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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. and Japanese leaders met today at the White House. One major topic was how to deal with an increasingly assertive China.

    Margaret Warner has the story.

    MARGARET WARNER: For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, just two months in office, this visit to Washington was an early opportunity to emphasize Japan's alliance with the United States.

    And at the White House today, he heard welcome words from President Obama.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The U.S.-Japan alliance is the central foundation for our regional security and so much of what we do in the Pacific region.

    MARGARET WARNER: The U.S. has a robust trading relationship with Japan and some 50,000 troops stationed there since the end of World War II. And now both nations face the challenge of dealing with a rising China, and its new leader, Xi Jinping.

    But U.S. officials are growing concerned about the rising tensions between China and Japan. The most recent flare-up has come in the East China Sea over control of some small uninhabited islands known as the Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. They lie near critical shipping lanes, fishing grounds and gas deposits.

    Ships from both countries patrol the waters there and Japan recently scrambled fighter jets when Chinese planes entered airspace nearby. The dispute has stirred public passions, too. Large protests in China last fall targeted Japanese embassies and businesses.

    In a Washington Post interview before this trip, Abe said China's communist rulers are using the dispute to shore up domestic support. He warned they will -- quote -- "not be able to change the rules or take away somebody's territorial water or territory by coercion or intimidation."

    In Beijing today, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected those comments.

    HONG LEI, Spokesman, Chinese Foreign Ministry: China conducts normal maritime activities according to our domestic and international law. There is nothing to object to on that. Japan must have a hidden agenda by hyping up a China threat, misleading international opinion, and purposely creating regional tension.

    MARGARET WARNER: At the White House, Abe sounded a somewhat more restrained note, speaking through a translator.

    PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE, Japan: I also explained that we have always been dealing with this issue, the Senkaku issue, in a calm manner. We will continue to do so and we have always done so.

    MARGARET WARNER: The two leaders also agreed to stand together against North Korea's nuclear provocations and to pursue even closer economic cooperation, which Abe needs as he tries to revive a long-stagnant economy.

    And to explore this flare-up between Japan and China and the stakes for the United States, we turn to Mike Mochizuki, associate dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. His upcoming book is "The New Strategic Triangle: The U.S.-Japan Alliance and the Rise of China."

    And welcome back to the program.

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI, George Washington University: Thank you.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, first of all, how serious is this escalation of tensions between China and Japan, these two neighbors?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Well, it is serious. But it's not like the two sides are on the verge of having some kind of shooting war over these uninhabited islands.

    But every week, there's been a ratcheting up of the tensions. China has been escalating its patrols near these disputed islands, and the Japanese are resisting. And so the real danger is that there will be some unintentional accident, a collision, that then could lead to a loss of life, and then that could really feel a nationalistic backlash in China and really lead to tensions. And then this could draw in the United States into an unwanted conflict.

    MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying that it could happen then through a miscalculation, rather than deliberate intent on the part of either country?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Yes, through miscalculation or accident.

    I mean, it's very unfortunate that now you have fighter jets coming close, and then also almost on a daily basis there are face-offs between the Japan coast guard and various marine surveillance vessels from China. Now, so far, it's good that the Chinese navy and the Japanese navy are really far apart.

    But even recently, there have been reports that a Chinese naval ship had locked in a fire -- a control radar, and this was seen as a very aggressive act by the Japanese.

    MARGARET WARNER: So what is driving this?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Well ...

    MARGARET WARNER: At its root?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Right.

    Well, I think there are a couple of things. One is the power transition that's going on in the region. Japan used to be the most powerful economy in the region. But China has grown. A lot of it is due to the help that Japan has given it. But now China feels that its day has returned.

    MARGARET WARNER: And, in fact, it surpassed Japan just in economic heft.

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: That's right. And it is now building up a military capability, which is still inferior to that of Japan and definitely inferior to that of the United States.

    But they feel now that China can't be pushed around, and they want to assert themselves. And so when their territory interests are being challenged, then they push very hard. The other reason is ...

    MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry, but were you talking about Japan there or China?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: China.

    MARGARET WARNER: And what about Japan?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Well, then Japan feels that it is on the defensive, that if it doesn't show kind of firmness and resolve, then it invites further intimidation and bullying on the part of China.

    So, even though the intrinsic interests of these islands may be marginal, by giving in to Chinese intimidation, they feel then that that kind of rewards that bullying on the part of China.

    MARGARET WARNER: There is, of course, these unresolved nationalistic feelings, conflict dating back to World War II. Are the lead -- how deep is that in the societies, or are the leaders, is the leadership in each country fanning that? And, if so, why?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Well, I think in the past, there might have been some of that on the part of the Chinese leadership, using the so-called history card against the Japanese.

    But I think that that has shifted, and now that the Chinese leadership are in a sense prisoners of the nationalism that they mobilized.

    MARGARET WARNER: Let's get to the U.S., because you mentioned the danger that the U.S. could get drawn into it.

    What are the stakes for the United States, first of all, and how likely is it that the U.S., given its security guarantee to Japan, could get, in fact, drawn in if they had a military conflict?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: All right.

    Well, I think the big stake is that there's enough problems in relations between the United States and China that this adds one more issue. But there is a real danger because we have a security commitment to Japan that, if there is a conflict, then we would have to get involved. And so, you know, we have a very difficult, delicate balancing act. And I think so far, we're playing it just right.

    MARGARET WARNER: What has the administration done to try to calm things?

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Right.

    Well, first of all, it has backed Japan. And so this is a way of deterring China. But the other is that it sent high officials and ex-officials to China and Japan to say, we have an interest in de-escalation. We want to support further communication between Japan and China, but we refrain from playing a mediating role between these two countries.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, much to watch. Thank you very much.

    MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Thank you. 


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    RAY SUAREZ: We conclude our weeklong series on guns, violence and mental health concerns in the wake of the Connecticut shootings.

    Tonight, we have a report from Chicago on how doctors and researchers there are trying to tackle the growing problem of gun violence as a public health issue.

    Our story is part of the PBS "After Newtown" project and was filed by Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW Chicago.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT, WTTW Chicago: Not yet two months into 2013, and the death rate from gun violence in Chicago has exceeded what it was this time last year. And last year's numbers were awful, 506 total murders in 2012, 16 percent higher than the previous year.

    There was Shirley Chambers, who lost her fourth child to gun violence in January when a gunman opened fire on a van with her son inside. There was 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton, who had just returned from President Obama's inauguration when she was gunned down just a few blocks from the president's Hyde Park home. Her death brought the president to Chicago to talk about gun violence.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What happened to Hadiya is not unique. It's not unique to Chicago. It's not unique to this country. Too many of our children are being taken away from us.

    MAN: All right, let's swing your legs over to the side here.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But death tolls don't tell the whole story.

    DR. MICHELLE GITTLER, Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital: You could slide under the desk with the prosthesis.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Dr. Michelle Gittler, who treats survivors of gun injury at Chicago's Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, says gun violence has become a public health crisis.

    Like many big city medical professionals who see victims every day, Gittler welcomes the new attention lawmakers are giving the issue after 26 were killed at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    MICHELLE GITTLER: That kind of tragedy, that's not the problem that we're really talking about. I mean, it's catastrophic, but 31,000 people die every year of firearm violence.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: An expert in spinal cord injury and paralysis, Gittler works with patients like this 17-year-old high school student who was shot multiple times while walking in his neighborhood. His mother doesn't want us to show his face, for fear the shooter, who was never caught, may try to hurt him again.

    MICHELLE GITTLER: The individuals that I deal with have a disability. The very first thing is, they have lived, so that's good, but then they realize this isn't going away.

    So you try to enable them to resume as much independence as possible. It will be different, but really the hardest part is getting them back home, getting them right back to where the injury occurred in the first place. How do you get someone back into school if they don't feel safe? And so then if they don't go to school, what are they going to do for the rest of their life?

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Gittler says the costs to the country's health care system is enormous. She cites rehabilitation, Social Security disability, and emotional trauma.

    The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, estimated in 2010 that the medical and work loss costs from firearms death and injury came to more than $68 billion dollars.

    MICHELLE GITTLER: It's dollars we talk about what their earnings could be and what they are getting from SSDI, but, you know, I would think that as a public with a conscience, we care that individuals have disabilities that could be prevented.

    WOMAN: A little bit higher.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Gittler wants the focus shifted to prevention and thinks a public health approach will do just that. She lauds President Obama's recent executive order directing the CDC to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

    MICHELLE GITTLER: It's like understanding any disease, whether we're talking about diabetes that affects different populations, or breast cancer that affects different populations. Until we had the research that showed us how we addressed those populations, we didn't understand how to treat the diseases.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: In the mid-1990s, the CDC halted research on gun violence. That's because gun rights advocates complained it was a way to push gun controls.

    Shaun Kranish, who lives in Rockford, Ill., is an avid marksman and gun enthusiast. He sees Chicago's violence as a huge problem, one that deserves attention and funding, but Kranish believes isolating guns is politically motivated.

    SHAUN KRANISH, Gun Enthusiast: I really look at violence as violence no matter what object or tool or method is employed. And we do have a violence problem in this country, but it is a complex issue. And this whole discussion is really just centered around trying to bring some legitimacy to the idea of prohibiting guns, despite the fact that access to firearms is a guaranteed right as a free society.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Those who view gun violence as a public health issue focus as much or more on proactive intervention as they do on reactive treatment.

    Dr. Marie Crandall is a trauma surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

    DR. MARIE CRANDALL, Northwestern Memorial Hospital: The people who come in after having been shot are some of the highest-risk folks. These are people who have been shot, who may have been shot before, and really without some intervention, without some life-changing moment, the trajectory's either going to be jail or death.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Dr. Crandall wants to change that.

    MARIE CRANDALL: I felt like patching people up and sending them back on the street was similar to taking care of someone after a heart attack without treating the underlying hypertension that led to their heart attack in the first place.

    Unfortunately, there are no easy or quick solutions to violence, like a beta blocker for hypertension. 

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: With Crandall's help, the hospital's trauma unit has recently developed a new protocol. Now, when a gun shot victim arrives at the hospital, community-based violence mediators are immediately called in. Crandall likens it to prescribing medication.

    MARIE CRANDALL: We at Northwestern partnered with community organizations to help really bring care to our patients that would be similar to a beta blocker for heart disease.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It is a similar story for pediatrician Karen Sheehan at Chicago's Lurie Children's Hospital.

    DR. KAREN SHEEHAN, Lurie Children's Hospital: I became a pediatrician because I wanted children to reach their full potential so they could do whatever they wanted to be. But if you live in Chicago, that's not going to happen for many of our children because of the amount of community violence we have.

    Do you guys have a gun in the home?

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Sheehan looks at health issues beyond just gunshot wounds.

    KAREN SHEEHAN: We have not fully appreciated the effects of violence on the whole health of the population. It's limiting just to think of it just from the injury point of view.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Many of her conversations with families center around healthy and safe lifestyle choices.

    KAREN SHEEHAN: I think even more than the direct physical effects of violence, these people are experiencing the stress of living in these communities with high rates of violence. And so it changes their other behaviors. So now they're afraid to exercise. It contributes for diabetes and heart disease and such, because it limits what you feel like you can do in your community.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The vast majority of Chicago's gun-related homicides are concentrated in just a few neighborhoods on the city's South and West sides. Gun violence is the leading cause of death for African-American males ages 15-24.

    At Harper High School in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood, 27 current or former students were shot in 2012 alone. Eight died. Trying to make sense of why kids here are so vulnerable, academics from the University of Chicago's Crime Lab are studying Harper's students through the lens of public health.

    MAN: You can relate to this, right, people saying you're not going to make it or ...

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The researchers chose males with a high-risk index, poor grades and poor attendance records, and placed them in a clinical trial.

    Jens Ludwig directed the trials.

    JENS LUDWIG, University of Chicago Crime Lab: We identified 2,700 kids, and 2,700 boys grade 7-10 living in a variety of South and West Side Chicago neighborhoods. And, then, like in medicine, we randomly assigned some to get program services and some to be a control group.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The young men who were randomly assigned services were placed in this program called Becoming a Man or BAM.

    The group is counseled about how to control dangerous impulse behaviors.

    MAN: It can be very uncomfortable to do the right thing, but if we practice doing the right thing in this circle where it's safe ...

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Results from the 2009-2010 clinical trials showed a dramatic difference in the students who received BAM counseling and students in the control group who didn't.

    JENS LUDWIG: One year of BAM participation reduces rate at which kids are arrested for violent crimes by fully 44 percent. That is an enormous reduction.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Ludwig says that this kind of empirical data is critical.

