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

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    In the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, Julia Roberts plays a scantily-clad file clerk in a small law firm who traces a cluster of health problems in a California desert town to a chemical in the groundwater there, and traces the chemical to a natural gas pumping station owned by Pacific Gas and Electric.

    The source of the problem was hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6. In the movie, the company had used the chemical as a coolant and then dumped it into unlined holding ponds at their Hinkley, Calif., plant. The toxin leached into the groundwater and spread.

    On Wednesday, Miles O'Brien reported on the real story in Hinkley, what's happened since the movie debuted, and how the Hollywood ending has since gone awry. His report was done in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity. Here's their in-depth investigation.

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    On the NewsHour Friday, O'Brien explores the science of what chromium-6 does to the human body and the agency charged with regulating it. There is still chromium-6 in the Hinkley groundwater, he reports, and Hinkley's not alone.

    Nearly 70 million Americans are believed to have hexavalent chromium in their drinking water, he reports. In fact, a study of U.S. tap water by the Environmental Working Group detected chromium-6 in the drinking water of 31 of 35 cities tested. In every case, the levels exceeded the California EPA's public health goal of .02 parts per billion.

    The good news is this: There are filters you can buy to remove the chemical from your tap water.

    The most effective way to remove chromium-6 from drinking water is with an ion exchange water treatment unit, said Ian Webster, president of Project Navigator, an environmental engineering project management company, retained to represent the Hinkley community. PG&E is using this technique to treat chromium-6 in Hinkley's drinking water.

    The technology uses tiny beads of Jello-like resin packed into columns. As the chromium-laced water travels through the treatment unit, chromium-6 ions cling to the resin beads and are selectively removed from the water. This technology is also effective for removing arsenic and manganese, which are also present in Hinkley groundwater.

    A word of warning though: Over time, the metals build up in the filter, making it less effective. The unit must be actively monitored and maintained, and filters must be replaced regularly.

    "It's very much like buying a car," Webster said. "After 10 years, you've spent more on the cost of annual maintenance than the price of the actual car."

    And here's the catch. While effective at removing chromium, these systems are not terribly practical, says Renee Short, acting research director with the Environmental Working Group.

    "If you're actually looking for residential water treatment units, there just aren't that many ion exchange units that are certified to reduce hexavalent chromium," she said.

    She recommends using reverse osmosis filters instead, which have been certified to remove chromium-6, along with other contaminants. Reverse osmosis filters are more affordable and easier for consumers to find at their local hardware store.

    The Environmental Working Group has this guide for finding the right water filter. Just punch in the type of filter you're looking for and contaminants you need to remove. Most can be purchased online.

    Reverse osmosis works by pumping water across a semi-permeable membrane. Like a high-pressure version of a coffee filter, water is squeezed across the membrane. In addition to chromium 6, such filters will also often remove arsenic, barium, copper, lead and fluoride.

    The upside to reverse osmosis is that it reduces more contaminants than the standard carbon filter. The downside is that it's much more energy and water intensive, and you're left with a concentrated brine that must be dumped.

    "You really have to do your research," Short said. "Make sure your research shows that [the filter] is certified to reduce the things that you care about."

    QUICK BITES

    From Nature: "This week, researchers identified the molecule that has allowed a novel human coronavirus to infect at least 14 people, killing eight, since its detection last year. This key discovery, which pinpoints the receptor that the virus uses to infect cells in the human airways, opens up opportunities to study the virus's origin, the level of risk it poses and potential drugs and vaccines."

    Check out this slide show on rhinoceros beetles.

    In honor of pi day on Thursday, the NewsHour had this story on the people who love pi. It includes a book in which the letters of each word correspond to the numbers in pi. Plus, here are the beautiful Pi-day pies, baked by Rebecca Jacobson for the occasion.

    Wired has a fascinating look at the chemical ecosystem deep in the basalt rocks of the Earth's oceanic crust.

    Drought Conditions Contribute to Decline in Monarch Butterfly Populations.

    NOT SAFE FOR LUNCH

    How Bedbugs Resist Insecticides.

    Patti Parson and David Pelcyger contributed to this report.

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    It's time for another edition of the Doubleheader, when we discuss the politics of sports and the sport of politics with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. This week, in the more serious portion of our chat, we discuss the exchange between Senators Cruz and Feinstein this week regarding assault weapons. We also begin discussing a topic we'll likely return to in the next few weeks: March Madness.

    Mike Fritz shot and edited this video. You can subscribe to Hari on Facebook, Google Plus and on Twitter @Hari.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: Syria marked a new milestone of misery today, the second anniversary of protests that exploded into civil war. But there was no prospect of new peace efforts, even as the numbers of dead and displaced continued to climb.

    More fighting marked the two years since the uprising began against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with no end in sight. A general for the Free Syrian Army speaking from an undisclosed location vowed to press on.

    GEN. SALIM IDRIS, Free Syrian Army: But our will is still very strong. We will not stop until this criminal regime has gone.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It began with a demonstration against the government during the Arab spring of 2011. The spark came in the southern city of Daraa, where security forces beat a group of teenage boys, their crime, scrawling anti-Assad slogans on their school wall. From there, the protests spread, the regime cracked down violently, and fighting erupted.

    It's since grown into a full-blown civil war, with the rebels seizing large chunks of territory. In all, more than 70,000 Syrians have died. Russia, its warships seen today docking in Beirut before moving onto Syria, continues to supply arms to the Syrian military. Other nations have called on Assad to step down, but been reluctant to intercede.

    Today in Brussels, the European Union rejected a plan to lift its embargo on arms to the rebels, over the objections of France and Britain.

    PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON, Britain: Assad is still in place. He is still being strongly supplied and strengthened by others, and we need to put pressure on to bring about the transition that is necessary for the Syrian people, necessary for the stability of that region and in our national interest, too.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Last month, the U.S. announced it would for the first time provide food and other non-lethal aid directly to the rebels. But the Obama administration has held back from sending weapons, citing the influx of foreign extremists into rebel ranks.

    The president could confront questions about that policy when he visits the Middle East next week, with stops in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

    FREDERIC HOF, Atlantic Council: Time is of the essence here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Frederic Hof, formerly the president's special adviser for transition in Syria, is now at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

    FREDERIC HOF: It is probably time for the United States and its allies to engage directly in strong relationships with these armed rebels, the ones that we have been able to vet, the ones that we know share our basic values. Part of those relationships may involve -- may involve arming.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. and others also face the challenge of helping more than a million Syrians who have fled to surrounding Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. Even more are displaced inside Syria.

    Today in Beirut, the U.N.'s High Commissioner on Refugees warned again of ripple effects.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees: The Syrian conflict is more than a humanitarian tragedy. The Syrian conflict became a meaningful threat to regional and global peace and security. There is a real risk of seeing the Syrian conflict spilling over.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And also today, as if to bring home that point, Syria's foreign minister warned that his government may launch attacks on rebel safe havens inside Lebanon. 


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thousands of activists gathered this week for one of the conservative movement's biggest events.

    NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman was there.

    KWAME HOLMAN: For four decades, the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, has served as a barometer of Republican politics.

    And this year, the GOP's future direction is the issue for more than 10,000 delegates who've been meeting just outside Washington. At the last few gatherings of CPAC, the focus was on taking back the White House from President Obama. But with last November's defeat of Mitt Romney, this key bloc of conservative enthusiasts has set its sights on a new goal: reshaping and reenergizing the Republican Party.

    Romney offered his own assessment today in his first public address since his concession speech on election night.

    MITT ROMNEY, Former Presidential Candidate: Each of us in our own way is going to have to step up and meet our responsibility. I'm sorry I won't be your president, but I will be your co-worker, and I will work shoulder-to-shoulder alongside you.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Romney may be stepping away from the stage, but his running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, is back in the thick of fiscal fights on Capitol Hill. Today, he addressed the deficit.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.: By living beyond our means, the government is sending us a message. It is saying, if you plan ahead, if you make sacrifices for your kids, if you save, you're a sucker. It is brazenly stealing from our children and from young adults, and it has to stop.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Amid the stickers, tchotchkes and people in costume, the conference also showcased other rising Republican stars, calling for a fresh approach.

    Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is a Tea Party favorite mulling a 2016 presidential bid. Fresh from an attention-getting filibuster, he warned, conservatives must stand on principle if they are to win nationally.

    SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered.

    I don't think we need to name any names, do we?

    Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom. The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tailored his message to addressing the everyday concerns of middle-class Americans.

    SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-Fla.: Our people have not changed. The vast majority of the American people are hardworking taxpayers who take responsibility for their families, go to work every day, they pay their mortgage on time, they volunteer in the community. This is what the vast majority of the American people still are.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Those not invited to speak illustrated the divisions in conservative ranks between Tea Party adherents and traditionalists. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was excluded after he praised President Obama's handling of superstorm Sandy last fall, and then criticized congressional Republicans for blocking emergency disaster funding.

    Also snubbed was Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is raising taxes to pay for a transportation plan in his state, all of which leaves conservatives facing a key question: how to unify behind a central message that moves the Republican Party forward.

    Veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres says it will take more than tinkering.

    WHIT AYRES, Republican Pollster: It is delusional to think that we have had the right message and we just haven't communicated it effectively. You don't lose five of the last six presidential elections in the popular vote if you have got the right message. So we need a new message, new messengers and a new tone.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Francesca Chambers is editor of the conservative blog Red Alert Politics. She says the effort must involve more outreach to young people and minorities, but she acknowledges that will take time.

    FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, Red Alert Politics: I think that it's unfair to say, oh, the election was in November, and we don't see big changes, sweeping changes happening yet. I think that everyone needs some time to make all these things happen. And we have got four years to make that happen.

