber Command.

    Accusations Russia interfered in the 2016 election by hacking Democratic email accounts have roiled Washington for weeks. President Barack Obama struck back at Moscow in late December with a sweeping set of sanctions targeting Russia’s leading spy agencies — the GRU and FSB — that the U.S. said were involved. The GRU is Russia’s military intelligence agency. The FSB is the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

    But the sanctions against both Russian intelligence agencies could easily be rescinded by Trump, who has so far publicly refused to accept the conclusion that Russia is responsible for the attacks. Trump earlier this week escalated his criticism of U.S. intelligence professionals, such as Clapper. by tweeting, without evidence, that an upcoming briefing on the suspected Russian hacking had been delayed until Friday, and said, “perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

    Intelligence officials said there had been no delay.

    Trump also suggested Wednesday in a tweet that one of Russia’s primary targets, the Democratic National Committee, could be to blame for being “so careless.”

    The sanctions imposed by Obama came after he pledged a “proportional” response to the hacking of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s campaign chairman. Emails stolen during the campaign were released in the final weeks by WikiLeaks.

    CIA Director John Brennan said in a Dec. 16 message to employees that the FBI agreed with the agency’s conclusion that Russia’s goal was to support Trump in the election. Brennan wrote that he also had spoken with Clapper and said “there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election.”

    Moscow has denied the hacking allegations and dismissed Obama’s sanctions as an attempt to “harm Russian-American ties.” Although Russian President Vladimir Putin rebuked the Obama administration for trying to punish Russia, he said his country would not immediately retaliate and would instead wait for a new U.S. approach after Trump takes office.

    Trump praised Putin’s move and called him “very smart.”

    To buttress the case for sanctions imposed by Obama and expose Russia’s cyber tactics, the Homeland Security Department released a report prepared with the FBI that for the first time officially tied cyberattacks into the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee to hackers affiliated with the GRU and FSB.

    WATCH: Russian meddling doubters should wait to see report, says Brennan

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    Peanuts and shells by Bruno Crescia Photography Inc. via Getty Images

    Peanuts and shells by Bruno Crescia Photography Inc. via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Most babies should start eating peanut-containing foods well before their first birthday, say guidelines released Thursday that aim to protect high-risk tots and other youngsters, too, from developing the dangerous food allergy.

    The new guidelines from the National Institutes of Health mark a shift in dietary advice, based on landmark research that found early exposure dramatically lowers a baby’s chances of becoming allergic.

    The recommendations spell out exactly how to introduce infants to peanut-based foods and when — for some, as early as 4 to 6 months of age — depending on whether they’re at high, moderate or low risk of developing one of the most troublesome food allergies.

    “We’re on the cusp of hopefully being able to prevent a large number of cases of peanut allergy,” said Dr. Matthew Greenhawt of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, a member of the NIH-appointed panel that wrote the guidelines.

    Babies at high risk — because they have a severe form of the skin rash eczema or egg allergies — need a check-up before any peanut exposure, and might get their first taste in the doctor’s office.

    For other tots, most parents can start adding peanut-containing foods to the diet much like they already introduced oatmeal or mushed peas.

    No, babies don’t get whole peanuts or a big glob of peanut butter — those are choking hazards. Instead, the guidelines include options like watered-down peanut butter or easy-to-gum peanut-flavored “puff” snacks.

    “It’s an important step forward,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which appointed experts to turn the research findings into user-friendly guidelines. “When you do desensitize them from an early age, you have a very positive effect.”

    Peanut allergy is a growing problem, affecting about 2 percent of U.S. children who must avoid the wide array of peanut-containing foods or risk severe, even life-threatening, reactions.

    For years, pediatricians advised avoiding peanuts until age 3 for children thought to be at risk. But the delay didn’t help, and that recommendation was dropped in 2008 — although parent wariness of peanuts persists.

    “It’s old news, wrong old news, to wait,” said Dr. Scott Sicherer, who represented the American Academy of Pediatrics on the guidelines panel.

    Thursday’s guidelines make that clear, urging parents and doctors to proactively introduce peanut-based foods early.

    “Just because your uncle, aunt and sibling have an allergy, that’s even more reason to give your baby the food now” — even if they’re already older than 6 months, added Sicherer, a pediatric allergist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

    In Columbus, Ohio, one doctor told Carrie Stevenson to avoid peanuts after her daughter was diagnosed with egg allergy. Then Stevenson found an allergy specialist who insisted that was the wrong advice — and offered baby Estelle a taste test of peanut butter in his office when she was 7 months old.

