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As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Director and producer Leah Warshawski's big break happened on the water.

It started when she was in college studying Japanese in Hawaii. Her dormmate worked on a boat and asked if Warshawksi wanted a job translating for Japanese tourists.

"I wouldn't say that I really knew Japanese, but I wanted to know Japanese. I was really eager," she says.

So she got the job. In addition to interpreting, she was also began learning about marine life.

"There I was working in Waianae in Hawaii on a dolphin-excursion boat. It was swimming with dolphins in the wild, seeing humpback whales breaching in the winter, and trying my best to speak Japanese to the tourists," says Warshawski.

One of the guests on the boat worked on the TV show Baywatch. He was the marine coordinator, responsible for all that goes into filming a show on the water.

"It turns out he was looking for an assistant to help with a production that he had coming up," says Warshawski. "It happened to be Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding."

She had no experience with film production, but she knew a little bit about the water, which they needed. So she got the job.

Warshawski says her first wrap party included Carmen Electra and David Hasselhoff.

"It was a trip," she says. "It's such an odd entry into the industry, but you have to jump in head-first sometimes. That's where it all began."

Since Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding, Warshawski has worked in the marine department on TV shows, films and commercials, including episodes of Lost and Survivor: Fiji.

She also worked on the TV show Hawaii, which lasted for one season on NBC. One of Warshawski's assignments was to find a modern pirate ship to use in a scene. They found the perfect ship, and Warshawski rented the boat for the shoot. The captain and his crew came along.

"I was in charge of making sure that the captain did what production needed," she says, "and he got pretty sick of production and ended up holding me hostage until we got back to shore and they gave him what he wanted."

That's when Warshawski realized the captain and his crew were real pirates.

"They were actually running drugs on the boat. Nobody knew about it at the time," she says. "It was a mess."

She admits she was scared, but it was all part of her job. This and other adventures all started on that boat excursion in college.

Even though Warshawski says she loves being on the water, she still gets seasick.

"Once I remedy that, it's just heaven."

The fate of Western civilization rests in the hands of an Armenian comedian with a stage name that includes a popular digital music file format.

Aram Mp3, a musician-comedian-bon vivant, is the early favorite to win this year's 59th Annual Eurovision Song Contest. The absence of everyone's favorite and most reliable public events odds-maker Intrade aside, most betting markets suggest that Aram could run away with Europe's hearts and minds this weekend.

When paired against the Ukrainian entry this year, it almost seems like the respective television networks in each country were ready for this moment. As Russia sings about shining and leading into the darkness, Ukraine is looking westward with a western Ukrainian singer doing "Tick Tock." (But seriously: when did Ukraine find the time to host a competition and choose this upbeat dance number in the last few months?)

As OZY sagely points out, there are genuine diplomatic questions at stake in this weekend's competition, with confirmation only a few days ago that votes from the disputed Crimean peninsula would be counted as Ukraine's votes, not Russia's. And it will interesting to see whether outside-Russia Russian voters turn away this year out of protest, or move closer out of symbolic solidarity.

What isn't in question, however, is the Eurovision Song Contest's ability to serve as a strange metaphor for global citizenship. Those of us not living in Europe have no direct voice in the competition's results. We can't vote, and we can't influence the participants from moving in any particular direction. Instead, we watch from afar as our European friends do as they will and find their own way of responding to the appearance of rebellious factions.

Eurovision is the best international singing competition you didn't know you were missing, and it's time you tuned in before the whole thing falls apart. Also, they have an operatic drag queen with a beard. Do you? Probably not.

It's always unfortunate to see potential wasted onscreen, in acting, writing, or directing. It's worse to see it happen all at once with artists universally known as capable of much more. God's Pocket, the directorial feature debut of Mad Men's John Slattery and featuring one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's last performances, is a tonal mess, listless for two thirds until violence erupts seemingly at random. It wants to be Fargo, a tale of crime in an insular community and its mounting complications; instead, it collapses into laughable dramatics that fall flat.

Adapted from the novel by Peter Dexter and set in 1978 in the south Philadelphia neighborhood that gives the movie its title, God's Pocket follows Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman), his wife Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), and his stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones). Working a factory job, Leon is a loud-mouth, a kid too quick to brag while waving around his straight razor and far too ready with threats for the wrong men. A blow from another laborer that's meant to put him in his place ends up killing him, and when the police arrive everyone confirms it was a workplace accident.

As longtime Philly columnist Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins) says at the film's beginning, God's Pocket is a blue-collar neighborhood of working folk. To him, Leon's death is like any other: Men live and die there without ambition to leave but with plenty of resentment for outsiders. They're the kind of sad people who sit in the same bars every night for years living with the same unfulfilled dreams and same repeated delusions. They take drunken swings at each other in those bars, on the street, and at funerals, and it's business as usual.

If his assessment isn't meant to sound simplistic and condescending, it certainly reads that way, but Shellburn walks around God's Pocket like a minor celebrity anyway, venerated for being the only one not from the neighborhood to get what it's really like there.