    JENS LUDWIG: I think one of the key characteristics of the public health approach, besides its reliance on data and rigorous evaluation using clinical trials, like in medicine, is to try and be more preventive, to think, what can we do for kids who are on trajectories that might lead to some sort of bad outcome? What can we do to help them and divert them onto a more pro-social trajectory, before something really unfortunate happens?

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: For sophomore Levelle Morgan, the BAM program is about much more than statistics. It's about life-and-death choices.

    Do you worry about living until you're 40?

    LEVELLE MORGAN, Student: Yes, I would love to see that.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: And what do you think the odds are?

    LEVELLE MORGAN: That I will eventually get shot. But I try to stay as far as away from, you know, gangbanging as I can, but at some points, they will need me.

    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: As lawmakers debate what to do about gun violence these next few months, the medical community here and across the country is likely to weigh in.

    RAY SUAREZ: Online, we have a look at how some schools are teaching therapy and stress management. In Appalachian Ohio, educators say their students are learning to change the way they think about negative things in their lives before they turn to violence.

    Our weeklong series wraps up tonight, but you can find links on our website to our previous stories. And we will be following the issues and debates closely in the months ahead.

    PBS' "After Newtown" series also concludes tonight with a "Need to Know" report on the continued impact of one school shooting 20 years later. And "Washington Week" also takes up the gun violence story this evening. Check your local listings for both programs. 


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, as we just heard, PBS, the NewsHour focusing all this week on gun violence, on mental illness. And we just saw that report from Chicago on an effort to work with students.

    David, it really does again come down to what can be done about it. And in the middle of all this, people are still looking to Washington, gun control laws. Where does it stand right now?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    I would say, if one has realistic expectations for the political system, the news is reasonably good. You know, obviously, it is a very polarizing issue. But I do think the sides are trying to find some sort of progress that can be made. And so, if you look at the stuff that's likely to get through the system, we're likely to have some background checks. We're likely to have the magazine -- or at least possible to have some magazine controls.

    There is a lot of talk insurance, liability insurance for gun owners. That's more a state thing. There's also more prosecutorial things that is being talked about and proposed, making it hard for felons to get guns, making -- controlling some of the transfers, youthful offenders.

    So, there's -- these are not huge things, probably not assault weapons ban, but a series of small things to make the friction of gun ownership more difficult. I still have to say, though -- and I have said this a lot -- that when you look at some of the acts of gun violence, the people shot in Chicago, often it's handguns. And there's really very little being done on some of the -- what really is the heart of the problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Can something be done about that?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, on -- first of all, let me just say that PBS deserves credit. And I just hope that the other networks would emulate and compete.

    I mean, it's been a really important week, I think. And I think there has been this time an effort, a real effort to sustain the sense of hurt, outrage and loss of Newtown. "Slate" magazine has a running total of the number of people who have been victims of gun violence since Dec. 14th in Newtown, now at 2,124 since then.

    And I think this, I think the efforts of those in positions of leadership, Vice President Biden in particular -- I agree with David. I think there's a chance. I think we will get universal background check.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You do?

    MARK SHIELDS: I do. I do believe that.

    I think that, first of all, Judy, the most encouraging thing is, nobody is going to filibuster this. We're going to have votes. I mean, I think you would be in a position politically that would be indefensible not to have votes up or down. I think both sides really -- I think the president put that very well in the State of the Union.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One key House committee chair said today that he was going to ...

    MARK SHIELDS: That's right, Congressman Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who is himself not an advocate of gun control.

    But I think limiting the size of the magazine. And I think as well that there's a real chance for tougher penalties against straw buyers who are one of the real problems in guns, that Virginia has ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Who are buying for somebody else.

    MARK SHIELDS: That's right, exactly.

    So, I think the most encouraging thing to me is we are focused on achievable goals. I'm hopeful on the assault weapon ban. I really am. And I am more encouraged than I have been in the past.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hopeful on the assault weapon ban. Where do you see?

    DAVID BROOKS: No, I don't think so. I think that would be too heavy a lift. I think there's a lot of opposition to that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But on background checks?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think that.

    And you can see they're doing a good job. The administration, I would say, is doing a good job. First, every time they talk about guns, they praise hunters, they talk about Second Amendment rights, and they have taken it out of what it had become, which is a cultural issue, urban vs. rural, more or less, and they have sort of tamped that down, focused on the practical.

    I wish, actually, they would take that approach in some other spheres of our politics.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you're saying -- you both are saying you think the administration -- that there is at least a conversation going that could lead to legislation?

    MARK SHIELDS: I do. I think we will get votes in the Congress, which in the past has been a problem.

    DAVID BROOKS: And it should be emphasized, though, that social policy has its limits.

    There's just not much history of gun violence -- or gun control limiting crime. It does, can limit suicide, but limiting some of the violence, there's just not a great record. And that's like a lot of social policies. You can have modest progress, but you can't have something transformational.

    I would think to get the transformational effects like in those Chicago schools, you have to have much broader social policy, you know, families, poverty, all the stuff we talk about.

    MARK SHIELDS: I agree, but that was -- a good part of that discussion was about impulse control and dealing with that. And those impulses are easier to control if there aren't firearms near -- proximate to where they are.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the terrible word, sequester, it -- I don't know who chose the word, but a week from today, Mark, we are going to see the beginning, unless something changes between now and then, of automatic across-the-board federal spending cuts, $85 billion dollars worth.

    Do you see anything happening between now and then to stop this from -- at least the clock from ticking?

    MARK SHIELDS: No, I sure don't, Judy.

    I mean, Grantland Rice, the great American sportswriter, said, when the great scorer comes to write beside your name, he writes not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game. This has been changed to, he writes not whether you won or lost, but who gets the blame. That is what we into now in Washington.

    If this were really serious and a matter of national urgency and emergency, last weekend would not have been spent golfing in Florida and the Congress out of session. I mean, they would have been meeting. They would have been, you know, in serious negotiations.

    And I think the Democrats are playing the fact that the president has a political advantage. He is seen as the more responsible of the two parties. The Republicans are very much on the defensive. But I don't see -- in answer to your question, I don't see a resolution or a solution.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see anything, any movement to resolve ...

    DAVID BROOKS: No. There were a couple of phone calls yesterday, but that's about it, just phone calls.

    I certainly don't see any movement. As Mark said, the polls show the Democrats will probably profit. The Republicans still feel trapped, though. They feel they gave up a big tax increase a couple of weeks ago, and they can't give up another. And that's sort of the asking price.

    And so they feel they have got to show they can cut spending. I personally think the likely loser in this is the Republicans. They're less popular. They're associated with cut -- with government -- controlling government spending. And they have basically got a problem. I think they need to show the American people that we like some government programs. We don't like others.

    They need to be able to distinguish between the two. Unfortunately, when they embrace this, they are embracing a piece of legislation that makes no distinction between good government and bad government. It just cuts randomly across the board, and, worse, doesn't even cut the things that actually create the debt problem, which is the entitlement programs.

    So, to me, this is both a substantive and political serious problem for Republicans.  

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are you saying they're going to have to move off of their position right now, no revenue increases?

    DAVID BROOKS: Listen, the Republicans have been doing this since 1995, since the government shutdown.

    They make a big show. They tell themselves, we're going to control spending. They do something sort of ham-fisted. And it -- when the public reaction, then they cave in and they come with concessions. So it's not like we have not been here before. I just wish they had a little smarter strategy.

    And if I could give them one piece of advice is, don't worry about discretionary spending. When you are talking about cutting government, domestic discretionary spending, which is stuff for the National Institutes of Health and TSA, that's small potatoes. They're always focused on that, which is sort of the sympathetic popular stuff. Focus on the entitlement programs. But they are off doing the wrong thing, in my view.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You going to disagree with him?

    MARK SHIELDS: I have to disagree with David. That's in the contract.

    MARK SHIELDS: No, I think the Republicans, you can see where they are. They are very much behind the political eight ball. And they are now saying -- they're reduced to saying, well, the cuts aren't going to be that serious. They're really -- the Democrats are exaggerating them.

    And even though they have warned about these cuts were terrible on defense, now they're not going to be that serious, and now it was also the president's idea to begin with. I mean, that seems to be their fallback position.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But we're hearing today about the air traffic controllers.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, that's Secretary LaHood who is out there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Food inspections.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, that has been the -- obviously, the administration's position, that this is going to be very serious and it's going to inconvenience people and it's going to inconvenience travelers.

    And there is a potential threat to the economy; 800,000 jobs has been predicted as the loss by Congressional Budget Office. I mean, we're talking about serious implications and a downside. But I don't see, Judy -- I mean, I recall in 1990, when George H.W. Bush was president, and we went to Andrews Air Force Base for five weeks with the leadership of the Congress and the leadership of the White House and Dick Darman and John Sununu and -- who was chief of staff for President Bush -- and the president was involved and Bob Dole.

    And ,you know, it was just really a major thing. I don't see anything approaching that sense of urgency, engagement or involvement at this -- at this point.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why not?

    MARK SHIELDS: Why not?

    I think, in the Democrats, I think the president feels that he's got the upper hand, the advantage on it. I think that his position is stronger, it's more popular. He thinks it's more defensible, and most people would agree with him. And he's got the Republicans very much at -- if not at his mercy, then certainly at a disadvantage.

    DAVID BROOKS: They both like it, secretly.

    The Democrats, it's going to be probably a political win.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: They want ...

    DAVID BROOKS: I don't -- I think they're ...

    DAVID BROOKS: And they know substantively it's a disaster.

    Sequestration was designed to be stupid so it wouldn't happen. And it succeeds magnificently at being stupid. It is really stupid policy. And so -- but it's a political win for the Democrats, so that is sort of a silver lining. And for Republicans, they can show people who sort of think they're weak, hey, we're tough, we're cutting government.

    And so, if you look at the conservative press, not all -- The Weekly Standard, some others have said this is a bad idea. But others have said you know, we're going to cut spending. Let's learn to love it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just a matter of time.

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, and it was. It was intended as a nuclear option, I mean, that it was so irresponsible and so indefensible, that it would never come to pass.

    And on the 1st of Mar., it will come to pass.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: OK, less than two minutes, but I want to bring up immigration reform, another big subject out there.

    Last weekend, there was information about the administration's proposal on immigration. It was -- Republicans say the administration, David, leaked it on purpose. Democrats say they didn't. I mean, what do you see happening on immigration, just a quick update?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    I would say this is more like the gun issue than sequestration. So, people are behaving reasonably well. So, that leak came out. People sort of put it aside and said the Senate is still working. The members on both sides of the issues are working constructively together. Even labor unions and the Chamber and the business groups are sort of working together. So I would say there is significant, steady forward progress toward a bill that would provide a path to citizenship, that would get us the high-skilled workers.

    I still think this is marching along reasonably well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see?

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    Some Republicans led by Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, charged that this was an attempt by the White House to sabotage the immigration bill, in hopes that it would be a political advantage for the Democrats in 2014 and 2016.

    You know, I don't think that's true. I mean, I think it's in both party's interests. I think it's in the president's legacy to resolve the immigration, it comes -- to pass a significant, historic statute. I think it's in the Republicans' interest to pass a law that at least enables them then to start to compete and campaign for Hispanic votes in the future.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Both of you see some movement here. All right.

    We hate to ask you to move off the set, but it is the end of our time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

    And Mark and David keep up the talk on The Doubleheader, recorded in our newsroom. That will be posted at the top of the Rundown later tonight. 


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    RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight: the Oscar Pistorius story.

    The South African double-amputee athlete accused of murdering his girlfriend was released today on bail. The case has captured international attention.

    We begin with a report from Rohit Kachroo of Independent Television News in Pretoria.

    ROHIT KACHROO: Moments after the judgment, the brother and sister of Oscar Pistorius embraced. Their father seemed overcome with the news that his son would soon be freed from custody.

    For four days, this courtroom has been a theater for this unfolding drama, for them, a stage for public pain. But their response to the ruling was to stand, to link arms, and to pray. Pistorius was here seeking bail, accused of the premeditated murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

    He sobbed as the events of Valentine's morning were outlined. His lawyer whispered, "You're going to be OK." "Thank you, sir," the response.

    Then, later, the judgment was delivered, followed by celebration from his supporters.

    DESMOND NAIR, Chief Magistrate: I have come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail.

    MAN: Yes!

    ROHIT KACHROO: The magistrate ruled that the state witness was weak and Oscar Pistorius presented no flight risk. Then, speaking on behalf of his family, Oscar's uncle told of their relief.