    “I was really nervous,” Stevenson recalled, unsure which doctor to believe. But, “we didn’t want her to have any more allergies.”

    Now 18 months old, Estelle has eaten peanut butter or peanut-flavored puffs at least three times a week since then and so far seems healthy. Stevenson, pregnant again, plans early exposure for her next child, too.

    The guidelines recommend:

    • All babies should try other solid foods before peanut-containing ones, to be sure they’re developmentally ready.
    • High-risk babies should have peanut-containing foods introduced as early as 4 to 6 months after a check-up to tell if they should have the first taste in the doctor’s office, or if it’s OK to try at home with a parent watching for any reactions.
    • Moderate-risk babies have milder eczema, typically treated with over-the-counter creams. They should start peanut-based foods around 6 months, at home.
    • Most babies are low-risk, and parents can introduce peanut-based foods along with other solids, usually around 6 months.
    • Building tolerance requires making peanut-based foods part of the regular diet, about three times a week.

    What’s the evidence? First, researchers noticed a tenfold higher rate of peanut allergy among Jewish children in Britain, who aren’t fed peanut products during infancy, compared to those in Israel where peanut-based foods are common starting around age 7 months.

    Then in 2015, an NIH-funded study of 600 babies put that theory to the test, assigning them either to avoid or regularly eat age-appropriate peanut products. By age 5, only 2 percent of peanut eaters — and 11 percent of those at highest risk — had become allergic. Among peanut avoiders, 14 percent had become allergic, and 35 percent of those at highest risk.

    Whether the dietary change will spur a drop in U.S. peanut allergies depends on how many parents heed the new advice — and if a parent seems skeptical, the guidelines urge doctors to follow up.

    READ MORE: Avoid peanut allergy? New study says feed them to babies

    The post Give peanuts to infants to prevent allergies, new guidelines say appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sara Kelly Keenan, the first person to receive a birth certificate marked "intersex," appears in this photo from 2014. Photo courtesy of Sara Kelly Keenan

    Sara Kelly Keenan, the first person to receive a birth certificate marked “intersex,” appears in this photo from 2014. Photo courtesy of Sara Kelly Keenan

    New York City has issued what legal advocates believe to be the first birth certificate marked “intersex” to Sara Kelly Keenan, a resident of Santa Cruz, California.

    In September, Keenan, 55, became the second person nationwide to receive a court order declaring her legal gender to be non-binary, a gender that is neither male nor female. Her new birth certificate marks the latest step for intersex and non-binary people who have recently gained legal recognition in several states, and could have nationwide implications for those communities, several attorneys say.

    When Keenan was a teenager, her doctors discovered she had Swyer syndrome, which is often marked by XY sex chromosomes and female external genitalia, in addition to both ovarian and gonadal tissue.

    She underwent surgery at the time to remove the gonadal tissue, a procedure she said she did not fully understand until decades afterward. The experience left her with the desire to increase public education on what it means to be intersex, she told the PBS NewsHour.

    Non-binary and intersex activists push for recognition

    Jamie Shupe of Portland, Oregon, became the first legally non-binary person in the U.S. through a court order in June. That decision galvanized Keenan, along with others whose gender does not fit into “male” or “female,” to file similar petitions for a legal gender change. A judge granted Keenan’s legal gender change to non-binary in September, making her the second person in the country to receive such a designation.

    Jamie Shupe is the first person in the U.S. to be legally designated as nonbinary. Photo courtesy of Jamie Shupe

    Jamie Shupe became the first person in the U.S. to be legally designated as nonbinary last year. Photo courtesy of Jamie Shupe

    Since then, at least one other person, Rain Emery Chamberlain, has received a legal gender change to non-binary in California. And a group of three people filed similar petitions in San Francisco in December, with others planning to do so this year in at least five other California counties, said Toby Adams, an attorney and co-founder of the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project. Adams represented Keenan along with the group in San Francisco.

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

    Their cases are rippling across agencies in the U.S. that issue identification documents, including the Department of Motor Vehicles in Oregon and California.

    Several months after Shupe’s court order, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles said it would be able to print a driver’s license with a third gender marker.