Slattery's rendering of the place fits that cartoonishly salt-of-the-earth description, for better and worse. The streets and homes appear in grays and browns, cheerless, used places looking at once in steady decay and as if they've been that way forever. The period costumes and production design may be the most convincing elements because the performances, while well-acted, go without the support of characterizing details to shore up their authenticity.

It's not enough to know the basics—that Mickey and his buddy Arthur (John Turturro) work selling meat, steal things, owe debts, and get misty-eyed when they bet on the ponies. The script written by Slattery and Alex Metcalf is so spare on the specifics of character that not even Hoffman can elevate Mickey — who matter-of-factly weathers Leon's death and Jeanie's out-of-nowhere conviction that her son didn't die the way the report says — beyond a cipher of a sad sack.

Shellburn, whom Jeanie calls upon to investigate, may be the most fleshed out. That's an odd choice since he turns out to be both a scumbag who never performs the investigation for which he was brought in (but does trade on his fame to seduce Jeanie) and ultimately tangential to most of the plot.

Lacking stakes and any sense of urgency, God's Pocket exists in the space adjacent to a well-told story. Mickey's struggle to find enough money to bury Leon should be enough to compel, but by not investigating these people's lives deep enough to make them full characters, the movie promises authenticity and delivers a view through the lens of a tourist. In the end it misses the point as much as Shellburn does, wasting the potential of its story and its actors.


A small number of universities are starting to go against the grain, reducing amenities and frills in favor of keeping the costs relatively low.

Neil Theobald is the president of Temple University, which recently began offering students $4,000 per year in grants — if they promise to limit the number of hours they work during the school year and graduate on time.

Donal O'Shea is the president of the New College of Florida, the small honors college for Florida's state university system. There, costs have historically been kept to a minimum by not offering extracurricular sports and amenities.

Morning Edition's David Greene spoke with Theobald and O'Shea about the choices they've made, how they're pulling them off and why they think it is good policy.

In The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg invented Facebook. In Now You See Me, he mastered magic tricks. In Rio, his animated macaw learned to fly, and his Lex Luthor will soon be nemesis-ing the caped crusader in Batman Vs. Superman. But it's safe to say that none of those pictures asked half as much of Eisenberg as Richard Ayoade's The Double, which requires him, pretty literally, to meet himself coming and going.

Eisenberg plays Simon James, a milquetoast of a man, so meek and mild he goes through life unnoticed, and I don't mean that as a figure of speech. Seriously, people don't notice Simon James. Not his boss who greets him as if he's a brand new employee after seven years on the job. Not the office building's entry guard who has demanded his ID every morning of those seven years. Not his co-workers, or his neighbors, or the copy machine gal (Mia Wasilowska) on whom he has a crush, though she's never learned his name.

Simon James simply makes no impression on people. Then one day, a new guy shows up who is less invisible than Simon James — James Simon (Eisenberg again). And to Simon's consternation, James is instantly an office superstar — popular, outgoing, the boss' pet, and the copy machine gal's big crush. This, although no one but Simon seems to notice that they look alike. Asked if James reminds him of anyone, a co-worker replies "who'd you have in mind."

Movies I've Seen A Million Times

The Movie Jesse Eisenberg Has 'Seen A Million Times'

Fans who worried that John Oliver's new HBO program might somehow diminish his legacy at The Daily Show can rest easy.

Because apparently he's decided to copy it.

That doesn't mean Sunday's debut of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver wasn't funny, because it was. Sitting behind an expansive desk with a city skyline at his back, Oliver uncorked a relentless load of telling barbs about the dysfunctional collision of media and politics, lambasting cable networks for speculating endlessly about 2016 presidential elections instead of covering the largest election in human history underway right now in India.

But it was also a half-hour of the wisecracks-on-news-coverage-made-to-look-like-a-newscast that The Daily Show has perfected.

We all knew Oliver was hired by HBO after his stellar stint filling in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last year. And in Last Week Tonight, it appears that HBO has pretty much bought that program, right down to the in-your-face pre-taped interviews guaranteed to make the subject look like an uneasy participant in a joke where they're not quite sure of the punch line.

When we first heard from Eddie Lanier Jr. and his friend David Wright in 2006, Eddie, the son of a former mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C., was homeless and a recovering alcoholic.

In that StoryCorps interview, the pair talked about their friendship, which began on a highway exit ramp where Eddie held a sign asking for help. David would occasionally give Eddie money and a can of food.

Eddie recalled how one night, on New Year's Eve, David walked over to him "and says ... 'I'm going to take you home with me for a New Year's Eve party. How would you like that?' "

"I went to your home and had a shower, and you gave me some clean clothes," Eddie explained. "And we sat down at the table, and I told you some stories about who I really was, and who my daddy was. There was a lot more to me than you might imagine."

StoryCorps Legacy

StoryCorps collects interviews like this one through the StoryCorps Legacy program — an initiative to record the stories of people living with a life-threatening illness.

Need a good laugh? Try Chicago.

The Humor Research Lab at the Leeds School of Business at University of Colorado Boulder (and doesn't that sound like it was created by The Onion?) concocted an algorithm to rate America's funniest cities.