    KWAME HOLMAN: In the meantime, even as CPAC delegates focus on the next generation of conservatives, they're also listening to voices that were prominent in the past.

    The list includes 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both scheduled to address the conference tomorrow. 


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    MARGARET WARNER: We turn to the difficulties of getting mental health care to those who need it. It's a subject getting more attention in the wake of the several recent shootings.

    It's not known if the gunman in Newtown, Conn., suffered from mental illness. But the man who shot four firefighters in Webster, New York, this week, killing two of them, who were remembered at a procession yesterday, left a disturbing note in which he pledged to burn down the neighborhood and -- quote -- "do what I like doing best, killing people."

    Politicians and commentators have used these and prior attacks to call for improved mental health screening and treatment.

    But one such program in California has proven hard to implement, as NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

    AMANDA WILCOX, Mother of murder victim: I wanted the world to know what a wonderful, incredible person she was.

    SPENCER MICHELS: For more than a decade, Nick and Amanda Wilcox have been advocating timely treatment and early intervention for the severely mentally ill, in the hopes they won't become violent. Twelve years ago, their 19-year old-daughter, Laura Wilcox, a college sophomore, was murdered while she was working over Christmas break at a mental health clinic in Nevada County, Calif.

    AMANDA WILCOX: At about 11:30, a client at the clinic came in and shot Laura four times at point-black range through the glass.

    NICK WILCOX, father of murder victim: What we know now after the fact is he had late-onset paranoid schizophrenia.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Laura's murderer, Scott Thorpe, killed two others, and then went home and took a nap. He was eventually sentenced to a locked mental hospital for life.

    NICK WILCOX: We felt that Laura's death was a result of a failed mental health system.

    AMANDA WILCOX: We wanted to help prevent people from being so mentally ill that they would commit a violent act.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Helen Thomson, a former psychiatric nurse, was a California legislator at the time working on a new law to get treatment and social services like housing for reluctant and sometimes dangerous mentally ill individuals, people who were not covered by existing laws.

    HELEN THOMSON, former California legislator: They were resistant. They didn't want to go to the clinic, or they didn't want to take their medicine or they just simply weren't willing to participate.

    We were answering the frustrations of families who were told they didn't need help. They would call the police. The police would take them to the hospital or the jail. They'd be released and back on the street, and it became a rotating, circular activity.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Thomson named her law for Laura Wilcox. After much contentious debate, it passed in 2002. A major aim is to provide aggressive treatment for those existing laws miss, people who may not have committed a crime, yet have a history of prior hospitalization and appear to be on a downward spiral.

    Laura's Law provides court-ordered outpatient treatment for the seriously mentally ill for up to six months. The court must find the patient is likely to become dangerous to himself or others. The patient must have a history of not complying with treatment. The process can be requested by parents, roommates, siblings, a spouse, as well as mental health workers and the police.

    HELEN THOMSON: I think this is a perfectly good way to go. It beats doing nothing.

    SPENCER MICHELS: For patients who don't comply, the court has the power to send them to the hospital for an assessment, which is a threat designed to convince them to comply. Legislators never funded the law.

    They said that supervisors in each of California's 58 counties had to implement and pay for it. Only one county, Nevada County, where Laura lived, has opted in. It sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and has fewer than 100,000 residents.

    Nationwide, 43 states other than California have laws permitting some form of involuntary outpatient commitment. Though no one knows the diagnosis of the perpetrator of the shootings in Newtown, the killings have raised once again the issue of forcing the mentally ill into treatment.

    It was raised when Laura's Law was passed and remains a point of contention.

    EDUARDO VEGA, Mental Health Association of San Francisco: Coercive programs, fears of things like involuntary treatment, fears of having your dignity and your rights taken away, drive a lot of people away from things that would help.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Eduardo Vega suffered from mental illness when in his 20s. He is the executive director of San Francisco's Mental Health Association and took part in a news conference with legislators to boost support for mental health programs in California and across the country following the Newtown shootings.

    But Vega is opposed to the involuntary treatment programs in Laura's Law.

    EDUARDO VEGA: I have had some bad experiences in mental health services. There's so many people who, precisely because they're afraid of things like coercion, things like being locked up, being labeled, they don't receive any services, they don't talk to anybody. They become more isolated.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Vega says that, in the wake of a tragedy, politicians often rush to pass unhelpful legislation.

    EDUARDO VEGA: The Laura's Law project was driven by this example of a tragedy and spoke to people's need to want to try to do something different. And in this case, it wasn't the right thing. But, yes, it can be that we rush to create a solution before really thinking about what the implications are of it.

    SPENCER MICHELS: The debate over involuntary treatment is familiar ground at the nonprofit Turning Point community programs in Nevada City, which provides services for the county's mentally ill, including those who fall under Laura's Law and many who don't.

    Some of the patients, like 36- year-old Jonathan Maurer, here for a long-acting injection for his paranoid schizophrenia, and to meet with a psychiatrist, resent being ordered to receive treatment. Today, Maurer accepts voluntary treatment for his paranoia, though he claims to have been mistreated previously.

    JONATHAN MAURER, patient: They gave me a catheter and strapped me down naked to the hospital bed and then sedated me. They strip you of all your rights. I just don't see how they expect to logically assume that treating people with violence is going to cure violence.

     

    SPENCER MICHELS: But Debra Simmons, mother of a very disturbed son who gets treatment here, praises Laura's Law and involuntary treatment for essentially saving his life. She didn't want his name used.

    DEBRA SIMMONS, mother of patient: He gets angry and agitated, doesn't sleep, doesn't eat, just goes through a whole cycle of events that just kind of spiral downward, until he's become a concern to the society if he's out in public.

    We had to call the police, and he struck my husband physically. We have had to lock ourselves in our room. He's torn our house apart.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Her son, she says, refused treatment until he was ordered under Laura's Law.

    DEBRA SIMMONS: He doesn't think he's ill. He doesn't recognize -- even when he's at his worst, he doesn't recognize that he has an illness and that he's missed -- he thinks everyone else in the room or in the community has a problem, not him.

    SPENCER MICHELS: For Simmons, Laura's law has been a game-changer.

    DEBRA SIMMONS: Without that, I believe he would have either been -- have injured someone else or himself, and I don't believe we would have him today.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Still, many in the mental health community, like Rusty Selix, say the law builds up false expectations. Selix, executive director of the Mental Health Association of California, says it applies to very few people.

    RUSTY SELIX, executive director, Mental Health Association of California: The belief that every single person out there who has a mental illness and doesn't, you know, seek treatment for it is going to be helped by Laura's Law is just nonsense. They're not a danger to anybody.

    The irony, of course, is it wouldn't have applied to any of these mass shooters. None of them were in that situation, or if they were, they were very good at hiding it from everyone around them.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Selix says Nevada County, where the law is in effect but has been used in just 54 cases, is too small to be a model for big cities with vast mental health populations. Besides, he argues, much of what it does is covered by other laws; it's the funding that's missing.

    RUSTY SELIX: It's a very expensive and cumbersome process. Maybe in a small rural county like Nevada, it's not that expensive and cumbersome, but in all the larger counties, to go through this enormous court process to get people into an outpatient program that we already have, and that we have hundreds of people on the street that are desiring of it, and we don't need a court order to get, what do we get out of it? And the feeling is that it doesn't really add that much.

    SPENCER MICHELS: But at the Nevada County Courthouse, presiding Judge Thomas Anderson says the law has been very effective in two-thirds of the cases, avoiding time-consuming court hearings.

    JUDGE THOMAS ANDERSON, Nevada County Superior Court: It's saving tons of time, getting people into treatment when they need it, and the results have been very, very good. In the first couple of years, we saved a half-a-million dollars in our small county, which is a huge factor. This is a tool that's been missing forever from our mental health-providing statutes.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Anderson says the law tries to prevent psychotic patients from acting out and getting worse.

    JUDGE THOMAS ANDERSON: The purpose of Laura's Law and the goal here is to catch them before that happens, engage them in treatment, hopefully voluntary, and allow them to get some stability and then build on that stability to get back into a more normal lifestyle.

    SPENCER MICHELS: The California legislature recently extended Laura's Law, but still hasn't funded it. Outside Nevada County, Los Angeles has started a very small pilot program to implement Laura's Law, and several other counties have debated it. But with budgets tight, implementation by cash-strapped counties appears problematic.


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

    It's good to see you both.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, looking at this CPAC conference that Kwame was reporting on, what are do to make of the Republican Party, the conservative movement right now?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, first a cautionary note.

    The CPAC is not representative of the Republican Party, by any means. The straw poll in the past of presidential candidates has elected President Rudy Giuliani, President Jack Kemp three times, President Steve Forbes, President Ron Paul.

    DAVID BROOKS: Michele Bachmann.

    MARK SHIELDS: I mean, they -- yes, they're just outside of the mainstream.

    But I think Whit Ayres, the Republican pollster, put his finger on it when he said Republicans have lost five of the last six presidential elections' popular vote. And that obviously includes the 2000. And, Judy, the most revealing thing to me was the response that Rand Paul got. He was the rock star, I thought, of this gathering.

    And in part, it's because I think the discredited over the last 12 years Republican foreign policy game plan, which is let's go in first and ask questions later, has been really undermined and sabotaged by both the American experience in Iraq and the American experience in Afghanistan.

    There's been a long tradition of isolationism in the Republican Party. But I think there's now a reluctance, a certain caution that hadn't been there in the past about foreign intervention.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Rand Paul has struck a chord with ...

    DAVID BROOKS: I'm curious about that. You know, he has at the moment.

