Articles on this Page
- 03/06/13--03:58: _House Moves Up Vote...
- 03/06/13--06:38: _Consuming Our Way t...
- 03/06/13--09:00: _The Daily Frame
- 03/06/13--09:17: _Protecting the Sola...
- 03/06/13--09:48: _Iraq Reconstruction...
- 03/06/13--10:15: _The Nonsense of Aus...
- 03/06/13--13:02: _House Passes Spendi...
- 03/06/13--13:05: _News Wrap: Mid-Atla...
- 03/06/13--13:11: _Around the Nation
- 03/06/13--13:12: _Iraq Reconstruction...
- 03/06/13--13:15: _Report Finds U.S. F...
- 03/06/13--13:24: _Venezuelans Say Goo...
- 03/06/13--13:29: _New Polls Reflect C...
- 03/06/13--13:38: _Colorado Communitie...
- 03/06/13--13:45: _Acid Attack on Bols...
- 03/07/13--13:02: _After Almost 13-Hou...
- 03/07/13--13:12: _News Wrap: U.S. Cap...
- 03/07/13--13:15: _Pelosi: For Budget ...
- 03/07/13--13:28: _As UN Levels New Sa...
- 03/07/13--13:30: _Pelosi Hoping for '...
- 03/06/13--03:58: House Moves Up Vote on Spending Bill as Snowstorm Bears Down on DC
- 03/06/13--06:38: Consuming Our Way to Prosperity is Macro Folly
- 03/06/13--09:00: The Daily Frame
- 03/06/13--09:17: Protecting the Solar System... From Us
- 03/06/13--09:48: Iraq Reconstruction: Read the Full Report and Lessons Learned
- 03/06/13--10:15: The Nonsense of Austerity
- 03/06/13--13:02: House Passes Spending Bill, Preventing Government Shutdown
- 03/06/13--13:05: News Wrap: Mid-Atlantic Hit With Late Winter Storm
- 03/06/13--13:11: Around the Nation
- 03/06/13--13:12: Iraq Reconstruction Effort Fraught With 'Fraud, Waste and Abuse'
- 03/06/13--13:15: Report Finds U.S. Failed to Consult Iraq's Needs in Rebuilding
- 03/06/13--13:24: Venezuelans Say Goodbye to Hugo Chavez
- 03/06/13--13:38: Colorado Communities Grapple With How to Address Gun Violence
- 03/06/13--13:45: Acid Attack on Bolshoi Artistic Director Rocks Ballet World
- 03/07/13--13:12: News Wrap: U.S. Captures Bin Laden Spokesman to Face Terror Charges
- 03/07/13--13:30: Pelosi Hoping for 'Boldest Common Denominator' on Gun Control
House Speaker John Boehner answers reporters' questions after the weekly House Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol Tuesday. With the budget sequester now in effect, Boehner and his party in the House are now focused on fighting against new taxes and rolling back the federal budget. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
"Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today," Thomas Jefferson once wrote.
House Republicans will heed that 202-year-old bit of advice from the founding father and hold a vote Wednesday afternoon on their stopgap measure to keep the federal government funded past March 27. The legislation, which seeks to remove the prospect of a potentially calamitous government shutdown, locks in post-sequester spending levels, but includes protections for defense and veterans programs.
GOP leaders originally scheduled the vote for Thursday, but moved it up a day over concerns about the snowstorm that was expected to hit the Washington area on Wednesday.
House Speaker John Boehner expressed confidence Tuesday that the bill would pass.
"Spending is the problem here in Washington, and our goal is to cut spending -- not to shut the government down," Boehner told reporters. "The president agreed last week that that should be our goal and I'm hopeful that this continuing resolution will find easy passage both in the House and the Senate."
House Democratic leaders signaled Tuesday that they would not launch a full-scale effort against the measure. "We're not whipping at this point in time," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters. "We don't want to shut down the government."
The Obama administration, meanwhile, issued a statement that said it was "deeply concerned" about the impact of the GOP legislation, which funds the government for just six months, but did not threaten a presidential veto. It cited concerns about effects to consumer protections and health care services.
"The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to refine the legislation to address these concerns," the statement said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said his chamber would attempt to move it's own plan to fund the government next week. Reid added that he was "cautiously optimistic" about reaching a compromise in the coming weeks, but indicated Democrats would want to have a say in the composition of the continuing resolution, or CR. "I'm anxious to see what the House is going to pass with the CR. We have a pretty good idea now, but we'll wait and see what the final product is," Reid said.
"We believe, that this being a bicameral legislature, that we also have a right to have some appropriation bills and that we also have the right to have some anomalies. That's what we're going to be focusing on," Reid added.
Which means, as is the case with most battles on Capitol Hill, the devil is in the details. With the consequences of failing to reach an agreement on funding the government far more immediate and wide-ranging than with the sequester, there will be added pressure on lawmakers to figure out a way to meet their next deadline.
On PBS NewsHour Tuesday, Ray Suarez talked Todd Zwillich of PRI's "The Takeaway" about the continuing resolution and what's next in the process.
Zwillich said he's watching to see how many in the GOP's rank-and-file join their leader to vote for this plan, or if it's another measure that passes without a majority of the majority's support: "There likely won't be a majority of Republicans to prevent a government shutdown. John Boehner will have to rely on Nancy Pelosi to provide the votes." (Roll Call reports Wednesday that Boehner privately told his caucus he won't let this trend keep up. "[It's] not a practice that I would expect to continue long term," the speaker told reporters after meeting with members.)
Watch the segment here or below:Watch Video
A CONSERVATIVE'S VISION
Judy Woodruff interviewed Virginia's Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli about his book, "The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty." The gubernatorial candidate outlined his philosophy for governing, including why he thinks the founding fathers got some things wrong. They discussed health care reform and his take on global warming.
On politics, Cuccinelli said he is in the "mainstream."
Asked about Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's possible entry into the race as an "independent Republican," Cucinelli closed on a note of compromise. "We have a lot to appeal to everyone with, and I have not met a human being yet that I don't agree with on some things," he said.
Watch the conversation here or below:Watch Video
And watch the online portion of the conversation here or below:
The Washington Post examines the politics behind Jeb Bush's immigration backtrack and also found that Republican senators pushing for a comprehensive bill with a pathway to citizenship say they are not deterred.
The Hill looks at a new pro-immigration reform super PAC that could target opponents of a comprehensive plan.
A new ABC/Washington Post poll finds strong overall public support for the budgetary cuts of the kind delivered by Friday's sequester, but strong opposition, by nearly the same 2-1 margin, to the 8 percent across-the-board reduction in military spending.
John Brennan's nomination to lead the CIA cleared the Senate Intelligence Committee by a 12-3 vote Tuesday. The full Senate will hold a vote likely on Thursday.
Sounds like Budget Chairman Paul Ryan is re-thinking proposing changes to the Medicare eligibility age.
White House tours are the latest victims of the sequester.
Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., praised Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez upon his death Tuesday.
Disgraced ex-Rep. Bob Ney goes after Boehner in a new book, The Hill reports.
After the fizzling of the story about Sen. Bob Menendez and prostitutes, The Washington Post profiles the Daily Caller's "put-up-your-dukes attitude" that made it a "rising star among the new Washington media, particularly the conservative kind."
Politico's Dylan Byers tracks the complicated ins and outs of the story.
The Democratic National Committee tweaks House Republicans on the sequester.
Ahead of South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson's expected retirement announcement later this month, Republicans are pouncing on the possibility that his son, Attorney General Brendan Johnson, will jump in the race, throwing charges of nepotism. Democrats, however, aren't yet sure Johnson's lack of a voting record makes him the stronger candidate over former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who faces her own charges of nepotism.
The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer bites into the lunchroom that is Capitol Hill, writing of an encounter with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Dirksen cafeteria's international station, "but a reporter who runs into him is not fooled into thinking that he will be inclined to make small talk; he will almost certainly regard her as a raccoon he just discovered in the attic, and glance around for someone to dispose of her."
PolitiFact checks Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' comments during the Voting Rights Act arguments that compared Mississippi and Massachusetts voter turnout.
What could be better than following They Might Be Giants' John Linnell around on an eating tour of New York?
Going to South by Southwest? Check out all the cool things PBS is doing at the annual interactive festival in Austin. And don't miss Christina's Monday panel about partisan media.
Jenny Marder and Rebecca Jacobson look at how sequestration affects science for the latest Lunch in the Lab.
We looked at an all-time high for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
#Vatican spokesman says that no date has been set yet for the conclave.— Rachel Donadio -- NYT (@RachelDonadio) March 6, 2013
If you haven't tweeted a pic of the lack of snow outside your window, don't worry, you still have time.— FamousDC (@FamousDC) March 6, 2013
White House cancels daily press briefing due to #snowquester— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) March 6, 2013
The whole nation is braced for an arctic blast of piss poor, unwanted news coverage of light to moderate snowfall in Washington, DC— Steve Mort (@mobilemort) March 5, 2013
Seques-tour is a pun I can support. Snowquester - still terrible.— Brendan Buck (@Brendan_Buck) March 5, 2013
Twitter's fun once people leave the White House twitter.com/stefanjbecket/...— Stefan Becket (@stefanjbecket) March 5, 2013
Katelyn Polantz and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.
Follow the politics team on Twitter:Follow @burlijiFollow @kpolantzFollow @elizsummersFollow @indiefilmfanFollow @tiffanymullonFollow @dePeystahFollow @meenaganesan
By John Papola
Produced by Emergent Order for Econstories.tv, a place to learn about the economic way of thinking through the eyes of creative director John Papola and creative economist Russ Roberts.
A Note from Paul Solman: We first encountered John Papola via "Fear the Boom and Bust," his stunning Keynes vs. Hayek rap, made in collaboration with old friend Russ Roberts. The rap lyrics are extremely even-handed debating the merits of Friedrich Hayek vs. John Maynard Keynes. While the Hayek character may be the less attractive of the two rappers, the video climaxes with Keynes' head in the toilet, a victim of overindulgence.
The image of Keynes vomiting befits the libertarian bent of Papola, who believes the key to economic growth is savings and investment not "consumption." I asked him to elaborate in print, if only for an excuse to link back to "Macro Follies," and then elicit a response from economic historian James Livingston.
John Papola: The American people are repeatedly told by financial pundits and politicians that consumption is an "engine" that "drives" economic growth, because it makes up 70 percent of GDP. This past December, my team and I produced a new EconStories video, "Deck the Halls with Macro Follies," which took aim at this very old, yet common, economic fallacy.
Read Keynesian economist James Livingston's response to Papola's argument.Our video appeared in a holiday Making Sense segment as a counterpoint to a recent book by James Livingston, "Against Thrift," a text which attacks private savings and investment and celebrates consumption. Mr. Livingston's book, as well as recent commentaries by Paul Krugman and other Keynesian economists demonstrate that after two centuries the debate over what grows the economy is still far from settled social "science." Though Mr. Livingston makes a stronger claim than some about the allegedly stimulative powers of consumption, his view is thoroughly within the mainstream economic narrative.
It's of course true, self-evident even, that the goal of economic activity for each of us is to live a better life. This often, though not always, means consuming more goods and services from holiday gifts to houses to healthcare. But consumption is our goal, not the means to achieve it. Confusing our ends with the means has trapped popular economic discourse in a veritable dark age.
The systematic failure by Keynesian economists and like-minded pundits to distinguish between consuming and producing value remains the single most damaging fallacy in popular economic thinking.
This doctrine of underconsumptionism is wrong for a number of reasons:
The historical record on economic growth and recession is marked by a clear pattern of investment-led booms and busts, rather than changes in consumption. Investment leads, consumption follows.
The design of GDP statistics has a Keynesian bias that creates a misleading picture of what composes our economy, where value is actually added and thus what activity actually creates real income and enables our consumption.
By the very nature of consumption, it is logically impossible, absurd even, to consume our way to plenty.
A History of Macro Follies
Here is the how the historical record on economic growth conflicts with this consumption doctrine. Economic growth (booms) and declines (busts) have always been lead by changes in business and durable goods investment, while final consumer goods spending has been relatively stable through the business cycle.
Booms and busts in financial markets, heavy industry and housing have always been leading indicators of recession and recovery. The dot-com boom and bust, the Great Depression and our current crisis all exhibit the pattern.
For example, during our [past two decades of booms and busts] (http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=ePm), investment collapsed first, bringing employment down with it. Consumption spending actually increased throughout the 2001 recession -- financed, in part, by artificially easy credit -- even as employment was falling along with investment.
During our continuing crisis, consumption spending returned to its all-time high in 2011, yet investment to this day remains at decade lows, producing the worst recovery in growth and employment since the Great Depression. Labor force participation hasn't been this low since the 1980s. But why?
As John Stuart Mill put it two centuries ago, "the demand for commodities is not the demand for labor." Consumer demand does not necessarily translate into increased employment. That's because "consumers" don't employ people. Businesses do.
Since new hires are a risky and costly investment with unknown future returns, employers must rely on their expectations about the future and weigh those decisions very carefully. Economic historian Robert Higgs' pioneering work on the Great Depression suggests that increased uncertainty can depress job growth even in the face of booming consumption. Consumer demand that appears to be driven by temporary or unsustainable policies is unlikely to induce businesses to hire.
Increased investment drives economic growth, while retrenched investment leads to recession and reduced employment -- and it always has. John Maynard Keynes, like most business cycle theorists before him and since, paid particular attention to this boom and bust in investment, blaming volatility on the "animal spirits" of businessmen. This observation about the importance of "confidence" is surely true, if somewhat obvious.
Unfortunately, Keynes and his successors focus on aggregate levels of spending and often explicitly disregard the details of how money is spent and resources are employed. This lead him and the profession down a dark road to the defunct underconsumptionist ideas of the early 1800s which haunt us to this day. Keynes repeatedly asserts throughout his famous tome, "The General Theory," that even wasteful expenditures could increase the wealth of society.
Is it any wonder that so many of our policies are focused on consuming and sometimes even destroying wealth rather than creating it?
Those who blame our stagnation on a lack of consumer demand rely on a dangerous brew of dubious data and discredited doctrines. The past several decades in America have been marked by a collapse of real savings encouraged by artificially easy credit from the Fed, along with explosive growth in government spending. All these combined to bring about a debt-fueled spending binge, with disastrous consequences. If ever there was an experiment in trying to consume our way to prosperity it was the first decade of the 21st century, and the results speak for themselves.