    ARNOLD PISTORIUS, Uncle of Oscar Pistorius: We know that that is the truth, and that will prevail in the coming court cases.

    Yes, we are relieved that -- the fact that Oscar got bail today. But, at the same time, we are in mourning for the death of Reeva with her family.

    ROHIT KACHROO: But, as his brother left, his elation seemed to fade. There is a long road ahead, he conceded.

    And that journey began on the streets of Pretoria, as Pistorius was driven from court into the suburbs, glimpsed briefly after the conditions of his bail were agreed. He will stay with a friend and will return to court in June. 


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    RAY SUAREZ: There's no proof of domestic violence in the Pistorius case, at least not at this point. But the killing of Reeva Steenkamp has focused attention on violence against women in South Africa.

    We take a look at that problem with Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She was a correspondent here at the NewsHour for many years and then lived in South Africa working as a journalist for more than a decade.

    Charlayne, Welcome back.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, Journalist: Thank you for having me, Ray.  

    RAY SUAREZ: It's a reminder of just how much jeopardy women and children are in, in South Africa.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It's a horrendous story.

    This is a sad story in so many ways. But what this murder has done is to shed light on the humongous problem of domestic violence, in particular femicide, which is murder of an intimate partner. There are so many cases that happen on a daily bases that don't even get reported because so many of them that have been reported have just been thrown out of court.

    The numbers are astounding. And so people get discouraged. They don't -- they don't report those cases, because there's just no real justice for women at this point.

    RAY SUAREZ: The World Health Organization says 60,000 women and children are victims of domestic violence every month. A new piece of research from South Africa, by South African scholars, has one out of four men admitting they have committed rape in the past. Has it always been this way?

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It's been this way for a long time. And it goes across the board.

    It's not peculiar or particular to any race or class. This domestic violence is shot through the entire society from the highest of the high in socioeconomic terms to the lowest of the low. You get a lot of attention focused on this one because of who the two parties are. But this goes on every day in a most horrendous way.

    And there's very -- a lot of frustration within the community that very little is either done or said, because it's a culture of violence and there's a culture of silence. And there's a culture of misogyny that is shot through the system.

    RAY SUAREZ: Well, a lot of people, from the reporting, don't think it's a problem in the first place. So I guess it's hard to make this into a national cause, isn't it?

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, it's interesting that the African National Congress that is the ruling party's Women's League has been at the Pistorius case every day, some sitting on the front seat.

    And they had signs that said "Your sisters are here to see that justice is carried out." And they are now demonstrating at the court, not making a judgment on the guilt or innocence of Pistorius. But they say they're going to stay at the court and monitor it until they can be sure that justice is done. And they criticize. For example, today ...

    RAY SUAREZ: Now, why is that significant, that the ANC Women's League would come in on the side of Reeva Steenkamp so heavily?

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, because, you know, they are part of the ruling party. They're part of the governing system in the country.

    And it's interesting that the majority of them are black women. And they have -- they have taken up this case. In fact, they were highly critical of a well-established businessman who among -- who was among the men who jumped up when the judge pronounced the bail for Pistorius in great excitement and affirmation.

    And they said that, you know, this sends the wrong message. And this is what is happening as these cases of domestic violence and femicide continue. And men are approving it in so many ways. It sends the wrong message in a society that is just shot through with these kinds of injustices.

    RAY SUAREZ: In the past, activists around women's issues have been highly critical of the South African president, Jacob Zuma, whether it came through the fight against HIV or the fight against violence against women.

    Is he now perceived as being on the side of women who are trying to handle this problem?

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, he has been -- he has enabled his administration to be aggressive, and they have made great strides in the HIV situation.

    And since his trial, his own trial for rape, for which he was acquitted, but which he said that, you know, it was his duty as a Zulu man to satisfy the woman who indicated she might want to have sex with him, he -- the activists say that sends the wrong message.

    But now there was a young woman, 19 years old, who was brutally raped and murdered so -- and disfigured so badly that her family doesn't even want the details of the results of her body, what happened to her body to be known, and he has called that a heinous crime, that -- those weren't the exact words he used, but he said, there is no room for this.

    And now he's calling for stiffer sentences. So I think that leadership at the top is extremely important, the words that come out of the mouths of leaders. And the behavior of men in particular is going to be very important if this case is going to have any positive result in the end for justice for women.

    RAY SUAREZ: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, great to see you. Thanks for joining us.

    CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Ray.


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    Our review of the sport of politics and the politics of sport is back for another week on the Doubleheader with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. For the serious section we talk about the revelations earlier in the week that elements of the Chinese military have been engaged in repeated acts of industrial espionage against the U.S. For more on that story, check out this segment we did on the broadcast earlier in the week.

    For the politics of sport, we stretch our definition and compete to be least wrong in our Oscar picks. We don't go through them all, just the six biggies.

    Graphic by Justin Scuiletti

    Enjoy your weekends. Joshua Barajas shot and edited this video. You can subscribe to Hari on Facebook, Google Plus and on Twitter:

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    WASHINGTON -- "Silver Linings Playbook" isn't just receiving good reviews from the critics.

    At a press conference at the Center for American Progress, in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, many were singing the movie's praises for its realistic portrayal of mental illness and spoke of it's power to raise awareness of the roadblocks many face in the U.S. in order to get treatment for their conditions.

    Actor Bradley Cooper spoke alongside former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, among others, addressing how mental illness has affected their lives.

    "I was ignorant before I did this movie," admitted Cooper, who in the movie portrays Pat Solitano, a man living with bipolar disorder. "For me it felt like that it wasn't acting. I felt like I could understand that if life dealt a different set of cards to me, I could understand being in a situation that Pat found himself in."

    Kennedy compared the mental health battle and the hurdles many face to find treatment to the civil rights war his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, faced in office.

    "Today that can be said for those of us, like myself, who suffer from a mental illness. But not just a medical issue, but a civil rights issue, because the denial of medical treatment is really a civil rights issue," he said.

    Stabenow hopes the movie can be the start of a continuing trend of bringing the mental health issue not only to Congress but to the rest of the nation.

    "We need to bring awareness. The movie is a very important place to start with real people, talking about life struggles and the fact that there is hope."

    "If we do communicate, healing can occur," concluded Cooper. "Hopefully today can be the beginning of that awareness and that action."

    The movie is up for best picture and several other Oscars in Sunday night's ceremony, including all the top acting awards. Cooper and his co-star Jennifer Lawrence are up for best actor and actress, and Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver for supporting actor and actress. Its director, David O. Russell is nominated for best director.

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    Larry Kotlikoff's Social Security original 34 "secrets", his additional secrets, his Social Security "mistakes" and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we now feature "Ask Larry" every week.

    We are determined to continue it until the queries stop or we run through the particular problems of all 78 million Baby Boomers, whichever comes first. Kotlikoff's state-of-the-art retirement software is available, for free, in its "basic" version. His considerable and often very useful output is available on his website.

    Lisa Elmont -- New York: What is the rationale for limiting Social Security contributions to incomes below $100,000 ($113,700 in 2013)? What is the reason Congress will not raise the limit to generate more revenue for Social Security from the wealthiest Americans to sustain the program over the long term? The restoration of 2010 Social Security contribution rates significantly decreases the net on middle income individuals.

    Can we not generate revenue needed by raising the cap rather than the rate on all but the wealthiest individuals?

    Larry Kotlikoff: You might start by looking at last week's column for my answer to a question from Rita Gower Cook. As an overview, Social Security's payroll tax is highly regressive. But it's benefit formula is highly progressive. On balance, the system is progressive. So Congress may feel that the system is already progressive enough.

    I think our entire fiscal system is much less progressive than is optimal, but also comes with outlandishly high disincentives to work. So I have proposed what I call the Purple Plans to fix our tax, SS, healthcare, banking, energy, and education problems.

    Here is an excerpt from The Purple Social Security Plan:

    Social Security is America's most cherished public policy. But the system is in grave financial trouble that can no longer be ignored. Indeed, Social Security is in worse financial shape now than in 1983 when the Greenspan Commission "fixed" the system's finances. According to the Social Security Trustees (see Table IVB6 in the 2011 Trustees Report), the system is 29 percent underfunded, notwithstanding its $2.6 trillion Trust Fund.

    This means Social Security needs an immediate and permanent 29 percent hike in its payroll tax rate to pay its bills over time. The Social Security payroll tax rate is 12.4 percent. Increasing that rate by 29 percent requires raising the payroll tax rate, starting today, by 3.6 percentage points and keeping the rate at 16.0 percent forever. The alternative to raising Social Security's tax rate is cutting its benefits. Achieving long-term solvency via benefit cuts requires immediately and permanently cutting benefits by 22 percent.

    Either of these options would be extremely painful. Imagine asking workers to pay another 3.6 percent of their pay to the system in exchange for no higher benefits or asking retirees, many of whom are entirely or primarily dependent on Social Security, to accept a 22 percent cut in their monthly check. But delaying such adjustments requires only larger tax hikes or benefit cuts down the road. The system is already experiencing financial stress. It's running cash flow deficits (benefit outlays now exceed tax receipts) and can no longer afford even to send us our annual benefit statements. Read More.

    Tammy Roy -- Utah: My father just passed away and my mom is collecting disability until she can qualify for Social Security. Does she qualify for a survivor benefit from his Social Security? What is the best way to maximize the amount she can collect? If she loses the amount he was receiving every month, it will cut her monthly income by 75 percent.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Tammy, first of all, I'm sorry for your loss. Given my limited knowledge of disability provisions, I've asked Jerry Lutz to weigh in. Here's his answer:

    Jerry Lutz: "If your mother is at least age 50 and receiving Social Security disability benefits, she should be eligible for widow's or disabled widow's benefits immediately. Although her survivor benefit will be temporarily reduced, the reduction will be removed when she reaches full retirement age. From then on, she will receive the higher of her own disability benefit amount or the amount your father was receiving."

    Walter Ward -- Soldotna, Alaska: I have a complicated question. My wife is a federal employee who is planning to retire in two years at age 60. It appears that there is an 'offset' payment that she will receive in addition to her Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) retirement, but only until age 62, "when Social Security kicks in." I believe she is forced to take early Social Security benefits at age 62, instead of waiting until her full retirement age of 66, thus reducing the lifetime benefit amount. I am already retired and receiving two small retirement pensions from non-covered State peace officer employment, but I also have 22 years of coverage paid in on private sector employment. We are about the same age, but her estimated SS benefit is larger because of more years at a higher salary. Yet if she must take the early age 62 benefit amount, it lowers it below my full retirement age 66 amount. What would be our best strategy?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Walter, I'm assuming that your wife paid Social Security taxes while working for the federal government. Prior to the mid 1980s, this was not the case.

    If the FERS benefit drops at 62, it drops. It may drop based on a calculation that Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) makes about your wife's presumed Social Security benefit. But she won't be forced to take her SS benefit early. Her own SS retirement benefit, which she can start to take at 70 if she wants, won't be affected by either her FERS pension or your non-covered pension.

    Your own SS benefit is affected by your receipt of a non-covered pension via the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Your SS spousal benefit, based on your wife's earnings record, will be affected by the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision. Same is true with respect to your SS survivor benefit if your wife passes away.

    Thomas Cochran: I receive Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) and Social Security Insurance (SSI) Disability benefits. Am I allowed to receive my state pension without reduction in my OWCP and SSI Disability?

    Larry Kotlikoff: I sent your question to Social Security technical expert Jerry Lutz, himself retired. Jerry has kindly agreed to vet difficult questions for us. I asked him if the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) applies to disability benefits. I defer to his response:

    Jerry Lutz: Yes it does, and there's also a potential double whammy in the Workers' Comp/Public Disability Offset provision.

    If a person receives Workers' Comp or Public Disability Benefits(WC/PDB), their combined Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and WC/PDB cannot exceed 80 percent of their average current earnings (ACE).

    There are three different methods for calculating the ACE, but for most people, it's the average monthly earnings in their best year of covered earnings in the five years preceding their disability onset. For example, if the person's highest year of earnings in the past five years was $36,000, their ACE would usually be $3,000.

    So, that person's combined SSDI and WC/PDB could not exceed $2,400 (i.e. 80 percent of $3,000). If their WC/PDB was more than $2,400, their SSDI would be reduced to zero, however, they would be paid subsequent COLA's.

    In the case of most non-covered workers, if they are insured at all for SSDI, it is because they are working a second job. Consequently, their covered earnings are usually low, as is their ACE. So, not only is their primary insurance amount (PIA) reduced for Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), they usually are fully offset due to the WC/PDB offset.