Humor researchers calculated factors like the number of working comics and comedy clubs per capita, funny local tweeters and visits to funny websites. They asked people to assess what they called their "need for levity."

Adrian Ward, a co-author of the study, says it's not all algorithms. "A city's sense of humor is a living, breathing thing created by everything from coffee shop conversations," he says, "to the laughter that erupts at comedy clubs."

Chicago ranked first, not surprisingly. It's home to great comic institutions like Second City, The Onion, Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!, and the Chicago City Council.

Boston is No. 2. Boston is a lot like Chicago, but smaller and better educated.

Washington, D.C., is fourth, perhaps because Americans like to watch the antics of official Washington the way they laugh at monkeys in a zoo who fling feces and scratch themselves.

Portland, Ore., is fifth; a nice nod to an engaging place. An unnamed Portlandian told researchers, "We enjoy Darth Vader wearing a kilt riding a unicycle playing the bagpipes."

Make that a line-caught, free-range, shade-grown unicycle in Portland.

New York is sixth. I bet it would be higher if they'd considered just Brooklyn, which, like Chicago, is it's own punch line. But it's too expensive to be funny in Manhattan.

Nothing deflates laughs like algorithms and analysis. But you might notice that all the cities atop this humor survey possess personality. You wouldn't confuse Chicago with Portland; or Portland with Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are also among the top 10. Each of those cities puts a stamp on the people who live there, and humor is an important part of character.

I spent a lot of time last summer with a loved one in the intensive care unit of a Chicago hospital. One middle of the night, I came downstairs to the 24-hour Starbucks. Everyone in line looked wet-eyed and anxious. Spending all night in a hospital didn't seem like a happy occasion for anyone.

A Motown hit came on. And when Martha and the Vandellas sang that summer's here and the time is right, all us strangers joined in to sing a line to make us smile: "They're dancin' in Chicaaago ..."

Media industry veteran Jarl Mohn will be NPR's new CEO, the organization's board of directors has announced.

Mohn, 62, currently sits on the board of directors at several media organizations, including Scripps Networks Interactive and Web analytics company comScore. He is also on the boards of KPCC Southern California Public Radio and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Announcing the hire, Kit Jensen, who chairs NPR's board of directors, said Mohn has "an ability to find nuanced and new ideas." He is slated to start work at NPR on July 1.

The move to NPR represents something of a return for Mohn — he worked as a radio disc jockey for about two decades before joining MTV as an executive in 1986. He later became president and CEO of E! Entertainment Television before moving on to other enterprises, including a stint on the board of XM Radio.

Mohn will be NPR's fourth permanent or acting CEO since January 2009, following a procession of executives who served relatively short tenures: Vivian Schiller (2009-2011), Gary Knell (2011-2013) and Paul Haaga Jr., who became the company's interim CEO last fall.

Knell left in August to become president and CEO at the National Geographic Society, which he said at the time was an opportunity "I could not turn down."

The transition from Knell to Haaga the following month coincided with an announcement that NPR planned to offer voluntary buyouts to its employees in an effort to balance its budget.

Those financial issues are not yet settled: NPR's budget for the current fiscal year includes a projected "operating cash deficit of $6.1 million, or 3 percent of revenues," according to a note from Jensen explaining the buyout plan.

Here's how Mohn's career is described by his profile page at comScore:

"Mr. Mohn was the founding President of Liberty Digital Inc., a publicly traded subsidiary of Liberty Media Group involved in interactive television, cable television networks and Internet enterprises, and served as its Chief Executive Officer from June 1999 to March 2002.

Prior to founding Liberty Digital, he was President and Chief Executive Officer of E! Entertainment Television. From 1986 to 1989, Mr. Mohn was Executive Vice President and General Manager of MTV and VH1. His professional career also includes twenty years in radio."


"What's going through your mind when you're doing that... or do you not think at all?" Those words, familiar to any teenager and parent, get yelled at Teddy (Jack Kilmer) about halfway through Palo Alto. Teddy, still in high school, is on probation after his second arrest, his final chance to get his act together before facing time in a juvenile detention center. The line, though, could have been directed at nearly any of the teenagers in Gia Coppola's thoughtful debut feature, which offers an empathetic account of teenage tribulations but also makes a good case for why the phrase "troubled youth" is needlessly tautological.

Coppola, who here extends her family's predilection for producing talented directors one generation further, seems to have taken most from her Aunt Sofia's films. Palo Alto shares the soft visual tones of Somewhere and Lost in Translation, their patient pacing, and their tendency to linger on mundane moments that, in accumulation, offer a comfortable intimacy. When Coppola rests her camera on Teddy sullenly playing his guitar, or on the timid April (Emma Roberts) giving herself pep talks in front of the mirror in her room, there's no overt purpose to the shots, just a steady portrayal of the inchoate emotions of youth.