Before I Can Consume, I Must Produce for Others
By definition, the gross domestic product (GDP) is a summary of final sales for new goods and services and not of all economic activity. Raw materials, intermediate goods and labor costs, which comprise the bulk of business spending are not treated in GDP, but are rather rolled up in the final sale price of the "consumer" spending. Only capital equipment, net inventory changes and purchase of newly constructed homes constitute "investment" according to GDP. This framing of the data makes the "consumption drives the economy" a foregone conclusion. But this is circular reasoning.
Where do so-called "consumers" get their money to spend? Before we can consume, we need to produce and earn a paycheck. And paychecks have to flow to productive -- that is value-creating -- behavior, or value is simply being transferred and destroyed. Our various demands as consumers are enabled by our supply as workers and producers for others. That's the classical "Law of Markets", often referred to as Say's Law, in a nutshell.
For employees, those paychecks are income, but for the employers, wages represent most business' single largest expense. Yet GDP does not treat employee wages or materials as "investment spending," even though any business owner regards salaries as the most important and largest investment that they make. Instead, employee wages appear in GDP data as consumption when income is spent on final goods like food, clothing, gadgets, and vacations.
Moreover, since GDP is an accounting summary, it adds consumption and investment spending together. But this masks the fact that these two activities are actually in opposition in the short run. In order to invest more today, we have to save more and consume less. As a result, GDP by itself reveals nothing about what grows an economy. At best, it demonstrates how large the economy is and whether it's growing or shrinking of time.
Digging below the surface of GDP reveals a structure of value-adding production far more complex than the simplistic analysis given by most media reports. According to government income data, more than 70 percent of Americans earn their incomes from employment in domestic business. Yet the retail sector of our economy, for example, only contributed 6 percent of GDP.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on employment show that only about 11 percent of employed Americans work in "sales and related occupations". That leaves a great deal of economic activity and employment to the "business to business" sector, which composes most of the real economy.
Most of the value-adding activities occur between a vast structure of businesses and workers starting with raw materials and blueprints and come together over months (sometimes years when R&D is included) before a final sale can be made. At each stage, the activity is funded not by current "consumer spending" but through a combination of new investment and savings such as each company's reinvested earnings.
The farther from a final good a business's output is, the more it relies on credit markets and the more it is subject to distortions on the savings and investment side. And since employment is spread across this time structure with relatively few working in final retail stage, savings and investment changes have dramatic impacts on employment. It is this relationship between the time structure of production, employment and interest rates which forms the basis of Hayek's theory of the business cycle.
My wife Lisa and I have personal experience with dynamics that the top-down Keynesian point-of-view ignores. Several years ago, we launched a side-business designing, manufacturing and selling reusable cloth diapers to moms interested in saving money and cutting down on trash. We called them "wee-huggers."
To start the business, we got a small capital contribution from my brother-in-law in exchange for equity in the company. These savings were put to use buying the raw materials, designing the diaper prints, hiring sets of skilled people both to sew the diapers and to build the website. Designing, testing and producing the product and website took over a year.
Almost none of that activity was included in GDP for that year, except through the "consumer spending" of people we paid. Throughout this stage, no "product" existed for others to demand or for us to sell and generate income. The time Lisa and I spent building the company was also a very real form of investment itself. This so-called "sweat equity" is just as much of an investment as a financial contribution.
When we finally began selling our product to customers, the income generated was barely enough to cover the real costs. We reinvested all of it into new inventory for the business, keeping nothing for ourselves in the hopes of improving our approach. Consumption didn't create our output. Investment did. After an additional year of persistent reinvestment, we realized that we would need even more investment to make the business viable.
Our costs were too high per diaper and our local production capacity was too low and unproductive to keep up with demand. Moms loved wee-huggers and we struggled to keep the product in stock. Yet we felt the competition didn't permit us to raise our prices.
The only way to make the business grow would have been to secure enough capital to invest in a major manufacturing facility with higher productivity equipment and division of labor. We chose instead to focus on a business where both of us, as MTV Networks creatives, believed we could add more value: our new media company, Emergent Order.
Mr. Livingston derides small businesses in his interview because, despite accounting for the majority of employment, most tend to close within 18 to 24 months, as ours did. But it is through this dynamic market process, painful as it was for us and many others, that we discover the most valuable ways to serve one another.
And while particular businesses fail, the ongoing dominance of small business as employers for most Americans demonstrates a clear history that new firms come to take the place of old ones. Livingston's criticism is thus a one-sided coin.
Don't Put the Shopping Cart Before the Horse
There is a fundamental illogic to the notion that an economy can be grown by encouraging consumption. When a person consumes, by definition, they use things up. The very process leaves us with less than before. Growing the availability of valuable goods and services for society by using them up is not just an impossibility -- it's truly an absurdity.
If each and every one of us stopped producing for others and all solely acted as "consumers" with our proceeds, it's pretty easy to see how quickly we would run out of everything. In no time our shelves would be as bare and our people as poor as the citizens of the former Soviet Union depicted in the holiday PBS NewsHour story.
Referring to people as "consumers" is itself a misnomer. Though economists teach their students about "supply" and "demand" as distinct activities, this depiction is just a useful fiction for helping to organize one's thoughts. It's a "model," not reality.
Economic activity is exchange. We produce so that we may exchange with other producers. The reciprocal exchange relationship was much easier to see in a barter economy. The farmer trades his wheat in exchange for candles from the candlestick maker.
John Stuart Mill wrote, commodities are ultimately bought with other commodities. Though we featured French economist Jean Baptiste Say in our video, for his name is most often associated with the ideas we're exploring, Mill was in fact a far clearer enunciator of this law of markets -- that our demand for goods and services is enabled by our supply to others. Put another way, to engage in trade, you must bring something to the market.
This essential law of markets remains just as true in our modern, monetary economy though it is harder to see and understand because nearly all of us work in exchange for money first, and then use that money as a "medium of exchange" to trade our work for other things.
Good macroeconomics should be focused on this coordination among value-adding producers and be on the lookout for financial disruptions and mismatches between the supply and demand for their medium of exchange: money itself. This has been the classical focus of macroeconomics from David Hume and John Stuart Mill through Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
For most of human history, ordinary people had to spend their lives growing food. Today, we have many billions more people on the planet. And yet food is cheaper, better and of greater variety than ever before. Still, almost nobody works in agriculture. We didn't create this wealthy, amazing world by eating. We did it by saving our seed corn, investing and ultimately inventing our way out of farming jobs. Thank heavens we did.
There are important lessons for public policy that come from these classical insights. Any program which accelerates the consumption of value, or worse, the destruction of value, ultimately make our society poorer. Despite what Keynes and his modern followers claim, wars, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, faked alien invasions or programs that encourage us to destroy our used cars -- all make us poorer. These schemes reduce the amount of valuable goods and services available for society.
Some may consider unemployment benefits to be a necessary policy on humanitarian grounds, but they by no means "stimulate" the economy. The recipient, after all, is consuming without producing any value for others. Disincentives for people to be productive, which have exploded in recent years, not only reduce employment, but reduce output and growth as well. This last point used to be widely believed by economists, including the immensely popular and polarizing economist, Paul Krugman, whose own 2009 textbook blamed extended unemployment benefits as one of the main reasons for decades of European stagnation and high "structural" unemployment. Now, I fear that a decade of Keynesian macro follies has brought Euro-sclerosis to America.
Savings and investment are the true engines of economic growth. When successful, they increase the total amount of valuable goods and services for people to enjoy. They build a better mousetrap and allow us to do more with less. A growing economy is a growing supply of goods and services being exchanged between productive people.
To paraphrase monetary economist Scott Sumner, there are only two ideas students of macroeconomics should be taught: Say's Law of markets and monetary equilibrium theory. The rest of Keynesianism with its focus on real spending, government deficits and encouragement of unproductive consumption can and should be discarded.
Mr. Livingston and I clearly both share a love of commerce and commercial culture. It is a beautiful thing to provide service to others. Honest free enterprise is an amazing and moral system precisely because it requires that we must give before we can receive.
We must produce before we can consume. If we want sound and sustainable economic growth, each of us has to discover the most valuable ways to serve others and contribute to the supply of wealth before we can take from it.
Video: Keynes vs. Hayek, Round One
Video: Keynes vs. Hayek, Round Two
Video: Macro Follies
Click to enlarge.
Alison McWhinney prepares at the side of the stage before the English National Ballet's Emerging Dance Competition in London. Photo by Ian Gavan/ Getty Images.
Technicians and engineers test the robotic arm on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sept. 3, 2010 inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Photo by NASA.
Imagine this crazy scenario: A space vehicle we've sent to a distant planet to search for life touches down in an icy area. The heat from the spacecraft's internal power system warms the ice, and water forms below the landing gear of the craft. And on the landing gear is something found on every surface on planet Earth... bacteria. Lots of them. Specifically spore-forming bacteria which can survive extremely harsh conditions, for years. If those spore-forming bacteria found themselves in a moist environment with a temperature range they could tolerate, they might just make themselves at home and thrive and then, well... the extraterrestrial life that we'd been searching for might just turn out to be Earth life we introduced.
This scenario is actually something NASA takes seriously. VERY seriously. During a recent trip to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for a story NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels and I were shooting on the Mars Curiosity Mission, I overheard a scientist talking about the Planetary Protection program for Mars. Huh? It had never occurred to me that the celestial bodies in our solar system might need protecting from an earthly invasion. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?Watch Video
NewsHour's Spencer Michels reported last month on the latest from NASA's Curiosity rover and its mission to Mars.
It turns out that the scientific community has been worried about "contaminating" solar system bodies -- planets, moons, comets, and asteroids -- with Earth life for a long time. In 1967, the U.S. signed the United Nations "Outer Space Treaty" which stated that all countries party to the treaty, "shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination."
Today NASA has an Office of Planetary Protection, and with each new space mission, hundreds of scientists and engineers are responsible for ensuring the spacecraft we're sending into outer space are biologically "clean." One of the key scientists making sure we don't spread Earth life to Mars is Dr. Karen Buxbaum, a planetary protection officer for JPL's Mars Program.
"We have to make sure with each successive mission we send to learn more, we don't inadvertently contaminate the place with Earth life, which would confuse our experiments," said Buxbaum.
She explained the painstaking procedures that NASA implemented to ensure the Mars Science Laboratory -- aka Curiosity -- wasn't carrying an unacceptable amount of spore-forming bacteria when it lifted off on November 26, 2011.
"When we land any spacecraft on Mars, we have certain cleanliness standards that are well-defined and methods for achieving those standards," Buxbaum said.
In the case of Curiosity, it was determined that the entire flight system could launch with no more than 500,000 bacterial spores on board. That may seem like a lot, but NASA says that's about one-tenth the number of spores found in a teaspoon of seawater.
How do you clean one of the most scientifically advanced pieces of research equipment ever sent into space? Very carefully. The process begins in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at JPL which is a giant "clean room" where Curiosity and other rovers have been built by NASA engineers and technicians. The facility has a sophisticated airflow system which keeps particles in the air very low, and the tools and large equipment in the room are kept sterile.
"All the people who go into the room wear bunny suits," Buxbaum said. "Their boots are taped, they have masks over their faces, and they wear eye glasses." There's even a special type of paper used in the room that doesn't shed lint.
Much of the hardware used for Curiosity was built in other facilities around the country, and Buxbaum said that stringent cleaning protocols were in place at those locations as well. When shipments of equipment arrived at JPL, they were tested for live microorganisms and then wiped down before entering the clean room.
Throughout the assembly process, NASA technicians used both heat and alcohol to keep Curiosity's hardware as spore-free as possible. Pieces of equipment that could tolerate high heat were subjected to temperatures of 230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 144 hours. And surfaces were wiped down with alcohol and tested regularly.
Special care was given to surfaces that would come in contact with the Martian surface, and possibly break apart on impact, Buxbaum said. For example, the internal surfaces of the sky crane, which lowered the rover to the surface of Mars, and the heat shield had to be cleaned.
"The parachute was huge," Buxbaum said. "The entire parachute was subjected to the standard heat protocol. It would have had a lot of microbes on it."
All of the hard work apparently paid off. According to NASA's website: "The team found Mars Science Laboratory to be extremely clean: the final bioassays found a total of 278,000 spores on the entire flight system, with 56,400 on the surface of rover hardware."
Even with all the precautions taken, if evidence of life did emerge on Mars, scientists would want to do rigorous testing to ensure it wasn't a "false positive" discovery. According to Buxbaum, "It could be very difficult to distinguish between Earth life and Mars life, depending on how the observations were made. Biomolecules, such as the DNA that exists in Earth life, have very distinctive characteristics, or 'fingerprints.' If DNA were detected in Mars samples and the DNA were found to have identical sequences to Earth organisms, microbiologists would most likely conclude that the DNA was from our spacecraft. However, if DNA or something like it were detected and found to be very different from that of known Earth organisms, then things would get pretty exciting indeed."
The concept of planetary protection isn't just something NASA is concerned about for Mars and other planets we may visit in the future. It's also something the agency is increasingly focused on as it starts to make plans to bring samples from those places back to Earth.
"We have to be humble about the kinds of things that could happen, but draw from our experiences with ecosystems and biology on Earth," Buxbaum said. "We've learned the kinds of things that can have unintended consequences in biological systems. You don't want something to come back that could infect human beings. We don't want the unintended consequence of bringing back an invasive life form that finds a habitat on earth that is conducive to its life. Even though it is unlikely, we need to look at samples before we bring them back."
Whether life does, or did exist on Mars is the subject of much speculation these days as Curiosity explores, drills, and analyzes Martian rocks. And NASA recently announced it will be sending another rover to Mars in 2020. Whether that mission will have the capabilities to bring samples back to Earth is not yet known, but rest assured, Dr. Buxbaum and her colleagues at NASA are already thinking about planetary protection procedures for us.
Photo credit: In a clean room at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Mars Science Laboratory personnel sample the inboard side of the spacecraft's heat shield to confirm its cleanliness before final assembly for launch. Photo by NASA.