    Also, if this person states they are receiving SSI *disability, rather than *SSDI, many times, they're just using the wrong acronym. But if they really are receiving SSI, that's a whole different animal. SSI just supplements other unearned income, such as workers' compensation, up to a certain level. The current federal SSI income cut-off is $730. So, for example, if their WC/PDB was $500 and they had no other income, they could potentially receive $230 per month in Social Security benefits.

    Hilary England -- High Point, N.C.: I am 62 and on unemployment. My husband took his Social Security early. Can I claim spousal benefit without affecting my full social security benefit at age 66?

    Larry Kotlikoff: No, if you take your spousal benefit before full retirement age (66 in your case), Social Security will force you to take your retirement benefit too. Both benefits will be reduced because you are taking them early.

    Furthermore, your spousal benefit will be calculated as your excess spousal benefit (50 percent of your husband's full retirement benefit less 100 percent of your full retirement benefit) rather than as your full spousal benefit (50 percent of your husband's full retirement benefit).

    If your excess spousal benefit is negative, Social Security will set it to zero, meaning you'll get no spousal benefit and be stuck for the rest of your life with a 57 percent smaller retirement benefit than were you to wait until age 70 to collect.

    The trick in your case to maximizing your lifetime Social Security benefits, assuming you have a high maximum age of life, is likely to be to wait until full retirement age and apply just for your spousal benefit and take your retirement benefit at age 70. By waiting to collect until age 70, your retirement benefit will start at a 32 percent larger value. The provision leading to this increase is called the Delayed Retirement Credit.

    Between 66 and 70 you'll get your full spousal benefit because you haven't yet applied for a retirement benefit. After 70, your spousal benefit will be calculated as a different excess spousal benefit, namely half of your husband's full retirement benefit less your full retirement benefit with an adjustment for the Delayed Retirement Credit.

    Ina Fargher -- Tygh Valley, Ore.: I am starting a new job that is eligible for Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) in six months. I have contributed to Social Security most of my life and will be eligible for early benefits at 62 in two months. I worked for a PERS-eligible employer many years ago and was paid out when I left. If I start Social Security distribution in May of this year and then become PERS-eligible, will that reduce my SS benefit? If so, by how much? Can I buy back the PERS benefit or elect no if it cuts my SS benefit?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Good questions! My belief is that your first PERS job, because it entails no eligibility for a pension during the time when you are going to be collecting SS, has no impact on your SS benefit. This new job is a different matter. As soon as you become eligible to receive a pension, you are going to come under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which can affect your own retirement benefit, and when you start receiving your pension you will get hit by the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which can affect the spousal and survivor benefits available to you on your current or former spouse's covered work history.

    However, if you have substantial earnings in covered employment -- in your case, 30 or more years of earning $900 or more in such jobs, the WEP won't affect you. The GPO will reduce your spousal and survivor benefits by two thirds of your new PERS pension. If your new PERS pension will be very small, this may not be a big deal for you. But you need to look at this carefully. If you elect not to get a pension from this new job, you will not, as I understand it, be affected by the GPO.

    This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown -- NewsHour's blog of news and insight. Follow @PaulSolman


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    U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2009. Photo by Army Spc. Walter Reeves.

    By Jonathan Masters, Online Editor/Writer for the Council on Foreign Relations

    Introduction

    Most projections indicate that the United States is on an unsustainable fiscal path under the current federal tax and entitlement regimes. Absent fundamental reforms, many experts suggest that the nation's rising debt poses a great long-term threat to U.S. national security, and that the Pentagon's budget will eventually be crowded out by mandatory social spending programs. Over the last few years, Washington has debated various deficit reduction proposals, but a major legislative compromise has proved elusive.

    Without an agreement by March 1, automatic budget reductions, known as sequestration, will go into effect. For fiscal year 2013 (FY2013), the cuts will total $85 billion, half of which falls on defense. While many analysts believe some defense cuts should be part of a comprehensive deficit reduction accord, they fear that the sweeping fiscal austerity scheduled to begin in March 2013 would needlessly undermine national security. Others say such concerns are overstated, noting that even if all the scheduled reductions occur, defense spending would still fall within recent norms.

    How would the budget sequester process work?

    The automatic budget reductions are a conditional enforcement measure included in a deal that Congress reached in the summer of 2011, known as the Budget Control Act (BCA). The bill balanced a $2.1 trillion staged increase in the government's borrowing capacity with matching deficit reductions stretched out over a decade.

    Specifically, the statute placed roughly $1 trillion worth of caps on all discretionary spending through FY2021, and stipulated that if Congress was unable to identify by January 2012 an additional $1.2 trillion in reductions for this period, budget austerity of an equal amount would come into effect automatically.

    Congress missed its deadline and triggered a sequester set to take effect March 1. The sequester activates two changes to the original BCA spending caps: it apportions them evenly between defense and non-defense budget functions, and it lowers their levels by an additional $109 billion per year for the eight sequester years (FY2014 - FY2021) to achieve the mandated savings. FY2013, as noted below, is handled differently.

    If no superseding legislation is passed in the next nine years, base funding for the Pentagon would be roughly $500 billion less than it would have been if it simply increased with inflation starting from FY2012 to FY2021.

    (Note: The American Taxpayer Relief Act made several changes to the BCA affecting FY2013 and FY2014. Among other things, it postponed sequestration, as noted above, and reduced the sequester amount for FY2013 from $109 billion to $85 billion.)

    This chart from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office plots several defense spending estimates, including funding levels after sequestration. FYDP= Future Years Defense Program (5-year plan):

    Click on chart for larger version.

    How could the reductions affect U.S. national security?

    The Defense Department is set to incur roughly $46 billion in FY2013 spending reductions, or about 9 percent of its base budget, under the sequester. Unlike subsequent sequester years (FY2014 - FY2021), this year's reductions will be made proportionally across the board to each individual discretionary defense program, a so-called "meat axe" approach that offers little flexibility for planners to target cuts.

    Furthermore, because the Pentagon is operating under a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution, or CR, FY2013 cuts will be spaced over an abbreviated seven-month time period (through September) that will likely exacerbate the process. A CR provides military leaders with little flexibility to shift money around to meet changing needs, and many officials fear that political gridlock will force Congress to simply extend this makeshift funding for the rest of FY2013. As a result, some analysts suggest that March 27, the expiration date of the current CR, is the "real deadline" for preventative legislative action.

    Pentagon leaders have painted a bleak picture of life under sequestration. In his farewell remarks as defense chief, Secretary Leon Panetta said sequester cuts would precipitate "the most serious readiness crisis that this country is going to confront in over a decade." Allowing the reductions, he noted, "would degrade our ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe."

    In late February 2013, Pentagon comptroller Robert F. Hale said within a year, two-thirds of Army combat brigade teams would be at "unacceptable" readiness levels, as would most undeployed Air Force units. Navy and Marine officials say that fleet operations and depot maintenance would suffer immediately, including reduced flight operations and deployment cancellations.

    Hale said the department was already taking anticipatory measures, including slowing spending, freezing hiring, laying off temporary staff, and cutting back at bases. Nearly all programs would be cut, he said, and the majority of the department's 800,000 civilian personnel would be furloughed for some period starting in late April 2013.

    The longer the Pentagon is made to operate with reduced resources, the greater the impact on its ability to project power abroad, protect U.S. interests, safeguard the global commons, and provide humanitarian aid. Protracted budget uncertainty, defense analysts say, inhibits the department's ability to make the investment decisions, such as for R&D and procurement, needed in a security environment that requires long-term strategic thinking.

    As an example of what's at stake, some defense analysts note the Navy's recent decision to cancel the deployment of the USS Harry Truman, an aircraft carrier previously destined for the Mideast. With the decision, the service effectively chose to sacrifice current deployment expenses for the benefit of future funding for multi-year shipbuilding programs. In effect, this means only one aircraft carrier will be operating in the Persian Gulf, where tensions with Iran have heightened in recent months. Are there defense-related domestic consequences?

    What happens at the Pentagon inevitably plays out in the state and local economies that host U.S. military installations and contractors, communities that benefit from both defense industry jobs and spending. Analysts note, of course, that these effects would take time to permeate out into the broader economy.

    A $46 billion reduction in defense outlays for FY2013 would account for a decline of roughly 0.3 percent of GDP. Economists say this amount is significant in an economy expanding at just 2 percent a year. A 22 percent drop in military spending in the fourth quarter of 2012 played a considerable role in the 0.1 percent contraction in GDP, the worst quarter since the end of the recession.

    A report by the National Association of Manufacturers, an industry group, says that more than a million private sector jobs will be lost in FY2014 under sequestration. The five states that would suffer the greatest are California (148,400), Virginia (114,900), Texas (109,000), Florida (56,600), and New York (42,100). Are major defense cuts necessary without sequester?

    Many analysts say the warnings from the Pentagon and some Republican lawmakers regarding the sequester are overblown, noting that even with the additional budget reductions, defense would still be funded close to what it was in FY2007. Furthermore, they say that if war funding was also phased out in the coming years, the reductions would remain in the range of similar drawdowns after the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

    However, most observers agree that the blunt manner with which sequestration achieves its cuts are ill-advised. "The process and timing of sequestration as it stands today would take a serious toll on our military," writes defense expert Larry Korb for CNN. "That's too bad. Because the idea of reducing defense spending by $500 billion over the next 10 years is a good one." He says Congress would do better to phase in the cuts more gradually, allowing the Pentagon to make the tough choices he says it has avoided as its budget soared after 9/11.

    Conversely, opponents of cuts in military spending often cite the fact that as a percentage of the total economy, U.S. spending has steadily declined over the past sixty years. Moreover, they say a host of emerging threats such as China, Iran, and North Korea require sustained funding levels.

    How does the U.S. defense budget compare internationally?

    The United States spends nearly as much on its military as the rest of the world combined. Not including war costs, the Pentagon spends roughly five times as much as China's $114.3 billion (2010) and ten times as much as Russia's $52.6 billion (2010), according to the SIPRI Military database.

    In Europe, aggregate defense spending has dropped to less than half that of the United States. In addition, the Pentagon accounts for 75 percent of all NATO defense spending, up from half during the Cold War. The Obama administration has warned NATO members this funding arrangement is unsustainable. What is the long-term outlook for defense spending?

    Defense spending represents about 20 percent of the total federal budget and nearly 60 percent of discretionary spending-- the portion of the budget not automatically allocated to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The soaring costs of health care and an aging U.S. population will direct a growing portion of the federal budget to these three entitlements (PDF), which already account for more than 40 percent of total federal outlays.

    This trend, unless addressed by legislative action, is likely to place increasing fiscal pressure on the defense budget, which would have to compete for a continually shrinking percentage of the government's discretionary funds. Experts say such a scenario would inevitably entail either a drastic retrenchment at the Pentagon in the coming decades or ongoing and likely unsustainable federal borrowing. "The most serious single threat the U.S. faces to its national security does not come from foreign threats," writes CSIS's Anthony H. Cordesman, "but from pressures on defense spending created by these domestic social and economic trends."

    This backgrounder originally appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations' website. We'll have more about sequestration on Monday's NewsHour. View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter:

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    Video courtesy of the White House YouTube channel.

    Updated, 10:45 p.m.

    Monday's Daily Download segment examined the White House's use of social media to bypass the filter of the traditional press.

    Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn of Daily Download joined me for a discussion about President Obama's recent Google Plus Hangout.

    We talked about the types of questions posed to the president, and whether this is just the next generation of a savvy White House strategy or an evolution in how the administration communicates with the world.

    Dont forget that when he first took office, President Barack Obama addressed Internet censorship at a town hall in China that spread further than similar forums hosted by his predecessors, thanks to YouTube, or that the president wasn't shy about calling on Huffington Post journalist Nico Pitney to solicit a question from Iran since Pitney had been collecting them via Twitter.

    Google Plus dubbed the latest hangout a "Fireside Hangout," reminiscent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio addresses by the fire that reached more than 35 million households. When Roosevelt spoke, he knew he had everyone's ear at that moment.

    In our hyperspeed technological era, everything is immediate, and everything can be bookmarked to watch later. To that end, like any smart news outlet, the White House edited down the president's hangout to individual answers and posted those clips to its YouTube page, allowing for easy sharing and a diversification of message.

    Among the most popular moments had nothing to do with news, but a showcase of the White House staff doing good presidential prep work. President Obama basically "broke" the Internet by casually dropping video blogger John Green's "Don't Forget to be Awesome" in his response to a question about naming Green's unborn child.

    The blogger's reaction to President Obama using his catchphrase is classic.