    In California, Adams said she and Keenan met with representatives from the DMV last month who laid out ways to move forward on issuing Keenan an accurate license. Those changes may involve passing state legislation to change California regulations and change the DMV’s computer programming to accommodate a third option. The DMV sent a statement about this meeting to the NewsHour:

    The department reviewed items that will require modifications, such as legislation, regulations, forms, programming, vendor contracts and working with stakeholders currently utilizing DMV data. The California DMV solidified its commitment to work towards adding an alternate gender designation choice for our customers.

    Meanwhile, Keenan reached out to the New York City Health Department, who issues birth certificates, to request a change to the sex listed on her birth certificate. After deliberating for several months, the department in mid-December issued her a new birth certificate with “intersex” listed in the field for sex, which legal advocates believe to be the first time a birth certificate has received this marker. Attorney Adams said she was aware of several people, including Shupe, whose birth certificate lists them as “unknown,” along with one person who successfully petitioned for a birth certificate change to “hermaphrodite.”

    “It’s really empowering and exciting,” Keenan said. “The young child in me who had all of these decisions made for them feels really lifted up by this.”

    Assistant Commissioner Gretchen Van Wye of the Bureau of Vital Statistics said that New York City’s health code allows the department to change the sex listed on birth certificates with medical documentation from a U.S.-licensed doctor. In this case, “It wouldn’t be correct to say just male or just female on the certificate,” she told the NewsHour.

    Keenan may be the first to make this change in New York City, but the department plans to propose a way to make the designation available to others. This March, the bureau plans to present a proposal to the Board of Health detailing how to make the intersex designation available to newborns, Van Wye said.

    “We would like to make sure we’re capturing this data appropriately from the time of birth,” she said.

    ‘This is not just an intersex issue’

    Keenan’s case reaches beyond the intersex community, Adams said. In particular, New York City’s decision “shows a change in the nation’s understanding of gender as not being constrained by the myth of the binary,” she told the NewsHour by email.

    READ NEXT: The complications of ID for non-binary people — and how it could change soon

    On a national level, the State Department is grappling with a similar issue. Dana Zzyym, who is intersex and uses the pronoun “they,” sued the federal government in October 2015 after their application for a passport was denied, seeking a third gender option for U.S.-issued passports. A federal judge ruled in Zzyym’s favor in November, leaving the State Department with the choice to appeal the decision or reconsider its policy.

    “We are monitoring the situation closely and call on the State Department to act promptly to eliminate its binary-only gender marker policy for U.S. passports,” Lambda Legal attorney Paul Castillo, who is representing Zzyym, said in an email. He added that several countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have approved “X” as a third gender marker for passports.

    During a hearing in that case last July, attorney Ryan Parker, who is representing the federal government, underscored the importance of identifying documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates in the process of granting passports.

    “If states were to change their policy and were to issue driver’s licenses that identified the driver’s sex as ‘X,’ maybe that would be something that the State Department would need to take into account as it’s reexamining its policy,” he said, according to a court transcript.

    If the California DMV were to grant Keenan an updated license, she would have both a license and birth certificate listing a third option for sex, both materials required by the State Department to obtain a passport.

    Keenan said she has received a flood of messages from others who want to change their legal gender as well — but she fears there could be fallout for people living in parts of the country with fewer legal protections for intersex or non-binary people. “I think it’s important for people to pursue this in places where it’s safe to do so,” she said.

    New York City’s decision provides an important next step, she said.

    “New York City has opened the door to acknowledging that the binary classification system is erroneous,” she said. “I think through further education, the non-binary community can open that door further and create a place for themselves at the table.”

    The post Nation’s first known ‘intersex’ birth certificate issued in New York City appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Getty Images

    Photo by Getty Images

    Fewer babies were born in the United States, the latest government data show, and new mothers relied less on cesarean deliveries.

    Women gave birth to nearly 4 million babies in the United States in 2015, down 1 percent from a year earlier, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means the nation’s fertility rate saw a small but noteworthy drop with 62.5 births for every 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.

    And among teens, that rate fell 8 percent to 22.3 births per 1,000 female teens in 2015 alone.

    Researchers based their data on information each new parent jots down for a newborn child’s birth certificate, providing a “a lot more information reported on the birth certificate than many people are aware of,” said Joyce Martin, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics and the report’s lead author who has studied this data for a decade.

    “It’s really essential for public health,” Martin said, adding that “It’s an important basic record of health trends for babies and moms in the United States.”

    The certificates also tell researchers how babies are delivered nationwide. How often do doctors and nurses induce labor or allow it to occur spontaneously, use forceps and vacuums or opt for cesarean, or c-section, delivery?