    But this is party that believes in American leadership in the world, that believes America has an important role to play as the world leader in creating a global order, free trade, free waterways, free commerce, free movement of people. That happens because of U.S. military might.

    The idea that the party is not going to be that party, it's happened. In the 1920s, the party shifted and became a much more isolationist party. The idea that this party is going to go back to that, I will have to see it to believe it. Now, right now, they're in a mood where the president from the other party, a mood of non-intervention, a mood of austerity, a mood of war exhaustion.

    But when there's a threat from Iran, I still believe the Republican Party is going to be a defense party. It's going to be a pretty interventionist party globally. But Rand Paul is the key unknown here. And he is leading the party one way. Marco Rubio is leading another.

    As we sit here, in about an hour-and-a-half, Jeb Bush is going to give a speech, which is probably the most reformist of all the speeches that is going to be delivered.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Reformist?

    DAVID BROOKS: Meaning what Whit Ayres said.

    So, Marco Rubio -- Rand Paul, he's reformist in one way. Let's pull back. Let's be more libertarian. Marco Rubio said something to me phenomenally stupid: We don't need new ideas.

    That's never a good thing to say, but nonetheless he's more mainstream and moderate. I think Jeb Bush is pushing the other direction: We have really got to change our message. We have got to talk to people who are poor, working-class.

    So, you're beginning to see the splits, even though the CPAC is not where it's at.

    MARK SHIELDS: Jeb Bush -- it will be interesting. I agree Jeb Bush has great credentials. He hasn't run an election since 2002. And his rustiness was on display here last week when he had to change his position three times in the space of 24 hours on immigration.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He just wrote a book about it.

    MARK SHIELDS: He wrote a book about it. And he had to move away from his own book before the book was basically autographed.

    I mean, so, I agree with you he had credentials going in, but it's been a long time. This is a tough sport. Politics is a contact sport. Jack Germond was fond of saying it ain't beanbag. And I think he may be -- a question of accepting an elbow or two.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you agree with Mark's initial comment here that this is not representative of most Republicans? They had the most prominent Republicans speaking.

    DAVID BROOKS: People show up to this event. It's become an event where people show up every year.

    MARK SHIELDS: Ten thousand.

    DAVID BROOKS: But you can never measure anything by what they're applauding, because this is a group that's at one wing of the party, a more hard-core, probably more libertarian, traditionally a mixture of older and also college kids who have been comped.

    And so this is not where the Republican Party is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean they can come free, so they ...

    DAVID BROOKS: Right.

    And so this -- Michele Bachmann fine with this group, Sarah Palin fine. Those people were not nominated. And this is -- don't measure the audience, but pay attention to the speeches.

    MARK SHIELDS: I would just add this, that any group that doesn't invite Chris Christie, the most popular politician in the country, let alone Republican politician, Bob McDonnell, governor of Virginia, who showed great bipartisan skill in getting a transportation bill through, a major plan that required raising taxes, and instead invites Donald Trump, I think it's -- question -- you have to question its seriousness and where it is on the political compass.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's talk about the president.

    He continued, David, this week this charm offensive, outreach to Congress. Why is he doing this and does it look like it's working?

    DAVID BROOKS: So, why he's doing it, the cynical explanation, which I would never stoop to, is that he's a little down in the polls.

    The positive implications are, he's got a new chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who is more of an outreach kind of guy. And also maybe he thinks he can get something done.

    And so is it working? I will say, yes, it is. Now, has the lion laid down the lamb? No.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wait a minute. Which one is the lion and which one is the lamb?

    DAVID BROOKS: I will let Mark answer that question. That's for Mark.

    MARK SHIELDS: I'm a taxidermist.

    DAVID BROOKS: We have got two jackals, actually, if I'm going to be honest.

    But -- so, here's what happened. And a bunch of people I have spoken to over the last week, they have just said, we're going to have fights, but we're not going to take them to the nuclear level.

    And we're just going to try -- to switch metaphors -- hit some singles. We're not going to do a big tax reform. We're not going to do a grand bargain, but we're going to try to get some small budget deals going, and we're going to make the government a little less dysfunctional, so it's less impinging on the economy, because you keep hearing more and more these days the economy is ready to take off.

    And if we can just get government slightly out of the way for a couple years, we can get some really nice growth, and that will change things up. And I think they are succeeding in denuclearizing our conflicts, no last-minute budget deals, no fiscal cliffs, no debt defaults. Let the economy grow for a change.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What are you hearing?

    MARK SHIELDS: Getting government out of the way, I love that. That's a great one, after what we have been through in this country with absolutely no control. And we just learned again this week that banks too big to fail are even too big to be reprimanded, controlled by the federal government.

    But I would say this, Judy. There's an old line in politics. You dance with the girl who brung you. Barack Obama didn't do that. Barack Obama, over the past seven years, has gone into hundreds, if not thousands of rooms, people with large egos, people of great accomplishment, people who are quite skeptical toward him, and he went in and he charmed them, charmed them to the point not only that they supported him; they wrote checks for him.

    He comes to Washington, and that stopped. He never spent any time, effort or charm on members of Congress. And now, in the twilight of his presidency, he says, well, maybe what worked in Duluth and Des Moines and Detroit and Dallas and all over the country, Beverly Hills, maybe I could even try it on Capitol Hill.

    And I would -- I think, first of all, the dinner went well with the senators. I would say this. You have got to bring them into the White House. It's great to go up to the Hill. And the Jefferson Hotel is fine.

    But, I mean, you have got to -- the White House -- nobody talks about going to the White House, you know, without a sense of awe. I'm going to the White House. I met with the president. I don't mean to drop names.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But would they go if ...

    MARK SHIELDS: Are you kidding me? Of course they would go.

    And I just think once -- if you can get conversations going between Republicans and Democrats -- I mean, he's right in saying some people will have trouble supporting anything that I'm for, that they can't be for it. But I just think, listen, the other stuff wasn't working, going in and campaigning on an issue in certain areas, and being on TV, and kicking the daylights out of Republicans. That wasn't working and it was hurting his numbers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you're saying they need to be -- he needs to get the parties together, because so far he's been going to meet with Democrats separately from meeting with Republicans.

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, but I think he can be the catalyst for doing that.

    But I guess, you know, it can't be something, like they said to Ron Fournier of the National Journal, wow, this is just a joke. We're doing this for pretense.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I saw that.

    MARK SHIELDS: I mean, no, it's got to be sustained. Just, it's not a -- it can't be a one-hit wonder.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Mark says this is the twilight of his presidency.

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, it sort of doesn't feel like the first year of an administration, like the first few months. It feels kind of exhaustion.

    Those of us who -- we have interviews in the White House, interviews in Congress. They have differences, not as big as they think. They have a lot of mythology about the other sides. And so just having these meetings would be a good thing, personal relationships.

    And so I think we have begun to see a little change in mode, as I say. Secondly, they have created space for some deals, so the people right now, there are eight senators sitting in Capitol Hill doing immigration. They're making incredible progress, really good progress. And I think that's part of the tune.

    And if I could just defend this idea of getting government out of the way, listen, we have got 24 percent of the economy as the government. We're not shrinking into Hong Kong wonderland here. But it's -- without question, just in a cyclical sense, uncertainty about Washington, these fiscal catastrophes, these debt ceiling, middle-of-the-night things, that's had an unnerving effect on investment. And if we could just stop that, that would help the economy.

    MARK SHIELDS: Aren't you the same guy who has championed research, infrastructure, education? Where is that coming from, the private sector?

    OK.

    DAVID BROOKS: I'm not talking about -- I'm not talking about doing all that stuff. I'm talking about...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm backing out of this, though. You all, have at it.

    DAVID BROOKS: Let's not be stupid. Let's not be dysfunctional. You can have good government. I'm all for that, but let's not have dysfunctional government, which has been so unnerving.

    MARK SHIELDS: Do you know anybody who is for dysfunctional government? I mean ...

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I know 435 people on Capitol Hill.

    MARK SHIELDS: Who is running on that ticket, OK?

    You have another question?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. I'm going to wrap this up by asking you about the pope.

    The new -- the Catholic Church has chosen a new leader, Francis of Argentina, a Jesuit, somebody who is known as a humble leader in the church.

    Mark?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I was thrilled.

    I found his humility enormously appealing. I love the fact that he has spoken about income inequality, about the sin of the misappropriation of resources in a society, where people are deprived, where there are people who are poor, that that's an offense against the common decency.

    And I just found him -- it's a little bit like Jerry Ford succeeding Richard Nixon. And I don't mean in anything to Pope Benedict. But there was a sense of grandeur and almost -- where there were the Prada red shoes or all the trappings of the pope. And this man just comes into it. And he lives in a simple apartment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Taxi to the hotel.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes, take a taxi, takes a bus where he -- where people can come up and talk to him.

    To me, it's encouraging as a Catholic. My church is hurting from arrogance and from its indifference to the suffering of children that were abused and the inclination of the leadership to protect the institution, rather than the children. And I just -- I'm encouraged.

    DAVID BROOKS: I was thrilled for Mark.

    No, I -- so, when your institution is under threat, you feel you have a lot of hostility, you feel things are slipping away, you have got internal problems, there's a tendency to turn inward and to focus on yourselves.

    And one of the things he said -- he hasn't really said that much in public. One of the really nice things he said, he would prefer a church that goes out and has accidents in the street than to be self-referential and sick.

    MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

    DAVID BROOKS: And so that's exactly the right attitude.

    When your institution is under assault, you're feeling like the weight is on it and the history might be flowing away, like the Republican Party, don't turn inward, go outward. And his instinct I think is exactly right on that.

    MARK SHIELDS: David is right.