Coppola captures her characters only halfway to adulthood: they drink too much, experiment sexually, and put on an air of maturity, but their bedrooms are still filled with elementary school photos and childhood decorations. Their reckless actions can reflect an abundance of confidence—they drive drunk and cut down trees in cemeteries—but, just as often, they only highlight a persistent immaturity, such as when Fred (Nat Wolff), Teddy's best friend, draws sexual pictures in a children's book at the library.

Palo Alto, which is based on a collection of short stories by James Franco, displays a refreshing lack of handwringing over these acts. Coppola knows there's a difference between acting out and behaving immorally, just as there's a difference between the absent but loving parents who populate the movie and adults like Mr. B (James Franco), April's teacher, who flirts and sleeps with his students.

The greatest respect the film shows its young characters is giving them the benefit of the doubt—the acknowledgement that bad behavior doesn't necessarily make them bad people. But Coppola also knows better than to let them off the hook completely. At one key moment, we learn that one character may have committed a horrible crime. And while Coppola leaves open the possibility that it was just an awful thought, thankfully never acted upon, the suggestion that the line between youthful debauchery and immorality may not be so far off haunts the film.

That said, Palo Alto's portrayals of the tender innocence of youth are ultimately better realized than its darker moments, which quickly become too angst-ridden, as if Coppola feels the need to overemphasize the inner turmoil of her characters. Freddy in particular remains unfortunately one-dimensional in his displays of exaggerated manic behavior. The other characters' actions reveal a fraught internal thought process, but Freddy's only suggest an out of control id.

That unfettered energy, of course, is part of being a teenager too, as are the parties, the drinking, and the sexual exploration, all of which take up a large part of Palo Alto. But the movie's happiest moments tellingly come when the characters are among younger kids, away from the pressures to act beyond their age. As a coming-of-age story, Palo Alto doesn't take the loss of innocence lightly; on the contrary, it's a film about the desperate need to keep some of it intact.

Ask Americans to describe themselves, and chances are you'll get adjectives like "energetic," "friendly" or "hard-working."

In Japan, the responses would likely be much different. "Dependent on others" and "considerate" might pop up, studies have found.

Since the 1990s, psychologists have known that people in East Asia think differently, on average, than those in the U.S. and Europe. Easterners indeed tend to be more cooperative and intuitive, while Westerners lean toward individualism and analytical thinking.

Now psychologists have evidence that our ancestors planted these cultural differences hundreds of years ago when they chose which grains to sow.

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If the students at Stanford University believe they sent the coal industry a strong message this week, they should think again. The school's decision to eliminate coal from its portfolio did not send shock waves through the industry. In fact, representatives say it will have no financial impact on the industry at all. Nor will it curb the growing demand around the world for coal-generated electricity.

"It strikes us as a politically expedient course of action rather than a rational response," says Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association. Even if more universities decide to follow suit, it won't have a material effect on coal companies, he says.

University endowments commanded nearly $450 billion last year, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Of that, only about 5 percent of the money is invested in energy, including everything from coal to solar.

The Two-Way

Stanford University Says No To Coal Investments

"To me it was hollow," he says, "and I think it was hollow for my father, though he would not have ever brought that to his conscious mind. He totally loved cowboys and so did most of the cowboys he worked with and that got him through his life. But he knew perfectly well that it wouldn't last another generation ... it just was not going to last."

In his new book, The Last Kind Words Saloon, McMurtry creates an unvarnished picture of one of the heroes of Western myth: Wyatt Earp and his sidekick, Doc Holliday. Over the years Earp has been portrayed as legendary lawman but McMurtry says it's a reputation he doesn't deserve.

"Wyatt didn't do much of anything except drink and pester his wife and run around," he says. "He didn't do anything remarkable his whole life, ever."

McMurtry strips Earp down to a guy who doesn't talk much, hits his wife and gets people killed for no particularly good reason. Earp and Holliday spend a lot of time doing nothing. At one point they try, unsuccessfully, to become stars in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. The duo's adventures culminate in the infamous shoot out at the O.K. Corral.

More With Larry McMurtry


McMurtry's 'Literary Life': Not Simple, But Practical

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki tells NPR that he's determined to "get to the bottom" of allegations that veterans may have died at a Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital while waiting for care.

The accusations of extended delays in providing health care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system surfaced last month. The facility reportedly kept two lists of veterans waiting for care, one it shared with Washington and another secret list of wait times that sometimes lasted more than a year.

"Allegations like this get my attention," Shinseki tells All Things Considered. "I take it seriously and my habit is to get to the bottom of it.

"If allegations are substantiated, we'll take swift and appropriate action," he tells host Robert Siegel.

Last week, Shinseki announced that three officials had been placed on leave at the facility in Phoenix, where up to 40 patients reportedly may have died while on a wait list for care.

The VA has acknowledged that 23 patients have died as a result of delayed care in recent years, according to The Associated Press. At one clinic at a Fort Collins, Colorado, the VA's inspector general says officials were instructed on how to falsify appointment records. Other problems have occurred in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia, according to the AP.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the problems "an embarrassing period for the VA." Three GOP Senators, John Cornyn of Texas, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Richard Burr of North Carolina, have called for Shinseki to resign.