Officers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspect the U.S.-funded wastewater treatment plant in Fallujah, Iraq, on July 23, 2010. Photo by Scott Peterson/ Getty Images.
Click on photo to view the inspector general report.
Click on photo to view the inspector general report.The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction wrapped up a review of nine years and $60 billion's worth of rebuilding projects in Iraq and issued a report Wednesday that found at least $8 billion was "wasted."
The nine-year rebuilding program in Iraq was the second largest -- after Afghanistan -- ever undertaken by the United States.
The Development Fund for Iraq set up to disburse the funds was poorly controlled and subject to "fraud, waste and abuse" a review in 2005 found, the report said. Part of the problem was the Defense Department handled the contracts and the State Department managed the rebuilding policy, leading to "different masters with different agendas" and project disarray.
A new Provincial Reconstruction Team program started and took off in 2006, but the following year, heightened Sunni-Shiite violence upended oil and electricity programs and redirected attention to security and battling extremists.
The inspections continued and the team developed a program with the Justice Department in 2009 to pursue and prosecute cases of fraud, before heading into a period of transition in ensuing years.
The report lists seven lessons learned from Iraq: create a civilian-military office for rebuilding activities; start rebuilding only after having sufficient security; ensure full participation and cost-sharing with the host country; establish uniform contracting and personnel rules for all projects; require oversight of all projects from the beginning; refine the programs that did work in Iraq; and plan ahead with back-up plans at the ready.
Senior correspondent Judy Woodruff interviews Inspector General Stuart Bowen on Wednesday's PBS NewsHour. View more of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter:
By James Livingston
John Maynard Keynes, pictured above in 1942, overturned the ideas of neoclassical economics, advocating that fiscal and economic policy should be used to curb the adverse effects of economic recessions. Photo by Tim Gidal/Picture Post/Getty Images.
A note from Paul Solman: James Livingston first made a splash on PBS NewsHour when he provocatively argued that spending, or consumption, was both an economic and moral good. He believes that we should redirect our national obsession with saving and investing towards more consumption.
In an earlier Making Sense post, the libertarian-leaning John Papola took on Keynesian economists, like Livingston, who -- as Papola would put it -- have fallen for a consumptionist model of economic growth. Papola argued that Americans have to stop thinking of themselves as consumers only and start thinking as producers as well. Here is Livingston's response.
James Livingston: Arguing with John Papola reminds me of arguing with old-line, hard-boiled Marxists, a habit I gave up in 1994. I would cite historical evidence that made the labor theory of value moot -- it was useful in its time, I would say, but no longer. They would cite Marx, as if the invocation of his name settled the issue. It didn't matter that Marx himself said that this very theory would have to stop making sense at a certain point in the development of capitalism.
It's deja vu all over again in the case at hand. I cite historical evidence, and Mr. Papola invokes Jean-Baptiste Say or John Stuart Mill. I say let's see how the Great Depression and the Great Recession compare as historical events, and Mr. Papola exclaims, on theoretical grounds, that saving and investment must drive growth, regardless of massive evidence to the contrary. How do you argue with that kind of faith?
I responded a month ago to the first iteration of Mr. Papola's "libertarian" ideas about how economic growth happens. Since then he has revised several times, smoothing out the more jagged edges of the argument by covering his tracks. I am now responding to the fourth or fifth iteration. But nothing has changed in his argument except the subtraction of empirical detail.
Nothing can change, because Mr. Papola believes so fervently in Say's "classical law of markets" that no amount of empirical evidence will convince him that, like the labor theory of value, it needs reconsideration in light of new historical circumstances: he cites it three times as a self-evident proposition in eight pages of urgent prose. It is a proposition similar to that found in George Gilder's "Wealth and Poverty," a treatise for supply-side, tax-cutting, trickle-down "Reaganomics."
Say's Law becomes an incantation, not a hypothesis to be tested by the available evidence, not something that might have stopped making sense. It becomes a purely ceremonial pronouncement, a categorical imperative with no actual purchase on the world as it exists -- that is, as it can be measured and observed.
Say's Law is No Law at All
Not counting supply-side economics -- its current incarnation -- Say's Law has led two long lives since the early 19th century. It was supposed to explain the distribution of income between savings and consumption by reference to interest rates.
If there was temporary overproduction, profits would drop, the need for new capital would drop too, and thus the demand for money would fall, meaning lower interest rates. As interest rates fell, savings would decline, so why save money when you get paid nothing for it? And then, willy-nilly, consumer expenditures would increase. If interest rose, the opposite would happen.
According to Say's Law, everything would automatically adjust.
By the late-19th century, however, the "Law" already lacked explanatory adequacy, and every kind of economist, from French free-market enthusiast Paul Leroy-Beaulieu to American banking expert Charles Conant said so: savings kept piling up, despite the fact that interest rates fell and profit rates declined. Why? Because the residual (and quite rational) urge to save for a rainy day had not yet been undermined by material abundance and government safety nets. It's the same explanation given for the high savings rate in China today.
The result, back in the 19th century, was agreed to from left to right: too much savings or "surplus capital." The surplus savings was then channeled, by banks and financial markets, into unproductive investments -- speculations and bubbles which ended in economic crises like the long slump of 1873-1896 -- or channeled to fuel neo-colonialism, the scramble to partition Africa and China into exclusive European "spheres of influence" where profits would be great; commodities, abundant; markets, captive.
The key word in the new lexicon of political economy became "overproduction": production of goods beyond effective (remunerative) demand -- beyond, that is, the ability of the population to absorb them. This is a phenomenon rendered invisible and impossible by Say's "essential law of markets," however: supply supposedly creates its own demand.
Say's Law was also supposed to explain how and why equilibrium was the natural state of the market: the production of goods always generated enough income in the form of profits and wages to pay for all the goods produced -- to clear the market at remunerative prices. It's an intuitively persuasive explanation until you realize that savings themselves can be a deduction from aggregate demand -- in other words, that income generated by the production of goods can be withheld from circulation when one or both of two conditions are met.
First, if a banking system exists. It collects deposits -- the savings portion of wages or profits -- and then lends out the money to businesses to make investments. But suppose demand for such loans from business is less than the supply of savings held by the banks. In that case, income is idled. It is not immediately circulated as per Say's Law.
Second, what if profits become superfluous for further economic growth? That might happen because simply maintaining and replacing a company's existing capital stock is enough to increase the productivity of labor and the output of goods. In that case, too, income -- in the form of profits -- is idled and not immediately circulated as per Say's Law.
Equilibrium becomes impossible because consumer expenditures are stifled, and surplus capital -- redundant profit -- is free to roam speculative markets, looking for the best return in the most dangerous places.
Both of these hypothetical conditions are, of course, historical realities. The banking system has been able to pool savings from individuals and companies for well over a hundred years. But those savings do not necessarily wind up creating new wealth, as John Maynard Keynes painstakingly demonstrated when wearing his empirical hat in Volume 2 of "The Treatise on Money" , and Chapter 16 of "The General Theory".
Meanwhile, the same 100 years, after accounting for the maintenance and/or replacement of buildings, machines and the like, private corporate investment kept declining. What that means is: "profits" (net of depreciation) became ever more superfluous. But Mr. Papola denies this very possibility, no matter how extensive my evidence.
In my book "Against Thrift," I demonstrated that substantial growth has occurred as a function of declining rates of net investment since 1919; that the fastest growth rates of the 20th century were recorded during the recovery of 1933-1937, when the banks stopped loaning, net investment disappeared, and in fact the existing capital stock wasn't even being replaced or maintained, but run down -- depleted. Capital/output ratios have been declining for almost a hundred years. The atrophy of both personal saving and net investment in the late 20th century coincided with the growth of output and productivity under both Reagan and Clinton.
I could continue with more reasons. No matter. Say's Law rules, according to Mr. Papola, damn the evidence. Again, how do you argue with that kind of faith?
Articles of Faith
Mr. Papola's faith takes two imperative forms. On the one hand, in dismissing the Commerce Department's method of measuring gross domestic product (GDP), he declares: "In order to invest more today, we have to save more and consume less." On the other hand, in the imploring tone of the concluding paragraph, he says: "We must give before we can receive. We must produce before we can consume."
Notice the formal symmetry of these commands, but notice, too, their different scope -- one is presented as a macroeconomic truism, the other as a personal homily.
The question that never occurs to Mr. Papola is: what if we don't have to invest more today in order to produce more tomorrow? He thinks it can't occur, because the actual history of growth is not his concern. But in view of the fact that since 1919, increased output has not required increased inputs of either capital or labor, that is precisely the question we have to answer.
Ask it this way: what if more saving and less consumption are the ingredients of economic disaster -- not because we want to loosen moral constraints and spend our way to ruin, but because the historical evidence tells us that more saving and less consumption have led directly to the worst economic crises of the last hundred years?
The personal homily has an ancient, almost biblical ring to it, perhaps because it summarizes the moral history of the human species under the economic regime of scarcity.
Mr. Papola clearly believes that your consumption of goods is justified only by your prior production of goods. In keeping with the old socialist nostrums that sustained belief in the labor theory of value long after it stopped making sense, he insists that if you haven't produced anything of value, your income is a deduction from the sum of value produced by others, and is therefore illegitimate.
Effort and reward -- work performed and income received -- are transparently aligned in this austere moral sequence, but, alas, it has nothing to do with the world as it exists.
For no one can demonstrate an intelligible or morally justifiable relation between work performed and income received -- not since outputs started increasing without any measurable increase of inputs, around 1910.
Down on Wall Street they make millions for pushing bad paper, and over on Main Street, they make the minimum wage for doing an honest day's work. Twenty-five percent of the gainfully employed don't make enough to push them over the poverty line, and half of them are eligible for food stamps. Twenty percent of all household income in the U.S. is a transfer payment from government. Since when is our problem the lack of goods produced, rather than the lack of income to purchase the goods?
As to the Rest of Mr. Papola's Libertarian Argument
Mr. Papola's forays into the real world come when he insists that the business cycles we know as the Great Depression and the Great Recession were determined by "failed investment," when he contests the scale of consumer spending in GDP. He notes the percentage of retail workers in the composition of the total labor force, and when he complains that his efforts as an entrepreneur trying to manufacture an affordable diaper -- a recyclable consumer good -- went unpaid.
On the correlation of investment and the business cycle, Mr. Papola should revisit his sacred texts by the likes of Hayek and Friedman, because he's putting himself at odds with them, particularly the monetarists.
And then, just for fun, he might want to consult the actual history in question. Investment failed, to be sure, but long before and after the Great Depression and the Great Recession. In both cases, the atrophy of net investment -- a steady, long-term trend -- and the transfer of income from wages to profits -- a political event that began with supply side policy -- combined to create a tidal wave of surplus capital that swamped all markets.
On the GDP calculations, he should consult with the liberal and left-wing economists, like Joseph Stiglitz, who have been challenging its classifications of expenditure and growth for many years now; his figures on retail employment are interesting but totally irrelevant to the argument I have made about consumer spending and growth.
On his own record as a small business owner who had to fold the enterprise before it was two years old, I am practically speechless. He didn't borrow from the banking system, he got the start-up money from his brother-in-law. He worked for a year without salaried compensation, I think, designing and testing the product, building a website, but also hiring people to make the product.
Yet he can say that "Almost none of that activity was included in GDP for that year, except through the 'consumer spending' of people we paid." His "sweat equity" was never counted, OK, unless he paid himself a salary, but all of the other activities of the company showed up in GDP as 'consumer spending.'
I'm sorry Mr. Papola's entrepreneurial dreams were dashed by the competition, which precluded a price hike on his diapers. But that's how the real world of the market works. It always presupposes non-market regulatory mechanisms, like trade unions, social movements, families and governments. Without these outer limits -- determined by civil society -- markets typically destroy themselves. Do we really want a market for meat without the FDA? Has Mr. Papola never read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle"?
It's Not a Barter Economy Any More
Commodities are not ultimately bought with other commodities, regardless of what John Stuart Mill said. They're bought with money, the universal commodity, unless you're off the books, maybe.
It's not a barter economy anymore. Once you acknowledge that simple fact, Say's Law becomes problematic, because the temporal difference between the collection and expenditure of earned income has been enlarged to the point where the immediate equivalence of supply and demand can't be assumed.
In other words, once money becomes commonplace and banks exist to collect savings, there is no essential law of markets. Economic equilibrium becomes an accident, not a natural state -- it becomes a social construct that requires planning. Not central planning, mind you. Just some kind of public, purposeful, collective action that acknowledges the social purpose of economic growth.
At that point, I would suggest that you try to figure out what drives growth. But you don't base your decision on a theory from the 19th century, whether devised by Jean-Baptiste Say or Karl Marx. Instead, you might study more recent history. If it turns out that consumer spending rather than investment seems to be the key to growth, you should act accordingly. You should probably not resort to citing Say's Law.
Video: Keynes vs. Hayek, Round One
Video: Keynes vs. Hayek, Round Two
Video: Macro Follies
GWEN IFILL: The House of Representatives today approved legislation to keep the government up and running, this time three weeks in advance of a new deadline. But the bill still faces hurdles in the Democratically-controlled Senate.
MAN: On this vote, the yeas are 267, the nays are 151. The bill is passed without objection. A motion to reconsider is laid on the table.
GWEN IFILL: Anxious to avoid yet another Washington budget showdown, the House today agreed to a spending bill to finance the government through September, and avert a potentially devastating government shutdown.
The GOP measure would leave in place $85 billion dollars in across-the-board spending cuts that took effect last week. But it would give the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs greater flexibility to manage the reductions.
Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers chairs the Appropriations Committee.
REP. HAL ROGERS, R-Ky.: This bill takes the risk of a government shutdown off the table, funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, while helping maintain our national security and providing our troops and veterans with consistent, adequate funding.
GWEN IFILL: House Democrats said the cuts should be stripped from the bill.
Virginia lawmaker Gerry Connolly:
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY, D-Va.: We have to get our arms around spending, but not in a mindless, meat axe way. It is going to hurt America. And to bake it into this continuing resolution, in my view, is a terrible mistake.