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

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

    Also online, you can find Kwame Holman's blog with another take on CPAC and a video profile of one of the conservative activists attending. 


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now to part two of our investigative look at the safety of America's drinking water.

    Science correspondent Miles O'Brien reports on the toxic chemical made famous in the movie "Erin Brockovich," its potentially harmful effect on human cells, and the agency charged with regulating it.

    His report is the result of a partnership with the Center for Public Integrity.

    AMIE HOLMES, University of Southern Maine: There is some lead chromate in here and some zinc chromate.

    MILES O’BRIEN: At the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine, they are very wise indeed about a widely used heavy metal that gives millions of Americans shiny bumpers, vivid paint, and, possibly, cancer. It is hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6.

    AMIE HOLMES: As you can see, there's a lot of different colors to chromium.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes.

    And there are many shades of gray to the story, right?

    AMIE HOLMES: Yes.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Chromium 6 was also used as a coolant here at a natural gas pumping station owned by Pacific Gas & Electric in Hinkley, Calif. The utility dumped 26 tons of the chemical into unlined holding ponds in the 1950s and '60s. It leeched into the groundwater, poisoning the wells.

    The health fallout and the David and Goliath legal battle against PG&E became the basis for the 2000 movie "Erin Brockovich" starring Julia Roberts.

    JULIA ROBERTS, Actress: People are dying, Scott. You have got document after document here. Right under your nose, it says why, and you haven't said one word about it. I want to know how the hell you sleep at night.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Hinkley is not alone.

    Public utility testing records reveal more than 70 million Americans are now drinking tap water tainted by chromium 6.

    AMIE HOLMES: This is what happens when the cells are exposed to chromium.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Wise researcher Amie Holmes showed me what scientists can say for certain about the link between chromium 6 and cancer. These are slides of human lung cells in the midst of replicating, a process called mitosis.

    In normal cells, there are two centrosomes, the yellowish-white dots. They search and capture 46 chromosomes each, then pull apart, making an identical daughter cell.

    AMIE HOLMES: You want to make sure that each cell has the same amount of DNA in each.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Take a look at these lung cells exposed to chromium 6. Notice the yellowish-white centrosomes? Instead of two, there are four.

    AMIE HOLMES: What's going to happen, and when this cell divides, instead of dividing into two, it could potentially pull the DNA into four or it's going to unevenly separate the DNA.

    MILES O’BRIEN: With four centrosomes, it's not going to end well.

    AMIE HOLMES: It's not going to end well.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Scientists call this centrosome amplification. They suspect chromium 6 changes the chemistry of the proteins in our cells, and that creates the extra centrosomes.

    The resulting defective cells that survive are what we call cancer.

    JOHN WISE, University of Southern Maine: Yes, it causes cancer. That's the biggest health concern.

    MILES O’BRIEN: We know that for sure?

    JOHN WISE: Right. Yes.

    MILES O’BRIEN: There's no doubt about that?

    JOHN WISE: There's no doubt about it. It's considered a human carcinogen by all the major regulatory agencies in the world.

    MILES O’BRIEN: So, what's in here?

    JOHN WISE: Cells.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Lab director John Wise can say that with certainty chromium 6 is carcinogenic when inhaled, occupational exposure in factories. But when the chemical is ingested in the stomach, it is a murkier picture.

    Sandy Wise offered me a demonstration. Water that is heavily contaminated with chromium 6, like this, turns bright yellow. Now watch what happens when she adds vitamin C, which is acidic, not unlike the human stomach.

    SANDY WISE, University of Southern Maine: So, you can see it's starting to change color.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The water turns green as the chromium 6 is transformed into trivalent chromium, or chromium 3.

    Our cells don't absorb chromium 3 as they do chromium 6. So the human stomach offers a natural antidote to chromium 6 in water. But what are the limits of this alchemy?

    John Wise says we can't say for certain.

    JOHN WISE: There's just holes in the data, so there's a lot that we don't know.

    MILES O’BRIEN: What more science needs to be done?

    JOHN WISE: I don't think we have enough studies to tell us whether -- clearly whether it's a drinking water carcinogen or not.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But there are studies that make the link. In 2008, the National Institutes of Health weighed in with an eye-opening rodent study. It uncovered clear evidence that high doses of chromium 6 in drinking water caused cancer in rats and mice.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Does it settle anything in your view?

    JOHN WISE: I think that starts the conversation as to perhaps maybe it is a drinking water carcinogen, but it's just one study that needs additional work.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In 2011, Wise joined eight colleagues on a panel that advised the EPA on the science that would be used to set a new standard for chromium 6 contamination in U.S. tap water.

    The current standard, set 20 years ago, is 100 parts per billion, 5,000 times higher than the state of California's public health goal for chromium 6 in drinking water. Wise was among panelists who voted to delay a decision, allowing time for more study. At first, the agency said it needed another four years, even though it began the work in 2008.

    The chromium standard is bogged down in IRIS, the Integrated Risk Information System, which aims to insure the best science is employed as the EPA considers regulating risky chemicals.

    That's the idea. But the National Academy of Sciences has blasted IRIS for using faulty methodology, and not being clear and transparent. And the Government Accountability Office criticized IRIS for moving way too slowly. The GAO estimates it takes the EPA an average of about seven years to complete a scientific assessment of a chemical.

    Anger and frustration over the logjam boiled over at this IRIS stakeholders meeting in November.

    Richard Denison is with the Environmental Defense Fund.

    RICHARD DENISON, Environmental Defense Fund: Now, these delays have profound real-world consequences. They allow continued exposure and harm to health from the subject chemicals, because decisions that rely on IRIS are also delayed. Simply put, a decision delayed is health protection denied.

    MILES O’BRIEN: So, why is the process so bogged down? The first clue comes from who showed up at the stakeholders meeting.

    KATHLEEN ROBERTS, North American Metals Council: My name is Kathleen Roberts. I am with the North American Metals Council.

    KIMBERLY WISE, American Chemistry Council: My name is Kimberly Wise. I am with the American Chemistry Council.

    NINA HALLMARK, ExxonMobil Chemical: Good afternoon. My name is Nina Hallmark. I am with ExxonMobil Chemical.

    RICK BECKER, American Chemistry Council: Thanks. Rick Becker with American Chemistry Council.

    NANCY BECK, American Chemistry Council: Thanks. Nancy Beck, American Chemistry Council.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Representatives of chemical manufacturers and their trade association, the American Chemistry Council, dominated the meeting.

    David Fischer is a senior director at ACC.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Is industry kind of overwhelming this process?

    DAVID FISCHER, American Chemistry Council: No, I would say definitely not. Our member companies are populated by any number of employees, including scientists who perhaps have spent their careers studying a particular chemical that might be the subject of an IRIS assessment. So it stands to reason that all that important experience and knowledge should be brought to bear on the IRIS process.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But the NewsHour and the Center for Public Integrity have learned the chemical industry is close to the scientific review process as well.

    Although John Wise says he hasn't accepted any funding from industry in 15 years, two of his colleagues on the chromium 6 panel worked for PG&E during the Hinkley legal battles. And one of them, Joshua Hamilton of the Marine Biological Lab at Woods Hole, got a call from PG&E asking him to work as a consultant while he was serving on EPA's chromium 6 review panel.

    The panel held its meeting on May 12, 2011. PG&E paid Hamilton to address a town hall meeting at the regional water board that governs Hinkley on June 8, 2011.

    JOSHUA HAMILTON, Marine Biological Lab, Woods Hole: I am an independent toxicologist asked by PG&E to come here and speak about chromium health issues.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The peer review report was released a month later. Dr. Hamilton declined our requests for an on-air interview. He later told us he reported his potential conflict to the government contractor that manages peer reviews for the EPA and that they decided this didn't represent a conflict of interests, particularly since he would participate in the panel before engaging with PG&E in the town hall meeting.

    We did speak with PG&E. Sheryl Bilbrey is director of the chromium remediation team.

    SHERYL BILBREY, Pacific Gas & Electric: And his role has been to explain the toxicity of hexavalent chromium. He's not discussed any part of the regulatory process.

     

    Well, again, PG&E expects anyone that works for us, that they will maintain their professional integrity and be completely independent of any regulatory process. So we wouldn't expect Josh to -- or Dr. Hamilton to change any of his advice.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Sometimes, though, the appearance of a conflict is a conflict, isn't it?

    SHERYL BILBREY: Well, I don't think so, I think as long as everyone knows that Dr. Hamilton does work for us. And he is very well-respected, so I think his credentials really speak for him.

    MILES O’BRIEN: At the stakeholders meeting, the acting director of IRIS, Vincent Cogliano, vowed to make some changes in the program.

    VINCENT COGLIANO, Integrated Risk Information System: And in addition, we will post the names of potential reviewers before the meeting so that we can get public comment on the expertise and the conflicting interests of our reviewers. It is a shame that we don't have the highest-quality peer review and the most impartial peer review that we can get.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In a written statement, the EPA claims it is committed to using the best science, working to improve the IRIS review process and reduce any potential conflict of interests by increasing transparency and public input.

    Despite that vow, the EPA refused our repeated requests for an interview. During the course of our five-month investigation, the agency did make a new promise, to decide on an updated chromium 6 standard in another year, instead of four. But what are they waiting for? A $4 million dollar study funded by the American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry.

    Ann Mason is a senior director with ACC.

    ANN MASON, American Chemistry Council: So, essentially, Miles, ACC and its members do not have any direct link with any of the researchers that are part of this study.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Right. But you're writing the check for the study?