The VA's inspector general has been tasked with investigating the Phoenix hospital. Asked if the allegations are substantiated whether he'd step down, Shinseki said "Let's see what the inspector general comes back with."

The retired U.S. Army four-star general and former Army chief of staff says that the question of resignation is "a hypothetical.

"But what's not a hypothetical is that I serve at the pleasure of the president," he tells NPR. "I signed on to do this to help him make things better for veterans in the near term, as quickly as possible, but also to put in place for the long term those changes to this department that will continue to help veterans well into this century."

Shinseki, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the Veterans Affairs post in 2009, has pledged to clear up the backlog of disability claims and to end the problem of homeless veterans, says he's confident that the numbers showing progress in those two areas are solid.

"In the case of disability claims, that's a number we can see because the claims are in the system and we can measure decisions going out the door, so that's one I am very confident of," he said. On the question of homelessness, "I am confident that we have taken veterans off the street."

Can corporations shift workers with high medical costs from the company health plan into online insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act? Some employers are considering it, say benefits consultants.

"It's all over the marketplace," said Todd Yates, a managing partner at Hill, Chesson & Woody, a North Carolina benefits consulting firm. "Employers are inquiring about it, and brokers and consultants are advocating for it."

Health spending is driven largely by a few patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and those who need expensive treatments, such as organ transplants. Since most big corporations are self-insured, shifting even one high-cost worker out of the company plan could save the employer hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — while increasing the cost of claims absorbed by the marketplace policy by a similar amount.

And the health law might not prohibit it, opening a door to potential erosion of employer-based coverage.

"Such an employer-dumping strategy can promote the interests of both employers and employees by shifting health care expenses on to the public at large," wrote two University of Minnesota law professors in a 2011 paper that basically predicted the present interest. The authors were Amy Monahan and Daniel Schwarcz.

It's unclear how many companies, if any, have moved sicker workers to exchange coverage, which became available only in January. But even a few high-risk patients could add millions of dollars in costs to those plans. The costs could be passed on to customers in the form of higher premiums and to taxpayers in the form of higher subsidy expense.

Here's how it might work. The employer shrinks the hospital and doctor network to make the company plan unattractive to those with chronic illness. Or, the employer raises copayments for drugs needed by the chronically ill, also rendering the plan unattractive and perhaps nudging high-cost workers to look at other options.

At the same time, the employer offers to buy the targeted worker a high-benefit plan in the marketplaces. A so-called platinum plan could cost $6,000 or more a year for an individual. But that's still far less than the $300,000 a year that, say, a hemophilia patient might cost the company.

The employer might also give the worker a raise to buy the policy directly.

The employer saves money. The employee gets better coverage. And the health law's marketplace plan —required to accept all applicants at a fixed price during open enrollment periods — takes on the cost.

"The concept sounds to[o] easy to be true, but the ACA has set up the ability for employers and employees on a voluntary basis to choose a better plan in [the] Individual Marketplace and save a significant amount of money for both!" says promotional material from a company called Managed Exchange Solutions (MES). "MES works with [the] reinsurer, insurance carrier and other health management organizations to determine [the] most likely candidates for the program."

Consultant Benefit Controls, based in Charlotte, N.C., produced the Managed Exchange Solutions pitch last year. But Matthew McQuide, a vice president with Benefit Controls, said the company ultimately decided not to offer the strategy to its clients.

"Though we believe it's legal" as long as employees agree to the change, "it's still gray," he said. "We just decided it wasn't something we wanted to promote."

Shifting high-risk workers out of employer plans is prohibited for other kinds of taxpayer-supported insurance.

For example, it's illegal to induce somebody who is working and over 65 to drop company coverage and rely entirely on the government Medicare program for seniors, said Amy Gordon, a benefits lawyer with McDermott Will & Emery. Similarly, employers who dumped high-cost patients into temporary high-risk pools established by the health law are required to repay those workers' claims to the pools.

"You would think there would be a similar type of provision under the Affordable Care Act" for plans sold through the marketplace portals, Gordon said. "But there currently is not."

Moving high-cost workers to a marketplace plan would not trigger penalties under the health law as long as an employer offered an affordable company-wide plan with minimum coverage, experts said. (Workers cannot use tax credits to help pay premiums for an exchange plan in such a case, either.)

Half a dozen benefits experts said they were unaware of specific instances of employers shifting high-cost workers to exchange plans. Spokesmen for AIDS United and the Hemophilia Federation of America, both advocating for patients with expensive, chronic conditions, said they didn't know of any, either.

But employers seem increasingly interested.

"I have gotten probably about half a dozen questions about it in the last month or so from our offices around the country," says Edward Fensholt, director of compliance for the Lockton Companies, a large insurance broker and benefits consultant. "They're passing on questions they're getting from their customers."

Still, Fensholt said, "We just don't think that's a good idea. That needs to be kind of an under-the-radar deal, and under-the-radar deals never work." Plus, he added, "it's bad public policy to push all these risks into the public exchange."

Hill, Chesson & Woody isn't recommending it either.

"Anytime you want to have a conversation with an employee in a secretive, one-off manner, that's never a good idea," Yates said. "Something smells bad about that."