    Overall, Martin and her team found c-sections declined in 2015 to 32 percent of all U.S. births. That’s down from a 32.9-percent peak six years earlier, when researchers found c-sections were the nation’s most common surgery.

    And fewer doctors use vacuums and forceps to assist with deliveries — 3 percent of all births. That’s down from two decades earlier when these devices combined were used in 9 percent of U.S. births.

    More babies are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy — about 10 percent, the report said. And a rising number of babies — slightly more than 8 percent — were born with a low birth weight of 5 pounds, 8 ounces or less, researchers found.

    The post The nation’s birth rate declined in 2015, new data says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to hold a news conference today at 2 p.m. ET. PBS NewsHour will live stream.

    WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to speak from the State Department today, shortly after President Barack Obama received a report from intelligence officials over suspecting Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

    Kerry’s news conference also comes after James Clapper, the national intelligence director, told lawmakers in a Senate hearing today that Russia had unquestionably interfered.

    READ MORE: CIA chief addresses ‘doubters’ of Russian hacking report

    The post WATCH LIVE: John Kerry to speak ahead of release of Russian hacking report appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Editor’s Note: The first Making Sen$e excerpt from Jim Livingston’s new book, “No More Work,” embodied the book’s premise and voice: “there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills — unless, of course, you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way.”

    It ended by proposing a guaranteed income for all in place of work and suggested two ways of financing it for starters: raising the earnings lid on the Social Security tax — it stands at $113,700 this year; all earnings above that amount are free from the Social Security tax — and hiking taxes on corporate income. In this second installment, Livingston suggests how a corporate tax hike could be accomplished, why and how irrelevant corporations have become to the creation of work.

    Paul Solman, Making Sen$e Correspondent


    Let’s work backward. Corporations have been multinational for quite some time. In the 1970s and 1980s, before Reagan’s signature tax cuts took effect, approximately 60 percent of manufactured imported goods were produced offshore, overseas, by U.S. companies. That percentage has risen since then, but not by much.

    Chinese workers aren’t the problem — the homeless, aimless idiocy of corporate accounting is. That is why the Citizens United decision of 2010 is hilarious. Money isn’t speech, not any more than noise is. The Supreme Court has conjured a living being, a new person, from the remains of the common law, creating a real world more frightening than its cinematic equivalent in say “Frankenstein,” “Blade Runner” or, more recently, “Transformers.”

    But the bottom line is this: most jobs aren’t created by private, corporate investment, so raising taxes on corporate income won’t affect employment. You heard me right.

    But the bottom line is this: most jobs aren’t created by private, corporate investment, so raising taxes on corporate income won’t affect employment. You heard me right. Since the 1920s, economic growth has happened even though net private investment has atrophied. What does that mean? It means that profits are pointless except as a way of announcing to your stockholders (and hostile takeover specialists) that your company is a going concern, a thriving business. You don’t need profits to reinvest, to finance the expansion of your company’s workforce or output, as the recent history of Apple and most other corporations has amply demonstrated.

    So investment decisions by CEOs have only a marginal effect on employment. Taxing the profits of corporations to finance a welfare state that permits us to love our neighbors and to be our brother’s keeper is not an economic problem. It’s something else — it’s an intellectual issue, a moral conundrum.

    READ MORE: Column: Why we need to say goodbye to work

    When we place our faith in hard work, we’re wishing for the creation of character; but we’re also hoping, or expecting, that the labor market will allocate incomes fairly and rationally. And there’s the rub: they do go together. Character can be created on the job only when we can see that there’s an intelligible, justifiable relation between past effort, learned skills and present reward. When I see that your income is completely out of proportion to your production of real value, of durable goods the rest of us can use and appreciate (and by “durable” I don’t mean just material things), I begin to doubt that character is a consequence of hard work.

    We’ve placed so many bets on the social, cultural and ethical import of work that when the labor market fails, we’re at a loss to explain what happened or to orient ourselves to a different set of meanings for work and for markets.

    When I see, for example, that you’re making millions by laundering drug cartel money (HSBC), or pushing bad paper on mutual fund managers (AIG, Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, Citibank), or preying on low-income borrowers (Bank of America) or buying votes in Congress (all of the above) — just business as usual on Wall Street — while I’m barely making ends meet from the earnings of my full-time job, I realize that my participation in the labor market is irrational. I know that building my character through work is stupid because crime pays. I might as well become a gangster like you.