    ANN MASON: We're writing the check for the study, but in the process of putting this together, we have got a study director who is in direct link. We do not have any contact with the research -- researchers, nor with the peer review process. So we are trying to be as arm's-length away from this, the actual conduct of the work, as possible.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In the U.S., industry doesn't need to prove a chemical is safe before it is used commercially. The chemical, not the people, get the benefit of the doubt. And so delays inevitably favor industry.

    Dr. Wise, what's the matter with setting a level and then continuing the science? And if the science tells you, hey, we can raise it a little bit later, do so.

    JOHN WISE: That is certainly an approach one could take. It's just not typically the -- it's the way these things are done, I guess. It's not -- levels don't change all that often. It seems to be a fairly cumbersome, slow, expensive process.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Cumbersome, slow and expensive, in Washington, that seems to be just part of the chemical equation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Online, you can watch Miles' first report, explore a graphic that tracks chromium levels across the country, and find tips on how to remove the chemical from your drinking water. That's all on our Science page. 


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: The U.S. Senate turned its attention to huge trading losses at J.P. Morgan Chase, the country's largest bank.

    Ray Suarez has the story.

    INA DREW, Former J.P. Morgan Chase Executive: The fact that these mistakes happened on my watch has been the most disappointing and painful part of my professional career.

    RAY SUAREZ: Former J.P. Morgan Chase executive Ina Drew testified at a Senate hearing today, speaking publicly for the first time since she resigned 10 months ago. Drew was the bank's chief investment officer. She oversaw the British unit that ran the so-called London Whales trades, involving risky derivatives, which lost $6 billion.

    Today, she said her oversight was reasonable and diligent, but she insisted she was lied to by subordinates.

    INA DREW: Some members of the London team failed to value positions properly and in good faith. They minimized reported and projected losses and hid from me important information regarding the true risks of the book.

    RAY SUAREZ: CEO Jamie Dimon initially dismissed reports of major losses. Later, the bank said the figure was $2 billion dollars, a sum that ultimately tripled. The Senate launched an investigation last July, and yesterday released a report of more than 300 pages. It blamed Drew and others for high-risk activities and troubling misconduct.

    Michigan Senator Carl Levin fleshed that out at the hearing.

    SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-Mich.: It exposes a derivatives trading culture at J.P. Morgan that piled on risk, that hid losses, that disregarded risk limits, that manipulated risk models, that dodged oversight and that misinformed the public.

    RAY SUAREZ: In a statement, J.P. Morgan Chase said it has acknowledged mistakes, but denies hiding any losses.

    For more on all this, I am joined by Dawn Kopecki of Bloomberg News. She's been covering this story for months and was at the hearing today.

    So, for someone who is as read in as you are, Dawn, did the Senate report and the testimony fill in some of the blanks of the J.P. Morgan saga?

    DAWN KOPECKI, Bloomberg News: Yes, absolutely.

    J.P. Morgan came out with their own report a couple months ago and that was like 60 pages, weren't a whole lot of details. Today's report shows some pretty damaging evidence about the fact that top executives knew that these -- that this portfolio was breaching risk limits, that they tried to game the risk limits by changing the models used to determine what the limits would be.

    It shows that Dimon had knowledge and was actually trying to withhold information from regulators. It shows a very combative tone with J.P. Morgan and its primary regulator. There was quite a bit in the Levin report and in the hearing today that lawyers are going to be looking and sifting through for months and months and maybe even years.

    RAY SUAREZ: And, of course, someone that's been wanted to be heard from for a long time in the person is Ina Drew.

    DAWN KOPECKI: Yes.

    RAY SUAREZ: Did she bring out anything new in her testimony?

    DAWN KOPECKI: She deflected all blame from herself. It's really interesting, because these executives make a lot of money because they are -- you know, they are paid to know what is going on in these institutions. And she said that she wasn't aware of the deceptive contest of her subordinates until after she left the company.

    I find that a little bit hard to believe, considering that she was in the meetings with them working on trying to redo these risk measures, trying to make sure that they weren't triggering certain breaches that would -- that would, you know, justify some sort of internal review.

    She was there with them. She knew what some of the losses were early on. That came out in the Levin report. But she said at the hearing today that she had no knowledge of how bad it was until after she left.

    RAY SUAREZ: She was sitting at a witness table with many of the senior officers, past and present, in the J.P. Morgan empire.

    DAWN KOPECKI: Yes.

    RAY SUAREZ: Were they in essence blaming each other, sitting at the table blaming each other for what had happened?

    DAWN KOPECKI: There was a lot of blame going around.

    They were also mostly blaming the people who have left. They just absolutely threw the three traders and managers in London completely under the bus, the three who couldn't or didn't or wouldn't speak today. Extradition doesn't apply to the Senate committee today, so they weren't able to subpoena them and bring them over to the U.S. to testify.

    But it was Bruno Iksil, who is nicknamed the London Whale, his manager, Javier Martin-Artajo, and Achilles Macris. And there was a lot of blame going on, a lot of blame throwing them under the bus.

    RAY SUAREZ: More than just inadvisable strategies, more than just mistakes, does this expose something more serious, criminality, laws that may have been broken in both countries?

    DAWN KOPECKI: There's a lot of analysis going on about that.

    There are some suggestions that there could some criminal transgressions going on here. The traders were mismarking their books. The -- Doug Braunstein and Mike Cavanagh, who are still executives at the company, were trying to parse those -- parse that issue, because they really want to deflect any kind of criminal charges or wrongdoing from the company themselves.

    But other attorneys we have spoken to said that they might.

    RAY SUAREZ: And could the material in the Senate report and in fact some of the testimony taken today be used against these people in some downstream legal action?

    DAWN KOPECKI: Absolutely.

    And that was the key goal of defense attorneys today, was to keep that from happening. But it was very tough hearing. Doug Braunstein came out. The problem was, he came out in April after he knew that a lot of these risk measures were breached, after he knew that the losses were in the billions of dollars, and told everyone that they were comfortable with the book, that everything was OK.

    This was after Achilles Macris told them that they were in crisis mode in London. You know that your London unit is in crisis mode, and yet you tell investors that everything is OK. Jamie Dimon told investors it was a tempest in a teapot. That is what's going to be troublesome, this April 13th analyst conference call and a call with reporters where they assured everyone that it wasn't a big deal and everything was fine, when they knew for months that the losses were growing, when they knew they had violated the breaches of risk limits.

    RAY SUAREZ: Dawn Kopecki from Bloomberg News, thanks a lot.

    DAWN KOPECKI: Thank you. 


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    Hospitals like Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., are routinely evaluated by a wide array of ratings organizations. Results can vary dramatically. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

    How good a hospital is St. Mary Mercy Livonia Hospital? Depends on whom you ask.

    The Leapfrog Group, a respected nonprofit that promotes patient safety, gave an "A" to this Michigan hospital. The company Healthgrades named it one of America's best 50 hospitals.

    But the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits hospitals, and U.S. News and World Report omitted St. Mary from their best hospital lists. Consumer Reports gave it an average safety score of 47 points out of 100, citing high numbers of readmissions, poor communication with patients and excessive use of scans. Medicare, which has a new program rewarding hospitals for meeting certain quality measures, is reducing St. Mary's payments by a fraction this year.

    Evaluations of hospitals are proliferating, giving patients unprecedented insight into institutions where variations in quality can determine whether they live or die. Many have similar names, such as "Best Hospitals Honor Roll," "America's Best Hospitals" and "100 Top Hospitals." Illinois, Florida and other states have created their own report cards. In some places, such as California, there are more than a dozen organizations offering assessments on hospital quality.

    But those ratings, each using its own methodology, often come to wildly divergent conclusions, sometimes providing as much confusion as clarity for consumers. Some hospitals rated as outstanding by one group are ignored or panned by another. Ratings results from an individual group can change significantly from year to year.

    "We've alternatively been labeled the least safe hospital in Maine and the safest hospital in Maine," said Dr. Douglas Salvador, vice president of quality at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

    And the ratings do not always jibe with the views of authorities who oversee hospitals. For instance, UCSF Medical Center has gotten good grades from multiple safety raters even as California public health officials have fined it $425,000 repeatedly for endangering patients. As ratings multiply, more and more hospitals have something they can boast about. A third of U.S. hospitals -- more than 1,600 -- last year won at least one distinction from a major rating group or company, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis. In the greater Fort Lauderdale hospital market, 21 of 24 hospitals were singled out as exemplary by at least one rating source. In the Baltimore region, 19 out of 22 hospitals won an award.

    "I worry a lot about these ratings," said Jerod Loeb, executive vice president for health care quality evaluation at the Joint Commission. "They're all justifiable efforts to provide information, but at the end of the day every single one of them is flawed in some respect. Rather than enlightening, we may be confusing."

    Not A 'Complete Picture Of The Care'

    There are so many report cards on hospitals that the Informed Patient Institute runs a website that grades the raters. Carol Cronin, its executive director, said most report cards are not easy for consumers to use. "A lot of them don't help users quickly understand which hospital is better than another," she said.

    But many hospitals are eager to trump these distinctions in their marketing. Healthgrades, U.S. News and Leapfrog not only encourage this but also profit from it by charging licensing fees to hospitals that want to advertise their awards. "A hospital cannot buy an award, they must achieve it," Healthgrades said in a statement.

    Healthgrades and Truven Health Analytics, which publishes the 100 Top Hospitals, offer consulting services to hospitals that want to improve their overall performances. Jean Chenoweth, a Truven senior vice president, said the list doesn't earn Truven any money but it "gives the company a lot of visibility."

    Dr. Andrew Brotman chief clinical officer at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, said the fees can be substantial. "Healthgrades, which is one we did well on, charges $145,000 to use this even on the website as a logo, so we don't do that," he said. "U.S. News is in the $50,000 range. Leapfrog is $12,500."