Next week, the broadcast networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and the CW — will make their upfront presentations in New York. (There are some scattered cable ones too, like ESPN and TNT/TBS.) This is where they present their new shows, in the form of clips and sizzle reels, to advertisers. From a business perspective, it's really important in the same way that any sales pitch is really important: they sell ads, they make money, and when they get the advertising people excited, a show becomes a presumed frontrunner before it even premieres. (This happened a couple of years ago with 2 Broke Girls.)

But it's become the collective moment in which we seem to decide we are looking ahead to next season, and while that's perfectly fine, I beg you: do not take this week too much to heart.

There are people who are gangbusters at writing up the business side of all this, who understand scheduling and executive shuffles and love to dive into who's making money and who's not and why, who have an encyclopedic knowledge of producers and players. (My favorites are Joe Adalian at Vulture and Lacey Rose and Lesley Goldberg at The Hollywood Reporter.) They're a lot of fun to pay attention to about now, because they're dealing with this as the Hollywood inside baseball that it is.

For critics, though, there's a sort of imperative to treat this as the official Preview Of What We'll All Be Talking About For The Next Six Months, and that's unnecessary for a few reasons.

First of all, the fact that this is a broadcast-centric event means that while it does provide a list of some of what will be on offer, it doesn't do so with any particular thoroughness. What five networks do in September has less and less of a stranglehold on the entire idea of television, both because things premiere all year and because everybody from The Weather Channel to Netflix to XBox is making shows. It's not at all uncommon for the highest viewership numbers on a particular night to be a motley mix of network shows and cable shows, and so few people are pulling in television over the air at this point that for your average person with at least basic cable, it's fair to ask who really cares about this particular constellation of folks?

Furthermore, it's so early in the creative development of all these projects that nobody really knows what they might turn into. What the networks are going to show during their official presentations aren't even pilots — they're just sizzle reels, which is a more finger-guns-shooting way of saying "trailers," which is in turn a more cinematic way to say "long commercials." You cannot tell literally anything from the vast majority of sizzle reels, except that in some cases, you can tell that comedies are thus far terrible and not funny. It's like trying to judge a house by the doorknob; you can try to extrapolate, but it's an awful lot of effort for minimal reward.

And finally, so much of this stuff is going to disappear so quickly that the minutes you spend even developing the pre-awareness of its existence that networks are trying to drum into you beginning right now is going to be largely wasted. There will be countless critics — including me! — making recommendations later about what to try and what not to try, but at this point ... well, let's put it this way: two years ago right now, Fox was very into The Mindy Project, but also The Mob Doctor and Ben And Kate. (These were television shows.) Last year at this time, We Are Men was a going concern. Not even! It was a concern yet to come. Remember Back In The Game? Welcome To The Family? Betrayal? Lucky 7? Blair Underwood in a remake of Ironside? There are, in fact, things that were announced last year at upfronts, were previewed by critics, have yet to air, and have already been canceled.

I'm not saying don't check out the rundowns from critics you like, or don't let buzz seep into your soul; there are times when it turns out to be right, and heaven knows that curating for yourself is enough work at this point that you need all the help you can get. We'll talk about upfronts here, too — it's what we do.

Just don't get too attached to anything. Don't get emotionally invested. This is very much a production of Ye Olde Television Model, which — don't get me wrong — remains the way most people watch much of their television, but which is only a teeny piece of the picture of the conversations that will be going on six months from now.

Be advised.

While at least one of their number has said House Democrats should boycott the new select committee created by Speaker John Boehner to further investigate the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attack that left four Americans dead, other Democrats aren't yet willing to go that far.

True, Democrats consider it a GOP election-year political stunt. They see it as as a Boehner attempt to mollify conservatives after he mocked them on immigration legislation, one which would excite the Republican base, keep the White House on its heels and muddy up Hillary Clinton in advance of 2016.

But while boycotting the select committee, as California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff has suggested, might de-legitimize the panel, it would also give Republicans an open road to deliver whatever messages they wanted without any immediate Democratic interference. That approach presents obvious problems.

That helps explain why Democrats generally haven't decided yet what their next move will be. Instead, they're putting the onus on Republicans. First, they want to see if Republicans will meet Democratic definitions of fairness as laid down Tuesday by Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

"If this review is to be fair, it must be truly bipartisan," Pelosi said in a statement. "The panel should be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans as is done on the House Ethics Committee. It should require that witnesses are called and interviewed, subpoenas are issued, and information is shared on a bipartisan basis. Only then could it be fair."

House Republicans were quick to point out that in 2007, shortly after Democrats assumed House control, Pelosi named a select committee on global warming that wasn't equally balanced but tilted 9 to 6 in Democrats' favor. The message to Pelosi seemed clear: it's payback time.

A Boehner spokesman didn't return a request for comment for this post.

House Democrats will, by and large, vote against the Benghazi panel when it formally comes to a floor vote — expected Thursday.