    This is the reaction of @realjohngreen and Sarah, when @barackobama tells their baby to not to forget to be awesome:D twitter.com/CurlyDreadz/st...

    — Connor (@CurlyDreadz) February 14, 2013
    Did you watch the Google hangout? Live or later? And if you had the chance, what would *you* ask the president? **We want to hear from you. Consider this an open thread for discussion.** In the comments below, "reader 12345" weighs in: >Health Care -- I would like to ask the President if he has read Steven Brill's article in Time magazine this month on hospital corporations. Or at least has he watched PBS Newshour's Judy Woodruff's interview with Mr. Brill. And we received more comments via Twitter. Here's a sample:

    @cbellantoni watched it live, and was surprised how long it took the media to pick up on the drone exchange.

    — simpki (@johnnn) February 25, 2013

    @cbellantoni after the fact-and annoyed that those who get a chance to ask him something waste the opportunity

    — Russell D Donnelly (@yarokcrank) February 26, 2013
    Watch our conversation below. Watch Video

    Follow @cbellantoni

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    RAY SUAREZ: President Obama and congressional Republicans traded barbs today, opening the final week before the looming sequester. But there was no outward sign of a breakthrough to prevent $85 billion dollars in automatic spending reductions.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.

    RAY SUAREZ: The president's appeal came as he met with the nation's governors at the White House amid growing indications that the sequester will indeed take effect.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: This town has to get past its obsession with focusing on the next election, instead of the next generation. All of us are elected officials. All of us are concerned about our politics, both in our own parties, as well as the other parties. But at some point, we have got to do some governing. And certainly what we can't do is keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.

    RAY SUAREZ: To reinforce the point, the administration on Sunday spelled out how each state will be affected, from job losses for teachers to cuts in defense spending.

    After today's meeting, governors largely divided down party lines in voicing their frustration. Democrats, including Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, tended to blame Congress.

    GOV. DANNEL MALLOY, D-Conn.: They need to get out of that box that sits under the dome and understand that this has real implications in people's lives, and they should stop playing around with it and get the job done. And, by the way, they should compromise to get the job done.

    RAY SUAREZ: While Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and his fellow Republicans pointed to the president.

    GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: Enough is enough. Now is the time to cut spending. It can be done without jeopardizing the economy. It can be done without jeopardizing critical services. The president needs to stop campaigning, stop trying to scare the American people, stop trying to scare states.

    RAY SUAREZ: President Obama did acknowledge today the effects of the spending cuts may not be felt immediately.

    But one very noticeable effect could come at the nation's airports, where travelers may see major flight delays if airport workers are furloughed.

    Meanwhile, Congress returned from a weeklong recess with little visible progress. Democrats backed the president's plan to forestall the sequester by coupling smaller spending cuts with increases in revenue. Republicans insisted they already agreed to some tax increases and cannot support any plan that raises taxes now.

    House Speaker John Boehner spoke late this afternoon.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It's time to cut spending here in Washington. Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious, he would sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems. The House has acted twice. We shouldn't have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.

    RAY SUAREZ: And as the deadline ticked one day closer, the president planned to visit a Virginia shipyard tomorrow to highlight again how the cuts could harm the U.S. military and civilian defense workers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: To help us better understand the political strategy at the White House and on Capitol Hill, we turn to two journalists closely following the developments.

    Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times covers Congress, and Margaret Talev covers the White House for Bloomberg News.

    And we welcome you both to the NewsHour.

    Margaret, to you first. For days, the White House has been raising the specter of terrible things that are going to happen, slowing air travel, people being laid off their jobs, furloughs, border security problems. Now that they see the Republicans aren't moving, what do they think about this approach?

    MARGARET TALEV, Bloomberg News: They think it's a very good political approach. And they will continue to use it right up until March the 1st.

    The White House has been prepared for Mar. the 1st to come and go and nothing to happen and the sequester to take effect. And a part of what they're doing is a campaign to pressure Republicans to get them to act, but the other part of what they're doing is a campaign to position themselves as the ones trying to get this done and Republicans as the ones standing in the way. And those efforts will continue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're saying they're not surprised that the Republicans aren't caving?

    MARGARET TALEV: They are not surprised that the Republicans are not caving.

    And the timeline as we can now emerging has a lot more to do with Mar. 27th, the deadline for the continuing resolution on the budget, than Mar. 1st.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, on that point, I mean, Jonathan Weisman, the Republicans, no sign of any give between now and Friday. Is that correct?

    JONATHAN WEISMAN, The New York Times: Absolutely. They are not going to give.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so they keep hearing this sort of daily, shall we say, list of crises that are going to happen from the White House. How are they responding to that?

    JONATHAN WEISMAN: Well, we're going to see legislation probably emerge tomorrow in the Senate from Republicans that would give -- that would give the White House and the administration more latitude to administer these cuts, to mete them out, because right now that $85 billion dollars would have to be cut program by program.

    If you're a program that is not exempted in the 2011 law, the Budget Control Act, you have to take a slice. And that's why the president can go out there and say air traffic controllers are going to be hit, Border Patrol agents are going to be hit. The Republicans would like to present legislation that says, look, the Department of Transportation doesn't have to cut air traffic controllers. They can cut some administrative parts, some other thing that is less vital to the nation's body.

    And that is going to divide Democrats because you already see some Democrats who are willing to give that kind of latitude. But you also see Republicans who do not want to give that kind of latitude because it's basically ceding authority to the White House.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are that's what I want to ask you both about. Are the parties -- are they united on this? What's the White House, what are Democrats going to do if the Republicans try to do that?

    MARGARET TALEV: Well, there are issues that sort of cleave both sides. Right?

    And for the Republicans, it is many of the Republican House districts that are going to be the most affected by the sequester. Nothing is going to happen after for a week or two weeks or three weeks, but after a month or two or three or six, ship building areas or defense contractors, these are places where the military and other programs that will be affected by the long-term effects of the sequester will take effect.

    There will be Republicans who shorter in the game than other Republicans will say, all right, come on. Let's cut a deal here. And then the flip side, on the Democratic side, there are going to be Democrats, particularly in those kinds of swing districts, who are going to say, OK, enough on the tax increases. Let's -- we need to give a little bit more on the spending cuts.

    So, on both sides, you do see the potential for these rifts, for these fissures. But, for right now, it is -- it does appear to be a game of chicken in terms of how bad are the effects going to be and how quickly will they be felt?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jonathan Weisman, Republican leadership, how prepared are they to deal with any division in their ranks? We already know that some Republicans are more comfortable with these cuts than others who believe they're perfectly fine, apparently.

    JONATHAN WEISMAN: Right. Right.

    We have really seen highlighted the emergence of a majority of Republicans that are much more concerned with the fiscal picture and the size and scope of government, the spending side, than what we used to see, which was a very large group of Republicans, a majority, that were most concerned with national defense and would protect the defense budget over everything.

    The president expected that that national defense wing was going to ultimately prevail and stop these cuts from happening, bring their party to the table. That has not happened. I don't think the Republicans in -- the Senate may actually begin to splinter. The House is really dug in right now. They feel like they gave at the fiscal cliff. They let taxes rise.

    And now, as one congressman told me, we have gotten to the high ground. The muskets are all pointing out. You want to come and take the hill, give it a shot.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does the White House feel the Republicans have the high ground here, Margaret?

    MARGARET TALEV: The White House feels that the Republicans are going to want a couple of weeks to kind of make their points and protest.

    At this point, the White House still sees some resolution that reins in the impacts of the sequester over X-period of time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do they have a strategy for how this is going to spool out over the next few weeks?

    MARGARET TALEV: I don't know what the strategy is after Mar. 27th. If there is, one no one has spelled it out to me. But ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is when the next decisions have to be made.

    MARGARET TALEV: But for the Republicans -- from the White House's perspective, not only will the sequester effects be felt more the longer it would go on, right, but because the time overlaps so closely to this continuing budget plan, for the Republicans, the specter of a government shutdown is a lot more politically painful, broad-based, right, Congress-wide, for all of them, than the impacts of the sequester.

    JONATHAN WEISMAN: Yes.

    And I think that that's why the Mar. 27th deadline is probably less of a big deal than we think. Republicans in the House want to move forward beyond that. They're going to move legislation probably next week to just get past that. Now, the Senate Democrats might dig in and say, we are not going to pass legislation to keep the government functioning past Mar. 27th unless you do something about the sequester.

    But from what I understand, unless there is a huge hue and cry out there from the American people, they're going to let that pass. They're going to also pass legislation to keep the government open. I actually don't think Mar. 27th is going to be a big deal because I will tell you the first furloughs, the first layoffs that we're going to see on these sequesters really won't hit until April.

    You're not going to see really angry American voters probably until past that Mar. 27th deadline.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we're all on the edge of our seats watching to see what happens. And both of you are going to be watching it with us.

    Thank you very much, Jonathan Weisman, Margaret Talev.

    MARGARET TALEV: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.RAY SUAREZ: President Obama and congressional Republicans traded barbs today, opening the final week before the looming sequester. But there was no outward sign of a breakthrough to prevent $85 billion dollars in automatic spending reductions.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.

    RAY SUAREZ: The president's appeal came as he met with the nation's governors at the White House amid growing indications that the sequester will indeed take effect.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: This town has to get past its obsession with focusing on the next election, instead of the next generation. All of us are elected officials. All of us are concerned about our politics, both in our own parties, as well as the other parties. But at some point, we have got to do some governing. And certainly what we can't do is keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.

    RAY SUAREZ: To reinforce the point, the administration on Sunday spelled out how each state will be affected, from job losses for teachers to cuts in defense spending.

    After today's meeting, governors largely divided down party lines in voicing their frustration. Democrats, including Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, tended to blame Congress.

    GOV. DANNEL MALLOY, D-Conn.: They need to get out of that box that sits under the dome and understand that this has real implications in people's lives, and they should stop playing around with it and get the job done. And, by the way, they should compromise to get the job done.

    RAY SUAREZ: While Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and his fellow Republicans pointed to the president.

    GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: Enough is enough. Now is the time to cut spending. It can be done without jeopardizing the economy. It can be done without jeopardizing critical services. The president needs to stop campaigning, stop trying to scare the American people, stop trying to scare states.

    RAY SUAREZ: President Obama did acknowledge today the effects of the spending cuts may not be felt immediately.

    But one very noticeable effect could come at the nation's airports, where travelers may see major flight delays if airport workers are furloughed.

    Meanwhile, Congress returned from a weeklong recess with little visible progress. Democrats backed the president's plan to forestall the sequester by coupling smaller spending cuts with increases in revenue. Republicans insisted they already agreed to some tax increases and cannot support any plan that raises taxes now.

    House Speaker John Boehner spoke late this afternoon.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It's time to cut spending here in Washington. Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious, he would sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems. The House has acted twice. We shouldn't have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.

    RAY SUAREZ: And as the deadline ticked one day closer, the president planned to visit a Virginia shipyard tomorrow to highlight again how the cuts could harm the U.S. military and civilian defense workers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: To help us better understand the political strategy at the White House and on Capitol Hill, we turn to two journalists closely following the developments.

    Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times covers Congress, and Margaret Talev covers the White House for Bloomberg News.

    And we welcome you both to the NewsHour.

    Margaret, to you first. For days, the White House has been raising the specter of terrible things that are going to happen, slowing air travel, people being laid off their jobs, furloughs, border security problems. Now that they see the Republicans aren't moving, what do they think about this approach?

    MARGARET TALEV, Bloomberg News: They think it's a very good political approach. And they will continue to use it right up until March the 1st.

    The White House has been prepared for Mar. the 1st to come and go and nothing to happen and the sequester to take effect. And a part of what they're doing is a campaign to pressure Republicans to get them to act, but the other part of what they're doing is a campaign to position themselves as the ones trying to get this done and Republicans as the ones standing in the way. And those efforts will continue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're saying they're not surprised that the Republicans aren't caving?

    MARGARET TALEV: They are not surprised that the Republicans are not caving.

    And the timeline as we can now emerging has a lot more to do with Mar. 27th, the deadline for the continuing resolution on the budget, than Mar. 1st.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, on that point, I mean, Jonathan Weisman, the Republicans, no sign of any give between now and Friday. Is that correct?

    JONATHAN WEISMAN, The New York Times: Absolutely. They are not going to give.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so they keep hearing this sort of daily, shall we say, list of crises that are going to happen from the White House. How are they responding to that?

    JONATHAN WEISMAN: Well, we're going to see legislation probably emerge tomorrow in the Senate from Republicans that would give -- that would give the White House and the administration more latitude to administer these cuts, to mete them out, because right now that $85 billion dollars would have to be cut program by program.