    Consumer Reports bars hospitals from using its ratings in marketing, but patients must subscribe to read them online. (Others generally provide free access to ratings on their sites.) The Joint Commission does not charge hospitals that make its top quality list.

    A Pew Research Center survey found 14 percent of Internet users consulted online rankings or reviews of hospitals and medical facilities. Florence Harvey, 70, said when she moved to Washington, D.C., last fall, she picked a health plan and doctor affiliated with Washington Hospital Center after reviewing all the local hospitals rankings on U.S. News' website. "That was the one that had the best across-the-board ratings," she said.

    But Harvey may be an anomaly. Dr. Peter Lindenauer, a professor with Tufts University School of Medicine based in Springfield, Mass., said the limited research on rankings "suggests they have had very little impact on patient behavior."

    'Patient Safety Has To Be A Priority'

    That's not surprising since many admissions, such as those due to a heart attack or car crash, have an immediacy that rules out comparison shopping. Also, researchers note, many patients defer to their physicians' recommendations or go to the hospital where their chosen surgeon has privileges. Still, rating groups say the ratings help keep the pressure on hospital executives to keep quality up.

    "Patient safety has to be a priority 24-7," said Leah Binder, Leapfrog's president. "The minute it slips off the priority list, that impacts the rating."

    The calculations that go into these ratings are complex. Most hospital assessments synthesize dozens of pieces of data Medicare publishes on its Hospital Compare website, including death rates and the results of patient satisfaction surveys. They also examine other sources and use private surveys to create user-friendly lists or grades, which they display on their websites.

    The Joint Commission looks at how frequently patients received recommended treatments, such as flu shots for those with pneumonia. Consumer Reports examines the numbers of patients who die or are readmitted, infection rates and Medicare patient surveys of their experiences. Leapfrog looks at data from its surveys of hospitals, the consistency with which hospitals followed safe surgical practices and frequencies of infections and some types of patient harm. Healthgrades analyzes detailed Medicare records to find death and complication rates for 27 procedures and conditions.

    "Ratings and ranking programs certainly offer people information they can use to make their hospital selections, but we don't recommend relying on any one of them completely," Jennifer Kennedy, a spokeswoman for St. Mary Mercy, said in an e-mail. "None are able to tell the whole story or paint a complete picture of the care that is delivered."

    The ratings groups believe the public benefits from the multitude of ratings. Dr. John Santa, who directs Consumer Reports' health ratings, said consumers benefit from different vantages just as they do for cars or electronic devices, and the competition spurs each rating group to get better. "We think that's consistent with good science," Santa said.

    Avery Comarow, health rankings editor for U.S. News, agrees. "People go to hospitals for different reasons and priorities," he said. "I'm not sure there could be a single rating system that can do it all."

    Some of the hospitals that do the best in the rankings have limited respect for them. Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., last year received praise from Leapfrog, U.S. News, the Joint Commission, Truven and Healthgrades. But Dr. William Adair, vice president for clinical transformation, says the hospital doesn't license any of the distinctions. "We're all made a little bit uneasy, to be frank about it," Adair says. "Some of these organizations are looking for revenue. It blurs the effectiveness of the ratings processes."

    Still, many hospitals are happy to use the praise. Dr. Brotman from NYU said: "Even though there's not a hospital executive who won't tell you that they have a great deal of skepticism about a lot of the methodology, there's not one who will tell you they don't want to be on the lists."

    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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    Buttons cover one of the tables at Frank Enten's booth at CPAC. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

    In the very last stall, at the end of the farthest aisle in the convention room, there was a man selling buttons. Round metal litters the table, the messages spanning decades of political campaigns. A button inscribed with the motto "Viva Reagan" sits right next to "Sarah Palin 2012: In Your Heart You Know She's Right."

    Frank Enten, known simply as "The Button Man," has set up shop to sell his wares at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) since its inception 40 years ago. "I was here with CPAC when they only had 100, 200 people," he said. That was circa 1973. Last week's CPAC drew some 10,000 delegates who came to listen to speeches and panel discussions from big time conservative players, including Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and former Govs. Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin.

    Most likely, Enten has or will have buttons for all of them. At age 83, he estimated he is the oldest vendor in Washington D.C. "I buy and buy and then I go out and sell and trade and I enjoy what I do."

    Frank Enten holds up one of his favorite buttons. The periodic symbol for gold, Au, and the symbol for water, H20, spell Goldwater. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

    Enten got his start collecting political buttons in the early 1960s. At the time, he was an insurance salesman. One day, he took a walk down to the government printing office to run some errands -- coincidentally on John F. Kennedy's inauguration day. For a dollar a piece, he bought two buttons as presents for his children. When he returned home, he showed his wife the buttons and she suggested he try selling them. "First two people I saw bought them from me for $2, so I said, 'Hey that's a good deal,'" he said. "I went down there and I bought a hundred of them for 50 cents a piece and then took them down by the White House and the Capitol and sold them, and there I was."

    From there, his business only grew. Enten kept acquiring buttons -- buying them at political rallies and the national conventions, purchasing them wholesale. Last year he nabbed 40,000 buttons from a man who was going out of business. Enten has even had a hand in making buttons. In 1984, he produced over 1 million buttons for the Reagan campaign.

    At CPAC, the button business seemed to be booming; lots of people stopped at Enten's booth to sift through the buttons. At one point, his business partner turned to ask if $15 is a fair price for a large "To Hell with Fidel" button. Enten was quick with a reply: "Alright, let it go $15, but not lower. Those are rare."

    From his button booth, Enten has seen CPAC change over the years. "Every year, more people, young people come in and want to do what's right for the country," he said. "I think it's going to be a growing group, even so, because what's happening now. I think we are de- Americanizing this country, so I think we have to have more people like the group that's coming here."

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    Former Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., addresses CPAC as part of Friday's 2012 election autopsy panel. Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

    Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus wants Americans to know the Republican party is a big tent, inclusive of a spectrum of conservatism. Priebus unveiled the recommendations of the RNC's Growth and Opportunity Project report Monday at the National Press Club on the heels of the Conservative Political Action Conference -- the annual activist confab held this past weekend.

    To craft a more "welcoming form of conservatism," federal candidates have a lot to learn from state-level candidates, said RNC project co-chair Sally Bradshaw, especially from the 30 Republican governors who have successfully appealed to voters with some of their shared conservative values.

    Priebus invoked Ronald Reagan's mantra that the party only has to agree on 80 percent of the issues. He suggested there's plenty of wiggle room for the Rob Portmans of the party, alluding to the Ohio senator's announcement Friday that he supports same-sex marriage.

    Before Priebus' remarks, project co-chair Glenn McCall acknowledged the precariousness of the GOP's position on same-sex marriage, calling the treatment of gay people a "gateway" for youth voters.

    Besides state party organizations, the RNC's outside group "allies" have important roles to play -- helping with voter registration, research and digital training. But Priebus was adamant that the RNC's leadership role is essential to building the kind of centralized campaign structure that will effectively build a presence and target voters in minority communities.

    But what Republicans talk about once they're in those communities isn't the focus of this project. Only project co-chair Zori Fonalledas, who delivered her remarks in Spanish before repeating them in English, made a specific policy push -- urging the GOP to support comprehensive immigration reform.

    "If Hispanics think Republicans don't want them here, they won't listen" to anything else the party has to say, she said.

    Redolent of the conservative voices at CPAC suggesting the party's energy system -- but not its principles -- could use a reboot, Priebus agreed Monday it's the party's messaging that needs updating.

    Former Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., who lost her seat last fall, maligned the GOP's lack of enthusiasm at CPAC's own post-mortem panel Friday, titled with characteristic bluntness: "CSI Washington, D.C.: November 2012 Autopsy." Pondering the cause of the party's apathy seemed only rhetorical. "That's a question for another day," Buerkle said.

    Not learning to inspire, however, will leave the party "extinct" -- her word choice packing a brutal punch compared to the we-don't-need-new-ideas mentality touted by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the previous day.

    For the most part, the GOP establishment and conservatives at CPAC see eye-to-eye on the necessity of expanding voter outreach. But conservatives last week didn't shy away from attacking the GOP's central organs for some of its failures.

    In a subtle dig at the party's 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, National Review columnist John Fund denied that government should be run like a business. But -- the ironic twist dealing a bigger blow -- politics, and Republican politics especially, needs to be run more like a business. Fund said Democrats have no problem canning poorly performing consultants but he believes for too long the GOP has been reluctant to fire ineffective staffers and consultants.

    Monday's RNC report acknowledges the need for a "deeper talent pool," particularly with data and technology competency.

    Priebus also alluded to the party's past business woes Monday, divulging that he and his wife charged the RNC's bills to their own credit cards when both of the committee's cards were suspended. Priebus, however, who turned 41 Monday, declined to delve too far into the past -- denying that he was making any judgements about previous RNC chair Michael Steele.

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    While most cameras are fixed on the speakers and big-names at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, the NewsHour took a look at the volunteers, activists and conference attendees, the people having conversations about the future of the Republican Party.

    Leading up to this year's CPAC, an annual gathering that draws some of the biggest names and crowds of the conservative movement, much was made of the need for the Republican party to broaden its appeal to younger voters. In this behind the scenes look, you can see the focused effort to reach out to the growing millennial generation and ignite a conversation among young Republicans.

    Bonnie Kristian, a representative of Young Americans For Liberty, identified Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky as a Republican who is channeling the sentiments of younger conservatives.

    "We found, especially among our membership, that young people are really excited after Senator Paul's filibuster. They really like his message about civil liberties and kind of the new direction he's creating for the GOP," Kristian said.