There could be a few defections on the vote but for the most part Democrats are saying they don't think the investigation by the new committee, to be chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., will accomplish anything more than the probe by the existing House Oversight and Investigations Committee under its chairman, California Rep. Darrell Issa.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on that committee, made just that point:

"This new select committee appears to be nothing more than a reaction to internal Republican bickering rather than a responsible effort to obtain the facts, especially since the new committee will not have any powers that Chairman Issa doesn't have already—including the ability to issue unilateral subpoenas for any document or any witness, which he just used to subpoena ... Secretary of State (John Kerry)," he said in a statement.

The new select committee was in part a response to a White House aide's email dating to the days after the Benghazi attack — which only recently emerged as the result of a conservative group's freedom of information request.

The email from Ben Rhodes, a White House national security official, didn't really reveal much more than what was already out there: that, during an election year, the White House was concerned about shaping the public perception about the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

But it was enough to give new momentum to Republicans who sought the latest probe.

The White House isn't advising House Democrats, at least not publicly, on whether to participate on the panel. But White House press secretary Jay Carney leaves no doubt that the administration's preference would be for congressional Republicans to move on from Benghazi.

"It's pretty blatantly apparent, based on what they've said and what even other Republicans have said, that this is a highly partisan exercise. But I'm not going to go further than that," Carney told journalists Monday. "We leave it up to Leader Pelosi and Democrats on the Hill to decide how they want to approach this."

There are 46 million poor people in the U.S., and millions more hover right above the poverty line — but go into many of their homes and you might find a flat screen TV, a computer or the latest sneakers.

And that raises a question: What does it mean to be poor in America today?

Take Victoria Houser, a 22-year-old single mother who lives in Painted Post, a small town in western New York. At first glance, her life doesn't look all that bad. She lives in a cozy two-bedroom apartment. She has food, furniture and toys for her almost two-year-old son, Brayden. He even likes playing a game called Fruit Ninja on her electronic tablet.

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The founders of Brewskee-Ball like to say they've taken Skee-Ball from the arcade to the bar, turning the old-time amusement park game into a competitive sport with hundreds of dedicated players in a handful of locations across the country, including Brooklyn, San Francisco and Austin.

But the company that makes Skee-Ball machines is not amused.

It's suing Brewskee-Ball's founders for trademark infringement. The league isn't rolling over, though and co-founder Eric Pavony is launching a crowdfunding campaign called "Skee the People" to raise money for his legal defense.

Before launching the league in 2005, Pavony says he met with the CEO of Skee-Ball Inc. outside Philadelphia.

"He gave us his full blessing to start the league and he kind of chuckled when we said, 'Hey, can we call it Brewskee-Ball?' " Pavony says. "He said, 'Yeah, of course.' We shook on it. And we got the good times rolling."

The league uses official Skee-Ball machines. The players fling a series of balls up a lane and into the air, hoping to land them in a series of round plastic rings, but the league had to invent its own scoring system and other rules. Bad puns and drinking are optional but encouraged.

Around the Nation

In New York City, Skee-Ball For Grown-Ups

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign a new measure that will give the government much greater control over the Internet.

Critics say the law is aimed at silencing opposition bloggers and restricting what people can say on social media. It would also force international email providers and social networks to make their users' information available to the Russian security services.

Putin sent a chill through many Internet users late last month with this comment at a media forum: "You do know that it all began initially, when the Internet first appeared, as a special CIA project. And this is the way it is developing."

“ I think anything that's published in a blog, that's not to the authorities' liking, can be used against the person who writes the blog.


Women make up less than 20 percent of those serving in Congress, but more than half the population. There are many reasons for this, but one simple answer comes back again and again. It's about recruiting.

When Monica Youngblood got the call, she thought it was a joke. The call came from a man she had worked to help get elected.

"It's your time," she says he told her. "We need people like you in Santa Fe. We need a voice like yours who's live here, who's been through what you've been through. I think you need to really consider it."


For Women, Being A Jock May Also Signal Political Ambition

Fewer people died in Massachusetts after the state required people to have health insurance, according to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.

In each of the first four years of the state law, 320 fewer Massachusetts men and women died than would have been expected. That's one life extended for every 830 newly insured residents.

Massachusetts passed its mandatory universal health coverage law in 2006 under then-Gov. Mitt Romney. The hope was that when people have health insurance, they would be more likely to get preventive care, go to the doctor when they become ill, and live longer.

Now there's evidence of that link, according to a study published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In the first four years of universal health insurance, the state's death rate dropped 2.9 percent when compared to similar counties outside Massachusetts that did not expand health coverage.

White residents are living longer, but the biggest improvement in life expectancy came for blacks, Asians and Latinos, whose death rates dropped 4.6 percent. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, says the study builds on prior research showing that health coverage is reducing income and racial disparities in Massachusetts. She's hopeful the state is on a path to eliminate health disparities altogether.

Shots - Health News

Lessons For The Obamacare Rollout, Courtesy Of Massachusetts

A number of federal agencies are grappling with rules around drones as the popularity of the unmanned aircraft is rising. The National Park Service recently banned their use in Yosemite, and the Federal Aviation Administration is under orders from Congress to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace by September 2015.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta tells NPR's Robert Siegel that in writing the rules, the administration is most concerned with the safety of the national airspace.