GWEN IFILL: The bill now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats hope to build in even more exceptions to the automatically mandated cuts.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, once that happens, the commitment of Republicans to averting a shutdown will be put to the test.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: The Senate's not going to accept this bill. And when they don't, they will send back another bill, and we will just see how many votes there are on the Republican side to keep government open, because we have absolutely no intention of having the government shut down.
GWEN IFILL: Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole conceded that today's action is just the first step toward resolving the recurring budget and spending debate.
REP. TOM COLE, R-Okla.: And we can have, I think, a good negotiation going back and forth between the two parties. This is the beginning of a process. It's the beginning of a return to regular order. And it's an opportunity to work, I think, in a bipartisan fashion.
GWEN IFILL: With an eye on the inclement weather outside, House Republicans also moved up today's vote by 24 hours. Also, if the weather holds, President Obama was scheduled to dine tonight with a group of Republican senators, in part in response to complaints that he has failed to reach across the aisle. And Mr. Obama announced plans to visit Capitol Hill next week for meetings with House and Senate Republicans.
HARI SREENIVASAN: A powerful late winter storm that tracked all the way from Montana to the East Coast deposited a snowy, icy mess on the Mid-Atlantic today. In Washington, federal offices closed ahead of the storm, but the city and its immediate surroundings mostly got rain.
Farther out in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, as much as a foot of snow accumulated in some places. The snow that did fall was heavy and wet, snapping tree limbs and power lines and leaving up to 200,000 people without power.
The state of Arkansas will now have the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Republicans dominating the legislature there overrode a gubernatorial veto today. The new law includes a near-ban on abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. It's slated to take effect this summer, but a court challenge is certain.
A senator filibuster today stalled the confirmation of John Brennan to be director of the CIA. They focused on whether the government would ever use drone aircraft to attack Americans inside the U.S. Kentucky Republican Rand Paul cited a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder. It said drone strikes on U.S. soil might be considered in an extraordinary circumstance, such as 9/11.
Paul said he's alarmed.
SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: You can't take away someone's life and liberty without due process or an indictment. So it should trouble every American. I can't imagine that there wouldn't be an American in our country that wouldn't be troubled that we're talking about killing noncombatants in America with drone strikes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Several other Republicans joined the filibuster, as did Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden. He supports the Brennan nomination, but he cited civil liberties concerns over the drone issue.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder told a Senate hearing that the administration will work to allay any fears.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER, United States: I have heard you. The president has heard you and others who have raised this concern on both sides of the aisle. And so I think there is going to be a greater effort at the transparency. A number of steps are going to be taken. I expect you will hear the president speaking about this.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, Sen. Paul insisted the filibuster will go on until he gets a letter from President Obama promising not to use drones on American soil.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai warned Afghan forces today to put an end to incidents of torture and other abuse. An Afghan government investigation has found widespread mistreatment at government-run prisons. An earlier U.N. investigation had reached similar conclusions. Karzai addressed the problem in a speech to the Afghan parliament today.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan: The investigation showed that during the arrests by the foreign forces and their local partners, who are our forces, people have been abused. This is a serious order that this should be stopped and cameras should be set up during interrogations to stop the abuse.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Until now, Karzai had placed the blame for prison abuse solely on NATO troops.
The exodus of refugees from Syria has now topped one million. The U.N. Refugee Agency reported the figure today. It also said 700,000 more Syrians have not yet registered. Meanwhile, Britain moved to give more help to the Syrian rebels, while heavy fighting continued in northern Syria.
We have a report narrated by Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.
JONATHAN MILLER, Independent Television News: On the banks of the Euphrates River, a two day battle's been hard-won today by Syria's rebel fighters, the city of Raqqa now the first Syrian provincial capital out of regime control.
But this afternoon, the regime hit back, airstrikes targeting what the rebels had renamed Freedom Square. Freedom has come at a high price in Raqqa, it seems. Today, in the House of Commons, Britain's foreign secretary announced what some say is a landmark shift in policy. The U.K., he said, would provide millions of pounds of non-lethal military equipment to Syria's rebels.
The government does concede there are no easy answers, but Mr. Hague said that, faced with what he called increasingly extreme humanitarian suffering and diplomatic deadlock, Britain could not look the other way.
The Syrian exodus has gathered pace so dramatically that the one million milestone's been reached four months before the U.N. Refugee Agency predicted it would. It's taken just three months for the numbers to double. More than half the refugees are children. And only a dribble of the money the world pledged a month ago has been forthcoming.
This is how fast the Zaatari refugee camp has expanded in Jordan's northern desert, 2,500 tents last September, 18,000 last month.
ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees: Yes, a milestone in human tragedy, one million refugees, but accelerating in a dramatic way, 3,000 a day in December, 5,000 a day in January, 8,000 a day in February.
JONATHAN MILLER: What the British government effectively said today was that helping the rebels was the best bet for stopping the conflict and the refugee exodus.
But two years into this civil war and what Syria's rebels want is lethal assistance, arguing that failing to actually arm them is prolonging the conflict. A small group of Syrian rebels, one of more than 1,000 such groups that have sprung up just since last year, are tonight holding hostage 20 U.N. peacekeepers hostage, all Filipinos. They seized them on the Golan Heights. They won't release them, they say, until the U.N. and the U.S. press Syrian forces to withdraw from a nearby town.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.N. Security Council demanded the peacekeepers be freed immediately, and without conditions. The Russian ambassador to the U.N. presiding over the council this month called the incident bizarre. He said the peacekeepers are unarmed, and that their mission has nothing to do with the civil war in Syria.
The government of Egypt confronted new uncertainty today when a court suspended upcoming parliamentary elections. They had been scheduled to begin in April. The court ruled that the Islamist-dominated parliament rushed through the law setting up the elections. It said the country's supreme constitutional court needs time to review the statute. Advisers to President Mohammed Morsi said they plan to appeal the decision.
The European Union has fined Microsoft more than $700 million dollars for failing to provide a choice of Internet browsers. The software giant had pledged in 2009 to make those options available to users of its Windows operating system. Instead, Microsoft failed to comply in at least 15 million installations of Windows 7 in Europe between May 2011 and July 2012. The company blamed a technical error and agreed to pay the fine.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 42 points to close at 14,296, reaching a record high for a second straight day. The Nasdaq fell a point to close at 3,222.
Those are some of the day's major stories -- now back to Judy.
Here are four arts and culture videos from public broadcasting partners around the nation.
The PBS Online Film Festival kicked off Monday. Across the month of March, you can watch 25 short films on a variety of subjects, and you can vote for your favorite. Find all of the films here, and watch "Still," a meditative profile of a 72-year-old diver and ocean photographer:
A junior high school in suburban Chicago have their own museum-quality art collection, donated by a former principal for the benefit of the students. WTTW's Chicago Tonight takes a peak inside.
This week, all indie eyes are focused on SXSW in Austin. KLRU's Hardly Sound is devoted to covering Austin's own music acts. The final episode of their first season profiles musician Ralph White.
Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli performs a set of love songs on Great Performances this month. Get a preview with his version of "La Vie en Rose."
JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn to Iraq and a new report critical of U.S. reconstruction efforts in the country.
It was September 2004. President Bush appeared in the Rose Garden 18 months after he had ordered the invasion of Iraq. The insurgency was raging, but he had an optimistic view of the American effort beyond the fighting.
FORMER PRESDIENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Electricity has been restored above pre-war levels. Telephone service has increased dramatically. More than 2,000 schools have been renovated and millions of new textbooks have been distributed. There is much more work to be done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a decade after the war began, Iraqi and U.S. officials portray much of the work as failures, wasted opportunities, miscalculated and mistakes. It's all in a final report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen.
He offers a damning appraisal of a project well-intentioned, but hugely wasteful in money and lives. To date, rebuilding Iraq has cost more than $60 billion dollars in U.S. funds, and more than 700 people have died supporting reconstruction, apart from tens of thousands of Iraqis and 4,400 Americans killed in the war itself.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Bowen that the overall benefit to Iraq was small when compared with the size of the sums spent. And U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said, the level of fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq was appalling. She recalled she was angered to learn that reconstruction money found its way into the hands of insurgent groups.
Bowen also concluded that $8 billion of a separate fund of nearly $24 billion dollars in Iraqi money was wasted. It came from Iraqi oil and gas revenues and seized assets, and was flown to Baghdad by the U.S. in the form of cash.
California Congressman Henry Waxman was incredulous at that revelation in 2007.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN, D-Calif.: The cash weighed more than 363 tons and was loaded onto C-130 cargo planes to be flown into Baghdad. The numbers are so large that it doesn't seem possible that they're true. Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?
JUDY WOODRUFF: According to Bowen, the list of poorly-conceived, over-budget and badly-managed projects is long, including a $100 million dollar wastewater treatment plant in Fallujah that serves only 9,000 homes, and is eight years behind schedule, and the Basra Children's Hospital in Iraq's South, 200 percent over budget, four years behind schedule and still incomplete.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And I'm joined now by the author of the report, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen.
And we thank you for being with us.
STUART BOWEN, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction: Thank you for having me, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So you were appointed to this position nine years ago. It was during the Bush administration, the very beginning of all this. What was your mission? What did they -- what were you originally told you were supposed to do?
STUART BOWEN: To audit and inspect the programs and projects of the Coalition Provisional Authority and to provide advice and recommendations to the Congress on Iraq's reconstruction.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you have any idea then of the magnitude of what you were going to be doing?
STUART BOWEN: Well, the first sign of it was my first trip to Iraq in February of 2004, when I was walking the halls of the Republican Palace behind two people, and one turned to the other and said, we can't do that anymore. There's a new inspector general here. That sent me a signal that the challenges before me were quite substantial.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as we said, $60 billion dollars, and you write it's the largest relief and reconstruction effort for one country in U.S. history.
What happened to the money?
STUART BOWEN: Well, it was spent, about half of it, on security, on training the Iraqi police and the army.
And why? Because the security situation deteriorated gravely in 2004 and 2005 into a virtual civil war in 2006 and 2007 that required the surge, a multilevel strategy to push back that violence, and which eventually it did. The other half was spent on capacity-building, major reconstruction projects. And I say in our report, "Learning From Iraq," at least $8 billion dollars was wasted.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you do signal -- single out security.
STUART BOWEN: Yes. That's right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So was that -- that was essential to the ability of the reconstruction effort to be complete?
STUART BOWEN: That's right.
When Ambassador Negroponte arrived in the middle of 2004 and reviewed the Coalition Provisional Authority spend plan, he realized that not enough was being spent on security. And he re -- he ordered the reprogramming of over $3 billion dollars into security, but then the Iraqi Security Forces Fund was created by the Congress, and it spent $20 billion over the next seven years, beginning under Gen. Petraeus' leadership.
And it did so, I think, to good effect. Iraq's security forces today are better equipped and better trained than they have ever been.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying something good did come out of some of ...
STUART BOWEN: Yes.
The Iraqis I interviewed said things like, I fly over Baghdad, I can't point at a construction, piece of construction that the United States built. Well, a lot of that money was spent on building capacity, providing equipment. And it is true that a lot of our infrastructure efforts fell well short of what was expected because of the failure to consult.
But a lot of our money paid off in the capacity-building side of the security sector.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Failure to consult, what does that mean?
STUART BOWEN: That's right.
Well, this report, I interviewed all the Iraqi leadership, present and past, the previous two ministers, as well as Prime Minister Maliki, and they said almost to a person their chief complaint was that the United States didn't consult with them about what Iraq really needed and instead pursued a program that it desired.
Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns said this to me in my interview with him, that we tried to do it all and do it our open way. And I think that's a core lesson from Iraq, that you have to, as Gen. Petraeus said, understand the culture, understand the politics, understand the economy to do it right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me.
So, for example, the children's hospital we mentioned in Basra, the wastewater treatment plant in Fallujah, are you saying the Iraqis wouldn't have wanted those things built?
STUART BOWEN: Actually, they didn't want the water treatment plant as we were initially pursuing it, but the challenge there was building it in the middle of a war zone. And that was the problem there.
In Basra, yes, I think that they needed a health -- a significant health care center, but it was chosen in a very difficult part of the city. And that's what caused so many delays.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about abuse? We heard the quote from Sen. Susan Collins.
She said the level of waste, fraud, and abuse was she said appalling. So, in terms of fraud -- you have talked about the waste. What about the level of fraud?
STUART BOWEN: We have achieved 82 convictions of U.S. contractors and government personnel who committed crimes in Iraq and recovered over $191 million dollars from those cases.
We have 60-plus ongoing cases which we will continue to pursue through the balance of this fiscal year, and I expect at least 20 more convictions and the recovery of at least $100 million dollars.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Was that -- is that par for the course when that much money is being spent, or was there something particular to Iraq?
STUART BOWEN: There was something particular to Iraq, Judy.
The lack of controls at the outset created what some -- what one person called a free fraud zone in Iraq. And the Bloom/Stein conspiracy, we broke in Hillah, Babylon in 2004, convicted a colonel, three lieutenant colonels. Philip Bloom, the contractor, who has had a previous felony conviction, and Robert Stein, the comptroller for the south-central region.
JUDY WOODRUFF: These were Americans.
STUART BOWEN: Yes, essentially, the comptroller for the south-central region had a previous felony conviction. This is a man who had control over hundreds of millions of dollars.
And he told me when we interviewed him a few years ago that, hey, if there had been a powerful, robust oversight presence on the ground, that the crimes that they engaged in wouldn't have happened.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Stuart Bowen, you were observing all this from the very beginning. Did you see as you went along the mistakes that were being made?
STUART BOWEN: Yes, I did, and we reported on them.
And that's why is this is the ninth lesson learned report that we produced. I just -- I didn't want to run just a police blotter of convictions or a long list of auditor findings. I wanted to take what we were learning, what we saw along the way, and turn them into recommendations to the Congress and to the agencies, to the State Department, the Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development, into useful best practices.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But my question is, was the government, was the State Department, the Pentagon, were they listening to you as the years went by and you were submitting these preliminary reports?
STUART BOWEN: Yes. Yes, they were.
I mean, the Department of Defense did engage in a significant reform of its entire approach to contingency contracting. And I think the State Department also absorbed the need for on-the-ground oversight. Early on, there wasn't enough. Later, there was more. There always can be more oversight I think in a stabilization operation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What are the lessons for the future? Well, let me ask you this. How should the American people view this? Should they be angry about this much money? You said some of it was well-spent, but a lot of it was not.