    The group's free "Stand With Rand" T-shirts, a riff on Paul's 13-hour standing filibuster, was one of the most popular items at the conference, with all 1,000 shirts getting snagged in the first hour.

    A few booths over, Evan Feinberg, president of the organization Generation Opportunity, attracted young conference-goers with a basketball shooting game and a message on getting millennials jobs opportunities. These activists, many of whom are in college, are a central part of the effort to broaden the GOP's appeal.

    On stage, younger lawmakers like Paul, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida championed a new agenda for the party on issues like foreign policy, education and outreach. Many of these prominent Republicans -- also considered frontrunners for the 2016 presidential nomination -- were buoyed in part by the support of energetic, young Republicans.

    James Hercher contributed to this report.

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    Marines pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in the centre of Baghdad, April 9, 2003. Photo by Mirrorpix/Getty Images.

    PBS NewsHour is marking the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War with an online campaign. We're collecting your experiences, impressions, and viewpoints on the war and all that came with it. Where were you when you learned of the invasion into Iraq? How would you describe these past ten years to someone else? Share your story here and join the @NewsHour discussion on Twitter with #Iraq10.

    The first chords of the Iraq War struck on March 19, 2003, in the form of airstrikes on Saddam Hussein's presidential palace in Baghdad. There was no formal "declaration" of war, but President George W. Bush had made clear two evenings earlier in an address to the nation; Saddam had to go.

    "It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power. It is not too late for the Iraqi military to act with honor and protect your country by permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Our forces will give Iraqi military units clear instructions on actions they can take to avoid being attacked and destroyed. I urge every member of the Iraqi military and intelligence services, if war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life."

    Invasion followed. Approximately 300,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines, along with British and other forces, fought through vigorous resistance from large groups of well-armed Iraqi troops and smaller groups of paramilitaries like the Fedayeen Saddam. The coalition raced to the capital and Baghdad fell April 9. The Iraqi leader, now dislodged from power after 24 years, had slipped into hiding. Marines toppled a statue of Hussein in Firdos Square, one of the iconic images of the war.

    Set in motion was an eight-year commitment of military forces and billions of dollars to a cause many believed noble at the outset -- but lost the heart for over time. As liberation became occupation, became insurgency and then a new front in the terror fight, Americans' support for the war waned.

    Underneath it all was the argument that remains today: was the Iraq War a "war of choice," or a war of necessity? As the military buildup proceeded apace in the desert of Kuwait and other places, Congress, U.N. member countries and NATO, all debated that question and the justifications provided by the Bush administration at the time.

    Sanctions long in place since the Gulf War had prevented Saddam Hussein from restarting a nuclear program. U.S. forces once in control of the country found only old and abandoned chemical weapons -- not some stockpile ready for use by terrorists.

    None of that mattered very much to the Iraqis I met when I covered the war for ABC News in June and July 2003. I found the people grateful for liberation and hopeful toward the future, but they were starting to tire of so many foreign troops on their streets, stopping cars at checkpoints and conducting night raids. President Bush had declared victory in May that year after landing a military plane himself on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The full-throated insurgency had not yet set in, and when it did, it consumed the Iraqi people. Sectarian violence roiled the country for years as Sunni and Shia Muslims fought each other for control of their country.

    American forces came home in December 2011. 4,487 troops had given their lives and nearly 40,000 were wounded. Of the Iraqis, the surveys vary but agree that at least 100,000 civilians died in the war and strife. Iraqis have a government of their own choosing, and the rights afforded citizens in a democracy, but the struggle for safer, better lives goes on.

    Share your viewpoint on the onset and aftermath of the Iraq War here and join the discussion with @NewsHour on Twitter using #Iraq10.

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  • 03/18/13--13:37: When Will You Retire?
  • Creative Commons photo courtesy of flickr user wheatfieldbrown.

    Monday's PBS NewsHour will feature our Making Sense story on the aging of academia. The population of professors over 65 has more than doubled since 2000 and many say they have no plans to retire anytime soon, if ever. Paul Solman examines why they're clinging to the job and the logjam that itinerant younger academics -- so-called "road scholars" -- now face.

    How long do you want to work? Tell us in the survey below.

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  • 03/18/13--14:05: On the PBS NewsHour Tonight
  • On Monday's NewsHour:

    Supreme Court justices consider an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration

    Then, the banking crisis in Cyprus as European Union leaders call for a tax on saving accounts

    Israel's new governing coalition sworn in today

    From our Making Sen$e series, older workers in academic institutions

    And, a new grand plan for the GOP's revival in 2016 and beyond

    While the above promo is written for the radio in the morning, it is a tentative snapshot of what we're covering on the show. With the ebb and flow of news headlines, chances are segments will be added, scrapped or moved to another night.

    Tune in to the broadcast at 6 p.m. ET, online and on-air.

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    GWEN IFILL: Today's Supreme Court arguments pitted a national law against a state law, Arizona's 2004 voter registration statute. The case explores the extent of state powers against the controversial backdrop of voting restrictions.

    Arizona's Proposition 200 requires state residents to provide either a driver's license, passport, birth certificate, or physical proof of citizenship before they can vote. But an existing federal law requires only a sworn statement of citizenship on a voter registration form.

    Supporters say the Arizona measure cuts down on voter fraud by keeping non-citizens from voting. But opponents argue the law unfairly targets minorities, immigrants, and the elderly. The case is only the most recent dispute between Arizona and the federal government related to immigration issues.

    Over the summer, the Supreme Court upheld part of a tough state law that allows police to check for immigration papers. Other states, including Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee, have similar laws on the books and a number of other states are also considering comparable measures. The Obama administration supports the challenge to the Arizona law.

    And today's arguments on the heels of another case that could roll back a key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    For more on today's arguments, we turn as always to Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal. She was in the courtroom this morning, and is back with us again tonight.

    So the outcome, Marcia, of this could actually tip the federal-state balance on how -- who gets to govern how we vote.

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: That's true, Gwen, because the question really before the justices is, where do you draw the line between who has the authority to regulate elections?

    The election clause of the Constitution actually gives authority to both. But where is the line when one crosses or goes too far than the other does? So that's the issue before the court. And it wasn't clear today that it's going to be an easy line to find.

    GWEN IFILL: The reason why this Arizona law exists is because Arizona officials say there's a problem involving illegal or undocumented immigrants registering to vote fraudulently. Is there any evidence -- did they present evidence today that that's a big problem?

    MARCIA COYLE: No, not today.

    In fact, there was more argument on the other side, that there is no problem. But what Arizona is saying is that there is also a problem with the federal law. The federal law doesn't require proof of citizenship. But the way it deals with citizenship as eligibility for registration is it requires the applicant who wants to register to vote to sign under oath that the applicant meets all of the requirements of the federal law.

    Arizona's attorney general, Thomas Horne, today told the court that that was an honor roll system that doesn't do the job. And he claims and argues that what Arizona is trying to do here is provide additional information that doesn't conflict with the federal law's purpose or objective, which, as you know, was to streamline and make uniform voter registration across the nation and basically make it easier to register to vote.

    GWEN IFILL: This sworn statement, this "I pledge that I am a citizen," is only on federal mail-in forms. It's not any other way that you register to vote. So, there's some inconsistency.

    MARCIA COYLE: Well, there is the conflict which brought the case to the Supreme Court between what Arizona is doing and what the federal form does.

    In fact, Justice Ginsburg said during the argument to General Horne, she said Congress expressly said in the federal law how citizenship is to be managed. And that's by the signature. The deputy solicitor general of the United States who also argued today supporting the challenger said signature attesting to -- you know, that you meet requirements is something that's common on many forms. And you can be prosecuted for perjury if you lie. So there is enforcement capability here.

    GWEN IFILL: Did the justices seem to be interested in debating among themselves the degree to which this is really about who gets to say, whether it's the federal government that trumps state law or the state law which has the right to make its own state-by-state, if-the-shoe-fits adjustments?

    MARCIA COYLE: They were -- that was always in the backdrop of the arguments. They were very interested in how both requirements work.

    They focused on the language of the federal law, which says that a state must accept and use the federal form. On the other hand, the federal law also says that there can be state-specific requirements that are approved by the Federal Election Assistance Commission. Arizona's special requirement here wasn't approved by the commission, and a federal appellate court agreed with the commission that it conflicted with federal law.

    And that's what we call running afoul of -- that's what we -- the result of that is that federal law rules, the state law is preempted.

    GWEN IFILL: But last time you were here talking about the Voting Rights Act Section 5 challenge, one of the things that seemed to come up in court that day was a dispute between Justices Scalia and Justice Sotomayor. Did we see any of that play out again today?

    MARCIA COYLE: There is a -- Justice Scalia has a long-running disdain for legislative history. And at one point during the argument, Justice Sotomayor referred -- said she was going to refer to the legislative history of the federal law, which indicates that Congress considered a proof of citizenship requirement and rejected it.

    And she said -- she prefaced her question by saying that there are those who do not agree or believe in legislative history. And at that point, Justice Scalia raised his hand.

    And that did get a laugh throughout the courtroom that day. But it wasn't a conflict, so much as ...

    GWEN IFILL: A little dig.

    MARCIA COYLE: Absolutely.

    GWEN IFILL: So, explain to me the extent that the justices debated this today among themselves or that the lawyers did how much a change in the way business is done here would affect other states who may be lined up also with laws which preempt or somehow trump federal law?

    MARCIA COYLE: OK.

    Well, as Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan said, if the federal law is just viewed as a floor here, for example, if Arizona wins, then he said states can impose additional requirements on registration, and the federal law itself becomes a nullity. And that is the fear of a lot of organizations, from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which brought the challenge, to the League of Women Voters, which filed an amicus brief supporting the challengers.