    We’ve placed so many bets on the social, cultural and ethical import of work that when the labor market fails, we’re at a loss to explain what happened or to orient ourselves to a different set of meanings for work and for markets.

    And by “we” I mean pretty much all of us, left to right, because everybody wants to put Americans back to work, one way or another — full employment is the goal of right-wing politicians no less than left-wing economists. The differences between them are over means, not ends, and those ends include intangibles like the acquisition of character.

    Which is to say that everybody has doubled down on the benefits of work just as it reaches a vanishing point. “Full employment” has become a bipartisan goal at the very moment it has become impossible, unnecessary and unfairly rewarded.

    READ MORE: Column: I’m predicting an economic recession in 2017. Are you ready?

    By now we must know that the valuation of ourselves that entails the principle of productivity — from each according to his abilities, to each according to his creation of real value through work — commits us to the inane idea that we’re worth only as much as the market can register. By now we must also know that this principle plots a certain course to endless growth and, with a high degree of likelihood, its faithful attendant, environmental degradation.

    The principle of productivity has functioned as the reality principle that made the American Dream seem plausible. “Work hard, play by the rules, get ahead,” or “You get what you pay for, you make your own way, you rightly receive what you’ve honestly earned” — such homilies and exhortations used to make sense of the world. At any rate they didn’t sound delusional. They do now.

    And that’s a big problem. A Nobel Prize-winning economist explained anomalous mortality rates among white people in the Bible Belt by claiming they’ve “lost the narrative of their lives,” suggesting they’ve lost faith in the American Dream. For them, the work ethic is a death sentence because they can’t live by it.

    We won’t have any answers until we acknowledge that work now means everything to us — and that hereafter it can’t.

    So the impending end of work raises the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human. To begin with, what purposes could we choose if the job — economic necessity — didn’t consume most of our waking hours and creative energies? What evident yet unknown possibilities would then appear? How would human nature itself change if the ancient, aristocratic privilege of leisure becomes the birthright of human beings as such?

    Sigmund Freud insisted that love and work were the essential ingredients of healthy human being. Of course he was right. But can love survive the end of work as the willing partner of the good life? Can we let people get something for nothing and still treat them as our brothers and sisters — as members of a beloved community? Can you imagine the moment when you’ve just met an attractive stranger at a party or you’re online looking for someone, anyone, but you don’t ask, “So, what do you do?”

    We won’t have any answers until we acknowledge that work now means everything to us — and that hereafter it can’t.

    The post Column: Work means everything to us — and hereafter it can’t appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama speaks during his visit to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside Oklahoma City on July 16, 2015.  Obama was the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    President Barack Obama speaks during his visit to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside Oklahoma City on July 16, 2015. Obama was the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Under increasing pressure to free convicts as a last act, President Barack Obama is planning at least one more batch of pardons and commutations before leaving office in two weeks, but don’t expect many famous offenders to make the list.

    The list of bold names appealing to Obama for compassion in his final weeks includes accused leaker Chelsea Manning, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and supporters of Edward Snowden, to name a few. White House officials say Obama’s final commutations are expected to remain focused on the nonviolent drug offenders he’s tried to help during his second term.

    “The process that I put in place is not going to vary” at the end, Obama said in August. He said he’d make the calls “based on the merits, as opposed to political considerations.”

    In the past, presidents have made a splash with clemency on their way out.

    Former President Bill Clinton ignited a major controversy with a last-minute pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich, the ex-husband of a major Democratic fundraiser. But Obama has viewed clemency as a tool to promote policy goals, not to “clean out the barn” on his way out, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss internal White House deliberations.

    Presidents have two clemency options: commutations, which reduce sentences being served but don’t erase convictions, and pardons, which generally restore civil rights, such as voting, often after a sentence has been served.

    Earlier in his presidency, Obama was unsatisfied with the cases he was receiving, officials said, and so in a 2014 initiative the Justice Department created specific criteria focusing on nonviolent individuals such as drug offenders who have served 10 years and, if convicted under today’s more lenient sentencing guidelines, would have received shorter sentences.

    Obama has granted 1,176 commutations and 148 pardons — fewer pardons than some presidents, but more commutations than any other, the White House said.

    His goal in taking on the commutations project was to spur action in Congress on a criminal justice overhaul. That seemed initially promising, but the momentum petered out.

    “It’s politically risky. You commute somebody and they commit a crime, and the politics of it are tough,” Obama has said.