STUART BOWEN: Well, in an era of very difficult economic circumstances, $8 billion dollars in waste, a report of such would make anybody angry. So I understand that.
But the lesson from Iraq to draw from that waste, from that fraud is that we have to plan better. We have to execute better. We have to oversee better these kinds of operations. Stabilization and reconstruction operations are a reality with us to stay, hopefully never again the size of Iraq and Afghanistan. But we have had them before, the Balkans, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, and we will have them again.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But I guess my -- with all due respect, that sounds like common sense, plan ahead, look at all the contingencies.
STUART BOWEN: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, why wouldn't that be part of a reconstruction?
STUART BOWEN: Excellent point, Judy.
And you're right. Some of these -- many of these lessons do appear to be commonsense realities, but -- but the activities on the ground in Iraq drive these lessons. And the 45 interviews that I conducted with the Iraqi leaders, U.S. leaders, and congressional members framed these lessons, and they are straightforward. They are simple, and -- but -- and they must be learned.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And direct lessons for Afghanistan. There will be reconstruction there.
STUART BOWEN: Absolutely right. There is.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There is.
STUART BOWEN: There is ...
JUDY WOODRUFF: And there will be more.
STUART BOWEN: ... $90 billion dollars in U.S. funds going into Afghanistan. And the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction has his hands full in accounting for all of that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is he looking at what you have discovered in Iraq?
STUART BOWEN: Yes, he is. Yes, he is.
And quite a number of the auditors and investigators who served with me have now moved over to work in his office. And I'm confident that -- that we're -- he's going to be cracking down and be very effective in imposing the necessary oversight.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Even more money, $60 billion dollars here, $90 billion dollars in Afghanistan.
STUART BOWEN: That's right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general, we thank you very much for being with us.
STUART BOWEN: Thank you, Judy. It was a pleasure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And if you want to read the full report on Iraq reconstruction, you can find a link on our website.
GWEN IFILL: Now to Venezuela, where much of the country mourned the death of President Hugo Chavez today.
Margaret Warner reports.
MARGARET WARNER: Thousands of mourners lined the streets of Caracas today, as a military honor guard moved President Hugo Chavez's body from the hospital where he died to the capital's military academy. There, he will lie in state.
Huge crowds, led by Vice President Nicolas Maduro, joined in the emotional procession. Some shouted anti-American slogans. Many vowed to uphold Chavez's socialist ideals.
JOSE ROJAS, Chavez Supporter: Venezuelans of heart and conviction, we believe in the legacy of President Chavez, and this sustains us to fight for our country, our families, our children.
GRACIELA CEDENO, Chavez Supporter: Chavez lives. Chavez lives because I am Chavez and because most of us are Chavez. Long live Chavez.
MARGARET WARNER: Chavez was one of six sons born to impoverished parents in 1954 in a cattle-ranching region in western Venezuela. He was raised by his grandmother, joined the army at just 16, and eventually became a paratrooper, with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In 1992, he led a coup attempt against then-President Carlos Andres Perez and a government riddled with corruption and social divisions. The coup failed, but the move catapulted Chavez to national prominence. He was jailed, but pardoned two years later, and, in 1998, he ran for president and won, pledging to usher in social and economic equality in a new constitution.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ, Venezuela: I swear in front of my people on this moribund constitution that I will comply and boost the democratic transformations necessary, so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta adequate to the new times. I swear it.
MARGARET WARNER: Venezuela is the world's second largest oil- producer, and Chavez nationalized the oil industry and used the revenue to build a welfare state. He subsidized food and built housing and medical clinics often staffed by Cuban doctors.
The U.S. is the world's top consumer of Venezuelan oil, but Washington bristled at Chavez's embrace of Cuba's Fidel Castro and his advocacy of leftist revolution in Latin America.
In 2002, Chavez was briefly deposed in a failed coup, and accused the U.S. of playing a role. And as the years went by, he delighted in flamboyant verbal assaults on American leaders. He took the podium at the U.N. General Assembly in 2006 with choice words about then-President George W. Bush.
HUGO CHAVEZ: Yesterday, the devil was here, right here.
It smells of sulfur, this podium where from where I'm speaking. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this same place, the president of the United States, who I call the devil, came here speaking as the owner of the world.
MARGARET WARNER: Chavez was less hostile toward President Obama, even saying they would vote for each other in their respective reelection bids last fall.
HUGO CHAVEZ: If I were American, I would vote for Obama. And I think if Obama was from here, or if he was some neighborhood in Caracas, he would vote for Chavez. I am sure of it.
MARGARET WARNER: In a statement last night, Mr. Obama signaled hopes for a more constructive, less volatile relationship with Venezuela, saying: "As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights."
Chavez's long and ultimately losing battle with cancer is thought to begun in 2011. He made multiple trips to Cuba for treatment. But last July, he proclaimed himself cancer-free, and won another six-year term in the October election.
In November came word that the cancer had returned, and Chavez went back to Havana for more treatment. Before leaving, he named Vice President Nicolas Maduro his handpicked successor.
HUGO CHAVEZ: If something were to occur that would render me unfit in some way, in that situation, Nicolas Maduro shouldn't just complete, as the constitution requires, the term, but my firm opinion, you elect Nicolas Maduro as the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
MARGARET WARNER: His illness kept Chavez from returning to Venezuela for his Jan. 10th inauguration. But over the objections of opposition leaders, the Venezuelan Supreme Court declared the inauguration could be postponed. Chavez made his final homecoming in February, but wasn't seen in public.
He remained in a military hospital until his death yesterday at 58. Now Venezuela must hold a new presidential election in the weeks ahead. It would likely pit Vice President Maduro ...
VICE PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO, Venezuela: May our people know that the democratic, revolutionary, anti-imperialist and socialist legacy of our commandant is carried on with firmness, with absolute loyalty.
MARGARET WARNER: ... against the man Chavez defeated last fall, former Governor Henrique Capriles.
HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI, Former Venezuelan Presidential Candidate: And to the government, who are burdened with the principal responsibility of guaranteeing coexistence in freedom and in peace, we hope, like all Venezuelans do, that they act in strict accordance with their constitutional duties.
MARGARET WARNER: There is also some question about who runs Venezuela in the interim, the vice president or the speaker of the National Assembly.
GWEN IFILL: Online, we have more on Venezuela's vice president, Nicolas Maduro, and his loyalty to Hugo Chavez.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: American Catholics and the church.
As cardinals gather in Rome and prepare to select the next pope, Ray Suarez looks at the challenges the Vatican faces connecting with Roman Catholics here in the U.S.
RAY SUAREZ: Among American Catholics, there have long been differences between the pulpit and the pew. But new polls suggest an even wider gap between the leadership and laypeople in 2013.
The latest data comes from a New York Times/CBS poll released today. It found that more than half of U.S. Catholics say the church is out of touch with people's needs. Seven out of 10 say Pope Benedict and the Vatican did a poor job of handling the sexual abuse scandals. Nearly seven out of 10 also said they favored allowing priests to marry, ordaining women as priests, and allowing artificial methods of birth control.
However, most also said they felt their own parish was responsive to their needs.
We discuss all this with Scott Appleby. He studies American religious history at the University of Notre Dame. And James Towey, president of Ave Maria University, he was director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives in the George W. Bush administration.
Professor Appleby, what do you make of the survey results? Are they just an intensification of trends that were already present?
SCOTT APPLEBY, University of Notre Dame: American Catholic laity have been at some distance from the Vatican and the hierarchy on some of the issues you mentioned for several years now.
And many would say that they feel much more comfortable, much more Catholic in their local parish. And that's partly because their local priest and the women religious, the sisters, and others who work in the parish understand their daily needs and interactions.
It's difficult to find the connection with the Vatican or even with the archdiocese when you're working in a local faith community, and that's your experience of Catholicism. So there's a lot of satisfaction about the compassion and love and nurture there.
Many of these problems facing the Vatican worldwide don't touch the lives of ordinary Catholics. And so there's a disconnect there, and some of the teachings as they're explained to parishioners don't meet or match their own faith-filled experience. And that's a problem.
RAY SUAREZ: President Towey, what do you make of the numbers?
PRESIDENT JAMES TOWEY, Ave Maria University: I wasn't surprised a lot, because, first of all, when you're polling self-identifying Catholics, you might get a different outcome than you get if you are polling individuals that are in mass every Sunday.
I think people do like their local parish. I think it's like polls that show Congress very unpopular, but yet the individual congressman, their home congressman or congresswoman, is very popular with them. So I think there is always a need for the church to be attentive to what are the views of the laity, and I think Scott is right that this follows some trends that we have seen really for decades on the fact that some of the church's teachings are unpopular.
RAY SUAREZ: You're right when you say that the answers might be different among mass-attending Catholics. They are very different, not as skewed in many of the examples that I gave.
Help people who aren't Roman Catholics understand that split.
JAMES TOWEY: Well, I just think that, for some individuals, the experience of the Catholic faith, maybe they were cradle Catholics, maybe they left the church, maybe they recently left the church, and their experience would be different from those who find their Catholic faith integral to their daily lives.
And so you see this in the elections, where President Obama won the Catholic vote, but among those attending mass on Sunday, he lost it to Romney. So, I think what you will find is, even within the church, even between institutions like Notre Dame and Ave Maria University, we might have different takes on church teaching and on also the role that our cardinals and bishops are playing in our lives.
RAY SUAREZ: Scott Appleby, you keep a close watch on trends in American religion. Is there something distinctive about the Catholic experience in this regard, a split between what's taught, what's held by the denomination, and what's professed by individual believers?
SCOTT APPLEBY: It's interesting to see that Catholics on some measures track very closely with some secular trends, more so than evangelical Protestants, than Mormons, than other religious groups and churches and mosques in the United States.
And that's partly because Catholics have assimilated very rapidly over the last couple of decades into the American mainstream. And in some ways, they have divided identities. They take their cues from the secular mainstream society, which is not hostile to religion necessarily, but will emphasize different values and different metrics of what counts for success, and how to make judgments about everything from family to economy to one's profession.
And, so, as Catholics have assimilated over the last 30 or 40 years into leadership positions and to elite positions in Congress and business across the board, there's a struggle for their loyalties, especially on areas where church teaching seems to contradict or at least is prophetically opposed to what counts for what's good in the mainstream.
RAY SUAREZ: James Towey, does that explain for you why there was a call for an about-face on a lot of what is now Catholic teaching among the people that the Times pollsters spoke to?
JAMES TOWEY: It doesn't surprise me at all, Ray, because the reality is the Catholic Church's teachings are often a sign of contradiction.
Their positions on birth control, for example, would be a minority position if you put it up for a public opinion vote. Nonetheless, this is a consistent teaching in the church, has been for decades, since "Humanae Vitae" came out. That was unpopular, when the first definitive teaching on artificial birth control came out when the pill was coming out.
So, you know, I think that the church is always going to be standing there often in opposition to cultural trends, the Kardashian culture that we live in. And so when you see a poll come out today that says, for example, they want -- they want to see women ordained as priests, or they want to see priests being able to marry, those track what you would see with other Christian denominations that have clergy.
And, from my point of view, I have only grown up knowing a Catholic Church holding a minority opinion on a lot of views. But I'm proud to be Catholic, and I share those views.
RAY SUAREZ: Scott Appleby, let's talk a little bit about the -- what the sexual abuse scandal has done to the modern church.
This is something that the Roman Catholic Church has been living with now for over a decade. Has it caused a deeper cleavage between pulpit and pew?
SCOTT APPLEBY: It's been absolutely devastating for the church, not only financially, materially, but in loss of trust.
For my generation of young Catholics, the Second Vatican Council, aggiornamento, updating, religious freedom, ecumenical relations, the turn to the world and the social justice, that was the significant event in church history as I was growing up Catholic.
For the people we teach at Notre Dame and Ave Maria, what they have heard about in Roman Catholic -- in terms of Roman Catholicism is the sexual abuse scandal and the cover-up that is associated with it by bishops and now cardinals who have not done what many other people in positions of responsibility outside the church would have done in terms of due diligence and reporting.
I agree with what's been said about the church being prophetic. I mentioned that myself. The other thing that is part of the genius of Catholicism is learning what is good in the culture itself, the notion that God is catholic, small-C, God is out there in the secular world, too, by the way.
What do we learn from the secular world and how can we affiliate or connect that with our own Catholic values? In terms of protection of children, in terms of certain due process within the church, we could learn a lot from the society that would correspond to Gospel values.
And I think part of the failure on the sexual abuse scandal has been that the church has circled the wagons and has been in an understandably defensive posture, but hasn't played to its best strength, which is affirmation of what is good in the world and what is true there.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me hear from Jim Towey on that same issue, and especially now as the cardinals gather in Rome in the conclave and look ahead to a new leader for the worldwide church.
JAMES TOWEY: Well, I think the American cardinals -- I know many of them -- they're acutely aware of the failures of the church to respond in a proper way. It was an embarrassment. It was a period of shame.
I think the church is attempting to take steps to remedy the causes of what led to this awful tragedy and scandal, that scandalized not just Catholics, but people of all faiths. So, I think that there is, clearly, a damage that has been done.
But I also look at the young people at Ave Maria and elsewhere that are seeing the new evangelization. They're seeing the interreligious dialogue. And they're also seeing the church in other part of the world like Africa and South America and Latin America, where the church is really growing and vibrant and young.
And so while the American and Western European and other areas that have been particularly saddled with shame by the scandals, that's a concern for all Catholics.
RAY SUAREZ: President Towey and Professor Appleby, gentlemen, thank you both.
SCOTT APPLEBY: Thank you, Ray.
JAMES TOWEY: Thank you, Ray. Great to be with you.
GWEN IFILL: More on "After Newtown."
As we learned earlier, legislation designed to curb gun violence is being hotly debated here in Washington, and in some statehouses and city halls around the country. Today, the action was in Colorado, the site of past mass shootings in Aurora and Columbine.
Tonight, as part of the PBS weeklong focus on "After Newtown," we look at how communities there are reacting to all this.
Special correspondent Megan Verlee from Colorado Public Radio has our report.
JESSICA WATTS, Cousin of Shooting Victim: Such an amazing guy.