    If you're a program that is not exempted in the 2011 law, the Budget Control Act, you have to take a slice. And that's why the president can go out there and say air traffic controllers are going to be hit, Border Patrol agents are going to be hit. The Republicans would like to present legislation that says, look, the Department of Transportation doesn't have to cut air traffic controllers. They can cut some administrative parts, some other thing that is less vital to the nation's body.

    And that is going to divide Democrats because you already see some Democrats who are willing to give that kind of latitude. But you also see Republicans who do not want to give that kind of latitude because it's basically ceding authority to the White House.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are that's what I want to ask you both about. Are the parties -- are they united on this? What's the White House, what are Democrats going to do if the Republicans try to do that?

    MARGARET TALEV: Well, there are issues that sort of cleave both sides. Right?

    And for the Republicans, it is many of the Republican House districts that are going to be the most affected by the sequester. Nothing is going to happen after for a week or two weeks or three weeks, but after a month or two or three or six, ship building areas or defense contractors, these are places where the military and other programs that will be affected by the long-term effects of the sequester will take effect.

    There will be Republicans who shorter in the game than other Republicans will say, all right, come on. Let's cut a deal here. And then the flip side, on the Democratic side, there are going to be Democrats, particularly in those kinds of swing districts, who are going to say, OK, enough on the tax increases. Let's -- we need to give a little bit more on the spending cuts.

    So, on both sides, you do see the potential for these rifts, for these fissures. But, for right now, it is -- it does appear to be a game of chicken in terms of how bad are the effects going to be and how quickly will they be felt?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jonathan Weisman, Republican leadership, how prepared are they to deal with any division in their ranks? We already know that some Republicans are more comfortable with these cuts than others who believe they're perfectly fine, apparently.

    JONATHAN WEISMAN: Right. Right.

    We have really seen highlighted the emergence of a majority of Republicans that are much more concerned with the fiscal picture and the size and scope of government, the spending side, than what we used to see, which was a very large group of Republicans, a majority, that were most concerned with national defense and would protect the defense budget over everything.

    The president expected that that national defense wing was going to ultimately prevail and stop these cuts from happening, bring their party to the table. That has not happened. I don't think the Republicans in -- the Senate may actually begin to splinter. The House is really dug in right now. They feel like they gave at the fiscal cliff. They let taxes rise.

    And now, as one congressman told me, we have gotten to the high ground. The muskets are all pointing out. You want to come and take the hill, give it a shot.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does the White House feel the Republicans have the high ground here, Margaret?

    MARGARET TALEV: The White House feels that the Republicans are going to want a couple of weeks to kind of make their points and protest.

    At this point, the White House still sees some resolution that reins in the impacts of the sequester over X-period of time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do they have a strategy for how this is going to spool out over the next few weeks?

    MARGARET TALEV: I don't know what the strategy is after Mar. 27th. If there is, one no one has spelled it out to me. But ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is when the next decisions have to be made.

    MARGARET TALEV: But for the Republicans -- from the White House's perspective, not only will the sequester effects be felt more the longer it would go on, right, but because the time overlaps so closely to this continuing budget plan, for the Republicans, the specter of a government shutdown is a lot more politically painful, broad-based, right, Congress-wide, for all of them, than the impacts of the sequester.

    JONATHAN WEISMAN: Yes.

    And I think that that's why the Mar. 27th deadline is probably less of a big deal than we think. Republicans in the House want to move forward beyond that. They're going to move legislation probably next week to just get past that. Now, the Senate Democrats might dig in and say, we are not going to pass legislation to keep the government functioning past Mar. 27th unless you do something about the sequester.

    But from what I understand, unless there is a huge hue and cry out there from the American people, they're going to let that pass. They're going to also pass legislation to keep the government open. I actually don't think Mar. 27th is going to be a big deal because I will tell you the first furloughs, the first layoffs that we're going to see on these sequesters really won't hit until April.

    You're not going to see really angry American voters probably until past that Mar. 27th deadline.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we're all on the edge of our seats watching to see what happens. And both of you are going to be watching it with us.

    Thank you very much, Jonathan Weisman, Margaret Talev.

    MARGARET TALEV: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you. 


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street had one of its worst days of the year, amid new fears about instability in Europe. Stocks went into a late-day sell-off after reports that Italy might be unable to form a new government. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 216 points to close at 13,784. The Nasdaq fell 45 points to close at 3,116.

    Those reports of paralysis in Italy followed crucial parliamentary elections there. Turnout was low, and a protest movement led by a comedian won nearly a quarter of the vote. As officials counted ballots, partial results showed no clear winner. Instead, it appeared opposing coalitions would split control of Parliament. That prompted warnings of a stalemate.

    STEFANO FASSINA, Economic Spokesperson for Democratic Party: If a rejection, very worrying. If they are confirmed, it means that Italy will not have a government, so it will be a very, very dangerous -- very, very dangerous scenario.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: If no party is able to form a government, there could be new elections at a time when Italy is still grappling with severe financial problems.

    NATO has found no evidence so far that U.S. special forces tortured civilians in Eastern Afghanistan. The coalition issued that statement today after Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered all U.S. special forces to leave a key region within two weeks. Local officials in Wardak Province have blamed Americans in the disappearance of at least nine men and the murder of a university student.

    A trial opened today in New Orleans on exactly who will pay how much more in the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the nation's worst offshore oil disaster. BP says it has already paid $24 billion dollars in spill-related expenses. Now a federal judge will decide the liability of the oil giant and its partners, Transocean and Halliburton, for $20 billion dollars in civil claims. The trial is expected to last months, but the judge has promised not to let it drag on.

    Major new research finds that eating Mediterranean-style can cut your risk of major heart problems by 30 percent. A study in Spain, published today, praised the benefits of olive oil, nuts, fish, and vegetables. The study lasted five years and involved 7,500 people. It was by far the most detailed look at Mediterranean diets. The findings were published in "The New England Journal of Medicine."

    Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop died today in Hanover, New Hampshire. Koop gained national notoriety in the 1980s under President Reagan by endorsing condoms and sex education to stop AIDS, and campaigning against smoking. He spoke about his anti-smoking efforts on the NewsHour in 1989.

    C. EVERETT KOOP, Former U.S. Surgeon General: I could not work for a tobacco company. I couldn't even work on an assembly line making cigarettes. In fact, I once talked to a man in one of the cigarette-producing cities. And he said, "You know, I have come to believe that even the machine that turns out those little white things is evil."

    I think you have got to recognize that if we suddenly ran on tobacco tomorrow as something we didn't know anything about before, there would be no doubt about the fact it would be treated the way we treat toxic wastes or other things that threaten the health of our people.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Koop left office that same year and founded an institute at Dartmouth in Hanover to teach basic values and ethics to medical students. C. Everett Koop was 96 years old.

    Those are some of the day's major stories -- now back to Judy.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: a big story on the big price tags attached to medical care.

    Steven Brill spent months reporting his 26,000-word cover story in the latest issue of "TIME" magazine looking at what's behind our country's high cost of health care. What he found was startling: a few days of lab work that costs more than a car, a trip to an emergency room for indigestion that totaled more than a semester in college, and many more examples.

    In response, the American Hospital Association released a statement that claimed the system is broken and that -- quote -- "Patients may look at a hospital bill and think the prices they see only reflect the direct care they received, when in fact what's reflected are all the resources to provide the care."

    Steven Brill joins me now.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    STEVEN BRILL, TIME Magazine: Hi, Judy. How are you?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm well.

    Let me just begin by, you paint a devastating picture of the American health care system, and you talk, of course, about a system that is based on private enterprise, the private marketplace in America. I guess my question is...

    STEVEN BRILL: Exactly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: ... why isn't the private marketplace working?

    STEVEN BRILL: Because the private marketplace in other aspect of our lives implies that there's some kind of balance between the seller and the buyer.

    And in medicine, in health care, there is no balance. If you go into a shoe store and you see a pair of shoes and you say, well, maybe they're, you know, $200 dollars, I think I will buy them, and the guy behind the counter at the shoe store tells you that the shoes are $6,000 dollars, you can turn around and walk out. In fact, you can walk out and go up the block and go to a different shoe store. You don't have to buy the shoes.

    And in health care, not only do you have to buy it, because you don't have any choice, but you don't know what the price is before you buy it. When you read the statement from the American Hospital Association, I sort of had to chuckle, because the implication there is that if they charge, as I found, $77 dollars for a box of, you know, gauze pads, the reason they're doing that is because of all the other care in the hospital that you're getting, the room and the board, the nurses and everything.

    But they charge for that, too. There was one hospital that was charging $1.50, as you know from the cover of the magazine, for a Tylenol. And yet they were charging $1,791 dollars for the room. Now, you would think if you're paying $1,791 dollars for the room, they would, you know, decide to throw in the Tylenol.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the Hospital Association and those who are defending their point of view do say that what you're paying for is just essentially to keep the hospital running. That's what patients are being charged for. But you point out...

    STEVEN BRILL: Well ...

    STEVEN BRILL: You know, yes, it's keeping the hospital running plus an extra 11.5 to 12 percent in pure profit that goes to the non-doctor administrators at the hospital, who are making a million, $2 million, $3 million, $4 million, $6 million dollars a year in salaries.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You also write, Steven Brill, about something called the charge master that sets the price in these hospitals. And you cite some extraordinary examples. I mean, we cited a couple of them earlier, thousands -- tens of thousands of dollars when someone wasn't even found sick. What is a charge master?

    STEVEN BRILL: Well, it's this thing that everybody in this alternate universe of the health care economy, where everybody is making a ton of money, everybody there knows about it. It's this giant price list of every item that the hospital provides, ranging from an aspirin to the paper cup that you drink the water out of when you take the aspirin to, you know, a $10,000 wonder drug for cancer.

    It's every single item, and the thing about the charge master is that every hospital has completely different prices. They're typically five to 10 times what it cost the hospital to buy those items or provide those items. And insurance companies get big discounts off of the charge master, but the discounts that they get are still not enough to keep these hospitals from making very high profit margins and from all the non-doctor administrators at these hospitals from making exorbitant salaries.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well...

    STEVEN BRILL: And that's just not the hospitals. It's also the drug companies. It's the lab companies.

    You know, it's as if we have two economies in this country. We have the economy that you and I live in, which has been hard-pressed over the last, you know, half-decade. You know, jobs have been scarce. We're under all kinds of pressure. And then there's this other economy called the health care economy where everybody just keeps making more and more money, where unemployment is nil, and where everything is fine.

    And yet the worst part about it is, is that that economy is bleeding our economy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What I think is striking, too -- there are a number of things that are striking in the piece. But one is that those who fall under one of the government health care plans, Medicaid and in particular Medicare, somehow get taken care of. And certainly those who have insurance, who have an insurance policy, they get taken care of.

    And yet a lot of the discussion we hear about reform now has to do with reforming Medicare and putting it back into the -- or putting it into the private sector. Based on what you're seeing, how would that work?

    STEVEN BRILL: Well, Medicare, first of all, is in the private sector.

    Medicare has 600 or 700 government employees and about 8,000 employees from the private sector who do a terrific job administering the claims and running the program. Medicare buys its services much more efficiently, because it is the big player in the marketplace. None of the insurance companies have the leverage that Medicare has.

    Now, the irony is that the only place where Medicare is not able to buy efficiently is where Congress has handcuffed Medicare. Medicare can't negotiate the cost of prescription drugs. It can't negotiate the cost of wheelchairs and canes and things like that. So you could knock easily another quarter of a trillion dollars out of the Medicare bill, the taxpayers' bill, if you took the handcuffs off of Medicare.

    And another way, ironically, you could save taxpayers money, believe it or not, is if you lowered the age of Medicare and allowed more people in their 60s to join Medicare, as opposed to the Obamacare solution now, which is they're all going to have to buy health insurance, but the government is going to subsidize their much more expensive private health insurance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, we have less than a minute now. But I want to ask you about Obamacare. You just raised it.

    What effect do you see it having on the health care system after all your reporting?

    STEVEN BRILL: Well, there are a lot of good aspects of it. It curbs some of the billing collection practices. It obviously puts an umbrella over many more people who will have insurance, but it really sort of nips away at the edges of the problem.

    The problem is the price tag that everybody is able to charge because they're basically able to gouge people because the buyers don't have any leverage. And Obamacare really does nothing to attack that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are going to leave it there, Steven Brill. The article is in this week's TIME magazine. Thank you very much.

    STEVEN BRILL: Thanks for having me.


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    RAY SUAREZ: We turn now to Cuba, where President Raul Castro announced this weekend he will be stepping down in 2018.