    Some Obama commutation recipients have had firearms violations related to their drug crimes. A few were unrelated to Obama’s criminal justice push but received clemency as part of diplomatic deals with Iran and Cuba. The more recent batches have included some that met the spirit, but not the precise letter of the criteria, such as people who have not served a full 10 years.

    Mary Price of the advocacy group Families against Mandatory Minimums said Obama’s commutations had increased awareness about decades-long sentences for drug crimes.

    “I think that that’s very positive,” Price said, though she added she would have liked even more.

    But Obama has also been criticized for being too lenient, including by President-elect Donald Trump, who has accused the president of putting “bad dudes” on the street and warned Americans, “Sleep tight, folks.”

    Steve Cook, president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, faulted Obama for feeding the perception that federal prisons are “full of low-level, nonviolent offenders.” He said Obama was eroding prison’s deterrent effect by granting clemency to people with multiple felony convictions and firearms charges.

    “When you grant somebody like that clemency, you’re sending a message to the entire drug trafficking world,” Cook said.

    There will be a backlog of applicants when Obama leaves office, officials said, just as a backlog awaited Obama. But most whose cases won’t be resolved are people convicted of serious crimes like murder. Rather than expend limited resources issuing formal denials, the administration focused on approving those eligible under Obama’s guidelines.

    A look at the higher-profile cases vying for last-minute clemency:

    SNOWDEN

    Edward Snowden speaks to The Guardian newspaper. Handout photo from The Guardian

    Edward Snowden speaks to The Guardian newspaper. Handout photo from The Guardian

    The former National Security Agency contractor took secret documents and leaked them, revealing massive post-9/11 domestic surveillance programs in the U.S. government. He fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, to avoid prosecution, and a recent congressional report said Snowden remains in contact with Russian intelligence services.

    Snowden hasn’t formally petitioned for a pardon, the Justice Department said, but his supporters have been seeking one. Obama takes a dim view of Snowden. He told the German newspaper Der Spiegel last month he was disinclined to consider a pardon request until Snowden returns to the U.S. to face charges.

    His attorney, Ben Wizner, said the focus was on persuading Obama for a pardon through a global grassroots campaign rather than making legal arguments to the Justice Department.

    BLAGOJEVICH

    Seen here in 2010, ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich wants a federal appeals court to rehear his case  after five of his 18 corruption convictions were overturned. Photo by John Gress/Getty Images

    Seen here in 2010, ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich wants a federal appeals court to rehear his case after five of his 18 corruption convictions were overturned. Photo by John Gress/Getty Images

    The former Illinois governor has petitioned Obama for a commutation of his 14-year sentence, being served at a prison in Colorado. But it’s unlikely that Obama would grant it, particularly given Blagojevich’s involvement in an effort to trade an appointment to Obama’s former Senate seat for campaign cash.

    MANNING

    Photo of Pvt. Chelsea Manning that was released to the public after it was submitted as evidence in court proceedings. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Records Management and Declassification Agency via Wikimedia Commons

    Photo of Pvt. Chelsea Manning that was released to the public after it was submitted as evidence in court proceedings. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Records Management and Declassification Agency via Wikimedia Commons

    The ACLU and LGBT groups have lobbied Obama to commute Manning’s sentence. The transgender soldier leaked classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks, and has since tried to commit suicide at least twice. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

    U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan after leaving his military outpost on June 30, 2009. He was released five years later in a controversial prisoner swap that involved the trade of five former high-ranking members of the Taliban government from the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo by U.S. Army via Getty Images

    U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan after leaving his military outpost on June 30, 2009. He was released five years later in a controversial prisoner swap that involved the trade of five former high-ranking members of the Taliban government from the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo by U.S. Army via Getty Images

    The U.S. Army sergeant could garner some sympathy from Obama, given that an Army Sanity Board Evaluation concluded that Bergdahl suffered from schizotypal personality disorder when he left his post in Afghanistan in 2009. Obama hasn’t commented in detail on Bergdahl, who has said he left his post to alert higher-ups to problems with his unit and faces desertion and misbehavior charges.

    Bergdahl was captured and held by the Taliban and its allies for five years. Two soldiers who went searching were seriously wounded. Obama exchanged Bergdahl in 2014 for five Taliban prisoners. Because of his military involvement, both the Justice Department and Defense Department must evaluate Bergdahl’s pardon request.

    READ MORE: Obama has granted over 1,000 commutations during his presidency

    The post Why Obama’s last-minute pardons probably won’t include Manning, Bergdahl or Snowden appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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