MEGAN VERLEE: Jessica Watts has known firsthand the tragedy of gun violence. Last July, her cousin was gunned down in the Aurora theater shooting that killed 11 others. But that wasn't the first random shooting to touch her life.
In 1999, her husband, a student at Columbine High School, had to flee as 12 classmates and one teacher were killed by two students with rifles. Then, in 2006, a 16-year-old family friend was killed in an attack by a gunman at a high school in the small mountain town of Bailey, just west of Denver.
JESSICA WATTS: She had just turned 16.
MEGAN VERLEE: Mementos of this violence are scattered around her house and the metro area.
JESSICA WATTS: There's always a reminder in this city where so much tragedy has happened.
MEGAN VERLEE: Watts said never in her life had she really thought about gun policy or becoming politically involved. But the Aurora shooting combined with the massacre in Newtown, Conn., spurred her to action.
JESSICA WATTS: That was something positive to put my mind and energy towards, so that I wasn't, you know, necessarily I guess drowning in sorrow all the time.
MEGAN VERLEE: These days, Watts is advocating for gun control bills at both the federal and state level.
JESSICA WATTS: Gun violence is destroying our families and communities, taking our loved ones, and we have had enough.
MEGAN VERLEE: Earlier this month, she was there at the Colorado Statehouse when Democrats unveiled a broad package of gun bills. Many of the proposals are familiar from the federal gun debate, a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, universal backgrounds checks, and more emphasis on getting mental health warnings into the background check system.
REP. RHONDA FIELDS, D-Colo.: I'm here to tell you now that enough is enough, and the time is now.
MEGAN VERLEE: State Rep. Rhonda Fields is one of the lead sponsors of the bills. Like Watts, her political activism was spurred by a personal connection to violence. Seven years ago, her son was gunned down in the streets of Aurora. Then, this summer, she got a middle-of-the-night call about the mass shooting in her district.
JESSICA WATTS: We went into this grief mode, in this disbelief mode. So, the initial I would say month was, you know, attending memorial services and dealing with the loss. And then shortly after that, when all the cameras left, that's when the real work began in reference to, what can we do?
MEGAN VERLEE: While Fields supports all of the gun control measures, she says extending background checks to private sales is perhaps the most important.
RHONDA FIELDS: If we can keep the guns out of the hands of criminals, I think that's where we can make our greatest impact. And with the background check, felons won't be able to get access to a gun from a private seller. If you're mentally ill or if you are a domestic abuser, you will not have access to a gun unless you take a CBI check. So, I think it closes that loophole. And I think that's a good thing.
MEGAN VERLEE: Democrats control both chambers of Colorado's state legislature and the governor's office. So their proposals face better odds than President Obama's do in Congress. But with the ink still wet on the bill drafts, the gun control debate has switched into overdrive in Colorado.
MEGAN VERLEE: It's been more than a decade since Colorado legislators passed any new restrictions on gun ownership. Even the Columbine attack failed to provoke new policies. And the state's gun rights groups are working to make sure it stays that way
DUDLEY BROWN, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners: We're going to oppose these. And we're going to work very hard to defeat them all.
MEGAN VERLEE: Dudley Brown heads the group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners
DUDLEY BROWN: I think the question for the Democrat caucus is are you really ready to stake the 2014 elections on the gun issue? Because the Democrat Party has done that before and paid the price with the '94 Congress, and they're going to pay the price again.
MEGAN VERLEE: Brown says his numbers are calling and mailing lawmakers. Even Republicans are feeling the heat.
SEN. KEVIN LUNDBERG, R-Colo.: Nationally, it's a big issue. And here in Colorado, we have the Aurora shooting, which certainly brought up the attention for everyone.
MEGAN VERLEE: Republicans like state Sen. Kevin Lundberg have their own proposals. They have introduced bills to pressure businesses into allowing concealed weapons on their property and to let some teachers carry guns.
KEVIN LUNDBERG: If somebody comes in armed intending on harm and starts to pull the trigger, somebody needs to be able to stop them now. Commendable at the Aurora shooting that the police were there in a matter of a minute or two.
But where we need to fix it, it's before the trigger is pulled. It's the deterrence that occurs when the bad guy knows there are good guys probably in that room that can defend and stop any -- you know, any assault that occurs.
MEGAN VERLEE: For those who make a living from the firearms business, the most troubling proposals are the ones that try to ban certain weapons or size of magazines.
Richard Taylor manages the Firing Line Shooting Range and Gun Shop in Aurora, located less than a mile from last summer's theater attack. He says the proposed legislation at both the federal and state level will be both intrusive and ineffective.
RICHARD TAYLOR, Firing Line Gun Shop: Just a feel-good, knee-jerk reaction to some of these awful incidents that have happened. Is it going to stop anything from happening? Absolutely not. The only people that are really going to be affected by any of this legislation are law-abiding citizens. The criminals don't care already. So, why is it going to affect them? It's not.
MEGAN VERLEE: If there is any middle ground in the gun legislation debate, it may be over how to prevent severely mentally ill persons from obtaining guns.
RICHARD TAYLOR: The one thing that everybody has been missing about on the finally they have started to talk about since Newtown is the mental health issue and aspect of it. Nearly all of these unfortunate incidents, there have been indications and signs that the person who has actually perpetrated these has been under pressure, has been, you know, mentally affected in some way. And I think that's the major thing that we need to look at.
MEGAN VERLEE: But not everyone agrees. State Sen. Lundberg says that with studies showing that nearly 50 percent of Americans at some point seek mental health treatment, he worries restrictions may be overly broad.
KEVIN LUNDBERG: When it comes to the mental health part, nobody denies that there needs to be a proper system for helping people who really need the help.
But then the question is, where is that line where it crosses over where everybody ends up on some sort of list and somehow we all become mentally deficient somehow by their standards? Well, I'm sorry. That doesn't fit.
CODY BURROWS, Gun Owner: It's a knock-off. It's an AK-47 variant of what is called a Dragunov sniper rifle.
MEGAN VERLEE: Aurora resident and gun collector Cody Burrows says he has another middle ground idea: License gun owners.
CODY BURROWS: Really, what I think it comes down to is that if you have to have a license to drive and you have to have a license to even catch a fish, it's not too much to ask that you have a license to carry a gun.
MEGAN VERLEE: He's trying to get politicians to focus on gun owners, not on guns. Essentially, he wants to extend the concealed-carry permit system, where people have to take a class and pass a test, with more training required for higher-powered weapons. He says it avoids one of the problems that the NRA complains about: gun registration.
CODY BURROWS: You're not registering your ammo. You're not registering your gun. You're not giving up any serial numbers. I could be buying 1,000 guns. It doesn't matter, because the government shouldn't know what guns -- who has what guns and where.
MEGAN VERLEE: While Burrows is trying to get his sweeping idea in front of policy-makers, one man who already has their ear has a much simpler idea.
POLICE CHIEF DAN OATES, Aurora, Colo.: I think a lot more can be done to enforce existing gun laws.
MEGAN VERLEE: Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates became the city's public face in the days after theater attack. At a recent meeting with President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, he pushed federal prosecutors to get tougher on felons caught with guns and so-called straw purchasers who buy them the guns in the first place.
DAN OATES: The resources that the Department of Justice puts those towards prosecutions at this time are nowhere near as rigorous as we would like. Nearly all our street violence in the Denver-Aurora metro area involves folks who already have felony convictions and have guns in their possession that they shouldn't have. If there was more certainty of punishment for violating that federal gun law, there would be likely less of those offenses.
MEGAN VERLEE: In the divisive atmosphere of the gun debate, that may be one of the easiest tasks to accomplish. Both sides at the federal and state level say they know the coming months won't be easy, but they will be critical.
KEVIN LUNDBERG: This is an issue people care about because it has to do with their rights. It has to do with their safety. It has to do with the overall peace in our communities. People care very deeply about all of those things, and rightly so.
RHONDA FIELDS: There's this fear that if you go after gun legislation or gun reform or if you go after the NRA, that it's going to mean that you will get primaried in an election or they're going to force people not to vote for you. So, I think that's a false fear, because I think to be a legislator, it takes bold and courageous leadership. And we should do things not based on public or special interest. We should do things that's right for our community.
MEGAN VERLEE: Colorado Democrats are moving their bills quickly. Final action is expected in the next week or two.
GWEN IFILL: As concealed-carry, background check and magazine limit bills make their way through state houses in Colorado, Arkansas and elsewhere, PBS's special "After Newtown" coverage continues tomorrow. Join us for a report from Jeffrey Brown on the concerns about the possible impact of ever-more violent video games. You can watch a sneak preview on our Web site.
And Tuesday night, in prime time on PBS, two documentaries. "Guns in America" explores the nation's long history of firearms, from the earliest settlers to today's political battle. Plus, "Raising Adam Lanza" on "Frontline" investigates the Newtown gunman, his mother and the town he changed forever.
GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: the disturbing story of attacks on the chief of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Moscow police said today they arrested a Russian ballet star for organizing an acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin in January. Filin, who was once a dancer himself at the Bolshoi, was badly burned after sulfuric acid was thrown at his face.
Police say the suspect, Pavel Dmitrichenko, who performed in well-known roles at the Bolshoi, confessed to masterminding the crime. Two others were arrested.
The Bolshoi is a renowned cultural institution, and the arrests are prompting more questions about what was behind the shocking attack.
Michael Schwirtz is following this for The New York Times.
So, how did this unfold? We know it was a typical crime story in some ways, but also very atypical.
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ, The New York Times: Well, you have to understand that the competition inside the Bolshoi Theater is very, very intense.
And especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, there's been a growing factionalism within the organization between traditionalists, who want to keep to the classics of ballet, and those who would like to see a more modernist interpretation than had been allowed in the past.
GWEN IFILL: And Sergei Filin was one of -- was which one of those, Sergei Filin?
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: Sergei Filin was definitely, definitely more experimental in his approach to the ballet, which gained him a lot of praise from some in the ballet world, but also earned him some enemies.
And the prime suspect in this case, of course, Pavel Dmitrichenko, is known as a fierce defender of the classics. And this is -- this has been one of the theories as to what brought all this about.
GWEN IFILL: I have to say it's one thing to disagree about direction and disagree about doing it the old way and doing it the new way, but sulfuric acid in your face seems extreme. Is this kind of passion normally associated with dancing in Russia?
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: It certainly rocked the institution.
And in televised remarks today, when he confessed, Dmitrichenko, he admitted to orchestrating the attack, but he said that it had gone too far. It's unclear what he meant by that. But, no, this goes above and beyond anything that I think anybody has ever seen.
Certainly, there have been competitions and rivalries in the past. There's kind of always been whispers backstage and in the corridors of rivals putting pins into their rivals' costumes or glass into their toe shoes, but nothing of this nature. Especially to throw acid in somebody's face, potentially blinding and ending Sergei Filin's career goes beyond what anybody thought was possible in the organization.
GWEN IFILL: Tell us a little bit about Sergei Filin. Was he a -- is he a big figure in the field of dance?
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: Well, anybody who reaches the level of artistic director is going to be a huge figure in dance and is going to be extremely prominent.
And basically what his position allows him to do is cast the roles. There's been rumors since Dmitrichenko's arrest that he was romantically involved with another ballet dancer who was thought to be sidelined by Filin. So this is another thread to this whole conflict that seems to be emerging.
GWEN IFILL: And Dmitrichenko is considered to be just a member of the corps de ballet, or is he a rising star himself?
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: No, he's -- he's a lead soloist.
And, in fact, Sergei Filin last year cast him in the role of Ivan the Terrible, lead role in that ballet. So one would think that, at least in his career, they were getting along well, though he's criticized the management of the Bolshoi in the past for the low salaries, what he claims to be the low salaries of ballet dancers in the troupe.
He's also known as something of a hooligan, according to his colleagues, quick to anger and throw a punch. And he's got a large tattoo on his forearm that says, "Life is struggle."
GWEN IFILL: Well, talk a little bit about the Bolshoi itself. How huge an institution is that, not only in the dance world, but also in Russia itself?
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: Well, in Russia, it's not just a great cultural institution. It's very much symbolic of the country's history and its greatness. It's been around for over 200 years and has weathered wars and the purges and the fall the Soviet Union, and has remained this icon of greatness that many Russians have really relied on when their country has been in its darkest days.
And to see this curtain pulled back and the type of conflict and serious, serious rivalries that are going on inside of it has somewhat tarnished this image of an institution that was always seen as somewhat above the petty infighting and violent rivalries that Russia has seen in other spheres of society.
GWEN IFILL: But, Michael, in this case, as bizarre as it may seem, has the lurid nature of this story in some ways given ballet a wider stage?
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: I mean, it's definitely -- Russians -- Russians have become infatuated in with this story and it’s kind of Shakespearian drama.
And even the police, in their investigation, famously, have publicly spoken about their newfound respect for what the ballet does and what it brings to Russian society, and have even openly requested Sergei Filin to invite them to the ballet once he returns, so that they can also take part in it.
So, maybe -- maybe it is having some sort of effect of widening the appeal by kind of spilling its guts out into society like this.
GWEN IFILL: And, finally, even though we have a confession, might there be more to this investigation that meets the eye yet?
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: Certainly.
In Russia, there's always kind of a belief in all of these great scandals that there's some bigger, darker, more influential individuals or groups behind the scenes controlling things. So who knows where this is headed.
GWEN IFILL: Michael Schwirtz of The New York Times, thanks so much.
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: Another key seat in President Obama's national security team was filled today. The Senate approved a new leader for the Central Intelligence Agency, but not before a war of words over unmanned aircraft and presidential power.
WOMAN: The nomination is confirmed.
JEFFREY BROWN: John Brennan was confirmed as the CIA's next director by a vote of 63-34 after a drama-filled 24 hours. It began yesterday when Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky launched a filibuster.
He demanded a firm answer on whether drone aircraft might ever target American citizens inside the United States. Attorney General Eric Holder had sent Paul a letter saying that, however unlikely, in extraordinary circumstances, it might happen.
SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: No one will ever forget Jane Fonda swiveling around in North Vietnamese armored guns, and it was despicable. Now, it is one thing if you want to try her for treason, but are you going to just drop a drone Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda? Are you going to drop a Hellfire missile on those at Kent State?