    Last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy led a congressional delegation to the country, seeking the release of American Alan Gross, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence. The Cuban government says Gross illegally distributed communications equipment on the island while on a U.S.-funded democracy-building program. Gross has claimed innocence.

    I'm joined now by Sen. Patrick Leahy.

    Senator, welcome.

    How is Alan Gross? You got a chance to see him.

    SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt.: Well, he's lost an enormous amount of weight since he's been in prison. I saw him last year and saw him again this year. Obviously, he wants to come home. He wants to be with his family.

    And he feels frustrated that he's being held unnecessarily for what at best was not a significant violation.

    RAY SUAREZ: The status of his health is the subject of disagreement between the Cuban government and his family back here in America. Is he sick?

    PATRICK LEAHY: I'm not a doctor. I can't make that decision. I would like to have an independent physician look at him.

    But I think the best thing would be if he could come home. It's -- and I understand his frustration. And the -- there are a couple of positive things. One, the Cubans at the highest level have agreed with me that they do not consider him a spy. That makes it easier to try to work something out.

    Secondly, I see some glimmers of hope. But it's going to require, I think, some real work on behalf of both countries. I would hope work would be outside of -- out of the spotlight, work that can be done quietly. And who knows. It may come to what I hope is the release of Alan Gross.

    RAY SUAREZ: Was he adequately trained by the United States government? He was there as part of a democracy-building exercise which is not welcome and not recognized by the Cuban government. Was it at all a risky visit that he was on?

    PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I think there could be a lot of debate on that.

    I know it was a contractor who hired him. I worry that the contractor was more interested in its own goals than what might be the safety of Mr. Gross. But I think it would probably not help him to go into great detail on to what extent he was trained or not. But I agree with the Cubans. He's not a spy. He's somebody who believes in helping other people.

    He holds no animosity toward the Cuban people. And he stressed that several times to me. He has no animosity toward the Cuban people, but he cannot understand the actions of their government.

    RAY SUAREZ: At this point, apart from the humanitarian concern, is his continued incarceration a stumbling block, an impediment to improved U.S.-Cuban relations?

    PATRICK LEAHY: You know, ever since the 1960s, we found one stumbling block or one impediment after another.

    I think it's time that we start sitting down and talking about relationships between our two countries, relationships that reflect the realities of today, not the past history, sometimes the imagined history, of the '60s and the '70s. I think if we do that and look at a whole host of things, I think Mr. Gross is better off.

    So long as the whole question of U.S.-Cuban relationship revolves just on the question of Alan Gross, I don't think it helps him. And I want to help him. I want to see him released.

    PATRICK LEAHY: And I also -- you know, he was very open. He talked with Chris Van Hollen, who, of course, is congressman. I asked the Cubans if I could bring Rep. Van Hollen because he knows him. And they readily agreed with that.

    RAY SUAREZ: Since your visit to Havana, President Castro has announced that at the end of his current term, he's going to step down from office.

    When you met with him last week, did he give any indication that he was looking for the exit door?

    PATRICK LEAHY: He made it very clear that he believed in the two-term limit, something that he talked about before.

    RAY SUAREZ: And did you get a chance to meet the man who some say might be his successor, the new vice president?

    PATRICK LEAHY: No, I have not met him.

    RAY SUAREZ: So, what's your impression of the willingness of the current leadership team to continue on the path that Cuba is on today?

    PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I briefed the White House since I came back on what they had to say.

    I mean, Cuba doesn't expect to change our form of government. We don't expect to change theirs. But I think that it's an anomaly that we have the kind of relationships or lack of relationships between our two countries. For example, the United States will allow Cuban-Americans to go to Cuba to visit. They won't allow Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans, except by very special circumstances.

    You know, it makes -- it certainly makes no sense to that region or to the rest of the world. I think, if I were to say anything, it would be that both countries have got to be willing to sit down and quietly work out, knowing we're not going to change each other's basic philosophies, but we can change a great deal in the behavior of both countries.

    RAY SUAREZ: Well, given those words that you just said, that we -- the two countries aren't going to change each other, is it your impression that President Castro wants a better relationship with the United States at this moment?

    PATRICK LEAHY: I think he does.

    And I want to have our country reciprocate and try to have a better relationship with him.

    RAY SUAREZ: Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, thanks for joining us.

    PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you. 


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: to one of the largest registration drives of all time. It's taking place in India, where authorities are mounting an effort to give every resident an official biometric identification card and number.

    Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro filed this story as part of our Agents for Change series.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across India, in community centers and schools like this one in New Delhi, people line up for hours. Patience, like application forms they seek, is often in short supply. It seems like a big deal over a rather mundane prize: a new government-issued I.D. But the man behind it all calls this the largest social inclusion project in history.

    NANDAN NILEKANI, Retired Software Billionaire: We still have a large number of residents of India who don't have a birth certificate or any other form of official I.D. And in the old days, when they lived their entire life in a single village, it maybe didn't matter, but now, with the highly mobile and aspirational society, you need some kind of an I.D.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nandan Nilekani says an I.D. is the first step to better account for hundreds of millions of people in this vast nation of 1.2 billion. The government asked Nilekani, a 58-year-old retired software billionaire, to head the massive undertaking. He says it will greatly improve the way it serves the poor.

    NANDAN NILEKANI: It will make it more effective, efficient, and equitable. This will play a huge role in reducing corruption and harassment for the common man. The government wants to make sure that benefits go electronically and directly to the genuine beneficiary.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The new identifications are electronic, online, and designed to be foolproof.

    The unique identification project, called UID, goes much farther than the usual mug shot or even fingerprints. Each applicant also looks into a viewfinder through which the irises of both eyes are scanned. From these so-called biometrics, an online identification is generated with a unique 12-digit number, which is delivered on a card a few weeks later by mail.

    People in India do have other cards that serve as I.D.s. The majority of poor and middle-class families have ration cards that allow them to buy basic foods at subsidized prices in special ration shops.

    This lady has shown me the one for her family. She says she receives four kilos of rice, which is about 10 pounds of rice. She's also eligible for cooking and heating oil, but rarely gets them. Items are frequently out of stock. Corruption, mainly through diverted commodities and fake I.D.s, is widely blamed.

    The government hopes to change all this by opening and linking bank accounts with the new more secure I.D.s. Instead of food grants, assistance would come in direct deposits, and recipients would have cash to shop in regular stores.

    Vijay Kumar, waiting to enroll for his new I.D., likes the idea.

    VIJAY KUMAR, India: There are a lot of benefits from government programs, but middlemen steal from them. I don't come from a well-to-do family. There are 12 people, and many depend on assistance. Maybe they will be able to benefit from this card.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Just a few dozen people here in Bangalore manage the avalanche of data from 30,000 enrollment centers across the country. One of the few tasks at this center that requires a human hand is here.

    About two percent of all applications are flagged because there appear to be similar biometrics like fingerprints between often very different people.

    MAN: The photograph clearly says that these are two different people.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There usually is a simple explanation, says manager Kiran Chowbene, like a fingerprint screen with remnants of a previous impression.

    I can see that the screen looks it's pretty dirty, hasn't been wiped clean.

    KIRAN CHOWBENE, Manager: Yes. Yes.  

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What percentage are adjudicated successfully here?

    KIRAN CHOWBENE: Everything.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Every single one?

    KIRAN CHOWBENE: Yes, everything goes through.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There's no mysteries at the end of this process?

    KIRAN CHOWBENE: No.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Chowbene and almost all of the 100,000 workers on the I.D. project work for private companies contracted by the government. They are paid for each person successfully enrolled, an incentive system that's brought speed unusual for a government project.

    A quarter of a billion people have been signed up or scanned in, in just two years. Already, India's unique I.D. project has the largest biometric database in the world. It's fast becoming twice as large as the second biggest one, which is at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But there are critics concerned about privacy who say it's all too rushed. They worry about abusive surveillance, particularly of political, ethnic, or religious minorities.

    Social activist Gopal Krishna notes Britain scrapped a national I.D. program in 2010 after years of debates. Here, he says, the project headed by Nilekani has not been debated, and the government is only beginning to draft a privacy law.

    GOPAL KRISHNA, Social Activist: Nilekani has mastered the art of putting the cart before the horse. If privacy is a concern, shouldn't a privacy bill come first, and then UID database?

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Other critics say the new I.D.s won’t reduce corruption, merely create new middlemen to replace the old in banks, instead of ration shops, for example.

    Usha Ramanathan, a lawyer and human rights activist, is also skeptical about the program's stated objective.

    USHA RAMANATHAN, Human Rights Activist: The agenda is not in providing identity to the poor, so that the poor can get everything and become un-poor. That's been -- I need to be really gullible to believe that. And I'm not that.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says the real agenda is to privatize poverty and welfare programs for all but the very poorest people, who would remain in the public distribution system. Right now, the system protects all recipients from the worst effects of market swings and escalating food costs.

    USHA RAMANATHAN: There is a desire to do a certain kind of social sorting, where we -- where the state will identify those who they cannot not deliver things to. You just have to do it because they are so extremely poor that you don't want an image of yourself as being a country where people are dying of starvation.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Nilekani says he has no problem with market-based reforms, which will empower many people to assert their rights as citizens and consumers. He insists the universal I.D. database is secure, that privacy can be safeguarded. That said, Nilekani adds the very nature of privacy is being redefined.

    NANDAN NILEKANI: I think the privacy and convenience are opposites. It's always a tradeoff. When you go and buy things at an e-commerce site, that e-commerce organization knows exactly what you're buying. So, you know, it works both ways.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The I.D. project may well be subjected to court challenges. It will likely be debated as it comes up for renewal in 2014. By then, the program, at an officially estimated cost of $3.5 billion dollars, expects to have enrolled 600 million people, half of all Indians and a 10th of all humanity.

    RAY SUAREZ: Fred's reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary's University in Minnesota.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the leader of the Catholic Church in Britain assigns amid a shroud of scandal.

    Ciaran Jenkins of Independent Television News has the story.

    CIARAN JENKINS, Independent Television News: Just days before the pope abdicates, the U.K.'s top Catholic cleric announces he's standing aside, too.

    Cardinal Keith O'Brien leaves with immediate effect and leaves the Catholic Church once more facing difficult questions. His resignation follows allegations in a national newspaper. He's accused of inappropriate behavior towards four priests dating back to the 1980s, allegations he denies.

    The only activity here at the cardinal's residence today is the gaggle of cameramen waiting for him to come outside. It's hardly surprising he's keeping a low profile. This resignation is designed to take him out of the media spotlight before the election of a new pope in just a few weeks' time.

    Now, though, the U.K. will have no say in choosing Pope Benedict's successor. It was to be one of Cardinal O'Brien's last official duties before a scheduled retirement next month, but in a statement, he said: "The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today. Looking back over my years of ministry, for any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended."

    He does, however, remain a cardinal. It's understood he could still take part in the election of a new pope, and it's his choice not to do so.

    In Scotland, Cardinal O'Brien is a divisive figure, though many are sad to see him go.

    ALEX SALMOND, Scottish First Minister: No one -- no one would have wished these circumstances. Everyone will feel great sadness for what's arisen today. But I just feel that, particularly at a time like this, that we should reflect for a minute just on the massive contribution that Keith O'Brien has made to his church and his country over almost 50 years.

    CIARAN JENKINS: Others found him difficult, not least for his uncompromising opposition to gay marriage.

    COLIN MACFARLANE, Stonewall Scotland: What we really actually hope in Scotland is that the cardinal's successor will be able to show more a little bit more Christian charity to openly gay people than the cardinal was able to do himself.

    CIARAN JENKINS: By the end of this week, the Catholic Church will have vacancies not only for pope, but for the top job in the U.K. too. 


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: There were other reports of scandal rocking the Vatican over the weekend, as Pope Benedict prepares to leave office later in the week.

    Margaret Warner has more on the latest from Rome.

    MARGARET WARNER: Unsourced stories in the Italian media in recent days have alleged sexual and financial impropriety, including corruption, favoritism and the attempted blackmail of gay Vatican clergy at the highest levels of the church.

    In response, the Vatican released a statement Saturday attacking the press accounts as an attempt to influence the election of the new pope, stating: "It is deplorable that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions."

    Today, Pope Benedict met with three cardinals he had named to run a secret investigation into a cache of leaked Vatican documents last year. The new media allegations are said to be based on their findings. It was announced today that their findings will remain sealed, shown only to the new pontiff, but not to the cardinals set to gather to select him.

    Jason Horowitz of The Washington Post is covering these latest developments and joins us from the Vatican.