    Congress' intent here was to make registration easier. And they fear that, if Arizona wins, then other states are going to impose other kinds of requirements, not just proof of citizenship. So that is the real concern. If Arizona loses, there is no change. On the other hand, the final word may rest with Congress.

    Whatever the Supreme Court does, Congress could go and amend the National Voter Registration Act.

    GWEN IFILL: It still sounds like it could be a consequential ruling when we see it.

    MARCIA COYLE: Oh, it's definitely a very important case. And it's playing out against this backdrop, as you mentioned, of concerns about problems with voting and vote suppression.

    GWEN IFILL: Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal, thanks, as always.

    MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure, Gwen.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Syrian warplanes hit targets inside Lebanon for the first time today. Fighter jets attacked suspected rebel hideouts near the town of Arsal, Lebanon, as reported by Lebanon's state news agency.

    At the State Department in Washington, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed the reports.

    VICTORIA NULAND, State Department Spokeswoman: Regime jets and helicopters did fire rockets into Northern Lebanon, impacting Wadi al-Khayl, near the border town of Arsal. This constitutes a significant escalation in the violations of Lebanese sovereignty that the Syrian regime has been guilty of. These kinds of violations of sovereignty are absolutely unacceptable.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Last week, the Syrian government warned Lebanon to stop militants from crossing the border to fight alongside the rebels.

    A suicide car bomber killed at least 10 people in Somalia today, most of them civilians. The blast happened near the presidential palace in Mogadishu and the target was believed to be the country's security chief. Hunks of charred metal were all that remained of the cars involved in the blast. Fire from the explosion also engulfed the tea rooms that line the road between the palace and the national theater. The al-Qaida-linked Al-Shabab said it carried out the attack.

    In Pakistan, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a courtroom, killing four people and wounding 40 others. Two attackers tried to get into the court compound in Peshawar, but only one powered past the police. Dozens of wounded were taken out of the packed courtroom on gurneys. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

    President Obama announced his pick for labor secretary today, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. At the White House, the president said Perez's story is a reminder of the country's promise. Perez is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. If confirmed, he would head the Labor Department as the president pushes an overhaul of immigration laws and a minimum wage increase.

    The small community of Steubenville, Ohio, will back a wider investigation into the rape of a 16-year-old girl. Yesterday, a judge found Trent Mays and Malik Richmond guilty of sexually assaulting the girl after a party when she was too drunk to move or speak. The high school football players were sentenced to at least one year in juvenile prison and must register as sex offenders. Next month, a grand jury will consider whether those who failed to speak up, including parents and coaches, can be charged.

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


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The day's biggest economic story came from Europe, where old worries about debt, bailouts, and public anger found new life again. European markets were rattled today by events that occurred on the tiny Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus. The island is part of the European Union, and plans for the government to seize individual bank deposits set off outrage there.

    It also prompted worries about whether other nations could follow suit in time. As the day wore on, concerns about the region's debt crisis dragged on U.S. markets as well. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 62 points to finish the day at 14,452. The Nasdaq lost more than 11 points to close above 3,237.

    We begin our coverage with this report from Emma Murphy of Independent Television News in Nicosia.

    EMMA MURPHY, Independent Television News: They held their hands in protest and not inconsiderable despair. These of Cyprus say they are furious with their government and other Eurozone leaders. They are the people who are having to carry the weight of the E.U. bailout.

    The banks will get 10 billion Euros to keep them afloat, but Cyprus has to find 5.8 billion more. It would come through a levy, meaning these people will lose between six percent and nine percent of their savings.

    MAN: It's like people putting your hands in your pockets and receiving something. It's outright theft. And this is something that should not have happened in Cyprus.

    EMMA MURPHY: These are the people who are really suffering. They saved their money. They put it in the bank. And they believed that it would be safe. Then they woke up to find that their balances had gone down considerably and they couldn't even get access to cash, little wonder after promises from their president that their money would be protected, they're now so angry.

    SUE HALL, Business Owner: We do probably about 50 weddings a year.

    EMMA MURPHY: Sue Hall moved to Cyprus to run a wedding company.

    SUE HALL: My big concern is the business, because most of the money in my business account actually belongs to brides that have paid for weddings here. So, you know, what do I do? Do I ask them for more money or do I have to carry the loss?

    EMMA MURPHY: Banks are closed until Thursday. And there's a limited amount of money left in the cash points. The Cypriot government has to get parliament to agree the deal or the bailout fails. They're not confident.

    HARRIS GEORGIADES, Cyprus Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance: We shall face a total collapse of the banking system and of the whole Cyprus economy.

    EMMA MURPHY: Such talk may well be brinksmanship. If not, these people and many more across Europe face futures which will be forever changed by the events of the past three days. 


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: For a closer look at the crisis in Cyprus and why it's captured the attention of Europe and the U.S., we turn to Jacob Kirkegaard. He's a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

    Welcome back to the program.

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD, Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics: My pleasure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, why does tiny Cyprus, a population just over one million, have Europe, the markets, the governments so rattled?

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: I think there's two main reasons, first of all, that Europe as a continent and the entire European economy is still kind of on the edge. It doesn't take much to shatter the sort of recent lull of confidence that you have had in Europe in the last couple of months.

    And, unfortunately, I think Cyprus is one such thing. And the other element is that what happens in Cyprus and with respect to the Cypriot banks have a large precedent-setting effect for how Europe going forward is going to deal with banking crises potentially in other European countries. And then it begins to matter a lot also for the rest of the world.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Remind us, Jacob Kirkegaard, why the banks in Cyprus got themselves into this mess.

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Well, there's basically two reasons.

    One is that the banks in Cyprus are very, very large. There's a total of 800 percent of GDP, which is eight times the size of the Cypriot economy as a whole, which means that if there is a small problem in these banks, then the government actually has a very big problem, because it will not be able to bail these banks out.

    And then what happened after the restructuring of the Greek government bonds last year was that the Cypriot banks had taken a big bet basically on these bonds, and therefore took a lot of losses as a result. And therefore at least one of these banks is now bankrupt and the Cypriot government can't afford to bail this bank out and therefore has had to approach the international community for assistance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And right now this idea of taking money out of individual -- from individual depositors, where did the idea come from?

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Well, the idea is kind of unique.

    I regard it as a sort of Willie Sutton rule, you know, named after the bank robber who once said, why did you rob the bank? Well, that's where the money is, he said.

    And the reason that the international community and the Cypriot government has decided to go after bank depositors in Cyprus is that really there aren't any other valuables there. And the problem that Cyprus has had is or still has is that the financing needs that they have are so big. It's 100 percent of GDP approximately. And they needed to bring down that number to about 60 percent of GDP, which is what they're now perhaps going to get.

    And by taxing depositors, they actually have the ability to also tax non-residents, as we saw in your clip just now. There's a lot of British there, but there are even more Russian depositors. So, in that sense, you actually end up having the ability to bring in tax revenue from non-Cypriots. And that's a big advantage for the government of Cyprus because these are -- this is money that otherwise they would have had to raise by cutting pensions or other types of austerity measures.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the Russians and others stand to be hurt pretty badly by this.

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Yes. Basically, that's part of the strategy or the intent of both the euro area, the IMF and the Cypriot government.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But the signal that sends, what -- I mean, what's the message it sends to the rest of Europe? I mean, how worried should they be that what's going on in Cyprus -- and we don't know how this is going to play out because the banks are closed for the next few days. How worried should the rest of the banks in Europe be?

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Well, I don't think that there's an immediate risk of sort of contagious bank run in other European countries in Spain or Italy, because they are separate countries, first of all.

    I think there's a good reason to believe that the majority of the bank depositors in these countries probably don't even know what's going on in Cyprus. And then, secondly, the international community have ring-fenced the operations of Cypriot banks in Greece, so that depositors in Greece will actually not be affected by this new tax.

    And then the third element is, as I said earlier, that the Cypriot banks are so big that they really don't replicate the financial systems in any of the other European countries, which means that this isn't something that can be used elsewhere, in my opinion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But what does it say that the European Central Bank, which is akin to our Federal Reserve, had the power, the ability to force the banks in Cyprus to do this?

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Well, it basically says that the ECB is not a normal central bank. It is a central bank that actually has real political coercive power.

    And what they said to the Cypriot government, together with the Germans and others, the IMF, look, unless you accept this deal, we're going to shut down your banks come Tuesday, and your government and your economy is going to collapse. So it certainly shows that the ECB is a very forceful and powerful central bank. But it also shows that the ECB has actually changed its strategy quite a bit from earlier in this crisis, because back when -- when Ireland needed a bailout because of its banks getting into trouble, the ECB was actually very forceful in preventing bondholders and others from taking any losses.

    So they have changed their behavior quite a bit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, finally, how do you see this playing out? When the banks reopen, what happens then? And what about here in the U.S.? How concerned should Americans be?

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Well, I think, essentially, I view Cyprus as right now being between the first and the second TARP vote here in the United States. It basically takes a few days, unsurprisingly, for the sort of people's representatives to realize that they really don't have a choice.

    It's the choice between something terrible and something catastrophic. So I think this deal will pass the Cypriot parliament in the next couple of days. The banks are likely to reopen, probably at the end of the week. And at that point in time, I would expect that a lot of people would take their money out of the banks. It may be necessary to have further capital controls or restrictions on banks, but I think, beyond that, I don't think we're going to see any major effects across Europe or to the United States, for that matter.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Long term?

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: No. I think this is the sort of crisis of the week, if you like.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I guess that's a relief.

    Jacob Kirkegaard, thank you.

    JACOB KIRKEGAARD: My pleasure.


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