JEFFREY BROWN: Several other Republicans and one Democrat, Ron Wyden, joined Paul. And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered his support last night after the filibuster ended and again this morning.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: And the administration should simply answer the question. There's no reason we cannot get this question answered today, and we should get the question answered today.
JEFFREY BROWN: But the morning also revealed a division in Republican ranks. Arizona Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, scoffed at Paul's claim that someone like Jane Fonda would ever have been targeted.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: To somehow allege or infer that the president of the United States is going to kill somebody like Jane Fonda or somebody who disagrees with the policies is a stretch of imagination which is, frankly, ridiculous.
JEFFREY BROWN: And South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham accused his colleagues of using a double standard.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: I don't remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone. You know, I don't even remember the harshest critics of the -- of President Bush on the Democratic side. They had a drone program back then.
JEFFREY BROWN: At the White House today, spokesman Jay Carney underscored the constitutional limitations on the president's power.
JAY CARNEY, White House Spokesman: The president swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and he is bound by the law. Whether the lethal force in question is a drone strike or a gunshot, the law and the Constitution apply in the same way.
JEFFREY BROWN: And this afternoon, Attorney General Holder sent Paul a new letter. In it, he said: "It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no."
Sen. Paul declared himself satisfied with that answer.
RAND PAUL: So, I am very pleased to have gotten this response back from the attorney general of the United States, and I think that Americans should see this battle that we have had in the last 24 hours as something that's good for the country.
JEFFREY BROWN: Shortly thereafter, the Senate ended the debate and confirmed John Brennan.
And we are joined now by Scott Shane, a national security reporter at The New York Times, and Niels Lesniewski, who covers the Senate for Roll Call.
Start, let me start with you. It took a while, but in the end the president got his nominee. Briefly remind us about John Brennan's experience, clearly someone well known at the agency he will now head.
SCOTT SHANE, The New York Times: That's right.
John Brennan spent 25 years at the CIA. He was station chief in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. He actually set up the National Counterterrorism Center, and then for four years he's been basically at President Obama's right hand overseeing counterterrorism. And in that role, he's overseen the expansion of the drone strikes in Pakistan, in Yemen, and in Somalia.
And so he's perhaps one of -- he's certainly one of the government's most experienced counterterrorism hands.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Niels, what was playing out today with senators -- especially with Senators McCain and Graham upbraiding Rand Paul? What was that about?
NIELS LESNIEWSKI, Roll Call: Well, what happened after last night, we noticed that Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham were not among those joining in the effort on the Senate floor in support of Sen. Paul during his almost-13-hour filibuster.
And what they were really -- today, they were really protesting against even the context of the question that Sen. Paul sought and eventually received an answer to from the Obama administration, which sort of suggested that there could be a possibility that either President Obama or some future president may want to use a missile from a drone to actually kill an American citizen at a coffee shop somewhere on U.S. soil.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, how strong is this divide and what is the -- what's behind -- I mean, what's the key issue behind it that they're fighting over?
NIELS LESNIEWSKI: Well, the Republican Party itself has had sort of a differing opinion for a while now on national security policy.
There's the wing of the party which Senator Paul is becoming an emerging voice on, which is more skeptical of broad executive power, I would say, in this sort of regard vs. the traditional, more hawkish national security voices that are the likes of Senator McCain and Senator Graham that have been sort of the party standard bearers over the last number of years.
JEFFREY BROWN: And I heard Sen. Paul today talk about how the filibuster actually sort of came -- at least he was saying today came together without a lot of planning, it sounds like.
NIELS LESNIEWSKI: Well, that's true.
I know that his staff and he had been preparing for the possibility of doing this at some point, but yesterday really was a perfect storm or perhaps a perfect non-storm, in that because there was no massive amount of snow at the Capitol that caused people to leave early, with people in the building not having a whole lot to do in some cases, were able to watch their internal TV monitors or externally and watch the Senate floor and join in the effort with Senator Paul because a lot of their meetings in some cases had already been canceled.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Scott Shane, from the national security side, this question of the use of drones on American soil, how much does, if at all, does it fit into the thinking or planning of national security agencies? How much has it ever been debated?
SCOTT SHANE: Well, drones -- of course, the vast majority of the drones, the unmanned aircraft are being used for surveillance, not for killing.
I think it's probably fair to say that there's been very little thinking about using armed drones on American soil. It's conceivable in the future of course that -- police shoot criminals in emergency situations all the time. It's certainly imaginable in the future that drones might be part of such a scenario.
But I think it's fair to say that the security agencies have not -- found Senator Paul's questions sort of out of fantasyland and have not done a lot of thinking about killing Americans at home. They have in one case, in Sept. of 2011, killed one American overseas. And that was Anwar al-Awlaki, who had joined the al-Qaida branch in Yemen and was actively plotting terrorism against the United States.
JEFFREY BROWN: But you got the sense that they were taken by surprise that this became the -- I guess the final issue for John Brennan's confirmation?
SCOTT SHANE: Yes, I think it was seen as something outlandish. But it may reflect that the administration has been extremely secretive about the drone program, about the targeting killing program.
And Attorney General Eric Holder promised yesterday that, as President Obama has said, that there will be greater transparency on this program in the future and that may dispel some of these fears that people have about how drones might be used.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Niels, in the meantime, where were the Democrats in all this? Because in the past, it would often be liberals who were raising objections to drones and other policies.
NIELS LESNIEWSKI: Well, one Democratic senator did lend his voice to some of the objections. That's Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden. But he's been a voice on these issues for a fairly long time.
Sen. Richard Durbin, who is the number-two Democrat in the Senate, did say that he is going to hold hearings at his Judiciary Subcommittee into the constitutionality of the drone program and its particular use presumably for U.S. citizens, both on domestic land and, as was in the case that was just referenced, overseas.
And so I think we will see more of that as the time goes on, and there will be more questions asked probably from a broader array of senators than we saw last night.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Scott Shane, with John Brennan in now, the Senate Intelligence Committee report on enhanced interrogation program, it's not public yet. You wrote about this. It's not public yet, but we're certainly learning more about it. And it sounds like it is going to be very damning of the CIA program.
So he's got to face that right off, right?
SCOTT SHANE: That's right.
This is a 6,000-page study of the interrogation program in the years after 9/11 at the CIA's so-called black sites involving techniques like water-boarding, slamming people into walls, cold, nudity and that kind of thing. And the senators who -- on the Intelligence Committee have said enough about this report that it's quite clear that it condemns the use of those techniques, says they didn't work very well and that they -- that the program was mismanaged and that, in fact, CIA officials didn't accurately describe what was going on to the White House, to Congress, to the Justice Department.
So it's quite damning, and John Brennan as one of his first tasks out at CIA is going to have to manage the agency's response to this. There's still many people working at CIA who worked on that program, and the CIA itself is divided about the use of these methods that many call torture, just as the public has been divided and indeed the Intelligence Committee is divided.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Scott Shane of The New York Times, Niels Lesniewski of Roll Call, thank you both very much.
SCOTT SHANE: Thank you.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. has captured Osama bin Laden's spokesman and flown him to New York to face terror charges. Reports today said Suleiman Abu Ghaith was seized in Jordan some time in the last week. Abu Ghaith served as a main voice of al-Qaida and was also bin Laden's son-in-law.
In video recordings, he urged Muslims to fight the U.S. in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He is expected to make an initial appearance tomorrow in federal court in New York.
In Syria, U.N. officials negotiated with the leader of a rebel group holding 21 U.N. peacekeepers. They were taken captive yesterday in a village in the Golan Heights. Videos have since been posted online purportedly showing the peacekeepers saying that they are being treated -- that they are safe and being treated well. At the same time, there has been intense shelling in the area where they're being held.
The first bill to curb U.S. gun violence began moving in the Senate today. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, joined by one Republican, voted to make illegal gun purchases a federal crime. Violations would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The committee is also considering a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, proposed by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.: These assault weapons have a great attraction for grievance killers. My view is that, how could I stand by and see this carnage go on? And, members, this isn't going to stop. It's going to continue on, and we have a chance to do something about it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The partisan divide over Feinstein's bill was quickly exposed. Texas Republican John Cornyn argued a previous assault weapons ban didn't work. He said the new bill fails to address the real key to mass shootings.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: The common thread was mental illness. No one wants disturbed young men or women, for that matter, to have access to firearms. Unfortunately, this legislation focuses not on the perilous intersection of mental illness and guns, but on cosmetic features of certain firearms.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Two other bills are also before the committee, requiring universal background checks and providing $40 million dollars a year for schools to buy security gear.
A veteran senator Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan, has announced that he is retiring. Levin has held his seat since 1978 and is the longest serving senator in Michigan's history. He issued a statement today saying the decision was extremely difficult, but he will not run for reelection in 2014. Levin is 78 years old.
A late winter storm spun up the East Coast today and caused new damage in places still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Coastal flooding was a big concern for New Jersey and Massachusetts. At the same time, up to eight inches of wet heavy snow was expected across New England. This storm has proved unpredictable, sparing Washington, but dumping up to 20 inches in parts of Virginia.
In economic news, the Federal Reserve today reported U.S. household wealth is finally nearing pre-recession levels after more than five years. It topped $66 trillion dollars at the end of 2012.
And, on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 33 points to close above 14,329. The Nasdaq rose more than nine points to close at 3,232.
Those are some of the day's major stories -- now back to Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to the budget battles here in Washington, where President Obama has embarked on a kind of charm offensive as he begins new rounds of fiscal negotiations with Republicans.
NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: The occasion was lunch with the president, and Congressman Paul Ryan was a special guest. He's the House Budget Committee chairman and last year's Republican vice presidential nominee.
Joining him, Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget panel. The focus was back on crafting a long-term deficit deal.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:
JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We are now engaged in a process that will allow the Congress, both houses, to move forward with budget proposals. The president will submit his budget, that he is trying to have a conversation with lawmakers who have expressed either specific or general interest in compromise and hope that that result -- that that results in a positive outcome.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president's recently launched effort was on display last night, a dinner with a dozen Republican senators at a Washington hotel. It lasted two hours, and there were generally positive reviews.
QUESTION: Senator, how did the meeting go?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: Just fine, fine, great, wonderful.
KWAME HOLMAN: For the president, it marked a departure from campaign-style events during the failed effort to prevent across-the-board spending cuts called the sequester. Republicans had insisted he should be talking directly with lawmakers.
And, today, House Speaker John Boehner welcomed the shift in strategy.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It was really kind of interesting that this week, we have gone 180. Now he's going to -- after being in office now for four years, he's actually going to sit down and talk to members. I think it's a sign, a hopeful sign, and I'm hopeful that something will come out of it.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also called the president's effort important, but she said Mr. Obama is not to blame for past failures to reach agreement.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: I think we didn't reach a grand bargain because the speaker of the House walked away from an agreement that he and the president had arrived at, probably because he couldn't sell it to his own caucus.
KWAME HOLMAN: The more immediate concern for lawmakers is funding the government past March 27th to the end of the fiscal year. The House passed a Republican bill yesterday that would do just that. It locks in the sequester cuts, $85 billion dollars for the next seven months, but provides some flexibility in administering the reductions.
Boehner today warned Senate Democrats not to make significant changes to the House version.
JOHN BOEHNER: I would urge Democrat leaders in the Senate to not get greedy and get carried away and try to put forward the possibility of a government shutdown.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Democrats plan to pass their own version of a government funding bill, but Majority Leader Harry Reid said this week he's cautiously optimistic about getting an agreement with the House.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to our newsmaker interview with the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.
I spoke with her a short time ago.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, welcome to the NewsHour.
NANCY PELOSI: My pleasure to be here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So President Obama is making this very public effort now to reach out to Congressional Republicans. There was a dinner with 12 senators last night. He had lunch today with a House -- House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. There are phone calls.
Is all this a good idea?
NANCY PELOSI: Oh, before we go too far with Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, as well.
Well, it's always a good idea to bring people in and talk about what the agenda is.
I -- I -- the president has not been doing this in terms of formally having meals, but the Republicans certainly -- and Democrats, too -- have had their opportunity to share their views with the president.
In fact, in my view, a -- a -- I've served with a few presidents, two as leader or speaker, and I've never seen the patience, the willingness to listen, to accommodate views, as President Obama has extended to the Republicans.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Would you be doing this if you were in his place, because you -- you were -- you were quoted today at your own news conference as saying he has already been patient.
NANCY PELOSI: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you -- and you were saying it's the Republicans who have been the obstacle.
NANCY PELOSI: Well, the -- no, what I said -- they asked me if -- if he had had dinner with these people, would there have been a -- a -- a deal last year?
And I said that, you know, the president -- the reason we didn't have a deal last year is because Speaker Boehner worked -- walked away from the agreement that the two of them had, I think because they couldn't sell it in his own caucus.
But, you know, really, there are bigger issues than who he has dinner with. This having a meal is maybe what is different here.
I think with the Republican leader and the House -- the Democratic leadership, as well, the president has given us all ample opportunity to share our views with him, to hear his comments on it. And he's been very generous in listening, accommodating, trying to incorporate into proposals.
Maybe it's important for him to go beyond the leadership now, because, clearly, the leadership is in obstructive mode and maybe the members will be more open.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the -- going beyond the Republican ...
NANCY PELOSI: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... leadership?
Madam Leader, is the president softening his position in -- in these meetings?
Do you know what he's saying ...
NANCY PELOSI: No.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... to the Republicans when he talks to them?
NANCY PELOSI: No, well, I wasn't there. I noticed as recent as last evening, we just know the subject matter. They talked about immigration. They talked about debt ceiling. They talked about the budget, I'm sure. I -- I don't know all the details, of course.
But it's not a question of softening your position, it's a question of -- of having an additional approach, extending the reach that you might have had with the Republican leadership now to the -- the Republican members.
JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things we know the Republicans say they very much want the president to do is give some ground on entitlements. They want cuts in benefits in benefit increases.
And, in fact, the president has talked about, in the past raising the eligibility age for Medicare, Social Security. He has talked about the possibility of means testing for higher income seniors.
Are you -- are you and the president on the same page on that?
NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don't actually -- I don't think going -- if you say the president has talked about raising the age, he's not put that forth as a proposal as far as I know, because that really doesn't save any money.