    Jason, welcome.

    This has been several days of real turmoil at and involving the Vatican. What sort of shadow is it casting over the preparations to gather to select a new pope?

    JASON HOROWITZ, The Washington Post: I think I would say it's casting a pretty long shadow.

    It's -- there's really a feeling of chaos and confusion here. Already, the resignation of the pope kind of set things in tilt, that people weren't used to this. It's the first time in about 600 years. But the fact that it's been followed by revelation or at least, you know, apparent revelation of scandal after scandal hasn't helped matters for the Vatican at all.

    MARGARET WARNER: And what drove the Vatican to issue this very public denunciation of these media reports? I mean, in other words, how damaging do they think those reports are potentially to the Vatican?

    JASON HOROWITZ: That's a very good question.

    And I guess that the Vatican thought that they were very damaging. But I wonder a little bit if they were thinking a little too much with their Italian minds, and not enough with their kind of global church minds, because a lot of people, especially American journalists, you know, we were being very cautious about those allegations in the Italian press because they were extremely thinly sourced.

    The idea that this reporter had seen this document, when really it seemed to be only these three cardinals and the pope, seem almost farfetched. And the accusations were so heavy that you notice that a lot of the American and really international press kind of laid off. It was only when the Vatican released that very strong statement calling the reports unverifiable that it kind of forced international journalists to kind of pay attention.

    And so I wonder if it backfired on them a little bit.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, what is the bigger picture here? In other words, you have got leaks and counterleaks and accusations and counteraccusations. Is this just about the struggle for power over getting -- you know, who is going to be the new pope, or is there some larger thread here?

    I mean, are there different camps that represent different perspectives on how the church should be managed going forward, or indeed where the church should go moving forward?

    JASON HOROWITZ: So, I think that the answer to both is yes.

    I mean, you do have camps within the church that -- you know, for whom different things are important. You have certain prelates who care a lot about reaching out to the Southern Hemisphere. You have others who want to clean up the Curia, which is the -- basically the bureaucracy that runs the church.

    The bigger picture, I think, is that you're seeing a church that, especially here in the Vatican, where there's really large management problems. And the power plays that we're seeing in there -- and that are probably spilling out into the press is what we're seeing a little bit -- are reflective of a place where there's not a lot of stability.

    And the fact that the pope resigned shocked everyone. And kind of all that instability is coming out to the fore right now. And it's coming out to the fore. It's spilling out in press reports. Then, of course, you look north and you look to Britain, and you have Cardinal O'Brien, who is now, you know, facing really serious accusations and really it seems like almost not welcomed to the conclave.

    It marks a very large change and shift for the Vatican that, if you look back even just eight years ago, they were willing to embrace these cardinals that were, you know, ensnared in these scandals. And now they're not so willing to do that.

    MARGARET WARNER: And does this have any -- or will it have any bearing on the American Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been accused of shielding pedophile priests back in the '80s, has been stripped of his duties? Lay groups are calling on him not to go to the conclave, but he says he's going to.

    JASON HOROWITZ: Right.

    Well, I think that the interesting thing there is that what we're seeing with O'Brien is the reaction from the Vatican. And, again, if you remember back to Cardinal Law who was embattled, and to say the least with the sex scandals and the priestly abuse. And yet the Vatican kind of circled the wagons around him.

    And this time, it seems like these cardinals are finding themselves under the wheels of that wagon. They don't seem very eager to have O'Brien here. And I wonder if they're so eager to have Mahony here either. I mean, they're not going to say, don't come. It's his right as a cardinal to come. But it brings a distraction.

    MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, before we go, Thursday is the pope's last day. Friday, this process in some fashion begins. What does happen next?

    JASON HOROWITZ: Well, what happens next is that the cardinals start meeting with one another starting on Mar 1st. In fact, today, the pope kind of made an amendment to the constitution, if you will, of the Vatican saying that the cardinals will establish and meet and establish the date of the conclave.

    So, on Mar. 1st, they will start meeting, decide when the conclave is. And really what you're going to have, even though they're not supposed to, is a bunch of cardinals talking to one another, figuring out what issues are important, who are the likely candidates, who they think is the guy to bring them forward in this century. And so we're going to have -- basically, what you're going to see is a lot of coffee and cappuccino being drunk by these cardinals and a lot of talking about the future.

    MARGARET WARNER: And you will be there to cover it.

    Jason Horowitz, Washington Post, thank you.

    JASON HOROWITZ: Thank you. 


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    RAY SUAREZ: Next: to our series about the digital world's cultural impact.

    NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni is here with the Daily Download team.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Ordinary citizens have more opportunities to talk directly to the president these days.

    Joining us to discuss how the White House is using the Internet to work around the press are two journalists from the website Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site's editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief and host of CNN's "Reliable Sources."

    Thanks for being here.

    So, we're talking about the president hosting a Google Hangout on Google Plus. This seemed designed initially to talk to relatives in faraway places. How did it become a political tool? And what does the president really accomplish here?

    LAUREN ASHBURN, Daily-Download.com: Well, I think the president is accomplishing reaching around the press corps to actually talk to voters and voters who may not answer or ask questions that the regular press would.

    HOWARD KURTZ, Newsweek/CNN: Like any technology, it might start out with me chatting with you, but companies and politicians now are trying to harness this because it plugs them into a demographic that may not watch a lot of television, that may not read newspapers, for example, but relishes the chance, even though relatively few people get that chance, to ask a question directly to the president of the United States.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: And you have to understand that this has only been around for 18 months. And the first time that the president did this, he received 135,000 questions. So that would mean that it was a popular way of reaching out. It was something that was really welcomed.

    HOWARD KURTZ: This time, only thousands of questions, according to Google, which won't provide the exact figure. But you get a bounce from that because people can see it later on all kinds much Web sites and perhaps even in television coverage.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Sure.

    And so that's -- more than 7,500 questions came through this Google Hangout. And they got votes from more than 100,000 people -- or nearly 100,000. So, what are the types of things that people are asking in these hangouts?

    HOWARD KURTZ: You know, most of the questions what are what we journalists would call softball, like, why don't you make computer research a required course in college and that sort of thing.

    But every once in a while, somebody will ask a question that a journalist wouldn't ask and can ask it in a much more pointed and opinionated way than a reporter normally would.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: OK. Well, let's take a listen to a clip that we have from the president's Hangout.

    KIRA DAVIS, Video Blogger: I do remember clearly in 2008, you ran on a platform of really trying to become one of the most transparent administrations in American history.

    However, with recent leaked guidelines regarding drone strikes on American citizens, and Benghazi, and closed-door hearings on the budget and deficit, it just feels a lot less transparent than I think we had all hoped it would be. How has the reality of the presidency changed that promise? And what can we do moving forward to kind of get back to that promise?

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, actually, on a whole bunch of fronts, we have kept that promise. This is the most transparent administration in history.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, they do Google Hangouts. We know that.

    So, tell us about a little bit about this woman who asked this question. What was she trying to get at there?

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, I think she's a video blogger and is trying to find out from the president why she doesn't know everything there is to know about our drone program. And this was her way of trying to pin him down.

    HOWARD KURTZ: Now, you know, a White House official tells me of these Google chats or Facebook town halls or Twitter town halls which Obama has also -- President Obama has also participated in, that they are not an attempt to go around the mainstream press.

    But certainly it is a way to circumvent the press room and to speak directly to voters like that. But she couldn't follow up. She didn't have all the details that a reporter would have. But she pinned him down.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: She did, but -- but, as other reporters have said, reporters do this on a daily basis.

    They know the ins and outs of the White House. They know the ins and outs of policy and can ask more nuanced questions. And I think that while her question was pointed, he was able to circumvent it.

    HOWARD KURTZ: Because there weren't enough specifics in there in the way that a reporter may have framed the very same topic.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Exactly.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Sure.

    Well, in a couple other examples, we see how these can make news. Vice President Biden, he did actually a Google Hangout with our own Hari Sreenivasan on the gun issue, but recently did a Facebook chat. And he had a kind of interesting reaction to some of the questions there.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: He thought that they weren't supposed to be coming from a parents magazine-sponsored chat.

    HOWARD KURTZ: The vice president, I think it's fair to say, bristled at the pointed nature of questions from people who believe in what they would call gun rights.

    And it led to a long, animated, rather aggressive response from Vice President Biden in which he said that, you know, you don't need assault weapons. As I told my wife, Jill, just go get a shotgun. A couple of blasts from that, and you will scare anybody off.

    Now, that was replayed on television everywhere because the vice president was so vociferous about it.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: So, while this Facebook chat or this Google hangout may not have the millions and millions of viewers that traditional television might have on the State of the Union night, it does act as a megaphone, because then it drives the conversation for every blogger, for every correspondent, for every website out there.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes.

    Well, and looking at this, you know, FDR was sort of the example of these radio chats. His first one got 35 million. As many as 54 million heard the height of them. Now, how many people are actually watching after the fact when it's clipped on YouTube? The White House is using this to spread their own message?

    HOWARD KURTZ: It's hard to measure. But, clearly, it is a fraction of what Franklin Roosevelt could reach with using the mass medium of the day.

    This is not mass media. If Obama wants to reach -- if President Obama wants to reach the most Americans that he can, he will go on television and use that bully pulpit. This is narrow-casting to people who might not ordinarily be viewers of the evening news and a way to communicate directly with folks without having to go through the press.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: When I give speeches about social media, the one thing that I say is that this is a way to reach an audience, to reach other people that you wouldn't normally reach.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, we will leave it there. Thank you very much.

    We'd like your thoughts on the evolution of White House communication. Did you watch the Google Hangout? What would you ask the president if you had a chance? Weigh in at NewsHour.PBS.org. 


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    Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop died on Monday at the age of 96. Photo by AFP/Getty.

    On Monday afternoon, Dr. Charles Everett Koop, the former surgeon general who delivered straightforward talks on AIDS and smoking, passed away in his home in Hanover, N.H. He was 96 years old.

    The NewsHour interviewed Koop in 1989 on the anniversary of the first surgeon general's report on smoking. You can view that video here:

    Watch Video

    Koop was a pediatric surgeon by training, first serving as surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia from 1946 to 1981, when he was appointed surgeon general by President Ronald Reagan. His signature Amish-style beard, bow ties and braided white uniform made him an instantly recognizable figure. He is credited for using the office as a bully pulpit to enforce action on public health issues.

    In the mid-80s when the AIDS epidemic was gaining national attention, he released a report in 1986 informing the public that the virus could not be transferred through casual contact, but through sex, sharing needles or contact with contaminated blood.

    An evangelical Christian with a conservative track record, he shocked right-wing supporters when he publicly endorsed the use of condoms and sex education to slow the spread of AIDS. He mailed a pamphlet with information on AIDS to 100 million homes in 1988, and encouraged sex education for children as young as the third grade.

    A former pipe-smoker, Koop also took a firm anti-smoking stance, launching public anti-smoking campaigns. In a 1986 report, he stated that nicotine was as addictive as heroin or cocaine, and warned against the dangers of secondhand smoke.

    While he was personally opposed to abortion, Koop angered pro-life supporters during his tenure by declining to issue a report saying that abortion caused long term health risks for women when performed properly.

    Even after leaving office in 1989, Koop continued to advocate for better health care practices, such as preventing children's accidents and improving education for doctors.

    "I will use the written word, the spoken word and whatever I can in the electronic media to deliver health messages to this country as long as people will listen," he said.

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    Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to fraud last week. The special primary to fill his congressional seat is scheduled for Feb. 26th. Photo by Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call, taken June 2012.

    Illinois' 2nd congressional district has seen a lot of action over the last few weeks. Jesse Jackson Jr., who served as the Chicago district's Democratic congressman since 1995, pleaded guilty to fraud last Wednesday after resigning from Congress last November.

    On Tuesday, voters will head to the polls to choose his likely replacement. The district is heavily Democratic, so Tuesday's primary is just the precursor to April's general election.

    Three frontrunners have emerged from a packed candidate field: Democrats Robin Kelly, a former state representative; Debbie Halvorson, a former Congresswoman for Illinois' 11th district; and Anthony Beale, an alderman.

    Despite expectations of low voter turnout, the race has garnered national attention -- most notably because of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's involvement in the contest. His political action committee, Independence USA, has invested upwards of $2 million to oppose candidates with favorable ratings from the NRA.

    We spoke with Paris Schutz, a political correspondent for PBS' WTTW's Chicago Tonight, about the primary's frontrunners, the campaigns' focus on gun violence and the influence of outside money on the race.

    Here is that conversation:

    For more political coverage, visit NewsHour's politics page.

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