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One of the many casualties of Syria's civil war is the country's architectural heritage. We've told you about damage to the historic 11th century Umayyad mosque and the ancient city of Palmyra. Now comes a story from The Associated Press about damage to the Crac des Chevaliers, a castle that held off a siege by the Muslim warrior Saladin during the Crusades.

The castle, like the two other sites, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It lies about 25 miles from Homs, a flashpoint city in the 3-year-old conflict between Syria's rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

Two years ago, Assad's forces began a blockade of the Sunni-dominated village of Hosn, which they believed was aiding the rebels. The rebels, the government said, were linked to al-Qaida and were targeting neighboring Christian villages. Government troops began bombarding Hosn, prompting the village's 9,000 people to take refuge inside the nearby Crac des Chevaliers. Those inside the citadel included rebel fighters who lobbed mortars outside its walls at the nearby villages.

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It seems hard to believe now, but the tit-for-tat ethnic killing that threatens to tear apart the country of South Sudan began with little more than a political tug of war. I was almost pulled into it myself on a trip there in December. One early evening, I was in the middle of interviewing the former Minister of Education Peter Adwok when police came to arrest him.


How I Almost Got Arrested With A South Sudanese Ex-Minister

Alex Livingston graduated from Harvard Business School last year. He was offered a pretty sweet job at a startup, but he turned that down in favor of something a lot more ambitious.

He's 27 years old, and he wants to be a CEO, not in 15 years, but now. He and his business school classmate, Eddie Santillan, knew they wanted to run a company together. They just didn't know which company. So they went to investors and asked them to be their partners — to give them some money so they could find a company to buy. If the company did well, the investors would too.

Their pitch worked. The guys raised a few hundred thousand dollars. It's money they're using to live on while they hunt down a company to buy.

Believe it or not, this is a real corner of the investing world, and it's growing. These investments are called search funds, and there are investors out there looking for young people to invest in. Investors like Rich Kelley, of the firm Search Fund Partners.

Why would anyone invest in a couple of recent graduates who don't even have a company in mind yet?

Kelley says it gives him the option to look at deals he wouldn't know about otherwise.

Here's how it works: These young guys (and they are nearly all guys) are called searchers. They look for solid companies with good earnings potential. Kelley says eight or 10 investors like him each hand over about $30,000. Added up, that covers a salary and travel expenses for up to two years while the person hunts. Kelley says it's less than he'd pay a full-time employee to scout for juicy deals.

Jim Sharpe of Harvard Business School also invests in search funds. He admits this route to entrepreneurship can sound incredible to the uninitiated. He knew one young man who became a searcher, then tried to explain what he was doing to his parents.

"His father told him, 'Son, this is a scam. This can't be true. People are giving you money to go not work for two years? There's got to be a catch here.' "

The catch is that young searcher is going to do all the work. And if they're successful, the investor gets a cut and an opportunity to invest even more.

The risk for the investor is that the person never finds a company and burns through their money.

Alex and Eddie, the Harvard Business School graduates, are now 10 months into their search.

They've learned it can be stomach-wrenching process. They came really close to a deal once, only to have the seller pull back at the last moment.

Eddie says they remain optimistic. Still, it can be tough for some business owners to see the two of them as credible buyers. Convincing them, he says, is toughest part of all. Until they can pull that off, their search continues.


As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers. The following is what you might call an "almost Big Break."

Kurt Braunohler is now a successful working comedian. He has his own podcast, a well-reviewed comedy album, and a weekly variety show in Los Angeles. But for years, he struggled to find work in comedy.

Several years ago, Braunohler got close to what could have been his big break, when he got a call from his manager about a major movie audition.

There was just one catch: The part required an actor who could speak German.

That condition presented a problem.

"My joke on stage is that I realize I look like the IT guy from the Nazis," Braunohler says, "but, weirdly, I don't speak German."

But Braunohler's manager was not deterred.

"[My manager] calls back and he's like, 'Can you speak with a German accent?' And I was like, 'Well, a comically bad one,'" says Braunohler.

When his manager called back one more time, he told Braunohler he had an audition.

"This is going to be a disaster," Braunohler remembers thinking.

As it turned out, the audition wasn't just for any movie. Braunohler would be auditioning for a significant supporting role in Sacha Baron Cohen's 2009 film Brno.

Not only was the mockumentary poised to be a huge blockbuster, Braunohler calls Baron Cohen his "comedy idol." Braunohler was up for the role of Lutz, Brno's assistant in the film.


Dolce & Guevara: 'Bruno's Guerrilla-Comic Assault

Urging the release of separatists detained during Friday's unrest that left dozens dead, more than 100 pro-Russia activists surrounded a police station in the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa Sunday.

From the BBC:

"The initially peaceful rally turned violent as protesters - some wearing masks and carrying improvised weapons - broke windows and forced the gates.

"Several detained protesters were released by the police. There were chants of 'Russia, Russia' from the crowds."

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