What I would say is that we're, I think, all on the same page in saying that we want to keep our promises to our seniors and their families, whether it's about health security and Medicare and Medicaid, whether it's on Social Security.
In order to do that, we must make sure that as the baby boomers have arrived and continue to arrive on a -- in the over 65 -- 62, 65 category, that we have -- that we can keep those promises and that these initiatives will be fiscally sound well into the future.
So how do we look at those and what changes can we make as we go forward?
But that doesn't mean cuts in benefits. It means strengthening the stability by, perhaps, raising the -- well, I won't go into any specifics, because if you name one, then they'll say you didn't name another.
But there are ways to put this on the table, Medicare on its own table, and say how do we strengthen Medicare?
Social Security, how do we strengthen Medicare?
And we already have taken important steps to strengthen Medicare in the Affordable Care Act. It's one of the beauties of it.
Already, we're seeing the benefits in the down -- in the decrease in the rate of increase in health -- health costs. Before Medicare, it was 0.4 percent -- 0.4 percent, a half -- almost a half a percentage point only in terms of a rate of growth. That's important.
And, in Medicaid, there was no increase.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you see -- just in a word, do you see progress being made on the entitlements?
NANCY PELOSI: Yes, I do. But I make a distinction. If you -- if you want to come to the table to talk about how we strengthen these pillage -- pillars of health and economic security for America's middle class, then let's talk.
If you want to take trophies and say we're going to raise the age, which doesn't produce money, then -- then if you want to -- if you want to subscribe to the notion that some Republicans, but not all, do, that Medicare should wither on the vine, that Social Security has no place in a free society -- these are some of the things they have said, but not all.
And so, I think that if the subject is to make these fiscally sound and so that we go forward with honoring the guarantee, let's talk.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A quick question about the sequester. The White House spent a lot of time, the president did, talking about the dire consequences ...
NANCY PELOSI: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... once the sequester kicked in.
Did the president -- did the White House over -- or underestimate, I should say, the Republicans' determination not to give any ground on -- on taxes, on revenue?
NANCY PELOSI: Well, the what's important -- what's important about this discussion is why we're here. We're here because the Republicans will not -- will not close any special interest tax loopholes in order to reduce the deficit, none. They say we may do it to reduce some rates.
Now, again, I don't paint all Republicans with that brush. Some Republicans have said we may have to close some loopholes to reduce the deficit.
And what do they want to protect?
They want to protect tax breaks for corporate jets, and now we lose four million Meals on Wheels. They want to protect big tax breaks for big oil and what do we lose? The education of -- our little children suffer, big oil gains.
They want to protect tax cuts for sending jobs overseas while we lose 750,000 jobs here.
The point is -- the point is, is, this is spending -- these tax -- these are called tax expenditures. There is this spending as much as any other spending that you do in the budget and when you spend on tax cuts for special interests in these loopholes.
So that's really what part of it is.
And don't take it from me. The chairman of the Fed has said, because of the sequester, we'll lose at least 750,000 jobs. We'll slow down our recovery and we will not reduce the deficit.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something where there does appear to be common ground. Rand Paul, the senator, yesterday ...
NANCY PELOSI: Right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... held a long, all day -- almost all day long ...
NANCY PELOSI: Thirteen hours.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... filibuster, 13 hours on the Senate floor, on the question of unmanned drones, the administration policy toward Americans. The White House clarified today, it will not target Americans, it doesn't have the authority to target it -- target Americans on U.S. soil.
I presume you agree with that.
But what about the overall administration -- Obama administration policy, anti-terrorism policy, the use of unmanned drones?
NANCY PELOSI: Well, the – the, I believe in their -- you know, the prerogatives of Congress to have oversight over all of these kinds of activities of the executive branch. And I've been a fighter for the Congressional prerogative under a Democratic or a Republican president.
So the -- Rand Paul – Sen. Paul said that he didn't have enough information. I don't know what he had.
But I don't know that the -- unless somebody is launching an attack on the United States from within the United States, that the administration is not going to be using any drones on them, nor do I believe they have the authority to do so.
But I don't -- I -- I don't think that's really the issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Internationally, though, I mean -- I mean the -- the broad policy, though, do you have a -- a -- are you comfortable with the administration policy ...
NANCY PELOSI: Yes, I am -- just to make a point about it, what they talk about is what is the imminence?
This -- that's the word, the key word, what is the imminence, what is the imminence of a person's being a threat to the United States?
Is it something that he's plotting and planning in the next five days or five years?
What -- what is the imminence of it?
And the timing is really important as to whether you would act to curtail right from the start or whether you would take a chance and wait longer.
But our responsibility is between freedom of the American people and security and that's the balance we have to strike. And -- and if it's an American overseas who has imminent plans to harm the United States, I think the American people want us protected.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I have a couple of more questions I want to ask you for online, but for now, let me say thank you very much ...
NANCY PELOSI: Oh, my pleasure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
NANCY PELOSI: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
So, online, you can find out what Leader Pelosi said about the prospects for immigration reform and gun control legislation.
For the record, we have invited Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to talk with us. We hope to bring you a conversation with one of them next week.
JEFFREY BROWN: Hours before a vote on new sanctions, North Korea threatened a nuclear strike against the U.S. today.
Ray Suarez has our story.
RAY SUAREZ: It took less than three minutes for the U.N. Security Council to agree on its fourth round of sanctions against North Korea. The vote was unanimous, imposing new financial curbs.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice:
UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR SUSAN RICE, United Nations: Taken together, these sanctions will bite, and bite hard. They increase North Korea's isolation and raise the cost to North Korea's leaders of defying the international community.
RAY SUAREZ: The sanctions aim to make it more difficult for North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, to finance his nuclear and missile program. In December, the North successfully fired a long-range rocket, saying it was designed to orbit a satellite.
And last month, North Koreans cheered scientists who carried out the country's third nuclear test. That event directly provoked today's U.N. action. North Korea's closest ally, China, even helped draft the sanctions.
CHINESE AMBASSADOR LI BAODONG, United Nations: We want to see full implementation of the resolution. The top priority now is to defuse the tension, bring down the heat.
RAY SUAREZ: Instead, the sounds and images from Pyongyang today were all about defiance. Civilians and members of the military staged a mass rally and state television carried a direct threat against the U.S.
MAN: Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest.
RAY SUAREZ: North Korea also threatened this week to nullify the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. It cited war games involving U.S. and South Korean forces and said it would have to respond.
But last month, the new president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, issued a warning of her own in her inaugural address.
PRESIDENT PARK GEUN-HYE, South Korea: I will not tolerate any action that threatens the lives of our people and the security of our nation.
RAY SUAREZ: Amid all of this, a moment some called basketball diplomacy. Former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman visited North Korea last week. He quoted Kim Jong-un as saying, "I don't want to do war" and asking that President Obama call him.
White House officials denounced the Rodman visit as nothing more than a publicity stunt.
For more on the sanctions and North Korea's response, I'm joined by Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Joseph DeTrani, formerly the senior adviser and North Korea mission manager in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He's now president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
Mr. Cha, what did the Security Council vote to do in these latest sanctions?
VICTOR CHA, Senior Adviser, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Well, this latest round of sanctions, Ray, aimed at three things.
The first is interdicting of cargo suspect to be of North Korean origin that carry missile parts or things of that nature, a blacklist on both the import of certain items that they could use for their weapons program, as well as individuals. And then the third element has to do with financial sanctions, trying to block -- U.N. member states blocking financial transactions by North Korean companies or front companies that have to do with proliferation financing, so a really comprehensive set of sanctions.
RAY SUAREZ: Joseph DeTrani, is it hard to craft sanctions -- this is the fourth round of escalating sanctions -- when a country is so isolated, so poor, so removed from international commerce?
JOSEPH DETRANI, Intelligence and National Security Alliance: Right. Right.
It's difficult. Given that you have over 190 countries, and North Korea has found a way to in some ways get around the three resolutions, the initial sanctions that were imposed. I think with this fourth resolution, it's very powerful. And the -- I think the power comes from the unanimity of the international community, saying, enough is enough, and to include China helping with the drafting and so forth.
So I think the consensus is implementation of these four resolutions -- and, indeed, if all countries do implement them, as Victor just indicated now, it would have significant impact on the ability to move finances, move money, most of it through illicit means, and also to acquire materials for their nuclear and missile programs, and to proliferate said materials. So I think it's powerful.
RAY SUAREZ: Including China? A big change -- is that the biggest change really in this latest vote?
VICTOR CHA: Well, China has signed on to the previous resolutions, and so they have done again.
And that's a good political gesture. And they had to negotiate the language of the sanctions with the United States. I think the real question, Ray, is in the follow-through, whether China really enforces the sanctions. In the past, one could argue that they haven't been as vigilant in enforcing the sanctions as one would like.
In fact, in periods when we have had sanctions on North Korea, China-DPRK bilateral trade actually went up. So we certainly don't want this to happen again. And so I think it will all be in the follow-through and how China enforces and implements the sanctions.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is North Korea feeling more encircled, more vulnerable? Does that perhaps explain the vehemence of the reaction to this latest ...
JOSEPH DETRANI: No, I agree.
I think that does explain their vitriolic comments over the last few days, certainly yesterday, talking about preemptive strikes. It's -- those comments that are beyond the pale. I think they do feel under a great deal of pressure, especially with the element of China supporting this resolution and the commitment to implement it, and all countries coming together on it.
So I do -- my sense is that North Korea does feel under significant pressure, and they're lashing out. This is what they have done in the past. And they're sort of doing -- following the same playbook they had in the past with respect to sanctions and resolutions that are imposed on them.
RAY SUAREZ: In the statement, Gen. Kang Pyo Yong, "When we shell Washington, which is the stronghold of evils, will be engulfed in a sea of fire."
Have they ever declared themselves to be able to even contemplate doing something like that?
VICTOR CHA: Well, it does sound like typical North Korean bluster, because we have heard them say things about engulfing Seoul in a sea of fire, things of that nature.
RAY SUAREZ: Yes, but Seoul is right over the border between the two countries.
VICTOR CHA: Yes.
I mean, I think this time, Ray, the difference is, no, they cannot right now reach the United States with an ICBM that is tipped with a nuclear weapon. Having said that, the latest round of tests in December, the ballistic missiles tests, and then in February the nuclear tests, do appear to demonstrate that they have crossed some significant thresholds in terms of these technologies.
And so my concern is while they may not be able to do this today, they certainly may be able to do it within a few years. And right now, there is nothing stopping them from continuing to move in this direction. So it may not be a threat today, but it is a real threat that we need to be concerned about.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, commonplace in these stories is the reference to China as North Korea's closest ally. You will see the phrase over and over in stories coming out of that part of the world. Is it also a hindrance, a weight on Beijing, trying to punch its weight in the international arena?
JOSEPH DETRANI: Significant weight on Beijing.
Beijing, now with the new government with the Party Congress in the past, now the People's Congress that is meeting, and with Xi Jinping taking over as the general secretary, now the president, there are a number of domestic issues. Certainly, we hear about the Senkakus and some territorial issues with the government of Japan. So, China has a full plate.
North Korea, with their most recent nuclear test and their ballistic missile launch and so forth, is just making things more complicated for China. And, of course, China has a security and -- relationship with the North Koreans. They're allied. But this has become a hindrance and become an irritant. And I think China -- and as evidenced by this recent resolution that is going -- that has just gone through the United Nations, I think China is showing their pique with North Korea's unacceptable behavior.
RAY SUAREZ: Also home to a new government is Seoul, where there's a new president in South Korea. Is this sort of a shot across her bow, a test to see how she will react?
VICTOR CHA: I think most certainly it is.
Park Geun-hye, the new South Korean president, was inaugurated Feb. 25th. During her campaign, she talked about trying to build trust with North Korea. And then the first thing the North Koreans do is this nuclear test only days before she steps into office.
So, it is. It's a real test of her leadership, her policies with regard to North Korea. Our research has shown that the North Koreans do due provocation in response to South Korea elections and inaugurations. Going back to 1992, they have done a provocation after every South Korean inauguration.
So, I think that she's seen one provocation. She's likely to see more. And how she responds, I think, will be very important, because her policy direction will, I think, in many ways lead the United States and China as they try to figure out what's the next step after sanctions in dealing with this country.
RAY SUAREZ: And, quickly, before we go, is it significant that North Korea has basically backed away from the armistice? The two countries, North and South, never really made peace after the Korean War. It's just a cease-fire. Are they at war again?
JOSEPH DETRANI: Well, it is significant they made this statement. They have made the statement in the past.
But I think it's significant given the series of events, the nuclear tests -- the missile launch, the nuclear test, now these vitriolic statements coming out of Pyongyang and with the resolution going forth. North Korea needs to come back. And this is where China plays a role.
China can bring North Korea back to the table, but not just for talks for the sake of having talks. Bring back -- come back to the table to determine if Kim Jong-un, as his father was committed to the six-party process and to denuclearization and the September 2005 joint statement which spoke to denuclearization, Kim Jong-un -- Kim Jong-un has never committed to this.
That needs to be determined. And if that can be determined, then we can make -- all of us can make that determination do we reconstitute the six-party process and move forward? China can do this and facilitate movement on that side.
RAY SUAREZ: Joseph DeTrani, Victor Cha, good to talk to you both.
JOSEPH DETRANI: Thank you, sir.
VICTOR CHA: Thank you.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday sounded optimistic notes about two major legislative priorities on Capitol Hill.
The California Democrat joined NewsHour's Judy Woodruff for a wide-ranging interview about budget matters, politics and presidential authority. Woodruff continued the conversation online to ask about immigration reform and gun control.
She sees the best chance for background check legislation, but also sees bipartisan support for gun trafficking measures and efforts to increase mental health funding.
Pelosi said she's note sure "what will be possible" in the Senate, but that she would "hope and pray ... it will be the boldest common denominator."
"On immigration I'm even more hopeful," Pelosi told Woodruff. She said Democrats working with Republicans on a comprehensive plan that would include a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States are in good spirits.
Pelosi also offered unusual praise for former President George W. Bush on the immigration issue. She said "nobody was better" on fighting for a comprehensive plan, but that his own Republican party let him down. "He has a legacy," Pelosi said. "He had it in his heart and he had it in his head."